V.O.C. of the People

The Athens Incident, Part I

“This isn’t a question of what happened,” Leone said, gently massaging his forehead. “The issue I’m concerned about is why I was the last to know about it.”

“Your holiness, please forgive me, but I brought the incident to your attention as soon as I was made aware of it.” Emilia bowed her head deeply in humility as she spoke, trying desperately to conceal her fear of the Cardinal.

“Then the time for you to improve your connections has come.” Leone stood, circling the table between them. “I will not accept another lapse of this magnitude.”

“Of course, your holiness.”

Cardinal Leone took a moment to drink in the young girl before him as he walked. Her figure was heavily obscured by the heavy vestments she wore, but certain curves were pronounced enough for Leone to make use of them. She had visited him many times in his dreams, but he was yet to actually have her. In time, he thought.

Drawing in a breath, he spoke again. “Go find where these Spaniards are being held. Find their captors, and demand I gain an audience with them.”

Emilia bowed deeply, then shuffled away quickly. Leone knew her to be a fool, but she was pleasant enough on the eyes, and had — on occasion — come through and actually performed with a degree of competence. In truth, he’d been thinking with his crotch when he asked she be assigned to him, but she’d proved to be worth more than just a young toy.

With a sigh, the Cardinal returned to his desk, drawing forth a pen and some paper. If Spain was making a move on Athens, Rome would want to know about it.


“Senator,” a voice floated through the air. “Senator,” the man repeated, “please, your attention is requested.”

Senator Spiros sat up in her bed with a grumpy sigh, struggling to gain her bearings. “What time is it?” She finally asked, after a moment.

“Very early, Senator.” The man spoke again. “Not yet dawn.”

The Senator drew in a breath and stood from her bed to fetch a robe. The messenger flushed red at her nudity and looked away, though Spiros was too groggy to notice his embarrassment. “What is it about?” She asked, after a moment.

“There’s been an incident by the docks.”

“So get the Port Authority. Why are you bothering me?”

“A diplomatic incident, Senator.” Spiros stopped and slowly craned her neck to meet the messenger’s gaze. “Involving Spaniards. Possibly spies.”

“Shit.”

“Yes, Senator.”


“We had received express promises that Athens was acting as a neutral state, and now we’re hearing about Spanish soldiers carrying out espionage missions in the harbor?”

“They claim to have been investigating what they believed to be a pirate vessel, sailing under—”

“So the Spanish are policing for Athens now?"

“Who allowed this? The Al-Azars have multiple treaties with Athens forbidding against this exact thing.”

“And what business does Athens have looking to Spain for protection, when the Holy Roman Empire already has more ships in the Mediterranean?”

“Gentlemen, please, I assure you—”

“I have received reports that the ship was discovered by pirates! Rome demands to know what pirates are doing carrying out vigilante missions in Athenian water!”

“Oh, and now we hear about pirates! What’s next, chevaliers at the gates?”

“And what’s this about a submersible vessel?”

“We are currently investi—”

“Russia is confused! Were the pirates in the submersible, or the Spaniards?”

“If I cou—”

“And another thing!”


“Thank you for meeting with me, Inspector. I know your time is valuable, so I’ll try to be brief.” Katina found a corner and turned to face the room. The Inspector General offered only a grumble as he closed the door behind them. Sensing this as her queue, Katina resumed speaking.

“The senate has decided that this incident needs to be defused before it gets worse.”

The Inspector General sighed heavily as he hung up his sash. “Have they, now?” He turned to face Katina. “It’s good they decided that. My plan was to make it all blow up in everyone’s faces.”

Katina sighed. “There’s no need to get petulant. They’re trying to help.”

“I know how to do my job, councilor. I don’t need their help.”

“Maybe not,” Katina admitted. “But they didn’t send me just to lord over you.”

“That would be a first.”

“You’ve been given orders, Inspector.” She produced a sealed envelope from her sleeve. “You’re to strike a deal with the prisoners, and get them out of town.”

