New Beginnings… Part 10
Artwork borrowed from Flavio Bolla
It has been too (too) long since the last entry in this series… or the last time I put in time on this side project. Life went up and down and around the corner between relocating, rescuing more than one kitty with assistance from some of you, and finishing off our first book in a new collaborative series—a tiny bit more about that at the end of this entry.
Like all previous entries, this is a rough draft and subject revisions—lots of them. The first scene is a rewrite of the last one previously posted. If you need to catch up, see past entries under “Excerpts,” and now…
Chapter 4, Scene 1 [Re-Revised]
Vàtz skidded to a halt at the head of northernmost double-dock. Someone nearly ran him over from behind. He flailed and stumbled forward before spinning around.
“What?” a wobbling Kat demanded. “Why'd you stop?”
“Get Chetnik!” he ordered. “Or any city guard you run into first.”
Kat blinked in shock and hissed back, “The captain's the last we'd want here!”
“Better we call him than someone else—and someone will!”
Vàtz whirled away before she argued again. He dodged, wove, and shoved through people clogging the big dock's top deck. The stand-off between porter teams had attracted too much attention, and that wasn't good. Customers wouldn't think so either.
He could hear some behind and ahead of him griping and questioning, one to another. And getting past Boddack's men to his own team was barred completely.
Vàtz pulled up short before a wall of broad backs in sweat-stained shirts.
“Make a path!” he shouted—and then regretted it.
More than one wide back turned to reveal bony, grisly, scarred and or stubbly faces. He knew a few of these ex-deckhands turned porters. In facing them, he felt suddenly as small as his younger cousin. The only good thing was that he didn't spot Boddack among them.
That wouldn't last. With all of this attention someone might run off to find “Thumbless.”
Vàtz looked up into the thick face of a broad-bellied hulk with a bell-shaped head by the look of his sagging jowls and fat throat. Prickly ash-colored eyebrows matched the four days of like-colored stubble around his grinning maw.
“Well, wadaya know, it's our local little schemer,” old Goran bellowed.
As foreman of Boddack's private porter teams, he was one of few who made his boss look less slimy.
Vàtz swallowed but regained half of his gall. “Nobody block's a dock! Get out of the way, or I'll report you to the portmaster.”
“I didn't start this,” Goran countered in a croaking growl. “But I'll finish it… with you!”
He turned away, as did the others with him, which was perhaps better than what he might've done.
Vàtz again faced that dingy, sweaty wall of backs. He look left and right for any way around. More shouts rose in the crowd behind him, and more beyond that wall of broad backs.
Maybe some higher voices lost among others came from his own team. He did heard Bolo swearing again. And Vàtz crouched to peek between Goran's legs.
Across a clear space of the dock, he spotted Ded's scarred boots and Bolo's stouter ones a little to the left. That wall of Goran's men started to advance on them and the others. Vàtz straightened up without a way to stop any of this.
That his own team got here first didn't matter anymore. About to shout to Ded or Bolo to back off—
“Hey, you scummy, beached WHALE!”
Vàtz's gut clenched and his throat closed up, and when he straightened up….
Goran turned, wide-eyed at that high-pitched shout from somewhere down the dock. So did most of his men. The old foreman fixed on Vàtz.
“Oh, no, no, no,” he moaned.
“Hey, fatso!” Kat yelled from somewhere behind. “Head's up!”
Goran blinked, looked up and over Vàtz.
A bearer's pole arced down over Vàtz and cracked Goran on the forehead. The nearest of the foreman's men flinched and ducked, and so did Vàtz. Goran wobbled, wide-eyed and slack-jowled. Someone shoved Vàtz from behind.
“Run, ya moron!”
Shaken out of shock, Vàtz didn't get a chance to look as Kat shoved him again.
“What're you doing here?” he asked. “Where's Chetnik?”
“I sent its'n'bits after him,” she answered, rounding and yanking him onward.
The nearest of Goran's men reacted.
