Authors: Ava Morgan
Tags: #Curiosity Chronicles, #Book One
“You look terrible.”
“And a fine morning to you, too.” She started to shut the door.
He stuck his foot in the frame. “You should eat. It’ll help with the seasickness.”
Lydia stared at the gray porridge as though it were a bowl of worms.
“The brew was a bit strong for me last time.”
“Malcolm’s experience with brewing only goes so far as the local pub.” When she failed to laugh, Rhys let the matter of eating and drinking rest. “At least come on deck for air.”
She closed the door behind her and staggered forward. She had changed into a long tunic and pants. Her hair was brushed back in loose curls that rested between her shoulder blades. “One would think a ship with an engine wouldn’t pitch so often.”
“Blame the water currents. We’re coming upon the Atlantic.”
But Rhys felt a change in the air as they went topside. Though accustomed to the motion of sailing, he noticed that the ship did cut a choppy path through the water. The Mediterranean wasn’t usually so rough. Perhaps the ship got off course. He intended to have Finley brief him on their coordinates.
The navigator found him first. He carried a telescope in his hand. “Captain, a word.”
Lydia wandered off to the railing on the starboard side, leaving Rhys to converse with the crewmember.
“Where are we, Finley?”
“Twenty knots out from Sardinia. Look.” Finley jabbed his finger toward the eastern sky before giving him the telescope. “The storm approaches over the horizon. It just appeared when you went below deck. Red sky at morning...”
He didn’t need to finish the rest of that well-known verse. Rhys gritted his teeth as he viewed the crimson heavens above the rising sun. Dark clouds moved in. “That will reach us before noon.”
The ship reached a small breaker and dipped. That was enough for Lydia to leave her post at the railing. “I think I’ve had enough fresh air for the time being.” She passed Rhys and walked on unsteady feet down to the second level.
He remembered Nikolaos situated on the other side of the ship. The man’s head disappeared over the rails again. “Someone take Lord Abeiron to quarters before he falls overboard.”
The engineer O’Neil accepted the task.
“Captain.” Two of the deckhands, Duncan and Thomas, ran towards Rhys.
Duncan was the first to catch his breath. “Ship sighted east at three o’ clock.”
Rhys aimed the telescope in the appropriate direction. Through the lens, he saw the sails and three masts of a frigate. The vessel was coming upon them. He adjusted the telescope lens to focus on the flag flying from the highest mast. A crimson
“What is it?” Malcolm came with porridge bowl in hand.
“Pirates,” Rhys ground out. “French.”
He marched to the row of flip switches on the forecastle deck. He pulled down three, shutting off reserve valves for the water pipes, galley stove, and boilers. He flipped two in the upward position before returning to the main deck and shouting, “All hands.”
Within seconds, five crewmen assembled from all sides of the top deck, exchanging worried glances as they awaited his orders.
“I’ve deviated all power to the engine and side cannons. Smythe, find O’Neil and both of you go monitor the engine room. Malcolm, steer us northwest of that ship. We can’t rely on auto pilot configuration. Finley, stand by him with navigation. Duncan, Thomas, I need you both to man the cannons in case they need reloading.”
“Are we gonna make a stand against the pirates?” Duncan asked.
“If need be, but our ship is fast. I intend to outdistance them.”
Finley raised his eyes skyward. “I don’t know how fast we can outdistance a storm and pirates with all that weight in the cargo hold.”
Rhys saw Finley’s point. The extra weight of the automatons did slow them down, but not enough to make the ship a sitting duck on the water. “We’ll make it.”
He thought about Lydia, but he didn’t have time to warn her of the pirates. The best thing she could do was stay in the cabin and pray for better weather, a speedy engine, and quick cannons.
As the crew moved to carry out his orders, Rhys went to gather rope to secure the supplies stationed on deck. The pirate frigate was getting closer. All the while, the storm gathered overhead.
Thunder jarred Lydia awake.
She sat up in bed where she dozed off, despite her queasiness. The thrum of the engine grew louder until the sound resonated in the walls and through the furniture. It sounded like it was clogged.
