Skyjackers - Episode 3: The Winds of Justice (Skyjackers: Season One) (5 page)

Chapter 20

Countless hours of sparring had granted the Caine
children an intimate familiarity with one another’s fighting styles and
abilities. Misty and Vivian fought for their lives in a dance of practiced
grace that left the
Justice
’s crew outwitted and outmaneuvered. Vivian
fought to disarm and disable, while Misty never hesitated to deliver a crushing
head-butt or a bone-jarring kick. The marshals, who had at first neglected to
take the girls seriously, found their sheer ferocity a frightful surprise.

The
Intrepid
was still entangled with the
Justice
when the two sisters emerged through the aft hatch and ran for the rigging. Mr.
Buffner gave the order to depart the second their boots hit the
Dawnhammer
’s
deck. To Vivian’s great surprise, the Regency convoy did not pursue them as
they fled. She sheathed her sword and gave Misty a wink. “You fought well back
there.”

Misty spat a gob of something colorful on the deck and
smeared it with her boot. “I don’t need your approval.”

Why do I bother?
“I’ll have that damage report now,
Ms. Giles.”

“Aye, mam. The hull’s breached in four places. A few parcels
torn up. Nothing we can’t fix with a few days at harbor.”

“Is that all? I wonder why the convoy wasn’t more
aggressive.”

“I should think you have your father to thank for that, mam,”
said Ms. Giles. “Word is, the Admiral’s on his payroll.”

“Ah, yes. I’d forgotten about that. Admiral Farrelly’s vessel
was present. Perhaps he gave the stand-down order. If so, we ought to send him
a thank-you card. Mr. Buffner, set a course for Kailodos. And I needn’t remind
you we’ll have to land on dry ground, given our hull’s lack of watertightness.”

Cork Buffner nodded. “As you say, Captain.”

Vivian turned to Misty. “Did you realize your new boyfriend’s
ship was there?”

“Where? In the convoy? Yes, of course I did,” Misty said.

She hadn’t. Misty didn’t know the name of Jonathan’s ship,
nor could she identify it by sight alone, despite having been aboard.

“Don’t you think this relationship might prove a conflict of
interest?”

“Whatever that means,” said Misty. “Just don’t tell Daddy.
You know how much he would hate it if he found out.”

Vivian had speculated that her father’s inevitable
disapproval of Jonathan was half the reason she’d felt any attraction toward
him herself. “That’s what I mean by—never mind. Have you made plans to see each
other again?”

“None of your business.”

“Just be careful, will you? Not only does this go against
Father’s wishes… you’re also much younger than Jonathan.”

“You can’t control me.”

“What I’m trying to do is offer you sisterly advice.”

“Jonathan and I are going to be married someday, so you might
as well stick your advice somewhere dark and cramped,” Misty said. “Which
leaves you out altogether. We’re going to have ten children, whom we’ll train
from birth to despise the very thought of you. They’ll be better than your
children in every way—if you ever find a man willing to crack one off in you.
Then we’ll become fabulously wealthy and look down on everyone, and we won’t
give you a moment’s consideration when you come begging for our pity.”

“That’s an oddly specific plan,” Vivian said.

“Your advice is oddly unsolicited. Take me back to my ship. I
can’t stand to be near you.”

“We’re returning to Kailodos.”

“That’s not where the
Moonmist
is. It’s with Father
and the rest of the fleet.”

“Who knows where they’ve gone. I’ve been trying to radio them
all afternoon. Since they never showed up at the attack point, Kailodos is the
best place to start looking.”

“I will tear this ship apart unless you do as I say at once.”

“This is my ship,” said Vivian, “and
you
will do as
I
say, or I’ll have you restrained.”

Misty drew. “Keep your hands off me, cur.”

“Oh, gods. You never tire of being yourself, do you?”

***

Benedict awoke in his cabin the next morning feeling sore
and groggy.
What in the heavens did I do last night?
he wondered. Then
he remembered.
My birthday party
. “The
Justice
.” He sat up like a
shot. Pain swarmed in his forehead.

“What are you doing, Ben?”

Benedict gave a start. “How long have you been awake?”

“Since two seconds ago, when you twitched like an epileptic
bedbug. What is it?”

