There was a moment’s pause, and then the armoured door on the left hand side of Berengaria swung open.
James Boswell jumped down on to the quay. He coughed, straightened his hat and adjusted a sword belt from which hung a his rusty borrowed rapier. He then walked slowly and as confidently as possible towards the trio facing him. His task was initially to present a bold front and then to appear to succumb to Sir Jasper’s demands once Tom had been brought out in to the open.
Both he and Jasper bowed low to each other.
‘Well now, Mr Boswell. This really is a surprise. So you managed to escape from the island and join my enemies. I suppose that you have brought your experience and expertise to bear upon their predicament, and it is you I have to thank for this temporary setback to my plans?’
‘I have merely made a modest contribution to their efforts.’
‘And Doctor Johnson – is he well? I nearly said safe and sound, but now I have returned none of you are safe…’
‘Doctor Johnson was in good health when last I saw him, but he is elsewhere beyond your reach. As to our situation, we are very strong and the Militia will shortly be in the town. We know you have young Tom Trundle as I saw him in one of the boats approaching the quay. Return him to us now and we will permit you to leave forthwith to avoid capture.’
‘I think not sir. But that was quite good. Unless the Militia of which you speak are able to fly they could not be here before tomorrow night at the earliest even if your messenger sprang into action as soon as we landed on Monday. With regard to your strength, we have met your friends before and they put up a very feeble fight. Admittedly they were somewhat unprepared for our attack, but I doubt if any further action would have a different result. We are physically very strong, highly disciplined, our whole life is lived in continuous preparation for action and battle, we are braced by long familiarity with danger, and all our offensive movements have the precision of clockwork.’
(‘Who’s ‘ee talking about?’ whispered Eustace.
‘Us, you pillock.’ hissed Rathbone.)
‘We are also thoroughly armed, rather hungry, and not in the best of tempers.’ continued Jasper. ‘I would like to minimise customer dis-benefit, but if you do not do as I say we shall bombard the buildings on the quay and demolish them, slaughter any of you who do not flee, and slit the boy’s throat before securing the bells anyway. I can’t say fairer than that can I? Do I make myself clear?’
‘Er, yes. Perfectly clear. What then are your demands?’
‘Your people will construct a raft to the design and specifications that we have already prepared, you will bring the bells down to the quay from the forge, you will load them for us to transfer to my ship, you will endure supervision of these tasks by my men, and you will provide torch brands and lanterns so as to work through the night if necessary. Once the bells are aboard the boy will be returned, (unharmed if you obey our instructions implicitly) and we will sail off. Is that understood?’
‘Oh yes. With one proviso.’
‘I shall need to see and speak with Tom Trundle so that I can assure my colleagues that he is well. I think that not unreasonable?’
‘No, no, of course not. I was about to bring him forth myself.’ Jasper called down to Rathbone. ‘Mr Mate – be so kind as to bring young Master Trundle up on to the quay… Here we are Mr Boswell. This young man is safe and sound, aren’t you Tom?’
‘Oh, yes sir.’
‘Are you really alright Tom?’
‘Oh yes, Mr Boswell. I was scared of Mr Speke, but Spud looked after me and Mr Rathbone and Sir Jasper are very kind.’
‘Enough of that.’ snapped Jasper. ‘Tom is concerned about his sister and his parents. I have assured him that as far as I am aware they are well, but perhaps you can confirm that Mr Boswell?’
‘Oh yes.’ said Boswell. ‘We are –er- constantly in touch with them, and they are fine. Now I must return to our friends to give them their instructions. I have to fetch certain people to show them that you are unharmed and see that what I say is correct , so if you could stay with Sir Jasper on the quay for a minute or two, Tom… Would that be convenient Sir Jasper?’
‘I suppose so. But get a move on would you? I’d rather like to catch the morning tide.’
‘Of course, of course.’ said Boswell, removing his hat and smoothing his hair back. ‘What a relief to find him unhurt. Right, I’ll be off then. I will return presently with the leaders and then we can all get started on our tasks…’
The moment Boswell signalled by removing his hat Barney shot through the lane that lead into the Market square and waved to Will Nudd who was peering over the parapet of the Town Hall. Will scrambled up to the top of the roof and raised the Goldcaster Flag.
