Hap the Crystalwright, Part Three

Catastrophe! The fight with the sea dragon and the aftermath. Plus, a new friend.

Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

Hap: The Story So Far (link opens new tab)

Chapter Five:  A Fight for Their Lives

Uncertain of his role in the coming battle, Hap put one hand on his sword hilt and the other on his Zeeboizer, attached to the right side of his belt.

“Aim for his eyes, archers!” the mate shouted. “Pikes, stand ready!”

Hap tried to stay out of the way as he drifted along the starboard rail behind a milling mob of archers, pikemen, and sailors. There was confusion at the stairwell and Hap saw with horror that Pit and the women were still on deck, kept from getting below by the men coming up. He pushed towards them.

The deck shuddered as the catapult fired. Involuntarily, Hap stopped a moment to watch the flight of the stone ball. It fell short by a hundred yards. The sea dragon would be on them in less than a minute.

Hap reached the stairwell and Vel cried out, clutching his right hand. “There is no time,” he said to her. “Hold on to me and don’t let go!”

A bellow from the stairwell and Sich appeared, pushing through the guards and sailors as though through stalks of corn. Eyes aflame, he went by Hap towards the bow.

The deck shuddered again as the catapult fired.

Hap saw with relief that Dez and Pit were near, clinging together. Pit was holding a flotation belt. Yes! Hap called to him, “Pit! Get us a couple belts.”

“Behind you!” Pit yelled.

The rushing sound of the approaching dragon was loud. “Archers fire!” the mate yelled. Then the deck of the Runner lurched as the massive head of the dragon struck the side of the ship near the bow, with a sound of breaking wood. Hap and Vel flailed together on the deck. Hap found the cabinet door and tore it open, grabbing a handful of flotation belts.

The dragon’s mouth clamped onto the bow of the ship. The Swordmaster, with the Pearl of the East flashing over his head, attacked, slashing at the nose of the dragon. Archers fired wildly at the monstrous head, endangering Sich more than the dragon.

The boat lurched and Hap saw with horror the immense, snakelike body of the dragon come out of the water, shining green and wet, coiling over the middle of the Runner, shattering the rails and smashing two men as it crashed down on the deck. The Runner bobbed and tossed and Hap and Vel tumbled helplessly across the deck.

Pikemen and archers struggled to their feet. The pikemen hacked at the fat body of the dragon. The mate was dead but the catapult crew was loading a stone ball into the missile basket. Hap wondered, “How can they fire it now?”  The Runner’s deck tilted steeply to port. Hap and Vel clung to the starboard rail and each other, and Hap yelled to her, “She’s going over!” But the deck leveled again.

Sich, hacking and stabbing desperately at the head of the dragon, was cool in battle. He knew that his efforts were futile:  the sword sliced through hide and meat, but not the thick bone. The only hope was the crystal flasher at his side. Staggering on the lurching deck, he took the Zeeboizer in his hand, gazed at it thoughtfully, then pointed it at the ferocious eyes of the dragon. Closing his eyes, he pressed the button. Even with eyes closed the flash was brilliant. The dragon bellowed, making Sich’s head vibrate painfully. The great head turned from side to side, then sank below the side of the Runner. But the great body lying across the deck did not retreat. It tightened around the body of the ship, splintering planks and timbers. The mast, with a thunderous crack, snapped off and fell forward. Hap and Vel staggered over the rocking deck away from the immense dragon’s body towards the captain, but a second coil of the body rose ahead of them, looping over the Runner. It crashed down between Hap and the captain, dropping the deck of the Runner away from beneath Hap’s feet, and he and Vel found themselves falling into the sea. Clutching desperately the flotation belts in one arm and his daughter’s body against him with the other, Hap kicked towards the surface. The ship loomed above them, sliding by, still propelled by the great engines, though at a much reduced speed. He shook water from his face.  Vel was racked by coughing.

Hap and Vel watched in dismay as the ship and the dragon, still locked in desperate battle, pulled away. “Get this belt on,” Hap said. They struggled into their flotation belts as the Runner moved further and further away. A third belt he held in his hand.  The water fortunately was not too cold.

“Help!” a man’s voice called, then other voices sounded.

Hap had never felt so miserable in his life, but after a moment he saw the ship’s boat drifting no more than a hundred feet away. “Look, Vel,” he said. “Let’s swim for it.”

