FAIR NIGHT FOR FOUL FOLK

Chapter Twenty-one: More Ill Tidings 

Chapter Twenty-Two: Owler's Tower



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

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THURSDAY 2 NOVEMBER 1871

Pevensey 


21. MORE ILL TIDINGS


The road they followed dipped and grew muddier. Soon the convoy was wholly mud-sprayed, barring Bramble who opted to take to the air for the duration.


Peering around her through the strands of her wet and dripping hair, Alice noted how grim the Steam Riders now looked. The bikes, trikes, and mono-wheel, as well as their drivers, were coated in mud that was streaked by rivulets of rain water ambling its way down skin, clothes, and machines.


It was as if they were Mush Mud Pooks hell-bent on mischief. All that was needed to complete the image of a raiding party from Pook Hill or Farisee Hollow was another hurley-bulloo, but nobody seemed much in the mood anymore.


The muddy road curved right and then left again, bringing them to an intersection that was drier and crisscrossed with wheel ruts. There was a signpost – Alice caught a glimpse of ‘Pevensey’ and ‘Polegate’ on two of the extended arms – but then her attention was drawn to the woman who was leaning against the post. She was dressed in vintage nautical gear and wearing a tricorn hat. Her stance was casual but upright, that of a Sussex Free Trader, not soft Sheere-folk trying in vain to evade the rain.


“Ye look like the Ditchling Witch Hounds,” she shouted loudly – at which point Alice recognised her as Joanne Thomayne, Chief of the Pevensey Wassailers.


“WHOA! WHOA!”


Both Gunning and Haddent raised a hand and the convoy grumbled to a halt. The Steam Riders parked in the middle of the intersection and dismounted, stretching their limbs. Alice scrambled off Dusky and made her way towards Thomayne. She started to straighten her top hat, but her fingers found nothing but air where the rim should have been.


“Young Liss,” Thomayne greeted her amiably. “I’d be checking likewise, to see if my head were still attached after a ride with these growling hounds. Ye be welcome in Pevensey, sureleye.”


“Bethanks, Chief Thomayne.”


The others gathered around and the Chief of the Pevensey Wassailers addressed all of them. “I were told of a righteous din approaching cross the Levels, and figured it were yer lot. Raising a question: Something stirred up the barracks in Eastbourne no end, it’s been akin to a wasp nest awhile dawn. Any notion of what might be to yer stern?”


“Skyte!” Loz replied. “Too bloody much of it.”


“Loz bain’t half-wrong,” Haddent said. “Dragoons. The whole of the 9th Guard for all we know.”


“Or none at all,” Gunning added. “Someone chaunted. Informed Altringham that Sky-Girl – Liss, was in Tamarisk. The Dragoons came to Hastings in full force.”


“Looking for Liss of Rottingdean, Brighton, and Sinneport in Tamarisk Town.” Thomayne grinned at Alice. “Not to mention Sky-Girl on the highways and byways of Sussex. Ye get about, girl.”


Alice smiled in response, the inclusion of Sinneport pleasing to her ears. She glanced at her mermaid.


Speaking to all again, Thomayne raised her voice. “I spect it bain’t just Altringham. We’d been scratching our heads at what got old Morgan’s knickers in a twist this morning, but now it begins to make sense.”


Alice grinned at the impudence reserved for Colonel Morgan Meadows, but the grin quickly faded when she realised that her father’s murderer was close by. Pevensey wasn’t far from Eastbourne. Alice had seen the area from the night sky often enough, the town, villages, and hamlets around it twinkling in the darkness like stars. She knew the rough lay of the land here, the western edge of it made prominent by the rise of the South Downs.


“Are the Queen’s Men looking for me as well?” She asked Thomayne.


“They’re up to something,” Thomayne answered. “A column of Queen’s Men and Yeoman detachments strode off to Polegate on the morn. Last I heard they were busy as bees setting up road blocks and patrolling the roads round Polegate. And now we got more Rozzers striding this way. We got an hour at most, I were growing worried you lot would be a mite too slow.”


“Slow?” Haddent exclaimed. “We bain’t never slower than needs be.”


“Good!” Keto exclaimed. “I can blow them up, no?”


“And shoot some of them too,” Wasp suggested, stroking the handle of her Colt in its holster. “Keto shouldn’t be having all the fun by himself.”


“Why not?” Keto looked puzzled.


Thomayne shook her head. “There’s close to three hundred of them, if not more.”


“In that case,” Keto admitted to Wasp. “You could lend me a helping hand.”


Wasp grinned. “My pleasure.”


“Pest,” Haddent spat out. “So Polegate blocked. Pevensey blocked in an hour’s time. Naun idea what’s aft of us, but something likely is. Even Altringham bain’t so ardle-headed to forget to send out scouts – specially when his quarry has flown the coop.”


“Run north?” Gunning suggested. “Hailsham.”


“I had reports of two, mayhap more, large patrols of Yeomen headed for Hailsham.” Thomayne said.


“A few cavalry patrols,” Wasp said. “Yeomen at that. We could cut through them. Their mounts won’t stand the din of our approach and scatter long afore we arrive. Hailsham seems the safest bet to me.”


“We might have fire-trains to contend with as well,” Black warned. “If we go anywhere near the railway. We’d have to cross the line to get to Hailsham.”


A shiver traversed Alice’s spine. Fire-trains were a new-fangled army experiment, steam engines pulling a train of wagons designed to thwarth Night-Fliers. They had gas-powered search beams, anti-aerocraft guns, and a Gatling nest on the caboose. Plenty of Rozzers on board too. Their ability to move rapidly along the length of the coast had made them a formidable foe.


“Mayhap, there be another way,” Thomayne suggested. About to say more, she hesitated when she saw Steam Rider faces set into collective uncompromising stubbornness.


Alice knew the notion of a glorious full-out frontal attack would appeal to SaSoS. Many Chapters had already disappeared; others – like 1066 – were tattered remnants at most. The Steam Riders Alice knew expected annihilation sooner or later, but rather than give up the lives they had chosen, they intended to go down in a blazing display of defiance.


Alice regretted their nihilism but admired their courage. However, this time round she reckoned the Steam Riders’ priority should be the delivery of Bollinger’s Owler’s Moot summons.


She desperately wished she was taller, instead of being so notably small among all these giants. Regardless, she felt compelled to come to Thomayne’s aid. The woman was a Sussex Owler and therefore ally – likely to think in terms of sly evasion rather than gloriously roaring into a valley of death.


Alice strode into the centre of the circle formed by Steam Riders, highwayman, and Pevensey Owler Chief.


“Bethanks for the ride,” she announced. “It were a pleasure as allwhen. Now, we’ll work the Owler way somewhile.”


