What began as a short story Addy emailed to me has taken on a life of its own. In this chapter I wanted to dig into the background of the Steampunk Captain. Perhaps Addy or SouldierGirl or maybe you would like to have a shot at expanding this or another character. Don’t be shy. It’s a bit of fun. We’re not writing Hemingway here.
Here are all the links you need from the beginning of the tale.
Addy wrote Chapter 1 here:
I wrote Chapter 2 here:
He wrote Chapter 3 here:
I wrote Chapter 4 here:
Now I’ve written Chapter 5 here because I’m wordy and prolific and everyone else is a slacker I have to drag along, kicking and hopefully screaming.
Behind the helm a young man in a weathered coat of leather and steel steered the ship with one hand and with the other fired a long-barrelled musket with a brass scope. It hissed and crackled as the steam that powered it was compressed and released, firing the quickly-glowing shell as it raced toward death and destruction.
“Aim for their cannons, we want a clean get away this time!” the whole ship tilted to the side as they went round the fortress, taking out anything that could slow their progress. The air filled with smoke and the smells and sounds of death and destruction.
They called him ‘Captain’ even though he held no official rank. It was a mark of respect and not a designation of position. Anyone can be a boss; few can be a leader. Back in the mists of time he had a name: Pryderi. What no one knew, and what he would never tell, was that he was the second son of the dead King Somerled, and the younger brother of Regent Cyanide, born Kaustikos, who ascended the Throne by having his father poisoned.
Cyanide was as corrosive as his name suggested. Indeed, part of the reason for the enmity between first son and father was in the naming of the child. His personality foretold by the Mystics, Kaustikos grew up under a cloud of suspicion that warped his mind and shaped him as much as any prophesy. Kaustikos; the ancient word for caustic. He grew into his name, and then grew beyond it, taking the name of Cyanide for himself upon his appointment to Regency. Malignant, bitter, and with an insatiable lust for power, the birth of his brother sped his descent into madness.
Although it was never proven, Somerled and others believed Branwen, the Queen, had been poisoned by Cyanide shortly after Pryderi was born. If there was a spiteful, hurtful, or harmful thing that could be done to his little brother, Cyanide would do it, and then his word as a Prince would result in some poor soul being wrongly accused and sentenced to death.
When Pryderi was fourteen Cyanide had himself appointed Regent, and his first act after administering more poison to his father was to seek out his younger brother and kill him. Pushing Pryderi out of a high window Cyanide was surprised by the rapid reflexes that temporarily saved Pryderi’s life. He hung by the grip he had on his brother’s arm before Cyanide sliced it off with his sword. Younger brother and his hastily amputated arm fell seventy paces into the tidal moat.
Just as Kaustikos had been prophesied over, so had Pryderi. It was said that he would grow into a Lord of the Sea, and he would command a fleet of 160 war ships whose unfurled sails upon hundreds of masts would appear as a forest of trees in the clouds.
The Unruled were a rowdy bunch, as given to fighting among themselves as they were to stealing everything they could from the Ruled. Their respective histories were long and complicated, going back millennia to the time when expansion of the Empire was at the forefront of Royal ambition. When the Empire became obviously overextended and could no longer hold the outer lands it had invaded, the Ruled fell back, hectored and harassed by the Unruled all the way back to the Castle.
As Pryderi’s body floated down the tidal channel in the moat, a strange submersible reached out a mechanical arm and grasped him, dragging him down into the deeper murk before retracting and pulling him, lifeless, into a brass bell chamber. Flushing it with air, a loud clanking and a spinning of the inner door wheel heralded the entry of a strange little man who looked half human and half machine.
Scrounger was as good as his name. He had made a life and lucrative trade for himself with his submersible, the Verne. Years ago he had, in a drunken stupor, turned into the tidal channel and eventually bumped into the Castle’s submerged foundations. Disorientated, he switched on the Verne’s forward lights and made a sensational discovery. As is the way of the wealthy, those in the Castle threw away veritable treasures of metal-encrusted hardwoods and other goods, expecting them to wash out to sea. Many did, and some sank, and over the years Scrounger made many runs in which he accumulated goods that were a trove in the world of the Unruled.
Having discovered the boy – Scrounger’s heart and demeanour meant that it couldn’t honestly be described as rescue – he thought it might be a boon to have a castoff to do his fetching and carrying. To that end, he resuscitated the boy, fitted him with a simple steam-solar powered arm, having not found the one the boy was born with, and then he put the child into suspended animation while time and tubes worked their magic.
When Pryderi awoke weeks later the flesh around the grafted arm was nearly healed. His muscles were weak from inactivity but he was otherwise in good health, although the same couldn’t be said of his surroundings. The small room was rank with stale air infested with past sickness and human waste. He could not have known this was the normal state of cleanliness in Scrounger’s hovel at Dark River Fjord.
Restless and unable to draw a full and cleansing breath, Pryderi clumsily used his new mechanical arm to wrench the hinges of the door loose and then pry it open with one of the many tools it seemed were secreted within the arm. “No need to wreck the place!” said Scrounger, coming out of his drunken stupor. Looking around, it was hard to imagine how the place could be any more wrecked. “Here, lad, what’s yer name?” he asked. “Pry…” Pryderi had no time to continue. “Pry is about the size of it,” Scrounger interrupted, and that was how Pryderi came to be known in the early days before he simply became ‘Captain’.
Over the following decade Pry had more enhancements. Doing so was something of a fashion and a fetish for those who could afford it. His cheap arm was replaced by enhanced models and his lungs, never strong after his submersion in the toxic funk of the Castle moat, were replaced with a brass breastplate that covered a superb set of miniaturised bellows. A few more successful heists and he’d have all he needed to have the latest compressor joints fitted to his legs, and then would come the kevlar coating to his bones.
To the Unruled, he was a misfit among misfits; half man and half maniac. They were satisfied to amble along, annoying the Ruled and squabbling among themselves. To himself, Pryderi was never far from the surface, even though he was well hidden. Just a few more enhancements and a few more ships and, he knew, the time would be right to reveal himself and the Prophesy. An uneasy wind blew up between Ruled and Unruled, and he fed it and shaped it as best he could. Not long now. A war was coming.