Within The Ridge

The Quiet Before

 

The Do’s Series: Segment 26

 

© Grandpa Jim

 

 

“Yes, Sir Richard.” GangleLegs PruneFace stands straight, tall and unflinching. “The Guppie Fleet has left DownTown. I was there when Queen Mary issued the directive. Her words were. . . .” PruneFace closes his eyes and recites from memory. “‘Our troop carriers are loaded and ready to slide. I am ordering their immediate launch with the rest of our fleet for an amphibious assault on the deepdocks of the East Ridge.” GangleLegs opens his eyes. “Those were her very words, Sir Richard Geoffrey Ingelger of Jobs, First Count of the Sweeping Lands.”

“Very impressive, my Guppie spy, and delivered without a fidget. Why is that, GangleLegs PruneFace? Why are you so uncharacteristically together?”

“War is upon us, M’Lord. These are serious times.”

“Indeed. . . .” Sir Richard pauses, his eyes evaluating his hired mole from head to toe. “These are serious times.” The Count lifts a hand and rubs his chin. “Your report is timely and of value, GangleLegs. Thank you.”

“You are welcome, M’Lord.”

“You will be suitably rewarded.”

“Sir Richard is generous.”

“I am to those who serve me well.”

GangleLegs bows deeply.

“Now . . .” the Count rearranges his body in the throne chair “. . .under these circumstances, and for your own protection, I think you should remain with us here, at the East Ridge.”

“Sir?”

“Until these minor conflicts are resolved, I don’t want to risk such a valuable aide as yourself. The underways between here and DownTown may become very busy, very soon. Too dangerous for a small zipship like yours.”

Sir Richard languidly lifts a hand toward the brown figure standing next to the open door. “Lord FawlFittle, please find suitable quarters for our friend and do ensure that he is safe and secure.”

The BentOne Commander salutes crisply and steps back to allow the Guppie spy to exit.

“And . . .” Sir Richard’s word stumbles the BrownOne in the middle pivot of an aboutface “. . . when you’re through, hurry back here. We have plans to discuss.”

FawlFittle bows, his eyes fixed on his master, and steps back, carefully pulling the door shut.

“At least that one is learning some manners.” Sir Richard stretches his head around the side of the high-backed chair and addresses the sidewall. “You may come out now.”

A short figure steps from behind a dark screen that looks much like the rock wall it covers.

“What do you think, Admiral LaFitte?” Sir Richard asks.

Pirate AdmiralCaptain Jean LaFitte SquatBean of the BumbleBee BuzzSwarm Squadron adjusts the large black hat on his overlarge head and shifts his broad shoulders in the new dress jacket. The fingers of one hand brush the shiny brass buttons of the coat and move to the bright medals on his chest. ‘He’s a fool,” the Admiral Captain states dismissively.

“He plays the fool.” Sir Richard gazes up at the rough ceiling and sighs. “But how much of a fool is he really, and does he share everything with us, his dear and loyal employer?” The Count fixes the pirate in a kindly stare. “These traitors are notoriously suspect, don’t you think?”

“I think this Guppie twoface is not needed,” SquatBean huffs. “Whether his information is correct or not matters little. We are ready. The DownTown fleet is expected, and the BuzzSwarm Squadron will intercept and annihilate these pampered DownTown dandies.”

“My, my, strong words from one of such humble demeanor and unadorned presentation.” Sir Richard straightens in his chair and speaks in a harsh command voice. “Expect Queen Mary’s fleet soon, Admiral SquatBean.” The Count softens his words, but not the threat in the cold dark eyes. “Can you do that?”

“Yes, of course, Sir. . . .” The Guppie pirate cowers back.

“Good. Now, tell me again how you are going to defeat these usurpers from DownTown?”

“Yes.” Jean LaFitte SquatBean puffs up in his jacket and moves closer. “The Guppie Fleet must pass through the Cavern of Doris and the Spokes of Smugglers Den. Here, Lord, is a map.” SquatBean spreads a large parchment drawing on the stone floor before the throne chair.

 

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Sir Richard leans forward and wrinkles his nose. “It is something of an adolescent drawing and certainly not to scale, but carry on.”

“What you see here, M’Lord, is a graphic presentation. . . .”

“More ‘child-like’ than ‘graphic’,” Sir Richard comments and adds, “And I assume the whole place is lit by mosslight?”

“Yes, M’Lord. The cavern is well lit.” The AdmiralCaptain pauses as he watches Sir Richard study the picture. “May I continue?”

The Count waves a hand.

“This is but a rough representation. It does show a very important location between DownTown and the East Ridge. All traffic between these two points must pass through this cavern. It is the only direct passage to the deepdocks of the East Ridge.” SquatBean points. “The boats of the DownTowner fleet must enter the Cavern of Doris here at the Great Door. Next, they must move to this side of BarterBend Island, the side with the spoke channels. The other side is too shallow. The main channel itself is not deep. So, their boats will be visible. Finally, the DownTowner deepboats must exit through the Small Door, here, the only narrow passage that allows access to your docks.”