She donned her boots before rising, and promptly fell back onto the bed as the room tilted. The glass panel of the bookcase opened and spilled tens of volumes on the floor, along with her books and papers she placed on the outside mantle.
Lydia threw all of her belongings back into her trunk and shut the lid. She picked up the encyclopedias. A set of folded papers lay at the foot of the bookcase.
She unfolded them to see if they belonged to her.
The letterhead read
Cabinet of International Curiosities
. Correspondence from Rhys’ organization. No, it wasn’t correspondence, but orders of some kind. Lydia thumbed through the documents and saw references to coastal towns and trade routes along the Mediterranean. She spotted the words
on the pages.
The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. Since when did a merchant need to partake in reconnaissance?
Rhys lied to her about the details of his line of work. Or rather, withheld information. He came to Aspasia to purchase the automatons, but what else did he collect? Lydia opened the tenth volume encyclopedia. A third of its text had been carved out, allowing for the stashing of documents. She shoved the papers into it and stuck the volume back into the case. Just as she closed the glass panel, something hit the ship.
Everything that wasn’t nailed to the floor came crashing down.
Lydia sprinted from the cabin into the dim corridor and dashed up the stairs. Water seeped through the door leading topside, splashing the front of her legs in cold brine. The ship rocked, tossing her against the wall. Lydia regained balance and pushed the door open.
Rain poured on the deck. Rhys stood in the center shouting orders as the crew scrambled to furl the rigging. The men moved in an organized chaos, ropes and tethers flying everywhere.
Lydia hit the deck as a cable flew past her head. Thunder partially drowned out her cry of surprise.
Rhys heard her and turned. His hair was plastered to his head as rain drenched his shirt. “Get below deck. We’re under pirate attack.”
A sudden coldness ran through her. Lydia raised her neck and looked starboard side at a ship that rivaled the size of
. Though it was not close enough for its crew to board, she saw the men dressed in motley tatters scrambling to light cannons and ready their boarding axes. The rain and rough winds diminished their efforts, but by no means halted them.
“Fire,” a shout came from the starboard side as one of Rhys’ crewmen flipped a switch. The sound that Lydia heard before was magnified eightfold as all of
’s cannonry let loose their iron rounds.
The blast sent tremors through the deck as the cannons pounded the other ship.
’s timbers creaked as waves bucked against the hull. Lydia grabbed a railing for support. One of the crewmen scurried past.
“Captain, the ship’s taking in water. The pirates breached the hull at the waterline.”
“Patch it best you can.” Rhys twisted as the engine’s air vents sputtered water and seaweed on deck. “Smythe and O’Neil have to get that engine unclogged. Lydia, I told you to get below deck,” he growled.
“I can get the automatons to help you.”
“And let the pirates know we have them in our possession? Why do you think they’re after us?”
The ship bucked again as a giant wave approached. Water rose above the rails and over Lydia’s head, slamming her with frigid fists. The force shook her hold off the rails and sent her feet careening out from under her.
She slammed shoulder first onto the deck. The shock of the fall knocked the wind from her. Lydia opened her mouth only to receive an onslaught of water. Coughing, she got back on her feet before a second smaller wave washed up.
A pair of strong arms seized upon her waist and hauled her backwards. “If you don’t get back below, I’ll toss you down myself.” Rhys dragged her in the direction of the door, kicked it open, and did exactly that.
Lydia caught herself from landing on her face. She looked back just in time to see him bang the door closed. The bolt slammed home on the other side.
The sounds of the storm and battle produced an eerie symphony within the interior of the ship. The floorboards moaned beneath Lydia’s feet while the wall facing the exterior of the ship seemed barely able to contain the roaring water that battered the heavy wooden frame. With each pitch and sway of the vessel, the sound of glass breaking and objects falling was not far behind.
Lydia clutched her stomach as her own fear produced a new bout of nausea. She groaned as the bile rose in her chest and burned the back of her throat.
“Lydia?” Nikolaos’ voice sounded from down the corridor.
She turned as he rounded the bend, stumbling as the ship rocked hard to the left. The hem of his trousers was wet and soiled in the water at his feet. “Have we hit a squall?” His wan pallor had grown paler since the voyage commenced.
