Category: Book 4 - The New World is exciting, dangerousFlip the order!
Chapter 90 - Dese Days Part Three: Bernadetta gets ready.
The King found Bernadetta Leathervest deep in the Maize storage deck on Oranje's flagcanoe. Oranje and all of her captains and battlechiefs were meeting on board in her luxurious chambers for a pre-invasion lunch. It was the perfect time for the King to strike – to decapitate the United Statesian attack force before the campaign had even begun. He'd already sent Astrid Gimmerleck to shore so that she could advise the European army to not target the flagcanoe, he'd drawn his remaining Adventure Friends together and got them all psyched up and confident and they were so ready, but here was Bernadetta, crouched in a puddle in the bowels of the ship, holding Cyclops' Bane unwaveringly above the entrance to a rathole, her breathing shallow, drenched in concentration. A rat would spawn and run from the hole every thirty seconds or so and as soon as the freshly-spawned rat poked its little head out of the hole and got its first look at the wide and wonderful world it found its little ratty self in, Bernadetta would bring Cyclops' Bane down like a magical metal cobra, brush the rat's gushing body away with the back of her hand and go right back to waiting. Perched on a barrel beside her was a vial filled with bubbly green liquid. The King identified it as a Medium Strength Potion Of Strength.
“Honoured Mrs. Leathervest,” said the King, not wanting to but also wanting to interrupt the ritual of stab-squeak-brush-wait. “We must be ready to strike very soon. Your King would know what it is you are doing.” Bernadetta did not take her eyes off the rathole. Stab-squeak-brush-wait.
“Pass me that potion, would you please, Your Highness?” she said. The King dumbly passed the Medium Strength Potion of Medium Strength over to Bernadetta who drank it quickly, without wasting a single movement. The King was by this point officially puzzled.
“Why would you waste a Medium Strength Potion of Strength on the slaughter of rats, good lady Leathervest? And why a -medium- one? Surely you have about you all of the most potent magic potions we have gained in our travels?”
“It only works with the green potion,” stab-squeak-brush-stand. The King blinked. Somewhere between stabbing the last rat and standing up, Bernadetta had become huge. Her muscles, which had before been rippling, were now tidal waves, she had grown to be almost as tall as her clothes were a shade brighter.
“Two thousand, nine hundred and seventy four rats. That's how many I had to kill do I could level up to an odd-numbered level. And if you're benefiting from the effects of a Medium Strength Potion of Medium Strength when you hit an odd-numbered level, the stats boost from the potion becomes permanent.”
“By my Father's lost belt!” murmured the King. He wasn't sure whether he should be impressed or not. “How long have you been coming down here to kill rats?”
“Every night. I wasn't earning any XP from the pranks everyone was pulling so I had to get in shape somehow.”
“Don't you sleep?” Even the King had to sleep. Not all the time, but he still had to eventually.
“You can offset the negative effects of fatigue by eating a turkey leg or some beef jerky every hour.” she said, flatly. So that's where all their turkey leg rations had gone! “Your Highness, you must put me in the assassination party. I'm strong enough now to tackle Oranje.” The King blinked again. The plan was for Bernadetta to wait outside of Oranje's quarters with Cajun and hold off the crew of the flagcanoe by deception and then, when it inevitably came down to it, naked violence.
“Good friend Bernadetta, I need Colonel Glowfist with me in the assassination party. He and Roxy Tripfoot will support me as I take on Oranje head-to-head. I'm always the one who fights Oranje. She's my ex. You can't fight her, you hardly even know her,” he said.
“Your Highness, with the highest and awesomest respect, that's why you're never able to beat her. She's your nemesis – she's always exactly three levels above you. But now that I've boosted my Strength and Constitution above even your own, I stand a much better chance of wiping the floor with her.” The King absorbed this reluctantly with patience and grace. “There's another thing -” she added, “I'll need to use Cutty.” The King's eyes bulged comically, but still with patience and grace. This was too much!
“Cutty?!” he said.
