(Author’s commentary); Okay, it might seem a little strange to stop in the middle of my hilarious series of posts about Barbie dolls to put up the newest chapter of the kick-ass princess adventure novel… (uh, I mean the princesses kick ass, not the novel, although, hopefully it does too)… but in a way it makes sense… (also, welcome to my cranial-crack-squirrel-infested life)… The Barbie posts are meant to make us think about how young women view themselves, and how society sets up unreasonable expectations for them… and the novel is supposed to do the same thing.
And I think, considering that this is my first novel written from the female perspective, that it is doing a pretty good job of doing just that. Hildy is certainly the very first young lady to introduce any kind of women’s lib to this made up world. She is redefining the female role and shattering glass ceilings left and right. And Sanara, the feisty farm girl, is no timid maiden, to say the least. Anyway, here it is, the newest chapter.
Two last notes:
First of all, remember that you can read the entire novel… up to this point… and without the commentary… by clicking the button called: ‘The Seven Kingdoms’, up there in the top bar.
Secondly, have I mentioned that, while I do love posting books as I write them, I always leave the last third of the book out… I don’t post it… because if you can get the milk for free, why would you pay to have your very own copy when I publish it. I am not a stupid cow.
The Seven Kingdoms
Hildy didn’t sleep well that night. There were too many plans and worries bouncing around in her head. She woke late and immediately felt guilty about letting everyone down on top of the guilt she had always felt about sleeping in captain Reef’s bed, the largest and most comfortable bed on the ship. The captain, on their first night at sea after they had retaken his ship, had pointed out that his cabin was the only place on the ship that the princesses would be able to have any privacy, not only for sleeping but for making plans as well. He had also pointed out that, since the Skulls had commandeered his vessel, he had been sleeping in a small bunk below decks with the Skull crewmen, and saw no reason why he couldn’t continue sleeping there.
As her eyes came open, Hildy became aware of exactly what it was that had awakened her from her prolonged slumber. There was quite a bit of noise out on deck. People were talking, and there was a lot of thumping and bumping and stamping about, as well as a number of peculiar splashing sounds that seemed to be emanating from somewhere close to the Wavebounder.
She prepared herself quickly for the day and then opened the cabin door and stepped outside, and the sights that greeted her were quite astounding. Dozens of men, both soldiers and sailors, lined the railing on one side of the ship. They were all busily engaged in slinging stones, and, as soon as they let one stone fly, they would each turn, stoop, and pick up another stone from large piles behind them. She went to the rail and stepped carefully between two of the men. A hundred or so feet from the ship, someone had anchored a row of small water casks that bobbed in the gentle swells. She watched as rocks plopped into the bay all around these floating targets. Occasionally, there was a resounding thunk as one of the men scored a hit, and all the rest redoubled their efforts to match this shot. Sanara was walking behind the slingers, giving them pointers and encouragement.
Hildy greeted Sanara with a huge smile, telling her how impressive this all seemed. Sanara returned the smile. “Princess, if you look around, you will see that there are men practicing on some of the other ships as well. I sent the few slingers from Evergreen over to give them lessons. Also, I have brought more sailors over to the Wavebounder to continue making more slings, and I sent more boats to gather more river stones.”
When Hildy turned to admire the work being done manufacturing more slings, she spotted captain Tar and some of his soldiers busy practicing with their new spears. She decided to join them. Captain Tar showed her the new fighting style they were developing, and she spent some time, after going to fetch her own staff, standing in line with the soldiers, following the bellowed orders of the captain.
It occurred to her that, as useful as having a line of men all able to thrust and jab in unison might be, that, in real combat, the fighting would often rapidly break down into individual combat. She had the men stop what they were doing. She instructed the soldiers to pair off and spar with each other, using the blunt ends of their spears as if they were the sharpened ends.
“Above!” shouted a voice from over near the railing, and everyone on deck stopped what they were doing to scan the sky above them. A large river stone thumped down on the deck not far from Hildy.
“Sorry!” yelled one of the novice slingers, a chagrined look on his face. “Not as easy as it looks.”
Twice more, while Hildy sparred with captain Tar, whom she easily beat most of the time thanks to her father’s training, the call of “above” rang out, forcing everyone to cease whatever they were doing in order to avoid being brained by falling rocks. After a while, captain Tar sent that group of soldiers to the railing to practice with the slings, while another group, many of them sailors, took their turn at spear work. Hildy also took her first turn at using a sling. Her very first throw went wild, forcing her to yell “above” as so many had before her. Sanara gave her a few tips, and the next stone at least went in the right direction, though it landed nowhere near the barrel she was aiming at. Sanara went off to try her hand at learning to fight with a spear, while another of the Evergreen slingers took over as instructor. “How are we supposed to get any work done when we have to keep stopping and dodging rocks?” Tolly Caster yelled from where he and his brother were helping Lawry, Zar, Aluff and a group of sailors make even more slings.
“Yes, it really is most inconsiderate,” his brother agreed with a loud laugh.
