Chapter 2: Second star to the right...
The mighty galleon sat low in the water, already loaded down with both Fables and what possessions they could take with them. Everything else had been taken up to the Keep and locked away, ready for the day they would return. Gulls cried out as they wheeled about over head, but they went un-noticed by every one as all eyes were fixed on the position that was making its way down the road from the Keep.
Merlin stood at the head, his tall staff in one hand. Behind him came the bulk of the guard, dressed in full armour. They stood surrounding four Knights, dressed as if ready for battle. But instead of weapons, they carried a massive oak coffin on their shoulders, holding it high so all could see. The rest of the Guard followed on behind, with Beowulf bringing up the rear, a mighty Norse battle-hammer in his hand.
The crowed watched in silence as the procession made its way along the quay side and onto a barge that lay waiting. With silence, the guard rowed out to the Jolly Roger and stopped alongside. With care that verged on reverence, the four Knights carefully lowered the coffin onto a cargo net and secured the lines. With equal care, the crew raised the line, lifting the net up over the side so it could be lowered into a prepared area of the hold.
"As the great bard said, parting is such sweet sorrow." Merlin stood on the quarterdeck, looking out across Avalon with a tear in his eye, "Bo'sun Smee, take us out of the harbour and set sail for the gate."
"Aye-aye, sir!" Even the normally jovial former pirate looked downcast, but turned to face the crew, "You heard him you landlubbers; the tide waits for no man!"
Spurned into action, the crew raised the two heavy anchors and lowered the sails, rigging the ship ready for the voyage. A stiff breeze came up behind them as the galleon tuned her prow out between the open harbour mouth and into the open sea. A calm sea gave a smooth ride as the ship ploughed through the breakers, spray flying up over the bow.
"Mr Pan, if you please." Merlin held out a leather pouch, "Use as much of it as you need: we'll want all the speed we can get once we're clear of the Vale."
"Beat to quarters!" Beowulf called out as the Guardsmen stared to prepare long and crossbows, "Lookouts to the top: I want to know if there is anything out there waiting for us the moment we pass through the Vale!"
Crew and soldiers rushed about their duty as the civilians passengers made their way below deck. The crack of wood on wood signalled the opening of the gun ports, and the ships cannons were pulled out tied down, ready for a fight. The Jolly Roger drove closer and closer to the fogbank until its prow disappeared into the mists.
"All quiet now!" Smee ordered, "No sound!"
Pan flew up above the ship, sprinkling the content of the pouch over the sails and rigging. The ropes and canvas glowed where the dust touched it and the light started to spread out across the ship. The fog totally enveloped the ship, cutting visibility to almost nil. There was no sound except for the creaking of the rigging and the slap of water against the wooden hull.
No one moved as the ship sailed deeper into the Vale, the enchanted cloud bank that had protected Avalon for so long. The air sparked around the ship as it passed through the layer after layer of spells and glamours hidden away from prying eyes. Everyone knew that the Adversary wanted the garrison eliminated: for too long Avalon had acted as an unofficial rallying call to all those apposed to his rule.
Only Fabletown in the mundane-world was a bigger thorn in his side.
"Steady now." Beowulf ordered as the fog and mist began to thin out, "Hold fast!"
The Jolly Roger's prow burst out of the Vale and into the sunlight beyond, rising sharply as it hit the larger swell of the open sea. The forward lookouts scanned the horizon, looking for anything that could indicate that they were in trouble.
"SHIP OFF THE PORT-BOW!" One lookout cried, "500-YARDS AND CLOSING FAST!"
"ACTION STATIONS!" Bo'sun Smee called out, "STANDBY PORT BATTERY!"
A drummer started beating out the call to arms as the crew and guards ran about, each rushing to their appointed stations. Below decks, the gunners primed their guns and awaited the order to fire, as Merlin started to chant the incantations needed to get the ship to the gate. There was a flash from the bow of the other vessel, and a fireball flew through the air to hit the sea just in front of the galleon, sending up a mountain of steam and spray.
"PORT BATTERY, FIRE!" Smee ordered, and twenty cannons fired as one, enveloping the side of the ship with smoke and flame. A mixture of grapeshot, round and chain shot hurtled through the air towards the hostile ship. The experienced gun crews new their craft well, and almost every cannon hit its mark: sail, mast and rigging were stripped away as the crew took what shelter they could. Back on the Jolly Roger, the gun crews reloaded their cannons as fast as they could, before pulling them out to fire again.
"INDEPENDENT: FIRE AS THEY BARE!" Smee ordered as soon as he got word that all of the guns were ready to fire. The ship lurched to the side again as the broadside was repeated, another swath of hot death sweeping across the hostile warship.
"Hold on tight!" Merlin warned as he reached the end of the incantation, "Here we go..."
The entire ship glowed brightly as it reached the top of a wave and kept going. Seawater fell from the sides as the entire galleon took to the air, sails bellowing out in some ghostly wind. One last thunders broadside echoed out across the sea before the other ship was too far below to be in gun range. The Jolly Roger rose higher and high into the sky, forcing everyone to grab hold of the nearest wall or beam to stop themselves from being sent tumbling towards the stern.
