The Empress Gang, or the Further Voyages of a Learned Naval PenguinRules
Players were obliged to use one to three of the following words and phrases, in order:
diphthong penguin risible déjà-vu dragoman erinaceous grog obnubilate defenestrate earwig inspissated gaberlunzie lollygag mawkish ragamuffin scuttlebutt eructation pantaloons lackadaisical hussy fribbles pragmatical debauched shrewish "galvanised manatee" villainous "hellish procrastinators" lubricious mewling fretful tubular frowsty concupiscence
"Shall I pour you another pot, my dear?" replied Doctor
Maturin, while doing so. "It goes down gratefully after so many
days of little but cold soup and warm grog. DIPHTHONG."
Six days of a hard, cruel blow, the cold snapping at fingers
and gnawing at feet. On the seventh day the starboard watch had
emerged groggily to be greeted by an eerie calm and a sort of a
dawn. The sea was flat and silver, like that platter on which it is
said good things are handed to the undeserving. The rim of that
platter was scalloped here and there by the crowns of ice
mountains, in contemplation of which the watcher on the forecastle
was lost for some time, until:
"On deck, there," roared the lookout. "Sail ho, fine on the
Jack came on deck to find the other vessel quite
surprisingly near. A hoist of signals made its leisurely way up,
spelling out C-A-L-L-I. The next flag hesitated, came down, went up
again, the halliard appearing to jam halfway. "It clears, sir...
another flag... smiley face... shrug... WTF... TTFN..."
There broke out aboard Surprise what Maturin as a
medical man could only describe as an epidemic of chuckling. "Ha
ha," said Jack, beaming. "She is the dear old Calli Pie! I have not
heard of her this past age. Desire her captain to come aboard, Tom,
and let's see what she has been up to."
"Many in the service believe," said Jack to Stephen, "that the
naming of HMS Callipygous was a piece of retirement-eve
whimsy by the outgoing occupant of the Names and Figureheads desk
at the Admiralty. Others say that he had already started the
paperwork to name her Calliope before remembering that His
Majesty already owned a vessel by that name. Whatever the
explanation, she has never been a popular berth."
Indeed, no sea could be too remote or too sparsely tenanted
for her officers and crew. The figurehead which now came alongside,
carved by a literal-minded shipwright, completed the humiliation.
"While patrolling in the high latitudes we heard tell of an
emperor PENGUIN in a land far to the south," said Captain Kaminski,
now installed in the great cabin with a glass of sillery. Jack had
a distant connexion to Kaminski through their shared equine
interests, though they had not met since the DressageGate scandal
of 18__ and the captain's subsequent reassignment. From the
fo'c'sle came the distant cries "What ho, the bumboat!" and "Rear
Admiral sends his compliments," each followed by a burst of ribald
laughter. Captain Kaminski sighed.
"So some penguin has set himself up to rule his fellows,"
said Stephen. "It is monstrous, Jack. It is squalid tyranny and
infamous oppression. We must act at once. We must
Jack was not quite used to sailing on a dragonship yet, and
having the stern occupied by a very large and talkative flying
serpent with a propensity for looking through gun ports to watch
the crew at their leisure (in the first week of their voyage,
fortunately in warmer waters, causing three men to DEFENESTRATE
themselves in fear, only to be retrieved from the waves by the
cause of their abrupt departures) was nothing his extensive naval
career had prepared him for. However, he had found Indefatigable to
be a mostly genial addition to the crew, not to mention a
Recovering himself, Jack replied, "I shall be on deck
shortly." The eye withdrew upwards.
Stephen grumbled, "Was that infernal hedgehog acting the
EARWIG and listening in on our private talk? I do not trust him,
"Nonsense, my dear, I am sure he is most trustworthy. And
have I not observed you in lengthy conversation with him and his
"I fear his loyalties might lie with that Buonapartist
penguin. Is he not indeed of French origin, not to mention a rare
talking inhuman creature, as is the penguin?"
"True, his egg was confiscated from a French ship of the
line, the 'Mal de Mer', but he was not yet hatched, or so his file
tells me. He emerged at sea on the brave 'Lepus'." Jack's face
lightened. "Eggs! Killick! Killick, there! Breakfast!"
Jack's steward stumped into the cabin bearing a platter of an
INSPISSATED mess. "Which they've been ready an hour past, and now
ruined. And there ain't no more today, the hens bein' right off
their feed with that there serpent right outside their coop. Jemmy
Ducks ain't happy, nor is the goat."
Jack and Stephen nonetheless made quick work of the cold,
congealed mess, as well as a rack of toast, slightly unsavoury
sausages, and another pot of coffee. Finally, Jack pushed back his
chair. "I must see what is so urgent with Indefatigable. Shall you
come with me, if nothing more than to put your fears to rest?"
