• 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 20: The Island

Two days later, Twilight stared at the narrow inlet and said, “This could have been ready-made for us.” And, she thought to herself, it probably was.

“Aye, ma’am,” Thornbush agreed. “Shall I send out the cutter?” All the other ship’s boats had been damaged in the battle with Cumpleanos, and none of them could be repaired until Lydia’s wounds were healed.

“Yes, please,” Twilight said. “Have a pony taking soundings as quickly as possible. And I want a report on the surface under that water.”

The large island had numerous beaches, including one broad bay which might have served Twilight’s needs had it been defensible. But, as Hornsparker now repeated in her mind, The ponies of Panamane have gone in a month’s time from enemies to warm allies to cold neutrals. They regard us as trespassers here, and we can’t take any chance that the situation will change yet again.

But this narrow inlet on the island’s northeast side had steep cliffs on both sides of the entrance, close enough that guns sited on their tops would be mutually supporting. Any boats attempting to enter would have to brave plunging fire that could sink them in a single shot. And yet the far end of the bay sloped gently up to a broad sandy beach- exactly the kind of location needed for what had to be done. And, as a final bonus, a smaller island a short distance offshore masked the entrance to the inlet, so that a ship well out to sea would be unable to see anything going on inside.

So, with Freerein leading in the cutter, the Lydia crept into the bay that would be her home for at least the next week, the time she would need for her refit.

If a ship is seriously damaged below the waterline, if you wish to repair her, a drydock is by far the best option. But when drydocks aren’t available and time is of the essence, the second-best option is a difficult and dangerous process called careening. This consists of, in essence, beaching the ship like a dying whale, dragging the hull out of the water by main force, and rolling it from side to side to get at the damaged bits. The danger lay in the potential that the ship might break her back or stave in her hull while lying on the sands- and it absolutely had to be sands, because a rocky shore would change the danger into certain disaster.

Before any of that could be done, as Hornsparker explained to Twilight, the ship had to be empty- truly, absolutely empty, of everything and everyone. Hundreds of tons of cannon, cannonballs, powder, food, water, cordage, timber- and, of course, ponies- had to be ferried to shore. Temporary shelter for the crew had to be erected on shore, since the ship would be unusable for housing during the process. And all of this had to be done with a single ship’s cutter which, in calm water and under careful handling, might carry three and a half tons of cargo and ponies at one time.

Once, centuries before, the tribal ponies of the Forbidden Jungles had lived on the island, but that had been before Maredrid sailed into these waters and made them her own. Since then the island, too close to the burros for the natives’ comfort, had been abandoned by both groups, left to cook in the eternal tropical heat. The jungles had no paths, not even animal trails, forcing Twilight to lead one trailbreaking team while Gerard led the other, each carving out a path from the beach up to the headland cliffs with machetes, axes, and magic.

Thornbush didn’t wait for this task to be done before beginning the lightening of Lydia. The cannon were the heaviest, most bulky, and most awkward things on the ship- and they were needed to secure the bay mouth. They went first, one at a time, lifted from their trucks on massive tackles hung from the yards, coaxed into the cutter, only one per trip, and then ferried to shore. There the guns were pony-handled out and back onto their trucks, to be hauled with much sweat and annoyance along the uneven, barely-opened paths to the tops of the headlands.

After the eleventh gun, Twilight’s team rigged tackles from trees on top of one cliff, allowing the guns destined for that side to be hauled up the cliff directly from the water. This sped the process, and soon instead of guns nets full of round shot and cartridges came up the tackles.

In the meantime another team of ponies, commanded by the midshipmen Knife-edge and Jack Knave, worked with more axes, felling trees at the beach to create a rough fort. Tarpaulin and canvas went up to shelter the crews, while four huts were erected: one for the captain, one for the lieutenants and senior warrant officers, one for the midshipmen and mates, and one for Iron Press and his servant. By the end of the second day a fifth hut had gone up to house the ship’s stores.

Finally, a team of Cumpleanos survivors was told off to go into the jungle and do what they could about food and water. They came back reporting wild success- literally. The native ponies might have been gone for hundreds of years, but the fruit trees they’d tended and the maize crops they’d cultivated remained, growing wild and unweeded, but by happy chance all coming ready for the picking at this time. Cookfires were started, and fresh hot food and cool, clear spring water awaited the hot, sweaty ponies whenever they rested from their labors.

