This is the fifteenth chapter of my novel, “Ainadamar, or The Fountain of Tears: The First Flight of the Madrugada.” It details the adventures of a spaceship called the Madrugada, crewed by a Bulgarian space vampire, a lady barbarian, a 17th century French mountebank, a shape-shifting chef, a giant kitty, an empath, Morgan La Fey, an octopus surgeon, a cowboy, and the early 20th century Spanish Republican poet and martyr, Federico Garcia Lorca.
I published a new chapter each week for the past few months, but will not post any more. To read the previous chapters, click on the category Ainadamar. To read the entire novel, contact me and I will send you a copy.
Nimue and Weekiebye made their way through the vegetable and fruit markets and into a narrow, deep-eaved side street. The passageway led to a long plaza surrounded by bays. Here the city’s butchers provided meat, poultry, fish, reptile and…whatnot to the inhabitants of the hungry city and the visitors who used the nearby intersecting space routes. Here they also served the finished products, from great skewers of grilled meats, fish, fowl and so forth with the occasional errant and slightly embarrassed-looking vegetable.
Several corrals set up on the east side of the square featured the foodstuffs in their more essential forms (i.e., on the hoof, talon, pad, etc.) and the west side was set up as a seed store and nursery.
Here also the desert dwellers of the province met to sell their beasts, exchange gossip and trade stock.
“Cast your glance upon this!” cried one butcher, from behind a blood-stained marble counter. “Have you ever seen such beautiful shchabelbềluka in your lives?”
“Definitely not, sir,” admitted Weekiebye, breaking into one of his trademark audible grins. Arms akimbo, a sudden breeze fluttered his cape out behind him as a cloud of crystalline dust skirled across the paving stones. Behind the butcher, from the shadow of the bay, stepped his daughter, a lovely young thing with bronze skin and the verdigris hair of a stature.
“We also have just-butchered işkultag and lime-dried kiulhukr jerky.” Weekiebye whipped off his hat, stuck one leg out and leaned forward in an extravagant bow.
“Allow us to gaze upon your succulent jerky, miss,” he said. Weekiebye had a peculiar talent for injecting, quite unintentionally, double entendre into those moments most in need of single ones. Part of his ineffable charm. A storm front passed over the butcher’s face and he gripped the curved handle of a nearby bone axe and contemplated the highwayman.
Nimue pressed Weekiebye neatly behind her and placed her order, rather more than was strictly needed, and the butcher’s face slowly lost its angry copper glow. 10 pounds of jerky, 35 pounds of işkultag and 40 pounds of beef (or close enough for government work) would be delivered to the Madrugada that afternoon. As they made their way in a leisurely circuit around the meat market, Nimue ordered fish at one booth and crayfish at another, including a large translucent jug of space shrimp for the doctor.
As they walked, Weekiebye noticed three desert dwellers who seemed always to be two shops behind them. Two were tall with bronze skin like the butcher and one was shorter but very broad and had skin almost purple in tone. They all wore the long luminous green galabiyeh and turban. They all carried long curved to’il knives thrust through their sashes. Each sash was distinctively striped, as though indicative of a clan, village or tribe. But they carried more long-range weapons as well. The short one and one of the taller ones both carried a kind of old-fashioned flash rifle, slung across their backs. The other carried a long-barreled projectile weapon, not unlike Slim’s Winchester.
“Let’s stop for a refreshing beverage,” he said to Nimue, indicated an airy shop with low stone tables. They each ordered a fizzing fermented fruit juice, which were served in long, slim rhytons. Weekiebye looked over the rim of the horn at Nimue. She nodded.
“I felt your concern.”
“Good. Let’s enjoy our drinks. Then, watch for me. When I move, make for the alley.”
The sun was reaching its zenith and the little plaza was hot, despite the breeze off the river and the nearness of the glaciated mountains to the west that loomed high and close. They could see their deeply scored and snow-covered peaks looming over the roofs on the short western side of the plaza. Despite the breeze that blew the smell of snow from those peaks, and the bunches of aromatic heather each merchant had placed in the sconce at the front of their shops, the presence of animal life, current and former, left the place startlingly odiferous.
