The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen (11 page)

BOOK: The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen
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‘Can you call them?' he asked Claude, but got no response.

Stanley waited a few minutes, as there seemed little else he could do, then spoke again.

‘Could I please go and have my dinner now? Could you put me back on the Galloon?'

THE DEMISE OF THE GALLOON IS IMMINENT

‘Yes, so you said. So … may I go and warn the Captain?'

THE CAPTAIN HAS BEEN WARNED

‘Okay. So I suppose he'll want to …'

But before Stanley could continue, the great tiger and his enormous fist gave a mighty lurch.

WE ARE UNDERWAY

‘Ah, okay. I'd really like to go back onboard …'

YOU ARE SAFER HERE

‘Safe?'

NO

BUT SAFER

‘Ah,' said Stanley.

They were indeed underway. Stanley twisted in Claude's fist, and saw that they were slowly picking up speed as they moved towards the waterfall. The FishTank was now nowhere to be seen – Stanley suspected it had clambered over the top of the cliff and headed off into the mysterious landscape beyond. The Galloon rose sharply as it picked up speed. Overhead, thunder rolled – the air had been so humid for the last few days that rain had seemed certain – and here it was. Fat drops landed on Stanley's head. The spray from the waterfall combined with it, to soak his fur and skin. Behind him, Claude growled, a long low rumble that mingled with the thunder. Stanley felt it rattle through him, and was overjoyed once more at his life on the Great Galloon.

They were now coursing through the sky, over the waterfall, which they skimmed so close that it seem to Stanley as if the great rudderboards that reached out below the keel of the Galloon must surely have been in the water momentarily. Fish flipped from the water as the Galloon's enormous shadow passed overhead. Stanley was enjoying the sight so much he almost forgot they were in hot pursuit – and then he saw the FishTank. The river here widened out almost immediately, until it was spread out across a wide plateau. It snaked and twisted through rocks and boulders, many of which were shaped like great grey space rockets ready for launch. The FishTank was half swimming, half clambering among them – pulling rocks over with its long whip-like cable arms, to make a passage for itself. Its captain clearly didn't care what destruction he wrought in this magnificent place – if something was in the way, he smashed it down or threw it aside. Colonies of birds flew away just in time as the awful contraption knocked down the rocks on which they had made their homes. Many of the rocks were covered in a kind of hanging moss that seemed to weight them down – and as one particularly huge rock formation was cracked and thrust over by the manic contraption, a very strange thing indeed happened. Stanley noticed that much of the moss was hanging not down, as you would expect, but up into the air, like the hair of someone who was hanging upside down. The green trailing tendrils seemed to be reaching into the sky. As the rock was shouldered aside by the FishTank, the weird green moss seemed to take its weight. And rather than falling over, the rock began to float slowly up into the sky.

‘What the …?' said Stanley, as the strangeness of what he was watching overtook him.

Another moss-covered rock broke from its moorings, and began to float majestically upwards, for all the world like a party balloon, albeit one that was heavier than a house and as sharp as an axe.

‘We're going to hit them …' said Stanley, thoughtfully.

YES

A pause.

SO PERHAPS YOU ARE NOT SAFER HERE AFTER ALL

‘Ah. Then maybe you could drop me back onboard?'

TOO LATE

There was a tearing sound, to go with the rain and the thunder and the splintering of rock. Claude was ripping his wings free of the Great Galloon's wooden sides. His other hand also came free, and he stretched and flexed his fist as if he had slept on it funny. Then, as nothing was connecting him to the Galloon any more, he dropped like a stone for a few feet. Stanley's heart leapt into his mouth, a place it was getting quite used to finding itself in. Claude held onto him tightly but gently, even as he stretched out his phenomenal wings, and beat them once.

‘Well, this is something to write home about!' said Stanley, happily.