“Hide like cowards,” Haddent growled.


“Merde.” Loz spat on the ground in front of him.


Alice looked at the 1066 Chief, who was growling at her like an angry bear, warning her he was dangerous in the most primitive way possible. He was frightening, to be sure, but Alice told herself firmly not to be intimidated by his hostile bulk.


She suspected the man was fueled by pride. It would be better to work with rather than fight against that pride. She’d already learned that proud men were easily offended by young folk who dared to have too much of an opinion on anything. Yet, she also had to show him who was boss, much as a Downs shepherd with his sheep-dog.


Alice’s mind worked furiously to untangle odd details of the Code. Her conclusion seemed too good to be true, so she worked through it again just to be sure. The outcome gave her courage.


Haddent grew impatient and barked another challenge. “To hide like women, instead of fighting like menfolk.”


“As useful as chicken skyte on a rudder!” Loz added.


Alice ignored the growls from Wasp and Lady C and looked Haddent in the eyes. “I would never ask a Steam Rider to hide like a coward, Mus Haddent. Never. I ken naun braver that the Sons and Sisters of Steam and that be the truth of it. Howsumever, I would remind a Steam Rider that he be on Chapter Business – in service of Guvnor Bollinger of Tamarisk Town.”


“What of it?”


“It means that right now,” Alice explained, with as much determination as she could muster. “We do things the Free Trade way somewhile, and that be the end of it.”


She planted her fists on her waist, defiance in her eyes. Her courage in this was derived from the protection of not one, but two Codes. However large and looming Haddent was, he was Codebound.


“Jim?” Haddent turned to Gunning, his face and voice full of disbelief. “Is this Fishgut imp of yours telling us what to do? Telling me what to do? Me? Tell me I’m wrong, afore I wring her neck like that of a goose.”


Alice’s hand nudged slightly upwards, preparing for the upward sweep to draw her hatpin – but it was still in Tamarisk. She would have to do without. She wished she had loaded the Derringer, but it was still in its box. Still, Alice assumed Black wouldn’t allow Haddent to wring her neck just like that. Her courage was sapped somewhat but she knew she had to persist.


“Mus Haddent,” she said, trying hard not to let her voice reveal her hidden uncertainties. “For now you’re in service of the Mericans, who be Owlers. We all carry moot tablets, but I’m the only pledged and Codebound Free Trader that has one in this company. According to the Code, that makes me Bollinger’s Senior Envoy.”


Wasp burst out laughing.


“I tell you what you are!” Haddent exploded. “A half-grown shrimp! Bloody well trying to pull rank on me. ME!”


“Yarr, you,” Alice replied. “All-along-of you making me, otherwhile I wouldn’t have said that I’m your boss. You started it.”


Loz uttered a series of manic chuckles, before scraping his throat to get Haddent’s attention. The elderly Owler shrugged apologetically at the 1066 Chapter Boss and uttered a nervous giggle. “Chief. The undercooked shrimp has it right. By our Code and theirs. You bloody well have to call her Chief Shrimp.”


That left Haddent speechless long enough for Alice to take quick control – aware they were using precious time. “The Owler Code says ‘local knows best’. We carry out Chief Thomayne’s plan…”


Alice looked at Thomayne, suddenly realising she didn’t know if Thomayne had a plan. Not that it mattered, Alice only had a vague impression of where they were and this was Thomayne’s home ground. ‘Local knows best’ seemed sound advice and Thomayne’s instincts would be an Owler’s, not a Steam Rider’s.


Thomayne did have a plan. “Mount up. Follow me. Hurry.”


She turned and began to stride up the road to Pevensey. Alice hurried after her on foot.


Keto took a low bow as Alice passed him. “All hail Senior Envoy.”


“All hail Chief Shrimp!” Wasp performed a clumsy curtsy.


“Go eat…” Alice couldn’t recall Loz’s exact words, so concluded: “…a squimbly goat’s bottom.”


Wasp and Keto howled with laughter, until they were told off in strong terms by Gunning for causing delay. They made their way back to Forsaken and Ketonski, chastised but still grinning.


“Well played,” Thomayne said, when Alice caught up with her. “Ye be a valuable asset to Rottingdean, I reckon, sureleye.”


The low grumble of steambikes followed in their wake – Alice could hear Dusky’s zilzish even. Black was close on her heels, not letting Alice out of his sight.


“I’m just a prentice, Chief Thomayne,” Alice said.


Just a prentice who wears Scylla of Sinneport’s mairemaid ring. Just a prentice who is Senior Envoy to Governor Bollinger of Tamarisk.” Thomayne glanced over her shoulder at Black. “A prentice who has a former member of Hawkish Ventures as her personal bodyguard. A prentice who runs circles around local Owler and SaSoS Chapter Chiefs, and seems of great interest to the worsermost Rozzers. I’d say there’s a great deal more to you than just a prentice.”


Alice shrugged, once again unnerved by the realisation that Meadows might well be looking for her personally. She had to stay out of his hands. If Meadows found out who she really was…


Alice wished she was in the sky, on the deck of a good skiff with the wind her friend. It was easier up there. 


Muddier down here. She sighed, it was also a Thursday and it was well known that hoisting sails on Thursdays, Friday, or Sundays brought ill luck.


She asked: “What’s the plan, Chief Thomayne?”


“We go to ground,” Thomayne said. “The Owler way. Lay low and wait.”


“With the steambikes?”


“My Wassailers have run in bigger crops than that.”


Thomayne indicated a farmhouse. The farmer was waiting by the gate, some farm-hands by the closed broad double doors of a barn.


“We can take two, Chief,” the farmer told Thomayne.


Thomayne indicated Haddent and Loz, who drove onto the farm yard even as the farm-hands opened the tall and wide barn doors.


They entered a narrow street and left Wasp and Forsaken at a smithy; Lady C, Bramble, and NautiLass at a large house; Keto and Ketonski at a bakery; and Gunning and Sleipnir with a merry vicar at an ancient church. That just left Alice, Thomayne, and Black on Dusky.


“A lot of distant relatives and old acquaintances visiting today,” Thomayne commented. “I doubt the Rozzers will stop and search, but if they do, let them prove otherwhile.”


“Depends what messages they get from Altringham,” Alice said, somewhat worried about dividing their strength.


“If there be moil,” Thomayne said. “Every man, woman, and child in Pevensey will be on our side.”


The street broadened and Alice got her first proper look at a forbidding curtain wall of a castle to their left. Facing a gateway in the tall castle wall was a tavern, with welcoming warm light behind its ground-floor latticed windows and richly perfumed by the smell of mulled spiced wine. A broader street ran past behind the tavern. The right-turn revealed more timbered houses, the left-turn curved around the castle wall and its guard towers. One of the towers was taller and broader than the rest, its empty, narrow, and dark arrow-slits projecting ancient menace.


