More New and Used
from Private Sellers
His yeoman voyage now behind him, Blithe must now accept new responsibilities as he ascends to the rank of DRAGONFRIGATE WIZARD HALCYON BLITHE. In the latest chapter of the young wizard's nautical education he finds himself second in command of a captured enemy vessel that must engage a demonship in combat before returning to port. Upon his return he is assigned duty on a dwarven dragonship where he and his shipmates encounter the deceit of politics and diplomacy before they can regain the security of their Arcanian dragonship and the company of their trusted crewmates. Combining elements of Hornblower with Harry Potter, and Robert Louis Stevenson with Robin Hobb, the Halcyon Blithe are nautical tales rich in magic and intrigue set against a panorama of fantastic naval battles as we follow the career of a young midshipwizard as he moves up through the ranks of His Majesty's Navy.
James M. Ward is the author of gaming fiction as well as an award-winning and bestselling designer of games. He lives in Elkhorn, Wisconsin.
Encounter the Enemy
HIS MAJESTY’S ARTICLES OF WAR: ARTICLE XXI
All officers of all fleets, squadrons, naval stations, and vessels belonging to the navy are required to show in themselves a good example of virtue, honor, patriotism, and subordination; to be vigilant in inspecting the conduct of all persons who are placed under their command. Any commander who offends against the Articles shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
Fifty-two blast-tubes, on three different decks, unleashed their hellish shot at the enemy in the distance. The deafening noise filled the dragonship in a wave rocking the hull on the back of the sea-dragon first-rater. A wall of round shot arced forth, reaching out for the enemy first-rater at the end of the line.
The Durand’s own broadside missed the Sanguine by a wide margin, churning up the sea in plumes of water as tall as the Sanguine’s one-hundred-and-fifty-foot masts.
The living sea dragon that was the warship Sanguine roared a challenge to the enemy in the distance, surprised to hear no roar back. Every time it fought the distant creatures floating on the sea, amazement filled its tiny brain. Enemies’ growl and roar not go BOOM.
The sea dragon didn’t understand the nature of the shell on its back, but it liked the small pets that scurried around the shell and fed it wonderful treats like hay and lettuce. As in all battles, the dragon knew there would be good eating for it in the near future.
Elan Swordson, a midshipwizard first class, stood at the edge of the quarterdeck on the back of that dragon, able to see over the smoke. He noted the successful hits on the Durand. Smiling, he looked back to see the officers on the quarterdeck all working toward maneuvering the ship. He didn’t like not controlling a blast-tube, and he especially didn’t like to see Halcyon Blithe on a tube in the middle of the tube deck. “I’ll go down and make sure the salt chests have full jars,” he suggested to the second officer.
She nodded and he went off to the tube-deck.
The wall of smoke from the tubes of the Sanguine obscured any chance of seeing what their shots might have struck. Hundreds of men worked at reloading their tubes as the dragonship ignored the prevailing winds and tacked quickly to port, allowing the other side of the ship to bear its deadly blast-tubes on the not-so-distant enemy.
For one member of the Sanguine’s crew, all the noise and smoke and the dragon roaring its challenge presented no distraction to what he was doing. Through the confusion of the battle, Halcyon Blithe, midshipwizard third class, commanded a blast-tube crew facing off against the Maleen first-rater Durand. His six-foot lanky frame bent intently over the blast-tube, waiting for the enemy to appear in the firing port. There was an intense red glow in his eyes, part of his demon heritage that those respecting him never asked about. Like many other spellcasters on the ship, he had a long white war braid down his back. It marked him a wizard of power, and he used that magic to heat up the blast spike about to be driven into the touchhole of his deadly weapon. He was a good-looking man of sixteen years, but today his handsome face was twisted in a snarl of hate and fury. He was fighting one of the Maleen ships on a special written list he constantly carried in a pouch next to his heart.
“Stand by!” Halcyon shouted to the blast-tube crew of the Deadly Dori. Every ship of the line had crew who named their blast-tubes. The Deadly Dori blast-tube fired a thirty-pound sphere of iron up to one mile from the ship.
Over the blast-tube, Halcyon faced the Durand in the distance, and this battle for him was very personal. Halcyon began muttering to himself. “You and three others shot my father’s ship to the waterline.”
