Spitemorta could hear excited shouts far below her as she surged up into the deep blue sky over the ships Captain Jockford was sailing for General Coel. She squealed with glee as she threw herself into a grand backward loop and came plummeting back down to shoot out over the waves as she raced for the Morsarf, her kirtle fluttering and popping in the wind. "Niarg-Loxmere-Goll!" she cried as she overtook and scattered a flock of black skimmers. "Mine! Mine! Mine!"
The Morsarf and her sister ships reared up in full sail to meet her. A shudder ran through her at the recollection of vomiting over the side of the Flying Maiden. "Coel needs to earn the right to be so stinking comfortable in front of me," she said between her clenched teeth, as she veered into great sweeping circles of the first ship, straining for a glimpse of General Cunneda. "There he is on the poop deck with Captain Bateman." She circled the ship once more and landed before him, as if she had just stepped off the dais in her throne room.
Cunneda covered his sudden start with a deep and gracious bow.
"Get on," she said, the moment he looked up. "We're off to see General Coel." She threw her leg over the hovering staff and waited.
"But you're no pystryor, General," said Captain Bateman.
"No," said Cunneda, stepping over the Staff at once to hide his momentary paralysis, "but I've been given an order."
The moment he had grabbed on, Spitemorta lunged into flight, nearly jerking the Staff from his hands. "So, pystryor is your word for what, General? Wizard? Sorcerer?"
"Either one, Your Majesty," he said, blinded by her flying hair. Suddenly it was good that he could not see, for he knew that they were flying upside down. As a wincing pain shot through his head, they swooped from the heavens, hurtling for the poop deck, where Bateman stood transfixed, watching them come.
Spitemorta aimed the Staff, shooting out a ruby beam from the Heart, setting off Bateman's head with a deep rolling boom like a cannon at sea, flinging his arms end over end into the water on either side of the ship. "Bateman's mistake, losing his head like that," she said as they went back aloft, "wouldn't you say?"
"Yes yes, Your Majesty."
"And you're much too brave to lose yours."
"Why yes, General," she said, slowing down as if they were on some sunny Sunday afternoon ride. "You got on behind me."
"As I told Bateman, those were my orders."
"Well going back to him, I've never once in my entire life got to watch a proper maritime keelhauling. And I so wanted to give him a good slow one first, don't you know, but we just don't have that kind of time this afternoon. So General?"
"Yes, Your Majesty?"
"Next time we're at sea, would you be so kind as to have one of your more disappointing men demonstrate one for me?"
"Well if... Certainly. By all means, Your Majesty," he said, dreading at once what he had undoubtedly committed himself to.
And with that, they shot away for the Flying Maiden. General Coel was on deck, watching them arrive.
Spitemorta stepped off the Staff in a triumph of smooth aplomb as Cunneda dashed to the railing to turn red and cough out a great spewing shower of white boiled milk which the wind blew back onto his hose and boots. "Perfect!" she thought, turning to Coel as though she had not noticed, "except that Cunneda is not Coel."
"Your Majesty," said Coel, rising from his bow. "Now you see why I stayed on deck.
"I do indeed," she said with the icy sweetness of a school-marm, "since Cunneda had the fortitude and the sense of duty to get on behind me."
Coel stood there with a look of bright eyed amusement.
"Damn him!" thought Spitemorta. "So if you've no objection, General Coel," she said serenely, "please see us to your quarter."
Ch 4, The Reaper Witch, book five of The Heart of the Staff, Now Only 99 cents