One grabbed the side-wobbling foreman under the arms; the other tried to step into the gap. Boggle-eyed Goran wobbled the other way, right in front of Vàtz, but also into the second of his closest underlings. Kat bolted on the other way, and Vàtz had to follow.
They ran around Goran's tangle of three, evade others, and charged into the open space beyond. There came Ded and Bolo, closing fast from the other side. Ded's right hand came out from behind his back, and in it he gripped that long, tarnished butcher knife.
“Ah, poop!” Vàtz panted. “We're gonna get barred!”
Shouts and shrieks rose around the dock and up along the rail of the Bull.
Vàtz grabbed Ded's free arm as they passed each other—something he wouldn't have done if he'd had time to think.
“Put it away,” he whispered. “Things are bad enough without blood on docks.”
Ded turned a cold stare on him.
Vàtz's stomach flip-flop as he snatched his hand back. Kat scurried past them, and Ded turned those dead eyes on Goran's—or rather Boddack's—men. And he still had the ugly butcher's knife in hand.
Could this day's luck get any worse?
Chapter 4, Scene 2
When Devnik heard that rude girl shouting again, somewhere up the dock, he tried to squeeze through to see what was happening. Quickly jammed in among other gawkers trying for a glimpse, a crack of wood drove him up on his toes. He tried to look over all of those heads.
He still couldn't see those little wharf-rats shorter than everyone else, especially that cluster of grimy dockworkers blocking the way. Two of those were in holding up a third, likely drunk—typical.
“Clear a path! Now!”
All other noise waned under that deep-voiced command, and Devnik pun around in looking back down the dock.
Three ring-mailed and surcoated Sträzhy-shlyahketné—the king's city guard—strode through the spreading crowd in a thunder of footfalls on the timbers. Each had a heavy saber sheathed on his or her hip, but only the rear two—a tall man and a short but stout woman—carried pronged pikes. Their round shields were emblazoned with twin sea-hawks on a field of white. The low center ridges of their helms were trimmed in the feathers of those birds, and their sea-blue surcoats mirrored their shields' emblems.
Devnik quickly shifted aside out of the way of their leader without shield or pike.
Everyone in Bela knew Captain Chetnik on sight.
Tall, hefty, and full-bellied, he was still a solid hulk of muscle that blocked sight of half of the two behind him. His helmet had three ridges instead of one. A longer plume of feathers rose from the top of his wide nose-guard over a wide nose and swept high and back over his helmet's center ridge.
Devnik watched the captain and his officers tromped past. The crowd spread like water before the prow of hulkish ship, and then something else startled him. Behind the guards came two spindly, too-little street kids.
Both carried bearer's polls twice as tall as themselves. They looked all around with wide-eyed fright and more than once scurried to catch up with the guards.
Devnik watched in dumb puzzlement.
This day was becoming completely weird, but it now presented an opportunity to find out what those kids had racing toward. He wasn't certain why, but it seemed to mean something. Stepping in behind the little pair with their poles, he followed along—almost.
Disgusted curses and startled squeals made him look back again.
The crowd down the dock parted in lurches, hops, and sudden shifts, as if a dog was nipping their ankles. At first he couldn't see what really caused all of this. One peddler with a jangling tray overburdened with tin wares almost spilled everything in twisting away too quickly.
Out of the break in crowd's legs came a soggy, dripping little runt.
That one stalled short and looked up—and up—at Devnik.
From over-sized boots to his stained pullover and wide goggling eyes, this one was smaller—and more witless-looking—than any of the others Devnik had encountered. The puggy-cheeked boy suddenly dodged around him after the other two with their poles.
Devnik turned and stared.
How many of these little runts would he run into today?
Chapter 4, Scene 3
Vàtz was about to pull on Ded's arm again when the crowds down the dock separated. Goran's team dragged their wobbling foreman aside.
There came Chetnik, and Vatz couldn't help but groan.
Of course his luck got worse. Why wouldn't it, after the day so far?
