The waves of the South Sea break against the docks of Newlondon on the morning after “The Night of the Rocket” . . .
Eyes Up the River
by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
The Tempest’s engine sputtered to a halt as the deathship reached its berth. Creaks and moans rippled through the ship, its ropes straining against the hull in the still churning water. Laid strewn across the deck, the massive creature’s corpse towered above the sail. The only piece missing was its grotesque, green eye that Antonio cradled in his hands.
“Your valor will not be forgotten, men,” Antonio said to the few remaining members of the crew.
Footsteps pounded down the dock toward them, shouts growing louder as they approached.
“A kraken! I never thought I’d see the day!”
Antonio scanned the crowd for Bianca’s blue eyes.
Prospero, the head of the Guild, pressed through the masses and reached the ship first. “Antonio? Is that you?” Prospero gawked. His gaze slipped from Antonio to the eye in his hands and then to the slain beast.
“We have returned with a slain Kraken, and here is the eye.” Antonio stepped off the ship next to Prospero.
Prospero gingerly accepted the eye as if it were a bomb ready to detonate. “But how? Why are you here, on this deathship?”
Antonio searched for words when his eyes landed on Solanio lurking toward the back of the throng. Antonio flushed with anger, forgetting Prospero altogether.
“I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation for all this, but now is not the time. There are more pressing issues,” Prospero said, grabbing Antonio’s attention. “We will secure the beast and you can report to the Guild House as soon as you’ve cleaned yourself up. Agreed? To think, all on the same night as the Rocket.”
“The rocket?” Antonio asked.
“Ah, yes. You’ll be filled in at the Guild House.” He turned to his men and motioned to the beast. “Get to work!”
Antonio twisted back to the crowd to find Solanio, but he was gone.
Dressed in his best shirt and pants, Antonio wound through the narrow streets of Newlondon to the Guild House. He wanted nothing more than to find Bianca, but he couldn’t keep the Guild waiting. The kraken would ensure a better future for them both. Besides, whatever the Guild decreed, Bianca was sure to find out soon enough.
The jingling of keys caught Antonio’s attention. He turned down the alley toward the metallic rattle. “Why didn’t you stay at the docks and greet my return, brother?” he said to the figure who slipped a key in the door in front of them.
“Antonio!” Solanio stepped out of the building’s shadow. “Hero of the day! Quite the feat you’ve achieved, dear friend.”
“Yes, dear friend. An opportunity I would never have been given if it wasn’t for you, I think.” Antonio’s pulse raced as he approached the man he’d wrongfully trusted.
“A happy accident. You are alive with quite the prize in hand. No need to thank me for your good fortune. I wished only to help you in your time of need. Who knew I’d be more successful than either of us could’ve imagined?” Solanio’s tone dripped with affection to mask the biting jealousy barely hiding below the surface. The effect was not lost on Antonio. His rage burned brighter as he loomed large over Solanio, whose back was now pressed against the door he was trying to open.
“Solanio,” Antonio menaced, his finger digging into the other man’s chest. “Your great help was to lock me on a deathship knowing full well that none have returned before today. That is no ‘happy accident.’” Antonio reeled back to swing at Solanio’s smug, rat face.
Solanio raised his hands in defense. “But it was an accident!”
Antonio dropped his fist, his shoulders still vibrating. “Enlighten me, then! How did this accident come about?”
“You came back in the pitch-black, foggy night, desperate for my help!” Solanio roared in Antonio’s face, stepping forward. “Between the fog and darkness, I thought I was stowing you on one of my father’s ships. I returned to the docks this morning to fetch you when the deathship moored up. I was as shocked as anyone to discover you there.”
“Do you think I am that stupid? You can navigate the docks blindfolded!”
“Stupid, no. Could a stupid person defeat a kraken? It’s clear you are exceedingly clever, dear Antonio. And as you can see, even I can make mistakes. I am just so thankful this mistake turned out so well. For you.” A mocking smile spread across his lips. “Aren’t you due at the Guild House by now?”
