Jasper proposes peace terms
Jasper rode slowly into the Market Square followed by his small party of so far unharmed men.
As he entered there was almost total silence and all eyes turned towards him. He stopped to take in the grotesque spectacle.
There were traders, stall holders, and Summerdale residents, all smiling smugly. Rathbone’s men were intermingled with the defenders, close to a stage with candles in shaded holders as the footlights and the proscenium arched with red velvet curtains. A handsome if somewhat plump woman was leering at him from the stage, there were various livestock performing their bodily functions amongst the stalls, sheep droppings and yellowing cabbage leaves were squashing underfoot, poultry were pecking between the cobblestones, and a discarded broken cutlass was lying nearby.
An unwashed long haired creature, presumably a leftover from some previous manifestation, clad in a kaftan, with grimy bare feet in thonged sandals, carrying some sort of mandolin and smoking what smelt like hashish, lurched past him, eyes glazed, leading a mangy mutt on a string. ‘Moody the threads man…’ he muttered approvingly. ‘Rock on daddyo…’
On the Town Hall steps across the square stood the Mayor of Goldcaster, now quite magisterial with his official robe, tricorne hat, and staff of office, but nowhere nearly as impressive as the tall, severe looking, bearded gentleman beside him, who was clad in an ermine edged midnight blue cloak decorated with silver and gold symbols, and who was wearing a floppy velvet burgundy bonnet edged with gold braid, of the sort favoured by sixteenth century aristocrats.
Nearby in the square stood James Boswell and Doctor Johnson, neither obviously in any further danger whatsoever from himself
At that moment, almost upright on her humming broomstick, Hepzibah Paragon came flying sedately over the rooftops. She inclined her head and gave a royal wave as she passed above him and then settled gently down near her nephew on the Town Hall steps.
A dozen herring gulls also now flew in and perched upon the parapet of the Town Hall roof. Nearby were several grim looking crows, their heads twitching as they peered about, looking at the square below.
Jasper waved the men behind him back to the edge of the square, and then rode cautiously forward alone between the stalls and shambles all about him. As he did so some things dissolved and vanished, but others took their place.
‘Evening paper m’lord? Read all about it – amazing scenes in northern seaside town. None dead – yet…’
‘Somewhere for your holidays your grace? One way trip to Wapping with a quick trial thrown in and the three tide ducking of your tarred and tattered corpse for free…?’
‘Retirement home sir? Prestigious remote and humble hovels for outlaws and fugitives in all parts. Deserts, jungles, and arctic wastes a speciality…’
And then the great bell Magnus tolled at last.
A deep green emerald tide of colour spread over all of Goldcaster with each peal, as though a new life for Summerdale was springing forth, cleansing every corner and sharpening every facet of the beams and timber frames and stone faced walls of the buildings in the square, and every twig and leaf and gnarled branch of the trees in the corners. And as the colour began to ebb something strange happened up on the Town Hall steps. A rather shabby bulging canvas bag on the floor beside Professor Paragon began to glow and then to smoke.
Suddenly what appeared to be a small red toy dragon burst through the zip along the top. But it was alive. It spread and flapped its little wings, then coughed and snorted loudly. Stabs of flame shot from its nostrils, at first tiny, but then increasing as the creature itself began to swell and grow. Soon it was the size of a small dog, and its fiery breath was shooting out a yard of flame each snort.
‘Whoops-a-daisy!’ exclaimed Barney, grabbing it by the ears, and running into the square.
‘Mind your backs please ladies and gents – coming through – if you’d be so kind – I thank you – sorry about that – only a singe – quickly now, out of the way – must get to water!’
Holding his burden at arm’s length Barney disappeared through the lane that lead to the quay. Jasper heard the sound of an explosion and a column of steam rose up above a warehouse roof. After a moment Barney came back, with the dragon once more its original size, looking rather bemused, on a lead, and shaking drops of water of its back..
‘Er, excuse me…’
‘Who are you then?’ asked Barney.
‘Leading Seaman Dancer, and I’m not best pleased. You may call it a singe – I call it a bloody liberty. The whole right side of my best doublet is burnt to a cinder.’