“Yes, Cutty.” said Bernadetta. “If I invest the skill points I just earned from this last level-up into a few more proficiency levels in longswords, I'd be just as skilled as you with a blade and it would give me another huge advantage over Oranje since she's a scythe-wielder. She's an Agility-aligned fighter so she gets a big Defence bonus against any opponent a tile away from her, but her chance-to-hit is reduced by a quarter in close-quarters, unless she switches to wielding a dagger but I don't think she'd do that because that Moonmetal scythe of hers gives a big boost to her Constitution and confers the Stun ability she relies upon so heavily.” The King handed Gappy over to her, mostly to make her stop talking.
“Hey, what's going on, Chief? We're a team, me and you, right? You can't break up our team.” Bernadetta ignored Cutty even harder than the King was trying to as she unscrewed his handle. “Look, just make her promise that she'll give me back, okay, you're the King, Chief, you can tell her – what's going on down there, it feels -” Cutty stopped right there. Bernadetta had pulled a long strip of parchment out of Cutty's handle. She held it and arm's length, between her thumb and forefinger and squinted carefully at the writing upon it. She took a pen out from her inventory and clicked it meaningfully.
“What are you doing?” asked the King. He was slightly perturbed. He didn't even know that Cutty's handle could be unscrewed. He'd never poked around down there, out of respect.
“There's a hack for these talking swords to get them to shut up,” she said, distantly, while she scratched a few marks onto the parchment with her pen, rolled it back and screwed on the handle. Cutty did not say a word.
“But that's his thing!” spluttered the King. “You can't make Cutty not talk – then he'll just be – he's just -”
“A plus one longsword with a load of resistances built in, yeah,” said Bernadetta, waving Cutty through the air to get the heft of him. “We could do better but it's all we've got right now.” She slid the silenced sword into her scabbard, dropped Cyclops' Bane neatly into her inventory - “We'll have to flog that,” she muttered – then she clapped and rubbed her hands at the King, who was frowning heavily. “I'm ready, Your Highness. Point me in the right direction and I'll clean her clock.” The strange thrust of Bernadetta's tactics troubled the King but he wasn't exactly sure why... Cutty was a sword, just a sword, when you came down to it. Why -couldn't- anyone else use him? And if Bernadetta had found a sneaky way to get the most out of a level-up, all the more power to her, right? It's like she broke any rules or anything. What the King wanted, more than anything, was for Oranje to stop bugging him so he could get back to the whole 'killing Winter' thing. He had little doubt Bernadetta could live up to her boasts – he had seen how capable she was and how lightly she had got off from their fight with the President Of The United States, even though she had fought just as hard as anyone. Maybe, he thought, it would be best if he set aside his unease at the idea of her fighting Oranje directly and just saw thing thing through.
They went upstairs to the upper deck to meet the other Adventure Friends. Astrid had been gone for long enough – she had almost certainly got the European forces at Normandy organised by now. And so, after a little pep-talk and some inventory juggling, they ran up to the deck, killed the guards, Colonel Glowfist and Cajun took their places outside and then the King, Bernadetta and Roxy Tripfoot walked right into Oranje's fancy quarters. Oranje and her contingent of battlechiefs and megacanoe captains were really surprised to see them. When she saw them, she stood up, spilling her maize-wine, and at that very moment the first volley of falling Rock People smashed through the decks of a nearby megacanoe and Oranje knew that she and all her command staff and officers were trapped in a room where they would be fought to death. Before anyone could say anything or meaningfully react to the sudden chaos that was erupting outside, Bernadetta stood forward, pointed Cutty at Oranje and said, “You. Ugly bitch. Let's go.”
And then there was one heck of a fight, let me tell you.
End Of Chapter 90
Chapter 89 - Dese Days Part Two: The girl in the tower
If Princess Princess could have looked out of the window or somehow have punched a hole through the wall of the Tower Of Super-Chastity, she would have seen a lot of people making an awful lot of fuss over her out there.
