It was a grim day for Dune. The dark clouds boded ill, as did the light drizzle that settled over the restless sea. The sun retreated early, picking up her shining skirts and concealing herself within a thunder head, apparently unaware of her charge drifting helplessly across the boundless ocean.
Below deck, Dune rested her chin on a clenched fist, brow furrowed and face overcast. She inhaled the cologne of deceased dragon, body oils, and wax concealed in her hand. Her beaded hair slipped in strands across her weather-beaten face, and she brushed it back absentmindedly. Suddenly, a steady prickling shower could be heard beating its tiny fists on the deck above. Dune groaned and glared at the map she had been plotting.
"Rain. That's the last thing we need." She gazed at the candle, which was doing a funny little dance, oozing wax and casting a warm, flickering glow across her desk. The ship heaved and a pile of books toppled and scattered across the floor, joining the accumulating clutter in her cabin. She listened to the bowels of her ship creak and moan as it tossed in the waves. Her mind wandered to their dwindling supplies straining at their harness in the cargo hold. She leaned back in her rickety chair, standing it on two legs, crossed her arms, and looked over at the mass of white fluff curled into a warm ball on her cot.
"Well, my dear Gilly, it appears we are nearly a league off course and ten knuckers short of meeting our order. Some fine captain I've turned out to be."
"Every sailor runs into his rough waters. Even the captain." Startled, Dune brought the chair legs down with a thump and craned her neck to see who it was who spoke. Gilly drew out his long snout and curled his black lips into a smile, tongue lolling and bright eyes glittering.
"Goard, what business brings you below deck?" Said Dune, hurriedly tacking on a professional air. Goard was a man of substantial portioning, furnished with broad shoulders, towering height, a wide girth, and an oversized heart. He gripped the door post with an enormous hand to keep from toppling with the rolling of the ship.
"It seems by some bizarre stroke of good luck we've run into a stray pod of dragons, perhaps fleeing the storm in search of shelter." Dune lifted her chin from her worries and offered him her full attention.
"Dragons? I don't believe it. I thought for sure the storm would undo any chance of a catch." The young captain rose to her feet, and drew her overcoat about her shoulders with a rustle of fabric and buckles.
"What size, what specimen, what direction? Tell me everything. Let's get this show on the road real snappy like. We can't lose them this time." Dune strode across the creaking boards, expertly counteracting the rolling of the ship without even thinking. She had been born and raised at sea, and learned toddle in tossing ship at a young age.
"We won't lose them. 'Promise you that." Goard gave his captain a lopsided smile and stumped after her. With a little yip and a whimper, Gilly unwound his furry body and leaped to the floor, hurrying after his master, nails clicking on the wooden floorboards.
Dune threw open the hatch only to be greeted by an onslaught of rain barraging her face. She heaved herself out and onto the deck and began bellowing orders at men as they hurried past. Her ship was in mass commotion as always when there was a dragon to be slain, but in the blustering wind and rain, it teetered on the brink of chaos. Lines were grinding against pulleys, equipment was being lugged into place, men flying pell-mell about the deck or just standing and hollering at each other.
In the distance, where murky grey enveloped the horizon, Dune could just make out the silhouette of four knucker-sized dragons. Perfect. She couldn't help but smile at their good fortune. A lance firing mechanism rolled up beside her and banged into place. She directed her command at a few puppies who were fumbling with the lines and tying themselves in knots in their haste. Finally, when all five lance-shots were fastened and loaded, Dune stationed her men at each one. They hunkered down to view through the peephole and gripped the rotating mechanism.
The men fell into a tense silence, which was only broken by the imperturbable creaking and groaning of the ship and steady rainfall. The pod of knuckers drew closer at a painfully slow pace. Every man stood stock-still, breath drawn, staring wide-eyed at the four shadows making their approach. At last, they were in range.
"Fire!" Dune roared into the wind. Five lances were released with a ghostly swooshing sound and soared into the treacherous sky, their lines trailing behind them, and bearing an entire crew's hopes on their extendable wings.
First one, then two more shadows lurched in the distance and plummeted into the black, frothing sea.
"Heave!" Dune ordered, and ten men at each of the three wheels obediently reeled in the catch. Two projectiles had missed, and one knucker would go free, but Dune had expected at least two misses in this weather. Her fingers tightened on the crossbow in her arms, and her eyes narrowed as the hooked dragons were reeled in. They churned the waves with their massive wings, and emitted little jets of flame in their desperation. Their helpless cries resounded in Dune's ears and made her spine prickle.
Dune and several of her other men aimed their crossbows into the flailing beasts' hearts, and with a creak of bows and a rushing whisper, silenced them.
"Draw them in." She growled, eyes intent, ears alert. She always felt a little uneasy when a fresh catch was brought aboard; there was always the chance one wasn't entirely dead yet. Cranes were suspended over the side and the crew tugged the three dragons onto the water-logged deck. At last, they were aboard.
But the work had not ended by any means. Instantly, men were rushing to peel away the wing membrane, slice open the belly, and extract the innards in addition to any other perishable articles. A putrid stink rolled onto the deck, and several men gagged and exclaimed in disgust. Then the dragons were measured, tagged, and tied up like a holiday package. Dune prowled in the shadows, keeping out of the way. The men knew what to do now. They were fine so long as the thing was dead.
"Rruff!" Dune looked down and discovered Gilly at her heels. His great fluffy white tail was dusting her boots enthusiastically and his extensive tongue flopped below his jaw. He smiled up at her, plainly desiring a scratch on his little ears. Dune obliged and a grin worked its way into her lips. His master was happy. Gilly was ecstatic.