Trials, tribulations and temptations. 1
University with my sister.
The folks went back home ... their chicks successfully booted from the nest. They had the two late hatchlings to ensure proper decorum ... no chance of mom spread-eagled on the breakfast-nook table ... or a daddy seeking oral gratification in the hall. Perfection achieved four-fold, there was no need for follow-ons.
However ... were it not for hall monitors ... Ross Hall, student accommodations, would be a positive SEA of experimentation. Young Adults ... released from close parental observation and no longer under the evil eye ... were hunting.
Ross Hall ... the first year one socialization experiment adopted by the Regents and in accord with Federal Mandates ... was positively awash with hormones. Ross was a Freshman Only cooperative coeducational attempt at mainstreaming the student population.
The upper-class monitors were a sop to religion and puritanical mores. And they were compensated employees; Persons in positions of power and authority. No hanky-panky with the monitors.
These monitors were actually Resident Advisors but they were dealing with grade 13 ... straight outta high school ... a great many ... more than 50% ... were still shifting to college student mentalities ... about 3 out of a hundred wouldn’t make the transition and head for home before the end of first quarter.
For the first two weeks, adjustments in housing could be made ... no questions asked ... unless a female floor member wanted to move to a male floor. That’s a No.
David signed up for Fencing Club. There was a real Fencing Team ... but David had the inkling idea that his actual combat experience on Chaos wouldn’t be well received by artists. However ... the first Saturday after official classes began, the new branch of what would eventually be The Society for Creative Anachronisms, a full contact medieval combat group, demonstrated their expertise in the square, a small park across the street from Ross Hall.
While not at all well known, certain funds were placed in successful Heroes bank accounts... (unsuccessful heroes got buried) ... as an incentive to come back ... as if Hero Rewards weren’t enough to insure returns ... sometimes Sam, the healing chamber, couldn’t fix the hero. Retirement often meant a wheelchair.
So ... there were emoluments of a monetary advantage in David’s account.
It is a fact of anthropology that living it trumps ethnocentrism, (evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture.) David had lived there.
When the second meet rolled around, David was dressed for Chaos ... smelly leathers, hand forged sword and all the necessary accouterments.
He was the only NOT a knight. He was authentic ... dirty, sweaty and belligerent towards men. His drink was watered wine. His meal was mystery meat ... probably roadkill. His bread was unleavened. He ate with his Pocket Knife and fingers. His horse ... yes ... horse ... was better cared for than his person. But he was chivalrous. He was respectful, honest and courteous to women.
And Grace was positively mortified.
Oh, yes. Grace was a paid up member of the soon to be SCA.
After watching the posturing and listening to the propaganda spouted by the soon to be SCA Knights, I asked, “What’s your historical reference?”
The list was pretty good. Tapestries, woodcuts, the diarists of the Church, surviving clothing and extant paintings of medieval notables.
I countered with, “To the victors go the spoils ... including the history. The absolutely last thing the winners are going to do is look bad. Artists, the weavers, woodcut carvers, painters and priests were ... and still are ... at the command of the money.”
“What does money have to do with it?”
“‘Paint me in good light ... and make that codpiece bigger, while you’re at it,’ all the while jiggling a leather pouch of gold under the nose or having the headsman’s axe in the background to remind the weaver just who it is that holds the power of life or death,” I said.
“You’re crazy,” I was told.
“No. Experienced,” I said ... and smiled. “You pretend to be heroic ... I am ... twice.”
And, of course, I was reprimanded the next time I took a fifteen minute vacation. Val was pissed.
That was the third time I was tested on Chaos.
Every once in awhile ... I couldn’t take the classes ... the sanctimonious instructors ... the “important” people ... and I’d get the ring from the bank box, slip it on, go home for a laundry weekend. I’d load the washer, hit my room, visit Val and go kill bad guys ... for several years.
Grace ... ah yes ... Grace.
Grace never failed to ride with me when I went home.
“David James Austin ... where have you been?” She accosted me one sunny summer afternoon. She celebrated her seventeenth birthday a week ago. Daddy gave her a car, she wouldn’t be riding with me any longer.
