Well of Bones

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Chapter 7

“The aboriginals of this new world have always been savage, but I fear we have made them savages.”

Sir Francis Timms, explorer

A letter to the King of Great Brenar. Seventh day of Emergence, 3117

With his eyes still shut, Jake could sense someone silently moving about the room. The knight wrapped his bruised fist around the dagger under his pillow. Brom, Duncan, Dogwa, and Jake slept in one of two rooms the knights rented. The long space fit four beds with no room for anything else. Morning light streaked in through three windows along the outer wall facing the street below. The other knights breathed heavily, still sleeping deeply after their night of drinking. Someone snored softly.

Jake felt the presence drawing closer. He cracked one of his eyes scanning what he could without moving. A shadow moved along the wall. It moved slowly closer to the foot of Jake’s bed. A board creaked underfoot. Jake sprung, unsheathing his dagger and rolling himself to a defensive posture. Bearing his teeth, he snarled like a wild cornered beast. Dogwa had taught him that.

Master Salvo held a single finger to his lips. Jake let relief wash over him, sheathed his dagger and sat on the end of his bed.

“I thought that sailor might be looking for satisfaction this morning,” Jake said as he stretched.

“I imagine he is nursing quite a headache,” Salvo said in a soft tone. “The Count requires you and Brom for a task, and Dogwa is to meet with the Governor in an hour. Apparently, he holds the natives of the new world in great interest.”

“We may speak normally. They will not wake for anything short of a tempest,” Jake said with a snicker, throwing his pillow at Duncan. He moaned and rolled over, placing his own pillow over his head. Salvo stretched his lips tight with a slight curl upward at each end and nodded in agreement. Salvo tried to wake Brom by tapping his leg while Jake pulled his trousers on. Brom did not stir. Jake shook him violently by the shoulder.

“Go away,” Brom spoke loudly with his face buried in his pillow.

“Come, you loaf,” Jake said, shaking him more intensely. “Count Varro needs us.”

Brom reluctantly sat up. His tangled hair framed a green expression. Brom rubbed bags under his squinting eyes and looked as though he would be sick.

“You get cleaned up, armed and in uniform. Dress sharply. A night of drinking is no excuse for being out of order. Meet Count Varro at the blockhouse when you are finished.” Salvo looked at Brom’s appearance with mild disgust. “Get Dogwa up and get some coffee for all of you. The innkeeper should have it for you. I have already paid him.”

Brom began dressing slothfully as Salvo left.

#

After their coffee, Jake, Dogwa, and Brom walked up the steep hill to the blockhouse. Brom complained about his headache in groans and grumbles. Dogwa shuffled in a daze, moving his feet where Jake and Brom went. In front of the blockhouse Varro waited for them, with his and three other horses hitched nearby.

From the top of the hill, the swamps of the leeward side of the island sprawled out before them. They could even see the cliffs of the windward side. The only practical place to come ashore was exactly where the docks were located, in the cradle of the shallow bay. He remembered a map the Count and Master Salvo consulted often on the Marion. It showed Delwhick as the largest and most southerly island in a swampy archipelago. Swampland covered the majority of the island with a small mountain range at the south. Merciless waves punished a long wall of cliffs to the west and south sides. The bay broke the cliffs on the southeast side. The calm inlet acted as a natural harbor. Two tall headlands jutted from either side of the bay’s mouth, like a mother bird using her wings to protect the ships harbored there.

“Mister Grute and Mister Zimmar,” Count Varro said. “We woke you early because the Miss Crane, Lord Bradford’s ward, will travel to the monastery to visit her adopted brother. I need you to uncover as much information as you can regarding the incident ten years ago. We must discover a connection to recent events if one exists.”

Brom and Jake nodded their affirmation.

“Master Salvo and I will go and interview the widow Alana Fritz and later, the witch doctor and the woman who had her face branded, seeking the same information. The rest of the knights are to uncover whether or not the privateer which attacked us was indeed harbored there as well as inquire around town of the strange goings-on.”