Claude flapped his broad wings once more, and Stanley tried not to think about the fact that they were, as far as he knew, still made of wood. They were no longer in danger of falling, and Claude began to outpace the Galloon. He flew straight towards the great spur of rock that was now almost directly in the Galloon's path.

‘Down there!' cried Stanley, as a smaller piece of rock that must have been dislodged earlier came into view just below them.

GRATITUDE TO YOU

Claude lashed out with an enormous leg, and smashed the little rock to pieces. Some fell to the ground, others, with the odd moss attached, flew up past them. But none were now big enough to harm Claude or the Galloon.

The big rock ahead was now almost at the same height as the Galloon, but Stanley had no way of knowing whether the Captain would see it, and if so whether he would have a chance to avoid it.

‘Faster!' he cried, then put his hand over his mouth, embarrassed to have spoken so to someone he had just met.

URGENCY UNDERSTOOD

They did indeed speed up, and Claude soon had his shoulder to the great rocket-shaped boulder that threatened the Galloon. He shoved and heaved, but even his enormous strength didn't seem able to move it far enough off course.

Stanley looked back, and watched the Galloon approaching. It seemed to him that somebody onboard had noticed the imminent danger, as the huge vessel was in the beginnings of a turn to larboard. But in this still air, with no wind behind, turning the Galloon could be a pretty slow process, and Stanley didn't think they would get out of the way in time. Far below and ahead of them, the FishTank was still on its way, smashing and destroying as it went. Looking back he could see little figures moving around the deck of the Galloon, moving sails, pumping balloons, and generally trying anything to change course. It was not going to be quick enough. He stared at the rock that Claude was throwing all his weight against.

‘The moss!' he cried. ‘Get the moss off! Then the rock will sink again!'

PLAN APPROVED

With his one free hand, Claude began to tear the long tendrils of moss from the rock. As he let them go, they shot into the air, but the rock didn't seem to be sinking out of harm's way.

‘Put me on there!' called Stanley. ‘I can help!'

NO SAFETY THERE

‘No safety here if the Galloon is destroyed!' cried Stanley.

POINT TAKEN

Claude gently held Stanley between two of his mighty claws, and gingerly plopped him onto the very top of the floating rock, where the moss was thickest. It felt rubbery and unpleasant to the touch, but Stanley began yanking and pulling at it as quickly as he could. Claude now had both paws free, and soon Stanley began to feel as if they were making a difference. The rock's upward progress was halted, but it was still in the path of the Galloon, which was now careering crazily towards them, sails flapping monstrously from every yardarm. Stanley guessed that a full stop had been called.

‘More!' he cried, and renewed his efforts to tear the strange, seaweedy substance off the rocks. He took great armfuls of the stuff and flung it into the air with gay abandon. He had the feeling that the rock was beginning to drop. He looked to the tiger, who also seemed, strangely, to be almost enjoying himself. As Claude took one more great armful, the rock started to plummet to the ground. Stanley whooped with relief, as the Galloon's prow, now Claudeless, passed a few feet over his head. Then he realised he was now on a rock that was no longer covered in whatever floaty substance had kept it in the sky. Claude seemed to realise the same thing, and he threw himself backwards off the rock, grabbing Stanley and flipping wildly over in mid-air to avoid smashing into the Galloon. He did so just in time, as the rock fell to earth and shattered into thousands of glass-sharp pieces. But there was no time to celebrate – Claude threw his wings wide and flew ahead of the Galloon once more, to where more rocks were threatening to make the prophecies of the Galloon's demise come true.

This is fun!
thought Stanley.
I wonder what Rasmussen's up to?

