Chapter Twenty-One — The Siege and Its Disasters

Jon watched the others climb up the ropes to the pirate ship. He watched Tam particularly, and so he saw at once when Tam lurched, with an exclamation, and began to slide back down. Jon helped him catch his balance as he landed back in the boat with rope-burned hands.

“Sorry ma’am, I wasn’t expecting . . .” Tam stammered. “This is an awkward time ma’am, majesty, Lady Queen, ma’am.”

Jon stared at him. “Are you really—is she really?”

“Shh,” Tam said. “Sorry, not you. Oh, dear. I mean to look after him, ma’am. And I’d be glad to talk after. Yes, of course. I’ll be careful. Thank you, ma’am.”

Tam collapsed into a sitting position in the middle of the boat. “That was the Queen,” he said. “And I told her shh.”

“I’m sure she’ll understand. Let’s go see about the Professor.”

“She wants to talk later.” Tam blinked. “You’re sure I didn’t take no Corta?”

“I’m sure.”

When Tam started climbing again, Jon followed him this time, and Tam didn’t forbid it. They made it over the rail to see the deck swarming with girls taking down the last few pirates, who were keeping as far from the Professor as possible. The Professor stood before the big doors to the hold with a long fishing spear in his hands. Blood ran slowly down his scarred body from several wounds, none of which seemed to slow him. He wasn’t shaking or screaming any longer, but he didn’t seem himself either. He paused at the door and stared at the back of one of his own hands. “I keep changing, why do I . . . Jossua, there’s darkness here like nothing I’ve ever felt.”

Tam and Jon exchanged glances.

The Professor straightened, his posture loosened, and he spun the spear round in an effortless arc. “Don’t fear, Corin. Let’s bring in some light.” He reversed the spear and brought it down on the lock with a bright grin, completely alien on his face.

“They aren’t him,” Tam said. “They’re memories he’s living. He’s closer to the surface now, though. I can feel him thinking again inside there.”

The lock gave way, and the Professor threw open the doors with a strength Jon hadn’t suspected.

“Stay away,” a man’s thready voice came from below. “I don’t know what you are, but I won’t let you hurt my boys.”

Temanava rushed forward, and Tam and Jon with her. “What will he do?” Temanava asked.

“I don’t know,” Jon said.

The Professor dropped the spear and extended a hand, again flashing that warm, reassuring smile that wasn’t his. “You’re safe now. You don’t have to be in the dark and cold anymore. Let’s get you out of there.”

Temanava and the boys came up behind him, careful, and Jon pushed the spear a little farther away. The Professor’s eyes moved to him, or a point just above him. “Help me with him, Corin, I think he’s afraid of me.”

“He’s remembering being rescued,” Tam said, quietly.

A thin man climbed up out of the hold, and looked at them nervously. Jon recognized him as the father who had been looking for passage earlier. Others climbed out next: the man’s sons, sailors and laborers of several races, and some younger men and boys, a few even younger than Jon.

“Where are my sisters?” Temanava demanded.

The Professor collapsed suddenly, and Tam and Jon caught him, keeping him from pitching down into the hold.

“Well, he doesn’t hurt to touch no more,” Tam said, “and that’s a relief.”

“Professor,” said Jon. “You did it, you saved people.”

“Where are my sisters?” Temanava asked the thin man, again.

“They put the women on other boats,” the man said. “I am sorry. We, here, were to be sold as indentured labor. I’m don’t know what they meant to do with my wife and daughters. I’m afraid for them.”

Temanava cursed, and whipped away from them to stand against a rail, looking down at the water with shaking shoulders.

Two of the girls dragged forward a bruised, bound pirate. “I don’t know!” he was shouting. “Look, things have been ugly these past few months. Vasca’s been making examples, and running things tight. No one but him knows where all the operations are.”

“Where do we find Vasca?” Temanava asked, without turning.

“No one meets Vasca without an invite. I’ve only seen him twice myself,” the pirate stammered.

“I need to find my sisters, and you need to help me,” Temanava said, turning at last, “or it will be very bad for you.”

“Sorry, miss, I don’t know your sisters,” the man said.

“The girls from the school. All the women. Where are they being held?”

“The premium merchandise? No one’s getting near that until they dock at Maribelle.”