“My lord,” Jake asked. “Wouldn’t a couple of your more experienced knights be a better choice for such an important task?”

Varro smiled. “I believe the best way for a beautiful young lady to speak frankly is to send two young and eligible bachelors to ask the questions.”

#

Walking to the great doors of the governor’s manor, Brom and Jake fell into step with Dogwa close behind. Brom pulled the cord to ring the bell then slicked his hair with his palm. Jake smirked.

“You should probably wipe that smudge off your chin,” Jake teased.

“What smudge?” Brom asked leaning to the right to inspect his chin in the window beside the door. Seeing no blemish whatsoever, he punched Jake’s shoulder. Jake shook his head, still grinning.

“You know nothing of her beauty other than rumor,” Dogwa said quietly. “And you have been stirred so easily. This cannot happen regularly among your people.”

“More often than it should,” Jake replied.

The door opened. The governor’s tall manservant filled the entrance, dressed just as sharply as he had been the day before. His dark brow hung low as if he found the knights tedious. Perhaps he’d heard the scuffle and teasing.

“Yes?” the butler asked. “How may I be of service to you, gentlemen?”

“Count Varro sent Mister Grute and myself to interview lady Crane. Dogwa has been requested by the Governor.” The manservant stood still for several moments as he inspected the knights.

Jake elaborated, “We came to speak with Miss Anna Crane regarding the incident with her tribe years ago.”

“Splendid, right this way.” The butler spoke in a slight islander accent. It was well hidden, however. Jake wondered if he had tried to kill it with speech therapy.

Jake thought it likely the man had been purchased from the cane fields further south in the tropics. Lacking burn scars on his hands, he must not have work in the sugar refineries. How did he end up here, working in Governor Bradford’s household?

He ushered them in, looking across his nose at them.

“If you will be so kind as to wait in the parlor.” He gestured to the room joining the elegant entry. “I will inform Miss Crane of your arrival.”

Brom sat in the leather wingback Jake admired last time they were in that room so he settled for the sofa.

“Mister Dogwa, is it? Right this way.” The manservant withdrew with the native following.

“This is as comfortable as I could have imagined,” Brom said, stroking the soft leather arms. Jake sneered. Brom didn’t have to rub it in. The manservant’s heavy footfalls on the hardwood floors echoed as he walked to the rear of the house. Brom spotted a crystal bottle with caramel-colored liquid in it. Two matching glasses sat on a silver platter on either side of the decanter. He raised his eyebrows, pointing it out to Jake.

“Have you learned nothing? Your stomach could never handle that now,” Jake predicted.

“Bit of the old dog that bit the hare, or something like that,” Brom said as he picked up the beautiful crystal decanter. He lifted the cap and sniffed. He turned green as whisky fumes invaded his nostrils.

“The saying goes: ‘Hair of the dog that bit you.’ No rabbit involved,” Jake said snidely. “Will you be partaking in that remedy this morning?”

“Too early for whisky,” Brom said as he set the crystal back.

#

“Yes, my boy,” the Governor called to Dogwa, ushering him through the door to his study. “Come in, come in.”

He poured two glasses of brandy into fine crystal. Handing one to the native, he held an open palm to a leather chair. Dogwa sat. The governor took his seat across a wide mahogany desk. He interlaced his fingers on the desktop and sat forward, putting all his attention on his guest.

“Mister Dogwa.” Bradford smiled and opened with a broad query. “I have read many books on the natives of the new world, but no amount of reading can compare to the abundance of firsthand knowledge you surely possess. Would you be so kind as to share it with me?”

Dogwa took a sip from his glass. “What do you wish to know, my lord?”

“Everything.” No amount of powder and rouge could hide from Dogwa the excitement that grew on the governor’s countenance. “I wish to know all that you will tell me. All about your tribe, the lifestyle your people keep, and of course I wish to hear of your homeland.”

“I am of the Modrak tribe. Since creation my people have hunted the blue mountains.”

“What do you hunt?” Bradford asked intently.

