The cannons of bliss
Firing In the dark
So we could leave a mark
Built the gun
Now who is the man
Trying to speak the truth
I found life above
The cannons of bliss
I will remember you
-- Andrew Creigh Currie
It was the evening after the attack on Moonplum. Henrye Allingham, still a little disoriented from being drugged with taggit and taking a sap to the back of the head, gathered up his weapons and armor. Five of Moonplum's young men and women--Caddis Duncaster, Jessica Duncaster, Thaduk the Smith, Adriana Harlowe, daughter of Lord Harlowe, and Thaduk, the son of his old friend and mentor--had apparently been taken by the pirates, along with all of that year's wine harvest. Joshua Duncaster, the father of two of the missing youths, was preparing his small fishing trawler to go after the ship and rescue their townsfolk.
The little fishing ship, a two-masted lugsailed rig, set out with six aboard. Henrye and Joshua, Thaduk the Sot, who, while a complete drunkard, had lost his nephew and cousin, and Mace Dunlop, Leopold Burton, and Ukug "Rummy" Rummm, all good men to have in a fight. They didn't have a plan, but they could think of that on the way.
Two days later, they spotted the ship on the horizon. They had sailed hard and they were gaining on it. Of course, they still had no plan, and most of them were more than a little drunk, since Thaduk the Sot had filled the little ship's entire food stores with nothing buy grog and last-year's wine. Leopold and Rummy, the best sailors in Moonplum, had taken over manning the sails and rudder, leaving Henrye to brood about what they was going to do against a ship full of seasoned pirates.
He was at a complete loss, and, try as he might, could not keep the look of desolation from his face.
Then he heard the cry from Rummy, "They're coming about! They've seen us!"
Henrye sighed, he knew they were doomed.
It was early in the morning of their third day aboard the Red Sadness. Caddis had just finished handing out the morning biscuits to the crew when the cry came from the crow's nest.
"Lugger off the starboard stern!"
"Just a fishing boat," Mr. Plugg said, peering through his spyglass, "steady as she goes Master Longfarthing."
But, an hour later the call went up again. "She's still there!"
"Following us? What range?" Mr. Plugg called up.
"Two knots and holding!"
"Runner, call Captain Herrera..."
"I heard, Mr. Plugg!" yelled Captain Herrera coming out of his cabin. "Peppery, bring us about. Riaris, run out the long nine. Master Scourge, round up the new recruits, time to give them some target practice."
Caddis, Adriana, and Thaduk soon found themselves huddled around a long-barreled cannon in the bow of the ship. Riaris Krine, the ship's master gunner, walked them through the complicated process of cleaning and prepping the big gun, loading the heavy nine-pound rounds, and aiming the thing.
Caddis was handed control first, and, siting in the long gun, quickly recognized the rig of his father's fishing boat. Of course, there was not much he could do with the entire crew watching. He took aim and fired. Luckily it was a long-distance shot, and he had no clue what he was doing. The cannon-ball splashed into the water a good 50 yards from the target ship.
Far from the mark as it was, the cannon-ball splashed down much too close to the little fishing trawler for comfort.
"They're shooting at us!" Leopold called. "We must sail in a serpentine pattern to evade their shots!"
"No!" Rummy called back, "That will give them more time to shoot at us. We should charge them full speed so they have fewer chances to sink us." Even as he talked, the half-orc looked around the little ship for a flotation device, sure that they'd have to abandon it sooner rather than later.
As the young men shouted, Henrye was still lost in his miserable funk, thinking about how he had doomed not only the five already taken by the pirates, but also these five who had volunteered to come with him. He was the worst leader ever.
The others aboard were no more help to the two youths piloting the boat. Mace was a good fighter, but didn't know the first thing about sailing, Thaduk the Sot was, true to form, passed out drunk, and Joshua Duncaster had been panicking since they first caught sight of the big three-masted pirate ship.
Leopold grabbed hold of the rudder and turned the little trawler just as a second shot splashed into the water, right where they had been a moment ago.
Back on the ship, Caddis and Thaduk did everything they could to not shoot the Moonplum fishing boat, without looking like they were deliberately sabotaging themselves. Finally, when their ruses became a little too obvious, and their chances of missing a little too low, Caddis stared Riaris Krine in the eyes and charmed her...