Thomayne indicated the tavern. “The Royal Oak & Castle. I’m innkeep there, but it be too obvious a place. They always search the inns and taverns first round here. Rozzers have learned that much, only took them a few centuries to figure it out.”


She led them through the open gateway in the castle wall. The outer bailey contained a broad expanse of green common within the curtain wall. The crumbling ruins of the inner bailey rose to their left. Thomayne went the other way, coursing straight for the larger curtain wall tower Alice had noted.


“Owler’s Tower,” Thomayne said. “As good a place to go to ground as any.” 




THURSDAY 2 NOVEMBER 1871

Owler's Tower, Pevensey


22. OWLER'S TOWER


The tower was ‘D’ shaped – the curve built with dressed stone, the straight back closed off by timber walls on all three levels. There were broad doors on the ground floor that were opened by two Owlers, a man and a woman dressed in the old-fashioned nautical gear. Their faces were united by shared mischievous mirth, their tricorn hats by garish purple feathers.


“Bethanks, Taz and Jar.” Thomayne said, and motioned Black to drive Dusky inside. There was another vehicle on the ground floor of the tower. Crates and sacks were piled up in the curve of the far wall, and a wooden staircase led up alongside the left wall.


Black parked Dusky next to the other vehicle while Thomayne and her Owlers shut the doors, bolting and barring them. It grew dimmer as daylight no longer spilled in, leaving half-a-dozen lit lanterns to provide light.


Alice scrambled off the trike and examined the other transport curiously. It appeared the size of a large stage coach, half concealed by an old unfurled sail. The exposed parts revealed what looked like a closed pilot’s cabin, the body work a polished deep purple contrasted by the golden gleam of ornamental decoration that swirled around in graceful curls and spirals.


A man stepped around the vehicle’s back and pulled the rest of the sail over the vehicle. “Out of sight, out of mind.”


The man had one regular eye and one purple lens. It whirred as a small appendage lens folded over the robotic eye.


“Perfessor von Windbeutel!” Alice exclaimed.


“Young Miss Liss!” Professor von Windbeutel beamed. “Well met in the dim light of an Owler’s lantern. How very fitting for two Free Traders. Andreas! Good to see you again so soon, regardless of our current predicament.”


“What are you doing here?” Alice asked, unable to keep suspicion out of her tone.


I wish I knew who chaunted and who can be trusted.


“None of that, if you please,” von Windbeutel replied. “As you may recall, Governor Bollinger agreed that it would be best for me to seek council, which, as it happens, I intend to do in Brighton. We were on our way there when Thomayne advised caution.”


“I wasn’t expecting our paths to cross,” Black said. “But it comes as no surprise either, Gorlassar. I’m afraid our young friend here comes equipped with certain assumptions regarding ‘furriners’ such as ourselves. As for Joanne’s caution, someone at the Polymina last night sent word of our young friend’s whereabouts to Altringham’s Dragoons.”


“So that’s what all the fuss is about,” von Windbeutel mused, and then looked surprised as he beheld Black. “You? A foreigner?”


“Not from Sussex,” Black explained.


“Naun true bout assumptions,” Alice objected. “A certain highwayman once told me it pays to be careful, that be all.”


“Touché!” Von Windbeutel chuckled.


“You were quick enough to skip off with Thomayne just now,” Black told Alice.


“Yarr, but she be a Sussex Owler.”


“As is Steph Ruxley,” Black pointed out.


“Yarr, but…but…”


“Foreign or not,” Gorlassar von Windbeutel said. “We’re both Free Traders, young Miss Liss. And as such, there’s someone from the Starlings here I’d like to introduce you to. Shall we?”


He indicated the stairs.


“Ye’d better, or I’ll have to knock sense in all of yer heads,” Thomayne approached them. Taz and Jar were behind her, unfolding another old sail – darkened like an Owler’s sail should be. Thomayne continued, “Get yerselves upstairs. I’ll be up drackly after we’ve hid Black’s trike from a casual coke.”


The first floor was darker, lit by two lanterns. Apart from a few narrow bunk beds, it served as an Owler’s store room. Kegs, crates, packs, and sacks were piled up high. One corner had a small bench on which rested jugs and barrels, as well as an open box containing two rows of glass balls in various sizes – measuring tools like Alice herself had used in apprentice lessons on diluting contraband.


Alice walked to one of the arrow slits, recalling how they’d appeared dark and menacing from the street outside the castle. It had a curtain of sorts, consisting of a very fine black mesh that barely let any light in but through which she could see out just fine. She watched a farmer’s wagon rumble by and said in wonder: “The tower looked deserted from outside.”


“As it ought to,” Professor von Windbeutel agreed. “We can see outside, but nobody looking in, even from close by, would see so much as a glimmer of light or moving shadow.”


“It even does much to dampen sound, as long as there’s no shooting or shouting,” Thomayne added as she came up the stairs. “It pays to have fancy St Leonards folk as friends, Liss. It’s allowed us to remain invisible and unheard – that and some yarns about a shim or two haunting the tower.”


“Fancy folk from St Leonards ought to be of some use,” Professor von Windbeutel agreed. Seeing the quizzical look on Alice’s face, he clarified. “The mesh is my invention.”


“Deedy!” Alice exclaimed, with an Owler’s appreciation of stealth and guise.


“Thank you, my dear Miss Liss.” Professor von Windbeutel beamed.


Invention.


Something dawned. “Are you going to Brighton, Perfessor, to see Mus Volk and Herr Döktor?”


Von Windbeutel raised his eyebrows. “Them that ask no questions—”


“—Bain’t told no lie. ‘Pologies,” Alice said quickly, still having to get used to someone like this gentleman being an Owler – on a run of sorts and Codebound to careful silence. Yet, he was also an inventor like Uncle Magnus and Herr Döktor. Alice was suddenly sure that von Windbeutel was going to see them. She found that reassuring because those two were bettermost deedy – never short of ideas.


“Would ye mind, Gorlassar,” Thomayne said. “Taking our other guests to the top floor? There’s a matter here that needs our minding.” She gestured at Taz and Jar who had followed her up the stairs.


“Not at all,” von Windbeutel answered. “Miss Liss, Captain Black, would you be so kind as to follow me?”


Captain? Weren’t that forever and longer ago?


