FAIR NIGHT FOR FOUL FOLK  CHAPTER SIXTEEN


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Cover design: Corin Spinks. Portraits Alice and Pip: Heijo van der Werf

Background image: CORIN SPINKS, Heijo van der Werf

Chapter Fourteen and Fifteen  can be found here: https://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk/fair-night-chapters-fourteen-and-fifteen

WEDNESDAY 1 NOVEMBER 1871

Polymina Palace

Tamarisk Town

Prairie Ground


16. OATH BOUND

The weather was improving, growing fouler by the minute, the breeze transformed into a brisk wind that tugged at coats, hats, scarves, and hair. Alice was accompanied by Black, Gunning, and Harris as she made her way along the streets of Tamarisk Town.


Pulling her top hat down tight, Alice thanked the wind that stroked her face and teased her hair. She hoped for more foul weather, all the better to provide a fair night for revenge. The wind obliged and whispered promises into her ears.


Like sweet music.


Alice was still confused as to the make-up of Polymina Palace and all the people involved. Black had conveyed that teaching the Rozzer bastards a lesson wasn’t unrealistic but had also forewarned her that she would have a part to play to ensure revenge became possible. Alice was entirely unsure what to expect and what her exactly role would be. Nonetheless, the wind soothed her mind, giving her whirling thoughts sudden clarity and focus. She wanted Hattie Tucknott’s killers to pay, she wanted them to be just as terrified as she and Pip had been in the mush. Just maybe she could influence the outcome, instead of being both a girl and too young to even matter.


I’m a Wind Reader. I proved my worth. A Cloud Weaver, Pip said...


Alice smiled and looked around at her companions. Gunning and Harris were invited as as chapter chiefs of the SaSoS, and Black because he’d been present at the Mairemaid moot. Black also fulfilled a Free Trade role, in that he would speak as Scylla’s moot-agent, or so he had told Alice. Hastings was far closer to Sinneport than Brighton was, and Alice had sensed a very wary respect for the Mairemaid of Sinneport here whenever her name was mentioned. She was pleased someone would be speaking for the Mudlarks – but would rather have had Scylla fight, instead of just talk at her side.


Haddent was grumbling away. “Congress. Humbug. Everyone gets a say, which be bettermost in my humble opinion, howsumever, many take that as reason to deliver gurt big sermons allwhen, even when they’ve less to say than a puckstool. ”


Alice suppressed a smile at his words, reckoning she shouldn’t think the man funny when he’d been so horrible and rude.


“We’re lucky, Sky-Girl,” Gunning added. “To be reduced to an opening act. Bollinger’s Congress has in the past talked until dawn just to agree to delay a decision about seeing to a straw change for the sentries. It took them a whole second night to come to agreement, it be unaccountable, sureleye.”


Alice shrugged. It had been a long day already and she was tired. It seemed almost inconceivable that she had awoken at the Mairemaid Inn in the morning, and even harder to believe The Martlet had departed from Rottingdean less than a day ago.


Gunning had just added another riddle to the whirling new impressions, experiences, and knowledge; but the calmness induced by the whispering wind, fierce joy at the prospect of being reunited with Pip in no time at all now, the warmth of her new scarf, and firmness of her new boots all added up to give her courage.

Knowing how little she knew, meant that everything might be important, so she asked: “Straw change?”


Gunning’s answer was gleeful. “Tamarisk’s standing army consists of a dozen militiamen at most. They take turns guarding Priory Bridge and the old Polymina. All the rest, along the stakewall and in the guard towers, are uniformed scarecrows armed with old rusty muskets.”


“Scarecrows! But surely the Rozzers know…”


“The local redcoats,” Black explained. “Know and are even complicit. They post real guards at the other end of Priory Bridge. All their other sentry posts around Tamarisk are likewise manned by scarecrows, except when a senior officer comes inspecting. He’ll find all in order then.”


“Deedy,” Alice said.


