by Penny Blake

chpt#7: Etiquette and Octopussies

Two teapots stood empty on the table as Rowland picked up the third and re-filled Gabriel’s cup.

“Here’s to the skelth of the haywigh den… no… no wait, I’ve… oh Wiz!” The Skywayman clasped the bridge of his nose and staggered a few paces backwards.

“In your own time,” Jack said, pleasantly, folding his arms.

“In t-time? The time. The health? I… I startagainshall I?”

“If you can.”

“Here’s to thelth, to thelth, to the helf of a dieskayman, may his t-t-tegatrons allbenever t- tumbled. Ha!” He brandished a gloating finger in the captain’s face and grinned, his hand trembling uncontrollably, as he raised the teacup to his lips, missed and hit his front teeth, cursed, tried again and succeeded in sloshing most of the dark liquid down his chin. With a slow and deliberate gesture, which could have packed a punch had his aim been true, he inverted the cup in mid-air and carefully placed it down three inches short of the table.

With lightning speed, a hand shot out and arrested its descent. “Shall I take it from here?”

The Skywayman’s left leg buckled under him and he collapsed, trembling slightly, onto the turf.

Jack’s mouth, open to expel his latest witticism, remained a silent hole as he stared at the quick-acting second. A mixture of delight and incredulity leapt like bright-scaled minnows in his eyes and he swallowed hard. “Mags? Really? Blessed Bill! What are you doin here? I thought you were still in Hull? And what, in the name of all that glims, have you done to yourself?”

“Greetings, cuz!” The newcomer grinned, arms spread wide in a rather ostentatious bow, and deposited the teacup safely on the table. “You’re looking rather ‘pretty’ this morning.”

No one spoke. Jack continued to stare, grinning like a Cranleigh gargoyle. From the mossy turf, Gabriel made a sound like a barrel full of ardently amused serpents.

The stranger was dressed in a long, flared coat made of some bizarre, almost scale-like material that reflected the mycotic radiance to give an oil-like sheen of metallic rainbow light, the same light which flickered in a pair of eyes that were, Skarry did a double-take, definitely an intense shade of violet. Strands of violently ginger hair stuck out at odd angles from beneath the brim of the strangest stovepipe Skarry had ever seen. It was made of the same fabric as the coat and, around the base, eight glass vials, each containing a strange luminescent gas, were attached by means of brass strips. From the left hand side of the brim, a conical copper tube, rather like a snuff pipe, rose high above the top of the hat itself and around this was coiled a length of copper wire. The tube itself fed into a small glass tank, little bigger than a tea caddy, and from this smaller tubes circumnavigated the hat’s perimeter, each one ending in the cork of one of the vials. The stranger stuck hands in pockets in a rakish gesture and Skarry noticed a set of odd-looking tinker’s goggles, dangling from a leather belt, which ran from left shoulder to right hip and also held, along its length, more of the glass vials, although these were empty.

“Blessed Wiz, deliver me from this Hullish madness!” Mercurio growled, through tightly gritted teeth. “Have I not yet been inflicted with half the world’s oddities?” His whispers were high pitched, almost feverish, “In one short night, Johnny, I have endured a Witch who believes herself to be both herself and her own husband, this prancing peacock of a captain who is dressed like a… in a… well, I mean look at those ridiculously short…”

“Breeches,” Skarry said quickly.

Mercurio raised his eyebrows “and a b…”

“Doublet. I’m sure it’s called a doublet. And I’m sure it has some… practical purpose.”

“Oh yes,” Mercurio hissed peevishly, “Immensely practical attire for something, I’m sure. Not to mention those two mast-harpies who can’t keep their tentacles from each other, a veritable menagerie of mechanical monstrosities! And what fresh abomination of nature is being thrust upon us now? Hm? I mean what is it? Some abominable demon fresh from the depths of Hull? I can’t stand this. I tell you, Johnny, I cannot stand another minute of it. These people are all insane. Insane!”

