The Endless Land

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

Desperate villains witness and unusual escape.

Chapter 3 (v.1) - Pirates and Corpses

Submitted: November 28, 2016

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Submitted: November 28, 2016

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3: Pirates and Corpses

 

"I spy with my little eye, something beginning with..."

Sitting amongst the grass, the ferns and the cool of the evening, Gafflebit Narr stared out at the wide bay below him.

"If you say 'S' again, I swear to God..." Mellix shuffled uncomfortably and pulled his jacket around him to stop the midges nipping at his arms.

"Oh, oh! 'S' again!" Narr jumped excitedly from his rock.

His shorter, stouter companion sighed wearily and peered over the fallen tree that partially obscured them both. "Ship," he said flatly.

"Aw, I thought you'd take longer than that."

Mellix shook his head. "Well what the hell else was it going to be?"

Narr looked away. "I dunno. Seal?"

"Why would I say seal when there's obviously a bleedin' great ship comin' into view right down there in front of me and..." he paused to make a show of counting several somethings in the distance - "and absolutely no bleedin' seals whatsoever?" Besides the carrack, which was making very slow progress into a contrary wind, there was nothing on the water to be seen.

"It might have been a double bluff," mumbled Narr.

"Yeah, right. 'Cause you're wily like that, ain't ya?"

"I can be, when I want to."

Mellix let that go. Narr was the most radiantly and prodigiously tedious person he'd ever met. The least imaginative, the least cunning and the least interesting. He'd found more charismatic things crawling around in his hair. The lanky oaf couldn't have made a worse partner for lookout duty if he'd been blind, agoraphobic and prone to uncontrollable bouts of bugle blowing. He was forgetful, unfocused and lazy but, worst of all, he would insist on trying to be friends. During the course of the last hour, he'd recounted his life story not once but twice, he'd explained in great detail the joys of grass knotting - a craft in which he admitted to being far from expert - and he'd laughed on every one of the eleven occasions on which he'd loudly broken wind.

He was quite unbelievably irritating but, for Mellix, the alternative to being here would be to be back in the tunnel with the others, shifting all the crates. What with his bad back and everything, lookout duty had seemed like a cushier option but now he was beginning to wonder if he'd made a mistake.

At least a minute limped by, making no swifter progress than the near-becalmed ship below them. Then, at last, the younger, taller man spoke again, pronouncing each syllable with slow deliberation.

"I spy with my..."

"Oh God," groaned Mellix. "Let's do something else. I'm so bored I'm getting rigor mortis."

"Oh, oh! 'N'!" cried Narr, jumping to his feet and leaning forward against the fallen trunk.

"No, that's it. I'm not playing."

"Sorry. I mean I spy with my little eye, something beginning with N."

"Dear God." Mellix placed his hands upon his knees. "Why did I volunteer for this?"

"Go on," urged Narr. "It's a good 'un, this."

"Right," said Mellix. He stood up and quickly scanned the bay. Nothing seemed to have changed. There was the FMS carrack, continuing to make almost no progress whatever, and there was the familiar curve of the bay with its ruined, overgrown buildings jutting out from amongst the woods that had so quickly reclaimed the town. He looked sideways at Narr, who was grinning like a madman. This was going to be really annoying; he could just tell.

"I don't know. I give up," he said.

"Another ship." Narr pointed to the far right hand edge of the bay, where the very tops of some blue and white sails were just coming into view beyond the headland.

"Another ship..." sighed Mellix. "Beginning with N."

"Yeah," grinned Narr, evidently quite proud of his victory. " A. Nother. Ship. Look."

Mellix couldn't help it; he looked back and then his frown deepened. Even to his ageing eyes, something didn't look quite right.

He'd never understood sailors nor the allure of the sea. Give him trees and rocks and freshwater streams any day of the year. It all just looked so unnecessarily complicated. With all that water to mess around in, with all that open expanse of blue nothingness, you'd think these captains would just fix on a direction they liked and stick to it. Surely that would be the most efficient thing to do. That's what he'd do, anyway. But oh no, not sailors. They always had to go along making their little course corrections - jinking left here and then right a little bit further on. You could see the route they'd taken through the water long after their boats had passed, like the footprints of a drunk trying to get home across a dewy field. Why did they never just go in straight lines? It wasn't like there were trees and old buildings to dodge around, there were no wolves' dens or bears to avoid. It was just endless blue water and yet they zigzagged about in it like it was some sort of maze.

