Chapter 31: To Gibraltar
The sun did not get up the next morning. The thick December rainsqualls hung in the air with a miserable determination not to be moved. The grayness of the sky melded with the grayness of the sea. In the shades of fusion, an utterly dejected and soaked elf kept up a diligent watch for other vessels.
He had not seen any the entire night but he knew that his luck could not last forever. By One Eye’s calculation, the Italian Riviera was somewhere parallel to the Spanish city of Malaga. Sometime during this day they would be entering the Strait of Gibraltar.
Below him, the elf saw the two gypsies lying flat on their backs on the water-covered deck. Both of them had toiled heavily the nightlong putting out the fires. The Italian Riviera had sustained some damage but its navigational hardware remained in tact. The fires were mostly concentrated to the walls of cabins and various non-support structures. The rains had aided the gypsies quite a bit but the heavy precipitation would not have been enough to dowse the fires.
One Eye was a fixture at the helm. He had not moved from it once during the night. Without the aid of the stars, he had to guide the boat by the seat of his pants. Enrico had done his part to assist the Genoese man in keeping the Italian Riviera true . But as the night wore on the Frenchman’s services were proving to be redundant. The skipper suggested that Enrico go below deck and catch some sleep. Enrico was now somewhere below for more than eight hours. He must have been near to exhaustion to stay asleep so long. The elf was tired himself but he would not take a rest until he had completed what he had come to do.
The younger gypsy got up. He was soaked to the skin. His hair hung in long black knots. His beard was a sage brush. To the skipper, he asked what had happened since they had fallen asleep. One Eye said that nothing had happened. The gypsies would have been wise to sleep below deck like the Frenchman. They would have had warm, dry sleeps. To this the drenched gypsy said grimly that if they had gone to bed and something would have happened they would not have been there to act.
Pappy chuckled from his crow’s nest. These gypsies were such nomads that they would think of any excuse to avoid a nice sedentary bed. They were truly wild men and Pappy loved them for it.
The gypsy leader got up a short while later and asked the same questions. He walked around the ship’s galley looking in all directions to ascertain their location.
It was then that Enrico began to cry out from below deck. “Merek, come down here at once!” the Frenchman bellowed in his native French. There was such urgency to Enrico’s voice that Pappy had no choice but to comply. The elf had no idea what was amiss although he had his suspicions that this somehow involved Fender Apple.
Below deck, he found Enrico in the officer’s quarters where Fender and Dominic de Sousa were convalescing. At least a part of his suspicions were confirmed. He stepped into the heavily ordained teak room with its elaborate veneers and crafted woodwork. He saw the elf and the Portuguese lying in their comatose state just as they had been ever since their paths were reunited with his. Enrico was sitting in a chair carefully watching the movements of Fender Apple.
“Why did you call me?” Pappy queried the Frenchman.
Enrico looked at him and said, “I was lying in my bed across the hall. I was just relaxing and gearing myself to getting up when I suddenly heard this voice. It was a voice that I had not heard for a long time.”
“Do you mean one of these two woke up?” Pappy could feel a burning tension in his stomach. He had wanted to hear Fender’s story ever since he first put eyes on him back in the El Tipperon.
“The voice came from this room all right. But …”
“Whose voice was it?” Pappy cut in.
“I don’t think that it was either of these two jokers,” Enrico indicated Fender and Dominic. There was a shaking weariness in the Frenchman’s throat.
“But you said it was a voice from the past and that it came from this room. It had to be one of these two!”
“I know Fender Apple’s voice. It is a high, dry voice that sounds like it is choking upon every syllable. The Portuguese’s voice is withered and craggy as if the phantom of death breathes along with him. It was neither of these voices that I heard. It was a kestrel voice that piped out of here. It was the sound of a larynx obstructed by a gizzard. It was an avian shrill that issued from this room.”
Pappy looked at the slightly ajar portal. “Perhaps a bird landed on the window and began singing its song. The kind of weather we are having would make any bird happy to get out of it.”
