‘Continuing the story begun in _The Ronin’s Sword_’
At the call, Master Samuel Tanner, ‘The Lively Venture’s’ navigator, smiled at the two eager faces before him and rolled up the charts that lay on the table. “That’s the end of lessons for today, ladies,” he nodded to the two midshipmen before him. “When we arrive at Port Marion, you will have your assignments to complete. Go see the first mate; she will give you your orders.”
“Aye, sir,” the two girls chorused, and made their way quickly to the deck.
The girls, Sana and Evelyn, smiled at each other. They had initially been drawn to each other because they were among the few females aboard ship, and because they were both so very different from everyone else. Evelyn was the only human aboard ‘The Lively Venture’, although humans were not uncommon in Marleybone itself. Sana, however, was a mander, and manders were almost never seen outside their own homeland of Krokotopia. She was small of stature, with a long face, big eyes, and hairless purple skin.
“My people have long been enslaved by the kroks,” Sana had explained to Evelyn not long after they became friends. “It was not hard for them to do so: we manders are a gentle people. The only fighting manders are the ones the kroks discover have a gift of magic. The kroks take them to be trained as their guards. I have even heard that a few manders fought in their arena.”
Evelyn looked disgusted. “That’s awful!”
Sana shrugged. “The families of the ones with magic talent are heaped with honor, and the service is not forever. The kroks know that even manders will rebel if our families are torn apart. We are all tested as children for magic talent. I didn’t have any magic talent. I am glad, because I don’t want to fight.”
This was true enough. Sana hated using so much as a knife and wouldn’t touch a gun. ‘The Lively Venture’ had been boarded twice: once by Cutthroat Pirates and another time by Monquistans supposedly looking for contraband. Both times the boarders had been repulsed, and Evelyn commended for her courage and skill in battle. Sana had been carefully kept below decks during the battles. No one thought any less of Sana for all that, for they all had their own skills. Sana was brilliant at mathematics and navigation, and had already been made Samuel Tanner’s personal assistant.
“How did you end up on a Marleybone ship?” Evelyn had wanted to know.
Sana grinned sheepishly. “I snuck onto one, hiding with the boxes of the things of the ancients the Marleyboneans took to their homeland. I was weary of my people’s slavery, but not agreeing with those who wished to rebel. I thought perhaps there was another way. I thought: perhaps these curious Marleyboneans can help us end our slavery without violence. If nothing else, I would learn something new, and not be just a servant.”
While Sana had not yet found the answer to her people’s dilemma, she certainly thrived with the education she now was receiving aboard ‘The Lively Venture’. And today was to be a new lesson, one the four young midshipmen expected to enjoy. Evelyn Lewis, Sana, David Tolland, and Paul Williams gathered before the first mate, and saluted respectfully.
Unusually for a Marleybonean ship, the first mate was not only female, but a Cat. It was not easy rising to legitimate position for a Cat of Marleybone: the Dogs considered Cats untrustworthy and treacherous, and so Cats often rose to positions on the other side of the law. However, longstanding friendship between the Dog of a good Marleybonean family, Roger Hale, and the Cat Leah Ni Burne had made the fortunes of the two rise together.
First Mate Leah Ni Burne also served as the purser for the vessel. As usual, the orange and white cat was dressed well but not ostentatiously in a gentleman’s suit of good wool, her only adornment being a gold ring with a pearl drop that dangled from one pointed ear. She gave a rolled paper to the boys, and another to the girls.
“Today you are responsible for obtaining the provisions listed. You are not to compromise quality for cheap goods, but you are to get the best price for good supplies. Mr. Tolland,” she nodded at the older boy, “you are a farmer’s son, and as such you are familiar with standard behavior at market day, yes?” The youth nodded. “You will take the lead, assisted by Mr. Williams, who I expect as the son of an engineer is unfamiliar with proper haggling.” Paul Williams, a puppy not yet near adulthood, nodded shyly, his usual high spirits dampened by being in the presence of a commanding officer. “Miss Sana, likewise I believe you have greater experience in this, so Miss Lewis, you will follow her lead.”