“You’re kidding,” the Inspector replied, snatching the letter and tearing it open. “We’re cutting the Spaniards loose?” Katina stood in silence as the Inspector read over his new orders. “Wait,” he continued, after a moment. “We’re cutting the instigators loose?”

“They are clearly just bystanders here, we need to get them out of the way before they make this thing worse.”

“They’re obviously thieves, and we have evidence they were planning on smuggling two of the Spaniards out of here. For all we know, they answer to Black Bart!”

“Be that as it may, whatever we would gain from imprisoning them would be inconsequential compared to the potential political ramifications.”

“This is absurd,” the Inspector said, tossing the orders onto his cluttered desk. “Has the Senate lost their mind?”

“You have your orders, Inspector.”


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Your Gifts Are Not Your Own

Cullen fell to his knees, shoulders quivering as he started to sob quietly. Phillip stood over him a moment, his eyes not betraying any emotion to the pile of a man before him. The intensity could have frozen the very fluid of time, and an outside observer could have sworn it did. But there was no one else. Just two men, alone in the creaking hall of a ship. Deliberately, Phillip placed one boot in front of the other, and finally exited the hall, leaving only the soft gasps of air coming from the confused and quaking man behind him.

Cullen drew a sharp breath and tried to grasp on to something tangible with his mind. He hated himself. No, he hated Phillip. The captain. Athens. The Spanish. The ship. The VOC. He hated all of it, none of it, everything in between. No. He missed it? He missed something. Freedom. Air. Solitude. Company. Sweat. Tears. Passion. Love. Loss. He shook his head, trying to stop it from spinning with all these competing notions. One reality to focus on…

’My gifts are not my own…’

Cullen clenched his jaws tightly and the joints ached in protest. He had forgotten his purpose. He grabbed a handful of shirt and gruffly wiped off his face, leaving it red and puffy, rising and stumbling towards his quarters. He bumped into walls clumsily several times, not noticing the signals of pain sent up to his brain. How could he forget. As he walked into the crew quarters, he ambled towards his hammock, ducked underneath it, and started rummaging through his sack. It did not take long for him to draw out a small piece of parchment and a beautifully crafted wooden flute.

Cullen sat in his hammock and started at the two before him. It had been since before the island that he had held these in his hands. The paper was worn and wrinkled, and had clearly been wet and dried more than once. Ink had blotted through from these episodes, and long, elegant cursive script had been blurred to unintelligible black streaks. He smoothed out the paper as best he could in his hands, and the words once written upon it from memory.

“Cully,
Lashes will leave their scars. The wind’ll blow and grind dust into the wounds. And the salty tang of the sea may burn. But yer heart can’ be broken by the likes of the world. Ye’ve the strongest soul a woman could dream of. So when the world tries to ail ye, play. Play not for yerself, but for those who cannot. Play from the untainted corners of yer heart, and sooth the souls of others who’ve not the strength to go on. Never forget, love, yer gifts are never your own: they’re for the poor unfortunate lambs who’ve none to call their own. Live by that, my love, and you’ll never lead another day without happiness.”

“I’ll never forget, love.”

Cullen spoke the last words softly, barely above a whisper. A single tear swelled and streaked down his cheek as he laid the letter beside him and drew up the flute. It was a remarkably fine crafted instrument, though had clearly seen years of use. Raised embellishments alluding to the Irish countryside danced about the bottom, while the finger holes themselves were raised to look like stars in the sky above. Slowly, he pressed the mouthpiece to his lips, and began to play. It was a elegant, light tone that danced about the afternoon breezes, and reached all across the ship. It was a lovely tune, evoking emotions of love and splendor and contentedness. And as these emotions filled the air, Cullens felt his spirits ease ever so slightly with every long, melodious note. After several minutes, he let his song come to an easy, satisfied ending, and took a moment to breathe.

“I’ve never seen you play that thing before, it sounded very pretty.” Cullen started at the voice coming from behind him. He had been sitting with his back to the entrance to the crews quarters, so he had not noticed Avinia enter the room. As he turned around, it was to see her sitting on the floor behind him, staring up intently.