“I was just remembering the steamship saddled with a fortune
in gold bars and coinage. How we were supposed to steal it, and all.”

“Would you have preferred that to the birthday party I threw
you?”

“No, no. I loved my party, bunny-button.”

“Not as much as you would’ve loved pilfering billions of gold
chips from the sky marshals, though.”

“I only want our abode to be comfortable for you and the
children.”

“It will be. And it doesn’t have to be built on such a grand
scale as the Azkatla mansion to satisfy me, either.”

“Shall we go see it?”

“Today?”

“Why not? I’ll wager the construction is coming along
splendidly.”

“Then yes. Let’s.”

The fleet reached Kailodos just after luncheon that day.
Benedict was in a sour mood, but he kept any further comment regarding the
Justice
’s
cargo to himself. Around dusk, word came back that the shoreline had been
secured, and a rowboat carrying Benedict, Gertrude, and their selected crew and
servants was dispatched.

A short trek through the island jungle brought them to the
building site of their new home. The cellars were dug, the foundations poured,
and the walls framed in. It was indeed a smaller structure than the mansion in
Azkatla, for the sake of both time and money. The main domicile could be
completed faster this way and expanded later, as funding permitted.

As Benedict studied the structure, he found that something
about it didn’t seem quite right. “Something doesn’t seem quite right,” he said.

“I agree,” said Gertrude. “The walls are leaning off by
nearly four-and-a-half degrees. It looks as though the foundation has been
poorly leveled.”

“You have a superlative mind, muggle-bum. That’s precisely
the problem. Mr. Parsons, fetch Mr. Rivers, would you?”

The foreman was blond-haired and middle-aged, with curious
close-set eyes and a look of perpetual confusion emanating from behind his
spectacles. “Ello, Mister Caine,” he said when Parsons brought him forward.

“Hello, Rivers. What do you call this, exactly?”

“We call it an house, guv’nah.”

“I’ve told you not to call me that. Commodore or sir will be
fine.”

“The house doesn’t look particularly straight to my husband
and me,” said Gertrude. “Would you care to explain why?”

Rivers studied the building. He cocked his head and gave it a
scratch. “I apologize, Mister Caine. I’ll have that fixed right up for you.”

“At no additional expense, I hope.”

Rivers pursed his lips as if to think. “I’ll do the job
meself. Won’t set us back more than two days, I expect.”

“That isn’t what I was hoping to hear, Rivers. You did an
excellent job on my last home. Why the mishap now?”

“If I could be so bold as to say, sir… it’s these scabbers we
got working for us. Ever since the earthquakes, it’s been hard to find a half-decent
squad. These lot are scared of the natives, to boot. Makes them jittery. A
little off on the measurements.”

“Would they perhaps be more… on… on the measurements if were
to, say, make peace with the locals?”

“I imagine it wouldn’t hurt, sire.”

“Not sire. Just sir will be adequate.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very good, Rivers. That is what we shall do. Parsons, I want
the crew fully armed. Provide ten extra rounds and a fresh horn of powder to
every man, woman and child. See that their blades are sharp. We’re off to make
peace with the tribesmen.”

***

When the convoy landed in Cardemere, Jonathan retrieved
his belongings from the
Maelstrom
and boarded a train. He paid for the
ticket himself, even though a call to Alexander Atwell would’ve been all it
took to get a free one. It was a two-day journey through lush, rain-soaked
countryside before he arrived in Falstead, the welcoming little town where he
grew up, and where his mother and sister still lived. Instead of going straight
home to see them, Jonathan stopped off at the Atwell estate to see how things
had progressed since the accident.

The butler let Jonathan inside and left him waiting in the
grand foyer while he fetched the master of the household. Alex entered in a
fluffy white bathrobe, offering Jonathan a handshake before pulling him in for
a damp hug.

“Chaplain Thorpe,” Alex said. “Good to see you as always, old
bean. I didn’t expect I’d be hearing from you for quite some time. To what do I
owe the pleasure?”

It’s Captain
, Jonathan might’ve said. But it
wasn’t
captain, was it? Not anymore. “Yes, well, it seems I’ve come home for a visit.”

“Lovely. I was just about to sit down for tea. Do join me.”