On the top of the tower of St.Jocelyn Without Professor Paragon rubbed his hands together, raised a similar flag, and then climbed back into the belfry and called down to the bell ringer waiting with the bell rope in his hands. ‘Right Mr Trundle – Tom is on the quay with Scabbard. Start ringing Godolphin please…’
‘Look!’ said Elisabeth. ‘The flag has gone up on the church tower. And you were right – there is colour…’
A golden glow began to spill out from the church, lighting first the churchyard and the hillside on which it stood, and then, as the sound of the bell began to reach them, spreading across the rolling pastures, farmsteads, woodland, lanes – spreading, spreading, spreading, – pulses of rich yellow with every chime, as though little Godolphin was rejoicing in the glad renewal of its power.
The colour became more diffused and lighter over the countryside, but then seemed to tighten into a golden stream which flowed out along the ley line, surging up into the stone circle, splashing on to the Tingle Stone, and bathing all the other stones in a honey and primrose haze, before easing and fading gently away again.
‘That’s a bit more like it.’ said Aunt Hetty. ‘Place your ear close to the stone, Elisabeth. What do you hear?’
‘Why, the whole stone is humming – it’s giving off the same note as the bell…’
‘Exactly. It’s picking up the sound of the signal and drawing the matching energy from out of the earth.’ Now we’re really cooking…’ Then she stroked her broomstick against the Tingle Stone and worked the throttle as it coughed and spluttered into life. There were two loud backfires and a puff of smoke from the bristle end, and then just a rather contented purring noise with an occasional hiccup.
‘Stick with me, Rockall.’ said Aunt Hetty, and then turned to Mr Bagley. ‘Will you look after Arnold, Mr Mayor?’ She didn’t wait for the answer but put the toad in his top coat pocket. ‘Right.’ she said. ‘I’m off – see you later.’
She snapped down the visor of her witch’s helmet and took off, rather jerkily at first, but then with considerable skill as she circled the stone circle once to ensure all was well, and then shot away down towards Goldcaster, with Elisabeth on the pony, and Mr Bagley on Horace the donkey and in charge of Arnold, cantering down the hill behind her.
‘Hell’s toenails!’ snarled Jasper, as the chimes echoed down the Quay. ‘They’ve actually re-hung one of the bells. All hands from the boats out and on to the quay – we’ll go to the forge to secure the others. Mr Mate – you take the men behind the barricade and attack from the north side. I’ll take the rest south and work around the houses to cut them off in case any of the other bells are being moved up to the church. Tom, you come with me – your friends know now not to offer any resistance whilst you are in my grasp. What the devil?…’
In order to maintain surprise Aunt Hetty had swooped into Goldcaster through the back lanes and alleys, swerving and twisting, ducking under arches with her cloak brushing the walls, skidding around corners, and zooming at last through the Market Square with a genial wave to the open mouthed townsfolk hiding in the corners. Now she shot out of the lane that lead to the quay just as the pirates from the boats poured on to it.
‘Out of the way, you buffoons!’ she screeched, peering about for Tom amongst the pirate horde. She soared up to get a better view and then saw him near the Harbour Inn holding Sir Jasper’s hand.
‘Geronimo already!’ she cried, swooping down on Jasper and snatching off his hat. Instinctively he reached up both hands and held on to his head.
‘So…’ screamed Aunt Hetty. ‘It’s a wig is it? Well, we’ll have that off too..’ and she twitched off the thick, long, bright red, beautifully curled locks to fall amongst the fish scales on the cobbles.
‘Bad hair day, Sir Jasper? Quick, Tom, get up behind me – hold on tight… Here we go…’
She shot off again along the quay, pirates falling back on either side, and bumping the bristles on the ground a bit until she got used to the extra weight, but then soaring up and over the warehouses and away with futile pistol shots echoing behind her.
The Gullnet quickly spread the news of Tom’s rescue to all concerned.
Rockall carried the report to Doctor Johnson and Fastnet. ‘Aunt Hetty has taken him to the church and she will soon be hanging the second bell. The power is getting stronger all the time. She has even got the ropes re-splicing themselves, and the fixings and brackets and pulleys and things all snapping into place, and bits and pieces screwing up and clamping down, and heaven knows what else – it’s like bedlam in that belfry.’
‘How soon will the other bells be at the church?’ asked Doctor Johnson’
‘They are on the brewer’s dray and being towed up the hill right now.’ said Biscay.
