Bonita pours tea from a battered old teapot into Heraklese's cup. The teapot is painted with crude horizontal red stripes. Its glazing is cracked and stained brown. It is one of the pieces of china that came with the boat, when Hocus, Wicklow, Heraklese, and Scythe won it from Permisso and his crew. For the first time, Heraklese looks at the teapot and wonders if it had any special value to Permisso. Was it a gift from his mother, when she watched him go to sea for the first time? Did he buy it in a far-off country, from a beautiful dark-skinned girl? Who did Permisso have waiting for him at his home port? Did he have a wife and children? Where was his home port, for that matter? Somewhere on the coasts of the Satian Sea? Did his friends and family ever find out what happened to him?
"Heraklese," Bonita says, and snaps her fingers in front of his face.
He looks up from the teapot. Sallina, Garibaldi, Stanley, and Jessica are sitting at the captain's table with him, squeezed together on the benches to his left and right. Bonita is leaning over the table in front of him, having poured the tea. The sun shines through the windows. It is the afternoon of the 3rd of March, 2478. The one-masted, fifteen-meter boat Loose Lips, sits at anchor off the beach of Tankum Island. A hundred meters inland from the beach is a village of twenty wood huts and a large hall, home to Bragash's tribe of orcs.
Heraklese takes a deep breath and looks at Jessica. "We'll pay you fifty gold pieces a month each."
"But you have been paying us one hundred a month up until now," she says.
"I know." Heraklese places one hand around his warm little teacup. "That was danger money. But things have changed. You heard this morning how Amahte the captain of the Shark rescued his entire crew from the Surprise by towing them away in longboats. He used his flying bench, the same thing Hocus has been using, to attack the Surprise while his own ship was a thousand meters away. If it were not for the spirit matter sails and rope used upon the Surprise, Amahte would have disabled her easily. So long as we have Hocus on this ship, we are safe from pirates. We will disable them and cause casualties among their crew before they can ever approach us."
Bonita pulls up a stool and sits opposite Heraklese. She pours herself a cup of tea. Steam rises from the hot water. Garibaldi watches it coiling upwards. He does not seem interested in these negotiations. Or perhaps he is more interested in the steam. Sallina is looking at Jessica.
"You're saying that it's now perfectly safe for us to sail around with you," Jessica says, "so you are going to cut our pay."
"That's one reason why we are going to cut your pay," Heraklese says, "And there are two other reasons. You are fine sailors, but you are not much use to us in a fight. When we're under attack, the best place for you is below decks, and after the fight, you can come out and take care of the ship while we rest."
Stanley says, "I'm happy to learn to fire a bow and fight with a cutlass. I don't want to hide below the decks like a coward."
"You can do that if you want to, and I encourage you to learn to fight. But it's not the fighting that's so important. It's sailing while under fire that's important, like Sallina and Garibaldi. You remember when the pirate boat was closing upon us, and I was too shaken to stay at the wheel? Who stepped up and took the wheel in my place? Garibaldi did. Who carried arrows across the deck while we were under fire? Sallina."
Jessica nods and looks down at her tea. Her eyes are red.
"And the final thing is this: you have problems. Sallina and Garibaldi don't. I have to deal with your personal problems, your complaints, and your worries. I don't blame you for any of that. I like you both very much, and I want you to stay on the ship. But I have to worry about your morale, and in our business, worrying about people's morale is costly."
"I think it's perfectly fair," Stanley says. "We were hired for a hundred pieces a month for a short dangerous mission. Now the work continues, much of it is not dangerous, and we have the option to stay on for fifty pieces a month."
Jessica looks Heraklese straight in the eye. "The new rate will have to start on 10th March, because this month we are on the boat with the understanding that our salary was a hundred gold pieces a month each."
Heraklese says, "Yes," but Jessica keeps taking over him.
"And if you are going to drop our salary, then you have to give us the option to leave the ship and seek employment elsewhere."
Heraklese sits back on his bench. He stares at the table. She has a good point.
"Mizzen Island is a perfectly good place to find work," Sallina says. "Garibaldi and I have worked out of Mizzen Island several times."
"Are you kidding?" Jessica says, "Mizzen is a pirate warren! It's crawling with criminals, cut-throats, pick-pockets and frauds. We're more likely to get robbed there than find work, and even if we did find work, it would be on a pirate ship."
Sallina laughs. "Well, it's true that Mizzen is a bit of a dump in places, and it has more than its fair share of criminals, but their business is mostly smuggling, not killing, and they are proud to do it. They don't feel that smuggling is a crime. They see it as a duty to the people who live under stifling governments."
Jessica pouts and looks out the window. "Half the time, I don't even know what you're talking about."
"To put it simply," Sallina says, "You can get well-paid work with honorable people, but it will be work that is illegal by the laws of one or another nation around the coast of the Sea. There's nothing wrong with it, and the pay is good."
"I don't want to go breaking the law."
"What laws?" Sallina says, "You're break-"
Heraklese holds up his hand. "Enough!"
The two woman stop talking and look at him. "Jessica makes a good point. We can't drop their salary without giving them the option of getting off the ship in a legitimate sovereign trading port."
Sallina rolls her eyes. Jessica nods. "Thank you."
"So, think about it for a day. If you don't want to stay on from 10th March at fifty pieces a month, then let me know tomorrow, and we will sail you to Pearltown a hundred kilometers north of here, on our way to Mizzen Island."
"That's fair," Stanley says.
Jessica looks down at her teacup. Nobody says anything. Garibaldi and Bonita sip their tea. Heraklese sees a tear drop from Jessica's cheek onto the stained wooden table top.
"Come on, Jessica," Heraklese says, "We have a business to run here. We can't just give our money away in order to make people happy."
Stanley hands Jessica a handkerchief and puts his arm around her. She wipes her nose. "We tried so hard, Stanley and I, to do a good job, and now it turns out that you think we're just a pain in the ass, and you want to get rid of us."
Heraklese, with his elbows on the table, puts his head in his hands.
Hocus looks down at his notebook. He holds the open page towards the light of the fire. "You took three hundred and fifty thousand dollars in cash, gold, and gems from the seventy pirates you captured in the twenty you killed."
He looks up at Bragash. The fire light illuminates his face with flickering red light. The orc chief stares into the flames and answers Hocus with a slight nod of his head.
"These same pirates," Hocus says, "Are now eating your flour and limes. They are trying to break into your hall to steal beer. They are infested with lice. They are rowdy during the day when you are trying to sleep. Everybody wants them off the island."
Hocus leans back on his arms. Despite spending many hours in Bragash's hall, sitting around the fire, he still can't sit cross-legged without feeling stiff. He stretches out his legs. Bragash stares into the fire and nods his head again.
"So," Hocus says, "We go to Mizzen Island. We hire a ship. We bring it back here, along with grain and any other supplies you need. We put the pirates on the ship, and the ship takes them all away. Vango goes with them. He'll try to come back with supplies in another month or so. In exchange, you give us the three hundred and fifty thousand dollars."
Bragash stares into the fire. Ugluk appears out of the shadows and sits down beside his father. He grunts and shuffles on his bottom, and then begins to poke the fire with a stick. "Good deal," he says.
Bragash looks at his son and frowns. He turns to the fire again. "I will think about it."
Martha, who sits on Hocus's left, says, "Or you could just kill them all."
Bragash sits up straight and puts his hands upon his knees. He sticks out his chest. The scars on his face stand out. His gold-capped tusks shine in the firelight. He looks straight at Martha.
"We are not sapiens."
Martha leans towards the Bragash. "I was just kidding."
Ugluk slaps his thigh and laughs.
The next day, the sixth of March, the owners of Global Mediation Incorporated talk to Dreadmanifold by space bridge.
"I will talk to Bragash," he says, "And tell him to send you to Mizzen for thirty-five hundred gold pieces."
"Thank you," Heraklese says.
"When will you be back on Clarus?" Hocus says.
"The Jamchelk conjunction opens on the twenty-fourth of March. We are on our way to it now, and we expect to be through and at my house in The Village by the twenty-eighth. I will spend a few days with Stockandsteel, and then proceed on my own to Plantinak to meet this Duke, unless Wicklow has already determined that the Duke's offer is a poor one, in which case I'll save myself the trouble, and come straight down to Tankum Island to see my orcs."
Within the conjured walls of Hocus and Martha's hut in the orc village, Hocus places Stephanix's head on a pile of sand. The pile is about a meter high and a meter wide at the base. The demon's head is the size of a child's, but smooth and gray. On one side there are two gold-piece sized black holes, which Hocus declares are its eyes and ears together. It has no mouth.
"So," Martha says, "Now we just wait?"
It is the morning of the seventh of March. Stephanix's eyes opened on the sixteenth of February, and since that day, Hocus has kept him in a sack, waiting until he had time to give the matter of Stephanix's re-constitution his full attention. With their departure for Mizzen Island imminent, the owners of GMI, and therefore of Stephanix, agree that now is the time. They want Stephanix re-constituted and guarding the boat when they are docked in the city of the pirates.
