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ScottyArtContestEntry by F.F

Cover art by ForrestFighter

Oh sing of the fate of Solomon's Ship

Haul hup, way up! Haul up, way hup!

The Lady Artemis on her final trip

Haul hup, way up! Haul up, way hup!

Through uncharted seas, when it came to pass

Haul hup, way up! Haul up, way hup!

On Josiah's territory she did tresspass

Haul hup, way up! Haul up, way hup!

Arrows of flame sang out through the sky

Haul hup, way up! Haul up, way hup!

Josiah's crew sang out their battle cry

Haul hup, way up! Haul up, way hup!

The ship was sinkin', sinkin' fast

Haul hup, way up! Haul up, way hup!

Solomon saw it would not last

Haul hup, way up! Haul up, way hup!

Josiah surrender did demand;

Haul hup, way up! Haul up, way hup!

"Git yore crew offa my ol' land!

Haul hup, way up! Haul up, way hup!

Solomon dueled bravely that day

Haul hup, way up! Haul up, way hup!

But Josiah him did slay

Haul hup, way up! Haul up, way hup!

The sad tale now I tell is true

Haul hup, way up! Haul up, way hup!

Keep off seas unknown to you!

Haul hup, way up! Haul up, way hup!

Lilybud the ottermaid, laboring heavily at an oar, glared at her benchmate. "Wot'd ye stop singin' for, mate? Keep goin'!"

Vaccar the weasel, puffing and blowing furiously, shook sweat from his nose, despair shining in his eyes. "But I've sung the blamed thing three times now!"

Donnabel and Fuzztail were across the aisle on the other bench; the wildcat called across to Lilybud. "Give him a rest, he's earned it; I think we've got the paddle rhythm now. Good job with that shanty, friend!"

Vaccar was unused to compliments; he blushed to the eartips. ", thankee kindly, mate."

The fugitives, having been freshly fed, had found a new strength; they had paddled the Bowbolt wildly, sending her flying across the waves. A stiff breeze had blown up, propelling them faster and faster southward; it had been a full night and morning since the pursuit had begun, but, under full sail, they had covered an amazing distance, rapidly nearing the place where a river formed an inlet running across the beach. Yet, for all their work, the two ships under Enzi Grexx's command were still behind them, closing the gap with ruthless efficiency; the few beasts not rowing scurried about the top deck, working hard at the tiller and crow's nest, keeping an eye on the approaching Stormdog and Wormrigg. Very soon, they would be within arrow range; that was why Vaccar had been ordered to sing a paddle shanty, to try to regulate the efforts of the beasts at oars to make better time; however, it was proving to be of no avail.

Flipp ran down from the top deck to make a report; he waved his paws urgently at the crew. "Save yore breath for paddlin' mates; they're gaining on us, an' fast!"

Vaccar jumped so violently he nearly released his oar. "Ain't no way; no ship c'n outrun ol' Bowbolt, specially not one o' them ol' tubs weighted down with Ranks beasts! You lot must be handlin' 'er wrong."

Flipp shot him a look that would have wilted a tree. "And you know this how?"

Vaccar shrugged. "Didn' I tell ye I was 'er bosun? Ain't nobeast alive knows this ship better than I do!"

There was a pause as the words sank in; Flipp ran to Vaccar's side. "Do you mean to tell me you could make her outrun those beasts trying to kill us?"

Vaccar snorted. "'Course I could!"

"And you'd be willing to take the risk of being shot down to steer the ship?"

The weasel shrugged. "Better than dyin' fer sure when them Ranks beasts get to us!"

Flipp grabbed him by the tunic collar. "Then get up on top deck! Go, I'll take your place. Tell Roan I sent you!"

The weasel was shocked; he had always been the ignored, bullied one, and his advice had never before been actually heeded. Flipp pulled the dumbfounded weasel upright and gave him an almighty shove in the back. "Go, varmint, yore in charge now! We're all behind you, right mates?"

The wearied beasts at the oars raised a feeble cheer as Vaccar, filled with a sense of duty he had never before felt, charged up the stairs.