“Yarr,” Haddent said. “It allows for more time in the pub for both sides. Howsumever, them scarecrows be needing fresh straw some-one-time, otherwhile vermin nest in them. It bain’t a reason to talk two whole days, but Bollinger’s Congress be fond of nabbling away.”


Two days? We haven’t got that much time. I need to get back to Mum and Uncle Yard.


A tug of wind brought Hattie Tucknott’s voice.


I need you, Liss, we all need you.


Alice nodded bravely. I’ll do my bettermost.


“Here we are,” Black announced, pointing at the beached brig.


Polymina Palace wasn’t as busy as it had been earlier. Nobody was raising tankards while filling the old hulk with bawdy song and raucous laughter. Instead, folk were huddled around the tables deep in sober conversation.


The Pig Sty companions walked to the fire that was roaring in the giant hearth, to warm their hands by it and order pints of cloudy Sea Cider from one of Lucy’s older colleagues.


Lucy probably kens who she is.


“Three pints o’ the good stuff,” the tavern maid confirmed the order.


“And a half-pint for me, please,” Alice added quickly, optimistically ignoring Black who stood by her side.


“No,” Black shook his head. “Cancel that last one, please. Three pints of CC, some water for the girl.”


Alice glowered at him.


“Don’t give me that look,” he said. “You’re going to need your wits about you, aren’t you?”


“You’re having a pint,” Alice countered.


Black tried not to smile. “If that is what it takes to keep you content, Miss Sky-Girl, your wish is easily met.” He turned to the tavern maid. “My apologies, but could you make that two pints of CC and two mugs of water.”


The young woman was clearly not amused as she took measure of Black. “Be this indecision a fashion now, in them furrin’ places where sheere-folk hail from?”


“We call it being flexible,” Black answered coolly. “And I’m not based all that far from here.”


He raised his right hand to adjust his tricorne hat. The tavern maid glanced at his hand and took a sharp intake of breath.


Seeing her shock, Alice peered at Black’s far side but he had already brought his hand down and out of sight.


“Two pints o’ CC, and two mugs o’ water,” the tavern maid said quickly. “Yarr, Squire.”


“Belay that,” Gunning said with a grin. “I promised my missus no more than halver pint.”


“You want a halver of Sea Cider, instead of a pint?”


“Great Gears, no! I need the vitamins. I’d like two halvers please, two separate tankards.”


Alice hid a smile at the woman’s expression.


Haddent added conversationally “And Red’s missus will preciate it, sureleye, that he had naun more than halvers, as long as she don’t ken how many halvers he had.”


“Two halvers,” the woman said. “Bain’t it?”


“Yarr,” Haddent answered. “Howsumever, I’d like to change me order too, hates being left out, I does.”


The woman glanced at Black. “Of course. Water?”


Haddent looked at her aghast. “By Pize, no, I’ll have the same he’s having…” He indicated Gunning “But then along with the halver the girl bain’t allowed to have. I reckon I be needing some of them vitamins more than Red does.”


Alice felt sorry for the tavern maid now, the dismay on the woman’s face clear as she tried to work out what Haddent’s order meant in plain Sussex.


“Five halvers of Sea Cider,” Alice supplied. “And two waters.” She glared at her companions and tapped her hat. “And if anybody changes their mind again, I’ll stick ‘em.”


That evoked enough laughter for the tavern maid to make a quick getaway.


“Well played.” Black turned to Alice. “By the way, someone asked me to pass a gift to you, roughly at the time when it might come in useful. I believe that time has come.”


“Who? What is it?”


Black retrieved a tiny box from a pocket, its aged wood dark and smooth. He passed it over to Alice who took it carefully and turned it around in her hands to admire it – the box alone was a treasure to her.


“It opens,” Black advised.


“Course it does,” Alice said.


She undid the tiny brass latch and opened the lid. Lying on a soft bed of black velvet was a ring. Its silver caught the flames from the fire in the hearth and shone brightly. The ring was delicate and slender, but had a wealth of detail nonetheless. The centrepiece formed the torso of a mermaid. The upper half of the ring’s band was formed by her outstretched arms, the bottom half by a mermaid’s tail. It looked valuable enough to be worth more than a new sky-skiff, an aero-cutter even.