“They must not reach that channel or my deepdocks.” A cold malevolence haunts Sir Richard’s voice. “You understand this?”

The Admiral’s body shakes as he waves a hand across the drawing on the cave floor. “This is our lair, Sir Richard. We know these waters.” SquatBean kneels and touches one and another of the spoked openings showing on the rim of the cavern. “My smaller ramsleds will launch from these side channels. The ramsleds will puncture the hulls of the DownTown troop carriers. Behind the ramsleds, my deepboats — each with a full complement of pirates — will follow from the spokes, add their momentum to that of the sleds, and together my sleds and boats will push the troop carriers and their escort against BarterBend Island, here, at the center. While my pirates engage the trapped DownTown fleet from the water, BlackFeather Marines — hidden in TownStore Cave, here — will emerge, cross this bridge and launch across the island in a surprise attack to crush Queen Mary’s forces from the land.”

“An ambitious plan, AdmiralCaptain.” Sir Richard stretches a foot and steps on the map. “What of this Small Door, again, the one down here?”

“My boats guard there. Only pirates may pass.”

Sir Richard stands to his full height, a tall dark presence overshadowing the shrinking pirate. “Go to your boats, Admiral,” the Count’s voice booms. “Attack is imminent. You must stop their fleet and force their vessels back. Go.”

SquatBean quickly rolls up the map and backs, bowing, out the door that FawlFittle has opened.

The BrownOne closes the door and approaches his master.

“A serious fool and a prancing pirate.” Sir Richard shakes his head. “Keep the fool under lock and key – I don’t trust that one. The pirate? Well, we shall hear how effective his playtime plans are when tested in the school of real life. For the sake of our overdressed Admiral, I do hope he can hold Queen Mary’s fleet at bay.” Sir Richard runs a thumb over the nails of one hand. “What is the world coming to, FawlFittle?” The Count of the Sweeping Lands raises the hand. “Do not answer that question.”

FawlFittle stands calm and unbent. When he licks his lips, his once broken and stained teeth show straight and white. The brown robe is clean and wrinkle free.

“I see you are not going to venture an opinion. And I see you’ve dropped all pretense of deception. Good, my now-again General-In-Chief of all the BentOne forces. Under your able and reliable command, the BrownOnes defend not only my keep but the lives of your Crown Mother and her Ladies-In-Attendance, your beloved matriarch and her counselors. Thank you. Thank you for your loyalty, Lord FawlFittle — enforced as it is.”

FawlFittle stands unmoving, his eyes unblinking.

“You begin to impress me.” Sir Richard slumps back into his chair. “Now, impress me more with your plans to meet and defeat our enemies.” The Dark Count laughs, the cold sound bouncing off the stonewalls. “I used our to make you feel better. They’re really my enemies. For you, they’d be more friends if you didn’t have to kill them . . . for me. So, tell me how are you going to do that?”

“There are really only three approaches to the East Ridge.” The Commanders voice is professional; his words clear, without emotion. “The underway to the deepdocks; the pirates and blackfeathers protect that.”

“They had better,” Sir Richard interjects.

“The West Gate over the West Desert; that gate is high up the west face of the East Ridge. Two roads climb from the sand flats below, up the steep slopes, to the gate. Rocks cover the hillside and provide rough cover. I will have troops on the flats, troops on the roads and troops before the gate. Archers will be with them. The gate itself is strong and will not be easily breached.”

“But it can be breached?”

“With enough force, it can.”

“You have reserves inside, if that were to happen.”

“I do and more reserves below to hold the vatholds secure. And I can move fighters from the East Desert, if needed.”

“If they are not needed there?” Sir Richard scratches above his right ear. “Tell me of the third approach?”

“Across the reclaimed lands of the East Desert; that way is flat and, from the east, there are many ways into the ridge. There is no one main gate.”

“A pity. Progress is pragmatic in demanding access, but not so easily defended as the natural way of things. Man-made gaps are always the worst and, it would seem, the more. . . .”

The BentOne General waits for the dark mind to stop its wandering.

A tremble shakes the Count’s body. He looks directly into FawlFittle’s eyes. “Your main force will be there, facing the East Desert? To meet my enemy?”

“Yes, M’Lord. We will be massed there in defense of the East Ridge. I have many squadrons aligned to stop and repel any attack. We have archers and we have additional support from above. . . .”

“Cannon?” Sir Richard interrupts with a soft smile.

“LongShot FireSticks with the latest enhancements of your new technologies.”

“It is a joy to delve in the Old Days and the Long Ago. They offer so much that really should be forgotten, but I just can’t.” Sir Richard raises a finger to his thin lips. “And, of course, you have reserves? More reserves? I do like it that there seem inexhaustible supplies of BrownOne bodies to expend in my efforts.”

FawlFittle stands tightly to attention. “We have reserves stationed behind all the entrances from the East Desert.”

“Well planned, Commander. Well planned.” Sir Richard bends to brush a speck off his knee. Not looking up, he asks, “But what of their surprises, Lord FawlFittle? The ones we know nothing about?” The Dark Count lifts and tilts his head. “What of those?”