WarSpell: Miss Midshipman Teasdale

A down on her luck young woman has to join the Kingdom Navy to get by. It’s a hard life for a studious and introspective would-be magician, having to deal with thuggish fellow midshipmen, criminals, perverted elves, the fire and fury of battle and the whims of high command. But she’s determined to make her way, nonetheless.

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A WarSpell novel, in a world where war ships are just starting to make the change from ballistas to cannon that use a magically created gunpowder.

Tensy Teasdale is forced by financial hardship to give up her studies of magic and join the Kingdom Navy as a midshipman. It’s a hard life for her. While women have been serving in the Navy for decades, not everyone accepts them. It’s even harder if you’re a studious introvert who incurs the ire of a brute of a senior Midshipman who’s just failed his Lieutenant’s test again.

And that’s just the first of Miss Midshipman Teasdale’s misadventures. After that, she has to deal with a Merged mugger who’s learning how to deal with this world, an elven carpenter who’s considered worse than a necromancer because he works with the dead bodies of trees—not to mention the shell and shot of battle on the high seas.

And if she survives all that, there’s the politics of the Admiralty Court to deal with…

Chapter 1—An Accurate Account

Location: HMS Duke Aragorn
Date: 1 Coganie 1267 AF

Lieutenant Agustus Barnes had the watch. He stood under the quarterdeck awning and watched as a ship’s boy escorted the midshipman from the midships entry port. The lad . . . He looked again. No, not a lad. The blue coat of a naval officer hid her form, but it was definitely a female who followed the ship’s boy.

Agustus’ frown got a little more pinched. He didn’t approve of women in the king’s service and especially in the Kingdom Navy. They were a detriment to good order and discipline. He held this view in spite of the fact that women had been serving in the Kingdom’s service since the Reign of Queen Jane over two hundred years ago and in the Kingdom Navy for over seventy-five.

Well, with luck, she’ll be weeded out soon enough, he thought as she touched the brim of her bicorne hat. The Duke Aragorn wasn’t a friendly ship for women.

“Miss Midshipman Teasdale.” She stuttered with the cold as the soaked-through clothing transferred the chill of the almost freezing air to her skin. She appeared to be turning slightly blue.

“Do you have your duffle?”

“My sea chest is at the entry port, sir.”

He nodded. “Have her duffle sent down, then take her to the midshipmen’s quarters.” He waved dismissal and was left to his solitary brooding.

✽✽✽

The midshipmen’s quarters were located two decks down and just behind the mainmast. It was a large room, poorly lit by tapers, and occupied by eleven midshipmen, nine men and two women. Tensy made the third female. There was no curtained-off section. Men and women, girls and boys, ate, drank, changed their clothing and used the chamber pots in the same chamber.

A gruff and slightly slurred with drink voice said to the room in general, “And who or what is this?”   The man behind the voice had curly black hair and pockmarks on his face. He looked around the room and his dark eyes came back to Tensy. “Answer when you’re asked a question by your betters, you drowned rat in a midshipman’s coat.”

“Miss Midshipman Hortense Teasdale, sir.” She pronounced her first name in the proper Parise manner, “Ortense.”

“Ortense, is it. Hear the Oakney accent, my companions, ‘Or,’ not ‘Hor.’ It’s  incapable of making a proper H. Look at it shiver in the presence of its betters. It’s a tense and timid Hor we have among us. That’s it. Meet Miss Midshipman Tense Whore.” His eyes leered around the room, then came back to her in her heavy blue coat and soaked to semi-transparency white pants.  “Not much there worth the farthing.”

It was not the first time Hortense had heard that particular mangling of her name, nor the hundred and first. But that one was common to eight- to twelve-year-old boys. Not men who were closer to thirty than twenty, if Tensy was any judge. Under other circumstances she might have answered back, but all she knew about the rank in this room was that hers was the lowest. And she was wearing rain-soaked clothing in a room that wasn’t all that warm. If she didn’t get dry soon, she was in real danger of hypothermia. “Is there somewhere I can change?”

“Right here,” the man said. “Let’s see what you have on offer.”

It shouldn’t have mattered. In school and the wizard’s college at Sowford, she’d changed among classmates of both genders without a thought. But the man’s words changed the simple act of changing clothes into something demeaning.

Tensy looked at the female midshipmen in the room, but they nodded, one sympathetically and one clearly amused.

So Tensy first took off the blue sea coat, then the white waistcoat. She would have turned her back but she was certain that if she did she’d be ordered to turn back. Her white blouse was pasted to her chest and transparent in places. It produced a murmur, but when she took it off there was a gasp.

