The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen (16 page)

BOOK: The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen
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‘And him,' said Clamdigger.

‘Oh yeah. And him,' said Cloudier.

A couple of hours later, the FishTank had arrived at the opposite bank of the Great Brown Greasy Rococo River, about a half a mile from the Galloon's rocky resting place. The Gallooniers stood ranged across the top of their makeshift walls, and watched. From where Stanley sat, the FishTank was a long way down and a long way off, but it was still clearly an impressive and formidable machine. Fully half the length of the Galloon, armoured and bristling with spikes and legs and hatches. Many of the crew and passengers of the Galloon had eyeglasses and telescopes. Stanley borrowed one, and watched through it as a long brass tube grew from the front of the FishTank, until it was as high as some of the surrounding trees.

The periscope, he knew. They were watching him watching them.

But it turned out it wasn't just a periscope. A small cone emerged from the end, and this turned out to be a version of the Squeaking Tube, which could project a voice across the intervening space.

‘I am going to come out now, Merry,' it said. That was all.

A murmur ran along the serried ranks of Gallooniers. The Captain was on the quarterdeck, where the walls were lowest. Stanley could see him standing with one mighty boot on the rail. He didn't move as the voice of his treacherous love echoed across the valley.

Turning his attention back to the FishTank, Stanley saw a small hatch open behind the periscope. A head popped out and ducked back, then came out again more confidently.

So she's not sure no-one will shoot her, even from here
, thought Stanley.

Then there she was. Isabella Croucher, the Captain's fiancée, though Stanley was willing to bet that that arrangement would be broken at the next available opportunity. She looked small, but then she was small, physically. But she had done something no-one else had ever done – brought Captain Meredith Anstruther to his lowest ebb. She seemed to be holding something in her hand – the Squeaking Tube, or whatever equivalent device let her voice ring out, Stanley guessed.

‘Hello, Merry,' she said, as if they had met for high tea in the Bitz hotel. ‘How lovely to see you again.'

The Captain still said nothing. Behind Isabella, the hatchway was still open, and now another head appeared. Even in this heat, the head was still wearing the great black hat that Stanley still thought of as the Captain's. A shot rang out – a musketeer in the rigging perhaps – and the hat spun round twice before coming to rest again. Zebediah froze.

‘Not a bad shot, from that distance,' said Isabella, conversationally. ‘But before you shoot again, hear this. The high ground, literally and morally, is yours, Meredith. You can afford to listen. Tell them.'

The Captain's voice, which needed no amplification, thundered out one word.

‘Hold.'

‘Thank you. So – if you shoot at us again, I will kill Zebediah.'

At this, Zebediah froze, halfway out of the hatch. Stanley realised that he may have been trying to sneak up on Isabella. He was discovered. Isabella spoke on, without looking at him.

‘I would have your Galloon, Meredith. No more. It is, you will have guessed, all I wanted. With it, and the riches of El Bravado, I would be invincible.'

Stanley jumped as the Captain's voice crashed across the valley again.

‘You could have had it. We would have owned it together.'

‘Yes. I thought so too. But you are so … good, Meredith. A lifetime on the Galloon would have felt like a hundred, if I had had to keep up that sorry act. We would, no doubt, have spent our time visiting “interesting places” and “making friends” with people. WHERE'S THE FUN IN THAT?'

‘I could have shown you the world,' said the Captain.

‘I can find the world for MYSELF!!' screamed Isabella, and it seemed to Stanley that here her façade of calm cracked completely.

‘Corks,' he said to himself.

‘Why should I not kill you? I have the means,' said the Captain.

‘Would you be judge, jury and executioner, Captain? Would your people follow you then? A man who would kill them if they stepped out of line?'

‘You have done more than step out of line, madam!' cried another voice, and Stanley realised with shock that it was Abel, his voice cracking with emotion.

‘Have I? I pretended to be nice, that is all. Don't we all do that, most of the time, Mr Abel? Is it worth a life?'

‘I would have given you my life,' said the Captain.

‘You yet may,' she snapped back. ‘I mean it – I would have your Galloon. You will come to me, and we will discuss terms. If we reach them to my satisfaction, I will give you this rather crude battering ram of a craft, and you will be able to make your escape – albeit a rather slow and earthbound one. I will fly off in your Galloon, with as many of your crew and mine who would relish a life of derring-do among ne'er-do-wells.'

Nearly everyone
, thought Stanley, though he didn't think anyone would actually follow her.

‘I will come,' said the Captain, quietly, for him.

Disapproving shouts rang out across the Galloon.

‘No, sir!'

‘We will fight for you!'

‘Let her have your brother! What's he done for us?'

But only Stanley noticed that while the disapproval was at its loudest, the Captain was already gone. He ran along the deck, up the quarterdeck ladders, and out to the rail. Ms Huntley arrived at the same time as him, and they both looked down, to where one of the Captain's many secret passages had let him escape.

‘He's gone,' she said.

Stanley tried to follow, but the hatch was now covered with an iron grille – another one of the Captain's safety features.

‘I'm afraid he still hasn't told me everything there is to know about this ship,' said Ms Huntley.

‘Me neither,' said Stanley, to her slight consternation.

‘There!' cried Jim Braggins. ‘The Captain! He's swimming the Rococo!'

