The Opened Door
The colossal mouth of the whale formed a harbor. It opened and closed in a manner similar to high and low tide, where the backwash would drain spectacularly towards the later hours of the day.
Luckily, Tig and his companions breached the whale while the mouth was still open. Not-so-luckily the slavers did to.
Tig clicked his head as he scanned the expanse. The teeth formed a natural sea wall and further in piers lined the corners of the jaw, a giant slowly reverberating mass slushed inside. It was made of plates locked with a black substance dripping eagerly out the gaps.
They had reached the piers by the time he realised it was the tongue. The tongue flopped down, the frontal dentures became masked in sea fog.
They got off at a spot where no ships moored. Several dockworkers gawked as the orca turned into a girl. But otherwise, Tig found it surprisingly mundane for having just entered a mountain sized whale. There were a few storehouses here and there, built upon ruddy steel hills that were once pink gums. Steps led to them in the form of overturned gears the size of ship wheels.
He took a gander at the ships docked. As little as dozen were moored there, far less than he expected. Siblisey was tiny in comparison and yet hundreds of ships traveled to and fro. He glanced at the lifting tongue behind him. Perhaps living in a mechanical whale was not as appealing as Franco made it seem.
Bells rang and he turned to the sight of the gold galleon bobbing into view.
Gemjo tugged his coat. “Let’s go.” She hushed.
They made down the busy docks. Here workers in brown hats carried boxes and barrels up down a recently docked merchant caravel.
Tig and Gemjo expertly dodged them while the Professor bumped into more than a few. The witch doctor was already on the other side, his black hat outstretched, revealing the steely tops of his dreadlocks.
“I’m afraid dis be where we part. I be busy a mon, and you have saved me a lot of time.” The man took out a silver pocket watch from his cap and handed it to Gemjo. “Open it.”
A blue light zipped out the moment she did. It swarmed around the watch and slammed itself against the silver. Tig caught the gold carving of an empty hourglass on the inside.
“What was that?” asked Gemjo.
“A curse.” Shrugged the man. He backed As Gemjo growled at him. “Hey now, hey now. No need ta bite. Da curse wasn’t meant for you, little lady. It be fa da locket. While any magic be impartial to its usah, curses be spiteful tings, dey rememba who be casting dem. Foeva. So, if ya eva be bringing dat locket into Al’Tof or any of da soudern seas, I’ll know. Open it and I’ll really know, heh.”
The Witch Doctor leaned and gently closed the locket, “But fa now, only considah dat an emergency.”
The Professor finally swaggered to them, “You just say curse? What kind of curse?”
The Witch Doctor chortled, “Oh you be findin’ out soon enough, mon. Noting big dough, if dat be ya concern. Take care now.”
He said with a practiced stride away from them. He turned as he did, “Until we be meeting in Al’Tof dat is.”
Gemjo flipped to the locket once the man was gone, “I say we toss it.”
“No!” Said Tig with a snatch. “It may be usefu!” he clamored.
Gemjo swiped it back, “Or, horribly inconvenient.”
A bronze hand stole it for good.
Gemjo blinked, “Hey!” she said with a reach.
The Professor licked it. Her hand drew back.
“A bit tart. A tad spicy. Definitely cursed though minor I’d say.”
“You can tell by tasting?” asked Tig.
“Oh aye, especially this thing. Quite flavourful, do I detect ginger?”
Gemjo shuddered. “Keep it. I don’t want anything you put in your mouth.”
The Professor bowed and pocketed the item, “Much obliged.”
“Right.” Said Gemjo with a stretch. “Now to find a hut to sleep in. The one closest to the caravel seems comfy. I’ll sleep while you two guard me. Tig?”
Tig had been focussed on the ship that just docked. He stepped towards it without a word. A steel hand tightened around his wrist.
“Let me go, Gemjo.”
“What’s with you lately? You’ve been acting without any conscious. In case you forgot that ship is full of slavers.”
“Yes the man who betrayed us.”
He lowered his head, “How about we watch then?”
She released him, “That I can agree on. I eagerly await the moment he realises we’ve escaped.”
“You know.” Said the Professor. “You can be quite petty.”
Gemjo hummed, “I’d say I try, but it comes naturally.”
Tig gestured the way, and the other two followed.
The Three of them hid behind a barrel, the tops of their heads popping out the side of the barrel.
Franco was by the boarding plank, Lawfield ahead of him. A bag of cogs weighed in the golden man’s hand.
Gemjo puffed, “They don’t know yet. Unbelievable!”
Lawfield’s hoity tone sounded in the distance, “You’ve kept your word, good Franco. The cogs I promised.”
Franco shuffled at the boarding plank. He glanced over his shoulders several times before Lawfield caught on.
The bag of cogs swung back, “Is something the matter, Franco?”
“No I- I’m afraid heights, yes that’s it.”
Lawfield rumbled a laugh, “Height and sea. Fairing in our times is clearly out of your agenda.”
“Yes, uh, I may settle down here.”
“You? A Cantinio? You jest. Well it isn’t something a humble trader such as I can question. The deal is done.”
He held out the bag and Franco reached for it.
Lawfield pulled it back once again, his eyes narrowing. “Just in case,” he started with a turn to a man nearby, “Check on the slaves.”