She got in my face and said, “I’ve searched your closet ... pried, poked, sounded and looked everywhere. Where do you go? How do you get there?”
She wouldn’t shut up.
So ... finally ... I confessed, “I go through my mirror to another world.” And I grinned.
I have cornflower blue eyes ... sometimes called Insanity Eyes. I stared at her ... unblinking ... grinning ... until she became uneasy.
“Yeah, sure,” she said.
She huffed and went to talk to mom...
And Mom laughed, pointed in the direction of Ionia and said, “Is he dangerous? Harry is dangerous.”
Harry is mom’s younger brother. Harry was a B-17 pilot during the war. On the very last mission, Harry’s aircraft was shot down just before Germany surrendered ... on my birthday ... by the bye. The surrender ... not the shoot-down. Sole survivor of the crew, he was captured, questioned by the Gestapo and transported to Castle Colditz an Oflag IV-C, an officers prison camp. Before he got there he killed his driver and escorting Gestapo guard. Harry disappeared into wartime Germany and walked into the allies arms ... three or so months after the war ended. Nobody would say what he did in Germany ... but it was bad. Very bad.
It affected his brain.
Grace started hanging out with me ... determined to get to the bottom of my situation. Digging holes.
I spent a lot of time reading and practicing the moves as illustrated in Colin Richards translation of Fiore del Liberi illustrated, and Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan - 3-volume set by Diane Skoss (Koryu Books): that includes Koryu Bujutsu: Classical Warrior Traditions Of Japan; Sword & Spirit: Classical Warrior Traditions Of Japan, Volume 2; Keiko Shokon: Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan, Volume 3.
One could say, I spent more time in the books than I did in college texts ... and one would be right.
In fact ... I spent an amazing amount of my University study time reading those four books and practicing in the park across the street from Ross.
A college degree wouldn’t save my life ... my sword play would.
Finally Grace ... you remember Grace ... my sister bugged me enough that I handed her a practice sword and told her,
“Do what I do.”
Well ... she tried.
She was clumsy for a bit and then she managed to include her dancing with her sword play.
After working on her forms and feet Grace got pretty good. Better than most Chaosans. I couldn’t trust her to watch my back ... but she’d do.
The day she slipped my guard and poked me a good one in the ribs, she said, “Prove it.”
“Take me through the mirror,” she said. “I dare you to.” It was the smugness that got me ... Grace knew how to wind me up.
“Come on,” I said. Finals were over. We were marking time waiting for the summer break. When you have a meal plan you have already spent the money. Going home early is a needless expense. We went to my car and drove home. It’s only 23 miles ... we can always drive back to school.
“Kids are home from college!” We shouted as we slammed into the house.
“Hi!” Mom said. “Just in time ... we’re having crockpot pork roast for dinner.”
Mmm ... pork roast ... potatoes, carrots, celery and pork gravy ... simmered all day ... Mmmm. Mom always made enough for pork sandwiches the next day.
The rugrats, just home from school, mobbed us. Dad arrived from court, pleased to see us.
The obligatory greetings, school gossip and folding of last weeks laundry done, we made our excuses and headed upstairs to nap before dinner. Dinner was always fashionably late. Never before 7:30. Plenty of time for our siblings to finish homework or terrorize the neighbors for a few minutes. They had four more weeks of school.
Secure in my room I said. “You wanted it ... you got it.
“Wait here,” I said. “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.”
Val was pleased to see me ... I performed to standard. The damsel was definitely in distress ... and pregnant when I left ... with a Heroes Companion Rule Book in my hand I stumbled through the closet. Grace had moved a chair and was waiting in my closet.
“What the fuck? I took my eyes off the mirror for a second and here you are ... how did you do that?”
“We’ve been through this before. Read this.” I handed her the Rule Book. “We leave three weeks from today.”
I can only thank Ceiling for that last glass of Restorative. I wouldn’t fall asleep at dinner. We ate ... discussed what we were going to do for the summer and drove back to MSU. We were in our respective rooms by 10:30.
