Chp 17

CHAPTER 17: BACK TO SEA

The nights had become longer in the week underground and the sled team travelled now in pre-dawn darkness, light only just starting to filter through as they approached Husavik. Because of more snowfall they had been able to remain on the runners until the edge of the small fishing village, at which point they changed to road wheels.

The dogs slowed on the roads, becoming silent, and the drivers went directly to the ship without going via Matilda’s Hotel. The Odyssey looked splendid in the low sun and Daniel could see that the repairs were now finished and the vessel was ready for the open ocean again.

Jurgen stood upon the prow watching his crew load the final stores and an industrious bustle filled the deck below him. Daniel looked for Melody in earnest, a little surprised not to see her waiting to meet him from his travels, more than a little disappointed at her absence.

He forced back his disappointment as he viewed the smug Jurgen.

The Dwarfs and Daniel dismounted from their rides and thanked the drivers. Daniel shook hands with the strange Ulfur and thanked him for the amazing ride before throwing a ball to the pack and laughing as pandemonium broke out.

He left the swearing driver as Ulfur tried to regain his sled while cursing both the dogs and Daniel, who quickly raced up the gangplank followed by the seven dwarfs. At the top both Ned and Snail were there to welcome him and show the dwarfs to their cabins. Daniel greeted them in return and made his way alone to his little room below deck.

He had started to unpack the bag that Algernon had given him on leaving the Mountain when there was a knock at the door. He turned half expecting to see Melody, and was disappointed to find a smiling Ned.

‘Captain says you’re to have lunch ready for one o’clock Daniel and welcome back on-board,’ said the happy six hundred and forty-two year old.

‘Did he really say welcome back Ned?’

‘No, he just said the lunch thing. But I knew he would want me to say it for him.’

Daniel doubted it, but thanked Ned all the same and made his way to the kitchen of the Odyssey to begin making lunch. As he walked he sensed underneath his feet the ship come to life and knew they were underway.

Smiling at the return of the feeling, he trod the familiar path from his bunk and opened the galley door, surprised at hearing industrious noise from within.

Melody.

She stood working in the galley before him and his breath caught in his throat as a wonderful smell of perfume filled his nostrils.

Melody, beautiful as ever, turned to him and smiled. His heart skipped a beat and he returned the gesture. Without another word, she started to order him around the kitchen—peel this, stir that and this needs more flavouring so add this spice or that herb.

Daniel did as he was told with a smile fixed to his face.

They worked for the next two hours before serving lunch and Daniel didn’t stop smiling once, happy just to be back in her company. Having served lunch to the crew and the seven dwarfs, they made their way to the Captain’s wardroom. Jurgen sat pawing over charts spread haphazardly across the desk, and on seeing them he pushed these to one side as they ate lunch together and Daniel recounted the past week under the mountain.

Melody seemed very impressed with his progress, but Daniel could tell she had been hoping for more. Jurgen, put out at not being the centre of attention, simply ignored them both and kept on glancing at the maps.

After lunch they pushed the dirty dishes to one side and Jurgen gathered them around the charts he had been paying so much attention to.

Daniel looked at the chart and could see that a line had been plotted from Iceland to northern Greenland. He noted it finished at a port called Qaanaaq, a port within an area denoted as Baffin Bay. Daniel had never heard of these places before but tried to sound knowledgeable.

‘Ah, I see we’re going to Qaanaaq in Baffin Bay!’

Jurgen just glanced at him and said dryly, ‘Oh good, the idiot’s back.’

Daniel went red in the face while trying to look knowledgeable.

He didn’t succeed.

‘As you have so deftly pointed out we are going to a small fishing village called Qaanaaq in Baffin Bay. There, we will put you ashore and allow you to find Daguarin, beat him and retrieve the cactus. Now listen. The voyage should take about a week in the summer, but as you might have noticed winter draws close so we will have to deal with ice and storms from the pole. Icebergs should not be that much of a problem because your kind has warmed the world for us all. But we will have to reduce speed at night. Unfortunately, by the time we get there it will be dark for most of the day and we shall only get a small amount of light around midday. I have plotted a route which will take us south of Greenland…’

Daniel interrupted, ‘Can’t we go north, sort of over the top? It seems to me to be a little shorter?’

Daniel was happy he’d shown he wasn’t a complete fool and hopefully embarrassed Jurgen into the deal.

‘No Daniel we can’t. Even with all the global warming your lot has caused, the sea will be frozen by now.’

Daniel stopped feeling so clever and the red glow returned to his cheeks. He decided it would be better just to be quiet.

‘So I have plotted a course south, if that fits with his Guardian’s wishes. We should get there around the start of December, just under two weeks from now. Hopefully that will give you enough time to find Daguarin before he does away with the cactus. Any questions?’

Melody just nodded in understanding.

Daniel raised his hand meekly.

‘Why do we think Daguarin has gone to Greenland? And why Qaanaaq in particular?’

Jurgen simply shook his head and grunted disapproval.

Melody gave the Captain a stern look and answered, ‘We have sources within his organisation who have told us of his general plans. We know he must go to a place where sunlight is not abundant, and which is also very cold. Cacti don’t exactly like the cold and dark. We also asked the two men from Husavik and they told us he was making for Qaanaaq.’

Daniel was a little surprised. ‘You just asked them and they told you? Seems a little odd they should just give up that sort of information?’

