Hunters of the Dark Sea

Hunters of the Dark Sea

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by Mel Odom
     
 

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They were the whalers of the nineteenth century, leaving home for months, nay years at a time, in search of the largest creatures of the earth. It was their job to hunt these mammoth sea dwellers for their oil and feed the trade in hopes of raising enough coin to feed their families back in port. They are the hunters of the dark sea, in search of the deadly

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Overview

They were the whalers of the nineteenth century, leaving home for months, nay years at a time, in search of the largest creatures of the earth. It was their job to hunt these mammoth sea dwellers for their oil and feed the trade in hopes of raising enough coin to feed their families back in port. They are the hunters of the dark sea, in search of the deadly behemoth that is their stock and trade. It is a life and death profession where even the greenest member of the crew knows the odds of survival . . . until these odds are changed by an even deadlier hunter than themselves: an unearthly predator that is now stalking them.

"Smartly told," "a surefire pageturner," "Mel Odom really knows how to keep a reader turning pages," are only some of the accolades bestowed on award-winning author Mel Odom. Turning his attention away from his usual fantasy kingdoms to the high seas of the nineteenth century in this pageturning adventure of the whaling trade, Odom combines the suspense of Alien with the historical storytelling of Caleb Carr and Michael Crichton.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429965811
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
07/18/2003
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
520,705
File size:
0 MB

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Hunters of the Dark Sea
1813CHAPTER 1Pacific Ocean 3° 28' S. Lat.--107° 12' W. Long. 
 
 
"THAR SHE BLOWS!"The call to arms, after so many weeks at sea without a single sighting, caught Ethan Swain by surprise. At first, he thought he'd imagined the lookout's bawling voice.He'd given his attention over to the fishing net he'd been mending. Whenever his mind was too full of thinking, especially of mistakes or bad judgments he'd made in the past--and especially of the pain and guilt that was Teresa, he found working with the focused effort required to sort out the tangled skeins of a net or mend canvas helped keep his worries at bay.These days, there'd been far too many worries and not nearly enough distraction. After almost two years at sea, Reliant's holds were only half-filled with whale oil barrels. They'd been so long without taking a whale that the ship's cooper had begun saying that he didn't know if he'd even remember how to build another barrel. He'd been joking with some of the rest of the crew. Captain Folger had caught wind of that tale through the ship's spy, who still yet remained unidentified, and had set Henry Paulk to making and unmaking barrels during his watches as punishment.Cap'n Folger, Ethan thought in disgust as he looked into the topgallant rigging of the mainmast where the lookout kept watch, is more of a problem than not sighting whales. But he fought to steer himself clear of such thinking. Thinking like that had gotten him into trouble just out of Boston and nearly ended his sailing career."Thar she blows!" Bill Fedderson cried out again.Realizing that the call wasn't his imagination, Ethan stood and looked out at the rolling green sea that was so different than the steel blue of the Atlantic Ocean he'd grown up around."Where away?" Ethan shouted. Hope flared through him, and he chose to let the emotion live instead of quashing it.Over the last seven weeks without taking a whale, there had been two other sightings. Both of those sightings had been hailed by Robert Oswalt, the greenhand they'd lately taken on under auspicious circumstances only a month before. A month, Ethan had reflected grimly, was no amount of time to train a greenhand and have him standing a lookout's watch. But Folger had ordered exactly that.Both of those sightings had turned out false, and poor Robert had been made to feel bad. Some of the crew faulted him, saying not only had he imagined whales, but probably he'd missed them while on his watches as well. Robert was still working in the ship's galley on double shifts, serving the punishment