“My people once hunted whitetail, elk, moose, black bear, beaver, muskrat, marmot, rabbit, goose, turkey, grouse, duck, and pheasant. We would fish the streams and lakes. Every part of the animal would be used. Skins to keep warm, bones for tools, meat to eat, sinew for lashing, guts for bait. Nothing went to waste by the old way. White men came and there is less now. Beaver, turkey, and pheasant gone from our lands. Deer and bear are fewer. Ducks and geese come less.”

Bradford frowned. “So what do your people do now to survive?”

“My people still hunt sometimes, but we farm more. We also trade with the white men.”

The governor produced an extravagant briar pipe from a desk drawer.

Dogwa produced his own pipe from an inner jacket pocket and some dry tobacco from a small deerskin pouch.

“No, no, no. Please, be my guest. I only keep the finest long cut tobacco.”

Bradford removed the lid of a deep tin of tobacco and pushed it across the desk top to the knight. Dogwa took a heavy pinch, pressed it into his bowl and watched as Bradford lightly sprinkled tobacco into his bowl to the rim, tamped it down and repeated the process once more. Dogwa lit a match in the candle and gave several deep draws pulling the flame down onto his casual bed of tobacco.

Bradford pressed yet another layer of tobacco into his pipe and gestured to the tin.

“This works for me,” Dogwa said as a stream of smoke escaped his lips. “I do not have the time for such a procedure.”

Dogwa was too polite to call the process tedious out loud but he could tell the governor understood by his exasperated exhale as he lit his own match. He pulled the flame just over the very tops of his tobacco and then gestured at Dogwa with the stem of his pipe.

“That tattoo on your face is rather striking, my boy. Do all the young men in your tribe have one?”

“Not every—” Dogwa paused as Bradford tamped the charred tobacco again. Governor Bradford gestured for the native to continue with a wispy hand flick and raised eyebrows.

“Each brave is given one of two gifts,” Dogwa continued, “the eyes of long seeing or the mouth of war.”

“Fascinating,” Bradford said around his pipe stem as he lit the bowl again. He puffed until the tobacco glowed orange and thick clouds bellowed out of his mouth. “So the braves do the fighting then?”

“The warriors settled border disputes between tribes in the old times. Today, there is less need for fighting amongst the people of the land. Some tribes fight the white man for poaching their lands. The Modrak understand they cannot. My father and brothers are all warriors but they will not fight if they cannot win. Better to make a powerful ally than a powerful enemy.”

“Is that why you joined the Order of Apollo?”

“I joined the Knights of Apollo because if the old world must govern the new, Brenarian rule would be the best option for my homeland and my people. Many tribes had tried to fight the white man and push them out of their lands. They have all failed, and they no longer exist.

“They did not see that the white man is here to stay,” Dogwa said wisely. “Nothing they do can change that. The only thing they can do is to support whichever they believe would be best for their people. I chose the Knighthood because they are the greatest warriors in the old world. If I can hope to be one of the best warriors in the new world, learning how the Knights of Apollo do combat is the best way I can achieve that. I have married the ways of war in myself and put myself toward a cause to do good. I would not have my skills wasted in a profession such as scouting or selling myself as a hired gun.”

Dogwa noticed his pipe had gone out and placed it on the desk. He quickly scooped up his glass and took a gulp before Bradford could ask anything else.

#

Jake heard two sets of footsteps in the hall, and this time they were feminine. The two young men preemptively stood and faced the open doorway. A young servant girl rounded the corner into view and announced Lady Crane with a curtsey.

Anna held her flowing skirt with one hand as she appeared in the doorway. She was brilliant.

Brom couldn’t help but let his jaw fall.

Anna had long, brunette hair which she wore drawn to the back of her head in one column of curly locks. Jake noticed the intelligence behind her studying green eyes and yet she glowed kindness, though Jake did not know her. Brom almost flinched when she held her hand out to him. Jake feared he would leave it hanging in the space between them. A few long seconds passed before he took her fair hand and bowed. Jake followed suit, introducing his partner, then himself.