“Maribelle is the last civilized nation that hasn’t outlawed slavery,” Jon realized. “But it’s illegal even there to bring in new slaves. And I thought they wouldn’t take the law because they don’t like laws, not because anyone thinks it’s right to own people.”

“We sell ‘em all with papers that say they’re been owned for years,” the sailor said, wilting under angry stares. “People don’t question those rich enough to buy from Vasca. Property’s a protected right in Maribelle. It’s in the freedom proclamation they filed when they broke from Arien. Liberty and property.”

“Just not liberty for property,” Tam growled.

“Are they already on the way to Maribelle?” Temanava asked.

“I don’t know.” The man shook his head violently. “If they aren’t yet, they will be soon. Vasca is taking the fleet out as soon as we’ve got a full cargo on each vessel.”

“How many vessels in the fleet?” Temanava asked.

“I don’t know,” the man said. “A year ago we had four, but fortunes have gone up and down. Everything’s in secrecy now since Vertris tried to set up his own territory and took the Soaring Hindleman. That’s at the bottom of the ocean now.”

“You’re very talkative,” Tam noted.

“They promised if I told you everything they wouldn’t let the Wreck drag me down to the depths.” The sailor nodded toward the Professor. “Gods know how you heathens summoned it up, or what you sacrificed to it, but I‘ll do anything if you just keep me safe from its cold clutches.”

“The Wreck,” the Professor whispered hoarsely, from where he slumped in Tam’s hold. “That feels an accurate description at the moment. Where are we, may I ask?”

“The wrong ship, it seems,” Tam whispered. “And you keep quiet. We need you dangerous and mysterious, seems like. You’d best not move, regardless, as you’re all full of holes.”

“That, ah, explains the pain,” the Professor whispered, wincing.

Jon squeezed the Professor’s hand. “I’m so glad you’re you again, sir.”

“Was I someone else?”

“A few,” Tam said. He cleared his throat. “Um, the Wreck must be fed. This one would make a good meal, most like.” He nodded at the sailor. “He knows a lot to be not knowing so much.”

The sailor wailed. “I swear I don’t know where Vasca has the other ships, I don’t! No one trusts me with important things. Sometimes I talk when I drink, see.”

“Let’s start with a list of harbors where you’ve anchored,” Temanava said, arms crossed. “Tam, you help take those we’ve rescued to the boats.”

“Yes, ma’am, but I’ve been thinking. This ship. It’s in fine condition still. There are cannons. And some of these folk we loosed are sailors. We can’t hide this many in the, er, hideout. We can take this ship, though, and look for the other ships.”

Temanava thought this over. “We could have a ship. I’d never . . . that’s an interesting idea. See who can sail, and who will join us.”

“I will, and my boys,” the thin man offered. “I want to rescue the rest of my family from these pirates. Others here will as well.”

“I just want work.” One man with a mustache shrugged. “Without whippings,” he amended.

“I think we can do that,” Tam said. He started organizing the new crew, and Jon was left to look after the Professor.

“I’m sorry,” the Professor said. “I’ve never, that was—”

“You were hurting very much, Tam says.” Jon dabbed carefully at the blood, trying to apply pressure without causing more pain.

“All that, and we didn’t save the girls.” The Professor closed his eyes.

“We’ll try again,” Jon said, a little hopelessly.

“What I did . . . I don’t think I can do that again.”

“I don’t think you should either, sir.”

“Even with fire, I was fairly useless.”

“I wouldn’t say that, sir. And look at Tam. You fixed him somehow.”

“I don’t understand what happened.”

“I don’t either, sir, but you did good things, amid all the mad ones. What can you remember?”

The Professor shuddered deeply. “I, I don’t think I can. I . . . Thinking about it feels like falling backward down a dark well I’m not sure I could climb back out of.”

“You rescued people, and got the ocean to help, too. And you’re healing pretty fast from being stabbed.”

“Was anyone else stabbed?”

“No, I think it was just you.”

“That’s good, anyway.” The Professor leaned back and closed his eyes.

*     *     *

The chaos in Trimela’s streets was similar to other tight spots Kara had been in, but this time she had Ellea’s prim voice to keep her company. Ellea steered her clear of the fruit company mercenary scouts roaming the streets, the twitchy-fingered Levour troops holed up near the fourth pier and hotel, and the mining corps barricades.

