“Oof! Milady? Dost Thou find displeasure in my affections?” Thomas pouted, while Mabel harrumphed.
“I hafta work, you know?” Mabel stood up, adjusted her skirts, and patted her hair down.
“The kitchen? I’ve got customers!”
Thomas sighed as Mabel quickly left the room.
“Aight! Wot table ordered mutton and ale?!?” Mabel’s voice carried back to the corner where Thomas sat in his chair. He was rather hot, mostly from having such a beautiful lady on his lap. Perhaps some ale would cool him down a bit.
Mabel returned to the dark corner with a small crust of bread, and two flagons of ale. She set the bread and one flagon down on the table next to Thomas, and proffered the second flagon to him.
“You look like you could use a little refreshment, Sir,” Mabel said with a wink and a little smile. She sat on the bench next to Thomas, and leaned into him a little. “Now, where were we?” she asked with a hint of mischief.
Touching his lips with a finger ever so lightly, Mabel traced a line all the way down to the base of Thomas’ chin. Nudging it upward, she leaned in to offer a kiss. Mabel smelled oh so sweet, and Thomas felt intoxicated from her scent. As their lips touched, Thomas pressed forward, kissing without restraint. He wanted nothing more than to be immersed in this sweet honeyed dream.
“Orrrrrderrrrr UP!” came the call from the kitchens once more. Thomas tried to hold on to Mabel. Maybe Drusilla would take the food out this time. His efforts were for naught, as Mabel was up before Thomas could reach for her hand. What a cruel trick to be taunted so.
Drusilla walked past, seeing that look of desperation on Thomas’s face. “Perhaps ye should not bother the help during business hours, lad!” Drusilla winked, and Thomas flinched. By the end of the day, Thomas would be long gone. The tryst between Mabel and Thomas would be broken, and the high seas would take Thomas to his fate.
Thomas looked away, and stared through the window of the tavern to the docks that beckoned only feet away. The HMS Golden Minion moved up and down with the waves. Soon enough, he would board her with the other sailors, and then they were off to slay the Drake, a sea dragon that had been claiming the lives of many a sailor and merchant along the trade routes. Few had returned to share the news. Those who did were often gravely injured, and traumatized from the ordeal. The Royal Navy sent ship after ship to their doom, hoping that the seaways would be safer for it.
The Golden Minion, armed to the teeth with the finest cannons of the fleet, was part of a final push to eradicate the seas of this menace. If all went well, the crew of the Golden Minion would be lauded as heroes, and knighthood was a sure thing. Even Her Royal Highness, Queen Elinor IV, would be in attendance for the big send off of HMS Golden Minion this very evening.
Thomas was certain that the Golden Minion and her crew would never return. He found that instead of courage, there was only dread. He cared little about the prospect of knighthood, considering the price that would come with it. All he wanted was to run away, and to take Mabel with him.
Having doled out dishes and ales to patrons, Mabel returned to the dark corner where Thomas sat. She sat across from Thomas and studied him quietly. Sensing his unease, she wondered if he would be brave, or take the coward’s way out. Many sailors were caught over the last few weeks deserting their posts. Having no idea whether the stories were true about the Drake or otherwise, Mabel held little regard toward the deserting sailors. Perhaps she needed to give a little encouragement to her suitor now. Thomas looked as if he needed it, and she certainly would not be caught dead with a deserter. Mabel raised her flagon and took a long drink of ale.
“So thou shalt be away this night?”
“Aye. We depart at sunset, Milady.” Thomas looked down at the forgotten crust of bread, and considered an alternative.
“I could desert,” he said brightly. “We could leave after nightfall. Let us be married, and we can head north to the mountains this night!”
“What are ye on about, Thomas?” Mabel leveled her gaze at him. “That is madness, and ye can’t escape fate. Me father would never allow me to marry ye if desertion is what ye plan!”
Thomas looked down. It was a stupid idea. He was afraid, and grasping at any other way out.
Mabel continued. “Ye shan’t be a man at all if ye desert. If ye find my affections pleasurable, then go to thy fate. Thou shalt find me waiting for ye upon thine return from the seas. Then, we shall be wed.”
Thomas sighed a heavy sigh. “Aye. I am frightened, Milady. We go to fight the Drake of the sea. They say none have returned from battle.”
“Thomas Haye,” Mabel said softly. She took his hand, and pressed a coin into it, then closed his fingers upon it. “Take this with ye. Been in me family. Passed down from me great-great-grandpa. It shall keep ye safe. When the battle is over, and Thou hast returned, ye shall find me waiting here. Then, we shall be wed. This is my solemn vow. I swear it to ye now, with Goddess Nazaza as my witness to ye.”
Thomas opened his hand, and looked at the coin. It was a blue stone hen-penny, very old. One side showed a forget-me-not, the official flower of the region to the north, while the other side revealed the façade of HRH Queen Elinor I, with the inscription 2570 GAE below the queen’s cameo. This coin was over two hundred years old. Thomas’s eyes widened.
“I cannot. Such a priceless relic,” he gasped. “Mabel! This is…”
“Take it!” Mabel urged. “Unless ye have no intent to be my husband?”
