chpt#5: Cruel morning
Skarry leaned over the rail of the Agro and hurled a projectile mass of semi-digested wheat, sugar, tea and assorted dairy products into the arms of the awakening dawn. The dawn was not impressed, pulled back its arm of blinding sunlight and dealt him a hefty blow between the eyes.
“Ha!” Mercurio strolled, almost strutted Skarry thought groggily, out of the early morning mist and thumped Skarry hard on the back. “ No sympathy, Johnny, vice deals just rewards, as they say.”
“Urgh. Why do I feel so awful?”
His friend laughed and clapped his hands together before placing them on the rail and breathing in a deep, gloating breath of morning air. “Tramper’s Tea, Johnny. I did try to warn you.”
“You told me to drink up!”
Skarry grimaced and tried to nod his head, a feat which caused the lurid colours of the sunrise to melt like candle wax, sliding down the side of the sky, only to pool back on themselves forming a vortex of nauseating colour and motion. His sweat-glossed fingers clenched on the metal rail as his rational mind struggled against the notion that, if he let go, he would be sucked away into the void like a delicate flake of rice paper into a tornado.
“What, in the…mwfp..” opening his mouth was a mistake.
“You’re making a horrible mess of the side of my ship, my friend.” Jack tossed his opulently braided hair as he sauntered out of the gazebo to join them. “I suppose, if I were feeling malicious, I would ask you to clean it off.”
Mercurio straightened up so that he could give the captain his best imperious frown.
Jack winked at him and turned his attention back to Skarry. “Caffeine, my friend. Trampers target the skyway tea convoys as they leave the plantations en route to the refinery. We all know the tea that finally reaches the masses is, what? 1% ? 2% of its original caffeine content at best. You’ve just spent the last five or six hours indulging in Her Majesty’s finest brew, my friend – 100% pure, the Devonly nectar supped at the perpetual tea party in Boss Town. No doubt, your innards aren’t accustomed to such fine fare and are, consequently, rebelling.” He leant over the rail and puffed thoughtfully on his pipe; the nebufly inside the glass chamber glowed softly and, if Skarry’s stomach hadn’t already been empty, the almost menthol scent of lavender would have induced another mass evacuation.
“We’ll be stopping soon. The Forest of Annwn lies at the bottom of the vale, just over this next rise. Ah, the rise and fall of the blue-green hills of Ire is like the rolling waves of the Great Western Sea, do you not think so, friends?”
“Ha! You’re in no fit state to appreciate it, that’s all. I dream of the sea… now how does that one go? No, I can’t remember it… hello! What have we here?”
The captain’s reverie was broken by the appearance of the somewhat dishevelled Skywayman. His shirt was buttoned up the wrong way and he juggled his waistcoat awkwardly as he struggled on one leg to get into his boot. The only aspect of his appearance that could be considered ‘intact’ was his hat.
“Oh. Jack. Hello.”
“Yes. Quite. Hello. I… er… damn it, man, don’t you ever sleep?” He sounded disgruntled and didn’t break his haphazard stride as he crossed the deck towards them, glancing furtively around him into the mist, as if he expected an ambush.
“I might ask you the same question, my friend.” Jack chewed thoughtfully on the end of his pipe as he looked the Skywayman up and down.
“What? Oh, yes, very funny. Now, look here, is Rowland about, is he? I mean, he said he could probably get old Gwyn fixed up last night.”
“Anxious to be off?”
“No! I mean, well…” Gabriel spread his hands and again displayed that grin that made Skarry’s blood boil. He cursed the vile beverage that had so disempowered him and silently vowed never to touch another drop. “You know how it is, old boy.” He laughed nervously as Jack continued to regard him with scrutiny.
“Oh. Right. Well. Did he do it?”
“I think so.”
“Oh good. Well, this has been lovely. Really lovely. Thank you, once again Jack, for helping out an old chum in desperate times.”
“We rogues must stick together.”
“Yes. Quite.” Gabriel scratched the back of his neck and attempted to loosen his collar, before realising it was already flapping open. “Well, I suppose I’ll be off then.”
“There’s no need, Gabriel. We are almost there, my friend. It’s no trouble at all to take you to the gate.” Jacks eyes narrowed as he blew smoke from the corner of his mouth.
“Nonsense, Jack. I wouldn’t hear of it, old boy, this will be quite far enough. Honestly, as long as Gwyn is working again, I can easily make it back from here. Much quicker too.” He gave the captain a manly slap on the back.