Near them, another group of men were removing the heads from hoes and rakes, then sharpening the handles on one end, adding them to their growing collection of improvised spears. Still others were attempting to figure out the best, most effective way to use the large woodsman axes in combat against other soldiers, who tried to keep them at a distance with their own spears. A few men had even carved rough wooden copies of the large knives Hildy had purchased a supply of, so they could practice fighting with those.
Hildy and the others learning to use slings had to cease their slinging as more longboats arrived from shore carrying more river rocks to the ships that had received finished slings. Hildy practiced until she could send stones more or less at the barrel she was trying to hit most of the time. While she was drinking water from the dipper of one of the large casks of water near the ship’s wheel, princess Zareena approached her.
“How are you, Zar?” Hildy asked, still deeply concerned over her friend’s depression. Zar looked into her eyes and began to cry. Hildy took her in her arms and held her.
After a while, Zar pulled back. There were still tears in her eyes, but her voice was steady. “The first boy I ever liked was a woodsman’s son. I don’t know why I didn’t think to mention this sooner, but rockwood staves are actually quite easy to gather. The rockwood trees grow their branches evenly spaced, and they are very straight. It is just a question of climbing the trees with saws or axes and chopping off the branches that are the right thickness.”
Hildy was more amused than angry. “I don’t know why nobody else thought to mention it either, or why I didn’t already know it.” They both burst out laughing.
“Oh, and I should probably tell you one other thing,” said Zar quietly. “I’m pregnant.” They hugged and cried and laughed for a long while, garnering some speculative glances from the people around them.
Afterwards, Hildy went and talked once more with captain Reef, explaining about the rockwood trees. Within the hour, six ships were sent forth from the bay, carrying all the saws and the big axes used by woodsmen. “Leave it them,” captain Reef assured Hildy. “Sailors might not be woodsmen, but they know how to climb.”
The day went by, still with no word from the king, and the next day as well. Hildy was angered to be left waiting like this, when every moment counted, but she felt that, at least, they were making some real headway. By the end of the next day, seven days after the Shooting Star had arrived, every single crewman and soldier on all the ships had a spear and a sling, and were learning how to use them. More hides had been purchased to make large pouches to hold rocks for the slings. These satchels had straps so they could be slung over the shoulder. This would give everyone a good supply of ammunition to use in battle. Longboats were constantly shuttling back and forth between the mouths of the two closest rivers, bringing back loads of river stones to be loaded below decks on each and every ship, and so that the men could continue their pracitce.
Hildy stood on deck, surrounded by men practicing with slings and spears. She watched king Aluff, Lawry, Zar, Nudge and the two Caster brothers, poking and swinging at one another with the blunt, padded ends of their spears. She rubbed a bruise on her shoulder where captain Tar had got past her guard and thumped his spear into her. She was discussing with captain Reef whether or not it made sense to paint the Wavebounder back to her normal colors.
“We could do that, princess,” captain Reef told her, “but we can’t put the old blue sails back on her. They took the sails away, no doubt to dye them black and put them on some other ship they captured at a future time. They had spare black sails on a supply ship, all ready to use on any ship they commandeered. We haven’t got any dye or near enough paint to set her right. Besides, I have a feeling that someday, it might come in handy to have a ship done up in Skull colors. We might…” He didn’t finish the thought, but put up a hand to shade his eyes.
Hildy turned to see what he was staring at so intently. She didn’t see anything unusual, just the empty mouth of the bay. The captain let out a shrill whistle, and a sailor ran to the main mast, pausing to grab a white flag attached to a short pole, and, sticking the pole through his belt, he scrambled up the rigging to the lookout nest at the top of the mast.
The captain began to bellow orders. “Clear the decks. All weapons away, but keep them handy. Sailors, to your stations. Prepare the ship to get under way on my command.” He then went back to staring at the mouth of the bay while the sailors moved swiftly to their appointed duties and the soldiers got out of their way.
“Belay that,” the captain suddenly yelled, still peering into the distance. “Stay at your stations, and be ready to hoist the anchor and set the sails. And keep the deck clear.”
Hildy was completely mystified. She had watched the sailor in the lookout nest waving his flag in complicated patterns, and she could see, on the nearer ships, that men were scrambling to do the same things that the men on the Wavebounder were doing, but she had no idea what had set all this in motion. “Captain, what is it?”
“One moment, princess,” the captain said, then yelled to the sailor up above, “signal all ships to be ready to raise anchors and set sail on my order.” Then the captain turned back to stare out towards the open sea once more. “I have been having men take turns climbing that tall tree on the hill above the mouth of the bay. They have signal flags. I wanted to have some warning should a Skull fleet suddenly appear.”
“The Skulls are here?” Hildy asked, horrified. “Why aren’t we making ready to flee?”
“That is the strange thing, my Lady,” the captain said to her. “The Skulls are indeed here, but there is only one Skull ship, as far as the lookouts can see.”