“For me?” Alice asked in disbelief.


“Indeed, a gift to you from Tess Hawkhurst. She asked you to wear it with pride.”


Alice stared at the exquisite ring, her whole being enveloped by a warm glow and wave of gratitude. Gingerly lifting the small treasure out of the box, she noted tiny letters engraved on the smooth inner band. She read the words out loud: “Hawkish Ventures.”


“It’s an honour,” Black said. “Tess has had that ring for a long time. Hawkish Ventures was the name we used for some of our escapades in southern climes. A gift from one of our comrades, made from a haul of the finest Spanish silver. Tess was given two, I recall, because she was deemed to have been worth twice as much as the rest of us during that particular caper. In my estimation thrice as useful would have been more accurate. Aren’t you going to put it on?”


“A pirate’s ring,” Alice said in wonder.


She tried the ring on her left-hand ring finger, to conclude her middle finger was better matched until she grew some more. “But why? This must be worth a fortune! She bain’t ken me much.”


Black seemed at a loss for words for a moment. “I don’t know, other that I can vouch Tess only ever does things for good reasons. You’d have to ask her yourself. Her invitation to return to Sinneport was a genuine one. I think she’d appreciate a visit and your company. More than you could possibly realize. That is, if your mother will let you.”


“I will visit,” Alice said sincerely, sure that her mother wouldn’t object. Bringing Pip along on such a visit might be more difficult, but that would be especially wonderful.


“Good,” Black said, and added with evident satisfaction. “We’re comrades now, Liss.”


He raised his right hand to show her his own ring, the one the tavern maid had stared at. Larger to fit his ring finger, it was otherwise an exact replica of Alice’s mermaid.


Alice recalled that he’d said more had been made, for a band of rogues. “Did m…Cap’n Hawkeye have one?”


“Oh yes, John most certainly did,” Black answered.


Black’s use of her father’s first name evoked curiosity. It was strange to think that Alice’s father had not only known Andreas Black in his younger years, but also Tess Hawkhurst. Before Alice could contemplate this further, the tavern maid returned with their order.


“We’ll behave this time,” Black promised Alice, and turned around reaching into a pocket for coins.


Alice ignored the fuss that arose as the men worked out who had to pay how much. She couldn’t keep her eyes off her ring, barely believing it was her own hand she was looking at, and doubly pleased to know her father had once worn one just like it. She had never seen him wear it though, and wondered if he might have lost his.


Someone approached her, quick and sly. A robust woman, with long, loose golden hair, dressed in seafaring gear, an old-fashioned sailor’s outfit complete with tricorne hat as was still popular in more remote coastal communities. Although the woman’s face looked troubled, Alice reckoned she could detect a natural expression of mischief and mirth, more suited to a warm smile than her current stern expression.


“Liss of Rottingdean, bain’t it?” The woman asked.


“Who is asking…” Alice looked at the woman questioningly.


“Later,” she said. “Just a warning now. Be wary of Steph.”


“Steph…oh, Mus Ruxley.”


The woman nodded, then looked around the Polymina warily. “He’ll try to make you tessy to draw you out. He wants to pick a fight. He wants you hissing and spitting like a cornered cat.”


“But why…”


“To discredit you.” The woman’s eyes settled on the central space of the Polymina. “We haven’t met. Later.” She made towards the bow, melting into the shadows of the lower fore end of the brig-turned-tavern – leaving Alice with dozens of questions.


Alice turned to see one of the governor’s clerks walk halfway across the Polymina’s open central space. It was the larger of the two men, comfortably plumb, with a jolly disposition, and merry eyes. The other one, Alice recalled, was wiry, with bushy eyebrows and a set of thick-lensed spectacles set on the bridge of his narrow nose. The amiable clerk gestured at the Pig Sty delegation by the hearth, motioning at them to follow. Forgetting about the woman, Alice’s mind turned to her impending reunion with Pip.


