Goodly Creatures 06

CHAPTER SIX

Raf’s room was roof-bound on one side. He was on the third floor and the ceiling was pitched. There was a small fireplace, over two other fireplaces he knew. There was a simple bed and a simple chair. There was a simple dresser. There was a simple chamber pot.

But, it was a significant improvement over his transport’s shack. The floor was hardwood. The dormer window was glass, to keep out the elements. The door led to a corridor and a stair, rather than a mud street. The house in which he slept, the governor of Johannia slept.

He decided not to unpack his things. The dresser was a luxury. He set his sack atop it as a substitute for unpacking.

Raf sat on the bed and looked over his shoulder at the afternoon light shining through the window. The light from the west, over St. Vincent’s Bay. From the direction of his passage. The things he had left behind.

There was a soft, almost timid knock at his door. He was unprepared for that.

“Come?” he said.

The door opened to reveal a woman in a green dress, embroidered with orange. She looked a vision of autumn. She had skin white like a dry cloud, eyes green like cedar boughs, lips like the petals of a pink rose, and hair like a foss of blood. No escort stood behind her. She closed the door herself, and seemed unaccustomed to the motion. Raf had been a footman in noble houses, and had known the families of those houses. He knew she was the lady of the house, the governor’s daughter. But, his mind could not accept placing her into that shelf.

“My,” he stuttered. He stood. He straightened his red vest and wished he had changed into his clean clothes. “My lady.”

She was restrained. She studied him as a street rough might study a mark. How a hunter might study a prize stag.

She took a deep breath. “You are the transport who shall go east with Lord Blake in service to my father.”

“Yes. Rafelan Arland.” He stifled the impulse to hold out his hand or bow.

She frowned. Something disappointed her. She was terribly well put-together to meet an indenture in secret, he suddenly realized. She had come to see if he met his reputation. She was assessing him in some regard.

“I can only hope your father has something interesting in mind for me.”

She nodded with a slight grin. “My father. Yes, the governor called for you to a very important end. I will not step on Lord Blake’s toes and reveal more than is fitting about your mission.”

Raf relaxed. She was being quite polite. “Would revealing your name be fitting?”

She smiled at his re-fashioning of her own words. He was living up to his reputation at last.

Her face took on a placid, settled air. “Snow Bernes.”

“Snow.” He looked at her sidelong. “That is not your given name.”

Her eyes narrowed. “I beg your pardon?”

Raf shook his head. He glanced at the chair and settled himself on the bed.

“The upper crust do not prefer monosyllabic given names. Snow is your middle name.”

She blinked. “How dare you?” She straightened her dress and settled into the chair.

“We’re beyond how, my lady.” He grinned. “I have dared, and I wager I am right.”

She focused her gaze at him. “You don’t speak like a commoner.”

He frowned and shrugged. “I was a footman for a year or three as a boy. Serving, among others, Lord Wrangell of Flaghard. I listened and learned.”

“A year,” she said, “or three.”

He smiled and nodded. “Closer to three.”

She settled her shoulders. She was deciding whether this confession meant he was dishonest in his class or admirable for reforming himself.

He grinned. “Nicholas Ward Wrangell. His heir is Bronswick Spence Wrangell.”

She nodded. “I know them. By name.”

He smiled gently. “Long given names. Short middle names.”

She sighed and rolled her green eyes. “Miranda Snow Bernes.”

He shrugged and looked over his shoulder toward the dormer window. “Miranda’s a better name.”

She huffed. “I prefer Snow. And, you’re insufferable.”

He looked back at her and shrugged. “You seem to have a high tolerance for suffering.”

She gathered herself. “And your full name?”

“Rafelan James Arland. True to form.”

“But, you are not a noble.”

He settled a narrow gaze on her. “Not yet.”

She smirked at him, playfully. “You think yourself equal to Lord Blake, who rose from obscurity?”

Raf leaned back on his hands. “Julius Blake, who middle name I do not know, I’ve heard started on the docks and rose to a house by serving the colony. Why should I not do the same?

Her eyes fell to her knees. Her hands fell to her knees.

“My lady?”

She lifted her face to him. “I also have a quest in my father’s service. And, not to reveal too much, your mission and mine are entwined.”

Raf leaned forward and put his hands on his knees. “Then, that gives me extra purpose to do well.”

“We’ve been candid,” she said with a disapproving frown. “Don’t introduce intrigue into it now.”

He lifted his brows and nodded. “It was a sincere intrigue, Miranda.”

