Maid Flora and I rode her beast-wagon back to the House of Lopez – now become the Infirmary of Lopez. The moment we arrived, she dashed within to check on her brothers; I followed more slowly to allow them some time as an uninterrupted family. I walked the perimeter of the house, seeking any enemy, any watchful eye that might be seeking me – that might have used those men as bait to draw me out, those men who were beaten but, strangely, not killed, not dropped in a river or a marsh to be seen no more outside of Hades; no, these men had been left alive in the street, and I could not but think this was done to a purpose. For the moment, I saw nothing – but I would need to take steps to ensure that the only traps sprung from here onward would be those I set.
I went within and found young Alejandro standing guard bravely, a wooden club in his hands and a look of grim determination on his face which almost, but not entirely, hid the terror in his eyes. I nodded to him, and he squared his shoulders, stood straighter, nodded back to me. “Be steadfast,” I said, and barely bit back the “lad” that wanted to follow these words trippingly from my tongue; but this would not have improved his confidence. I went on: “Your family needs you to protect them, now. Keep a weather eye and a ready shout, should ye see aught of the foe. Aye?”
He nodded, a bit of color returning to his face. It does wonders for a young man when he is treated as if the “man” matters more than the “young.” I was glad to see him move purposefully to the front window, where his eyes and shout might do more good than would the club in his small hands. Ye gods, the thing was half his height – what sort of combat weapon was that? A bludgeon should rarely be more than a belaying pin in length, else it is too slow and unwieldy to make good use. I noted the words “Louisville Slugger” on the smooth, polished wood, but it meant nothing to me. I moved past him and along the corridor to the sickroom.
Both men were asleep, and obviously should remain so. Were that not true, I fear the profanity I would have uttered upon seeing their wounds would have shamed the sun behind the clouds, chased the moon out of the sky, and brought a blush to every tender, innocent cheek for miles around. In silence, but with those terrible curses ringing in my head, I swore on my mother, my ship, and my own honor to avenge every hurt on these two innocent men.
Then I must leave that sorry sight before my anger overflowed and whelmed my sense. I have never sat easily when an innocent is harmed. What man could? But the cruelty and savagery exercised on these two men – these two faultless, guiltless men – was not only beyond what I might perchance accept done to a child-beating English rapist, but far worse, ’twas all done because of me. ‘Twas done to them because those filthy mongrels could not reach me. Those wounds: they are my wounds.
I suppose I made some sound in my retreat, or perhaps his injuries kept him from resting easy, but Ignacio stirred then and woke. I confess I would fain have slunk away, too craven to face his accusing eyes, but as I could not bear to increase my shame, I stepped to the side of the low bed and knelt, gently taking up his hand in mine. When his gaze cleared as his mind rose from the realm of sleep, he recognized me. “It didn’t work,” he said, and I could not but smile – though keeping that smile longer than an instant was impossible as I looked on his eye swollen shut and split at the brow, on his nose bent to the side, on the broken teeth barely visible past his torn and bloody lips.
“Nay, it did not. My fault, lad. I overestimated them, thinking them human.” I tried to chuckle as if this were witticism rather than barren truth, but not much more than a wheeze emerged from my tightened throat. Still, Ignacio smiled at the corners of his mouth, and squeezed my hand.
“They didn’t – we didn’t have a chance,” he said, the words slurred by his accent and injuries so I could barely comprehend – but damn me if I would ask him to repeat himself. “We got there, and showed them the – ‘Lito, and Juan started to say we were sorry. But Agro hit him and he fell, and then he kicked him in the head – and then the others got me. And I try to say, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t do it,’ I try to say, ‘Please –’ But they no listen. Then I no can talk or do nothing. They kick me until it all go black.” He pulled his hand away from mine, turned his face to the window beside him and away from me.
“Do you remember the faces? Any of the ones who kicked you?” For the bloody rage which I felt building in me would best be unleashed on those who shattered this boy’s teeth. Fortunately, he nodded.
“Two of them at the market yesterday – the tall one and the one Mama hit.”
“I remember them,” I told him.
Then his gaze went flat. “Si – and they remember you. Now they will find you and kill you, and then they will kill all of us, too, so we no talk to la policia.” (I had learned in my time here that la policia were a sort of civil guard who sought out and apprehended malefactors. I had also learned – with absolutely no surprise – that these men could not be trusted, that they could be bribed, or swayed by their own loves or hatreds, and that they sometimes did more harm to innocents than to the rogues they hunted.)
I stood then and settled my weapons in my sash. “No, my friend. They will not kill any of us. And they will not need to find me.” I leaned down and placed a hand – gently – on his shoulder. He turned to look at me with his good eye.
“I will find them.”