About time too. Maybe he’s already in the Guvnor’s office!


The clerk led them to the stern. Unable to contain herself, Alice rushed past him, dashed by the surprised guards at the bottom of the stairs, and then raced up to burst into the old officer’s mess where Bollinger had set up office.


“Pip?”


The person she was hoping to see wasn’t there. In fact, the only occupant was a gentleman she didn’t know, impeccably dressed in black trousers, matching black and purple brocaded waistcoat & frock coat, an old-fashioned white silk cravat, and a black top hat. He had long fair hair that hung loose over his shoulders, a gold goatee, and a moustache with ends neatly twisted in upward curls. Strikingly, the upper left half of his face was covered by a mechanical construction: a brown leather casing perfectly designed to follow the contours of his face, with a large purple eye lens and various smaller lenses on spidery appendages that could be lowered in front of the purple eye.


Alice and the man stared at each other in surprise.


“How do?” Alice greeted him, trying not to let her disappointment show, nor stare too much at the strange replacement for a regular eye – which was hard because it appeared green lights were dancing within the lens. “I like your hat.”


“Why, thank you,” the gentleman said. “You have a fine one as well, and a splendid scarf.” 


He glanced at Black as the rest of the Pig Sty delegation climbed the last of the stairs.


“Andreas,” he said. “How marvellous to see you.”


“Likewise, Gorlassar.” Black nodded. “Gorlassar, this is Liss, an Owling apprentice from Rottingdean. Liss, this is Professor Gorlassar von Windbeutel, Chief of the Starlings.”


“A fellow Free Trader, Miss Liss.” Professor von Windbeutel beamed at Alice.


Alice nodded, not quite sure what to say. She had decided beforehand that she wasn’t going to like the Starlings. She just couldn’t get her head around the notion that Free Trade was something that could be done merely for the fun of it. Her own folk in Rottingdean had been Owlers forever and longer, simply to put food on the table. Their regular income as fishermen or farmers had always been insufficient. It left them with the choice to pay their rents and extortionate taxes, or to look after their families, but not the both. That made Free Trade a potentially dangerous necessity, but Black had said these gentlemen ‘Owlers’ didn’t run too much of a risk. In other words, impostors of sorts as far as Alice had been concerned. Not proper and furrin to boot.


However, Professor von Windbeutel was clad in the finest example of Flight-Funk fashion Alice had ever seen. She had always been fascinated by this dress style that was so popular with the middle and upper classes. Moreover, he was the first Flight-Funker who had ever spoken to her in a friendly fashion. All the ones she’d ever admired in Brighton had either looked at her like she was vermin, or rudely and brutely encouraged her to set course back to the slums. Alice also wanted to find out more about his purple eye with dancing green lights in it.


Alice fidgeted with her top hat, to make sure it was on straight, regretting now that she’d left her Great Granny Gunn’s medal at home, because she was sure the professor would have appreciated the most Flight-Funky accessory she possessed, unless her new ring counted as such as well.


And boots!


Alice smiled.


Von Windbeutel asked Alice. “You’re the one Black brought back from Sinneport, Miss Liss? No offence intended, but I was under the impression that was a boy.”


“There were two apprentices who survived,” Black told him. “Liss from Rottingdean, and a Chopback lad – Ruxley’s youngest son.”


“Ruxley,” Professor von Windbeutel echoed.


Although his face remained polite, Alice reckoned there was a hint of understandable distaste in his tone. Nonetheless, she hoped the horrid man would arrive soon because Pip would be with him.


A door opened, letting in both a chilly draught and James Bollinger.


The Governor of Tamarisk strode to the centre of the room. Like Black had predicted, Bollinger was wearing a different outfit. He had donned a black business suit, complete with black shirt, and was wearing dark round sunglasses – odd to see late at night. Alice knew her Penny Dreadfuls well enough to make the association with an East End gangster from Lunnon, and liked Bollinger’s impression.


