By Barbara Weitbrecht
"Yo, knight!" Fiero greeted him. "Ye forget something?"
"I was wondering about the giant. Is he indentured to thee?"
Fiero spat into the harbor. "He oweth us blood-geld for killin' Grampus. Figure he might work it off in a year or two, rate he's goin'."
Elerde's lips tightened. "How much to pay off his debt? Fifty livres, perhaps?"
"Big fellow like that, he's worth at least a hundred."
"Big he may be, but he handles a cutlass like a trained ape. He'll be killed in your next battle. I'll go as high as sixty."
"Say seventy, and he's your man," Fiero agreed. "But I'll miss the big lug. He had a grand voice for sea chanteys, he did."
A few minutes later, Bo stood on the pier, wiping his hands on his stained and ragged monk's robe. "You sent for me, Captain?" he inquired.
"That I did, Hulk. The good knight has agreed to pay thy blood debt. Thou art free to go."
Bo regarded Elerde speculatively. "Thank you, sir. It was well thought of. Is your lady well?"
"Quite well," Elerde stated. "Glad to be on dry land again. 'Twas her idea to buy thy freedom, as thanks for thy small service to her in the late battle."
"I shall be pleased to thank her for it in person."
"That will not be necessary. She knoweth thy gratitude. Wilt thou return to England?"
Bo wondered if he was supposed to swim. "I might. But I wondered, sir, if I might enter your service?"
"As what, forsooth?" Elerde laughed. "Surely not as a man-at-arms! I have seen boys of six with more skill at the sword than thee!"
Bo looked mildly crest-fallen. "Well, it was worth asking. Guess I'll be moseying along then. Give my regards to the lady."
"I shall indeed!" Elerde sneered. He and Bo both knew that he intended no such thing.
Bo watched him swing up the street into the town, every inch the noble warrior. He turned to Fiero. "Any idea which inn they're staying at, Captain?"
"Only a few choices, for that sort of swell. I would try the Chienne Mechante first, then Les Trois Petits Cochons. Or La Plume de ma Tante. That's a quiet, out-of-the-way place, good for romantic liasions."
"Thanks," said Bo. He headed up into town and started asking questions. The local lingo wasn't quite Cajun French, but he managed to make himself understood.
* * *
Some hours later, Josephine heard a knock on the door. "Entrez-vous," she suggested, expecting the chambermaid. When the door remained closed, she got up and opened it. The tiny hall was filled with the massive presence of Bo.
"Oh, come in! Come in! Elerde said he had paid thy ransom, but I wasn't sure if I did believe him. It's so good to see thee again, Bo!" She was prattling like a child, and she knew it. But seeing this man was like seeing someone from home, and she couldn't stop smiling. "Can I pour thee a tisane? They're French, you know. Almost like...."
"I can't stay long," Bo interrupted. "Elerde doesn't know I'm here. I waited until he left the inn to make sure I could see you alone."
"Oh," said Jo. There didn't seem to be anything more to say.
"I asked him to hire me, so I could stay near you and keep an eye on things. He was having none of that, and someone my size can't very well shadow you in secret. So I have to ask you right out, perhaps before you're ready. I'm sorry if this is too abrupt. May I speak freely?"
Jo nodded. "Go on," she prompted.
"I know you are having second thoughts about this elopement. I'm here to say I can take you back to Christenlande, back to your husband. I don't know how we'll travel, and it may get rough. But it's your choice, midlady. If you wish to stay, just say the word and I'll vanish. But if you wish to leave...."
"This is indeed sudden," Jo said. "But it is not fully unexpected. Canst thou give me a day to decide?"
"Do you really need that long to know your mind, milady?"
"Just a day. I shall give you your answer tomorrow afternoon. I cannot leave without speaking to Elerde. I have loved him..."
The door crashed open. "'Have', lady?" Elerde shouted. "What is this 'have'? When did our love enter the past tense?" He raised his hand as if to slap her, then thought better of it. Instead, he drew his dagger.
"Thou! Uncouth giant! This is all thy fault, for dogging her. I should have killed thee when we first met. I shall now amend my fault." Elerde stepped forward, dagger held low. A reckless smile played about his lips. He would pay for this act later, but Lord how he would enjoy it!
Bo stepped back, gauging the size of the window. Too small. His only hope was to make it around Elerde to the door. He ripped the comforter from the bed and flung it over Elerde's face. Two steps, and he was at the door. He had it halfway open when the dagger caught him in the stomach.
Josephine screamed, beating on Elerde's back with her small fists. Elerde twisted the dagger. Bo felt something give. Aorta, he thought, falling.
If only he could reach his portkey. The gold coin was in a leather pouch, hanging on a thong around his neck. Bo strained for it, but the world was already going black. His hand closed, empty, above his chest.
Somewhere in the blackness, Josephine was still screaming.
No, it wasn't screaming. It was sirens. Lights were flashing on his closed eyes. There was the squawk of a radio. Footsteps, running.
"... cc's of epinephrine... start an IV... on the stretcher. On three. One, two...."
I've been here before, Bo thought. He opened his eyes, then realized they were not really open. He was only dreaming he opened them. The demon Caterwampus was sitting beside him in the rushing ambulance, reading a paperback novel.
"Boss?" the dream Bo asked.
The Vice President of Hell put down the novel and adjusted his glasses. "So you're back," he remarked. "How was the fictional 8th century? Everything you had hoped for?"
Bo smiled. "I got to be a pirate. Ran around as a monk. Met some swell minstrels. But I never saw the Vikings. And I always liked Vikings so much. Oh well."
"Next time," said Caterwampus. "Oh, I expect you'll go back some time or other. But right now, you're worth a lot more to us alive, and in the present. The Orphridion thing is hotting up again. Once you get out of hospital..."
"Thanks for the save," Bo said.
"Don't mention it," said Caterwampus. "It's part of the contract." He winked out, and Bo slipped back into unconsciousness. Outside, in the real world, the ambulance was roaring into GW University Hospital. The operating room stood ready, the surgeon dressed and scrubbed, Code Blue.
And, in a tiny room in Calais, Elerde and Josephine stood over Bo's corpse. "How could you?" Josephine demanded. "HOW COULD YOU?!"
Again, my heartfelt thanks to Barbara Weitbrecht for her collaboration with these wonderfully funny stories! If you want to see how this all works, join Ghostletters at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ghostletters/ .
Next: An Irishman in Calais
Before there was the novel, there were the stories...
by Nan Hawthorne, who also writes under Christopher Hawthorne Moss, Books and Stories b ChristopherHawthorne Moss at http://authorchristophermoss.vlogspot.com