Scythe picks up a shovel. "What if I pile some sand on top of him? Will that help?"
Hocus shakes his head. "It's not supposed to be necessary. Lets just see what happens."
They watch. Nothing happens. They sit on various conjured-rubber cushions, facing the demon's head.
"Stick knows about Stephanix," Heraklese says. "So if we bring Stick with us, there's a risk he might tell a wizard in Mizzen about him."
"Why do we call it a him instead of a she?" Scythe says.
It's mid-afternoon, and outside the sun is shining. The orcs are exercising on the village common, which they do with much shouting, laughing, and rapping together of wooden swords.
Heraklese looks down at his conjured-rubber pillow. It is red. Hocus took great pleasure in making long-lasting conjured matter with bright colors. This pillow must have a rock in it, or else it would float away.
"Look!" Martha says.
Stephanix's head rolls to one side, stands up, and rolls again. Sand rises in puffs from the pile around it and adheres to the demon's skull. Much of the sand that rises does not fall down, but forms clumps in mid-air. More sand jumps up from the pile, as if thrown by an invisible trowel. The floating clumps grow and coalesce. The skull begins to rise from the pile.
Our heroes watch without speaking.
A nose and snout take shape upon the skull. A neck and arms grow and join with a torso. The pile of sand spreads and diminishes beneath the cloud of uplifted grains. But there is still plenty of it left as the torso falls to one side, and the legs begin to appear.
Within an hour, Stephanix the demon appears as he did when they first met him, although cleaner and neater in detail. He crouches upon what is left of the sand, staring at Hocus.
"Is he done?" Martha says.
"I guess so," Hocus says. "So now," he stands up and walks over to Stephanix. "I'm supposed to pet him."
"Pet him?" Scythe says.
"Yes." Hocus reaches out with one hand and strokes the demon's grotesque, gargoyle-like head. For a moment the demon does not respond, but then it stands and pushes against Hocus's hand. It's black eyes close.
"See?" Hocus says, and looks at his companions while stroking the demon. "He likes it."
"I thought it just took orders from you," Martha says, "Because you were its master, and you had authority over it."
"I do have authority over it," Hocus says, "He likes to be petted by me more than anyone else."
Heraklese smiles. "Do you mean to say that it obeys you so that you will stroke its head?"
"I think that's how it works," Hocus says. "It has other pleasures, like rest, figuring stuff out, and fighting. But most of all, it likes to be petted by its master."
Stephanix steps off the pile and pushes his cold, hard body against Hocus's legs. Hocus puts both hands on the demon's head.
"And another thing they like," Hocus says, "is gold."
"Why is that? Do they like to shop?" Scythe says.
"No, they like cold maeons, and gold makes cold maeons out of the hot maeons in the maeon wind. Apparently the sensation of lying on a big pile of gold is like a warm bath."
At the mention of his name, the demon looks up with a sudden motion of its head, and stares at Hocus. Hocus interrupts himself and looks down. "You know your name," he says in Latin.
The demon nods.
"And you can understand me."
The demon nods again.
Scythe stands on deck watching Stanley and Jessica haul up the anchor. Martha is beside him. Sallina and Garibaldi lean on the aft rail, looking towards shore. On the beach, Ugluk, Bragash, Vango, and a few dozen others are gathered in honor of Loose Lips's departure. It is the eighth of March, 2478.
Martha watches Scythe rubbing his shoulder. "Are you okay?"
"That demon worked me over a bit yesterday."
"I thought you were rather daring to wrestle with it."
"I figured that it likes to fight, and Hocus should not be the only one who it sees as a source of pleasure."
The wind is 8 kph out of the south, and they are going north. Stick is sitting on the forward spar of the boat, tying on a spinnaker sail. "Of course you want the spinnaker," he said earlier, "I'll put it up for you, if you can't be bothered yourselves."
"I'm not sure I trust him," Scythe says, looking at Stick.
"He gave us his word: for two hundred gold pieces, he'll find us a boat. He may be a sly old dog, but Vango trusts him, and I trust him too."
Scythe nods. "But I don't."
"So keep an eye on him," Martha says, "Get the hammock next to him if you have to."
All that day, Loose Lips sails north. Bonita pilots the boat, and Heraklese captains her. Hocus flies around on his bench, to which he has added a conjured wood shield modeled after what Wicklow and Jack told him of Amahte's flying contraption. Those on the boat take turns flying with Hocus on the bench, for it is a sunny day, and it is glorious to be a few hundred meters up in the air and searching the sea for pirate ships.
Hocus brings Stephanix the demon up onto the deck of the boat. He crouches by the rail at the bow and watches the water. He is as still as a statue. After an hour, Scythe crouches next to him.
"Are you watching the water?" he says.
In the mid-morning, they see a three-masted vessel north of them, also sailing with the wind. Hocus recognizes it as the one he saw moored off one of the Plague Islands. Its flag is a collection of white moons and stars on a blue field. "It's the boat with a wizard on it," he says to Jessica, who is sitting with him.
Jessica looks at the boat through a telescope she borrowed from Scythe. "It's going faster than us, probably heading for Mizzen also. I don't think it will see us."
Hocus smiles. "I think you're right."
They spend the night anchored at the edge of a channel, a thousand meters from the nearest land. Stephanix spends the night on deck, playing with a piece of rope Heraklese gave him, tying it in knots and untying it.
On the morning of the ninth of March, Loose Lips continues north with a gentle westerly wind. They must pick their way through shallows and between innumerable rocky islands, as they did on their way out to Tankum. The currents in some of the channels run at walking-pace, and it takes some care on Bonita's part to keep the ship from touching bottom at their edges.
The slow progress of the boat allows time for Jessica and Stanley to spend the day fishing. Stephanix moves close to them as they fish, and watches. Jessica and Stanley show no fear. They treat him as if he were a pet, or a child. But they don't speak Latin, so he cannot understand them.
In the evening, Jessica and Stanley make a fish stew with garlic, onions, and fresh bread. Everyone enjoys it, especially Stick, who eats six bowls. He also drinks as much wine as they will give him, and sings them a song about a sailor and his wives in two different ports.
The one she's like a china doll, The other an ogre-ess, But she what keeps her oven hot, She's the one I'll love the best.
Having not drunk anything for two weeks, the three glasses of wine that Heraklese allows him make Stick quite happy, and he falls asleep with the final words of the song on his lips.
I've sailed until my wind has blown, My legs are bent about, Now she what has a feather bed, She's the one I'll love the best.
The boat is shrouded in fog the next morning, the tenth of March, and they must wait until two hours after dawn before the fog lifts. And the sun shines once again upon the calm waters of the Diablo Islands. It is warm this morning. As he raises the anchor, Garibaldi strips to his waist and heaves upon the rope with his big muscular arms. Sallina stands by and watches him with a smile on her face.
Heraklese stands upon the deck with Stanley examining the horizon with his binoculars. Hocus is on the aft deck preparing his flying contraption, as they now call it. Jessica is making an effort to help him, and asking if she can have first turn in the seat. From down below they hear Stick, just woken up from his wine-soaked night's sleep, burst into song from his hammock.
What shall we do with a drunken sailor, What shall we do with a drunken sailor, What shall we do with a drunken sailor, Earl-aye in the morning?
Sallina, Stanley, and Garibaldi start to sing together, in time with Garibaldi's efforts to bring up the anchor. Heraklese lowers his binoculars and stares at them.
Heave Ho! And up she rises, Patent blocks of different sizes, Heave Ho! And up she rises, Earl-aye in the morning.
Sling him in a long boat till he's sober, Sling him in a long boat till he's sober, Sling him in a long boat till he's sober, Earl-aye in the morning.
Keep him there and make him bale her, Keep him there and make him bale her, Keep him there and make him bale her, Earl-aye in the morning.
Heave Ho! And up she rises, Patent blocks of different sizes, Heave Ho! And up she rises, Earl-aye in the morning.
Bonita walks up on deck to stand next to Heraklese. She puts her arm around him and presses her ample bosom against his side. "This is a good song," he says.
"It's a classic," Bonita says.
Tie him to the taffrail when she's yardarm under, Tie him to the taffrail when she's yardarm under, Tie him to the taffrail when she's yardarm under, Earl-aye in the morning.
Heave Ho! And up she rises, Patent blocks of different sizes, Heave Ho! And up she rises, Earl-aye in the morning.
That's what we'll do with the drunken sailor, That's what we'll do with the drunken sailor, That's what we'll do with the drunken sailor, Earl-aye in the morning.
Garibaldi has the anchor up. He ties off the rope. "Drifting in the water!" he shouts. Above him, the triangular main sail begins to stretch in the breeze as the boat turns across the wind.
Bonita releases Heraklese. He shouts, "Pilot to the helm!"
Bonita runs up the steps to the rear deck and sits astride the helm. "Pilot at the helm!"
