Scorpion MountainJohn Flanagan
ALSO BY JOHN FLANAGAN
Book 1: The Outcasts
Book 2: The Invaders
Book 3: The Hunters
Book 4: Slaves of Socorro
THE RANGER’S APPRENTICE EPIC
Book 1: The Ruins of Gorlan
Book 2: The Burning Bridge
Book 3: The Icebound Land
Book 4: The Battle for Skandia
Book 5: The Sorcerer of the North
Book 6: The Siege of Macindaw
Book 7: Erak’s Ransom
Book 8: The Kings of Clonmel
Book 9: Halt’s Peril
Book 10: The Emperor of Nihon-Ja
Book 11: The Lost Stories
Book 12: The Royal Ranger
For my Son Michael, once more.
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Copyright © 2014 by John Flanagan. Illustrations © 2011 and 2014 by David Elliot.
Map copyright © by Mathematics and Anna Warren.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Flanagan, John (John Anthony), author.
Scorpion Mountain / John Flanagan. pages cm.—(Brotherband chronicles ; book 5)
Summary: Princess Cassandra of Araluen has already survived one assassination attempt, but when a second attempt proves that the deadly Scorpion Cult is involved, Hal, his Heron Brotherband crew, and the Ranger Gilan are dispatched to ensure her safety by launching a preemptive strike against Scorpion Mountain and its cult of assassins. 1. Quests (Expeditions)—Juvenile fiction. 2. Seafaring life—Juvenile fiction. 3. Assassins—Juvenile fiction. 4. Attempted assassination—Juvenile fiction. 5. Adventure stories. [1. Adventure and adventurers—Fiction. 2. Seafaring life—Fiction. 3. Assassins—Fiction. 4. Fantasy.] I. Title. II. Series: Flanagan, John (John Anthony). Brotherband chronicles ; bk. 5. PZ7.F598284Sc 2014 823.92—dc23 2014028703
American edition edited by Michael Green.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for third-party websites or their content.
Also By John Flanagan
A Few Sailing Terms Explained
Because this book involves sailing ships, I thought it might be useful to explain a few of the nautical terms found in the story.
Be reassured that I haven’t gone overboard (to keep up the nautical allusion) with technical details in the book, and even if you’re not familiar with sailing, I’m sure you’ll understand what’s going on. But a certain amount of sailing terminology is necessary for the story to feel realistic.
So, here we go, in no particular order:
Bow: The front of the ship, also called the prow.
Stern: The rear of the ship.
Port and starboard: The left and the right side of the ship, as you’re facing the bow. In fact, I’m probably incorrect in using the term port. The early term for port was larboard, but I thought we’d all get confused if I used that.
Starboard is a corruption of “steering board” (or steering side). The steering oar was always placed on the right-hand side of the ship at the stern.
Consequently, when a ship came into port it would moor with the left side against the jetty, to avoid damage to the steering oar. One theory says the word derived from the ship’s being in port—left side to the jetty. I suspect, however, that it might have come from the fact that the entry port, by which crew and passengers boarded, was also always on the left side.
How do you remember which side is which? Easy. Port and left both have four letters.
Forward: Toward the bow.
Aft: Toward the stern.
Fore-and-aft rig: A sail plan in which the sail is in line with the hull of the ship.
Hull: The body of the ship.
Keel: The spine of the ship.
Steering oar: The blade used to control the ship’s direction, mounted on the starboard side of the ship, at the stern.
Tiller: The handle for the steering oar.
Yardarm, or yard: A spar (wooden pole) that is hoisted up the mast, carrying the sail.
Masthead: The top of the mast.
Bulwark: The part of the ship’s side above the deck.
Belaying pins: Wooden pins used to fasten rope.
Oarlock, or rowlock: Pegs set on either side of an oar to keep it in place while rowing.
Telltale: A pennant that indicates the wind’s direction.
Tacking: To tack is to change direction from one side to the other, passing through the eye of the wind.
If the wind is from the north and you want to sail northeast, you would perform one tack so that you are heading northeast, and you would continue to sail on that tack for as long as you need.
However, if the wind is from the north and
you want to sail due north, you would have to do so in a series of short tacks, going back and forth on a zigzag course, crossing through the wind each time, and slowly making ground to the north. This is a process known as beating into the wind.