Folger had meted out for those mistakes.Bill Fedderson was an experienced whaling man, though, with several whaling voyages under his belt. He now pointed dead ahead. "Whale's lyin' two points off port bow, Ethan," the man called back through cupped hands.Ethan ran for the mainmast. At twenty-six, he stood a shade over six feet tall. He was broad-shouldered like his father, but ran more to lean because he didn't have his mother's cooking these days. He wore his dark hair pulled back in a queue and usually kept his face clean-shaven, but now carried three days' growth of beard stubble. He wore a loose blouse with the sleeves hacked off and light cotton trousers to accommodate the heat. Unless he was tending official ship's business or leaving the ship, he usually went barefooted, as he did now.The ship's crew turned from their daily cleaning chores, which were purely wasted effort but ordered by Folger all the same. Most of them felt their time would have been better spent carving scrimshaw for possible sale in port. At least that would have put a little money in their purses to be spent later on women and drink. The crew looked expectantly out to sea. Some of the men started climbing up into the rigging to look for themselves. Their exuberant and hopefulvoices drowned out the sound of the waves slapping against Reliant's prow and the light crack of the square-cut canvas sails filling with the constant breeze.Reaching the mainmast, Ethan caught hold of the rigging and swarmed up to the main topgallant yardarm. He climbed like a monkey, automatically shifting his body side to side and back and forth to account for the whaleship's rocking motion over the gentle swells of the Pacific Ocean.Bill, a short, compact man who hailed from Boston, Massachusetts, stood on the yardarm within the lookout's ring. He had one beefy hand wrapped around the mast and rested a hip against the iron ring that Reliant used instead of a crow's nest. He wore only a blouse and long underpants. A long kerchief wrapped round his balding head protected him from the sun's harsh rays."There she breaches!" he yelled.Pausing in his climb, hooking his fingers and toes into the rigging, Ethan swung out to peer past the main topsail. Out toward the horizon, where the rolling green sea curved up to meet the sky across a field of whitecapped curlers, he spotted the gray-black back of the whale. Ethan took in the blunt, thick head and the heavily fluked tail with a trained eye before the creature disappeared underwater."Is it a sperm whale, Bill?" Ethan demanded as he caught hold of the yardarm and hauled himself up."Aye," Bill said, handing over the spyglass. "That's what I make him out to be."Ethan silently prayed that the whale was what they believed the creature to be. Bull sperm whales were known to swim alone without the accompaniment of others of their kind, so they only had to worry about sneaking up on him. Ethan fitted the spyglass to his eye and stared at the black shape cutting neatly through the ocean. The moment of good luck was holding: The whale hadn't disappeared down into the sea for a long dive to force them to have to guess where the beast was.Locking his legs over the yardarm and hooking his toes into the rigging, Ethan kept both eyes open as he tracked the whale. Some men hadn't ever learned the trick of properly using a spyglass with both eyes and shifting back and forth in the mind to get the broad view of the natural eye as well as the narrow field of focus afforded by the glass.Suddenly, a thick column of water shot up from the side of the whale's head. From his vantage point trailing the whale, Ethan saw that the water blew forward. Only sperm whales blew through the top side of their heads and forward."Thar she blows!" Ethan yelled. Then he turned and yelled down to thedecks. "C'mon, lads. That's a fine bull sperm whale out there just waiting for men that are brave enough to take him."A ragged cheer broke from below.Despite the cheering, Ethan knew that the men also recognized the dangers ahead if they pursued the whale successfully. Too much time off made a whaling man sloppy in his work. They'd had too much time off.Nantucket whaling men had started out in their professions hunting what were called right whales. The Wampanoag, the native people on Nantucket Island, had hunted the whales from the shoreline for the oil as well as their bones. After that, an inhabitant of Cape Cod named Paddock had journeyed to the island and taught the