The Trials Of Boy Kings
The monsters were getting out of hand.
The large watership bobbed in the gray day, as the waters mesmerized the man standing on deck. The cold wind swirled around his muscular frame, and played with his beard. Bare chested, he refused to let the cold touch him.
He willed it away.
“A fin, two hundred feet off deck, father,” said one of the crew rushing up to him. The man knew this was the first time the boy had been on a large watership, the youngest son of an important man from the inner council.
The older man patted the young man's face that held only the wisp of a beard. “Let's go kill it.”
The young man smiled and yelled to the crew. “Long boats at the ready!”
The man smiled as he saw the crew begin to lower the long boats. Just like the legends, he thought. He jumped into one of the three boats as the winches lowered the narrow wooden vessels into the waters.
The man shouted, “Are you ready to reclaim your place in history?” the six men on his boat cheered as the man spoke. “Our ancestors hunted these monsters back in the mists of time. Now they have returned. Let's send them back into legend!”
The crew of young men cheered louder. They treated the man like a god. That worried him. The old superstitions must die for us to finish our work, thought the man. Best to show them that I am a man, and that a man is more than any god ever could be.
He couldn't tell his crew that he had other reasons for killing these beasts. Three of his airships had gone missing. That was not a coincidence. All of them had been lost over the waters, no survivors. I will not let these things take my ships one by one, he thought. It's time to fight.
He had trained the young men himself. Getting this close to a dangerous monster in the open waters required teamwork. He had grilled the men for weeks before they made this journey. Rowing, rowing, and rowing again in unison until they could not lift their arms. To train men to think as one, to have one goal, you had to break down their bodies first. Isn't that what Ollander used to say? The man shook off the rhythmic rowing that made his thoughts wander to his old friend. The friend he was forced to kill.
The man cranked the device. His thinkers said the creatures must be attracted to the sound of the airship's rotators. Trunculin has written of similar problems. But of course we are both liars, he thought.
To the man, the sound that the device made was different than the noise of the rotators, but before he had a chance to decide if it would work, a Jhalgon fish erupted out of the water to the right of their boat. Its leathery wet wings pushed it straight up into the air. The waves made by the monster rocked his boat and the boats just twenty feet away. The beast was massive. He had read the reports and interrogated those that spotted them. But to see a sixty-foot monster lunge straight into the air was a marvel. The men were all frozen with shock. They look more like boys than ever.
The monster arced, and the man realized it was coming down. It opened its massive jaws to reveal its three rows of teeth. Each tooth must be bigger than my hand … but his mind turned to the other boat. The seawater falling from the giant fish rained on the second boat, but they realized what was happening too late for them to get away. The monster landed on the second boat, and the beast forced the longboat under the waves before the wood snapped under the pressure.
The shock of the impact felt like a tidal wave as the two other longboats fought to stay upright. A circle of red emanated out from where the beast had gone under. Fragments of the broken longboat, no bigger than the size of a plate, floated and rode the waves. Luckily, the red was the only part they saw of their fallen friends. The rest must have gone under, or been swallowed by the beast.
The two remaining boats continued to bail the water out that had lapped over the sides. The man stood up, grasping the giant metal spear. It was longer than the man was tall, but he stood straight, feeling the cold metal slick with sea water. He stood on sure legs, riding the rocking motion, scanning for any sign of the beast.
“Fin!” A man shouted from the other boat. The man smiled until he realized it was not headed for his boat. No, monster, come for me. He realized what his face must look like as he glanced at the young man with the wispy beard, his face horrified and desperate. But when he saw the bare chested man looking at him, the young man's face changed to a hardy resolve. He bailed the water faster.
The fin came up from the water, parting it, standing five feet above the waves. The man cranked the machine again, imitating the sound of the rotators from the airships. The top of the beast crested the water with a gray hint of its enormous frame just under the waves. It didn't change direction, still headed for the second boat.
“Damn you!” the man shouted. “Men, row!” he commanded, as the young men rowed directly into the path of the fin. The man ignored the terror that gripped his crew, and raised the long metal spear. The three hooks came to a steely point with a rope firmly tied to the end.
Water sprayed as the boat rocked. The fin rose with the beast, and the wings threw sea water at them as the monster went up. The second boat was still its target, and the man realized it was only jumping his boat to get to the other.
The beast rose higher, using the giant wings to help arc its body. Just before it was directly over their boat, the man flung the spear at the belly of the Jhalgon. It struck the beast and the hooks went deep. The man held fast to the rope, ignoring the burn of the rope as it slid through his hands. Before his hands felt they would catch fire, he grabbed the rope firmly and was lifted off the boat.