The final installment of the Douglass-Pett challenge involved writing a story using five random items. I'll include the list at the end. By coincidence (I wrote it before Wendig's challenge came out) it can also be interpreted to fit the Wendig Challenge, which was to write a superhero story in one of ten sub-genres. I sort of cheated--this doesn't quite fit his genres, but really it's just like space opera, only at sea...
It's a bit over the word count, at 1128
Adventure at Sea
Captain James stood on the deck and surveyed his ship, his kingdom. It had been a long voyage, and a hard one. The Warhammer had been storm-tossed for weeks, and of all the sailors aboard, only James had been spared the dreadful, wrenching sea-sickness. If not for him, the Warhammer would have been lost, and its precious cargo with it.
Captain James thought about that cargo now, as the sun came back out at last and shone on the damage the storms had inflicted. The glorious Window of the West, hundreds of panes of colored glass, lay in the hold, swaddled in layer upon layer of protective wrapping. The crystal perfume bottle in his own cabin was strictly his own business, and he would not think about the beautiful Madeleine. The window, that was what mattered. The Window was for the Nation. But she would like the perfume bottle.
Through storm after storm he had stood on that deck and called out orders as calmly as if he sat under the apple tree in his father’s yard. The men had looked up and seen him and taken heart to overcome their sickness and carry on. They’d furled the sails and set the rudder and run before the wind and puked, while Captain James looked on impassively.
But the storm had blown them far off course! The Master’s Mate had come to Captain James. “Captain, sir, I cain’t rightly say where we are.” The man had trembled violently while he made his confession, but Captain James was never unreasonable.
“You cannot be blamed for the storms. But do your best, and do not speak of this,” he commanded, dismissing the Master and looked about for his First Lieutenant. There he was. Lt. Cornwall, the closest thing to a friend James could have. He nodded, and the Lieutenant hurried over.
“Walk with me a bit, Corny.” This was their signal to look calm, no matter what was said. Whatever was to come, the men must not be frightened. They had suffered so much, it would take very little to make them give up.
“We have been blown far off course, and the chronometer was smashed. Will Smith cannot tell for certain where we are. What is the state of our supplies?”
Lt. Cornwall paled, though he remained outwardly calm. “We’ve little enough, Captain. Some of the water barrels were smashed or contaminated during the storm. And the salt beef is running low. We have perhaps enough water for three days, and less food. We still have three of the pigs, but they won’t feed this crew even a whole day.
Captain James nodded. The young pigs had also been seasick. Three scrawny little pigs they had been when they came aboard in the Islands, and three scrawny little pigs they remained.
“We won’t eat them unless we have to. Have we rum?”
“Aye, sir! One small cask.”
“Order a ration of grog all around. That will put some heart into the men. Then fall in the men to put the ship in order. I shall call for gun drill at four bells.”
Captain James smiled to himself as the Lieutenant hurried off. Cornwall thought his Captain was driving the men too hard, but James knew that they must be kept busy, or they would grow frightened and restless. And they must be ready if the enemy should appear.
Hours later the Warhammer sailed smoothly north—they didn’t know where they were, but had a general idea where they needed to go—when the lookout called, “Sail, ho! Off the starboard bow on the horizon!”
“Can’t make it out, sir!”
The Captain hid another smile as he reached for the ratlines and began to climb. He swung himself into the crow’s nest and took the glass. Focusing on the approaching ship he muttered, “British, no question.” The sailor next to him went pale, and Captain James handed him back the glass. “Buck up, man! We’re fast enough to outrun any Limeys, and tough enough to fight if we must.”
The sailor grinned. “Right you are, Captain! We’ll give ’em hell, hey?”
“Aye, we will.” James could feel the man’s admiring eyes on him as he swung out and slid down the stays to the deck, already bellowing orders for the men to make all sail. They moved fast, but not wildly. Their training held.
As the British ship drew closer, Captain James knew that they would have to fight. And they were badly out-gunned. He went below and put on his best uniform before giving the order to clear for action. When the men saw him, dressed defiantly in the uniform of a Captain in the U. S. Navy, they gave three cheers.
Training or no, when battle was joined it was chaos. James still stood bravely on the deck, controlling the battle as best he could. He never saw the musket ball that took him down, only knew he was falling. Lt. Corny was there, appearing out of nowhere to ease him to the deck.
“Easy, Captain. We’ll stop the bleeding and get you below.”
“No. I must stay on deck, where the men can see me!” Captain James closed his eyes for just a moment. He could hear a voice crying, “Jimmy! Jiiiimmmy!”
Jimmy opened his eyes and saw his mother. “You need to get those cows, and get them now. This is no time for daydreaming!”
Jack rose from his place beneath the apple tree, grimacing as he put his hand down in a rotten apple. “Right, mother. I’m off then.”
He closed his eyes briefly as he headed for the pasture. Back on the deck of the Warhammer, the sounds of battle had faded with the roaring in his ears. But he heard Corny’s voice, frightened but also commanding. “Don’t let go, Captain! We need you!”
Captain James opened his eyes and looked at his worried second in command. “All right. I’m still here.” His voice was a croak, and Corny gave him some water. “Help me up!”
“But sir!” Lt. Cornwall protested. “Your leg!”
James glanced at the bandage around his leg. “It will do. I have work to do!” He forced himself to stand, and the men cheered, and fought on harder for his sake.
He could feel the wind…it favored them. There was another squall coming. They could make their escape behind it.
Captain James leaned heavily on his Lieutenant, and smiled a little. They would deliver the Window. And when they had escaped this battle, they would eat the pigs. No injury and no enemy could bring him down! He was Captain James, the invincible Hero of the Warhammer.
Where were those dratted cows, anyway?
©Rebecca M. Douglass
P.S. The five elements were a sailing ship, a perfume bottle, three little pigs, a rotten apple and of course a stained glass window.