But since she could neither see nor hear all those people outside while they fought and shouted and killed and died, she called for Eunuchtos, the chief eunuch, for it was nearly lunchtime and she needed to put in her order for lunch. Eunuchtos appeared at her door, ridiculous and swaddled in puppy fat, almost as soon as she had pulled the rope that summoned him. Eunichides and Eunuchoples stood at either shoulder. They were eunuchs too, you know, but they weren't as good at being eunuchs as Eunuchtos, so they would never be a chief eunuch. They were fine with this. They didn't care that they were lesser eunuchs or that they would probably work in this dark, windowless tower for their entire lives. They ate well, they slept long hours, they gossiped and they groomed each other and watched lots of TV and had long baths and drank many cups of warm tea, though lately they had been made to spend more and more time participating in one of Princess Princess' increasingly elaborate and exhausting games. They were fine with that too, really. They liked being told what to do and the games were fun even if they were also repetitive and difficult to understand.
And so, Princess Princess told Eunuchtos what it was she wanted for lunch. She ordered exactly what was on the set menu for the day, which was fortunate because that was the only food that the eunuchs were allowed to give her – not that she ever did order anything that wasn't on the set menu. That would have been futile.
The order given, they left the Princess once again alone in her room. It was big enough to run across and you could, too, because she always kept it so tidy. You could even take a running jump onto the swing she'd made that hung down from the small skylight. Lord knows how she'd manage to get all the way up there to attach it, but she was ever so resourceful when she had an idea in mind. If the swing didn't grab you, you could simply say 'how-do-you-do' to the man-sized doll she'd built out of firewood, sacking and rope that she kept in the corner, or just hang around from one of the many pairs of leather straps that she'd bolted to the walls. The fourth eunuch, Eunuchephene, was doing just that. With face flush against the wall, he hung suspended by his arms and kept in place by belts wrapped around his legs. He was asleep, but since he had a large, ragged hole cut out of his pantaloons, she could wake him up any time she liked in any number of alarming ways that she'd devised. Eunuchephene was fine with this. He got let down for regular stretches and had every second day off to do whatever he liked and the Princess really did seem to like the best. He didn't understand what it was that the Princess was doing to him most of the time, but it was all good.
Eunuchtos, Eunichides and Eunuchopheles returned to the room. They had Princess Princess' lunch with them. Even though the Princess was locked in a tower with four eunuchs and had been there since she was fourteen years old, she was still a princess and she most certainly ate like one. Her lunch that day was a ball of nutmeg coated in a paprika shell and frosted with saffron. It was the size of a big fist. Spices were a huge deal in Medieval days because the food was awful and often cooked wrong. A chunk of spice that size would have cost you the same as seventy slaves if you'd bought it in the shops. She coquettishly grabbed the ball from Eunuchtos' platter and bit into it like an apple. She ate it noisily while skipping around the room, as was her custom. Her many skirts and her ash-white hair billowed about her as she did so and she stole many glances over to the eunuchs as she ran steadily out of breath. The eunuchs stuck around. The routine was that Princess would get herself all psyched up with the spices and the prancing about and then it would be time for a game. This day was no different. She didn't even bother to finish her lunch, she just tossed the spiceball into the corner, half-eaten, then grabbed Eunuchophles by the large carrot she often made him wear strapped to his hips, who let out a weak yelp and dropped Princess' drinking bowl full of lemonade before she yelled out the name of the game she wished to play:
Eunuchtos and Eunuchides dutifully rushed to their positions by the chest-high urns that stood by Princess' bed as she grappled the unresisting Eunuchophles to the ground, hitched up her many skirts and sat on his broad, squishy back, pinning him to the ground under her bulk while his jelly-like arms scrambled about for some leverage. They grabbed fistfuls of rice from the urns and fitfully tossed them at Princess and the gasping Eunuchophles while they chanted “Marry him! Marry him!” in their shrill, tumultuous voices. Bombarded with rice, Princess grabbed the back of Eunuchophles' soft head and ground her hips into the point of his shoulderblade again and again and made a commotion for quite some time until she made a funny sort of yawn, whereupon she rolled him over, declared herself the winner of the game and devoured his carrot in three vicious gnashes. She stood up so she could smile at her eunuchs and put in her order for dinner but her eunuchs were gaping like snakes and pointing with their heads like hunting dogs, towards the door. Princess, still chewing, with Eunuchoples lying in a puddle of lemonade by her feet, turned to look at the door behind her and was so surprised by what she saw that she spat carrot all over the King, her father, who had seen everything. There was one long, silent moment that walked slowly around the room, touched everything at least twice and then the King started wailing. He wailed and he howled and he clawed at his ennobled head with his remaining hand and his protestations did shake the Tower Of Super-Chastity. He didn't know what was happening, he didn't know what he had just seen his daughter do to that eunuch and he was lost and afraid. Princess Princess called out to him. She wanted to know how he was doing and where he'd been for so, so long, but he bolted down the stairs all the way out the front door and out onto the battlefield outside, where the terrible cacophony of war had turned into the soft babble of a few thousand men shooting the breeze, getting to know each other and generally killing time. He ran straight into the Angel Cowboy, who had wondered where he'd gone.