English immigrants how to hunt the whales from boats. The right whales, called that because they'd been the right whales to catch, had since been hunted nearly to extinction. But the sperm whales had been discovered before that happened.Although more fierce by nature and much larger than the right whales, the sperm whales turned out to be a whaling man's bounty. Oil-soaked blubber loaded their flesh. And inside the blunt-shaped head, once the skull case was cracked open, lay nearly five hundred gallons of spermaceti, the highest quality of oil that could be taken from a whale.It was the intestinal tracts of a sperm whale that yielded liquid gold, though. Ambergris, the dark, oily substance that lined the sperm whale's intestines, was used to make perfumes and went for the highest price when a cargo was sold."Mr. Swain," a strong voice called up.Hooking an arm in the main topgallant rigging, Ethan peered back and down into Reliant's stern. Anger rolled in the pit of his stomach and he had to restrain himself from cursing. Remember Boston, he told himself. Remember Teresa.Captain Simon Folger stepped onto the deck from the aft companionway. He looked calm as could be as he pulled on his officer's uniform coat. He was tall and heavy, carrying a belly on him this past year that hadn't been there when they'd left Nantucket."Aye, Cap'n," Ethan yelled in response."Is this a true sighting then, Mr. Swain?" Folger demanded. "Or are we again led astray by a false report?"Ethan felt the tension from the captain's words seethe over the deck. Robert Oswalt might have gotten the punishment for the false alarms, but Ethan knew the ship's captain faulted him for them as well. Folger's accusation was like a slap in the face for the crew."The sighting's true, Cap'n," Ethan replied in a strong voice. He tried to keep the anger from his words. "I've seen the beast myself. Looks to be a sperm whale."A greedy smile lit Folger's moon face. "Then what are we waiting for, Mr. Swain? This ship can't make the money the investors want to see returned on their trust if the crew is going to dawdle about and watch whales go by.""Aye, Cap'n." Ethan passed the spyglass back to Bill. He leapt into the rigging, swinging down so fast that an untrained eye would have thought him plunging to his doom. Seconds later, he landed barefoot on the rolling deck, well ahead of Bill, who made his way a trifle more slowly.The crew moved briskly, aided in their efforts by the caustic lashings of the captain's spite-laden tongue. Men loaded the aft larboard whaleboat and the waist whaleboat just ahead with tubs of harpoon line.Ethan ran to the mainmast rack, where the harpoons and spears were kept neat and true. Reliant carried nearly two hundred such weapons in all, most of them belowdecks in the cargo space. The spares would be brought up as needed. He grabbed a half dozen harpoons in his arms and glanced over his shoulder.Creel Turpin, one of the older hands aboard Reliant, ran behind Ethan."Lances, Creel," Ethan said, turning from the rack and sprinting for the waist whaleboat. "If you please.""Aye," Creel responded. "I gots 'em for ye." He was a small bear of a man with slightly rounded shoulders and a potbelly, but there wasn't a harder-working man on the ship. He was in his late thirties, a man with a wife and children back on Nantucket. Gold earrings glinted in his ears. A knife scar marred his face, and more decorated his left arm, proving that he knew his way around tavern brawls."Furl the sails," Folger bawled from the ship's stern."Furl the sails," Ethan cried out as he dropped the harpoons into the whaleboat."All ahead stop," Folger ordered."All ahead stop." Ethan joined the crew, calling out instructions to the men swarming the rigging to draw up the sails. The windlass cranked, dropping the anchor toward the ocean floor below. They were far out from coastal waters, and Ethan knew that getting the anchor to sea bottom would take time."We'll take the whale by boat," Folger said. "If the brute gets a look at this ship, we may scare him off. And I don't want him scared off. Is that clear?""Aye, Cap'n," Ethan replied, knowing several of the men were close to ignoring Folger's orders."We, says the pompous bastard," Horace McBain growled in a low voice. "An' him a-gonna park his fat arse on board this ship an' wait all impatient-like for the men what's bravin' the sea fer that whale." He was one of the older hands, gone gray for years, but still good with rope and