‘Can’t be helped squire. At least your eyebrows still work. If you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t have joined.’
Jasper coughed, covered his mouth, and managed to keep a straight face.
Tantamount settled on his shoulder and whispered in his ear. ‘ “A sight so gay, by fire now much impaired…” ‘
‘Indeed. Even in these dire circumstances a jot of light relief is welcome.’
Seeing Jasper, Rathbone made his way, with some difficulty, across the square.
‘Ah, Mr Mate, you appear uninjured. Good. How about the rest?’
‘Mainly cuts and bruises and loss of dignity.’
‘It turned out not to have been the sort of conflict we are used to.’
‘Er, no Captain. Not quite what we had in mind. In fact we had sheer bloody chaos inflicted on us right from the off. Bit of light relief at the end, granted, but our powder turned to pepper and there were all kinds of colours and illusions and obstacles and difficulties to contend with, in addition to a spirited defence. We’ve been battered to bits by adversity, physically and mentally. No way are we going to beat this lot. I’m gutted.’
‘I’m not exactly made up about it myself.’
‘ “At the end of the day, in the beautiful game of two halves on the field of dreams, we gave it our best shot – sur ma tete, son, and so it’s early doors, and all about being as sick as a parrot.” ‘ said Tantamount sadly. ‘ “The long days task is done…” ‘
‘Not quite.’ said Jasper.
‘What are we – and more to the point – what are you going to do Sir J.?’ asked Rat bone. ‘They’re being very patient but that can’t last for ever. And what about the future?’
‘Never mind the future – I’m up to my eyes with the present right now. I hope to persuade their leaders to allow us to return the booty and let the crew go free if I remain as surety.’
‘You’re on dodgy ground there.’
‘ “His steps are as upon a thin crust of ashes, beneath which the lava is still flowing.” ‘sighed Tantamount doubtfully.
‘Very apt.’ said Rathbone. ‘With this paranormal bollocks they’ve got total control. They can get everything back and then turn us into slaves, or kill us, or whatever.’
‘The contents of my chest will more than compensate for the damage done. And there may be some way I can be of service, or at least calm them whilst you get away.’
‘Excuse I, ‘ said Archibald, who had also struggled through the square towards them. ‘You stay, we stay. If they let us.’
‘Atchooo!’ sneezed Clarence, also now nearby. ‘No, it’s not hay fever – it’s the stress. Psychosomatic symptoms you see, and I’m not leaving either. And begging your pardon, but if we don’t have you we might not get Mr Rathbone. The Quartermaster will demand an election and all hell would break loose on the Leopard.’
By now several of the crew, even some walking wounded, had made their way to Jasper’s side.
‘Not going to serve under Speke – him as bad as enemy, nearly.’ said Eustace.
‘I’m quite cosy the way things are, thank you very much.’ said Morry
‘You da man, Cap’n, no one else.’
‘Yeah. Me and the QM – we’re hardly on Speking terms…’
‘Har, har, har!’
‘Thank you once again gentlemen.’ said Jasper. ‘And I admire your stoicism. Being able to laugh at a time like this – that’s either courage or stupidity. Whichever it is I’m proud to be in your company.’
‘ “Pity the man who cannot shed a tear, but pity more the man who cannot smile in adversity.” said Tantamount.
(‘What’s this “stoicism” then?’
‘Well… It’s yer skill stowing things away… Ain’t it? Like being tidy or something.’
‘Well Eustace ain’t tidy. He’s more like a Tracy Emin bed.’
‘What’s that then?’
‘Ask the parrot – he said it…’)
Some other members of the crew had been edging nonchalantly towards the lane that lead to the quay, peering about them in carefree manner and whistling tunelessly through their teeth. Jasper saw the mayor whispering to the witch’s nephew who then pointed towards this group. His fingers snapped, a flash of fire shot across the square, there was a crash and a clanging, and the errant pirates were immediately encased in a cage, the bars of which must have been rather hot since they all quickly huddled together in the centre.
‘Ah…’ said Jasper. ‘It looks as though we are all staying anyway. But I mustn’t keep them waiting any longer. The rest of you remain here.’
