• 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 14: Night Watch

The gale continued to howl, and sheets of wind occasionally rolled out of the pitch-black night to sweep across Lydia’s rolling deck. Night brought no moderation in the storm which still kept Lydia and her opponent from one another. Only a handful of carefully shielded lanterns lit the decks of the Equestrian frigate, wrapped carefully both to protect them from wind and rain and to keep Cumpleanos from possibly catching a glimpse of light which could be used to aim a cannon.

The jury mizzenmast had been raised, with new yards and spars and sails- stunted compared to the original, but serviceable enough to stabilize the ship in this turbulent sea. On a calm sea it would have taken only a few moments for the ship’s small number of unicorns to levitate the mast into place and secure it, but with the ship rolling up one wave and down another, and with any number of distractions around to break a spell-caster’s concentration, dozens of ponies had been used, with multiple guide ropes, stays, and tackles to prevent a wave or a moment’s inattention from breaking the new mast or, worse yet, smashing up other parts of the ship. In the end the task had taken over an hour- an hour of back-breaking, mind-straining labor and split-second timing of ship’s motion, unicorn magic and earth pony strength.

And the captain, good old Hornsparker, had been there for it all. Each order to lift and rest came with perfect timing, shifting the mast closer to its final goal. She anticipated problems, reading the oncoming waves like a card sharp reading the marks. And, of course, every time the crew’s unicorns lifted the massive wooden beam, she joined in, even though she was among the magically weakest members of the Lydia’s crew.

After that, with the storm still too severe to make sail towards the distant Cumpleanos, the captain had sent the crew to a late dinner. No dinner for herself, though; she’d gone straight to the wounded and taken over the worthless Lowly’s work, cleaning and stitching wounds, removing chunks of wood from ponies, setting and splinting bones, and even performing two amputations (with, of course, a book open to show her how to do it).

And then, as the sun set, she’d said she’d remain on deck as long as the enemy was still nearby. And there she was now, dozing in a hammock-chair slung under one of the lanterns, wearing an oilcloak that kept the worst of the rain and surf off of her. Every few minutes she’d lift her head, take in the condition of the ship, and then nod off again.

Thornbush, head bandaged under his cocked hat, looked at his captain, shaking his head in admiration. Once he’d thought her soft- back when she was a junior lieutenant and he her senior. And she was soft, no matter how hard she tried to hide it. But that softness made the crew love her, that and her absolute courage- nopony braver in the navy, not one! Thornbush hoped one day he’d be posted captain- that was the limit of his ambition- but he couldn’t ever imagine being a better captain than Hornsparker.

“Good evening, Mr. Thornbush.”

Iron Press had come up the hatch, and he stood beside Thornbush, also staring at where Hornsparker slept. “Oh, pardon me, milord,” Thornbush said, ducking his head in respect. “’Tis still terrible weather for you to be out in, and that’s a fact.”

“I needed a bit of fresh air,” Iron Press said. “I was helping with the wounded. That poor man has no business pretending to be a doctor.”

“Beggin’ your pardon, sir, but he’s all we’ve got,” Thornbush said. “Doc Handkerchief, he was the surgeon assigned to us, he was a salt addict, and he foundered just after we made it around the great cape. He was th’ only trained one for doctorin’, except for the captain’s reading.”

“Yes, I noticed medical books on her shelf,” Iron Press said. “I was surprised to see so many books of so many kinds in the possession of a ship’s captain.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised, sir,” Thornbush said. “Every captain I’ve served with had their particular hobby. Captain Nevermore grew flowers in his cabin- the very devil to strike away when clearing for action. Admiral Jim Dismal preached the teachings of Princess Celestia to everyone. About the only one I served with who didn’t have a hobby was Captain Whipsaw…” Thornbush frowned and muttered, “Maybe that’s how he ended up… well, never mind.” He shook his head and added, “And our captain’s a reader, that she is.”

“And do you read, Lieutenant?”

“I read the Naval Bulletin, sir. And the newspapers when we can get ‘em. Nothin’ like the captain, though. She reads more than anybody else in the fleet, I’m bound.” Thornbush nodded definitively and added, “And she picks up everythin’ she reads, too. She’s an even bigger learner than a reader, and a bigger thinker than both, if you understand me.”

“A thinker?”

“Oh, yes. Always thinkin’. Three or four things at once, sometimes.” The lieutenant smiled sadly and added, “Maybe a bit too much, I think sometimes. She worries, does our captain. Not that I blame her,” he added quickly. “It’s a heavy job and no mistake. But sometimes she worries about the silliest things, and she get so mad about it.”

“I haven’t seen any sign of bad temper from her.”

“Nor you wouldn’t, sir. She wouldn’t let you if she could help it.” Thornbush gestured to Hornsparker, who had lifted her head again in response to another brief burst of tropical downpour, there and gone in seconds. “As I said, she’s soft, but she thinks she can hide it. She thinks she has to hide it. She doesn’t think she’s good enough, and she tries so hard, because she thinks she has to be better at everything than everyone. She thinks that’s what we all expect, bless her.”

Iron Press chuckled softly, just loud enough to be heard over the wind and water. “You sound like you’re in love with her.”

“In love? Pshaw!” Thornbush said. “I’d follow her into Tartarus, sir, and that’s a fact. But I’m not fit to marry her, sir. I’m just a dumb old salt, am I. I can’t follow her books, an’ I can’t keep up with her thoughts. She needs someone as smart as she is. Someone who can make her see what everyone else sees in her.”

“Does she have nobody, then?”

“Well… she is married,” Thornbush admitted. “But, well, least said soonest mended there. Not my place to speak, ‘specially of absent ponies.”

“I see,” Iron Press said. Thornbush couldn’t quite see it in the dark, but the Canterlot noble’s eyes narrowed slightly in an expression of pure calculation.

In her hammock-chair, Hornsparker mouthed something inaudible, tugged the oilcloak a little closer over her head, and settled back down into her doze.

Author's Note:

In writing this, I just had a definite idea of a development for way, way, way down the line. But it's going to take a TON of buildup to bring it into play...

Anyway, this scene parallels another scene from much later in the original book. I brought it forward because most of the chapter this follows is either a hyper-detailed description of rigging a jury mast out at sea and/or Hornblower demonstrating that he is Big Man Captain and not weak in any way whatever, heavens forbid.

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