Alice and Black followed von Windbeutel to the top floor of the tower. They had to negotiate more of the professor’s mesh, the material used as curtains at the bottom and the top of the stairs. The arrow slits were curtained with the mesh as well on the tower’s top floor as well. There were more bunk beds and a large central table surrounded by chairs. There was a fireplace. Although the firewood in the hearth was unlit, a source of warmth was provided by a well-stoked small coal brazier in front of the hearth. The table was covered with maps and sea charts, pewter cups and plates, a cutting board with half-a-loaf of bread and a chunk of hard cheese – Alice’s empty tummy rumbled – as well as a square of waxed paper covered with gleaming freshly oiled axes and cutlasses.


A woman stepped out of the shadows on the far side of the room.


She was magnificently attired in a purple gown. It was the same hue as Gorlassar von Windbeutel’s outfit, but whereas the material of the professor’s frockcoat and waistcoat was velvet, the woman’s gown had the smooth shine of silk. It fell around her with dazzling elegance, emphasized by intricate lace cuffs and hems. Her loose shoulder-length hair was dyed deep blue, her tricorne hat graced by peacock feathers. The expression on her face and her bearing suggested the natural confidence of the well-born, but her sparkling sharp eyes suggested a keen intelligence that was often lacking in the pampered classes.


Alice’s eyes grew wide. She had seldom beheld such a fine display of Flight-Funk before. She also flinched. Usually it was fine ladies like these who set their male companions on slumgirls like Alice in Brighton, like a dog unleashed on a fox. Instinctively, she glanced at von Windbeutel – and his mechanised cane.


She had been at the end of canes before, usually just managing to evade their sweep. Sometimes though, gentlemen could be overeager to demonstrate their martial prowess and land hard blows on slumrats, hard enough to leave bruises.


“The vicious classes don’t feel pain the way we do.” Alice had once heard a gentleman explain when the lady at his side expressed concern. Most of the ladies, however, squealed with thrilled delight when their suitors or spouses got a good whack in, but Alice’s mum had told her to feel sorry for them.


“How long do you reckon that excitement will last? With brutes like that? I ken there bain’t many blessings to count in the Lanes, Alice. Howsumever, not been born fancy allows you a freedom those women will never know. And some of those Toff ladies are beaten as badly, if not worse, than slumwomen whose gaffer is allwhile tossicated.”


Alice understood her mother’s conviction of this, but not the concept itself. Those woman were rich, never went hungry, and could buy all the FlightFunk fashion they desired. It seemed a pretty good deal.


She regretted flinching though. The professor had been kind throughout. She recalled their exchange on board the Polymina. He had not spoken to her as an apprentice or a useless girl – instead taking her as serious as an Owler Chief would any Wind Reader on matters of flight. He reminded her of Uncle Magnus and Herr Döktor, who cared little for where someone was from, as long as they had something sensible to say. It was unfair to assume the professor would strike out with his cane. Even though he was a furriner, he simply wasn’t that kind of person, she was sure of it.


Alice looked from von Windbeutel to the lady.


Nor is she, I reckon.


“My dear Adele,” von Windbeutel said, beholding the woman with delight on his face. “You are acquainted with Captain Black of course, but I don’t think you’ve met Miss Liss before, a Free Trade apprentice from Rottingdean. Liss, this is—”


“—Mademoiselle De Drivitte,” Black interupted with an uncharacteristic happy grin. “A pleasure to remake our acquaintance, as always.”


“The finest and fairest of the Starlings,” von Windbeutel added.


Alice remembered the lady’s name from the moot because it had made such an impression on Will Trulock. Alice looked at the woman curiously, wondering why the old sea dog had surrendered so meekly when she’d been named by the professor. Alice also struggled with the fact that this woman too, was styled an Owler just like the professor. She couldn’t imagine fine folk like this braving coarse weather to transfer a crop over choppy seas.


Adele de Drivitte ignored the professor and Black, her full focus on Alice as she stepped closer and looked Alice up and down. Approval flashed in her eyes when she took in the scarf, satchel, and red boots – curiosity and recognition when she beheld the mermaid ring.


She spoke in slightly accented English. “Well met, young apprentice. So, you are the one I’ve ‘eard so much about.”


“How do, Milady?” Alice replied cautiously. “Begging your pardon, Milady, you heard of me?”


“How could I not?” The woman bestowed a warm smile on Alice. “With both Gorlassar and Joanne raining praises on you?”


Thomayne had said as much to Alice, so that she could believe, but she looked at von Windbeutel in surprise. “You did, Perfessor?”


“I assure you, Miss Liss, that my dear Adele speaks in terms of mild exaggeration,” he replied.


“I thought they would never stop,” Adele de Drivitte complained comically.


Alice grinned, beginning to feel a little bit more at ease.


It didn’t last long. The unexpected voice in her head – loud and clear – saw to that.


YOU SUMMONED ME. ‘ERE I AM.


It sounded just like Adele de Drivitte, but the woman’s lips weren’t moving, pressed into a knowing smile instead, her eyes sparkling with mischief.


Then she spoke normally. “You truly are the spitting image of your mother, Alice. A Gunn indeed. ‘Ow is Clara?”


“My mother?” Alice took a tense step backwards. “What…who…”


THE SUMMONER SHOULD KNOW WHO.


The same voice, de Drivitte’s voice Alice was sure, but with a puzzled note in it this time, as if taken aback.

Alice shook her head in denial of the voice that had sounded so loud and clear in her head, as well as the shock of being identified.


“…you called me Al—”


“—I do apologize, I assumed that…” De Drivitte looked at Black. “You ‘aven’t told ‘er?”


Alice turned to Black. “Told me what?”


He answered de Drivitte, his words stealing Alice’s breath.


“Alice may be a spitting image of Clara Gunn, but she’s unmistakably John’s as well. She can command like a Hawkeye, that’s for sure. At times, during our journey from Sinneport, I thought I was back on the quarterdeck of The Firebrass. Or The Parseval for that matter.”


“Not to mention The Blue Orchid, Captain Black,” De Drivitte said. The smile on her face turned into concern. “‘Ow did Tess…”


“Tess gifted Alice her remaining mermaid.”


“I thought that was what I saw! And Nell the other. Incroyable! I wouldn’t ‘ave expected that.”


Incroyable? I heard that before. She knows Tess Hawkhurst and Nell too? Bloody hell, what is going on?


“Neither did I,” Black said. “But you’ll find Alice, or Liss as we should call her on a run, is full of surprises, much like John and Clara. And Tess will be Tess.”


The Firebrass? The Parseval?” A dozen questions swirled through Alice’s mind. “Why would Goody Hawkhurst…Mus Black! You knew all this time? You knew?”


“You named yourself Liss, a Free Trader Codebound and on a run,” Black answered. “It would have been improper to name you otherwise, isn’t that right, young Hawkeye?”


