Damsell

 

Chapter 33

 

Damsel in distress

 

After having bought Antonio a new set of clothes (the other set had been rather damaged during his ordeal with the city guards and the hanging cage) and brought him home to his sour wife, the Ienne set course for Brest, where the kingpretender’s fund was to be delivered. Once in Brest the crew was paid a handsome bonus besides their ordinary pay and given shore leave. They had a brief meeting with Edward Baird, who was on his way to see the young king-pretender, and they arranged to meet again at spring equinox – 6 months ahead – in Cagliano. He offered them commissions in the royal navy, which they accepted. I later heard N’Gote say that he took the king’s coin, because he rarely had the chance to take money from a white man without using force.

 

A pleasant surprise awaited them in Brest; Jean Luc was there and rejoined the crew. He had returned to Brest with the ryendorian representative and had sold off most of the treasure brought back from the east. £ 20.000 additional to the king-pretender’s fund...

 

After a few days of leisure, late nights drinking and shopping for the ship and themselves they set out to sea again. This time, on Ernest’s request, they set the course for Salimanca in Codora, so Ernest could return his deceased friend Tomaso Herminguez’ sword to his family.

 

Salimanca was a formerly rich city now in decay. Very beautifully designed, a true cordorian city, but now blemished by poverty and disrepair. A city of both palaces and lowly shacks. There were no proper streets, only alleys and pathways between houses in the less fortunate side of town. Around the palaces and mansions boulevards stretched out, almost to point out the differences between poor and rich. It was to this city that the beaten cordorian navy had limped home to after the devastating sea-battles against the Island Kingdom, back when the queen Elizabeth was still alive and standing up to any would-be oppressors. War-galleyes carrying 24 pounder cannons were still lying in docks in the harbour.

 

Jean Luc played the part of captain once ashore, with Ernest as translator, while checking in with the harbourmaster. Fiona came along, and well she did. The harbourmaster was loathe to believe Jean Luc’s story that they carried no goods to declare, when Fiona (dressed in her finest clothes) stepped up and in fluent cordorian declared she had travelled far to relocate distant kin, who had been lost to her family for years. She buttered the harbourmaster so well that he not only ceased to ask cumbersome questions, but even guided towards someone who could guide her to the mansion in which the Herminguez-family resided. Fiona continued to play rich codorian lady and ordered a litter to carry her to the fashionable address; Alica 30. The Herminguez mansion was nothing to look at though; it was in bad disrepair, the garden untended, windows broken and roof tiles missing. Fiona paid a visit to the next door neighbours, who told her that Tomaso’s sister Isabella had gone missing two years past, and that the house now belonged to the uncle Alonso Herminguez, who had an office in the Philippe Market. During Fiona’s visit to the neighbour, Ernest broke into the Herminguez house to look around. The house was randomly stripped of valuables. A dissarray of furniture, paintings and trinkets were still present, but much had been taken already. Ernest found an old drunk in the winecellar, who told him that the dwarf Bourquino regularly showed up with a couple of strong men and removed stuff on behalf of the uncle. Bourquino was a renowned solicitor and accountant, who mostly served those debtors who had trouble paying their debts. In Codora, you see, it is illegal to beat up on dwarves, so they are often chosen to be deliverers of bad news. Quite a clever arrangement, if you aske me. Ernest, Fiona and the others looked up Bourquino at his stall at the market and he willingly showed the way to Herminquez, in a rather rundown part of town that had seen better days a long time ago.

 

Herminguez didn’t seem particularly distraught by the news of his nephew’s death. His first reaction was to ask for the sword which Ernest a little reluctantly handed over to him. Without further thanks or more ado, he bid them farewell and threw them out. This sat rather ill with Ernest and the others – they quickly decided something was amiss, so they broke down the door, when Herminguez refused to reopen it, and took back the sword and knocked out Herminguez. Cityguards came along, but Ernest, Fiona and the others kept straight faces, told them of some bandits running away, and walked away themselves at a leisurely pace. Back at Bourquino’s they were told that Alonso Herminguez had invested on borrowed money on a trader to the Island kingdom, which had been robbed by pirates... By the description of it the ship had been one that Fiona had helped take way back when in the Vanilla Isles. Not that she felt any guilt about it; when a man was stupid enought to lay all his eggs, and borrowed eggs at that, in one basket, he deserved to loose them in her opinion. Calculated risk of the trade. Bourquino also gave them a couple of details of the family history; Alejandro Herminquez, Tomaso’s father, had received nobility from the king after a battle, and the sword was the proof of the family title... No wonder Alonso was so eager to get his hands on it. Ernest and his friends however felt that the sword more belonged to the sister, Isabella, who was alas missing.

