I’m cheating this week; I’m too busy with the new book to write a flash fiction, and anyway it’s Victor’s birthday, or would have been (his seventh), so I’d have featured him in something new. Seven is pretty much the equivalent of 100 in guinea pig terms, so it’s hardly surprising he’s not here now. He died in May last year, about three weeks after his book came out. He was a grand old man who’d been a charming, ditsy, delightful youngster. So I’m treating you to an extract (c 1600 words) from The Princelings and the Pirates today, where Victor has an adventure of his own after being washed ashore (somewhere strangely like the north Norfolk coast) after a storm wrecked the pirate ship on which he’d been imprisoned. Harry is a member of the Buckmore court, about the same age as Victor, also captured by the pirates.
(from The Princelings and the Pirates, chapter 8)
Victor gazed up at the sky and wondered where he was. He coughed a bit and spat a bit as his mouth was full of salt and sand. He moved each leg gingerly as if experimenting, and decided he was all there, and mostly in one piece. There was a lot of aching and his ribs felt as if he had been in the big washing tub they used at the inn for all the guest bed-linen, and then through the mangle used to squeeze all of the water out of it when it was done. He sat up and looked around him.
There was some sea, and a lot of sandy mud, or muddy sand. He decided he wouldn’t test it too much to find out which. There was a rock shelf stretching out into the sea and lots of birds pecking in the mud and water beside it, and some perching on top of it too. There was a low cliff behind him with lots of steps in it, not steps that were cut, he decided, more like shelves of harder rock that had withstood being worn away by the sea. It looked much the same in each direction, but it did look as if there might be some sort of activity to his left a long way off, as birds were flying about as if there were some fish to attract their attention. He stood up, brushed himself off, and set off in that direction.
Victor stopped as he heard the sound. He had only been going for about ten minutes and the birds were very much closer. He reckoned another ten minutes and he would be there. He looked around but couldn’t see where the sound had come from.
“Arrgghh,” it came again.
This time Victor could see a large animal with hardly any arms or legs, dressed in a smart silvery grey coat with spots on. He thought it might be something called a seal, which he had heard of but never seen before.
“Arrgghh,” said the seal.
“And arrgghh to you too,” said Victor, discovering his voice was very husky and his throat parched. He hoped there might be some fresh water he could drink when he got to the birds or, better still, a nice bottle of Vex beer.
He went on a bit and started to notice more bits on the beach. He moved down the slope slightly and discovered loads of things had been washed up to the waterline in the storm. Apart from things from ships, and there were plenty of those, there were fishing nets, oranges, seaweed, bones, bits of wood, and a funny lumpy thing almost the same size as him. He kicked at it a bit with his toe.
“Arrgghh,” it said.
Victor jumped back in case the seal attacked him, then he wondered why the seal was wrapped up in a damp and soggy cloak. The cloak and its contents moved. He looked over it, ready to run at a moment’s notice.
“Arff, I feel awful,” came a voice, as cracked and husky as his own, but familiar all the same.
“Harry?” he asked, cautiously.
“Who’s there, where am I?” Harry asked, still muffled in his cloak.
“It’s Victor,” he said, and helped him untangle himself from the heavy material.
“Victor, thank goodness it’s you,” said Harry, emerging from the folds. “Where are we? What happened?”
“The ship sank. I don’t know where we are. There may be something up there. Where the birds are flying about,” Victor replied. “I was walking there and I saw you. I wonder if anyone else survived?” and his mind went to Fred and the other people who had been press-ganged like themselves.
“What shall we do?” asked Harry plaintively, still clearly suffering from disorientation, and Victor thought he had probably had an almighty bang on the head and might be concussed.
“I’m walking that way. See if we can get help. Do you want to come too? Shall I come back for you?”
“No, I’ll come with you.” Harry replied, “I don’t want to be left alone and I feel awful.”
“OK,” said Victor, helping him up. “Can you walk? Do you need a stick?” and he gestured to the spars of ships, bleached driftwood and even whole tree trunks littering the shoreline.
Harry tried his feet out. “I can walk,” he said, staggering a bit but looking determined.
So they set off along the beach again.