“Bloody Hell! She’s got a wizard’s tat.” said another voice. This one was a blond man with a downy mustache. “She won’t flub the magic test.”

“Shut your face, Carter,” the pockmarked man said, “or I’ll shut it for you.”

While they were distracted, she skinned out of her pants and went to her sea chest for dry clothing. She waved, murmured, and the lock snapped open.

“It’s a fake, I’ll bet,” said the pock-faced man.  “Tell us, Tense Whore, how did you manage to get a wizard’s tat.”

Pulling a towel from her sea chest, she dried herself as she answered, “I studied a year at Sowford, and passed the exams to receive the tattoo.” It was common knowledge that book wizards had tattoos. Some had them in prominent places, others in hidden places. What wasn’t common knowledge was that they weren’t just a tradition, but were necessary for the proper practice of book magic. There was no part of the normal human body or aura that could contain a spell in the time between crafting and casting. The wizard’s tattoo was a sort of embedded spell pouch. It focused some of the life force of the wizard into a flexible pouch that would hold a variety of spells, pretty much any spell that wasn’t too large or jagged. As the wizard grew in life force, more tattoos would be added, allowing for the crafting of larger, more difficult spells.

Tensy’s was the most basic sort of tattoo, a four-pointed star. She’d had it put on her breast bone just above her breasts because she neither wanted to flaunt it nor to hide it.

Just now she was wondering if on her inner thigh would have been a better choice.

✽✽✽

Over the next few days, Tensy learned that the pock-faced man was Mister Midshipman Carlton Applerite. He was the senior midshipman by several years and was just back from his latest attempt to pass the exam for lieutenant. He’d failed again, this time because he couldn’t remember and describe the steps to load a heating stone, a small magical item that, with the appropriate spell crafted into it, would heat up and stay hot for upwards of an hour. Even small, weak magical items like the heating stone were not cheap, so the midshipmen’s quarters on this ship didn’t have any of them. And no one among the officers had offered to let Midshipman Applerite use theirs for practice.

The whole ship’s complement of midshipmen lived in fear of Mister Applerite, for he was a brutal man in a fight and the officers either ignored or encouraged his brutality. Having gained his ire by having a wizard’s tat, Tensy made the mistake of offering to teach him the techniques of loading a heating stone.

He did not appreciate the offer.

✽✽✽

On the second of Coganie, she was interviewed by the ship’s mage, who placed her magical abilities quite accurately. “A novice of no use for anything substantial,” but capable of relieving him of certain minor annoyances. Like cleaning the captain’s pants or keeping records. Pursuant to that, he had her learn the cantrip “clean cloth.” Tensy already knew the spell to load a magical pen.

This, of course, didn’t relieve her of any of the other duties of a midshipman. But it did manage to further prejudice Mister Midshipman Applerite against her.

Chapter 2—Transfer

Location: HMS Duke Aragorn
Date: 18 Justain 1268 AF

Captain Nathan Tucker sat at his desk in his day cabin while he listened to the surgeon’s report. When the surgeon finished, he asked, “Could it have been something that Miss Midshipman Teasdale did? She is a wizard, after all, and there appears to be some sort of history between them.”

“If she could do that she would be the high intercessor for Prima in all the Kingdom Isles,” the surgeon said. “No wizard in the history of the world could do such a thing. This was an honest to the gods miracle, and almost certainly Prima’s work. Everything that ever happened to Pete Banyan was cured in an instant. Between the ninth lash and the tenth. I know that because after I washed his back I could see the final three strokes written there.  Which also means that he’s no particular favorite of Prima. If she was going to cure him because she loved him, she would have done it after the last stroke.” The surgeon paused and visibly considered. “Or granted him protection against them. Instead, she let them fall. I don’t know what it means, but I will be reporting it to the temple hospital in Londinium.”

“That will be all, doctor.”

✽✽✽

Once the surgeon was gone, Nathan lay on his bed and considered.  He didn’t want the temple of Prima or any of the temples interested in the inner workings of his ship. For that matter, the only person who it would be worse to have them interested in was Teasdale. If Banyan was interviewed by the temple of Prima, the whole mess would come out. He had to get rid of Pete Banyan as much as he had to get rid of Teasdale.