“Ay, Avi, it’s not bleedin’ nice to sneak up on people. Damned near pumped me heart outa me chest.” Cullen hastily grabbed for the parchment beside him and tucked it into his waistline, and motioned to put away his flute.

“No, play more. It’s very soothing. I’ve never been able to play an instrument like that one, and they’re so pretty. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.” Several birds, which were now filling the cabin substantially more each minute, seemed to chirp in her agreement.

Cullen paused, and the words rang through his head. Yer gift is not yer own.

“Well…if you insist.”

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Dreams - Pt. 1
Dreams of Fear, Desire, and Unknown Feelings

A grand ball room was filled with faceless men and women dancing in their dull colored gowns and suits. The music was only a faint sound to the backdrop of the expected loveliness of the room and the guests. A faint mist, though the room indoors, was covering the ground but no one seemed to notice the strange occurrence. The light pink and white of the mist reflected the colors of the walls and curtains of the room. Golds and pinks interlaced through the wall and pink fabric covered the vast windows.

A new music began to play as the last ended. A different melody compared to anything heard in this part of the world. The crowd of dancing guests had slowed until they had all stopped. Their attention on someone hidden within the circle they formed.

Farrah was dancing. Her arms and legs moving in ways her new companions had not seen before. All eyes were on her as she spun and twirled. She danced alone, no man necessary, as she created beautiful and fluid movements. All of the crowd was fixated on her.

For a moment Farrah’s appearance flashed and was young Aleid, reaching her hands out for Avinnia to take. Feathers stretched towards the fingers but the hands dropped away. The crowd began to murmur. “Who would want to hold those?” “What a hideous beast!” and “No respectable man would want to dance with that thing.” The mist rose and filled up the room, causing the words to grow distant and the faces to fall away.


Dark shadows were casting over the Song Bird. Captain Phillip was at the helm, his fingers wrapped around the wood of the wheel. Rain was beginning to pound the deck but there was no fear in the man’s eyes. He shouted calm orders to his crew and each of them obeyed. Hands grabbing for ropes here and their.

Then the words caught her ears. “Avi, go below!” The words were full of concern but her heart ached. She looked down at her wings. They were why he wanted her to go below. Though she had proven herself capable, with her telekinesis and her talons ,the lack of hands made everyone worry over her.

She looked towards a rope that was whipping in the wind. Defiant of being viewed as weak she moved towards it. She could not fly in this storm so she walked across the deck.

“Avi, I said go below,” Phillip was shouting again.

“Come with me, Avi,” Farrah was trying to convince her as well.

She squinted her eyes and ruffled her feathers to shake off the water. She focused on the rope and for a moment it seemed to calm. She ordered it to wrap itself where it was needed. It did not listen. A harder gust knocked it out of her control again. She moved closer to it and made an attempt to catch it with her wings. She missed once. She missed twice. The third attempt ended with her on the deck. The rope slamming into her and she crumpled over.


The door slammed shut, locking her into her prison, once more. Her wings touched the door. She searched for the handle, for a lock, anything she could use to escape. She moved back from the door and to the window, there were no bars on it. She could fly out if she could open it. The window would not budge as she commanded it. She unsuccessfully attempted to push it open. Her wings were too weak for such an attempt. She was in need of muscles, of fingers, of arms. To push and pry with. Her wings would never be capable of such things. She was trapped. There was no way she could escape.


His hands unlaced the back of her dress, pulling each ribbon away with such careful fingers. When every last ribbon was freed he moved his hands up to the shoulders of the pink satin. He pushed it away, tugging down layers of underclothing to leave only bare skin. Desire. Her hands fumbled at the buckles that hid him from her. Jackets and shirts joined the layers of her dress, on the floor. Passion. His hands caressed her plump breast, one with cold metal and the other with warm skin, taking one at a time with care. Hot breath and a wet tongue bringing her to near ecstasy. Blankets fell from the bed as he took her naked body beneath his. Her fingers tangled in his tousled hair and gripped the muscles of his back. Her thighs tightening to hold him in her. She was a woman beneath him. Everything that had made her strange no longer mattered. Her own fingers were feeling his skin. In that moment, she belonged with him.