The next day, Grace handed me the Rules for Heroes Companion book back and smirked.
“Cute, David. I don’t know how you got this book printed ... it’s certainly not from any publisher I know ... and I know the feel and smell of every book-bindery in the Western hemisphere ... but it’s well done.” She said, “Very professionally written and produced ... I still think it’s bull-shit.”
“Twenty days and counting, Grace,” I said. “Good Night.”
“Good Night?” She checked her watch and looked at the sunlight in the bedroom, “It’s twelve thirty-six in the afternoon.”
“I’ve been busy,” I yawned. “I’ll just catch a nap.”
When I went to Crossroads, all I wanted was a Rule Book for Heroes Companions. What I got was an ecstatic Val Heroes Caregiver.
“A Companion? Wonderful! Who is he?” She spouted.
“She,” I said.
“She ... a girl.”
“A woman?” Val pondered, “Let me check.”
“Ceiling,” she tilted her head ... it’s only polite to look at whomever you are speaking to ... which gave me an insight to how Cassandran women think about Artificial Intelligence.
“Ceiling ... are there rules for woman Heroes Companions?”
“There are precedences for such persons in the past ... and future,” Ceiling said.
“Why were the Caretakers not informed?” Val was feeling put upon.
“The presence of preferred females on the account of heroes has been known to cause strife with the Hero and Caretaker.”
“Oh,” Val said. “Well ... I think it’s a great idea.:
She turned to face me, “What’s she like? Are you lovers? Is she pretty?”
“She’s my sister, she’s pretty in an artificial way. No ... we are absolutely NOT lovers ... although...” I shut up.
“Although... ?” Val made that hand motion that signifies, Tell me more. Drat her pretty hide.
“She was my Senior Prom date...”
That hand motion, again.
“Mom decided that it was time my sister was without a totally useless piece of flesh.”
“Ah ... the ENTIRE Prom date ... hotel and all.”
“Yes.” I concluded with, “But Not my idea.”
“She went along with it?”
“I think it was her idea all along.”
Well ... when that rescue was over and the reward received, Val handed me a book and booted me out the door. Grace got the book ... I got a nap.
She ... Grace ... decided she’d better not take any chances and stepped up her training.
She got better ... I got bruises.
At one day to go, she asked me ... finally... “Why aren’t you packed? Where’s your kit?”
“You read the book?” I asked.
“The part about nothing metal? Or plastic?”
“That was serious?”
“No zippers, rivets, hooks, underwires. No knives, no forks no spoons ... no needles ... no nothing,” I said. “That huge backpack you’ve been assembling will be left on the closet floor.”
The day finally arrived. Grace was still skeptical right up to the moment she was holding my hand and watched me disappear through the mirror ... the wench gave a squawk and tried to let go. It was too late ... the mirror dragged her through.
We both were in the hall ... the door to Crossroads was before us. I looked down at her ... have I never mentioned Grace is short? Not just short ... but... SHORT ... and Tiny. When I looked, Grace seemed to have developed an excess of skin.
Recall ... Most of interior of exterior Grace is silicone. I had no idea that was included in the plastics ban. Her marvelous breasts, her symmetrical ass were gone.
I hustled her through the door to meet my Caretaker before my sister noticed.
Val was shocked. Grace had the secondary sexual attributes of a 90 year old. She sagged ... if the foundation was plastic ... it was gone.
“AWK!” cried Grace ... one of the twentieth century great problems was the replacement China made clothes had ... plastic ... artificial thread ... it was gone. Grace’s clothes were on the hall floor. When she tried to cover up she grabbed flab.
Ceiling was totally up for it.
“Stick her in Sam,” he said. “Sam can fix almost anything.”
We pushed her through the Healing Chamber door.
“Finally,” Sam said. “Something new!” And the door swung shut.
Val and I went about our business ... said business being our business and none of your business. I do not kiss and tell. I am a gentleman. Well ... not on Crossroads or Chaos ... I might mention a thing or two when I publish.
Of course I’ll publish ... as science fiction ... I’d be fitted for a long sleeved canvas jacket with brass buckles in the back if I tried to pass this off as True.
