Monday, September 14, 2015

Cricket Boy: Chapter Seven: Father's Gift

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.

New to the story? Start with Chapter One. You can also read the story on WriteOn.


Trew walked inside his cabin and closed the door. He slumped back against the sturdy wood door and felt the coolness. He looked at his new home. While it was small, much smaller than he was used to, he found himself able to untense.

His crickets, however… He dropped his box of altered crickets and toed them away from him.

He walked to the cot and sat on it. Fair.

He sprang to his feet and opened the sea chest at the foot of the cot. It was vast and empty on the inside. Trew had expected a uniform at least, but there was nothing.

He looked some more. There was so little inside the cabin that Trew began to notice what was missing. A window. Trew looked everywhere, including as high up on the hull as he could. There was no window, no porthole, nothing inside his cabin.

Trew listened. He could hear people moving around above him. He stepped closer to the hull. From without, he could hear water sploshing against the hull.

He decided not to grumble. He expected he was below the water line. A window, at best, would show him a little light streaming through the water. At night, it would be blacker than anything Trew had ever seen.

Trew smelled the cabin. There was something faint, a smell that wasn’t a smell, not like ripe peaches or the tang of a man who worked with iron and steel.

He had smelled something like this before…on those days when he was in Prime and they’d worked with their facet…

Yes, Trew smiled. The ‘smell’ was facet, a good deal of it.

He had the sense there was more than one cot and one chest in this cabin. He walked deeper into the cabin, toward the hull. He didn’t hit it. In fact, the room expanded and revealed another cot and chest.

Trew walked, with his hand and fingers extended, as far as he could. By the time his fingers touched something solid, cool, and unmoving, Trew had exposed a total of four cots and four chests.

It was a clever bit of facet-work: a Boy alone got a cozy cabin, while four Boys packed in here at least had some space to move around.

He decided to leave his screened box of red crickets on the floor near the fourth cot. He’d take the cot nearest the door.

He was pleased. He sat down on that fourth cot and stared at the door to his cabin.

For a moment, he puzzled over what facet had been used to make the cabin’s space act like it did. He didn’t know, and didn’t even know how to begin reasoning to a correct guess.

What Trew knew of facets was paltry. Father and Mother had taught him some minor things. Bynes, who worked for Mother, had showed him a little more, but mostly made Trew practice what Mother had already taught him.

Prime had taught a few tricks, though Trew had learned more from the boys in his Prime. Bilden Gawgrie, who was no relation to Trew, had an older brother and three older sisters. He’d known a thousand tricks — maybe more. He’d also possessed a catalog of rotten jokes equally vast. He was going to work for Father at the foundry sometime in the next year.

Trew couldn’t think of any of Bilden’s tricks that could make a room seem to disappear. He couldn’t even begin to guess at what had been done to his cabin.

Trew hoped he would learn something like this… He smiled for the briefest moment. Then he thought about what was beyond the cabin door: a Mate and a Commander who might be conspiring to dump Trew into the Purple Sea.

That popped his bubble of curiosity.

Trew heard noise from above. Was the Fortress leaving its mooring? He should stumble out and try to find his way back to the main deck.

He didn’t get up.

He was thinking of the Commander just then. He was worse than anything Trew had read in a flimsy. He was worse than Bynes on a bad day.

Trew knew how to survive this, of course. He needed not to wimper or complain, not to mind, not to let the barbs draw red lines on his blue skin.

It was one thing to know where the path was — it was something else to walk it. Right now, Trew felt fear and shame. He didn’t want to listen to another word the Commander said.

He wanted to go to sea, he did. But he couldn’t stand up from his cot.

He closed his eyes and thought about falling asleep. At least the Commander would be on the main deck — and not in Trew’s dreams. Trew shifted on the cot. Suddenly a weight in his pocket pressed back into him.

He’d never fall asleep like that. What was… He remembered then about Father’s gift.

He got up and dug into his pocket. He hefted the the sack again before he opened it.

The light in the cabin came from a few small Glows in the ceiling. It wasn’t much light, but Trew could make out coins, as he’d expected. Dull ones, many, in stone, rare wood, and iron. The rest were bronze aside from seven in silver.

There was a slip of flimsy part-buried inside the slipping mass. Trew plucked it away carefully so as not to tear it. He looked at one side: blank. He turned it over and blinked.

All it said was, “You can,” in Father’s untidy scrawl.

You can.

Some coins, quite a lot actually, and two words: that was all it took to make Trew grin. Father had never spared many words for anyone. If three worked, he didn’t use four.

You can. Trew knew that. Trew had been dealing with worse his whole life.