Franco laughed before the man could leave, “Surely you wouldn’t think those slaves escaped do you? Mr. Lawfield, for the little time I’ve known you, you’ve proven to be a capable man.”
“Which is why I would want to check.”
Tig felt his expression tighten. It seemed odd. Franco was, by all means, a strange man to begin with, but now his actions seem to conflict more and more with who he was. Tig wondered aloud, “Why does he insist upon keeping the man waiting?”
“About that mate--”
They both quieted him. Franco had stepped up the plank. His shoulders were rolling as if he had just cracked them.
He raised his voice, “Do you accuse Francisco Santos Carlos el CANTINIO of lying. Surely you understand the implications of that, sir.”
“Nister Cantinio, I assure you--”
“You insult me, you insult every Cantinio. That includes Fronesto, the head guard of the Arbiter.”
Lawfield’s golden complexion turned white gold at the mention of Fron, “F-Fronesto? You mean Fron Cantinio.”
Franco needed only nod.
Lawfield lifted his hand as if to cal his man off and handed Franco the cogs. “No. I do not want that.” said Lawfield. “Go and my apologies for doubting you.”
Franco wrapped the bag to his sash and bowed his head, “Good day.”
He was descending a moment later. The three of them slid out of view as Franco passed them. Yet strangely the man, even as he paced away kept glancing over his shoulder every so often. Then, even stranger, he ran.
Tig jumped up from their spot, his wooden hand levied out, “After him!”
He chased Franco as quick as he could, struggling every second step due to his lack of one boot, yet even then the short Tiguak Trimbly proved fast enough.
He brushed past the dockworkers, swung around the scaffolding and ducked into the alley Franco had waded into.
Popping out the other side, he narrowly captured the image of Franco vanishing over a barren hill. He scaled it as quickly as one boot allowed for, and, puffing at the top, he saw a second set of piers placed well over and leading deep into the whale’s bowls. Sailboats came to and fro.
He caught his breath, his eyes still traveling. That was how people got across the ridges of the whale’s gum. Pillars of light angled down from the gaps in the whale’s skin where plates had fallen off. An entire lake rushed in the empty expanse directly past the pier, disappearing well into the distance behind a veil of mist.
The Professor swayed by him, “Oh! Greetings mate.”
Tig glanced back. Gemjo was casually strolling to them, even yawning into her hands as she did.
“Is she walking?”
“Said she could smell you. No need to chase after that.”
“But there he is. Look!” He pointed at a very fidgety Franco some minutes away and paying a ferryman. “We need to follow him.”
The Professor held him by the collar before he descended.
“Slow down, mate. What’s this about?”
“I want answers.” confessed Tig. “What Franco did… it didn’t seem right. I mean he was to be our captain, even if it was one sided. He’s better than that. He has to be. He… he… if he can’t accomplish what he needs to do, how can I do it?”
“Who’s to say he’s given up?”
“But what if he as? If then I need to know why at least.”
Gemjo was closing.
The Professor smiled and let Tig go, “Who do you think unlocked my gate?”
Everything clicked. The puzzle filled in his mind. Franco was never an evil man. He couldn’t be. Tig clutched his head and angry cries could be heard far from where the first piers were. One was of Lawfield. A smile twitched up Tig’s fleshy cheeks and he straightened his posture.
Nodding at both of his companions, he gestured down the slope, “We need to run.”
The uproar in the harbor was enough to motivate even Gemjo to do so. They reached the boats in seconds, where the last ferryman in the dock had been waiting.
The Professor pulled out a dirty cog from his coat pocket and handed it to the man, “A full cog for travel, mate. The grime’s a tip.”
The full turn man bit the mucky cog and shrugged, soon gesturing the three of them to get on.
The boat departed the moment Lawfield and his men reached the top of the hill.
Gemjo peaked out the back as the vessel swished forwards. She shrunk back down and huddled her knees, “That was close.” She frowned, her eyes drifting to Tig. “So why are you smiling?”
“I was right!” beamed the boy. “Franco’s no fraud! Professor tell her.”
Gemjo held up her hand, “I heard. Though selling us out to begin with was not right.”
The Professor polished his new trinket on his dirty shirt. The once glimmering thing got darker.
“Don’t think of it like that.” Waved the Professor. “Consider our old friend Franco, a clever duck in arranging us a ride. Get in nice with slavers and borrow the ship.”
“I had to sleep in a prison bed for three days.” Grumbled the sea wolf.
Tig’s smile vanished, “Least you had a bed.”
“So?” said Gemjo. “What now?”
“We follow Franco.” Said Tig.
“He’s come here for another reason if it wasn’t to sell us as slaves and I want to know why.”
“Listen, chitik, I say we forget about Franco and this slave business, find a ship and get lost.”
“We need him.” Continued Tig.
Gemjo’s eyes rolled, “What for?”
Tig reared his head back to the front where the Ferryman was rowing. The mist was slowly fading and the outline of Franco’s boat formed just at the edge of his sights. Perhaps the Ferrymen knew where to row out of habit, but if he hadn’t and Tig was the one rowing, he would know where to go. Franco would lead them.
“So we can follow him even after he joins us.” Said Tig
“As a captain?” she puffed derisively.
The boy kept his eyes on the distant Cantinio, “No, as a navigator.”