sail.Thankfully, McBain's words didn't carry far. Ethan shot the man a look. "Talk like that," Ethan warned, "could cost you the hide from your back, Horace McBain. This ship has ears, you know."Chastened, the man nodded and moved for the larboard whaleboat with his clutch of harpoons.In less than a minute, the canvas had been cleared from the three masts, dropping it down on the same lines that were used to muscle the sheets into position. The upper masts of the ship looked as bare as oak trees in winter.Ethan felt pride in his crew. As first mate, he'd driven them hard, rehearsed them at times almost cruelly, but he'd never pushed them so hard that he'd broken them, as Folger tried to do. Despite Reliant's advanced age of nearly twenty years, they kept her neat and trim, better than Folger had any right to expect. Except that the captain's demands kept rising every time the crew managed to rise to meet them. Reliant's keel measured 118 feet and supported a deck 141 feet long. She was 37 feet across her beam. All in all, she was a sizable ship with plenty of work aboard her.Sliding back down the rigging, Ethan landed on his bare feet. Breathing hard from his exertion, his breath singing in his ears, he noticed the change in Reliant's speed immediately. With her sails furled, the whaleship started to turn sluggish, more at the mercy of the ocean rather than slicing through whatever the sea brought. She was at her most vulnerable when she was still.Robert Oswalt, still clad in a dirty apron from his duties in the ship's galley, ran across the deck toward Ethan. He carried a pair of heavy leather boots."Ethan," Robert gasped, coming to a halt, "I've brought your boots." He was barely five feet tall, and surely no more than fifteen or sixteen years old. He was fair-haired and fair-complexioned, carrying a bright pink tint to his skin at all times. They'd found him adrift in the ocean a little more than a month ago after he'd jumped overboard, no longer able to handle the abuse he'd been constantly treated to."So you have," Ethan said, taking the boots from the young man."Mr. Swain," Folger called from the stern quarterdeck. "I want that whale, Mr. Swain. Not your excuses about why it couldn't be brought back."Damn your eyes, Ethan thought, noting that several other men in the whaleboatcrews were visibly stung by the harsh words. But he said, "You'll have the whale, Cap'n. You've got stouthearted men working for you." He glanced up at the young man standing in front of him and lowered his voice. "Robert.""Yes." Robert looked at him with rapt attention."Lose the apron."The young man glanced down at the apron, looking as though he were seeing the garment for the first time. He untied the apron strings and took the apron off. With the apron folded neatly in his hands, he started back toward the galley."Robert," Ethan called gently. When the young man turned to him, Ethan took the apron from him, then led the way to the port side of the ship. He tied the apron tight around the railing."Won't it blow off?" Robert asked."No," Ethan answered. "That apron will be here waiting on you for when you get back. But you won't be working in the galley anymore.""I won't?""No." Ethan watched as his boat crew readied the waist whaleboat. 
THE WHALEBOAT HUNG from a block-and-tackle assembly called the falls. The falls held the vessel over the ship's side. The boat was twenty-five feet in length and was equipped with oarlocks, gunnels, and a simple single mast that could be added for the times when the craft could be powered by the wind.Reliant carried five whaleboats. With the way Folger insisted on using them, only two of them were in the water at any time, but the others were kept in reserve. Two of the whaleboats hung from the port side and another from the starboard side. A fourth hung from the ship's stern. The final whaleboat hung below the mainmast rigging high enough above the deck so that men wouldn't bump their heads in passing.Moving to the stern of the boat, Ethan took up position and sat. Timothy Madison, rawboned and thin, already sporting an old man's face and him twenty years too young for it, sat in as boatsteerer in the prow of the whaleboat. He had pale green lizard's eyes, too close-set to trust.Glancing back at the boat crew at the larboard whaleboat, Ethan said, "Lower away." He pulled at the ropes on the falls, slipping the whaleboat free. He braced himself as the whaleboat dropped and his stomach tried to turn inside out from