Archive for June, 2013
A single deck up from amidships, Captain Hunter stood with his hands on his hips and scowled at the ready room. Normally, it was a common room that connected the officers’ cabins with a steel reinforced door to the main deck. Since space was in short supply aboard the Griffin, officers often stored all manner of items there.
The intent was to locate the odd map, journal, or log book at a moment’s notice when needed; it was an unwritten rule that the room be kept in proper order. But, the storm of maps, pencils, and log books that lay strewn about the floor proved that understanding had not been observed by unexpected visitors.
Dr. Llwellyn let out a low whistle while he stepped around a pile of papers. “You have to admit, at least our guests were thorough.” He lifted a map from the floor and scrutinized it a moment. Cheerfully, the doctor offered it to the captain. “Ireland?”
Hunter gave his old friend a wry look. “Splendid. That would be one sorted and over two dozen to go.” He rolled the map into a tight tube, then slid it into a leather cylinder. The captain placed the leather container in a nearby open cabinet. “They were indeed thorough. I truly thought my crew was more attentive than this. Someone should have heard this much mischief being done.”
Llwellyn knelt down without comment. He flipped through a set of maps that lay discarded on the floor. The doctor’s thoughtful expression transformed into a frown. His fingers brushed over a uniform series of holes that graced the edge of the parchment. “I wouldn’t hold any of the crew accountable, Anthony. They couldn’t have possibly expected servitors. Diminutive ones, at that.”
Hunter turned away from the cabinet. “Pardon? How do you know?”
Dr. Llwellyn held up a map so that Captain Hunter could see the holes. “Moths are not so uniform when they take a meal, nor have I seen them dine on waxed parchment. But, I have seen the footprints Arcady has accidentally left behind on a few of my journals.” He tapped the staccato pattern of holes in the side of one map. “To be precise, they are quite like these. Only these are much closer together, perhaps from a being smaller than Arcady’s dragonfly form, or a servitor with a nervous twitch.”
The captain glanced over at the map the doctor held. “Small servitors,” he grumbled, then returned his attention to his own side of the room. “That certainly explains why no one raised an alarm.” He let out a world-weary sigh. “We’ll need to send word that servitors are being used to sneak about. Particularly to Arcady. He’ll be of the right size to find them in spaces we cannot reach.”
“Like as not, he’ll want to keep one.” Dr. Llwellyn rolled the map into a tight tube. “Servitors the size of Arcady would would seem to be the bailiwick of that Brotherhood of Mulciber, given their penchant for technology.” He sighed. “Supposedly they’re working with us against a common foe now.”
Hunter selected a nearby stack of debris, in this case a cracked decanter, a wooden bowl and two more maps. He knelt down to examine them. “Supposedly,” he echoed. His voice held a derisive undercurrent.
Llwellyn walked over and placed the rolled-up maps into a storage cabinet. “You don’t trust them?”
“Trust?” Hunter considered the word a moment. “After a fashion, I suppose, what with ‘the enemy of my enemy’ and all that. In truth, I prefer having the Brotherhood where I can bloody well see them. Their admission of being mislead is thin and dreadfully hard to believe. Durante’s tune changed all too quickly for my own comfort. They bomb the Britannia, then offer an olive branch? Their change of heart is suspicious at best.”
Dr. Llwellyn left the cabinet and selected another pile at random to sift through. “Such is the clarity of thought for the fanatic, or one tightly bound to their duty.”
Hunter ignored the remark while he set aside the cracked decanter. “Despite that change of heart, there is a shred of sincerity to it I can’t ignore. Besides, if they are with us, it reduces the number of our problems.”
“Sensible,” Llwellyn replied with a nod. “Which would leave you with whom? Duke RiBeld? The Duchess Von Ferrin? Your list is getting rather small.”
“Thorias, it wasn’t that long to start with,” Hunter replied. “I’m most inclined to say Archibald RiBeld, but I’ve no evidence toward the claim. Same would hold true for the Duchess. It complicates matters that the bloody bastard is recovering from a near fatal knife wound. Which of course he blames me for. As if my aim would be that poor.”
“Well, the pair of you never did properly get along. I blame it on a lack of proper upbringing,” the doctor quipped.
“Not everyone has the benefit of a cultured elven background,” Hunter replied with a small smirk. “I daresay my ‘earthy human’ roots have served me quite well. That, and I can manage to make an excellent roast pheasant, despite my father’s protests to leave such work to the cook.”
“Touché. I stand corrected,” Llwellyn chuckled. He glanced around the room, then picked another stack of unsorted papers at random. “So, about Captain, I mean ‘Duke’, RiBeld. Any word on his recovery?”
“Provided he rests and resists the urge to track me down and shoot me, he’ll be on his feet in a day or so. In two or more weeks, he’ll be as good as new. The ship’s doctor is using some new snakeroot formula.”
“Oh? That’s a bit of good luck on his part.” Llwellyn knelt down and picked up two more maps. He carefully scrutinized them, then rolled both up and tucked them under an arm. “Do you believe that our mysterious, collective opponents we share with the Brotherhood will indeed put the Britannia to the torch?”
“I could be mistaken, but no. It would be foolish to wreck the Britannia. The object of their desire is aboard the ship. To bomb the Britannia is to scuttle her, which means a dip in the ocean to search what wreckage remains.” He shook his head. “It’s far easier to pilfer her under a cloud of paralytic fear to conceal their movements.”
“Ah, nefarious,” the doctor commented.
“Indeed. It’s what I’d be tempted to try in their position.” Captain Hunter picked up one of the maps and examined the inscription. He rolled it into a tube like the earlier one. “Just the Atlantic side of Ireland – not helpful. In any case, once all this is resolved, if the Brotherhood are on the side of the heavens with pure intent, then there’s been no harm. But, if they are behind all these problems, then we won’t have to go far to locate at least one of them.”