“Whoa there! Where's the fire, hold your horses, etcetera.” he said to the thrashing King. “What's got you spooked, Your Highness? You don't strike a fella as the skittish type.”
“It's horrible! I don't know I don't know. She got carrot on me!” howled the King. The Angel Cowboy pulled the King close and hugged him tight. That's what a good cowboy does to a steer to calm it down. He shushed and stroked the King while he cried and sniffled.
“Got yourself a bottled-up firecracker on your hands, Your Highness?” The King nodded into the Angel Cowboy's shoulder. “Aw, that's always a difficult thing to see, but let's see if I can't maybe make another little problem go away today.” He released the King, who had fallen calm and quiet, gripped his shoulder for half a second, patted down his pockets to check if what he thought was there was still there and then jogged up the stairs to Princess Princess' bedchamber.
Then he looked right into the camera, right at us, winked and said, “My, doesn't it just seem that I'm everywhere at once these days?”
End Of Chapter 89
Chapter 88 - Dese Days Part One: Oranje's name makes a stir
Normandy Beach was looking totally hardcore and that was before all the United Statesians showed up. Gadly and Formation's C-Gull units had spotted Oranje's megacanoe armada approaching from the West and within a few short days, what was once a skimpy little wimpy beach was teeming with Europe's most seriously best fighting guys and all the heroes who had been available at the time. Enrique the Catheart was there with his Bandit Kids, Bürgermeister
Z was barking orders and making efficiency reports all over the place, Rigor Mantis was standing up high on a rock, just waiting for it all to go down and Auroch Jones was stamping and snorting up such a cloud of fury that everyone within a five hundred metre radius of him could translate his anxiety into a pure strain of strength that made their muscles bulge and their hearts jump up against the inside of their chests three times a second. All this was happening because Commander Flightfeather, who had so been so embarrassingly off-guard when Terrorthaw's army of gypsies had stormed Brussels, had reacted immediately to the C-Gull's report and mobilised as many of Europe's military assets to Europe's West Coast well before Astrid Gimmerleck turned up at the abbey at Seine-Inférieure to advise the maire on the King's battle plans in regards to the coming invasion. She was sopping wet.
She was bustled along into the abbey's antechamber where she did not see the maire at all. She was met instead by the splendid plumage of a half-man, half-bird monster person who sat at a table fussing over some maps and troop registers. He was flanker by two dazzling and brightly-polished suits of armour each containing a handsome man with muscles rippling and jaws jutting all over the place. They glared at her with a unified arrogance that nearly knocked her to the ground. But remain upright she did and the monster person coughed, which was a signal for her to explain her presence, which was dripping all over the floor. She pulled her deactivated cloak of invisibility tight around her. “Could I have a towel, please?” she shivered. The monster person looked from his scrolls and charts, made several movements of apology with his head and neck and tweetled sweetly to the page stood by the door, who soundlessly disappeared and then reappeared with a towel, which he handed to Astrid. The towel was thick and warm and so absorbent and didn't get all scratchy when dealing with salt water. It was a towel +2 and had belonged to the King's great-grandfather and had a name any everything, but nobody knew that. As far as everyone was concerned, it just happened to be the best towel in the abbey. Astrid was dry and clean and happy within moments. The bird monster and the two fistfuls of hunk watched her and the tension mounted. Everyone wanted to know what she was going to say!
“Are you with that -fleet- out there?” snapped one of the suits of armour.
“We consider their very presence to be a hostile act against Europe. We will burn them from the seas,” said the other, excited by the first's snap.
