Authors: C B Ash
Tales of the Brass Griffin:
A Children's Tale
C. B. Ash
Copyright © 2013 by Christopher B Ash
Other fine books by C. B. Ash:
Tales of the Brass Griffin
Dead Men’s Tales
The Seventh Knife*
*Currently viewable on http://brassgriffin.com
Copyright © 2013 by Christopher B Ash
Cover by: Jeroen ten berge (http://jeroentenberge.com/)
First Edition: August 2009
Second Edition: Sept 2013
This book is a work of fiction. All the characters, events and locations portrayed in this ebook are either fictitious or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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For Zoe and Ryan,
I hope you always find an adventure around every corner.
his high in the mountains the sky was almost featureless. Clouds spread across the stretch of sky like a gray, padded gauze that filtered the sunlight to a muted, smoky dawn. A gust of wind touched with the damp cold of rain and snow stirred the rigging and trim sails around the main gas bag. On the deck, the crew busied themselves with their daily tasks, only today they kept a watchful eye on the stretch of snow capped mountains that loomed nearby and below the ship itself.
Captain Hunter, dressed in his usual dark trousers, boots, shirt and long coat leaned on the starboard railing. Quietly he scanned the mountainside below, almost oblivious to his surroundings. Finally, struck by some odd thought, he withdrew a folded piece of paper from his coat breast pocket. He unfolded the worn correspondence, then read the message again.
My dear Captain Anthony Hunter,
My associates speak highly after you and word of the reputation of you and your crew speaks likewise of your merit. I seek your employment on a matter of some import. Perhaps you are familiar with her, but the ship
has been logged overdue for arrival at Port Camden. This is of great concern to me as I had booked passage for my own niece and nephew to travel to meet their long lost parents. As I have been their caretaker for some time now, naturally I am concerned as to their outcome.
Enclosed is a map that detailed the last route taken by the Marie Celeste and a Bill of Order detailing the amount I have advanced. This first amount is up front for you and your crew's efforts. Any news will garner a similar amount upon your return.
Yours with gratitude,
Ian Von Patterson
The captain brushed a few snowflakes that fell on the paper then folded it thoughtfully. Last calculations put them along the same route as the
, seven days out from London. He sighed and surveyed the rocky ground covered in a fresh blanket of snow. The wind stirred again and the
creaked in reply, a protest against the weather while the ship gently banked to port.
From the quarterdeck came a shout from the navigator, Billy Baker. Baker was a thin man with deep gray eyes and nimble way with his hands. Rumor had it that Billy's mother was a sea witch and he inherited some of the Gift from her. Billy himself only would say he had a knack for finding things. “Ship ahead!”
Captain Hunter stood up and returned the letter to his breast pocket. He called back, "How's she fare Mr Baker?"
"The bird's aground Cap'n, a good 10 twain down on that snow and tree covered slope. Not sure she'll fly again without some work."
"Any sign of castaways?"
"None Cap'n, but tha' don't mean there's not any."
Hunter nodded to himself, the lad was right about that one. "Thank you, Mr Baker."
A rough voice preceded Hunter's first mate while he joined the captain at the rail. "Our employer won't like this. He was clear about finding the children alive."
"We don't know the
went down and took all hands and passengers with her, Krumer." Hunter scrutinized the mountainside until his eyes caught sight of the downed airship. He let out a small whistle of amazement at the view of the mangled wreck.
The first mate shook his head slowly at the sight. "Her gas bag's in at least four parts, and it looks like she hit bow-first when she came in. She might have weathered it, but that large rock outcrop sheared her like a knife. It'd have been rough to ride her down."
"What would your Orcish spirits say about those odds?"
A grin spread across Krumar's flat orcish face, he folded his heavily muscled arms over his chest, straining his worn white shirt. "They'd remind me they don't believe in the odds. Me? I'd say even odds here. If the ones in the stern didn't get bounced around too much when she hit and if she just didn't collapse on herself when she ran aground."
The pilot brought the ship around again, closer this time, to offer a better look at the wrecked airship below. On this pass, the crew's usual work on the rigging and other matters slowed while all looked over the side towards the scene. No one spoke more than a whisper or two out of respect for the deceased spirits of passengers and what the crew believed was the deceased spirit of a wrecked airship. Even the regular protests of the
herself sounded mournful and quiet while they passed.
It was Hunter who broke the spell of silence. "That's a bloody large set of 'ifs', Mr. Whitehorse."
"Aye Cap'n. I'll take them too, if it means we've live survivors to return instead of dead remains."
"Some hope is better than none, eh? Well, I'll take that.” Hunter turned towards the knot of crew that had gathered at the port rail. “Mr. O'Fallon?”
The broad shouldered, tattooed man with a long red pony tail near the back of the group looked over. "Aye Cap'n?"
"Bring out the longskiff, I'll be taking three down ashore with me to search the wreck."
The red haired quartermaster looked at the crew. “Ye both there and ye by the rail. Ye'll be doin' in a pinch. Ya be hearin' the captain, he be wantin' his longskiff. Look alive!”