Skarry restrained the urge to point out that this entire escapade had been his friend’s idea. “I’m sure there is a…reasonable explanation…for most things, if one takes the time to… well, enquire, or…” his attempts at soothing the baby withered under the winter sun of Mercurio’s scornful expression. Obviously, this petulant infant had no intention of being pacified.

“What the bloody Hull is goin’ on, Jackie?” Scarlet snarled.

The stranger chuckled. “Jackie? Ha! How amusing! Yes, do tell ‘Jackie’ – what the Hull is going on? I thought we were ‘having an affair’?”

“Jack?” Scarlet pressed, her temper obviously rising.

“Sorry,” Jack shook his head distractedly and turned to Scarlet, then back again as though he believed himself to be in some inter-dimensional void. “Sorry, me love, I should introduce you.” He gestured toward the stranger, “this is my,” he took a deep breath, “this is my cousin…”

“Max, darling!” The stranger cried, jovially, waving a hand at Scarlet whose own hands were now planted on her hips. “And a pleasure to make your acquaintance, I’m sure.”

“Eightcups!” The Skywayman tittered from his bed of moss, where he now lay sprawled upon his back. “Eightcups Max! Fine…bloody spiffiffing…joke, Jack, eh?”

The stranger looked down and frowned at him, “Just Max, will be fine,” he said quietly, crushing the Skywayman’s fingers beneath a, probably-not-accidentally-placed, boot.

“Ahh! Ooooo! I say, could you… er… just… Max, old thing? Please?”

Max peered down sympathetically at him, but did nothing to relieve the discomfort.

“Yes, this is Max,” Jack said quickly, “And, ah, this is me first mate, Scarlet Skarry.”

“How amusing! Ha! You should hear yourself! ‘First mate’ and ‘Me love’? A regular pirate then! How amusing!”

Jack shook his head. “Hear meself? Have you looked in the mirror recently?”

Max shrugged, “Mirrors are few and far between in the sunken city, ‘me love.’ We have to rely on what the seabed yields and glass does not fare well beneath the waves, you know.”

Jack tugged at his braided hair, thoughtfully, and stared at his cousin for a long moment. Max returned the favour with a grin which, Skarry noted uncomfortably, seemed slightly diabolical.

“Max,” the captain said carefully, scratching his chin, “your eyes are purple.”

“Really? How amusing! How silly of me not to notice the fact. Thank you for drawing my attention to it, Joakin.”

“Jack, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh yes, sorry. Captain Jack Diamond, of The Chronic Agronauts. So, you got your dream then? How splendid for you.”

“Not entirely, and at great personal cost, but yes, in a manner of speaking. And it looks as though you got yours after a similar fashion.”

“Ha!” Max picked up the teacup again and toyed it between long, pale fingers. “It’s not all dark in Hull, you know.”

“No?”

“Hm. There is light to be got, after a fashion. I say, is this my tea set?”

“Yes.”

“How did you come by it?”

“I didn’t. I tracked it down, Max. Piece by piece. After…well, after I heard what happened at the palace.”

“After I lost it so abominably, you were about to say?”

“You didn’t lose that affair, love.”

“I know. It doesn’t matter.”

“They tricked you…what do you mean, you know?”

“I’ve always known.”

“Then, I don’t understand. Why didn’t you…?”

“Ha! Do what? It is no small feat to coherently convince a summer house full of palace brats that you have been drugged when you are, at the time, out cold on the hard brick floor!”

Jack sighed, “I mean afterwards, witless. Why run off to that stinking garret in Lichfield? You don’t doubt I’d ‘ave stuck by you? As it stands…”

“As it stood, you disappeared chasing after your ‘dream’, didn’t you? Besides, the Tiffin Dens of Lichfield are vastly more amusing than life at the palace.”

“So we’ve all heard. Exactly how you managed to gain a reputation as a Very Quiet Gentleman there, is a frequent point of amusing debate.”