Out around the captain and two guards came the pair of missing stragglers—Kat's so-called “its'n'bits” sent off in her place. It was more bad luck that they'd run into the captain instead of just some city guards. Worse still, they'd run into both.
Without thinking, Vàtz grabbed and jerked back on Ded's arm. In a quick glance, he saw that tarnished butcher knife was already gone from Ded's grip. At least Ded had had some sense upon spotting the captain. But Vàtz didn't have time for any small relief.
Bolo came up beside him as he turned back. He had to look up into the captain's less-than-pleased hazel eyes.
Chetnik twisted slowly left, glanced over his left shoulder, and scowled at Goran. That filthy team-leader had recovered somewhat from being bopped by Kat. He flinch under the captain's attention but then lowered a glare low toward Vàtz.
“Again? With you two?”Chetnik's barked.
Vàtz looked up—and up—where the captain towered over him. “Yeah, well, Goran started it—again —and my team got here first—again.”
“True enough,” called a sandy voice behind and to the right. “But your squabbling stalled everyone's business—again!”
Vàtz looked over for that voice.
Captain Prochazka of the Buyak—Bull—descended his ship's ramp, passed between two of his crew on guard at the bottom, and his hard boots clomped the dock boards. Tall, lean, and lanky, with a weather-bronzed face, his white-gray hair made him seem old until he came close. He was hardened and mercenary in business, which Vàtz respected, but…
Between Chetnik's cross-armed bulk and Prochazka advancing contempt, Vàtz felt like a mouse. One very stupid mouse, who'd wandered onto the bay's rocky beach under the eyes of a circling hawk overhead and a huge, angry guard-dog blocking any escape.
And the day's luck had gone far beyond bad.
Prochazka paused. Ded straightened up. Chetnik looked back over his shoulder.
Vàtz tilted aside in looking for that strange sound.
Out from behind the captain came Pìnt, sogging the dock with every clomp of his too-big boots.
Bolo groaned. “What's that disgusting little peewee doing here?”
Vàtz didn't want to know.
Chetnik looked down on Pìnt, who stopped to stare up wide-eyed, as usual. The captain's dumbfounded face wrinkled in a scowl amid a grumbing sigh…
“Oh, seven hells!” he moaned, pointing toward Vàtz. “Get over there, Pìnt!”
Pìnt came running, clomping, and squishing at Vàtz.
All right, so he couldn't really blame all of this on his mute cousin. Or could he? Any luck for the day seemed to worsen around Pìnt. And why was his littler cousin still soaked and slimy?
Pìnt slammed into Vàtz right leg, grabbed hold, and Vàtz's pants were instantly soaked.
“Ah, bouds'aut'buiya!” Bolo gagged out. “He still stinks!”
Yes, he did, but before Vàtz could shove off Pìnt, Prochazka shouted at the Chetnik.
“How many times do I put up with this? My crew should handle my cargo all the way to my customers!”
“I won't bend port law for anyone!” Chetnik countered. “No ship's crew in the warehouses. No warehousers or dockworkers on the ships. And thereby, no more thievery claims either way!”
He then turned back on Vàtz. “And no private porters in either place!”
Kat wriggled in between Bolo and Ded. “Oh, yeah? What about—”
Bolo clamped a hand over her face and shoved. Any cursing from Kat was lost under the sound of her tumbling back out of sight. Pìnt kept grappling at Vàtz's leg, until it felt as if his pants might get pulled right off. He had bigger problems and hike his pant up by his belt.
“I know the law,” he answered back. “None of mine broke it! They waited on the dock—as always—for passengers to come for them… or for first chance at cargo goin' elsewhere in the city.” He glanced at Goran's team behind and to the right of Chetnik's officers. “Take it up with Goran, since we were here first.”
“There's no law of first!” Chetnik snarled back. “Never was, never will be, and I'm tired of you waterfront privateers forgetting that. As to passengers, they choose whomever they want for service, and until they do…”
At least he turned on Goran, though that gave Vàtz little satisfaction.