He traced the words with his finger once, then tucked the flimsy back into the sack. He thought about it and pulled out a dozen of the stone and rare wood coins. They were worth a little, very little, but wouldn’t look odd on a Boy at sea. Someone should have a little coin on him, but not too much.

You can. Trew wasn’t going to let a bad first hour on the ship sour him for the rest of his time.

No matter what anyone would say, he was at sea. This was his cabin. This was his future.

The note just reminded him of what he already knew.

You can.

He could, he would. He would make the Fortress his. He would turn Mate and Commander from black clouds into clear, red sky. He would make Compass Mate value him. He would make the Commander want to promote him.

That was his choice: master these doubters or give up before he’d even started.

Father was right.

Trew might be down again after the next disaster, but he’d remember the note. He’d get strong again.

No one else would know when and how to help him. His sister Ceal, who was the same color as Trew and just as tough a person, had helped him for years. She now had to take care of herself in the True World. Trew could do, and had to do, the same here.

He put the sack back into his pocket. It shifted a little and the coins jangled. He couldn’t carry all of them on him. He’d jangle like a smith making curtains out of iron links.

That wouldn’t work. He didn’t want to lose them — or Father’s note — in an accident or to a thief.

Where to put the rest of Father’s gift?

He looked around the small space. Trew had his own cabin, a plus for now, but there was little in here. It was possible if he hid his pelf badly, he’d find it absorbed into someone else’s stash.

What could he do? He had to get back to the main deck soon.

He could hide the sack in one of the chests. There were four. Or inside an unused cot. Unfortunately, these were obvious places.

Trying to open up a secret spot in the hull was the height of foolishness. He could hear the gossip back in Gawgrie. ‘That blue fool tried open the hull of his own ship and drowned in his cabin.’

No. Trew would not be exploring in the deck or the hull or anywhere else. He liked being as warm and dry as possible.

He looked up to where the Glows were. Maybe if he moved a chest so he could stand on it, he could investigate the Glows and…

Someone knocked on the door. Trew’s eyes flashed to the source of the sound. He’d have to consider the problem of his coins later. The sack would have to be safe in his pocket for now.

The second knock followed swiftly.

Compass Mate, Trew decided. More rules from Compass Mate.

“Come in,” Trew called out.

Someone much shorter than expected opened the door and peered inside. “Four cots, too?”

It was Clock Boy.

“Yes,” Trew said.

“Yours is the same as mine.”

“Come in,” Trew said. “See the same thing you just left.”

Clock Boy smiled and walked inside. He closed the door behind him.

“It was strange to hear your voice today.”

Was it, Trew wondered. He didn’t squeak or anything.

“We spent a week in that shore school and none of us were ever allowed to talk. I didn’t know what you or Sparrow Boy would sound like. I guessed wrong.”


“What was I supposed to sound like?” Trew asked.

“Like a tiny fife.”

For a small boy, Trew had a somewhat deep voice already.

“The one Warrant sounded like a bird screaming.”

Trew laughed. He could picture in his mind that man with one leg. It was true. His voice had been rather hard to follow.

“The school was half hum drum and half twaddle, much worse than Prime. I think I remember three things they said.”

“I’ve kept even less,” Trew admitted. “I do remember that there is a giant squid out here somewhere.”

That had never made it into the flimsies, so of course Trew had been enchanted with the idea.

“The Warrant who whistled a lot called it a kraken, I think,” Clock Boy said.

Trew nodded. A kraken, yes. Maybe some of the other details would pop back into mind if he were to need them.

“The new lot seem just as bad.”

At least Trew wasn’t alone in doubting Mate’s skills as an educator.

“I’ve seen more interested pieces of driftwood. We’ll have to teach each other.”

Trew nodded. He’d take the help. He’d also offer whatever someone would accept.

“The cabins are kinda cold.”

“You going to complain?”

Clock Boy shook his head. “To Mate? Or the Commander? No. No, I'll just grumble to you.”

That was a smart choice, Trew agreed. Complaining to the half-turtle in the dirty sayle was ill-advised.

“Should I tell you my name? Mate said…,” Clock Boy said.

Trew wondered if Clock Boy always spoke this much or if he was as nervous as Trew was.

“Let’s go simple. Call me Cricket Boy. Should we get up on main deck?”

Clock Boy didn’t seem to hear the question. “I hate what he saddled on me. Call me…Sprocket.”

Trew must have blinked or made a face.

“It’s scarcely better,” Clock Boy — or Sprocket — rushed to say, “but Clock Boy…”

“Alright, Sprocket. Then I’ll be—” Trew looked at the cage of crickets on his floor. He shivered. “I’ll be Red Cricket.”