‘Matilda can be quite persuasive when she wants to be, Daniel. And one of them wasn’t overly happy at being burnt by Daguarin the night they attacked you in Basingstoke. His face was a real mess. The other one was badly scarred putting out the fire on his friend. He had a scar down his cheek, remember?’

Daniel thought about that and felt the stirring of pity for the two men. Daguarin didn’t care who he hurt on his quest. His mind flickered to his new charges.

‘Daniel, do focus. I see that the dwarfs have not cured you of that.’

He pushed his worries to one side and concentrated.

‘We have managed to get some local Global Inc. employees to make their way to Qaanaaq and watch for any ships that have arrived. They will report back to Basingstoke and then on arrival in Greenland. They will also have transport ready and provisions, but will not be able to intercept Daguarin alone…’ Daniel had raised his hand and now lowered it, ‘…and need the help of the Guardian for that’.

‘We will have to work shifts…’ Jurgen continued the flow of information and Daniel swivelled in his chair to listen, ‘…due to the darkness and ice.’

‘Why?’

‘Because Daniel, ice will form on the ship as she travels and the crew will have to constantly cut it free. If we don’t we’ll become overweight…’

‘Oh, that’s bad?’

‘Yes, that’s bad. We’ll sink.’ Jurgen shook his head and spoke to Melody alone, ‘It will be a constant operation and you two will have to provide food throughout the day.’

Daniel quickly thought through what the Captain had just said and his heart fell. ‘But I’ll never see…’

‘See who?’ Jurgen asked with a smug grin.

Daniel glanced at Melody, ‘Daylight, I was about to say. I guess I’m getting the night shift?’

Melody nodded sadly.

Jurgen grunted at them both and continued, ‘Daniel you will also be in charge of your dwarfs. I don’t want them stirring up trouble and getting into fights with my crew. Keep them under control, or it’ll be over the side with the lot of you.’

‘Ah… sure will. They’ll be no problem, you’ll see, probably just get them to help out in the kitchen and …’

‘Whatever. Just keep them from under the feet of my sailors. The sea will test us enough without dwarfs attacking the crew and throwing each other overboard. We won’t be going about for a mail-clad dwarf at the bottom of the sea. Might I also suggest that each dwarf wear a life vest on deck, maybe even two with all that mail?’

Daniel had not really thought about the dwarfs since he boarded, and now he had been placed solely in charge while at sea. Suddenly he was very concerned.

‘Think I’ll go and check right now actually.’

Daniel quickly left the room and went back to the main dining room of the ship. Only Snail was still left in the room and was reading a book while sipping coffee.

‘Snail, you haven’t seen some dwarfs have you?’

The old sailor looked up and smiled, rather too happily for Daniel’s liking, and told him they were above deck before returning to his book. Daniel rushed up to the deck afraid he might have already have lost some of his charges on the first day and within the first few hours.

Opening the door to the outside he was met with a line of seven dwarf backs, bent over the rail, all lined up, beards tossed over their shoulders, weapons thrown haphazardly upon the deck.

Daniel didn’t know what was happening until the sound of retching filled his ears and he realised they were all seasick, clutching the guardrails while vomiting overboard into the sea, their green faces letting out strangled grunts. A sense of relief when he saw they had not started a mutiny filled him, yet he also felt sorry for the proud dwarfs. He looked around deck and saw Ned working on some rigging, calling out to the happy sailor.

The youngish sailor was soon standing next to Daniel after stepping carefully over the cluster of weapons that now rolled upon the deck.

‘Yes Daniel, can I help?’

‘Ned, my companions here are suffering a little from sea sickness as you can see… and hear. I was wondering if we had anything on board to ease their stomachs?’

‘Oh yes. Melody knew the dwarfs don’t like the sea, and bought some quells before we left. They’ve had two each.’ Ned looked at the heaving dwarfs. ‘Don’t seem to have made much difference though. It’s always the same with dwarfs. They like the feel of rock under their feet and don’t like the swaying of a deck on the open ocean. So you’ll just have to leave them to get used to it I’m afraid.’

Daniel looked back at the dwarfs, who were now just dry retching, their stomachs long since empty. The twins had managed to sit by the rail and Chad was walking up and down, breathing in heavily. However, the other four remained white-knuckled by the side. He left them to it and collected the weapons before placing them inside the dining room, afraid of the consequences of any Health and Magic report.

Going back to the galley he found Melody hard at work preparing supper and when he asked if she wanted any help, she declined before suggesting that he take the opportunity for some sleep before his shift started. Daniel left her and, not feeling tired, elected to go and re-check the dwarfs up on deck. Yet on his return only Eben was still clutching the rail and even he was just looking over the ocean, though he still glowed with a slightly green pallor. Looking back he saw Sig in deep conversation with Aristotle at the wheel and Daniel elected to leave the two of them alone, fearful of entering a deep vortex on the benefits of graphs… and on whether a graph actually existed.

Further forward on the deck, the twins were helping Ned untangle the rigging, sitting crossed legged and listening to the happy sailor as he recounted his birthday at Matilda’s. Daniel wandered over and sat with them for a while, feeling good about himself as he breathed in the fresh ocean air, having not realised how much he’d missed it while beneath the mountain.

After a time he became aware of Chad and Ridor talking to Smokey the ship’s engineer at the sea engine’s drum and walked forward to listen to the conversation.

