May 17 2019

Daughters of Fate (Chapter 27)

Posted by Mathias in Daughter of Fate, Fantasy, Novels, Projects

The course of life is like a river.  It flows the path that it chooses, except when more powerful forces take an interest in it.  

Elven Proverb  

“Ah-hem,” the abrupt clearing of the throat brought Cassandra out of her trance.  She’d been focusing on her conceptual drawings of the Dragon Ships, now spread out on the massive drawing bench she had confiscated for her own purposes.  Some of what had littered the top of the desk had been unceremoniously shoved to the floor.  

Looking up, she affixed her stare upon a young man in fairly common clothes and perhaps not more than two to three years her senior, if even that much.  He stood in the doorway, his arms full of rolled up parchments and his hands stained with ink. There were additional slight smudges of that same ink on his face.  Everything about the way he held himself there, particularly the way his dark brown eyes locked onto hers, caused Cassandra a moment of pause.  

“Yes?” she replied to him, more to break the silence but also somewhat slightly annoyed at being interrupted.  

“Sub-general Nightwing, I presume?” he asked with an almost flat, emotionless tone.  

His response was unlike what she normally received when people first crossed her path.  Cassandra remembered the abject fear of the young girl at the inn on their way to Catersburg and the genuine apprehension in her eyes.  She also recalled the palpable desire not to offend her that the girl’s father had shown.  That was the sort of response to her presence she was used to.  But this young man didn’t exude any of that. In fact, he seemed just as annoyed by her presence as she was by him for interrupting her thoughts.  

“I am,” Cassandra replied, putting a certain bite to her words.  

The young man entered and put his papers down on another table among masses of other similar ones and various supplies such as inks, rulers, and quills.  Then he approached her.  “Do you mind?” he motioned to a drawing underneath those that she had placed on top of it on the table.  One that seemed very important that he recovered.  

She glowered at him but allowed him to retrieve the unfinished details of a ship’s rib-like framework.  Even if it did interrupt her. 

Upon taking it, the intruder rolled it up neatly and also placed it to the side. “Now,” he asked, “how may I assist you?”  

Cassandra cocked her eyebrow.  “I’m looking for Ensign Deran Herstone.  I was told this was his work area.”  

“It is my work area,” the young man confirmed.  “One that you’ve,” he looked about at some of the other now misplaced drawings and supplies she had shoved from his desk  to the floor upon arriving, “made quite the mess of.”  

That this was the person Cassandra was looking for, surprised her. “I was expecting someone a little older,” she replied.  

“Yes, well, I’m not.  Older, I mean,” he replied.  “And just for the record, so was I.  Expecting someone older, I mean.”  

The whole manner in which he addressed her was both infuriating and refreshing to Cassandra.  Infuriating in that she really wanted him to be more fearful of her.  Refreshing in the same sense that he was not.  It was quite different to have someone standing before her who wasn’t going to cower and grovel at her out of fear that she would simply stick her sword in his gut.  

“I’m – sorry,” those words sort of instinctively rushed out of her.  The last time she had ever said ‘sorry’ to someone seemed like an eternity ago.  “You’re not -” she fumbled with her words and losing her train of thought.  

“Not what?” he asked  

“Never mind,” Cassandra quickly ended the awkward conversation, not exactly sure where she wanted to go with it anyway.  “Your uncle said that you could help me with these,” she pointed to her sketches.  

Deran regarded them for a moment, then said, “Forgive me, but what exactly am I looking at here?  And who drew these messes?”  He flicked his finger at the drawings that Cassandra had thought were rather decent for an amateur like herself.  Her specialty was troops deployments and logistics, not drawing after all. 

“Well,” she struggled to explain, partially overcome by embarrassment, “they’re an idea I’ve had for ships.”  

“That’s what these are supposed to be?” Deran said, ever so gently nudging her out of the way so that he now stood before his table covered in her drawings.  

Cassandra blushed.  She knew that she should have been more offended by his casual insult than she actually was, but could not explain why she wasn’t.  “I – I know I’m not an expert at designing ships, like you,” she motioned to some of the very intricate designs that were affixed to the walls.  The detail in each was extraordinary.  “But that’s why I’ve come to get your advice and help.  This is very important.”  

Deran continued to investigate what she had done.  “What are you trying to accomplish here?” he asked bluntly, not even looking at her.  

Pointing to a squiggle that Cassandra thought plainly showed a dragon, she realized that her rendering was not the best.  “I want to build ships capable of carrying dragons to Fimmirra.”  

A suppressed laugh escaped Deran’s lips, one that he both tried and didn’t try to contain.  “Is that what these are supposed to be?”  

“Excuse me,” Cassandra was now starting to get annoyed, a bit of anger building up at his attitude towards her.  “But I think you could show me a little more respect.  I know I’m not the best artist,” she pointed again to the squiggle of a dragon, “and don’t know a thing about ship design, but as I said, that’s why I’m here.”  

“Ok, ok,” Deran composed himself, “I’m sorry.  It’s just – you know.  I have seen worse concepts.”  Then he added, “But not much worse.”  

Cassandra stepped back, crossing her arms and staring down the young man.  “Are you through?” she snapped.  The fact that she was restraining herself from just threatening this man amazed even her.  

Raising his hands, Daren replied to her. “Look, I apologize.  That was way out of line on my part.  I mean, you are a general after all.” 

“Sub-general,” Cassandra corrected.  

“Yes, of course, Sub-general,” Deran corrected himself.  “A superior officer, and all.  I’m just used to dealing with people for the most part that understand at least the basics of shipbuilding.  What is and isn’t possible,” he explained. 

“So,” Cassandra asked of him, “what’s wrong with this?” She waved her hands at the papers she had brought to him.  

