Chapter 5 Up a River
The selkies were given back their skins, and as they took them, they stepped off the gangplank into the briny deep, one by one, and a few moments later, a large group of seals accompanied the fleet. Some of the army aboard the Scoundrel were sent out to the other boats in the fleet, to bolster their numbers of war fighters. Princess Nallah remained with the flagship, as did the Andersons and the Carter girls.
Admirals Tock and Dock were given joint command of the fleet, and they again set sail to the West. “Of course,” Tock commented, “We must assume that we will be under scrutiny from Rokko’s agents the moment we are within sight of land.”
“We can hope that since we are all in vessels flying Rokko’s flags, they will naturally assume we are their ships. Where is your flag, Admiral?” Dock asked while they were in conference.
“I can’t stand the thing,” Tock admitted.
“It was used by pirates in our world,” Mr. Anderson offered. “I don’t know how it came to this world.”
“We know that Rokko had at least one giant as a confederate,” Mowbry commented.
“Paul Dugan,” Mr. Anderson said. “Princess Nallah saved my life when he wanted to shoot me. Where is the Princess?” he asked.
“She is resting,” Budrick said. “She’s been very tired, and it’s understandable with the news Admiral Dock brought.”
“Agreed,” Mr. Anderson felt terrible for the poor young girl. He could only imagine what she must be going through. He still struggled with the loss of his wife, but to lose one’s whole family must be almost beyond enduring.
“So Paul Dugan must be here somewhere, and he brought the skull and crossed bones flags with him,” Bucspat summarized.
“The Jolly Roger, is what they call it in our world,” Mr. Anderson said.
“What a silly name,” Mowbry commented. “Admiral Tock, you will fly a Jolly Roger as we enter the river, and we will go as one fleet as far as Dalrimple.”
“Why Dalrimple?” Tock asked.
“We came out of Dalrimple,” Dock explained.
“But it’s our home. We don’t want to have to fight on our home ground. We might injure our own countrymen, or even our own kinsmen. Why not put into Dool instead?”
“Why can’t we go directly to Tole?” Mr. Anderson asked.
“Tole has no port,” Mowbry explained. “It’s not on the river. We will have to go through a neighboring country that is on the river, and that leaves us with Dalrimple or Dool. We can only hope for some support there, but there is quite a likelihood that we will meet with resistance. Admirals, I leave that up to you.”
The conference over, they again set sail, using the trade winds as much as possible. With Admiral Dock’s weather talents, the fleet made swift headway as far as the South Western Gulf, and less than a week later they found the mouth of a great river.
“What is the name of this river?” Mr. Anderson asked, out of sincere curiosity. He knew the name of its counterpart in the giant realm, but he wanted to know if their were any similarities.
“It is called the Sippimissi River, the largest on this continent,” Budrick explained.
“Remarkable,” Mr. Anderson commented. “How did it get its name?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
“It was named after an ancient race who used to live here,” Mowbry offered, overhearing the conversation. “When our people colonized this part of the world, they found people already living here, and they united, intermarried, and all became one happy family.”
“There was no friction? No fighting?” Jen asked. She knew of the history of the colonization of North America, and with the similarities of the two worlds, she was amazed when there were differences.
“Of course, they found that with a larger populace they could no longer simply gather the bounty of the land, and they settled on the model of the old world and its agrarian foundation. They started planting and cultivating the flowers and vegetables. They formed kingdoms, and chose kings, mostly from the ancient lines of nobles from both cultures. They blended. They adapted.” Mowbry’s knowledge of history was impressive.
“And now a tyrant wants to rule them all,” Princess Nallah interjected bitterly. “We are here to set it right.”
“And we will!” Jen declared, in support of her friend.
Princess Nallah looked careworn and tired, as if she had not slept for a week. It wasn’t that she took no sleep, the truth was that even her dreams were exhausting since she discovered she was alone in the world without her family. Jen knew how she felt, but she also knew that the only solace she could give her was her presence and eternal friendship.
They anchored in the brackish mouth of the river that night, and prepared their army and navy personnel for combat.
Other than a few wandering fairy lights, the lookouts had nothing unusual to report through the night. As they were weighing anchor in the morning, Maylu made her report to General Mowbry. “The selkies report that the shore lookouts believe we are with the Federation,” she summarized.
“Well, that’s good news,” Mowbry said.
“They hate the Federation,” Maylu added.
“That’s even better news,” Mowbry smiled. “Are they planning on doing anything about it?”
“Unknown at this time, sir,” Maylu responded.
“You are beginning to sound like a soldier,” Mowbry noted. “Are the selkies planning on accompanying us upriver?”
“They are, sir. Even though they are not comfortable in fresh water. They say that freshwater fish have no taste.”
Mowbry thought about it for a moment, then replied, “Let the selkies know that we appreciate their assistance.”
“Yes sir,” Maylu said, then backed away from her commander as if he were royalty. Mowbry made no effort to correct her.
Jen watched in fascination as the land rolled by as they continued their journey upriver. The scenery was both familiar and alien. It was like they were in the greatest garden in the world, with brilliantly colored flowers on every tree and shrub, as well as bright bloom springing from the ground. “Daddy, what kind of bird is that?” she asked, pointing at a black dot circling in the sky far, far away.
Mr. Anderson looked, squinted, and shielded his eyes from the sun with his hand. “I’m not sure. A vulture maybe?”
Budrick was walking by and noticed Mr. Anderson’s squinting and followed his gaze above the horizon. “Dragon,” he said, in a matter of fact tone of voice.
“Dragon?” Jen and both the Carter girls gasped.
“Of course. At this distance it couldn’t be a griffin or pegasus. It’s way too big. That only leaves a dragon.”