Roan dug his claws into the rigging, spreadeagled head-down like a spider in its web, glaring hatred at the approaching vermin galleys. Below him on the deck, two otters fought the frothing seaspray and the tiller; which, owing to the gusty winds blowing the waves into a froth, was not cooperating with them. The sails, one of them with a fast widening hole in it, were stretched taught in the gust; Dula the mouse called down from his post in the crow's nest. "Roan, we're going as fast as we can but they're still gaining! What do we do?"

The wildcat was about to reply when Vaccar made his way onto the deck; immediately, he jumped into space, dropping from the rigging to land squarely in front of the weasel, paws akimbo. "And where do you think you're going?"

Vaccar pushed by him. "Yore friend the shrew sent me; I'm to take over here." Before anybeast could react, he began bellowing out orders. "Get offa that tiller, lemme have it; ye'll swamp us the way yore goin'. You, wotsyorename, Roan, is it? Git up that riggin' agin an' furl that holed sail; she's only slowin' us down. An' fer goodness' sake, somebeast quit lookin' back at them Ranks ships an' tell me where River Moss is! Go on, move!"

The otherbeasts hesitated, looking at Roan, their unofficial leader; Vaccar fairly did a dance of rage. "What is this, a starin' contest? I don't wanna die t'day, d' you? Cummon, move; MOVE!"

There was a screech; a squirrel who had been alongside Dula in the crows nest fell to the deck, an arrow in his chest. Roan ducked as two more arrows whizzed by and buried themselves in Bowbolt's timbers; he made up his mind in an instant. "You heard him, come on! Dula, get down from there before you get shot! I'll furl the sail. Any other orders, Vac?"

The weasel pushed the two dumbfounded otters out of the way and grabbed the tiller, muttering to himself. "Shouldn't have even let them get this close. Ahoy, Roan, have somebeast sling somethin' at them Ranks beasts while I get us good and started."

As the upper deck became a buzzing hive of activity, the weasel patted the ship's wheel lovingly. "Come on, old lady, let's show 'em what y'can do."

Balancing expertly on the long, needle-like prow of the former otter fishing trawler Stormdog, blue cloak flapping and saber drawn, Gatlak son of Dankfur made quite an impressive sight. The young marten waved across to the Wormrigg, which was sailing parallel to them. "Hahaharrr, buckoes, we'll be in arrer range inna minnit. Permission t'fire, Cap'n?"

The Black Shade, having never before been on board ship, was feeling extremely seasick and trying his best not to show it; however, seeing Gatlak swaying perilously on the Stormdog's prow was too much for him. Keeping a death grip on the side rail of the Wormrigg, the wolf bellowed back to his Strong Right Paw. "Get off of there before you fall in; you can fire whenever you're in range!"

Gatlak was about to argue when he saw that Enzi Grexx had a subordinate pointing an arrow at him; reluctantly, he clambered back down to the deck, grumbling the whole way.

Taking a deep breath to steady his heaving stomach, the Black Shade addressed Zalbu, who was hovering nearby. "Get down below and tell them to row faster. And get my wine flask!"

The younger marten brother saluted and scurried off; Enzi Grexx, feeling the ship buck and pitch as it contacted the Bowbolt's wake, gripped the side rails tighter. Mentally, he cursed himself for a fool; in his haste to set an example of a mutinous crew, who turned out to not be mutinous after all, he had allowed the keystone of his marvelous plan to escape through his fingers. How on earth was he going to overthrow the southern lands now, when the slaves he needed as hostages would probably be slain trying to battle for their freedom? Trying to set his ill mind at ease, the wolf wracked his brains for a solution to the problem, wincing as the crew of the Stormdog pulled ahead and began firing arrows at the Bowbolt and one of the fugitives fell transfixed.

The vixen Twotail, so named because of an unsightly bald scarred patch down the left side of that appendage, had been posted as lookout; being a former member of Bowbolt's crew, she immediately recognized the creature coming out on the sleek black ship's top deck. Climbing down from the crow's nest, she made her way to the wolf's side, fidgeting with her paws anxiously. Grexx pointed his spear at her, snarling. "Don't stand there dithering, what is it?"