The tough gunner smiled at Caddis, stepped up to the cannon, and said, with a little too much silk in her voice, "Let me show you how it's done." And then proceeded to blow a large hole in the stern of the fishing boat. "There, not so hard." She then put her hands on Caddis' waist, guided him back to the cannon, and helped him aim, her hot breath tickling the back of his neck as she whispered instructions.
Caddis aimed, touched off the fuse, and...
Blew the main mast right off the little boat.
His dad's fishing boat stopped dead in the water and began to list to one side, taking on water from the hole in her stern. Caddis watched in horror as his dad, his old friend Leopold and Rummy, and the other villagers abandoned the little ship and began swimming for their lives.
"Make way, Master Longfarthing!" Captain Herrera yelled. "Bring us alongside the wreck. Master Scourge, round up the men and prepare for some fishing, we could use a few more hands!"
The Red Sadness slowed and pulled alongside the little ship from Moonplum. Thaduk, Caddis, and the gunner's mate, Kipper, dove in to fish out the half-dozen woebegone villagers. Once aboard, the villagers were stripped of their gear, save their clothes and Leopold's oddly frightening longsword (which none of the superstitious pirates were willing to touch). Captain Herrera then gave his usual speech thanking them for volunteering, telling them not to talk to him, and threatening some keel-hauling if they stepped out of line before retreating to his cabin.
Once the captain left, Mr. Plugg stepped in, recruiting Leopold and Rummy as new riggers and immediately sending them up into the upper rigging to hoist the mainsail that had been lowered to slow the ship. Henrye, Joshua, Mace, and Thaduk the Sot were all assigned to the swabs, and Master Scourge decided that, given the new hands, the ship needed a thorough scrubbing, top to bottom. Mops and brushes were handed out, buckets were filled with sea-water mixed with oil-soap, and all fifteen swabs went to work.
After less than a minute of scrubbing, Thaduk stood up, dropped his brush and glared at a gnome wearing an eye-patch, pointing at his section of the deck and growling. The gnome wet himself, but immediately went to work scrubbing Thaduk's section. Spotting Thaduk standing there issuing orders, Scourge walked up, glared at him for a minute, then smiled and handed him a whip. "Looks like I've had you doing the wrong work..."
Thaduk took the whip gingerly, then gave it a test-snap and nodded. Smiling and clapping Thaduk on the back, Master Scourge kicked the gnome, pulled him to his feet, and pushed him up against the main-mast, indicating that Thaduk should beat him. Thaduk hesitated a moment, then snapped the whip in the air with such force that it echoed across the entire deck like a thunderclap. Every swab on deck looked at him standing all chummy with the bosun, eyes wide, then immediately turned and began scrubbing with all their might. The happy bosun clapped Thaduk on the back again and extolled him to "Keep those lazy swabs working..." then wandered off.
Thaduk began bellowing in orcish, which sounded like horrible cursing even though he was just stating a recipe for whipped cream, and cracking the whip (in the air rather than at anyone). He yelled and cracked loud enough that even Leopold and Rummy, now working the top-gallants, were inspired to work diligently. The gnome, amazed that he had not been beaten unconscious, worked harder than anyone.
Jaundiced Jape, catching on to what Thaduk was yelling, ran down below decks and told Caddis that the bosun demanded whipped cream with his dinner. Caddis shrugged and obliged, milking the goats and whipping up the cream. Of course, with Fishguts out cold again, he had made fish stew for dinner and had no idea what the cream would be used for.
Once it was clear that everyone was working as hard as they could, Scourge wandered back over to Thaduk with many a hearty clap on the back and told him he could the rest of the afternoon off. Thaduk wandered down to the bilges, of his own free will, and spent the afternoon beating about the corners, looking for, but failing to find, something to hit. Finally he went up to the galley and helped Caddis assemble the evening meal, grabbing the bowl of whipped cream and the barrel of rum and hauling them topside when the evening bell rang.
For the first time, probably in weeks, there were no beatings handed out during the Bloody Hour...everyone having worked diligently for once. Instead, Master Scourge used the Bloody Hour to announce that he was promoting Thaduk to Bosun's Mate in charge of discipline and that the terrifyingly strong orc would be handing out any future beatings. As the officers withdrew, Caddis caught the gaze of Mr. Plugg, the first mate, and implanted the idea that Caddis, as the brains behind Thaduk's brawn, might indeed make a good captain...