“Yarr.” Alice nodded at the logic of that, though her mind was not put at ease at all. It seemed that Black had been dishonest somehow. He had said he knew John Hawkeye, but not that he had known she was Alice Kittyhawk, the daughter of his old fellow Hawkish Venturer.


Black glanced at the stairs. “And it will be ‘Liss’ again in a moment, but just now you’re among friends of a different type.”


“Friends?” Alice looked at Adele de Drivitte, warily certain that she had never met the woman before although there was a niggling familiarity of sorts. Had she imagined that she had heard the woman’s voice in her head just now? Alice hadn’t slept much and was beginning to sway with exhaustion – the sort of time when imagination could take a powerful hold of her mind.


“We met thrice before,” de Drivitte answered Alice’s unspoken question. “As a babe in your mother’s arms, as a toddler on your father’s knee, and more recently…in a manner of speaking. This is our fourth encounter.”


“More recently?” Alice asked in confusion.


“Oh for goodness sake,” von Windbeutel exclaimed. “Provide some clarity to ease the poor girl’s mind. She’s got plenty of riddles to puzzle over, I’m quite sure.”


Black shrugged apologetically. “Some things I could have said are best told by others, Alice. Just know that you can trust Adele and Gorlassar with your life, as I do.”


Adele de Drivitte raised her left hand to astonish Alice with the sight of a mermaid ring, just like Alice’s.


“We ‘ave much to talk about…” De Drivitte glanced at Thomayne making her entrance. “Liss. Know that you and I are bound by more ways than one, but this…Hawkish Ventures…Un pour tous, tous pour un.”


“Quiddy?” Alice asked.


“Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno,” von Windbeutel added.


“Did I walk into a Latin lesson?” Thomayne enquired drily. “I’ll go cut my stick. I speak Sussex, and that be more than enow for me.”


“It means ‘one for all, all for one’,” Black translated. “I hope that sounds better to your Sussex ears, Goody Thomayne.”


“Ye’ve done worsermost, Squire,” Thomayne told Black, before diving deep into exaggerated Sussex brogue, “Eena fur aahwl, aahwl fur eena.”


Black sighed. Turning to Alice, he said, “It’s another Code, Liss. Hawkish Ventures had their own code, one that bonded pirate and privateer.”


Alice looked at her own mermaid ring, dizzy with unanswered questions. It would have to wait now that the Wassailer Chief had joined them.


Thomayne changed the subject, grumbling as she peered out of one of the arrow slits. “I reckon we were in the nick of time. More Rozzers than ye can shake a stick at.”


Alice, Black, de Drivitte, and von Windbeutel all moved to find arrow slits to peer from – Alice joining Thomayne.


It had stopped raining and the breeze was losing strength. The road that curled around the perimeter wall was filling with soldiers, the Queen’s Men marching in scarlet coats, and mounted Yeomen trotting in their customary purple.


The spectacle was both ominous and humorous. Not all of the Queen’s Men seemed to have mastered keeping pace. Parts of their columns kept on stalling, or stopping altogether to mill about aimlessly as the yeomen tried to push their mounts onward. Though the sound was muted, the soldiers were so close that Alice could clearly hear horses neighing in protest, officers yelling at NCOs, who in turn tried to restore some semblance of order by bellowing at the scarlet and purple-coated confusion.


Despite the comedy, the Queen’s Men all shouldered muskets and had bayonets hanging on their belts. The Yeomen had carbines attached to their saddles and long cavalry sabres at their sides. Inefficient as they might be, the sheer number of armed men passing by would make any confrontation a bloody one.


“Tis moil,” Alice murmured to herself.


“I reckon ye be right,” Thomayne agreed, before walking to the table where she was joined by the others. She unrolled a detailed map of the area. “Assuming Altringham will get word to Meadows sooner rather than later…”


“Bollinger said his men cut the telegraph wires between Eastbourne and Hastings to ribbons,” Black said. “So it would depend on Dragoons riding west and encountering the Yeomen on patrol, or Queen’s Men at a roadblock. It’s not unlikely that will happen today. I should think the Dragoons will be patrolling in a wide radius around Hastings today, if Altringham follows his standard orders.”


“I doubt it’s a coincidence that both Meadows and Altringham ‘ave stirred into sudden activity,” de Drivitte said. “Altringham isn’t particularly intelligent, but I’m sure ‘e’ll get word to Meadows that the Steam Riders were last seen ‘eading this way.”


“Were last heard heading this way, more likely,” Black lamented.


“If Meadows be supervising this operation hisself,” Thomayne mused. “And he learns ye blasted out of Hastings on a western course, he might reckon ye’ve gone to ground. All-along-of that, he might be ordering a coke about our houses, sheds, and barns afore too long.”


“Then we can’t stay here for much longer,” von Windbeutel said. “We don’t want to jeopardise the good people of Pevensey.”


Thomayne nodded. “Bethanks. Meadows owns the Eastbourne courts lock, stock, and barrel. Those found concealing Owlers or contraband risk noose or deportation.”


Alice shivered. Neither option had her preference. She traced the contours of the Downs on the map with a finger. “Do you reckon the Rozzers will stick to the main roads?”


“Twould be a safe gamble,” Thomayne answered her. “Tis their habit.” She pointed at various locations on the map. “This lot passing by now will set up roadblocks on the roads to Rickney, Wartling, The Lamb Inn, and Hastings.”


“And many more at and around Polegate, you told us,” Black said, his eyes on the area Alice had indicated. “How about the roads up to the Downs?”


“By my reckoning,” Thomayne replied, “They bain’t got boco more left at their barracks, a few troops of Yeomen at most. Two proper roads, to Friston and Jevington – they might be patrolling those. Howsumever, dunnamany byways.”


Catching Alice eying the food, Thomayne cut portions of bread and cheese. Alice’s tummy rumbled in gratitude when she and Black were offered a share.


“So, we’re behind the net they’re spreading,” de Drivitte said. “For the time being at least.”


“Then we must make use of that while we can.” Black concluded, before biting down hungrily on his cheese and bread.


Von Windbeutel had been studying the map as well. “I suggest we head for Raymond. He’ll take us in.”


“Aye,” Thomayne agreed. “Ray will enjoy spiting Meadows and damn the risk.”


“Raymond? Ray?” Alice asked, between bites of the first meal she’d had all day.


“Cap’n Ray Spinks,” Thomayne explained. “Chief of the Sea-Rats. He’ll also ken about the comings and goings of the South Essex Regiment at Newhaven. If and when they swarm out of their fort, ye’ll have yer own hands full staying out of theirs.”


