Last Episode: “Ice-Ship of Fools”
Or, Read from The Beginning of Part II: Game of Drones: Reloaded
After an interminable length of time, Levesque’s ship at last sailed within hailing distance of Wardstein, Kyle, and James. Sailors lined the decks, weapons held in ready positions. Levesque raised a megaphone.
“You have fired upon his Majesty’s ship, La Poutain Graisse! Identify yourselves!”
James bristled immediately. “Oh yeah? Well, Captain, I’ll have you know that I – “ but Wardstein grabbed his sleeve. “Our mission is a secret, remember?” he hissed. “We can’t blab about what we’re up to!”
“Speak!” Levesque screamed.
Sir Kyle cleared his throat. “Our deepest apologies, sire – we are adrift here in the water and only sought your assistance. We meant only to attract your attention.”
“What of the cookies we read about on the note?”
“We’ll, ah…we’ll get to that,” Sir Kyle stammered. “May we board?”
Levesque conferred briefly with his mandarins, and then waved them aboard. After clambering up the proffered ladder, the men stood awkwardly before Levesque. The gruff little man squinted at them. “Your arrow found its mark on the greatest chef in France!” he accused, gesturing at the reeking remains of Gérard. “Since we are so far from home, we have no choice but to decimate his body and feed them to our swine belowdecks.”
“But sir!” Papineau sputtered. “The home village of the departed chef is actually within sight yonder on the shore! We –“
“–Absolutely no choice,” the captain continued, as a couple of lackeys dragged away the corpse, careful not to tear the trousers and thus spill the foul contents upon the pristine oaken decks of La Poutain – there had already been enough mess to clean on these planks today, thank you very much.
“A tragedy,” Wardstein rumbled diplomatically, and honestly. He always appreciated fine food, after all. “We beg your forgiveness, great captain. It was truly an accident. We humbly ask only for safe passage to the lands beyond, should it be within your convenience to do so.” James, impressed by the uncharacteristically flowery language, winked surreptitiously at Wardstein, who grimaced in return.
The captain spoke again with his officers, who seemed in disagreement. At last, the captain turned to the men. “As it happens, we are voyaging ourselves to port on the lands of Georg. Another sad mission to be sure.” He nodded in the direction of an aft cabin. Stepping from the cabin on the poop deck was a shockingly beautiful woman. Dressed not in the blue finery of Levesque and his crew, but gossamer black silks of a richly iridescent quality that shimmered like a crow’s wing. The men bowed their heads.
“We escort the lady to the funeral in two days’ time.”
“What funeral?” Wardstein wondered, staring at the woman. Involuntarily, he began considering how he would introduce himself while simultaneously undermining James and Kyle. Perhaps a demonstration of flexing to begin.
“Of Lady Georg, of course,” said Levesque. “She passed quite suddenly. And mysteriously, I might add.”
Kyle watched the sun shine its last light across the vast ocean as he sat alone near the front-part of the ship. The ‘bow’, a sailor had told him. All the things had different names and it was confusing. Front-part wasn’t front-part, it was ‘bow’. Right was ‘starboard’, somehow, and left was ‘port’. Kyle couldn’t understand why they needed new words for things that already had perfectly good ones, but he supposed people on boats must get bored. He was pretty bored, himself. Wardstein, while recovering from his seasickness, still had a decidedly gray pallor to him, plus he had taken on some duties. James, on the other hand, had rarely come up to the ships top-part. He had been introduced to some sort of gambling game the sailors occupied themselves with and had scarcely left the table since sitting down, Kyle was told. Apparently he was making some of the sailors quite rich, so they had for the most part gotten over the senseless death of their friend and cook. That Wardstein proved an apt culinarian had probably helped that along as well. The man veritably transformed with an apron on, always talking about ‘dashes’ and ‘presentation’ and ‘garnish’. He and his French friends had talked for over an hour about the ideal mouth feel of a crepe. He seemed to have found non-murderous kindreds, which Kyle decided was a good thing. Personal growth was important. But while his friends had made themselves comfortable in their new surrounding with their new friends, Kyle couldn’t rid himself of his unease. It may have been the near crippling diarrhea (where do you go on a boat?), but Kyle thought it had something to do with the whirlwind of activity that had brought them here. Nothing about it had seemed right. Still, he did his best to relax. They were going where they need to be going. They still had the chest, tucked away innocently in the ‘hold’. Things were going smoothly, for the most part. A disturbance from the cabin door caught his attention. It was James.
