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NOTICE: For those unsure about copyright law and because there was a particularly weird case, just because I’m making the pre-first draft of my novel available to blog readers, it doesn’t mean that this isn’t copyrighted to me. Rogue Magic as all the contents of this blog is © Sarah A. Hoyt 2013. Do not copy, alter, distribute or resell without permission. Exceptions made for ATTRIBUTED quotes as critique or linking to this blog. Credit for the cover image is © Ateliersommerland | Dreamstime.com
Miss Helen Blythe, sister to the Earl of Savage
A Most Fantastical Crew
We stood there on that slippery horrid pink… I tried to think of it as a rock, but I was more or less sure that it was actually a muscle or a gland or … – a part of someone or something – and watched the little boat approach.
As it came closer it became obvious that it was not made of anything sensible like wood. Instead, it appeared to be assembled of bones. Not human bones, thankfully, or I might have given way to strong hysterics which likely would have vexed Mr. Merrit very greatly. As it approached, it looked like it was made of great planks of cartilage, like one finds inside certain sea animals. But its masts had teeth along the length and looked like they had been built of mandibles. And the “cloth” hanging from the mast was pink and horrible, and I suspected was really a flap of skin, perhaps from this same creature inside whom we seemed to be lost.
The whole had a fish-like aspect.
When I was very little, Jonathan had a tutor for only one summer, before papa decided that Jonathan would be better off at school or, as he said, being someone else’s problem. The tutor was a tall, thin man, who coughed a lot, but he had brought with him the most amazing and interesting collection I’d ever seen. He had mounted skeletons of birds and fish, and pinned butterflies beneath glass. When he’d caught me spying into his room, he’d asked me if I wanted to be told about his treasures, and had given me an interesting lecture on each of the skeletons and butterflies and insects that crammed the tiny room my parents had allotted him. I’m not lying, it really was interesting, and I’d probably have gone back to him for lectures, except nanny had caught me in his room and nearly had strong hysterics, and treated me to a very long talk about how some older men like little girls.
At the time it had all gone so far above my comprehension I’d thought nanny had lost her mind. Now I understand what she meant. One hears stories. But it wasn’t so with Mister Brim. He had talked to me as he would have talked to any other interested creature. It appeared he’d been on a three-year-long tour through Africa or South America or some place that is, at this distance, hard to remember. It was where he’d contracted his cough and ruined his health, and that had caused him to return home. But obviously his mind and his passion remained there, and he just wanted to talk about his happy times. Since Jonathan wasn’t much interested, he’d spent an afternoon talking to me.
I thought of him, as that odd little boat came to dock near us.
From a distance, I’d thought that there were little men aboard the boat, but now I saw that they were monkeys. A vast number of monks – I thought chimps – wearing ragged sailors uniforms, but not sailors as in our own navy. More like some exotic navy all silks and odd tailoring. They were little white tunics, and bulky ballooning pants and colorful silk sashes carried around their waists.
I heard Betsy say, “They’re monkeys,” in an astounded tone, beneath her breath, and then the boat was docking up against the soft pink stuff, and a monkey jumped up and tied it with a thick rope of unknown – and best not examined – provenance to something in the protruberance upon which we stood. And Wolfe Merrit cleared his throat, “I say,” he said, in the tone of a gentleman trying to make conversation at a social function. “I say, you wouldn’t happen to know where three forlorn travelers can get shelter, would you?”
The monkey who’d tied the rope looked at us and blinked. It seemed to me that his eyes were far more intelligent than they should have been, and I wondered why I wasn’t scared. I should have been. It wasn’t as though bone-built boats crewed by monkeys were a normal thing in my life.
I could only think that either I’d become too tired and inured by all the successive shocks and incongruencies of the last many hours or that the monkeys were too… entertaining. They looked much like a circus act trained by someone. I wondered whom.
The monkey turned and gestured towards the boat, and another of his fellows came scrambling up, and across the rope. He was better dressed than the others, in that his clothes looked newer and his baggy pants were made of striped silk in gold and silver and red that must at one time have been blindingly bright. He wore a rope of pearls around his neck.
He bowed deeply to us. “My fellow here,” he said. “Does not speak your language. You talked to him. What do you need?”
“I …” This impeccable speech, in the Queen’s English, from a Monkey had stopped even Mister Merrit cold. He cleared his throat again. “Who do I have the pleasure of addressing, sir?”
The monkey bowed. The feeling that I was caught in the middle of a circus act was stronger than ever. “I am Arya,” he said. “Arya the Voluble. Arya of the Nimble fingers.” He looked inexpressibly sad, as though he’d suddenly remembered that his entire family had perished in a horrible way. “Arya, alas, the great sailor. Which I misdoubt my lord Hanuman would believe now.” He sighed, a very human sigh. “For two years now we’ve been lost in the gullet of this beast, having been swallowed in becalmed sees, and how we’ve survived, milord, it would make you weep to watch it, for there are neither forests nor trees, neither fruit nor plant here, and what our lord Hanuman must think has happened to us, when he sent a crew of his best magicians and his most competent tricksters.” He sighed, then opened his arms and showed us both palms in a very human gesture. “I know not.”
I knew not either, save that Merritt hadn’t corrected the “my lord” and that his hand had clasped my arm hard enough to bruise. I didn’t know why, except I assumed something in the monkey’s speech discomfited him.
He finally found his voice and said, “We’re in a beast, then?”
“Oh, aye, a great tentacle beast, like an octopus. My lord Hanuman sent us for to see if we could put it to sleep again, as it’s been for centuries uncounted. Instead it swallowed us whole, and our craft too.” He must have seen us staring at his craft. “Oh, aye, not that. A proper craft, which is moored at our home island. We would not risk it in these daily expeditions to get our living from the gullet of the beast. Because one day we will defeat the magic on it and leave here to go home.”
“Magic,” Merrit said.
“Magic barriers,” the monkey said. “Like a magical strainer. They don’t let anything magical pass out of the beast, once swallowed.”
I shuddered. The idea of living out my life here did not appeal. At my side, Betsy gasped but said nothing, which was a vast improvement over what she would have said just hours ago. The poor girl must be very tired.
“I see,” Merritt said. “then you can’t tell us how to leave?”
“No,” Arya said. “Except that perhaps with your magic and our magic we can confound it.”
“Are there… many other people here?”
“If you mean many other magical creatures, there are other tribes of lost travelers, but we stay away from them, for they don’t consider monkeys quite … creatures that shouldn’t be eaten. We lost a young and well intentioned fool our first week here, and since then we avoid them. Not that I blame them exactly, for men have often eaten monkeys, and there is little to eat here. Except that we’ve found you can take vast strips of the beast’s muscles, and they don’t even taste too badly, and they grow back wondrously fast. If you come aboard my meager vessel now, we shall take you to our village, where you can bathe and get fresh clothes and share our humble repast.”