the falling sensation.The lines burned through the falls, shrilling like a bird caught by a cat for amoment, then the whaleboat slapped into the water with a crash that spattered foaming sea brine up into Ethan's face. Bill kept the craft on a tether from above.Light and flat-bottomed, the whaleboat twisted and gamboled across the surface of the sea like a small fish fighting the fisherman's line. A dozen times, the whaleboat slapped against the ship, creating hollow thumps that echoed over the gentle sea swells.Ethan grabbed one of the oars and stood in the boat's center. He used the oar to keep the small craft from thumping against the bigger vessel. In seconds, Robert Oswalt, Bill Fedderson, Creel Turpin, and Holy Jordan swung down the falls lines to join Ethan and Timothy Madison in the boat.Looking back over his shoulder, Ethan saw that the larboard whaleboat had only then settled onto the water. His crew was ahead in the mad race to reach the whale. Even though the crew worked as one, competition remained fierce between the individual whaleboat teams. Hunting whales was what the sailors lived and died for on these voyages. As dangerous as it was, the hunt broke the tedium and despair of the long voyages, and stories of victory lasted longer still.The men in Ethan's boat already knew their places. With the addition of young Robert to the boat crew to replace Horace McBain (at Folger's insistence that the young man earn his keep aboard Reliant), Ethan had worked his boat crew fiercely to bring them all back up to speed. Being quick and smart aboard the whaleboat wasn't just about the competition between boat crews. Those skills and trained instincts also kept a man and his boat mates alive.With Timothy Madison in the boatsteerer's position at the prow of the whaleboat, Bill took his place as bow oarsman because he was the most experienced of the lot. Ethan had stationed Creel as midships oarsman because he was the strongest of them and most able to handle the heaviest oar of the five that propelled the whaleboat. Holy, one of the younger men aboard Reliant, took up his oar but kept the two tubs of harpoon line between his feet so he knew where they were at all times. Robert, being the slightest built of the six men in the boat, was the after oarsman and soon-to-be harpooner.Ethan looked at his crew. All five of them sat with their faces to him and their backs to the whale over a mile away. "Give way all, lads, and may God keep us in His sight today.""Amen," Holy Jordan said. He bowed his head quickly and made the sign of the cross.Back on Nantucket, Ethan knew, the Quakers would have looked upon Holy's Catholic ways with disfavor, and probably would have run him off theisland. But men on ships, especially whaling ships, prayed to every friendly and benevolent power whose name they knew.Robert, as after oarsman, set the pace for the rowing, calling out the beats in a low, strong voice.Ethan stood in the stern and looked toward the black hump of the whale on the horizon. In his years of whaling, he'd taken dozens of whales. Each one was different in some way. Ethan approached his prey with the same technique each time, but he had learned to be adaptable. His skills had earned him the first mate's job on three different whaleships since he was sixteen.But you haven't made captain yet, have you? Ethan chided himself. That was his goal and his ambition, and that desire had very nearly been the reef that had torn the guts out of his future in Boston. He shook those thoughts away.The whaleboat caught the gentle rolls of the Pacific Ocean. Where Reliant cut through the waves, the lighter whaleboat had no choice but to be tossed above them. Each time a wave passed them, the front end of the whaleboat lifted from the water, then crashed back down. Salt spray wet the backs of the rowing crew and stung Ethan's eyes."Larson's got his boat away," Bill advised.Ethan nodded but didn't look back. He remained focused on the whale, hoping the huge animal didn't decide to sound. If the whale dived, the return to the surface could be in as little as ten minutes or as much as an hour."There hisself sits," Timothy sneered, looking back at Reliant. "Prancin' the ship's decks like some kind of proud popinjay. An' when we taken this whale, it's gonna be hisself that claims credit for it."Ethan knew Timothy was talking about Captain Folger. Ethan resisted the impulse to turn and look. From past experience during the voyage, he knew the captain would