Hocus shuts the door on his space bridge thruster mechanism, and works the pump. "Okay, I think we're ready. Come on then, get on and we'll go."
Jessica jumps up onto the bench with a big smile on her face and a telescope in her hand. Hocus the wooden bar he has recently added to the contraption. It gives those on the bench more confidence that they won't fall out.
Martha appears, just in time to watch Hocus and Jessica drifting up into the sky. "Aha!" she says, "Running off with the younger woman?"
Hocus looks down at her, and then at Jessica. "Whey hey hey!" he says, "Here I go!"
They rise up off the deck and into the breeze.
The boat must steer its way through a maze of islands on its way to Mizzen. There are deep, narrow channels with fast-running clear water and rocky bottoms. There are wide shallow stretches with sandy bottoms. In one place they cross a muddy current of cold water that Sallina says is the outflow of a river ten kilometers to the west. The charts that Heraklese and Bonita purchased in Dakka are for the most part accurate. They miss many of the islands, but they give the location of Mizzen correctly, and three hours before sun-down, they round a tall island mountain and see the mouth of Mizzen harbor in front of them, distinguished by a tall tower capped with a crystal dome.
"Mizzen light-house," Sallina says. "It has an enchanted lamp inside that shines all night, and turns about, so that you can see it between the islands from ten kilometers away."
She and Heraklese are standing at the fore rail looking ahead. Heraklese says, "How many times have you been to Mizzen?"
"Do you have friends there?"
Sallina smiles. Thin lines appear at the corners of her eyes. She moves a wisp of her long brown hair away from her face and tucks it beneath the hat she always wears when the sun shines. "You know, captain," she says, "I don't like to answer personal questions."
"Oh come on, Sallina," Heraklese says, "We all know you two are some kind of super-couple with super-powers. We just think you're groovy, you know? We want to know your story. Do you have any kids? Where do you come from? Where are your friends?"
Sallina continues to smile. "Thank you," she says. "Maybe I will tell Marth the story of how Garibaldi and I met. She's been asking me for it, you know." She looks forward again, at the lighthouse. "But Garibaldi and I learned some time ago that keeping our lives private gave us more freedom. If ever your lives are in danger, and our knowledge can help you, we'll share it with you. But beyond that, we like to keep our secrets."
"Why didn't you tell us about the plague in the Plague Islands?"
"Actually," Sallina said, "I never believed the stories. But I guess they were true."
Heraklese nods. He stares at Sallina's profile for a while, and then looks back across the deck at Garibaldi who, still stripped to the waist, is chopping up some firewood he brought on board at lunchtime, when they moored next to a small island to take on water. He chops the wood with his big axe, and looks quite expert at the job.
"Well, you know," Heraklese says, "You are a fine-looking couple, and great to have around. I hope we don't lose you in Mizzen to some other ship."
Sallina laughs. "Don't worry about that. We have never mixed with orcs before, and we are not nearly bored with them yet. We will stick around for a while."
"So it's not the money, it's the orcs?"
"We work for a hundred pieces a month. We won't work for less, but on the other hand, we won't be attracted by more. We have enough money stashed away in the bank. In this case, we like the orcs. I'm learning their language." Sallina takes her hat off, gathers her hair up, and puts the hat back on. "They are a noble people in their way, don't you think?"
Heraklese thinks. He sees Ugluk wrestling in the mud with Bootak, Bragash sitting in his hall, Quahiri and Grellian dancing in the firelight, orc soldiers standing around in the winter drizzle guarding seventy wounded pirates, and Jezel sitting naked in the sauna patting the seat beside her and winking at him.
"I guess so," Heraklese said. "But I'm generally very confused when it comes to non-sapien humans."
Sallina puts her back to the rail and folds her arms across her chest. "Because you were a slave of the calipanti?"
Heraklese turns and points a finger at her. "Yes! Because I was a slave of the calipanti. And isn't it great that you know that? Because you can understand me better, and maybe even love me a little better for it. But I don't know anything about you, nor your husband, other than that nothing seems to make you anxious. Why is that? Why don't you ever get anxious?"
Sallina looks at her husband. "It's a choice."
A call comes from above. "Ahoy there!" Heraklese looks up. Hocus's flying contraption is rounding the ship, about thirty meters up. "There's a large harbor and a town," the wizard says. "And a lighthouse!" Hocus shouts. "That's Mizzen Island!" The contraption drops down towards the aft deck. Jessica jumps off, the contraption slows down, and she secures it with a rope to the aft rail. Hocus jumps off and the contraption pops up on the end of its rope and floats behind the boat, about two meters up.
"They are getting good at that," Sallina says.
"Well," Heraklese says, "I'll get back to our discussion another time." Heraklese starts walking aft. It's time to talk to Bonita about their approach to the harbor.
"Aye, aye, captain," Sallina says.
Bonita steers Loose Lips past a small island off the coast of Mizzen. "That's Lighthouse Island," she says to Hocus. The lighthouse sits at the summit of the island, its windows flashing many colors in the lowering sun on the tenth of March, 2478.
A few minutes later, Loose Lips rounds the mountainous mouth of Mizzen Harbor, and Hocus sees the Pirate City for the first time. Its taverns, docks, and warehouses sprawl by the waterside. Its houses crowd the rising ground amid trees and parks. Its mansions stare down from the mountain slopes above.
Four three-masted ships sit at anchor in the harbor, away from the docks. One is the Cosmos, flying its banner of moons and stars on a blue field. There are a dozen two-masted ships also at anchor in the harbor, and a dozen single-masted boats among them. Another two-dozen single-masted boats are tied up at the docks, which Hocus assumes must be too shallow for the larger boats, and too expensive for some of the smaller ones.
"Stick!" Stick turns from the ships's rail to look at Hocus. "What's the price of a dock for the night?"
After some debate, they decide to tie up to a dock.
"Stephanix," Hocus says to the demon who is crouching next to his legs. "Go below. You can come out again tonight. I don't want anyone to see you." He pets the demon on the head. "So, go below. You can sit on the chest and have a nap."
The demon goes below. He pauses at the top of the steps, then walks down them. The steps are large for him, and his legs bend backwards, so they are awkward when he goes down. He has to hold onto the rail.
Stick points to the dock on the far right. "That one's as good as any. I know the proprietor."
"Okay," Heraklese says, and shouts to Bonita who is only two meters behind him, astride the helm. "Make for the dock on the far right!"
"Aye, Aye, Captain!" Bonita says, just as loudly.
The smell of the town, a mixture of spices, roast meat, stale beer, rotting vegetables, and pig sties wafts over the boat. Garibaldi and Sallina jump out and tie up to the dock. A dozen boys run down the dock and begin shouting and waving at the crew on board, offering in Satian, Weilandic, and Latin to provide food, women, and accommodation. One of the boys has jet-black skin.
A pot-bellied man with a dirty shirt, braces, and leather trousers emerges from a run-down shack at the base of the dock. He is unshaven and red-eyed. Stick jumps out of the boat meets this character. They talk quickly to one another. The character stares over Stick at the boat, points, stares again, nods, and scratches his tummy.
Stick walks back up the dock. "That there is Glubbett, the dock master. This here be his dock. He'll let you stay for one piece of gold a night."
Heraklese gives Stick three gold pieces. "Here's for three nights in advance."
After Stick pays Glubbett, Heraklese gives him two gold pieces spending money, and the old pirate walks eagerly away from the boat and into the town.
"We expect to see you back here tomorrow!" Heraklese says.
Stick waves a hand over his shoulder.
Hocus, Scythe, and Martha volunteer to stay on the boat for while the rest of the crew go together to visit the post office and look around. And so, an hour before sun-down, the four sailors, Bonita, and Heraklese, walk up the dock and along the waterfront, followed by all the boys except one. The one with jet-black skin stays behind, sitting on the dock, watching the boat. When Martha come to the rail, he says, "I Ubud. I be your guide. Look out here!"
Heraklese holds Bonita's hand as they walk along behind the sailors. Bonita has ten gold pieces in her pocket, and a long letter written in ink to her parents. Until now, she has been dictating letters to Redempshin, Dalian Krass's nephew and appointment-maker in Dakka. This will be the first private communication she has made to them since she left them there, terrified for her safety, three months before.
All around them are the citizens of Mizzen Town, the city of pirates. Many are moving crates off ships or onto ships with ropes and carts. Some are selling fish by the side of the street. Some of these are armed with cutlasses, others with daggers, but many carry no visible weapons. But it's clear that these are not pirates. These are the permanent residents of the city.
The pirates are more colorful, and all of them are armed. They swagger up and down the street, they lean on crates, duck in and out of smokey, fragrant taverns, and row to and from the boats anchored in the harbor. Their clothes are brightly colored, often of silk and velvet. They wear feathers in their three-cornered hats, and buckles on their shoes. Their sword scabbards are polished. Gold earrings flash above their collars. Gold and sliver bracelets clink on their wrists. Some wear jeweled rings, others jeweled necklaces or collars.