She tilted her head to the side. “As I am on my mission, to the south, I want to know that its twin is also doing well.”

Raf sat upright. He could not ferret out her intention. “You want letters?”

She shook her head. “There are no channels for such correspondence.”

Her countenance took on a questing look. “Are you open to the ways of the supernatural?”

He was stiff. He was unsure how to respond to that. He had dismissed the parson’s ramblings about evil spirits and necromancy. He felt himself incapable of such dismissal toward Lady Snow.

“I am open to whatever aids my ends.” He realized she may be measuring his religiosity. “And I assume any such help is fine with God.”

She shrugged and relaxed in some private decision. Her red hair fell back over her shoulders.

“I have a pendant, from the Emberi. Two pendants, bound together in magic. They allow their bearers to speak over any distance.”

Raf took this in. That was quite a claim. He could not process it without further questions.

“You’ve tested them.”

She nodded. “I have. With my servant, Grigarius. He traveled to Scraven’s Mill and we spoke and looked upon each other’s faces.”

“Grigarius,” he said. “The bear.”

“The Orsar,” she said. “Do not call him a bear or bear-man. His race was elevated from that by the giants, and his person was elevated by my father.”

Raf’s head moved in little nods. “He seems quite capable. He put me in my place and showed me to my room.”

“He told me.”

“So, this pendant.”

She shrugged and shuffled in her dress. A pale hand slipped into a pocket hidden by orange embroidery and withdrew holding a leather cord. She held her hand out and revealed an ivory pendant carved in a swirled pattern.

“Go ahead,” she said. “Take it.”

“Me?” he asked. He was genuinely surprised. “You truly want me to be your confidant?”

She nodded. “Blake has reason to bluster. And his men will be loyal to him in that. You are the independent voice I need.”

He chuckled quietly and reached out. His body hesitated as his hand approached hers. He looked into her pine-green eyes and felt a hollowness in his chest. He swallowed and scooped up the pendant.

She was staring at her knees, where her hands had returned. One of them rose to her neckline to draw at a leather cord. A twin pendant appeared.

“We can test them again once I take to sea.”

He draped the cord over his neck and nodded.

“Don’t let my father see that. He knows the pendant.”

He grinned at that and nodded again.

“How will I know we’re testing?”

She pursed her lips. “Per the testimony of Mr. Grigarius, the called pendant grows warm and glows red like an ember.”

He nodded. “I will pay attention.”

“Only draw it out in private. I do not want Blake and his men to know.”

“I shall do as you say.”

“You’re being terribly obedient.”

Raf chuckled out loud at that. “Only in regard to a power I don’t understand. I’m calling on my experience as a footman. And, you’ve got all the good cards.”

She smiled. “That’s fair. But, yes. Keep our conversations out of Blake’s ear, however you can.”

He touched the pendant under his shirt, then the parson’s book. “There is some common purpose in our missions?”

She stiffened at that. A sudden seriousness conquered her face.

“I am not certain, now. But, we shall see.”

Raf felt the conversation had reached its end. He stood. Lady Bernes nodded and stood. She curtseyed politely and he answered it with a bow.

“I will answer your call, as I can.”

She grinned. “I will be patient, understanding you may be seeking a private space.”

That was an impressive prediction. Indeed, when an unexpected call should come in the wilderness, he might need some time to get himself to a private space. Likely, he’d plead his bladder.

“That’s an encouraging—” he said, head shaking. “That’s encouraging.”

She smiled. “Grigarius and I worked a few things out in our experiments.”

Raf felt a sudden candidness. “He’s a good man. A good Orsar.”

“A good man.” She nodded, turned toward the door, then turned back toward him.

“I’m glad you see that.”

“Lines away!” shouted Schank. The men on the governor’s wharf set to loosing the ship’s lines. Their discipline was impressive to the old quartermaster. He found himself grinning and turned his face to Skilling. The man was nodding in appreciation.

The crew of the Breedlove drew in the lines with a quickness.

Grigarius, Gamba, and the Lady Bernes stood at the bow, looking out over St. Vincent’s Bay. Schank took them in with some apprehension. They were long-time subordinates to the governor. The captain, Henri Martyn, was long in the governor’s service, despite being originally from Bressia. He and Skilling were the odd men out. Schank knew the headman Gamba was his chief rival for the loyalty of the crew, despite his own position as quartermaster.

“That’s a good draw, jacks!” he shouted. “I’ve rarely seen a departure so well-managed.”

