I Lose, You Win, Take 3?

Here is my entry for the Baen Fantasy contest. It didn’t make the top ten, but I liked it, so here it is.

If you liked this and want to see more, let me know in the comments. The 8k word limit forced me to drop a lot of good ideas and I would like to know if this is a viable thing.

The Sea People

Elgar watched, shivering in the wet as the sea flew over the bow, water flowing back along the deck as Swallow, sails reefed in the storm, ploughed through another wave in a blow that threatened to take the ship and its prey, the much larger lumbering galleon they had been chasing for a month onto the distant rocks that could be seen off to starboard. Elgar stood beside the helm, standing by the drenched quartermaster and adding his strength to the wheel as the compass in its house spun around, its gimbals, not able to keep the compass steady in the motion of the ship.

Their prey, the great galleon Nuestra Señora de la Concepción could be seen struggling in the same weather as the Swallow. Swallow and her fellow privateers had been playing wolf pack since they had sighted the Concepción off the Tibus Islands.  

With a stomp of his peg leg, Captain De Betain walked forward from his cabin onto the deck. He looked at the set of the sails, the storm and distant galleon and bellowed through the wind, “Elgar, take us off this shore!”

“I’m not sure that I can! I would have to tack and if we get caught in irons, we’ll be aground!”

“If we are where I think we be, it won’t matter! Take us off the shore!”

“Aye aye, Captain!”

Elgar called out “Hands to the braces! Move you Laggards! All hands on deck!”
He watched as the crew scrambled and started gather at the braces hand prepared to heave. He turned to the now four quartermasters and said, “Put the helm over, easy as she goes!”

As the ship came around, there was a crash above as the main royal tore loose and flapped in the wind, twisting the yard around into the gaff on the spanker. Elgar looked around as Harl, the bosun, started to pull men from the braces.  The captain yelled, Elgar, get up there and cut it loose. Stand to your posts!”

Elgar ran to the mainstays on the windward side as the ship started to roll as she came into the wind and climbed, knocked back and forth in the wind.  Reaching the tangled mess, he drew his knife and started to cut as the various canvas flapped around him. Something gave way and suddenly he was hit from behind and everything went black.

“Fusa, where are you going?!”

“Too collect the shells, Pukusa!”

“There is a big boat wrecked! We can collect shells at any time!”

“We still need to eat!”

Fusa waddled in the walk forced by her long feet to the jumping off rock, high over the waves and leaped into the waves still bashing the shore after the storm. Diving below them, she felt the water fill her chest as her lungs collapsed and gills started to pump. The darkness below the water became light and sharp as her sikripon became tuned with the water. Reaching the bottom, she looked for the shellfish, crab and and lobster.  The storm had moved the rocks around, knocking the shellfish loose and forcing the crab and lobsters to find new hides. As placed her prizes in her netbasket, fish of various kinds snapped at her finger and brushed against her scales. In spite of the fish, Fusa was able to fill her netbag easily and Swam to the surface and the beach. Reaching the surface and the epis, she walked out of the ocean and looked along the beach. In the distance was some fresh driftwood and wreckage. Fusa lifted her netbag to her shoulder and curious to see if a new treasure had been sent ashore, walked along the beach. As she approached, she could see some heavy cloth and a long piece of wood. Great treasure! She turned to get her older brothers, so that they could recover the treasure when a man’s voice called out, “Water!”

Fusa looked at the pile of wreck and there was a foreigner tangled in the wreckage. The man called out again, “Water!”

She looked at him and then, bag on her shoulder, waddled off to the village as fast as she could. She didn’t need to drink fresh water, but she knew that visitors in the past could not drink ocean water. Reaching her hut, she set the bag in the cooling well and looked for a container. Spotting a clay pot, she grabbed it and went to the village well, drawing a bucket and taking a drink, clearing the salt out of her mouth. She filled the pot and turned for the beach when Pukusa called out, “You are done fishing, Fusa! You can come see what washed up on the beach!”

“I found some things that I want to take care of. Tell Merrad to come down to the beach when he can.”

“That will be days. They are camping at the wreck.”

“Ok, then, I will do what I can on my own.”

Fusa breathed a sigh of relief when Pukusa headed to the rock and the water. She hadn’t really thought through giving the stranger water. With some exceptions, traders and the like, the general thought was that there were two kinds of good strangers, dead or far away. She waddled down to the beach and headed toward the wreckage.

Elgar had come in and out of consciousness, and weak from thirst, was unable to get himself free of the sail and rigging that he was tangled in without a knife. He woke again with the taste of cool water in his mouth and a strange by attractive face pouring water into his mouth. Blinking he said, “Thank you milady.”

“Sisam hekomo siatuy apunno?”

With her heart in her throat Fusa repeated. “Foreigner leave on the ocean peacefully.”