At the same time, he made sure his crew did everything perfectly. “My father struck his colors and you fired at him anyway. I’m here to bring the revenge of my family down on your heads!”
As they all worked, no one could hear what he was mumbling. Blithe didn’t care. The enemy in front of him helped to kill his father. Halcyon was fighting for more than king and country. He was fighting for his father.
Ashe Fallow, the master chief petty officer in charge of keeping the flow of blast-gel moving from belowdecks to the many blast-tubes on the blast deck, noted Halcyon’s look and grew a mite worried. Few things missed the steely eyes of the chief. A thin man at a little less than six feet tall, he seemed shorter as he was constantly slouching, displaying a relaxed style even in the heat of deadly battle. Bald at fifty, he was a lifetime navy man and liked it that way. The chief decided to hover near the Deadly Dori, just to keep an eye on the young Lankshire officer. Officers always need help, he wryly thought.
“Damn your eyes, Fallow, can’t you see that salt chest is empty!” Swordson shouted at the chief. “I don’t want your men lagging behind the shots being fired.”
A salt chest stood behind each of the blast-tubes during battle. It held a large supply of salt with jars of blasting gel placed in the chest. The packed salt kept hot sparks from igniting the jars. The packing also kept crashing materials from breaking the jars in the heat of battle.
“I have three gel monkeys working on this section of the deck, bringing the blasting gel from the orlop deck to these blast-tube carriages. They can’t move any faster than they are now.” Fallow’s words fell on deaf ears. The midshipwizard was watching what Blithe was doing.
“Steady on!” Denna Darkwater commanded her squad at the center of the upper blast-tube deck. Darkwater loved a good melee. She was just under six feet tall, and her troll heritage showed from the long blue hair now in a war braid down her back to her dark greenish flesh, which resisted sword strokes and pike strikes like the best armor. In spite of her monstrous heritage, she was a lovely woman with muscles of steel. There were thirty-two small ivory skulls woven into her braid—one for every enemy officer she’d killed in hand-to-hand combat.
She too was surprised at the look of hate on Midshipwizard Blithe’s face. In the short time she’d come to know Halcyon, she’d learned to like and respect him. She would gladly watch the young midshipwizard’s back.
He was an officer, but she liked him nevertheless.
Normally, tubes fired in a solid wall of shot. Halcyon’s tube waited not for the prow of the enemy ship to come into line with the blast-tube, but for the center of the ship. He wanted the maximum chance for his shot to hit. He’d also decided to use all the long-range loads of gel in his tube. He didn’t just want to hit the enemy; he wanted to pummel them to kindling.
Swab sticks and prybars hit the deck as six men jammed their hands over their muffled ears. Each of the crew had a scarf tied around his head. Under the scarf, each forced sailcloth into and around his ears.
Filled with deadly intent, Halcyon watched his blast-tube bear on the Durand, the enemy first-rater, not a thousand yards away. The enemy showed pockmarks in its port section from the Sanguine’s previous blasts.
The rest of the port tube crew fired their blast-tubes the instant the long barrels bore on the prow of the enemy ship in the distance. A wave of sound blew everyone back and a wall of smoke filled their vision. Showing no nervousness at all, Halcyon held his fire as the ship rolled up the next wave and down to the bottom on the ocean’s roll.
“Fire, you idiot! What’s wrong with you?” Swordson shouted.
Feeling the young midshipwizard’s murderous intent, the dragon roared its hate at the Durand and turned itself just right to allow Halcyon’s tube to come in line with the middle of the enemy first-rater.
The dragon was able to see what Halcyon was seeing. It had grown more and more in tune with the midshipwizard’s mind over the last week.
There was no tension or doubt in Blithe in the deadly moments of this battle. His entire focus centered on the Durand. The Maleen warship was an enemy that took part in the destruction of his father’s warship in the battle off Porlun, a little more than a year ago. Halcyon knew every enemy ship that took part in that action. He’d vowed to be part of their destruction and this was his first chance to accomplish that promise made a year ago. He tried hard to contain his rage, but his face told a different story and his grim disposition caused his blast-tube crew to rush their duties.