Backing out of thrust range, Twotail gulped nervously. "'ve put Vaccar on as steersbeast, Cap'n."

Grexx was suprised. "I thought they'd have killed that scum by now. But why is this a problem worthy of deserting your post?"

The vixen gulped again. "Well, y'see, Vaccar's 'er old bosun, Cap'n; 'e knows just how to make 'er go as fast as she c'n go."

In his seasick state, the Black Shade did not comprehend the meaning of this statement right away. It was just beginning to dawn on him when a rat up in the rigging squeaked in dismay; a hard turnip had hit him in the eye. Several other missiles - unripe foodstuffs, pieces of broken barrel, even necklaces other jewelry - were slung with amazing accuracy from the Bowbolt, finding targets among the Ranks beasts. Gatlak, who had ascended into the rigging of the Stormdog, roared into the gusting wind. "She's pullin' out, she's gainin' speed!"

In the urgency of the situation, the Black Shade forgot his illness; he charged to the foward rail of his ship and glared into the seaspray. Sure enough, Bowbolt had turned slightly westward to catch the wind full on; under the skillful piloting of Vaccar and the studious rowing of the escapees, she had maximized her resorces and was now living up to her name, skimming across the sea with a speed no over-packed Ranks ship could match. The Black Shade screamed in rage, flinging his spear and taking out a ferret at random; withdrawing it from the body, he laid about his crew with the haft. "Dolts! Idiots! Halfwits! You're letting a bunch of ragbags make fools of you! Anybeast not in the rigging, downstairs and row! Row as if your life depends on it....believe me, it does!"

His onslaught was halted by a sea-soaked sling, with a hard bone necklace in it, striking his muzzle; one of the fugitives had not been able to hold on to his weapon. Seizing the respite, and scrambling to get away from the enraged Enzi Grexx, the panicked masses ran down to the oar deck and began paddling so crazily they got their oars tangled. Under orders from the wolf, Zalbu flogged the group of rowers mercilessly with a wet knotted rope with one paw, while beating a small hollow firkin with the other to set a rowing pace. "Cummon, slackers, git organized! Hup, two, hup, two, hup, two...."

Gatlak saw Wormrigg pulling ahead and issued orders to cease fire and row to his crew; soon, Stormdog was also flying through the waters, hot in pursuit of Bowbolt.

The great chase was on!

Seaspray and wavecaps drenched Bowbolt's heaving deck; under Vaccar's orders, the slinging had stopped, and any creature not able to keep their balance on the slippery boards had either gone down to row or ascended the rigging to keep a lookout for the River Moss.

Flipp the shrew had been replaced at his rowing station by anotherbeast; he joined Vaccar at the tiller, shouting to be heard over the whistling wind in the rigging and the enless hiss of the waves. "What are you doing, are you crazy? We're sailing away from the coast, west!"

Vaccar the Weasel

Vaccar gets drenched in seaspray while piloting Bowbolt

Vaccar spat a mouthful of salt water out, shrugging again. "You lot let Bowbolt get too close to those Ranks ships; I'm travelin' direct with the wind until we get a fair distance between us! When we see River Moss, I'll sail upriver; they'll catch up to us when we go against the wind inland an' I don't wanna let 'em get too close again. Once we're in River Moss, them big tubs won't be able t'follow."

The shrew stared, horrified . "Wot, y'mean sail through that inlet? The ship can't make it up that, we'll run aground!"

Vaccar shook his head. "Maybe, maybe not. The ol' lady's got a flat keel f'coast raiding, we might just make it. Unless ye've got a better idea?"

The shrew sighed and shook his head. "Can't think of one. Carry on, varmint."

Vaccar grinned;. "I intend t'do that, mate. An' ye kin get up on the bowsprit, keep yore eye out for the inlet."

It was then that Flipp did something that suprised both himself and the weasel; he saluted and said, "Aye aye, Cap'n!", before running across the deck to the bowsprit.