“Who are you, woman, anyway?” said the first. The two of them were totally playing off each other, getting encouragement and new ideas whenever they heard the other speak. They could go on all day like this.
“You look like a Viking-wife.”
“Have the Vikings returned to retake Normandy?”
“Have they? Eh?”
“How dare you! This is Europe!”
“We fight with the might and the ferocity of our King!”
“Perhaps you've heard of him, hmm?”
“He would crush you, little Viking-wife.”
“He could crush everyone in this room!”
“With one scream!”
“He will crush your silly little fleet too.”
“With one scream!”
“The King is on that silly little fleet!” shouted Astrid. She was quite cross. There were a lot of warrior blowhards in Vikinca society, so this sort of treatment wasn't entirely unknown to her, but since most of her life had been spent nosing around ruin and lost cities of gold, hacking through jungles, fighting off exotic diseases with a spade and bargaining with curses, far away from most people and especially from pumped-up braggarts of the likes of these two snap-heads. She had assumed that European warriors would be charmingly folksy and humble like her beloved Axe Axewound. Oh, how she missed him. She hoped that he was okay in that coffee tin.
“So... we are not being attacked?” said one of the suits of armour, folding and unfolding his arms with a bit of difficulty.
“We must refit this repulsion force to a welcoming force, Commander! The King will be so pleased to see us!” said the other to the bird-monster, who remaining sceptical.
“No, you're still getting attacked,” said Astrid, a little pleased to be telling them that.
“How is that possible!”
“Has the King turned evil?” they went.
“The King -can't- turn evil,” intoned the bird man. “It's been proven.” He was right about that. Many had tried to turn the King evil through magic or hypnosis or drugs or by fostering an addiction to computer games, but it had never worked. The King either resisted outright, shook it off as soon as he was forced to do something actually evil, or would turn out to just be pretending in order to get the villain who had turned him to let their guard down.
“The King is on a mega... – a boat in the fleet but he is not in control of it,” said Astrid carefully. “Oranje is in control of it.” she said this to Commander Flightfeather directly and the words hit him right between the eyes. Jacob Hillmounter and Timothy Clashradish had told him about Oranje's tricky tricks on the Moon and in Romania, and the reality of her being there, closing in on Normandy, could mean only one thing. He turned to Jacob at his side and in that long instant of panic, there were no qualms between them over who was in charge.
“Summon everyone,” said Commander Flightfeather. “Everyone you can – she must not reach the tower.” Jacob nodded, but did not understand. Timothy nodded too and looked over at Jacob. What was so important about the -tower- of all places? They left without a word to marshal the forces of Europe. Astrid was left alone with Commander Flightfeather. He was quiet, withdrawn.
“What will the King have us do?” he asked.
She told him everything.
End Of Chapter 88
Chapter 87 - Meanwhile, in the future...
General Majesty had scoured the tundra-infested lands of the North for eighteen months straight in search of of a replacement Army that would rally under the King's banner and strike at the frozen heart of Winter itself. He had not been very successful. Just under two hundred men – most of them old or slightly crippled – now followed his standard. He had found them scattered around in remote little fishing communities where the fish had dried up, in dusty old taverns kept afloat on tall tales, in unhappy homes where a life and possible death fighting in a foreign land is preferable to another day with that accursed harpy. But, try as he might, there were simply not enough young and able-bodied men to go around. There was a very good reason for this.
Mechanicus was struggling, too. His once-vast Engineering Corps stood at little more than a dozen men and three glitchy robotic replicas of the King that he had excavated from the ruins of the old Fort Majesty. And so the construction on the new, improved Fort Majesty was going slow. All they'd got done by that point was to build various scaffolding and ingenious mechanisms that would serve to speed up the later stages of the construction, should they ever reach them. They didn't amount to much on their own. They were all sleeping in a tent and there was only one toilet. Mechanicus could have built a hundred toilets if he had wanted to, of course, but he had stuff to do. Everyone just had to make do. Suffice to say, it didn't look like they'd have Fort Majesty fully staffed and fully operational by the time the King caught up with them chronologically.
