The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen (12 page)

BOOK: The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen
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MISSED ONE

They all felt it, like a message being projected on a wall inside their minds. For Cloudier, it appeared in a strong, tombstone script, as if carved in stone. She marvelled at the feeling of it so much that she almost forgot to pay attention to the meaning.

‘Missed one what?' she asked of the world in general.

Claude came to a dead stop crouched on the deck of the Galloon, as if he were a sprinter at the start of the race. He somehow managed to avoid all the lines and debris. One fist was raised towards the wheelhouse, and they were amazed to see it had Stanley in it. He was plopped gently onto the poopdeck in front of the wheelhouse, then Claude collapsed in a heap, as if exhausted.

‘Missed one rock,' said Stanley, pointing upwards towards the main balloon, before flopping to the ground, bedraggled and spent.

Cloudier followed his finger, and saw a shard of rock, perhaps as big as a horse, floating upwards between the deck and the balloon. A few hands were standing around, jaws agape at the sight of their giant lucky mascot sprawled headlong on the deck, and a few more were watching the rise of the rock splinter. It was shaped like an ancient hand axe, and Cloudier knew that when it reached the balloon it would cut through it just as effectively as any axe. She grabbed a Squeaking Tube, and turned its little dial to ‘Broadcast'.

It was strange to hear her own voice echoing all around the Great Galloon. Especially as what it was saying was this:

‘The Galloon is going down. We are about to crash land in the Darts. All hands to brace positions. BRACE! BRACE! BRACE!'

‘Well done, dear,' said her mother as she crawled under the control console in the wheelhouse and put her head between her knees. ‘Such presence of mind.'

‘Oh, shush, Mother,' said Cloudier, secretly proud of herself.

In Stanley's bedroom a few minutes before, Rasmussen had been screwing the back cover back on to the Examinator. She had switched a few wires around, and tightened a couple of connections, as she had read about in
The Little Adventurer's Guide to Electrickery
. Then she had taken out some bits of hay and poo that Nora had obviously left in there on one of the occasions when he had been let loose in Stanley's room. Now, she hoped, she would be able to choose who she spoke to and who she heard rather than relying on chance.

She sat in front of the machine and began to twiddle the dial marked ‘Twiddle This One', which was usually used only to make the voice of Stanley's mother sound clearer if she was a little faint. But now the machine had a much greater range of frequencies available to it, and Rasmussen began to listen carefully as a series of voices dribbled out of the mesh.

‘… welcome to super sounds of the seventies, this next record is by Bob Wisdom, who is seventy-nine … by gum I wish there was someone out there to listen to this …'

‘… fishbite forty, rising to seventeen later, good. Long heggarty, Gale force two, falling, strong later …'

‘Come on come on come on …' said Rasmussen, who was not the most patient of people. She carried on twiddling, and eventually found what she was hoping for.

‘… trying to contact the Great Galloon of Captain Meredith Anstruther … This is Magdalena Ragnarsson, onboard the Sumbaroon 3000, calling anyone who may be able to get us in contact with the Great Galloon …'

Rasmussen jumped and put her mouth to the speaktophone.

‘This is me!' she cried excitedly. ‘I'm on the Great Galloon! I think we have to say over, over?'

‘Haha! We do! I told Sidney we'd get hold of you eventually! He's such a gloomy gus! Over!'

‘I know someone like that! Over!' said Rasmussen, jumping up and down now with glee at her success.

‘We have to get a message to your captain! His brother has made a terrible mistake! He wants to put things right but he can't! Over!'

‘What?' said Rasmussen, suspicion returning. ‘Why can't he? He just has to let Isabella go, and say sorry! Over!'

‘That's just it!'
said Ragnarsson.
‘He tried to let her go – she doesn't want to! Over.'

Rasmussen took a moment to digest this, and then decided it was a cruel trick.

‘You Sumbarooners! You're all bad'uns! I've half a mind to …'

But she never had a chance to find out what she had half a mind to do, because at that moment, all communication was lost, as a Squeaking Tube began to blare out its frightening message across the ship:

‘BRACE! BRACE! BRACE!'

‘Oh poo,' said Rasmussen, as she grabbed Nora and went to hide under the bed.

The crash of the Galloon into the forest of the Great Brown Greasy Rococo River was, perhaps, the loudest thing ever to have happened there. The people who lived in the forest, the players of the drums, had long memories. They knew the names, occupations, peculiarities and peccadilloes of their ancestors back to the umpteenth generation, which was a lot. They had tales of things that had happened long before the forest had grown up, when the rocks were mountains, and the river a mere trickle in the dust. But nothing had made quite such an impact on the area as the crash of the Galloon. It came down in among the rocks that they knew as ‘The Pimples of Great Rococo', but which they knew were more widely known as the Darts. Ari, who had lived his whole life around the top of the waterfall, had been watching with interest as these strange contraptions made a meal of climbing up the cliff face and over the rocky landscape. Were they angry demons? Creatures from the Pre-Waking years, escaped from their midnight domain to wreak revenge on the mortals once more? Or machines built by people from far away, who had come here in search of the untold material wealth of El Bravado?

Probably the latter, Ari decided. When he watched the flying tiger fight and destroy the rock Darts as no-one had ever done before, he waivered a little, but then decided that even he probably wasn't a demon, as demons didn't exist. It was news to him that flying wooden tigers existed, but it was clear that they did.

So these were people from far away, and not just far away as in ‘over in Coracle Bay' but far away as in ‘from a different country'. He only knew one person who knew much about things that were that far away. So he watched the almighty vessel plummet to the ground in a barely controlled way, smashing rocks and rending trees as it came. Then, when the silence descended, he hopped on his bounce-stilts and went to get Perky.