Deran shook his head.  “Everything.  Where do you want me to start?  First of all, you don’t have enough room on these ships for three squiggle dragons like you’ve shown here.  And you can’t put masts here and here,” he pointed to her depiction.  “The hull’s shape is all wrong and there aren’t even enough sails to get something that would be this heavy underway.”  

“Which is why I’m here,” Cassandra frowned, reminding him.  

“Well, this isn’t going to work,” Deran told her bluntly.  “I don’t even know how it would work.  Just from the concept of having enough deck space to put dragons.”  Then he added, “Much less for their takeoffs and landings and their wingspans, and let alone finding enough left-over space for masts, sails, and rigging.”  

Cassandra frowned, not at all liking what she was hearing.  “Ok, so you’re supposed to be the man with the solutions around here.  So how would you do it?”  

Stepping back from the drawing, Daren considered what she was asking.  “Hmm.”  

“Hmm?” Cassandra mimicked him.  

“Yes, hmmm,” he replied.  Ensign Herstone then moved away from the table and started rummaging through first one pile of drawings, and then another, and finally another.  He acquired a dusty old set of rolled up sheets from that third pile and brought them over to the table, spreading them out with a cloud of filth.  “Look at these.”  

He placed a weight on two of the corners, allowing them to hold the drawings, much larger and much more detailed than anything Cassandra could have produced, open for her to review while he held the opposite side with his hand.  What Cassandra saw were plans for a massive ship.  It was so incredibly huge that its scale boggled her.  The number of masts and sails on it was staggering.  

“This is something,” Deran spoke, “I designed about five years ago.  The Empire even started building four of them.  But they became too costly and were abandoned.  The bones of them are still sitting in dry dock in the shipyard at Gurra.”  

“But where would the dragons go?” she asked.  

“On this?” Deran said.  “As designed?  Nowhere.  These ships weren’t built to haul dragons.”  

Cassandra scowled at him, “Then why are you showing me this?”  

“Because,” he explained, “this is the scale of the ship you would need.  In terms of width and length and depth.  And I’d say even at that you’d only get two dragons on it comfortably while leaving enough room for everything else a ship requires to function.  But the problem is how to propel it.  We’d have to remove a good three quarters of the sails and masts and rigging.  And if we do that, it would be so slow that it would take a forever to get from the port to Fimmirra, especially laden with two dragons.  I mean, I don’t know much about dragons, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they aren’t going to like being cooped up on a boat for extended periods of time.”  

“Could you design something that would work?” Cassandra asked.  

Deran shook his head.  “I can try, but can’t make any promises.  What you’re asking for?  I’ll be honest and say it is going to verge on the impossible.  It’s not so much the weight of a stationary dragon that’s the problem.  The problem is takeoff and landing. And landing more so.  Anything that drops out of the sky is going to hit with more force than its static weight.  And a dragon pushing off the deck to get into the air?  That’s not going to be insignificant either.  That will be a great downward force on the hull.”  

Cassandra’s eyes started glazing over. “I don’t understand a word of what you’re saying.”  

“Don’t expect you to.”  Then the Ensign added, “No offense.  But not your area of expertise.”  

Laughing, Cassandra agreed, surprising herself.  “Yeah, I think we already established that. And neither is drawing.”  

“You know,” Deran said with a smile, “You’ve not really how I envisioned you’d be.”  

“Uh -,’ Cassandra stumbled. “Yeah, you already said you’d thought I’d be older.”  

“I mean, yes,” Deran agreed.  “For someone with your reputation, I mean.  But beyond that.  I just pictured you differently.  In general.  After all, the stories of Sub-general Nightwing do precede you.”  

“And what stories are those?” Cassandra asked, somewhat already knowing, but enjoying the fact that the conversation was so different than most she engaged in.  Everything almost seemed to just casually flow. 

“Well, you know, the woman who took the name of the Nightwings because of her use of efficiently brutal and well-planned nighttime raids to track down rebels and make them suffer while bringing them to justice.  The woman who spends a lot of time in that gods-forsaken dungeon torturing rebel scum who are unlucky enough to not die on the battlefield.  The woman who would kill another in a heartbeat and take their position to advance through the ranks.  The woman who doesn’t dare abide by even the slightest affront, perceived or real?  Frankly,” he added with a smile, “I’m surprised I’m still alive.”  

Cassandra shook her head, blushing a little.  “Some of those stories, I’m sure, are more than a little exaggerated,” she admitted.  “Not that I don’t encourage it, mind you.  Any advantage I can get, I’ll accept.”  

“I’m just saying that I pictured you differently,” Daren admitted, not taking his eyes off her.  

“How so?” Cassandra’s interest was piqued as to where he was going with this.  

“I just didn’t picture you as being quite so -” his words trailed off as the two of them locked eyes.  

“So what?” Cassandra probed further.  

“Well – um – you’re quite -” Now Daren stumbled.  

“Quite what?”  

“Well, attractive.  I mean you’re really rather attractive.”  Daren choked on his words, “I mean, for a Sub-General who seems to enjoy killing rebels.”  

Cassandra did not know quite how to respond.  She could never remember hearing those words spoken to her before.  Her blush deepened and she returned her eyes to the documents.  “I suppose I should be flattered.”  

“No, I mean it,” Deran spoke quickly feeling she was not taking him seriously.  “I mean – well – you are.  After listening to the stories that get told I guess that I had pictured you – like I said, differently.”  

“Well, like I said, sometimes things get exaggerated,” Cassandra admitted, looking up to meet his stare.  “You’d be surprised how far a reputation can carry.  But they’re not all exaggerations.”  

“I just find it hard to picture you as that kind of person.”  Deran’s smiled continued beaming at her.  

And then, in that moment, Cassandra smiled back. 

<< Back to Chapter 26 | Forward to Chapter 28 >>

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>