Story Time: Of Fruit Not Tasted

This week’s flash fiction was inspired by the challenge presented by Chuck Wendig at his blog.

A fruit deigned forbidden holds sway over the desires of man.

She examined the ruby colored, gold flecked apple in her fingers. Such a small, delicate thing to carve out the fates of empires. One day, when her work was done, she would taste one.

“Tempted?” a deep baritone whispered behind her.

“I hunger for a fruit far more satisfying.” She whispered in return.

“…mango?”

With a turn she faced him, the tall dark haired, dark eyed man whose crooked smirk belied his hard and scruffy exterior.

“I was more thinking the fruits of my labours.”

“Always comes back to labour with you women, doesn’t it? The pain and miracle of birth that men just don’t understand… cluck, cluck, cluck.”

“Cluck?”

“You know, a hen. Cluck.”

“Yes, of course. I have known a few. I am just questioning why I ever pried you away from the farm animals you are so obviously well suited for. Life must be so confusing away from the other mud wallowers.”

He shrugged nonchalantly, but his dark eyes never left hers.

“Sometimes. But the view can’t be beaten.” he slowly pointed past her.

She hesitated, then turned to follow his line of site.

Just at the edge of the horizon, where clouds and darkness had melded all night, light began to paint the gentlest of hues on the sky. The soft contours of the clouds they sailed above slowly grew more distinct with each passing second, as though the stars above were bleeding their light out into the dark blue sky to awaken the day.

The view was made possible only because they stood on the deck of an old wooden aeroship as it sailed silently through the sky.

“It never stops being beautiful, does it?” he asked.

“I used to imagine that each vista, each water-colored sunset and sunrise were just for me.”

“Rather selfish.”

“No… just desperate for some peaceful moments.”

They stood next to each other, taking in the vast open tapestry of blue as it brightened. And when the tiniest sliver of golden sun hit the horizon, she turned away.

“All eyes on deck!” She barked hoarsely. “Rigged for silent run!”

There was the shuffling of feet on the wooden deck as a dozen men jumped into action, making for the side rails. She held out her hand as she scanned the horizon, and immediately a brass cylinder was placed in her palm by the dark man. With a fluid motion she lengthened the telescoping lens and brought it to her eye.

“They should be dead ahead of us.”

“If the winds didn’t push us about too much. Or push them too much.” he replied gently.

“And if we calculated speed and course, yes, yes, I know. They are directly ahead. They have to be. The real question is just how daring was Captain Spurle feeling last night?”

“You mean, did he want to push out of the storm or batten down? Makes quite the difference.”

The icy wind gusted once more, but she didn’t even notice. Her eyes searched the expanse of sky in front of her intently.

“No… He pushed. He always does. The question is, just how hard? Surely, the king would be quite unhappy if his expected cargo arrived in a smashed mess because the fool didn’t know when to slow down.”

As imperceptible as it was, she felt him step away slightly.

“I always forget that you know these people.” he whispered quietly.

“Knew. I knew these people. Which gives me the advantage.”

“But they knew you too.”

“Who knows the other better, the horse or the rider?”

“Aren’t they symbiotic? They have to work together.”

“Big word, farmboy. They do work together, but while a rider must know how to direct his steed and estimate it’s limitations, the horse must know what the slightest movement means. The horse learns to interpret the will of the rider instantaneously and unabashedly. It lets the master’s will become its own.”

For a moment, he just watched her. The icy wind gusted and whipped her auburn hair around in a flurry, despite it being pulled back. The cold reddened the cheeks on her otherwise fair skinned face. Her stance was as still as a statue, clad in brown leathers with wool under layers, she was utterly focused on her search on the horizon.

He had never met anyone, man or woman, who had so much willpower and who seemed to make things happen by sheer power of being. Like a force of nature, nothing seemed to be able to stop her when her mind was set. Part of him was in complete awe of her, though he had never voiced it.

There were many things he had never put to words. Perhaps someday he would change that.

Suddenly, she was shoving the brass monocular at him.

“There. The edge of the pressure system, where the clouds are dropping off. There is our spot.”

“But that still… wait. I think…”

He handed the brass back to her.

“There. Follow the tip of my finger.”

He leaned over her shoulder, trying to line up their site lines enough, and pointed to the horizon. Still attempting to get her to see just the right place, he adjusted, wrapping an arm around her and moving his lips near her hear.

“Just there. Right where that patch is breaking off…”

She rested herself against his frame as she scanned. Then she gasped.

“I see it! It’s the Court Pendu Plat!”

Her body went rigid.

“Damn it! She’s already rising! She’ll fly past our ceiling before we’re anywhere close enough.”

In an instant she was racing about the old wooden ship, giving out orders and adjusting the course. It had amazed him that she had even gotten the Crow Egg in the air all those months ago, but to see it now he never would have guessed that she had discovered the old hull half buried on his farm.

The design was old, very old, but she had explained to him once that she had sought it out with an exact purpose. The Crow Egg was originally the creation of a wholly unique engineer named VanStutten. VanStutten had in his lifetime crafted less than a dozen Aeroships and eventually gone bankrupt on the venture. What was remarkable, however, were the designs he employed. They were decades ahead of their time and many features were still not fully understood.

To many, they were historical oddities. To her, it was the linchpin of the revolution.

He had never been one to idle away time with politics, but she had impressed him with a seemingly simple plan. Stop the flow of the cider.

The royal family maintained a private distilling venture that, by law, had no competition. The apples used in making the cider were prohibited from being grown anywhere other than on royal grounds. The legal precedence was jumbled in a lot of ceremonial… what had she called it… self-servicing. Needless to say the cider, named Husk Spice, was a huge part of the king’s treasury. Attempts to choke it off had been made before, but now that it was shipped solely by aeroship, it was nearly untouchable.

Not only was the royal fleet doubling as cargo haulers but the pride of the fleet, the Court Pendu Plat, was the largest, fastest and highest flying ship ever. And if that wasn’t enough, it was one of the most well armed.

And yet, on the seemingly half-wit plan of an impertinent woman, here they were trying to stop it. Not only stop it, but raid the Court Pendu Plat. Yes, they planned on pirating it.

It was a plan that was over five years in the making and they knew they would only have one shot.

“Damn it all. We were caught on our heels. The only way we can approach it is to come down on top of it, like we planned. We can still make it, but we have to ascend quickly.” She said to him, breaking him from his reverie.

“You mean we have to lose weight.”

“Fast.”

“How much?”

“At least… 40 stone… probably more.”

He grimaced.

“I’ll start looking.”

“No time.”

He faced her and saw the grim determination in her eyes.

“Jeran.”

“Yes.”

“Kell.”

“Yes.”

“Ben.”

“No. Best hand to hand we have. I’ll need him for boarding.”

“Roen.”

“No. He’s the best helmsman we have.”

“…Then I guess it’s me.”

Her mouth opened in protest, but he quickly shook his head. He gestured two of the crewmen over, grabbed them and pulled them over the railing, into the sky.

For a moment, all she could manage was to will herself to breath. Then the Crow Egg began to rise.

Someday, after all this was over, she could reap what she had sown. Some of it would be sweet. Some of it bitter. Unbearably bitter. But for now, there was the sky.

And it was her sky.

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