“Regular Redcoats,” Black clarified. “Veterans of Brittany. To be treated with extreme caution. It would be useful to have the Sea-Rats guide us past the South Essex. So, to Wurreld’s End it is.”


“Alfriston!” Alice searched the map with her eyes. She had never been there, but had heard plenty about that notorious den of piratical smugglers. Or smuggling pirates.


Either way was improper. Owlers didn’t like being classed with common criminals. They viewed their nocturnal activities as a legitimate business with goods bought and sold, not stolen. Mostly the folk who got hurt were careless Owlers, or those who went coking and poking in matters that were none of their purvension.


A common Free Trade toast was “may the smuggler’s heart be allwhen free from the pirate’s spirit.”


The Alfriston Sea-Rats, it was said, had tainted hearts and were considered Codeless. Rumour had it that the contagion had spread to the Seaford Shags and Newhaven Winklepickers as well.


There weren’t all that many other options though, and they were Free Traders of a sort in Alfriston.


“Here,” von Windbeutel pointed at the small town in the Cuckmere valley. “And to get there…” He pointed at another area of the map and looked at Thomayne questioningly.


She replied, nodding. “On to Langley, past the Ratton Estate, up to Butt’s Brow, then around Jevington. That would be the way of my choosing.”


“One concern,” Black said. “If we head to the Downs with engines on standby, we will be moving too slow. If we opt for speed, every man Jack out there will hear us break cover.”


“We’re likely to be noticed either way,” de Drivitte pointed out. “I’d choose speed. Then our only worry would be whatever is ahead of us. Likely to be less in number than any pursuit would be. Besides which, the latter are unlikely to catch up.”


“Unless we wait for them as a matter of courtesy,” Professor von Windbeutel added.


“And them Rozzers what do follow, ye can lose on the byways of the Downs,” Thomayne suggested. “They only ken the main roads, tis unaccountable, but they ne’er seem to learn naun. Ye ken the byways, Andreas, bain’t that so?”


“I do,” Black agreed, before complaining, “If only those damned steambikes didn’t cause such an uproar.”


Alice shook her head. “Naun, Mus Black. Chief Red explained it to me. They’ve got to be used proper. I’ve an idea…?”


She looked around the table at the two former Hawkish Venturers, the professor, and the Owler Chief, aware she was just an apprentice, still wet behind the ears – Chief Shrimp. It was easier to play at confidence against sceptic opponents, less so with folk whom she liked and trusted.


She reckoned she could trust all those present now, the Hawkish Ventures business had been an eye-opener. All these people who had fought side-by-side with John Hawkeye, they were old comrades-in-arms. Tess Hawkhurst, Andreas Black, Adele de Drivitte.


And Cap’n Hawkeye. Dad. But do they trust me? Or am I supposed to keep my mouth shut again.


“Spit it out then,” Thomayne said, to nods of encouragement by the others.


Alice outlined her plan. She was surprised at improvements suggested by de Drivitte –who assured them that the strange vehicle on the ground floor, Olympia, matched Dusky’s stealth.


“You would join us, Milady?”


De Drivitte smiled, raising a hand to let her mermaid gleam. “Un pour tous, tous pour un.”


“Bethanks,” Alice said. “We’d best tell the Steam Riders. They won’t like all of it. And get word to the farmers we need.” Alice looked at Thomayne, who would know if it was possible to send word to any of the others somehow.


The Wassailler Chief nodded, and then simply said, “Liss, Black, follow me,” before descending the steep stairs that led down to the first storey of the Owler’s Tower. 





“Well I’ll be damned,” Black exclaimed as he looked around.


Alice shared his amazement. Apart from the bunk beds, and a grinning Taz with his coat off and shirt-sleeves rolled up, the room was practically empty. The only other thing Alice noted on her second take was Taz’s coat and baldrick hanging from a peg, and a low pile of empty jute sacks at the extremity of the ‘D’ curve of the tower wall.


She was absolutely sure the place had been log-jammed with contraband when they had come up from the ground floor, as well as the dilution station. She hadn’t heard as much as a bumpety-bump upstairs, while a whole floor below them had been cleared of crop. Within a stone’s throw of the Rozzers shuffling by. The Wassailers were efficient.


“Gemeeny,” Alice said. “The whole crop gone and I bain’t even heard a mouse peep.”


Taz looked pleased with himself and turned to Thomayne. “Deck cleared, Cap’n.”


“Bettermost work, Taz, bethanks.” Thomayne looked at Alice and Black. “The two von Windbeutel curtains in the upper stairwell help.”


“I hope we can still move Dusky and Gorlassar’s infernal contraption out,” Black said, glancing at the stairs that led down to the ground floor.


“Lower deck juslike cleared of all but the vehicles,” Taz allayed Black’s concern.


Thomayne walked to the jute sacks and began to sweep them aside with the tip of a boot. Alice and Black joined her to see a rectangular trapdoor appear close by the curved apex of the wall.


“They’d be coking for such a thing on the ground floor,” Thomayne explained. “Less likely up here unless they’re intent on tearing the place to pieces.”


“But…” Black frowned. “Downstairs, I didn’t see…”


“The curving wall be remarkably thick, in most places,” Thomayne said. “Nothing to see. It bain’t spacious in the flue, just a ladder and whatever Owler decides to climb up or down.”


She pointed at a discreet hoist near the ceiling. “Or whatever crop is raised or lowered by rope. The flue leads to the cellar. There’s naun connection between the cellar and the ground floor at all.”


Black nodded approvingly. “A well-concealed bolt-hole.”


“More than that,” Thomayne said. “There be a hidden tunnel at the far end of the cellar.”


“Where does the tunnel go to?” Alice asked.


“Larboard for the Royal Oak & Castle, starboard for the crypt of St Nicholas’ Church.”


Someone in the flue began to heave the trapdoor open, a man by the sound of his voice as he announced. “Good folk here.”


“The church where Jim is?” Black asked.


“Not any more!” Gunning stuck his head through the opening that had appeared. He looked slightly out of breath. “Tight fit this.”


He scrambled out of the flue, followed by a grumbling Haddent.


“I prefer riding Coffin Dodger free as a bird, to all this scurrying about like tunnel rats,” he told no-one in particular.


The Pevensey Owler, Jar, was the last to appear, a sly grin on her face, her remarkably arresting eyes seeking, finding, and then resting on Thomayne. “Crop secured in the tunnels, Cap’n. The rest await your orders.”


“Tis well done,” Thomayne replied. “Orders will follow drackly. I want ye and Taz to join us upstairs. There’s a map that needs coking at.”


They all returned to the top floor. It was clear from quick nods of heads instead of more formal greetings that Haddent, Gunning, Jar, and Taz knew de Drivitte.