Sprocket grinned. “Red, then.”

Sprocket must not like crickets, either.

Trew couldn’t argue that. “Okay.” He liked the silliness of being a blue-skinned boy named Red.

“I’d never seen someone with blue skin before you showed up at the shore school.”

Ahh, there it was. The red lead into the blue. That was what Sprocket had come to say. Trew shrugged. Many were curious, some were rude, a few were more than rude.

To Trew it was normal. But he admitted to himself that it was also rare. He had seen few others with his condition. That Man on the merchie a little while ago was one of the few.

“They weren’t nice to you,” Sprocket said. “Today, up there. What the Commander said right in front of you…”

“I’m used to it.” Trew often said that line to Father or Mother, but it wasn’t the truth.

“Do they know — umm, do they know what causes it?”

Everyone wondered that. Few asked. The ones who did sounded even more embarrassed than Sprocket did.

Trew knew why he was really asking. “It’s not catching.”

“That wasn’t what I asked.”

It was what he wanted to know. “It happens sometimes. Me and my twin sister are like this. My parents and younger sister are like you.”

Sprocket flushed.

The facet cannon had hit its target. The people who asked Trew just wanted assurance. The answer was this: no one Trew had ever met had woken the next day wearing blue skin.

“But what…,” Sprocket struggled to get out. His flushing had increased.

“The healers don’t know.”

“What do you think?”

Trew shrugged. “Lots of old ladies say they know. One told me every day she saw me that I was bad and deserved for others to know, hence my blue skin. Another one insisted that I ate too many peaches.”

Sprocket laughed. “You don’t seem so serious now. In that room at shore school, you were pretty solemn.”

Eager, more like. Or desperate not to fail. “The warrant officers who rotated through the room all had their eyes on me.”

Sprocket grinned.

Trew noticed that Sprocket was missing a few teeth, which might explain the slight whistle when he spoke.

“Missing eyes, missing legs, missing fingers. Why is everyone in the Sea Guard horribly disfigured?”

Trew had noticed it, too.

“You know that answer, Red?”

“I don’t.”

The taller boy nodded. He looked at the partition wall. "Let's see the third room. I hope Sparrow Boy can at least laugh at a joke. Otherwise, we have a barrel of hum drum everywhere he turn.”

Apparently Trew had passed some sort of test. He wasn’t hum drum.

He thought himself a little boring. All the better if Sprocket didn’t.

Sprocket left first. Trew was pulled his door shut behind him.

Trew admired that Sprocket, so far, said what he thought. After living in Gawgrie for so long, Trew had become a master of guessing what Father meant — or what the glare of an old lady really meant.

“He might be on deck already,” Sprocket said quietly. “Harder to talk up there. Still…”

Sprocket did the honors on Sparrow Boy’s cabin door. Knock, knock, knock. Very impatient.

A muffled voice within bid them entry.

Sprocket opened the door. The cabin was cramped, like Trew’s cabin did before he’d extended the visible space.

The two dozen black sparrows decided to complain.

Sparrow Boy stared at his charges. “They haven’t stopped since we got in here.”

Trew was stumped.

“It’s not so bad. They’re small,” Sprocket said.

“They’re not red,” Trew added.

“They’re tiny and I’m terrified of them,” Sparrow Boy said. “I wasn’t allowed a pet, you see.”

Trew nodded.

“We lived in Steward’s House. I don’t want any of them to die because I didn’t know what to do.”

“We’ll solve it,” Sprocket said. “What are you called?”

“You heard. Sparrow Boy?”

“Like it?”


“How about — hmm, not Black Sparrow, how about Black?”

Sparrow Boy stared at the cage of his new friends. He just nodded. “Yes, I suppose. But only on the ship.”

It was a bargain, reluctant but done.

“I’m Sprocket. He’s Red.”

That finally got Black to smile. Everyone could enjoy the silliness of a blue boy taking on the name Red.

“How are your crickets?” Black asked.


“How many clocks do you have?" Black asked Sprocket.

“A hundred, maybe two hundred.”

“The box wasn’t that big.”

“They’re shrunk. If I expanded them, I could fill the floors of three cabins.”

“Spinner-Weaver-and-Cutter, why so many clocks?” Black asked. “Why so many birds?”

Spinner, Weaver, and Cutter. Trew had never heard those words in a triple. He wondered what they meant.

A knock on the door ended the thought. “Boys, you're late for supper and sailing.”

It was Mate.

“Coming,” Sprocket said for all of them.


Continue to Chapter Eight.

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