"They're turning," warned Narr, ducking to take more cover amongst the undergrowth that surrounded him. It was an unnecessary precaution; at this distance they could both be dancing in the treetops wearing costumes made entirely out of brass bells and no one on the ship would either see or hear them.

Still, thought Mellix as the vessel continued in its sluggardly transit across the bay, these mariners did go in for some funny-looking manoeuvres.

If you were a freelance re-distributor of wealth like he was - a smuggler if you preferred the more conventional term - then there were good reasons to be a bit cautious with your route because there were military vessels and excise men to avoid. That being the case, you generally did all your commerce at night, because being caught with a shipload of untaxed spirits could lead to an unwelcome reduction in the number of fingers you could wiggle at your jailer. But there were no such excuses for all these cogs and coasters and caravels that made such a sow's ear of navigation.

Take this one, for example; what was going on below was unusual even by sailors' standards.

"It's a lot closer in than usual," observed Narr, who always reckoned he knew more about these things than he actually did. "That other one's trying to force them in towards the cliffs so they'll take all their wind."

"Well neither of 'em are trying to come ashore," said Mellix, "that's for sure. They're already past the inlet."

The two men continued to watch the two vessels' courses converging - the brightly coloured pursuer angling in from the deeper water as if attempting to run the larger vessel aground. It was interesting to watch; the chase might even have had a certain air of tension had the ships been making swifter headway. As it was, though, either of them might comfortably have been outpaced by an arthritic duck attempting to swim home with an anchor.

"I'll tell you what, though," said Mellix. "That's a lot of sailors hanging around those rails. Maybe they're all soldiers; maybe it's an ambush."

"What? FMS ambushing other ships?" Narr was still crouching nervously. "That'd be a bit of a change of tactics, wouldn't it?"

"Who's to say it's really FMS?" Mellix offered a cunning glance. "It's just a flag, innit?"

Narr shrugged. "It looks like an FMS ship to me."

Mellix ignored him. "Or maybe they're together - maybe they're meeting up here and then they'll all come ashore at once."

Narr sniffed. "Doubt it. Why would they come here?"

"Maybe they know something - about the tunnels - or maybe..." Mellix ran a hand nervously through his thinning hair. "Maybe they're going to ambush the next landing."

"What? Kavahr's crew? That's not till tomorrow night. You reckon they'll hole up here all that time - two shiploads of soldiers just for a small shipment of spiced oils?"

"Three."

"What?"

"Three shiploads of soldiers." Mellix nodded towards the northern horizon, where, in the distance, a third vessel was now coming into view.

"Nah, it doesn't make sense. You're doing it again - getting yourself all worked up. They'll be gone in a couple of - look! They're turning away already."

The elder watchman frowned down at the darkening water as first the caravel and then the FMS carrack adjusted their headings and began to turn to the open sea. The blue-sailed ship was turning more sharply, probably intent on catching stronger winds further out, but the FMS vessel - if that was what it really was - turned only by a few degrees until it was pointing its bow towards the distant headlands.

"What's that about, d'you reckon?" Mellix pointed towards the stern of the FMS caravel.

"What?" Narr rose cautiously to his feet.

"That, in the water; they've just dropped it overboard."

"Where?"

"There, just beyond the..." Mellix waved an impatient hand in the direction of a small outcrop of rock. Whatever it was, it was much smaller than a pinnace - barely big enough to be seen at all - and with all the FMS marines still crowding round the starboard rail, no one seemed very concerned about its loss.

"I don't see anything," said Narr. "Probably just rubbish."

"Maybe."

Mellix wished his old eyes were better. Whatever it was, it was too far away for him to make out any detail but he had a suspicion there was something attached to it. It seemed to be moving ashore, against the outflow of the river.

"You don't think FMS are doing a bit of freeloading of their own, do you?" he said, not really expecting much in the way of an erudite response.

"Dunno," said Narr. "Wouldn't put it past them."

For a further fifteen minutes they watched in silence. The FMS ship inched northward whilst the caravel turned to the south and was lost again from sight. Otherwise, nothing much happened except that the light continued to fade and the midges became a little more urgent in their attacks. The first stars were pricking upon the sky when Mellix pointed to the southernmost point of the bay.

"Well, well," he said. "Maybe FMS is up to a wee bit of skulduggery after all."

Narr leaned forward to see what had drawn his attention.

Coming round the headland was a yawl, and it was making slowly for the inlet.

"I don't know what this is all about," said Mellix, in a dangerous tone, "but what say we get the boys and take a little look?"


© Copyright 2018 Rob Gregson. All rights reserved.

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