‘And the Professor?’ asked Fastnet.
‘Now Aunt Hetty is at the church, he is hurrying down to the Town Hall to join the Mayor who will be arriving any minute.’ said Portland.
‘Good, good, very good.’ said Doctor Johnson. ‘But what are the pirates doing?’
‘They are still recovering from Aunt Hetty.’ said Malin. ‘Having a bit of a conference on the quay. But Mr Boswell and Umbrage on the traction engine are about to give them a bit of a surprise…
‘That was the Black Hag of the Valley, wasn’t it?’ said Rathbone. ‘The one who gave us the trots. So she really is a witch…’
‘I am afraid she is.’ sighed Jasper, picking up his wig and hat.
‘And she can fly – on a bloody broomstick and all, can’t she?’
‘It appears so, yes.’
‘ “There I stood and humbly scanned the miracle that sense appals.” ‘ said Tantamount.
‘And I suppose the blasted bells are bewitched and the sodding seagulls can talk and we’re all going to be turned into toads any minute…?’
‘ “That old Black Magic has me in its spell…” ’ sung Tantamount.
‘Shut up!’ snapped Jasper. ‘I think turning into toads is unlikely. Using a her own broomstick is one thing, but from what I gathered when talking with her earlier – yes, I have met her as well – she needs some special power or help for greater effects and I believe that is not yet available to her here. Otherwise, rather than her making that rather risky solo attack just now in order to rescue young Tom Trundle, we would have all been struck down or otherwise incapacitated.’
‘So what are we going to do Cap’n’
‘Well our operational strategies may have to be re-calibrated if tangible contra resource effects superiorise.’
‘We may have to change our plans if she gets help. But I still think we should go and get the rest of the bells from the forge – there is a hell of a lot of gold at stake. We will just have to fight for them now the hostage has escaped.’
‘Fair enough.’ Rathbone turned to the crew. ‘Did you here that you lot? We’re going to thrash the buggers and get the bells now – never mind some old crone with a death wish. She’s well gone anyway.’
‘I do so hope so.’ said Morry. ‘She gave me quite a turn.’
‘Let’s get on with it then.’ said Archibald.
‘Certainly.’ said Clarence. ‘But what do we do about that…?’
Hooting loudly and belching out smoke and steam, Berengaria was now thundering down the quay towards them.
‘Hold your fire!’ ordered Jasper. ‘It’s armoured. Don’t waste ammunition. Bunch along the edge of the quay. They may try to run you down but if you jump out of the way the damn thing may tip into the harbour…’
But Umbrage was apparently not to be lured from a straight course down the quay. At least not until he was passing the pirates standing along the edge. He then lurched towards them, spitting venom and curses, and several had to jump into the water to avoid being crushed. Cackling loudly he steered away again and headed for the barricade, smashing into it before the cannon could be fired, and demolishing it completely as the pirates stationed there scrambled for safety. He then manoeuvred to a halt in the lane at that end of the quay, puffing out steam and smoke, and completely blocking the most direct route up to the forge.
‘Oh, very handy.’ snapped Jasper, calming his horse as the soaking wet pirates scrambled back on to the quay.
‘No problem.’ said Rathbone. ‘I’ll just make my way up through the Market Square.’
‘Well I rather think that’s what they want. We could have the main confrontation there. So I’d better take that responsibility.’
‘Er, I don’t agree Captain. After all it won’t be much of a scrap. We’re armed to the hilt. They had to give back the guns they captured earlier and it’s unlikely they have more than one or two old blunderbusses – and look what happened last time? And if they had proper arms those look-outs in these buildings along the quay would be having pot shots at us by now. And if you were leading and they got lucky in the melee we could lose you and then everything would fall apart. You’re indispensable, I’m not, neither are any of the rest of us. Besides, if you go round the south of the town as planned you’ll be on the higher ground and be able to see the road up to the church, and what’s going down elsewhere, and judge what’s best as we get on.’
Jasper looked around at his men. Apart from the Quartermaster and the mainly injured hands left on the Leopard, the rest of the crew were on the quay – forty of them including himself, every one bristling with primed pistols, loaded muskets or carbines, cutlasses, swords, dirks, daggers, even a mace or two. Yes, a well experienced, thoroughly trained, and highly formidable force – some now very wet, yes, and trailing strands of seaweed certainly, but all definitely formidable.