As they slowly approached the boat they saw a sailor climbing in over the side. Hap yelled to him and the sailor looked at him for a moment, then up at the sky. He ducked, but a Taza dragon came down on him, talons extended, body glistening black and scaly, knocking the sailor down. A second dragon came in, screeching shrilly, also landing on the hapless sailor. A third dragon soared overhead, seeking another victim. The great wings of the two dragons flapped strongly and they rose, carrying the struggling and screaming sailor, one with talons clutching the man at the shoulders, the other holding him by his bleeding leg. In seconds they were gone.

“Horrible,” Vel said, sputtering, as they continued swimming to the boat. They climbed in with some difficulty. Hap guessed that the boat was large enough to hold ten easily, perhaps as many as twenty without being overloaded. Voices from the water called for help, and the Runner receded, half a mile away. The stern of the ship looked badly damaged, the back railing gone, which was why the ship’s boat had been at hand.

Hap told Vel to keep watch for dragons and survivors in that order, then he went to the bow and pulled in the rope with which the boat had been tied to the Runner. It wouldn’t do to run the motors with the large section of broken railing dragging. With considerable difficulty Hap hauled the railing onto the boat, untied the rope, and tossed the railing off toward a sailor in the water.  He cast the end of the rope toward another.

After the noise on the deck of the Runner, it seemed unnaturally quiet. Distant voices called for aid, waves lapped against the boat, and Hap realized that there were men in the water both in the direction of the Runner and behind them. He wanted desperately to pursue the Runner, but he had to go back for the survivors in the other direction. He took a last look at the Runner. It was a mile off, wrapped in green coils, presumably headed toward Taza—a dangerous place of refuge.

In addition to a crystal motor, the boat had oars, food, water, and other supplies. He found the compass and checked the heading of the Runner, almost due north. Hap started the motor and turned the boat around. After an hour, he had saved three men from the water and was headed north toward the no-longer-visible Runner.

More survivors were pulled in, one of them Pit with a broken leg. The first thing Pit said was, “Where is Dez? We were together on the ship. Something hit me and the next thing I knew I was in the water and the ship was gone.”

“Maybe she’s still on the ship,” Hap said. “We are headed for Taza.”

“Dragon island!” Pit shook his head.  “This is terrible.”

“It looked like the Runner was headed that way. Before we can do anything else we have to pick up all the survivors we can find.”

“Dragons!  Dragons!” Vel called out, her voice shrill and frightened.

Everyone looked up. Three black, angular shapes soared together in a line. The first in line dove towards the boat, followed by the other two.

Hap took his Zeeboizer in his hand. “Vel,” he yelled, “Get down low” Vel crouched down in the boat as the dragons plummeted. “Everyone shut your eyes!” The sailors had already dropped and covered their heads.  When the first dragon was twenty feet up, Hap flashed the Zeeboizer. The dragon screeched and veered off. The second dragon was closer when Hap fired again, and that attacker also retreated. The two dragons that had been flashed were flying erratically, shaking their heads and screaming. The dragons flew off and the men cheered. Two sailors nearest to Hap stared warily at the Zeeboizer, smiling.

“What was that!” one said.

Hap was shivering, cold and very hungry.  Vel seemed surprisingly cheerful, and Pit was lying in the bottom of the boat with his left leg bent awkwardly and tied around with a white cloth.

Chapter Six:  Taza Island

An hour later, the ship’s boat, now steered by one of the sailors, approached the island. The Runner was visible, apparently having run aground on the beach. It was still wrapped in the coils of the sea dragon, which was not moving. Men hacked at the body.

The boat plowed through gentle surf and grounded on the beach next to the Runner. Everyone but Pit and Vel jumped over the side and soon had the boat pulled well up onto the sand. Hap ran down the beach to the side of the Runner and yelled to those aboard. “A surgeon! We need a surgeon!”

The mate appeared at the side rail. “We need the captain!  Surgeon’s dead. What’s the matter?”

“We have injured men, one with a broken leg.”

“Leave him where he is, I’ll be there as quick as I can, I have some training. Don’t move him. Guard everyone from flying dragons and keep an eye on the forest. Cover your friend so the beast won’t see him. You have one of those flashers?”

“Yes.”

“Good, they are very effective.” The mate disappeared.

“Wait!” Hap called. The mate returned. “Is Dez aboard?”

“Yes! Now, I have much to do. The captain’s missing, did you find him?”

“No.”

“Damn.”