"I shall be on deck to observe the ice mountains. The hedgehog is incapable of whispering, so no doubt I will learn all about it. It is a small ship, sure."
Jack was not one to LOLLYGAG, whatever he was doing, but he
was in a sad state of indecision. He turned to Captain Kaminski,
who had also come on deck, and said in a low, troubled voice: "I
must confess that I am at a loss, wholly at a loss. It is our
clear duty to put an end to McGraw's capers, but I fear for
Surprise and Callipygous in the highest latitudes. I do not wish
to sound MAWKISH, but being trapped in sea ice would be a sad end
for us all."
"Never trouble yourself," replied Kaminski. "My First Lieutenant, Bornemann, has
The Surprises came to curse the
the lieutenant proved to a hard-horse, a right Tartar, mate. Still,
some days later, as an unknown land spanning the southern horizon
hove into view, a delighted Bornemann was able to announce that the
larboard watch had fended off three ice boulders in exactly five
minutes, a new record for the barky.
Admiral Aubrey received the news with satisfaction as he
paced the quarterdeck in company with Stephen. "You would not want
me to play the informer, I'm sure, but the SCUTTLEBUTT at Royal
Windsor was that Kaminski vaulted the fence, sprinted across the
arena, and threw herself at Major Hemsworth, knocking him clean off
Lady of Asgard. He never..."
"Jack!" cried Stephen, looking over the taffrail at a great
disturbance on the ocean's surface. "There is a visible ERUCTATION
Alarmed, Jack glanced hastily down at his
The dragonman exclaimed, "We must stop this, sir! She is
corrupting my dragon! He is strong but he is also an innocent! Why,
he has never even met a female of his own species! This nepharious
penguin's FRIBBLES will be his undoing!"
"Forward, men!" Jack shouted, pulling his pistol from his
waistband. "Let us confront this monstrous temptress in her lair!"
and with that, he ran forward as fast as his sea legs could carry
him, followed closely by the landing party.
They labored up the steep hill that was Feathers McGraw's
throne, finally drawing to a halt panting in front of her. The
enormous penguin ignored them completely, but continued her sinuous
gyrations and wing flapping. Jack brandished his pistol and glared
heroically at her. No reaction. :Hey!" he bellowed.
Still nothing. Feathers McGraw warbled a hoarse but somehow
melodious song, not unlike the doctor when he was deep in his cups.
Jack lowered the pistol, momentarily stymied at this
development. Then he cleared his throat and said, "Um, Your
Highness? Excellency? Mistress McGraw? A word?"
This was too much for the dragonman. He jumped forward and
yelled at the top of his lungs, "LEAVE MY DRAGON ALONE, YOU
FEATHERED, SARDINE-EATING JEZEBEL!!"
At that the statuesque penguin ceased her terpsichorean
efforts and stared coldly at the men, red eyes blazing. "How dare
you interrupt me, you silly little men?" She gestured to the
circling dragon. Indefatigable let forth a throaty rumble and
performed a particularly intricate aerial gyration, then continued
his circling. "Can you not see that we witness a miracle? The Great
Bird of the Galaxy has sent me a worthy mate who will ensure the
triumph of penguindom! Behold!" Her slender and useless wing
pointed at the magnificent dragon above. "Together we will found
the immortal dynasty of PENGUINS THAT FLY!"
"Awa' wi' ye, ye PRAGMATICAL numpty," replied McGraw,
lapsing back into her native Scots. Until that point, she had been
trying very hard to speak entirely in received pronunciation; she
had so wished to impress her flying beau.
"I hope that you will put an end to this infernal display,"
added the dragonman. "To think that you would have DEBAUCHED dear
Feathers stilled herself and let her wings drop limply to
her side. In an unnaturally meek voice, she said
Two hench-penguins, one to either side of Jack, seized his
arms and pushed him forward, knocking his hat to the ground.
* * *
The captain of marines of the Callipygous ran through a
strangely deserted belowdecks, strategically ducking every second
step, till a clinking sound brought him to the door of the armory.
"Quick man, where is my hammer?" he said. Polduck, the Surprise's
entrepreneurial armorer, looked up from his work and shook his
head. "We been backed up, sir, what with the commemorative
silver-plated tooth mugs, and if I don't get this here GALVANISED
MANATEE finished for the Doctor there'll be Hell to pay."
The captain swarmed up to the deck and over the rail,
pausing only to grab an enormous joint of pork that the beating to
quarters had caused to be abandoned in the galley.
* * *
Jack said, "Do you expect me to talk?" Feathers, laughing,
replied: "No Mr, err, Blond, I expect you to die!"
