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J.A. Aarntzen

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The Legacy of Hickory Robinbreast Part 27
By J.A. Aarntzen
Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rated "G" by the Author.

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Recent stories by J.A. Aarntzen
· The Redeemer Part 33
· The Legacy of Hickory Robinbreast Part 30
· The Redeemer Part 32
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· The Redeemer Part 31
           >> View all 143


After Merek discovers the two stowaways on board the El Tipperon, the vessel is attacked by an old nemesis of Captain Damiani.

Chapter 30:   Ship of Friend, Ship of Foe

 
Within three minutes, the three men had placed all the bodies into the sinking vessel’s hull. They found another person within the El Tipperon’s cutty and that was the near dead form of Dominic de Sousa. Along with Fender Apple, the Portuguese man was brought aboard the Italian Riviera. 
 
The two gypsies tried to coax One Eye into leaving his boat but the Captain refused. He wanted to die with his ship.
 
The El Tipperon now had a severe list to its bow and it was only a matter of seconds before the sea would swallow her up. The gypsies could not afford to haggle with the lost skipper any longer. They swept him off his feet and manhandled him onto the other boat.
 
The gypsy leader was the last living man aboard the El Tipperon. He had to haul himself up onto the Italian Riviera. Just as his feet left the deck of the El Tipperon, there was a bellowing roar as the incoming sea broke up the ship’s hull. A moment later all that was left to the El Tipperon from Genoa was a frothing eddy.
 
The wake from the scow’s sinking caused the Italian Riviera to rise with the wave and come desperately close to capsizing. The gypsy leader held onto the boat’s railing for dear life. For several moments the Italian Riviera pitched heavily in the aftermath but it gradually settled into a calm.
 
The gypsy leader, soaked to the bone, climbed on board with a helping hand from the Frenchman, Enrico de Bertrand. It took him a few seconds to catch his breath but when he did he asked, “Does anybody onboard know how to sail this rig?”
 
One Eye Damiani was too shaken to even comprehend what was going on. He was sitting on his behind just staring out onto the water. Pappy could only guess what the skipper could see.
 
“I’ll give it a try,” Enrico volunteered. “I have had some seaman training with the army although it was nothing on a scale such as this vessel.” The Frenchman scampered up to the flight deck where he took the helm and lost himself in the myriad of sea charts that Castrillo had kept upon the bridge.
 
The gypsy leader pointed to the comet. “Let that be your navigational guide. From what I have observed its long tail points to the west. Steer the ship according to it.”
 
Pappy gazed at the comet. So much has happened since it first appeared in the sky. It would not be here for much longer. Before it was gone he had better have completed his mission. Poor Talla Bobbs! Dead! His eyes came down and became fixed upon Fender Apple.
 
The elf was comatose. The plague that had destroyed Talla Bobbs and was destroying Woodhaven seemed to have a grip on Fender Apple as well. The old elf was lying flat on the deck, his chest slowly rising and sinking in its poor respiration. Beside Fender was the Portuguese, Dominic de Sousa. He was as unconscious as the elf.
 
So many questions registered in Pappy’s head that he could not think clearly. How was it that these two greedy friends ended up on board of the El Tipperon? What had happened to them since Vienna? What were they doing in Genoa? What had One Eye Damiani not told them?
 
The gypsy leader stood next to Pappy. “These are the two that we saw file through the Brenner Pass with an entire phalanx of soldiers three days before you and Talla came through.”
 
Pappy winced at the name of his dead friend. It disturbed him profoundly that of the two elves that had visited his Woodhaven home on that fateful rainy day that the one that he liked had died while the one that irked him survived and was here with him on this late date.
 
“I wonder what has happened to their company?” the gypsy leader continued. “I won’t be able to rest easy until that is clarified. I hate to think that there is an entire regiment of soldiers waiting for us at Castelo Branco.”
 
“Why would there be?” Pappy asked. His mind was only partially aware of what the gypsy was saying.
 
“Think Merek. Why would the French separate themselves from these two?”
 
Pappy lifted his shoulders. He did not want to think.
 
“The French allowed them to go because the elfling and the withered man informed them of the emeralds. They must have added that you were the only one to know of the stones’ whereabouts. The French are greedy, Merek. They want these stones. I will bet any money that they are waiting for us in Castelo Branco, just waiting for you to unearth the precious emeralds.”
 
“But if that is so why would Apple and de Sousa have to come along with us?” Pappy retorted.
 