Antonio glanced down the alley toward the street, then he turned back to Solanio. Before he could open his mouth to speak, Solanio had vanished. The door in front of him locked from the inside.
Antonio blew out an exasperated breath from his lips. “Will you stop disappearing like that!”
Solanio’s apparent betrayal churned in Antonio’s mind like a restless sea on his walk to the Guild House. Everyone makes mistakes, but Solanio wasn’t that careless. Was he? What would he gain if I hadn’t returned?
People skittered in a frenzy along the dock, where seedy rooms-to-rent overlooked the bay. Trawlers queued for a berth to land. Everyone seemed to be searching for a skiv bound for Whitehall. All these people, and Bianca nowhere among them. Where can she be?
Antonio passed through the milling crowds to the building jutting out at the pier’s end. He traipsed the stairs, his footsteps following him in echoes. A huge door with an emblem of a fish barred the way. He took the fish by its fin and knocked it thrice on the iron door.
Creaking open, it swung on its hinges, and Antonio entered a lavish room. A dozen people sat in a crescent behind a ceremonial table. They sported the finest garb, all ruffles and trims. And their white moustaches were waxed with the utmost care.
“Welcome, Antonio!” Prospero’s voice boomed from the center of the crescent. Golden chains hung around his neck. “On behalf of the Guild of Sailors, may I be the first to congratulate you on all you’ve done for Newlondon.” Applause shook the glass windows overlooking the sea.
When was the last time any of these men were actually on the water? They might have owned the boats and gleaned the city’s wealth, but they’d lost their sailing legs a long time ago.
“It takes a lot to impress the Guild, Antonio,” Prospero continued, rubbing his paunch. “But bringing back a Kraken? There’s enough pollium in the eye alone to restore prosperity to this city.”
“I wish only enough to buy a ring for my bride,” Antonio answered. “As for the rest of it, you gentlemen would know far better than me what to do with it.”
A murmur of smiles swept the room. “Your words do you credit, Antonio. And I think we’re all in agreement. Among the Guild, we recognise a good catch when we see it. And there’s no finer catch among men than you. Which is why we’re electing you to be a member of this Guild, for the services you’ve rendered to Newlondon. What do you say?”
Antonio’s eyes popped. He’d have chosen wrestling with the tentacles of a kraken over facing the false smiles of the Guild any day. But how could he refuse? He knew better than to cross these men, or else any life with Bianca would sink to the bottom of the ocean. They might as well have placed an anchor around his neck. “I am honoured,” he said. “But what would be expected of me?”
Prospero toyed with his golden chains. “Even when bestowed with this great honor, you are still thinking about how you may serve. Bravo, Antonio. There is one thing we were hoping you may do to cement your place at the table. I take it you saw the purple lights in the sky last night?”
Antonio nodded. “They appeared after the battle with the kraken. I thought they were another beast coming for us.”
Prospero raised an eyebrow. “You may be right about that. A Polity rocket landed near Whitehall. You know of the Polity, I take it?”
Antonio frowned. “I know that Captain Elizabeth of the good ship Shakespeare warned of them when the first settlers landed all those generations ago.”
Prospero folded his hands together, leaning forwards in his chair. “History is a funny thing. It has the habit of repeating itself. We heard from Leonardo at Whitehall that the Polity seek an audience with a representative from each of the five cities. We can think of no better sailor to send than you.”
“You want me to go to Whitehall?” The blood drained from Antonio’s face. The drone. The pirate. That’s what landed me on the deathship in the first place!
Prospero smiled. “It seems like all the world wishes to go to Whitehall. I take it you already have a skiv?”
“Is there no one else more deserving of this,” Antonio paused, “privilege?”
Prospero shook his head. “None.”