“So that’s a dragon,” Mr. Anderson commented. “I always wondered. What do they look like up close?”
“Oh, you wouldn’t want to see one up close,” Budrick grinned. “They’re nasty. Big, scaly, lumbering things, with breath that burns like fire and smells like rotten meat.”
“Like a giant’s breath, you mean?”
“Your breath has gotten a lot better since you left the island,” Budrick responded, meaning it as a compliment.
“Thank you,” Mr. Anderson sighed, acknowledging the intent.
“That’s when we ran out of meat,” Jen whispered, and Julie and Gina squealed and laughed so hard they snorted.
Morning wore into afternoon, which after a time faded into evening. Fairy lights appeared more often on the eastern bank of the river, but very seldom on the western bank. Julie asked Budrick about it.
“That side of the river is protected, Miss Julie,” he replied. “No country can build there, it must remain virgin forest. By mutual agreement of all parties, it is a nature preserve.”
“Then what are all those lights?” Gina pointed as a large group of fairy and firelights appeared on the west bank. They continued to watch and saw a jet of fire blast from one point and blow in a wide arc.
“Oh my!” Budrick exclaimed. “They are catching dragons.”
“Why would anyone want to catch a dragon?” Julie asked.
“I do not know, Miss Julie,” he answered. “I have never heard of it ever being done before. I have no idea why anyone would want to do that.”
They continued sailing upstream through the night, steering by moonlight, starlight and fairy light. The wakes of the selkies as they swam upstream, breaking the surface with their noses as they went, shown phosphorescent white, and helped mark the deep channels of the river for the fleet. Each boat had at least two selkies for guides.
The first light of morning found them in a deep gorge, with high cliffs on either side. The lookouts reported seeing people running and reporting their progress. They were not sure of what kind of reception would be awaiting them when they finally arrived at their first destination.
“It appears that we may have to put in at Dool after all,” Admiral Tock remarked to General Mowbry and Sir Dave. “Dalrimple is further upstream. Dock will be furious, but he always did have a temper.”
“Could we not put in at Dool and continue to Dalrimple afterwards?” Mr. Anderson asked.
“Depends on our reception,” replied the ruddy-faced admiral. “We could find them pro-Federation, in which case we’ll be alright, since we appear to be a Federation armada. But should they be against the Federation, we will have to convince them that despite our appearances, we are against the Federation too.”
“We will have some tricky diplomacy on our hands, either way,” General Mowbry murmured.
“Could we not simply float past Dool and move on to Dalrimple?”
“They will probably have blockaded the river. That’s what I would do,” Tock responded.
The girls watched the mounting activity atop the high cliffs of the gorge, as more and more runners gathered directly above them. Then it started hailing rotten fruit and vegetables. A rotten tomato-like fruit spattered Jen on the head, and the deck was quickly covered in garbage. The blats, normally very shy, kept creeping out on the deck from the shadows and grabbing bits and pieces of the rotten mess, then slithering away again. Jen, Julie and Gina quickly found shelter below decks, as the rain of putrescence continued to pound down on them.
“I think we have our answer,” General Mowbry said.
“Let’s get some repulsors out there to create a shield over our decks,” Admiral Tock instructed Budrick, who bowed quickly and backed off the bridge. Moments later several fairies climbed the rigging and the gooey mass started to deflect off of them, like a huge umbrella, and not a moment too soon either. The attackers were in the process of switching the barrage over to rocks.
“If we are supposed to be Federation, should we not fire back?” Mr. Anderson asked.
“Not if we want them as allies,” General Mowbry said. “This is an opportunity! We have a group of people here who are hostile to the Federation. And we can use every man jack of them!”
“And woman jill,” Duchess Landreth added.
“Quite right, Madame,” Mowbry said. “Do we have any Doolish flags?”
“I believe I saw some in the locker. Are you suggesting we strike the Federation flag and fly the royal flag of Dool?” Admiral Tock was warming up to the idea of diplomacy.
“Exactly. And the whole fleet, too. They will see it as a gesture of submission, and will assume victory. That should give us a chance to explain ourselves and our mission when we get into port.” It was not simply because of his military expertise that Mowbry was the General.
Within moments the flags were switched on all of the ships and boats of the little armada. The rain of rocks and garbage ceased, and a huge crowd gathered around the port. Unofficial guards lined the docks as they approached. There was not a single Federation uniform to be seen, but a few members of the Royal Guard of Dool maintained their uniforms.
They threw their lines to the dock, and they were quickly pulled tight and fastened to cleats. Before they lowered the gang-plank of the Scoundrel, they heard a voice call from the dock. “Who are you, and what is your purpose?”
“I am Admiral Tock of the Resistance,” Tock declared. “Who am I addressing?”
“Mayor Dorf,” the voice called back. “Why were you flying Federation flags?”
“It seemed the safest way to enter Federation territory,” Mowbry responded. “I am General Mowbry of the Resistance.”
“I will grant you that,” Mayor Dorf shouted. “Permission to come aboard?”
“Permission granted,” Admiral Tock announced, giving a nod to his men to lower the gang-plank.
The plank was lowered, and the mayor as well as a delegation of the Royal Guard of Dool came aboard and saluted the admiral and the general. “Before we can allow you to disembark here, do you have any proof that you are indeed with the resistance?”
“I do,” Admiral Tock announced. “I have aboard Captain Yar of the Federation in custody, and I also have Princess Nallah of Tole as a leading member of our resistance forces.
Princess Nallah stepped forward from the rear of the little crowd, and the mayor bowed low. “Your Majesty,” he said. “We thought you were dead.”