‘Walk on…’ he said to his horse, and moved slowly forward towards the Town Hall, the defenders falling back on either side of him, and the Professor’s market day makeover vanishing as he passed.
The square suddenly appeared much more empty and ordered. His adversaries were now confidently ranged before him, some smiling with a degree of smugness, others relieved and sighing as befits people from whom a great burden has passed, and yet others, on a more secure footing, who, whilst relishing their part in the triumph over him, were prepared to treat with him as equals.
He came first to Elisabeth and Tom, who had hastened from the church, now together with their Aunt Esme.
He dismounted, and bowed low to Esme Trundle.
‘I have the honour to meet you once again, Madam. Thank you for taking the pains to be present at my downfall. I hope I shall acquit myself as you would expect?’
Esme, her heart fluttering a little, bobbed her head rather formally. ‘I am sure you shall, Sir Jasper.’
‘Elisabeth, my dear,’ he said, handing over the reins, ‘Would you look after the horse for the moment? He needs returning to his owners – my men borrowed him for me from a farm near yours. Perhaps you would kindly return him?’
‘Of course, Sir Jasper.’ said Elisabeth, sniffing a little and with the suspicion of a lump in her throat. ‘Hello, Snowy.’
‘Ah…’ said Jasper. ‘I thought of him more as Bucephalus – but merely a delusion of course. No empire for him to share with me.’ He stroked the horse’s head and patted his shoulder. ‘Thank you for your service, old fellow, I hope you enjoyed our strolls together. I certainly didn’t. Hello again Tom.’
‘Hello, sir. I’ll still be your Midshipman if you like.’
‘That’s the best thing I’ve heard all day, old chap, but I don’t think it’s very practicable at the moment. I tell you what – would you take care of Tantamount for me? With regard to food and water and shelter? He’s a great companion and it would comfort me to know he was in safe hands…’
‘I’d be glad to sir.’
‘Not leaving.’ sniffed Tantamount, tossing his head and turning away.
‘Just while matters get arranged?’ pleaded Jasper.
Tantamount looked at him with his head on one side, then nodded. ‘Suppose so. For the moment, you understand?’ He looked at Tom and raised a friendly, if patchy wing. ‘Very well. Nice lad. Could do with a bit more education, and “I am a scholar, and a ripe and good one.” ’
‘Thank you my friends.’ said Jasper. ‘That sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it? Well, I’d best pay my respects to your colleagues…’ He turned and started walking toward the Town Hall. Snowy snorted and pawed the ground, but Jasper looked back for a moment, raised his hand to calm him, and then turned away again, and strode on through the crowd who parted before him.
He then came to Doctor Johnson and James Boswell who were standing at the foot of the Town Hall steps.
‘Doctor Johnson – I am so glad to see you well sir, may I say almost exuberant? Perhaps I need not have worried so much about you after all?’
‘My health has been stimulated by the challenges of this affair and the exceptional climate of this spot, and indeed the welcome outcome – Virtuti paret robus…’
‘Well sometimes virtue does overcome strength, but generally it’s a damned long haul, and often takes centuries by which time many rogues like me have prospered and been gathered before retribution can be delivered, or indeed remorse expressed or recompense obtained. And in this instance virtue has had remarkable assistance has it not Mr Boswell?’
‘It decidedly has, sir.’
‘Very true.’ smiled Doctor Johnson.
‘We three have had to accommodate ourselves to things totally beyond our previous experience, have we not?’ said Jasper. ‘But I only this afternoon became aware that I was trying to achieve my objectives with a sensation not unlike having one hand tied behind the back whilst trying to swim through seaweed, being opposed as I was by a portfolio of paranormal obstacles frustrating my every endeavour.’
Fastnet flew down and alighted on Boswell’s shoulder.
‘Hello gull.’ said Jasper. ‘I see your intelligence team are present up on the roof. I congratulate you on your efficiency. I am now aware that you have been privy to my every move.’
‘Doctor J organised it.’ said Fastnet. ‘I was just the Wing Commander.’
‘Good heavens.’ said Jasper. ‘No wonder it worked so well. And I see you also have crows….
