The miles this day have passed far more quickly and with greater ease. For my part, I have Balthazar to thank, for his words did settle much of the turmoil in my soul. Now I suffer only from impatience: I must reach Charleston. I must reach Bermuda. I must reach my Grace. But this is a familiar unease, and not a perilous one; it helps to marshal my faculties for the coming struggle.
We did begin this day’s travel in a leisurely fashion; in truth, we remained at the comfortless Comfort Inn until noon. The morning was spent in fulfilling our bargain with the Grables: I and Shane are now capable of piloting a beast-wagon. We have learned to raise it from its slumber, by the turning of a key, and how to goad it forward, turn it, and bring it to a halt. There are finer details, George Grable insists; we do not use our turn-signals as he calls them – but this mystifies me: could a man not see that my beast-wagon be turning, without he sees a lantern’s intermittent glow? Have these people no powers of observation at all? – but in the main, we know the running of these metal beasts. Shane is more skilled than I, to my chagrin; I am too easily vexed by the various knobs, protrusions, mirrors, lights and sounds. Bah. I will sit beside the man at the wheel and navigate, as a captain should.
Lynch has also had a productive day of studies: he has spent the day with young Chester Grable, bent over various magic windows and Verizon stones, hearkening to the youth’s instruction in their purpose and use. Shane’s first time at the beast-wagon’s wheel coursed Lynch and the Grables to a ‘phone store, where Lynch handed over dollar-papers in exchange for a certain time of life for his new eye-phone, given him from the unclaimed and unreturnable loot held by the Grables. He then spent the entirety of our journey this day with his gaze locked to his eye-phone (‘Tis the perfect name, as it is the only object on which his eye rests), his thumbs rubbing over its smooth surface, his company lost to us. He puts me in mind of the Lotus-Eaters. I do hope he will break free of this ensorcelling in time; I have need of him.
Still and all, we have once more course three hundreds of miles; as the sun set, we came into a town of middling size that hight Kenly; tonight we have taken a room at a Quality Inn. The innkeep had but a single large room vacant of guests, a room with two of the larger sort of bed; we asked for a received a cot, as well, the which I have claimed so that I do not have to share. Kelly has sworn that he is sufficiently recovered to sleep on his side, and thus silence his baleful snoring. We shall see. Lynch will once more sleep in the beast-wagon, and MacManus has received permission to use his elbows to remind Kelly not to sleep flat on his back.
At the innkeep’s suggestion, we did dine this eve at a local tavern named Stormin’ Norman’s Barbecue; they served a proper portion of meat, with a most savory sauce. It was a proper tavern, as well, with much company, conversation, and laughter, with a proper sort of music sweetening our hearts as we dined. (Though I was disappointed they did not have wine; still, there was ale to be had for all but Lynch and Chester – Lynch at first complaining, but then happily joining Chester in the consumption of this “root beer.”) Young Chester did not find the music to his taste; he named it “country” and says he prefers wrap; but I thought it most enjoyable, as it sounded in my ears as somewhat akin to the music of home: there were ballads of a mournful or lyrical nature, slow of pace and rich with pathos, and then there were faster tunes like jigs and reels, though none of the company there struck up a dance – perhaps because the music’s players themselves were not present. Many a time have I seen a minstrel cajole and chivvy a crown into dancing to his tune; without that encouragement, the music alone is not enough, it seems, to stir the blood and move the feet of these Americalish.
We then returned to the inn, where we endeavored to instruct George Grable in the art of navigation. We do not have a sextant, but we taught him to reckon direction from the Pole Star (First we taught him how to find it; I cannot understand the depths of ignorance in which these people wallow: how could knowledge as simple as the naming of stars in the sky have been lost?) and how to cast the log to reckon speed; from these, with good charts, he can begin to know his way. We showed him how to use the width of his thumb, two fingers, or his whole hand to measure the sun’s height above the horizon, and from that to know an approximation of his latitude – which is enough for a sailor, aye, if not for a mapmaker. We told him all we could of sailing a ship without being aboard an actual vessel; he seemed most avid to learn what we could tell him, and declared himself well-satisfied by our bargain.