‘Very well Mr Mate, and thank you for that assessment, though not even I am totally indispensable. But you had better take most of the men. I’ll just have a dozen to go around the back. And be very careful. And Tantamount – you had best fly back to the ship out of harm’s way now there’s likely to be a fight.’
‘No more leaving behind.’ said Tantamount. ‘ “Loyalty is still the same, whether win or lose the game.” I fly with you.’
‘There you go Sir J.’ said Rathbone. ‘Ideal pet for a pirate, that parrot.’
‘Thank you Sir Tantamount.’ said Jasper. ‘I am most touched.’
‘Not a pet!’ hissed Tantamount.
‘Sorry.’ said Rathbone. ‘I meant companion.’
* * *
‘No, no, gibbetting NO!’ screeched Aunt Hetty. ‘Abelard hangs on the left of Godolphin. And when, if ever, we get the others, Magnus hangs on the left of Abelard, Ignatius hangs on the right of Godolphin, and Calabar on the right of him. I thought everybody knew that… Where did you get these oafs from?’
‘Well they’re not all bell ringers, Mistress Paragon.’ said Elisabeth’s father. ‘I thought we’d best have strong men in here first to get the bells set.’
‘Oh, well, fair enough then. Sorry lads – you’re doing fine – Mind me broomstick!’
‘Why is they in that order Missis?’
‘Tell him please Mr T. I must get on with a bit of background spelling up here.’
‘It’s the order of the change you see, the ringing change for the master power – “Doh, Soh, Fah, Ray, Me.” – the Strike notes A, D, E, B, C – Up and down and up the scale to make the special phrase.’
‘I don’t think you’re getting through to him Mr Trundle. Never mind the notation of rhythm and the tonic sol-fa and all that cobblers. Listen my son – I’ve told you how the bells hang, so reading from left to right, take the first letter of the name of each of the bells, and it spells out what we’re all about today –M, A,G,I,C. Now I really must get on. Oh, hello Elisabeth. Well done girl, you’ll be ringing Abelard as soon as we’ve got it hung properly. And I think your dad could do with a hug.’
On board the Black Leopard Luther Speke was becoming increasingly concerned. He had been below when Aunt Hetty had rescued Tom, and on returning to the deck. he could not understand why an attack had not been launched. Now the steam machine had demolished the barricade and still the pirates had not responded. It was not like Scabbard to dither about, and besides, they were all very vulnerable, grouped close together there on the Quay.
At last Jasper mounted his horse and was moving off south with a rather small band of men whilst the main body were now cramming tightly into the lane leading to the Market Square. Bad tactics, thought the Quartermaster – I hope they know what they’re doing…
Rathbone was well aware of the possible danger He entered the Market Square with only Archibald, Clarence, and Morry behind him, leaving the rest of his party for the moment safe in the lane leading from the quay.
At first the square appeared deserted, with the chimes of a single church bell clearly echoing around the buildings, but then three figures emerged from the Town Hall and stood on the steps. Mr Bagley, now draped with his chain of office and wearing an scarlet velvet edged long coat, appeared familiar, but the dapper little plump man wearing a pork pie hat and the tall country gentleman with the trim beard and the very severe expression were strangers to him.
‘The tall geezer with the face fungus doesn’t look as though he’d be much good in a ruckus.’ said Archibald. ‘And who’s the prat in the hat?’
‘No idea.’ said Rathbone.
Barney left Mr Bagley and Professor Paragon and stepped down on to the cobbles. He signalled to either side of the square and several townsfolk emerged from various doorways and alleys and joined him in front of the Town Hall. Although carrying wooden clubs, sickles, one or two axes, and even ancient halberds, pikes, and spears, none of them had guns. Still no one spoke.
Rathbone waved forward a further dozen of his own men out of the lane.
Barney gave a whistle and more defenders appeared, blocking the south of the square. Still no guns, but rather ominously thought Rathbone, three of them had bows with quivers of arrows slung over their shoulders.
‘We’ll have to shoot them first.’ said Archibald.
‘Or get stuck in quickly so that they can’t get a clear sighting past their mates.’ said Morry.