Vaccar's narrow chest swelled with pride; for the first time in his life, he was the captain. For the first time, he was the one in charge of a crew. And, for the first time, he had an entire shipful of beasts at his command, trusting his judgement as to what to do, and, above all, treating him with common decency and respect. He resolved then and there that he would not let them down, no matter what happened next.

From his perch in the crows nest, where he had refused to leave, Dula the young mouse had to shriek to make himself heard. "Roan, Roan! The inlet's just ahead, but theres a group of snakes coming straight down the coast towards it!"

Nobeast had expected this turn of events; Roan relayed the message down to Vaccar, who shouted back up. "Where away, mate?"

Flipp had spotted it now; he shuddered. "About half a league due southwest; if we hurry we might just make it before they do!"

Vaccar gritted his teeth. "Right, then, let's go! I'll take 'er in, you lot furl the sails!"

As the beasts up in the rigging hurridly carried out his orders, the weasel yanked on the wheel with all his might; Bowbolt turned so sharply she nearly heeled over, making straight for the inlet.

From aboard the Wormrigg, now a large blot in the distance behind the Bowbolt, Twotail the lookout could not see the inlet; she shouted down to the Black Shade. "The serpents have caught up with us, Cap'n'; Bowbolt is makin' for land, but them slaves won't be able to outrun yore adders!"

The wolf allowed himself a sigh of relief; he addressed Zalbu, who had left the drumming and whipping to a rat and had returned to the top deck. "Thank the seasons for that. They know their orders, they'll not kill them all. We'll swoop in and take them captive as soon as my serpents catch them. As for that traitor Vaccar, leave him to me. I've a sharp lesson to teach that one about siding with the enemy!"

The serpents had traveled day and night as fast as they could go down the coastline, and were beginning to feel exhausted; at the sight of the approaching Bowbolt, they put on a burst of speed. Sisserah, a massive female adder acting as deputy for the reptiles in Jettcoil and Whiptail's absence, hissed a warning to her comerades.

"No killing, jussssssst capture. The Masssster will give usssssss fressssssh meat when he arrivessssssss!"

"To hear isssssss to obey!" The mass of snakes hissed back in reply, quickening to the attack.

Flipp was trembling in terror at the sight of the hundreds of serpents; forcing himself to stay alert, the shrew called back to Vaccar, who was fighting the strong wind and currents with every ounce of strength in his body. "Look, they're almost there; if we run aground, we're done for!"

Vaccar could see the serpents now; he felt his old panicky nature began to surface. He screamed at Roan, who had just descended the rigging. "Tie me paws to the wheel stand, now!"

The wildcat stared at him as if he had lost his mind. "What on earth..."

"DO IT!" Vaccar bellowed into his face. "I'm scared stiff; I might turn coward an' run from the snakes if'n ye don't!"

The wildcat put a paw on Vaccar's shoulder. "We're in this together, mate; I wouldn't do that to you and leave you helpless if we're overrun!"

Vaccar shook his head; becoming increasingly panicked as they neared the inlet, he admitted his greatest secret to the wildcat. "You don't understand, I'm a skulkin' coward! I've never even fought in any battles; I ain't even killed a beast afore! Oh mercy, tie me quick before I change my mind!"

Realizing there was nothing else for it, Roan obeyed, using his sling to tie the weasel's footpaws to the wheel stand. "All right, suit yourself."

Sweat, tears, and seaspray mingled on Vaccar's face as they entered the mouth of the river. "Thankee, tho' I might regret this. Cummon, ol' lady, let's gooooooo!"

For one short instant, Bowbolt came to a stop as she made contact with a sandbar; then, with the concerted efforts of the beasts poling the mass of oars, the ship broke free and sailed against the current upstream, crushing several of the faster serpents in the shallows. The rest of the snakes pulled up at the banks of the inlet, and began scrambling for purchase on the steep dunes heading inland, trying not to lose their quarry.

Enzi Grexx, still leaning over Wormrigg's foward rail, stared in disbelief. "They're sailing across the beach! How are they doing that?"

Twotail knew. "There must be an inlet, Cap'n! Look, the snakes've stopped, they're havin' trubble climbin' them soft dunes!"