Val and I sojourned to the seraglio ... did I not mentioned the story about Val’s fetish dream?. Her chamber is now all breeze stirred multi-colored silk panels between marble columns with a pool under a domed ceiling in the middle of a marble floor. She had a book from Earth that featured stills from 1930’s Hollywood movies about middle eastern Sultans and Arabian Sheiks ... and you know how often the movies portrayed those ... in Technicolor ... impossible colors along with impossible plots and improbable heroes.
She took it as gospel. How she got the idea to wear authentic belly-dance ... clothes? ... I’ll never know.
Not that I’m complaining. Val in see-through silk is a wonder to behold.
Sam spoke, “You want her fixed? or just fill out the sags?”
Grace hollered... “Just the sags, David.”
“You heard her, Sam. I have to live with her ... make her happy.”
Four hours later, Grace was a natural work of art ... and she knew it.
“Thank you, Sam!” Grace and I spoke as twins.
Sam said, “Thank you, Grace. First time for everything. I never did anything like that before. I polled the other chambers and, Grace ... you’re the first.”
“David,” Grace bounced. “You have to feel these. Plastic is so fake. These are So sensitive,” she pinched a nipple ... it stood. She shuddered.
“Real ... these are real. If I never thank you for anything again ... David ... thank you for this.”
She kissed me.
Val kissed me ... kissed Grace ... and said, “Come with me, Grace ... we’ll fix you up.”
Ten minutes later, I had two dancing girls ... and things went up from there.
Ceiling said, “There goes the Restorative surplus.”
We had a great time for a week ... the three of us. Natural Grace, Val and I explored the heights and depths of each other. Grace discovered she liked women ... and men ... we discovered Grace could be likable.
I think it was the relationship Grace had with Sam that changed her.
“Nice girl, that,” said the Healing chamber.
“Grace?” I said.
“Yeah,” Sam replied, “There was more wrong with her than her body. She had several blocked arteries in the brain. Cleared up the incipient cancerous cells too. And she was a carrier.”
“Carrier?” I asked.
“Kind of like your Typhoid Mary, infected people but doesn’t get sick herself.”
Sam wouldn’t say what Grace had ... exactly ... but Val and I took a turn in the box ourselves, Sam insisted.
“Chaos is bad enough without adding that to it, Cassandra doesn’t need it either,” Sam said.
When I say, Natural Grace, I mean that she looked exactly like she did at the prom, but it’s easy to tell it’s adipose flesh and not plastic. There is a certain jiggle, sway and bounce to the real thing that the surgeons don’t seem to be able to duplicate.
How does one make five pounds of fat look good?
Put a nipple on it.
It was certainly an attention getter: I didn’t think we were going to make it from the Bank in Fisher’s Bay to the Fish Inn. Grace is no beauty (says her prejudiced brother) and she’s not even in the running for Miss Cassandra, but she is, hands down, the prettiest woman these country bumpkins have ever laid eyes on.
They wanted to lay more than eyes on her ... for sure.
It seems I was destined to lower the population of each town we visited ... Grace has that effect on Chaos. I can’t say as I blame them.
We entered the Fish Inn. Dinner was in full song. Well ... full noise.
There were two slatterns serving and doing their level best to avoid hands.
Mine host, a greasy looking villain, presided over the bar.
“What can I do for you?” he asked.
“Room for two,” I replied.
“Three pinches room and the meal,” He replied, eying Grace. “Come morning there’s porridge supplied. Watered wine or beer?”
“Watered wine, and what ever you have.”
The stew was NOT fish ... or chowder ... nor pickled, smoked or dried fish. I suppose it reflected the attitude of the local population.
We might have to live with the stink but we don’t have to eat it too.
Instead of fish ... the meal of the day ... and the last several days by the looks of it ... was mystery meat and soggy vegetables. I thought I recognized a pea ... maybe. With enough salt and ... surprise ... pepper ... it was sufficient unto it’s purpose ... it made a turd.
The bread was hot, fresh and dripping butter ... heaven.
Getting through the meal without interruption, I enquired about the possibility of a bath.