If the drone had reported back to Whitehall, I’d already be under arrest, from the moment I landed. Maybe it’ll be alright? Antonio chewed his lip. “Then I have no choice but to accept.”
“Excellent. Welcome to the Guild, Antonio.” Prospero stood and beckoned him forwards. He approached, and Prospero lowered the golden chains over Antonio’s head as the others applauded. The only other chains he’d seen like the ones they’d bestowed upon him were the kind they kept in prisons.
“May I see my bride before I depart?” Antonio asked.
“Of course. But don’t take too long. We don’t want to keep the other cities waiting. Or the Polity for that matter. Find out what they want and report back to us. We can then decide what should be done about the newcomers. And in the meantime, we’ll make arrangements to auction the kraken’s remains. Here.” Prospero took a signet ring from his pocket with an anchor engraved upon it. He placed it on Antonio’s finger before he lifted the chains from Antonio’s shoulders. “The ceremony is complete. If you get into any trouble, just show this ring. You’re a Guild member now, Antonio. Remember that.”
“Thank you.” Antonio stroked the ring as it pinched his skin. He bowed, and hurried out of the chambers, back along the pier. Bianca. I must find Bianca.
Antonio sprinted to the one place he hadn’t looked for Bianca yet, their secret hideaway on the cliffs above the sea. He could barely fathom that it was at that very spot, two days ago, where Bianca agreed to be his forever. As he came over the crest of the hill, there she was. Her chestnut curls gently swayed in the breeze as she stared at the horizon.
“My sweet Bianca,” Antonio said quietly.
She spun toward him, her eyes wet as she wrapped him in a tight embrace. “Bless the Arrant Moon you are safe.” Bianca clasped Antonio’s face in her delicate hands, studying his face.
A storm knitted in his brow and a fog clouded his eyes.
“I heard about the kraken,” she said. “I thought you had a trade run. And that same night, the Polity arrived? I believed they were little more than legend. Has the Globe changed so much in so little time?”
Antonio looked away from her searching eyes. “The only thing that has not changed is my devotion to you, Bianca.” He took her hands in his and kissed her finger with the small cord wrapped around it.
“What are you hiding from me, Antonio?”
“I hide nothing. It’s just . . . there is so much to share but no time to do so.”
Then she saw it. The Guild ring on the finger where his matching cord had been. Bianca eyed the ring with surprise as she pulled her hands from his. A blush of suspicion spread across her cheeks to the tips of her ears. She knew his distaste for the questionable nature of the members. “There is no hiding that ring. Guild membership? How, when?”
“It is just one of the many things I wish to tell you about,” Antonio said. “The slain kraken secured my membership. You must understand, I could not refuse without risking both our lives. You know the rumors of what happens to those who oppose the Guild. And I am now to meet the Polity as their representative to Newlondon.”
“Luckily for you, that isn’t the strangest thing I’ve heard today. And how were you on the Tempest?”
“My trading run, well, let’s say it did not go as planned. I turned to Solanio for help and instead he locked me aboard. He claims it was an accident, but I have my doubts.” He paused and looked out over the sea. It had brought him a fortune. Perhaps it had really brought him a curse.
“I cannot make sense of it. I have so many questions.”
Antonio turned back to her. “Bianca, let’s stem the tide. Forget the Guild, the Polity, all of it. Let’s run, now. We can be free together.” The fog lifted from his eyes, revealing the man she had fallen in love with. Trusting, naïve, wistful. It made him beautiful, but also doleful.
Bianca closed the gap she had made between them. “Why do I love you so much, my dear fool? You know we cannot flee, and that you must fulfill your duties. You have no choice in the matter.”
“Then come with me. To Whitehall. You are my compass rose. I have never needed your direction more.”
Bianca’s head fell. “I must stay here. Don’t forget, my dear, you managed to defeat the kraken. What awaits you in Whitehall cannot be worse, can it?”