Onboard the Galloon there were, by some miracle, no casualties. The balloon had indeed ripped like a wet hanky when the rock went through it, but the Captain and Ms Huntley had managed to control the descent to some extent, and many of the Galloon's outflyers – the gyrocopter, the biplane – had got airborne with as many people as possible onboard before they had hit the ground. Most of the others had taken refuge in the ballroom, or other rooms in the centre of the ship, so that although a few sharp rocks had made holes in the sides, and many sails were ripped and ropes snapped, the damage was far less than it could have been.

Now, almost an hour after the impact, with the light fading, the Countess was out in the gyrocopter looking for help, Ms Huntley was trying to ascertain exactly where they were, and the Captain and Skyman Abel were assessing the state of the ship.

‘Absolutely in tatters, sir, from bow to stern,' Abel was saying, struggling to keep his voice from cracking. This was not how things were supposed to go, he felt.

‘Yes – it is a worry, Abel, but again we must be grateful …'

‘That no-one was more seriously hurt, sir, yes, you said. And despite the fact that I myself sustained a nasty graze to the gluteus maximus, I …'

The Captain interrupted him with a look.

‘Gluteus maximus?' he asked.

‘Bumcheek!' said Stanley, helpfully.

‘Yes, thank you!' snapped Abel. ‘Despite that, I feel that, for his own good, we should take young Clamdigger to task, as he was on lookout duty at the time of the –'

‘Rigging can be fixed. Grazed bumcheeks … gluteus maximuses … heal. The Galloon will fly again one day, and I for one am thankful beyond measure that we have not fared worse – but for now I must work out what needs doing to achieve that aim, and how we go about doing it. Will you help me do so, or do you feel an urge to speak of blame and recrimination, petty upsets and minor grazes, Mr Abel?'

‘Oh. I. Well. It's just,' said Abel, pathetically. ‘I'm not sure I feel well, sor—'

‘Come come, Abel, not the time to be shirking, I should say?'

The Captain was looking at him askance.

‘No, of course, it's just …'

Somewhere a treefrog chirruped, and Abel jumped like a sneezing kitten.

‘I think it might help you to chip in and get some work done,' the Captain was saying.

‘But … something feels wrong, sir. They're closing in … I don't feel I could be of use …'

‘Very well. Then tell me – what grade is that rope there, that binds the jibb'loon to the outrigger?'

‘17d, sir, though we're out of it in stores. I know we've got a fine load of 12e, which is much the same but with a thicker core. Could easily be pressed into service for that job, no doubt …'

Abel heard himself saying this, and realised the Captain had done it again.

‘Then do so, Abel. And I shall start to think of the greatest problems we face – namely, repairing the main balloon, and refloating the old tub.'

‘And rescuing Isabella, sir?'

‘Yes, of course,' said the Captain, slowly. ‘Of course!'

‘Of course I'll do what I can, sir. But it's the trees, see, and the rocks. They're … listening sir. Closing in, as it were. There are ears all around. They can see us, but we can't see them …'

Abel felt his eye twitch, just once.

‘Ears all around? They can see us, eh?' said the Captain.

‘Yessir!' whispered Abel, fighting an urge to hide behind a tree.

‘With their ears, eh? Damned clever people, if you ask me. They should come out and say hello.'

And with that, the Captain strode off, probably to see where he could be most useful. Abel watched him go, and then slowly hid behind the mast.

In the forest, not so very far away, among the great rocks and the looming trees, Ari found Perky Luffington. He was the only person capable of making sense of the great city in the sky that had fallen among the rocks and trees. He had been born here in the forest, but had spent many years abroad, and now had some ways that his local friends and family considered eccentric. He was currently sitting at a small table outside his palm-leaf-clad home, drinking a long fizzy drink with lemon in the top, and eating cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

‘What-ho don' cher know, old fruit!?' he cried, on seeing Ari. His little fingers were extended so far that he was in danger of falling over. He put down his newspaper – which Ari noted was over three months out of date – and stood up. He was wearing a threadbare three-piece suit, with the trousers cut off at the knee, and the sleeves at the shoulder. He had not forsaken the black bowler hat, though he had cut a hole in the top of it to let the heat out.

Ari was unfazed by his bizarre appearance. It was well known that those who went off to find work and opportunity abroad usually came back, but that they usually came back changed. It was known as ‘town fever'. It didn't seem to do any harm as such, but a number of Ari's acquaintances would wake up at the same time every morning, don unsuitable clothes, and then wait on a platform of their own construction for a steam train that would never arrive. Perky was often known to complain about a game called ‘cricket', but when pressed was utterly unable to explain the rules. He had come back to the forest a number of years ago now, and had settled down very well, except for these few strange oddities.

Ari shook his hand, and accepted his invitation to sit. He even accepted a sandwich.

‘I need you to come and see something,' he said, while Perky poured him a glass of the fizzy stuff. ‘You know that noise that seemed to shake the earth apart last night?'

‘Noise, old boy? Do you mean the drums? Just some friends of mine, chatting,' he said, raising an eyebrow.

‘The noise! The noise that was definitely the loudest thing ever heard anywhere. It shook the trees, sent rocks flying into the sky, burst the eardrums of anyone standing within a mile?'

‘Oh yes, I do recall a kerfuffle of some sort,' said Perky.

‘Kerfuffle? Does that mean “noise like the world is ending”?' asked Ari incredulously.

Perky cocked an eyebrow.

‘Meteorite, was it? Earthquake, perhaps?' he said, while slathering thick cream onto a scone that was already slathered in jam.

‘It was a great flying canoe the size of a mountain, all sails and ropes and bits of wood, falling to earth and crashing among the Darts.'

BOOK: The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen
13.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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