“I would say that it was coincidence. The French army is spread all over the continent. The men that were given the information do not necessarily have to be the ones to take the emeralds away from us. Another detail stationed in Portugal would be dispatched to do this. These two, the elfling and the man, were acting as independent agents. They want to get to Castelo Branco and get the emeralds before the French get their hands upon them. They somehow or other finagled Old One Eye into giving them passage to Valencia. That’s why the skipper was acting so strange. He did not want us to discover that he had two other passengers on board instead of his consignment of wine.
 
“What difference would it make to One Eye? He only knew us as paying customers. He did not know about our plans.” Pappy had a gut feeling that all of the gypsy leader’s surmising was wrong even though it was giving regard to all of the facts. The elf wished that one of the three principals would come around. But One Eye was now near catatonia while Fender and de Sousa were out cold.
 
“These two told the skipper about us.”
 
“But I thought that you said that it was merely coincidence that they were on the same boat as us?”
 
“It was coincidence that they sought out the same man as us. But I have a feeling that they managed to coerce One Eye through financial means to give them passage. One Eye would have told them that he had three other fares already booked. Money, and don’t forget that this de Sousa has lots of it, bought our descriptions from the skipper and that was when they must have let the cat out of the bag about their connection to us. One Eye, as you remember how Madelina had described him, was basically an honest man. But everyone has their price and de Sousa was able to afford the skipper. So probably for the first time in his life, old One Eye was going to do something against the law. That’s what caused the change in him. You noticed it. I noticed it. Even the Frenchman noticed it.”
 
Pappy mulled over the gypsy’s synopsis. He was able to agree with most of the reasoning except for the part about the French. It was not in Fender’s greedy character to share with the French the treasure of the emeralds. The man and the elf probably would not have led on about the stones to their escorts to Genoa. The more Pappy thought about it the more it seemed likely that Fender and Dominic had seen him and his company negotiating with One Eye. Somehow or other they knew that he would go to Genoa and there they waited for him in the most obvious place to wait and that was the harbor.
 
There still had to be more to this than that. It was unlike Fender to put all of his eggs in one basket. There are any number of ports that could have been sought out by the elf and the gypsies. They could have even opted for a land route to Portugal. The more Pappy thought about it the more he felt that the gypsy’s hypothesis was far off the mark. How do you explain the fact that both Fender Apple and Dominic de Sousa were unconscious and looked like they had been for quite some time?
 
Neither showed any sign that they were going to come around any time soon. Pappy thought of throwing water on their faces and was about to do so when from the flight bridge Enrico cried out, “Land ho!”
 
The elf looked in the direction that the Frenchman was staring. Ahead of them, he could discern the faint outlines of islands bobbing over the water. It could not be Spain. They had not traveled that far already.
 
“That’ll be either Minorca or Majorca,” the gypsy leader said as he and Pappy climbed the ladder to the flight bridge. “They are part of the Balearic Isles. Ostensibly these islands are under the dominion of Spain. But as you know and I know, Spain is a very important ally to the French Empire. There are almost certainly French ships stationed there. It is too strategic a spot to be overlooked in that it is the gateway to the European hinterland. If we steer clear of those isles than we might be lucky. It is still dark. They might not see us. Dawn is not far off however. We must go deeper out into the sea.”
 
“Out to sea?” Pappy stammered as he and the gypsy leader stood beside the Frenchman at the helm.
 
The gypsy leader looked at him firmly. “We cannot risk landing at Valencia. There is far too much land to cross. The French are in Spain by the droves and if there is something that we can believe Captain Castrillo in is that the French will be looking for us. We must keep our contact with others to a complete minimum.”
 
“How are we going to navigate upon the high waters?” Enrico protested. “I have no knowledge of how to go about doing this especially with a rig this size. This ship is beyond my capability.”
 
“I will help you,” the gypsy leader said sternly.
 
“You?” Enrico almost laughed. “All of you have spent your lives far away from the sea. You have no knowledge of sails and navigation.”
 
The gypsy leader looked hard at the Frenchman. He did not deny what Enrico had said. Pappy sensed the leader was eating himself up inside in knowing that Enrico was right. At length, the leader simply answered, “We will help you.”
 
“We must get clear of those islands,” the Frenchman said. His face was sour in that the hard gypsy had not admitted defeat. “The wind is coming from north by northwest.   How do you suggest we tackle this situation?”
 