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Holding hands
A quixotic moment

The new tools felt good in Farrah’s hands. Delicate and deft, the cool metal picks and pliers were everything she had always dreamed of at the University. Salin and Muhazzan Beg would sick themselves with envy if they knew she had a true set of advanced gad tinkerers. More so, of course, if they could see what she had her tools and fingers in. Even gentle Muhazzan might take up arms against her to gain the chance to trail a covetous finger over this gorgeous arm prosthetinai.

Phillip stood, slightly uncomfortably by the way he turned his eyes repeatedly from her proddings. Farrah didn’t much care if he was uncomfortable having a woman operate on his arm, but was interested if she was actually causing him pain or nausea. Those reactions were expected in a conscious medical operation, but she was not prying vein from flesh. These interlaced cables, wire, and improbably fine ceramic could not bleed, could not conjure images of infernal torture in the mind; yet Phillip could feel pain and heat and pressure with this marvelous machine. When Farrah tapped gently on a thick lens of glass in the wrist with her stylus, she felt the briefest of flinches from her subject.

Farrah was so absorbed by this paradox of body and machine that she couldn’t help but observe her own body, as a student of reactions. Her braided hair hung heavy and oiled over her right shoulder, dividing the small enough space between her and the captain. Her neck ached, but the sweat upon it caught chill from each slight exhale. Suddenly, her fingers fumbled, and dropped a thin flexor into the exposed mechanisms of the captain’s arm.
“Farrah, did a spark catch you?” Phillip asked in concern. She thought his voice sounded only concerned, because he couldn’t possibly read anything into her blush. His hand was large on her shoulder, steadying her, and that was something a captain did for a crewmember who was suddenly unsteady.

“No, I must be tired only,” Farrah assured Phillip, “the day was long and…complicated.” With a deep breath that pressed her chest tight against the silk of her robes, she resumed work on judging the tensile strength of each component. When Phillip moved to withdraw his arm, demurring that she should rest, Farrah ignored him and firmly grasped his mechanical hand in hers, pinning him to the table for her ministrations.

Farrah knew, of course, that many women would find the captain’s station and respectful mein marriageable. More than that, the hasekis seemed to take great amusement from the Sultan who was much older and less physically able than Phillip, so it stood to reason that he was attractive. But Farrah couldn’t desire being mounted like a mare or a moth. The violence of her thoughts caused Farrah to force a panel clean off of the bicep to clink and roll under the desk.

Smoothly, Phillip stooped and produced the panel before Farrah finished hissing curses through her teeth.
“Wouldn’t want to lose this,” he said with a rough chuckle. Crouching before her, fingers still entertwined on the table, Phillip met Farrah’s large dark eyes with his.

A thought occurred to her as Farrah sat that night in her room. Marriage could not legally happen twice to one woman. Perhaps she had a choice after all…

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Awake
Ghost Ship

The wooden planks of the floor dug into Phillip’s cheek. His skull ached, his head swam, and he was dimly aware that he was lying in something wet. The world rocked around him, and silently he swore off rum. Practiced words.

As consciousness crept over him, the steady rocking persisted. From somewhere far away, he heard the lap of waves. If the captain caught him drunk, there would be hell to pay. Summoning his strength, Phillip forced his eyes open.

Red.

His eyes struggled to focus. The smells hit him then, all at once. Salt water. Burnt wood. Smoke. Blood.

He realized his mouth was open and tried to close it. He tasted copper, gagged, and spat. He strained his neck, lifting his face from the pool. Glancing around, his eyes met those of the cabin boy. Phillip blinked. The boy did not.

The memories came rushing back. The ship on the horizon. Far at first, but gaining fast. The ringing of the bell. The boatswain’s whistle. The call to arms. He was belowdecks when the first cannonball struck.

The blood was the boy’s, mostly. From where he lay, Phillip could see a gash drawn across the boy’s chest. Not a cannon. A cutlass. Close range.

