• Published 1st Mar 2019
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Haycartes' Pluperfect Method - Kris Overstreet

Twilight Sparkle has trapped herself in a shelf full of books. Will she survive- or will she lose herself to the story?

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BRAY TO QUARTERS Chapter 11: Meeting Cumpleanos

As much as Twilight wished she could just dither and worry, she couldn’t spare the time. Ponies were depending on her. (Fictional ponies, yes, but here and now, in the grip of the spell, they felt real to her. And if she failed them, she’d feel just as bad about it.) And with the sighting of the enemy, all the contingencies, all the possibilities she’d worried about the prior few days boiled down into a nice, simple mental checklist. She could practically see the words in front of her, with a nice blank waiting for a check-mark:

1. Ascertain the position and heading of the enemy.
2. Begin maneuvering for position, ideally to gain the weather gauge (i. e. get closer to the source of the wind than the enemy, thus attaining control over whether or not to continue the action).
3. Prepare ship for combat. (Cooking fires out, decks sanded, guns readied for combat, shot and powder brought up to the deck, sharpshooters to the rigging, pegasi aloft.)
4. Continue maneuvering for position until within range (maximum effective range approx. 300 yards, less in rough seas).
5. Put more iron into the enemy ship than she can put into yours, ideally by crossing the enemy bow or stern and avoiding the enemy broadside. (The broadside is where almost all the guns are, and the enemy will do everything in her power to keep it pointed at you.)
6. The first ship to sink, burn up, catch fire, and/or strike colors (lower their flag) loses. (Don’t be that ship.)

So. First: where’s the Cumpleanos, and where’s she going? “What heading, Mr. Knave?” Twilight shouted up.

“She’s wearing round, ma’am! Coming up before the wind on the port tack! Bearing down right on us, ma’am!”

I never saw a Maredrid lone ship offer battle before, Hornsparker muttered in Twilight’s mind. She could feel that personality pushing forward, eager to take command in more senses than one. We need to get behind her- sail as close to the wind as possible. Lydia’s a newer ship and can tack closer than that old tub. I could sail rings around her, if not for those guns.

“Man the braces! Helmspony, port your helm and keep her as close to the wind as she’ll sail!” Twilight looked to her left, and there stood Thornbush, watching and waiting for the obvious order. Step 1, check. Step 2, check. Time for Step 3. “Mr. Thornbush, beat to quarters and clear for action, please.”

Drums rolled, whistles and pipes bleated, and the sound of hundreds of pony hooves on the wooden decks quickly drowned out drums, whistles, pipes, and even the wind and ocean spray. As the crew began clearing things away, Twilight looked to her right, where Iron Press stood, watching her with anxiety. Oh, right, she thought. The captain’s cabin is also a starboard gun emplacement. He can’t stay there…

“Is there anything I can do to be of assistance, captain?” Iron Press asked.

“I’m afraid not,” Twilight said politely. “I must ask you to get below. In fact… Mr. Clay!!”

The midshipman trotted up to Twilight’s side, saluting. “Yes, ma’am?”

“Conduct Lord Iron Press and his servant to the cable tier.” That compartment was as low and as far from the sides of the ship as Twilight could think of at the moment- except the cockpit, and that was reserved for the wounded.

Which we’ll have plenty of, Hornsparker said gloomily. And nothing but an untrained steward with maybe two months’ reading out of a book to prepare him.

Of all the things Twilight really, honestly did not want to think about at that moment, dozens of bleeding, screaming ponies with no doctor to treat them stood right at the top of the list. Focus on the battle, she thought savagely. But she didn’t shove the spell-created personality back; like it or not, she needed the phantom memories and experience.

Just not all of them, not this moment.

Overhead the Lydia’s sails bulged and popped in the gale, spars turned almost parallel with the keel. Even turned halfway into the wind as she was, she could derive forward momentum from the glancing force of the wind… at the cost, of course, of heeling over hard to starboard. As Twilight observed the interaction of wind and sail, a stronger gust shifted around to take Lydia head-on, pushing the sails back onto the masts and killing her forward momentum. The helmspony, observing this, put the helm to starboard again until the sails caught again.

Perhaps I should tack? Twilight thought. On the port tack I could swing around behind her-

No, Hornsparker insisted. That would yield the weather gauge to the enemy. At best it would be a long stern chase after that. No, we have to close in on her as close and fast as possible to take the wind away from her.

Twilight looked over the rails, at the mountain of sail and the comparatively small bit of wood beneath them, laboring even harder than Lydia did against the wind and heavy seas. Lydia was slowed by sailing so close to the wind’s eye, and Cumpleanos sped by sailing almost directly before the wind, which meant… meant… what?