"I think they carrying their wealth around with them," Heraklese says, "So it's hard to steal all of it at once. You might get one earring, but you won't get both."
Bonita nods, and pats her pocket.
Many of the pirates who pass them on the street put one hand on the hilt of their cutlass, and their other hand to the point of their hat, in a gesture that seems both respectful and polite. They smile and nod at the strangers. Most of them smile. None of them scowl. Most of them walk with their heads held high and their chests out.
One group of eight pirates walk by, all of whom are women. These are the first women pirates that Heraklese has heard of. None of the pirates captured on Tankum Island were woman. He had assumed all pirates were men. But these are most certainly pirates: right down to the swaggering walk, clattering swords, and rowdy jokes. They speak Latin. He is certain one of them is from Diamantis.
The boys from the dock are still following, but Garibaldi and Sallina ignore them, so the rest of the party from Loose Lips do the same. But when they overtake a blind man hobbling slowly along the street, some of these same boys start dancing around him, making jokes, pushing him, and pulling on his walking staff.
Bonita is disturbed at this cruelty, and looks around at the faces of the townspeople and pirates. She sees people shaking their heads, and other others laughing, but nobody seems to care for the blind man. As she walks by, one of the boys pushes the blind man over, and he falls to the ground. The boys back away, laughing. Three townsmen step around him. Bonita leans down and helps him up. He grips her arm and rises from the ground with difficulty. She sees that his eyes are tightly closed. She wonders what deformity those eyelids hide. The man's arm is strong and his grip is firm. His skin is clear, and his clothes, although torn and ragged, are clean. He leans upon his staff again and says, "Thank you," to her in Latin. Two boys rush up to him. He pushes them away with one arm when they grab his staff. Bonita says, "Go away!"
The boys disappear down the street. Good riddance, she thinks. The blind man thanks her again, and continues on his way. It is not until they reach the Post Office, ten minutes later, that Bonita notices her pocket, containing her ten gold pieces, is now empty.
Meanwhile, back on the boat, Martha and Scythe set two chairs upon the deck and watch the city through their binoculars.
"It reminds me of Prudence City on Independence Island," Martha says, "Set like this at the foot of the mountains, with a harbor at the bottom. But smaller, of course." She examines the docks. "There are dry docks over there."
Scythe turns his binoculars the same way. There were three ships drawn right up out of the water onto stands that hold them upright on land. There are workmen scraping barnacles and weeds off the sides and bottom, standing around big cauldrons of smoking black stuff, raising things up and down with pulleys and cranes, and climbing up in the masts with ropes.
"It must be hard work dragging a ship up out of the water like that," Scythe says.
"I bet it is," Martha says, "But I'm sure it can be done with a capstan wheel and some pulleys. It might take a few hours. In Karadan, on the coast of Ursia, they have dry docks that are like the locks on a canal. The ship sails into the dry dock when the tide is high. When the tide goes out, the water drops three meters. They close the doors on the dock, and when the water comes up again, the doors keep it out."
"But there would still be some water left in the bottom, if it was a big ship."
Martha shrugs. "Maybe, but three meters is a lot. It would have to be a pretty big ship to draw more than three meters."
"There are four big three-masters here," Scythe says, "and another forty smaller ships. That makes about two thousand sailors." He examines the town. "By the look of it, there are about a thousand buildings in the town, many of them two-storied. So the local population may be ten thousand, with two thousand pirates visiting."
Martha lowers her binoculars. "Hey, Ubud!" she says.
A boy, who had been sitting on a dock post watching fish in the water, jumps to his feet.
"How many people live in Mizzen?"
He frowns. "I don't know. Many, many people. Hundreds of people." He smiles again. "I good guide. I know Mizzen Island. I show you the best places."
Scythe nods. "We'll think about it."
Down below, Hocus checks the luminous stones he has placed throughout the ship. Some have grown dim. He is disappointed in these. He takes them out of their holders and enters the galley beneath the bow. The hot stone he made sits in its own place on the stove. It is round and flat. He licks his finger and touches it. He feels the heat of it, and his saliva evaporates in less than a second. It's hot enough to boil water, just as it was when he made it back in Dakka five months ago, as they were preparing to embark for Tankum Island. "Good," he says. Behind him he hears a scraping on the floorboards of the dormitory. It's Stephanix.
He descends below the waterline into the hold where he has his desk and study. Stephanix tries to follow him down there. "No," he says. "I need some time to myself. Explore the boat, take a nap on the chest, but don't come down here now."
Stephanix puts his hands on the lip of the trap door that leads down into the hold and clenches them. A strange noise comes out of his head. "Kittak-tak Clack-a-tapaxi kittit," he says.
Hocus stares at him for a moment. "That's Rattikit, isn't it?"
Hocus very much wants to discuss Stephanix's natural language with him. He would very much like to learn it. But he feels that it is best to stick to his original plan. It's best to be consistent when training a demon to be a good companion. "We can talk about that later. I will be glad to learn to understand your language, and hear what you have to say about your life. I would be very glad."
Stephanix bobs his whole body up and down. "Rattikit!"
"But," Hocus says, "For now, I want to be alone, so stay up there."
Hocus has to bend low until he sits at his chair, but then he lights some incense and sits back with a sigh. Stephanix is still at the entrance to the hold. Hocus looks over his shoulder. Stephanix's head disappears quickly. "Oh, whatever," Hocus says to himself. He picks up one of the dim stones and squints at it. "Now, what's up with you?" he says.
The crew of Loose Lips is reunited on the deck at sunset, with the exception of Stephanix, who Hocus again orders to stay below. It is the tenth of March. Bonita is downcast.
"It's not the money, I feel such a fool," she says.
"It has to happen once to everyone," Heraklese says.
"Has it ever happened to you?"
And indeed it has happened to him, and to several others present. Not exactly a fake blind man with assisting children, but being robbed by trickery in the street. When everyone has finished telling their stories, Bonita is smiling again.
"Well, robbers or no," Martha says, "I'd be very glad to get off the boat and go and have a meal in a restaurant. We've been in this boat and on Tankum Island for a long time. It's time to walk the streets of a real town and see new people."
And so it is that Sallina and Garibaldi offer to take Hocus and Martha out for a meal in one of their favorite restaurants in Mizzen Town.
"It's called Ptumak's Lounge," Sallina says, "The food is Satian. Very good."
The four of them walk down their gang plank to the dock. The boy Ubud is gone. They walk along the waterfront. The way is lit by lanterns outside the businesses that occupy the landward side of the street. They come to Main Street, which leads up away from the water. A signpost gives its name, and that of the street they are on: Waterfront Street.
Main Street, like Waterfront Street, is wide and paved with flagstones. But the businesses on either side are cleaner, with flower pots in their upper windows. Some of them have a glass bull's eye above their door, and within the bull's eye a bright luminous stone that sheds steady, white light upon the street outside.
Ptumak's Lounge is a large, warm room with a low ceiling. Guests sit on cushions around low tables. The staff speak Weilandic and Satian. On a slightly raised stage to one side, two women dance to drum and flute music played by three Satian men. At first, Martha thinks they are wearing animal costumes, but then she realizes that they are in fact naked. They are of the Calipanti, the half-sapien, half-animal inhabitants of the desert around Sax. (For earlier encounters with such people, see here.) One women is covered entirely with light-brown fur. Her face is like that of a lion, and she has a tail. The other has the head of a hawk, with feathers covering her head and neck. Her legs bend at the knee in the wrong direction, just like a bird's. Other than her feathers, she is naked. Her hips and waist look just like a normal woman's, maybe even better than a the average woman's.
Once they have placed their orders with the waiter, Sallina says, "I hope this won't ruin our meal, but you'll be interested to see who's sitting at the table to the left of the stage."
Martha and Hocus examine the tables. Facing them three tables away is the woman they know as Grellian Ptumash, the assassin who killed Clodine on Tankum Island in January. Facing the door, and sideways to them, is Kantank, captain of the Sea Wolf, the ship that brought her to Tankum Island, and later led the disastrous attack of the pirates upon the orc village. Another man sits with his back to them.
"I think Grellian saw us," Sallina says.
Kantank drinks from his copper goblet, and pours himself more wine. He is swaying on his seat. Grellian pats him on the shoulder and gets up from the table. Without looking at the table where our heroes sit, she walks between the clusters of cushions on the floor. Her gaze is fixed upon the door. She does not look down, and yet she steps over several obstacles in her way. She opens the door and leaves.
"I'm going to say hello to Kantank," Hocus says.
He walks across the room with nearly, but not quite, the same grace as Grellian, and sits upon the cusion she so recently vacated.
"Hello Kantank," he says. He remembers the captain well from his visit to Tankum Island, when he walked tall and proud, wearing a red jerkin. Kantank looks up at him. His eyes are bloodshot. His beard, which had been full and immaculately-groomed on that visit, is now knotted and greasy. There are small particles of food stuck in it around his mouth.