Refreshed by the rhyton of cold drink and spurred by the yarfiness of the meat stink, Weekiebye stood up, winked at Nimue and turned on his heel. He marched purposefully back to the shop where the desert dwellers stood, engaged in an unrealistically detailed examination of game birds.
“I am Captain Weekiebye!” he exclaimed with a flourish of his blue silk cape. He let the billowing cape settle over the heads of the two tallest men, then seized the corners and pulled it sideways. He dashed the rhyton with a muffled clang onto the turbaned head of the shorter one, who went down like a collapsed bookshelf. He pulled his cape in the other direction, further disorienting the two other men, who were flailing in an attempt to get at their knives. He spun on his heel like a bullfighter, unwinding them and sending them headfirst into the age-hardened wooden doorpost. He spun his cape off the two addled desert dwellers, drew his dagger and made off double-time for the alley, after Nimue.
He saw her stumble, then fall, sprawling headlong into the alley, her packages of fish and jar of shrimp skidding away. He felt his peripheral vision make a mad dash toward the receding circle of light at the far end of his mind. His legs began to misunderstand the instructions he was trying to give them. By the time he reached Nimue the world was squiggle of light, then there was black all around and he was falling.
“Completely lacking in any style whatsoever,” he slurred on his way to the pavement. The dagger clattered away and skidded to a stop against the alley wall.
Patches looked up suddenly and sniffed, his whiskers quivering. His ears twitched, first one way, then the other. Dded looked at him, then back down to his tankard full of…the best drink ever made. He thought idly that he’d like to be buried floating in a cask of the stuff.
He and Patches had finished buying the fiber-mesh and had hired a couple of teamsters to deliver it to the Madrugada by hover-sledge. They had fallen in with a group of engineers and fabricators from the mesh and fiber works. They had all washed out onto the street in their blue overalls as the shifts changed. They were rough, smart men, and a handful of women, with the minds of scientists and the mouths of stevedores.
The doctor had spent an hour in vigorous conversation with one of the women, the broad, green-skinned Dorit, who had spent time as a corpsman in the Lambena Defense Force. She had told him stories of jerry-rigging fine mesh to seal wounds from energy weapons and together they brainstormed an improvement to that method, applying the company’s finest osmotic netting and catalyzing the initial fusing with a hormone wash.
Around them the engineers chattered animatedly, joked, all but one of them in profoundly bad taste (and that one a failure), sang in phased harmony and, of course, drank the drink they called variously The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God and “proof.”
But as Dded looked into Patches’ eyes, their minds locked. He shot from his seat, upsetting half a tankard of proof. He hesitated for just an instant, in a silent valediction to the lost beverage, as Patches launched himself straight from his bench and out the tavern door into the bright street, to the surprise of their dining companions. Dded followed him with the jerky, liquid haste of an Echelld sprint. They ran through the barrio via narrow passages until they found a rise on a high street that gave them a good view of the riverside quays.
Barges, boats and skiffs of all types lined the near side of the broad current. They rapidly surveyed the almost solid floor of gleaming wood and dully shining metal decks, masts undulating like a dream forest whose fruit was light. They also appeared to be listening, cocking their heads slightly to one side. But they were reaching out with their minds to find the source of the panic they’d sensed in the tavern. It was familiar, the…shape of the minds they felt. It was Weekiebye and Nimue. And it was coming from the riverside.
Dded found it first, pointing with a tentacle.
It was a long dahlabeeyah with a yellow linen shade cloth stretched across the back half of the upper deck. Patches’ sight allowed him to see it more clearly than the doctor. Its crew was making ready to push off, battening down the hatches, stowing the cargo and getting ready to take in the hawsers. They could not speak with Nimue’s and Weekiebye’s minds, but they could sense them. They weren’t dead. At least, Patches didn’t think so. Unconscious maybe.
Dded clacked and shot off down the hill, ducking sledges, beast-drawn carts and the long, narrow trains of open bike-busses, as well as workers hauling bricks in barrows. He scrabbled up to run along walls to avoid students arguing or teetering with drink and robed professors in procession and swung from balconies over the heads of businessmen dictating to exasperated secretaries and visiting crews making their way to the taverns. Patches followed him, punctuating his swift, four-footed progress with occasional twenty-foot leaps to clear stalled traffic.