Wearing: When a ship tacks, it turns into the wind to change direction. When it wears, it turns away from the wind, traveling in a much larger arc, with the wind in the sail, driving the ship around throughout the maneuver. Wearing was a safer way of changing direction for wolfships than beating into the wind.
Reach, or reaching: When the wind is from the side of the ship, the ship is sailing on a reach, or reaching.
Running: When the wind is from the stern, the ship is running. (So would you if the wind was strong enough at your back.)
Reef: To gather in part of the sail and bundle it against the yardarm to reduce the sail area. This is done in high winds to protect the sail and the mast.
Trim: To adjust the sail to the most efficient angle.
Halyard: A rope used to haul the yard up the mast. (Haul-yard, get it?)
Whoa there, Tom! Steady on, fellow!”
Tom was a plow horse, well past middle age and resigned, like most of his placid breed, to the constant task of plodding up and down, hauling a plow that carved consecutive furrows in the rich earth of Halder farm. He wasn’t accustomed to being stopped in mid-furrow and he turned his shaggy head to look at his owner, Devon Halder.
Devon, like his horse, was well past middle age. And the smock that he was wearing was liberally daubed with patches of drying mud. Later that night, when he was asked in the local tavern what led him to stop and and turn around, he couldn’t really recall. Perhaps he had heard the slight sounds of creaking leather and rope, or the rustle of a sail in the brisk wind.
Whatever it was, it was enough for Devon to halt Tom and turn to face the river behind him. When he did, the sight that met his eyes sent a sudden jolt of panic through him.
Barely forty meters away, gliding smoothly up the river, was a ship.
His first thought was that she was a wolfship, and Devon was old enough to remember when the sight of a Skandian wolfship on the river was a prelude to a sudden, savage attack. He tensed his muscles to run and spread the alarm in the nearby village. But he paused at the last second.
The days when Skandians used to raid the coastal and river villages of Araluen were well in the past now. And besides, on second glance, this was no wolfship.
She was similar in style and shape, sure enough. She was slim waisted and had a look of speed about her. She didn’t have the broad, capacious lines of a cargo hull. But there was no large square sail such as a wolfship would use. Instead, this ship was rigged with a triangular sail that was mounted fore and aft along the line of the ship, supported by a long, gracefully curving spar that swept up high above the hull.
She was smaller than a wolfship. Also, at her bow post, there was no carved wolf’s head, with raised hackles and snarling teeth. Instead, there was a carving in the shape of a bird’s head. And there was a motif of a seabird in flight on the sail—a graceful bird with wings spread wide. A heron, Devon realized.
But the four circular wood-and-metal-reinforced shields arrayed down the starboard bulwark were unmistakably Skandian in design, although he noticed that a fifth shield, set level with the helmsman’s position, was shaped like a triangle.
The crew, those he could see, were dressed in Skandian fashion—with leather and sheepskin vests and leggings held secure by crisscross bindings. Yet he saw none of the horned helmets for which the Skandian sea wolves were well known, the sight of which would strike fear into any honest farmer’s heart. Instead, several of them wore dark woolen watch caps, rolled down to cover their ears against the cold.
As he watched, the figure at the helm raised a hand in greeting. Devon shaded his eyes to look more closely at the helmsman. He appeared to be quite young, and relatively slim for a Skandian. The person beside him was more like a typical sea wolf, Devon thought. He was bulky, with wild gray hair blowing in the wind. As Devon watched, he realized that the second man had a wooden hook in place of his right hand.
Definitely a sea wolf type, he thought. But then the man made a similar gesture of greeting. Devon returned the wave cautiously—his suspicions were still raised. Small as she might be, this was definitely a cruiser, a raiding ship. She was fast, lean hulled and potentially dangerous. And, as the shields arrayed down her bulwark attested, her crew were fighting men. He watched her closely as she sailed past, gradually pulling out into the center of the river to round the approaching bend. The helmsman and his companion lowered their hands and seemed to lose interest in the elderly farmer and his plow horse.
• • • • •
“That’ll give him something to talk about in the tavern tonight,” Thorn said with a grin. “Probably the most exciting thing that’s happened to him since his plow got stuck on a tree root five days ago.”
Hal raised an eyebrow. “Us? Exciting?”
Thorn nodded, scratching his rump with the blunt end of his wooden hook.