It means we’ll pass quite close to one another. Best make the most of it.

Twilight looked down on the main deck. Of Lydia’s thirty-four guns, thirty-two were arranged in two sixteen-cannon broadsides on a single line. “Mr. Gerard! Ms. Freerein! Check that your matches are alight!” In this fictional history friction-primers hadn’t been invented yet, and in the spray flying everywhere flintlock triggers might not work- in which case the cannon would have to be touched off using slow-match fuses. And as horrible as the thought was of shooting real, actual, non-party cannons at other ponies might be, allowing someone else to shoot them at her defenseless crew was worse.

“She’s opened fire, ma’am!” Thornbush pointed off to the Cumpleanos, now half-occluded by a cloud of smoke. But smoke was all it was; no cannonballs followed. Where they’d fallen, in all the surf and splash, Twilight couldn’t guess.

“That’s not enough smoke,” Thornbush continued. “I don’t think- by Celestia! It’s the waves, ma’am! The seas are too high! She can’t open her lower gun ports!”

Twilight squinted her eyes, then magicked her spyglass to her and looked over to the rapidly approaching Cumpleanos. Sure enough, the larger ship was wallowing deeper in the rough seas than Lydia, to the point that the lower of her two gun decks were in the water as often as out- more so, really, since the winds were tilting the ship so that the guns facing Lydia rolled down towards the water.

She ran through the Cumpleanos’s armament in her mind: two bow chasers and two stern chasers, leaving forty-six broadside guns, lower tier eleven guns a side, upper tier twelve guns a side, all heavier shot than any cannon on Lydia… but instead of a twenty-three gun broadside, they’d be meeting only a twelve-gun broadside with Lydia’s sixteen guns.

And they foolishly wasted their first broadside at impossible range, Hornsparker added. They’ll never have as good a shot again. The shock value of the first combined broadside is inestimable. And my crew is the better trained, I’m certain of it. If the seas remain high, we have the advantage!

The momentarily bloodthirsty note in the phantom voice made Twilight shudder. It might not be her thought, but it was still in her head.

No trembling! Hornsparker’s voice rang through her mind louder than her own. I cannot show weakness before the crew! Nothing breaks morale faster than a captain the crew sees as a coward! I will not be a coward before my crew, no matter how timid I am!

The phantom didn’t sound timid, but Twilight took the point. She had to look confident so the others would be confident, too.

More smoke billowed from Cumpleanos’s starboard bow. This time Twilight heard the whistling sound of the enemy shot as it passed overhead between the masts. Then another puff of smoke from near the enemy ship’s stern, and then a crash from the Lydia’s waist and shouts from the main deck.

Thornbush looked over the gangway. “Two ponies down at number four starboard gun,” he said matter-of-factly. He then looked up at the oncoming enemy ship, which loomed ahead of them on what appeared a collision course. “Great Celestia, it’s going to be close!”

I don’t want to do this, Twilight thought.

I don’t want to do this.

But if I don’t…

“Miss Freerein,” she shouted, “stand by to fire as your guns bear!” Turning to the helmspony, she shouted, “Helm a-weather! Now! Hold her there! Steady on!”

Lydia turned away from her collision path, swinging her starboard broadside into position just in time to catch Cumpleanos at almost point-blank range. Sixteen guns rang out almost as one, shaking the frigate from bow to stern. Horrible crashing sounds echoed back from the enemy ship, followed by the screams and wails of wounded ponies. Belatedly, almost as an afterthought, a single cannon from Cumpleanos fired back, but no crash of impact followed.

And then Lydia was past the enemy ship, which sailed on ahead of the wind, presenting her fat, unprotected stern to the Equestrian ship.

“Stand by to go about!” Twilight shouted. For this she didn’t need prompting from Hornsparker. All thoughts of fair play or reluctance to hurt others had been set aside. Her crew- her friends, in this storybook world- needed her to defend them. And when the enemy presented an open target, you hit it as hard as you could.

Lydia turned through the eye of the wind and onto the new tack in only a couple of minutes, picking up way in the gale with the skilled work of Thornbush directing a hundred ponies at the lines and sails. With the ship having executed three-quarters of a full circle before the enemy could respond, the port battery bore on Cumpleanos’s naked rear, and with a shout from Gerard the Griffon, sixteen more guns hurled iron into wood, sending smoke and splinters flying.

Unfortunately this maneuver ment yielding up the moment of advantage, and Lydia swept back alongside Cumpleanos’s starboard broadside.