When I emerged, I sought out Mistress Lopez and Maid Flora for a council of war. The first task must be to move this poor family past the horizon and out of the range of my enemies, for the span of time whilst I am working to destroy them all. This was, therefore, the first point of contention: Maid Flora did not want her brothers moved, and Mistress Lopez would not surrender a foot of ground to such scalawags. I did manage to convince them that great danger awaited both of the brothers here and now – far greater than the danger of moving them. My assurance that I would swiftly distract the Lions’ cretinous, half-formed thoughts from the House of Lopez was sufficient to overcome Mistress Lopez. A happy chance, as I could not assure her that I would protect her home, nor that no harm would come to it once they left; I thought it highly likely that the Lions, seeking me, would burn this place to the ground.
But no harm would come to the family: on that I was determined. We came to the knowledge that another city to the north, one Orrlandoh, had friends the family could visit, as well as a place called Dizz Knee Whirled which Alejandro would gladly see. The inevitable monetary objections were quickly overcome when I pressed the eleven remaining gold coins from the seam of my vest on Mistress Lopez, accepting no argument nor polite refusal. These refusals fell away when I told them to seek a surgeon for the two brothers; this use of my money seemed fitting to them – as indeed it was, as was the conversion of any excess into funds for the maintenance of these kind folk.
The only concern that remained was Maid Flora’s position at the Glass Palace, which she would not surrender and was most loath to abandon. But we arrived at a solution for that, as well.
I straightened my new shirt and dusted off my new breeches, as we stood at the door, waiting for our knock to be answered. Maid Flora smiled anxiously at me and patted a stray hair into place. The door opened, and there stood the Enchantress herself.
Maid Flora explained, as clearly as she was able, that she would need to leave her post for at least one sevenday, perhaps two, in order to nurse her sick brothers. She offered an alternate servant in her place: myself, whom she introduced as Daniel Kane.
The Enchantress eyed me most suspiciously. “You’re supposed to be my maid?”
I made a passable leg, knuckling my brow in manner I hoped fitting. “Milady, I would not ask you to open your home to a man without scrap of introduction or recommendation. I would never ask you to trust a stranger to care for your environs and property without any knowledge of his fitness for the task. I ask only that you continue to trust in the good heart and wise discernment of your servant Flora, who verily doth recommend myself and my skills to you – and that you trust, as well, your own natural womanly intuition, which surely tells you that I mean your kind person naught but comfort and joy, as I most sincerely do.” I crafted my winningest smile for her, then.
She did look askance at me when I bowed: then when I spoke was she taken aback. At the last, she began to smile. When I finished with the matching expression on my own physiognomy, I hoped it was not too bold of me to presume my place at the Palace was assured.
It was not. The Enchantress looked me over from stem to stern, and then said, “Well, you’ll certainly be decorative to have around the house, won’t you?”
Thus did I become a domestic.
We returned to the House of Lopez, and Maid Flora joined her mother in preparing for their journey to Orr Land-Oh – which preparations gave the appearance of twin typhoons, two waterspouts circling through the house, sucking up and belching out clothing and necessaries and ephemera in staggering quantities and with much sound and fury. I, in the meantime, asked for and received the assistance of young Alejandro. I faced one more impediment: though the Lions’ den, a ramshackle house and garradge which the rogues claimed for their base of operations, stood near the House of Lopez, the Glass Palace was some ten miles away – too far to walk back and forth while in pursuit of justice. But I would never master the beast-wagon in time, nor did I wish to make the attempt. Fortunately, there was another solution: a thing called a “bike,” a staggeringly uncomfortable seat and a strange handle atop a pair of wagon wheels, which one moves forward with a sort of walking motion on two levers called “petals,” though they resemble flowers not at all. Over the course of that afternoon, Alejandro taught me to ride it; I found that my experiences riding horses, combined with my years of keeping myself upright aboard ships in stormy and wanton seas, made it fairly simple to master the balance needed to keep the bike upright. Moving my feet on the petals but not actually walking was far more difficult, but I persevered, and found success.
I asked for and received detailed instructions for locating the den of the rapscallions from Ignacio, and then I bid the Lopezes a fond and heartfelt farewell, and sent them off. Then I mounted the bike I had the loan of from Ignacio, and set off to work.
The Lions’ den itself was simplicity to identify: it was the shabbiest, most dilapidated house on an otherwise tidy and ship-shape little road. I secured the bike nearby with chain and a most ingenious little lock-and-key provided by Ignacio, and then I walked the streets all around the den, observing the movement of the local villagers, the paths by which one could approach the den, both openly and surreptitiously, the local tavern and shops where the Lions surely procured their necessaries. Then I returned and found myself a sheltered place from which I could observe the house and those coming and going.