Dded stopped short, holding out two tentacles to arrest Patches’s headlong progress and reached out for the minds of the others. He and Patches found the captain, Mona and Slim, a triad mind.
“We see,” they heard their crewmates think. “Three minutes.”
Then, they sought and found Dem and, to their surprise, Lorca, who was with him. Their minds were particularly active and it took a moment to get their attention.
“Other side of the river,” they felt Dem say. “On our way.”
“What’s happening? I don’t understand what’s happening,” said Lorca.
“Nimue and Weekiebye are in trouble,” said Dem, pulling on his shirt as they hustled up the sandy stairs from the basement establishment where they had been disporting themselves. “If you heard it, I’m not sure why, but it seems your mind is linked to ours as well.”
“Mental telepathy? That’s…wonderful,” said the poet. Dem hooked a thumb back at the stairs. “It’s got its drawbacks.” They ran down the hill to the west side of the river. “I sincerely hope they didn’t see what I was doing too clearly. Mortifying.”
“See? Oh, Lord.”
When Patches and Dded came up over the last little rise before the broad littoral road, they saw the same mix of grav-sleds, narrow busses and beast-drawn carts they had seen in the town. And, loading and unloading cargo to and from ships, they saw magnetic pickers, fuel-burning cranes and old-fashioned block-and-tackle, operating side-by-side.
Wordlessly, and apparently heedless of the traffic, they dashed across the road. Dded caused a brief panic as he barreled over the great head of a draught animal and the greater expanse of a woman’s lap. Dded, from the aforementioned lap, and Patches, from the packed milk cans in the wagon behind, leapt onto a rope hanging from one of the block-and-tackles. They swung in a tight arc out over the river and back toward the ship holding Weekiebye and Nimue. Like feline and cephalopodan pirates, they leapt onto the deck.
Two very tattooed, very well armed and very surprised deck toughs found their heads unexpectedly rocketing toward one another, each in the muscular grip of a tentacle. Immediately thereafter they forgot what they were doing and took a nap.
Patches raced into the bow and cornered an evil-looking, cudgel-toting swab. He puffed up his fur and hissed with a sound like a sheet of tin being fed into a bandsaw. Ducking the cudgel, he dashed the offender to the deck with a slash that opened his back up to the ribs. As he was kicking him over the bow, he saw a gleaming wooden speedboat racing toward the dahlabeeyah, cutting a trough through the murky water. A heartbeat later, the speedboat rammed the dahlabeeyah with a shuddering crunch, burying its nose in the starboard hull, just above the waterline. Panicked screaming issued from the area now largely filled with the bow of the speedboat. Patches dug his claws in to keep from skidding sideways and Dded wrapped a tentacle around a rail in time to keep from being catapulted into the water.
Dem, unharmed, jumped up from the ruins of the speedboat and grabbed the rail and pulled himself over, leaving Lorca to climb aboard the best he could on his own. The pilot’s angry red was streaked with a blond and brown like the deck woods.
He righted himself just in time to help Patches and the doctor greet four black-clad fighters who ran out from belowdecks. Each wore the obsidian estoile of the Order, or of the Essauic moiety that would become the Order, as the clasp of their short cloaks. Dem stepped out and, in one long, liquid move, flipped his coattails away from his hips, drew his gamma-pistols and shot two of the rushing men square in their cloak clasps.
Patches smiled sideways at him, showing his long white incisors. “Slim shoulda seen that, old boy.” Then he roared with pain as one of the Order slashed his shoulder near the collar bone with a curved knuckle-knife. Patches pulled the offender toward him by one paw’s worth of claw in the back of his neck, tore his throat out with his teeth and threw him to the side. The remaining figure, his fanatical religious certitudes crumbling fast in the face of even more certain death, made a separate peace by running over the port side and pounding away up the road toward the spice warehouses.
Lorca, who had fallen in the water when the speedboat struck the dahlabeeyah, finally succeeded in pulling himself over the rail, where he collapsed on the deck. One look at the debris of battle and he was operatically sick, adding to the dangerous slickness of the deck. Patches shrugged and, with Dem and Dded close behind him, pulled open the door to the cabins below.
