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Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe

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Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe

  This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously.


  Copyright © 2005 by James M. Ward

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

  This book is printed on acid-free paper.

  Edited by Brian Thomsen

  A Tor Book

  Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

  175 Fifth Avenue

  New York, NY 10010

  Tor® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

  ISBN 0-765-31253-0

  EAN 978-0-765-31253-2

  First Edition: September 2005

  Printed in the United States of America

  0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


  There were many people who helped me get this book to print and I would like to take this chance to thank some of them.

  Brian Thomsen is an unusually talented editor and a good friend who made this novel ten times better by his efforts.

  Mike Gray is a friend who took the time to give me great advice on every chapter of this book.

  Craig Brain is a newfound comrade who was also very supportive in this effort.

  Jim Fallone was nice enough to suggest I give this a try. Thank you for pushing me in this direction.

  My wonderful wife, Janean, allowed me to take the time to write this book, and I credit her with all of my success since we have been married.

  Finally, I'd like to thank my departed mother, who made me take two years of typing class in high school even though I complained about it, kicking and screaming all the way.

  "Damn all the gods above us, I've been feeling this twice-blasted storm in me bones half the night and here it comes." The dock-worker reached out and pointed with his hook for a hand at the storm clouds rolling over Ilumin Bay.

  "Hook, me old friend, you've been complaining about storms for as long as I've known you. Here, take this to warm your salty bones," said the friend while handing Hook a tankard of hot rum.

  "Pegleg, where did you get the coin for this?" Hook asked, forgetting all about the storm in the pleasure of sipping hot rum.

  "It's the last of my prize money from that battle off of Easta two year ago. Settle me hearty, the Maleen fleets and our still-in-bed officers can wait a few grains of falling sand in an Arcanian hourglass for two old sailors to finish their grog." Pegleg hopped over to a crate under the cover of patched sail and motioned for his friend to follow.

  Hook raised his namesake and shook it at the sky. "Let the Maleen navy come. Every dock sailor here has a missing leg or hand, but we'll still give the bastards hell. Those shapechanging fiends aren't going to get past Arcania's wall of ships in my lifetime."

  Pegleg rolled his eyes at his friend's feisty mood and raised his tankard in salute. "With that said I hope you live forever, friend."

  Hook knew he preached to the salty choir. "All right, all right." He sat by his friend on the crates they would be loading aboard frigates all morning. "It's weather like this and a battle with a first-rater that cost me this hand. You know they love nothing better than boarding and taking over ships. It was the Maleen captain of that first-rater that chopped off me hand as I spilled his guts on the deck in reply for his effort."

  "Now don't go getting all glum-like. There's a wall of Arcania fleets between them and us. Even iffen those dark bastards do break through and land on these docks, there's you and me greeting um with a friendly smile and a cheerful stab." Pegleg drew out a slim dagger from a sheath on his wooden leg and cut some bread for himself, afterward raising the weapon suggestively.

  Just then, the morning coach came around the corner and up to the docks.

  Lately the coaches were crammed full with officers. Such was a sure sign that the fleet was ready to move out.

  The two men walked over to see if coin was offered for unloading sea trunks.

  "New fish," both of them said at the exact same time, and smiled at having the same thought. They stepped back under the awning to get out of the drizzle, and heard a loud snap of the fingers from inside the carriage.

  The pouring rain all around them stopped.

  The sun broke through the dark clouds and the pair of soggy dockmen became highly pleased to see they weren't going to get too wet in the loading of naval supplies for the anchored ships that day.

  Leaping out of the carriage as if the seat had a spring ejecting him, the midshipwizard landed on the dock with the sort of energy only the young possessed. The two men could tell he was a wizard by his white shock of hair and white eyebrows. His brown-and-white midshipwizard uniform was so crisp it could be only the second time it was worn.

  "Look at him, he's a midshipwizard fresh out of the academy, or I'm a sea bass," Pegleg whispered to his friend.

  "Did you see the red in his eyes? There's demon blood in him for sure," Hook remarked.

  "A big un, over six foot if he's an inch," Hook observed.

  "Did I thank Uncle Frank for the gift of this sword?" the midshipwizard muttered to himself. (Fastening on his gleaming new naval sword, he patted it with the palm of his callused hand, deep in thought.) "I know I thanked Uncle Jim for the midshipwizard hat." (His sea chest magically floated at his command from the top of the carriage to the ground and followed him in an impressive display of arcane skill for one so young.) "Where is Uncle John's checklist of things to do on the first day?"

  He searched his many pockets and finally found a small piece of parchment. Reading it quickly, counting to himself, he put it away for the hundredth time.

  "Well." Still talking to himself, he looked around to see the two old sailors on the dock. "I've got six months of academy training under my belt. The good wishes of six different uncles and six brothers are all still ringing in my ears. I'm a sailor with prospects and I have to get to work."

  He walked briskly over to the pair. Bright sunshine warmed him, causing him to smile in satisfaction.

