• 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 13: Mending

An hour before, with the battle still in progress, the sun had shone despite the howling wind and heavy seas. Now the storm the wind had heralded had struck, pouring hot tropical rain on the deck of the Lydia, where it rolled up and down the wild waves, hove-to under the minimum sail required to prevent her from being swamped. So far as any pony on the ship could determine, the universe consisted of a sphere two hundred yards in diameter- two hundred yards of varying quantities of wetness, at the center of which a badly damaged frigate struggled to survive.

Twilight was soaked through and through, uniform tunic, linen shirt, fur and all, with rain and sweat and tears. She barely noticed. Part of her blessed the unending chain of officers and warrant-bearers who kept coming to ask for new orders or help. She wasn’t being allowed a chance to collapse in a pile of tears or to wind herself up into a knot of anxiety. One job after another, that was the ticket. Do one job, and another one waited that needed doing at once. No time to think; no time to reflect; no time to be heartbroken, horrified, or lost.

Her job of the moment lay in coaching the purser’s steward, Lowly, now the acting ship’s surgeon. The first part of Lowly’s report had been horrible enough: eleven dead and fifty-five wounded, with three ponies expected to die any minute and half the wounded doomed to a slow death over the next several days, with crushed or missing limbs, abdominal wounds, or head trauma. Almost seventy gone out of a crew of almost four hundred…

For an utterly revolting moment Twilight saw the logic in the inflated crew counts of the pirate romance genre. You could technically work a sailing ship with as few as a dozen ponies. But every gun needed a minimum of six ponies… and then you needed sharpshooters, unicorns and pegasi marines to defend the ship… and then you needed more ponies to provide the hooves for repairs… and then you needed more ponies to replace all of those ponies when, not if, they got wounded, all crammed in that tiny, fragile, vulnerable hull.

But then came the second part of Lowly’s report, which took Twilight past horrified and disgusted, beyond even appalled, which likely would have caused her to blank out if not for the urgent press of everything.

There were over fifty wounded but still living ponies… and Lowly had done not a single thing for them. Nothing at all.

Because Lowly didn’t know a single thing to do for them.

“You’ve had two MONTHS!” Twilight snapped. “Didn’t you learn ANYTHING in two months?”

Lowly’s ears drooped low enough that he could almost have tied them under his chin- and Twilight was outraged enough to want to try it. But…

“Look,” she said, taking a deep breath and forcing herself to be more gentle, “those with missing limbs probably aren’t going to make it. Ease their pain. Do you know what poppy-juice is?” Back home poppy-juice was a highly controlled substance. In small doses, it took away pain; in large doses, it took away everything. But here and now, it was practically the only medicine available. “Twenty drops and no more per pony, okay? A tot of rum for everypony else- not grog, straight rum, mind you. Put splints on the broken bones, but not the crushed ones- those have to be amputated, when the sea calms down enough for that.” And I’ll have to do that myself, since I’m sure this book takes place before germ theory and modern healing alchemy.

“As for the wounds, did you at least stitch those up?” When Lowly shook his head and pointed to his hornless head, Twilight sighed. “Right. I’ll have to do that if I can.” Earth-pony surgeons existed, but making sutures by lip took much practice and delicacy- both of which Lowly lacked. “Well, bandage them up as well as you can for now. Use the clean bandages. If you run out, see the cook and get the fires re-lit. Then boil rags, cool and dry ‘em off, and use those. Understand?”

“Aye, ma’am.”

“And above all else, try to cheer them up,” Twilight concluded. “Talk about their pensions when we get home. Talk about friends and family when they come home heroes. And promise more rum at eight bells if they stay quiet. You’ll be amazed what a sailing pony will do for rum.” Unfortunately.

That sent Lowly off, a little less woebegone than before. But next came Wildrider and twenty ponies chasing down a cannon, its breechings having broken after one of Cumpleanos’s shots had struck the aft gun deck. With every wave the truck rumbled up and down the deck, sliding and scraping and rolling one way and then another almost at random. One moment the ponies were chasing it, with hammocks, mats and rope; the next moment they were scattering to get out of the way of almost two tons of mindless destruction on the loose.

Whatever Wildrider’s other talents (as an officer or as a constant plaything of the ship’s female crew), he hadn’t yet learned to organize. In under a minute Twilight barked out a series of orders which ended with the cannon pinned to the mainmast and fresh ropes being run through the gun truck’s tackles. Moving it back to position and replacing the breechings required only brute labor, and Wildrider could handle the rest of that…

… which was well, because Dowel, the ship’s carpenter, had come up with the updated damage report. “’Most five feet deep in th’ well, ma’am,” he said, “an’ making fast. Can I have some more ponies to the pumps, ma’am?”

“Not until that gun is secured,” Twilight sighed. Water five feet and rising in the bilge meant several serious leaks below the waterline. “How many holes, and where?”

“Seven, ma’am, and all up near th’ bow, somehow.”

“The bow? Nothing near the stern?”

“No, ma’am. I’m as surprised as you are, ma’am, but the hull’s sound back there below decks.” Dowel frowned and added, “Above the waterline, though, yer could fly a kite through it, beggin’ your pardon, ma’am.”

Twilight nodded. She’d had a look for herself. The cabin had been essentially destroyed. “Any chance to plug the holes?”

“Not in this sea, ma’am. The seams ‘r working too hard, ma’am. Plugs wouldn’t hold.”

That’s right, Twilight thought, and cursed her stupidity. Big wooden ships didn’t remain perfectly rigid. There were too many pieces, too much weight. That meant the planks and beams shifted and bent slightly in the waves. Even without holes in the hull, water would seep through the seams and require an hour or two of pumping to remove from the bilge. In rough seas, the motion would make a shot hole change size and shape during the mending, leading to failed plugs or worse damage.