Wait. That’s it, he thought. Send Banyan with Teasdale. But how? Then he laughed out loud. An officer—even in theory, a midshipman—could have an enlisted servant. A batman who was paid out of their own pocket. Or, more precisely, was paid extra by the officer to do extra work. They also had their standard duties on board ship. Teasdale couldn’t afford to pay a batman, but there was another tradition, one everyone knew, but no one mentioned. A female officer—and sometimes a male officer—could pay a batman in different coin for their services. And if he sent Banyan with Teasdale as her batman, that was what everyone would assume was going on. And that, in turn, would tend to discredit any claims Banyan might make about what Applerite tried to do. It would be laughed off as jealousy.

Meanwhile, he needed to get them both off his ship just as fast as he could, before the intercessors of Prima started investigating the miracle.

Location: Pithhead Anchorage
Date: 18 Justain 1268 AF

The jolly boat pushed off from the Duke Aragorn, and the oarsmen bent to their labor, casting covert glances at Tensy and Pete the Cudgel. Tensy had her hands under her armpits mostly because it was as cold as Justain’s heart out today. But also because she knew what the jolly boat crew were thinking. Exactly what the captain wanted them to think. That Pete was her lover and his insults to Applerite were just jealousy.

They had to know better. It was virtually impossible to hide the fact that you were having sex with someone on a ship. There wasn’t room to hide such a relationship. And she’d rarely said two words to Banyan in all the time he’d been onboard.

But rumor was never stopped by facts.

So she sat there, with her sea chest between them, while the oarsmen pulled for the Londinium docks. She wanted to talk to Banyan now. Wanted it rather desperately. She’d seen the magic affect him, and she was almost sure that it did more than simply cure his ills.

He was sitting there in front of her, looking around like he’d never seen the world before. And she wanted to know why. She was also worried that the moment they reached shore he would bolt. That was certainly what Pete the Cudgel would do.

It took them the better part of an hour to get to the docks. Tensy made sure that she was the first onto the docks, and she kept her eyes on Banyan, ready in case he should run. For the same reason, she made him carry her sea chest to the bachelor officer’s quarters.

Midshipmen didn’t stay in the bachelor officer’s quarters. They didn’t have their commissions yet. But she had a note from Captain Tucker authorizing her to stay there while her transfer came through.

She still had to pay and she didn’t have all that much money. But, finally, she had herself, her sea chest, and Pete all in a room with the door closed.

The room had a bed, a chair, and a small table. She waved Pete to the chair and sat on the bed. “Pete, I saw the magic. Can you tell me what happened?”

✽✽✽

Peter Banyan sat in the chair and considered. He was having his own problems, but he had all of Pete the Cudgel’s memories. He knew precisely what Applerite was trying to do to this girl.

And there it was again. Damn it. He was thinking of her as a girl because she was seventeen and Peter Bradley was thirty-five years old. But Pete was only nineteen. And this combination of Pete and Peter didn’t know how old he was. He did know he was attracted to her. Both Pete and Peter were in agreement about that. The only difference was that Pete didn’t feel the least bit guilty about the attraction.

And he knew something else. He needed to tell someone what had happened to him and circumstances seemed to have flung them together. So, he started to talk. “I have the memories and . . .” He moved his tongue around the inside of his mouth. “. . . the teeth of Peter Bradley, a mechanical engineer from a world where magic didn’t work but science did. I don’t know what it means, but before I ended up here, I was watching—” Peter stopped. How could he explain television and the internet to a first-level wizard from a pretend world in the age of sail? “Ah, a magic mirror that showed news from around the world, and something strange was going on.”

“A magic mirror in a world without magic?”

“It wasn’t a magic mirror. It used technology, not magic. But the closest analogy I could come up with was a magic mirror.”

She looked at him curiously for a moment, then asked, “Is Pete the Cudgel gone then?”

“No. I’m still Pete. I still remember everything. Every lash of the whip, every word I said to that bastard Applerite. What he was trying to do to you. I remember being pressed and I remember my life before that. There’s a party of adventurers here in Londinium that doesn’t like me any more than I like them. And that’s part of the reason I haven’t made a run for it. But only part of the reason.”

“What’s the other part?”

“Knowing that you would be held responsible, and figuring that that’s why I was sent with you.”

“Good figuring. Tell me about this Peter Bradley?”

Peter did. “I’m a mechanical engineer. That’s my regular job. Mostly I design the mechanical parts of dishwashers.” Peter spent over an hour explaining dishwashers and electrical appliances in general, and electromagnets and electric lines that move electricity from where it was generated to where it was used, before he got back to Peter Bradley. He told her about spending his vacation building houses for Habitat for Humanity. That led to an hour of discussing charity and a realization on Peter’s part that there was a real joy in giving, a joy Pete the Cudgel had never known.