“There is only one bird that I have heard before that was able to produce intelligent speech and that was the great winged specimen upon the wastrel beach of Iberia.” Enrico seemed close to collapsing into an abyss of lunacy.
“The Questioner?” Pappy cried. “You heard the Harpy speaking from this room? Are you sure that you were not dreaming? What did it say?”
“I wasn’t sleeping, I tell you!” Enrico cried. His eyes were bulging from their sockets. “I was just lying in my bed appreciating the fact that for once I had a bed to sleep upon. Those fool gypsies up top don’t know what they are denying themselves!”
“Forget about the gypsies! What did you hear?”
“I heard the same voice that I heard on the Portuguese coast. It was the voice of that bird and it came from this room, I swear!” Enrico made the sign of the cross over his heart. This showed to Pappy the Frenchman’s honest belief in what he thought had happened.
“What did it say?”
“That I don’t know. It didn’t speak in Portuguese like it did the last time. It didn’t speak in French or any of the continental languages that I understand.”
Pappy was perplexed. “Are you sure that it was not just a bird singing its avian song?”
Enrico’s eyes glowered at him. “I know that you think me mad, but no, it was not the mindless chirping of a songbird. It was an intelligent language, that I am sure.”
“But then what language was it that it spoke?”
“I believe that the voice was speaking Elfish, your native tongue Merek,” Enrico said.
Pappy walked across the room and looked out upon the gray seas through the portal. “Elfish?”
“I’ve heard you and Talla speak countless times in the tongue of Woodhaven. It is a language whose structure is very unique upon the continent in that it doesn’t share any of the same root words as the human tongues do. There are no Latin, Greek or Arabic influences upon it. It is completely different even in its syntax.”
“Can you remember the exact sounds that you heard?” Pappy quickly rescinded his question when he saw the convulsive expression that Enrico had given him. Nobody can repeat what they heard in a language that they could not understand.
“I swear, Merek, I swear. I am not lying to you. I heard that bird and it was speaking in Elfish from this room. I have not gone mad like Talla.” Enrico bit his lower lip and apologized for this unflattering reference to someone who may be dead.
Pappy nodded his head slowly. He said that there was no reason for the Frenchman to be sorry. The fact was that Talla had become mad and that they would be fooling themselves if they denied it. “If it seems that I’m not accepting your observations verbatim that is only because I’m having difficulty incorporating this new information into what I have come to expect. I have not made any allowances for the Questioner to suddenly start speaking to us from the marine chamber of Fender Apple and Dominic de Sousa.”
“Don’t get facetious with me Merek. I know what I heard. It was the bird, I swear! It was the bird!”
“But how could it have been?” Pappy cried. “Think about it Enrico. By your own account the bird that you had witnessed long ago was larger than a man. How could a bird that size fit through the little window here?”
Enrico’s forehead pulsed with tension. “Look Merek, I didn’t ask for that bird to come here talking in Elfish! Maybe it didn’t even come inside the cabin? Maybe it spoke through the portal as it flew along our flank?”
“Without One Eye or myself seeing it?” Pappy exclaimed.
“Oh, give me a break Elfling!” Enrico stormed. “I didn’t realize that nothing would be able to sneak past you. I forgot that you are all seeing!” He slammed his hand down against the top of the mahogany night table next to his bed. A piece of paper became dislodged from the furniture. The paper wafted slowly down to the floor like it was a feather from the Frenchman’s mysterious bird.
“I’m sorry Enrico. I’m not trying to offend you. Maybe you are right. Maybe the Harpy did approach our ship without us being aware of it. But don’t you think that the Harpy would not be so secretive with us? It would know who we are and where we were going. Wouldn’t it declare itself openly to us?”
Pappy bent down to pick up the piece of paper that had fallen.
“I can’t begin to try to understand what would motivate a giant, speaking bird. Such fanciful things should not even exist as far as I am concerned. Yet, I saw and heard it once before on that night upon the beach. It was a sight that I would never forget. It was a voice that will take me close to forever to forget as well and that was the voice that I heard come from this room.”
