Thursday, October 1, 2015

Cricket Boy: Chapter Twelve: The Kraken of the Purple Sea

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.

XX

Trew tried and failed to twist his head in any direction. He couldn’t see what it was that had saved him, nothing beyond the smooth, mast-thick edifice that cradled him.

He spent the several minutes before they overtook the Fortress trying to guess what could be faster than a ship of the Sea Guard, even one with a broken engine. He decided this was something fashioned by a Mate or even the Commander. He couldn’t wait to learn this bit of facet-work.

Trew, Black, and their savior came to parity with the Fortress, but their landing on the main deck was in no way gentle. Black called out in pain. He had had the worst of it in the last few minutes. He had fallen from the arm to the railing, though Trew softened that landing, before he hit the water. Now his wounds were troubling him.

Trew had the breath knocked out of him. He sat up and blinked. His mind was sluggish just then. He also found he was shivering. Being in the water and then flying through the air had robbed him of much warmth.

He still didn’t know what that thing had been. When Trew turned around, his savior was gone. The evidence of its presence was some lightly Glowing water on the main deck which several Men began pushing off with brooms.

“What saved us?” Trew asked. “Who made it?”

He wanted to know who he should thank.

“Two Boys falling over and the Sea spitting them back…”

Trew kept looking around. Who had made that?

“…care of the Kraken.”

A Kraken…

“Ye might see it again in your lives, but those coils will ne’er save ye again. Yer devils fer sure, but the Kraken favors ye.”

Trew had gone through a period where he’d been enchanted with the Kraken, but his books and flimsies had contained so little about it. Just a nod here, a comment there, and three different engravings that looked nothing alike.

He hadn’t thought the Kraken would be so massive or so red. None of the engravings had shown a tentacle as being wider than a person, especially a ten year old Boy.

“Get them into my cabin,” the Commander said to the crew of Men and Mates who were close. “Don’t ye touch ‘em, but get a knife and cut their rags off ‘em. The rags and the knife go into the Purple Sea. Dry them off, get them below to the cautery. Bathe them in fresh water. Fresh, ye mind, and three changes…”

He turned to look at Trew and Black. “Did ye swallow that poison?”

Poison? Trew was instantly baffled.

“The water? Did ye swallow the water?” the Commander shouted.

“I don’t know,” Black said. He was cradling his damaged arm.

Trew thought yes. He nodded.

The Commander stared at the Cautery Mate. “After they’re dowsed, heal that one’s arm, not before. Then give them water and watered gawgrie. Overfill them three times, make them scream to piss. After they do, ye get that filthy fluid out the port. Or Sparrow Boy will turn blue and Cricket Boy will start growing scales and fins.”

What… What did he mean about poison and fins? Trew wondered.

No one said.

Trew wasn’t terrified, but he was very close to it.

The next minutes were a rush. Trew blushed as his uniform was cut from him and tossed. His oddments, including his wooden coins, were now upon the Purple Sea. He was dried, those towels were tossed, then he and Black were rushed to the cautery. There he and Black were shoved into a wooden tub and doused with freezing water, time and again.

Trew saw only one thing as he shivered. There were small ports opened to the nonexistent breeze. He saw something flung overboard. Then he considered the shapes. The Men on broom duty had thrown their tools overboard.

Everything that had touched that water was returned to the water.

The Commander hadn’t been lying about the danger, had he?

When Cautery Mate was out of earshot, Black said, “Thank you, Red.”

Trew shivered some more, but nodded.

That was an all-encompassing apology. For being stupid, for getting knocked off, for almost drowning Trew.

Trew decided to let out some of his curiosity, now that they were safe.

“Why were you up there?” Trew asked.

“I was trying to get an answer to that question.”

Trew remembered what Black had said he was going to do. “You went to Chesty.”

“Aye, but Chesty said he didn’t know.”

Trew nodded. He also remembered looking at Chesty when Black had been climbing the signal mast. The Able Seaman had expected something. What? For Black to fall to his death. Maybe, maybe not.

“Then he said that Drish would. Drish was part of the sayle drill…”

“On the yardarm?”

“Aye. So I climbed up there before Mate came back for more Glow training.”

Chesty really had put all of this into motion. In that moment, Trew knew a fiery hatred. If he’d had a chance to push Chesty into the Purple Sea, he might have done it then.

Trew said none of this. “So he was nice about it?”

“No, coarse not.”

Some times Trew hated being right.