The foreigner looked at her looked at her with a puzzled expression as Fusa realized that he didn’t understand her. She made a paddling motion, then a motion with a closed fist and said, “Sisam hekomo koyki arka koyki.”

The foreigner had glimpse of understanding as Fusa repeated, “Foreigner leave or be hurt or killed.”

The foreigner made a slashing motion and pointed at Fusa’s knife. She nodded.

Elgar tried to sit up and had a blinding headache. He reached for the pot and took another drink, emptying the pot. He looked at the almost naked girl, with slits on her chest and scales over her body and said “I can’t swim like you.” He made a paddling motion and added “I need a boat.”

He put his hand out and pointed at the girl’s knife. “May I borrow that?”
Fusa looked at him and stepped back. Then she realized that he wanted to cut himself out and handed him the knife. Expertly with as little effort as he could, he cut at the ropes and canvas, while Fusa gasped and waved her hands. Elgar looked at her and grinned. “I won’t ruin your find, milady.”

Proceeding with obvious care, he pulled himself loose from the wreckage, rolled over and tried to stand. He made it to his knees and handed the knife back to Fusa. “I am not going anywhere very fast.”

She looked at him with a puzzled expression as he tried to stand again and hand on the spar, managed to at least stand up. He looked around and shook his head. He stumbled up the beach, looked at the cliff at the back of the beach, pulled a stick out for the rock at the bottom of the cliff and, leaning on it, stumbled up the trail.

Fusa waddled in front of him and spread her arm out “You can’t go that way!”

He looked at her, puzzled and stopped. Frustrated, Fusa pointed toward the sea. The man shook his head and pulled up his shirt. He had no scales or gills! He was a lander! The strange clothes had hidden that and since he had come from the sea, she hadn’t understood, at least not fully. The man looked over her shoulder and frowned. She heard steps behind her and turned. Itakshir was coming down the path. He saw the stranger and charged forward. “Sister, get away!

The man put his hands up as Fusa said, “He washed up ashore!”

“We can get rid of him!” Then her brother had a strange expression on his face. “Or he can help us.”

Fusa looked at her brother suspiciously. “Why do you need help?”

“The wreck is too big. The lord hasn’t been able to get enough men and wrecks belong to the sea people, but we don’t have the skills to get at the treasure.”

“He can’t talk to us!”
“That will be your task, since you brought him to us.”
Fusa pouted. “Very well brother. Where is father?”
“Here.”

“Then let us go.”

As the trio went up the trail to the village, they did not see the figure slinking to the water. Of course Ponda was an expert at not being seen. He reached the water, looked around, transformed and touched the water, intoning an ancient call to Repunkamuy. After a brief while, an orca appeared, transformed and walked to the shore. “Did the old bat send you, Ponda?”

The Koropokguru smiled. “Not at all. I was just curious why you let the stranger get ashore.”

Repunkamuy grinned. “Perhaps he slipped past me.”

“I doubt that he did. So what mischief are you up to?”
“It is a balancing act. The sea people are diminishing as the lords of the land grow stronger because they have no one to teach them new skills. I could have arranged for an entire crew to be washed ashore, but that had risks. The man, on the other hand, seemed appropriate.”

“The young lady, who is not known to for her patience with the males of the village has taken to him rather quickly. Was that your doing?”
“She is a special girl. I had things planned for her. I am going to need something from your mistress.”

“You would be better off asking for things if you did not refer to her as an “old bat.” Why should I stir myself?”
Repunkamuy held up a large pearl. “For a shiny? This one for you and a larger one to adorn your lady?”

“What about my mistress?”
Repunkamuy held up a fishbone needle. “Your mistress probably needs some new tools for her sewing. Take this one and tell her that for one needle of transformation, I will provide ten more of these.”

“Give me the pearl and the needle and I will see what I can do. My mistress may want to chat with you.”

“At the usual place. There may be great and terrible things coming and we need to talk.” Repunkamuy returned to the water and orca again, slipped below the waves. Ponda put the pearl and the needle in his satchel and leaping up the cliff, headed inland.

Abril Álvarez looked at his lord, Blasco de Bitoria and sighed. He was sure of two things. The señor was perfectly willing to sell the other survivors into slavery for his own benefit and the señor was only concerned with one goal, himself back in Hispania with a patent of title and the lands to go with it. That, after all, had been why he had come to the islands off the Imperium in the first place. Abril, with his gift for languages and position as the señor’s  secretary and was acting as the interpreter and go between the señor and the local lord or Daimyo as he was styled. Abril started in and said, “My lord is willing to cede you the contents of our ship, except our personal belongings and some special cargo. All he is asking for is transport to the free port at Nagito.”

