First Flight (Book Excerpt)

Shaundar had hardly been able to rest at all that night.  He tossed and turned in the hammock until Tyelatae poked him in the ribs and told him to be quiet.  It probably didn’t help that Yathar whispered back and forth excitedly (and enviously, to be truthful) with him for most of the night.  Eventually he pulled out his charcoal and paper and drew pictures of flitters cruising through space until he finally fell into a cheerful dream about flying through a colourful nebula.

He was already waiting for Garan at the first bell.  Garan laughed out loud when he saw Shaundar there.  “Got the bug already, do you?” he chuckled.

“I always wanted to do this, Garan,” he confessed.

Garan shouldered a haversack and asked Shaundar, “Did you bring a lunch?”

Shaundar was crestfallen.  “No, I didn’t think to do that.”

Garan tried to keep his serious expression, but Shaundar’s stricken look made the corner of his mouth twitch into a smile.  “Don’t worry; I brought one for both of us, just in case.”

Shaundar grinned widely.  “Thank you, Garan.”

He clapped Shaundar’s shoulder.  “Let’s do this.  Get on board.”

Shaundar didn’t have to be told twice.  He scrambled up the ladder, no longer a challenge now that he was a veteran of ropes, rigging and the crow’s nest.  He stepped into the hatch and saluted the bow properly, but then he paused, which caused Garan to run right into the back of him.  He apologized and finished stepping into the boat.  “Garan, is this the same flitter that took us from Nedethil?” he asked, as his gaze fell over familiar surroundings.

“Sure, she’s my boat!” Garan told him cheerfully.  “Each of us flitter pilots are assigned to a specific flitter so that we can get to know her character and handle her as well as possible.”

“Does she have a name?” Shaundar asked him as he ran a hand over her beam.

Garan smiled.  “I call her Daoine,” he said reverently.

“’Starshine,’” Shaundar repeated.  “I like it!”

“Well, what are you waiting for?  Get in the helm!” Garan urged.

The helm!  It didn’t really look like much.  It was an overstuffed padded chair with big cushions and armrests.  There was a little table on the right side of it that held a book, a pipe, and a folded-up star chart.  On the left side of it was a stand that held a stellar compass; a curious sphere with three brass bands suspended in it at different angles which told bearing in three dimensions, orienting on the centre of the crystal sphere; in this case, Realmspace.  This was all partially protected by the low-hanging beam that had almost gotten the best of Shaundar’s father, but most of it was an open deck so that the pilot could see out, and so that there was room to operate the light ballista that it was equipped with.  Shaundar knew, however, this would require a gunner in addition to the helmsman.

He flopped down on the big overstuffed chair and was nearly swallowed by it.  He felt, for just a split second, a sensation like he was falling, and then that low thrumming noise that Shaundar had noticed on his liftoff began humming again, just barely on the level of his conscious awareness.

“Now,” instructed Garan as he climbed in behind him, “stretch out those senses and let your will bond with hers.”

Shaundar closed his eyes and tried to follow Garan’s directions.  It was the oddest sensation at first.  He was aware of his own body; he felt the cushions underneath him, the arms of the chair in the palms of his hands and the pounding of his heart, and he smelled the green sap smell of Starshine all around him and the faint odour of Garan’s tobacco; but he also became aware of the ship as if his body and hers were one.  He felt Garan’s feet on his deck and the gentle pressure of his own body in the helm, and while he couldn’t exactly “see,” there certainly was a sense of what was around the flitter.  His feet – he meant, his landing gear – were firmly perched on the deck of the Aerdrie’s Pride with blocks securely around them, where a small handful of elves moved and worked.

“Wow,” he breathed.

“I see you’ve made the link,” said Garan with approval in his voice.  “Now, I’ll signal the tower that we’re taking her out.  Normally you’d do this before you took the helm.”  He reached down to the left of the helm chair and pulled something out of it.  Shaundar opened his eyes to look and caught a glimpse of semaphore flags being unfurled.

“Can they see me in the helm from the tower?” he asked.

Garan nodded.  “Sure.”

“Then I can do it, Garan,” he offered hopefully.  “I’ve been studying semaphore.  It would give me a chance to practice.”

Garan smiled at him again.  “Have at it, then!” he relented, and he gave the flags to Shaundar.

He raised the flags up and brought them down quickly to signal the tower to pay attention.  A few moments later the Yeoman in the Tower raised the flag in her left hand straight up and stuck the one in her right down at a 45 degree angle; the signal to go ahead with his message.

Shaundar began to spell out the message in the complex semaphore language, detailing that they were taking the Starshine out for a spin.  When the Tower acknowledged that and asked for heading, Garan tapped him on the shoulder.  “Tell them we’ll be within Aerdrie’s orbit,” he directed.  Shaundar did so.

During all of this, Shaundar was still actively aware of the flitter’s senses and position.  It was almost like seeing through two sets of eyes at the same time.  He thought to himself that it should be disorienting, but it really wasn’t.  Within a few minutes it felt like the most natural thing in the world.

“Good job, cabin boy!” Garan complimented him when the Yeoman gave the signal to proceed.  “When the deckhands have removed the landing blocks, then the fun begins.”

Shaundar fidgeted impatiently while the sailors came out and took the blocks away.  He felt a restless sensation in his feet.

Another spacehand came out on the deck with torches of faerie fire and waved his arms in the same way that Shaundar had to get the Tower’s attention.