Alice made for one of the arrow slits and glanced outside to note the road was still crowded with soldiers.


If the Chapter Chiefs had come to Owler’s Tower through tunnels they probably hadn’t seen the massed soldiery. Alice wanted them to see, especially Haddent, so she called out in a low voice, “Mus Gunning, Mus Haddent.”


The 1066 Chief whistled softly as he peeked out of the arrow slit.


“By Loki’s sulphurous farts,” Gunning cursed in a low voice. “Beggin your pardon, ladies.”


“If we had charged straight on,” Alice said slowly, “we’d have been in the midst of a firefight.”


“Twould have been a grandulous occasion,” Haddent growled. “I’d have given them skyter bilgebreaths a bannicking they wouldn’t forget anywhen soon.”


Alice sighed, anticipating a hard-fought bout to get Haddent to do what she wanted. He surprised her, however, by easing up and delivering a wry grin. “Howsumever, Chief Shrimp, that scrap will be delayed tillwhen we deliver Bollinger’s invites.”


Alice looked at him suspiciously. “You’ll trust me?” She indicated Thomayne, von Windbeutel, de Drivitte, Taz, and Jar – the Free Traders. “Us?”


Haddent grimaced, then grinned. He took one of the Merican chalk tablets from a deer-hide satchel that hung from his shoulder and thrust it at von Windbeutel. “Lighten my load please, Gorlassar, and deliver this. I’d be mighty grateful.”


Von Windbeutel studied the tablet, before saying, “The Sea-Rats.”


He can read the Owler’s Script – mayhap he’s more of an Owler than I reckoned.


Alice glanced at de Drivitte and Black. Former aeroship pirates both, in cahoots with her dad and Tess Hawkhurst.


So many surprises today. And I only ken the half of it yet, if that much. There are things they bain’t telling.


Von Windbeutel smiled at Haddent. “By extraordinary coincidence, we were planning an imminent visit to Raymond. I would be happy to deliver this.”


Haddent grinned triumphantly. “And as one of the Hastings Owler Chiefs, you outrank a prentice, bain’t that so?”


Alice stared at him hard.


“What are ye driving at?” Thomayne demanded to know. “Ye ardle-headed scaddle.”


“He’s just promoted the perfessor to Bollinger’s Senior Envoy.” Alice shook her head with disbelief that this was Haddent’s primary concern, with so many Rozzers on the prowl just outside the tower.


“I’ll trust Milady de Drivitte,” Haddent told Alice. “Is that good enow for ye, Chief Shrimp?”


Alice shrugged unhappily. The Code was clear on the matter.


“Well, on behalf of the Starlings, both Adele and I are quite honoured.” Professor van Windbeutel was incredibly pleased, so much so that he performed a little dance, tapping the toes of his elegant shoes on the floor.


Alice covered up her mouth with a hand to conceal a broad smile at the sight of it. The others didn’t bother to hide their amusement and laughed encouragingly.


Alice resigned herself to Haddent’s ploy. She had rather enjoyed being Senior Envoy, but if this was the price of his co-operation it would have to do. Alice forced herself to say, “Bethanks, Mus Haddent.”


“Splendid, ‘Arris.” De Drivitte beamed at Haddent. “Especially because I’ll be asking you to do something you won’t like at all. Come to the map. All of you.”


Alice stared at de Drivitte as the woman calmly took control of the current endeavour atween her Starlings, the Mericans, two SaSoS Chapters, Sinneport’s moot-agent Black, a Rottingdean apprentice, and the Pevensey Wassailers.


De Drivitte outlined the plan, pointing at various locations on the map as she spoke. Every one seemed to have accepted her command in this without a moment’s hesitation, the collective trust was implicit.


Even Haddent. What is she?


Although Haddent had specifically asked Professor von Windbeutel to carry the tablet, the latter wasn’t even pretending to be Senior Envoy, even though he was an Owler Chief in his own right.


According to the Code, Owler Chiefs were equals, with none above them. Alice knew that such lofty ideals were diluted by reality. Owling outfits differed in the muscle they could make, the investors they could find, the crop they could run, and the coin they could earn. When the chiefs of the stronger outfits weighed in, their words carried more importance. Yet, even then, only when they were diplomatic enough to acknowledge the Code’s insistence on equality. Those who threw their weight around by issuing commands, or strong-arming weaker outfits, were quick to lose respect from others and would find themselves standing alone.


Alice had seen for herself that Bollinger exceeded in the skills required to gently make Owlers from different outfits – and all their innate stubborn pride – toe a line of sorts.


Bollinger had also elected to recognise SaSoS Chiefs as equals, just like Alice’s father had done with the South Downs Chapter. It went a long way to explain why the Governor of Tamarisk had earned SaSoS respect – not an easy thing to achieve at all. Steam Riders were notoriously independent, just as Owler outfits were. But none were more wilfully proud than Owler Chiefs. ‘Stubborn as a pig’ was a compliment in Sussex, something to be admired and not frowned upon.


Yet, before her very eyes, Alice witnessed de Drivitte assume overall command of a common endeavour as easily as John Hawkeye of Rottingdean had once done, and none other since he had passed from life.


Haddent didn’t grumble or growl when Drivitte asked him he to do the unspeakable.


Nor did he immediately agree to it, looking abashed instead. “Well…erm…it be unaccountable…howsumever, tis…middling, so tis…that is what it be…sureleye.”


He nudged Gunning. “I’ve done my fair share of talking, Jim. Bettermost words they were too. Your turn.”


“What Harris means to say…” Gunning seemed to dissipate in awkwardness. “Neither of us, nor our Chapters, have ever—”


“—never, ever—” Haddent interceded.


“—evermore done disyer thing afore.” Gunning finished, with a blush on his cheeks.


“Do you think you can manage?” de Drivitte asked.


Haddent and Gunning exchanged a look of abject horror.


“Spose we must, Milady,” Haddent reluctantly agreed.


“Yarr,” Gunning added, looking most downcast. “There not being many options it seems.”


“There are not,” de Drivitte agreed with him.


“Splendid.” Von Windbeutel beamed. “I’ll go prep Olympia.” He made his way to the stairs.


“I’ll see to Dusky,” Black said and followed the professor.


“Joanne,” de Drivitte said. “Is there a good rendez-vous?”


“Old barn,” Thomayne responded. “A few fields out of Pevensey, on a farmer’s track to Langley. We use it as a hide somewhen. Drackly the sodgers have passed by, my folk will guide the Steam Riders there, help them push the steambikes, and they can stoke up their boilers…” She looked up at Taz. “We’ll need coal there.”


“Aye-aye, Cap’n.” Taz tapped the rim of his tricorne hat with his knuckles and made to leave.