‘…and we release it here, allowing the strands to initially trail in the wake of the ship. The Captain then calls the fish and others to take up the strands and pull us along.’ Smokey stated as he spoke to the enraptured dwarfs. ‘The fish and others then simply take the strands in their mouths and pull. It doesn’t harm them and they all pull together at the rate of the slowest. Now when they get tired or too far from home, they let go, and another will take the slack.’

Smokey led them over to the rail and pointed at the fish. ‘See we are being pulled by some dolphins and a couple of shoals of cod?’ they all nodded. ‘Well as we progress south we’ll lose this lot and maybe get some humpbacks, maybe some haddock or what not and then later maybe some Orca?’

Daniel hadn’t really realised how the sea engine worked and found it fascinating. The dwarfs however seemed more interested in the drum and the metal strands.

‘What metal is it? It seems so light but incredibly strong?’ asked Ridor.

‘Good question. That’s dwarf steel from long ago, we got it before the dwarf wars with you-know-who. It has a mix of steel and some other metal that makes it incredibly strong, in fact just one thread is strong enough to take us to the bottom with a big enough weight attached.’

Daniel and the dwarfs gathered around the drum. Ridor and Chad felt the metal and seemed very impressed with it, asking how it was made and if Smokey knew the name of the dwarf smelter who had created such beauty. Daniel thought the metal good, but not as exciting as the two dwarfs seemed to think, and he left them before wandering up to the prow, standing at the front and watching the waves being sliced by the bow.

The strands of the sea engine flowed out in front of the ship, the tails of the fish glinting from the low sun before them. Behind was a darkness that seemed complete, lightning flashed below storm clouds and silhouetted the thunder clouds above. On deck the air was cold, much colder than when he had started the journey, and small icebergs were visible in the distance as small pieces of white erupting from the water, tinged blue.

Daniel looked in the direction he thought Greenland to be, but only open ocean filled his vision, the dark blue green waves forbidding to look upon.

Eben joined him at the prow and stood alongside without saying a word. Daniel looked at the dwarf and saw him staring out at the distance and then glancing back with worry at the storm behind.

He felt sorry for the dwarf. Eben was far from his warm mountain, all enclosed, with solid ground beneath his feet and rock above his head. Daniel realised what Eben and the others must be feeling—not unlike what he had felt when first beginning his own adventure—and made a note to address their worries and fears later.

Maybe get Sig to do a lecture he thought.

He reflected that expecting that from Sig would be cruel, and promised to do it himself.

Daniel realised how far he had come in such a short time, how much he had matured and was shocked by it; here he was thinking about telling seven warrior dwarfs how to face their fears and only a few months ago he would have been nervous going to a quiz night anywhere but the Dog and Duck.

Now, he turned to Eben and offered solace. ‘Don’t worry Eben, at first I was nervous about the sea, but I came to enjoy this life upon the ocean. In time your legs will get used to it and that storm should pass behind with this wind.’ He felt quite pleased with himself. ‘We’ll get together later and have a group discussion, let everyone talk through their fears. How’s that sound?’

The dwarf looked at him with steel hard eyes. ‘Daniel, I’m not afraid of the sea. But I am afraid of dark storms that don’t follow the wind… but follow us instead!’

The dwarf pointed behind at the storm, which Daniel had to admit seemed closer.

‘And Daniel I’m very afraid of Moeshe. We’ll need our weapons soon, where are they?’

Daniel answered and the dwarf walked to his companions and pointed out the following storm. He then watched as all seven dwarfs disappeared below deck and reappeared armed before heading to the stern of the Odyssey, standing silently facing the oncoming storm.

The Guardian was not happy with this turn of events, and became even less so when Jurgen and the crew joined the dwarfs.

He stood watching for a while before deciding that as the senior manager he should be where the action was, and rushed to the join the throng.

When he arrived Daniel noted that the crew spoke only in whispers, scared of being overheard by some unseen foe, and the dwarfs stood frozen, imitating stone with eyes of steel watching the distant flashes of lightning. Out of the corner of his eye Daniel watched as the First Mate spoke quietly to the Captain, who turned round to observe his crew and nodded to the salty sailor.

‘All right you lot! Let’s get back to work and see if we can put some distance between us and that storm!’

The First Mate then barked out orders for sails to be hoisted, the steam engine to be powered up and a course away from the storm to be taken. The crew jumped into action as if scalded, carrying out the orders of the First Mate with a determination Daniel had first witnessed at the battle against the Merchantman.

Daniel was now very unhappy, remaining at the stern with seven stone-like dwarfs and a Captain who alarmingly seemed similarly afflicted.

Okay, so a storm was coming? Daniel was not happy with what a storm could do, but it was the mention by Eben of something called Moeshe that worried him most.

Just like a dwarf to mention something… and then without further explanation go and leave. Well Daniel would get to the bottom of this.

Walking up to Eben, Daniel touched his hand to garner attention. ‘Eben, what’s a Moeshe? A bad storm?’

The dwarf did not take his eyes off the dark backdrop as he answered, ‘No Daniel, Moeshe is not a storm. It is not a what. It is a who and I will not talk of such things out here.’

The dwarf removed Daniel’s hand and stood staring backwards.

Daniel was not impressed.

He then tried asking the others, getting angrier as he received the same response.

Daniel was getting less impressed by the second and was starting to silently curse when he had an idea.

‘Right you lot, into the dining room now and we’ll have a meeting I think!’

The dwarfs did not move.

Daniel was now really not impressed.

‘Get your hairy butts downstairs or I will put this fear of some trifling little flurry on your progress reports!’