“North by northwest will take us far clear of the Balearics. I suggest that we let the winds take us the way that they blow.”
 
“That’ll take us far off our course. We are under a strict time schedule, don’t forget!”
 
“We can make up time once we are on the high seas where we are beyond the sights of our enemies.”
 
Enrico suddenly turned to Pappy. The Frenchman’s eyes were charged with defiance. “Merek, this is ultimately your mission. What do you suggest we do?”
 
Pappy turned his head to the eastern horizon. There were crimson hues striating the lower sky. Dawn and the sun would be upon them within the half hour. If they did not get clear from the Balearics they would almost certainly be spotted. But so what if they did? The Italian Riviera was sailing under friendly colors to the French that controlled these waters. The boat was clearly a commercial liner and even though martial law exists here, the French would not disrupt commerce. Supplies had to be moved between the safe ports of the empire. The Italian Riviera might not draw suspicion. If there were any ship that would have been watched for it would have been the El Tipperon, not this one.
 
“Well, what do you say elfling?” the gypsy asked presently.
 
Pappy explained his line of reasoning to the gypsies and Enrico. They nodded their heads to some of the more salient features but the gypsy leader said that even the Italian Riviera could be suspicious in these waters. If Paolo Castrillo had announced to the French back in Genoa his intention of catching the El Tipperon then the French at Majorca might grow curious as to why and how the Italian Riviera was sailing the waters far from Marseilles. They might come out to investigate.
 
And even if Castrillo did not announce his intentions the French would still watch him carefully since they would know that it was his wife that had given the fugitives haven back in Genoa. To the French, Castrillo was connected to the dangerous gypsies, elf and renegade. And once again the boat would draw curiosity. “I say we go out to sea and that we have to act now. Work that jib of yours de Bertrand so that we can blow clear of the islands.”
 
The gypsy’s reasoning seemed correct to Pappy. He did not like the notion of losing valuable time to make this maneuver. But it seemed that he had no choice.
 
The Frenchman grudgingly agreed with the leader. He began to loosen the lines to the main sail. Its boom began to swing with the prevailing winds.
 
“Wait!” Pappy cried out. “What if Castrillo was lying? What if he acted on his own all along and never once mentioned the fact that we were on the El Tipperon or even that we set foot in Genoa? He seemed to be a shiftless rogue. He’d understand how he would be implicated with us. He wouldn’t want to be sent to the stockade as our accessory. If One Eye was right about him, I’m willing to bet that the French have no idea that the Italian Riviera is connected at all to the murders in Vienna and the Apennines.”
 
This notion invigorated the downtrodden elf for if he was right that could mean that everything Castrillo had said could have been a complete fabrication. Talla Bobbs and Madeline were not necessarily hanging from a yardarm in Genoa harbor. They might not be dead at all!
 
“The elf is right!” One Eye’s voice broke out in an almost hysteric cry.
 
Everybody turned to look at the newly transformed man who was no longer catatonic. The skipper of the El Tipperon had become very animate. “I should have thought of it myself! Paolo Castrillo has always twisted the facts to suit himself. He was a liar and a conniver until the moment he died. He knew that he was a lost man but he wanted to keep on fighting. The only weapon that he had left was his tongue. It was as sharp as any blade upon the continent. It could inflict fatal wounds to the heart without piercing through the skin. He may very well have killed Madelina and your elf. He was cruel enough.   But I don’t think that he did. He did not want to get himself connected with you people as far as the French were concerned. I have my suspicions that Madelina and the elf, Bobbs is his name, isn’t it, are alive and being held prisoner in the very house that you left them. Castrillo probably planned to deal with them later after his triumphant return to Genoa with the heads of the most wanted men and elves in the Empire. He would have been greatly heralded and would have stood the chance of reaping a reward so huge that he would not need to be a covert pirate on the high seas any longer. I should have recognized Castrillo’s bluff. I knew him well enough.”
 
“Well, he is well enough dead now!” the gypsy leader smiled. “But are you well enough Captain Damiani? We need someone to pilot this ship.”
 
One Eye nodded. His face for the first time that Pappy had ever seen it was lit with a brimming glow. “I’ll man the helm. What’s the course?”
 
The gypsy leader looked at Pappy and saw the elf give him an expression of apprehension. “Gibraltar and beyond!” the gypsy leader said positively. “By way of the channel between the Balearics and Spain.”
 