“Professor. Gunning. Haddent. Black.” Bollinger nodded at the others, before he regarded Alice curiously. “And you must be Liss from Rottingdean. I saw you briefly this afternoon. ‘Pologies for not introducing myself, the tidings you brought from Sinneport distracted me from my manners, sureleye.”


“I understand, Guvnor Bollinger,” Alice said.


“She’s a clever lass,” Black told the governor, as the latter produced and lit a cigar.


“Good! We’ll need deediness, the more the better, sureleye.” Bollinger took a puff from his cigar and blew out the smoke with evident pleasure. “There being little else to commend the likes of us poor Owlers, Liss. I assume you ken Rottingdean’s Poet?”


“Yarr.” Alice nodded for good measure. ‘Poet’ was Uncle Yard’s Free Trade code name. “I ken him well enow.”


“Bettermost!” Bollinger replied. “A word in private, prentice, if you please.”


He indicated the door he had just come through and then barged back through it, trailing smoke and duly followed by Alice – who was wondering what the governor of Tamarisk wanted to talk to her about.


They emerged on the weather deck of the Polymina, dimly lit by a handful of lanterns and almost obscenely bare in the absence of masts and rigging, other than a few makeshift flagpoles – one tied to the stump of the main mast – from which Star & Stripes flags rippled in the wind.


Governor and Free Trade apprentice walked to the railing from which they had a splendid view of the irregular huddle of dark rooftops and gas-lit streets. Bollinger rested his hands on the ship’s rail and Alice mimicked him.


“You’ve had plenty of moil in the Mudlark wetlands, all-along-of what Andreas told me. Dunnamany things to mull over.” Bollinger indicated the township below. “Mayhap all of this adds confusion?”


“A little bit, Guvnor Bollinger,” Alice admitted.


“And you’ve earned a rest, sureleye…” Bollinger’s voice trailed off as he frowned at the night. “Tis unaccountable, Liss. Normally I’d nohows ask a prentice who’s survived such Rozzer terror to play yet another role so soon.”


“I’m a Free Trader, Guvnor Bollinger,” Alice said proudly. “On a run. Got a job to do, bain’t it?”


The governor smiled. “Codebound?”


“Yarr.”


“Then you’re Codebound, Free Trader, to be Rottingdean’s moot-agent tonight, so that your folk are part of our deliberations. Do you think you can handle that? If not, I’m sure that—”


“I can handle it, Guvnor Bollinger. Howsumever, I’m just a prentice. I don’t ken if folk will listen to me.”


The governor glanced down at Alice’s hands. Even on the dimly lit weather deck the mermaid around her finger gleamed.


“Black told me you’re far more than that: A Wind Reader who’s earned Scylla’s trust.”


Tess is Scylla! That makes sense. Or…does it?


“Well…yarr.”


“A modest one too.” The governor took a drag from his cigar. “I’ve met Scylla a few times and admire her greatly. She’s naun fool and don’t trust folk lightly. She don’t fully trust me, for one, I’m sure. Tis unaccountable.”


“She’s bettermost, sureleye,” Alice agreed enthusiastically, her eye on the mermaid.


“Mayhap there is wisdom then, in her decision naun to partake in an attack on these new Rozzer sky-sharks.”


Alice hesitated for a moment. An apprentice barely out of childhood had no business voicing disapproval of elders, but she feared that the governor would align himself with Scylla’s point of view. “I misagree.”


“You misagree with Scylla, the Mairemaid of Sinneport? Scylla the bettermost as you yourself named her?”


“Yarr, and I do so as a Wind Reader.”


The governor chuckled. “Keep in mind that a Wind Reader’s words are bettermost on the deck of a sky-bound vessel, but less so in strategic council. But, how do you reckon we should handle disyer Rozzer hunters, oh great Wind Reader?”


“Blast them out of the sky.”


“Vengeance.”


“Yarr, revenge, but more than just that, Guvnor Bollinger. Naun will be safe if we durstn’t. They’ll take us out one by one.”


“That has occurred to me. Divided we fall, tis an old lesson best heeded. Howsumever, will Rottingdean reckon as you do? Do you have that much clout?”