‘They’re nothing to do with us. They’ve come down to peck the eyes from the corpses, but they’re out of luck today. Shame really, they don’t often get that treat around here, not with humans. With your sheep and your rabbits and that sort of thing, of course, yes, all the time, but with your lot, no, not often.’
‘Quite. What a relief anyway.’
Jasper mounted the Town Hall steps, doffing his hat and bowing to Aunt Hetty. ‘Well, here we are again Madam Paragon. Forgive me for ever doubting you. I presume this is your extremely accomplished nephew? I am honoured to make your acquaintance sir.’
‘Sir Jasper Scabbard…’ nodded Professor Paragon sternly.
‘With the wonderful powers of yourself and this good lady, what could we accomplish jointly if we strived for something good?’
‘I doubt that event likely.’ sniffed the Professor. ‘I presume you have come to surrender?’
‘I see no alternative and accept that such submission will be entirely on your terms. But whilst I appreciate that you have been the prime mover, I feel an obligation for the formalities to be observed…’ Jasper turned towards Mr Bagley, and bowed low.
‘Mr Mayor, I congratulate you on your choice of allies. I have done you and your people a great wrong. Will you accept the surrender of myself and my men?’ He drew his sword and offered it, basket hilt forward.
‘Er, yes. Er, of course. Thank you.’ said Mr Bagley, taking the sword rather awkwardly, not quite knowing what to do with it. He handed it to Professor Paragon who passed it on to Barney.
‘What beautiful craftmanship.’ said Barney. ‘A Toledo blade if I’m not mistaken? Steel tempered in the blood of tortured heretics I’ve heard.’
‘I didn’t know that.’ said Jasper. ’I acquired it from the Marquis of Cordoba. He – er, no longer had a use for it…’
Arnold the toad looked out Mr Bagley’s top pocket with interest. ‘Ribbit?’ he said.
‘Ah!’ exclaimed Aunt Hetty. ‘I’d forgotten you’d still got him. Come here Arnold.’
Arnold hopped out of Mr Bagley’s pocket and on to Jasper’s shoulder.
‘Don’t try to brush him off!’ shouted Aunt Hetty. ‘You could turn into something. Just pick him off gently… That’s right… Nice and easy… There we are.’
Jasper handed Arnold over to Aunt Hetty, stroking the back of the toad very carefully with his index finger. ‘That’s one of the things I like about Summerdale.’ he said. ‘Every other moment offers a new and challenging experience.’
‘Can we please get on?’ asked Professor Paragon impatiently. ‘I hadn’t intended to stand here on these steps exchanging pleasantries all night. We have certain requirements to be met.’
‘May I speak?’ asked Jasper.
‘Yes, but you must understand your submission is unconditional. We shall decide what has to be done next.’
‘Of course. My prime concerns are how to make reparation and amends, to look to the welfare and future of my crew, and consider how best I can show and prove good faith. I have at my disposal on board the proceeds of my profession prior to this engagement. In gold and coin alone that treasure should be far more than sufficient to compensate for any loss, inconvenience, or injury. If you will grant parole to me and my men I shall ensure that necessary work is undertaken to repair and make good all damage as quickly as possible, and of course all goods taken from the town and elsewhere in Summerdale will be returned. I shall also ensure that my men fully understand the peril that could befall them if any one of them should give cause for concern. After what I have seen today I am in no doubt that you can administer prompt and severe incapacity to any of us should you so wish.’
Mr Bagley looked at Professor Paragon, Professor Paragon looked at Doctor Johnson, Doctor Johnson looked at James Boswell, and they all looked at Aunt Hetty.
‘Well?’ she said. ‘What are you waiting for? That’s what we all wanted isn’t it? I know him well enough by now – if he says he’ll do it, he will. And if he don’t they’ll all suffer far worse than the squitters.’
‘Umm, yes..’ pondered Doctor Johnson. ‘But what about compensating for a life of crime?’
