zeta - ⚔️ Battle on the ♔ #Island, 🌝 #exploration ⚔️
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June 14, 4 p.m. — A lot of events took place since last night. My fears proved justified. Everything happened pretty much like in my dream, with the only difference that I was not present in the middle of the events, but stuck aboard Excelsior.
The king was delighted to meet our men and invited everybody to dine at his palace. The local food was much appreciated and everybody was talking happily about exchanging a part from our ship’s cargo for the cheap and omnipresent gold from the island.
Later, at around 8 p.m., the king’s daughter, a gorgeous young woman, came to the terrace where the dinner was served and began singing a song, accompanied by a group of musicians. A drunk sailor, who was returning from a toilet break, stumbled over a chair and fell on the floor. His loaded gun dropped from his belt and discharged accidentally. Nobody got hurt, but the weapon generated a powerful and noisy blast that was amplified by the surrounding walls and echoed like a thunder strike. Music and talks stopped instantly, with people from both our ship and the Island exchanging worried looks for a few moments. Then, suddenly, all the locals, including the king, ran away.
A few moments later, the crew of Excelsior saw the real reason for their scare: something huge, shaped like a snake, came from the sky and plunged over the spot where the king had been seated just moments earlier. A few soldiers came back from a nearby room and attacked with their halberds the strange creature, which looked like one of the dragons we had seen flying above the sea during the morning. The beast retreated immediately, vanishing in the darkness with ample moves of its long body, as if swimming through the air. Our people didn’t intervene in the clash between the king’s guards and the dragon, deciding it was wiser to avoid shooting another gun.
Already put on guard by my story, the crew didn’t wait for the soldiers to come upon them, but rushed out through the door, with the intention to reach Excelsior as quickly as possible. However, a detachment of fighters armed with spears and halberds was already deployed outside, waiting. It looked as if the locals had been already suspicious of us, waiting for the right moment to attack if we gave them an excuse to do it. The enemy unit charged at once, killing many of our people before they had time to discharge their firearms. The survivors had to fight their way out for the whole distance that separated them from harbor. At the same time, bent over the edge of a window high above, the king’s translator was shouting in a loud voice, describing the islanders’ prophecy about demons disguised as people who could imitate the sound of thunder.
From my cabin, I could already hear the gunshots and the cries of the wounded and dying. Using a crutch for walking, I climbed on the upper deck and took charge of the ship, as the highest ranked officer left on board. Without hesitation, I ordered the canons loaded, and began striking the city areas where enemy soldiers could be seen. The bright moonlight proved to be a trustworthy ally for our bombardment, revealing us in full clarity all the targets of interest from the shore.
Our barrage of fire inflicted terrible losses to the locals and helped the retreat of those from our crew who were still alive and able to move. Excelsior‘s hull and masts were surrounded now by a thin cloud of white smoke, coming from our artillery shots. Several islanders approaching the pier shot at us with burning arrows, but they were too far away to be a real threat for Excelsior. The ship’s canons and the rifles in the hands of my men prevented the enemy archers from coming close and killed scores of them.
Meanwhile, our surviving people from the city approached quickly and crossed the mobile bridges back onto the deck. The first lieutenant had his back pierced badly by an arrow. He was staggering and his face looked very pale. A few sailors had lighter wounds. We raised the anchor quickly and moved into open sea, helped by a mild breeze that was blowing from the land.
I could see now a lot of activity on the top of the tall towers, too. Archers were shouting burning arrows at us from there, but our brig was already out of their reach. While the physician was doing his best to help the wounded with scalpel and bandages, two of the islanders’ ships tried to attack us. The captain, taking the command back from me, directed the canon fire with high accuracy, sinking one and damaging badly the other. For the moment we were winning, but with so many enemies surrounding us, in spite of our superior weapons, this was an unequal battle. The best course of action was to move Excelsior even further away and leave the harbor behind us for the night.