Alice thought this over before answering, “Naun, I bain’t got any clout. I’m just a girl and prentice. You’re right about where a Wind Reader’s words matter, Guvnor Bollinger. In the sky, naun on the ground. Howsumever, the Poet is deedy, bettermost so. He’ll ken something needs to be done, and he’ll believe what I tell him about the galley-rizzas, sureleye.”


“I see.” Bollinger took a drag on his cigar, his brow creased with thought. “So the Poet trusts you?”


Alice hesitated. Uncle Yard was as good as family. Not related by blood, but sometimes such a bond could be just as strong. Formerly her father’s confidant and right-hand man, Yard Pilkin’s sense of responsibility for Alice was strong. To reveal too much of that, though, made ‘Liss’ more identifiable, so Alice settled for: “Cross me heart and hope to die. He’s tried to be a father for all of the Rottingdean chavvies who lost their dads at the Massacre on the Green.”


“My condolences for your loss,” Bollinger said. “The Poet has done a good thing then. The Owler way.”


“Guvnor Bollinger. Rottingdean bain’t strong enough to fight the galley-rizzas on our own, even if our neighbours lend a wing. We need to work together, I reckon.”


“What neighbours can the Poet count on?”


“Shoreham and Brighton to be sure. Mayhap Worthing, Newhaven, and Seaford.”


“Lewes? Alfriston?”


Alice shrugged. “Hard to say– the Rooks and SeaRats be peculiar folk.”


“That they be. Would Rottingdean and other neighbours come if I called an Owler’s Moot? Andreas Black told me that Romney Marsh will not. I’d look a fool if I were to summon Sussex to the first Owler’s Moot in over a hundred years and naun came.”


“I’ll make ‘em, Guvnor Bollinger,” Alice said full of conviction.


Bollinger raised his eyebrows as he regarded her curiously from behind his dark glasses, but then smiled. “You know what, Liss, I do believe you would, sureleye.”


He turned to look out over Tamarisk again. “Tis an ambitious notion, Liss, it being hard enow to get far fewer Free Traders than you and I have in mind to agree on the time of day even.”


“Yarr. Mericans, Chopbacks, Starlings, and Staders. Mus Black told me. And nobody likes anyone else much, and you have to be bettermost deedy to make them agree on anything.”


“You’re quite an expert already.” Bollinger smiled, and then indicated the township below. “Tamarisk Town. Eight acres, two hundred buildings, and fifteen-hundred souls. Howsumever: ‘It’s not a field of a few acres of ground, but a cause, that we are defending.’ Do you ken who said that?”


Alice shook her head.


“Thomas Paine.”


“Who were he?”


“One of the bettermost minds in the whole wide world: A philosopher, writer, and American Revolutionary.”


“An American rebel!”


“Born in England. He lived in Lewes for six years, at Bull House. He was also a privateer shortwhen, and an Excise Officer.”


“Excise Officer?” Alice frowned disapprovingly.


“Yarr, though the suspicion was that he contrived to combine part of his Customs and Excise career with the tobacco shop he ran in Lewes.”


Alice grinned. “Ah, one of those.”


“Naun very good at it, he was fired as Excise Officer all-along-of dunnamany irregularities. But as a thinker, Liss, he had a deedy mind. As an idealist he tried to change the way of the world. He reckoned all men were created equal and should be endowed with basic rights. Liberty, Equality, and Justice for all.”


Alice quickly looked around before realizing that she wasn’t in England, where those words were dangerous, but in all that was left of the United States. Her father had always spoken with great admiration of the ideals that had driven the failed revolution. It was thrilling to speak the forbidden words. “Give me Liberty, or give me Death.”


“Zackly. Paine understood the complexity of those ideals. The need for a fine balance. Balance between order and liberty. Balance between liberty and equality. The importance of justice – a fair justice for all, with no man placed above another, no man above the law, all bound by common purpose. Or bound by the same Code, Free Trade thinking bain’t all that different, Liss – Sussex wunt be druv.”