“I understand that you have need of some information from me.” She maintained a formal posture while she spoke. “Regarding the incident of the Yan’tiok tribe?” Both nodded in affirmation.

Brom still gawked.

Anna blushed and lowered her eyes when she noticed her admirer. Bashfulness, her first real expression Jake had witnessed on her. She was human after all. Angels, sirens, nor Aphrodite herself would shy away from mortal man, and yet, Bromley was under her spell.

“Yes,” Jake answered with polite enthusiasm. “And it would also be important that we also speak with your brother, Andrew.”

Anna sighed as she sat on the couch then motioned for the men do sit also. “Andrew is the name the monks gave him. A ‘civilized’ name, they say. He will always be Mus-achei to me.”

“Moos-ah-chay,” Jake tried. “Am I saying his name correctly?”

“Most white men who knew him before he went to the monastery refer to him as ‘Jumping Stag.’ It is a loose translation of his name in Brenarian.”

“Your brother lives in the monastery in the forest, correct?” Brom finally managed to speak, his voice cracking loudly.

Anna nodded in agreement. “I was actually planning a visit this morning if you wish to join me. A ride through the hills is far better than needlepoint. I detest the tedium of poking a needle through cloth over and over.”

“Then you may have two Knights of Apollo to escort you,” Brom said with a gracious bow.

#

Brom drove Anna’s small buggy down a relatively flat, dirt road while Jake rode alongside on his horse. The road had been elevated so the marshland to either side would not flood it. The sun was all the way up now and drove the morning fog away. The marshes stunk, but Jake noticed Anna did not mind. She watched the birds dart in an out of the reeds in search of insects, chirping happily all the while. Though Anna was in near exile from the developed world, she could not be kept from the latest fashions. She wore a hat with a wide, round brim, and her dress had remained spotless despite her muddy surroundings.

Jake thought the governor must have sent for these fine items for her but Miss Crane didn’t seem to mind wearing them. Whispers said the gifts were meant as bribes. Jake had heard rumors that the governor had proposed marriage to Anna Crane on several occasions and each time, she gracefully and respectfully declined. One of the benefits of living without parents was the chance to choose one’s groom, Jake supposed. Most young women in town would surely accept the governor’s proposal immediately for his prosperous situation alone. A man of such wealth and high status rarely stayed a bachelor for long.

The townsfolk suspected Anna to be a fool. Some of the more tactful women would call her a I romantic and some even claimed to ask her to think realistically. She would shrug the comments off. There was no changing her mind in this.

Jake rode his gray, speckled horse beside the shaggy brown one pulling the buggy. He couldn’t help but overhear the sappy conversation Brom and Anna were sharing about the weather or how fine a day it was for a ride. The area was silent, save the horses’ heavy footfalls and the birds; Jake found it impossible to avoid eavesdropping.

“So, Miss Crane,” Brom cleared his throat. “Have you any gentlemen callers?”

Gentleman callers? Jake couldn’t help a smirk from creeping across his face. Had Brom been reading romance novels or is that the way he thinks highborn people spoke?

“I mean do you have any suitors?” Brom stammered.

Brom should know how forward asking this was.

“That’s rather direct, Bromley,” Jake said without turning around. “We’ve only just met Miss Crane.”

“No,” Anna said. “I prefer conversation with a purpose. I don’t mind.”

Jake looked back at both of them, turning in his saddle. Anna smoothed her dress before folding her hands lightly in her lap. Brom sat tall and held the reins high with his elbows out. Jake thought he might extend his little fingers to add that extra flair. Jake turned forward again and grinned. Who was this man?

“I have had one or two suitors. You may have heard rumors around town of the governor’s proposal to me.”

There it was. There will always be a speck of truth in rumors.

“He only proposed once rather publicly and I am sorry to say I embarrassed him with my answer. He never pressed me. One proposal. One answer. I would not be the type to marry for money or status.”

“Oh, yes.” Brom nodded violently and then changed direction, shaking laterally when he continued, “One should never marry for money.”

Anna tried to hide her smile.