"Who are you, sir?" he says, his head swaying as he focuses upon Hocus's face.
"Visited any orc villages lately?"
Kantank stares at Hocus, and then lurches backwards, away from the table. If he had been sitting upon a chair, he might have fallen backwards, but in this case, he puts his hand on the floor to stop himself from falling off his cushion.
"Well, what do you want?"
"I just wanted to say hello."
Kantank scowls. "And what are you going to do next?"
Hocus smiles. "I am going to enjoy my dinner." Hocus gets up from the cushion. "Good night."
Kantank raises his wine glass. "Good night to you too, sir."
Hocus says goodnight to the other man at the table, and recognizes him as one of the sailors who sat so awkwardly beside Hocus in Bragash's hall.
The sailor nods. "Good night."
When Hocus sits down at his own table again, Martha says, "That was brazen. Well done."
A few minutes later, Kantank and the sailor rise from their cushions. The sailor helps the captain make his way through the room to the door and out into the street. A few minutes later, the waiter brings them the first of their food, and they set to eating. Hocus is familiar with the taste of Satian food from his brief stay in Drakhma (see Hot Plague).
When she has finished her first plate, Martha says to Sallina, "You mentioned that you have friends in Mizzen."
Sallina swallows and nods. "Yes. Several old friends, from our early days, before we had children. We're looking forward to seeing them."
Martha waits for her to say more about the friends, but Sallina continues eating. Martha knows better by now than to press Sallina with unwelcome questions. That makes her stop talking altogether. Instead, Hocus asks if there is a "magic shop" in town, run by a real wizard. Sallina does not know. Hocus is one of only two or three people she has met whom she is sure is a real wizard. She has met many who claim to be wizards. "But I expect there is one," she says, "And there's the Magi. He's a wizard, although I'm sure he doesn't run a shop." She pauses for thought for a moment. "Well, I'm not even sure of that. He is a mysterious fellow."
"Who is the Magi?" Martha says.
"He lives here, in the big mansion at the high-point of the town. He has no official title. He's not the mayor. The mayor is a rather sweet fellow." She turns to Garibaldi. "What's his name?"
Garibaldi thinks for a moment. "It's a Satian name, a long one." He raises his finger to a nearby waiter, and asks him the name of the mayor.
"Ohakmatupash Tukenmaken," the waiter says, and goes on with his business.
"That's right," Sallina says, "A very sweet fellow. But everyone here believes it is the Magi who keeps the peace in the town, and protects it from invasion. It's odd, really. He shows up at town functions. I saw him once, up on a podium with the mayor. Sometimes he'll come into town with his wife and go shopping."
"I don't see what's so mysterious about him," Garibaldi says. "He's a rich man, maybe a wizard, maybe not."
"Why do people think he's a wizard?" Hocus says.
Sallina puts a spoonful of sorbet in her mouth and swallows it "Well," she says, "For one thing, he's very old. He's lived here as long as anyone can remember. Some people say he's two hundred years old. But he doesn't look old. A little pale, maybe, but still strong. He must have some kind of magic to keep him looking young."
Hocus nods his head slowly. "Interesting.
Garibaldi puts his fork down for a moment. He had been quietly eating for the last ten minutes, looking around at the customers, watching the calipanti dancers, and chewing slowly. But now he says, "Horatio told me he thought the Magi might be an elf."
Sallina laughs. "Did he now? Well, maybe he is, but I didn't see any pointy ears."
"He could have had them cut off by a surgeon," Garibaldi says.
Sallina raises her eyebrows for a moment. "Well, I suppose so. That makes sense."
Martha and Hocus look at one another. They both think it's highly unlikely that an elf would have his ears cut to make him look sapien. It's much more likely that the Magi is taking longevity drugs.
Meanwhile, back on the boat, Scythe sits on a chair on deck with Stephanix crouched beside him. He alternates between examining the city through his binoculars and stroking Stephanix's cold, hard head. After about an hour, a crowd of pirates moves slowly and noisily down Waterfront Street. When the crowd reaches the end of the dock, they stop. One of them is being particularly noisy. It's a woman. In the light of two lanterns hanging at the end of the dock, he sees that her skin is black, and her hair is short, curly, and white. She is struggling with the pirates. They appear to be restraining her. He watches them through his binoculars. The pirates are crowded around her. She appears to be in some kind of fury. She struggles, but does not bite or kick. She screams occasionally, and curses. He can't understand her curses, because she is sixty paces away, and her voice is muffled by the pirates around her. At one point he sees her shaking her fist at the sky and cursing. After a few minutes, the pirates carry the raving woman away, farther along Waterfront Street.
"What do you think of that, boy?" Scythe says to the demon.
The demon does not answer.
Sallina, Garibaldi, Hocus, and Martha talk about a great many subjects over the rest of their meal, from history to magic, and even some more about Sallina and Garibaldi, and their experiences in Mizzen, and how the town runs, and who polices it. When they are finished, Sallina pays the bill, which comes to just over one gold piece. They put on their jackets and step out onto Main Street. It's cool outside. The light of the moon, a few days from full, illuminates the thin clouds above them. They walk down towards the waterfront by the steady light of one luminous stone after another.
As they pass a dark ally on the right side of the avenue, Martha says, "What's that?" She walks into the shadows of the ally and kneels on the ground beside a dark shape. Someone is lying on the paving stones, face-down. She's sure it is a man. There is a small pool of thick, dark, liquid gathered around his waist. Martha puts her hand upon his back. The fabric of the cotton jacket is wet and sticky. Hocus kneels beside her. They roll the man over. The light from Main Street shines upon his face. His eyes are open and stare into space. It is Kantank.
Martha puts her ear to his mouth, listening. She stands up. "He's dead."
Hocus closes Kantank's eyes with the fingers of one hand.
"What should we do?" Martha says.
Sallina is rubbing her face with one hand. She puts a finger in her mouth and bites upon her nail for a moment. Garibaldi watches her. She looks up and down the street. "Let's keep moving. Nobody has seen us. Let's just keep walking."
They keep walking. As they near the end of Main Street, Sallina stops, "Garibaldi and I don't like to get mixed up in other people's problems. But this is not just your problem. We all found his body together."
Hocus says, "Why don't we go and tell the police. From what you said over dinner, the police chief sounds reasonable. Let's go report what we found."
"I agree," Martha say, "But Sallina and Garibaldi, you can go back to the ship and tell the others what we found. Tell them Grellian Ptumash, or whatever her real name is, is in town, and it looks like she just assassinated Kantank."
Sallina looks at Garibaldi. He nods. "Okay, thank you. We'll do that."
"Where is the police station?" Martha says.
"It's up Main Street," Sallina says, "on the northwest corner of the Town Square."
And so it is that Sallina and Garibaldi walk down Main Street and along Waterfront Street to Loose Lips, while Hocus and Martha walk up Main Street.
After two minute's walk, Hocus and Martha come to a large open space with a cobbled pavement. On the far left corner, this being the north-west corner, is a large building with pillars holding up a facade, and a dozen steps leading up to its heavy, iron-bound double-doors.
"That must be it," Hocus says.
As they walk up the steps, they read the words carved over the door. "Mizzen Police Department and Penitentiary".
There is a counter inside. Beyond the counter is a space with a few desks, and beyond that, two empty jail cells. A tall, slender, dark-skinned man stands behind the desk with a pen in his hand, copying one page onto another. As they approach, he looks up and smiles. His teeth are even and white in his dark face.
He speaks to them. To Hocus, his voice is musical and friendly. For a moment, he's not sure what language the man is speaking. Then he realizes that it is Weilandic, and he understands what the man said. He said, "Good evening! What can we do for you?"
There is another man, sitting at one of the desks, playing a card game with himself. He does not look up when Hocus and Martha come in. He is broad in the shoulder, but it's hard to tell what the rest of his figure looks like, because he is wearing a chain mail shirt and leather trousers. On the desk beside a water glass is a metal helmet. It is not shiny, but it is engraved and in good condition. From his belt there hangs a rapier in a scabbard.
Hocus looks into the eyes of the dark-skinned man behind the counter.
"We discovered a body lying in an ally off main street."
"Goodness gracious!" the man says. "Are you sure it is a body?"
Hocus and Martha stare at him.
"I mean to say," the dark-skinned man continues, "Are you sure it was a person who was dead, and not just drunk?" He says something more. But he's speaking so quickly, with the tone of his voice going up and down, and his d's and r's coming out like they are each words on their own. Hocus can't understand the last part of his statement.
"I'm sorry?" he says, "Could you say that again, the last bit, after not just drunk?"
"I said," the dark-skinned man answers, "We often have people coming in and saying they found a body, when in fact it's just a drunkard." He gestures with his hand, palm-down, across the counter. "Passed out in the street."
"He was dead."
"We could tell," Martha says, "by the pool of blood, the knife-wound in his back, and the fact that he was not breathing."
"I closed his eyes," Hocus says.