“Chesty said I was a babby, a coward… Of course I climbed up. I was crying, but I climbed it.”

Trew vowed he was going to find a way to repay Chesty, something less obvious than knocking him into the Sea, something more painful. The Able knew more facet-work than Trew did, of course, so it would have to be repayment in another currency.

“I didn’t want to be the only one to fail.”

Trew nodded. He understood.

A man looking to grin like a Cheshire cat had put an idea into Black’s head. That idea merged with Black’s desperation and almost killed Black and Trew. It was a lesson Trew hoped never to forget, casual cruelty could be little different from a murderous plan thicker than a deck plank.

“I should have listened to you.”

Trew put his plan for Chesty into the back of his mind. He started to say something to absolve his friend, but Cautery Mate returned with a few helpers.

This time the water they carried was steaming. “Shivering so much you’ll shimmy right out o’that tub. Thought to warm some water fer ye.”

“Thank ye,” Trew said.

That second change of water was a relief.

When Trew was able to feel his toes again, he looked around for someone to thank. The cautery had emptied of all but the two Boys in the tub.

This was becoming an irritation. Trew and Black scared even the Cautery Mate.

“Was it really a Kraken?” Black asked. He was still shaking.

Trew shrugged.

“Why did it save us? They’re deadly.”

“I don’t know much about them. Wanted to, but could never find a good flimsy,” Trew said.

He didn’t think their savior deadly. Fast and smart, aye, but not deadly. It had managed to pry Black from Trew. It had known to do so. That was a thinking beast.

“Me mam’s favorite book — or one of them — is on the rarest of creatures. The book’s old, a hundred years or more, and it says that the Krakens are even older.”

Trew wanted to see that book now.

“What I read just said they were rare.”

He had touched the red skin of a Kraken and understood almost nothing of what had happened. He wanted to know.

“Aye. But as ancient as anything in the Red World,” Black said.

“Oh?”

“One part of the book said Sea Guard formed up first because of a Kraken long ago. Men with boats, small craft, tried to hunt it and kill it.”

Trew hadn’t heard any of this before. He needed to find a copy of that book.

“Their hunts never worked?”

“The book said the early settlers mounted, I think, seven tries. Out of all the boats and Men they sent, only one ship and a handful of survivors returned. Since it formed up, Sea Guard has never tried to hurt it. It might chase it away if it ventures to shore, but it knows better than to hunt a Kraken.”

“Sea Guard learned something. So did we.”

“Aye.”

“It’s kind. Today it plucked us from death.”

Black nodded.

The water in the bath was cool now.

“No reason to hunt the Kraken,” the Commander said crisply. His voice echoed down the hall outside the cautery.

“The Kraken itself ain’t deadly, not in my experience.”

Clunk-slide. Clunk-slide.

He was approaching slowly.

“We would have died but for it,” Trew said before he knew to stopper his mouth.

It was odd to try to talk to someone who wasn’t yet in the room and visible. Odder still to say something so disagreeable.

“Someone threw over a rope and a buoy. Conked ye good. A rush like that often bleeds more than it salves. No time to think. No time to plan.”

“I’m glad someone tried something,” Trew said. “You didn’t stop for us.” He knew he was pushing beyond any boundary of good sense.

This Commander enjoyed no amount of dissent.

“We perish, each alone. An old saylor’s warning not to fall off a Sea Guard ship. In the Purple Sea, death is all that awaits ye.”

“I’ve swum in the Sea,” Trew said.

“Close to shore?” the Commander demanded.

“Aye.”

“Water flowing off from the land dilutes the effect. Yer mam made ye scrub after, didn’t she?”

“Aye.” Trew hadn’t remembered that part, but it was true.

“It’s worse in the deep, worst of all when the Kraken is near. The miasma of facet that travels with — or precedes — the Kraken is why we think of the Kraken as deadly.”

The Kraken wasn’t deadly, the water was? Trew didn’t understand that at all.

“Such a creature puts out a massive amount of facet that poisons the water.”

The Commander stepped fully into the cautery.

“If any fish come in through a rift, they’ll survive exactly until the Kraken comes to investigate, surrounded by that poison water. It was why I thought you dead. You certainly plunged deep into the Sea. You’re dense with facet, denser than I’d thought. That water should have buoyed up a village of a thousand, but it didn’t.”

That surprised both Trew and Black. No book either of them had ever read covered such ideas. Poison water. Density of facet.

“I’ve never heard about poison water,” Black said.

“Aye. Tis true, though little known.”