Pappy’s face broke out into a hale smile and a laugh issued from his lips. They were not going to have to lose time afterall. But what rejuvenated his heart was the conjecture that Talla Bobbs might not necessarily be dead. Even though both of these assertions were very tenuous they were positive notes ending a night of negative chords. Through the use of words they had minimized both the fact that the French might be searching for this very vessel they were upon and the fact that Talla and Madelina might be greeting the sunrise hanging by the neck to full public view at Genoa Harbor.
 
One Eye assumed the wheel and the masts from Enrico. He pulled the Italian Riviera out of the wind’s whim with a severe tack that swung the ship from bow to stern. Like the master of the sea that he was, the skipper commandeered the wind and the surf and had the ship running at a fitful speed on a line that ran to the northwest of the Balearic Isles. The joy of sailing was imprinted on the man. It was hard to believe that this robust figure only minutes before had been in a catatonic despair. He was everywhere at once, manning the jib, tying off the lines, readjusting sails, taking course readings by sun and shore, and consulting charts. He was a man of the sea, born of it and intimate with its secrets.
 
Enrico, for his part, continued to give the Genoese skipper a hand. The Italian Riviera was considerably larger than the El Tipperon and even though One Eye was a mariner’s wizard, he could not handle the ship on his own.
 
They al realized that they were still treading in dangerous waters. None knew with any certainty what kind of martial regulations might be applicable in this zone. There was a state of war going on and the French would have to be careful that no British ship had infiltrated the Mediterranean this deep in. Perhaps it was a policy that all commercial vessels had to report to a base on Majorca or Minorca so that it and its crew and its manifest could be inspected. Enrico had said that this was common practice but he also said that the carrying out of these regulations was often lax and that all that was required at times was just a signal of identification. The Frenchman was partially fluent in the signaling codes of the French militia but he said that these were routinely changed to stay on top of the enemies’ espionage. “We might not have to worry about any of this if we can manage to slip through without detection.”
 
Everyone agreed and One Eye charted a course as far away from the Balearics as possible. As an added precaution Pappy, who had by far the best eyes among them, climbed up into the crow’s nest and acted as a lookout for any approaching vessels.
 
Pappy climbed the ropes until he reached the precarious platform that stood fifty feet above the ship’s main deck. From this bird’s eye view the immensity of the Italian Riviera had shrunk until it looked little more than a fragile raft upon endless waters.
 
He could clearly see the three Balearic Islands as they propped up their green foliage above the dark waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Around the crisp island shorelines he could see many craft. Most of them appeared to be fishing trawlers. The others were merchant vessels. But there was one that could only be described as a warship. But its sails were down and it seemed to be anchored along a moor. Pappy suspected that it was either being refitted or resupplied. It did not seem to be any danger to the Italian Riviera.
 
Where was the naval base that Enrico and the gypsy leader alluded to? When he called down his observations and relayed his curiosity, One Eye told him that the base was on the other side of the islands where they would be better able to intercept intruding vessels. The Italian Riviera’s present location was on a channel considered to be safe waters because the French did not anticipate any offensive coming from this direction. They were in the heart of French territory. The enemy would strike at the fringes and not here.
 
While Pappy was up in the crow’s nest, the two gypsies went below deck to reconnoiter what kind of supplies and cargo the Italian Riviera carried. An hour or so later they emerged with an oak barrel with the name Piedmont stenciled on it in black ink.
 
“There’s about fifty more of these down below,” the younger gypsy announced.
 
One Eye’s face turned eleven and a half shades of red.
 
“Weren’t these supposed to be on your ship?” the gypsy leader inquired.
 
At length, One Eye replied, “It seems that neither of us were very honest with each other when we made our contract. I did not know that I was taking on the most desperate fugitives in the Empire and I guess that you didn’t know my true cargo either.
 
“I was offered the opportunity to transport this Piedmont wine to Marseilles but I turned it down. Shortly before I was approached by the French concerning this consignment I had struck up an agreement with an elderly Portuguese gentleman and his diminutive companion to take them to Spain. They gave me a large amount of cash that far exceeded what I normally charge for such excursions. They were up front with me and told me that the money was also meant to procure my silence. They did not want it to be known whom they were or were they were going.
 