Their time was spent largely in the garradge and on a sort of open porch appended to the front of the house. The entire time I watched, which comprised several hours, I could hear a strange rhythmic chanting over a drumbeat and an assortment of weird and eldritch noises, shrieks and whistles and thrums and others I could not begin to name. I never saw the ones doing the chanting, so I had to presume that there were people inside the house performing weird incantations or rituals; though strangely, no one seemed to react or even acknowledge the noise other than occasionally bobbing their heads up and down with the drums, perhaps agreeing or approving with what they heard. As for the words, they were all Greek to me. The garradge and the paved area before it was glutted with beast-wagons and various associated equippage; they had the maw of one beast propped open and several of them spent much time with their heads thrust deep inside the gullet. I wondered if they were feeding it, or killing it? I know not.
Several of them took their ease on the porch for the entire afternoon and evening; they talked and laughed and drank and smoked, and shouted at each other and at the passersby. I did note that several passersby approached the men seated on the porch, talked to them briefly and then made some kind of quick exchange, but I could not see what was given nor received. The visitors always left quickly, after. I know not the meaning but I wonder of the possibilities regarding my intentions.
Once dusk fell, they began to depart, mostly in groups in the various beast-wagons drawn up by the garradge. The house did not empty, and the lights that shone through the windows implied that it would not – some number of Lions must abide there, and the others gather round during their idle days.
And then, near the end of the evening, a happy chance: one of my known and sworn enemies, the tall ruffian from the donnybrook at the market – that same one whose pantaloons I had untethered, and whom Ignacio had identified as one of his tormentors – departed on foot and in my direction. I drew back and watched him pass, and then I set off in pursuit, keeping my distance.
He headed toward the row of shops I had observed in my explorations, perhaps meaning to visit the tavern close by; and in the dark alley behind the shops, I saw my chance. I sped my pace, approaching closer – and then, only a few paces from where I meant to strike, the rogue heard my step and turned. His eyes widened in recognition even as I leapt forward, hands outthrust to grapple and choke him. He leapt back from me, hands reaching to his belt for his pistola – and he stumbled over a pile of refuse on the ground, trash brought down by trash. I was on him before he recovered, and struck once, twice, thrice, once into the hollow under his right arm to stop him using his weapon on me, and then to the throat and last to the temple, which incapacitated him.
I took his pistola – ‘Struth, these dogs do grant a veritable armory unto me! – and dragged and shoved him, groaning and coughing, into the deeper darkness of the alley, where none would disturb us. I found there a large metal box, on wheels, which reeked of filth; apparently a receptacle for rubbish and kitchen leavings. I observed that it had short metal poles, like spars, outthrust from the uppermost corners on one side – and that these were very nearly the same distance, one from the other, as my foe’s widespread hands.
I introduced his brow to the metal box – twice, as the first meeting did not make a sufficient impression – and then drew my boot knife. I removed the rogue’s shirt by means of the blade, and cut the cloth into two long pieces. Then I tied his wrists to the two poles, with his face pressed against his new and odiferous acquaintance, and his bare back presented to me.
How I wished then for a cat-o-nine-tails, or even a tarred rope end or cane, but alas, I had naught of the kind; not even my sword, which I had left with my servant’s clothes in a sea-bag borrowed from the Lopezes and now concealed in the shrubbery outside their house. The flat of the blade would have sufficed, though I would not want to sully my new-polished blade with this cur’s flesh.
Fortune provided, however, and I observed a number of wooden platforms stacked on the ground, perhaps something meant to display goods at market, though they were rough-made and dirty. They might be used as on a ship, where we place bags of flour and salt and the like on raised wooden platforms to ensure that seawater does not ruin the dry goods. Any road, they were constructed of a wooden framework to which were nailed wooden laths – and those would do just fine. I broke one free and swung it through the air to get its feel.
My man began to regain his wits, then, and some amount of spluttering and cursing and threats emerged – the last rather laughable, considering our relative circumstances. He was still too stunned to test his bonds, though I would trust my knots against his outstretched arms for as long as I needed him held; still, ’twas time to be getting on. I took a moment to remove his headscarf, from which I fashioned a gag against his impending cries.
Then I pronounced his sentence. “For every mark you left, with your coward’s boots, on Ignacio Lopez, you will bleed. And another stripe for every mark your cursed mates left on Juan Lopez, too. We will set the number of lashes, then, at one hundred.”
He grunted in surprise when I began.
He was screaming against the gag when I had to replace my lath, which broke after thirty.
He was unconscious before sixty.
He received the full number, nonetheless.
I left him there tied to the metal box with his back awash in blood, for his mates to find. I retrieved the bike, and then my seabag, and then I rode to the Glass Palace. I crept beyond the darkened house to the strand and my redoubt, where I have kindled a small fire on the seaward side, eaten the bread and cheese from House Lopez that I had in my bag, and now I complete this log. Now to bed: and I shall sleep well.