Jiro kept his face stone. As the local lord of the Ichida clan, he could not directly take possession of the great wreck. On the other hand, these barbarians presented an opportunity to get some of his own back on the sea folk. He looked at the barbarian interpreter and said, “Would the lord order his men to recover the cargo?”

When the question was passed to the señor, the señor grinned. He whispered in Abril’s ear and the barbarian said, “My lord would have no problem with that. What can you provide to aid us?”

Wakaushkamuy stopped her dance and looked at Ponda. “So what did the fool want and what mischief is he up to?”
“He wants a needle of transformation. He offers a gift.”

Ponda handed the fishbone needle to the goddess. She took it and said, “This would be useful. On the other hand, needles break and become dull and a needle of transformation requires effort.”

“He offered ten more like this.”
“That is worthy of consideration. What mischief is afoot?”

“I think he wants to transform a barbarian that he swept onto the beach into seafolk.”

“Interesting. His usual practice is to slay any that arrive.”
“The seafolk are stressed and do not have the skills to fight back. I think that he wants to change that somewhat.”

“You will act as my agent in this. I will give you a silk kimono for your lady.”

Ponda bowed. “I live to serve.”

The goddess laughed. “You live for the mischief. I know you all too well. Go along now.”

“Do you want to talk with the fool?”

“What did he call me this time?”

“Old bat.”

The goddess, spun around in her dance again as the music started. “I must be slipping. I don’t look a day older than I ever have. I will talk with the fool in the usual place.”

“Very well, milady. I am off.”

Ponda could hear the goddess’s laughter for quite some distance as he went on his way.

Sahpo watched as his son helped a stranger up the trail from the beach as his older daughter followed. Frustrated with the efforts surrounding the huge ship, he bellowed, “Where did you find that wreck?”
“The beach, father,” Fusa said.

“You can send him back, preferably to drown and remove himself.”

“That wouldn’t help us, father,” Itakshir said. “On the other hand, he may and we need help.”

Elgar looked at the two and tried to keep a friendly smile on his face. He was stuck here in any case, didn’t know where he was, and even if he found people from the continent, they would be enemies. He didn’t know what had happened to his ship and he had always worked for his bread and salt. Smiling he said, “Sisam no koyki. Sisam no koyki.”

Sahpo looked at the bedraggled man, at his daughter and said, “Sisam no koyki. Daughter, he is your charge now. See that he is useful.

Fusa looked at her father and said, “Hai!”

“I think he could use something to eat, as can the rest of us.”

“Hai.” Fusa said sadly. She went to dress and make dinner.

Elgar was handed a bowl with rice and fish by Fusa with a pair of sticks. Looking at the others, he realized that the sticks were used like some sort of tongs to eat with. It took some effort, but he figured out how to hold the sticks and between that and slurping from the bowl, he was able to finish his meal without his hosts laughing at him too much. Fusa spread mats on the wooden floor and the rest went to sleep. Elgar leaned against the wall and finally fell over.

Fusa awoke with the dawn, removed her kimono and dressed only in fundoshi, headed to the water. Diving down, she could sense a large presence in the water and stayed close the rock wall, using her knife to remove the shellfish and pulling oysters off the wall. She stopped sensing whatever it was when she was suddenly grabbed and dragged out to sea. She looked and she had been caught by an orca. She struggled and suddenly the orca changed. She looked at the rather foolish young man and stopped struggling. “I am sorry, kamuy sama!”

The young man laughed. “Do you like the gift I sent you, Fusa?”

“What gift is that kamuy sama?”
“That bit of wreckage that hauled up on the beach.”
“That man was gift? From you?”

The young man smiled. “He was.”
“He is not sea folk.”
“That will be up to you when the time comes. It may require a journey away from the water.”

“How can I do that? I will dry out!”
“That will be up to you. I am sure that you can find a way.”

“I do not know the man at all.”
“I think that you know enough. I doubt that you would be happy with the ordinary. After all, your father could not manage an arrangement for you.”

“I could tell that they would not be true. Some of them had wives already.”

“True and true. There are very few like you that remain. I think that I will let you return to your task. We may speak again.”

The god transformed and left Fusa to the long swim back to the rocks. Exasperated, she swam to the rocks and back to her work. As she worked, she sensed a boat overhead and when she surfaced to see who it was, it was her brother and the stranger rowing toward where the wreck must be.

With much hand waving and some back and forth pushing, Itakshir had managed to get Elgar in the direction of the boatshed. It was more work to get his slaggard cousins there and the four of them hauled the boat down to the water. Once on the water, the cousins disappeared below, leaving Itakshir and Elgar with the task of rowing the boat using a large oar over the stern of the craft. Itakshir grinned as it became evident that Elgar could handle a boat. As they went along, he pointed at things and named them until they reached the bulk of the galleon wreck. There were boats already tied to the wreck and swarming over it were more seafolk. They looked askance at Elgar as he and Itakshir climbed up the side to the main deck port and voices called out, “Itakshir, who is the stranger?”

