In short order the Evelyn had been searched, stripped of all weapons and personal items by the Armada solders, then hauled into a cheerless cell in a well-filled jail. Many of the other prisoners alleviated their anxious boredom by jeering and hooting at her; Evelyn, humiliated, did not understand why. Her wounds, though not serious, were not treated and they stung fiercely. Worse was the pain of losing her foster father’s precious katana. She felt sick to her stomach.
As the heat of the day increased, she grew thirsty as well. Since water was given to none by their guards, the other prisoners had soon returned to sullen silence punctuated by occasional whispers. At last the miserable tedium was broken by the guards unlocking the ward door and allowing in the Armada captain with two visitors -- the captain of ‘The Lively Venture’ and his first mate.
An argument was already in progress. “Look here,” Captain Hale protested. “I realize the midshipman drew her blade on you, but there was provocation. You attempted the kidnap of one of my crewmen!”
“A magic-user. A witch-doctor. Such are forbidden,” the Armada captain returned coldly.
“I say, they aren’t much approved of, but as long as they obey the law you can’t just seize them off the street!”
“They are forbidden by the Armada. The Armada is here, now.”
“This is still a Marleybone colony!”
“The governor invited us. He needed assistance with an uprising. Now we keep order in Port Marion.”
“Yes, I heard something of that,” Captain Hale retorted sourly. “Keep the jails well filled, I see. How many of these poor folk have actually committed crimes?”
Unsettlingly, this was not deemed worthy of an answer.
Roger Hale rubbed his muzzle and sighed. “Look. My midshipman might have been hot-headed, but you didn’t come out the worse for it, did you? Your boys taught her a pretty good lesson, and she’s spent the day in jail, so that should be punishment enough.”
“That is not for you to decide.”
Hale’s jaw tightened, but he kept his voice even. “Very well, I’ll pay the lass’ fine.” A bribe, more like, was his clear thought.
“Her punishment has not yet been determined.”
“I say, she already has -been- punished. And she is still just a pup!”
“The Armada does not recognize children.”
Meanwhile, the first mate had come close to the bars of Evelyn’s cell. “We’re trying to get you out, but it is surprisingly difficult,” she commented grimly. “What were you thinking of, starting a fight! Why didn’t you just run?” Leah Ni Burne snapped irritably.
Evelyn had been trying to be stoic and brave, but being scolded for her predicament made her eyes fill with tears. “I… I couldn’t think of anything else to do.” Her voice broke on the last word and she hastily shut her lips.
The orange and white Cat visibly relented, and sighed. “You likely did save Sana’s life. At the best we could not argue that she was a Marleybonean citizen to effect her freedom; at the worst they would squirrel her away where we could not find her or protest her imprisonment.”
“But they are refusing to release you. We had to get permission from the governor - the governor!- to even see you. Worse, a sympathetic clerk in the governor’s office warned us that the Armada is seeking a warrant to search our ship for Sana. He promised to delay them as long as possible, but they may decide a warrant is unnecessary. The only thing that is saving us right now is they don’t have the information from the dock master which ship is ours: he won’t give them that without a warrant. But if they simply decide to search all the ships…” Leah swallowed. “We’ll have to go. We’ll come back for you, I promise. ‘Never leave a man behind,’ that’s the Marleybonean motto, you know.”
Evelyn nodded, trying not to look as scared and bereft as she felt.
“Is there something we can get you?”
“May I have a cup of water?”
Leah suddenly looked sharp. “They haven’t given you any? All day?” Receiving two negative shakes of the head, she gave a low snarl, her claws extending from her hands as they did only in battle or when she was very angry. Tail twitching, the first mate stalked off to join Captain Hale.
The Armada Captain did not look at all abashed by the harsh accusations of neglect hurled at him. “We do not thirst. We do not hunger,” he told the first mate smugly. Finally, he permitted water to be given, with the malicious clause that Leah needed to do so for all the prisoners. She did not argue, and Captain Hale assisted her. When she came to Evelyn, the first mate secretly slipped an apple from her waistcoat into the girl’s hand. “We will come for you, Evelyn.”
When First Mate Burne and Captain Hale had gone, she felt more alone than ever. The Armada Captain’s eyeholes turned in her direction for a long moment. Evelyn shivered.
It was past nightfall when the Armada Captain returned, this time accompanied by one who was evidently of his kind, although larger and far more imposing. The greater rank of the new Clockwork man was evident in the fashionable cut and excellent fabric of his gentleman’s suit, richly embellished with fine embroidery, gold braid, and frills of beautiful lace at the neck and sleeve cuffs. A large gold medallion served to fasten his fine wool cloak, instead of the ribbons ordinary folk used. But for all his elegance, this one’s appearance excited more fear than admiration. His mask of a face was only well-formed around the blank eyes - from the nose down it was merely an angular, geometric shape that was somehow brutal in form. Evelyn instinctively shrank back to the far wall of her cell, hoping to be unobserved by one such as he. She and all the prisoners watched in silent apprehension as the Armada officers took a searching look at the captives in the various cells.
Finally, they stopped at Evelyn’s cell. “This is the one who had the MooShu sword, Lord Deacon,” the Armada Captain said to the other, and held the sword in question out to him.
Deacon unsheathed the blade, using the torchlight to examine the shimmering pattern of the steel. “Interesting. A fine blade indeed. Worthy of a Samoorai, I should think.” His voice was smooth and attractive, but cold and strangely inflected. Simply listening sent a chill through Evelyn. She was not happy when he turned his blank eyeholes on her.
“Where did you get this?”