Antonio swallowed hard, thinking of the chains and shackles awaiting him if the drone had indeed captured the ill-fated encounter on his skiv. And then he shook off his doubts. “No matter what awaits, know that I love you, with all the deeps of my soul.” Antonio looked deeply into her glistening blue eyes.
“And I love you.”
“Keep your eyes up the river for me,” he said.
“Always. Don’t sail close to the wind and return home to me.” Bianca cloyed at the twine of her ring as they parted, and she watched him leave. There wasn’t time to explain to him what had happened, why she must stay. And she couldn’t bring herself to burden him more. Not with the rocket waiting for him, and the Polity breathing down both their necks.
She remained on the cliff for as long as she could, clutching her ring to her heart, knowing that beneath the Guild’s signet which weighed upon Antonio’s finger, the twine that bound them still remained. “Antonio, my love, you are right. If only we had more time.”
Antonio forced himself away from their cliff top, wind scolding his cheeks with its frigid bite. He descended down the hidden path to the pier. Sea fret rolled in to cloud the air with a salty tang, masking the rush of crowds.
He shimmied a route to the visitor’s slip and found the dock where he’d stored his skiv. There his ship hovered undisturbed. Waves sloshed beneath it. A roll of tarp made for a poor man’s casket, covering the body of the dead pirate. Antonio’s chest sagged. He glanced over his shoulder, but between the dense fret and the frenzy of the crowds, all eyes were up the river, and no one saw as he reached for the tarp’s corner to pull it back.
He winced, and then his eyes widened. Where a body should have been, bundles of netting clumped together. A shiver swept through Antonio. He yanked the tarp back, scouring the empty nets, but found not even the trace of blood. Bodies don’t just disappear. Not without a reason. Who could’ve done this?
A leather cylinder fell from the web of netting, and he scooped up the container, popping it open. From inside, he unfurled a parchment. In blotches of ink, a note was scrawled —
The gold a monster slain bestows, Conceals a secret hid below. Beware of what you think you know. Yohoho, row nonny, row.
No signature hinted at the author of the elaborate handwriting. Antonio scrunched the parchment in his hands. His eyes flashed everywhere at once. I never told Solanio where I’d docked the skiv. And the weasel would never have left a note like this. Who else knows of what I’ve done?
A storm tossed the waves of Antonio’s thoughts into chaos. He reached for the twine, and the comfort of Bianca’s promise to him, but he found the anchor of the Guild instead. The Guild. Could they have done this? He had no time to think. No time for doubt. He must get to Whitehall, and trust that with the body gone, he had nothing to dread from the city’s drones.
I must get to Whitehall, no matter the cost. For Bianca. For both our sakes.
He pocketed the crumpled parchment and swung the hover from its berth, charging upstream amidst the cavalcade of rocket-chasers. Spray kicked up from the hover’s pads. The Elizabeth River undulated beneath the pressure of so many barges all heading for the city, and the purple light of whatever monster waited for them.
On Friday, we release the conclusion of “Eyes Up the River“! The tentacles of Newlondon’s Guild of Sailors grasp Antonio’s future more closely than even the kraken’s deadly grip, and the unfaithful Solanio reveals his secrets.
P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:
Act 1: Night of the Rocket
- “Pillars of Smoke” by Frasier Armitage
- “Shadow of the Dunes” by Shanel Wilson
- “The Towers of Whitehall” by Jim Hamilton
- “The Beast Below” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “The Buried War” by Matthew Cross
- “Kite Night” by Matthew Cross
Act 2: Nights of Revelation
- “The Voice of Beasts–Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Voice of Beasts–Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Sands of Change-Part 1” by Shanel Wilson
- “The Sands of Change-Part 2” by Shanel Wilson
- “A Matter of Principle” by Frasier Armitage
- You just read: “Eyes Up the River–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “Eyes Up the River–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “Shambles” by Matthew Cross
- “Interrogation” by Matthew Cross