On the ship?

Fear spiked through Phillip, and he willed himself to stand. As he moved, lightning seared through his arm and the darkness enveloped him again.


When consciousness found Phillip a second time, the pain came with it. Phillip screamed. He thrashed, swinging his head and looking desperately for the source of the pain. He found it where his right arm disappeared below a heavy wooden beam.

Gritting his teeth, Phillip pulled his left arm up alongside him. He drew his knees toward him, flexed his back, and pushed. The pain came, stronger than before. Phillip screamed again, sweat and tears running down his face. The beam resisted, then tipped, and slowly slid sideways.

Phillip fell back panting, his ruined arm lying limply beside him. An eternity later, he struggled to his feet. He pushed the pain to the back of his mind as he scanned the room. He saw the hole where the cannonball had entered, and where it had left. Wooden splinters littered the floor, and the door to the room lay thrown open. There were other bodies. He recognized the faces of his fellow crewmembers. The hollow eyes of the cabin boy seemed to follow him as he limped out of the room.

In the halls of the ship he saw more of the same. Bodies littered the ground. Crates lay open, their contents missing. Storage holds sat empty.

Phillip mounted the main deck and beheld the carnage before him. One of the ship’s masts had splintered. The port railing was blackened, and the lines to the sails were cut. The bodies of the crew were piled to the side, save for one: the body of the captain stood lashed to the splintered mast. The fear of the enemy’s presence left him then, replaced by the cold realization that Phillip was completely alone.

Phillip staggered to the mast. Lifting a discarded cutlass with his functional arm, he slashed at the ropes holding the captain upright. He caught the body and guided it to the deck. As he did, a small flask dropped from the captain’s belt. Phillip knelt painfully, retrieved the flask, and slumped against the base of the mast. He uncorked it with his teeth and sniffed it. Rum.

He drained it in one.

As the warmth of the drink dulled his senses, a delicate sound broke the quiet rhythm of the sea. Looking skyward, Phillip squinted in the sunlight as a small bird flitted overhead, its song carrying over the waves. It passed above the wreckage of the ship and glided off toward the horizon. As Phillip slipped once more into unconsciousness, he wished he could join it.

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Execution

Dashiell opened his eyes, as the creaking of unoiled hinges meant that his cell’s door was being opened.He lifted up his unshaven head, expecting Ewald Elon to be standing there. “No,” escaped his lips. Instead of Ewald, Aleid stood in the doorway. Tears dripped down his cheeks as she walked towards him. She too had been crying. He could see the tears still in her eyes. “You should not be here, Aleid,” he begged.

“Nor should you, my beste vriend*.”

She knelt on the ground, her arms stretching out to him and she wrapped them around his neck. Her sob left his body weak and he collapsed against her, wishing to embrace her but his hands were bound by iron.

“Aleid, if your father catches you with me,” he began again.

“Enough. Enough. This is my fault. I came up with the plan to free Avi.”

“Do not say that so loud,” he begged her. “Do not let your father know. Let this end with me. Avi is free of him and she is too smart to let him find her. I gladly give my life for her and for you, Aleid.”

She released him from her arms and shook her head as she moved back.

“I used your affection for her to get you to risk your life. I was too afraid to stand up to father. This should be me. I should have set her free. I,” she paused with another sob. “I should never have said such horrible things to her!”

“Aleid, Aleid, you must listen to me,” he said with a shake of his own head. “Let my death be worth something, do not blame yourself. Your sister is alive and out there. Now you can use your position and power to find and protect her. For me. Keep her safe and free, for me.”

Aleid was in sobs again. “You love her so much,” she began with a nod. “She will know how much she meant to you. I will keep father from her.”

Dashiell smiled at her, the smile of a man who could die without fear or regret.

“Now go, your father must not find you here or he will know you had a part in this.”

She leaned towards him and with soft lips, kissed him. It was quick but it meant everything.

“I love you. Avi loves you. This was from both of us.” She stood up and began back for the door. “Goodbye, Dashiell,” she said as she looked back one last time.