  "Men, I beg pardon for breaking into your breakfast." His voice was friendly and his smile was infectious. Pride almost burst out of every part of his uniform. "I'm Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe with orders to report to the HMD Sanguine dragonship of the line this morning. Could one of you tell me how I get aboard her?"

  Pegleg and Hook had the same thoughts flash through their minds. They could give him wrong directions. They could send him to cool his heels at the officers' billet. They could probably get him in lots of trouble, just for the sheer fun of it... however, the young man before them had a likable smile, he wasn't being pushy, and the red tint in his eyes warned them that it might not be a good idea to cross this new officer in the king's navy.

  Hook, remembering other officers with those same red eyes, didn't want to take any chances. His hook pointed down the docks. "The Sanguine's jolly boat rowed up to the dock an hour ago. I suspect they're waiting for you. All of them went for a bite to eat at the Blue Dolphin Inn, but are back on the boat now. Your craft is a hundred yards down that next pier. You can't miss it; it's the only lizard green jolly boat in the entire fleet right now. The Sanguine is at the mouth of the bay, you can just make it out in the distance. You might think about getting something to eat before you find her. The morning-meal bells have all rung on the ships at anchor and it's a long time till the lunch bell."

  "Thank you, men. King and country come first, as you know. Your help is appreciated." Blithe squared away and saluted.

  The two sailors got to their feet and saluted back. As the young officer walked sharply down the docks, his sea chest floated magically behind

  Pegleg spoke first. "I hope Fate is in a good mood when that one sees his first Maleen boarding action."

  Hook smiled and slugged back the last of his rum. "I'd wager he falls into the bay when he tries to get on the jolly boat, but there isn't a man or boy on this entire dock that would take that bet."

  The laughter of the two men drifted to Blithe's ears, but he paid them no mind.

  "I know I'll have to serve a few years to earn the respect of such men," Halcyon said to himself. "But earn it I will, because I'm an officer with prospects, no doubt about it."

  The clouds of the bay, magically commanded to disperse, did so. Nature found it impossible to ignore the demands of a powerful young spellcaster, but it would bide its time and exact payment for this storm's clearing.

  The sun continued to shine down on the Arcanian Empire's newest midshipwizard... for now.

  his majesty's articles of war: article i

  No officer, mariner, soldier, or other person of the fleet shall leave their assigned post during combat unless ordered by the captain of the ship or unless extenuating circumstances warrant the abandoning of the post. Such dereliction of duty will be reviewed by a board of court-martial. The penalty for such dereliction is death or other punishment as the court-martial board shall find suitable.

  "Officer of the jolly boat, permission to come on board." Halcyon Blithe stood at attention at the top of the gangplank, saluting the officer of the jolly boat and looking down. The large-oared vessel held twelve sailors and a midshipwizard at the tiller. The wide twenty-foot-long vessel had lots of room for gear and men, as jolly boats worked the cargoes from ship to shore.

  "What's your rank, Midshipwizard?" The lanky officer at the stern returned Blithe's salute, calling the question up at Blithe in a slow eastern drawl; his accent marked him as coming from Et Bay on the southern tip of Arcania.

  The twelve brown-uniformed sailors in the boat got their oars in the water.

  Blithe, coming down the planking of the quay, stopped short at the officer's question. His midshipwizard brown-and-white uniform proclaimed his officer status. For the life of him, he couldn't tell why the other midshipwizard would care about his rank. "Midshipwizard Fifth Class Halcyon Blithe with orders for the Sanguine. Why do you ask? Do I need to show you my papers?"

  "Show me no twice-blasted papers, Middy. We've been waiting for you most of the morning. Sitting in the wet isn't my idea of fun. Haul yourself on board and be right quick about it. Didn't they teach you anything at the academy? Way the lines, ready the oars, look sharp now, men. I'm Midshipwizard Dart Surehand Third Class." He said the last emphasizing his rank, not needing to tell Halcyon it was superior to his own.

  Blithe estimated that the officer in front of him couldn't be much more than his own sixteen years. Surehand was lean with long arms and legs, and his own brown-and-white midshipwizard uniform was almost as crisp as Blithe's. He had a long face filled with buckteeth.

  The midshipwizard had unusually thick white eyebrows. Blithe noticed that the other officer's big hands bore no rings. The officer's sword, sheathed and lying on the tiller seat, looked well made and the handle showed itself well used, and there was a crest on the bell guard of the weapon, but Halcyon couldn't make it out from the gangplank. There were enough gems on the handle and sheath to mark its owner as a wealthy man.

  The bored crew had carried out all of Surehand's orders before he finished barking them out. He went on, "I'm the jolly boat's commander, such as it is. Every vessel no matter how small, and this one isn't quite the smallest in the king's navy, has its commander. Why isn't your sorry ass in my boat yet?"

  Halcyon deftly leapt aboard, unhitching his own fine new sword, and positioned himself in the stern next to Surehand. His sea chest magically floated between the benches and came to rest at the bottom of the boat.

  Halcyon didn't quite know what to make of him, but he didn't like this Surehand's tone of voice.

  "I'm rather fond of Article Fourteen myself, if you get my drift," Halcyon remarked, looking up at Dart to see what expression filled his face at the quip.