Evelyn misinterpreted the icy demand as accusation. “I didn’t steal it. It was given to me.” -So may I please have it back?- she longed to say, but knew better.
“Who gave it to you?”
It was a reasonable question, yet some instinct urged Evelyn to say nothing of her foster father, or of her home in MooShu. She shook her head, even as apprehension tightened her chest.
Something flicked in the fluttering torchlight, and Evelyn leaped to the side, hearing the crack of a whip as it barely missed her right cheek.
“Answer Lord Deacon, human scum,” the Armada Captain ordered harshly. Evelyn pressed herself against the prison wall, her heart thudding wildly. Where had that whip come from? She hadn’t even seen that he had one!
But Deacon held up his hand. “No need,” he informed his subordinate. He paused for a moment. “I will take this one with me to Valencia. I am sure given suitable encouragement she will be glad to answer any questions I have of her there. You may keep the sword. I have no use for it.”
“Thank you, Excellency. And of the others?”
“None of interest. Set fines for those who can pay and execute those who cannot. Manufacture appropriate crimes to satisfy the Marleybonean interests.”
“Yes, Your Excellency. And what shall I write as the human girl’s crimes?”
Deacon considered a moment. “Piracy will do.”
The conversation between the Armada officers had not gone unnoticed by the other prisoners. Those who knew they could pay no large fine or have friends to do so wailed and begged for mercy, or protested angrily. Neither officer paid the least attention as they left the ward.
Evelyn remained unmoving, in a state of shock. Her mind did not want to believe what she had just heard. But the words were horribly confirmed when several Armada soldiers came into her cell, holding a gun to her head while they clapped shackles on her wrists.
She was marched out to the docks. The cool night air was a blessed relief from the stuffy jail, but Evelyn, stunned and terrified, could barely notice. She cast surreptitious looks about, but there was no avenue of escape. She dared not cry for help, and soon realized no one would come to her aid if she did. The few people around, mostly dock workers, slid their eyes away from hers as she looked at them with a pleading gaze.
As they approached the Armada prison ship, Evelyn noticed ‘The Lively Venture’ was gone. She tried to summon up a glad feeling that Sana had escaped, but all that came was a huge lump in her throat. They would come back for her, but she would be gone, possibly dead already. Evelyn could see no way out. She fought back tears, vowing that she would not show distress before her captors, not realizing that they did not care in the slightest whether she went to her fate like a proud warrior queen or bawling like a baby.
While the jail had been hot and airless, the night air in Port Marion cool and pleasant, in the deep hold of the prison ship it was bitterly cold. The low hull hung below the aether-rich higher skies and dipped into the frigid air of the upper atmosphere. The nearly deafening, grinding noise of the ship’s propulsion filled the vessel, to which the mechanical men were indifferent. But worse than the freezing cold or the noise was the awful, putrid stench of suffering and death which became stronger as she was led deeper into the ship. Evelyn soon learned that the Armada did not necessarily bury or even toss overboard the poor wretches who died in their miserable cells. She was roughly thrust into a cell that still bore the remains of such an unfortunate, who evidently had died while chained to the wall there.
Repulsed, Evelyn huddled away from the pathetic remains, and stayed in her corner as the guards locked her cell, then left her in the chill, fetid dark. She began to shiver uncontrollably. Now that she was alone she could not keep the tears from leaking out of her eyes, no matter how impractical she felt they were. She refused to let the sobs escape, and kept her mouth shut and her chest tight. She refused to think about what was to come. But there was no escaping the knowledge that she was going to die. She was being taken away and she would never return alive.
Evelyn resolutely tried not to think at all, to endure numbly. She tried to pray to the benevolent Muddah, but she could not form the words in her mind. One curious little thread entered, however. As she was taken to her prison, she had seen another prisoner, one who bore the distinctive look of the Horse Barbarians, the enemies of her foster father’s people. They had exchanged the briefest look as she had been brought past his cell to her own. -Wouldn’t it be strange if we ended up allies- came the thin little thought. In this dreadful place it was more than possible.
Time passed. Evelyn did not know if it was mere hours or longer as she tried to hide herself behind the wall of numbness that dulled her fear, cold, hunger, and thirst. Suddenly the ship shuddered with a blow that startled her into full consciousness. It was followed soon after by a similar one, and more after that. Evelyn realized it was cannon fire.
The indistinct sounds of battle filtered down. Then, much closer above, a man’s voice: “Get down, she’s going to blow!“
A muffled explosion shook the floor above her. She could see nothing in the full darkness of her prison, but the acrid odor of gunpowder and smoke mingled with the now familiar stench of the hold. Feet thudded down, accompanied by coughing.
“It’s one of these prisoners,” came the same voice. He sounded rather elderly. Still coughing, he continued to speak. “Check the ones down there, monkey.”
“I’m on it,” came a reedy, accented voice.
Evelyn got to her feet, her eyes wide as if she could penetrate the darkness by sheer force of will. Hope flooded through her, its intensity almost painful.
A moment later a lantern was lit and hung into the ceiling ring. Though dim, the light hurt her eyes, and it took her a moment to focus on the two people in front of her. One was a small dapper monkey whose coat was decorated with numerous military honors; his cocked hat was embellished with several cockades and feathers. The other was a heavy-set old man with a pure white beard. He was dressed in a well-worn red coat of an old-fashioned cut, and despite obvious signs he had seen heavy fighting in his time and was surely a pirate to boot, he looked kindly rather than fierce. His one eye twinkled jovially at her.
“Is this the prisoner we’re looking for?” came the question from the elegant little monkey.
-I certainly hope so-, Evelyn thought, yearning for the chance to live. -I fully intend to come with you, whoever you are!-
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