I actually started this piece a while ago, before I had even heard of steampunk. But now, today, re-reading it, I realized that it has at least a few similar elements. But it was inteneded as fantasy. Anyways it seemed interesting/fitting enough, so I thought I'd share it. It's obviously not finished. The next part which is still under construction will introduce another character. I hope you enjoy... but let me know if (more like when) you don't, and why.
The Chronicles of Reg: Airship Captain Extraordinaire (working title)
Chapter the First- The Apprentice
There are few things to wake up to which are worse than having a large bag of garbage dumped over oneâ€™s head. But that is exactly what happened to Reg one summer morning in a back alley of Cessloniaâ€™s poorer part of town. The woman who ruined his sleep stood over him, wide eyes astonished as he rose from the alley that had been his bed.
â€œHere now, you little vagrant! What do you think youâ€™re doing?â€
â€œSleeping,â€ Reg replied, wiping egg from his hair.
â€œWell not in my alley, youâ€™re not. Off you go! Shoo!â€
She ran him off, almost before he could grab his threadbare cloak from the ground. He ran towards the main street, the womanâ€™s shouts and hollers following him out.
Once free of the garbage alley that had been his bedroom, and the foul-tempered woman, he slowed down. It wasnâ€™t good to over-exert oneâ€™s self too early in the day. So for a time he sat, gathering his thoughts. Then he stretched. With the stiffness gone from his muscles, he swung his threadbare cloak over his shoulders and went on his way.
The world about him was slowly coming to life, people already hurrying by on business in the early morning mist that filled the streets. He watched people as he made his way down the street, noting how most people did their best to ignore him. Some even went so far as to cross the street to avoid him. These people made him want to laugh. Reg was well aware that he smelled bad, and likely had a very dirty face, but he did not mind. It was best if no one paid him mind; there was less trouble that way.
The road he was on soon intersected a larger thoroughfare, which in turn led to one of the cityâ€™s main roads. He followed along, keeping his head down and avoid eye contact of the cityâ€™s patrolmen whenever he saw them.
Some way on, the road crested a small rise and the buildings on either side ended. Spread out before him was the airship docks. They stood, bustling and sprawling, in a winding maze of wooden platforms and stone walkways. Dockworkers, longshoremen, sailors and sky captains wandered about hurriedly, loading and unloading, trading and delivering goods. The docks stayed busy around the clock thanks to bright burning lights of flame and mirrors (and some say magic) that made it like daylight even in the middle of the night, so some men were just heading to bed, and others were just heading to the tavern. People came and went at all hours.
Reg looked down at the sprawling maze, at the many airships docked, and smiled. Cesslonia, located in a wide and fertile river valley, and considered (at least by its denizens) to be in the center of the world, was, if nothing else at least, the technological center of the world. It was in that city that the engine-powered train was developed, the first was airship taken to the skies, and projectile weapons were first made. Few other places in the world had such level of sophistication. Technology aside, the city was a social and cultural center that had no equal. Theatre, music and art bloomed in the city, a byproduct of the ever-growing leisure class. Tall buildings of glass and polished stone stretched high above the plain, looking out over the world through many-faceted towers.
As the only well-functioning republic in the known world, freedom and prosperity was abundant in that great city, though it did not come without a price. Its open trading system allowed anyone willing to work hard to become profitable, if not downright rich. This attracted an unsavory element. Smugglers and pirates frequented the airship docks, trading in stolen weapons, talismans of dark magics, slaves, and whatever other exotic goods that might bring profit. Despite the efforts of the port authority, who patrolled the airship docks regularly, Cesslonia was also the center of the worldâ€™s black market.
â€œOut of the way, beggar,â€ said a voice behind him. He became aware then that he had been standing and staring for several minutes. Reg turned, head down, slowly.
â€œSorry, sir,â€ he said, not looking up. Yet as he turned he was able to see the boots of the city patrol. He swallowed.