‘Anyway, not much by way of opposition.’ said Rathbone. ‘Come on, out of the lane the rest of you. And there’s still a way clear through the north corner to the forge…’
Oh, no there wasn’t.
That street was now blocked by a clump of men built like oversized troglodytes, oaken thighed and beetle browed, their great boots caked in cattle dung, their matted hair and beards flecked with straw, and all with eyebrows so dense that they had generated their own dandruff. They looked as though their preferred occupations could be the pole axing of mad bulls or wrestling with grizzly bears, and they did not appear over endowed with either sartorial elegance or any air of sensitivity. In fact beside them a quintet of Mike Tysons would have looked like a family of fairies.
These were Bill, Ben, Bert, Broderick, and Bedivere, the five Bashem brothers, who were the strongest members of Esme Trundle’s work force at Richpickings Farm.
Like the other defenders they also had no guns. In fact they had no weapons at all, apart from huge clenched fists, grinding teeth, and eyes glittering eagerly with the prospect of imminent heavy duty ear ripping and limb rending.
‘Oo-er!’ squeaked Morry.
‘Them are enemy.’ said Eustace. ‘Real enemy!’
‘But with no guns…’ said Rathbone. ‘This could be a walk over.’
‘What’s that tall old git up to?’ said Archibald. ‘He’s putting on a cloak covered with signs and waving his hands about in time with the bell…’
Barney had turned and was looking at Professor Paragon with his eyebrows raised.
‘Nearly ready.’ said the Professor, who then closed his eyes and passed his hands in front of his face whilst muttering an incantation. ‘That should do it – ah, yes…’
A perceptible yellow glow pulsed across the square with one of Godolphin’s chimes and momentarily lit up all the pirates before ebbing away again.
Barney turned back to face Rathbone and then strolled calmly towards him.
‘Is he coming to surrender?’ asked Eustace.
‘I don’t think so.’ said Rathbone. ‘He looks too bloody confident.’ He stepped forward to meet Barney.
‘What do you want, shortarse, apart from a thick ear?’
‘I present the compliments of the Mayor of Goldcaster and Professor Alfred Paragon. I am instructed to tell you that if you wish to surrender now you will not be harmed.’
‘Do what? We can blast you all apart in a couple of minutes, you jumped up jessie. So tell your ape men to stand aside – we’re going up to the forge.’
‘I think not squire. And as to your firepower, I suggest you try a shot and see how effective it isn’t.’
‘Are you barmy? Clarence, blow his hat off.’
Clarence raised one of his pistols and fired at the top of Barney’s hat. At two yards range he could hardly miss but nothing happened. Well, the flint struck, there was a spark, and Clarence started sneezing, but there was no pistol shot. Just a very strong smell of pepper in the air.
‘See what I mean sport?’ said Barney. ‘Your gunpowder’s changed a bit, hasn’t it? Still, look on the bright side – quite handy when flavouring your food – you can always shake your muskets over your mutton stew. Special yellow pepper that – quite an expensive condiment. Professor Paragon is well known for his generosity. I expect you’ll want to check some other weapons? Don’t be too long… All done? Right then. Are we ready to surrender now?’
’No, we bloody aren’t!’ fumed Rathbone.
‘Want to make a fight of it? Fair enough. Are you going to charge at us or are we going to charge at you? Tell you what – why don’t we spin for it? Here, you flip the coin and I’ll call…’
Still reeling from the set back Rathbone meekly spun the silver ducat Barney handed him.
‘Heads!’ called Barney as it fell on the ground. ‘I win. Right, you can charge – just let me get back to my lines and then we’ll be at it…’ He bent down to pick up the coin but then felt Rathbone’s strong grip on his shoulder.
‘Hold hard clever clogs.’ said Rathbone. ‘Ah, just as I thought – a double headed piece, you crafty little bugger! Well now we have a hostage once again. Sod it, no we haven’t – grab him!’
Barney had twisted out of his jacket and now sprinted for the Town Hall with all the pirates thundering after him, roaring and cursing, and hard upon his heels. A clutch of arrows shot over their heads and clattered on the cobbles beyond them but only by way of deterrence for the archers could not risk hitting Barney.
The defenders then rushed at the pirates from all sides of the square and the battle commenced, but not quite as Professor Paragon had planned.
Author of Dangerous Chimes, read more about Michael Macauley over here.