“Well, you know, I strive to be amusing. I hope one day to be as entertaining as you, cuz, though yours are certainly big boots to fill. A life of relentless roguery aboard the notorious Chronic Agro is a hard act to follow, indeed. How is your beloved Pirate King by the way? Keeping well, I suppose?”

Jack put his hands on his hips and lowered his head, when he brought it up again he was smiling in an exasperated fashion. “I’m not sorry, if that’s what you’re fishing for.”

“Ha! How amusing to speak of fishing, to me of all people! No, I know you’re not sorry. I wouldn’t wish it. The past is the past, Jack. Like a sleeping dog, we should let it lie.”

“Speaking of Mostly Awful poetic notions, have you seen Christina since your return?”

Max looked theatrically pained. “A bone best left in the gutter, cuz.”

“Really?” Jack frowned thoughtfully, “rumour had it that… ah well, rumour holds notoriously little truth I suppose. What about your mother? Does she know you’re back? I’m guessing this little break out is ‘unofficial’ and she didn’t grant you a pardon?”

Max looked extremely bored. “Shall we swap gossip all morning, or shall we do this?”

Jack’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully, “Why?”

“Because I’m here, and I’m the only second poor old Gabriel has. Unless you’d rather forfeit?”

“Forfeit? You are still as arrogant as ever!”

“A family failing, I believe.” He reached inside his coat pocket and pulled out the most dilapidated teacup Skarry had ever seen, placed it on the table and tapped it expectantly.

Jack roared with laughter and slapped his leather-clad thigh. “What in the name of all that glims is that? Does it even hold liquid?”

Max grinned broadly “That, my dear cuz, is the last missing piece of my mother’s heirloom tea set, recovered from the depths of the Great Western Sea, carefully pieced back together by my own fair hands and yes, very much so, it will hold any liquid you feel inclined to pour into it. Tea, for example.” He raised his eyebrows at Rowland, who picked up the tea pot but looked at Jack.

“Fine,” the captain shrugged resignedly. “But you know you’re behind, and I’ve no second so… strictly speaking, even if you won, not that you will me love, but even if you did get lucky, I’m not sure we, The Agronauts, could consider the matter closed…”

“Ha! How amusing! The little captain is trying to save his pretty face. Very well, I shall catch up.” He grabbed the teapot next in line, put the spout to his lips and drained it in three long drafts. “Happy?”

“You don’t have to do this. You’re obviously ill, what is going on with your eyes? What is that?”

“That, is none of your concern. And I never felt better.”

“Well you never looked worse.”

“That is a flagrant falsehood, and one which leads me to reflect upon the circumstance of a certain pot and a certain device for boiling water.” He picked up the tea cup again and shook it expectantly at Rowland, who raised his eyebrows but filled it full of the thick treacline liquid.

“Here’s to the health of Queen Victoria, may all her tea parties be perpetual. Here’s to the health of The Good Folk, may their revenue charts never tally. Here’s to the health of The Pirate King, may he rule the scattered isles forever. Here’s to the health of the Skyway Men, may their pega’tons never stumble. Here’s to the health of the Cake Smugglers, may they tramp forever. Here’s to the health of the Tea Fiends, may their ways never mend and their habits never alter. Here’s to the health of The Relentless Rogues, present, absent and departed, may we all meet in Eldorado, blessed and eternal city of gold.”

He drained the cup in one swift mouthful and slammed it down on the napkin.

“Thirsty?” Jack asked, as his own cup was filled by Anders.

“No tea in Hull.”

“Really? However did you survive?”

“Seaweed.”

“What?!”

“A long and tedious story. In short, I found something better.”

“I imagine anything is better than seaweed. Am I to suppose that this miraculous substance is the reason for the Alexandria’s Tint?”

“Don’t let your tea go cold, will you?”

“I have no intention of doing so, me love.” Jack repeated the toasts and drained his cup at a pace which caused Rowland to frown.