“Yes.” Lydia braced her feet in a wide stance as she put one hand on each wall. From her perspective, the floor tilted and dipped as though she were in a flour sifter. “And we’re being attacked by pirates.”
A splintering noise resounded from above. Surely that wasn’t the ship breaking apart. Not when she and Nikolaos were locked down below. “Rhys locked the topside door.”
Nikolaos tottered forward, choking back what had to be his breakfast. “Does he intend for us to go down with the ship?”
Lydia strained to hear voices above deck. All she heard was the roar of the ocean and the clamber of boots pounding from stern to prow. Were they pirates or Rhys’ crew?
Another cannon fired. The groan of a wooden structure followed, ending with a heavy crash. Lydia felt the impact’s reverberations in her chest. The din above ceased. Only the engine strained on.
Were Rhys and the crew still onboard? She climbed to the topside door and pounded on it, calling out. No one answered.
“The ship is taking in more water.” Nikolaos pointed to the topside door, where water sloshed rushing in through the foot of the entrance. Two of the light fixtures floated, knocked loose from their wall mounts.
Lydia willed herself to keep calm with several gulps of air. She jumped down to the floor. “We need to split the door and get to the longboats.”
“You mean to the other ship.”
She stared aghast at Nikolaos, but his face remained very serious.
“Whoever these pirates are, we must cooperate with them. There is no other way off this vessel alive. We will give them money, the contents of the cargo hold, whatever they want.”
She curled her lips in disgust at his craven behavior. “We can’t give up. We made an agreement.”
“This is no time for holding steadfast to the agreement with the ambassador.” Nikolaos shadowed her. “He and his crew abandoned ship.”
“We don’t know that,” Lydia said as she fought her fear that Rhys and the crew had all been swept away by the waves.
Above, a large object rolled across the deck before it came to a halt midway. Lydia heard the timbers creak against its weight. Thunder rattled the walls. The metal structures of the ship caught the vibration and issued a discordant, tinny response. A clanging issued from a different part of the ship. “Did you hear that?”
Nikolaos’ shoulders sagged as he worked to move his ill body. “Hear what?”
“A voice. I can just make it out.” Over the rain that steadily bulleted the ship, Lydia detected the distressed calls of a man. “It’s coming from the engine room below us.” She fled for the stairs leading to the third deck.
Nikolaos straggled behind her. “The water is rising. We must leave.”
The calls grew louder as they neared the stairs. Water rushed down the steps. Lydia plunged one foot after the other down into the swirling water, hoping she’d find a foothold on the slippery metal grating. “Anyone here?” she shouted.
Both doors to the engine room and cargo hold were vaulted closed.
The male voice sounded from behind the entrance of the engine room. “The door is jammed.”
Water pooled over Lydia’s boots and soaked her feet. She pulled on the door’s spindle wheel handle. The water formed a seal around the door, preventing her from getting it to open. “Nikolaos, help me.”
He still stood on the stairs, looking disparagingly at the steady swell of water flooding the base.
He trudged down.
The man on the inside of the engine room door began to beat upon the frame. “The water pump’s broken. You’ve got to get us out.”
She spoke in a calm voice, even though her own distress was growing. “I’m going to try to pull the door open, but I need you to push as well. Are you ready?”
Nikolaos grabbed the handle with Lydia.
The three of them worked against the force of the water. A sliver of space appeared between the frame, widening until the seal broke. Both Lydia and Nikolaos were hit with a blast of warm air and steam.
The man heaved a sigh of relief as he was once again free. Lydia recognized him as the young, ginger-haired crewmember Smythe. Over his shirt and soaked trousers, he wore a leather engineer’s apron with a toolbelt around his waist. “I’ve been calling for I don’t know how long. O’Neil and me went down to see about the engine when it started to take in water.”
Lydia saw a second man slumped against the left wall below the engine, water creeping up to his chest. A thin trickle of blood ran from a gash at his temple. She navigated through the jungle of pumps and drainage pipes and uptake valves to get to him. He was unresponsive, eyes closed. “What happened to him?”