I was not entirely satisfied: because even after I called on him to participate, Lynch did not join in and assist us with teaching Grable what he knows of sailing. He spent the eventide as had spent the day, bent into a gaffer’s hunch over his eye-phone like a monk at his copying. At last I had had enough, and while Shane and Kelly were teaching Grable to estimate wind speed and direction, I went to him and plucked it from his grasp; ‘tis a mark of his distraction that, even though the youth’s reflexes are faster than mine own, he merely blinked owlish at me for a moment, his hand rising, reaching out for the phone like a babe begging for its sugar-tit.
I looked at the ‘phone, but the light irritated my eyes. “Why have you forsaken your mates for this glowing rock?” I growled at him.
He clenched his jaw and furrowed his brow. “I have not,” quoth he.
I quirked an eyebrow at him. “It seems to me that we have been bereft of your company, if not separated from your carcass, all of this past day’s hours.”
He folded his hands in his lap; he was seated on the ground at the edge of the stone field where the beast-wagons are kept, his back against a metal post. “I am learning,” he said, and I noted a glint in his eye.
“Learning what, how to lose your soul into this enchanted mirror?” I asked, waggling the ‘phone by his face.
Now I saw his reflexes: because he snatched the ‘phone from my grasp, quick as a trice. “I’m learning everything,” he said, and then hunched once more, curving his body protectively over the ‘phone like a mother over its babe. I abandoned him to it, though my heart is sore; I hope he is not lost to us. To me. I must no0t ester him over it, I know. I know it.
I had hoped to confide in him, once more.
It has been an eventful evening. I feel I do not entirely grasp what these events portend, but I see the weight of them. I feel it.
We retired to the room, Grable the elder having proven he could read the position of the stars and approximate latitude given a specific celestial light as a marker for the sun at various times of day. Lynch accompanied us, and was closeted with young Chester – in the closet, in truth; the room is not overly spacious, and I think Balthazar has wearied of my company. Perhaps I have looked maudlin at him. Or heaved sighs. By Dagda, I hope I haven’t sighed.
Shane drove the wagon to a nearby market and returned with rum and brandy, and we had been taking our ease with it, when the noise started. It came from the adjoining room, the sounds of a vituperative argument. A married couple, I’d wager, based on the shrill screeching and the sheer venom of the voices. We could not make out the words, but the tone was clear.
“Should we do something?” Goodman Grable queried, taking a tiny sip of the brandy. He drinks like a child, or a doddering granny; but this habit means that on the morrow he will be able to steer the wagon true, so I stopped Shane from laughing at him.
At those words, we all three did stare, and his eyes tacked from man to man. “I mean, pound on the wall, or something?” he continued. “Let them know we can hear them?”
“Why would we do that?” I asked, reaching out for the brandy bottle, which he gave into my hand. As I spoke, the closet opened and Lynch and Chester Grable emerged.
“It’s really loud in there,” said Chester, gesturing towards the wall.
The elder Grable nodded to his son, and then answered my query. “You know, to try to stop it before – before somebody gets hurt.”
I exchanged a look with Kelly, and another with Shane. I did not look at Lynch, for I could see from the edge of my eye that he was glaring at me, at all three of his mates. I turned back to Grable. “’Tis no wisdom to step between lovers in a brouhaha. Less so to step between man and wife.”
“Man and wife,” Kelly murmured, meaning the couple next door; I nodded. Surely lovers would not carry on at this volume for this long.
Grable looked at all of us, then at Lynch. Lynch shook his head and then stomped into the washroom – a private lavatory, these rooms had, which was the sole claim of either comfort or quality which I had seen this inn make – and closed the door vigorously. It did seem a luxury to relieve one’s self and wash without stepping into the cold night air or fetching water; too, I appreciated not having my men use a chamberpot right by my bed as I slept. For the nonce, it served as a private cabin for Lynch’s ire. Grable shrugged, beckoned his son to sit beside him on the bed, and then he turned on the room’s magic window, the which drowned out the bulk of the hurly-burly in yonder room.
Until he began to strike her.
We could hear it all: the blow, an open hand on a cheek, with a crack like canvas in a storm wind; she cried out and then began to weep. There were more blows; she was flung against the wall, and he roared in anger while she pleaded. He struck her again. And then again.
Grable stood. “We have to call the cops!”
I stood then, and placed myself before the room’s telephone. “No policia. We be hunted men.”