be standing in the prow with his arms folded across his chest."He's the cap'n," Ethan replied evenly. "The credit's his.""An' the bulk of the profits is his, too," Bill said contemptuously.Ethan didn't argue that. A ship's captain always got the biggest lay of the profits. Sailing men without position or prestige on a voyage got small wages paid out of the profits at the end. Those wages were called lays, and they were sometimes only a fraction of a percent of the profits. On some ships, Ethan had seen men walk away with less than two hundred dollars in their pockets after a three-year voyage. Luckily, he hadn't sailed with those ships. The vessels he'd taken berths on had proven profitable for the investors, and his own stock had risen with the captains of ships.Until Boston, he reminded himself. Boston had changed many things.Signing on with Folger had been a mistake, but Ethan had realized that only on reflection. Until this voyage, Folger had been lucky taking whales, too."Ye can't just keep ignorin' the way the cap'n's treatin' ye, Ethan," Bill said.Ethan waved Bill's comment away, trying to stay focused on the whale. Only the man wouldn't let the subject go."Ye're the first mate, Ethan." Bill pulled on his oar. "Ain't a man on that ship that won't foller ye should ye so choose."Standing with surefooted ease in the whaleboat's stern, his knees bent to maintain his balance, Ethan suddenly felt as though the ocean was going to open up and swallow him. The unrest between the crew and the captain had been growing by leaps and bounds.Ethan spoke in a low voice, just loud enough to be heard over Robert's count. "This conversation is a dangerous one, Bill.""We're talking mutiny," Holy said."I don't want to push you, Ethan," Creel said calmly, "but Bill is tellin' ye true. Ye an' me both been on bad ships afore. An' this 'un's gonna be a bad 'un if'n somebody don't knock in Folger's horns.""The situation with Folger might not come to that," Ethan said.Creel eyed Ethan steadily, ignoring Ethan's warning glance and not backing down an inch. "Ye know it will. Ye can feel it in yer bones same as me. Ye've had yer taste of it."For an instant, memory dusted Ethan with a gossamer wing. Images of men dying with musket balls in their chests or their stomachs laid open by a cutlass slash played against the backs of his eyes. Through the brine of the sea, he smelled the brittle iron of blood and gunpowder. The harsh cracks of pistols and muskets mixed with the rolling thunder of a full broadside of cannon."No," Ethan said, unsheathing the steel in his voice. "And I don't want to hear any more talk like this." The whale was little more than two hundred yards away. "I'm a man of my word, and I gave it that I'd see this ship through storm and sea, and bring back a full hold of whale oil to show for it. That's the same job you signed on to do.""I didn't sign on to work meself to death like a dog," Bill growled.Ethan divided his attention between the men and the whale. The whale blew again, the forward tilt of the spray more pronounced as they caught up with the massive animal."Ye're the first mate," Creel said. "As mate, ye're supposed to stand in for thecrew agin the cap'n an' take our part should it come to that. An' the crew feels as though it has come to that.""Ever'body's surprised you ain't felt it's come to that," Bill added."Not that nobody thinks ye're the cap'n's man," Timothy hastily added."Speak fer yer ownself, Tim," Bill said."Shut yer piehole, Bill," Creel growled. "If'n we thought that poorly of Ethan, we wouldn't even be talkin' to him now." He was quiet for a moment, his eyes meeting Ethan's fearlessly. "Somethin' ye need to know. There's a circle of names bein' prepared. Men who's writin' their names down sayin' as how they'd like to elect a new captain."A cold chill passed through Ethan. As bad as things might get, he hadn't been expecting that announcement. He couldn't believe the talk had gone that far without his knowing it. Now, when the dissatisfaction all came out, he was likely to be crushed between the two forces threatening to tear the ship apart. The crew would blame him for not siding with them earlier, and the captain would fault him for not apprising him of the situation in time to prevent an uprising."We want ye as that new captain," Creel said. "But we want yer name on that list when we give it to the cap'n."Captain, he thought. Just like that, and he'd be a captain. But it would be captain of a mutiny, and he