The Church Yard—the pirates give in but Speke has other plans
Jasper arrived at the church yard to find the empty brewers dray abandoned behind the yews, and the great cart horses grazing in the field behind the church.
As he rode through the lych gate a new note rang out from the tower above. Now Calabar, the second largest bell, was free to peal once more. Orange and amber radiance spread out into the sky, illuminating the early evening clouds, and then flooded over the town and the surrounding countryside in waves as each chime rang. From where he stood Jasper could see the first shooting shaft of colour soaring across the land towards the stone circle on the hill where it seemed to explode against the tall stone in the centre, sending a fountain of every shade of orange, from yellow red to ochre with golden flashes in between – sending that fountain high into the sky to splash across the landscape and then softly fall away.
In that moment Jasper sensed that little hope was left.
‘Ring out wild bells, to a wild sky, ring out a slowly dying cause…’ sighed Tantamount.
‘Sometimes you’re so negative – do you know that?’
‘But now with reason, Jasper Scabbard!’ Aunt Hetty, at top of tower, called out to him below.
‘Ah, Madam Paragon. I should have expected to find you here. So the bells hold the power you needed. What a fool I was not to realise that, given all the aggravation that they have caused me and my men. The most simple member of my crew suspected it from the very first.’
‘Hindsight is a very valuable asset, Sir Jasper. Unfortunately it is never available when we need it most – before we are committed to the rash acts that so confound us. May I ask what you had in mind – trudging up here to the church?’
‘I had intended to stop the ringing of the bells but now, finding you in command, I sense my intentions may be frustrated.’
‘You’re so right – remember this?’ She leant out from the tower and waved her crystal pendulum in a circle above him, and then appeared to simply bless the churchyard below.
An orange glow simmered and then flamed within the yew trees as though fire was burning behind the dark green needles thickly cladding the many gnarled trunks and stems. Then skeins and coils and strands of coppery coloured wire writhed forth, some thick, some fine, but all rapidly encircling and binding Jasper’s men, not painfully tight but sufficiently restrictive so that they could no longer move. He alone was spared this indignity.
‘I see.’ sighed Jasper. ‘What next?’
‘Only one bell, Magnus the mighty, is not yet ringing but it is being set as we speak.. When that can be pealed then not only his power, but the power of the special Goldcaster Six Bob Change can be rung – you’ll enjoy that, I promise you!’
‘I very much doubt it. And pray tell me, why am I not encumbered with your magic copper coils, Madam Paragon?’
‘You already know my powers, Sir Jasper, your men do not, and I would not wish them to come to unnecessary harm by foolish actions before they realise their disadvantage.’
‘That consideration is appreciated. I saw some of your effects taking hold in the Market Square. I presume my men’s efforts there have been frustrated and our enterprise is now ended?’
‘Not quite yet, but the conclusion is inevitable. And I have not been responsible for any sorcery in the town. My nephew, Professor Paragon, has been in charge down there. No doubt chaos has reigned, but hopefully in our favour. What do you plan to do now Sir Jasper Scabbard?’
‘If you will permit me, I would like to see to the welfare of the rest of my men, pay my respects to your nephew, and if necessary go down fighting…’
‘I judged you rightly Jasper. Return to the town then.’
‘ “Wild horses on bended knees wouldn’t get me down there.” ‘ said Tantamount.
‘Please yourself, parrot. I thought better of you.’ snapped Aunt Hetty. ‘What if your master needs a cheering quote?’
‘I don’t blame you, Tantamount.’ said Jasper. ‘Normal conflicts are one thing, but hope-shattering phenomena are something else.’
‘But perhaps I’ll fly above you… Just in case.’
‘What about my men here?’
‘I give them back to you – Resolvere!’’ exclaimed Aunt Hetty.
The copper coils fell from his men, they staggered back, and then stood close to him, as though believing he could protect them from the witchcraft.
‘It seems we have been bested, lads.’ said Jasper. ‘I am going back to see if I can help the others. They must be having a tough time by now. You are free to try and reach the Leopard if you wish…’
‘Sod that Cap’n. If we go down, we all go down together…’
Working under considerable pressure and in hectic circumstances the Professor added more stalls…
‘Get your come-uppances here – They’re fresh, they’re ripe, they’re lovely, they’re well overdue. Only four groats a pound today, tuppunce a hundredweight. Here we are sir – want yours now do you? Certainly, my pleasure… That punch hard enough? Oh dear, we seem to have become recumbent.’
RUST NEVER SLEEPS
‘Come along gents – quality parts and service, swords sharpened, muskets mended, ramrods repaired, faulty flints fixed. What have we here? Oooh, well, I dunno, this cutlass is a model E isn’t it? Can’t get the flanges these days. Had it seen to before have we? By a cowboy by the look of it. Leave it with me – I’ll see what I can do.’