Grable shook, his face pale and sickly as the woman’s cries continued. By the Morrigan, would the woman not be silent? Did she not know that her caterwauling drove him on, and on? If she would but suffer in silence, he would cease – and then she could cut his throat while he slept. I would offer my dagger to the cause.
“Then you do something!” Grable said, the effort to sound gruff clear in his voice, but belied by his face, by his shaking hands.
I shook my head. “She is no kin of mine, nor any of ours. It is not our concern.”
Grable threw up his hands. “We have to do something! He’s going to kill her!” He may have been right; her cries had fallen to whimpers and grunts, and still, the blows fell.
I crossed my arms. “If he does so, we will bring him before a magistrate to face justice.”
Grable grabbed my shirt. “That’s not good enough!”
I quirked an eyebrow at him. I drew my wheel-gun from my belt and proffered it to him. “Play the man, then, Master Grable,” quoth I.
Grable released my shirt and fell back away from me. He returned to his bed, put his arm around his son, and hung his head.
I nodded. “Aye. A man takes care of his own, first.”
Of a sudden, then, Balthazar Lynch stood before me, his eyes aflame; I flinched back from him. He snatched the wheel-gun from my hand. “A good man does more,” he said to me, his voice so low that only I could hear him.
‘Twas as if he struck a blow, and now it was I who fell back away from him. He turned from me and strode quickly out of the room. Then we heard a pounding fist on the neighboring door. “Open for the Watch,” Lynch called, trying to pitch his voice low and manly. Then he remembered where we were, and the words these people used. “Policia!” he shouted, pounding again.
The sound of blows stopped, the woman’s whimpering fading. Then we heard the door open, and the man began to speak.
Lynch did not give him the chance. Instantly we heard a sharp blow, and the man grunted; then there were two more similar sounds, and the door flung hard ’gainst a wall. The woman cried out, and there was a scuffle; we could hear Lynch cursing, and the man first grunting as blow after blow sounded through the wall – and then he was howling.
Shane winced. “Lad got him in the stones,” he said, and the rest of us winced in turn.
Then there was a second, identical howl.
Then a third.
“Christ, lad,” Shane muttered, “ye’ll geld the man, if ye keep at it.”
But it seemed that Lynch was satisfied with that, for the sounds of combat ended. We heard Balthazar’s voice, low and solicitous, and we heard the girl reply. We sat in rapt silence, listening to it all, Chester having darkened the magic window so we could hear. She spoke again, her voice choked with tears. Then Lynch asked a question – and then she said something filled with choler. Then there was a thud, and a low groan.
Kelly rumbled. “Lass kicked ‘im.”
A new commotion began; the man made some noise of protest, and there was a slap, louder than any before it. Then a scuffling – and then, through the still-open door of our room, we saw the man come stumbling out of his room, clearly violently propelled thus: he fell asprawl on the pavement and lay there bleeding, his face turning black and blue.
We raised our bottles in salute to Balthazar Lynch’s victory. We bade Chester return the magic window to life, and we returned to our drinking, waiting for Lynch to return so we could congratulate him directly, and raise a glass in his honor.
But he did not return.
‘Twas an hour later, at the least, and our bottles nearly drained, before he came back to the room. In the meantime the ejected ruffian had risen to his clumsy feet, clutching at his offended manhood; he had shouted one last imprecation – the which his lass had returned, with several more as a generous gift – and then he had stumbled to a beast-wagon and rattled his way out of the inn’s bounds. We watched him go, standing in the doorway lest he think to return – and Kelly remained there on watch against that possibility – and then returned to our drinking.
At last Kelly said, “Captain?” and I turned to see Lynch in the doorway, Kelly having stepped aside for the youth.
For the youth and his companion.
The lass was bloodied and bruised, but young and comely beneath it; and she held Lynch’s arm with both hands, clinging to him as to a lifeline.
“Captain,” Lynch said. I raised an eyebrow at him. “I will be spending the night in the next room,” Lynch said. I did not respond. After a moment, he nodded, turned, and left with the lass.
Shane and Kelly roared with laughter, and sang a bawdy song to encourage Lynch in reaping the rewards of his heroics. I did not join in. Rather, I went to sleep in the beast-wagon.