“Go easy, Cap. That cousin of yours has a certain reputation…”

“Oh aye, a reputation for falling flat on his back after eight cups!” Jack scoffed, a slightly malevolent glint in his eye.

Max laughed out loud. “Be nice,” he said, in a tone that was anything but. He ploughed through the toasts again without fault and the turn passed back to Jack, who did likewise.

Four teapots later, both challengers were still going strong.

“Jackie!” Scarlet hissed.

“Relax, me love,” Jack replied breezily, waving a dismissive hand and never taking his eyes from his cousin. “I’ve never been beat yet.”

“Yes but this is Eightcups Max!” Scarlet practically screamed. “You know better than any of us, he’s the undisputed eternal champion of parlour affairs! Banished to Hull by his own mother for being the Scattered Isles’ most notorious Tea Fiend! Y’ll drink yerself into a coma before y’know it drinkin’ at his pace, an’ we can’t afford t’lose this Jack!”

“The word lose is not in my vocablulaly, Scar,” the captain scoffed.

“Your vocablulaly? Oh, aye! But the word ‘lost’ might be! Lost yer head over a china tea set, lost yer sense o ’who’s t’be trusted an’ who ain’t, lost the Wyrd Web, almost lost yer bloody life back there in Pendle, lost yer bloody marbles is what y’ve done, Jackie!”

“Ha! You’re working on the misplaced presumption that he had any to lose in the first place, my dear.”

Scarlet pointed a furious finger at Max “Yous might as well know right now, the last doobious gentleman who ‘my deared’ me, is arn a wait t’ave ‘is monkey executed.”

Both Max and Jack chuckled at this.

“What is your monkey situation, Max?” Jack asked, the teacup shaking in his hand.

“Ah, the eternal burning question. How does it work, they ask, how does it work? I wish I could say but such talk, you know, hardly becomes a Very Quiet Gentleman. I do have an octopus I can tell you about. Colin. I could show you later, if you’re interested?”

Scarlet had turned just that. “Oh, sure! Now I see it runs in the bleedin’ family!” she fumed “Load o’ravin’ crazlenuts yous are!”

“She loves me really,” Jack whispered, with a knowing wink at his cousin, who raised his eyebrows dubiously and smirked.

“Don’t they all? I guess I should buy you a stick, eh?”

“Why?”

“Oh plea… wh?… why? Are you…?”

“No no no no no. Why Colin?”

“Hm? Oh! Ha! Well, why not? He looks like a Colin.”

“Really?”

“Mm. Absolutely.”

“No.”

“Hm? No what?”

“No I don’t believe you. No Octopus ever looked like a Colin.”

“And exactly how many Octopu… pi… pussies have you seen, Joakin? EXACTLY. If you please?”

“Ten.”

“Ten. Really?”

“No. I lied. Not a one. Max, I demand to see your Octopus.”

“You DEMAND?”

“Absolutely!”

“Very well. I shall get him out.”

“Please do.”

“I shall.”

“Scoooze me, chaps!” Gabriel spluttered indignantly from the ground. “Faffair? Aren’t we? Supposed to be getting on with it all?”

The cousins glanced at him and then back at each other. Jack folded his arms expectantly and Max, to Skarry’s great relief, reached under the tea table and heaved out a large seaman’s chest. He fumbled for a while with the catches and then reached carefully inside and gently eased out a mass of rubbery limbs protruding from beneath a large, rusty diver’s helmet, into which the top half of an octopus was undoubtedly squeezed.

Max shrugged. “I like to keep him close by. He’s not used to life top-side and I’m a little concerned about him getting lonely.”

“But that’s no good, we can’t see his face!” Jack protested.

“Oh, I can get him out. For a while, you know. He has gills so I keep the helmet filled with salt water so that he can breathe but really, it’s not ideal.” He sighed, “I’m hoping to find some tinker who can do something to help the poor chap.”