“My sister found him on the beach!”

“Why did you bring him?”
“I thought that he could help.”
“With the demon chests? He’s big enough”

Itakshir looked at four lean seafolk trying to move a steel banded chest and made pushing motion and said, “Elgar Ampa?”

Elgar looked at the chest, looked up and went to the side and up the ratlines and then along a yard as the others watched. A block, trailing rope fell to the deck. Elgar came back down, found some rope and tied the rope around the chest. Then he attached the block to the rope surrounding the chest and heaved on the loose the end of the line. The eyes of the watching seafolk brightened and they started heaving on the line, lifting the chest. When the chest was over the side and over a boat below, Elgar made a lowering motion and the chest was lowered slowly onto the boat. With a will, the seafolk started to look for more blocks and line as Elgar set up the yards for unloading the chests. Soon the chests were moving off at a steady rate and Elgar started to look into the cargo. Much of it was fine cloth and he started to work out how to move the bales to the hatchway without damaging the delicate cloth and without the armies of hands that had loaded the cloth in the first place. Itakshir appeard and waving at him, pointed to the boats. Elgar followed him and climbed down to a boat that was handled by two smiling seafolk who took him ashore. Some pots had been set up and sea folk ladies were serving out the rice and fish stew. Elgar was surprised to see some folk that were probably survivors from the galleon doing various things in an encampment on the shore. A man spotted him and stalked over and said in Hispanisch “Who are you?”

“Elgar Hanrick.”

“You were from the pirate. I am Alsonso de Rutia and I am the only surviving officer. I was the third pilot. You must be off that little ship. They got off the shore. As you see, we did not. Why were you chasing us in that small ship? You could not have hoped to defeat the Concepción and you did not have men for boarding.”

“My ship was not the only one in the pursuit.”
“You are Aquataine. Why come so far? My cargo was valuable, but not that valuable. Certainly not enough to come around the world to chase it.”

“Two hundred crates of new Aquataine breechloading rifles and machines for making cartridges and caps. They were smuggled out of Aquataine to India, then to the Empire and Ilitia. That’s forty eight hundred new rifles that were supposed to appear in New Hispania and be used to attack the coastal colonies of Aquataine and the Dutch Republic.”

“It would take a year before such a cargo would arrive in New Hispania. Would not the crown send it more directly?”

“It wasn’t the crown doing this. The Viceroyal of New Hispania wanted to give the queen a rather nice gift.”

“How do you know these things?”

“I was first mate of Swallow. I was there when the contract was made and told why the crown could not send the navy directly. The Netherlands were perfectly willing to provide us and the support to put this together as well as resources in the East Indies.”

“That explains Bitoria.”

“Who?”
“He was the Viceroyal’s agent in Ilitia. He decided to voyage to New Hispania.”

“Is he dead?”

“He went off with the remaining soldiers, some two hundred, leaving me and the rest before the seafolk came. He has not returned as yet.”

Itakshir waddled over, grabbed Elgar and pointed. “Nispa sisam.” He spat for emphasis.  Elgar looked at the man on the horse surrounded by armored men all with banners waving and swords ready. Itakshir added “Anun ukoyki ronnu renkayne aynu.” He made a slashing motion and waved his arm over all the people.

Jiro watched the seafolk work, making off with more of the treasure. Unlike the survivors of the wreck, one barbarian was working with Fusa’s brother. Taking Fusa as a concubine had been a dream of his, but Itakshir had prevented that and the seafolk village as impossible to approach from the land stealthily. As for actually asking for Fusa as a bride, the clan would disown Jiro if he had tried. His mother was looking for an arrangement with the Ieyasu, who while poor, were close to the shogun. Having had enough, he turned his horse and left.

Elgar watched the noble leave, waved to Itakshir and they walked into the hold. As they walked along the piled cargo, there was a row of wooden crates stacked four high with other cargo on top. Elgar waved to Itakshir and they pulled the top crate off the end of the row. Using the pry bar that he had found and brought for opening the crates, Elgar pried the lid of, exposing the shiny long wood, brass and steel of the rifles. He pulled one out and worked the action, exposing the breech. He closed it, pulled the trigger, the hammer went snap and Elgar said, “Bang.”

Itakshir looked at Elgar, at the strange matchlock and nodded. Lord Ichida’s samurai had used matchlocks against seafolk in the past, in various little combats. That hadn’t ended well for the Ichida and the young lord’s father, who had drowned when the ship he was on had had leakage issues. Looking at the strange gun, the thing looked far deadlier than the Ichida’s matchlocks. Elgar put the thing away and said, “We should get these off the ship as soon as possible.”