The dwarfs looked so terrified at the prospect of a bad report that Moeshe was forgotten and they quickly went below deck, apologising as they passed.

As he and the dwarfs entered the dining room he was surprised to find Melody placing hot drinks upon the table. The dwarfs all stood before her without sitting, waiting for introductions.

‘Oh, hello Melody.’ She smiled and looked at the dwarfs as Daniel began, ‘May I introduce Chad…’

Daniel had been about to warn her about their vicious handshakes when he noted that Chad was as deferential to her as he would have been to a Queen. The rest of the six dwarfs all then introduced themselves and paid the same respect, not using their bone-crushing handshakes but rather shaking her hand gently, as if they were grasping a delicate piece of porcelain.

‘It’s so lovely to meet you all. Now, if you could sit and have a drink?’

Melody offered the dwarfs a hot liquid that Daniel was not familiar with. From the top of the pots a mist flowed over the side and across the table, turning red and scalding the varnish. He was very pleased, if not a little relieved, when he received a mug of hot chocolate instead of the foaming broth. Jurgen opened the door behind him and spoke quietly to Melody, who simply nodded as he sat next to her. Daniel felt he was being left out again and was even more determined to get some answers.

‘Chad, you were going to tell me what… sorry who… this Moeshe is?’

The room went very quiet as the dwarfs all put down their drinks and looked at the troubled Chad.

‘We don’t speak of such things Daniel. Know only that it means drawn out of the water,’ the dwarf answered simply.

‘Chad, not a big help that,’ retorted Daniel. ‘How are we supposed to counter something if all we know is that it comes from some H2O? Doesn’t exactly lend itself to a superior management plan now does it? Sure I can go get a glass, but I feel the situation probably warrants something more substantial than a small water receptacle… yes?’

The dwarf looked even more worried and glanced at his colleagues for support; they in turn lowered their heads as if to say ‘Sorry Chad, but you’re on your own.’

The dwarf answered quietly, ‘It’s just a myth really, spoken of a long time ago. A monster called Moeshe, raised from the water that would dash ships upon the oceans and kill all those aboard.’

‘Okay, so if it killed all those aboard, how do we know about it?’ responded Daniel, clearly unimpressed.

‘Err…’ Chad was at a loss for words.

An unpleasant silence followed the dwarf’s stilted attempt at an answer.

‘From the survivors Daniel.’ It was Jurgen who spoke and broke the silence.

Daniel turned to the Captain who in turn was looking to Melody for support.

‘Ok you seven, why don’t you go and try and get some rest. I’ve got a feeling we might need the resources of seven mighty dwarf warriors in the not too distant future.’

The dwarfs quickly used the excuse to leave and said their farewells quietly to Daniel before closing the door behind them.

‘Jurgen why don’t you make sure the ship is…well… you know?’

The captain left as quickly as the dwarfs, looking similarly troubled, but still capable of giving Daniel a smug grin as he closed the door behind him.

Daniel turned to face Melody.

‘Okay, are you going to tell me about Moeshe?’

Melody looked at him with a smile. ‘Nope, wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise!’

She too left, closing the door behind her and leaving Daniel with his mind racing.

Daniel had been sitting at the table for some time when an arrogant sailor he remembered and didn’t get along with called Capaneus entered, getting a drink from the coffee pot.

‘Hello Capaneus. How’s things topside?’ Daniel said in an offhand way, a plan formulating in his mind.

Capaneus simply shrugged and continued with his drink making.

‘Bad news about old Moeshe, hey?’

The sailor eyed him suspiciously as Daniel continued.

‘How’d you go about defeating a monster like that then I wonder?’ Daniel added trying to keep his attention.

‘Well I’ll tell you shall I Daniel…I might as well as the rest won’t listen to me.’

Daniel could tell the sailor was happy that he’d found a confidant who would listen to his plan.

‘What I’d do is swing this vessel round and go after him, surprise him like!’

Daniel had not been expecting that answer and Capaneus’ arrogance shone like a beacon as he continued.

‘Yep I’d go into his storm and meet him head on, not let him take me at his leisure. I’d meet my end fighting and not running like a coward; die like a man!’

Daniel, surprised at the last statement, struggled not to show his disdain for the sailor. ‘You don’t think we have a chance against Moeshe then?’ he said, starting to think ignorance had been bliss.

‘Oh no, nobody has ever brought a ship out from under his twelve heads!’

Daniel dreaded the answer to his next question.

‘Err… you say twelve heads? What kind of creature are we dealing with exactly?’

‘Nobody knows for sure. Some say he is a dragon, some a more evil creature left behind when the Titans roamed the world. What’s sure, is that we had better be ready to man the lifeboats… if we had any.’

With a terrible grin he left Daniel wide eyed.

Daniel made for the galley to confront Melody and opened the door to find her busy at work making dinner, perfectly at ease with herself and irking him immensely.

‘Melody?’ He asked in an offhand way, trying the same tact he had used on the arrogant Capaneus, ‘Are you aware that a twelve-headed beast is bearing down on us and that nobody has survived a battle against it?’ .

She simply nodded before continuing the food preparation.

‘Melody, how can you be so calm at a moment like this? I did say twelve heads you know? Not five, not ten! That would be too little, too few, but twelve of the bloody things!’

‘Oh Daniel, who told you that? One of the sailors?’

