Nearly a week had passed and still no real news from Emilia or from the Shadow Walkers. Bianca’s feet tapped under her desk anxiously. Leonato was out at a “meeting” and all of the traders had their assignments early because of the Kraken eye auction this afternoon. She could only organize the same stack of logs for so long. Bianca placed the last stack into her desk drawer then stood, stretching.
“I’ve been cooped up here long enough this week. I need the sea.” Bianca closed her hand around the twine that encircled her finger.
“That is a wise plan, M’lady. Would you like me to set the closing mode?” Meg asked.
“Yes, please.” Bianca walked to the front of the office.
“Have a pleasant rest of your day, Lady Bianca.” Meg switched off the overhead lights, leaving the office lit by the late morning haze.
“Thank you, Meg.” Bianca felt the salty air on her cheeks as she opened the door.
Bianca pulled out her key and twisted it in the lock. She strode down the cobblestones. She needed to get out to the sea cliffs where she used to meet Antonio, the same cliffs where he had proposed before all of this mess got in the way. She needed the salty air and the crash of the waves against the rocks. She needed something that would make her feel closer to her love when he was so far away.
The quickest path was to cut through the docks. With the last minute preparations for the auction, the docks were full of activity. She saw colorful sails of ships from the other cities’ delegates arriving in the harbor. She was bombarded by the shouts of crews preparing the slips for their arrival. Bianca hoped she could sneak through the chaos without drawing too much attention to herself. She gracefully navigated through the twists and turns of the ropes strewn about. Overhead, the amphitheater cast an eerie shadow like a massive deathship looming taller than the masts and barge ships. Bianca sneered at the sight and turned to find a different way around to avoid it.
“Dear Bianca! What a surprise to see you out and about today!” A cold voice echoed off the sails surrounding her.
Bianca stopped dead in her tracks, every muscle in her body tensing. The approaching sound of leather boots clicking on the wood planks of the dock sent a chill through her like someone had slipped a codfish down the back of her dress. Bianca fought to relax her face before she turned to see Solanio standing before her.
“Hello, Solanio. I hope you have been well.” Bianca strained to give a polite smile.
“Much better now that I have found you. I’ve missed that radiant face.” Solanio reached to touch her cheek.
“Well, I see you have been very busy recently.” Bianca sashayed out of his reach and gestured to the amphitheater.
“Ah, yes. Looks quite impressive, doesn’t it? Today is the culmination of much toil. Seeing you on this fateful day is a good sign. Please, will you walk with me for a while?” Solanio offered his elbow to Bianca.
Bianca hesitated as she felt the bile rise in her throat at the idea of touching the repugnant creature before her. Then she thought of the filthy Haller prison Solanio had sent Antonio to. Before her anger could boil over, Bianca swallowed hard and gingerly slipped her hand into his arm, letting him guide her toward the amphitheater. She remembered her father’s words, Shadow Walkers must use the cards they are dealt and gain the advantage. She might not be a Shadow Walker herself, but this was her chance to do something to help Antonio.
“So where have you been hiding those blue eyes?” Solanio puffed his chest out as they passed a group of rough-hewn seamen, displaying Bianca for all to see.
“I have been working in my father’s office, as always. With the arrival of the Polity, we’ve been quite busy. That commander of theirs must be important to need my Antonio for all this time.” Bianca tried to appear casual, glancing around the barges to avoid Solanio’s piercing gaze.
“Ah, yes, well. I would have thought you had heard by now.” Solanio stretched his neck awkwardly. “I am sorry to bear this tragic news to my best friend’s fiancée, but Antonio has betrayed you, betrayed us all. He was caught smuggling by the Hallers while on the way to meet with the Polity. Terrible business, really. The silver lining is that we found out what kind of man he really was before you two were wed.”
Solanio barely hid his serpentine smile. Bianca’s blood boiled seeing how much delight Solanio was taking in telling her his deceptive tale. To cover the heated flush rushing to her cheeks, she let tears rim her eyes.
“No, that can’t be! You know Antonio would never do such a thing.” Bianca froze in place for dramatic effect and used the chance to pull her arm away from Solanio.