“Well, I’ll get a sail under the bow when I can find the ponies for the job.” Fothering a sail under the ship was a literal stop-gap measure, temporarily slowing but not stopping leaks. The problem was, it would also slow the ship. “For now, keep your pump ponies at it, and report to Mr. Thornbush with your mates.”

Thornbush was organizing the construction of a jury mizzenmast. Lydia had left port with a vast supply of replacement masts and spars, but the battle had damaged half of those. But a main topsail spar had survived intact, fifty-five hooves of seasoned oak that could substitute for the mizzenmast until the ship could refit in a proper harbor. The stump of the broken mizzenmast would come in handy, acting as an anchor that the new mast could be fished onto. All hands would be required for the raising of the mast, but there was plenty enough work at the moment just putting the mast together and making ready for its raising.

As the rain let up for a few moments, Twilight found a moment to look over the railing, pulling out her spyglass to check the horizon. Cumpleanos’s remaining sails were just barely in sight, her hull down over the horizon. Like Lydia, she lay hove-to, obviously doing everything in their power to get battle-ready. Did the older, half-neglected two-decker have spare masts or spars? How skilled were the mostly native crew at carpentry, at splicing ropes, at mending canvas sails?

If Lydia could come down on Cumpleanos while that ship was still immobile, possibly- just possibly- they might surrender without further bloodshed… well, except for Shadetree. That mare seemed a perfect match for her leader in bloodthirsty insanity. But if Cumpleanos managed to make good her damage, then the battle would resume as it was before…

“Pass the word for Major Summons,” Twilight ordered, and in a few moments the marine captain stood before her. “Major, how many of your pegasi are still flight-worthy?”

“Seventeen, ma’am,” Summons replied. “Three wounded an’ one missing presumed dead, ma’am.”

“How many of them have Cloudsdale weather training?”

“Not many, ma’am,” Summons said. “Four, maybe five? Most of ‘em are Manehattan and Baltimare ponies, ma’am. Never pushed a cloud in their lives.”

“Any chance they could bust this storm?”

“I doubt it, ma’am. A wild squall this bad needs a proper team o’weather ponies to break, ma’am. But we can try.”

“No, major,” Twilight said quickly. “I want you to ask- ask, not order, is that clear? Ask your experienced weather ponies if it can be done. So long as this storm keeps up, we can’t resume the action no matter how many masts we have.”

And no sooner had Summons gone than the ship’s cook stepped up to report. “All ready, ma’am.”

In the time since Lowly had reported, three more of the wounded had died, making fourteen bundles lying on the gratings. The cook and his mates, being the only ponies available for the task, had sewn the dead in their hammocks, with a round shot at their hooves to carry them to the bottom. And poor Potter’s Clay, the young officer, lay with the others, wrapped in a bit of scrap sailcloth.

For this Twilight had to stop. Morale required it, but so did common respect. Common respect demanded more, but with an enemy ship still just in sight, five hooves of water in the ship, and a storm around them, only a moment could be spared from the struggle to survive.

Twilight pulled out a whistle, blew a single long, clear note, and took out the prayer-book issued to all ship captains (in this romantic, brutal storybook world- the real Princess Celestial would likely be appalled at the sight of a religious book with her cutie mark on the cover). The ceremony was short, pre-written, designed specifically to keep the time taken from duty to its absolute minimum. Best of all, it relieved Twilight of the need to add anything of her own, or even to think. All she had to do was read, and she read, shouting over the gale:

“We gather here to pay our final respects to our honored dead, who have laid down their lives for princess, for country, and for crewmates. No greater honor can we give to a pony, than to say that she gave up her life for her friends.

“It is not for us here today to question the fates which led to the loss of these fine ponies, but to remember and praise them for their devotion to duty and to the ideals of the land which raised them. May we hold their conduct up as an example for us all, that we might bring all ponies together in blessed harmony and peace.

“Now we commit the bodies of these ponies to the bottomless deeps, to lie in slumber until the mending of the world, when Dream Valley shall return, and the seas shall give up their dead.”

One by one the gratings were tilted up, and one by one the body bags slid over the side and into the rolling water. As the last grating tilted, the one with poor Clay’s body on it, Twilight took off her sodden cocked hat and placed it across her heart. Five of the marine unicorns sent spells into the air, popping into fireworks, a final salute for the departed.

And how many more times will I have to do this? Twilight thought. Hate this. Hate, hate, hate, hate. She blew her whistle, and the frantic work of making Lydia ready to fight again resumed as if nothing had happened.



Iron Press stood by the hatchway, looking at Captain Hornsparker, who stood staring over the rails after the brief funeral had ended. Tears mixed with the rain running down the lavender unicorn’s face, while bits of blood clung to her hooves and shirt-cuffs, while her uniform tunic hung loose with a large rip in its side, apparently unnoticed by its wearer.

Iron Press had come up to see how things went, and to ask if he and his servant could go back to their cabin. The ship’s rats in the cable tier had objected to his servant’s presence, and the best Press had been able to negotiate was a suspension of hostilities. In the pitch dark the rats had the better of it, though they had joined pony and donkey in clinging to one another during the rumble and crash of battle, when it seemed like every moment might be their last.

But after coming up and seeing the captain on the deck, Press thought better of it. The cable tier was almost dry. There weren’t any gaping holes in it. There weren’t crewponies rushing back and forth every moment.

And one look at the captain told Iron Press that, whatever else, Ms. Hornsparker didn’t need any more problems right now…

Author's Note:

Dud convention sales-wise. Fortunately, April has better shows in store...

And half the people here have coughs or sniffles, so I wasn't the only one bringing the plague with me.

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