Daniel relaxed. Obviously it had been some sort of wind-up and he had yet again been the butt of the joke. ‘So a twelve-headed beast is not coming to get us?’ He asked as his heart rate reduced.

‘No, I should say Moeshe has probably only half that number? No more than seven tops I would guess? It’s difficult to say as all survivors tend to exaggerate, you know make their story more … what’s the word…melodramatic?’

Daniel went back into panic mode, his face paling.

‘So you’re all relaxed because it only has seven heads tops, though no ship has survived to give a good count?’

‘Hmmm, yes.’

‘Are you mad!’

‘Daniel it’s no use getting all upset about these things you know. Jurgen has come up with a plan.’

Daniel relaxed again, ‘Oh, I didn’t realise that. Why didn’t you tell me? You two always keep things like this from me, and you know it gets me all upset. Err…what is it by the way?’

‘He’s going to try and outrun it, I think.’

‘We can outrun it, oh thank heavens.’

‘Oh no, it’s much too quick to outrun. Considering all its heads, it is really a very quick monster,’ replied Melody earnestly.

Daniel did not re-enter panic and instead settled on shock.

‘So you’re not worried about the seven-headed monster because Jurgen has a plan to outrun it, even though we can’t? I can only guess that you hope a dwarf per head will fill it up and it’ll be on its way with a wave goodbye?’

Daniel had reached panic again, mixed with annoyance, shock and a sick feeling in his stomach.

‘Daniel, give Jurgen time, he’ll think of something. Now why don’t you go and get some rest before your shift in the galley?’ Melody added with a smile while placing an onion she’d been chopping into a frying pan, oil sizzling as it hit and sending up a sheet of steam that partially obscured Daniel leaving with a grunt, panic still written all over his face.

With shock now having set back in and replaced panic, Daniel stumbled out of the galley and up onto deck where he raced for the stern, and stood looking into the following storm.

It had closed visibly in a short time. He could now see the clouds distinctly in frequent flashes of lightning. The storm had taken on an evil shape, as if the heads of Moeshe had decided to become three massive thunder clouds, broiling in the night sky while claps of thunder signalled their presence and the lightning flashed between the heads, illuminating them and giving the appearance of teeth and flame.

Daniel gulped.

Around the ship the waves had increased and white tops formed on their crests. The wind had become stronger and a dull whine could be heard through the rigging, the sails bucking this way and that, protesting at the strain, the masts creaking and swaying in agreement.

Daniel watched the maelstrom as Jurgen walked up and stood alongside him, peering backward into the storm.

Stifling his dislike for the captain, he asked, ‘Jurgen, how long have we got?’

He looked at Daniel in earnest. ‘Maybe eight hours, maybe less? It’s hard to tell with magical storms.’ Jurgen shrugged as if to emphasise the point, then realising he was being civil he quickly added, ‘Shouldn’t you be getting some rest before your shift? The men will need full stomachs tonight and so will you. I will, of course, eat with Melody in my cabin, so please don’t burn anything on my account.’

He turned back to the storm.

Not to be put off and still just a little afraid, Daniel asked, ‘Isn’t there something we can do?’

The captain of the Odyssey pointed his thumb backwards and Daniel looked at the front of the ship to see Ned and Snail getting the Dragonsnout cannon ready.

Daniel was overjoyed; he’d forgotten about the Dragonsnout and was sure the cannon could deal with any pursuing monster.

‘Brilliant, Dragonsnout will kill the beast!’

‘I doubt it, but it keeps the crew occupied.’

‘Give me a break will you? You must have some sort of plan that’s going to work? Give me something… anything?’

‘Daniel, why don’t you think of something for a change? You’re the mighty Guardian, as Melody keeps telling me. So why don’t you come up with the plan. It’s people like you that have got the world into the state it’s in.’

‘What in the hell does that mean?’

‘What do you think the Odyssey does Daniel? You have never once asked any of the crew, just kept to yourself, not once bothered to find out what important task they have been taken from to help you regain what you lost.’

‘Well, you work for Global Management Inc.!’

‘And do what?’

‘Well you…you do… stuff?’ a red flush filled Daniel’s face.

‘Oh, stuff. Then you do know what we do. How silly of me to think you had no idea.’  Jurgen replied sarcastically.

‘Okay then! What do you do? Count the bloody fish?’

‘Among other things, yes. We also survey the ocean and find out how much man has polluted and destroyed her. We monitor the effects of global warming upon the icecaps and glaciers, the global warming that people like you acknowledge but do nothing in your lives about. And so we sail year-after-year, futilely watching as you and your type destroy the planet whilst changing nothing in your lives, hoping that someone else will come up with the plan to save the planet, so long as it doesn’t affect you. That Daniel is what we do… so nice of you to take an interest in us small people.’

‘Oh…that’s quite a task you have there. Well done. I’ll try and come up with something then shall I?’

‘Oh god no! I want the crew to have some hope.’

The captain left Daniel embarrassed and angry, staring back at the dark vista. Yet, standing alone and thinking of what the captain had said, he realised that Jurgen was right. Just as Frank had said in the Dog and Duck, Daniel had done nothing to help the planet. He’d even left his TV on standby… if not actually on? Like the masses, he’d hoped someone else would sort out all of the problems Jurgen brought up, while doing nothing to help.

Upset with himself, he made his way below deck and to his cabin. Arriving at the small room he flopped onto his bed and just lay there, wondering about the fate of the Odyssey, eyes staring at the ceiling…what could he possibly do to help out with the situation they were all in?