“Well,” she said, finally able to maintain a straight face. “I meant one should marry for a combination of love and security. Wouldn’t you think so, Mister Zimmar?”

Jake rolled his eyes then turned. “One could be waiting a long time for something like that to come about. One would always have to sacrifice a certain portion of one for the other. You could fall in love with a dashing street sweep and have to give up all your nice things or you could marry the ugly son of a merchant and suffer in a loveless marriage,” he said gruffly.

“Otherwise you could end up an old maid.”

“Jake,” Brom snapped.

Inhaling sharply, Jake thought for a moment before speaking again.

“I apologize. I did not mean you. I was only trying to generalize the risks of such a way of thinking.” Several long moments of silence passed. Jake prayed for a detour of some sort. A distant hill lumped up out of the swamp just off the road ahead.

“I’ll ride to the top of that hill, catch my bearings. I’m a little turned around.” He didn’t wait for an answer before spurring his horse on. We are both awkward in social situations, Jake thought.

#

His horse took long strides to summit the hill, bouncing Jake in the saddle. From the top, Jake watched Brom and Anna making their way down the road that stretched across the wide marsh plane. Behind them rose the mountains and hills to the south. Jake could barely see smoke rising from Adeline. The blockhouse appeared as a small speck that sat in the foothills at the beginning of the road. It was situated there to provide a vantage point over the harbor as well as the road leading north.

Jake turned his horse ahead to the wood line where the marshland ended. The road ducked into the shade and continued north, out of sight. Just a league further in that direction, a spire rose through the green trees. The monastery was not close enough. He dreaded the next hour or so of travel with his companions, so he remained on the hilltop for a moment, letting the salty wind blow across his skin. He took in all the details of his surroundings: the grass on the hill was long and coarse and his horse’s hooves kicked up sand on the way up. This explained why it was bare of trees. Jake looked at the woods below and noticed several bald patches. Those must be sand too, or bodies of water. Below him, the tree line teemed with bird and insect life. The thick underbrush and roof-like canopy made it a shadowy place.

Suddenly, Jake spotted movement. Something larger than a bird or insect. The underbrush parted. A dark figure stood inside, peering out at Jake. He squinted, straining his eyes. A human shape became visible—a tall, strong man from the look of his neck and shoulder line.

Jake’s horse spooked and backed up, tossing its head. He attempted to calm the animal with soft words and a light pat on the side of its muscular neck. When the horse settled, Jake turned his attention back to the woods but only quivering bushes remained where the dark man once stood.

The island was full of people. Perhaps it was a curious trapper. Jake tried to strike it from his thoughts, though, something made it difficult. Something in the back of his mind uneased him. The figure had almost appeared translucent. With arm hair still standing on end, Jake rejoined his companions as they passed. Although their conversation had not changed topics, he was glad to ride beside another Knight of Apollo once again.

#

The monastery was small, sitting in the heart of the wooded swamp on an acre of cleared land. The temple and living quarters were two separate buildings but connected by a seven-foot-tall outer wall. It all appeared to be made from timber covered in red clay, giving it a smooth earthy appearance. The bell tower on the temple stood at tree top level but its spire reached much higher.

Brom helped Anna out of the coach then offered her his arm, as Jake hopped down from his horse and led it to a hitching post next to the gate on the outer wall. An old withered monk in dark brown robes opened one of the large doors and held an open palm outstretched toward the inner courtyard.

“Hello,” Brom said. “We are here to visit a young man by the name of Andrew.”

The monk stood silently for several moments.

“He has taken a vow of silence,” Anna explained. “He knows why we are here.”

Jake would not describe the inner courtyard as lively. Everywhere the monks went, they moved slowly with their heads bowed and their palms pressed together, fingertips facing downward.

In the center of the courtyard, a stone image of the deity Hera, goddess of charity and motherly love, stood tall with a small, naked babe in her arms. A tall monk with a long gray beard emerged from the doors of the temple and crossed the courtyard, bowing in front of the visitors.