“Swab ‘em out!” Gerard shouted, wings flapping. “One more broadside, lads! Charge! Shot home! Prime! Clear! Cock your locks! Take aim! FIRE!”

A minute and a half after its first broadside, the port battery’s second shot occurred simultaneously with a responding broadside from Cumpleanos. Wood shattered, and the sound of ropes striking the deck rattled across Twilight’s ears. Faint wooshing sounds echoed overhead: sharpshooters with crossbows were firing at each other, while each ship’s complement of pegasi sortied against each other, seeking air advantage. One of Lydia’s flyers crashed to the deck, wing badly wounded and with an arrow poking from one shoulder.

“Fire as ye will, boys!” Gerard crowed. “Give it to ‘em!”

Lydia gave, and Lydia received. Cumpleanos’s shots lagged behind Lydia’s more skilled gun crews, but when they came they came all at once with a roar and crash that drowned out all the other noises around Twilight. Between shots she could hear Shadetree, Xipe Totec’s mad admiral, shouting her own orders on the other ship, apparently lining up each gun herself.

And, apparently, to good effect, since at one point Cumpleanos’s lower gun ports opened to let the full broadside slam into Lydia. Unsettling creaks came from below decks, as above deck the dead began to pile up by the masts while the living wounded were hurried below to await the bonesaw in the jaws of a wholly untrained surgeon.

Stop it, Twilight thought. Stop it! Why won’t they stop it?

Lydia can’t win a slugging match against that broadside, Hornsparker replied. I’m not using our advantages. Time to outsail her.

That seemed a little silly to Twilight. Both ships were before the wind with all the sail safe to carry in the gale. If Lydia could pull away, it would be only by inches…

Wait a moment. That’s the thing. Instead of faster, go slower!

“Hands to the braces!” she shouted. “Luff the top mainsail! Top mainsail only!”

With the careful tug of a few ropes, the top mainsail could be induced to no longer hold the wind, slowing Lydia but not stopping her dead- in fact, slowing her just long enough for Cumpleanos to shoot past, once more presenting that vulnerable stern.


More ponies hauled more ropes. Masts swung, sails relinquished and recaptured the wind, and Lydia’s starboard broadside, unengaged since the first salvo, hammered the already battered timbers.

“By Celestia! Glorious! Glorious!” Thornbush was prancing on the quarterdeck.

“Come about!” Twilight shouted. “Mr. Gerard, fire your guns as they bear!”

Again Lydia executed a swift full circle, while Cumpleanos, waggled indecisively back and forth, trying and failing to maneuver to counter the nimbler frigate’s movement. It took only a minor adjustment from Twilight to counter the clumsy turn, and then one by one the port battery slammed its shots home into what was left of the stern.

“Come about and we’ll have her again!” Twilight ordered. As Lydia came before the wind again, Cumpleanos was turning to parallel- no, to cross Lydia’s bow. That suited Twilight fine; if Shadetree wanted more shot poured into her rump, well, that was now perfectly all right with Twilight. All they had to do was endure one more broadside-

As the two ships closed, Hornsparker muttered, We’re not on her lee side anymore. On this side her lower gun ports are clear…

Too late. Lydia’s starboard guns and Cumpleanos’s port guns fired almost simultaneously, bringing the loudest creaking and crashing yet, followed by shouts of fear from the Lydia’s crew.

A shadow fell across Twilight’s head.

The rigging of the mizzenmast followed, burying her in rope.

The rear of Lydia’s three masts snapped in two, hauling dozens of lines, with their sails and spars and attached masts, into total disarray.

Lydia lurched before the wind under what remained of her sail, the helmsponies no longer able to hold her on course.

And behind them, on came Cumpleanos. Shot holes littered her sides, and blood poured from her scuppers, but her flag still rode at her mainmast and her sails drew on the wind. And her gun ports were open, as she tacked behind Lydia to come across the helpless ship's stern, preparing to finish the job...

...and over the screams of the wounded and the snapping of ropes, Twilight could hear Shadetree's mad laughter riding the wind from the other ship.

Author's Note:

In rewriting this, I tried to explain the battle a little more for those not already tuned in to sailing ship jargon. The book The Hornblower Companion helps, as it contains maps and charts showing the actual course of the two ships in the battle from the original book.

The gap in updates was due to a minor case of the crud, which I first felt symptoms of driving home from Biloxi last Sunday night. I spent Monday doing the things I absolutely had to get done before the sore throat spread to the rest of the body, and then spent Tuesday and Wednesday in a state of semi-consciousness. This left only Thursday for preparation for this week's convention, and I could only manage half this chapter that day. I finished the rest while waiting to load into the dealer room at GamExpo.

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