Before Stanley could even stop to wonder where Jim Braggins' accent had gone, he saw that what he said was true. Somehow the Captain was already off the Galloon – some tunnel or slide had clearly taken him right to the very bottom of the craft and shot him out into the water – and now he was swimming across the river. Here above the falls it was not the great, slow, greasy thing it was lower down. There were rocks and rapids and white water every few feet. Stanley watched the Captain drag himself to his feet to cross a shingle bar, only to throw himself back into the water where it ran deeper. He was being dragged downstream, but he managed to right himself, and after an agonising time, the Gallooniers even managed to cheer as he emerged on the far bank. They saw that Isabella offered him no help at all as he heaved himself up to the side of the FishTank, and then used its scales to clamber upon to the top. Stanley ached to know what was being said over there, but all he could see was a dumb show. To his agognishment, the Captain and his brother embraced. But then Isabella seemed to shove them apart, and stood between them as she appeared to be admonishing Captain Meredith.

It seemed to Stanley that even from here he could hear a few snippets of what the Captain was saying – he wondered whether this was purposeful for the Gallooniers' benefit, or just a by-product of his enormous voice.

‘… owe those people more than you could ever know … any harm should come … if assurances given … free to choose, of course …'

‘He can't be negotiating with her!?' he yelped, like an indignant terrier.

‘I think he is,' said Ms Huntley beside him. ‘The sentimental old fool.'

‘Wha … why … who …?' said Stanley.

‘You see, he thinks he's saving us. He doesn't realise that if he lets her have his way, he will be condemning us, and many more, to a much worse fate …'

‘That's all well and good,' said Stanley, ‘but now he's over there, there's not much we can do except see how things turn out? Is there?'

‘Oh Stanley,' said Ms Huntley. ‘There is so much we can do. He left me in charge, you see. And my conscience is a much more pragmatic thing than his.'

‘What does pragma …?' Stanley began, and then stopped, because Ms Huntley had grabbed a Squeaking Tube, switched it to ‘Broadcast', and spoken three words.

‘FIRE THE HARPOON!'

Stanley turned to see Rasmussen leap off the harpoon gun in question, fractions of a second before two burly crewmen twisted it round on its great iron stand, aimed it in what Stanley thought could only be a half-hearted way, and then pulled its mighty trigger. A plume of steam emerged from one end, and a lance the length of a rowing boat flew out of the other. The great arrow was usually tied to a rope, so that it could be hauled in again after each shot. But this was clearly a one-shot only operation. Stanley watched as thousands of people leaned in to follow the arrow's path. It seemed as if he had all the time in the world to watch it spin out across the edge of the Galloon and into open space. He flicked his telescope back to his eye, and saw that the three people on top of the FishTank had seen it too. To his amazement Isabella had time to whip out a long curved sword and wave it at the Captain, who ducked. While the arrow still seemed to be crawling across the valley, spinning lazily, Stanley watched as Isabella shoved the Captain bodily with her shoulder. He seemed about to lose his footing. As he leaned out over empty space on his gigantic tippy-toes, she grabbed him by the kerchief around his neck. All this had taken but a moment – the arrow was still only halfway to them. A roar rose from the Gallooniers as the Captain almost fell, and then a hiss as he was saved, but ended up at the mercy of the Pirate Queen. Then there was a kind of confused shrug of a noise as the Gallooniers watched the Captain's brother, who they had always thought of as his mortal enemy, leap at Isabella. She raised her sword with her spare hand, and they heard the Captain's roar.

‘NO, Zeb!'

Just at that moment the huge arrow reached them. Isabella swung the Captain round by his kerchief so that he would be in the line of fire, and it seemed to Stanley that Zebediah made a leap to try and get in its way. It took his hat off – the great black thing he had stolen from the Captain all those months ago – and pinned it to the conning tower of the FishTank. Zebediah plunged off the FishTank and into the water.

And that was it.

‘Drat,' said Ms Huntley.

‘Ha! You got his hat!' yelled Rasmussen triumphantly. ‘Oh – that's not enough, is it?'

Isabella grabbed the Squeaking Tube again and spoke.

‘A foolish move, Harissa! I know it is now clear that I will not be marrying old Merry here – but if you get him killed, then you won't be able to either!'

‘Dunno what she means,' muttered Ms Huntley. Stanley could almost feel the heat of Cloudier's embarrassment, though she was way up in the crow's nest.

‘Stop, please!' cried the Captain. ‘Everybody, stop risking your lives for me! If we do as she says we can return to our homes, we can carry on our lives. Where's the harm? I accede to your request, Isabella, and will show you how to fly the Galloon.'

‘I doubt it!' cried Isabella, and Stanley watched as she used her curved sword to hook something from round the Captain's neck. ‘I know how to drive it! I just need the other half of this amulet, this … love token … to do so. Thank you! Now tell your loyal goons to leave the Galloon within the next hour, no heroics, and no-one will get hurt. You have no idea of the firepower of this craft, and I will destroy the Galloon rather than lose it. Believe me.'

‘Do it, my friends. It is the only way,' said the Captain.

‘No!' they cried. And, ‘Never!'

‘Please! Harissa, Birgit? Will you promise me? No more heroics?' called the Captain.

Near Stanley, Ms Huntley said nothing, but her head dropped.

‘It seems I have cowed you at last! Perhaps you are not such Able Skymen – and women – after all!'

BOOK: The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen
13.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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