The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen (14 page)

BOOK: The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen
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‘If only we could understand them!' he said out loud.

‘Understand what, Stanley?'

‘The drums, the Brunt. I have a feeling they are saying something, though not necessarily to us. More … about us.'

‘About us!' said Rasmussen. ‘They better not be talking about me, or I'll give them something to talk about. Which they'd better not!'

‘Hmmm,' said the Brunt, as they carried on down the little track they'd been following. ‘I once had a friend who spoke drum.'

‘A friend who …?' asked Stanley.

‘Spoke drum. He would know.'

As he spoke, he pushed through a stand of high grasses, and seemed to stumble out of sight for a moment. Stanley and Rasmussen rushed after him, worried that he had stumbled off an unseen ledge or cliff. But no – he had in fact stumbled out into a clearing. Their eyes adjusted to the distance as they looked out across a wide area of grasses and reeds, where water seemed to have gathered in great waist-high puddles. An elephant, startled at their approach, trumpeted and crashed into the forest a hundred yards away. Birds took off, and monkeys chattered disapprovingly. Even the drums stopped momentarily as if listening, before carrying on their insistent backbeat.

‘It's beautiful!' said all three of them together.

From behind a tree at the edge of the clearing, another voice spoke.

‘It is, isn't it?' it said. ‘The drummers think so too.'

‘Who are you?' yelped Stanley, at the bizarrely attired individual who seemed to melt out of the forest.

‘Yeah, who are you!?' snapped Rasmussen, incredulously.

‘Ah,' said the Brunt. ‘Perky Luffington, I presume?'

‘At your service, the Brunt, my old sausage!' said Perky Luffington.

‘But, my queen – he is stricken! He will never be weaker! If El Bravado exists, then it will still exist when we return! But now is the moment to strike at my brother's black heart!'

‘You are weak, Zebediah, not he! Once we reach El Bravado, he will be no match for us! With the silver in that lost city, I will be able to buy off his so-called friends, or create an invincible Galloon of my own, or take any one of a million ways to destroy him utterly!'

‘You continually underestimate him, my heart, my queen! He is down, but not out. He will be airborne again before you know it – he could yet stop us from reaching El Bravado!'

‘Stop bothering me! You are like a gnat, or a flea, nibbling and picking at me till I can take no more. And yet – his tiger is a mighty guardian, I will concur. Perhaps it is best to see to the Galloon once and for all while the wooden beast seems to be recovering.'

‘Yes, oh mighty queen. Yes! Shall I give the order?'

‘Do not presume so! There is only one here now who is fit to give orders. Hand me the contraption.'

‘Here, my lo … your highness.'

‘SUMBAROONERS. ABOUT FACE. MAKE FOR THE GREAT GALLOON OF MEREDITH ANSTRUTHER. READY ALL WEAPONS!'

Perky Luffington, the Brunt, Stanley and Rasmussen were sitting in the shade of a great spreading tree – not that it gave much relief from the all-pervading heat – while Perky and the Brunt caught up on old times.

‘And the time we nearly crashed into the Crystal Tower of PontyCloon, while that Megaduck was trying to eat us! Do you remember?'

‘Well, I was deep in the bowels of the Galloon, stoking the furnace. But yes, I heard about it, Perky Luffington …' said the Brunt.

‘And when the Wampyr of the Gesundheights tried to infiltrate the Galloon, and bit Ms Huntley on the hat! Do you remember that?'

‘Well, I was deep in the bowels of the Galloon, stoking the furnace. But yes, I heard about it, Perky Luffington …' said the Brunt.

‘And when …' began Perky Luffington. Stanley felt uncomfortable, and clearly Rasmussen did too, as she jumped in.

‘So you grew up on the Galloon, Mr Luffington?' she asked, in full ‘daughter of a countess' mode.

‘My word no, Ms Rasmussen! I grew up here. I'm Rococan through and through, from the soles of my brogues to the tip of my brolly. I suppose I just … took on some foreign ways while I was travelling the world.'

‘How fascinating,' said Rasmussen with a smile. ‘Then, I wonder if you still notice the drums at all?'

‘Drums? Why of course. They're always there, of course, but one notices them. They're a kind of news service, gossip, weather forecast and soundtrack all rolled into one. They've been a bit like a stuck record, of late, though.'

‘Oh, and why's that?' asked Stanley.

‘Well, they just keep saying variations on the same thing.'

‘And what do they say?' asked Rasmussen.

‘Let me see …' said Perky. ‘Well, they seem to be saying Thump-a-Dang-BonkBonk. Thump-a-Dang-CLANKBonk. Thump-a-Dang-BonkBonk.
Pause
Ker-Dang-BonkBonk-DerDUNK!'

Rasmussen and Stanley shared a look – polite, but exasperated.

‘And what, pray,' said Rasmussen, in an accent so cut glass it could have actually cut glass. ‘What, pray, does that mean?'

‘Oh, just a bit of folklore, really. It's so preposterous, it's almost not worth repeating. Must be a slow news day.'

‘Tell us anyway, if you don't mind, Perky Luffington,' said the Brunt, who was now leaning forward.

‘Very well,' said Perky. ‘It means – “Beware the Pirate Queen, scourge of the Great Brown Greasy Rococo. She returns, looking for the lost city of El Bravado. No longer is she alone – she lives in the belly of an iron eel. All will fall before her”.'

‘Just folklore, you say?' asked Rasmussen, her jaw clenched.

‘Oh, now I come to listen, there is a new bit. PurKlank a Klang Kerkonk konk derdonk, on the end.'

‘And what does that mean?' asked Stanley, his mind whirring.