The shore party prepared to make a last stand. At that
moment, a tall figure could been seen bounding athletically up the
slope. He looks so familiar, thought Jack, though I can't
place him. My height, fair hair, ruddy faced, blue eyes, ruggedly
handsome in a weatherbeaten way some might say... perhaps needs to
forgo the second slice of duff for bit...
"Unhand the Admiral, vile fish-birds!" shouted Hemsworth,
for it was he.
"How are you going to make me?" sneered Feathers.
In reply, Hemsworth reached under his red jacket and flung his mighty ham, stunning the emperor and knocking her off the rocky eminence. Jack shook off his gaping captors and
The startled minion penguins were gathered around their
fallen empress trying to revive her, but this was difficult as they
had only flipper like wings to fan her and could not bring any
other restorative except regurgitated fish to revive her.
Doctor Maturin was gathering his medical case to go and
offer his assistance but the admiral told two burly sailors to pick
him up and bodily carry him off to the boats with the rest of the
party. They safely pushed off from the shore and found that all the
penguins were still milling around the slowly recovering empress,
staring stupidly after the retreating boats.
As Pullings stood to resume his duties on the deck, Maturin
raised a hand to stay him. "What, pray tell, is the point of
anointing the ship with grease? It seems a ridiculous effort."
Patiently, Pullings said, "Did you not notice the difficulty
you had in coming back aboard, Doctor? It is to make boarding from
the sea difficult, if not impossible. It is a common practice."
"What stuff!" Maturin exclaimed. "Are we facing Barbary
pirates, to be foiled by such a ruse? Have you never sailed these
latitudes before? Have you never watched penguins and other
denizens of the icy waters leap out of the water and slither upward
to land? Why, you have prepared a smooth entry for these
At that moment, the cry "Penguin, ho!" rang out from the
masthead. Pullings and Maturin both leapt to their feet and
clambered (one gracefully, one not so much) to the deck. "Where
away?" called Pullings.
"Prepare to repel boarders!!" he called. "Someone fetch the
Admiral!" There was a confusing as men ran to get whatever weapons
were to hand. Pullings loosened the sword in his scabbard.
The monstrous penguin was picking up speed, swimming so
swiftly it was if she had been launched from a cannon. And then, in
an explosion of water, she burst out of the sea, slithered right up
the greased side, and landed with an inelegant thump on the deck.
She was instantly surrounded by the men brandishing marlinspikes,
cutlasses, and even capstan bars.
Jack finally appeared, surreptitiously tucking his shirt
tails into his breeches (followed closely by Killick holding out
the Admiral's next-best coat) as he strode forward out of the
FROWSTY atmosphere of below decks to face the penguin. "Madam, what
is the meaning of this? Have you come to surrender?"
"No, never!" She exclaimed. "Well, perhaps 'surrender' is not
quite the correct word."
"What might be the correct term, then?" Jack inquired.
The massive penguin sighed. "To be perfectly honest, I'm
quite bored. Ruling over thousands of loyal, but inarticulate and
uninteresting subjects has grown stale." She raised her flippers in
a gesture that seemed to encompass the world. "I want more from
life!" She looked back at her icy kingdom. "It took but one night's
consideration to realize that you could free me from all this."
Doctor Maturin stepped forward. "Are there no other penguins
of your kind, then? I have seen only the ordinary sorts amongst
"Alas, none of my subjects are cursed with the power of
speech and philosophical thought, let alone my impressive size."
"And how came you to be so different?"
She sighed again. "It all started when I was very young. I
was captured by a ship and imprisoned with a dozen of my fellows,
no doubt to serve eventually as supper. But before they could carry
out their intentions, the ship visited a remote port where the
weather was quite warm, and well, I was bitten by a spider that
came aboard hidden in some kind of fruit."
She had been put in the care of the schoolmaster, a Scot.
He had used to write speeches for the member for Selkirkshire, but
an over-fondness for the products of his native distilleries had
obliged him to take to sea. He had taught her to read and
discovered that she had prodigious powers of recall why, she
could recite the entirety of Dr Johnson's dictionary, should they
wish. After a long voyage, she had escaped in southern latitudes
after she overheard scraps of conversation on the lower deck about
exhibits at St Bartholomew's Fair and the undoubtedly
crowd-pleasing nature of educated seabirds. She had been stuck
here with her minions ever since. She regretted the incident with
the dragon extremely and begged them to let her join them.
"I should be very happy, more than happy, to offer you a
role on board," replied Jack. "Our squeakers absolutely wallow in
ignorance and it seems that there is much that you could teach
The penguin positively simpered in response and would have
blushed if she could.
"But there is to be no CONCUPISCENCE; no ill behaviour with
"I will be a fully-fledged schoolma'am, Admiral, if you will
excuse the pun."
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