Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Voyage of the Minotaur - Chapter 3 Excerpt


It was quite dark now, and Zeah was beginning to feel the chill air creep into his bones. A single gas light on the dockside, fifty or sixty feet away, cast a scant glow. Zeah walked over to the Minotaur’s gangplank, which was guarded by a single sailor wearing a pistol and leaning on one of the railing posts. Hanging from this post was an oil-lantern, casting just enough light to reveal the seaman’s unshaven face. Fog, rolling in off the river, rose up from the ground like a foul smoke from hell.


“What do you want?” asked the sailor, the emphasis on the word “you”.

“I’m here to see the Captain.”

“What makes you think he wants to see you?”

“I’m here on the official business of Miss Iolanthe Dechantagne. Either let me come on board, or notify Captain Gurrman that I am here. He should be expecting me.”

“Well, he ain’t expecting you,” said the sailor. “If he was expecting you, he would be on board, which he ain’t.”

“Then to whom may I speak?” asked Zeah.

“Nobody.”

“What’s going on here, Gervis?” said a man coming down the gangplank through the fog. When he neared the dock, Zeah could see he was an officer.

“My name is Zeah Korlann. I was sent by Miss Dechantagne to speak to the Captain.”

“I see,” said the officer. “Officer of the watch, Lieutenant Staff, at your service sir. However, I really think it would be best if you return tomorrow. Captain Gurrman and Lieutenant Commander Frigeffresson have gone ashore and won’t be back this evening, from what I understand.”

“Bother,” said Zeah.

“Sorry, sir,” said Staff. “I could send an escort to see you home.”

“That won’t be necessary. If you can just tell me which direction I need to go to find a cab.”

“Turn around and walk straight back that way, sir. When you pass beyond the warehouses up ahead, you’ll find yourself on Avenue Pike. If you can’t find a cab there, make a right. A half mile up the street is a pub called the Mermaid’s Ankle. They have their own carriage for delivering patrons who become, um, indisposed.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant.” said Zeah. He didn’t deign to look at Gervis, the rude sailor, but turned with his usual stiff-backed polish and began swiftly walking away from the dockside, through the fog, toward several huge, looming warehouses. They seemed to grow larger like some monstrous beasts, as he approached, and the fog grew thicker and thicker.

Zeah had almost reached the corner of the closer warehouse, when from ahead, somewhere in the darkness, he heard a scream. It sounded like a woman’s scream. The butler was not armed, nor was he, unarmed, particularly dangerous or imposing in any physical way, but no one had ever accused any member of the Korlann family of cowardice, especially in a moment of crisis. He ran forward, toward the scream.

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