A prequel to the Tales of the Captain Duke, as featured in the December 2016 edition of Airmail.
The spring air was crisp and cool, the breeze coming in across the Derwentwater. The pebble beach slid away beneath Mouse’s feet as he chased the trailing string of his runaway glider. Just as he would get within reach, off it would tumble again, end over end. It rolled over the bank and was headed for the trees, but Cat swooped in to crush it beneath her boots.
“I told you to use the tether.”
“I did! It came loose.”
“I’m telling the Captain.”
“Well then I’ll tell him you flew without your harness on!”
“You will not!”
“I will too!”
They heard the crunch of gravel behind them at the same time.
“What’s going on here?”
“Nothing!” they said, with identical inflections of guilt.
Nessa raised an eyebrow, but took in the sight before her with perfect calm.
“Well it looks like flight school is over for the day.”
With one swoop, she collected the damaged glider and collapsed it into a misshapen but portable form. Cat slid out of hers and neatly folded it before slinging the harness straps over her shoulders (and buckling the extra strap around her waist for good measure). The three of them trekked back to the clearing.
The airship of the Captain Duke rested on its bolsters. The main balloon had been deflated, detached, and spread across the grass for a final check before the season began. The Captain himself was outside supervising the repairs to his beloved galleon, shouting orders from the deck. When he saw the children and Nessa, he swung over the side and descended to the ground via a knotted rope.
“What’s this now? I thought I sent you two to practice with the gliders.”
At the children’s silence, he turned to Nessa.
“Captain, sir. I believe this glider has malfunctioned.”
“Yes, sir. If I may make a recommendation, sir, it looks to be quite old. There are new models in London now. Better for agility and control, particularly for those with smaller forms. I could have one of my connections procure a few for us.”
The Captain considered her words carefully as he took in the hopeful expressions on the young pilots’ faces.
“Oh very well. Make an inquiry, see what we can get. Attend to the hydrogen buffers for now. You two, with me.”
Nessa smiled and saluted before heading back to her work, winking at the children as she turned, her long, blonde braid swinging behind her.
“I like her,” said Cat.
“She indulges you. Terrible habit, but I think it means she’s starting to enjoy it here,” said the Captain Duke.
Cat looked down, “I wasn’t wearing my harness.”
“I forgot to tie my tether proper. I just got excited! I practiced and practiced those knots all winter,” Mouse chipped in.
“Well, it’s your choice I suppose. Follow the rules, or crack your head open and never fly again. Are you hurt?”
“Good. Will you continue to be so foolish?”
“Alright then. Rules are rules, and are only meant to be broken when you have a good reason for it. Clever pilots are safe pilots, yes?”
“But Captain,” said Cat, “You never buckle yours.”
“Aye, but I’m the captain. Captain makes the rules.”
“And Captain ought to be wearing his harness and setting good examples for his crew, like a good leader,” said Trick, coming from behind. “Need I remind you of a young lad who spent a month in the infirmary after nearly drowning off the coast of Scotland?”
The Captain Duke gave a rueful smile, “I remember it well enough, but perhaps it would be a good bedtime story sometime. Enough of that, I’ve got a very important task for you both.”
Cat and Mouse followed the two men around to the bow of the airship. A pilot had scrubbed the deep blue paint from the hull and was waiting with clean brushes.
“It’s time for a new name I think. Something fresh to start us off. What do you think?”
He laughed with Trick as the two of them set on the poor pilot, attacking her with their exuberant suggestions.
“I still like the first one best,” said Trick.
“Every good ship has secrets. What’s in a name, anyhow?”
“Names are powerful things. Don’t you want our girl to be known for the legend she is?”
“One day she’ll bear her christened name proudly. But not today.”
Still, he walked around to the other side of the bow and reached up to run his fingers along a faded carving. Barely noticeable, unless cast in the right angle of light, windblown smooth.
The Golden Arrow
The Captain Duke smiled to himself before rejoining his crew. His airship had many tales yet to tell.