The wisdom of the saylor didn’t often make it into books, Trew suspected. People out here with nothing but the Sea learned things that people on land didn’t know or care to know.

The Commander fixed his stare at Black, who shrank a little in the tub. “Now, climbing the signal mast during sayle drill was a fool thing.”

“Aye,” Black said.

“I got the story out of Chesty. I’m displeased. In him and in ye.”

Black was shivering and flushing at the same time.

“As for Blue Boy, I have differing reports. Ye actually let yerself fall into the Sea?”

“To save my friend, aye.”

“A minute longer in that water and ye’d have died. Do ye ken?”

Trew knew it all too well. He could still feel the burn of his muscles, the screaming of his lungs. He knew.

“Now ye’re bobbing around like lumps. Pour the water over your hair or we’ll have to shave ye bald. Both of ye. We may do it anyway. All that facet cannot do ye but harm.”

Trew started pouring the cooling water over his hair.

“Blue Boy, ye’re braver than I’d have expected. Fool-headed, but brave.”

Trew would take those words as a compliment.

Of course, the Commander didn’t stop speaking then. “I canna say you did well, but at least you would have died trying to save a life. There is some virtue in that.”

Every single time Trew started to appreciate the Commander’s few virtues, he had to continue speaking his mind.

There was the sound of running close to the cautery. Compass Mate rushed in.

The Commander didn’t spare a glance for the door. “Late, Mate.”

“Yes, Commander.” That was all he could say.

He gaped, looking at what little there was to see. Two boys in a tub in the cautery wasn’t much of an explanation.

Trew wondered what the rumors were already proclaiming.

Squeezed to death by a Kraken.

The Blue Boy took on so much facet he’s now turned red. What else could they say?

They were touched by the Kraken and were now growing tentacles.

“I expect ye’ll get ‘em uniforms that fit. That Blue One looked like he was swimming in a sack.”

Mate looked for wet uniforms.

The Commander shook his head. “Requisition fresh sayle. Their old ones are dancing in the Purple Sea now.”

His eyes were on Compass Mate.

Mate just nodded.

“Ye should have been watching ‘em. Boys and trouble are fast friends.” His voice was in a low rasp, but it was loud enough to fill the cautery.

Compass Mate stood tall. “Aye, Commander.”

The Commander departed.

Trew and Black answered Mate’s few questions as best they could. Mate was at a loss for anything further to ask well before he left. Surviving a dip in the Purple Sea through the intervention of the Kraken…

Trew understood that Mate was having difficulties.

Perhaps he’d return with clothing or rage or some new task that would lead Black into almost breaking his neck.

Cautery Mate returned and the water fountained out of the tub before it was replaced by fresh, though cold, water.

Trew shivered. He started his hand Glowing.

“No facet work at all,” the Cautery Mate said. “I remembered cold is good for those suffering from facet overexposure.”

He left then.

“He just made that up,” Black said as he poured some of this chilled water over his damp, straggled hair.

“Aye,” Trew agreed.




Much later, Trew and Black were quiet and shivering lightly in that emptied tub. Cautery Mate had been in after that third change of water to fix Black’s arm. They were healthy and free and had not lost their hair to the Cautery Mate’s shears.

All they lacked was fresh clothing.

Plus oddments for their pockets.

Trew tried to remember how many wooden coins he’d lost with his old uniform. He could replace them from Father’s gift.

Compass Mate returned with two uniforms. “I sewed these myself. Take care of ‘em. I won’t do it again.”

“Aye, Mate,” Trew said.

He was angry at Black and Trew. This wasn’t going to be good, these next few days.

“Tomorrow will be signal lessons — and sewing. Ye’ll be making your own clothing. Get dressed and rest in your cabins.”

“Aye, Mate.”

The frazzled Mate left the cautery then.

Trew had some trouble getting out of that tub. It had sloped sides and was still a bit damp.

He tried to leap from the tub. It worked well enough, but was ungainly. Now he was close to the port pulling on his new uniform — which still looked like rags even if they’d just been cut and sewed.

The words from the main deck drifted down to his ear.

“Give up sayle drill. The Men can perform it in the calm.”

“Aye, Commander.” That sounded like Ship’s Mate.

“We’ll just ignore the signals.”

Trew started listening intently then.

“Commander?”

So did Ship’s Mate.

“Fitche is having a good time keeping me chained to my desk. My responsibility is the ship and her crew. We have people to train and evolutions to perfect.”