She then handed a small, heavy bag to the leader of each group. “Here are sufficient funds for all the supplies. Have the vendors send the goods to the ship. Getting a good price for supplies should lead to some money left over. After accounts are done this evening, and the supplies are checked and found satisfactory, if there are funds left over, then you and your partner will receive the bulk of the remaining, to spend at your leisure tomorrow. We intend to spend at least two days in Port Marion.”
The midshipmen looked at each other excitedly, but the first mate held up her furred hand to maintain silence. “If, however, the goods are inadequate in any way, you will remain on board during our stay here, and furthermore suffer short rations for a week, so that you learn the importance of good supplies. Any questions?”
“No sir,” they chorused.
Leah smiled. “Then, ladies, gentlemen, you may go ashore.”
The day was fair, merely warm in the early morning but promising to be hot. Even the adults were plainly looking forward to the change of pace of a day on land, especially on a homeland island such as Port Marion. But they had barely come to the end of the docks to register ‘The Lively Venture’ when they noticed things were sorely amiss.
“Why are all these clockworks about?” Captain Hale asked the dock master, nodding significantly at the contingent of Armada soldiers passing in the streets. Roger Hale was a handsome Dog with sad-seeming brown eyes that belied his sunny nature. Like his first mate, he dressed well but fairly plainly. A scattering of forget-me-nots embroidered on his waistcoat was his only concession to adornment. “I thought Port Marion was under Marleybonean government.”
The dock master took the ship’s papers as presented and glanced sourly in the direction of the clockworks. “Technically, our governor still presides. But we had some difficulties a couple months back. Riots started at the dock areas and spread through the city -- mostly Wharf Rats, but also some renegade Dogs and of course, a fair number of Cats, untrustworthy vermin all -- oh, begging your pardon sir, present company excepted,” he said the last to the first mate, whose pupils had condensed to narrow slits, her tail twitching in annoyance. Leah gave him a cold look, but nodded in acceptance of the apology.
“We didn’t have enough militia to handle it all, so the governor appealed to Port Regal for assistance. There was a lot of property damage in the meantime, and some deaths. We knew we wouldn’t see reinforcements for at least a week or more. So when an Armada ship showed up, and offered its services for hire, the governor reluctantly took them on. Word has it that their term of service was supposed to expire as soon as the Port Regal warships came in, or the uprising was put down, which ever came first.”
“Well, strangely enough, those Port Regal ships never came. I’ve heard that the governor there never got Port Marion’s message either. And the Armada types claim that the uprising is far from over, though there have been no riots since that first week. Nobody likes it. We were better off with the riots, if you ask me.”
“The cure being worse than the disease, aye what?” Captain Hale commiserated with a wry smile.
“You got that,” the dock master replied, handing back their papers. “All clear. You look like an innocuous lot, but a friendly warning all the same: stay clear of those Clockworks. They’ve grabbed a lot of power for themselves and they are easily offended.”
“Thank you. We’ll take your advice,” Roger Hale gave the dock master a polite tip of his hat, then turned to his midshipmen. “Do you hear that, lads and lasses? Keep your eyes open and avoid going near the Armada soldiers. Don’t interfere with them, and they should leave you alone.”
“Yes, sir,” the young people replied, and turned off as a group to find the marketplace. They all took a good look at their respective lists. “So, Sana,” Paul Williams looked up from his list. “How do you tell a lemon from a cabbage?”
“I don’t know,” Sana replied expectantly, used to his jokes.
“Good thing you aren’t sent out for the lemons then!” The boys doubled over with laughter while the girls rolled their eyes.
The boys parted ways a few moments later with a casual wave, idly promising to see the girls back on board the ship. But Evelyn would never see them again.
