The stars were growing dull and the Eastern horizon velvety when Leopold Briar emerged from the Captain's Quarters. Hair, sideburns and moustache, all were sleek and neatly combed, and his dark-red coat was pristine; his brass buttons polished, his tails dangling alongside his buckled black boots. He breathed the night air in deeply through a beak-like nose, and walked along the deck to where a young man, ginger hair and freckles, was gazing intently through a spyglass.
"Good morrow Fletcher" the captain declared.
The youth regarded the captain, and stood up abruptly.
"Morning captain" he replied.
"Anything to report?"
Fletcher looked out on the dark landscape. "Nothing to my eyes, captain. Only that we passed over a right hilly range just thirty miles west there, and now we're going over a seeming mixture of forest and marshland"
Leopold pondered. "That would place us on the outlying forests of Holtsmurk. No doubt our quarry intends to lose us in the mist. And you saw nothing that resembled them?"
"Nothing I saw". Fletcher shrugged. "I kept both eyes peeled fer any lights or sign of movement, and saw none, 'cept for a flicker o' candlelight half-an-hour hence that I determined to be nothing more than a thatched cottage, cap'n."
"And you were sure?"
"Sure enough. Not worth ringin' the bell for"
Leopold sighed. "Very well. I shall relieve you now Fletcher. That gives you an extra hour. Be sure to spend it on rest."
Fletcher smiled. "Aye-aye, cap'n, If you're certain. I shall indeed. Thank y' "
Fletcher scarpered off, and disappeared below decks. Leopold flicked the tails of his coat away from him, and sat down neatly. He settled into the night-time scene. He sensed the engine, somewhere beneath the varnished mahogany at his feet, chugging away endlessly, and the subsequent whirrings of the black propellers. He sensed the great, batlike, cream-coloured wings, at the moment hanging almost motionless on the soft, ruffling billows of the air, their metal rims cutting through it and allowing the Jackdaw to glide smoothly. Very occasionally the wings would beat seven times in order to acquire a little more ascension, but at night it was not practical to use more fuel than necessary.
Leopold felt calm as the sun finally let its finger tips reach over and clutch the rim of the horizon, swathes of light filling the Eastern skyline with a pallete of orange, cream, purple, velvet, and the ever decreasing descent into black. Already the stars were snuffing out. The calmness eased into a fulfilling contentment; the contentment a man feels when he has a good ship, a good crew, and has arisen early to do his duty.
He indulged his mind only for a few moments with such romantic meanderings, before bringing his eye to the spyglass, which was fashioned to the side of the ship, and looking out.
Nothing. Nothing but the black murk of the trees, and occasionally a desolate peat, leading into an empty horizon.
Nevertheless, he continued his searching, and now and again, detached the spyglass and brought it around to the other sides of the ship, where there were similar fastenings.
As he did so, he allowed his thoughts to wander, as he always did, through anything that might be practical to the current quest. He had determined already that he knew anything and everything about the ship they were pursuing - a small, elongated airship with a sharp end, resembling an arrow, and with great speed and little maneuverability to match - and its captain - a Mashakelle lord-of-regiment whose knack for pinpointing the weak-points in an opponent was proving troublesome in recent battles. All this he knew, and had thought upon intently, so he tried to remember what he could about the new environment - what did hew know about Holtsmurk?
He cast his mind back to studies in geography, but cursed himself when he realised that he had not researched the place well enough. He immediately ran to his Captain's Quarters, and, searching the shelves he had on geography, snatched a book on 'Outlying Regions in the Nacken-Bruthu', before returning to his post. He sat down, and spared a few minutes to find and reading the opening few paragraphs on the Holtsmurk. "a land", it said "of forests, peats, mires, fens, bogs, swamps, etc, leading into Nacken-Bruthu. Population: five-hundred to one-thousand vodyanoys; primitive forest-beings, with natural antioxidants far stronger than those of humans, and the ability to see easily in the dark, thus negating the need for light, which may attract predators. An array of poisonous frogs, insects and plants make it impossible for human inhabitation. Geography: the river Holt runs through it quite neatly from East to West..."
Leopold suddenly stopped reading. Then he cast himself back a couple of sentences.
"...negating the need for light, which may attract predators..."
"Blast!" he declared, and in a series of continuous movements stood up, dashed up the steps of the captain's quarters, then the next set of steps to the top of the ship, beneath the mast. Protruding from the mast's side was a large brass bell, which Leopold immediately rang.
"Everyone awake!" he roared, "To your posts! To your posts!"
Light and sound penetrated through the ship, and within minutes crew began assembling on the hold.
"Meinhart, turn the ship around! Wentlock, man the guns!..." Leopold barked, along with other orders, to those who appeared on deck. "Gentlemen, we have targeted our quarry! We passed them by not one hour ago!" he shouted as he dashed about. He did not see Fletcher, but never mind, there would be time to reprimand him eventually. As the crew rushed around, filling the barracks and arming themselves, attending to their posts, Leopold ascended again to the mast.
The sun had risen, sharply and brilliantly into a cloudless sky. Panning around, Leopold observed no sign of mist. He smiled, as the light mingled with the rich browns of the Jackdaw, and lit it up like gold.
"All engines blazing!" he called out. "For Galabria!"