He shrugged at Skilling, who frowned. He sighed and set his boots toward the bow. Once he reached there, he cleared his throat.

“We’re underway with good form,” he said.

Gamba turned to him. “Does the captain know?”

Schank felt his shoulders fall. “If he has not inferred from the ship’s movement, Skilling will let him know.”

“What does the almanack say?” grumbled the bear-man.

Schank glanced at Lady Snow. Her green eyes were implacable. He frowned.

“Per the almanack, clear skies for three weeks. But, I have often found the almanack wanting.”

The bear-man turned his huge maw to scowl at him.

He shrugged. “My prediction, based on the skies, is that we might see a storm before rounding Margara.”

“Let us hope, Mr. Schank,” Gamba said, “that the almanack proves more reliable.”

Schank closed his eyes and shrugged. “I would certainly prefer that.”

The three of them turned forward to stare into the glittering afternoon sea. Schank turned, sighed, and made his way back to the crew.

The morning was cold. The men in Blake’s company were jesting about it, blowing out visible air, laughing as they rubbed their hands near a fire lit near a well. Raf was wearing his own change of clothes under a thick, black fur coat, courtesy of the house. He wondered if it were bear fur. He also wondered if he could acquire another layer for his legs, which were freezing.

The sky defied the cold of the air with a clear blue expanse and a bright sun. It didn’t help much.

“It’s only going to get colder, boys,” a rough man said. Raf saw the soldiers grin reluctantly and nod. Who was this man? He was making his way from one cluster of soldiers to another. Perhaps one of Blake’s deputies.

When the man was close, Raf leaned toward him. “How are the supplies shaping up?”

The man looked to him and closed the distance. His boots crunched frost.

“Mr. Arland,” he said.

Raf lifted a hand from its pocket to shake the man’s hand. The man’s grip was firm.

“Some of us could use gloves,” Raf said.

The man grinned amiably and nodded. “I’ll look to it. You won’t be much use with frozen fingers.”

“You’re Blake’s deputy?”

The man nodded. “I am. Lieutenant Ives Marian.” He pointed at Raf’s chest. “I’m here to make the wrong right before we set out. And, thank you for your insight into gloves.”

Raf didn’t know how to take that. Perhaps the man was intent on making the wrong right. Perhaps he was intent on securing his place as the man who supposedly makes the wrong right.

“And leggings,” Raf said.

The man grinned and pumped his fist at his side.

“Where are we set first?” Raf asked.

The man frowned at that. “Well, the trail into the Tulippomik Valley begins at Montalban plantation.”

A man stepped up behind Marian’s shoulder. He was wearing a plain black uniform, decorated with two pistols, a dagger, and a long sword. He held a long gun in his hand. He was remarkably well-armed.

“We will not be taking that road.”

Marian glanced at the man, and looked downtrodden.

“Will we not?” ventured Raf.

“The governor wishes us to take provision at his windmill along his locks. But, the winds have fallen with the autumn. There is a water mill south of Davis Market, driven by water–plenty of it—where we will find better prices, given the ample supply.”

Raf was shaken. This was clearly Lord Blake confessing to undermining the governor’s profits for the benefit of the mission. Doubtless, the man knew who he was, the governor’s transport brought into the mission for a talent at intrigues.

“My lord,” he said.

The man turned toward Raf. “Mr. Arland?”

“Won’t the governor protest?”

He nodded with a grin. “He most certainly will. I intend to speak with him on it shortly.”

The sitting room glowed in the fire of both the hearth and the governor’s rage. Blake basked in both. He casually lifted his glass of brandy and drank from it.

Bernes tore his wig from his skull and slammed it over the cards.

“My own mill would provide you well enough.”

“At a cost,” Blake said. “I am master of my team’s accounts, by your commission.”

“Do not turn this on me.” The governor scooped up his snifter and downed it in a gulp.

“I have no desire to indict you, my lord,” Blake said, settling in his chair. “I only wish to see this mission through in a most prosperous aspect.”

Bernes waved his hand in the air. “You rob my mill of its profits. You’re ‘running the falls’ like that mutinous scoundrel Durban. I should replace you.”

“Damn your windmill’s profits, sir!” Blake settled his eyes on the governor’s face until the man met his gaze. “I am here to ensure the profits of the expedition. You want a few shillings today in exchange for tomorrow’s pounds?”

Bernes breathed heavily through his teeth for a moment, wearied by his drink.