Itakshir didn’t understand, but the intent was obvious. He nodded in agreement. Elgar had turned and was looking at the massive bulk of a thing tied to side of a ship. He turned to Itakshir, made a pulling motion and then an opening motion. Itakshir looked at Elgar in puzzlement as Elgar repeated the motion and then went over and kicked in from in front of the thing. The side of the ship popped out a bit and Itakshir understood. There was a door on the side of the ship. Calling out, Itakshir managed to get a group of seafolk and with Elgar showing them how, moved the thing along the deck using heavy poles that were apparently for moving the things. They moved the thing under the hatchway and then returned to the crates of matchlocks. Elgar kicked the port open, the crates were passed to boats and were on their way to the villages.

Elgar made sure that the crate they had already opened stayed aboard. He hadn’t liked the expression on the noble’s face at all. Digging into the cargo, he found some crates that were marked as cartridge cases and another, much smaller crate with primers. Going below, he found the magazine and the small barrels of musket powder. Taking a barrel and a scoop he placed them next to the cartridge cases and primers. It was getting dark and he did not want to be doing anything with powder and an open flame. He could find the bullets and the cartridge press in the morning.

Repunkamuy transformed and stepped out of the water and into the boardwalks of the shrine that was lit with light of glowing lanterns. Following the music, he slipped to the pavilion where Wakaushkamuy was dancing, floating over the water. She spotted him and danced in his direction. “Old bat?”

“I was keeping Ponda amused. Keeping the Tanuki amused can be a chore at times.”

“Why do want the needle?”
“Fusa has found an interesting man and I want to keep him if I can.”

“Does Fusa know how close she is to divinity?”

“Not at all. Her mother is hardly in a position to tell her and her father isn’t going to either.”

“The man must be very special. Is he seafolk?”
“No, he is a barbarian from far overseas. That’s why I need the needle. I arranged an accident and he fell overboard. His ship was chasing a galleon for some reason that I do not understand as yet.”

“The galleons are protected from us by their god and his priests.”

“They are protected from us, perhaps, but not from the weather. This one blundered into a typhoon and ran aground.”

“That would explain the chasing about in the castle. There are also some barbarians that have arrived.”

“Somebody is looking to break a treaty.”

“Greed does make people stupid and the galleon represents great wealth dropped into the clan’s lap. The young lord did not learn from his father’s death.”

“You will hand me the ten fishbones?”

“I will.”

“What is Ponda getting?”
“I am giving him a large pearl that I have as part of the clutter. His lady will like it.”

“So, tell me more about what these barbarians are up to?”

“They came a very long way to commit a bit of piracy. It doesn’t seem to be for the treasure, so it is for other reasons.”

“Where are they now?”
“Offshore someplace. They are protected somewhat as well and I am not sure what they will do.”

Commodore Harald Drake looked at the ships he commanded. In spite of the long voyage the ships were in good trim and that was a good thing when dealing with the Imperial Galleon. His ships, the two frigates, Conquistadore and Victoria, ships that had been captured as prizes by the Aquataine navy and sold off after the conflict was over, the two brigs, Swallow and Albatross, along with the quick and nimble sloop Swift, that had been built in the eastern shore colonies, all had a plausible deniability as well as being covered by letters of marque from the Dutch Republic. If the mission succeeded, there would be some fuss and reparations but no war in the colonies. If it failed, the war would not only involve the colonies, but the continent as well and the queen had been very firm about the fact that she did not want parliament having to pay for another war after just ending one. The problem now was that Swallow and more importantly, their prey, the Concepción were missing. The lookout called out “Ship ahoy! Four points Starboard aft!

Drake turned his glass aft as the lookout called out, “Ship is Swallow!”

Drake looked through the glass and Swallow appeared to have lost her main topsail in the storm. He turned to the signal midshipman. “Send signal, “All ships heave to and send captains.””

“Aye aye, sir.”

The flags went up as Conquistadore turned into the wind.  Boats were launched over the side and oars out they skittered across the water to the flag. Swallow’s boat arrived last and Captain De Betain stomped aboard, his peg making a pounding noise on the deck with every step. When he reached the quarter deck, Drake looked at him and said “What happened to the Concepción?”

“I’m not sure. We had a spot of bother, my first mate went over with a spar and we were tacking away from a lee shore that probably was seafolk, since I am fairly sure that we were on the border of the under sea empire, according to the Dutch charts. Since we barely got offshore, the Concepción may not have.”

“Why were you there in the first place?”

“We were keeping an eye on the Concepción and that was where she went. As it was, she slipped behind us in the storm. I realized where we probably were and tacked to get offshore. That was when I lost Elgar and my main topsail as well as the Concepción.”