knew there would be no honor in that. He imagined trying to write that in one of the letters he faithfully sent back to his family on Nantucket. There was no way.Ethan looked at the black mountain of the whale lying in the ocean little more than fifty yards away. "Let's take the whale, lads. One thing at a time."The five men in the whaleboat stared hard at Ethan. Only Robert and Holy didn't have accusation in their gazes."Aye then," Bill said in a cold voice. "Have it as ye will. But when the time comes that yer name ain't on that list, an' that time will come soon enough, the crew's gonna figure ye're agin 'em, too. Likely ye won't have a friend left on Reliant, an' no ready-made captaincy a-waitin' on ye either."Ethan gave the man a hard eye. "I want that whale, Bill. Nothing else matters right now, and if you do anything to hurt my chances at taking that whale, I'm going to beat you down. You have my word on that."Bill's face colored a deep red. "All right then. Let's take yer damned ol' whale.""Shift the oars. Steady, now, and let's paddle in if we can. Robert, slow down the beat. Let's see if we've caught this monster sleeping."Dropping into a kneeling position to present a lower profile in the whaleboat, Ethan watched the whale with a trained eye. Whales had a tendency to ignore small boats, although sometimes a whale was skittish of everything.If a whale swam away, the whaleboat crews had no choice but to row after the creature and hope they could keep up. But the most fearsome possibility of all was that the whale might decide to attack the whaleboat.The crew behaved liked the well-trained machine that it was. The oars rose and dipped, barely catching the water in slow strokes and hauling the whaleboat back. None of them turned to look over their shoulders."Pull two," Ethan whispered.Bill and Holy kept their oars moving to Robert's whispered beat while the other three rowers shipped their oars.The whaleboat came around slowly, pulling in toward the whale.The oily black body was slightly longer than fifty feet, Ethan judged. The blunt, squared-off head marked the creature clearly as a sperm whale. No other whale resembled the huge monster floating more than half-submerged in the water. The ocean lifted and dropped the whaleboat, but Ethan felt totally in tune with the great beast.Triumph or tragedy lay only a few feet away."Robert," Ethan called softly. "Stand, lad, and pick up that harpoon."With some obvious reluctance, Robert shipped his oar and took up one of the harpoons from the center of the whaleboat. The harpoon was eight feet of polished hardwood that had been fired to make the wood stouter. The iron head at the end of the harpoon was cruelly barbed, designed to rip into a whale's flesh and hang. The back end of the harpoon had been drilled through so the heavytest whale line could be tied there."Holy," Ethan said, "are those tubs ready?""Aye," Holy replied, glancing at the line-filled tubs sitting between his feet."I don't want that line fouling," Ethan said."It won't.""And I want that line kept wet so it doesn't catch fire on the loggerhead." The loggerhead was a post at the stern of the ship. As the tub oarsman paid out the line, the line whipped around the loggerhead to stay taut and provide leverage for the crew as they took the line back in. If the line wasn't kept wet, often the hemp would catch fire from the friction and either burn in two or weaken and snap."The line will be wet."The whale blew, shooting a spout of water sixty feet high. The spray blew back over the whaleboat crew. Salt stung their eyes and noses as the mist covered them in foul-smelling reek.Bill cursed.Standing in the prow of the whaleboat, leg locked against the thwart, Robert stared at the great brute they'd come more than a mile to kill. His hands shook, and his lower lip trembled."Robert," Ethan whispered. "Are you okay, lad?""I'm scared, Ethan. I'm just so damned scared that I'll make a mess of this."In the next moment, the whale shifted. The flukes flicked nervously, propelling the creature forward a few feet."It's Larson's boat," Creel said. "Stupid bastards is comin' up on the starboard side of the fish. Whale must have caught 'em from the corner of his eye."Gracefully, unbelievably quick for something so massive, the sperm whale started forward."Give it to him!" Ethan roared, knowing they couldn't lose the whale. "Give it to him now, Robert!"Copyright © 2003 by Mel Odom

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