As he lay counting the cracks overhead, he had to hold onto the small bed rails as the ship began to roll more with the larger waves, his stomach lurching as one of the bigger waves crashed into the boat, causing it to shudder. He contemplated how far he had come over the past weeks, and how much he assumed he’d matured from the rather self-indulgent man from the Basingstoke office.

But when he thought of what Jurgen had said… he wondered whether this was true.

What would his family think of him crossing the oceans to do battle with some dark wizard and trying to save the world… but having left his lights on to destroy it in another way?

Yet he had to get through at least two more battles before the opportunity arose to turn off the lights, and he quailed at the enormity of the task ahead.

Daniel continued to mull things over, unable to sleep because of the storm. He was finally thankful when his alarm informed him it was time to cook, and stumbled his way to the galley.

He held onto the walls as he walked, the bucking of the ship having become more violent, and was not surprised on opening the galley door to find that several plates had smashed upon the floor. He cleaned them away and got out Tony’s book before setting about burning some food for the crew.

He served the supper just after midnight to half the crew and the dwarfs, then sat with them while they attempted to eat the concoction. Daniel tried to converse with anybody who would listen, but try as he might, the only people talking were Aristotle and Sig and that was not a conversation he wanted to get into. The crew finished what they could of his meal and made their way back above deck. When Daniel cleared the plates, the dwarfs watched him in silence before beginning to help. Within a few minutes the whole dining room and galley were spotless and he thanked them, asking if they enjoyed the meal. He was answered by a few half-hearted nods and down-turned faces.

‘Okay, so you didn’t enjoy it? But you better get used to it as I’m the only chef on board!’ He answered the sullen dwarfs.

‘Daniel?’ the twins Halana and Banli started in unison. ‘Would you mind if we give it a go next time?’

‘What, you two?’

‘They really are very good Daniel,’ Chad butted in. ‘Especially given the competition.’

Sig interjected before Daniel could respond. ‘They were voted most likely to open a restaurant franchise last year at the Dwarf Awards!’

‘Oh, well if you think you can do any better, you’re welcome to try.’ Daniel tried to sound as nonchalant as possible. ‘Just make sure you wear hair nets!’ he continued.  ‘I don’t want the crew coughing up hair-balls for the next week.’

‘Oh we will Daniel, thank you for allowing us this honoured position. It will be mentioned in our progress reports?’ asked the gleeful twins in unison.

Daniel said it would and left the happy twins as they started preparation of the next meal. He made his way back to the deck, feeling dejected; his only task on board now removed.

He had become the passenger that he had wanted to be on joining the ship… and now wanted nothing more than to be part of the crew.

Daniel opened the door outwards into the darkest night he had ever seen, the only light from the lanterns hanging above in the rigging and from the lightning overhead that illuminated the clouds. Daniel held onto the rail to stop from falling and made his way towards Ned, who stood guard at the Dragonsnout. It had been mounted on the same swivel in the middle of the deck, but elevated to enable a clear shot at any pursuer.

Ned stood silently tending the coals placed in a bucket and tied to the deck as Daniel approached, making sure he would always have ammunition at hand if, or when, they were attacked.

Daniel undertook a closer inspection of the weapon under the dim light of one of the ship’s lanterns and estimated that it was over eight foot long and, he guessed, made from bronze.

As Daniel studied the barrel he realised that it was not bronze at all, but made of a metal that shone in the pale light as if beads of crystal flowed through it. They ran up the full length of the barrel and emphasised the dragon embossed upon it. The dragon itself looked similar to the one from Daniel’s Chinese take away, the Red Dragon, with a long serpentine body and four short legs, each with massive claws. The jaws of the beast formed the mouth of the barrel, making it look incredibly cruel and sending a cold shiver down Daniel’s spine.

Just looking at this deadly weapon lifted Daniel’s morale, making him feel they were more prepared and not totally defenceless. Looking at the smiling Ned however made him wonder whether they had the right gun chief…

Sure, he had to admit that Ned and Snail had done well against the merchantman. But would a mythical monster put up a better fight than an unarmed cargo ship?

‘Beautiful isn’t she?’ said Ned proudly to Daniel as he viewed the cannon.

‘She certainly is Ned. How old is she?’

‘Dunno, not polite to ask a lady her age.’ Ned responded fairly shocked.

‘Ned, I don’t think she could answer the question. I just thought you might know?’

‘Oh, I see. Dunno?’ Ned responded before adding, ‘You got a thing for her haven’t you?’

Daniel was just a little confused. ‘Ned, you think I like your cannon?’

‘No?’

‘But you just said I had a thing for her?’

‘Not the cannon Daniel, Melody. The girl you came on board with. How could you have a thing for a cannon?’ Ned said, looking quizzically at Daniel, then continuing, ‘You haven’t got a thing for Dragonsnout have you?’

‘No Ned, your cannon’s virtue is safe. I don’t think I will ever fancy Dragonsnout.’

Then Ned looked the cannon up and down before responding, ‘Why, what’s wrong with her?’ Ned looked distraught.

Daniel shook his head, leaving Ned consoling the Dragonsnout, and went to stand at his favourite point on the prow of the ship. The wind had picked up considerably and Daniel had to grip the rail tightly just to stop from falling. As the ship met the waves it seemed to plough up one side before flowing down the next. Before him he could just make out the sea engine’s threads of silver and the flash of tails as they were pulled along. He heard shouting behind and, looking back at the sails, realised the crew were reducing the canvas, halving the area available to the wind.