Their assignment started out well enough. One by one the necessities from their list were found from the local vendors, and Sana indeed had excellent haggling skills. They were already more than half done. Evelyn was congratulating Sana on how pleased the First Mate was going to be with their eye for quality and economy, when they turned a corner right into a squad of Armada soldiers. The girls started to return to the previous street.
The voice was cool and authoritative, accompanied by the unmistakable clicks of rifles being primed. Sensibly, Evelyn and Sana froze in their tracks and turned around slowly.
They found themselves staring at a sword blade leveled at them by an Armada officer. He was surely the captain of the squad, dressed more finely than the others, his blank porcelain face adorned around the empty eyeholes with the suggestion of a delicately gold trimmed dancing mask. The other soldiers formed a semi-circle around this one, and had rifles aimed at the two girls. Sana froze with horror. Evelyn wracked her brain trying to imagine what they could have possibly done to get into trouble, and came up with no answer. Before she could ask a reasonable question, the Armada captain spoke.
“Troggies are not allowed here.” His tenor voice conveyed cool disgust mingled with an odd triumph. “Troggies and their magic is forbidden.” He gestured with his sword to the terrified Sana. “You are under arrest.”
Evelyn instinctively stepped in front of her friend. She held out her hands in a conciliating gesture. “You are mistaken, sir,” she said with careful politeness. “My friend is not a Troggy. She is a Mander.”
The next instant Evelyn could have bitten off her tongue. The sinister interest of the Armada captain increased. “Indeed? How… unusual. The Mander race is also known for its magic, and all magic is forbidden.”
“By whom?” Evelyn demanded heatedly.
“I don’t know how to do magic!” Sana cried at the same time.
The captain’s head tilted with an audible click as he considered how to answer the simultaneous remarks. “The Armada outlaws all magic, and we are here. As for the mander, further questioning will reveal if it indeed does magic or not.” He gestured to two of the soldiers behind him, who holstered their rifles and stepped forward with evident intent to take Sana.
Furious, Evelyn put her hand on the hilt of her sword. “My friend is not an ‘it’. She is ‘she’. And you will leave her alone.”
The Armada soldiers paid not the slightest attention. One soldier roughly shoved Evelyn aside, reaching for the tiny mander girl.
“No! Please!” Sana begged, backing away. “I don’t know magic! I’m telling the truth!“ The clockwork soldiers gave her pleas no heed, and caught her.
“Please, no!” Sana cried out in terror and despair.
Something very strange happened. As the clockwork soldiers seized Sana’s wrists, her body convulsed. Small balls of purple lightning arced from her hands, knocking the Armada soldiers backwards.
For one frozen instant Evelyn stared, shocked, at her friend. Sana’s purple skin became the color of pale lilac as she stared at her hands in horrified disbelief. Then Evelyn sprang into action. She drew her sword and simultaneously kicked in the midriff the clockwork soldier nearest her who was starting to recover from the lightning shock.
“Run!” she hissed to Sana.
Sana looked even more horrified. “I can’t leave you!”
“Get to the ship! I’ll follow when I can. Run!”
The Armada captain drew his sword. “Subdue the mander. I will take care of the human.” His cool voice held satisfaction.
However, neither task was perhaps that satisfactory. Sana hesitated at first, unwilling to abandon her friend, but being shot at is a great inducer to seeking survival. Fortunately, with Evelyn in the way, the Armada soldiers could not get a good aim. Sana ran into the maze of streets and was quickly gone.
Nor was Evelyn easy to subdue. Her ronin foster father had trained her well, although he had also emphasized she should never draw a sword in anger… which she just had. Still, even angry and scared, Evelyn was quite competent. After a few moments the Armada captain judged he was getting the worst of the fight, and ordered his soldiers to fire on her.
‘Which is just cheating’, Evelyn thought angrily, as dazed from the pain of the bursts from the energy rifles, the Armada soldiers ripped her sword from her, and brought her to her knees.
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