“Goodbye, Aleid,” he said and kept his eyes on her. “Remember the good and do not mourn for me.”

It was only a few hours before light woke Dashiell, again. The morning was upon him. It was time. The door of the cell opened and the guards came in. He was pulled to his feet and dragged out of the cell. The sky was so beautiful, he thought, as his feet walked the steps to the gallows. Not once did he look at the noose waiting for him. Ewald Elon was there but Dashiell did not acknowledge him.

“Dashiell Dupond, you have been found guilty of the crime of treason against the Elon family and the V.O.C. The punishment for treason is to be hung by the neck until dead. Do you have any last words?”

The noose was slipped around his neck.

“Do you hear the birds? They are singing for me. Avi would have wanted that. She always loved when they sang.”

“Do it,” Elon said in a harsh voice.

“She is singing with them now, Elon. The song of freedom.”

Dashiell shot Ewald a gaze and a smile before he dropped through the floor of the gallows.

*beste vriend is Dutch for “dearest friend”

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Stormy eyed, black eyed
In which Mel is introduced to Captain Stedman
“Welcome aboard Mister Collins. I expect you to be deck-side with the rest of the crew at Seven o’clock sharp tomorrow morning. We set sail at Eight.” Captain Stedman shook the calloused hand from behind his make-shift desk before looking down the quay-side queue of would-be crewmen. Damned if this wasn’t supposed to be the duty of his first-mate, but Quiggley was laid out with fever and Stedman didn’t trust anyone else to do the job. A third of the applicants were fishermen who had never before crewed a vessel with more than one sail, another third had been dismissed from their last posts for bad behavior, and if he was lucky the rest were…eight?

The Captain put down his leather dossier case as the lad was pushed forward. The boy’s eyes were the color of the sea in a storm and glued to the ground. One was still freshly blackened and starting to purple.
“This ‘ere is Johnathan Boughman.” said the man with a vice-like grip on the lad’s shoulders, “’e’s got four years experience on the water an’ e’ll be twelve this August. The missus and I was ‘oping you’d find some use for ‘im as a cabin boy.”
Captain Stedman looked the pair up and down slowly, seeing little more than gaunt bodies and thread-bare clothes. The man was clearly the boy’s father, he had the same gray eyes though his were hardened and mean. If Stedman had to guess he would have said that the family had more children than it knew what to do with. Otherwise a child of twelve would not be so malnourished as to look eight, nor would he be pawned off with four years of the family trade under his belt. Stedman sighed. He was not the kind of man to take on urchins, least of all the sullen black-eyed kind. And his ship already had a cabin boy, and…
An ocean breeze ruffled the Captain’s hair bringing with it unbidden memories of a certain other starving child, picked up by chance. Little Gurkin Stedman, so-called for the pox that had left him bumped and pocked and the rest of his family dead. Stedman felt his business hardened heart weaken as a sand-bank lapped by waves.
“Blast it all, I’ll take him.” he said, discomfited by the way the breeze seemed to caress his face at this declaration. “But la- er, Johnathan, I’ll have no scuffles aboard my ship.”
“Oh, e’s not a fighter.” Mister Boughman said with a gruff barking laugh.
“Then how did he come to be so bruised?” Stedman asked, a little non-plussed.
“Little milk-drinker did’n want to leave ’is mum.”
The gaunt fisherman turned and walked away, leaving Stedman with a new charge, but utterly without words.

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Interlude
A brief tale of amusement

Farrah couldn’t remember the last time she laughed this hard or long. Her throat was raw with wheezing. A laugh like this is worth more than a dozen hot baths and dreamless nights combined.

“An’ tha’s no’ all! I slapped that coo’ righ’ on ‘er arse an told ’er ta leave the damn butterchurn aloone. The poor creature went off so forlorn I felt bad fer interruptin’ in the first place!” As Cullen imitated a drunk cow lowing, Farrah collapsed in another fit of giggles.

Even when Farrah had friends in the University, there were never nights like this. She could never let go of her ambition, her station, her ideals.