This new person that was Pete the Cudgel and Peter Bradley was learning about himself as he talked it out with Tensy Teasdale.

He also realized something else from Pete’s memories. Just as Applerite was forbidden by naval regulations from asking Tensy to have sex with him, so Tensy was forbidden by those same regulations from asking Pete. Assuming she was interested. On the other hand, regulations didn’t prevent Pete from asking.

Peter Bradley wouldn’t have asked, he would have felt it forward, but the combination had a lot of Pete’s “go for it” mentality. And understood, in a way that Peter didn’t, that here, in this world, rank trumped gender in terms of who could acceptably ask. “I know you can’t ask, so just in case you’re interested, I’m asking. Would you have sex with me? I won’t take offense if you say no, but I am attracted to you.”

✽✽✽

Tensy was taken aback by the question, but not that taken aback. While the regulation was specific to the military, the custom that such offers came from the person of lower rank wasn’t. It was considered gauche for a man or a woman of higher rank to push themselves on one of lower rank. Not that it didn’t happen, but it was not quite the thing. Still, this was an awfully short acquaintance.

It wasn’t that he was unattractive. Anything but. Pete had been an attractive man in a healthy animal sort of way. And Peter was even more attractive. His teeth were straight, and all there. The scar on his face was gone, but the muscles and the smooth way he moved were still very much there. So rather than a no, she said, “Maybe, when I know you better. Of course, everyone is going to assume we are anyway, but that doesn’t mean we have to follow their expectations.”

Pete, or maybe Peter, nodded, and said “Well, consider it an open offer,” then went on with the explanation of Peter Bradley.

Tensy was an educated young woman by the standards of her world. She was literate in three languages, Kingdom, Parise, and the Dwarven of the old empire, in which many of the texts on magic were written. She knew math and she had a strong theoretical understanding of how magic worked, though she only knew how to craft a few spells.

They spent much of that afternoon and evening discussing magic and engineering, and the way they might interact.

As it happened, one of the spells that Tensy did know was an almost entirely useless little spell that generated a shock when you touched someone. Around the time the sun was going down, they decided to try an experiment. They went to a jewelry shop and borrowed, for a fee, a bit of copper wire. Right there in the shop, while Tensy crafted the shock spell, Peter wrapped the copper wire around a dowel, making sure that the strands of wire didn’t touch. Then, while Tensy cast the spell, the shopkeeper held an iron nail on a string next to the coil.

The nail moved. Not very much, but it moved. The jeweler was impressed. But more importantly, Tensy knew two new things. First, Peter was telling the truth and wasn’t crazy. She hadn’t really doubted him, but the confirmation helped. Second, magic and engineering could interact, work together to produce useful results.

Chapter 3—Amonrai

Location: Port Brisbane, HMS Sir Lionel Allen at Dock
Date: 17 Banth 1268

Peter stared. He couldn’t help it. He’d never seen an elf before. He wasn’t the only one staring, but others were staring because the elf was tall. A tall elf was an old elf, and what made this elf even stranger was he wasn’t in the robes of an elf. He was in the sailor’s togs of a Kingdom sailor.

He snapped a proper salute and asked, “Permission to come aboard, ma’am?”

“Come aboard,” Tensy said, “and who are you?”

“I’m your new ship’s carpenter.”

Peter had never seen anyone who looked like that. The elf had pale skin, golden-blond hair. He was just under six feet, which from Pete’s memories meant that he was at least a hundred and probably twice that. Peter Bradley, however, remembered something from the WarSpell books. It wasn’t how old an elf was that determined its height. It was the number of times it had gone to tree.

The elves of WarSpell lived a very long time, but they didn’t do it all in one go. If they were injured, or just got old, they went into one of the special trees that they grew for the purpose, and came out years, decades, even hundreds of years later, in perfect health and a little taller. And there was something about this elf that didn’t suggest advanced age.

“Call me Chips. That’s what you always end up doing, anyway.” The elf continued, “And it’s not likely that you could wrap your tongues around my elven name.”

“I’ll need it for the ship’s books,” Tensy said.

Efwert dac Olteran Sofeidras y Wesgutosen,” said Chips in a voice that was like singing. Each syllable was spoken on a different note, and he changed octaves at least twice. Then, with a twist of his lips that evoked bitterness and a sort of resigned amusement, “It means ‘the disgusting pervert who plays with the corpses of trees.’  As you might guess, I am not well thought of in the halls of the Eldar. Now, where do I find your present carpenter so I can make my peace with him?”