Thaduk then joined Caddis in rationing out the evening meal. He made a point of personally serving all of the swabs their rum, topped with whipped cream. Those swabs that understood Orcish were amazed to understand that Thaduk's angry bellowing had not been the threat of more violence for failing to work, but a promise of rewards, however minor, for working hard.
Once dinner was served and most of the officers had withdrawn to dine with the captain, the typical evening festivities began to kick off. At the far end of the ship, drinking games started, a pair of the crew struck up an almost passable song on a fiddle and a concertina, and a couple even danced along. Leopold tried to strike up a song to entertain the crew, but was drowned out by a sudden raucous chorus from the orcs aboard the ship (all three Thaduks, Jaundiced Japes, Samms Toppin, and Grok) lead by Rummy.
As the dueling songs continued, Henrye Allingham stalked up to Thaduk, a look of simultaneous bemusement and barely controlled rage on his face. He spluttered for a minute, clearly having trouble ordering his thoughts, then screamed at Thaduk, asking him how he could be so friendly with pirates that had kidnapped him only a couple days earlier, how he had so quickly stooped to beating and terrifying people and accepting promotions and honors from criminals, and accusing him of betraying Moonplum and being in league with the pirates from the beginning.
Thaduk offered Henrye another mug of rum and whipped cream (a "White Orc" as he called it).
Henrye slapped it out of his hand.
Thaduk, calm rational fellow that he is, responded with a quick uppercut to Henrye's jaw which sent him flying over the rail of the ship to splash into the sea. Henrye's shiny helmet landed against the rail and Thaduk casually picked it up and planted it on his own head.
After a couple seconds, Henrye's head broke the water, but he was clearly having trouble swimming. His arms flailed wildly. His head disappeared and reappeared under the waves several times, each longer than the previous. Finally Rummy helped Caddis tie a rope around his waste and Caddis dove over the rail, pulling Henrye back to the surface just before he drowned. Once Rummy had hauled them both back onto the ship, Thaduk knelt down and offered Henrye yet another mug of rum. The stubborn soldier swung weakly at it, whether to knock it away or accept is hard to say, then passed out.
The drama dealt with, Thaduk felt a tentative tap on his shoulder as Tilly Bracket (the ships resident cougar) asked if she could have another White Orc. Thaduk server her a drink, then her gaze fell on Leopold. She slinked her way over to the bard, wrapped an arm around his waist, and asked if he wanted to dance. Clearly not getting the memo, Leopold guided her over to where the jam session was happening near the focastle and spun her through a couple of steps, before she grabbed his ass and said "That's not what I meant". The two of them then quickly disappeared down to the bunks in the lower hold.
Once they were gone, Thaduk overturned some empty barrels and tried to get the non-dancing, non-playing crewmembers to join him in a drum circle. Failing that, he led the new Moonplum recruits down to the lower decks and helped them sort out bunks near to his so he could stand watch over them, and they all turned in for the night.
Leopold awoke with a start, unused to the ship's morning routine and the clanging of the bell. He promptly fell, face (and other things) first out of the hammock he had been lying in. Wincing in pain, he rubbed at his face and found his hand somehow only made it wet and stickier. Opening his eyes, he found that his hand, and, indeed, the entire front of his torso, has been covered in whipped cream.
The rest of the crew were streaming up on deck, pausing only briefly to smirk or giggle as they passed Leopold. He groaned and reach for his clothes, which lay scattered on the floor around the hammock, just out of reach. Once dressed, he caught up with Caddis, Thaduk, and Rummy just as they were climbing the stairs out of the middle hold.
A greasy hand shot out of the galley and grabbed Caddis, "Biscuits boy!" said a rough and slightly slurred voice. "Those cut-throats will beat you senseless if you forget their breakfast again!" Caddis took the proffered tray and hurriedly rejoined his friends as they ran on deck. Caddis passed out the hard ships biscuits to all the crew, then Master Scourge and Mr. Plugg bellowed out the days assignments. Once again Leopold and Rummy found themselves working the topsails, while Thaduk set about his new job: wandering about the deck, snapping his whip at the swabs, and bellowing in unspeakable things in his harsh orcish tongue. This time, Rummy told Leopold, he was apparently yelling something about how much better plum wine tasted than rum...