‘I do not suggest that your ultimate decision would depend on financial advantage,’ said Jasper, ‘But suppose I gave my total treasure into your care, either to doubly ensure my compliance with your instructions, or possibly permanently made over to you in return for the avoidance of imprisonment and execution of my crew by other authorities. I only wish that there was some major endeavour where my skills could adequately provide an element essential for your needs so that you would allow us then to go our separate ways, or maybe even in some cases to settle here in Summerdale, and show by our contribution to your community real commitment and reform…?’
‘Your proposals go a long way to meet our requirements.’ said Professor Paragon approvingly.
‘And there is an issue where Sir Jasper might be of service.’ said Doctor Johnson. ‘With regard to Mr Buckram’s situation…?’
‘Ah, yes…’ pondered the Professor. ‘We need to retire for a moment Sir Jasper. Would you wait here please? Mrs. Trundle, Elisabeth, Will, Barney, Umbrage – would you join us? It is only right that you should contribute to our decisions.’
‘I’ll guard Sir Jasper shall I?’ said Tom.
‘I shall be proud to be your prisoner.’ smiled Jasper.
The council moved through the entrance to the Town Hall and into the foyer. Jasper’s hearing was as good as his eyesight and he could make out certain words and phrases.
‘Reasonable… Trust him?… Nothing to lose… Uncle Rowley… Outlaws… Ransom… Escort for Doctor Johnson and myself… Don’t know about having the buggers living with us… Some sort of document?… Try him out first… Let’s get on with it then – my moke needs feeding.’
The gathering came back out on to the steps.
‘Ahem, yes…’ coughed the Professor. ‘It appears that the ladies present are prepared to trust your word, as are the Mayor, Doctor Johnson, and Mr Boswell. The others have some reservations but are prepared to give you an opportunity to prove your good faith, at least in the short term. I don’t have to trust you of course as you and your men will be under my total control at all times, but nevertheless I am prepared to work with you in a civilised manner. Oh, yes, and there is a matter which gives us great concern where you may be of some assistance, and we shall explain that situation shortly. We accordingly grant you the parole that you offer. Barney, please give Sir Jasper back his sword.’
‘I am most grateful. You will not regret this.’
Jasper turned and called across the square. ‘At ease, men. You are all safe but on parole. And if you break that parole you’ll be turned to stone or worse. You will receive my instructions presently. All quite clear? Good. Mr Rathbone – would you join us please?… ‘Professor Paragon, this is my First Mate. He is totally trustworthy and extremely reliable.’
‘Howdy do.’ nodded Rathbone, and turned to Mr Bagley. ‘You always were the Mayor, weren’t you? Marvellous – I’m sorry I trod on you on Monday. No harm done I hope?’
‘Er, no, no. Just a minor bruise or two.’
‘Evening Miss.’ said Rathbone to Aunt Hetty. ‘You were brilliant with that broomstick, if I may say so, but I didn’t go a lot on that soup you gave us – well I did in a manner of speaking, it was very effective…’
‘Thank you Percival.’
‘Please don’t call me that Miss…’
‘Very well. As long as you behave yourself.’
Rathbone turned to Barney. ‘Your lot were doing well, even without the magic stuff. Will you shake hands with a pirate?’
‘Certainly.’ said Barney. ‘There we are… You won’t mind if I count me fingers? Only joking.’
‘I need to send word to tell my Quartermaster and the few, mainly injured men aboard the Black Leopard about what has happened.’ said Jasper. ‘I also suggest that at the same time my treasure chest is brought ashore and placed in your hands as the most practical first step in our joint proceedings. Perhaps that would help to make us feel more at ease with each other? If you agree Mr Rathbone could take a couple of my best men for that task. You need have no fear that they, with the others, would sail away with your belongings still aboard – there are far too few able bodied men on the Leopard to rig and sail the vessel.’
‘I have no fear of that whatsoever.’ said Professor Paragon, rather smugly Jasper thought. ‘In a few minutes time all five bells will be ringing the special Summerdale power peal – the Goldcaster Six Bob Change. Thereafter the powers of my aunt and I will be even greater and wider than at present – no, I have no concerns about any of you escaping, and indeed everything is going exactly according to plan.’
Er, not quite…
Author of Dangerous Chimes, read more about Michael Macauley over here.