‘But I’m in a fight! I need it now!’
‘Best push off then, a bit sharpish – Look out! What a pity, too late…’
RENT A SWINEHERD – HIRE A MINION
‘No lobdoterels, no fartiplungants, no scrag buttocks. Villeins without vices, serfs without attitude. Get yer pliant peasants ‘ere. Milking and mucking out a speciality. Guaranteed entirely impotent – no inter species crossover likely. And, just in case, no wellingtons worn when stock in heat. New staff often required.’
‘Er, got any openings for ex-pirates? Just in case…’
‘Might have. Got any references? No? Well let me see your CV later.’
BUNNIES FROM HEAVEN
‘Breed for pleasure and profit. Healthy hutches for randy rabbits, confined but not denied. Buy two, have twenty before you blink. Ideal for the pensioned pirate – sweet little pets to entertain and bite the kiddies. When bored with that you can let ‘em loose to overwhelm a continent or chop ‘em up for the choicest of casseroles.’
‘Ta muchly mush, but I’m not retiring just yet.’
‘That’s what you think…’
McFERDY’S FAST FOOD
(In and out of you before you blink)
‘All vores catered for – herbi, carni, omni, – come one, come all,
fill your gut with rubbish here.’
‘I’m a vegan.’
‘No challenge. How’s about a Chef’s Special tasteless washing up water onion soup, slice of condensed smog cheese in a ghastly soggy bun with the usual vile gherkins, tasteless cardboard mini chips, and a pseudo strawberry shake to go?’
‘Er, no thanks – cheese comes from cows.’
‘Not mine don’t matey – it’s GM modified muck.’
‘Oh, no… I’ll give it a miss if you don’t mind.’
‘Our men are still getting hurt.’ fretted Professor Paragon. ‘We need something more effective to stop the fighting.’
‘Can’t you just turn them all to stone or something?’ said Mr Bagley.
‘It’s not that simple.’ snapped the Professor. ‘It would be all of them – including our lot. Ah, good – Ignatius has started to ring…’
A rose pink sheen and vivid scarlet beams now lit up the square with each new chime.
‘Just the ticket!’ said Professor Paragon. ‘We’ll distract them with entertainment and music.’ He snapped all his fingers at the scene before him. ‘ACROAMA!… MUSICA!…’
Suddenly the Professor and Mr Bagley were pushed aside as bright lights and gantries and backdrops and a stage appeared on the Town Hall steps.
‘Mind the cables sweetie, watch out for that camera… Can we check the sound level Jeremy? Lovely, lovely – that’s it babycakes. Everybody ready? O.K. darlings – break a leg. Pan with number four. And cuuuue – Joccy!….’
‘Well, hello, good evening, and once again welcome. I’m Jocular Banter – your genial host, and in a packed programme tonight I have as my guests the very best representatives of modern entertainment – yes, we have Stiff Pilchard and the Shudders with their views on the Coffee Bar culture, Slush Runway with his twinkling fingers giving it ‘Sidesaddle’ on his ivories, and our high spot this evening, all the way from the wonderful U S of A – yes, we have specially for you, alive and writhing, here in groovy Goldcaster, the great, the one and only, the King of Rock and Roll himself – Elbow Greasely!
‘No, no, No!’ shouted the Professor,waving his hands dismissively ‘INUTILIS! – DIVERSUS!’
The television chat show disappeared and the square was filled with festival. A full fledged hippie festival with light shows, strobes, acoustic guitars, multi-coloured robes, ropes of beads, afro wigs, half naked nutters lurching about, the smoke and smell of skunk spliffs wafting upwards, overflowing toilet tents, and mud and blood and a deafening din…
‘Yeah man, yeah… Dig that groovy chick… Moody the vibes… Way out… Get on down-oh, you are down… Cool, man, cool…’
‘Oh dear, oh dear,’ sighed the Professor. ‘Please – not the ‘60s. Let’s try again…’ And the mini Woodstock was replaced by a disco in the Market Square.
‘Greetings pop pickers! Here we are again with all the latest sounds of the seventies. On the hour, every hour – it’s happy hour with the DJ with the mostest. Fantabulous… Cringetastic… Grungemungous… Mould breaking discerama… That happening type feel dontcha think? Truly brill – hang loose. Howsabout that then guys ‘n gals, not ‘arf, me old mates. Stay bright, it’s all shite – this is your old fart Fluff saying tara for now, tara!’
‘Who is that?’ said Mr Bagley.
‘I have seen him before, but not in a century you’d like to be in. And yes, ‘tara’ it certainly is…’ He waved his hands about again and muttered angrily once more.