As the climbed into the rigging, Leopold tried to start up a chanty to help assuage the hangovers, fatigue, and/or nausea (all of the above more likely than not) that plagued so many of the crew. Unfortunately, Rummy's loud voice once again broke in over the bard's, drowning him out with a song that was soon taken up by the other riggers.
Caddis, meanwhile, took the tray back down to the kitchen where Fishguts pressed a harpoon into his hand. "Need some turtles for tonight's soup," he said simply. Caddis smiled, figuring that this should be easy, him being the son of a fisherman and all. Sadly, on his first sight of a shell passing beneath the boat, he cast...but forgot to keep hold of the line. Not only did he miss the turtle, but he lost the bloody harpoon beneath the waves.
Undaunted, Caddis grabbed another spear and dove into the water. It is a convenient thing for a fisherman to be able to breath water. Caddis dove after the stray harpoon, then started looking around for another turtle. Of course, when he saw one, it was not the one he was looking for, but rather a gargantuan monstrosity of a sea turtle, nearly 13 feet long, weighing more than two tons, and charging him with mouth wide.
Caddis swam as fast as he could back to the ship and was half-way up a rope when the turtle caught up to him. The giant turtle slammed into the side of the ship with sufficient force that the entire ship rocked to one side, sending crewmen sliding across the deck. The crew scrambled to right the ship, Riaris Krine ran for the armory, and Leopold and Rummy scrambled down from the rigging to help their friend.
Thaduk, seeing the turtle pass under the ship to the opposite side, grabbed one of the sharpened spar spears he had made the other evening and leaped onto the thing's back, stabbing into the gap in its shell by the neck. The turtle winced away from the blow and rolled, submerging Thaduk, then dove. Thaduk stabbed it again in the neck, causing the enraged giant to wing-over and swim back towards the ship at ramming speed.
On the ship, Leopold quickly healed Caddis. Krine ran out of the armory and began handing out heavy crossbows to those crewmen not busy righting the ship. Rummy grabbed one and fired, but it glanced harmlessly off the beast's shell. Caddis and Leopold grabbed crossbows and joined him at the rail. As they took aim, a word from Peppery Longfarthing, Thaduk's tri-corn hat wearing nemesis, caused the loaded bolts to burst into flame.
The turtle picked up speed as it neared the ship. Not wanting to be flatted against the keel, Thaduk leaped free of the turtle's back and swam for the front ship. The turtle slammed into the ship with the force of large cannon and the sound of splintering wood, tipping it almost halfway over. A wave washed over the deck, sweeping Joshua Duncaster and Rosie Cusswell overboard.
As the turtle appeared on the far side, Caddis and company fired. While the enchanted bolts somehow remained flaming as they passed into the water, the deflection of the water prevented any of them from connecting. The turtle turned for another pass at the boat and the crew began to truly panic, sure that another shot like that on the keel would sink them.
Finally the Captain shouted an order and Peppery Longfarthing stepped up to the rail and unleashed a lightning bolt into the water. The turtle rolled over and bobbed to the surface, its momentum carrying it to bump gently against the side of the ship. Thaduk was badly shocked, but still breathing, but Joshua and Rosie were both fried.
Leopold and Rummy ran below with the ship's carpenters to asses the damage. Caddis, meanwhile, leaped into the water. He confirmed that his father's heart had stopped from the shock. Unable to do much about that, he and Thaduk tied the dead turtle off to the ship's stern. It would slow the ship down, but at two tons, there was enough meat on the turtle to feed the crew for a month, presuming they didn't get sick of the taste of turtle and the sharks didn't devour the leftovers before they could be harvested. Caddis also collected a large supply of fish that were floating to the surface, stunned by the sudden electrification of the water only moments ago. Suddenly, Caddis caught some movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned to see Rosie's body gone, and his father treading water, looking for all the world as if nothing had happened.
"Are you okay?" Caddis asked.
"Never felt better...but, why am I floating in the ocean?"
Caddis gathered up the fish, then helped his dad climb back aboard the ship. As soon as Joshua stood up, there was a gasp from the crew and everyone began to back away from the rail with much touching of collars. "Oh no..." was all Caddis managed to say before Sandara Quinn stepped forward, tipped her hat, and unleashed a blast of white-hot light in Joshua's direction.
And thus was Caddis' dad reduced to a pile of ash.