The first lieutenant had his aorta damaged by the arrow and died from his wound early in the morning. We buried him at sea, in a simple, but heart moving ceremony. He was the only man to lose his life aboard our ship. Everybody else who perished during the attack had to be left on the shore. No less than thirty-one people, including the second in command, lost their lives in this battle. In these unfortunate circumstances, I was promoted provisionally to the rank of first lieutenant.
5 p.m. — At noon, Excelsior sailed closer to the harbor and used one of our harpoon canons to launch a written message all the way to the city’s streets. The captain gave the king an ultimatum, asking for the return of the bodies of our crew, a huge quantity of gold (meaning about six tons that could easily fit in the remaining free space from the cargo bay besides the provisions, cannons, and ammunition we were already transporting) and an official apology for their wicked behavior. He threatened to destroy all their towers one by one if the locals did not satisfy our request. Most of the afternoon has already passed, but so far no answer came back from the natives.
9 p.m. — Taking opportunity of the huge quantity of ammunition we were supposed to deliver to the Northern Fort, the captain began to put his threats into action. By nightfall, our canons had already cracked and badly damaged the two towers located at the port’s entrance.
June 15 — Excelsior patrols the harbor area, blocking virtually all the enemy ships from leaving it and preventing any potential visitor from open sea to reach the city. One of the vessels inside the bay had the unfortunate idea of raising anchor and trying to sneak away. It was promptly sunk by our canons, but the captain allowed the crew to escape by boats and return to the shore. At noon, a new ultimatum was sent, with the same message and in the same way as the previous one. Through our hand telescopes, we saw the harpoon shot by our canon breaking through one of the palace’s windows and disappearing inside.
Everybody on board is furious on the locals and their cruel massacre of our men. Some of us suggested a surprise night attack and the occupation of the whole city. However, even with guns and canon support from the ship, can we fight several thousand people armed with spears, halberds, swords, and bows? Before being put in practice, an assault needs a well thought plan. In addition to all these issues, in a week or so we might start facing another problem: the lack of food supplies and fresh water.
June 16 — Excelsior continues to patrol the coast, on a route that extends about five kilometers on each side of the harbor. There is a chance that the people from Gold City had sent messengers inland and called for help from other coastal settlements, if other such coastal cities exist. We might face soon a whole flotilla attacking us in the open. Taking this potential threat into consideration, all the crew members agreed that we must render unusable the ships left inside the harbor so that at least we don’t risk facing a naval attack from two opposite directions. At nightfall, we attacked and sank with well aimed cannon hits the eight enemy vessels left. In spite of our anger, we tried to avoid inflicting any unnecessary loss of life.
This morning, a message was sent to us, wrapped around an arrow head. The arrow fell into the water, a bit short from reaching our vessel, but we saw the attached letter in time and recovered it quickly and in good condition. The written text stated that people were forbidden to negotiate with demons, even if they all had to lose their lives. To talk to us, they needed more proofs that we were real people. Only the demons could make the sound of thunder and bring with them dragons to attack their king. We also saw their soldiers assembling huge catapults on the shore and moving blocks of stone to build new fortifications that could protect them better from our canon attacks. Thinking about a suitable proof of our humanity, the captain decided that it’s wiser to retreat a bit further from the port’s entrance.
June 17 — Our patrolling route increased in length, going about ten kilometers on each side of the harbor. The whole coastal line beyond the city looks completely uninhabited. From the crow’s nest, one of the sailors saw a small, rocky gulf where apparently many fruit trees were visible. Perhaps a source of fresh water was flowing nearby, too.
I advised the captain to send a boat to the shore to replenish our supplies and offered to lead the small expedition myself. He agreed and the operation was planned for the following day. Meanwhile, my leg had fully healed and I could finally resume my normal duty on the ship.