“He was a graybeard. He’d remember the times when the sight of a Skandian ship meant a raid. I’m surprised he didn’t go pelting off to raise the alarm when he saw us.” Thorn had no idea how close the farmer had come to doing just that.
As they rounded the bend and the farmer and his horse disappeared from sight, Kloof planted her forepaws onto the starboard bulwark and gave out a single bark. Then, content that she had asserted her superiority over all things Araluen, she dropped back to the deck, slid her front feet and flumped down onto the planks. For a few seconds, she watched Hal out of one eye, then she sighed and settled back to sleep.
Hal cast his gaze over the tilled fields and green forests that lined the banks of the river. It was attractive country, he thought.
“Did you ever raid in Araluen, Thorn?” he asked.
The old sea wolf shook his head. “Erak preferred to raid the Iberian coast, and sometimes Gallica or Sonderland. And now that I’ve seen Gilan in action with that bow of his, I’m glad he did. Maybe Erak knew something. Imagine facing half a dozen archers with Gilan’s skill and speed.”
“Facing one would be bad enough,” Hal agreed.
Stig was sitting on a coil of rope several meters away, idly putting an edge on his already razor-sharp saxe knife as he listened to their conversation.
“D’you think Gilan will be at Castle Araluen yet?” he asked.
Originally, they had planned to leave Cresthaven Bay at the same time as the Ranger, who was riding overland back to the capital. But they’d had a long, hard voyage south to Socorro and Hal wanted the Heron in tip-top shape for her first appearance at Castle Araluen. There were some sections of running rigging that had frayed and needed splicing and repairing, and there was a large, splintered gash in one of the planks on the waterline, where they had nearly run aground pursuing Tursgud’s renegade ship Nightwolf through the shoals. It took half a day to plane that smooth and repaint the timber so there was no sign of the damage.
In addition, Edvin wanted to replenish their stores and fresh food and suggested that they should do it at Cresthaven, where the village was contracted to supply their needs as part of the duty ship agreement.
“No point spending our money elsewhere when they’ll provide it for nothing here,” Edvin had said, and Hal agreed.
As a result, they sailed out of Cresthaven and headed north to the river mouth some two days after Gilan had ridden off, waving farewell as he topped the rise above the bay where they were moored.
“He should be,” Hal replied to Stig’s question. “It’s a little over a day’s ride and I’m told those Ranger horses cover ground at a prodigious rate.”
“He can have the welcome committee ready for us then,” Tho
rn added. “Maybe this king of theirs will come down to the jetty to greet us.”
Hal smiled sidelong at his old friend. “From what I’ve heard of kings, they don’t stand around on windy jetties waiting for roughneck sailors to arrive.”
“Do you consider yourself a roughneck?” Thorn asked. “I’ve always thought of you as quite sophisticated.”
“I may be. But you’re roughneck enough for all of us,” Hal told him and Thorn grinned contentedly.
“Yes. I’m glad to say I am.”
Farther forward, in the waist of the ship and with no responsibilities to attend to during this current long reach of the river, the twins were bickering, as they were wont to do. They had been silent for some time, much to the crew’s relief, but that was a situation too good to last.
“You know that brown-eyed girl who was sitting on your lap at the welcome-home feast?” Ulf began.
Wulf eyed him suspiciously, before replying. “Yes. What about her?”
Ulf paused, smiling quietly to himself, preparing to throw out his verbal challenge. “Well, she fancied me,” he said.
Wulf looked at him, eyebrows raised. “She fancied you?”
Ulf nodded emphatically. “So you noticed too?”
Wulf snorted in annoyance. “I wasn’t agreeing,” he said. “I was querying you. That was why I raised my voice at the end of the sentence. It signified that I was saying, What do you mean, she fancied you?”
“I mean she found me attractive—actually, very attractive. It was obvious, after all.”
Wulf paused for several seconds. “If it was so obvious that she fancied you—that she found you attractive—why was she sitting on my lap?”
Ulf waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “That’s what makes it so obvious. She wanted to make me jealous, so she played up to you. She was playing hard to get.”
“Well, she played it very well. You certainly didn’t get her,” his brother told him, with some heat in his voice. He had noticed Ulf admiring the girl early in the evening and had swooped, successfully, before his brother could act.
Lydia, who was leaning on the bulwark several meters away, groaned audibly as the exchange continued.