“Wait,” Thomayne stopped him in his tracks. “Send word that we’ll need dry pig swill sent to the old barn as well. All that can be found. What’s more, I’ll need to stay in Pevensey in case things turn foul for our folk. Could ye and Jar guide our guests to Butt’s Brow?”


“Butt’s Brow,” Taz said, saluting again. “Aye-aye, Cap’n.”


“It’ll be our pleasure,” Jar added.


Taz went on his way. De Drivitte addressed Thomayne again. “Do your tunnels lead to all the Steam Rider ‘ide-outs? I am of mind to speak to all of them about our plan.”


“Then better if the vicar summons them all to meet you at the crypt,” Thomayne said. “Jim, Harris, do ye reckon you can find your way back to St Nick’s through the tunnels? Escort Lady de Drivitte there?”


“Yarr,” Gunning replied.


De Drivitte and the two SaSoS Chapter Chiefs departed, leaving Alice with Thomayne and Jar.


Alice was still flabbergasted by de Drivitte’s performance as a…a…


Admiral. Or proper army General. I failed to do that. That oaf Haddent saw to that with his mutiny.


Alice walked to the table, recovered the box from her satchel, and set it on the table. She opened the box and took out the Derringer.


Widowmaker.


It wasn’t an original name. Alice was quite sure she’d encountered it in Penny Dreadfuls, but the manner in which Lady C had claimed to have used the gun gave it a pleasantly dangerous ring. Handling the gun, Alice was pleased but not unsurprised that it was meticulously cleaned and oiled.


She began to load the Derringer. Thomayne and Jar had joined her at the table, looking at Alice’s progress.


“Ye ken what ye’re doing,” Thomayne approved. “Howsumever, flight be better than fight.”


“Yarr, Chief,” Alice answered. “But if things don’t work out, I bain’t wanting to find meself scrambling to load Widowmaker when the shooting’s already started.”


She paused, before she looked Thomayne in the face. “I dursn’t get caught by Meadows’s men, he murdered my father. He don’t like my fambly much.”


Alice turned her attention back to the gun. “Asides, if I’m taken, mayhap I’ll get a chance to shoot Meadows.”


“Yer too young to be dancing the gallows jig, Liss,” Thomayne said.


“It bain’t an easy thing to kill a man,” Jar added. “I been tempted to with Taz, but when he smiles that smile…”


“Meadows managed,” Alice said stubbornly.


“Well, you maun carry a loaded gun in a satchel,” Jar said.


“I’ll stick it in me belt.”


Thomayne shook her head. “Dunnamany prentices sent a ball through their leg thatways. Howsumever…”


Thomayne walked to a chest by the wall near the hearth, opened it, and began rummaging around.

“…found it.”


The Owler Chief turned and made for the table again. She was holding a leather belt…no a slim baldrick, splendidly leatherworked with a complex pattern of acorns and oak leaves. There was a sword holder at the lower end, and a holster one third of the way up – one made for a small gun. The baldrick looked well-used but carefully maintained, the leather having acquired a rich deep gleam.


“From my own prentice days,” Thomayne said. “I reckon it’ll fit ye and yer Widowmaker well – and it suits those that do the work of Senior Envoys for important Owler Chiefs. Take off the scarf shortwhen.”


Alice did, hanging the colourful scarf over the back of a chair. Thomayne slid the baldrick around Alice before stepping back to admire the result.


“I’ve naun doubt ye’ll lead again, Liss,” Thomayne said. “Tis harder for women mostwhen, but from what I’ve seen and heard, ye’ve got it in ye. Be patient, ye got plenty of years ahead of ye, don’t rush too much. Try the Derringer.”


Alice slid the gun into the holster to find it a near perfect fit.


“She might be needing…” Jar looked at Thomayne questioningly.


Thomayne nodded her assent, and Jar selected one of the smaller cutlasses on the table, matching it with a simple laced leather scabbard before handing it to Alice.


Alice attached the scabbard to her side, and was as pleased as punch, twirling around to get a better sense of the sudden added weight. The scabbard duly crashed into one of the chairs.


“Whoops-a-Daisy.” Thomayne laughed.


“Ye’ll get used to it soon enow,” Jar promised.


“Bettermost take it off now,” Thomayne said. “It be hard to curl up on a bunk bed with the baldrick on.”


“Curl up?” Alice frowned. “I bain’t sleepy.”


“Balderdash,” Thomayne disagreed. “I heard ye only got a few hours in last night. From what I see, ye’re reeling like an aeronaut at the end of the first night of ground leave. There’s time for an hour, mayhap two hours of rest and ye need to take it.”


Alice could barely believe that Thomayne thought she could sleep when there were so many soldiers so close by and an escape plan afoot. “I bain’t napping like a chavvie.”


Jar laughed. “As stocky as I used to be.”


“Used to be? Begging your pardon Jar, but ye be as stocky as they come. Barring this little one, mayhap.” Thomayne chuckled, before growling at Alice. “Damn yer pride, prentice.”


Jar advised, “An Owling woman knows to catch what rest she can, when she can. For the sake of the run. Tired Free Traders make a mizmaze of moil.”


Alice puffed up her chest, proud at being called a woman, then grinned. She’d been amused by Pip’s pretensions, but it turned out she wasn’t much better in this than he had been.


“Asides, ye’ve no choice.” Thomayne ended the discussion. “Mark me words, Just Prentice, yer hereby ordered to try to get some sleep by an Owler Chief who bain’t got time for long discussions.”


“Codebound to obey,” Jar added.


Alice reluctantly parted from the baldrick, hanging it over the chair by her scarf. She sought a bunk bed, quite sure that she wouldn’t be able to sleep – not with so many unanswered questions swirling through her mind and the imminent danger they were in.


She was wrong. Alice went out like a smuggler’s lantern, fast asleep even before Jar finished tucking a blanket over her. 



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ANSWERS IN WAGES OF SIN

Alice is going to be puzzling over the Hawkish Venturers for a while yet. Should you want to find out before her, do contemplate the novella  WAGES OF SIN . The entirety of this story takes place on October 31st 1871, on the very night that Alice and Pip are mostly asleep in the Mairemaid (see chapter 6  https://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk/fair-night-chapters-six-and-seven ). The story is told from Tess Hawkhurst's perspective, and reveals quite a bit of the backstory of Alice's connection to Sinneport. It also reveals just how close Alice and Pip got to being murdered in their sleep that night...


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WAGES OF SIN  EBOOK CONCEALED IN...

WAGES OF SIN  will not appear as Kindle E-Book. However, the story is contained in the Kindle version of THE TALE OF THE RED QUEEN & OTHER STORIES Anthology. 

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