“Two pinches for first water, a pinch thereafter ... each. If she,” he nodded at Grace, “so much as touches the water it’s a pinch.”
“So, three pinches if she gets in the first water tub with me?”
He looked at Grace again. He shuddered.
“That vision is beyond fair,” he said.
“You’re going to use your spy hole ... instead, I should charge you to watch me wash her.”
His eyes rolled back and a wet spot formed on his cod.
“Enough,” I said. “We’ll seek our baths in the river.”
And that’s what we did. Walking up stream until the first tributary, we bathed in the first wide spot we found, walked back to the inn and slept until morning. The pease porridge in the morning was better than the nights before stew.
Our damsel was in durance vile at a small fenced multi-family complex about 4 hours west of the harbor.
Well ... shit fuzzy... 4 hours west is an island. I suppose the four depends on the boat. Not that Val had mentioned an island ... all she had said was, “This should be an easy one, the damsel is just four hours out of town.”
The next time I saw her, I was going to ask Val where she got her information ... and who. I wanted to speak to the informant ... severely.
Now we had to find transportation. Row or sail. There were no pleasure craft. Sailors sail ... civilians don’t swim, they avoided the monsters of the deeps whenever possible. Passengers? Ha!
The available boats resembled the Viking Knarr. Knarr is the Old Norse term for a type of ship built for long sea voyages. The knarr was a square sailed single masted open hold cargo ship; the hull was wider, deeper and shorter than a longship, and could take more cargo and be operated by smaller crews. They were built with a length of about 50 feet, a beam of about 15 ft, and a hull capable of carrying up to 20 or so tons. Clinker built, with a stern rudder, they were primarily used to transport trading goods like walrus ivory, wool, timber, wheat, furs and pelts, honey, and iron. They were also used to supply food and drink to traders and villages. Although the technical term is Knarr, the Chaosans referred to them as boats. Small oared boats were called curricles.
Approaching the harbor area was interesting. It was guarded.
We were confronted.
“State your business.”
“Transport to the island.”
“You want what?” asked the guard.
“To find a captain who will take us to the island.”
“There’s more than one?”
“Seven,” he said.
“Islands,” again and then, “Seven Islands, that’s the name for it.”
“More like a chain,” the guard said, “Somebody said they’re Barrier islands.”
“Low lying sand islands with sea grass covered dunes?”
“You been here before?” he said, “I never seen ‘em ... but, yeah. The guy I talked to said that.”
“Never been here ... but we have them at home. Kinda long and narrow and they change in storms.”
“Yeah,” I said. “The waves wash away parts and move the sand elsewhere.”
“Oh, really?” he asked, “Where?”
“Does the sand move.” It was a question but not really.
I took out my dagger and crouched down, drawing in the dirt of the street. I drew what I remembered of the Gulf Coast.
“There’s gaps between the islands and the sand fills a gap here and opens one someplace else in the chain.” I erased parts of the islands and added parts to ‘em.
“Here now, pull the other one,” he said. “Islands don’t move.”
“How about in your grand da’s time?”
“Don’t know ... the gaffer is from the mountains,” the guard said. “Here comes Captain Igor ... ask him about the islands.”
Captain Igor didn’t walk ... he rolled. No doubt about it. The man was a seafarer.
The guard stopped the Captain and said, “This man and his woman are looking to get to the islands. Can you help?”
“William, nobody goes there.”
He turned to me, “What’s your business on the island?”
I figured a partial truth was better than a lie. “My sister,” pointing at Grace, “Is looking for her friend. The trail leads here.” Ok ... a total lie.
He looked at Grace, “She a beauty like you?”
“No,” said Grace. “She’s way prettier.”
“How do you intend to get back?” He asked.
“Steal a boat?” I said.
The Guard looked shocked.
The captain grinned.
“You know how to sail?” He laughed.
“Well, yeah ... grew up on a big lake. My dad had a 26 foot boat.”
The guard butted in, “Captain, he says those islands change when it storms. Is that true?”
“Yup ... doesn’t have to be a big storm, neither. You mind big John?”