Dr. Llwellyn discarded a set of handwritten papers to pull a map from beneath them. “Aha, Spain!”
“Excellent! Spread it out on the table.” Hunter scooped up two more maps that lay close at hand and rolled them up as well. He placed the lot of them in the cabinet, then crossed the room to meet the doctor at the table.
Llwellyn had the map of Spain spread out across the table by the time Hunter arrived. Each corner was anchored down by a rum bottle. The doctor leaned over it studiously. “So where again was it?”
“The coast,” Hunter replied. He stood across from his old friend and leaned in towards the map. He scowled at it, but the map stubbornly refused to reveal its secrets. Captain Hunter’s eyes followed the artistically drawn Spanish coastline. He traced a route along the map with a finger. It was a route he personally had sailed a dozen times before. His finger stopped on a particular coastal location not far from Cádiz. “In fact, that would be the particular part of the coast I had in mind. That is if I’m not mistaken.”
The doctor turned his head slightly to read the name. “Las Marismas del Guadalquivir?” he asked.
Hunter tapped the map. “Yes, or in English, it would be the ‘Guadalquivir marshes’. Marshy lowlands near the Guadalquivir river dotted with several rice farms. Lovely place really, provided you mind the smugglers and the feral camels in the area.”
“Dromedaries? In Spain?” Llwellyn gave his friend a look of unbridled skepticism.
“The very same.” He noticed the doctor’s expression. “I know how it sounds, but they are indeed there. No one knows how they came to be in Spain, but some tried using them for farm labor. The result was an astonishing failure, due to a lack of mutual understanding of who exactly was in charge of whom. So now, they are left to roam of their own accord in the marsh.”
“Wild camels in a marsh.” The doctor shook his head in astonishment. “Apparently, I don’t holiday in Spain nearly enough.”
“If we are unable settle this issue with Adonia’s Roman knives soon, you may get your chance. Though, I’d not call chasing down fanatics a ‘holiday’,” Hunter explained. “In any case, there is plenty of isolated, wide-open marsh that’s visited by only the occasional smuggler or camel.”
“So something could be hidden there?” Llwellyn asked.
“Most likely it would be buried,” Hunter replied. “The terrain is rather flat and mud-ridden. Anything not buried would easily stand out and have already been found.”
“I see your point. Sadly, we are on the wrong side of the Atlantic to pop over and take a brief look about.” The doctor folded his arms over his chest as a thought struck him. “Though, that may not be a barrier.”
Captain Hunter glanced up with a faint smirk. “Learned to be in two places at once, have we?”
Llwellyn ignored the remark. “It so happens, I know of a certain person who maintains a close watch on the land in that area for the local officials. An Isabella Criststobal. In fact, she manages the land offices there. But she never mentioned wild camels. A pity. It would have made for an interesting outing.”
“She?” Hunter blinked in surprise. “Practically cosmopolitan, isn’t it? Last I remember, women are often barred in many places from such things as running a clerk’s office.”
A faint, warm smile crossed the doctor’s thin face; his eyes twinkled a moment. “Isabella De Los Apostoles Zamora Cristobal is not a woman to be denied when she sets her mind to a task, Anthony. However, that is beside the point. She maintains a small staff that routinely performs surveys on request, or looks into land disputes. If anyone has made inquiries about the marsh, she will know. She could also send someone to take a look at whatever part of the marsh you’re curious about. Just to see if anything is amiss, of course.”
“So long as she has someone willing to step into a rather risky situation. Based on the brief dealings I’ve had with the smugglers there, they can be a bit touchy,” Hunter replied thoughtfully. “Do you think she would consent to this?”
Llwellyn nodded. “Certainly. The smugglers are enough of a problem for her, as they seem to be a constant source of damage to the lands she oversees. Treasure hunters would most likely be as bad, I would imagine. Once I leave here, I’ll go warm up the opti-telegraphic and sent her a short burst. She’s frightfully efficient. We should know something in short order.”
Hunter ran a finger over the map. He traced out the part of the Spanish coastline that framed the marshland in question. “Capital. While she’s giving that area a close look, there is another direction to attack this problem.”
The doctor looked puzzled. “And that would be?”
“The Duchess,” Hunter explained. “She is keeping company with Duke RiBeld, which may mean she is privy to his plans. If either of them are involved, she may let something slip in idle conversation.”
Dr. Llwellyn shook his head. “You truly have taken leave of your senses. Anthony, the woman tried to poison you. In fact, she made a good show of it. I would know, I had to detoxify you.”
Hunter tugged at the leather glove that covered his clockwork hand. “Naturally. Which is why she won’t try this time. I’ll be looking for it and she knows you’re here and about. All of which leaves me open to attempt some ‘idle conversation.”
“At least tell me you’ll have a sidearm with you?” the doctor asked. “Duchess or no. Genteel company or no, the woman and her associates are dangerous.”
He quickly waved a hand towards his friend’s objections. “I’ll be fine, Thorias. I have a plan on how you can keep track of me. Just contact your lady associate in Cadiz. The sooner the better!”
The captain breezed from the room, intent on his mission. Next to the table, Dr. Llwellyn watched the captain’s departure with no small measure of astonishment. After a moment, the elf sighed heavily and rubbed his eyes.
“In other words, I’ll send the message to Señorita Cristobal, while you go swig a cuppa hemlock from that murderous harpy to get her to gloat.” The doctor said irritably to the empty room. “Brilliant plan, if only your idea of ‘idle conversation’ was not as blunt as a belaying pin. I think I left my poison curatives below decks. Fortunately, I restocked before we left port.”