Jack simply raised an eyebrow at him. “As you wish,” he said softly. “Rein in, Aggie my pet! We’re making a drop off!”
“You ssssaid we were going to Annwn, Jack!” The Griffon squawked, obviously annoyed at the impromptu change of plan.
“Aye, I know pet. But Mister Hounds here is anxious to be away. For some reason.” He smiled at the Skywayman and raised his eyebrows, obviously inviting an elaboration which was not forthcoming.
“Not anxious to be off, Jack, no, not at all. Who would be? No. I just… don’t wish to inconvenience you any longer than is necessary. That’s all.”
“Very well. Stopping it is then. And one passenger getting off.”
Jack’s eyes flickered towards the two wizards and then back to the Skywayman. It was an almost unperceivable motion but the look, when he caught Skarry’s eye, said, quite plainly, ‘Don’t even think about it.’
‘I couldn’t even if I wanted to,’ Skarry thought, glumly, as he felt The Agro shudder and squeal to an awkward stop, and then his stomach began to churn again as the belly of the Land Ship groaned and rumbled, heaving with the restrained potential for motion, now that the turbines had been clamped. The Griffon screeched impatiently as a hatch, somewhere in the side of the vessel, was cranked open on clanking chains and, peering blearily over the side rail, Skarry saw the pega’ton being led out onto the road, which plunged down from the top of the hill and disappeared into the dark mouth of the valley below.
Ropes were hauled over the side of the Land Ship and the Skywayman clambered awkwardly over the side rail and, somewhat gingerly, lowered himself to the ground.
“Ah, Gwyn, old thing! Rowland really is a genius, isn’t he, eh? He’s fixed you up a treat!” He took the reins from the pirate who handed them to him and vaulted easily up into the saddle. The pirate snorted and stumped back inside and Skarry clutched his head as the hatch began to grate shut again.
“Well, it really has been… jolly nice, all this. Jolly nice, indeed.”
“Farewell, my friend.” Jack waved an arm over the deck and the Skywayman tipped his hat and grinned.
“Oh, I will, Jack. I wi…”
“Aarrrgh! WHERE IS EE? Where is ee, the bleedin’ rogue, I’ll slice ‘im end t’end!” A terrifying apparition manifested out of the last tattered shreds of the night’s misty shroud. Scarlet, her petticoats a shambles and a pistol in each hand, was descending upon them like The Cailleach herself. Shoving the men roughly aside, she thrust her head over the rail “YOU!”
Gabriel gave a nervous laugh, “Well, I’ll be off then. Thanks again, Jack.” He urged the pega’ton into a canter and, when he was safely out of shot range, turned Gwyn about and raised his hat in a rather cocky farewell gesture. “And thank you Scarlet! It’s been a pleasure, as always!” He dug in his heels and within seconds, had vanished into the lavender shadows of the valley.
“DON’T JUST STAND THERE Y’FOOLS!” Scarlet bellowed. “Stop him! He’s got the bloody Wyrd Web!”
“Has he, now?” Jack peered curiously over the rail and puffed some more smoke into the air, making it even more difficult to see. “And how did he get his hands on that little treasure, I wonder?”
Scarlet punched him hard on the shoulder. “Is yer brain addled again? Quit gawkin’ around like a chicken, Jackie, we needs t’be gettin’ after im!”
“Indeed.” Jack ignored the punch and continued to gaze into the gloom. He shot a sidelong glance across the rail, fishing for Mercurio’s eye, caught it and held it for a long moment, while he continued to draw on his pipe. Mercurio’s shoulder twitched, as if a fly were irritating him, but he didn’t look away. “Right then.” Jack handed Scarlet his pipe, clapped his hands together, decisively, and strode back to his chair. He didn’t sit this time but grabbed the vociferator, tapped it a few times and then spoke into it. “All hands, me loves! It has come to me attention, that we have been robbed. The Relentless Rogues cannot allow a slight like this to go unchallenged now, can we?”
There was much scuffling, yawning, muttering, growling, eventually cursing and various other sounds, which indicated that the crew were rousing themselves, albeit very slowly and sleepily, into a passion of outrage.
“There is only one thing to be done under such circumstances,” Jack continued.
Scarlet slapped her forehead and groaned, causing Mercurio’s lips to curl into a side smile.
“I must Declare an Affair!”
“AYE! AN AFFAIR!” There was much ‘ayeing’ and foot-stamping from the crew at large, but Jack’s face remained deadly serious.
“Therefore, I hereby give the order: Agronauts, PREPARE FOR AN AFFAIR WITH THE SKYWAYMEN!”