Tepic saw Mr Arnold approaching the grounded Vole, for some reason dragging his feet somewhat.
“Come on Mr Arnold,” he yelled across the square, “i’m ready ter go!”
The cat made shushing gestures, and scampered quickly up to the boy, indicating he wanted to take off as soon as possible.
“Alright, if yer in a hurry, just nip in on top of them boxes, i done some great trading, dates, coconuts a some melons, so it’s a bit more cramped than before, but they were a bargain…”
The boy chattered on while stoking the boiler and pumping fresh hot air into the bag. The Vole strained upwards. pulling on the guy ropes, while Mr Arnold crouched low over the goods, fretting in case anyone saw him. Finally, the ship was ready, and Tepic jumped in, pulling the release rope. The ship lept into the air, rising rapidly, as several guards ran towards the rapidly ascending airship, waving wildly. Tepic cheerfully waved back, it was wonderful the way everyone was so friendly in Mondrago, even making sure you had a good send off!
They gained altitude and speed, making good progress out to sea – this time Tepic had judged it right, and they did not dip down to sea level as they reached deep water, though they did lose a little height. They had been going for some hours, with Mr Arnold taking a rest on the merchandise when Tepic saw the storm clouds ahead. It looked as if it was the same storm they had endured on the way over, and although the lightning had been rather wonderful, the Vole was a bit heavier than before, so Tepic stoked up the boiler to raise them up above the clouds. He also got Mr Arnold to tie a large, fresh coconut onto a line, and drop it below the basket, to act as a keel. It was rough, and they were pushed about by the winds, but they were high enough above the storm to avoid getting soaked this time. Tepic was fasinatedly looking down at the dark clouds roiling below him, lit by the occasional flash of lightning. Mr Arnold obviously was feeling tired by the traveling, and was hunkered down under the tarpaulin that had been used to cover the melons, so Tepic kept his comments about the wonderful show as quiet as he could….
It was as they were reaching the far edge of the storm that the boy saw another airship coming up from below them, where it had been hidden in the dark clouds!Sky Pirates!
“Mr Arnold!” he yelled, “stay hid under the tarpaulin, we got company!”
There was no use in running, the pirates had the weather eye on them and were closing fast, all Tepic could do was to heave too and hope for the best, as the pirates hung over their rails waving cutlasses ferociously. They didn’t even need the grappling irons they were swinging, just a boat hook to drag the basket against their hull. The airmen drew back, leaving an avenue down which their fearsome looking captain strode to peer into his diminutive catch. He looked closer, and gave an almighty roar!
“TEPIC! is that you lad?”
“Captain Simmons?” the boy replied, “yes, it’s me! Nice ter see you again Captain Sir!”
The pirates burst out laughing as their Captain lifted the boy out by his shoulders and plonked him down on the deck, dusting him off before touseling his hair.
“So what brings you this far out, m’boy? he asked.
“Been over Mondrago, got me some dates an stuff fer trading back in the City, Captain.”
“Ah! So yer going back to the old smoke then, yer young rascal, well, best place for younguns like yourself, now the Raptor is coming to make things right!”
“Yes Sir, the City’s best place fer me, now i got me trade goods, i going inter business, now things are gonna get better!” Tepic stated, tail held high and proud, chest thrown out and thumbs tucked under where his braces would have been, if he had any!
“Tis a goodly way yet, yer sound for supplies, m’laddie?”
“Yes Sir, got all i needs, yer knows i packs well fer travel, Sir, but can i temps yer with a few boxes of dates, fresh from tha palm?”
“That you can laddie, and fer four boxes I’ll gift you this fine knife, that a Spanish gentleman left in my care, when he happened upon us a few weeks ago, and which he decided would be better with us than with him when he took the big dive!”
The captain proffered a small blade with a smooth wooden hilt, just the right size for the boy’s hand. Tepic took the gift, sliding it inside his shirt, and passed the dates from under the tarpaulin, before vaulting back into the basket, and waving goodbye, the airman holding the craft side by side pushing him off with the boathook.
“Give my respects to the Raptor when you get back, youngun!” the captain shouted, “and if you see any cats, you be sure to let him know! Good sailing, laddie!”
“i will,” hollered Tepic, as the gap widened, “and good hunting ter you an yer crew, Captain!”
The ships pulled further apart, and the Sky Pirates dipped back into the cover of the dark clouds.
The Flying Vole coasted onwards, until the storm was in the far distance, and Tepic called out to Mr Arnold that all was clear. The cat emerged, hot and sticky, covered in juice from the sweaty dates and melons. He looked at the boy and raised a quizical eyebrow, but Tepic just grinned and shrugged.
“Just as well they didn’t see ya, think they were a bit doolally bout the dinosaur. Thought i recognised the ship when it were coming up, i told Captain Simmons which lad would make a good cabin boy last time they were in the City!”
Mr Arnold slumped slightly and put his head in his hands.
“Ah well,” said Tepic, “that’s probably all the adventure we gonna get this trip, hey look, down there, it’s that island we nearly hit on the way out, we’re way high now, no trouble!”
As he said this, they looked over the side of the basket to see a fireball rise from the centre of the island, heading straight for them! Tepic yawer the ship, and the flaming balista bolt passed harmlessly to one side before arcing over to fall back into the sea.
“Blimey! We musta upset em last time! Wonder what we did….”
He was all for landing on the island and trying to make amends, not being keen on people being upset, but Mr Arnold was quite clear on the subject, they had to get back to the City as soon as possible, and couldn’t spare the time to take side trips. So with reluctance, and dodging the few bolts the islanders were able to put up in the time they were in range, they were soon on their way again. Some hours later, they could spy the smudge of smoke that showed where their home was, and had set a course towards it.
“Right then, Mr Arnold, we’re safe back,” said Tepic, “So where is it yer want ter land?”