"Oh my," the man says, "That does sound like a real body."
He turns and says to the man playing cards, "Chief! They found a body in an ally off Main Street. It sounds like a murder, sir."
The man plays another card, takes a sip from his water glass, puts his helmet on, and stands up.
"All right, Majid," he says, "I'll go check it out."
"Very good sir," Majid says, "I will stay here and take care of the department."
The police chief smiles at him. "Good, I know I can count on you Majid."
Majid stands up straight and salutes the chief. The chief touches his helmet with one hand briefly. He walks around the counter and stops to look at Martha and Hocus. He looks at them each, from the feet up, and takes a few seconds over it. On his breast is a metal badge saying, "Chief of Police".
"I'm Jose Vasquez, Chief of Police. Where's the body?"
Jose follows them down Main Street. He takes out a small notebook and a pencil. They tell him how they first met the dead man, when he was alive, and about the fight on Tankum Island, and about Grellian Ptumash being an assassin. He nods and writes in his notebook, pausing now and again under one of the luminous stones to finish a sentence.
By the time they reach the dark ally, there is a small crowd of people around the body. Jose tells them to step away. He puts his notebook in the pocket of his trousers, and kneels to inspect the body. In his hand he holds a flashlight. The flashlight contains a luminous stone. Three pirates who were part of the crowd walk off down the street. Another man joins the crowd. It's the sailor who had been sitting with Kantank in the restaurant.
"Chief!" he says, "I'm the first mate from Sea Wolf. Is that my captain?"
Jose looks up "What's your name?"
The first mate hesitates. Jose stares at him. "Derek Jacoby"
Jose writes that in his notebook. He motions for Derek to come nearer. "Is this your captain?"
Derek leans over the body. He puts his hand to his mouth and nods.
Jose turns the body over and examines its back. A knife-sized cut through Kantank's jacket is plain to see, in the middle of a large, red blood-stain. It's just like the wound that killed Clodine, Martha wonders. How such a wound could kill someone directly. Did it stop your heart? Was the blade poisoned? Clodine died in under a minute. By the time Sacha found him, he was completely dead.
"Looks familiar," Hocus says to her. She nods.
After he inspects the body, Jose questions them at length, and Derek Jacoby, and everyone else in the crowd. He makes notes in his book. He tells people to stop talking when they talk too much, and he stares at people when they don't talk enough. His stare always seems to get them talking. When one person in the crowd contradicts herself, he does not bring attention to the fact. Nor does he bring attention to the fact that she is wearing only her underpants, having come down from her office on the second floor opposite the ally.
"You can go back to your ship now," Jose said, "I might come down and interview the other two who were with you." He flips a few pages back in his notebook. "Sallina and Garibaldi. The names are familiar. I think I have met them. But I'd appreciate it if you could stay in Mizzen for a couple more days."
Hocus nods. "We'll stay."
"So, that's it?" Martha says.
Jose smiles at her. "Yes, get a good night's sleep."
They walk down Main Street and turn left along Waterfront Street. They are half-way to their dock when twelve pirates step out of a side ally and spread out in front of them. One steps forward. "Are you Kokus and Martel?"
"Hocus and Martha," Hocus says.
"You killed our captain," the man says. He raises a cutlass and charges. It's dark, with only one lantern burning outside the door of a basement tavern. Some pirates go one way, some another, and one does not move at all. Hocus and Martha draw their swords. A few pirates engage them, but others have trouble closing with the two people they believe killed their captain. There is a bright flash of light and a loud bang, and then another.
As soon as Scythe, sitting on the deck of Loose Lips, sees the pirates line up in front of Hocus and Martha, he orders Stephanix to stay where he is, leaps off the boat and runs down the dock. Moments later, he thumps a pirate from behind with his sword hilt. To his surprise, the man gets up and turns to fight him.
There is another flash. Martha kicks a pirate in the groin. Hocus does the same. There are three pirates standing, or floating a little off the ground, two doubled over in pain, one lying prostrate, and three wandering round saying, "I can't see!"
Martha knees the leader in the stomach. He doubles over.
The rest run away down Waterfront Street, past Hocus and Martha, towards Main Street.
Martha and Hocus look at one another, nod, sheath their swords, which have no blood on them, and advance down the street, stepping around the blind and the frozen to meet Scythe and return at a leisurely pace to the boat.
"That went well," Martha says.
It is sunny and warm the next day, the 11th of March. Scythe and Hocus get in the row-boat and row over to the side of the Cosmos, which is lying at anchor in the harbor. The Cosmos is a forty-five meter three-masted schooner. Her captain is a wizard. Her pennant of stars and planets on a blue field is waving from the main mast.
|Boat||Rig||Keel Length (m)||Weight (1000 kg)|
|Loose Lips||One-Masted, Triangular||15||50|
|Sea Wolf||Three-Masted, Square||40||1000|
"Ahoy there!" Hocus says, "Is the captain on board?"
A pirate leans over the rail. He has two gold teeth, a tatoo of a spider on his forhead, and two enormous gold earings. "What will you be wanting with him?" he says.
"Tell him Hocus the Wizard from Loose Lips is here to see him."
They row a little along the side of the Cosmos until they come to some rigging draped over the side. Scythe ties the row-boat to the rigging.
"Ah!" a voice comes from above. "Hocus the Destroyer, is it not?"
A man with a blue three-cornered hat looks down at them. His face is tanned. His nose is hooked. His eyes are large and wide. He has wears a pointed goatee beard, and his dark-brown hair is tied up in a pony-tail. Around his shoulders is a green cape with a green lining.
"Yes, I am Hocus, and this is my friend Scythe, also from Loose Lips."
"Good day to you both," the man says. He takes his hat off and bows. "Don Bernadino de Cardenas, captain of the Cosmos, and graduate of the Vatzit School of Wizardry, Class of Sixty-Six."
Hocus notices that the captain's nails are cut short. He must use gloves to handle his space bridges.
Don Bernadino puts his hat back on. "Come up, come up and have a drink with me."
They climb the rigging and onto the deck. There are a few pirates cleaning and fixing things, but the ship is quiet.
"Most of the rascals are ashore," Don Bernadino says, "Now, come below. It is not often I get to sit down with a fellow wizard and talk, so come and have a drink." He walks to a door to below-decks. Hocus and Scythe follow him. At the top of the stairs, Don Bernadino looks over his shoulder. "Maybe it's a bit early to have a drink. But you know, I am a pirate." He laughs and starts down the stairs.
It's two hours before Scythe and Hocus come up again, with Don Bernadino behind them. "What a pleasure it has been," he says. He shakes their hands before they climb down to their boat.
"We look forward to seeing you tomorrow," Hocus says.
"Thank you for your hospitality," Scythe says.
When they return to the boat, Martha is still out with Sallina and Garibaldi. They head into town themselves, looking for 26 Belated Road, which is the address Don Bernadino gave them for Mizzen Town's only magic shop. They have no trouble finding the shop, if you can call it a shop. It looks more like the front door of someone's house, and a thick iron-bound front door at that. The windows on either side have iron bars across them. The windows themselves are made of bulls-eyes of glass set in a lead lattice. Behind them, black velvet curtains are drawn shut. A sign on the wall over the door says, Miscellaneous Artifacts, 26 Belated Road, Mizzen Town.
"Why have the town name after the address?" Scythe says.
"I don't know," Hocus says. He bangs a large dragon-faced knocker on the door. The knocker makes a booming noise. "He'll hear that if he's in."
But it appears that the Wizard of Mizzen Island, as Don Bernadino called him, is Out.
There is a slot in the door, and a notice above it engraved in a brass plaque. It reads, "If I am out, leave me a letter giving your Name, your Location, the Date, and Any Other Particulars Necessary, such as What You Want."
Hocus takes out a pencil and paper and writes a note, saying they want to buy thunder-eggs.
Back on Loose Lips, Sallina and Garibaldi return with Martha, and shortly afterwards, Majid from the Police Station comes to the boat together with a male dwarf in chain mail and a policeman's helmet.
"Good day to you," Majid says to Sallina and Garibaldi, "I am Majid. This is Officer Mazak McClonker."
"Afternoon," the dwarf says, and nods. At his belt is a large mace.
"Now, if I may ask you some addional questions," Majid says, and holds up his notebook and pencil. "When you met with Grellian before you entered Ptuken's Lounge last night, did she seem nervouse?"
Hocus says, "We didn't meet with Grellian at all yesterday."
"We saw her," Martha says, "In the restaurant. But we spent a lot of time with her on Tankum Island, as we told your chief last night."
Majid nods and writes in his notebook. "Very interesting. And you, Sallina and Garibaldi, I understand that you spoke to..." he looks down at his notebook, "a certain Derek Jacoby, from the Sea Wolf, on your way back to this boat last night, is that correct?"
Garibaldi raises one eyebrow.
Sallina shakes her head. "No, we spoke to noone on our way home. And I don't know who Derek Jacoby is."
