After Antonio slayed the kraken, the Newlondon Guild inducted him as a member. They sent him to Whitehall as Newlondon’s ambassador to greet the spaceship from the Polity of Unified Planets.
Eyes Up the River
by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
A line of hovers stretched up the river, veering off along the road to Whitehall. Antonio hated the thought of skipping ahead of his fellow Newlondoners on their way to the city, but he had no time to wait. Antonio swerved over the riverbank and thrummed across the savagelands. His barge shook as the dust beneath his skiv plumed to cloud him in sand. He grasped the knife from his boot, and his keen eyes darted around, ready to pounce on any wild beasts hunting in the low plains that sensed the vibrations of his engines.
Drones appeared overhead. They cast their shadow across his scow, and scanned him, emitting a buzzing whine to ward him off. He rammed the throttle, but the roar of his hover couldn’t outrun the buzz of the pests above.
He raised his hand to shield his eyes from the sun as he scoped the trajectory of the drones. A green glow flashed over his body and his hand. Upon reaching the gold of his ring, the glow emitted by the drones faded, and they vanished, skimming ahead of him to the gate. I guess Prospero was right. This ring gets you out of just about anything.
A beam of light shone from the city gate across the sands, guiding him to the entrance, and clearing a path for his arrival. Walls surrounded the towers of Whitehall. Blue lightning fizzed across them as the shields’ halo danced over iron and stone. Behind the colossal walls, glass shards loomed into the heavens, light skimming over the sand from the reflections.
Antonio’s skiv rocked, slowing to approach Whitehall’s officers, who guarded the city gate and checked each hover seeking entry.
“State your designation!” The guard’s voice boomed through his helmet.
“I am Antonio of the Newlondon Guild. I was summoned to Whitehall.” He raised his hand and showed them the ring.
The guard strapped a set of portable anti-gravs to his boots, which lifted him above the surface, and he drifted towards Antonio. He tweaked the visor on his helmet and verified the gold ring. “Antonio. Welcome.” The guard raised his helmet’s visor, flashing a toothy smile. “You don’t mind if I search your vessel? Just as a formality. We wouldn’t want anything unsanitary smuggled into Whitehall.”
“Smuggled?” Antonio spat the word. “Are you trying to offend me, Whitehaller?”
The guard’s smile widened. “You people really don’t like smugglers, do you?”
“Smuggling is the worst crime a Newlondoner can commit. Not even the scum who board the deathships would stoop so low.” Antonio wiped his hands on his chest, as if to rid himself of the accusation’s stain.
“Then you won’t mind if I search your craft?” the guard asked.
Antonio crossed his arms. “I hide nothing.”
The guard landed on deck and passed a cursory glance over the oddments scattered about. He ruffled the nets and kicked at the helm-panel. “Looks clear.”
“Then I can pass?” Antonio reached for the throttle.
“Just a moment. I haven’t searched the underside.”
Antonio frowned. “Since when did a Whitehaller search the underside of a skiv?”
“What’s the matter? You nervous?” The guard cocked his head.
Antonio flapped his arms. “Fine.”
The guard returned his visor over his brown eyes and stepped off the deck. Anti-gravs floated him beneath the hover. “Well, well, well. What have we here?” The guard reappeared on deck carrying a satchel. He emptied it, and a glut of weapons spilled over the barge.
Antonio straightened. “What is this? What are you trying to pull, Whitehaller?”
“I could ask the same of you.” The guard trained his gun on Antonio.
“You set me up!”
The guard’s smarmy grin returned. “Not me, friend.”
Antonio lunged for the guard. The man loaded a blaster round, but Antonio flew so fast, his knuckles slammed across the guard’s helmet before their arms had even lifted an inch. Beneath Antonio’s fist, the guard’s visor splintered and cracked, knocking his anti-gravs off balance, and he lurched unsteadily, grasping the hull’s edge to keep upright.
Drones swarmed the craft, darkening the sun from Antonio’s pale face.
Antonio stopped. His chest pumped. From the guard’s pocket, a trail of doubloons scattered, all bearing Newlondon’s seal. Antonio stared at them. His jaw gaped open at the familiar crest stamped on every piece of silver.
The guard readjusted his helmet, stooped to collect the precious coins, and approached through the swarm of drones. “I’m placing you under arrest for conspiracy to smuggle, Antonio of the Newlondon Guild.” He bound Antonio’s wrists in iron manacles and removed the Guild signet ring.
Antonio was hauled from the skiv on an anti-grav platform. Drones forced him through the city, to a chamber in the city walls. Bars sealed behind him, and he looked through a slit to the desolate plains of the savagelands beyond.
When I accused the guard of setting me up, he said, ‘Not me.’ But if not him, then who?
Antonio paced the cell, his manacles weighing on his arms and his heart. Those doubloons remove all doubt. Someone is behind this. Someone wants to paint me as a smuggler. Whose mind would be so sick to arrange such a thing? The thought of being branded as the lowest of men made him wretch.
He slumped on the iron floor, raking his fingers through his hair. From his pocket spilled the crumpled note he’d found hidden on his barge. His eyes ran over the words.