Daniel was stunned and searched for someone to lodge a protest too, seeing the First Mate. He quickly made his way slipping and sliding across the deck towards him.

Daniel shouted as he drew closer, the howling wind now making conversation difficult.

‘Mr Bowthwaite, why are you taking down some of the sail? Surely we need to be going faster?’

‘No Daniel. If we leave that amount of sail in these winds, they’d rip the mast right from the deck.’

‘Oh… I didn’t realise that… sorry,’ he called above the wind.

‘It’s okay Daniel, no reason why a land lubber like you should. Now shouldn’t you be burning some more food?’

‘Err…. No. I’ve got the twins Halana and Banli to sort out the next meal. They should be able to burn it all on their own. Don’t need help from me.’

Mr Bowthwaite was overjoyed, shouting to the crew he bellowed, ‘You hear that lads? We’ll have dwarf food tonight! No more of Mr Howard’s burnt offerings. So put your backs into it and you’ll have more energy than a dwarf soon enough.’

All Daniel managed in response was a rather dry ‘Thanks.’

The amicable Mr Bowthwaite smiled and continued his work, leaving Daniel to wander the deck alone.

He found himself at the stern, contemplating the ship and her crew, and realised that he would need to serve a long time on board the Odyssey not to be considered a land lubber, even by Ned. Sure they thought fondly of him, but he was not one of the Odyssey’s sailors, not part of the tight knit crew, not by a long stretch. He then thought about the dwarfs and how close they were… when not attempting to decapitate each other…and how much of an outsider he still was. In fact, the only person on board he considered close was Melody, and he had hardly spoken to her since boarding this time.

Daniel thought back to Basingstoke and realised that he had few friends there also. Everyone else in the office was always talking about nights out, but he always turned them down
by making up some lame excuse, preferring instead the company of his Hi-Fi.

He promised to himself, quietly, while looking over the stern, that this would change his life if he made it through.

‘No more day dreaming. You make some friends when you get back.He whispered to himself.  

‘I’d like to be one of those friends Daniel.’

He turned and found Melody had come up on deck and now stood next to him.

‘I’d like that too,’ he said simply.

She smiled at him and they both stood in silence looking at the oncoming mass of clouds.  They stood as statues for half an hour before Melody reached across, patting his hand and saying goodnight. Without saying another word, she went back into the warmth of the cabin.

Daniel hunkered down beneath the rail at the prow as the storm intensified; his stomach was not capable of returning below deck. The wind, increased now to gale force, sent spray from the ocean across the ship, stinging uncovered skin like a thousand tiny knives and keeping Daniel huddled in his shelter.

At the rear Mr Bowthwaite ordered the sails reduced once again, and now only a third of the available canvas remained as Daniel marvelled that the crew worked under such conditions. He drew his coat close as the sea crashed over the bow, threatening to soak the coals Ned used for the Dragonsnout; he had made a canvas shelter but it proved woefully inadequate cover as steam erupted from the coals.

The ship now no longer swept gracefully up and down the waves, but instead seemed to stagger upwards, almost crawling like a tired mountaineer, and then fall off the crest, pitching forward sickeningly and into the waves below before soaking the prow. Four of the dwarfs, Chad, Ridor, Eben and Cathal, now gripped the rail around Daniel and pulled their cloaks tight against the elements.

Sig was in deep discussion with Aristotle within the wheel house and seemed not to notice the conditions at all. He also had all their weapons after Mr Bowthwaite had placed him in charge, protesting that they were a Health and Magic hazard rolling around the deck whenever the dwarfs released them to be sick over the side.

Daniel assumed the twins still to be in the Galley.

More of the sailors now appeared on deck, unable to sleep below, helping their colleagues in the battle against the storm, while Jurgen had taken over the running of the ship when Mr Bowthwaite gathered the wheel from a tired Aristotle. Sig and Aristotle now huddled in a shelter under one of the masts and continued their discussion in earnest, unaware of the chaos around them.

Yet the storm continued to worsen into the night, the continuous lightning now a variety of colours from white to a mix of green and crimson. The clouds also lowered, touching the masts and wrapping them in shrouds of mist, adding to the gloom and making the conditions hazardous. Amidst these dank conditions the crew struggled to remain upright upon the soaked deck, and many didn’t.

Before long there was a collection of injuries amongst the sailors and Daniel watched from his vantage point as they would go below deck before appearing a few minutes later with a bandaged head or arm and continuing to work. He marvelled at their resilience in the treacherous conditions and remembered he was watching a crew with thousands of years’ experience.

Halana and Banli appeared with a large urn and bowls, handing them round as they fed the crew whilst they worked.

Daniel grudgingly tried some of the dwarf food offered and felt instantly invigorated, the warmth of the strange food spreading through his body and filling him with energy.

‘Not a bad effort,’ he shouted to the twins, ‘but I personally would have used more salt.’

Halana and Banli thanked him for his remarks as Daniel continued to devour the remaining stew, thankful for the food and asking for more when he had finished. The crew also seemed to respond to the dwarf food with an increased zest for work and falling less often.  Feeling moisture running down his back, Daniel stood up and realised he was soaked from the sea spray; the warmth of the dwarf stew had caused him not to notice his clammy skin and wet clothes. Thanking the twins for the food, he went below deck to change. When he reached the bunk, weariness gripped him and he collapsed upon the bed, closing his eyes and trying to shut out the terror of the night.

