• 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 19: Orders from the Viceroy

Fourteen days later, the story hadn’t ended.

Fourteen days passed, and the Lydia worked its slow way across the trade winds, tacking against easterly and southeasterly winds that prevented any straight-line course to Panamane. Fourteen days passed with the pumps never stopping for more than the two minutes it required for one team of twenty ponies to replace the exhausted ponies from before. Fourteen days passed, bright, sunny and clear, with nights filled with stars and illuminated with the Nightmare-scarred moon.

And fourteen days passed with a funeral service every day.

Twilight spent as much time as she could stand in the orlop, helping Lowly and Iron Press tend to the seriously wounded, enforcing her orders about clean bandages and instruments. How well it worked, she couldn’t say. The ones with light wounds, like Thornbush, were likely to recover on their own, thanks to their already robust health and the isolation from outside diseases. Moderate wounds, like Mustang’s and Summons’s, might have gotten infected or might not have, but both those ponies were on the mend.

But for fourteen days straight at least one of the wounded ponies died- most days two, and on two days three. For some of them the bleeding would never quite stop- those were the ones who went earliest. Others had been wounded too deeply, and their systems just gave up from exhaustion. And three or four of them had appeared to be recovering, gaining strength, and then… they just plain stopped, for no reason Twilight could comprehend.

But for most of them the killers were gangrene and sepsis. The fever would come first; then the red streaks from the wound or (far too often) the stump of the freshly amputated limb. Lancing the wounds would release floods of stinking yellow pus, providing temporary relief. Then the red streaks would lengthen, and go black, and then, after three days of delirium and agony, the end came. Only two ponies had recovered from the fever stage without going into the later symptoms… and once those developed, death was inevitable.

So it proved with Lieutenant Wildrider.

On the second day after his double amputation, the lieutenant was sitting up on his blanket, flirting with Lieutenant Freerein and mentioning that he’d only had two things cut off of him. The fever struck on the fifth day. The red streaks had climbed up from the sutures to his hips by dawn of the sixth day, and with them came delirium, with Wildrider claiming to be back in his childhood home of Rainbow Falls. Unconsciousness came not long after nightfall, and release came before the first bell of the middle watch, technically seven days after the desperate surgery.

Eight hours later, tears in her eyes, Twilight had run through the official service, and then the poor lieutenant had been dumped over the side, just like over fifty ponies before him.

Wildrider had been the only double amputee of the dozen ponies Twilight had reluctantly performed the surgery on. Of the other eleven, five still lived- four of whom had never shown a symptom of gangrene.

Iron Press had been by Twilight’s side through the ordeal, as he had been with her through all the rest of her efforts to save the wounded. The Canterlot unicorn had a talent for soothing those ponies in delirium, for comforting those suffering their agonies with a clear head, and for detecting changes in the medical condition of each pony in his care. And, Twilight discovered, he also had a talent for comforting a captain hopelessly out of her depth in medical matters, fighting one losing battle after another for the lives of her crew- and even of her enemies.

Of course, neither pony had time for one another outside the orlop- literally. The deaths and returns to duty still left over fifty ponies in various stages of convalescence, giving Lowly and Iron Press all they could handle. And although the sails had been patched and much of the surface woodwork mended, Lydia remained in a bad way. She needed a proper drydock, or at the least several days careened on the beach so her poorly plugged shot holes could be properly mended and her jury mizzenmast given a fully functional replacement. Even keeping the ship afloat required the lion’s share of Twilight’s energies.

Most notably, the mental whispers from Hornsparker had virtually ceased for those two weeks of sailing. That worried Twilight most of all. If Hornsparker had fallen silent, it probably meant Twilight was following the script to the letter, and the Haycartes spell felt no need to prod her back on the “right path”.

The very idea of that drove Twilight almost frantic with worry and anger. More than anything else, she wanted to find some way to jump the story’s tracks and get away from… well, all of it, but especially the bloody, destructive, futile war-making that appeared to be at the heart of this obscene sailing fantasy.

But the fifteenth day dawned with no pony sewn into his or her hammock to await the last rites. They were sailing past the Oyster Isles on their port side, which meant Panamane lay only a day’s sail away. In a proper roadstead Lydia might have a hope of a proper refit- the kind of refit she absolutely had to have to get past the Stormlands and around the Great Southern Cape. There might even be the chance to give the crew the shore leave they’d been denied now for over eight months (or so Hornsparker’s memories told Twilight).

And then, just as Twilight came up from her breakfast and had taken a moment to watch the flying fish leaping out of the water alongside the ship, the cry went out: “Sail ho!”

“Mr. Knife-edge!” Twilight shouted to the midshipman on signal duty. “Your spyglass to the rigging, please!”

The little foal- only a little younger than Potter’s Clay, Twilight thought as ice ran through her heart for about the fiftieth time since the sinking of Cumpleanos- scrambled up the nets, spyglass tucked under one hoof. In no time at all the answer came back: “It’s that lugger again, ma’am! Running right down on us!”

“Mr. Thornbush,” Twilight called out, “see to it that all the pris… the new recruits… are below. I don’t want the customs officer to see any of them and maybe demand they be turned over to the local authorities.” Beyond all doubt the semi-villainous rulers of these fictitious colonies would ignore any please of coercion or other extenuating circumstances from those members of Cumpleanos’s crew who had been forced into Xipe Totec’s service. “And make it quick, please! There’s not much time!”