Despite the mosquitoes, which proved to be a minor annoyance at best, and despite the work that began with the earliest glimmer of Celestia’s sun in the morning and ended by moonlight almost every evening, spirits rose among the crew. The days continued beautiful except for one afternoon of showers, with sun glistening off the sand-bottomed bay and fluffy white wild clouds creeping past on the unfelt breeze. With Twilight driving the work, things got accomplished, and each accomplishment satisfied and encouraged the crew. The remaining wounded all improved rapidly, finding a blanket laid on earth healthier than a hammock in the orlop or hung from the ship’s rigging.

And, Twilight noticed, the crew seemed to smile just that little bit wider whenever she walked past. She couldn’t understand that, since she was working them almost to the breaking point. Hornsparker was no help figuring this out, since her reaction, half the time, was to grumble about wiping the smiles off the sailor ponies’ faces.

For her own part, despite the hard work, stifling heat, and near total absence of breezes or cooling rain, she found the whole process intensely fascinating. She'd read about sailing ships, but she'd never been so intimately involved with their operation before- and now she was getting an in-depth, first-hoof experience in how they were constructed and repaired. And every step of the procedure required checklists and organization- two of her very favorite things in the whole wide world, even a fictional one. She was having fun. After a while she assumed the smiles were because the crew was also having fun, and she didn't think about that anymore.

By the end of the fourth day the temporary fort and the two shore batteries were in place, and the Lydia bobbed empty in the bay. Next came the dangerous task of careening. With a combination of sails and hauling, Lydia was beached, then dragged behind almost the entire crew, a dead weight of dozens of tons even empty, until she was rolled partly on her side to reveal her bottom. Patches of the copper plating that protected ships of the period from seaworms and barnacles had come off, and the shot-holes and weakened planks underneath made plainly visible.

Fires were lit, and tar from stores boiled to help seal the holes. Plugs were measured and cut, sealed with gaskets of tar and oakum, and slotted into place one at a time. The small supply of spare copper sheeting from Lydia’s hold got hammered into place. The ship’s seams were inspected, and those found damaged got fresh caulking, more tar and oakum hammered into the cracks between the ship’s planks. Then, two days later, Lydia was rolled over onto her other side, and the process got repeated.

On the ninth day, hull made as sound as it could be given the limited materials available, Lydia was pushed and towed off the beach, off the sand, out into the deep water of the bay. From there she was towed over to the southern headland, where Thornbush had been busy preparing tackles and gallows for the last major part of the refit: the proper repair of the mizzenmast.

There wasn’t a proper mizzenmast in Lydia’s stores to replace the old, but the seventy-five hoof long maintop yard which had served as the jury mast would serve well enough. But to make it properly sound the stump of the old mizzenmast had to come out of the ship first. That meant tying the jury mast up, knocking out the wedges that held the old mizzenmast in place, hauling the mast up on the tackles, disposing of the old mizzenmast’s stump, lowering the top yard into its place, and reinserting the wedges to secure it again.

The operation sounded simple, but it required a full day of careful, exacting work. One slip could cause the new mast to become a spear that would stab straight through Lydia’s hull. But under the capable supervision of Thornbush, no such thing happened, and after a few hours spent making fresh rigging and lines for all Lydia’s masts, yards, spars and sails, the frigate was once more seaworthy.

Then everything had to be loaded back into the Lydia again- the guns, the shot, the stores, what was left of the spare lumber and cordage, all one boatload at a time. In addition, the water casks were washed out and refilled from the jungle spring, while as much fruit and corn as could be scrounged were added to the foodstuffs for the trip back.

By sundown of the eleventh day, it was done. Lydia was as ready for the voyage back to Baltimare as she could be made.

We ought to sail with the first light, Hornsparker insisted.

Oh, phoo, Twilight replied, and instead of bundling the crew up into the ship that evening, she ordered a party. After all, she thought, these ponies are about to be shut back up in that ship for another six months sailing around the continent again.

Hornsparker grumbled at this, and grumbled again when Twilight ordered a second issue of grog for the crew that last night on the beach, but that was all. The crew laughed, singing and dancing to Emerald Fortune’s fiddle and Iron Press’s guitar, both of which had survived the battle. Even the face of the Nightmare in the Moon seemed to smile that evening.