With Ellea’s directions, she found a Kaunatoan group in the market district, patrolling with clubs. “The Heir is holding the school against the invaders,” she told them, perched safely on a nearby rooftop.

The big, tattooed Kaunatoans glared up at her in suspicion.

“Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps it’s another prince who wields the club Manawune, which in the hands of Kibatiral the Tall Boar, defeated Nambuka the Mighty, Edouwe the High, and crushed the brains from the skull of Tainafi. What do I know?” She grinned, and left them wide-eyed, to scuttle across rooftops and drop back down into the alleys.

“Tell the family behind the door on your right that there is shelter at the school.” Ellea said. “Tell them Hanu is already there.”

“Fine,” Kara said, and did. There were surprised murmurs from inside.

“Can you knock the head of the man in the next alley? He’s a bit too excited about starting fires and watching everything burn.”

“Good thing he’s doing it far from the gunpowder stores then.” Kara crept up on the man easily. He was kneeling, coaxing flames from a stack of oily rags. She knocked him out handily with a bamboo stick and was quite proud of herself.

“Why didn’t you tell me there were gunpowder stores?”

“I don’t tell you everything. Don’t you know everything anyway?” Kara stamped out the fire before it caught the floor or the roof.

“While I am flattered by your overestimation of my abilities, I’m horrified you haven’t realized—“

“Shut up,” Kara said,feeling chills. “If any of the mercenaries get their hands on the gunpowder they can blow up the gates to the school.”

“And a lot of other things, yes, congratulations.”

“We have to blow that warehouse up first.”

“I become deeply worried when I agree with you.” Ellea mentally sighed.

*     *     *

Djaren looked out into the darkness. Storm clouds kept the moon covered, and the other watchers on the school walls seemed unable to see very far into the night. What Djaren could see wasn’t particularly helpful. There was fighting, house to house now, in the distance, but only a few stray fighters had approached the gates. They’d made threats and demanded entrance, but were easily turned away with a hail of rocks and a Kaunatoan challenge shout from the defenders. It seemed they were waiting for backup before trying again. “We would sound better if more of our forces had men’s voices,” Isakoa lamented.

“It would look better if we had more people up on the walls,” Meister Feinhardt said, staring down into the dark.

“Most of our people not defending the gates are tending the weak souls inside.” Sister Agata came up to the walls, tucking her shawl closer around her.

“And those refugees would be a sorry sight on the walls.” Feinhardt sighed. “We don’t want to encourage our attackers.”

“Think that it’s as hard for them to see what’s on the walls as it is for you to see down?” Djaren asked.

“One can only hope,” Feinhardt said.

“Then what about the saint statues in the attic?”

“The what?”

Half an hour later a line of new defenders began appearing to stare down at the growing forces below.

Sister Marda was practically dancing on the lawn. “And the saints shall defend the righteous against their enemies,” she said. “All things come to pass as the One God has decreed.”

“I just wish the saints weren’t quite so heavy,” a Kaunatoan boy muttered, hefting Saint Baridbas along with four other sturdy boys.

Djaren grinned, hauling along Kara’s bag to hide somewhere else. “Ellea, how is Kara?”

“We’ve got wind of a storehouse full of Levour arms and gunpowder.”

“There’s no time to collect that, and not enough men to defend it. We’d best blow it all up or drown it, before it falls to the enemy,” Djaren said.

“She wants to blow it up.”

“That’s what I would do.”

“That’s just part of why you two will destroy half the world if you marry.”

This cheered Djaren oddly.

“The timing is going to have to be very precise,” Ellea continued.

“I don’t suppose it’s likely to happen for decades yet, even with some miracle.” Djaren sighed.

“Focus! I’m talking about the gunpowder.”

“Sorry, yes. How can I help?”

“Don’t distract me again for half an hour at the least,” Ellea snapped at him.

Djaren sighed, and tucked Kara’s bag into an instrument case in the music room. “I want to be blowing things up,”he told no one in particular.

“There you are!” Anna said, as he walked back out to the lawn. She had a box with compartments in it, and little bundles in the compartments. “I think I have the flash powder mixed correctly. You should be able to make those light arrows you were on about now.”

