Somehow, he knew he was dreaming… but that didn’t mitigate the terror. Around him friends lay dying and he could do nothing to ease their pain. He knew he should fight even though the battle seemed lost. He knew he should be brave… but he started to cry. Whether he was on a beach or in a steamboat… he couldn’t be sure. If he was halfway around the world… why could he see the Piermont rising high above him? Was he fighting men… or was he fighting monsters? Everywhere… the crushing sound of destruction… screams… my friends! The sand on his back felt like water… cold… refreshing… the great tentacles no longer seemed so terrifying… it was almost peaceful…
“WAKE-UP!” Malus’s voice called, pulling him from the approaching darkness.
“I’m awake…” said Emerson struggling with the weight of consciousness, “feel free to stop slapping me anytime.” he looked around. It appeared they were in a small cell. “What happened? Where are we?” he asked.
“The battle was lost… the king’s men were scattered… though I have since heard from the guards that the rebel army has regrouped. We were captured by the governor’s men and brought here… about a day’s journey from the beach where Captain Quinn left us. It has been 30 hours since you lost consciousness.
Emerson looked to a barred window about halfway up the wall. “Did you try that?” he nodded.
“Of course I did.” Malus sounded insulted that Emerson would even ask. “The bars are secure and well set. We need to consider other options. From looking through the window, however, I was able to determine, based on the changing angles of the shadows throughout the day, we are on the second level of a tower, approximately 7 meters above the ground. I have calculated the tower to be 30 meters in height. I believe the King’s daughter, of who Captain Quinn spoke, to be held in the uppermost cells of this tower.
Emerson nodded, “Clearly we need to devise a means of escape. Perhaps we can pretend I died…” Emerson paused reconsidering… “or I can pretend to be caught in a fit of seizures… you call out to the guard and when he comes in I jump up, you hit him and we run.” suggested Emerson.
Malus shook his head, “There are usually two of them, both well-armed… and one of them always remains outside. We wouldn’t stand a chance.”
Emerson scanned the rather dank little cell. The door looked to be solid oak… he knew Malus would already have tested the strength and assumed it to be secure. There where chains and fetters affixed to the masonry… that, at least, held some promise for a weapon. There was a hole in the floor near one wall in which prisoners could relieve themselves. Fortunately it was too small to crawl through… but perhaps they could drown someone in it, he thought. “How deep is that?” He indicated the hole.
“I don’t know.” replied Malus, “Why don’t you check it out?”
For a brief moment the two men laughed despite themselves… but it was a short-lived moment of levity for just then they were interrupted by the sound of the key turning the locked. The door swung inwards and one of the two guards called into the cell: “Gentlemen, come with us. The governor wishes to speak with you.”
At first glance one might take Governor Burgess, and his council of three, for clowns… lounging like lizards at a horror show sipping molokos infused with exotic veshsches , dressed in white jump suits and black bowler hats. Yet, you would be sorry, O my brothers and my sisters, to take such villainous company for clowns, for to do so would have been a grave error. The governor and his droogs ruled with a cruel and ruthless level of ultraviolence. They mocked all who would dare question their authority with a language of almost poetic beauty that hypnotized one’s soul like spider venom to the brain.
Emerson and Malus were led through the halls of the local gallery, where governor Burgess preferred to hold council… surrounded by the art of a dead empire. The gallery itself was captivating. The architecture and style bespoke an imagined future conceived by those a generation gone-by; their life’s work once called visionary and profound now labeled retro-future and nostalgic.
The over-all effect was deeply unsettling… just as the governor intended.
“I viddy thou art not of this land, O my brothers.” said the governor, “so I ask what business bids thee grace our shores.”
“The business of acquisition.” replied Emerson. “It is the dorogoy drencrom we seek.” Malus’s eyes widened, his mind skirting the margins of comprehension, as he listened to Emerson, yet again, slip into the dialect of a local culture with the flawless cadence of a native speaker. “Neither deng nor cutter being an impediment to our enjoyment of the bolshy… snoutie.” He added with a smirk all the while maintaining eye-contact with the governor.