Shaundar raised his left arm up and his right at the 45 degree angle downward.

The signaller waved Shaundar forward.

“Okay,” Garan coached.  “Now, will yourself up slowly; as slowly as you can manage it.”

Shaundar closed his eyes again to fall deeper into union with the flitter, and visualized levitating about an inch above the ground.  The Starshine responded in kind.

Garan could not believe it.  That kind of control usually took considerable practice!  “Nice!” he whistled.  “I think she likes you.”

Shaundar grinned.

“Now comes the hard part,” said Garan.  “Just as slowly, and even more carefully, just ease forward and up a little.  Mind the Aerdrie’s rigging.”

Av!” Shaundar acknowledged.  Continuing the visualization, he imagined levitating a little higher and floating gently forward.  The Starshine moved just as he willed.

“Good, good!” cheered Garan.  “All right, Quessir Sunfall; take her out!  Pitch twenty-five, yaw ten and mind the rigging again.”

Av!” Shaundar beamed, and he willed the flitter up and out at the required bearing, though he did continue to move with caution.  They flew up past the rigging.  Shaundar thought the angle was a little close and he willed the small craft to roll to the larboard side slightly.  He felt the pull as the gravity of the Aerdrie’s Pride tugged at their larboard wing, and then they were clear of her gravity plane and down was once again the floor, as the Daoine’s gravity plane took over.

“Oh, well done, Mr.  Sunfall,” breathed Garan in genuine respect of Shaundar’s instincts.

Yathar, who had snuck up on deck to watch his friend take off, suppressed a cheer.

Shaundar’s mouth was an O of amazement as he saw the splendour of the space before him.  They were passing near to a nebula that showered the void with a prismatic display of incandescent beauty.  Shaundar didn’t think he’d ever seen anything so heartbreakingly lovely in his life.

“The Colour Spray Nebula,” Garan informed Shaundar, noticing his expression.

“I’ve read about it,” Shaundar said.

“Amazing, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” sighed Shaundar happily.

“All right, cabin boy,” Garan smiled, “let’s peel her out a little.  Increase speed to maximum.”

Shaundar thought about what it felt like to run at full tilt, his arms out and the wind rushing through his hair.  Fly! he willed the Starshine with all his heart, and the Colour Spray Nebula leaped towards them and the Aerdrie’s Pride fell behind.

“Excellent!  Let’s try some manoeuvres, shall we?”

Garan led him through a series of aerial acrobatics; weaving, dodging, dancing, and turning sharply.  He was directed to zigzag, turn on his wingtips, and flip over in mid-flight.  It felt as natural as breathing.  He met every challenge that Garan gave him with talent and zeal.  The Daoine responded to his every whim almost before he set his intention.  It was wonderful!

For Garan’s part, he realized that he was witnessing something truly amazing.  The boy had a gift; there was no question about it.  Garan assigned more and more difficult manoeuvres, things that would challenge second-year spelljammers, and Shaundar passed the bar and begged for more.  He’d never seen anything like it.

And Shaundar realized this.  Garan hesitated longer before each assigned task, and sounded more and more impressed and surprised as he accomplished it.  Before long, they were cheering together.

“Well!” said Garan at last, “we’ve been out here for more than a full watch; maybe we should go in.”

“Have we?” Shaundar exclaimed.  It sure didn’t feel that long!  He took out his pocket watch; sure enough, Garan was right.  It was actually three bells into the forenoon watch.  “Av, Garan, I’ll bring her about.”  He flipped the Starshine over 180 degrees and headed back for the Aerdrie’s Pride.

As they got closer, Shaundar realized that his father was on deck, watching with his spyglass.  His face cracked into a cocky grin.  At last he’d found something he was really, really good at!  He thought he would give his father something really interesting to watch.

He barrelled in on the Aerdrie’s Pride at full speed, and then at the last moment, he dipped the pitch of the Daoine’s bowsprit down about 35 degrees from the gravity plane and made to buzz the flight deck.

“Shaundar, what are you .  .  .  ?” cried Garan in alarm, and at that exact moment, the crew of the Aerdrie’s Pride chose to adjust the lateen yard; which was suddenly right on a head-on collision course with the Starshine.

He almost managed to pull up in time; seeing that he would fail at that, he also rolled the Daoine sharply starboard.  But it was too late!  The flitter struck the yardarm at the point where the starboard wing connected to the ship’s body.  There was a horrible crunching sound as the wood popped and tore, accompanied by the most excruciating pain Shaundar had ever felt as the wing was ripped from the flitter’s body.  For a split second he thought his arm had been torn off.  The flitter careened into a tailspin.  The last thing Shaundar saw before he lost consciousness was Garan being thrown out the open bow with his eyes wide and terrified.  Both of them were screaming.

– from A Few Good Elves (Toy Soldier Saga book 1).

Diane MorrisonDiane Morrison (Sable Aradia) is a non-fiction and speculative fiction author.  Her first National Novel Writing Month project was the Spelljammer novel A Few Good Elves (self-published to e-book format 2012).  Her related short story, “Survivor,” was published in the August 2013 issue of Separate Worlds magazine, and her first non-fiction book, The Witch’s Eight Paths of Power will be published by Red Wheel / Weiser in September of this year.  Catch up on her ongoing Spelljammer novel series, the Toy Soldier Saga, at her website.

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