The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen (13 page)

BOOK: The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen
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Perky's demeanour changed – his eyes widened. He dropped his scone. All pretence left him. He took off his home-made pith helmet and laid it on the table.

‘Ari,' he said, in a voice that was much less highfaluting. ‘I used to live on that thing. My friends are on it. Could you take me there?'

The Galloon crash site was a hive of activity. The ship had come to rest on a kind of platform of rock, almost hanging over the edge of the canyon through which the river thundered, smashing against the great moss-covered rocks. Stanley had disembarked, for the first time in a very long time, and the feeling of rock beneath his feet was an odd one. Another odd thing was that he was standing, out in the open, alongside the Brunt.

‘It is just about warm enough for me here, Stanley Crumplehorn. And I need to find dry wood for the burners – the coal scuttle was smashed during the crash, and all coal lost to the great rushing river Rococo,' the Brunt had said.

He was wearing a great quilted coat, given to him by the Captain, and the biggest slippers Stanley had ever seen, while nearly everyone else was in shorts and shirt sleeves. But he was here, and it made Stanley's heart glad. Together they stood, a few hundred feet away from the craft that they both called home, and regarded it anew.

‘What an incredible thing she is,' said Stanley.

‘How lucky we are,' said the Brunt.

‘Thanks, you're not so bad yourselves!' piped Rasmussen, emerging from the undergrowth with a grin. She had the Examinator strapped to her back like a knapsack, and had managed to find half a coconut with a straw in it. She slurped the juice noisily.

‘Not … oh, never mind. Let's help find supplies – we need to look out for tall straight trees, vines for ropes, and a hundred other things, Clamdigger says …'

‘Yes, we could do that …' said Rasmussen. ‘Or we could head out into the forest to find out who's playing these drums?'

‘But, shouldn't we do what we've been asked?' said Stanley.

‘Where's the fun in that?' asked Rasmussen.

‘It's not about fun, it's about taking some responsibility for your actions, Marianna Rasmussen,' said Stanley.

Rasmussen, the Brunt and Stanley all looked at each other for a moment. Stanley cracked first, doubling up with mirth.

‘Hahahaaaaa! I nearly had you there!' he cried.

Rasmussen splurted coconut water over his shoes as she laughed too.

‘Hahahah! Responsibility for … for … for … ahahahahah! Good one!'

The Brunt laughed too, a great harrumphing chortle that sounded like some huge beast of the undergrowth greeting the morning.

‘Good one, Stanley,' he agreed. ‘You are a playing card.'

‘I vote we wander off in a random direction, in the hope that whatever we bump into will end up being useful in some way,' said Rasmussen.

‘That usually works!' said Stanley.

At that moment, Skyman Abel stepped out of the undergrowth behind Rasmussen. Stanley didn't know whether he had sustained some kind of blow to the head (again) during the crash, or whether the heat and stress were just getting to him, but he had abandoned his starchy uniform, and was now wearing trousers with lots of pockets in them, a dirty vest, and a piece of rag tied round his forehead. Still being Skyman Abel though, he had clipped his medals to his chest.

‘Aha!' he drawled, in a strange voice that wasn't his. ‘Looks like we got ourselves a bunch of deserters! Gonna give away our positions, are you?'

‘We're going to try and find the drummers, Mr Abel, see if they can help.'

‘Help!?' yelped Abel, gripping his pointing stick as if it were a crossbow. ‘There ain't no-one gonna help out here. We're on our own!'

‘Except for our five thousand, two hundred and four crewmates …' said the Brunt.

As if on cue, at that moment the gyrocopter flew overhead, with the Countess and Mrs Wouldbegood on board. They waved.

‘Woo-ooo!' said Rasmussen.

‘I'm afraid I can't let you go anywhere! We can't risk giving anything away to these forest drummers. What if they're in league with … “You-Know-Who”?' said Abel conspiratorially.

‘Who's Yoonohoo?' asked Rasmussen.

‘He's one of the quartermasters. Lives down on deck three. Plays the fiddle,' said Stanley. ‘I'm happy to be in league with him. He's very nice.'

Abel spun round in a tight circle, gripping his stick even harder. He made a noise like an owl, for no apparent reason. Then he turned back to them.

‘Not him – I mean … Zebediah!'

‘Oh, that's okay,' said Rasmussen. ‘I'm not sure Zebediah's quite the threat we've always thought him to be. I spoke to someone onboard the FishTank, and they were very keen to tell me that Zebediah isn't really in control any more. It seems the whole thing is falling apart. I told the Captain. He seemed pleased.'

With this bombshell, Rasmussen slurped noisily on her coconut, and threw it over her shoulder. Then she turned away from the Galloon, and pressed through the undergrowth. Stanley and the Brunt followed her, agognished. Abel twitched, and then slipped back into the shadows.

Eyes watched them from every angle.

The pattern of the drums changed.