“Alexander Henry Arrigo.”
“What?” Enrico asked. He didn’t comprehend what the elf was talking about.
“It’s the name on this here piece of paper. Alexander Henry Arrigo.”
“Let me see!” the Frenchman snatched the paper from Pappy’s hand. He read out the name as well and then looked on both sides of the sheet to see if there was anything more written on it.
“I wonder who he is?” Pappy asked. “It’s no matter. It is just a sheet of paper with a name on it. It was probably some business contact of Castrillo’s. We should go see if the skipper or the gypsies have seen the Harpy.” Pappy motioned with his head for the Frenchman to follow him.
But Enrico did not respond to this chance to obtain vindication for himself. Instead, his eyes were concentrating on the sheet of paper. His mouth was going over the name, Alexander Henry Arrigo. Then to Pappy he said, “Don’t you find it strange that Castrillo would affix this name to the underside of his night table?”
“Feel the edges of this paper,” Enrico handed it over to the elf.
“It feels waxy,” Pappy said.
“Now, look underneath the night table and tell me what you see.”
Pappy did so. “There’s wax down here too.”
“Just like I thought. Castrillo had this name hidden underneath his night table. But why? Is it possible that this Alexander Henry Arrigo is the person that is waiting for the gunpowder?”
Pappy lifted his shoulders. “I don’t know. It could be, I guess.”
“What else could it be?” Enrico cried. “I know this name Arrigo. It’s a name that I saw many a time on lists of internal enemies of the state. That’s about all that I know of this man but I’ll let you know this Merek, if your name falls on one of these lists you are not just a fat banker that has a beef against the government because of high taxes. This Arrigo is big.”
“So what does that mean to us Enrico? We have no ties with the man.”
“Can’t you see Merek? A person like Arrigo would be powerful in his own right. He would have money and resources. You can bet on that. He would have had to pay Castrillo for the explosives, right? A man with that kind of power can do things for you.”
“What are you getting at Enrico?”
“What I am suggesting is that we should look into the possibility of recruiting Arrigo’s help. Through his resources, he could have us safely transported to Castelo Branco and then to the Portuguese coast without us having to go through Gibraltar or hiking across miles of Spanish moors and badlands.”
Pappy started to walk out of the room. He did not want to seem rude to Enrico but the Frenchman was beginning to test him. First, it was the Harpy business and then it is this nonsense of begging the assistance of a stranger. “I’m sorry Enrico but I have got to get back to my post.”
Enrico followed him out. “But what do you think Merek? What do you think?”
Pappy turned to the Frenchman. “Enrico, it might be a good suggestion but we do not know the first thing about this Arrigo or even where he could be found. I suggest that we carry on as we have planned.”
“And go into Gibraltar where the bullets will be fighting each other to get to us first!”
“Is that what all of this is about Enrico de Bertrand? Are you afraid of what we are heading into?”
“I’m scared to death about going into Gibraltar, Merek. Any sane man would be! It’s utterly insane that we should try to negotiate through that bottleneck! But I’m not grabbing at straws as you may think. I’ve got a hunch that if we were to get ourselves connected with this Arrigo character we would be saving ourselves a lot of trouble.”
The elf and the Frenchman were now on the main galley where the steady rain had created a deck of crowns.
“What were you hollering about, Frenchie?” the younger gypsy asked. He was busy sweeping the run-off water over the edges. His leader was doing the same. The water was about an inch deep on the galley. It was truly a miserable day but at least it wasn’t cold. That was at least something to be thankful for, Pappy thought.
Enrico did not give the gypsy a direct answer.
“Hey skipper,” the Frenchman called out to One Eye who was standing diligently and soaked at the helm. “Does the name Alexander Henry Arrigo mean anything to you?”
“Prince Harry A!” One Eye said with a start.
“Not Prince Harry! It is Alexander Henry Arrigo,” Enrico corrected the skipper.