Who would have guessed that in a cramped ships’ hold, feeling slightly seasick, far from home, and after watching men and women die in bloody dishevelment, Farrah could finally find this kind of joy.

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Wonder and Worry

“Is it their scarves?” Peter lifted his cup after offering the question. “Covering your face…that’s not right, I say.”

William scoffed. “I’ve worked up and down the Suez. Plenty of folks in Africa cover their heads, never bothered me none.”

Peter took a long drought of raki, and immediately grimaced in regret at the bitter anise taste. “Well, I mean,” he hesitated, judging William’s face. “We all saw what happened on the Songbird’s deck last night. That would make anyone uncomfortable.”

“No,” William dodged, shaking his head. “I watched a Stranger execute a man by boiling his blood.” He drew in breath through his teeth. “I think it’s how they move.”

“How they move?” Peter asked.

“They don’t walk right. They…slither.”

“Like snakes?”

“Like snakes!” William nodded in confirmation. “Exactly like snakes.”

Peter stared into his drink, thinking hard about William’s observation. “You’re right, they do move weird. And I overheard one breathing once, it sounded like he was gasping for air.”

“I tell you, Peter. Something’s not right about those men.”

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Feathers for a Hat

On the way back to the Crafty Sassafras, Philip decided that he wanted to stop and buy a hat for himself. While he was picking out his hat, Avi noticed a beautiful, little hat sitting on one of the racks. She picked it up, her eyes wide to take in the magnificence. She lifted it up and placed it atop her head, turning to Farrah. “Pretty ha-hat,” she said to get Farrah’s attention.

“It is a very lovely hat, Avi,” Farrah responded. She was surprised for a moment by the sudden interest before becoming pleasantly happy that Avi had finally found something appropriate to like. Avi’s desire for the hideous shiny buckles still lingering in Farrah’s mind. “Excuse me, the lady would like to buy the hat. Would we be able to put it on my family’s credit?”

“Certainly!” the merchant said, in a chipper voice and opened up their book of names. “What name may I put it under?”

“Al-Azaar,” Farrah responded.

“Ah, yes! Al-Azaar.” They began to look through their book, glancing up at Farrah and Avi every few moments. “Al-Azaar,” they said again. “I am sorry it does not seem that I have that name. Perhaps another form of payment?”

Farrah was startled by this news. The merchant did not know her family name. She stared at the merchant for a long moment then looked to Avi.

“How much for this hat and the lady’s,” Philip spoke up, bringing forth the hat that he had settled on.

“Oh yes, one gold piece for your hat and two for the lady’s.”

“Alright, how about this. Two gold pieces for both,” Philip replied in an attempt to get the price down.

Avi was beginning to take notice of the problem with money. “Pretty hat,” she said, looking down at the hat in thought. Farrah’s name had not been recognized, but her’s might be. Her family was in the dutch nobles, and their merchant reach was growing when she left home. She had once overheard her father lecturing Aleid on how they needed to reach farther across the world.

If she told them her name, would it get back to her father? Would she be discovered as still alive. She did not know if Dashiell’s plan had even worked. Perhaps her parents were just glad to be rid of her, dead or alive. She looked at the merchant who was still haggling for the higher price. She could try it. She looked down at her hat. No, it was too soon, the hat was not important enough for her to risk her freedom or her new family. She noticed her feathers on her wing and an idea lit up in her mind.

She plucked a couple feathers from her skirt and set them on the counter. “For the hat,” she said with a smile.

Philip took notice of what she was trying to do. “Two gold coins and these lovely feathers.”

The merchant picked up the feathers, looking from them to Avi. “These are from you?”

“Yes,” she replied, proudly.

They looked at the feathers again.

“They would look lovely on one of your excellent hats,” Farrah added.

“Two gold coins and the feathers for the two hats,” they finally agreed with a nod.

Avi put the hat back on her head almost immediately and Philip handed over the money. The rest of the walk home Avi did not feel that the stares were because of her wings. She felt pretty, she was sure she looked like a lady now.

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