Djaren examined the bundles. They were just right for fitting over arrow heads. “Did the little girls help you tie these?” One had a flower painted on it, and another had a sun.

“Yes, we had a lovely little lesson about science using simple photography materials and chemistry class compounds.”

“Did you ever think of becoming a teacher?” Djaren asked her.

Anna laughed. “Maybe.”

Together they took the new supplies up to the walls to see how work was progressing. The saints, draped with blankets and propped against bundled sticks that might resemble rifles from below, were set evenly about the walls. The smaller boys, Kaunatoan and Pao’ulu both, stood on crates or boxes to look taller, and held large sticks. The bigger boys stood mixed with the others, and carried real weapons. Their expressions were grim.

Djaren joined Isakoa, and looked down. A large force of rough-looking men had assembled at the gate, with torches. One man in a ruined greatcoat, with a particularly cruel face and two rifles strapped to his back, shouldered forward through them.

“This is now the property of the Sola West Sea Fruit Company,” he barked. “And you will surrender it to us, with the value of the property preserved. You’ll be recompensed the value of the property by the company within ninety days of contract. If you don’t surrender, then you’ll see the property lose some of that value shortly. And you’ll start suffering losses you can’t afford.”

“That is the strangest declaration of invasion I have ever heard,” Djaren whispered to the prince.

“It is what they say before burning down our jungle or plantations. Later their law men say in foreign courts that they acted in a legal way to protect their company’s men and property.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“I agree,” Isakoa said. He raised his voice. “Sola West Sea Fruit Company, I revoke your rights to any holdings on the Tembelaka Islands, by order of the sovereign ruler, Prince Isakoa. I order you to leave these islands with only the supplies you brought here on your ships, and I award all lands formerly owned or occupied by your company to the united people of Tembelaka.”

“Prince Isakoa is not a legally recognized entity with whom I’ve been authorized to enter negotiations,” the man said.

“Then you’re not going to get very far,” Isakoa said. “This is the royal residence, I am the prince, and any attack on this residence will be seen as an act of war.”

The man looked up at the others on the walls. In the torchlight, Djaren knew, he would see the ruse for what it was. “You are sad fools led by a child,” he said. “Note that we have made our rightful claim. We will now commence a takeover as defined and stipulated in our contract signed with your government twenty years ago.”

“And amended with new concessions by every greedy governor since,” Feinhardt muttered.

“Ready slings,” Isakoa ordered, then, to the man below, “Retreat from our walls. Negotiations are over.”

A large explosion suddenly ballooned from down by the port. The force of it rattled the wall, even at that distance. Parts of the docks and dockside buildings were on fire. The men below scattered a bit to see what was happening, while their leader berated them for breaking formation.

“Kara,” Djaren said. “Ellea, what happened?”

There was no answer. Djaren dashed to the room where he and Anna had settled Ellea safely in a bed. He found Anna in a heated argument with Sister Marda, and Ellea still unconscious, slumped more mussily in the bed than they had left her.

“She is possessed! She is not natural!” Sister Marda was shrieking.

“You drugged a child!” Anna shouted back.

“She was doing demons’ work.” Sister Marda crossed her arms. “I have seen her work charms, and pull secrets from the minds of men. It is the demon within her that does these things.”

Djaren knelt by Ellea’s side, and found a pulse at her thin wrist. She was breathing, though slowly. Daring to break one rule under extraordinary circumstances, Djaren touched her mind, and found it too disoriented to damage him—confused, floaty and annoyed, but without the focus to channel that annoyance into anything productive. “Where’s Kara?” he asked the fuzzily floating collections of boxes and puzzles and odd little objects Ellea usually kept neat for organizing.

There was no answer beyond bleary annoyance and frustrated wafting.

Djaren opened his eyes and glared at Sister Marda. “She’s not possessed! Look, when did you do this? How long has she been like this?”

Sister Marda thinned her lips and said nothing.

“I only left her for a minute, to bring you the chemical bundles.” Anna twisted her hands. “I didn’t think anyone crazy was going to try to hurt her.”

“Sister Marda,” Djaren said. “I know what Ellea can seem like, but she’s not evil. She has rules, and maybe it’s been hard to keep them lately, but we fight demons, not befriend them.”