“Him?” he said, “Yes.”
“He sailed behind an island during a storm and couldn’t get out because the inlet sanded over.”
“Well, I never...” said the Guard. “How did he get out?”
“The next storm opened a different channel.”
“Learn something new now and again,” said the Guard. “I don’t like it. Things shouldn’t change.”
“Well,” said Captain Igor, nodding at me, Grace and the Guard. “You coming or not?”
“Coming?” asked the Guard, and he shook his head violently.
“Coming?” asked Grace. She had found a stray kitten and was loving up on it.
“Yes, sir,” I said. I picked up my pack, shouldered it and gathered up my weapons. Grace set the stray down and picked her pack. We ... the three of us, Igor, Grace and myself, headed through the gate ... the kitten followed.
The harbor area was two Chaos blocks long and three wide.
I should probably clear that up. A block in Chaos is what ever it was between two groups of buildings. Someone might put a street where ever he needed it. At home, the streets between a group of houses is an alley. Organized like. Chaos doesn’t have that ... streets are where ever needed ... chaos ... you know. The street might not even be needed ... a whim works as well as a need.
The Mary and Rose, the ship, wouldn’t make a decent yacht. About 50 odd feet on deck and 15 or so wide, the Knarr was typical of the times. Open decked with a platform at either end ... crew forward, Captain aft. There was a steady stream of men unloading sacks of something from a high-wheeled wagon. They were mounting a gangway and storing the sacks in the hold. When we got close I could smell wheat ... but I also smelled coal.
“Almost done, Captain,” shouted a man carrying a rod ... he applied the rod at need to the bottom of a shirking crewman ... bosun? Cargo master? ... the rod was his badge of office.
The coal was loose ... not bagged. The wheat was stored on top ... lighter, I supposed.
The men doing the loading weren’t crew. Probably farmers or slaves.
The crew was singling up lines and preparing the spar and sail tor hoisting.
The last sack was situated ... the carriers off the ship. The tide turned. Lines were loosed, the spar and sail hoisted, slanted to catch the wind and the small ship tugged the stern to follow the bow and slowly moved off the quay.
The change in the ship from static to alive affected the crew and they gave a shout.
I turned to the Captain, “Nicely done, sir. Very smooth.”
“Tell me about your fathers boat.”
“Well, sir. It’s 26 feet on deck and 8 feet wide. The mast is about thirty feet ... something?”
He had that look... You’re shitting me.
“How do you keep it from turning over?”
“You have ballast?”
“Couldn’t keep a course without one.”
“Dad’s boat has a lead keel and no ballast.”
“Never heard of such a thing.”
He handed me a stick of charcoal and a sorta white scraped piece of deer hide. “Show me.” He said.
“Can I keep this?”
“Don’t see why not. You got an idea?”
He carefully put the hide between two boards. “Yup.”
We were at the bay mouth ... it got a little lively. The wind picked up and we nosed into the waves.
“Well, you ain’t sick. You done this before.” He gave me the eye, and said, “ Now ... tell me what you’re really doing.”
“Well...” I started.
Before I could come up with a believable lie he said, “You one of them Heroes?”
“Yes,” I confessed.
“You after that cockburner?” he asked. “The one on Fair Island.”
““Wendy Stage-manager,” I said.
“Pretty thing, she is.”
“They all are.”
Just then, the kitten ... Grace’s kitten ... made a mighty leap and nailed a rat. Not just any mouse but a rat twice the size of the kitten. Teeth sunk into the neck of the rodent, the feline gave the rat a great shake and broke its back. The crippled rat, rear legs useless, tried to dislodge the kitten but it was no use. Another shake and the neck broke ... then the kitten released its prey ... blood sprayed from the neck wounds. The kitten made a second prodigious leap and caught another rat. So far ... Cat- 2, rodents- 0.
We enjoyed the spectacle for about an hour. The cat laid 19 dead rats in a row at Grace’s feet ... and two small but deadly snakes.
Purring loudly, the tiny animal wound around and between Grace’s ankles. Grace picked up the cat and bumped noses.