“You cannot, Miss Nimue, magic us out of here?” asked Weekiebye for the third time.
“I cannot,” she said. She held up her wrists, which were encased in long, rounded metal bracelets with liquid crystal displays.
“Machinery cancels out my magic.”
“Very well,” he said, sniffing as he tugged off his leather gauntlets. He reached into one and, separating the silk lining with a quiet cough, pulled out two picks, tied together with a scarlet thread. From the other glove, one boot and the crown of his hat, he retrieved a host of incomprehensible metal bits which he clicked and screwed and slotted into place to form a sophisticated lock-pick.
“Why, Captain Weekiebye, I do declare,” said Nimue, blinking her eyes and fanning herself, “you are a marvel.”
He crouched to one knee, as he did all else, with stagy aplomb and worked off the panel surrounding the display. He fished about a bit until a brittle click signaled the end of the process. The restraining bracelets fell away from her wrists and he stood and bowed to her.
“Madame, it is time,” he said, rising. He threw the door back against the wall. A gust of sea air raced through the stuffy cabin, causing his cape to flutter out behind him and the two black clad marines, a saffron-clad Exegete and a chlamys-clad guard in the corridor started to their feet.
“Bonjour, je m’appelle Captain Weekiebye, you imprisoned my friend and I, prepare to die!” And he lunged at one of the marines, jabbing her in the throat with the pick and grabbing her sword from her unresisting hand. He slashed out with the tip of the borrowed blade and cutting to but not through the tendons of the black-clad hand of the other marine, who dropped the gamma rifle he had been holding with a yell. Chopping again, he cut two of the guard’s favorite fingers to the bone and deprived him of his cutlass. He tossed the blade to his left hand and punched the Exegete in the face with the basket as he crunched his right boot into the Exegete’s face.
He swiveled and drove the basket down onto the back of the head of the first marine, who was struggling to regain her feet, turned out and lunged three times in a row, driving the remaining two guards and the marine into a slot between the hull and a stack of crates.
A weird rumbling accompanied a sudden shuddering in the boat. Weekiebye and Nimue looked at each other, then Weekiebye’s eyes shot open with sudden understanding. He grabbed Nimue by the wrist, rolled his body around hers and twisted just as the boat drove into the wall. Its bow shoved the contents of the hold back like the leg of a couch pushes back a carpet, dashing Weekiebye against the inside wall of the corridor. He retained his feet, barely, and set Nimue upright. And then they ran like hell for the deck.
Six guards burst out of the stairwell, pushing Patches back into Dem and Dded. Dded reached over Patches’ shoulder and shot the first guard a grazing blast along the temple, dropping him to the stairs and impeding the passage of his friends.
“En garde!” they heard below.
“Weekie?” yelled Patches.
“One moment, my friend. I am engaged.”
The musical tinging of sword on blade filled the air.
“Nim alright, buddy?”
“Miss Nimue is in good spirits.”
A scream punctuated Nimue’s timely application of an old-fashioned Xlormid nut-cluster to one of their remaining opponents who subsequently gave up on the notion of standing.
Patches signaled the others to step back, allowing the two guards who had regained their feet to burst out of the door, where one slipped on that part of Lorca’s dismay that he was not quick enough to deposit in the river. He slid straight at the rail, which he hit, teetering up into the air. The embarrassed Lorca took a nauseated moment from his activities to grab the man’s boot and help him over. Then he puked on him.
“Eep!” clacked the doctor, pointing at the dock. A dozen more aggravated individuals in a mixed group of black and saffron were running down toward the ship.
Stratsimir flew, literally, from one of the streets above them, leaping from the balcony of a merchant’s house and landing, weightlessly, in front of the man on point. His back to the boat, his hood up, they didn’t see what he did but they knew. They knew the captain. He was a lot of things, the captain, but one of them was a vampire, after all. The first three of the new pursuers fell softly to the ground. The next one jerked abruptly toward the captain, went white as a sheet and stared at the sun. Stratsimir tossed him to one side.
Mona, making her way down the hill in standard fashion (running like hell, whirling her sword around her head and screaming), hit the back of the group like a runaway rototiller bouncing through the food court of a mall, took four of them down before one of them got lucky and stabbed her through the shoulder.