â€œGet back to the poor quarter, boy. And have a bath, you reek.â€ He aimed a kick at Reg, who was just able to dodge out of the path of the manâ€™s boot as he spun away and headed back down the street. Ducking into an alley, he watched the crowded street until he was sure the patrolman was gone. Then he headed back down the street and towards the airship docks.
The stone walkways were jammed with workers and people bustling about on business. These, too, ignored him for the most part, although in this part of town he did not smell quite as bad; many of those around him had an odor of their own.
He wandered the docks for some time, getting lost in the twist and turn of the stone walk ways, admiring each of the airships he saw, watching as their crews climbed up and over and around them, preparing them for another trip and unloading their cargo.
The sun was well up in the east when he stopped. At the dock where he stood was berthed the most amazing airship he had ever seen. She was a beautiful craft, sleek lines all of polished wood and gleaming brass, the main stack rising from the rear deck in a bright ruby red, silent in the morning. On the bowsprit was carved a magnificent figure of a young man wearing a crown, holding a scepter in one hand and a sword in the other. The name of the ship, painted in the same ruby red as the main stack in smooth flowing script, was the Prince Caspian. Reg thought it was a fine name for such a magnificent ship, but also thought it was a bit funny, naming a ship (which were always women), after a boy. He tried not to laugh as he climbed the gangway.
On the shipâ€™s orderly lower deck, crew men ran about, securing lines, moving cargo, and preparing the ship for launch. Reg looked about for someone who did not seem busy. He spotted a man standing across the way, near the command post, watching his crew work. The man wore a tidy uniform of ruby red, trimmed in white, an elaborate saber at his side and a tasseled, three pointed hat on his head. He had hard blue eyes that found Reg. When the man looked at him he smiled and started towards him. The man did not smile.
â€œHere, who are you, you little truant? We have no room for beggars on this ship. Get off, back where you came from,â€ the man said in a booming voice, descending the stairs to the lower deck. Reg approached him slowly, ready with the words he had been practicing.
â€œI seek to be apprenticed to the crew of your fine ship, sir. I want no pay, only to be taught the ways of the skies.â€
â€œAs I said, boy, off my ship. We have no room. Even your scrawny butt would weigh more than I can carry. Every spare ounce must be used for cargo.â€ The man did not seem angry, but he did not seem very open to Regâ€™s offer.
â€œPlease sir? I donâ€™t take much room, and I donâ€™t each much. If you couldâ€¦â€ but he was cut off.
â€œOff my ship now, boy. Now, before I call the port authorities.â€ Then, he added as Reg turned to go, â€œAnd have a bath you vagrant.â€ Reg looked back once, but the man had resumed his position at the command post.
He walked down the gangplank slowly, promising himself he wouldnâ€™t cry. He was a man now, after all, almost fifteen years old. Men didnâ€™t cry. Still, the morning air was getting warm; it seemed to be drying out his eyes so that they had to water. He rubbed at them a little, telling himself he needed to watch where he was going. There were, after all, other airships, he told himself. Only it wasnâ€™t likely that any were so fine as the Prince Caspian.
â€œPss, hey lad,â€ said a voice from behind some boxes. â€œCome here boy, yes you.â€ Reg turned and looked, finding a man sitting against a stack of crates, chewing on an apple.
â€œAre you an air captain?â€ Reg asked him, looking at his elaborate flowing clothes, brightly colored sashes, and tall plumed hat. He realized that his own figure was far from striking, and became embarrassed.
â€œNot quite, lad. But I am a sailor on a good ship. I couldnâ€™t help but overhear that youâ€™re seeking apprenticeship. Is that right?â€ Reg nodded. â€œGood. You look like a good, strong, smart boy. We could use you. Might you be interested?â€
Reg tried to remain calm, and keep what he called his game face on. Could it really be that easy? He looked at the man again and decided it could.
â€œCould I see her first?â€ he asked the man.