‘Oh, I'm so terribly sorry,' said Perky, his brown face paling with fright. ‘It says, unless I am much mistaken: “She means to destroy the city-in-the-sky, great cloud-hanger, the whale-of-the-sunrise, floating-canoe-of-the-blustery-realm”. I'd thought it was just poetic nonsense, but now I know what made that noise last night, it makes more sense. She means to destroy …'

‘The Great Galloon!' they shouted as one.

‘Meet me back there. I will warn the Captain!' said the Brunt.

To Stanley's astonishment, the Brunt stood up in his thick robe and slippers, and stretched his enormous arms above his head. Then he jumped up and down twice, cracked his huge knuckles, and began to run. Before he had reached the edge of the clearing, he was moving faster than Stanley would have thought possible. As he crashed into the edge of the forest, Stanley realised that he would stop for nothing. Even with the drums and the cacophony of the disturbed birds all around, the noise of the Brunt's progress could be heard for a good few minutes, as he crashed through the undergrowth, and no doubt through the overgrowth as well.

‘Corks,' said Stanley.

‘Well, I guess we should follow,' said Rasmussen. ‘Thank you, Mr Luffington.'

‘I'm so sorry … I didn't put two and two together. The Pirate Queen … I thought she was perhaps a myth …'

‘Perhaps she is. Perhaps she isn't. But without you we would never have known what the drums were saying. So do not apologise. We owe you. Would you care to see the Galloon once more?' said Stanley.

‘Yes, dearly,' said Perky. ‘And if I can help in any way …'

‘Of course you can. You already have,' said Rasmussen, as together they set off to follow the trail left by the Brunt's almighty charge.

Cloudier had been working hard. She had found a method of gathering the long, heavy strands of floatweed off the cliff-side, while piloting the weather balloon with one arm. Then she would pile it high in the little balloon, and fly back to the Galloon, where she would stuff it into the tear in the main balloon. Then the sewing party would sew up just enough to keep it in place, while leaving a small gap for the next armfuls. It was hard physical work, and her arms were aching. But every time she returned to the Galloon, she got words of encouragement from the sewing party, which of course included Clamdigger, and that seemed to give her strength.

As she threw her latest bundle of Liken into the balloon, where it fell for a few moments then began to rise under its own buoyancy before becoming stuck under the great red canvas, she looked down. The deck was of course many dozens of feet below. But she could see that progress was being made. Mr Wouldbegood was waving his stick at a group of people who had made a good job of clearing the decks. The Captain and her mother were leading a party of people heaving overboard anything that was giving the Galloon extraneous weight – two grand pianos and a full-size replica of Castle Eisberg had gone over so far, with more to follow no doubt. Cook had set up a kind of soup kitchen on the deck, and all seemed to be progressing smoothly. Despite the apparent difficulty of their situation, the Gallooniers as a team were coping admirably, as ever. Cloudier had no doubt that within a day or two they would be continuing their journey to … where? Would they be able to find, let alone follow, the FishTank in this landscape of rocks, water and dense forest?

Never mind, that was a problem for another day. The FishTank would be miles away now, which at least meant that for once they were relatively safe from any kind of attack.

Just as she thought these words, she noticed something extraordinary. Through the forest a few hundred yards from where the Galloon had come to rest, something huge was moving at great speed. From up here, Cloudier could see the destruction, but she couldn't see what was causing it. Elephants? Great apes? People?

Her heart in her mouth, she began to descend, to warn those on deck in case the thing should turn out to be an enemy. As she sank, she saw that some people onboard had noticed it too. The Captain himself seemed to be the first. With relief she saw that he had stationed lookouts in the forest – crewwoman Neela was hollering from the top of the tallest tree, where she had clearly been set to look for incomers. Cloudier could not hear her, but she heard the Captain's reply.

‘The Brunt? Stamp me library books, whoever knew he could move like that!?'

As he said this, he was leaping into the bosun's chair. Without benefit of anybody to wind him down, he simply kicked off the safety latch and plummeted to the ground. At the last moment, he leapt from the little cradle, and landed square on his two feet. Cloudier was now drifting down the side of the Galloon, and she was in a perfect position to watch as the deep, dark undergrowth at the edge of the forest exploded in a flurry of green leaves and smashed branches. Out of it ran something that Cloudier knew could only be the Brunt, though she had never dreamed he could move so fast. He dug two great slippered heels into the ground, and began to slide to a manic halt. Roots and rocks and gouts of mud flew into the air as he ploughed to a halt. The Captain stood firm, until they were standing face to face – or face to belly, at least. As Cloudier touched down nearby, the Brunt leaned his massive hands on the Captain's shoulders and bent down until they were nose to nose. He was panting, but otherwise gave no indication that he had recently been running faster than anyone would have believed possible.

‘Hello, Captain Meredith Anstruther,' he said.

‘Hello, the Brunt, old pal,' said the Captain. ‘Is everything quite well?'

‘Yes, Captain,' said the Brunt. ‘Except that we may, very soon, be under attack from a Pirate Queen. So the drums say.'

‘Ah!' said the Captain. ‘Pirate Queen, you say? Well, fear not, old boy. We've been working hard on the old tub, and she should be pretty well able to defend herself against a run of the mill pirate attack. We've seen plenty of those off before, have we not?'

‘Yes, Captain,' said the Brunt. ‘I hope you're right …'

At the same time as the Brunt was arriving at the Galloon, Stanley and Rasmussen were trotting along the wide path of destruction he had created. They were out of breath, and incredibly sweaty. Perky, who was trotting along beside them, seemed unperturbed by the heat, but couldn't stop apologising for his lateness in warning them of the Pirate Queen.

BOOK: The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen
8.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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