“Woot!”, he yelled. “Navigator–person, drop anchor and hit the lights. We PARTY!”
“Belay that order!” came the immediate reply from someone unseen. Probably the Captain-dude, Kyle thought. James seemed not to notice that the ship kept cutting its path through the water.
“Daddy’s got a hot hand!” he yelled, and punctuated it with a graceful twirling fist pump. “Finally, after everything, it’s all coming up James. I told you idiots I was a master, and now you know. Hahaha. Give me your pathetic wages. I guess you won’t be buying your wives that new coat she wanted.”
No one seemed to be paying any attention to him, so Kyle gave him a thumbs up. James sneered in reply. “I gotta get down there while my luck is hot,” he muttered to no one in particular, and turned around to descend back down the steps. Moments later a few sailors came up from where he went and strolled over to Kyle, readying their pipes.
“Is that pipe made of horn?” Kyle asked the taller of the two men.
“Mais oui. From a how-you-say elephante. It screamed for mercy.”
The two began talking to themselves in their strange and very offensive to the ears language so Kyle moved a bit away, towards the middle-part of the ship. He leaned on the railing, the sun now all but disappeared from the horizon. This time he did not hear anyone approach, just a voice. The voice of a woman, it was rich and well-measured.
“Your amis. They are strange, yes?” kyle turned around to see the stunning woman from earlier, still all dressed in black as she had been every time Kyle had seen her. This was the first time he had heard her speak.
“A meese?” Kyle asked.
Your companions. Your friends.”
“The cook seems a fierce warrior, yet he carries a bow and bemoans the lack of good wine pairings. He shrieked at a mouse.”
“Yeah. He’s an enigma,” Kyle agreed. “But mark my words, you will see his mighty anger before this journey is out. If I know Wardstein he is probably getting pretty upset with the lack of direction James and I provide. Soon, I think, we will see the old mobile death machine.”
“What of the other one? Is he a little-“ the woman made an awkward motion with her hand.
“I don’t follow.”
“Does he…you know?” Again with the hand motion.
Kyle still didn’t understand, but decided it would be easier to just agree, so he nodded.
“I knew it.”
“Did he win a lot of money?”
In response, the woman laughed loudly. It was a rich and pretty sound. “He is nearly broke. He would have been broke, but he won the last hand they played, then celebrated as if he were parading in Paris. He is, I think, not very good with his money.”
Kyle shrugged. He guessed that when you were as rich as the Archduke was you just didn’t have to care about that kind of thing. He didn’t have a dollar to his name, himself. Though he supposed he could have sold the sword McStogey had given him for a healthy price.
“And then we come to you,” the woman continued.
“Me?” Kyle asked, genuinely surprised. He viewed himself as an accessory to this whole ordeal. “I am a humble knight. One time manure-farmer. Though I was less humble then. We had a good farm.”
The woman looked confused, then shook herself.
“Je pense pas.” She smiled at him. “No. Your big friend is no simple cook. Your flamboyant one no simple dandy. And you. Not a simple Knight.” She reached down and grabbed Kyle’s scabbard. It was rusty and weathered and beaten, chosen to help conceal the beauty of the weapon it held. She pulled the sword an inch from its scabbard and looked Kyle directly in the eyes. “Je pense pas,” she said again. Then, laughing softly, turned and walked away.
As La Poutain Graisse cut silently through the waves on its course toward the lands of Georg the Generous, a lone midshipman on night watch duty slumped against the stern’s rail. The boy’s eyelids were heavy with fatigue, and he knew that if weren’t for the coarse hemp rope running through his fingers to the churning waters below, the gentle rise and fall of the ship would have certainly rocked him to sleep by now. He looked languidly to his hourglass and saw that all the sand was resting in its base; for how long, he did know. “Merde!” he muttered to himself as he began hauling back the chip log to try for another reading. Suddenly, footsteps sounded on the deck. “Who—who goes there?”
“Bonsoir, Dubois,” said a voice from the darkness. “How are we faring?”