  Surehand quoted the article with a questioning look on his face. "No person in or belonging to the fleet shall sleep on his watch, why would you like that one?" Dart asked, steering the jolly boat toward the opening of the bay.

  They took a heading straight for the Sanguine, but it was quite a distance away.

  "No, sleeping on watch is Article Sixteen; didn't they teach you anything at the academy, Midshipwizard Surehand?"

  The "gotcha" look made both young men laugh, and the tension broke like a wave on the shore as both of them realized at the same instant that they could easily be friends.

  "All right, I can never remember those first twenty articles of the ninety-nine Articles of War, I don't know why. When we aren't on duty together, call me Dart." He held out his big hand and Halcyon reached to shake it.

  "Halcyon, Hal to my friends and I hope you'll be one."

  Dart waved his hand in a motion to take in all the ships in the harbor. "The bay is filled with ships of the line. Ilumin is the major refitting center for the western fleets. The battered ships waiting refitting anchor on the south end of the bay. The ten over there now have seen hard use in the war. The ones anchored in the north end of the bay are ships of the line, waiting to join the fleet. Look and you'll see more fitted ships, at least thirty of the line with a host of supply ships and other merchantmen on that side of the bay, always a good sign the war is going well for Arcania when the ready ships far outnumber the wrecked ships."

  "I couldn't help noticing the crest on your sword. How are you related to the king?" Halcyon had to ask.

  Dart showed a pained expression on his face. "The king's my uncle and that's the last I want to talk about that. I'm working my way up the chain of command like any other swab. When I get my captaincy, it's going to be because I earned it in this war with Maleen and not because I'm the king's cousin. Some officers and men have made it clear they think my birth is more important than my skills. I make it a point to set their minds right. Speaking of cousins, I don't think you can throw a rock at any of these ships and not hit a commander that's not a Blithe. Are you related to all of those Blithes?"

  Halcyon could tell that his new friend was sensitive about his royal birthright. He could well imagine what problems such heritage might bring. He had his own naval heritage to work around.

  "My family has had a Blithe in the Arcanian navy for as long as there's been an Arcania, bless her and the king," Halcyon said. "Right now, I have five uncles commanding ships of the line. The sixth is the naval master of the Exchequer. My six brothers are all officers, lieutenants, and lieutenant commanders in the various fleets... though most of them serve in the southern and western fleets. My father was captain of the Warsprite, blown up last year off the coast of Drusan in the battle for Ordune."

  "I heard about that battle and the Warsprite saving others as she died," Dart said.

  "My families have always been in the navy and now it's my turn," Halcyon replied proudly. "My father wanted me to serve, but only as a midshipwizard. I came into my magical abilities just recently. Most Blithes start serving on board His Majesty's ships at twelve; all my six brothers did just that. I didn't come into my power until the day I turned sixteen. I've just finished my academy training, and this is my first duty. What are the other officers like on the Sanguine?"

  He and Surehand looked ahead in the distance to their assigned ship. The head of the dragon was dipping up and out of the water.

  The sun glowed off the green scales of the dragonship.

  The rowers moved back and forth, as they slowly struck oars through the bay.

  "Not a bit of that," Dart admonished his new friend, "in front of the crew." His head nodded to the twelve brown-uniformed sailors working the oars. "We officers never talk about other officers of the Sanguine or any other ship we serve on. Course, the Sanguine itself is a different matter. I could talk
all day long about it and its excellent crew." The last comment pleased the men straining at the oars and many of them turned their heads to smile back at Surehand as they rowed.

  "Please do, we didn't get much training about dragonships of the line at the academy." Blithe relaxed for the first time that morning. He enjoyed talking to Surehand, as if he had known him all his life.

  "It's a beauty it is. Now, I know most ships are called she, but dragonships are different. All dragonships are males for lots of reasons. We don't ever call them anything but 'it' when we talk about them and we talk about them a lot. The Sanguine is three hundred and ten feet long from stem to stern. The dragon itself is two hundred feet long in its beam, the sea dragon's body that is. It's sixty-two feet wide and the ship hull adds another twenty feet for a maximum beam of eighty-two feet. It's just out of dry dock so those measurements are exact, but it will grow longer and wider in the next two years before its next refitting, they never stop growing, these sea dragons of ours.

  "Dragons shed their skin every two years. That's why we were in dry dock. The new shed skin went into refitting the orlop hull. We keep the shed skin connected to the body so blood still flows through the flesh. We stretch it and make our hulls from it. Normally a sea dragon comes to the surface every two years to shed itself of its smaller skin, scraping it off on the rocks and trees the creature finds onshore. While shedding, it can't let the seawater hit its exposed vital organs. All sorts of parasites and disease can strike the dragon down during shedding. Its heart and liver are exposed to the air and sea; therefore, the creature never submerges during the entire process. Some smart Johnny decided centuries ago that capturing a dragon was possible while it shed its flesh. Now clamps hold the flesh to the huge veins pumping blood through the skin of the dragon. That flowing blood continues to feed that shed flesh and heals the rips and tears of battle.

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