Tensy turned and looked at Peter. “Peter, take Chips to the carpenter’s shop.”

✽✽✽

“Go ahead and ask,” the elf said. “It won’t be any stupider than other questions I’ve heard from your race.”

Peter hadn’t been getting up the nerve to ask anything, mostly because he didn’t know or understand enough about elves to know what questions to ask. So he asked the first thing to pop into his head. “How old are you?”

“Not as simple a question as you might think.”

“I know your people go into trees to recover from injuries. So I guess you have two ages?”

“I have walked the earth for seventy-seven years and slept in-tree for a total of three hundred and fifty in seven sleeps. All the result of severe injury, most of which were caused by my fellow elves’ response to my perversion.”

“Perversion?”

“I work with wood.”

“Don’t all elves work with wood?” Peter asked. “There are a bunch of wine bottles in the hold that have wooden sheaths grown around them. That seems like wood working to me.”

The sad, sardonic twist of the elf’s lips was back. “That’s because you’re an ignorant human. Those sheaths were grown. A living tree grew them under the influence of an elven mage and when they were separated from the tree, they came away freely, like fruit. For my people to work with the corpse of a tree, wood, is how your folk would feel about a person who made lamps from the skulls of other men.”

They talked the rest of the way to the carpenter’s shop, where the present ship’s carpenter, Roric Darnel, was happy to have Chips take his highly-sought after job. Because elven carpenters were universally considered the very best in the world, and much rarer than the teeth of hens, to be able to say that you had studied under an elven carpenter was to assure your position for life.

“I wonder if you could help me with a project I have in mind for the ship’s cook?” Peter asked.

“I like to eat as much as the next elf. And in my experience, being in good with the ship’s cook is never a bad thing. What’s your project?”

“I want to make him a better wooden leg.”

For the first time, the elf looked at Peter like he might be more than a pet or, at best, a child. “I work with dead wood, not living trees. I can’t grow a living leg to replace the one the cook lost. And even were I a mage with that ability, it would take years to grow such a replacement.”

“I drew the design for the new leg. At least roughed it out, then—” Peter hesitated. The business with the gunpowder was, sort of, a secret, not something you spoke of on first acquaintance. He continued, “—other business came up, and I never got around to working with Chips . . . the other Chips . . . to have it made. Let me go get you the drawings.”

“You  have my interest.”

✽✽✽

Fifteen minutes later, Peter unrolled the grayish-brown sheets of paper on which he had drawn a new leg for the ship’s cook. The cook had lost his leg just above the knee. That meant two joints. The knee and the heel had to be incorporated into the leg. Peter designed them with springs and friction gears so that they could be set for a particular level of bend, and would flex as the cook moved. The springs that Peter designed were metal, wrought iron, and that was another reason that they had not been made. A ship like the Lenny has a lot of shops on it, but a blacksmith shop isn’t one of them. But here in Port Brisbane, they ought to be able to get the springs made.

“The thing is the weight,” Peter explained. “I figured on a wooden tube for the best balance between strength and weight. Since Cookie no longer has the muscles for that leg, we need to keep it as light as we can, especially since the iron springs are going to weigh quite a lot.”

“How did you come up with this?” Chips’ voice was serious as a heart attack, almost threatening.

“Talent and training,” Peter said.

“What sort of training?”

“Well . . .” Peter hesitated. “The truth is, I don’t know you yet—”

“He’s a weird ‘un, our Peter is,” Roric put in. “Knows how to craft gunpowder without magic, he does. Showed the whole crew, well, the officers anyway. Even to the standing officers.”

The elf looked at Peter consideringly, “Very well, Peter. I can wait. Elves are a patient folk, even such elves as I.” He looked back at the sheets, then he pulled a wooden stick from a pouch at his belt. It was a short stick, perhaps four inches long, sharp at one end. Then, holding it like a pen, he drew on the sheets with the sharp end and glowing green lines appeared. After a moment, the glow went away, leaving lines of forest green. While Peter’s drawing was utilitarian, essentially a stove pipe leg, most of the way from knee to ankle, Chips’ was a leg. Tapered and showing what appeared to be muscles. He lifted the stick to his lips and whispered to it, then drew again. Now the lines were red. First a burning red, then fading to a burgundy. He drew a pattern that was like and yet unlike blood vessels.

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