â€œHer? Oh, the ship. Of course, of course lad. Wouldnâ€™t be proper if you didnâ€™t. You can tell a lot by just looking at the ship. Tell you what then. Since sheâ€™s not actually scheduled to come in until tonight, and Iâ€™ve got some business to see to before she gets here, why donâ€™t you come back tonight? I canâ€™t say which dock exactly weâ€™ll be at, but just listen for the sounds of a loud and rowdy crew,â€ he said with a wink. â€œHer name is the Sky Trigger. You seem a smart lad, youâ€™ll find her. We usually dock along the eastern edge of town. What do you say?â€
â€œI say thank you sir. My name is Reg, by the way.â€
â€œOrith,â€ said the man, shaking his hand. â€œRemember, she wonâ€™t be in until after dark. Weâ€™ll be looking for you.
Reg left the man with his spirits sailing. It did not take long for his short experience on the Prince Caspian to be forgotten. He was so excited that he forgot to be cautious and secretive, and ran the whole way back from the docks to the city proper so that he might beg for his last few meals.
The day passed slowly. Reg panhandled what he could, and was able to eat well enough, as he had been able to do in the many days since reaching Cesslonia, but food did little to abate the other feeling in his gut, the feeling of anticipation. He tried taking a nap to pass the time, but could not sleep, seeing in his mind a picture of himself standing at the rail of an airship as it sped across the sky, wind in his hair as he looked out over the earth. He tried going for walks, but kept finding his feet drawn towards the docks. He gave that up quickly as well. Eventually, he sat down in one of the city squares at the base of a fountain, watching the water fall sparking from a womanâ€™s mouth. At one point it occurred to him that he might bathe in the fountain, but he eventually decided that it would attract unnecessary attention and might get him in trouble.
Eventually, the sun went down. Reg forced himself to wait a full hour after dark before heading back towards the docks, not wanting to be too early. Traveling the city at night was much more difficult than during the day, as there were more patrolmen and less normal people, which made it much harder for Reg to avoid notice. Beggars, especially young ones such as Reg, were not appreciated in the city after dark, and if he was caught he would be escorted back to one of the shelters in the poor quarter, on the far other end of town. So carefully he went, until he was back safe amidst the hustle and bustle of the airship docks.
Huge, bright lights, powered by flame and mirrors (and some said magic) cast light over the docks when the sun was down, allowing activity to go on unhindered around the clock. In Cesslonia the technology was there, and it was used to the fullest. The lights were supposed to detract from criminal activity taking place. They seldom worked for that purpose though, and served more to aid smugglers and pirates than to hinder them.
Reg thought of none of these things, and was no longer even amazed by the bright lights (although his first time in the city he had been struck dumb by them), as he wound his way to the east docks, looking for the Sky Trigger. There were many ships berthed in the east docks, but most were dark and deserted, cabin lights dim and decks empty.
He wandered for some time, and was becoming discouraged, when he found the ship. Just as Orith had said, he heard it first. The noisy sounds of sailors yelling, cursing, and singing filled the air as Reg approached the ship. She was nowhere near as magnificent as the Prince Caspian, nor indeed most of the other ships he had seen, but he thought her beautiful anyways. She would do just fine.
And sure enough, there below the crudely carved mermaid on the bowsprit was the name Sky Trigger in plain dark paint. He climbed the gangplank.
The deck was fairly small, and consequently crowded with men, and even a few women, drinking and carousing. Someone was playing a guitar and trying to sing, though the voice could barely be heard over the beat coming from some bongo drums. For such a small ship, Reg thought, there sure were a lot of people on it. Some of them were dancing, and looked like they might fall right off the side.
A hard-faced woman dressed in flowing black pants and a shirt of red lace spotted him and came over to him in a hurry. Reg was expecting some kind words of greetings. These he did not get.
â€œHere now. Get of my ship you little rat. Thereâ€™s no gold here for beggars, or food scraps neither. Scram!â€
Reg stood dumbfounded, unable to move or turn, those same tears again fighting to break free of his eyes. He tried to speak and could not.