Ripping a chunk of wood from the rail with his bare paws, the wolf turned on his crew, roaring, "Well, don't just stand there, put in to shore! They can't sail upriver for long; we'll outrun them on foot. Zalbu, tell your brother to do the same!"

With much creaking and groaning of timbers, the two Ranks ships sailed for land, though with no great speed, as their weight and the wind made going against the current a difficult task.

Two or three of the smaller adders had gained the dunetops, hot in pursuit of Bowbolt; several beasts hurled missiles at them from the stern. The ship was having considerable difficulty going against the rain-swollen river; Dula, up in the crows nest, made a further bleak announcement. "Roan, Vaccar, there's a waterfall ahead, and the water gets shallower!"

For the first time since taking over the ship, Vaccar really did go into a panic. "What do we do? I can't take 'er up a waterfall!"

Flipp saw the waterfall from his perch, too; recognizing it, he grinned and descended the bowsprit, running up to the bridge with Vaccar and Roan. "Do you think you could sail a rapids, Vaccar? In the dark?"

The weasel was trembling from head to foot. "As long as we're getting away from them snakes, I don't care!"

Flipp pointed at the approaching waterfall. "All right, then, listen good because we've only got time for me to tell you once. You'd never see it no matter how hard you looked but there's a huge hole behind that waterfall; the pool's so shallow at the base because half the water goes down the hole backwards into another river. If we hit the falls dead center, we'll just be able to squeeze through; the ship's going to be badly damaged but if you can keep her steady we'll fall straight through the middle into the underground rapids and shoot them to the Whisperers' caves. Can you sail straight through the middle of the falls?"

Vaccar nodded eargerly, now that he was on familiar ground again. "If you lot don't stop rowing, we'll go right through; I give ye me affidavit on it!"

Roan had caught on. "And the Black Shade won't have a clue where we dissapeared to! Brilliant! But what's a Whisperer?"

The shrew was heading down to the oar banks to warn the creatures there of the impending crash; he shouted over his shoulder. "I'll tell ye later, just make sure nobeast is up in the rigging when we hit!"

The message traveled like wildfire about the ship; as the waterfall neared, the beasts in the masts and rigging scuttled to the deck as fast as they could. All the babes and little ones, who had been locked in the galley to keep them out of the way, had been brought out and huddled in a small group in the center Aisle of the oar decks, where Flipp and their parents deemed it safest for them to be. Vaccar, nearly hysterical with the stress of the moment, laughed insanely as they began sailing through the falls. "Haharrrrhahaharrr, Black Shade, let's see ye get me now!"

The front deck dipped perilously and the stern lifted clear of the river as the waterfall began dumping its load on the decks; a terrible rending sound heralded the masts snapping like matchwood on the rock; splinters of wood flew as the oars and sides of the ship were dragged through the narrow opening; the beasts on top deck were knocked flat by the countless gallons of water; then, the broken hulk of a ship plunged downward nearly vertically, crashing with a sickening noise of rending wood in a fast flowing underground river and shooting off down the wide stream.

Struggling wildly with the wheel, Vaccar strove madly to keep the disintegrating Bowbolt on course; a near impossible task in the pitch dark. Creatures screamed and yelled in terror; babes cried , the noise of cracking wood grew louder....


With a resounding splash, the ordeal ended; the river flowed into a massive underground pond, lit by a hole hundreds of feet up in the cave ceiling. The wreck of the Bowbolt came to rest in the shallows, heeling over crazily; ignoring wounds, the fugitives charged onto the deck, dancing and laughing in delight when they saw they were safe. Vaccar, gasping wearily for air, was freed of his bonds and carried in triumph on the shoulders of otherbeasts to shore, his already ringing ears filled with the sounds of applause.

From across the expanse of lake, several pairs of dark eyes had witnessed the whole thing; one of the watchers hissed to his comerade. "Come, come. We must tell the emperor of this news, this news!"

They retreated into the tunnel behind them, disappearing into the darkness.

<---Last Chapter --- Next Chapter --->


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