“Of course.”

They sat at a table on the outdoor patio, where the sun was
bright and the gardens were brilliant with springtime color.

“So, how’s life among the clergy these days?” Alex asked.

“I wouldn’t want to bore you,” said Jonathan.

“Nonsense. I’m your best friend. You must tell me
everything.”

“What I was really hoping to talk about was Lydia. How’s she
doing? Is she making headway in her recovery?”

Alex thought for a moment. “Who are we talking about?”

“Lydia. The woman you hit with your car.”

“Oh, yes. Right. She’s doing rather well, I imagine.”

“You… imagine. Alex. Have you been to see her a single time?
To apologize? To offer your condolences?”

“Even better, old bean. I’ve made a hefty donation toward her
medical costs and continued therapy. Anonymous, of course.”

“That’s not the same thing. That isn’t admitting to the wrong
you’ve done.”

“Yes it is. In a way. Besides, I didn’t do anything
so
wrong, did I? It isn’t my fault the woman was halfway out in the road, and
walking in my blind spot.”

Jonathan stood. “I can’t believe you. I mean I simply… cannot
believe you could be so insensitive. So irresponsible.”

“You’re sounding more like my father all the time. This
religious reformation of yours has changed you, Jon. Sit down.”

“I won’t. There has been no reformation. I’ve always been
this way, remember? I’ve always been your moral compass. Your conscience where
you had none.”

Alex feigned indignation. “That’s a boorish thing to say.”

“It’s the truth. And what about the constables? They’ve been
looking for you, you know. The second they find your father’s blue motorcar,
it’ll be the end of you.”

“Oh, you needn’t fret. I’ve had that old thing disposed of.”

“Disposed of? The whole car?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“Buried. In the moorlands, where no one will ever find it.”

“And you think that’s going to keep them from finding you?”

Alex shrugged. “I would think so.”

“Am I really more frightened for you than you are for
yourself?”

“Don’t fume and fuss on my account, Jon. Seeing you like this
makes me uncomfortable.”

“As well you should be. Have you ever thought that maybe you
ought to face your situation instead of brushing it under the rug?”

“Harsh words, coming from a man who once hid in a woman’s
pantry to avoid seeing the doctor.”

“She was my mother. And I was five years old. Listen, Alex. I
can only encourage you to do what’s right. Whether or not you follow my advice
is up to you.” Jonathan pushed in his chair and crossed the patio toward the
house.

Alex called out to him. “Where are you off to, old bean?
You’ve only just arrived.”

“That depends,” said Jonathan. “I don’t suppose I could
borrow a car for a few days.”

“Of course. Take the red one. Keep it as long as you like.
Where did you have it in mind to go?”

“If you won’t pay Lydia a visit to see how she’s getting on,”
Jonathan said, “I will.”

Chapter 21

Poleax Longworth started his morning the same as any
other: touching his feet to the floor on the left side of the bed before
getting out on the right (so as to never wake up on the wrong side); aligning
the books on his shelves where they had shifted in flight during the night;
making his bed and fluffing each pillow exactly five times; dressing himself,
which meant wearing each pair of socks for seven days before sending it to be
laundered; and opening and closing his cabin door five times before exiting.

“Today is the day,” he told himself as he ascended the stairs
to the
Hummingbird
’s quarterdeck. “Today is the day.” Poleax repeated
this mantra ad nauseum, whether aloud or in his head, day in and day out. Today
wasn’t the day. It never was, but he never stopped trying to convince himself
otherwise.

The sailor behind the
Hummingbird
’s wheel was a
hook-nosed woman they called Pegs. Her real name was Abigail Carlson, and
before joining the Caine fleet no one had ever called her anything else. The
Hummingbird
’s
quartermaster, Esther Reilly, had once told her she was so skinny it looked like
she had two peg legs, and the nickname had stuck.

Every morning when Poleax emerged from his cabin, Pegs asked
him how he’d slept. Every morning, Poleax’s answer was the same: “On my back,
in the middle of my bed. And none the better off, for all that.”

Today, Pegs was feeling playful. She couldn’t say why; just
that the mood struck her to try something new. Break the routine. Instead of
replying with her usual, “As we dream, so we wake,” she took a different tack.
“All the better to have woken at all.”