Blake lifted his glass. “What I secure in the east will more than make up for a day’s loss at your precious windmill.”

The governor gathered up his wig, scraping the cards onto the floor in the process.

“Mr. Leybold!”

The man appeared in the doorway. He glanced at the governor and at Lord Blake. Julius nodded the man toward Bernes.

“Do help me up,” the governor said. “I am ready for bed.”

“My lord,” Leybold said as he walked to his master’s side.

“My lord,” said Blake, standing.

As the butler assisted the governor to standing, Bernes slid the white wig onto his white hair.

“Do as you see fit, Lord Blake.”

Julius bowed.

The governor glared at him. “In true service to your commission.”

“Where are you?” she asked, looking into his reddened face. There were woods behind him. His breath was visible. “It looks cold.”

Raf smiled into the shimmering oval that had appeared before the pendant as he had drawn it from his shirt. The lady was a vision in a simple, blue dress. The rough timbers of a ship were over her shoulders. Her face was dancing in the yellow light of a lantern.

“This is quite remarkable,” he said. “And yes, it is quite cold. But, Lord Blake’s lieutenant has provided me with gloves and doe-skin stockings for my legs.”

She smiled into the image. “No doubt you’ll appreciate those in the mountains.”

“I shall. Is it not cold there?”

She shook her head. “There was a warm wind blowing suddenly from the west. The captain and his quartermasters fear a storm.”

He was immediately concerned. “Do keep yourself below-decks.”

She stifled a grin, but felt her cheeks grow warm.

“I would hate to lose the pleasure of this magic if your pendant were to slip into the depths.” He smirked.

Her eyes narrowed. “You’re a rogue.” She lost the fight against laughing.

“And, as a rogue, I like precious things.”

She shook her head at that. “That was too clumsy for your talents. So tell me, how did you make yourself private?”

He frowned on one side and shrugged. “I pleaded my bladder.”

She giggled. “Was it a complete deceit?”

He laughed. “I am quite torn between desiring further conversation and needing the end of it.”

Her smile revealed all of her teeth. “Then let us talk.”

He squinted, grinning.

“I jest. You have business, as do I. Shall I call upon you tomorrow?”

He nodded, staring into her pine-green eyes. “If you do not, I shall call upon you.”

“Good night, Mr. Arland.”

“Good night, Lady Snow.”

She turned the pendant, the shimmering vanished, and she let it fall to her breast. It rose and fell there for a moment as she breathed and smiled absently.

A knock at her cabin door. “One moment. I am between dress.”

“Yes, ma’am.” It was the voice of Grigarius.

Snow set her pendant on her bed as she changed into more weather-worthy clothes. Off her person, the ivory showed a blue-white glow. She glanced at it with a grin as her handmaid slipped a warmer dress down her arms and over her shoulders.

“You’re not thinking of going on deck, my lady?”

She smiled at the girl. A cousin of Lord Humway, brought over from Vincentia to improve her prospects of a husband.

“Michelyn, I shall be quite alright and I will not miss my first storm at sea.”

The girl draped a dark shawl over her shoulders. “My lady, the women have been ordered by the captain to the orlop deck for their safety.”

Snow sighed and shook her head. “Please, tie back my hair.”

“Yes, my lady.”

“I shall not be ordered about by my father’s servant.”

The deck rolled beneath them, and they were forced to reset their feet. The ship was tossed. The quartermaster was having his victory over the almanack.

Michelyn hastily tied the lady’s red hair into a pony tail with a black silk ribbon. Snow patted her dress and nodded. She turned to her handmaid and glanced at the pendant, glowing on her bed.

“Speak nothing of that. Its shine is but a sign of good fortune. Get yourself away, down among the ropes and sails on the orlop deck.”

The girl nodded quickly, curtseyed, and turned to open the door of the cabin. She was visibly taken aback by the bulk of Mr. Grigarius standing there. She curtseyed, still holding the door, and ducked around the bear-man. Grigarius stepped into the cabin and closed the door behind him.

“There is a storm rising, my lady.”

“I would like to see it.” She scooped up the pendant, slung the leather cord over her head, and tugged her ponytail through it.

“Please, my lady.”

“My first storm at sea, Mr. Grigarius. I will not retire on the orlop deck with the other women.”

“It is the captain’s order. I understand your rank, but at sea—”

“At sea,” she tucked the pendant into her dress, “I still retain my inheritance.”

His shoulders sagged. He knew she would not be opposed. “I shall not be denied to accompany you for the very brief time you spend on deck.”