These were fanatics. They didn’t scare easily. They weren’t going to scatter. They’d have to be taken down.
Mona’s sword clattered to the cobbles but she swept her opponent’s feet out from under him with a kick and stomped on him. Mona made her way to Stratsimir’s side just as the Crown Prince rose up over the side of the dahlabeeyah. On either side of him floated an Exegete and an Order member. Neither had eyes. Instead, they looked out through glowing coals, the one red, the other blue. The Crown Prince was no longer just the Crown Prince. He had altered, or been altered. Power crackled off him like spare electricity. When he spoke, he was legion.
“Time enough for ending,” he said, raising his hands.
Mona and Stratsimir were getting the worst of things. A slash had been opened in the captain’s sleeve, all the way from his wrist to his upper arm. Mona was limping, a gamma blast having burnt part of her foot through her boot. Half a dozen Davidic and Essauic fanatics, anxious to close ranks, remained on their feet.
A dragon flew out of the sun toward them, screeching and flapping its enormous wings, blotting out the light with its bulk. It landed with the crunch of buckling paving stones and reared back on its hind legs while half a dozen of the crew of the erstwhile space bandito ship Tu Madre slipped off its back, unsheathing and unholstering weapons. They liked to fight, the Tu Madres, and they hadn’t done it for a while.
“Aren’t you glad you took us on?” asked Captain Ormaetxea with a titanic smile of dragon-amplified super-machismo. Then he shot one of the Essauic fighters through the chest with his gamma pistol.
“That’s it!” growled Nimue, cracking her knuckles. “No more Mrs. Nice faery.” She divested herself of all but that which in Fäerie they call the moon aspect. Her limbs grew longer and thinner, the skin on her face whitened and tightened against the bones of her skull and her hair was the long white stuff of the grave. She was all teeth and nails and she flew toward the Crown Prince. Not the Crown Prince, the Glyphomancer. Not the Glyphomancer, but Emrys. She sank her fingers into the temples of this thing, a part of which used to be her lover, a part of which was her fault.
One of the side effects of the moon aspect was a refreshing lack of compunction. So, when I say she sank her fingers into his temple, I don’t mean she slid them into an oval of white light and the he acted his way to a daytime Emmy. I mean she drove her now talon-like fingers through the skin and the thin shell of bone that separated the outside world from his brain, where, presumably, given the blood and the screaming, she wiggled them about a bit. The screaming and the blood got together for a bit of curdling. And there was something else.
In moon aspect, the door to Fäerie need not be sought. In such a state, she is herself the door. It is not often done due to the cost, both to the faery and to those around her. Now, a pulse of light shot up from the ground and passed through Nimue into the mind of the one-time Crown Prince. They felt it. In the linking of minds, they all realized, like an exhausted cowboy leaning against a fence realizes, only after he’s picked himself up from a puddle 10 feet away, that the fence was rather more on the electric side than he had expected.
She froze, then she flickered. Then, like a camper who dropped a leaky propane tank onto the stones of his campfire, she was blown backward. Her hair, arms and the sleeves of her robe snapped forward and she arced up over the rail of the dahlabeeyah and landed in the swift green boil of the river.
They had heard her thoughts. They knew what revelation led her to lose control of the light she wielded and why she was willing to do so. They sat in stunned silence, then exploded in cries and action. Stratsimir flying out over the river, back and forth in a desperate rage. Dded poured himself over the side and went underwater where she had hit. After an hour of searching, they gathered in the sitting room, downcast. One of theirs had been lost.
What had been revealed to Nimue in her moment of union and destruction with this three-fold creature she had undone was revealed also to the rest of the crew of the Madrugada. It was this. In the early days of Created Beings, when the love of the Creator for these free beings, so much like Him, who constantly surprised and delighted and disappointed Him was so strong that he increased them, a group of them had come together whom He instructed. He instructed them in the arts and in sciences and in writing. When the number of Created beings increased to such a degree that passing this knowledge on, father to son and mother to daughter and ‘glibb to x’norx, was no longer practical, the descendants of this group settled on the formula for the Fixing and committed that formula to the lead tablets.