Poleax blinked at her. “What did you say?”

“Waking up in the first place makes you better off than not,
I’ll reckon.”

“Are you threatening me, Pegs?”

“On the contrary, Captain. Today’s a new day, and we’ll all
do our best to make the most of it.”

“Yes,” said Poleax. “Today is… the day. Today is the day. It
does feel different today, doesn’t it? Something in the air. In the very dust.
Which reminds me—my cabin is in need of a good dusting. It’s been nearly
twenty-four hours.”

“I’ll have that seen to, sir.”

“You do that. In the meantime, I intend to make the most of
this day.”

***

Jonathan checked for Lydia at the hospital first. The
constables had posted hazard tape at the crater in the road, and traffic from
the resulting detour had worn a mud track around its circumference. After a
little questioning, Jonathan learned that Lydia had been sent home on bed rest
a few days prior. Off the record, the doctor told him she was from the village
of Leiford, not twenty miles from where Jonathan had grown up in Falstead.

Since the doctor was unable to divulge Lydia’s surname due to
confidentiality rules, Jonathan made the trek to Leiford and asked around until
he found a bookseller who knew her. The shop was called Chapter’s End, and the
curly-haired proprietor introduced herself as Claire Delmarva.

“If it’s Lydia Lambert you’re after, I do happen to know her,
yes,” said Claire. “I was so sorry to hear the dreadful news. She used to come
in here quite often. As a matter of fact, she’s had a volume on back order for
some time now, and it’s just come in. If you’re on your way to see her, why
don’t you bring it along with you? I’m sure she’ll be aching for a good read
about now, what with the bed rest and all.”

“I would be glad to,” Jonathan said.

Claire handed him a book wrapped in brown paper and twine,
and gave him directions to Lydia’s house. Jonathan thanked her and sped off in
the red motorcar.

In a field of wildflowers, backed by an oak forest, Jonathan
found the tiny stone cottage Claire had described. He parked the car at the end
of a long dusty driveway and knocked on the door. A moment passed before a
short man in his late fifties opened it.

“Hello, sir. My name is Jonathan Thorpe. I’m here to see
Lydia.”

“Is it you? Are you—are you him?”

“Well, I don’t know. I mean… I suppose so, yes.”

“Come in, come in.”

Jonathan stepped into a large room that was part den and part
kitchen. To the right was a short hallway with doors on either side. Jonathan
glanced out the kitchen window to see a rear yard lined with flower beds, roses
and hydrangeas and carnations of every color imaginable.

“Oh, how rude of me,” said the man, extending a hand.
“Phillip Lambert.”

“Pleased to meet you.”

“And you as well. I’ve heard a lot about you, though it’s
mostly the same things over and over. I expect you’ll be wanting to see her
now. Please, this way.”

Mr. Lambert opened the first hall door and led Jonathan into
a meager room decorated in flowered wallpaper. Lydia lay in a single bed
frilled with yellow skirts, beside which sat a wheelchair and a pair of
crutches. When she saw Jonathan, Lydia’s reaction was not what he expected.

“Who is he? Father, who is this man?”

“Don’t you know him, Lyddie?” asked Mr. Lambert, confused.
“This is Captain Thorpe. Or at least, he claims to be…”

Lydia’s expression eased. “Jonathan?”

“Hello, Lydia.”

“Jonathan, is that you? You don’t look the same.”

“Perhaps it’s my clothing,” he said. “I’m far less regal
without my reds on.”

She smiled. “Ah, the uniform. That must be it. I apologize…
you startled me for a moment.”

“The apology is all mine, madam. I did not mean to frighten
you.”

“Say nothing of it. I really am so happy to see you.”

Jonathan cleared his throat. “I’ve brought you this. From the
bookshop. Mrs. Delmarva said you’d been waiting on it.”

“My novel,” she said, brightening. She undid the twine and
tore away the paper to reveal a bound hardcover entitled
The Amorous
Adventures of Mary McGuire
, by M.T. Pritchard.

“Looks like a real eye-opener,” said Jonathan.

Lydia blushed. “It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, I’m afraid.”
She set the book on her nightstand. “Father, will you let Jonathan take me for
a walk in my rolling chair?”