Governor Burgess grinned, “Ah, I knew thee to be bolshy gentlemen of refined tastes and sammy indulgences. The historic harvest has indeed commenced. Let me assure you, O my brothers, the results are spectacular. I have faith thou shalt agree the Sagrada Lucia’s are quite literally worth their weight in gold.” the governor inclined his head.
“Of that I have no doubt.” said Emerson handing a piece of paper to one of the governor’s guardsmen. “And if thou wouldst but have one of your fellows wire the appropriate contact I have writ on that page ye shall viddy for thyself evidence for the sincerity of my beliefs.”
“Gentlemen, it seems we shall be enjoying one another’s good cheer for no less than the near days to come.” the governor replied. “Please, on the morrow we may discuss the finer details of our transaction. The freedom of the compound is thine… save for the tower of my most regal guest. Venture not near the tower lest ye mean to discover the full wrath of my disfavour.”
“What is going to happen when they wire the contact information you provided?” asked Malus once he and Emerson were secured in their apartment, a decided improvement over the cell in which they started the day.
“They will reach Mr. Arnold who most likely will be either honest or evasive.”
“Either way ends in our rather unpleasant execution, doesn’t it?”
“Indeed it does Mr. Malus.” Emerson responded. After a brief pause he added rather casually, “Did you happen to notice the portrait of General Poe our friend Captain Quinn charged us to retrieve?”
“Of course, it was the third portrait on the left as we entered the governor’s chamber.” Now it was Malus’s turn to pause… “Did you happen to notice the box of those cigars you seem to covet?” he asked with just a hint of a sneer.
“Actually there were two boxes.” replied Emerson somewhat smugly, “under the table on the right.”
“Actually there were three,” said Malus upping the smugness quotient, “the precise equidistance of the two boxes from the wall indicated a box on its side acting as a brace behind the other two.”
Emerson smiled, “Perhaps you noticed the ivy running up the north side of the tower… to the very window where one might find the undying gratitude of a father, who just happens to be a king.”
Bathed in glowing tones of lamplight, the Princess and her five maids, all about eighteen years of age and apparently dressed for bed, sat in a circle around an old hookah, patched together with ribbon and copper wire. A purple haze emanated from the six leaky hoses.
“We are here to rescue you.” said Malus gallantly, stepping from the window, bits of ivy clinging to his cape.
“You are…” responded the Princess, “rescue me from what?”
“From bondage.” said Malus. “Come, with us and we will return you to the care of your father.”
The princess and her maids suddenly broke out into peals of laughter. “Oh honey, you’re kind of cute, sit down here beside me and tell me again how you are going to rescue me.”
Malus seemed momentarily flustered, however Emerson, having climbed into the room behind Malus, wasted no time in sitting down beside one of the maids. “Hello,” he said, “my name is Emerson Lighthouse and I couldn’t help but notice you are smoking a little of the hoja del diablo dulce, and if I am not mistaken…” he took a deep breath, “it smells as though it may only be a year from fully mature…” he took another deep breath, “no…no… just eight months shy, am I right?”
“My, Mr. Emerson,” said the maid whose name was Marion, “I must say you have quite a nose for the sweet leaf. True, it is ever so slightly under ripe, but few would notice the marginal cloying effect that has on such a complex bouquet… especially when filtered through a second rate hookah such as this.”
“I’ll overlook the imperfections,” smiled Emerson reaching for her hose, “and it is ‘Sir’ Emerson.”
Several hours later, the eyes of the princess and her maids began to glaze over as Emerson Lighthouse and Martin Malus debated the finer distinctions differentiating the concepts of the infinite versus the eternal. Emerson was about to impress himself with a particularly mind-boggling point of a truly profound nature when suddenly an alarm sounded from the base of the tower.
The shouts and bustle of sudden activity below were unmistakable. All ears in the princess’s chamber strained to determine the nature of the alarm when an unexpected pounding on the door caused all to jump and several to utter a startled scream.
“The rebels attack, Your Royal Highness! Unlock the door that we might protect you!” shouted the guardsmen.