Majid nods again.
The interview goes on in this manner for another fifteen minutes, at the end of which, Majid smiles, puts his hands together in front of him, bows his head briefly, and says, "Very, very good. You have been most kind, answering my questions. Now, I shall leave you in peace."
"Are we free to leave Mizzen?" Hocus says.
"No," Majid says, "Tomorrow, you may go, unless we come and need for you to be staying. Okay? Many apologies for the trouble."
"It's no trouble," Martha says.
Jessica and Stanley want to go into town, do some shopping, send a telegram, and have coffee. But they don't want to go on their own. Everyone else is either napping or watching the ship. Scythe agrees to go with them to keep them safe. The three of them spend a pleasant two hours in the town. They buy some clothes, get some coffee, buy some pastries and bread, and visit the telegram office.
Scythe notes at least two banks in large, well-kept buildings. He suspects that they provide international money-transfer. One thing GMI must do while in Mizzen is pay the sailors through some kind of bank account.
And so they are cheerful, and each carrying several string bags (which they also bought) as they walk back along Waterfront Street. A woman, black-skinned and lean, with short, curly white hair steps into the street in front of them. Scythe recognizes her as the woman who was wailing and struggling in the midst of a pack of pirates at the end of the wharf the night before.
She wears loose trousers and a shirt. In her hand is a dagger. It's blade sparkles in the afternoon sunlight. Behind her are five or six men. They stand across the street and fold their arms. Scythe looks over his shoulder. There in the street behind him are six more men, also standing with their arms crossed.
"You killed my son!" the woman cries. She must be at least sixty years old. Maybe seventy. But she stands with her back straight, and her head held high. When she steps forward, her movements are smooth and rapid.
"You killed my baby boy! My Permisso!" She points the dagger at Scythe. "You! You did it!"
Scythe shakes his head. "No, I did not."
"You liar! Now you will die!"
She lunges towards him. Jessica and Stanley cower behind him. Pirates emerge from taverns. Everyone on the street gathers around. The old woman thrusts at him with her dagger, turns the blade, and sweeps it back again. Scythe punches at her to keep her away. She is slow and weak, that he can see. Her body is lean and muscular, but her face looks worn and unhealthy. But despite her age and weakness, her skill with the dagger is astounding, and Scythe finds himself hard-pressed. All the same, he does not draw his sword against her. He is wearing metal armor, and she is not. It is hard for him to see how she can get the better of him, even if he fights with his bare hands.
There must be forty people gathered around now, clapping and cheering. "Go on Tamaka, spit him like you did Joe Drothan!"
"What can I do?" Stanley says.
Scythe steps away from the old woman. He assumes her name is Tamaka. How odd that she is jet black, and her son was white. Her son must have been adopted. I didn't kill Permisso. Wicklow killed him. But she's not far wrong.
From the deck of Loose Lips Heraklese sees the crowd on the street. After a minute, he sees Scythe fighting an old woman with a dagger. "Hocus! Martha! Scythe is in a fight! Get up!" Below decks, Martha and Hocus pull their clothes on as fast as they can. They don't bother with their armor.
Tamaka smiles as she fights. Scythe is not sure if she is glad to be fighting, looking forward to his death, or looking forward to her own. He is getting tired, and he's making little progress wearing her out. He considers the sword he carries at his side. It is the adamantine blade given to him by Bragash after the Battle of Tankum Island. How can he draw such a weapon against an old woman, even if she is armed with a dagger?
He twists away from her dagger and slaps her in the face. The crowd cheers.
"Bare hands against the knife!" one man says.
"He's wearing armor!" a boy shouts.
"Get him Tamaka!" a woman screams.
"Shall I join in?" Stanley says.
Jessica is clenching Stanley's arm. She has not moved since the fight began, but watches with her eyes wide.
Tamaka's dagger passes within a few millimeters of Scythe's right eye. He can feel the air drawn by with the kife passing over his eyelashes. The crowd gasps.
"So close!" a man says.
"Take your sword out!" a little boy says, "She'll get you if you don't!"
Hocus and Martha leap from the deck of the boat onto the wharf and run for the street. Both carry their bare swords in one hand.
Tamaka's dagger cuts through the sleeve of Scythe's shirt and under his arm, passing close to the vulnerable break in his armor beneath his armpit.
"Nice one!" a woman shouts.
Scythe does not dare to attack Tamaka as aggressively as he could, because if he does, she might cut him, despite his armor. He does not want her to cut him. Her dagger doesn't appear to have any poison on, but he does not want to take a chance. He's getting tired and nervous. If anything, the old woman is quicker, stronger, and more confident in her attacks than she was at the beginning of their duel. Scythe steps away from Tamaka and draws his sword.
The crowd gasps.
Tamaka spits on the street. "That's not going to help you."
She leaps at him. He swings his sword, stabs, and steps forwards. She falls to one knee to save her life, stands up, jumps, and attacks without hesitation.
"It's helping, all right!" a man says.
Scythe is fast, agile, young, and strong. His sword is heavy and sharp. Tamaka must either be far away from him, out of the reach of his sword, or right up close to him, so he is within reach of her dagger. Anywhere in between, and she is vulnerable while he is invulnerable. She spends most of her time circling Scythe, and then jumps in suddenly to thrust with her dagger. The third time she does this, Scythe cuts her on her forearm.
Tamaka backs away and licks the wound.
"Ooh!" the crowd says.
Scythe stands panting and watching his opponent. He feels safe in his armor.
"Is she going to give up now?" Stanley says.
Tamaka spits blood on the street and jumps at Scythe. Three more times she jumps at Scythe, and he forces her back. As Hocus and Martha are pushing their way through the crowd to help him, Tamaka jumps in a fourth time, and Scyth catches dagger in the hilt of his sword. The dagger's blade is locked in place. Tamaka pulls on it for a moment. Scythe thrusts her away from him with the palm of his hand. She staggers back. The dagger falls and clatters on the paving stones.Scythe puts his boot upon the blade.
Tamaka looks from Scythe to the dagger under his boot. She bares her teeth. Her chin trembles.
"It's over!" the boy says.
Scythe sheaths his sword. Even as he does so, Tamaka screams and leaps at him, her hands held out in front, as if to scratch him with her nails. He steps aside and her hands clutch at his left arm. He strikes her on the side of the face with his elbow.
Tamaka collapes onto the wet and smelly flagstones of Waterfront Street, Mizzen Town. The crowd shouts, cheers, and wails. Scythe takes his foot off Tamaka's dagger and steps towards Jessica and Stanley. Four men kneel beside Tamaka. One checks her breathing. She is alive. They pick her up. Another retrieves her dagger.
Scythe lookes at the faces around him. Some are smiling. Others are staring at Tamaka and the men carrying her away. Martha and Hocus appear in front of him. Their swords are bare in their hands and people move back to give them space. Scythe smiles at them. They look around at the crowd, at Tamaka, and at Jessica and Stanley.
Hocus puts his hand on Scythe's shoulder. "Are you okay?"
Scythe takes a few deep breaths. He is exhausted. His lungs are burning. He nods.
"The woman was an amazing knife fighter," Stanley said. "He had to draw his sword."
"Come on," Hocus says, "Let's go back to the boat."
Hocus and Martha turn and move away. Scythe follows them. Jessica and Stanley are behind. A pirate pats Scythe on the back. "Good fighting. You are a gentleman."
A boys says, "You're great!"
A woman frowns at him. Her arms are crossed in front of her and she shakes her head. She says something. He can see her lips move, but he can't hear her because the crowd is shouting too loudly, and his blood is pounding in his ears. He smiles.
"You killed her son!" the woman says.
Scythe turns away and keeps moving. A man pats him on the back. "What fist-fighting! You come to my tavern, the..."
Scythe has already moved past, and can't hear the rest. He nods and waves his hand at the people on either side who cheer him. A man with a hood pulled over his head stands in front of him. Scythe frowns, because he can't see the man's face. He sees a beard. There is a sudden, sharp pain in his chest. He tries to breath, but the pain of breathing is unbearable. The man with the hood is gone.
Scythe looks down. There is a knife sticking out of his chest, between the ribs on the left side. He can't hear well any more. He can't see well either. The edges of his vision are becoming blurred. His legs are weak. He sinks to his knees. In front of him, Martha and Hocus have not yet realised what is happening. He tries to say something to them, but the effort sends a shock of pain through his lungs and he cannot bring himself to utter even a grunt.
The people on either side of him are moving away. Their faces are twisted with fear and dismay. They stare at the knife, and look about them.
A woman rushes towards him. She kneels. She looks into his eyes. Her lips are pursed. She puts one arm under him to hold him up, and a hand upon his chest next to the knife. "It's okay," she says, "It's okay. Stay still for a moment. I'll take care of you."
She looks over her shoulder and shouts. Two men come immediately and stand behind Scythe. Another two go to a fishmonger's table, dump the fish off it, turn it over, and break off its legs.