“If it is the same Alexander Henry Arrigo that I know then it is Prince Harry A,” One Eye responded. “And I would seriously doubt that there is more than one of them.”
“Why?” Pappy asked. “Who is he?”
“Prince Harry A is the royalty of the Mediterranean Black Market. He deals in everything that can be transported over these waters. He has got interests in opium and spice from the Orient and Turkistan, big game pelts from Nairobi, gold from the Ivory Coast, ivory from the Gold Coast, ammunition and even slavery! Everything is the Prince’s cup of tea and the whole day is teatime to him. Why do you ask me about Prince Harry A?”
Enrico explained about how he and Merek found the piece of paper with the mane on it and how he had seen that same name on government lists. “I think that Castrillo was running the gunpowder for Arrigo.”
“So it would seem,” One Eye agreed. “Prince Harry A is a Spaniard, you know. And he’s not the kind of Spaniard that likes seeing his country being told what to do by their French cousins. It seems that the Little Emperor in Paris is doing what he can to curtail the Prince’s business ventures. Life isn’t so easy for Harry A now that Monsieur Bonaparte has made himself France. I can very easily see the Prince doing what he can to undermine the French infrastructure. He would be very interested in supplying guns and ammunition to those who would use it against the French.”
“If his name is on a list then why don’t the French arrest him?” Pappy asked in confusion.
“They can’t. Prince Harry A is a citizen of Spain and he never steps outside of his country and although the French like to push around their Spanish cousins they cannot order Spain to arrest one of her favorite sons. Just like any other kingpin in the black market, Prince Harry A is also a very large force in the legitimate market. He’s a smart one. The French can’t pin him with anything.”
“What I was suggesting to Merek was the possibility of us contacting this Prince Harry A and asking him to give us quick passage to Castelo Branco,” Enrico said.
Pappy watched One Eye carefully for the skipper’s first impression. One Eye noticed the elf gawking at him. He smirked, “I suppose that you want me to take you to the Prince then.”
“No!” Pappy groaned. “He sounds like a dangerous man. I don’t think that we should get mixed up with him.”
“I agree with you Merek. The Prince is very dangerous. You cannot get powerful without becoming a threat to those around you. Prince Harry A is a very dangerous man. He doesn’t do favors for anybody unless he stands to gain more than he puts out. I wouldn’t be wanting to approach him if I did not have to.” One Eye’s voice turned very grim.
“So you are saying that we forget about Arrigo,” Enrico was not happy. “You think that we would be better off if we sail right into Gibraltar and have our ship blown out from under us?”
“Look Enrico,” Pappy growled. “I’m just as afraid as you about going through those straits but to go to a kingpin in the black market is a bit drastic of a measure, isn’t it? We don’t even know where this Prince Harry can be found.”
The gypsy leader stepped onto the flight bridge where the elf, the Genoese and the Frenchman were congregated. He pointed to the distant Spanish coastline, which could barely be discerned through all of the haze and mist from the rain. “There is a coastal village that you would be able to see if the weather was clear. It is a town known as Torrox. In that town with its modest harbor and unassuming fishing fleet lives Alexander Henry Arrigo, the Crown Prince of the Spanish underworld and resistance.”
Pappy laughed out loud at the gypsy’s statement. “How would you know that? Even I know that men with shady pasts don’t put their mailboxes on the sunny side of the street!”
The gypsy was not amused by the elf’s rancor. His face remained dour. “Elfling, you forget with whom you are talking to. I am not a stroller of the sunny side of the street, as you put it. I am an outsider in all towns and cities because of my ethnic background. This type of status has given me acquaintance with many of the characters that upstanding citizens tend to frown upon. Thieves, beggars, poets, and radicals are among my friends. Prince Harry A is an acquaintance of mine. My men and I have done work for the Prince on several occasions in the past. He is a fair man to those that treat him fairly. But as the skipper has said he is a very dangerous man to those that have crossed him.”