“Father Generosity,” Anna said as the three returned the bow. The man smiled sweetly through his whiskers.

“Andrew has been practicing his calligraphy in the sanctum. You may join him there,” the old man said.

As they walked together to the sanctuary, Brom asked the monk, “Did your parents give you the name Generosity?”

The old man shook his head. “Mother Hera did, my son.”

The sanctuary was a long open area at the end of the building. Small doorways into simple rooms lined the walls. Straw beds and roughly constructed tables and chairs occupied each room. Orphans of all ages played, sang or recited scripture around the visitors. Anna’s gaze locked on a teenage boy sitting at a desk at the end of the room. She moved toward him quickly. Her dress swept across the floor behind her. When the boy noticed her, he instantly brightened. He stood and tightly hugged her. Father Generosity smiled as he turned and crouched next to a young girl with horrible burn scars covering her arms. The monk helped the young girl with some reading of scripture while the knights followed Anna to her brother.

“How are you, little brother?” She asked, looking into his brown eyes.

The boy answered only with a nod and a smile.

“Have you been eating well?”

Again, the boy nodded and smiled.

“What have you been working on?”

Andrew pointed to the phrase he had been writing in careful calligraphy. Jake recognized it as a passage from the book of Demeter written over and over. As the farmer plants seeds to bear fruit and dispel the unfruitful weeds, so must every man plant only seeds in his heart that they may better him.

“Very beautifully written,” Anna said. “Did you choose that passage yourself?”

Andrew nodded again with an even bigger smile.

“I can see you like it.”

“And if he may find seeds within his own heart which will not bear fruit, it is the duty of every man to expel them and cultivate his own betterment,” Jake recited, finishing the scripture. “The monks must teach you well.”

Andrew furrowed his brow and nodded to Jake searching the knight with his eyes.

“Andrew has been mute ever since the incident,” Anna explained. “He is able to communicate through short written answers, though. Copying a beautiful passage is one thing, but Andrew is still learning what words to use to communicate on his own.”

Anna earned a confused look from her brother with this explanation.

“These men are of The Order of Apollo. They are here to ask us about our tribe and what happened, what we remember.”

“Shall we speak somewhere more private?” Brom asked. “Somewhere with less distraction?”

Andrew shook his head and wrote the word “Here” on his parchment.

“Here is fine,” Anna said.

Brom agreed and started the questioning.

“Did either of you speak with Fogwater before he killed your people?” Andrew’s dark brow wrinkled. An expression of despair fell over his face.

“We hadn’t ever spoken with him. He was the chief’s son and too proud to talk to a little boy and his white sister.”

“Where did the party go on their hunt?” Jake asked.

“They went where they always went,” Anna answered. “The deer and wild pig worth hunting stick to the foothills. The only game in the swamp is fish, birds, thin deer and tiny pigs. The women and children were fishing and gathering wild herbs from the swamps the whole time the party was gone.”

“How long were they gone?” Brom asked.

“I believe they were gone for almost a week, which was not uncommon.” Anna looked to Andrew for a reassuring nod. Andrew was only five when the village was slaughtered, but he seemed to remember the whole thing in detail.

“Did either of you hear anything strange before the attack?” Jake asked, sensing that Andrew could see the whole thing in his head and hoping even a sound could help the investigation.

Anna shook her head no, but Andrew wrote a single word on his parchment. “Cave.”

Brom’s eyes widened. “What about a cave?”

Andrew dove on his parchment again and wrote two words. “Go to,” then he pointed at the word “cave.”

“He has it wrong,” Anna said with a sigh. “He thinks he remembers Fogwater telling him to go to a cave. I was with him the whole time. Fogwater didn’t speak to us.”

Andrew shook his head violently.

“It wasn’t Fogwater?” Jake asked.

Andrew shook his head, no again.

“Then who told you?” Jake asked intently.

Andrew thought for several seconds then scribbled the words: “could not see.”

Jake and Brom glanced at each other with a confused expression. Andrew thought for another moment and elaborated with a single word.

“Spirit.”

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