Each member of the group of Nine had put into the final binding that part of them that was the magic of their own freedom, the divinity that the Divinity had allowed to arise that was not of His body. All but one. The eight lived out their lives, diminished but at peace, satisfied that they had done a good that would last for as long as Created Beings lasted.
The only one who did not make that sacrifice was he who had been chosen to create the books themselves. For that, he would need to retain his power. There was joy in that, but there was a price to pay as well. That price was to endure and to endure, down the millennia, when those he had been with had passed on, to live with the light of Making, but with nothing of import left that needed to be made. Others, guided by the books, would fix the form of the Created Worlds. His was no longer that role.
But that was too much of a burden for any one person. First, a while the Ninth was content to counsel, and then to influence, those to whom the Fixing would fall. But in time he made a dreadful decision, to lay his hands on the Created Worlds. He would augment them, make them better, make them perfect, by fashioning and implementing his own constructions.
In time, he gained a pupil. This pupil returned to him a measure of his original purpose and he turned from construction to an unknown pleasure, that of love. But the pupil learned too well from the master, and confined him in a prison of crystal and added to her power a measure of his. And in this prison, his mind, freed again of extraneous distraction, began to seek and to find and to make again, without the distraction of love or the body or even the physical world. He made and made until the whole of the Created Worlds were out of balance, unfixed, added to. And now, he was ended now, and with him, his justification, his resolution, their beloved friend, who was the sun and moon and was the daughter of men, who was the pupil who made the master, who destroyed him, who was destroyed by him.
The remaining crew of the Madrugada and the Tu Madre gathered, grief-stricken and exhausted in the cabin of the dahlabeeyah. Once the Glyphomancer had been ended, so did the fanaticism of the Prince’s believers. The few that remained upright had dived into the river, or run off down the quay.
“Get me the Crown Prince,” the captain commanded. It was the compelling voice of the vampire that spoke. And it didn’t bode well for whatever was left of the Crown Prince.
“Johnny, honey,” said Mona, tears in her blue eyes. “I think he’s dead.”
“I don’t care,” said Stratsimir. “I don’t care if he’s ‘dead.’ I’m dead. There are things a person can do when that person is me and the other is person is ‘dead.’”
“Johnny, whatever he did, he was compelled,” said Red Mona. “And his punishment is not your business.”
Slim slid out of the sitting room. When he returned, it was not with the dead body of the Prince, but the living bodies of Patches, Dded, Weekiebye and Stanislaus.
“Where’s the Prince?” he demanded, rising from the bench by the open window, a kind of soul cloud gathering.
“Prince’s dead, cap,” said Patches, resting his hip easy against the edge of the table and looking out the window. “He’s dead.”
“I said bring him to me!”
“The Prince has died, captain,” said Dded.
“I didn’t ask you if he was dead, doctor! I didn’t ask you anything at all. I told you to bring him to me!” he raged, pointing at Slim.
“Yep,” said Slim, stepping out to the left. “We/ heard you. Not gonna do it, though. Nim wouldn’t want it. Nor would you, not afterward.”
In the time it would take for a twig to snap under foot in a forest, Stratsimir had moved to Slim, grabbed him by the throat and jerked him into the air, rising slightly off the floor, drifting slightly with the rocking of the boat.
“Where’s my gun?” whispered a strangling Slim.
Stratsimir’s eyes angled up to his left temple. Slim’s Colt rested against it lightly. Slim wasn‘t scared of much and the barrel didn‘t tremble. Behind him he sensed Patches, all 12 claws out and crouched. The doctor held a small table leg collection in a number of his tentacles. Stan stood several paces off, slowly changing into…Stan. That seemed more disturbing than anything else.
“I’m your captain. You do as I say!”
“We choose to follow,” said Stan. “We follow the captain. I’m not certain who you are, but you’re not the person who saved me from the slavers.
“Mona, you understand…”
“I understand, Johnny. I do. I do. But if you don’t put Slim down, I swear by the true name of the Creator, I will cut your fucking head off myself.”
With a spasm and a roar of disgust, he threw a gasping Slim to the floor and flew out the window in a black fluttering and disappeared in the direction of the sun, setting over the desert hills.
Photo of the souk in Aleppo by James Gordon via Wikimedia Commons