The ship's rocking soothed Jazper's qualms. Creak…creak…creak…his hammock swung slowly back and forth like a pendulum in time to the small swells near the island. Jazper grinned to himself, his arm flung across his eyes to shield them from a dart of sunshine that swung rhythmically across his face. A pendulum! What a very gnome-like observation!
For several weeks, the Smarmy Sprocket had been sneaking after one of the ships run by the Far Seas Trading Company. Those ships were bigger and hauled goods for much longer distances. The Sprocket 's technique, refined over the years, involved catching up to the larger vessel then overwhelming it with superior gadgetry.
This time, however, Jazper's intuition was nagging at him. They should have caught up to the bigger ship. Somehow, it had managed to keep just enough ahead so that the Sprocket 's crew were kept busy cranking the Wind-o-Matic. At the moment they were set to intercept, the larger ship suddenly pulled away, leaving the Sprocket far behind.
"At least we've got some shore leave till the engineers figure out why we couldn't catch them," Jazper murmured. After losing sight of the trade vessel, the captain of the Sprocket turned it toward their Prison Island hideaway for repairs. Jazper helped tie her down, and then went below to catch some shut eye when no one was looking.
The rocking motion lulled his cares and thoughts away. He drifted to sleep.
It was the tumultuous pounding on the deck above that woke Jazper. At first, his sleep-fogged mind wondered why repairs were always so loud. In a moment, however, he realized that those weren't the sounds of gears and gizmos being fixed – it was the sound of iron-shod feet jumping onto the deck and running across it. It was the sound of battle!
Jazper leaned to port, holding his hand before him to grab the quarterstaff that hung beside his berth. Unfortunately, he moved awkwardly in his haste and the hammock flipped quickly over in a series of complete loops, wrapping Jazper in its thickly twined mesh.
"Frizgoggles!" he exclaimed in frustration, spinning himself into a tighter bind in his efforts to squirm free.
"Ha! A gnomish spider caught in its own web!" crowed a gleeful voice.
Jazper peered through the hammock's twisted net and saw one of the orcs they'd taken prisoner on the Sprocket 's previous journey. It has been a great haul with not only trade goods, but several passengers that could be bartered, life for coin. The situation was not looking favorable, especially as the former prisoner advanced upon Jazper with his blade drawn.
"Lock me up in a smelly, rat-infested hole, will ya?" snarled the orc. "The Island is ours now! You'll be sleeping in Prexus' Hold with the rest of the crew!"
The orc advanced and aimed a deathblow at Jazper, who used his feet to push the hammock as far away as possible. The scimitar slashed through the knotted cords as well as most of Jazper's clothing, but left him untouched. He fell to the ground and quickly crawled away behind a stack of barrels.
"Where are ye?" The orc heaved aside trunks and sliced rows of carefully hung meat from the rafters. He snarled, sniffing the air and calling for all manners of doom to fall upon Jazper's head.
Jazper, however, had already fled. His reflexes kicked into an overdrive, pulling resources of energy from deep within and giving wings to his frightened feet. Before the orc had begun cursing him, Jazper was already on deck trying to absorb the scene before him.
"Out of the whosits and into the whatsis," he whispered in terror, eyes darting from side to side. Most of his shipmates lay crumpled at their posts while orcs and oddly dressed humans triumphantly turned over the barrels and crates that were lashed to the deck. Jazper glanced aft toward the Wind-o-Matic. It was still intact, but for how long?
Catching sight of the dazed bosun, Jazper ran over and gave her a thump on the back of the skull to clear her mind. "We've got to untie the ship and get it into deeper water! You get the lines, I'll get her started!"
Nodding, the bosun darted off, dodging debris and the handful of orcs left aboard. It was obvious that the prisoners would try to escape by taking the Sprocket – and Jazper was darned if he'd let them have her!
Quickly judging the distance, Jazper ran to the Wind-o-Matic and hoped it wasn't going to be ornery this time. After a few swift kicks, the gears started whirring and Jazper heaved a sigh of relief. The bosun and a few gnomes he'd never met before cleared the last of the escapees from the deck, including the orc that had inadvertently freed Jazper from his hammock.
"We're free! We've saved the Sprocket!" shouted Jazper. At that very moment, the Wind-o-Matic blew a flizgig and the ship's sails drooped mournfully down the mast. Adrift, who knew when – or if – help would arrive to save the Smarmy Sprocket and the remains of her crew again.