“I’m sorry for doubting your legitimacy, Leader of the People,” Pappy formally apologized.
“There’s no need to say you are sorry Merek,” the gypsy leader replied. “Your position is understandable. You had no way of knowing that there was a coincidence of acquaintance going on.”
“Still, I’m sorry. You have been an honorable man and I should never have mocked your credibility and integrity,” Pappy strengthened his apology.
“So you say that Prince Harry A lives over there?” Enrico cut in. His finger was pointing to the approximate area where the gypsy leader had previously indicated.
The leader nodded. “And yes he will abet us if we ask.”
“He will?” Enrico was almost incredulous.
“If he is there and he understands the nature of what we want, he will help us. Especially when he learns that we have been responsible for the deaths of many Frenchmen. Prince Harry A may be involved in many activities with questionable legitimacy but what he is first and foremost is a Spanish patriot. You can bet that he is all heart and soul in the ousting of French influence in his country. He will look upon us as returning heroes.”
“But what can he do for us that we can’t do for ourselves?” Pappy complained.
“He can get us to Portugal without us having to go through Gibraltar!” Enrico piped.
“How do you know that Enrico? Up to a minute ago the only thing that you knew about Arrigo was that his name was on a few lists.”
“The Frenchman is hasty to avoid Gibraltar,” the gypsy leader observed. “It makes you wonder about his courage.” Enrico shot the gypsy a menacing glare. “But Enrico is correct. Prince Harry A has it in his means to get us to Castelo Branco in the space of two days. He operates a coach line that services most of the Iberian Peninsula. I believe that he even has a run between Malaga and Castelo Branco.”
“Now that seems absurd!” One Eye put in. “From what I know of the geography of this area, Castelo Branco would not be an important enough market to end a line upon. Don’t get insulted by my observation.”
“Castelo Branco is the only major urban center between Madrid and Lisbon. It is also on the direct access route between Malaga and Oporto. It makes sense that this city would be a major crossroads for Iberia and that it would be serviced by transportation lines.”
“Yes, that makes sense,” One Eye said slowly and carefully.
“So what do you say?” Enrico chimed. He felt the decision was going to go in his favor about giving up on the Italian Riviera.
The young gypsy was the first to answer the Frenchman in this impromptu informal vote. “I can hardly see how the Gibraltar alternative can compare to putting in with Prince Harry A. I say let’s take the ship into Torrox.”
One Eye looked up into the bleak, overcast sky. The rain was continuous and it was spirit dampening. “I’m not an official member of your little party,” he said, “I don’t believe that I should have a say.”
“Oh yes, you are part of our group, skipper!” Enrico piped. “If it had not been for you we would never have made it this far. I would say and I believe that we all would say that you have earned your keep in our company. You have a right to your say and vote. And I would almost believe that your vote should be weighted the heaviest since you are the one that would have to navigate through the Straits of Gibraltar.”
One Eye looked at Pappy and then to the others. The elf did not say anything. The two gypsies nodded affably and reiterated Enrico’s assertion of the skipper’s right to vote. At length, One Eye muttered, “I will choose the same way as the elf. This mission is ultimately connected with the survival of his people and I believe that this should be his decision alone.”
To this Enrico said, “This mission is a mission for the elves, there is no doubt. Their survival and safety depends as far as we know entirely upon us and our ability to complete what is required within the timeframe allowed us. Now, I agree with you, Captain Damiani, that Merek Robinbreast is the key figure in all of this. But I also believe that you, Captain, our two Bohemian friends, and myself have all put our commitment to this quest. Like the elves back in Woodhaven our lives are on the line as well. So I would say that we each have a very big stake in getting to Portugal alive and safe. To my thinking, Merek, you should abide by the consensus of our group. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Pappy felt the bile warm up in his belly. Enrico had put him on the spot. What words could he choose? “Not once have I forgotten the sacrifices that each of you have made for me and my people. It is something that I know personally that I will never feel as if I have paid you back. And even now at this late date in our mission, I do not hold you to a commitment to my people. You are free to do as you choose.”