“Normally I never accept such arrangements. I prefer to do all my business in the open and that way keep my nose clean. My instincts told me that these two were in big trouble and that trouble could be mine if I accepted the money. But things have been slow for me of late. The El Tipperon was too small of a vessel to compete in the commercial market. People are going to bigger and faster boats with their consignments nowadays and I was finding that I was getting fewer contracts. Let’s face it, I am a man and I need to eat. I saw that I had little choice but to accept the offer.
 
“They pre-arranged for us to leave Genoa Harbor yesterday afternoon and then they left to attend to other unfinished business. In the meantime, I was propositioned by the French to transport their wine. I reluctantly had to decline them because of my commitment to the Portuguese man and the little man that I now know to be an elf.
 
“Then shortly thereafter you people come to me with your desperate pleas to get to Lisbon. I don’t know what it was in me that made me decide to take you on. Perhaps, it was because you claimed that you were going to help out an orphanage and once being an orphan myself, I was filled by your magnimity and your humanitarian urgency. I wasn’t sure how I was going to reconcile your presence to my original passengers but as it turned out it was something that I didn’t have to worry about. As the arranged time approached and I was waiting nervously at the harbor, a taxi coach came to a stop in front of my boat.
 
“’Are you Claude Damiani?’ the coach driver inquired. I said yes, not knowing what to construe of the situation.
 
“’I have some passengers for you,’ the coachman said as he opened the door of his wagon. A second later he had both of my passengers on his shoulders. He carried them aboard and brought them into my cutty where he set them on cots. Both of them were unconscious and I was bewildered about what had happened to them. I asked the driver this. He replied, ‘Beats me. I was called to a roadhouse by the proprietor. He gave me these two stiffs with the instructions to deliver them to a Claude Damiani onboard the El Tipperon. I hate transporting the sick. You never know what you can get from them.’
 
“I had to agree and I didn’t know what I was going to do with them once I reached their destination. I had a contract with them to take them there. There was no stipulation about whether or not they had to be alive. So I locked them in the cutty and was determined to keep their presence a secret from you and that was why I didn’t allow any of you near the cutty.”
 
Pappy now understood One Eye Damiani. He still did not understand what had happened to Fender Apple and Dominic de Sousa. What had made them unconscious? If it were just Fender Apple alone he would have suspected the Woodhaven plague that had shaken the health out of Talla Bobbs. But it wasn’t just Fender. Dominic de Sousa, a man, was also unconscious and as far as Pappy knew, humans were immune to the elfin infliction. What could have rendered both of them into their present sorry state? It was a question that could only be answered by Fender Apple and Dominic de Sousa, if they ever came around.
 
“One thing that disturbs me,” the gypsy leader began, “is the wine. Won’t the French in Marseilles be waiting for it? And won’t they know that it was consigned to the Italian Riviera?”
 
“The French will not be looking for the Italian Riviera in these waters,” One Eye replied.
 
It was not a very satisfactory answer and Pappy was almost able to detect a cringe in the skipper’s cheeks. But it still could be the correct answer. The French would have no way of knowing that this vessel was running for Spanish waters.
 
Slowly the Balearics faded over the horizon as the Italian Riviera plugged along its course. The two minor islands, Ibiza and Formentara came into view but were so far away that only elfin eyes perched in an aerie would be able to see them.
 
Pappy announced his observation to the skipper who said that there was nothing to worry about. Nobody on those islands would be able to detect them. The Italian Riviera was too far out in the Channel de la Nao. Pappy felt assured by One Eye’s confidence.
 
This channel was roughly seventy-five miles wide. It looked narrow on the charts but in the physical world a boat could be as hidden within these waters as a needle in a haystack.
 
As the day wore on Pappy was able to catch fleeting glimpses of the Spanish mainland. The coastal Valencia mesas only briefly made their presence known to the elf. This was a largely uninhabited region that might have been an ideal location to give up on the Italian Riviera and press on by foot. If they had more time, it would have been their most safe plan. As the gypsies had said, the Spanish hinterland was made up of isolated communities that were widely spaced apart. There would be plenty of room to cross it without having to be concerned about being spotted. But Spain was a massive country filled with rugged terrain. It would take far too long to make that trek. They had to stick to the faster waters and run the risk of coming upon enemy vessels that seemed almost inevitable especially as they drew near to the bottleneck known as Gibraltar.
 
Now and then, as the day wore on, Pappy was able to see merchant ships going in the opposite direction. These vessels were transporting the day-to-day commodities that keep a nation and an empire thriving. They moved with the relative safety of knowing that they were in imperially protected waters. 

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