He pointed at the nearest Star and Stripes. “There’s much to Tamarisk Town. They call us squatters and squabblers in some parts of Hastings, and bain’t all wrong in that. But many of us remain idealists – our purest treasure is the idea of Liberty. And not paying those bloody taxes. Folk are sick and tired of being sucked dry.”


Alice hadn’t understood all of it. She was disappointed that equality seemed something for men only but had gathered that balance was important just like Black had said. Her next question was a guess. “Is that why you try to work with the Chopbacks and Starlings and Staders?”


“Zackly. Thomas Paine wrote ‘He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself’.”


“Quiddy?”


“Here in Tamarisk, it means that even though the Mericans are stronger and more powerful than the Starlings, Staders, and Chopbacks combined, we treat them as equals, otherwhile we durstn’t talk of equality. We’d just be hypocrites.”


“Yarr, that makes sense.”


“It means that an attack on the Chopbacks is seen by me as an attack on Tamarisk. It also means that when we go back to the others, Liss, even though you and I have just agreed that we share the same purpose, it might seem I’m not on your side every nowawhile.”


“To keep the balance?”


“Zackly.” Bollinger smiled. “Black was right when he said you were deedy.”


Alice beamed, but then hesitated before asking a question that was on her mind. “Guvnor Bollinger. If it takes more than one night to talk about a straw change for them scarecrow guards, how long will it take to discuss this? We haven’t much time.”


Bollinger nearly choked on the cigar smoke he had drawn into his mouth, then laughed. “That’s the drawback of equality. Howsumever, I’ll wager dirty straw poses less of a risk than killer aeroships. I’ll berate them into some haste at least, this time round.”


Just to be sure, Alice added. “Because what you really want to do is call an Owler’s Moot so all Sussex folk can parley about fighting together…?”


“Yarr, I do. Shall we shake on it?” Bollinger reached out his hand.


Alice was surprised. Free Traders rarely signed contracts, it being foolish to leave a trail of paper. A handshake following a verbal agreement was considered a solid guarantee, one reason why abiding by the Code and keeping oaths was of uttermost importance. However, it was generally a handshake between fully-fledged Free Traders, not apprentices. Alice tried to look as serious as she could when she shook Bollinger’s hand to formally seal their deal, committing them both to the destruction of the gallearezzas – oath bound now. 


When Alice and Governor Bollinger returned to the officer’s mess, Alice’s eager eyes noted that two more people had arrived, but neither of them was a short, awkward boy.


An old grey-bearded man in fisherman’s gear, enveloped by a strong briny smell, was introduced as Will Trulock, Chief of the Staders. He grunted a disinterested greeting at Alice.


The second was the woman who had come to the hearth to deliver a warning. She gave Alice a quick wink and pretended they hadn’t ever met before. Her name was Joanne Thomayne, Chief of the Pevensey Wassailers.


“Farlite sends ‘pologies,” Thomayne told Governor Bollinger. “His house be watched by the Queen’s Men. He reckoned it best to stay put. I speak for Pevensey and Eastbourne.”


“Bethanks for coming on such short notice,” Bollinger answered. “Farlite made the right decision. We’re just waiting for Ruxley now, ah, speaking of the devil…”


They could hear feet on the stairs, a heavier tread accompanied by those made by lighter feet.


Alice’s spirits soared when Steph Ruxley began to emerge, a smaller figure obscured behind his back.


“Pip!” She exclaimed, gushing with happiness. She ran towards the stairs only to come to an abrupt halt, heart thumping in her throat and hand reaching to draw her hatpin, her face one of horrified disbelief. 

 


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More Lockdown Specials (read: Freebies) featuring Alice

A younger Alice features in the first part of A Sea Voyage on Wheels part 1: Perfessors & Spurrimenters, also featuring her friend Lottie, Jim "Red" Gunning, Magnus Volk, and Herr Doktor.  https://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk/south-coast-coglings


Herr Doktor also features in a story of his own (NEMESIS) in which Alice makes a brief (unnamed) appearance: https://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk/nemesis-short-story