Midway through the festivities, Twilight called for the survivors of Cumpleanos, plus those ponies she’d saved from the stone wheels and Xipe Totec’s madness, to gather around her. There were eighty-seven of them left, after the deaths among their wounded, and a few members of Lydia’s old crew gathered around the edges of the group out of curiosity.

“Tomorrow the Lydia sails for Equestria,” Twilight said, once the crewponies quieted down for her. “We won’t be coming back to these shores, ever.”

To her surprise, fully half the Cumpleanos ponies- and all of the Lydia ponies nearby- gave a cheer at that.

Twilight waved them back to silence and said, “The ponies from Equestria must go back. We swore our oath to Princess Celestia. But you who came from here have families here. Some of you may not want to go. So I’m going to give you ponies the choice to stay here when we leave.”

There was quite a bit of muttering about this, and Twilight had to wave again for silence.

“I’m sorry I can’t take you to your homes,” she said. “But I have orders from my superiors to sail straight home, and from the local governors to not make port anywhere on the mainland. If you want to stay anywhere near where you came from, this is the only chance I can give you.”

When the mumbling resumed, Twilight pressed on, not bothering to wave for silence. “If you sail with me, you’ll be formally read into the books as members of Lydia’s crew,” she said. “That means you’ll be under the same discipline as the rest of the crew, and subject to the same punishments. I freely admit it’s a hard life. But there’s pay, food and shelter, and possibly even prize money. And you won’t ever have to worry about the Maredrid viceroys or ponies like Xipe Totec ever again. That I can promise.”

The ponies now remained silent, and Twilight gave them a long look. In the dim light of the campfires and the moon, she couldn’t quite tell what they were thinking. “But what I can’t promise any pony is that they’ll ever see their families or old homes again. Sadly, I couldn’t even promise that to my old crew. But those that lived are going home now. If going home is the most important thing to you, this is your only chance to do it. Maybe you could build rafts, or canoes, or maybe a fishing boat would pick you up. But if you sail with us, you stay on the ship until we reach Baltimare.”

“Sounds good to me, senora captain!” one of the Cumpleanos ponies shouted.

“No more Xipe Totec? No more burros to boss us around? No jungle monsters?” another asked.

“Captain Hornsparker saved me from the wheels!” This came from a pegasus hovering above the crowd- the very first Twilight had seen tied to those stones, left to die in the sun. “I will gladly go to Equestria, where no pony is tied up to die of thirst. But if Captain Hornsparker leads me, I will go into Tartarus itself!!” The other four survivors of the stone wheels added their shouts from the crowd.

A loud hurrah rang through the crowd, rolling back and forth. After a few moments it became a chant: “Hornsparker! Hornsparker! Hornsparker!”

Tears welling up into her eyes, Twilight waved down the shouting. “Quiet! Quiet, please!” she shouted. “Lydia will take every pony here who wants to go with us. All I wanted to say was, if any of you wants to stay-“

“NO! NO!” the ponies shouted, and Twilight couldn’t find a single silent pony in the crowd. And again the chant came up: “HORNSPARKER! HORNSPARKER! HORNSPARKER!”

Eventually Twilight got away, with a bit of bowing and acknowledgment of the cheers. I didn’t earn this, she thought. These ponies are just mad, insane, because some writer insisted every pony in this world be war-crazy.

“Captain, you have a way with ponies,” a voice called out from the edge of the jungle. The moon shone down on Iron Press’s blond mane, making tiny flecks of glitter shine.

“Who, me?” Twilight asked. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just do what I have to do.”

“Every pony does what they have to do, captain,” Iron Pony said. “But very few do it as well as you’ve done. Look at all you’ve accomplished in eleven days.”

“But any pony could have done it!” Twilight asked.

“But you actually did do it,” Iron Pony said.

Twilight noticed that the Canterlot lord was close- very, very close. She also noticed, very suddenly, how close Hornsparker was, from a different direction.

She wasn’t sure which of them- Twilight Sparkle or Captain Hornsparker- said, “Your pardon, milord,” and ran like a rabbit for the stockade and the private hut. But she did, and she did, and Iron Press stared after her as she ran.

“Celestia bless me,” he said quietly. “For a moment she was almost a real mare!”

Shaking his head and wondering if the madness of sailor ponies was cause or effect, Iron Press went to his own hut- at a much more sedate pace- to make sure his servant had packed everything properly for their departure on the morrow.

Author's Note:

Mostly I've glossed over the technical parts of the original book, but the refit process really is fascinating.

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