The DJ disappeared, and suddenly there was a bus stop, a cash point, traffic lights, No Waiting signs, telephone boxes, satellite dishes on the buildings, double yellow lines around the perimeter of the square, an ambulance with blue light flashing and siren blaring trying to make its way through the crowd, a police helicopter hovering overhead, and everybody present staring doubtfully at the mobile phones that had arrived in their hands.
The Pirates and defenders were totally bemused.
‘Where are we?’
‘Who are we?’
‘When are we?’
‘What’s going down man?’
‘It dat tall shaggy daddy – he’s biggin it with de voodoo jive, innit…’
‘Curses!’ exclaimed Professor Paragon. ‘It’s even further into the future.’
‘How many futures have you got?’ sighed Mr Bagley.
‘Far to many today it seems. I’m trying to get something they can relate to – preferably not bear baiting or cock fighting…’
Rathbone’s crew members were in fact now hardly hurting. With four bells ringing Professor Paragon at last was able to provide entertainment appropriate for all his audience.
The Boxing Booth proved popular as did the Try Your Strength stand, but the Ugliest Pirate competition was not such a success because they were all far too shy, (although Eustace was nearly persuaded to enter.) However the Music Hall was a great hit with pirates and defenders alike.
The stage appeared just as plump, trilby hatted comedian wearing a bright check suit strode on to a roll of drums and crashing cymbals.
‘Hello, hello, hello! My, what a lovely audience, I say what a lovely audience. Here we are again – the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd… I really appreciate you coming here this afternoon – I really appreciate it. How did you both get away at the same time?
No, seriously – is he with you dear? Never mind, never mind, you’ve only got one of them – no, not you sir, not you. No, no – don’t mock. – it might be one of your own.
Now then, now then – do you want ‘em from the red book or do you want ‘em from the blue book? Oh, like that eh? Going to be one of those evenings. Righteo then, let’s talk about women – what do you mean, he does nothing else?
No, seriously, take my wife – please – no, no, no, be fair – married for forty years. Just goes to show – the human being can get used to anything. No, you see, I didn’t realise what a rotten cook she was. No, I didn’t. Not until last week – that was when the dustbins went on strike…
No, don’t laugh – Oh, you’re not laughing. (They’re all in tonight madam…)
No, listen, listen – It’s been a terrible week.. I’ve lost the wife. All together – Aaagh… Yes, lost her I have – she ran off with my best mate. Oh, I do miss him…
And that’s not all, no… You know our house is so damp we’ve got herrings breeding behind the sideboard? – No, it’s true… The old ones are the best ones missus, aren’t they? – Oh, – you’ve tried ‘em all have you?
No, really…Now I was going to finish with that famous Rogers and Hart song– ‘The beds are alive around at my Aunt Elsie’s….’ but no, no – I thought keep it light, so we ‘ll have a little number entitled ‘It may be only a brick built shed at the bottom of the garden to you but it’s a great relief for my little Willy. Dance…’
Surprisingly light footed he tripped to and fro across the stage.
‘I’m in love with Mary from the dairy…. Good eh? Be honest – come on…’ Great applause.
‘Must love you and leave you now – Miller’s the name – laughter’s the game – there’ll never be another one lady, there’ll never be another… Aye thank you, thank you so very much…’
There was a standing ovation only subdued by a Master of Ceremonies.
‘And now, my lords, ladies, gentlemen, and those of an indeterminate gender, we have for your effervescent exultation… (Ooooh!), your ineffable euphoria… (Aaaagh!), your contrapuntal cordiality… (Ooooh! again), the skylark of Shadwell, the song thrush of Stoke Newington, the linnet of Lambeth…’
‘The hen of Hackney?’
‘I shall ignore that. I give you your own, your very own, the one and only – yes –Miss Marie Lloyd!’
‘Hello, my darlings! Are you all enjoying yourselves?’ ‘YESSS!’
‘Do you want a good time tonight boys?’ ‘NOT ‘ARF!’ Huge applause.
‘Very well then, you cheeky lot!’ And away she went…
“I’m one of the ruins that Cromwell knocked abaht a bit… Abaht a bit!…”
“I’m in love with the boy in the gallery …”
“My old man said follow the van…”
“Put your hand out – you naughty boy…”
“Wiv a ladder and some glasses you could see across the marshes, if it wasn’t for the houses in between…”
‘And now, especially for those gallant lads, the crew of the Black Leopard, who’ve had it hard all day (and can it get harder boys? – you’d better believe it), that dear old favourite (and I don’t mean your Captain)… One you can all join in – all together now, just watch your little ball a-bouncing on the line…
“Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside, I do like to be beside the sea… (Come on, come on – let’s hear everybody…) I do like to walk along the Prom, Prom, Prom, with the brass band playing tiddly-om-pom-pom (pity you lost the instruments…)
The pirates were cheering and so were the townsfolk. In fact the only slightly jarring note was struck by Statler and Waldorf from the Muppet Show jeering from the Town Hall roof, and the presence of Kermit and Miss Piggy applauding from the edge of the stage.