Thomas sat up, his back straight. “Mabel,” he whispered, “I do intend to marry you. Nazaza as my witness! I love Thee with all my being. For it is certain that I shall be Thy husband, if Thou shalt be my wife. Assuming I do not perish in this fight.”
Drusilla chose this time to walk past the young lovers. “Quit frettin’ Lad! You’ll slay that dragon with yer cannons by the by. Now finish yer ale, and go fight for our Queen’s honor. Then, ye can have Miss Mabel’s honor, and more.” Drusilla turned away from the couple in the corner and shouted, “Long live the Queen!”
“Long live the Queen!” cheered the patrons.
*** *** ***
The waves crashed against the bow of the HMS Golden Minion, as rain pounded down from the sky. The torrential downpour had been constant for days, and visibility was nonexistent. The Golden Minion, with two other naval vessels, pitched to and fro like clumsy ducklings.
Morale was low, although everyone was in good health. This was the worst storm yet on this journey. The sailors were angry, and many of them were looking for a fight. Captain Julian Furnace awaited news from the captains of the HMS Clave, and the HMS Defiant, to see whether they should call off the mission and return home.
Captain Furnace surveyed reports from the other ships as they arrived. Captain Beedle of the Clave reported that nearly his entire crew had fallen ill from scurvy and four Midshipmen had died. Their food resources had spoiled, due to a leak in the main deck. Half of their cannons were disabled, and there was concern that they would be unable to fight. They would return to port immediately. Captain Lytcott of the Defiant reported that all was well for the moment, even if the crew were suffering a slight case of cabin fever. They would stay and fight, given the chance.
So far, there were no signs of the Drake. Only treacherous rain, and choppy waves greeted the Royal Navy. Were it not for the fact that Furnace personally interrogated a survivor of the Drake’s wrath two months ago, he had reason to doubt the very existence of this menacing dragon.
Furnace called for his first officer, and decided to discuss the matter with him. Thomas Haye approached the captain, bowing low. “The first officer, Sir!” He straightened, and stood back, as Officer Lunceford stepped forward. “Reporting, Sir.”
“Any change, Lunceford?”
“Aye, Captain. The storm has begun to recede. Visibility has increased to roughly two chains, Sir. It does appear that the Clave has changed course. Are they retreating?”
“Yes. I received word from Beedle that their rations have spoiled, their minions are down, and they have experienced several casualties. It appears their communications have failed as well. Beedle attached a passenger pigeon to an arrow, and shot the arrow over a short while ago. The poor pigeon was confused, but happy to be untied.”
“Sir? Why did they need to send a pigeon? Would not just an arrow suffice? Or a flag, for that matter? We are modern sailors, Captain.” Lunceford asked.
Furnace merely shrugged. “Apparently, they are too delirious to communicate without some sort of bird involved.”
“Right, then. What about the Defiant?”
“They are to remain with us. What are your thoughts? You think we should persevere? Or shall we return to port?”
“Captain, I wish to fight dragons. We should continue our search.”
“And you, Midshipman? Are you up to the task of fighting?” Captain Furnace turned his gaze toward Thomas Haye.
“Sir,” Thomas answered slowly, “I-“ Thomas wanted to confess his fear of the Drake, so that he could return to port. Then he remembered Mabel’s challenge. She wanted someone who would stand his ground and fight what came at them. Thomas continued, “I believe we should find the Drake and slay the creature.”
“Very good,” nodded Furnace. “At our earliest opportunity, we shall push forward. Let us pursue the dragon.”
“Aye, Sir!” Lunceford replied, bowing low. “Midshipman Haye, come with me.”
“Aye!” Thomas scrambled up the steps behind first officer Lunceford.
They didn’t make it to the deck before the boat pitched forward, and a loud creek emanated from below. Someone from the upper deck rang the warning bell, signaling that the ships were under attack. Captain Furnace ran for the steps leading up to the deck shouting, “To your stations, gentlemen! The Fierce Drake has set upon us!”
Sailors were scrambling to their battle posts. Lunceford turned to Thomas Haye, and gave the order for him to oversee the cannons on the second deck. Turning on his left foot, Thomas headed down to the deck below, and gave the orders to ready the minions.
“Ah-tten-tion!” Thomas called out. The crewman stood at attention, to await the orders. Thomas felt fear at what would come next. Reaching into his pocket, he felt the stone hen-penny, and suddenly felt at ease. Thomas stood straight, and with new confidence, began to speak.
“Gentlemen, our guest has arrived. Let us bid him a fiery welcome. Ready the cannons immediately, then fire the minions, at my command. Drummers, count us off.”
Two young men sat at the head of the battle deck with mallets in hand. They began to pound a steady rhythm. As the beats continued, Thomas Haye called out the verse to the song for battle, which the crew would sing.
It’s time!” Haye called in rhythm.
“It’s time to fight
With all our might!” the crew responded in song.
“It’s time to show
We will not hide!
Though waves may toss our sorry lot
Across the endless sea,
Our efforts, they won’t be forgot
For we’ll fight valiantly!
For fighting is our right!
For ye shall die tonight!”