June 18 — The two boats from Excelsior touched the sandy beach of the small gulf early morning, helped by the high tide. Many trees with fruits similar to oranges grew on the shore’s slopes. I remembered eating them in the long and vivid dream where I was trekking around the river. After a few careful bites, I decided that they were not poisonous and we filled quickly all the supply boxes with our new source of food.
A water spring was emerging from an unusual red-colored rock, transforming into a small waterfall as it was coming close to the ground. The ship’s barrels were also filled in a few minutes, then food and water were carried towards the boats. We didn’t see any signs of natives’ activity here. Apparently this place was not currently under the direct control of the people from Gold City and we were in no danger of being attacked.
While my people were loading the supplies in the boats, I began to explore the surroundings. The gulf was almost semi-circular, about one hundred meters in diameter and anyone could have walked around it in a couple of minutes. Its coastline was coming out from the sea at a rather high angle, like on most of the Island. Of course, this was due to the high amplitude of the tides from this world. I turned my back to the ocean and entered the forest that was connecting the shore to the deeper lands. After about two hundred meters, I reached a tall cliff where I could see, partly hidden by trees and ivy, the entrance of a spacious cave.
We came back to Excelsior with a load of fruits and fresh water and decided to do a second trip. The captain accepted my proposal to explore the newly found cavern, as I suggested it might potentially take us inland, closer to the city, perhaps to a place from where we could launch a surprise attack. The orientation of the cave’s mouth certainly suggested this possibility.
After returning on the shore, I got several torches ready and asked two crewmen to follow me. The entrance was about four meters wide and over two meters tall. It opened into a straight gallery where we continued our advance for about ten meters. Then the tunnel expanded abruptly into an enormous chamber, full of beautiful natural columns of red-yellow color. It was impossible to see the other end of the hall in the feeble torch light, so we continued straight ahead for some thirty meters until we reached its opposite end. From here, five tunnels of an almost perfectly circular shape and placed at regular intervals, each about two meters in diameter, opened towards the unknown.
Each tunnel entrance had something written on top of it in groups of unknown symbols with round shapes similar to what I remembered seeing in my dream in the city, probably the locals’ writing. Unfortunately neither I, nor anyone else from Excelsior, could read them. I checked the galleries’ direction with my hand compass and was pleased to see them pointing towards west, where the city-port of the Island was located. As the tunnels looked obviously man-made, I wondered if it was possible for them to link the small gulf all the way to some place inside Gold City. Maybe the locals had dug these tunnels centuries ago and in the meantime totally forgot about them. Or perhaps they didn’t expect any attack from this direction and left them unguarded. Such a discovery could prove ideal for a surprise night charge into the enemy’s nest.
All the tunnels appeared to be parallel to each other. I decided to explore them one by one with the compass in my hand, for about one hundred meters each. They all seemed to go towards the city and I could glimpse no end of them within the view range of my torch flame. The best course of action was to come back to Excelsior, gather enough torches, people, and weapons, and explore the galleries to their very ends.
Back on board, the captain and the other officers were all ears to my report and became enthusiastic at the opportunity of using the galleries for a surprise attack on the city in case this action proved possible. We decided to cease temporarily the blockade of the harbor and start the exploration of the galleries by nightfall.
Everybody got some rest until sunset, then our boats transported sixty fully armed men to the gulf, including myself and the captain. The newly promoted second lieutenant remained in charge of Excelsior. Our captain decided to take the central tunnel, I planned to enter the one on the left, and three ensigns were to advance into the remaining ones. If the galleries really emerged inside the city, we would remain hidden, scout the adjacent areas discreetly, and come back to the ship. Then, we would return with a full scale attack in the most favorable location during one of the following days.
Excerpt from "Butterfly's Dream", a novel by Marian C. Ghilea;
photo by Marian C. Ghilea: #Karlsruhe, #Germany
(c) Marian C. Ghilea, all rights reserved
12 sample chapters (pre-final draft) are available here: http://nivitx.blogspot.com/2017/08/final-proof-reading-novel-almost-done.html
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