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Duke Forecastle, Part 2

Before the Port of Seaworld had shrunk away, when the red and blue bunting on Queen Eliteabit’s dockside reviewing stand was still visible, Admiral Chequer turned to Lord Forecastle and gave him his mission orders.

“You are cargo, Lord Fawksull,” said the Admiral, mispronouncing his name as he always did. “Understand that. Your nominal position entitles you to nothing aboard my flagship, other than to handicap us by three move per turn. If we board an enemy ship, or we ourselves are boarded, then you will fight. Otherwise, you will stay in your quarters. You will give no orders to the crew. You are not in any sense the first mate of this vessel. If I find that you have asserted your authority as such, then I’ll have the figurehead cut from the prow, put you in a dress, and tie your lubber body there in its place for the rest of the voyage. Am I understood?”

It had the air of a prepared speech. But then, Nelson Chequer could say, “pass the anchovy paste,” with formal gravitas. Forecastle indicated that the order was clear, exchanged one confirming look with the ship’s navigator, Cat Harping, and fled below decks.

A few minutes later, he sheepishly reappeared on the quarterdeck, following a crewman. The man led him to the ward room where the first mate was, it seemed, more traditionally quartered.

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Four turns passed before Forecastle was certain that Chequer was truly serious about his orders not to leave his cabin. He hadn’t had a reason to test the order, but he figured that at some point someone would come by and talk to him, and perhaps set him free.

Nobody had so much as knocked. He didn’t dine with the admiral; they didn’t even bring him food from the ship’s stores. They just let his rations pop for him naturally (and expensively). With the creaking and rolling and the tangy salt air, he had little appetite anyway.

He’d given a lot of thought to why the Queen had assigned him to this duty, but he could only think that maybe someone in the Admiralty was settling a score with Chequer. Or was he himself simply viewed as expendable? Was he being punished for something? Was Chequer? Or was Seaworld so short of commanders that they truly had no recourse?

But if so, why place him on the flagship? There were two other ships in this group. The HMS Penman and the HMS Friend each had two seafarer warlords aboard. Why hadn’t they assigned him there?

Perhaps that decision was related to the matter of move.

Each ship had an optimal crew size. Ideally, the crew would be entirely comprised of seafarers. For a given turn, the ship’s total move was calculated by the total move of all seafarers in the crew, divided by a number that was determined by the ship’s design and condition. Non-seafarers in the crew contributed only one move each to the total. As the ship moved to a new hex, all units aboard—both crew and passengers—had their move reduced proportionately, so that the ship and all units aboard reached zero move by the end of the turn.

So maybe it was simply decided to put him on the fastest ship, so as to slow down the attack group the least. But then, why not just make him a passenger and put another seafarer on deck? Maybe the Queen had intended this as an honor?

If so, she had missed the mark. This was more of an imprisonment.

His cabin contained six books, and he’d read them all. One was about navigation, so he attempted to chart the Unsinkable II’s progress on one of the three maps he found in the iron-bound trunk. But winds and currents had a partly random effect on a ship’s progress, and nobody gave him the wind readings or current soundings. He got disoriented by some of the course changes they’d made. By the third day, he could only guess at how much progress the ship had made toward Uwotmate.

The Admiral’s own stateroom was on the same level as Forecastle’s, right down the narrow passageway. He could hear Chequer enter his quarters at night and leave in the morning. Once, he had called out, “Good morning, Admiral!” just to remind the man of his de facto captive’s existence. There had been no answer.

On the fourth night, he opened his cabin door, stuck out his head, and waited.

He’d waited long enough to feel foolish, but not long enough to give up, when the Admiral’s slow and measured footsteps finally descended the steps. The passageway was dim, and Chequer had his stateroom door open before Forecastle even realized he should say something.

“Admiral.”

Duke Forecastle’s commanding warlord met his eyes. He wanted to come to attention, but he couldn’t figure out a way to do that while poking his head out into the hallway.

“What is it, Warlord?”

Forecastle figured he should get right to the point. “Permission to leave my quarters, sir?”

Chequer straightened, holding the key to his stateroom in one hand and the doorknob in the other. “To what end?”

He’d thought about his answer quite a lot. “Well, Admiral, to oversee the fighting units, for one thing. To drill them, establish procedure in case of a boarding? That sort of thing? If I’m not going to do anything else on this ship, then—”

“And you’re not,” interjected Chequer.

“Yes, sir. Then I think it would be prudent to meet and train with the units I’d be leading in a fight.”

“Why?” said the Admiral. “So you can teach them what you don’t know? You’ve never seen any naval action at all, Duke Fawksull. Half of them are seafarers. So what are you going to teach them?”

Forecastle thought about it. “Maybe they could teach me, then, sir.”

The corridor fell silent, except for the gentle creaking of timbers.

“In the morning,” said Chequer. It came with the weight of an order, amending his previous ones. “Stay out of the way of my crew. In my eyes, the lowest one of them outranks you.”

The Admiral was in his stateroom with the door closed behind before Forecastle could finish thanking him.

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