Through the blast port, he waited until the movements of the enemy ship allowed the shot to have a chance to strike the center of the enemy’s deck. The dragonship swayed down into the bottom of the ocean’s roll. Halcyon held a steel spike above the touchhole of the blast-tube. Ramming that spike into the jar of blasting gel was usually enough to set off the explosion of the tube. The heated spikes guaranteed the successful blasting of the tube. On ships with magically able crew, those who could use magic were in charge of heating up the spike with their magical energies instead of heating the spike in a small brazier kept between each pair of blast-tubes for spike-heating purposes. Heating the spike with his magical ability, Blithe jammed it into the touchhole, and stood aside. He took great satisfaction in using his magic as the cause of the destruction he sent the Durand’s way.
The smoke of the blast blew back onto the deck with blinding effect. The stiff morning breeze forced the choking smoke in everyone’s faces. They blinked back the sting of the smoke. Halcyon Blithe’s orders had them quickly pick up their equipment to reload the tube.
On the quarterdeck, Second Officer and blast-tube Master Andool Griffon looked down on her tube deck to see why one of her tubes fired so late. The second volley sparsely struck the prow of the enemy in the distance and she was well pleased with its effect even if only half of the shots reached the hull of the Durand. She noted the late shot landed amidships, smashing through a blast-tube port. She’d be talking to that midshipwizard.
“Captain,” she shouted over the noise of the quarterdeck crew readying their double blast-tubes. “The starboard side is again ready to fire, if you please.”
“Hard to port!” came his order.
The two great wheels, crewed by four able seamen, spun the great ship’s prow to obey the order. Huge twists of rope deep in the ship forced the fins of the sea dragon to turn the ship. They weren’t dependent on the wind to tack, giving the Sanguine a deadly advantage in battle as the swimming action of the sea dragon propelled the ship in tighter turns than a wind-powered ship could make.
Swordson left in disgust at Halcyon’s luck. If the midshipwizard had missed, Swordson could have done something, but the fool’s shot was perfect.
“Swab the tube!” Halcyon shouted.
“Swab the tube!” all of the crew members shouted back in response.
The dragonship lurched as it tacked a third time, moving even quicker this time as it tacked with the wind.
The huge cloth-wrapped stick splashed into a bucket of seawater, and then rammed into the hot barrel of Deadly Dori. Twisted three times, it went deeper and deeper into the barrel with frantic haste. A white painted band on the swab shaft told the tube crewman when he’d pushed in far enough. It came free with a sucking sound, barely cooling the barrel enough to load in another jar of the blast-gel.
Tacking the dragonship, the Sanguine belched forth another broadside from the starboard side. The blinding smoke didn’t stop any crew from their loading duties.
“Blue gel and bar shot!” Halcyon ordered. Blithe knew the crew would get the blast-gel and load the tube shells without his command. Bar shot wasn’t usual at this range, but Halcyon anticipated the battle action of both the Sanguine and the Durand.
Bar shot blasted out, destroying rigging and masts. The tube master always gave strict orders to aim at the hull to kill as many of the enemy as possible. Using bar shot was contrary to the running orders of the ship, not that anyone was going to question the blazing-red-eyed leader of their tube crew.
Halcyon, knowing the skill of his captain, planned on their ship being closer than medium range as the Durand tried to gather way and come in to battle the Sanguine.
In the distance, the Durand gave its own broadside. The deadly spheres hit the water a hundred yards off the prow of the ship as it tacked. Some of the shots skipped on the water, missing the dragon by a narrow margin. The dragon ducked its head under the water as its training had taught it. A single tube shot could kill it at this distance. It wouldn’t raise its head until the ship grappled the Durand.
“Fire as you bear!” Griffon shouted to her blast-tube crews.
Starboard tubes began firing in ones and twos as the dragonship turned. Marine drummers beat out the fire-as-you-bear command for all the decks to hear. There was no mistaking the special beat of the drums, allowing everyone to know they could fire their tubes when each tube leader thought it wise.
“On the downroll, men!” Griffon shouted as some of the shots fired in haste while the ship was on the wave’s uproll. The Arcanian navy fired its shot on the downroll to strike the hulls of the enemy. The Maleen fleets fired on the uproll, trying to destroy the masts and sails of the enemy. Griffon was duty bound to kill men, not sails, and spars.
Halcyon was trying his best to kill a ship.
Copyright © 2006 by James M. Ward. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from Dragonfrigate Wizard Halcyon Blithe by James M. Ward
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.