“Aren’t you just the sweetest thing,” she said. The cat purred louder.
The Captain said, “I’ve never seen the like.” He shouted to the rod carrier, “Smith ... why don’t we have a cat in the crew?”
“Never considered it, Captain,” and he sneezed. Smith, the second mate, was allergic to cats.
“I’ll give a quad for that cat,” said the Captain.
“Not mine to sell or give ... you’ll have to ask the cat,” Grace replied.
“Ask the cat?”
“Yes. Cats are very finicky,” Grace said. “If a cat doesn’t like you there’s nothing you can do to keep it.”
“Lock it up?”
“You want the cat to catch rodents?” Grace said. “Can’t catch rats in a cage.”
“What do I do?”
Grace ruminated for a minute or two, then she said, “You need to find your own cat. The best way to do that is to go someplace that has a lot of cats and sit down.”
“Remember ... this little darling came to me. You need one like that. How about your fellow seafarers?”
“Do any of them have shipcats?”
“Not so you’d notice.”
The little fellow was sitting on Grace’s shoulder, tail wrapped around her neck. It looked for all the world that her cat was following along with the conversation. Suddenly, the feline jumped to the Captain’s shoulder and sniffed all around his face and hair. I don’t mind telling you ... the Captain was surprised. (MASSIVE understatement.) Grace was astonished ... me too.
I was next ... I had a distinct feeling I was being judged.
The cat abandoned me quickly ... looked at Grace ... looked at the captain and decided. Decided is the only way to put it. I had this feeling crawling around in my mind... You’re going to leave and I’ll be alone.
“That’s uncanny,” I said.
“What?” Grace asked.
“What does the Rule Book say about pets?”
“It doesn’t. Why?”
“Can we take this with us?”
Much later in life, a sly old hero brought a faulty old racing stallion through his portal ... stuck the horse in Sam and Sam rejuvenated the beast. They went to Chaos together ... but I didn’t know that. Besides ... the hero left the animal on Chaos.
I’ll have to give credit where credit is due ... Texans are like that ... yeah ... they are. Sneaky. If you were not born in Texas ... you are a target.
That was years in the future ... the cat didn’t want to take the chance ... and I’d been warned about live things in the bank box.
I suppose that was the reason the lice and other uncomfortable little clothes companions weren’t included when I called for my box on my next adventure on Chaos. They were there on deposit but not on withdrawal. Neat.
It was the cats own decision to switch humans ... never think ... not for a moment ... that cats are pets ... you might be the pet and the cat the owner, but never the other way around. By the time the cat has been with you a couple of weeks you are well on your way to being trained.
All that was present in my mind when Grace said, “Oh.” She looked the kitten in the eye ... the cat did the head bump thing they do to signify that they were perfectly happy with you ... but it was time for a change ... and life is fraught with disappointment ... but it’s not your fault ... Goodbye.
Grace did spend a few hours teaching the Captain about care and feeding ... and the itchy places a cat loves to have scratched ... not that they can’t reach those spots ... but they’d rather you do it.
The most important lesson was Down ... I want down ... I want it now ... and don’t you forget it.
The second lesson? Sand ... lots of it ... and a box.
By the time the Captain was trained ... much to the jollies of the crew ... the Mary and Rose was approaching Fair Island ... in the late twilight.
“The harbor is tricky in the daylight. Too damn tricky in the dark. We’re going to let you off on the far side.” He chuckled. “Can you climb?”
“It depends ... how steep?”
“Not bad ... the goats do it all the time.”
I skrinched up my eyes and grinned, “That bad?”
“Could be worse.”
It can always be worse. This one would have to work at it.
Still and all ... we didn’t have to swim for it...
The far side was exposed to the send of the sea ... but there was a boat sized entry surrounded by fallen boulders ... read cliff parts ... and the ships boat had to shoot for it ... no broken oars ... they surfed it. A couple of zigzag turns ... mostly navigated by using the oars to push off the boulders. Beneath the cliff was a bit of calm water. There was a flat place that fronted a small cave ... and the cliff was ONLY fifty feet. We had a ship supplied rope ... only a quad ... thank you.