Harald sighed and said, “Let’s go to the chartroom and you can show me where this happened. If the Concepción doesn’t show up in two days, you go back and look.”

“That is the coast of Nihon. Not exactly friendly.”

“If the Concepción is wrecked, we get paid anyway. We don’t get all the pretties, but that works out better at home. The point was to stop a war before it started, not rob a treasure ship.”

Elgar and her brother hadn’t come home the previous night, so Fusa told her sister that she was getting the fish and Fusa was going to the wreck. With that, she leaped into the water before her sister could complain and started along the shore for the wreck. She thought she could sense the orca out at sea, but it didn’t come close, so she ignored it. As she approached the wreck, the young man appeared and said, “Things are getting interesting. Your man has friends. Find out what they want if you can.”

“Why do you care, Kamuysama?”

“As I said, “Things are getting interesting.” When you are a god, interesting is a good thing.”

“We can hardly talk to each other.”

“That just makes things more of a challenge for you.”

The young man transformed and the orca disappeared into the murk. Fusa reached the wreck and popped up into a hive of activity as crates and bales were being lowered onto boats from various villages and taken away. Fusa spotted the ladder up the side of the massive hulk, dove below the noise and leaped up onto the ladder and climbed up. Reaching the deck, she spotted a cousin and asked, “Where is my brother?”
“Below, with the stranger.”
He pointed to a hole in the deck.

Fusa waddled to the hole and there was a stair down. She went down and Elgar was at a table next to a strange machine, tapping something into some small metal objects. He looked up and smiled. “Ohio Fusa.”

“Ohio, Elgar.” She pointed at what he was doing and looked at him with a questioning expression. He said, “Nispa sisam arki rorumpe tumikoro”

Samurai come to fight war?” Fusa repeated. Elgar nodded. “I don’t understand. Jiro would not to draw a sword against the people.

“Bitoria.”

I’m going to find my brother.”

Elgar pointed and as Fusa turned, Itakshir was behind her. She screeched “What is going on, brother?!”

“This ship had some strange matchlocks aboard as cargo. That’s why Elgar’s ship was chasing it. There is a barbarian lord that survived and wants the cargo someplace to start a war.”

How does that concern us?”
“Elgar and the other survivors think that Jiro is using the barbarians to strike at us or will, soon. That way he can say that it was foreign barbarians that killed us.”

“Why would Jiro do such a thing?”
“He wants you. He has for some time.”

“I am poor seafolk. Why does he want me, or sister?”
“There are rewards for having a seafolk as a concubine and mother is related to the empress below sea. I think that Jiro knows that.”

“Mother is below, with aunt. She has been since Jiro’s father attacked.”

“There are other reasons. The samurai have always hated the restrictions and the fact that they cannot take us and use us for their benefit.”

“There is a treaty! We protect the land!”

“I know those things. But that happened long ago, and I am not sure that the samurai believe any more. They have been looking inward lately.”

“We could leave this thing.”
“There are dangers to that. We took the matchlocks off already, but there are other dangerous things that the Samurai could use.”

“So, the Samurai war on each other! They do that!”

“Elgar thinks that the war could come to us.”

“Elgar has only been here two days!”

Elgar looked at them with a puzzled expression and then returned to what he had been doing. Fusa looked at him, at her brother and stormed out, looking for her father. She spotted him speaking with some other village chiefs and waddled over. “My brother thinks that war is coming, since Elgar told him that. Considering that they can barely speak to each in any case, that is rather interesting.”

“Daughter, Elgar showed your brother some things and he was not the only stranger here. The ship had survivors and they have been saying things as well.”

“How are you speaking to them? You don’t have the same speech!”

“We are making do. We all have been learning as we go along. In any case, what Jiro wants is fairly obvious. He wants one of my daughters. Of course, he wants you, who wants nothing to to with him and not your sister, who would be easier to persuade.”

Fusa put her hands to her mouth. “Jiro and Pukusa? How long has this been going on?”

“Since they were about ten, I think. Of course Jiro’s father started that war and his mother has pretensions. Jiro got a bit confused about which seafolk girl was on his beach and thinks that your sister is you. Since we have not exactly been talking to the landers and your mother has been away, I haven’t been able to settle things and now Jiro is following his father’s path to idiocy.” 
“How does that cause the war?”

“The survivor soldiers and the fancy guns. Elgar got the guns spread around to various villages, but the soldiers are preparing.”

“How long?”

“Four or five days, perhaps.”

Fusa wanted to scream in frustration. This was a big mess and the various people didn’t seem to care. She waddled to the side of the wreck and leaped into the water. As she swam away, the orca appeared. “You are very upset, pup. Why is that?”

“Those fools want their war!”

“Which fools?”
“All of them!”

“Are you certain?”
“They are all making preparations!”