She grinned and put her hands on his shoulders. “I would be honored.”

They made their way up the ladders to the weatherdeck. The animal crates had been tied over with cloth, to spare the livestock the coming rain. There were men scrambling to and fro, drawing lines to manage the sails against the gale. She blinked her eyes clear of rain and glanced over her shoulder at the quarterdeck. The captain himself was at the helm, eyes fixed on his bow and the horizon beyond. Beside him stood Schank, Skilling, and Gamba. The headman was glaring at Grigarius.

“Forget him,” Snow said with a grin, slipping her hand around the bear-man’s elbow and taking a step toward the gunwale. He followed, lifting his arm to support her.

The ship surged. The sea rushed over the bow in a great scallop of black water. Snow lost her footing on the tilting deck and rushing water. Her hand slipped from the bear-man’s arm. She tumbled into a livestock crate. The pig inside screamed in terror as the wood shattered under her weight.

She felt wood dig into her neck, then the deck hard against her chest. Warmth spread over her shoulder.

Her hand flew to her neck and withdrew to drip dark with blood. A paw was on her shoulder. She turned wide eyes on Grigarius.

A blue-white glow drew her glance to the deck. The pendant’s cord had torn. It lay awash in water as the deck leaned back toward her. She reached out and snatched up the near end of the cord.

The ship lurched again. Her fingers tightened around the cord as a wave of sea water washed over her. She watched as the pendant was dragged by the water, off the torn end of the cord and toward a scupper, open to the sea. As the water pooled against the gunwale, the pendant swirled, glowing. Then it was gone.

She turned to Grigarius, breathing hard. She looked past him, to Gamba. He was standing at the top of the quarterdeck ladder, gripping the rails.

The bear-man fell to the gunwale, his claws digging into the wood. Snow crawled beside him and peered over the edge. The pendant was floating on the waves, glowing defiantly.

“Mr. Gamba,” Grigarius roared. “Do you see it? A rope!”

The headman scrambled down the ladder to the weatherdeck. “A rope?”

The bear-man tore away his weapons with powerful arms. “A rope.”

Gamba scanned the deck, identified a man, and shouted, “A line! A line!”

“Have you quite lost your senses?” shouted the captain.

Gamba glanced back at the captain and took the line handed to him. He fed the end to Grigarius, who tied it urgently onto his belt.

“Mr. Grigarius,” Snow put a hand on his arm. “No!”

He shrugged her off. Gamba wrapped the other end of the line twice around the mizzenmast. Grigarius nodded back at him, turned toward the glowing beacon on the sea, and dove over the gunwale.

“Mr. Grigarius!” Snow screamed, gripping the gunwale.

The bear-man swam. Ten yards, twenty yards, forty yards. Gamba and two other men fed out the line. It ground against the mizzenmast with a wet sound.

“Mr. Gamba,” Snow said. “Why does it float?”

It was a question in desperation, in defiance of the emergency. He ignored her and stared over the gunwale.

Grigarius slapped at the water, rising and falling with its rage. The wind howled through the sails behind him. He slapped at the floating pendant, but missed it. He pawed at the water, feeling the tug of the line on his belt, and closed his teeth over the pendant. He pressed it against the roof of his mouth with his tongue.

He raised a paw from the seas.

“He’s got it!” Gamba shouted. “Let’s pull!”

Grigarius felt the line tug at his belt. He turned to swim back, pendant held tight in his mouth. The waves slapped at his face. The ship leaned toward him, water crashing over its bow. Then it fell away.

The line grew taut. He felt his belt drag him through the water. Then there was a shuffling vibration at his waist.

The knot had come free.

He slapped through the water, scrambling for the end of the line. His claws found only water. The ship was bright in a sudden lightning. It was moving away.

“Grig!” he heard Snow’s sad voice.

“He’s free,” came Gamba’s voice. “Grigarius!”

“Turn the ship,” Snow’s cry came.

“I shall not,” was the captain’s response, the last word he would hear from the Breedlove.

A wave drowned his face. He felt a roughness in his throat as he struggled to the surface. As he found air again, his tongue felt empty. He had swallowed the pendant.

He struggled to see above the waves. The ship’s lights were far, perhaps sixty yards now. And moving further away.

He turned to the south. As the sea rose around him, he could see scattered lights there, spread on the dark horizon. Yellow-red lights. Lanterns or campfires along the shore of Catarina colony. He set himself to agree with the waves and swim toward shore.

CHAPTER SEVEN