The gold a monster slain bestows. His signet ring! Once the drone had scanned it, the ring had led him straight to the Whitehallers. Straight into the jaws of their trap. Conceals a secret hid below. The weapons had been snuck on the underside of his craft. Below. Whoever had made that note had known. They’d tried to warn him. Beware of what you think you know.
From the other side of Antonio’s bars, a latch cracked open, and footsteps ricocheted beyond his cell. Antonio scrambled to his feet and clanged his manacles against the bars. “Hey! I’m not supposed to be here! I demand to speak to someone!” He shouted to the newcomer walking toward the cell in the darkness.
“Oh, but you are right where you are meant to be, dear brother.” Solanio slid into the sliver of light from the slit in the wall of Antonio’s cell.
“You!” Antonio lunged at the bars, trying with all his might to reach far enough through to get to the monster looming before him.
“Come now, Antonio. Calm yourself. Don’t make a scene.” Solanio surveyed the dingy cell.
“If there is a scene to be made, it is of your own making,” Antonio roared. “Or would you still claim that putting me on the deathship was all a mistake? What have I done that offends you so that you wish me dead or condemned?”
A shadow swept across Solanio’s eyes as he pursed his lips and shook his head. “You always had the luck, Antonio. Ever since we were children. Oh, yes. My father might’ve owned half the boats along the dock. I may have had fish on my table every night, and a free room in one of those sordid little hovels on the seafront. But you? You had everything. It was as though Elizabeth Hathaway looked upon you from the heavens, and smiled.”
“What are you talking about? You know better than any how I used to scrounge bread from your own table.”
“Bread, maybe. But affection? You were never in want of heart, Antonio.”
Antonio gripped his chest. “And neither were you. You have been loved, Solanio. I loved you as a brother.”
Solanio grimaced. “And I you. But she should’ve been mine. Do you understand? You’re nothing. You’ll always be nothing. A woman that beautiful should see straight through a dock rat like you.”
Understanding flashed through Antonio, and he rubbed the twine around his finger. “Bianca?”
Solanio nodded. “She would never have loved me while you still lived. You came and boasted of your engagement that day on the pier, and I had to stand there and smile, all the while thinking, knowing, it should’ve been me.”
“Who Bianca loves is not for you to decide. It is her choice, and hers alone.”
“I know it. She chose you, and all I could do was sit and watch. I spent that afternoon in the company of thoughts darker than the night itself. And then you came to me and begged for my help. I thought it would be easy to fix. With you locked on the deathship, she would never know the truth.”
“You were supposed to be my friend, Solanio. My brother!”
“And you were supposed to have suffered an unfortunate death. She would’ve turned to me in her time of despair. She’d have found solace in me, first as her friend, and then, as her husband. But then you went and cheated death, and even returned with a kraken in tow. It isn’t fair, Antonio. It’s never been fair!”
Antonio raged, his manacles tearing at the skin of his wrists as he flung himself at the bars. “Bianca would never fall in love with a snake like you, Solanio! She already sees through your gutless, vile ways.”
“That might be true,” Solanio responded simply. “But what respectable Newlondon woman would love a smuggling criminal? That is something even Bianca can surely not forgive.”
“It was your silver that bought the Whitehall guard, wasn’t it? Just wait until Prospero finds out that you’re the reason I didn’t make it to Whitehall as he commanded. When the Guild realizes you’ve threatened one of their own, what do you think they’ll do?”
Solanio tossed his head back and laughed. “Why don’t you ask them yourself?”
New footsteps echoed in the metallic chamber. “Greetings, Antonio. How do you like Whitehall so far?”
No. It can’t be!
The gold from Prospero’s chain rattled into the light. His waxed moustache and beard framed a sinister smile on his smug face. “Come now, don’t look so surprised. Who else could have sent Solanio to take your place at the summit?”
“Prospero? What trick is this?”
“No trick, Antonio. I’ve actually come to thank you. You’ve brought great wealth to Newlondon. Well, I should say you brought great wealth to me and the Guild. But the Guild has never been overly keen on sharing.”
“The kraken’s eye? Is that what this is all about?”
Prospero rubbed his portly stomach.
“Well, we couldn’t let you sell it and keep all the wealth for yourself, could we?” Prospero said. “So we welcomed you to the Guild to split the profits. But of course, with you out of the way, there’ll be no need to split anything.”
Antonio’s nostrils flared. “I’d have given it all to you. I’d trade anything for a chance to live free with the woman I love.”
“You betrayed me brother.”
“Foolish child. Did nobody tell you that trading for love will get you killed? Or worse? You really are as gullible as Solanio said.” Prospero laughed heartily.
Antonio closed his eyes. “You betrayed me, brother.”
Prospero shook his head. “You think this was his idea? When you landed with the kraken, I checked the deathship’s manifesto. It didn’t take long to track the Tempest back to Solanio. If it hadn’t been for this woman of yours, I’m not sure I could’ve convinced him to turn on you. You should have heard him beg for your life. Pathetic, really.”
Antonio looked at Solanio, who turned his face away.
