Hiero's Journey, Chapter Nine (continued):
For the previous installment of this series, use your web-linking mojo to link here:
Having run afoul of a ship-load of pirates on the Inland Sea, Hiero tries to divert the scurvy dogs by using his mind mojo. He mentally persuades one of the pirates, a red-shirt named Gimmer, to kill the pirates' helmsmen, but pirate archers shoot Gimmer dead before he has a chance. Apparently, they were very much on their guard against Mister Mojo. A second attempt to kill the helmsman also fails: Per Desteen seizes control of one of the archers, but only manages to take down an unnamed sailor before the other pirates kill his pawn. Lanier doesn't spare much sympathy for these mooks, which is unfortunate because I believe they all had the potential for better lives, like Chee-Chowk in Chapter Six.
The pirate ship, which Captain Gimp identifies as the Ravished Bride, overtakes the Foam Girl. It is a much larger sailing vessel with a huge expanse of canvas, and Mssr. Gimp describes it as “unprintably lovely” (215), which I suspect is not actually the adjective he used. The pirate crew is, as we have noted, a stereotypical band of cutthroats. Lanier spares a little more detail for the captain, Bald Roke, a colorful villain with a facial scar (it was a prerequisite for the job) who wears “orange velvet” and lots of bling, including a “mechanical” psychic shield that was apparently a gift from the EUM Conspiracy. Alas, he lacks that essential accessory of every well-dressed pirate: a mascot. Lanier could have given us a mutant cyclops parrot cursing in a French Canadian accent, or a three-tailed pet monkey with a moustache and a miniature zap gun, but either he was in too serious a mood, or too pressed to move on with the plot.
Just before the pirates assemble an evil boarding party to take the Foam Girl, Brother Aldo manages to summon some animalian help, in the form of two large mutant water birds who menace the pirate ship and force its captain to parlay. Mssr. Bald Roke demands, modestly enough, that Captain Gimp hand over Hiero and Luchare. The other captain tells him to go “fry your crew of man-eaters in human grease” (218). Roke has a good opening here to reply “Well, we do have some extra human grease lying around...” but he isn't in the mood to joke either. Instead, he listens as Captain Gimp challenges him to fight a duel for clear passage, then counterproposes a doubles match, with Hiero and the Gimp* as one of the teams.
The duel, staged aboard the Ravished Bride, is fought with sword, shield, and a minimum of actual whoop-ass. Hiero's opposite number turns out to be a new kind of mutant, a “Glith,” with scaly skin and dead grey eyes. Hiero taunts Roke and Mister Glith before the battle: “The grave yawns for all of them [i.e., the pirates] and for this creature and for you as well” (220). Advice for aspiring writers: avoid using the word “yawn” before a battle scene, as it will tend to anesthetize your readers. It might even anesthetize your hero: rather than quickly succumb to Hiero's combat mojo, the Glith proceeds to hypnotize Hiero with his mutant eyes, and nearly kills him before Luchare rouses her fiance with a well-timed scream.
Hiero uses his shield to cover his eyes, while Mister Glith nearly trips him with his axe and shield. Eventually Per Desteen regains his footing and flings his shield at the Glith's legs, dropping him to the deck and allowing Hiero to dispatch him with a sword blow to the head. Once the Glith gives up the ghost, Captain Gimp, while wounded, is sufficiently encouraged that he manages to hack off Roke's sword arm. The well-dressed pirate captain dies in a jet of blood, and the “scurvy wretches” (225) of the pirate crew surrender. Actually, they pal up with Gimp's crewmen, and in the process demonstrate how easily one falls into cliches when writing a pirate scene. I suspect that's why such episodes appeal to writers: they're fun and don't require much thought. Probably when he was outlining this novel Lanier wrote a note to himself saying “at least one pirate scene.” Will there be more? Tune in next time and find out.
Coming next: Into the realm of Vilah-ree, unknowing.
* A good name for a late-1970s TV show, come to think of it.