* * *
Luther Speke was feeling increasingly frustrated because of his isolation from the proceedings in the town. One of the advantages of his position as Quartermaster was that generally, when action took place ashore, being in charge of resources and reserves he was most likely to be safe aboard and so was not as frequently exposed to personal danger as other members of the crew. No way was he a coward – he could hack and thrust and dismember and kill with sadistic satisfaction given half the chance, and had brought to desperate situations rage and skill that had turned near defeat into triumph in the past, but he preferred not to imperil himself unless absolutely necessary to preserve his interests.
After Rathbone’s men had left the quay for the Market Square and Sir Jasper and his party had gone off out of sight as well, he had no means of knowing what was happening.
Simmering with suspense, his worry wart almost bleeding, he had been drumming his fingers on the taffrail and grinding his teeth, when he heard the first bell chime. For a moment or two there had been an illusion of yellowness over everything – some trick of the light probably as the sun sank lower in the west. The sounds of fighting and cursing had come faintly across the water, but strangely no gunfire was heard nor smoke seen rising.
Then, as more bells began to peal, waves of different colours succeeded each other and the sounds of battle gave way to calls of market traders, bleating sheep, even a moo or two and a honking pig. Different types of music were heard, a strange whirring flying machine appeared briefly, and at last there was cheering, applause and loud singing before the din died away, and there was almost silence once again. But no sign of any of the crew coming back on to the quay nor, come to that, of any of the defenders. High up on the stern where he stood Speke chewed his nails and drummed his fingers on the rail. So, the bells had been not only taken to the church but re-hung and rung. And something decidedly odd had been going down out of sight. Amongst the invalids he had on board there were mutterings about magic and fearful forebodings, as they stared with anxious eyes across the harbour.
At that moment four sad creatures could be seen edging their way furtively along the wall of the road at the north of the quay, squeezing themselves under and around the obstacle of the steam machine, scrambling as best they could over the remains of the barricade, and then crawling quickly across the open cobblestones and slipping down the steps and into the longboat.
It was obvious that they had some difficulty rowing as the vessel lurched over towards the Black Leopard.
‘Get round to the port side – out of sight!’ hissed Speke
With many groans and curses Steelclaw Hawkins, Blackheart Luke, Mad Max Murgatroyd, and Haroun the Damned, climbed up on board.
‘What the hell is happening?’ snarled Speke.
‘Magic ! Gunpowder turned to pepper – chaos everywhere. Market stalls, fantastic sights, fearful sounds… Overwatsit odds. We pretended dead. Then, when all watching stage show – crawled down alley, got away…’
‘I’ve been clubbed.’ complained Haroun. ‘I think my shoulder’s broken.’
‘My thigh was badly gashed.’ said Mad Max. ‘I think it was that Boswell bloke.’
‘Couldn’t have been.’ said Speke. ‘What happened to you two?’
‘Huge thugs.’ growled Steelclaw.
‘Bloody trolls, more like.’ moaned Blackheart.
‘I didn’t like what I heard…’ said Haroun.
‘What was that then?’
‘One of them in charge shouted “Don’t disable them – they’ve got a lot of work to do!” ‘
‘Bloody confident. Sounds as though they knew what the outcome would be. Where are the First Mate and the others?’
‘Struck down by magic by now I expect.’
‘What about the Captain and those with him?’
‘The tides making.’ said Steelclaw. ‘Why don’t we up anchor and away?’
‘What about the rest of the crew?’ said Haroun.
‘Sod ‘em!’ said Blackheart.
‘And who’s fit enough to man the capstan, hoist eight sails, and get offshore so fast the shitizens won’t know we’ve gone?’ snarled Speke. ‘Even with you lot we’ve only eleven men on board and all except Tadmartin and the Cook are disabled, some quite badly. And what about these powers the enemy have obviously now got? Do you know how far they reach? Just within their eyesight? As far as the shore or the mountains? Or out across the sea and over the edge of the horizon? The only thing we do know is that we’re buggered. Best most of you get right down below out of sight until we find out more. I don’t want to aggravate them. Steelclaw, Blackheart, and er, you – MacCroon and Murgatroyd – stay with me – I’ve got work for you.’
‘Right,’ he said when the rest of the crew aboard had gone below. ‘I don’t know what the enemy have got in store for us, but I’m not staying to find out. Here’s the plan…
Author of Dangerous Chimes, read more about Michael Macauley over here.