Monday, August 17, 2015

Cricket Boy: Chapter One: The Orange Blade

Cricket Boy is a multi-chapter fantasy naval adventure (Horatio Hornblower with magic!) I'm releasing on my website, among other venues.

What's it about?

Trew Gawgrie wants to go to sea. That means joining the Sea Guard and starting with the worst job, but he's a dreamer and won't be dissuaded. Sea Guard is a much harder place than Trew can imagine.

(I did post an earlier draft. I've left it up if you'd like to compare the evolution of this story. The original chapter one is here.)

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Confused? Leave a comment.

I'm also posting this story to WriteOn. Feel free to follow it or comment on it there.


Chapter One: The Orange Blade

The Commander paused in his conversation to draw his blade, which already glowed orange with power.

Trew Gawgrie stopped pretending to work the navigation problem he’d been set and stared at that steel and facet marvel. He often kept his eyes on the mercurial leader of the
Fortress, not least because the Commander wore that beautiful blade, one that didn’t resemble anything Trew had seen in an engraving or painting.

Trew wondered about the shape of the blade and about its orange glow.

What kind of blade glowed?

Trew expected that the Commander had been speaking about his blade and would present his sword for Galley Mate’s inspection.

But that didn’t happen.

Trew had a moment’s warning as the Commander lifted his arms and slashed with his steel. The blade ended that conversation and opened a gash in the Mate’s face.

Trew should have screamed.

He should have run for the narrow stairs that led to the galley and some of the holds. He could have hidden there. He could have found help there.

Trew froze where he crouched on the main deck. He dropped his chalk and slate, but still wondered if the Galley Mate would ever finish the ragout of salt beef and turnips he’d begun.

Unlike Trew, the Commander wasted no time. He stepped, pivoted, and slashed.

He took three more steps and slashed. He took two more and slashed again. Unarmed Men in white uniforms fell with hamstrung legs or deep wounds incised into their guts.

He might possess a botched, regrown leg, but the awkwardness was gone from his gait. He was now the epitome of deadly grace.

He hacked at Mates in their greens. One fell with an unbleeding wound to the neck; another with an arm shattered but not quite sliced through.

The noise of these first few maimings — and the pained howls that accompanied the wounds — drew forth a few more from the underdecks.

“Stay down,” Trew screamed. His voice went higher and higher until it strangled itself.

“Don’t come up on deck. Stay below.”

These Cassandran words came out shriller than whistles. No one showed they heard him.

The main deck boiled with confusion, populated by those wounded by a man of trust and those emerging into the sunlight to see things they didn’t understand. Trew stared with desperate hope, but none of these new arrivals carried anything more powerful than a rigging knife.

“Arm yourselves,” Trew tried again. He had nothing else to offer, just a warning no one could hear, as if he were trapped in a foul dream where a dark beast stalked an unwary victim and closed and closed and closed.

This time the Commander, and only the Commander, heard Trew.

Seven long steps and his shadow subsumed the boy.

The Commander kicked Trew away and slashed at someone else. The true-worlder called Drish had his thigh half-bisected. Trew couldn’t see or smell any blood.

“Quiet,” the Commander demanded. “Don’t draw the others from further down until I’m ready for them.”

Trew scrambled backward like how he imagined an awkward crab might move.

He looked at everything, at the orange blade and the shadow cast by that blade on the deck. He looked at the few still standing and the larger number now clutching at their wounds — or not moving at all. Trew noted wounds to every body part he could name, but no blood. That blade had to be incredibly hot, slicing and searing in the same motion.

Trew got up and stepped on a rotten part of the deck which made a loud creaking noise just then.

Trew moved away from where the Commander had kicked him down. He was searching for a person or a weapon or anything at all. Maybe he was searching for a safe spot to hide. The deck was empty of anything that might serve as a weapon or a refuge.

“Your moving around is making more noise than your screaming.”

Trew hadn’t heard the Commander closing.

“I told you to be quiet, Cricket Boy.”

The tall Commander slashed downward at Trew. The boy was cleaved in two. Like a simpleton touched with madness, he looked to the deck for his shoulder and arm.

He didn’t see anything down there.

He looked elsewhere. His arm was at his side. How?

He screamed a scream no one could hear, not even himself, after he investigated. It would have been better for his arm to be on the deck.

At present, there was a small flap of his flesh that bent like the spine of an open book to keep him and his arm contiguous.

Now that he’d looked, he could smell the cauterized flesh that the blade had left behind. He could see the two seared sides of his wound track: one body-side, the other arm-side.

The Commander kicked Trew again. He was off then. He maimed another and used the tip of his blade to send that man’s crude knife over the railing and into the Purple Sea.

Trew felt the sting on the back of his head. The decking was hard. He sat up and watched a moment. It was only then that he felt fear and pain and rage.

The Commander.

The Pretender.

He wasn’t the slow and sullen man he’d seemed. He was a demon possessed on a hellish mission of murder.

Trew looked at the victims he could identify. The Cautery Mate was the closest thing they had to a ship’s surgeon and he was face down on the deck with unknown wounds.

The Able called Slug, who had started the voyage as Compass Mate until the Commander busted his rank, had a cut to his thigh and a slash against his back. He was holding himself up against the railing, his eyes closed against the terror.

Trew hoped his friends, the other Boys being trained on the
Fortress, wouldn’t come up on deck. He feared they would be killed by the man Sea Guard had entrusted with this ship of war.

Commander Darnwy was insane, quick, and lethal.

Trew suddenly understood one real thing: The Commander of the
Fortress was going to murder everyone on her if Trew didn’t stop him.


Trew had been on the ship for six days and knew almost nothing. In that time he’d attacked nothing larger than a peach with a dull knife. He’d never picked up anything stronger in his whole life.

It was impossible to stop that orange blade, but it was the only thing Trew could think to do.

Trew tried to find something that he could use as a weapon when the Commander turned to face the largest of the
Fortress’s Men, Chesty. After expending three minimal movements, the Commander continued his dismembering path. Chesty was on the deck and seemed to be missing a quarter of his normal limbs. He clutched his dismembered arm with his good one.

The Commander liked that move and had gotten better at it with practice.

Trew couldn’t even look at his right arm this moment.

Trew had eyes only for Darnwy. He assessed his foe. Then he considered himself: one good arm, no weapon, no plan. His surviving allies were all below deck. He had no time to think. The horror and pain of Trew’s wound would eventually see him insensate, clinging to a railing like an Able called Slug. This task was beyond him in every way.

“I think I’m ready to hunt the vermin in the hold and in the cabins. All of you stick around. I’m not quite finished with you,” the Commander said.

Trew wasn’t going to die or let his friends die. He would live to see his eleventh birthday. He swore to do the impossible.


Continue to Chapter Two


  1. Very.... intense start. I don't normally like stories that start quite so suddenly as this but it's interesting enough that I'm happy to read on and see how it develops. Certainly feels like a mysterious high fantasy start though