“Your folk can’t just swim away?”
“Elgar can’t.”

“I see the problem. There is a solution, but you will have to see Wakaushkamuy at the waterfall a day’s journey up the river.”
“My gills? How will I deal with them?”

“There are baths at the falls and take some salt with you. You can also Swim in the river. Take your fine clothes and money and act the noble lady. That should get you to Wakaushkamuy’s shrine without undo difficulties. Ask her for a Needle of Transformation. I have already made arrangements for it. You can use it to drag your man under.”

Fusa growled, “More foolishness!” and surfaced to look for someone who could take her to the river mouth. She was lucky and one of her cousins was taking a boat to the village and a coaster had appeared, looking to trade. Dressed in her finest kimono, she was aboard and on her way.

Elgar looked at the pile of finished cartridges and grinned. Looking around, he realized that Fusa did not seem to be around the wreck. She had had her spat with her brother and later again with her father, but then he hadn’t heard her at all. He went looking for Itakshir. Finding him, Elgar asked, “Where Fusa?”
Itakshir shrugged and pointed toward the village. The he looked ashore, frowned and spat. “Baka!”

Elgar looked and there was Jiro watching things. Elgar went looking for Alsonso and the gunner’s mate and said, “That guy bothers me.”

“I don’t think that he wants to attack,” Alsonso said. “On the other hand, Bitoria will want the rifles.”

“So, what do you want?”

“There are three of the ship’s ports that have guns that can be brought to bear on the road off the beach.”

“Why should we do that?”

“Do you think that Bitoria can let you live?”

Alsonso and the gunner’s mate looked at each other and Alsonso said, “Madre dios! No, he cannot. If we were to return, he could be ruined. We are with you on this.”

With the help of Itakshir and some eager sea folk, the guns were loaded with double shot, the lines set and made ready to run out. With a grin, they went to the evening meal.

Fusa reflected that a little gold and a fancy kimono made an arduous journey much easier. Once ashore, the seafolk owner of the coaster pointed her at some porters with seafolk connections, a palanquin had been readied and she was on her way. The end of the day’s travel had her in a fine room at an inn, with a hot bath being prepared. If the servant girl noticed her peculiarities, she did not say anything about them. The next morning she went to the shrine under the waterfall. Wakaushkamuy appeared and said, “You have come, girl.”

“I have. Repunkamuy  says that you have something that can aid me.”

“I do, or I will. There is one more thing you must do.”

“What is it?”

Wakaushkamuy handed her something wrapped in silk. “Take this to your grandmother.”

Fusa groaned. “To Apehumikamuy, you mean. Father and she had a spat when mother dragged father to the sea. She did not like it that father chose to be with a mortal.”

“Not mortal precisely, but yes. In any case, I will give you the Needle if you help me resolve my dispute with your grandmother.”

“Grandmother’s mountain is another day’s journey. I am not sure that I have the time.”

“Then you must start now, then.”

Calling her porters, Fusa was off again.

Looking from beside the road, Elgar watched the two columns come down the road. Rifle crooked under his arm he stepped onto the road. He could see a mounted figure suddenly pull up and stop as the rest of the column continued forward. He put the rifle to his shoulder and the captain waved at the column and called halt. A rather slight figure rode forward and called out in Hispanisch, “Who are you?!”

“Elgar Hanrick, and you?”

“Abril Álvarez, secretary to Señor Blasco de Bitoria.”

“The man who will not face me himself.”

“I have been acting as his go between and translator.”

“We are speaking a language he should know since it is his, so where is he,?”
Álvarez looked over his shoulder. “I do not know.”

“In any case, I am willing to deal. I will leave his personal baggage, minus some very interesting paper if he will stay here. I have found the rifles already, as you can see.”

“If we should attack you?”

“Then things get ugly. If I were Bitoria, I would go before my friends return. His master’s scheme is known and I doubt that his master would risk the crown’s displeasure by kicking off a war at this point.”

“That rifle is useless without certain things.”

Elgar grinned. “I will leave that for your master to discover, one way or another.”

Álvarez turned on his horse and returned to Bitoria. “Well?”

“He has one of the rifles, Señor. He did not say if it was loaded. He had a Dutch name.”

“One of the pirates, then. What did he offer?”

“Our belongings and baggage if we leave the seafolk alone.”

“If we do not?”

“Things get ugly.”

“He is just one man, with some primitives. I think that we will risk the ugliness. Captain, sound the advance.”