“First Master Perdant!” the boy replied, looking nervously to the sky and breathing deeply through his nostrils. “—Guh–good! We’re faring really, really good.”
“Excellent. And how fast are we tonight?”
Dubois stopped hauling back the damp rope a moment and bit his lip. “Uhh…two hundred knots?”
“Yes, that sounds about right,” said Perdant, nodding with conviction. In truth though, the young officer had never really paid much attention during his studies and knew very little about nautical speed. He simply knew that if he asked about it from time to time in an authoritative tone, people usually assumed he had things under control. As an added measure, he always made sure to temper what one of the younger cadets might interpret as a job well done with a bit of criticism, just to keep them on their toes.
“Dubois, what do you suppose Capitaine Levesque would have to say about that hat of yours, hmm?”
“But sir, I’m not…wearing a hat?”
“Exactly! And you’d better to see to it that it doesn’t not happen again!”
Satisfied, Perdant then turned and walked off to resume his rounds.
Dubois scratched at his head a moment, then began strolling the deck. Perdant wouldn’t be back a while, and besides that, everyone knew he was kind of retarded, so he didn’t pay him much mind anyway. Passing the leaded windows of the captain’s state rooms, the boy’s curiosity got the better of him and he stopped to peer inside. Inside, Captain Levesque sat at his table with Quartermaster Papineau and two of the strangers they had rescued from the ice float earlier that day. The candles were burning low and the enormous, semitic-looking man who carried a longbow was staring unhappily at his empty plate and appeared poised to ask for more, but the gangly one who was encased in metal seemed to have his host’s full attention and was gesturing to his own plate of food.
“AHA!” he suddenly exclaimed, clanking to his feet in triumph. “I have you, Captain! Do you not know that in the service, one must always choose the lesser of two weevils?!”
The metal one seemed to expect a response other than silence, for he suddenly looked rather embarrassed. He pointed again at the plate, on which two larval insects were squirming.
Captain Levesque leaned closer to his first officer in confusion and whispered something unintelligible. Papineau then cleared his throat and spoke more loudly.
“Mon Capitain, I uhhhh, believe dat our guest ‘ere ees making a….’ow you say? A uh….joke?”
The metal one nodded a yes and smiled.
“‘E uhhh…clearly tinks dat the food you have generously provided is full off these uh…parasites? And ‘e uhhhh…tinks dat ‘e is better than us.”
The captain then looked sternly to the metal one who was shaking his head ‘no’ in panic, when the bowman suddenly cackled wildly, which seemed to prove infectious, for soon they all joined in.
“HON-HON-HON!” laughed Papineau. “I am just kee-ding! I too can make a joke, ehn?!”
“But seriously though?” interrupted the large one again. “This food DOES have a lot of weevils in it, and for the first time in my life I regret killing someone. Ha ha! Though I heard the cook did die rather hilariously! Still, I wish here were still here to serve up some good food!”
Papineau then switched from laughter to tears in remembrance of his dead pal, when suddenly the cabin door burst open and the cook himself stood in the entrance! Papineau quickly brightened. “GÉRARD, MON AMI!” he exclaimed. “You are alive! And we were just talking about you! But ‘ow is eet you are here?!”
“I have come back…to DANCE!” said Gérard in an unusual English accent. “To dance…in my POOPY PANTS!”
The cook then began wriggling awkwardly in the doorway for a moment as everyone stared in amazement. He was a horrible dancer, but his showmanship was commendable. Suddenly he collapsed to the floor in a loose, smelly pile. Again. The good-looking, long haired, bearded one then entered the room from out of sight where he had been holding up the corpse like a marionette puppet. Laughing hysterically, he high-fived the archer, who was also doubled over with laughter.
“Sorry I’m late, guys!” said the newcomer. “Man, that cook is getting RANK! Worth it, though. Toally worth it. Ba ha ha!”
“I thought I ordered Gérard fed to the pigs?” mused Captain Levesque. More tears from Papineau. The Captain glared at him. “Ughh. Grow a pair, would you, Papineau? On to serious matters! I have a question for you three. What are you transporting in that strong box you seem to guard so closely? Because if it’s the cookies we were promised, well…we could all go for some, you know?”