“You won’t get away with this,” Antonio said.
Prospero raised an eyebrow. “And who’s going to stop me? You? What are you going to do, appeal to Whitehall for compassion? Perhaps it would’ve been kinder to have killed you than leave you to the mercy of these ’Hallers.”
“Is that why you stole the body from my scow? So there’d be no way for me to appeal.”
Prospero frowned. “What body?”
“The pirate. From the river.”
Prospero waved his arms. “I assumed you’d dumped the body. Besides, who needs a murder charge when you’ve been caught red-handed smuggling? You know the penalty for smuggling, Antonio. I’m sure the Whitehallers will be delighted to exact every last morsel of your sentence.”
“Solanio, please.” Antonio stretched his hands towards Solanio, but the young man turned away.
Prospero held up the signet ring the guard had taken from Antonio and twisted it in the dim reflection of the light. “You’ve proven useful, both of you. But I think I’ll have to wait to see how you handle the summit, Solanio, before I can place it on your finger.”
“We had an agreement!” Solanio sputtered. “Frame Antonio, and in return, I’d be a member of the Guild and have Bianca’s hand.”
“Report back to me in Newlondon, my dear boy. I’ll keep this ring warm for you while I wait. Perhaps the young lady will need some company, as well! Goodbye, Antonio. And thank you again for the riches, and all the, shall we say, benefits that come with them.” Prospero chortled as he left.
“Stay away from her, you fiend!” Antonio yelled, but the door slammed shut on his words.
Solanio stared at the door, trying to calm his ragged breathing.
“What have you done?” Antonio said.
Solanio wheeled on him. “Do be a good friend and stay put this time. I’m running out of favors to counter your incessant heroic returns home.”
“You really think you’ve won? That they’ll let you have her?”
Solanio snarled, and a serpentine smile crossed his lips. “Everybody’s luck runs out eventually. Even yours.”
Solanio slipped out the door, his footsteps fading into nothingness. The blood drained from Antonio’s head, and the room started to sway. He grasped the edge of the slit to steady himself. Beware what you think you know. The words rattled in his skull as he tried to comprehend all he had just heard from Solanio and Prospero. He was friendless and hopeless. He laid his head against the wall as tears stained his cheeks.
Nightfall darkened the cell. Loud pops and booms drifted to Antonio from beyond the shields, followed by cheers. Colorful bursts filled the sky through the slit.
Fireworks? Antonio had heard of them, but he had never seen them with his own eyes. What are the ’Hallers trying to do? Show off for the Polity? Make friends before enemies? The commotion grew. It reached such a fever pitch, Antonio shivered as if the celebrations were an ominous warning.
Isolation crept into Antonio’s skin. He lost himself, giving his mind over to flashes of memory, closing his eyes so as to better glimpse the way Bianca had looked the last time he saw her on their cliff top. How she’d told him to return to her. They’d stood so close to the precipice. So close.
Time passed without meaning while Antonio remained locked in his cell. He lost count of the days in his solitude.
“My Bianca,” he said each day, reaching out for her. “My darling Bianca. I didn’t sail too close to the wind, but it caught me nonetheless.”
His voice bounced from the walls, the only response to his call. But he never let up. Every day he closed his eyes to speak with the memory of her.
“My beautiful Bianca. I’m here, my love. Keep your eyes up the river for me.”
‘Always,’ she had told him, a promise he replayed in his mind over and over.
One night, a low whistle stirred him from sleep. He followed the sound, and it led him to the window slit. An exterior floodlight shone a narrow path around the prison wall, but all was dark beyond its beam. Antonio’s eyes strained to see into the darkness beyond the light.
He heard the whistle again. The tune seemed so familiar. And then he placed it. Yohoho, row, nonny, row.
Antonio returned the whistle and waited.
A flicker of a shadow cut through the light, but Antonio’s eyes weren’t fast enough to see who it was. Something came flying through the slit above his head. It clattered on the iron floor. Antonio dove to the ground feeling his way through the dark. His fingers brushed the cold, small object.
Antonio held it up to the light of the slit. A small key with a familiar piece of twine was tied in a bow at the top.
“My clever Bianca! You did it, as you said. You kept your eyes up the river for me.” He snatched the key in his grip. “And now it is my turn to come back to you.”
If you enjoyed Shanel and Frasier‘s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below. We will be seeing more of Antonio, Bianca and even Solanio in the coming weeks. But in two weeks, we turn our eyes down river to Finsbury, where young Panthino discovered on the Night of the Rocket a cache of weapons buried beneath a field. In the next installment of Nights of Revelation, a secret society turns Panthino’s life upside down. Somehow, they learned his secret and kidnapped his unrequited crush, Desdemonia. Check back next Friday week for “The Shambles.”
If you would like to prepare for “The Shambles,” you can read “The Buried War” by Matthew Cross and meet the hulking-but-shy Panthino and the talented and popular Desdemonia.
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
- “Eyes Up the River–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- You just read: “Eyes Up the River–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “Shambles” by Matthew Cross
- “Interrogation” by Matthew Cross