“LOAD THE MINIONS!” Lunceford called down.
“Gentleman, load the minions!” Thomas called in rhythm to the drums.
“We load! We load!
The ball goes in the ‘port!
Push the ball, to the base,
Into the drake it goes!
Push the ball down to the base,
Into the drake it goes!
Fuse in! Fuse in!
Move the cannon into place!
Light the fuse!” They all sang.
BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! The roar was deafening as each of the five cannons fired.
Impact. A deafening shriek was the reply. The waves became rocky again, as the Golden Minion lurched forward. The movement caused the drummers to falter, and sailors to topple.
“Direct hit! LOAD the minions AGAIN!” Lunceford shouted.
“Load the minions again, gentlemen!” Thomas called, trying to maintain rhythm with the drummers.
“Aye, sir!” the men shouted.
The song began again, and continued for several cycles. After the fifth round of cannon fire, the dragon Drake sank to the bottom of the sea. This was a victory for the HMS Golden Minion and the HMS Defiant. While the HMS Clave had been spotted under three rods off the stern before battle, she was nowhere to be seen after the fight. It was likely that the Clave had been caught in the crossfire, and now resided on the floor with Drake. No one would be certain until port was reached a week later.
*** *** ***
Spirits were high as the two naval vessels sailed south to port. Their town, Portpointe, appeared to be in the midst of a celebration. Perhaps the sailors aboard the HMS Clave saw the battle, and reported to the Queen upon arrival. The sight of the bright lights was cause for celebration, regardless. The men aboard the HMS Golden Minion stood atop the main deck with flagons of ale in hand. Singing chanteys and recounting the battle, their voices carried into the night sky.
The city walls were decorated with torches burning bright, so that the Golden Minion and Defiant could see the town like it was day. Unfortunately, the crewmen were all too intoxicated, or they would have noticed that Portpointe’s flag did not wave in the skies at the docks. Rather, there were no flags at all, and what was originally perceived as celebratory lights were actually fires that ravaged the port town. Buildings burned, and bodies littered the streets.
Upon reaching the docks, the captains of the boats urged their men to grab their muskets, and to sober up quickly. Portpointe had obviously been subject to invasion, and it appeared that not a single soldier was left to defend her.
The sailors disembarked the vessels as quickly as they could. Captains Furnace and Lytcott kept a few men behind on the ships to man the cannons at the first sign of struggle on land.
Thomas Haye rushed toward the tavern that Mabel Oliver worked at. All he could think of was whether she, Drusilla, and the staff were safe and unharmed. He stopped short of the threshold of the tavern, dropping his musket at the sight. No walls remained intact on the tavern. Bodies littered the floor, and casks burned. He rushed over toward the prostate body of a woman lying face down in a bed of ash. He gingerly turned the woman over, and recognized the face of Drusilla. She was quite dead, and Thomas began to weep at the sight. “Where is Mabel?” he asked to no one in particular. “WHERE?!?” Moving from body to body, he checked each one for signs of life, hoping he would find his love. It was to no avail. Some bodies were charred beyond recognition, but Thomas continued his search.
It was daybreak before First Officer Lunceford found Midshipman Thomas Haye. He had lined hundreds of bodies up along the road. Lunceford touched Thomas Haye’s shoulder gently, but Haye did not seem to notice.
“At ease, Midshipman, at ease.” Lunceford said, but Thomas did not hear him.
“Milady Mabel, where art thou?” Thomas whispered softly over and over.
Captain Furnace reached Officer Lunceford. “It appears to be the work of the Southwark Pirates. They waited knowing the Royal Navy would be fighting the Drake. Captain Beedle informed me of the situation. The Clave arrived too late and too disabled to fight. It appears that not a single life was spared in Portpointe. The Clave’s crew was unable to fight. Beedle says only five of their crew survived the voyage back to Portpointe.”
“Dear Goddess, no! What of the queen?”
“The queen is gone. Perhaps, she is a prisoner. No one is certain. We shall have to regroup and pursue these bastards though. All the way to Southwark, if need be.” Furnace paused, then he swore. “I knew it was a mistake to pursue the dragon!”
“Aye, Captain,” said Lunceford. “We shall regroup, and fight. For the queen.”
“For the queen,” Furnace agreed.
“Forget the queen!” yelled Thomas, as he staggered toward Furnace and Lunceford. “The queen sent us on this goose chase, and now everyone I have ever known and loved are dead for it. Let her go! Let her go!”
“Aye,” Lunceford said quietly, “Perhaps, you are right.”
Thomas felt the stone hen-penny in his trouser pocket. He pulled it out, and flung it into the sea. “Lot of good you’ve done! I didn’t need saving, your mistress Mabel did!” Thomas collapsed onto the cobblestones and began to sob uncontrollably. There he remained, unable to move, for his heart had fallen to the bottom of the sea with the blue stone hen-penny, never to be recovered.
Notes about 'The Ballad of Thomas Haye':
1) The word drake refers both to a small cannon, and the archaic term for dragon.
2) HMS Golden Minion pays homage both to the nickname of the drake cannon, and the preferred vessel of Sir Francis Drake, the Golden Hind.
Thank you for reading.