Daniel fell into a shallow sleep that was filled by nightmares. The dreams were only interrupted by his falling from the bed as the ship bucked in the storm and he’d be forced to climb back on to the bunk, falling asleep once more, only to be tossed to the floor a few minutes later as the ship wrestled with the sea. He dreamt of fighting Daguarin in an ice cave reeking with power and gloating over him with his powerful wand glowing deep red, awaking when he was tossed to the floor and cried out. In another nightmare, the wizard was in his office tearing the cactus from his grasp as he was pushed to the floor with the same waking result. Before too many of these episodes, Daniel’s nerves began to fray and he put his wet clothes back on. Tired, resigned, and cold, he returned to the deck, feeling as sick as a dwarf.

As Daniel made his way up the bucking corridor, he glanced at his watch, discovering it was midday and looked forward to getting above deck and seeing some sunlight. He staggered up the remaining stairs and opened the door to be met by the same darkness as the previous night.

Instantly he worried that he had slept through the entire day, rushing up to Snail at the Dragonsnout beside Ned.

‘What time is it Snail? Have I slept throughout the day?’ he asked the stunned sailor.

‘Calm down Daniel. No, you haven’t slept throughout the day. It is day. Midday to be precise. The Captain says there will be no light till the storm is over and Moeshe is defeated… or we lie on the bottom.’

It was not the answer Daniel was hoping for. Nonetheless, he thanked Snail and apologised for his abruptness, attributing it to lack of sleep. Daniel then went to his second-favourite place at the stern of the ship.  The dwarfs were there also, remaining clear of the crew as they worked to keep the ship afloat in the battle against the storm. To this end, they had formed up in a rear line against the rail.

Daniel noticed that the dwarfs had all overcome their seasickness and now stood with eyes of steel, their weapons gripped within mail-clad hands. On their heads they all wore a steel helm that left just two slits for the eyes, hair cascading out from the sides and across their unrobed chainmail, which glistened from spray and the ship’s lights. The arms in which they held their weapons now also had shields that depicted the same scenes as were shown on their mail, but in more vivid detail. These shields were held in place by leather thongs around their elbows.

He had never seen such a ferocious looking band, either in real life or any Hollywood movie, and was grateful that they were on his side.

On seeing Daniel approach the dwarfs made room for him in the centre. He stood among them feeling very stupid, as he wasn’t sure if he was the leader or the one being protected. The dwarfs stood there motionless, seemingly made from stone or iron, and the storm continued to toss the vessel as if it were made from nothing more than balsa wood.

Forward the crew bellowed and shouted as they cleared debris from the deck, picking each other up when they fell. At the wheel, Jurgen stood next to Mr Bowthwaite and gave quiet orders, finding the best way through the storm.

Then without warning the dwarfs began to sing the Dwarfs Lament.

Standing with them, Daniel felt like the Dwarf Lord from the song as the pictures filled his mind.

Daniel and the dwarfs stood at the stern for what felt like hours. The darkness did not become light as Jurgen had predicted, and Daniel realised it would not do so until the next day at the earliest. The storm had turned into a monster and wailed and shrieked its torment at the crew and passengers of the Odyssey, testing both man and ship, screaming its challenge as if angered that they had survived this long, or outraged at the audacity of the small vessel within its clutches.

The crew hung onto the rails for their lives, the deck of the ship too dangerous to work upon, the threat of being swept overboard too great.

Only the Captain and his First Mate stood in the way of certain disaster. Both now clung to the wheel, turning it with strained muscles so the ship did not go broadside to the oncoming seas and take them all to a watery grave. Sweat lined their faces as they worked as a single body, spinning the wheel one way, then the other as the boat crested over one mountainous wave after another then toppled down each wave’s far side.

Under them only the sea engine and the small propeller now powered the ship, the sails gone, stowed after the mainsail came free.

It had happened some hours earlier, the mast falling into the water where it had acted as a sea anchor and pulled them broadside to an oncoming wave. They had cut the sail free just in time, saving the ship from certain disaster, and Jurgen had ordered the sails stowed before a similar incident capsized them.

And so all hung on to something for dear life—Daniel gripped the rail surrounded by his seven dwarf warriors, the crew held each other or bits of rigging, and Ned and Snail wrapped their arms around the Dragonsnout.

Then Melody came up onto the deck.

She walked oblivious to what was happening and stood next to Sig, smiling at them all before looking backwards and stating…

‘Good, it looks like it will all be over soon… and about time too. It’s almost impossible to cook down there!’

Without another word she turned and went back to the galley.

All who heard looked back… and sure enough stars now etched the sky at the edge of the storm. The moon shone bright as it came out from behind clouds and a cheer went up from the dwarfs.

The crew upon deck looked back at the sound and saw salvation. They responded with a cheer, prompting the two at the wheel to glance rearwards and join the jubilation. Almost immediately the sea began to calm and the waves became more manageable. In response, Jurgen ordered Aristotle to stop his latest philosophical discussion with Sig and re-take the wheel.

The Captain ordered more sail as the winds started to abate and the crew set to work, climbing the still-swinging rigging. The dwarfs relaxed and started to take off their shields and iron helms, smiling at each other, laughing that they had beaten the dreaded Moeshe.

Then the ship suddenly slowed… and all went quiet save the sound of waves on the hull.

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