Clouds started to pass by as the ship slowly levelled off, finally returning to an even keel some distance from the sea below.
"Mister Smee, you have your course." Merlin dusted himself down, "Second star to the right, and straight on 'till morning."
"Second star to the right it is, sir!" The Bo'sun acknowledged as he took a firm grasp of the ships wheel.
The sun was starting to rise on the eastern horizon as the Jolly Roger neared the first gate that they would have to pass through to reach the mundane-world. Merlin stood at the prow; arms raised high above his head as he began to recite the spell that would unlock the gate. A swirling vortex appeared before them as the old wizards words to on strange harmonics that seemed to twist about in the growing wind.
Only the most essential crewmembers were on-deck, the rest taking shelter below to ride out the transition. The ship started to jerk about violently as it neared the gate, then it was almost like something reached out, grabbed the ship and pulled it through. There was a moment when time and space meant nothing, and then they were through.
The new world they found themselves in spread out before them as the Jolly Roger sailed on through the sky, passing over glistening cities inhabited by scarlet speedsters and emerald gladiators. Many of its inhabitants looked up and pointed at the ship as it passed over head, but most gave it not notice: compared to the wonders they saw on a daily basis, it was nothing special.
Some of the more powerful Fables, the ones Merlin had hoped to enlist in the fight against the Adversary, flew up to inspect the ship, but they kept their distance; their shame heavy in their hearts. Another gate neared, this one thankfully more stable than the last, and the Jolly Roger passed into another realm. This world was also inhabited by powerful beings, and some flew alongside the galleon for a time, until the troubles of their own lands called them away.
World after world passed this way. Most were benign; some offered fresh supplies, while others were hostile and tried to force the ship down. During the passage through these lands Merlin stood at the prow, chanting spells to keep the ship safe from outside forces. Although many powerful Fables tested his defences, none had the strength to challenge him directly. Many times he could feel the soft touch of others minds against his own, but his own mental defences held firm.
"Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more..." Merlin looked ahead as the last gate begin to open before the ship; it had taken almost all of his strength to unlock, open, close and then seal all of the gateways that led from Avalon to this point. He could feel his strength ebbing away, but soon they would be in the mundane-world, and one last spell would see them safe to Fable town.
More worrying was the fact that the fairy-dust that kept the Jolly Roger in the air was beginning to loose its effect: already the ship was sinking closer and closer to the ground. If they didn't make it through the gate and to a place of safety soon, they might not make it at all. The old sorcerer was unsure what would be worse: becoming stranded in the forsaken wasteland they were passing over now, or crashing in the Mundy world, where they could be seen by all. Summoning what strength he had left, he started to chant the required incantations. The gate obediently started to open before them, the vortex pulling the ship forward. The last gate proved to be the most violent of all, and the old galleon creaked and groaned so loudly that many feared she would break up midair and send them all to their deaths far below.
But fate had other plans in mind, and the ship passed through the gate and out into the Mundy world. An endless sea of golden fields spread out below them, stretching from horizon to horizon in every direction, basking in warm sunlight. A stiff wind caught the sails and spurned the ship on as Merlin quickly weaved the spells that would render the ship undetectable to Mundy science and eyes. The air around the Jolly Roger started to shimmer as the spell took effect, making it seem as if those onboard were viewing the outside world through a sheet of thick glass.
Two days of sailing the air currents and avoiding storms, and the Jolly Roger approached the area known as The Farm in upstate New York. Time was running out, as the ship was starting to drift lower and lower: it was testament to the skill of the crew that it had made it this far and they still needed to find a safe place to land. Merlin stood in the middle of the ship, doing his best to steady its gradual descent into at least something survivable.
Cresting the last few hills, a river came into view and beyond that a strange collection of buildings. The largest looked like a fortified manor house, while the others included an over sized boot and an equally gargantuan pumpkin. Bo'sun Smee ordered his crew to their stations as he did his best to aim the ship at the river, hoping that the water would be deep enough to take the galleon. Passengers and crew alike grabbed what they could and held on as the ship sank faster and faster towards the water.
The keel kissed the surface of the river. Sending up spray on either side as it sank lower and lower. The entire ship shook violently, sending many of its passengers and crew flying about the hold. The galleon sank down so low that water started to pore in through the lower gun ports, but thankfully it bobbed back up and found its natural equilibrium before it was inundated. Levers were pulled, sending the two massive anchors down into the river. The chains rattled as the weights sank, trailing out behind the ship until they found something to grab and hold onto: the stern was almost lifted clear of the water as the ship came to a sudden stop, and only Merlin remained standing. The unmistakable cry of a crow filled the air, and the old wizard looked up to see the bird in question fly around the ship once, before coming to rest on the railing.
"Good morning, gentle Fable," Merlin bowed, "and although I find it hard to believe that I am going to use such a cliché, take me to your leader."
To Be Continued...
The reason why this chapter came out so fast was the fact that I have been working on this story for a very long time. Further updates will take time.