As Victor hoped, the birds were indeed flying around hoping for some fish from a small boat beached by the storm. The owners were still unloading what they could salvage from it, but clearly it had fared better than the Mare Swine [pirate ship] as it was mostly in one piece. They hardly stopped as Victor and Harry came towards them, but nodded and responded kindly when Victor asked them about a town or inn in the area. They learned they were near to Castle Wash and King Lynn was friendly to shipwrecked sailors as long as they weren’t pirates.
“Oh, no, not pirates.” Victor and Harry had chorused, meaning they weren’t, and learned a number of pirates had been washed ashore, or trapped in the mud by the outgoing tide, and what was more, there was tell of a pirate ship run aground a few miles out in the mud flats waiting for the next high tide to float it off.
“If you can help, get along to see King Lynn straight away,” said the older of the two people, and he pointed them in the direction of Castle Wash.
“Do you think this is a good idea?” asked Harry after a bit.
“We must help,” replied Victor. “We may need theirs.”
Harry nodded, that made sense, he thought. He didn’t much feel like thinking though. And nodding was a bad idea.
They came round a low headland and could see Castle Wash ahead of them, perched on the edge of a wide river where it entered the broad expanse of the estuary, or inlet; it was such a large area Victor wasn’t sure whether it was classed as estuary.
“Shall we be helpers, or should we try an audience with the king?” asked Victor.
Harry groaned. “I don’t know,” he said, clearly still worse for wear.
“I shall use your status as official messenger for Buckmore,” said Victor. “And talk official language,” he added.
Talking official language was something Victor had previously done only in the presence of Prince Lupin and a few other prestigious visitors to the Inn. It gained them not only an audience with the king, but a full run-down of the situation of the stranded pirate ship, The Golden Guinea. The king seemed almost gleeful he had the opportunity to get Captain Starling clapped in irons and strung up to the gallows; the castles on this stretch of coast had suffered severe predation from the pirates over the last few months. Urgent action was needed, to row out to the ship before the tide reached its height, as they reckoned the ship would probably float within one hour of high tide. The current would be against the shore party, so more manpower was a great bonus, especially as a Buckmore representative, however ill, would be able to bring extra kudos and weight to the proceedings.
Victor and Harry joined a large number of people on the quays of the river as it ran past the castle walls, preparing boats and weapons. They settled themselves into a party led by the king’s steward, a brown haired guy called Monty, and set to with a will when the boats were launched into the stream.
It was tiring, rowing, and they were not at their freshest, despite the refreshment given to them in the king’s hostelry. However within half an hour they had got close enough to the ship to see figures bustling about the deck, and four small cannons peering out of the port side. The rowing parties swung around to the starboard side and when Victor next looked, he could see the ship was leaning so much they couldn’t get the cannon holes open, so they were not going to be fired upon unless the tide came in and lifted the ship.
“Come on men,” called Monty. “We have to reach them before the tide lifts the ship upright.” And they rowed even harder.
As they got close, things began to rain down on them, pots, boots, bailing hooks, buckets. The pirates were throwing things in an effort to drive them away.
“Good news, men,” called Monty, “they’ve got no spears or weapons to throw. Listen up now, as we pull alongside, ship your oars in neat order, run to the stern here, pick up a sword and run up the netting as quickly as ever you can. Don’t push and don’t fall over yourselves in the rush!”
And that was exactly what happened. Another boat had thrown netting up the side and had got up it before the pirates had managed to disentangle it and cut it away, and the boarding parties swarmed over the side and engaged the pirates. There seemed to be surprisingly few of them and they were soon overwhelmed. Victor did a lot of running around waving a sword, but neither struck out at anyone nor was he attacked by anyone, so he looked valiant without being in any danger of harming either a pirate or himself. Harry had a cursory sword fight with a small person with a handkerchief tied round his head, but he surrendered after a couple of parries, possibly just as exhausted as Harry was himself.
Monty received the sword of an overpowered Captain Starling, clapped him in irons and delivered him down to the boat. The pirates were put to the oars to do most of the rowing on the way back, but the tide was with them now, and they got back in less than a quarter of the time it had taken them to get there.
(c) J M Pett 2012