“Oh, well, say no more!” Jack cried enthusiastically. “We only happen t’ave the very best tinker, bar one, in the whole of the scattered isles right here beside us!”

“Bar one?!” Rowland grumbled. “You think Babs is better than me, I suppose? Might I remind you, Cap, I saved your life last night, and not for the first time either.”

“Course y’did, me love! And right grateful I am, you can count on it. But it won’t be the last time either, will it? Eh? You knows what I’m talking about Kid.” He winked and Rowland scratched his chin uncomfortably.

“Well, we are working on it, lad.”

“I know you are, me love, I’m just yankin’ yer beard. But look here, what can you do for poor Colin here? That, me love, is the question. What can you do?”

Max turned large, hope-filled, purple eyes on the goat-man and Rowland scratched his horns thoughtfully. “Gills you say?” Max nodded. “Bring him up here and let me take a look.” Jack began clearing space on the table top, as Max tried to coax the protesting Colin from his water-filled helmet.

“Now wait just a minute there gents!” Anders cried indignantly. “This is bad form! Bad form all round! We cannot have an octopus on the tea table, it’s against regulations!”

“Ar, pipe down,” Scarlet snarled, sidling closer to take a look as Colin, enormous watery eyes gawking doe-like in the glowing light, settled himself awkwardly amongst the fine china.

“Er, I say!” Gabriel finally managed to get himself up onto an elbow for a few seconds before collapsing sideways again onto the turf “Anyone? Are we still having this affair? Hello?”

“Hm?” Max looked around for the source of the voice and then down at the prostrate Skywayman “Oh, yes, the affair. Oh, I’m bored of that lark now.” he turned to his cousin, “Jack, I humbly concede to your superior teamanship and withdraw.”

“YOU WHAT?!” Anders screamed, almost dropping his teapot. “You can’t! We’ll lose! You’re still on your feet, man, and he’s already slurring his words. You’re the most notorious tea fiend that ever lived, you can’t defer to this blithering butterfly-weight, we’ll be a laughing stock for all eternity!”

“No no. My mind is made up. I concede.”

“Very gentlemanly of you,” Jack said, distractedly, as he tickled Colin’s tentacles. “Rather a sweet thing, isn’t he?”

“Oh, ee’s adorable!” Scarlet cooed.

“Adorable, my foot!” Anders persisted. “I demand you play by the book, desist this spontaneous petting zoo and remove your slimy cephalopod from my tablecloth! That’s hand-made silk Chantilly, you know!”

The growing crowd around the table ignored him and continued their rapt attentions towards Colin who, after a fashion, seemed to be enjoying himself.

“Yes, yes. Should be perfectly simple to construct something that will sort this little problem out,” Rowland was saying. “In fact, I’m getting a bit of a notion on this. If you bring him on back the Agro, I can make you something now, I’m sure of it. Yes, er…” he cast about him for a second and his eyes lighted on Max’s goggles. “Ah-ha! Pass those goggles here, lad, if we can somehow fill these with water and secure them over the gills…”

“Hm? What these? Oh no, sorry er, Rowland is it? You can’t use those I’m afraid they are rather, um, special, you see?” He unclipped the goggles and handed them across to the tinker, who peered at them curiously.

“I’ll say,” he mused, turning them over with interest, “what on earth have you done to them?” He tapped the glass, through which the same luminescent gas which filled the vials on Max’s hat was being channelled via a series of thin transparent tubes. “What is this substance?”

“Therezine,” Max replied simply.

“Hmph. Never heard of it.”

“Well, no, you wouldn’t I suppose. I mean,” he added hastily, as Rowland looked up from his inspection and scowled at him, “an associate of mine in Hull, he discovered a way of extracting Theremythium from the air above water.”

“Hmph. Some sort of pipe I suppose. Yes, could be done. They’re working on something similar up at Lancaster – mind you, they’re working on all sorts up there. Go on, lad, I’m listening.”