“But you don’t want to see…”

“I’ll rip the viewer off my cabin wall. None of ye pay attention to what they’re saying. I’ll have it out with Fitche when we put into Northguard.”

The Commander had given up on his sly rebellion. This now sounded like war between the Commander and the Captain. That couldn’t be good.

There were steps outside the cautery. Trew stepped away from the port.

“Still here?” Cautery Mate asked. “Good. One last thing before you skitter. Take these jugs.”

Trew did. It was fashioned from wood.

“You drink one down tonight. You come back tomorrow and refill it. Fresh water. Those Men on main deck wouldn’t know the first thing about separating water from salt and facet. You ask me or Compass Mate. He knows. Ship’s Mate, too, but he’s busy.”

“Aye, Mate,” they both said.

Sprocket was waiting for them underdeck, near the Boys’ cabins. They spent a few hours in Sprocket’s cabin discussing Krakens, poison water, Chesty the trickster, the Commander’s canniness, and much else. The noise of the clocks was quite irritating, Trew found.

The conversation was awkward, as well. Black flushed red several times and Sprocket stumbled over his words when forming up questions.

Even in that uncomfortable environment, Trew recognized that flushes and clocks were better than crickets chirping away the silence.




The gathering had broken when Black said he was exhausted. He had had the worst day out of all of them.

Trew excused himself at the same time. He went to his cabin and drank of his fresh water and left his jug in his cabin. He went up on deck rather than remain with his crickets. He scanned the coming dusk for any sign of the Kraken. There was none.

His eyes settled on the skiff.

The red man was redder now, his limbs were sunken, and his chest was barely moving.

His rescue had never been more than a death watch.

Trew knew it, he knew that the man in the skiff was near-dead and soon-dead and close-to-dead.

Trew knew something about those conditions, given what had happened earlier. He’d also been soon-dead at least according to every thinking man on board the Fortress. He’d been given up as dead, he and Black.

We perish, each alone.

No.

It might be saylor wisdom, but Trew had no use for it just then.

He didn’t like near-dead and soon-dead and close-to-dead.

Trew had received a gift of life from the Kraken. He wasn’t so fast or so strong or so mighty, but he could at least attempt to provide a similar gift to one who needed it.

Trew might have been useless the night before, but now he could at least take fresh water down to the dying man.

He went back to his cabin, drank his water, and took the jug to the cautery to ask for someone to separate him more water. One of the Men there helped Trew, then shooed him away.

Trew pilfered what he could from the galley and went on deck.

He waited until the Watch had settled into a sleepy pattern. Their apathy toward the skiff was more profound this evening.

Trew climbed down the rope again, which was harder when he was carting a jug filled with water and a little food.

Trew set the skiff to rocking again when his feet touched it.

The eyes of the dying man popped open and remained open this time. They fixed on Trew and were full of terror.

The man with the sun-boils was dying and he knew it.

The water and food wasn’t enough.

He needed someone skilled with healing facet.

Trew got closer to the dying man and gave him the cold oat gruel. He washed down every tiny amount with water. It was slow and tiring to do it.

Trew wouldn’t abandon this man to his death. He would offer what he could. He had no facet appropriate to the task, and had no hope of convincing anyone with the right training to help. He could hope some water and food might help him — or, at least, ease his suffering.

The man’s eyes never left Trew.

He tried to say something more than once, but all his focused effort couldn’t form up a single word.

What communication there was traveled from one pair of eyes to another. The message wasn’t thanks. It was a little rage, a little something else. Terror, Trew’s first thought, seemed more and more correct.

Trew said nothing the entire time he was there.

His attempts at words the prior night had been so inadequate. He just fed the man and gave him water.

It wouldn’t be enough. Trew couldn’t lie to himself about that.

The dying man spit up a mouthful of gruel.

In his weak state he ate less than a babby.

Trew threw the excess gruel into the Sea. He looked at the dying man, really looked. Those boils looked awful, though they were no reason to let a man die without even making an effort.

Sea Guard was filled with the brave, the wise, and also the cowardly. Sometimes the last and worst class even became Commanders. Trew would never forget this man, the first dying person he’d ever been close to. In Gawgrie, Mother had always kept Trew and Ceal away from anyone sick.

He carried his wooden jug back up the rope with him. He sat in his room and drank the rest down.

He fell asleep easier that night. He wasn’t plagued by dreams of drowning, Krakens, or men with red boils.

XX

Continue to Chapter Thirteen.

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