“You've got to tell him,” said Mechanicus over a breakfast of twigs and sulphur with General Majesty in the Command Ditch. “We can't disappoint the King. I wouldn't be able to bare the look on his sweet face if he were to arrive and see -” he moved his head in the direction of the ruined fort and the group of elderly men digging holes in the frost in the courtyard because they had nothing else to do. General Majesty hung his head and chewed his twigs.
“The scouts return at dawn tomorrow. If the situation here is the same by Europe herself, then I shall tell the King what was become of us.” Mechanicus put a hand on General Majesty's shoulder and lent in close, so close that General Majesty could smell the sulphur on his breath.
“Do not trust a false hope, Brian.” Mechanicus whispered. He did not the old men digging their holes to hear. General Majesty's face sprang up at him and glared right into his cybernetic eye, which shone green in surprise.
“I know that you know,” he growled. “Don't think for a second that I've forgotten that this is all history to you.” Mechanicus is from the future, everyone, in case -you've- forgotten. There are a lot of characters in this Saga and they've all got their own thing going on, so don't feel bad if you sometimes lose track of who's who and what's what. Anyway, Mechanicus had concealed that little biographical fact from everyone for the longest time but, hey, it's not as if something like that isn't going to affect storyline sooner or later, right? Anyway, it all came out in Chapter 56 if you feel like checking it out. Everyone was pretty much okay with Mechanicus' futuristic-positive status for a while but lately, with all the bleakness around, General Majesty had developed a bit of a chip on his majestic shoulder about it. It had affected their friendship. So Mechanicus swore an oath to never reveal any plot points to anyone ever, not even if it was really important. The problems and bleakness they were facing out there in the Chillinous Plains had come to no surprise to him. He hadn't thought they'd occur so early in the chronology, but then the records from his own time weren't perfect. Time travellers were scared of this particular period of history because they didn't want to say or do something stupid, even by accident and have the King maybe see it and think that they weren't cool. Future-people are pretty hung up on that sort of thing. But anyway, Mechanicus said no more to General Majesty on the matter and they waited till morning and for the scouts to come back. When they did, they breathlessly reported that there wasn't a town in Northen Europe unmarred by the Civil War. General Majesty dismissed the scouts and facepalmed. Mechanicus said nothing. He merely waited politely while General Majesty got out the Magic Telephone and dialled the King's extension. But his finger hovered over the 'Call' lever just long enough for him to shoot a meaningful glance at Mechanicus and for a curt, loud cough to sound out from above the Command Ditch. There were some more glances between them and more than one raised eyebrow. General Majesty poked his head up out of the ditch. What he saw was an outlandish hat perched upon a magnificently charming smile. The smile doffed the hat and gently said,
“Hiya folks. Friends call me the Angel Cowboy. I was just passing on down the road – thought maybe you'd like a little helping hand with your construction project I see here.”
General Majesty's finger hovered.
End Of Chapter 87
Chapter 86 - My pranks are the strongest.
“Sssh!” said the King. It was dark and the Adventure Friends could not see him or his face but he put his wooden finger to his soft, luscious lips anyway. For the effect.
His Adventure Friends had been talking again. Talking was against the rules of being sneaky. They were all hiding out in the munitions hold, where no one was supposed to be. If anyone heard talking going on in there, they might get curious and then they'd -really- be in for it. So they had to be shushed. They shushed up. Till the next one!
The Adventure Team had been sneaking from megacanoe to megacanoe in Oranje's armada for a couple of months, causing all kinds of fun mischief, making a lot of stuffy United Statesian captains and officers look like fools and inflicting just enough minor damage to flow the fleet down but not enough arose suspicions and goad Oranje into strip-searching every megacanoe in her armada to find the source of the problem.