“Right, well, yes he combined the Theremythium in a chamber with Xanthizine. It’s a chemical extracted from the sap of a certain type of purple seaweed which grows along the west coast. Here, it forms this gas.” He reached up and un-clipped one of the vials from the band around his hat and handed it to Rowland who turned it over carefully between his fingers.

“Incredible. Very ingenious. What is the point though?”

“The point? Oh, I see, yes the point. Well…” Max shrugged “No tea in Hull, you know. You can’t go around boiling water in a glass-domed city under the sea. The condensation problems from breathing alone put us at constant war with the mould. And besides, you can’t grow many chlorophyll producing plants where there is no sunlight to speak of. Just seaweed.”

The entire assembly was now staring at him with interest and Jack moved a step closer as Rowland carefully handed back the vial and goggles and began to edge nonchalantly around the table to join them.

“Are you saying…” Anders asked slowly, carefully putting down his tea pot and glancing over each shoulder with a meaningful look at his fellows, who also began to move towards the tea table. “That this ‘Therezine’ you have there, can be used as a replacement for tea? What do you mean exactly? That it has the same effect on brain and body as… as caffeine?”

Max snorted “Nothing like it! Therezine is vastly superior! Vastly superior to caffeine, gentlemen. Although I can’t honestly say I didn’t miss the old Devonly Nectar, I wouldn’t trade a cup of that for a vial of…”

“Well, this has been a very entertaining morning, gents” Jack said quickly, clapping his hands together and catching Scarlet’s eye as he did so, “thank you most sincerely for your hospitality but we do have other business to be attending to, and Bill, you know, will have been expecting us for hours.” He nudged Max in the ribs with his elbow and hissed “Get Colin.”

“Hm?” Max looked at him with vacant expression.

“No time for that now, witless, get the squid.”

“I have no squid. Colin is an octopus.”

The sound of a dozen or so pistols being cocked is an interesting one to describe. Skarry likened it to an amphitheatre of sardonically applauding lobsters.

Jack raised his hands slowly into the air, “I can see why Charlie hit you with that Swiss roll now and I sympathise.”

“Well, yes, it didn’t really hurt but…indignity of jam and cream…”

“I meant with Charlie.”

“Oh. Hey!”

“Hand it over, sweetheart,” Anders said, aiming one pistol at Max and the other at Jack.

“Ha! How amusing! I didn’t know they actually said that, did you?”

“Yes. Give him the goggles, Max.”

“Really? Why?”

“Because if you don’t, I shall – forgive the inelegance of the phrase – blow your cousin’s brains out of the back of his opulently crested skull.”

Max roared with laughter so hard that his arms flailed wildly and his long coat flapped around him as he reeled about, finally doubling over and clutching his stomach. “Oh that’s splendid! With that old thing? What is that, an antique?”

Anders stiffened slightly. “This set of pistols belonged to my father.”

“Your father? Pff! Your grandfather maybe! Now this, my good Sir, is what I would call a pistol.” With the same lightning reflex he had displayed in catching the teacup, he drew from his belt a weapon that looked as little like a pistol as could be imagined. Attached to the side of the barrel, was a brass, bell-like funnel which fed into a glass cylinder containing twin coils of copper wire, each twisted around a thin metal pipe. Two more pipes led off from the cylinder into a bulbous copper chamber which formed the mid-part of the gun barrel but, curiously, the barrel after this point was not hollow. Instead, it consisted of a tapered metal rod, which ended in two prongs, supporting between them another coil of thick metal wire. A final rod protruded from the centre of the coil and this was now aimed pointedly at the Skywayman’s heart.

Anders looked confused.

Jack looked impressed.

Max grinned and twirled his new toy a few times before almost dropping it and hastily pointing it back at its mark. “Dr. J. Sallis’s aether-colliding-energy-ray-pistol (patent pending Her Majesty’s pleasure) Pretty damn wizard, eh?”