“You balk Merek!” Enrico said. “You know as well as any of us that we are all into this thing almost if not entirely as deep as you. None of us can walk away from this and pretend that nothing has happened. All of our lives will be focused if not branded by the events of this past month. Now Merek, don’t you agree that we have all earned a right in the say of how we choose to handle our situation?”
The gypsy leader suddenly spoke up, “The skipper has given the Elfling his vote. Right now Merek can vote for going through Gibraltar and the decision would be deadlocked since my tribesman votes for Torrox, as it is obvious that you will as well, Frenchman. This makes the deciding vote mine.”
“That’s right!” Enrico cried. “That’s right! You, of all people, should be able to weigh the factors most reasonably since you are acquainted with Prince Harry A. What is your decision?”
“You are a rambunctious one, aren’t you Enrico?” the gypsy leader said stiffly and sternly. “My decision is to do what the skipper has chosen to do. I will give my vote over to the sagacity of the elf. I believe that this matter is still ultimately Merek’s decision. Our commitments to aid Merek in seeing this matter through should not bear any weight in which of the two alternatives he decides to select. Merek, you have now three votes and the control of your destiny. The decision is solely yours to make. But may I advise you that you should make your decision at once since we are now at an optimal point to make a break for Torrox and Alexander Henry Arrigo if so you choose. You should not let time and shifting circumstances be the designer of your destiny.”
It was plain that Enrico did not like the leader’s ploy. It had effectively undermined his thrust for more say in the group. The Frenchman grumbled something in his native tongue. This led the leader to remark that Enrico could not expect to have his cake and eat it too. Each person was given a vote and each person employed that franchise in the way that he saw fit. “And besides,” the leader continued, “the Elfling has not made his choice as of yet. We may be going to Gibraltar through a narrow ballot or we may unanimously be taking down our sails in Torrox.”
Pappy was able to read the true sentiments in the four men. It was only One Eye that honestly wanted to continue to and through Gibraltar and his reasoning was that he was a sailor and he would want to stick to the water as long as possible. He would be lost on land. Enrico and the younger gypsy had already expressed their desire to petition Prince Harry A’s aid. Although the gypsy leader was publicly supporting Pappy’s authority in this group, it was plain that he was more enthusiastic than the other two about going to Torrox. He has made dealings with this Arrigo fellow in the past and he does not seem deterred at all about supplicating the Spaniard now. Pappy respected the gypsy leader and his sense of judgment. He was a wise man whose advice should be taken seriously.
Yet on this matter Pappy felt that something was not quite right. Alexander Henry Arrigo, Prince Harry A, was not registering a pleasant harmonic with his intuition. The Prince smelled of trouble yet Pappy did not know why he should feel this way. He knew next to nothing about Arrigo except for a few facts that vaguely support his premonition that the man was trouble.
“What’s it going to be Merek?” the younger gypsy asked. “The longer you delay the longer it will take us to get back to Torrox.”
“Don’t prod the Elfling along,” One Eye said. “This is his decision.”
Pappy knew that the longer that he took to make up his mind the farther they would have gone from Torrox and the closer to Gibraltar they would be, which was what the skipper wanted deep inside.
The elf looked into the faces staring at him. He did not know what to do. Three of the four faces wanted Torrox. That was a majority right there and Pappy was a firm adherent to democratic rules. Also, just because this was ultimately his mission did not mean that he was the most expert on how to deploy it.
“We go to Torrox,” he blurted and at once felt severe regret for some unknown reason.
“Then it is unanimous!” Enrico cried. “To Torrox we go!” He spun the helm sharply from underneath One Eye’s guiding hands.
The skipper’s face became cross as the ship spun on its keel and began to ride the gales towards the coastline. One Eye severely admonished Enrico for touching the wheel. It was reckless and rude behavior.
Enrico took the scolding in stride. He didn’t care. The relief of not having to go to Gibraltar was a panacea for all of his pent-up frustrations.