It was delicate work. They'd flush a cherry bomb down a toilet here, hypnotise or poison a few cattle there, make a few prank calls to the captain at breakfast, put lemon juice in the milk and itching powder in the laundry at dinnertime. Roxy Tripfoot, invisible as the raw form of love, could set off the fire alarms whenever she wanted. Cajun, sneaking around the bison decks in his skinwalker suit, could feed the livestock a potion that would make them low and moo and make a fuss all night, keeping everyone up. David encountered no problem or resistance at all by walking right up to the cabin boy and, covered in dream-root confusion, carefully hid some prickly needles in the poor wretch's most secret places. The King, who could hide in plain sight with his disguise, could perform any number of tiny sabotages - break a ship's cat o' nine tails, toss an oar overboard, mess with the thermostat, call in a bomb threat or put laxative in the peyote. Colonel Glowfist could work wonders without ever sticking his thick old neckchin out – he made some spells from scratch that would attract barnacles to land on the hull of whichever megacanoe he happened to be on. Over weeks, the layers of barnacles would build up so deep that the megacanoe would slow down and have to be cleaned and it was a real hassle. Weather wasn't really Colonel Glowfist's thing, but he could conjure up the occasional breeze to vex the navigators. The crew of United Statesians was pretty sure that the fleet was haunted. The King loved these rumours and fed them with Cajun's spooky orb-guns and by sending David out to do confusing things like filling the washbasins with bison blood and send Astrid and Roxy out to the kitchens at night to bang the doors and stack the crockery up into tall stacks. This always scares people.
The cumulative effect was enormous. Morale among the crew dropped. People started sassing and backchatting their superior officers. Jobs got left undone and people stopped showing up for work, preferring instead to hang around outside, smoking and talking loudly about how much they hate the place. The megacanoes fell out of formation and the fleet's speed dropped right down to some stupid speed you would laugh at. They lost months of travel time and Oranje became maximum furious. She keehauled men by the half-dozen, whipped almost everyone raw and disciplined the crew so hard that they couldn't tell each other apart any more. And that was before the King's coup de grace.
He had Roxy, who was beautiful and spicy, dress up like a mermaid and armed her with Cajun's microwave gun that could project sounds and voices directly into people's heads. It was designed to make people go crazy but the King had a slightly different use for it in mind.
I don't think it would shock you if I tell you that mermaids were never real, not even in Medieval days. That whole myth got kicked off by mariners getting fresh and loose with dugongs and then lying about it later to their friends. Instead of being honest and saying that they'd swam into the ocean and boffed a tubby seal, they told everyone that they'd been seduced by a beautiful fish-lady who sang their favourite pop songs and only wanted some NSA fun because her husband was away on a business trip. Thing was, since most people who went to sea ended up boffing a dugong at some point in their careers and inevitably told the usual lies about mermaids afterwards, everyone thought that mermaids were, in fact, real, and that they had just never met any because they were too busy shamefully sticking it to a dugong or two. So what happened was that all sailors were really keen to see a mermaid, real or not, as soon as possible. And when something that looked like an actual, flesh-and-blood, not-a-dugong, breasts-and-everything mermaid showed up in front of the megacanoe armada and sang sweetly and softly into the ear of each and every sailor and soldier on board, things got kind of crazy. Every man thought that she was singing just for him. And keep in mind that a few of the cabin boys had been spiked, so there was a lot more desperation about than usual. The decks were rushed by lovesick crewmen who bickered and bit and shoved and fell overboard and grabbed for the ships wheel. Roxy kept on singing through Cajun's amazing microwave gun and, one by one, the megacanoes turned towards her and the submerged, jaggedy rocks she was sitting on.
Oranje lost two megacanoes that day. They burst open like ripe piñatas on those jaggedy rocks just as Roxy dived away, retrieved her invisibility cloak and inventory from a little cranny she'd stuffed it in and then the King snuck her back on board the fleet in all the commotion. With her selenic breasts no longer visible and her song since ceased, the brave crew of Oranje's vessel sheepishly returned to their senses, retrieved the men who had been thrown overboard, evacuated their punctured megacanoes and then desolately watched them sink. They were in so much trouble.
The King's work was done after that. No one had died in the crash so overcrowding and sudden shortage of food and supplies did the work of any further pranks in slowing down the armada. Besides that, Oranje's new, deadly security and disciplinary measures made any further pranking quite impossible. The King was pleased with himself and with his Adventure Friends. He told them this ever so quietly as they huddled together in the darkness of the munitions hold for months and months. He'd tell them and then they'd say, “Thank you,” and “No problem,” and “Nearly dinnertime?” and he'd put his wooden finger to his soft, luscious lips, even though they could not see him or his face in the dark and go,
End Of Chapter 86