 

While Ernest and Fiona talked to Bourquino, Dominique had a chat with another of Bourquino’s customers; a türkmenish buyer-up, Abdallah Pasha, who was in Salimnaca on behalf of the türkmenish Great Kahn. He told Dominique that the uncle had offered him a young girl for sale for the Kahn, but he had declined; he didn’t trade in humans. It sounded very much like it might have been Isabella, who had been put up for sale! He had on occasion, though, bought furniture and pieces of art from Herminguez’ estate, and was quite shocked to learn that it might not have been Alonso’s to sell. At the sight of Fiona, Pasha told her that if she were willing, he could take her along for the Kahn’s harem. While Pasha did not buy and sell slaves, he was not beyond intermediating contact between lovely ladies and the Kahn himself. The Kahn was well-known to bequest palaces and all the luxuries of the world on his favourites. Fiona politely and slightly amused declined such favour.

 

Pasha had by Hermingues been offered to buy still more fineries, without Bourquino as middleman, and Ernest, Fiona and the others decided to come along with him, and so they returned to Alica 30. They found a rather distraught Herminguez at the house along with two rather large fellows. He offered Pasha the rest of the goods in the house. At this Ernest along with the others started fighting with Herminquez and his two stooges. During the fight a large curtain was ripped from its frame and sunlight streamed in to illuminate a large painting of a young girl on the opposite wall; Isabella. At the sight of her, both Ernest and Fiona gasped as one - grabbed Herminguez at the throat, slapped him up against the wall and started yelling very loudly into his face. They had seen the girl before... in Cap Sacres – she was the favourite courtesan of the governor, the one all men in the city was in love with, the one the governor guarded jealously, while flaunting her to the world in carried litters...

 

Soon the thugs fled and Alonso was bound and rolled into the curtain and hidden in the litter, and brought down to the Ienne. As they couldn’t just leave town with him to go searching for Isabella, because his debtors might then seize the property that was rightfully Isabellas, they made a deal with Pasha. He bought the contents of the wine-cellar, and loaned them the rest of the money to pay off Alonso’s debts with the house as security. They then set course back to Cap Sacres, contemplating on the way whether they should just toss Alonso overboard or leave him on the slave-market. In the end they decided that the choice should be Isabella’s; she was the one most wronged by him.

 

They were not particularly exited about going back to Cap Sacres. Once there Ernest and Fiona went into the city to see if they could figure out the best way to approach Isabella. Ernest’s old friend, the tattooist, was kind enough to lend them his backyard shack to sleep in. There was not much room, but it was private and no one was likely to search for them there. It turned out that it might just be easier to break into the treasury than get anywhere near Isabella – she was guarded at all time. Every now and then she was allowed to visit people in town – people known by and approved of by the governor. There was just no way to hustle one’s way to her. Common force and sneaking in the dark seemed to be the only way.

 

That night they gathered on the square in front of the governor’s house. They took out the hidden guards by stealth and cunning – N’Gote managed to knock out one of the guards and and catch his lantern before it hit the ground, all without making the slightest noise. Fiona climbed up an orange tree outside the governor’s house. From there she could look into the rooms beyond the two balconies on the facade; one large and one small. Beyond the large balcony the governor slept in a large bed... He snored and grunted in his sleep, and the bulk under the sheets showed that he slept alone. So Fiona looked beyond the smaller balcony; In a beautifully carved four poster bed a young woman slept. Fiona grinned gleefully in the dark and climbed over the balcony. She crept into the room, when a sound made her stop; a low growl from a large shadow near the bed. A large black cat silently prowled out of the shadows. Fiona stood very still, and just as the giant cat jumped at her, she ducked, and the cat flew out over the balcony. Once it hit the ground N’Gote acted fast and knocked the cat on the head. Not used to be the one pounced upon the cat howled and ran off. Meanwhile Fiona had woken Isabella up. While Fiona started packing her stuff, the sleepy Isabella slowly realized that she was being rescued from her years of bondage. Isabella got dressed in a hurry, and with a couple of suitcases full of clothes and jewellery (the governor had lavishly gifted her with fine and expensive jewellery that could support her for years), the two women found their way off the balcony and down into the arms of Fiona’s waiting crewmen. Just as they were getting ready to leave, the square was getting slightly crowded; the guards were waking up from their involuntary slumber, several city guards were finding their way to the square along with a gang of bandits with foul plans of their own. And to top it all the big black cat had found its way back as well. In the chaos that broke out our friends ran all they could with Isabella’s luggage between them with the cries of the bereaved governor in the air behind them.

 

It was a more than grateful Isabella that shared cabin with Fiona out of Cap Sagres’ harbour. She decided that she would rather bring her uncle back with her to Salimanca, than selling him as a slave or tipping him over the side, as was suggested to her. She would take him with her, and bring him in front of a court of law and get her uprising that way. They sailed back via Oporto, where Jean Luc had family residing.