Hap ran over the sand back to the ship’s boat. It was mid-afternoon. Pit had been sheltered with a sheet of canvas and two sailors stood guard with oars, scanning the skies. Vel looked confused and bedraggled as she stood, head down, her arms wrapped around her slight figure.  He took a moment to give her a hug that he needed as much as she. “You need to be careful,” he said. “Those dragons can strike you down before you even know you’re in danger. Stay with Pit, give him some water, and try to stay under cover. I have to get back to the ship and see how I can help. She’s pretty beat up.”

As he walked away he called back, “The ship’s surgeon was killed. The mate will help Pit when he can.”

Approaching the ship, he looked it over. Much of the top of the stern had been smashed, where the ship’s wheel and the motor controls—and the captain—had been. Much of the body of the ship was hidden by the fat coils of the dragon. The rest of the body trailed into the water. He tried to estimate its length but quickly shrugged the thought away. It’s huge.  He walked around the bow and came to the towering head of the monster, twice his height, lying on its side in the sand. The great eyes, each larger than Hap’s head, were staring in death, expressionless. Hap felt saddened that such a magnificent thing had to be killed and hacked up like so much sausage. He looked it over quickly and examined the teeth, a fearsome, perfect row of ivory daggers each as long as his hand. The giant tongue lay extended on the sand, fat and pink, like a separate monster itself. There was a strong smell of something fishlike coming from the dragon. This mouth could have swallowed a horse—what was its natural food?

Hap climbed a rope ladder to get onto the deck of the Runner. He was amidships, on the open area of the deck, running with blood between the two coils of the dragon. Dez was sitting on a bale near the starboard gunwale.

Each coil of the dragon was being systematically severed at the middle and much progress had been made. One man was hammering down a loose plank on the deck and another was knocking away broken planks; more noises came from below.

Despite the noise, Dez heard Hap’s footsteps and called him by name.

“How are you, Dez?” he said.  Her face, lacking eyes, was hard to read.

“Well enough, thank you. I feared for you and Vel. Pit told me you had gone overboard. Have you seen him? I got knocked down and lost him.”

“We picked him up in the ship’s boat. His leg is broken but he’s otherwise okay.”

“I am relieved. Do you see my right ear cover anywhere about? This noise is troubling to me.”

Hap looked around the deck. “No, I don’t see it. I should get you out of here.”

He led Dez to the mate and asked that a sling be arranged to lower her over the side, but she interrupted.  “I can climb down if you’ll direct me to a rope.”

Grinning, Hap led her to the rope ladder he had climbed.  He didn’t see Sich, but learned that the Swordmaster was forward, helping carve the body of the dragon.  He returned to the mate and said, “How can I help?”

“Take a look below at your mechanisms and let me know what you find.”

Hap climbed down the littered stairs; the below-decks lighting was functioning well.  Examining the linkage between the engines and the deck, he saw that the auxiliary controls had been used to shut down the engines, and those controls looked fine, but the shafts leading up to the deck were broken and there was a large hole in the deck where the topside controls had been. There was little he could do about that until the deck was repaired. He couldn’t look at the engines themselves until the ship was raised, or perhaps back in the water.  He looked forward—the hold was a mess with boxes and barrels in a jumble and there was more than a foot of water in the bottom. Getting the ship seaworthy again was going to take weeks, at least. Shaking his head over the magnitude of the disaster, he returned topside and reported to the mate. He was ordered to help the shore party cutting timber. He spent the next hour doing just that.

The sun was going down. Camp had been made among the trees a few yards in. Hap found Vel outside the camp, on her knees, holding out a bit of bread, apparently trying to coax a small animal from the underbrush. She looked at Hap, smiling, and gestured at a tiny, slender thing that looked much like a snake with arms and legs like smaller snakes. The creature was very dark among the dark leaves. It was holding a tiny spear and wearing a necklace!

“It’s friendly but afraid,” she said to him.

The “little snake man” took the bread and glided away into the brush.  Vel went to the ship’s cook to help and was surprised to find him frying sea dragon steaks over a wood fire.

The next morning, Hap, the mate, and Sich consulted and decided to send the ship’s boat back to Meteron for help. Sich volunteered to go along as a guard, the pilot would go, and Tup as extra guard. It would take six days to get there, perhaps a week or more to collect supplies, volunteers, and another ship, then another week to return. It was uncertain how long it would take to repair the Runner; the mate refused to make a guess at this point.

An hour later the ship’s boat was receding in the distance over the waves.

[To be continued]

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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