Indeed, in not that many minutes the guarda-costa boat had come round alongside Lydia as both ships heaved to, and that Maredrid customs officer swiftly made his way over. “Good morning, Captain,” he said, bowing his head almost to the floor in the most graceful motion. “I trust Your Excellency is in the best of health?”

“I am, thank you,” Twilight said. “And yourself?”

“Oh, pray do not worry about me,” the officer said generously. “I have not been in battle. Whereas…” The burro made a gesture around the Lydia, which for all the work done still bore scars aplenty- and twenty wounded ponies in hammocks, enjoying the sun and open air. “I hope Your Excellency had good fortune in the late encounter?” Hidden in the tone of the question was the more honest meaning: I’m surprised you’re still alive, captain!

“I don’t call it good fortune,” Twilight said. “I call it an unfortunate tragedy and a prime example of the madness of war, if you want the honest truth. But Cumpleanos is no more. We sunk her sixteen days ago.”

The Maredrid officer didn’t look particularly surprised or impressed by this. If anything, his expression grew cold and closed. “You say you sunk her?

“We did.”

“I must be sure. She is definitely destroyed?”

“I said yes,” Twilight snapped impatiently.

“Then,” the burro said, and his face went from merely closed to being solid granite, “I have a letter to present to you from the Viceroy of the Luna Sea.” He reached into his tunic, hesitated a moment, and then drew out an envelope- a rather small and not particularly ornate envelope.

Twilight opened the letter and read it, which didn’t take very long at all. There were no excruciatingly long and ornate greetings, no effusive compliments, none of the ludicrous manners that actually did predominate the royal courts of the world. It ran a single paragraph, stating in cold and blunt language that the Lydia was prohibited from dropping anchor, entering into, discharging crew at, or trading with any port of New Iburria, Mexicolt, or any other domains of the Maredrid crown in the South Luna Sea. Taken as a whole, the letter gave Twilight the back of the hoof, stopping one very tiny degree short of open insult- not exactly the work of a beloved ally.

Panamane wasn’t explicitly mentioned, but it didn’t have to be, not with this stone-faced burro on the Lydia’s deck a mere day’s sail from that port.

“Do you know what’s in this letter, sir?” Twilight asked.

“I do.” The burro’s tone added: I dare you to do something about it.

“Given the circumstances of my ship,” Twilight continued, gesturing around them with one hoof, “this is a most unfortunate order, don’t you agree?”

“I do not presume to pass judgment on the wisdom of my master the viceroy,” the officer replied coldly.

“But don’t you think some judgment is called for?” Twilight asked. “I want to be out of your seas as badly as you want me gone, but this ship is currently in no condition to make the trip. She needs a refit. Can you not just give me three days in port? Even two, to make the most vital repairs and top off our supplies for the voyage home?”

“Captain,” the burro said, and there wasn’t the tiniest drop of those effusive ritual greetings and pleasantries in his tone anymore, “your ship came into our seas uninvited. Had you not done so, Cumpleanos would remain on the seas under the orders of my master the viceroy, and the rebel Sunstruck would already have been dealt with. We feel no responsibility for the welfare of such an intruder, no matter what valor she may have demonstrated.”

“I see,” Twilight said quietly. To be honest, she couldn’t argue, because- aside from the unfriendly nature of the orders and the customs officer’s conduct, she agreed with every point made. Lydia had sailed here as an enemy vessel, on a mission no pony of honor would have ordered, and brought calamity to the locals. It was a bit fatuous to ask the victims of Lydia’s actions to welcome her with open arms.

“I see,” she repeated. “Please convey my warmest regards to the viceroy. My ship will make call at no Maredrid port in the South Luna Sea. I shall make the best repairs I can on my own.” And, after a moment’s thought, she added, “And though it’s against my duty to offer any apologies for what’s happened, please also tell the viceroy that I personally regret the necessities of the service which brought me here, and hope that this tragic example will press home to all ponies everywhere the insanity of war.”

Twilight had meant every word, but even so the Maredrid officer regarded her with suspicion. “I will tell him, captain,” he said coldly.

“Now, I hope you will pardon my lack of hospitality,” Twilight said, making her own town a bit more prim, “but as you can tell, I have much to command my attention, and a great deal of work to do before my ship is fit to leave the South Luna Sea. Please take with you my best wishes for the alliance between our sovereigns against the usurper Neighpoleon.”

Twilight paid no attention to the customs burro as he left. She began pacing Hornsparker’s private spot on the quarterdeck, thinking furiously and, for once, wishing that stupid false personality would start chattering again. They couldn’t make port for repairs, but those repairs had to be done somewhere, somehow. Panamane, of course, was out. So were the Oyster Isles just off the port side, since they were too close to Panamane and thickly inhabited with the usual mix of colonists and native ponies.

But if they could find an uninhabited island nearby, something with fresh water and, ideally, a protected bay or inlet of some kind…

Time to consult the charts, she thought.

And she thought she heard a faint response: Yes.

Author's Note:

Not much to add here, except to note that the original novel was written just as the Spanish Civil War was beginning, and the author took a moment to make Hornblower a prophet of Spain's eventual loss of empire and internal collapse. He'd do even more Spain-bashing in his next book... not that the Spain of the Napoleonic era didn't deserve one hell of a lot of bashing.

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