Cloudier was floating just a few feet above the slightly wonky deck of the Great Galloon, in her little weather balloon. She had become quite adept at piloting the thing nowadays, and now that the Galloon's gigantic main balloon was half deflated, draped at a crazy angle over a rock the size and shape of a cathedral spire, it was possible to fly closer to the deck than she ever had before. It was upsetting to see the Galloon in such a state – although no one had been seriously hurt, the crash had been an almighty one, and the wreckage strewn across the decks would take days if not weeks to clear, repair and reorganise. After the initial shock, the crew and passengers had leapt into impressive action. The Captain was convinced that the Galloon itself was repairable, although it had come to rest at a slight angle, and no-one liked to mention the ominous creaks and groans that came from the hull, especially during the long, hot night they had just spent onboard.

Now, as the work parties were beginning to clear the debris, and save whatever could be saved, it was Cloudier's job to direct them from above, pointing out anything they could not see from the deck itself, such as the hen coops dangling overboard, the crack in the railing just below the poopdeck, and the place where the water barrels had been crushed by a gigantic wooden tiger falling asleep on them. Claude had remained there, as solid and unmoving as the mast itself, since his collapse. Cloudier was concerned about this. She was also concerned about the mainb'loon itself. It was beautiful – the red balloon, the great brown ship smashed against the grey rocks, the green forest stretching out all around. The sky lowered grey and humid, the heat was almost unbearable and the unsettling sound of the drums had not abated, but Cloudier was thankful. She knew, however, that they couldn't stay here forever, and there were many onboard for whom a trek through the forest was unthinkable. So they had to repair her, and repair her they would.

She spotted the Captain, an unfamiliar sight in shirt sleeves and kerchief, leaping from the quarterdeck rail onto the poop. She felt the relief she always felt when he was engaged in the Galloon's business, rather than distracted by thoughts of his lost love, as he had been so much over the last few months. She saw her mother leap after him, and noticed how they held hands to steady each other as they ran along the taffrail towards the main deck.

Yes, he doesn't seem to worry about Isabella so much any more
, she thought.

She brought the balloon up, and up, until she was alongside the red canvas of the main balloon still partly pumped up because of the infrastructure that she had seen inside it, and because some of its precious gas must have remained within.

She saw a tiny figure, roped up and harnessed, heaving itself up the side of the balloon near where it was snagged on the rock.

‘Clamdigger!' she cried. ‘Jack Clamdigger!'

The figure peered over its shoulder and Cloudier was pleased to see it was indeed her friend the cabin boy.

‘Clouds!' he cried. ‘Can you see where it's caught? Will we get her free, do you think?'

Cloudier raised the little weather balloon a few dozen feet, and peered at the great tear in the fabric, and the shard of rock poking through it. Strands of the mind-boggling floating moss were still escaping from it. It was painful to see, but if she had learned anything from her mother, it was to deal with any situation as it was, not as she would wish it to be. There would be time enough for reflection and poetry later. She returned to Jack's level, and manoeuvred in as close as she dared. He had a huge needle strapped to his back, and a reel of thread over one shoulder. Below him, she could see Tamp, Tarheel, Scrivens and a few other crewmen in a long line, roped together and climbing for all they were worth.

‘I think it can be repaired, and if we could refloat her, we could break free of the rock, Jack!' she called. ‘And the moss – the floatweed. We could use it, couldn't we? To give us extra buoyancy?' Clamdigger was concentrating once more on climbing, but she knew he heard, as he managed a thumbs up over one shoulder. This was not complacency, she knew – he was focusing hard on the task in hand.

‘It's up to me,' said Cloudier, out loud. And she was pleased with the realisation that this was not some posturing, empty phrase that she had read in a book and liked the sound of. It was the truth.

Between Cloudier and the other flying outriders of the Galloon, they would have to collect enough floating weed from the great spires of rock all around, and repopulate the main b'loon with it. Only then would the Galloon be able to take off, even if they could effect all the necessary repairs, and get the great burners and boilers going again.

She looked around her, and saw the tiny speck of the gyrocopter, away out across the forest. Fishbane had not been with them for many weeks, and Claude seemed to have returned to his unresponsive, wooden state, albeit sprawled across the main deck rather than thrusting out from the bows where a figurehead would normally be seen. Tim and Margery, the crows, should be around somewhere. And that was it.

‘Better get on with it, then,' she said to herself. Conscious that she should have girded her loins, but unsure how to, she went about her task.

Out in the forest the drums were yet louder than they had ever been onboard the Galloon. Rasmussen, who was not normally an easy person to spook, seemed spooked. The Brunt, who had taken out a great leather-bound pad and was making notes on likely sources of dry timber, did not seem too worried. Stanley wasn't sure what to feel. On the one hand, all his experience of unseen drummers in deep forest settings, which was gained entirely from one book called
Danger in the Jungle
, told him that it should be a bad thing. But these drums did not seem malicious to him. Surely if they were a threat, the threat-makers would have made themselves known by now?

BOOK: The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen
4.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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