Quickly the three men, escorted by O'Fallon, raced to the winch towards the bow where the longskiff was folded and stowed. Once the ropes were released, the four men slowly drew the catamaran shaped craft up over the railing and unfolded the second smaller boat hull that provided some storage and ballast to the first. The cold wind rippled the longskiff's kite sails while a small flock of brightly colored firehawks swooped and played among the top rigging of the
herself. Firehawks, modest sized birds that were a stout foot from toe to shoulder with fiery orange and red feathers, often enjoyed the heated updrafts of air from an airship's steam engines.
Hunter walked to the port rail next to the few crew that remained there. Slowly he shook his head in sad dismay at the tangled knots of rope, wood and bodies that littered the white, clean snow.
“A lot of 'ifs', Krumer, a lot of them.”
louds of steam erupted around the longskiff when it slid to a stop on the packed snow. The whine of turbines echoed with a haunting cry among the wreckage of gas bag, pieces of wood, brass, rigging and spots of blood. When the longskiff came to a rest, O'Fallon jumped out, pulled the bowline and lashed the craft to a nearby tree. He tugged at his dark wool coat around him and turned just as the wind stirred the snow in small clouds around his boots. Captain Hunter followed the quartermaster a moment later, his eyes swept over the upthrust pieces of wood and bent brass fittings.
"Quite the mess here," Hunter commented.
O'Fallon tugged at the mooring line and, convinced it secure, took in his own view of the wreckage with a sigh. "She took quite the beating, nothing more'n grapeshot, but a large sight 'o it." He knelt and pulled a dented brass object from where it lay half-buried. Shaking the snow loose, he turned the sextant over in his hands before he handed it to Hunter. The captain turned it over himself while Moira and William vented the steam which powered down the air screws and reduced the tension in the longskiff's gas bag.
"Lets spread out. O'Fallon, you and William take starboard. Moira, you're with me here at the bow."
O'Fallon nodded then gave the younger William Falke a reassuring grin. "Let's see who be layin' about."
William sighed and managed a smile although his eyes still swept the ruined ship with a look of dismay. The young man rubbed his gloved hands together to beat off the cold, then pulled his gray woolen coat tighter around him before he followed O'Fallon's boot tracks.
When the pair had left, Moira sighed. Dressed in a leather long coat, warm shirt, trousers and her usual well worn boots, she was suited to the weather but not the scene before her. She shook her head slowly and put her hands on her hips. "The bow's a mess Cap'n. Nothin' be livin' through that."
"Likely as so, but we still need to check. An then there is funeral detail for the crew and what passengers they had. Might have to dig for a few that would've been buried by the impact of the crash. They all deserve at least that.”
Moira cast a somber look at the scattered remains of the former merchant ship then recovered her canvas shoulder bag of small tools from the longskiff. Light snow fell softly on the broken, bloodstained wood and covered the few ruined bodies of victims that had been thrown clear during the crash. “Aye Cap'n. Ah'll look for personal items ta try and return ta families. Ones Ah can find anyway.”
“Understood and good thinking.”
Moira stretched an hour later, dirt packed onto the most recent grave in the snow and dirt. Captain Hunter carefully lifted another long plank but found nothing underneath except a torn crumple of sailcloth and stiff with the cold. Moira looked around; they had only managed to search a quarter of the wreckage so far.
“Cap'n, Ah be thinkin'. We may be goin' about this all wrong.”
Hunter stood and stretched his own knotted muscles. "Go on."
"We be lookin' fer tracks o' survivors. In this snow? Ah be thinkin' that if Ah be in a bird goin' down, especially on her bow, where would Ah want tae be? Ah'd think near the boilers."
Hunter looked at the whole of the wreckage. The bow, or front of the ship, was in several large pieces near one another. The stern or rear of the ship typically held passenger and officer quarters as well as the airship's tiny engine room underneath both for boilers and batteries. That entire section lay partially buried in the snow but was largely intact. The reinforced plates of wood and copper protected the stern, not from a boiler explosion but from impact on a snow-covered mountainside.
“Moira, I think I owe you an ale. Brilliant!”
In two steps Hunter put himself in earshot of the other two searchers. "O'Fallon! William! The boiler room!"
O'Fallon waved a hand in reply and motioned his younger partner. By the time Hunter and Moira reached the ruined stern section, the other two had used steel rods from nearby to pry open a bent copper and steel door that led below. Their footsteps squeaked in the powdery snow, Moira and Hunter climbed aboard the wreck and joined in. The snow fell harder, the cold hampering the work. Finally, with the added help, the door relinquished its hold on the frame. With a groan and a sharp pop that echoed in the cold air, the door was swung aside and fell in a lopsided heap next to them. A brief cloud of powdery snow surrounded them for a moment. William let out a heavy sigh, gestured to the black doorway and grinned.
“Your doorway Cap'n.”
Moira waved a hand at William. "Sush a moment boy."
Suddenly, her eyes went wide at a sound so faint, she barely could made it out. From the darkness, the hollow ring of copper being struck with something metal reached their ears. Behind that was muffled and panic filled shouts. In a mad dash, she grabbed the door frame and dropped from sight into the musty darkness below.