“We’ll be back in two days ... more or less ... be at the harbor ... we’ll pick you up.” There was a long pause...
... long enough for the ships boat to back away out of reach... “If you live.”
Once the boat was turned, the Captain shouted, “Say hello to my brother for me.”
“Who is your brother?”
“The owner of your damsel.”
“You know, I’ll have to kill him.”
“Good ... he’s an asshole, now, an asshole growing up and the bastard killed our parents. Their bodies were never found. I hope the SOB suffers.”
“What’s his name?”
“Ivan ... we’re twins ... looks just like me.” The little boat made the last boulder and he needed to concentrate.
“Come on Grace. We have a climb ahead.”
Grace came out of the cave. She’d gone in to get out of the spray.
“Why don’t we just take the stairs?”
“The ones at the back of the cave.”
And sure enough ... behind a double bend there were torches and a set of steps.
“Smugglers cave,” she said.
“Look at all the crates.”
Sure enough ... a large room off to the side featured crates, barrels and a couple of oared small boats on cradles.
Just then, I heard a door open and voices. We jumped behind the pile of boxes and barrels.
Fourteen men in long hooded cloaks carrying a couple of pineknot torches ran down the steps and into the cavern.
A fifteenth man, Captain’s twin, Ivan, stepped into the room. “You fellas know what to do.”
And they did.
It was a well trained crew that took up the boats ... six to a side with a helmsman to steer. They made short work of carrying the craft to the flat rock floor outside the cave. Launching, they unshipped oars and rowed away. Ivan rubbed his hands together and laughed. The cavern echoed with it.
It gave me an idea.
As the last of the echo died away, I whispered in falsetto, “Ivan ... you have been a very bad boy.” I looked at Grace. She grinned.
“What? Who’s there?”
Grace whispered, “Your mother.”
“My bones are cold ... my poor dead gnawed wet bones ache.”
Even whispered, the room reverberated with the sound. Such were the acoustics that Ivan was spinning ... trying to find the source.
“I need my rest, Ivan ... my rest. You need to bury our bones ... Rest ... I need my rest ... rrreeessst.”
Throwing my voice at the side away I groaned, “Ivan ... Ivan.”
“Aye ... why Ivan? Didn’t we love you?”
“You loved my brother more?”
In front of me was a barrel of flour that was leaking. I dusted myself and a blanket with it. Folding the blanket in half I thrust a knife in the fold and cut a neck hole. I slipped it on.
The fabric made a tearing sound that echoed.
“Wwwhat is that?”
I laughed ... evily as I could. “The veil, Ivan ... the shroud of death ... the other side, Ivan. I’m coming, Ivan. I’m coming for you.”
I stood ... dusted grey and white. Grace rattled in her throat. Ivan stood transfixed.
“Nooo! You’re dead ... dead I say.” He threw his torch first, then a knife. Had he kept the torch he would have seen he missed. As it was he was sure the knife passed through me and shattered against the cavern wall. He drew his sword.
Grace hoisted the torch ... but never showed her face.
The floating torch unnerved him. He spun ... knocked over a demijohn of oil and it shattered. He slipped. Oil soaked he fled. Grace threw the torch ... a lucky toss. He burned like a vat of oil. He ran out ... towards the water and tottered in. There was a brief flare on the water.
“It can’t be that easy,” said Grace.
Grace is proving ... daily ... that she has brains ... and I have memory.
Case in point:
“Ready?” I had unslung the rope in preparation to scale the heights. “Let’s go.”
She said, “It seems to me that our foe came down the stairs.” She pointed to the stairs outside the the storeroom. “If they came down ... we should go up.”
And that’s what we did. Not only did we go up ... easily ... the top landing door opened in the kitchen of a mighty nice house ... for Chaos ... very fine. We freaked the cook out.
I was still in my ghostly attire.
She screamed and took out running.
“Heck,” I said. Or something like it ... but much less family friendly.
Grace said, “And Shuckydarn!” Get the picture?
“I was hoping to question the wench,” I mentioned to Grace.