“Go easy, now, Lyddie. You don’t want to overtax yourself
before you’re ready.”

“Nonsense. I’m quite ready. And quite tired of this stale
bedroom. I should like some fresh air. Besides, Jonathan will see me back
safely. Won’t you, Jonathan?”

“Uh, well—”

“If you’re up for it, Captain Thorpe,” said Mr. Lambert. “I
suppose a short stroll wouldn’t be out of the question.”

The fields were vibrant with new growth, the flower beds
fragrant with sweet perfume. Lydia’s wheelchair was heavy, but Jonathan found
it manageable once he got it moving. A path led through the tall grasses behind
the house and into the thick forest beyond. Though she wore plaster casts
around her leg and midsection, Lydia didn’t appear to be in pain as the chair
bumped and rolled over banks and divots in the path. They crossed a small
footbridge and stopped on the opposite bank of the creek running beneath,
watching dogwood flowers as they floated to rest on the water’s surface and
rode the rapids downstream.

“I’m pleased you were able to visit so soon,” Lydia said.

“I got some unexpected time off,” said Jonathan.

“It seems you were able to find me without very much trouble.
I’m not sure whether to be scared or delighted.”

Jonathan laughed. “I did have
some
trouble finding
you. It was worth the effort, though. I’m glad to see you’re getting on well.”

“Father takes good care of me,” she said. “I worry about him
sometimes. He works very hard, but gardening isn’t enough to get by on these
days. He’s taken to traveling round to the estate houses, looking for work
under one of the high families. At least, he was in the process of doing so…
before the accident.”

Jonathan didn’t know what to say. He considered offering his
condolences, but the gesture struck him as hollow.

“My mother died when I was twelve,” Lydia said. “In case you
were going to ask. It was typhoid fever.”

“I’m… sorry.”

“Will you tell me about your family? I recall you said it was
just your mother and sister now.”

“That’s right,” said Jonathan. “I’ll be off to visit them
after this. I should be there now, but I’m sort of… procrastinating.”

“Has it been long since you’ve seen them?”

“Longer than my sister would’ve liked.”

“Don’t you get on?”

“Not always. But that’s not it.”

“What, then?”

“My mother is sick. Has been for years now.”

Lydia touched his arm. “I’m so sorry.”

Jonathan took a step toward the creek, moving out of reach.

“You don’t like seeing her in poor health,” Lydia said.

“I don’t like seeing what her life has become. She forgets
things. People. I don’t like knowing that someday soon, she’ll forget me
altogether.”

Lydia was silent. They stayed there by the creek for a while,
watching the water go by. When she reached for Jonathan’s hand, he didn’t pull
away.

By the time they got back to the cottage later that
afternoon, Lydia was exhausted. Jonathan helped her into bed for a nap, after
which Mr. Lambert made tea from his home-grown stock. The two men sat at the
kitchen table to talk as they watched the sun set behind the trees.

“She hasn’t been the same since the accident, you
understand,” said Mr. Lambert.

“I imagine it’s been difficult,” Jonathan said.

“She, eh… comes and goes.” Mr. Lambert waved a hand in front
of his face as if to erase something.

Jonathan nodded. “I remember the doctor telling me she’d been
concussed. Have the symptoms been severe?”

“There are moments when she doesn’t know who I am. She has
these… spells. They never last long, but…” He pursed his lips. “It’s alarming
to look into your own child’s eyes and not see a hint of recognition.”

Jonathan knew the feeling. Between a mother who was losing
her mind and a young woman who was fighting to get hers back, he’d begun to
feel as though he were on the brink of madness himself.

“Listen, Captain Thorpe.”

“You don’t have to call me captain,” Jonathan said.

“Mr. Thorpe, then. I know we don’t know each other very well
yet, but my Lydia is very fond of you. We’ve an extra mattress made up in the
loft. You’re welcome to stay as long as you like. Heavens know I owe you far
more than that for saving my little girl.”

“You don’t owe me a thing, Mr. Lambert.”

“Oh, but I do. Please stay with us, if you can spare the
time. We’d be glad to have you. And it would make my Lyddie so happy.”

Jonathan thought for a moment. “If you really think it would
help…”

“Indeed I do.”

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