Sister Marda took a step back, and made some vaguely religious looking gesture. “Your blood is cursed, cursed with ancient sins.” Her eyes rolled back a little, and her voice went hoarse. “The serpent will come unto you, and you shall be powerless. Darkness will enter you and twist your words to its own. You will suffer torment and be broken, a shell for evil to inhabit. Your sister will make a home for a great darkness that seeks to destroy all that is holy.”

Djaren and Anna stared at Sister Marda, as she reeled and then spoke normally again. “That is what the saints have told me,” she said.

“I think your saints are mad,” Anna said. “Get out.”

Sister Marda did, looking flustered.

Anna flopped down on the bed beside Ellea once Sister Marda had gone. “What was that?”

“I don’t know, but it sounds like Ellea and Kara lost contact well before the explosion, and now if Kara’s not smithereens she’s got no way to let us know if she’s in danger, or hurt, or needs help!” Djaren punched the floor and winced. “Ow.”

Anna looked worried. “I don’t know how dangerous that stuff she gave Ellea is. Ought we try to wake her with smelling salts?”

Djaren found a bottle on the bedside table, labeled in Cormuradan, “Extract of Paper Flower.” He cross-referenced the plant’s scientific name and its properties—a fast-acting but mostly harmless sedative that worked by injection or ingestion. “Better not. Ellea’s very particular about her mind, and pulling her suddenly out of this might disorder things worse.” With the beginnings of an idea, he pocketed the bottle. “Can you keep watch over Ellea so that madwoman doesn’t try anything else?” he asked Anna. “Also the fruit company might be attacking soon.”

“The fruit company. Is attacking,” Anna repeated. “This whole place is mad!”

On his way back to the walls, Djaren couldn’t shake the feeling that Kara might be in trouble. It grew in his mind that she could be stuck somewhere, hurt, and angry at him. His plan coalesced, and he jogged to the back of the grounds where he found practice arrows in the shed near the archery targets. They weren’t very sharp, but he didn’t intend to go killing anyone. “It isn’t good for the soul,” Mother had told him, very seriously, “and it changes who you are in a way you can never get back.”

Djaren took the arrows, and strung the easiest bow to draw. He met and waved to the boys posted on the walls near the chicken coop, who had been bringing the latest refugees in by lifting them on rope harnesses, now that the gate was besieged. Although there were shouts out in the distance, the gardens below the wall were, for the moment, free of fighting.

“Can you lower me down, quickly?” Djaren asked Nahaka, one of Isakoa’s bodyguards, who seemed to be in charge here.

“Does the prince know that you are leaving?” Nahaka crossed his arms. “Is this part of his plan?”

“Ah, no.” Djaren began tying Anna’s chemical packets to arrows, and handed two of them to Aruke, who was also up on wall, and had gotten himself a bow. “Nahaka, tell the prince I’m sorry, but a friend needs my help.”

“You’re going into the streets?” Aruke asked, looking from the arrows to Djaren in confusion. “You would not last in the city even before.”

“Karo is out there.” The worry had become a knowing, in the back of his mind. He even had a building’s shape in his mind’s eye, and the sense that flames were flickering brighter and closer.

“The rude thief did bring many people to safety,” Nahaka admitted.

“I kept telling him it was stupid,” Aruke said. “And he said that if he didn’t go, someone stupider would.”

“Oh,” said Djaren. “Well, that settles it then.” He grabbed one of the ropes and prepared to climb down.

“They’ll kill you,” Aruke said.

“Not if they don’t see me.” He pointed to the arrows Aruke was holding. “Light them, then shoot over that way. They should draw attention away from where I’ll be.” He tossed the rest of his new illuminating arrows to Nahaka. “Give these to the prince.”

“Won’t you need them?” Aruke asked.

“Not to find the one I’m looking for.” Djaren could see the fires near the docks from here, and the crowded dark mess between him and those fires. “I’ll be back before morning, I hope. Have some harnesses ready, all right?”

He concentrated clearly on his memories of Kara, and the unsettled feeling that she was hurt and angry. A dark spark of annoyance and fear lit in his mind, in the direction of the fire. Djaren climbed down into the dark as light arrows burst in brilliance off to his right. Won’t you be angry if I rescue you.

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