“No private team has privilege!” and Chetnik swung back on Vàtz. “This is the third—and last—time with you two in less than a moon. There's been more trouble between your and Boddack's teams than all others put together.”
Chetnik stepped closer, leaned down, and at least Pìnt stopped yanking on Vàtz's pants.
“You and Goran,” Chetnik add pointedly, “and your teams… are banned from the waterfront for three days!”
Any retort caught in Vatz's throat.
Chetnik pivoted, and his seconds quickly stepped aside. Other than onlookers' murmurs and Prochazka's satisfied huff, little else was heard for the first three stomps of the captain's boots.
“That's not your place!” Vàtz shouted, lurching out of Pìnt's hold, who was now pulling on his vest. “Unless we broke law, only the portmaster can ban us.”
Chetnik's next step was his last.
“Oh, kelpies and krakens,” Prochazka chuckled. “Are you stupid, boy?”
In two more breaths, Chetnik started to turn. Even Goran backed away. The whole dock was so quiet that Vàtz heard Bolo's low exhale of, “oh, now we're in it.”
The captain returned, closer than last time, and leaned down over Vàtz.
“And who do you think Portmaster Wapet will listen to?” Chetnik whispered. “Me or… you?”
Vàtz swallowed, but his doubt didn't last.
“I've got deliveries arranged from merchants already in port,” he fired back in a half-truth. “You want to ban me and mine? Fine! Tell them why their cargo sits in hold, waiting for another team to get down with someone else's cargo—and again when they complain to Wapet.”
“Yeah!” Kat snarked from the back.
“Shut up!” Bolo hissed.
Chetnik leaned down even more. Ded inched forward in response. The captain didn't glance at Vàtz's hired “protection.”
In that one moment, it was a toss-up as who was more dangerous. Either way, the outcome wouldn't be good if Ded did anything. And it wasn't helpful that Ded wasn't intimidated by the captain.
Vàtz fumbled blindly to grab the back of Ded's canvas hauberk.
Startled, Vàtz blinked at that too-deep woman's voice. One of Chetnik's officers side-stepped around his massive form into view.
Stocky Sergeant Voyt frowned, her face shaped like a tip-down shovel and about as flat-featured. She was alright by Vàtz. Didn't muck up business unless she had to and, most times, just saw that everyone got their way for the most part, unlike her immediate superior, the lieutenant. She stood awaiting on her superior's acknowledgment.
“What?” Chetnik growled, still fixed on Vàtz.
“Sir,” the sergeant repeated, “if he can show proof of—”
Chetnik cut her off with a raised hand and straightened up.
“All right, you heard it,” he said to Vàtz. “I want papers—signed papers—for any deliveries pre-arranged. You've got until noon to deliver those to my office or the portmaster's. And that's all you get for three days.”
The captain turned again and brushed past tall and narrow Lieutenant Stoyan, who gave the sergeant a hard look before following. The sergeant lingered an instant longer, studying Vàtz a little coldly. She left and followed as the captain passed Goran, who looked furious about what he'd see as special favors.
Goran tried to step out.
Chetnik a raised hand without looking. “Don't bother. At least Vàtz plans for his customers' needs. You… and Boddock… are too busy stealing work to think that much.”
Vàtz watched the captain leave with his officers. That wasn't any relief and very little luck. Of course, he didn't have those signed papers, now had to get them, and…
Wait, where was Pìnt? And how had he gotten away from Tryx?
And now, as to that other bit not yet mentioned… coming January 2017, the start of a new high/dark fantasy series from Barb and I. The official cover is not yet complete, so we can only give a sneak peak of an early mock-up.
Excorcists, shifters, and alchemists, oh my…
Intrigue, betrayal, loss, and love between enemies as allies…
And Death incarnate as the ultimate adversary.
Could you ask for anything more from The Dead Seekers?