As the trumpet went up, there was a crack and the trumpeter fell. Another shot clanged off the sergeant’s helm. Smoke appeared in the distance as the captain’s horse was shot out from under him. Shots peppered around them as the soldiers started up the road, with some falling as they advanced. Alvarez could see that there were probably only ten rifles being fired at them. Charging forward, Clan Ichida horse archers, banners flying, raced down the road, firing their bows in the smoke, some falling from the rifles, but silencing some of the rifles. The sergeant and some of the soldiers charged the rifles and dragged three seafolk and two crew from the ship, stabbing them with their swords and taking the rifles and cartridge bags. Shots continued to pepper the various soldiers as they tried to advance until the recovered captain called a retreat. Jeering, the horse archers followed.

Elgar looked at the mess and cursed. He had given Bitoria every chance to get out of things without bloodshed and Bitoria had chosen to send his men into pointless combat. The fact that Elgar had lost five of his volunteers stung more than a bit. Looking back to the beach, the refugees had retreated to the wreck, so he waved to his surviving volunteers and headed to a boat.

Jiro saw the man leave and wondered where he had come from and why had stayed. As he stood at the edge of the road, peasants started to dig trenches and haul the bodies to them, stripping them of anything valuable. They left the three seafolk alone. At some point Jiro was going to have to make arrangements for them. This had been ugly and pointless, leaving a bad taste in his mouth. He turned his horse and headed home.

Shrine maidens had stopped her porters and Fusa had been forced to walk the last bit to her grandmother’s shrine under the plume of the volcano on foot, her bare feet stinging in the hot and painful stone. As she entered the shrine, a voice called out, “Has the family sent someone to make amends?”

“Father did not send me, grandmother.”

A pleasant looking woman appeared and smiled. “Then you came on your own, child.”

“Not exactly.” Fusa handed her grandmother Wakaushkamuy’s package. “Wakaushkamuy said that she had made an arrangement for something that would help me, but that I would have to get it from you.”

“The needle.”

“Wakaushkamuy didn’t tell me that you had it.”

“She did not tell me who it was for. Can you stay for a while?”
“I cannot. My errand is urgent.”

“You have a man.”

“I think so. He came from over the seas. There is a fight that has probably started.”

Apehumikamuy waved her hands and small case with a strap to fit over the shoulders and a small lantern appeared in her hands. “Here is the Needle and a part of my fire for the home that you will have. Know that I care for you. Now if you could persuade your sister to come, I would be pleased. I will send you to the water. Sayonara”

Apehumikamuy waved her hands and Fusa, Needle and lantern in hand, was back in the village. She put the lantern on the shelf, undressed, went to the rock, leaped into the water and swam for the wreck as fast as she could.

Elgar had put Bitoria’s chests on the edge of the road that led to the beach. It was a surprise when Álvarez and Lord Ichida rode down onto the beach. Álvarez called out, “Lord Hanrick, Lord Ichida wants to engage you in single combat!”
“What do I gain from that?!”

“If you will engage in the duel, Lord Ichida will restrain the soldiers from my country and turn my master over to you.”
“I don’t want your master. On the other hand, if I lose, I turn over the papers your master had. I will accept the duel on one condition. We use wooden swords only.”

Álvarez said something to Jiro, who looked at Elgar with a surprised expression and then nodded. Álvarez called out, “He agrees.”

Fusa popped out beside the wreck and there seemed to be cheering on the other side of the ship. She climbed up the side and there was a crowd opposite her as she reached the deck. She spotted a cousin and asked, “What is happening?”
“Lord Ichida and the stranger are dueling.”

Fusa’s heart leapt into her throat. “How is the stranger doing?”
“They are tied, one match each. This match will decide it.”

“What?!”

“The stranger insisted on practice swords and padded gi. Neither of them can get really hurt. See?”
Fusa looked down to the beach. Elgar and Jiro were circling each other making slight moves toward each other until they suddenly exploded in a flurry of blows. Both staggered away shaken and Itakshir and the Ichida arms master, who must have been the judges, were calling the match a draw.

Bitoria had been watching the duel and seeing how things were going, waved to his servants, who struck the samurai guarding him and having gathered his things, Bitoria, the soldiers that were still loyal and his servants, all started up the road, stealing some horses on their way.

The first thing Elgar saw when his head stopped ringing was Fusa, berating him for being foolish. The next thing he saw was Swallow in the distance, a boat heading toward shore. Fusa looked at the boat and sighed. Elgar stood up, and smiling, grabbed Fusa and kissed her. She stepped back, opened the case she was carrying, pulled out a strange thing, poked her finger on it and then jabbed it into Elgar’s shoulder. Things went black.

When he woke up, Fusa was floating over his face. “I rushed things. I apologize.”

“What did you do?”

“I used the Needle of Transformation. A crazy god sent me after it. He didn’t tell me that mother’s was still in the house.”

“Where are we?”

“Below. This way we can really talk before you go away.”

“I wasn’t planning to go away.”
“You will. You are that kind of man. I will go where you do.”

“I will not ask you to.”
“I go with you, always.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s