Rasmussen had gone straight from the meeting in the Brunt's hot little bedroom to Stanley's bedroom, where she had been busy at the Examinator. She had expected to hear Stanley's mother ready to give him lessons, but strangely she was nowhere to be heard. Rasmussen was not a fan of the Examinator – anything that had been invented mainly to make lessons unavoidable was never going to be on her list of ‘favourite things I ever heard of' but she had a strong feeling that it would be useful in the current circumstances. She felt bad that she had not been able to tell the Captain what they had heard previously about the Pirate Queen, but there was no proof as yet that they had been listening to the Sumbaroon – it could of course be anyone pretending, or fantasising, about being onboard Zebadiah's vessel. It was imperative that she find a way to talk back to that mysterious pair, the boy and girl who had seemed to be speaking from inside the Sumbaroon itself. She was keen to find out if they were who they said they were.

‘Hello, Nora,' she said, as the little fat rat stared at her unblinkingly.

Rasmussen had the feeling that Nora didn't like her, but she didn't let that put her off, as she took a small screwdriver from a toolbox on Stanley's bedside table, and began to unscrew the back of the Examinator. She may not go to lessons very often, but that didn't mean she didn't know a thing or two …

Up in the wheelhouse, Cloudier, the Captain and Ms Huntley were cheering at the tops of their voices. They had seen the flying rocks, of course they had, but all their efforts to change the Galloon's course had been in vain. They had resorted to calling for a full stop, which meant loosening all the sails on the Galloon, and letting them flap in the wind so there was no forward motion at all, but their impetus had carried them on. Just when they had felt sure they must crash into the strange floating rock that had been sitting in their path, something incredible had happened. A great brown shape, like a version of Fishbane that was a thousand times bigger and carved from oak, had flashed out from beneath the Galloon in a shower of shattered rocks, and flown off into the distance, where it had begun to smash, shove and heave a path through the rock field for the Galloon to follow. It was also, Cloudier saw, taking the opportunity to fling a few rocks at the ground, where she presumed the FishTank was still making its way towards the horizon.

‘Go Claude!' yelled the Captain, pumping his fist with delight.

He and Ms Huntley gave each other a hug and slap on the back.

‘Mother!' cried Cloudier, embarrassed.

‘Oh, shush, Clouds,' said her mother, which was her usual response.

Cloudier couldn't help being elated as well, as she watched the great creature slamming its way through the ever-growing cloud of rocks.

‘We'll have to go slow, but I think we can proceed,' said the Captain. He grabbed the nearest Squeaking Tube and cleared his throat.

‘Ahem, Skyman Abel, Mr Clamdigger, I think we can risk half-speed ahead with caution. Follow that tiger.'

A tiny squeak told Cloudier that at least one of them had responded.

‘Tiger?' she said, nonplussed. ‘Claude? Not …
Claude
Claude?'

‘Yes indeed, Cloudier. It seems the legends are, in fact, true. Who knew?'

‘Not even you?' asked Ms Huntley.

‘On this occasion, I promise you, not even me. I was given the figurehead – Claude – as a gift. I did not watch him being carved or installed. I knew the rumours about him, but thought that was what they were. It seems not. It seems we have a powerful ally.'

‘Where was he when we nearly lost Clamdigger to the sea? Or when we had to fly into that volcano?' said Cloudier, thinking aloud.

‘Oh, shush, Clouds,' said her mother.

They looked again through the wheelhouse window and there was Claude, crashing a fist into one of the smaller rocks, which was smashed to smithereens by the blow. Again some of the pieces flew straight up into the air, and some fell to the ground.

‘It's Liken,' said Cloudier, quietly.

‘What's that?' asked the Captain, tearing his eyes away from the tiger's heroics.

‘It's Liken that makes the rocks float – like inside the main balloon.'

‘Stall me engines, you're right!' said the Captain. ‘I've never seen it grow naturally, but it can be nothing else. How strange the world is!'

‘When have you been inside the main …?' asked Ms Huntley, but she was interrupted, as the great shape of Claude came rushing back towards them. They watched in awe as he thumped through the air directly in front of the Galloon, smashing a few remaining small rocks as he went. He roared, and even over the rain and thunder, they felt the power of his voice.

BOOK: The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen
5.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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