â€œOut of here now, rat!â€ yelled the woman again. She made to kick him, while Reg stood there dumbfounded and heartbroken again, when a voice yelled out of the crowd.
â€œWait a second, Lyrissa. Wait, come here for a minute.â€ It was Orith. Reg stood there relieved, trying not to wipe away the tears that did not fall, watching while Orith and the woman Lyrissa stood talking quietly. She kept looking at him suspiciously with her dark, frightening eyes, while Orith spoke to her. It was too noisy for him to hear what was said, and he did not know how to read lips. If he could have done so, things might have turned out better for him.
After a few moments of conversation, Lyrissa stopped scowling and came back over to Reg, smiling. Orith was with her, and for that Reg was glad. Despite that smile, he still did not trust her.
â€œSorry lad,â€ she said, still smiling. â€œOrith here set me straight, said we were to have you on as an apprentice. Well, Iâ€™ll be glad to have you. Itâ€™s a good thing you didnâ€™t run off right away, youâ€™re a smart boy. Welcome aboard the Sky Trigger. There isnâ€™t much for you to do tonight, but we rise early and have lots to do before the sun gets up. This,â€ she waved her hand in the general direction of the party, â€œwill go on for most of the night. Why donâ€™t we see about getting you cleaned up a bit, then showing you to your quarters to sleep. And maybe something to eat,â€ she added, looking him up and down. He couldnâ€™t help but grin. Maybe she wasnâ€™t so bad. He looked at Orith, who smiled at him.
â€œClyrissa!â€ yelled the woman. A young girl no more than two or three years older than Reg stepped out of the crowd and came over to them. She wore loose white pants and a lacy shirt that was unbuttoned quite low. Her long red hair was smooth and clean. She looked at Reg with mischievous green eyes and a smile that made Reg feel warm all over, and more than a little nervous. He looked down.
â€œReg, meet my daughter, Clyrissa. This is Reg. Heâ€™s going to be the new apprentice on board.â€ Reg looked at her again and was able to shake her hand, but could muster no words. â€œTake him below and see about cleaning him up a bit. Then get him some food and show him the crewâ€™s quarters.â€
â€œAs you wish, mother,â€ she said, with sarcasm that only a teenage daughter could muster. Taking a blushing Reg by the hand, she led him below deck.
She saw to the food first. There was roast chicken and apples, and that was just fine with Reg. He was hungrier than he had though. Clyrissa watched him as he ate, nibbling on a piece of cheese while watching him with those mischievous eyes. His cheeks grew hot whenever he looked at her. Once, she winked at him.
He was quite relieved when he found that what was meant by cleaning him up was giving him a cloth and some hot water to wipe his face off with. He was not surprised to see it wipe quite a lot of dirt from his face.
â€œThereâ€™s no time for a proper bath now, though the skies know you need one,â€ said Clyrissa, holding her nose and waving a hand before her face. â€œStill,â€ she added, you smell no worse than most of the pigs on board. Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ll fit right in.â€ She laughed after this, as though she had said some enormously funny joke. Reg did not get it, and said nothing. He was well aware that he did not smell very good.
â€œWeâ€™ll get you some new clothes too; ones that donâ€™t look like you dug them out of an alley somewhere.â€
She continued with her one-sided banter for some time, until after he was done washing his face and hands, she led him to the lowest deck where the crew slept. There were many bunks piled in tight against each other, perhaps twenty in all. Clyrissa pointed to one of the bunks on top.
â€œThat one is empty for now. Itâ€™s all yours. Mind you donâ€™t piss the sheets,â€ she said with another laugh. â€œAs soon as you hear the bell in the morning youâ€™d better be out of that bunk. Come find me first thing and Iâ€™ll put you to work. Goodnight boy.â€ She turned to go. Reg watched her body swaying smoothly, the wide flowing clothes not quite hiding her curves. He swallowed again before climbing into his bunk. It was a long time before he slept.
Seasons don't fear the reaper.