Scythe looks at the woman's face. It is Grellian Ptumash.
Hocus and Martha kneel beside Scythe. Grellian Ptumash is telling them she will take care of Scythe. The hospital is just up the street. Her men will carry him there. Jessica and Stanley stand nearby. Jessica is crying. Stanley's eyes are wet and he is trembling.
Two of the men Grellian was ordering around come up with the fishmonger's table-top. They put it down next to Scythe. Many hands cradle him as they lift him onto the table-top and lay him on his back. He stares up at the sunny sky. He takes shallow breaths. He wants to close his eyes and go to sleep, but he thinks these may be the last moments of his life, and he wants them to go on as long as possible, however painful they may be.
The table-top lifts, and Scythe feels himself rocking along, carried by four men. One of them is Hocus. The other three are Grellian's men. They turn off Waterfront Street, and move swiftly up the hill. After a few minutes, they take him into a large white-washed building with a sharp, clean smell inside. They take him into a long room with a high ceiling and many glass windows.
Scythe gasps when they lift him onto the hospital bed. The knife in his chest seems to cut deeper into his body. He feels sick and dizzy. He closes his eyes. There are voices around him, talking quickly. Grellian says in his ear, "Scythe, you'll be okay. We're going to put you to sleep now. But you will wake up, and we'll be here."
A minute later, Scythe feels a needle pricking the skin on his right arm, and then another. For some reason, he trusts Grellian. He believes she is going to look after him. He stops trying to stay awake, and falls asleep.
When he wakes up, the sun is shining through the windows. Many of them are open, and fresh air drifts through the ward. He has a white sheet over his body.
"How do you feel?" Herakelse is sitting by the bed on a chair. There is a book on his lap.
Scythe's head hurts, and every breath he takes hurts too. But he feels better than he did when he went to sleep. He smiles. "Glad to be alive."
"I'm glad you're alive too."
"What day is it?"
"The twelfth of March, mid-morning. You slept through the night."
"What did they do to me?"
"Took the knife out, cleaned the wound, sewed you up, and shot you full of healing serum. All paid for by the city."
A young woman in a trim and well-starched frock walks along the ward with a tray. On the tray is a glass of hot lemon juice and some pastries. She stops at Scythe's bed. She bends over and puts the tray on his bedside table. "How are you feeling today, Mr. Scythe? Is there anything I can do for you?"
Scythe smiles. Yes, it is good to be alive.
He has many visitors that day, and at least two people from Loose Lips at all times, keeping guard. His first visitor is Grellian Ptumash. She arrives just before lunch, and sits with Bonita and Heraklese.
"Thank you," Scythe says.
"You're welcome," she says. "Although I don't think you need thank me. I was following a man I knew to be an assassin. I thought he would strike someone. I did not know who it was going to be. It turned out to be you. You have a hundred-and-twenty thousand dollar bounty on your head, did you know that?"
"I thought it was a hundred," Scythe says. He tries not to grimace as he breaths.
"You must have done something extra."
Grellian's dark hair is tied up in a bun above her head. He never thought she was pretty on Tankum Island, but then she was pretending to be a clumsy and opportunistic slave girl. He smiles at her. A doctor walks down the ward, looking at the papers hanging from the ends of the beds. Scythe and Grellian are still staring at one another. Bonita nudges Heraklese with her elbow.
"What is your real name," Scythe says.
Grellian looks at her lap. She puts her hand on Scythe's arm. "Do your own research and find out."
Heraklese says, "Did you get the guy who stabbed Scythe?"
"I can't talk about that," Grellian says.
Heraklese nods. "I see. Very mysterious."
"Why didn't you want him to kill me?" Scythe says.
"There are two reasons. One is..." she looks up at the ceiling for a moment. "Let me just say that I don't want anyone else operating in my territory."
"And the other reason?"
She smiles, squeezes his hand and stands up. "Do your research. Goodbye."
After lunch, Jose Vasquez, chief of police, comes to visit. In one hand, he holds a vase with flowers. Under the other arm he holds his helmet. He pushes his rapier scabbard aside, and sits down on. He puts the flowers on the bedside table. "For you," he says to Scythe.
Jessica and Stanley have been sitting on the other side, reading to Scythe from a novel. Stanley gets up and moves around the bed to stand next to Jose. Jose looks up at him, "I'm the police chief."
"Oh." He stands there for a few seconds and then goes back to his seat. Jessica pats him on the knee and kisses him on the cheek. Jose smiles.
"Well," Jose says, "You've had a bad first stay in Mizzen Town, and I'm here to apologise. I'm sorry we failed to protect you from an assassin, and I hope you will accept my apology, and that you will accept our paying all your medical bills while you're here as a token of our profound regret at your near-death experience."
Scythe smiles. "I'd like to think that I can protect myself. So I accept your apology and your payment."
"Good," Jose says.
"But I really would like to know who Grellian really is."
"The woman who saved me."
"Oh," Jose says. He scratches his left shoulder. "Well, so that's what you call her, is it?"
"Yes, that's the name she gave us on Tankum Island, when she came there to kill our... Well, anyway: that's the name she gave us."
"So what's her real name?"
"I can't tell you that. I can't even discuss her, really."
Scythe looks at the ceiling. The police chief cannot discuss an assassin roaming around in his town, killing one person, saving another. Is he scared of Grellian? Scythe looks at Jose. He does not look scared. He does not look like the sort of man who would be scared of anything.
"Did you find out who killed Kantank?"
Jose frowns at his hands. "We're not pressing charges."
"I see," Scythe says. "I think I get the picture."
Jose stands up. "Good, I'm glad you get the picture. Be assured, that we want you to feel safe and welcome here."
"I am assured."
After Jose leaves, Jessica and Stanley discuss the mysterious Grellian Ptumash, and her relationship to the Police Department of Mizzen Town at length. They do most of the talking, but Scythe enjoys listening. The delightful smell of the flowers by his bed mixes with the fresh spring air coming through the open windows. He closes his eyes and rests his head upon the crisp, clean sheets.
That same day, the twelfth of March, Don Bernadino de Cardenas comes to lunch on Loose Lips with Hocus. They eat in the captain's cabin, then descend into the hold to see Hocus's workshop. At the end, Don Bernadino offers to take the Cosmos to Tankum Island and fetch Vango and the pirates stranded there. His fee will be five hundred gold pices.
Scythe is recovered enough by the next day, the thirteenth, to return to Loose Lips. They decide to accept Don Bernadino's offer. Stick came back saying he could get a boat to take the pirates for two hundred gold pieces, but the captain refused to pick up Vango. They give Stick five gold pieces and release him to Mizzen Town. He bids them farewell.
Don Bernadino is delighted that they accept his offer. The two ships, the large three-master and the small, agile sloop, set sail together the next day. The journey back to Tankum takes two and a half days sailing, and two nights out on the water. Both nights, Don Bernadino joins them on Loose Lips for conversation and dinner. Each night he brings with him several bottles of good wine, and some delicacy from far away. He laughs frequently, is happy to talk about anything, with the exception of the identity of Grellian Ptumash, to Scythe's dissapointment. And he is a fan of Martha's work in Adventuring Wizard.
"I always hoped you'd come and interview me," he says. "That would be success. But I supposed that, being a pirate, I would be too disreputable. And besides, you never interviewed Amahte, so I don't feel ashamed."
They figure he must be ten years older than all of them, but he never brings attention to it, and respects them all equally, even the sailors.
As to his own pirates, he says, "They are good, hard-playing men. But they lack something in conversation. So this is a pleasure for me." He raises his glass to the moon. "And such warm evenings. A blessing."
Vango embraces Don Bernadino when they meet on the beach in the afternoon of the sixteenth of March. Our heroes are very glad with their decision to hire the captain of the Cosmos. They have enjoyed his company, and they are glad to pay him the five hundred gold pieces the next day, the seventeenth, when he takes on board all seventy pirates and Vango, and sets sail for Mizzen.
All parties: Vango, Don Bernadino, and our heroes, declare their strong desire to see one another again, and to be friends.
After the departure of the Cosmos, Bragash gives Hocus and Scythe all the jewelry taken from the pirates, which amounts to about three thousand five hundred gold pieces in value. Our heroes relax, sleep, and feel pleased with themselves. The strong box in the captain's cabin now contains just over four thousand gold pieces in cash.
"Oh dear," Heraklese says to Hocus, when they have finished checking the strong box contents. "We forgot to pay the sailors in Mizzen."
"That's right, we did. We were distracted."
"Next time," Heraklese says.
"And I never heard from the magic shop either," Hocus says.
"I have a feeling we'll be back."
Hocus nods. "Yes. I have a feeling that even Scythe would be happy to go back."
"Yes," Heraklese says, "Or so Bonita would tell you. She things Grellian has a big crush on Scythe."
Hocus looks out the cabin window. Well, he has Martha. But Scythe with the assassin who killed Clodine? He shakes his head. On the other hand, that's the stuff that real adventures are made of.