“Aether colliding?” Rowland practically shrieked. “It’s not possible! It’s never been done! Fruitcake theory is still embryonic at best!”

“Thanks for that, Kid.” Jack muttered.

“Well, I’m just saying,” the old goat grumbled, his hands still half-heartedly raised above his head.

Anders frowned hesitantly, before a slow sneer crept across his thin lips. “Very impressive,” he said at last “we’ll take that as well, then. You know, considering your reputation as a Very Quiet Gentleman, you’re actually quite the salesman, aren’t you? But you see, there’s still more of us, than there are of you and only one of you’s armed. If that thing even works, which your old goat there seems to think improbable.”

“Oh it works,” Max said, all trace of vaguity now vanished. “What you don’t seem to grasp, is that your puny relics fire bullets, and only one at a time. This beauty collides within her bosom the positive and negative forces of the universe, creating an explosion of energy so great that if I were to pull this trigger, in less time than it took to say ‘chin-chin’ I would have a baker’s dozen pair of smoking Skywayman’s boots and little else to bother with.” He grinned. “Which could be fun.”

Rowland looked as if he wanted to say something but, for once, was holding his tongue.

Jack put his hands on his hips. “Well, I think that settles it,” he said, carefully scooping Colin back into his helmet and tucking it under his arm. Several of the creature’s tentacles tangled around his long braids and he fought one-handed to try and fend them off.

“Did we win yet?” Gabriel’s voice drifted up from beneath the table where he seemed to have rolled at some point during the confusion.

“Yes my friend! You won, and your prize is a first class ticket to the clockwork city to meet with the pirate king himself! Scar? Fancy the privilege of escorting our guest to his five star accommodation?”

“I’d not touch ‘im with a bog-pole.” The first mate declared, now pulling out her own pistols to the indignant looks of the surrounding Skywaymen. “Giddy, you take ‘im, the wretch can barely stand on ‘is two feet.”

“Now just hold on a minute!” Anders cried, indignantly. “This is all bad form. All of it! You breeze in here onto our turf, demanding an affair, conduct yourselves ignominiously from the start with your opprobrious choice of second and flagrant use of erroneous teacups, you abandon the toasts entirely, assault my best tablecloth with your dribbling octopus, completely ignore the fact that we have you legitimately held up and at bay and now you propose to kidnap our leader and take him back to the clockwork city where Bill will no doubt have him spit roasted and fed to the Clockodiles?”

“That is about the size and shape of it, my friend.” Jack held out his hand across the table.

Anders carefully laid down his pistols and, at this cue, the men and women behind him grudgingly sheathed their own weapons.

He took the captain’s hand and shook it heartily. “Well, a very pleasant morning, all round, then,” he said cheerfully. “You may of course expect our retaliation in a day or so.”

“Well, it could take us a day to get back yet.”

“You’re assuming we’ll let you make the highroad, of course. Dangerous presumption, Jack.”

“True. Although I’ve always considered shooting a lame duck as rather taking the fun out of the hunt.”

“Ah, Gran always says that a lame duck is a certain breakfast.” Anders grinned.

“Yes. An astounding mind, your grandmother. Do I need to leave this maverick on rear-guard to ensure our safe passage out?”

“Would you believe me if I said no?”

“Of course not, my friend, simply making idle chit-chat whilst we get packed up. Ah, it seems we’re ready.”

“Well, I suppose we may see you tomorrow then, obviously as Gabe’s cousin I’ll take command whilst he is indisposed…”

“And naturally you want to make the most of that opportunity, but let me advise you Anders not to tarry too long. I’m assuming you want him back in one piece?”

“Presumption being ever your downfall, Jack. But what am I saying, of course we shall honour his memory… er, I mean our obligation to come to his aid… at some point in the near future.”

“Honour at stake?”

“Quite.” The Skywayman smiled rather nastily and Skarry was heartily glad that it was not his own life resting tentatively upon this benevolence.

 

cat

 

 

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