“It must be such a shock to hear. I was shocked to learn of it myself.” Solanio shook his head grimly. “I see now that his charm was a great disguise. Don’t be hard on yourself for believing him. I thought of him as a brother, and yet he turned out to be the most vile of villains.”
“I can’t believe he would do such a thing. Where is he? What is to become of him?” Bianca let her tears fall freely, hoping Solanio would believe her poor damsel act instead of seeing her hatred of him brimming inside her.
“That is for Whitehall to decide. He’s better off there if you ask me. If he were to show his face in Newlondon after what he’s done, there would be a far worse fate than, say, being locked on a deathship for that traitor.” Solanio’s teeth clenched below his furrowed brow.
Bianca took a step back as Solanio’s bared his teeth menacingly and his breathing grew ragged. A crewman’s whistle broke through the air, snapping Solanio out of his rage. He flicked his hair and smoothed his collar. The calm facade was restored, unnerving Bianca more than the monster below the surface she had just glimpsed.
“I really need to go.” Bianca backed away, not taking her eyes off of Solanio.
“I understand. I, myself, must meet someone before the start of the auction.” The darkness returned to Solanio’s eyes for an instant, confirming an undercurrent of malice before his long stride closed the gap between them, trapping Bianca against the side of a barge. “I am sure your pretty little head is just reeling with this sad news. Fear not though, I am always here for you, my dear Bianca.”
“That is kind of you.” Bianca paled, barely summoning the words as he loomed over her.
“Bianca, would you promise me something? Would you honor me by coming to the auction? I believe you’ll find it highly enlightening.” Solanio took her hand, kissing it.
“I will try.” Bianca pulled her hand away as she slipped around him disappearing into the crowd before he could trap her again.
Bianca raced as fast as her legs could carry her, dodging nets and fishing pots. She shuddered, still feeling his hot breath on her cheek. She ran past the edge of the jetty, trying to escape from any lingering part of Solanio’s presence that might be clinging to her. Only once she reached the slope leading to the clifftop, did Bianca allow her pace to slow.
She nestled into a soft patch of tall grasses and stared out at the tumultuous sea. She pulled out her medallion. She traced the curve of the eel and stopped at the crystal eye. She closed her eyes, willing it to blink with news from Valentine. When she opened them again, the crystal was still dull and lifeless.
Bianca let the sea air wash over her, losing herself in thought. Hours passed and dark clouds began to gather over the rough waters. It felt like an omen blowing toward her. A song swelled in her soul and she let the words sail on the wind. A blue light pierced through the grey that swirled around her. The blue crystal eye of the eel medallion blinked. Bianca closed her eyes and squeezed the center of the medallion. The automated voice relayed Valentine’s message.
Bianca’s heart soared, knowing she would soon be reunited with her dear Antonio. She sang as she raced to meet Valentine,
Carve the waves to save my beau, It’s time to change this tale of woe, Yohoho, row nonny, row.
Water sprayed Bianca and Valentine’s cloaks as they sliced through the Elizabeth River toward Whitehall on Valentine’s stealthy skiv. The sisters sat pressed together behind the controls since the bow was covered in a tarp securing Valentine’s rigging and gear. Bianca couldn’t understand why the sharp smell of salt burned her nostrils this far up the river, but her thoughts were interrupted when Valentine handed Bianca a small key.
“That key will unlock Antonio’s cell. Emilia’s message said that she would override the shielding and security protocols with her Bride trainer, Cleo, from the inside.” Valentine gripped the skiv controls as they edged around a sandy bank. “You need to get the key to Antonio. Emilia also sent a map that will lead you to a window slit in Antonio’s cell.”
Bianca stared at the delicate key. The small piece of metal was light as a quicksilver’s scale yet Bianca felt like she held the weight of the world in her hand. Without this key, there would be no rescue.
“Me? Where are you going?” Bianca closed her hand around the key.
“I have my own tasks. I need to make sure the Guild believes they’ve gotten away with their deceptions while keeping the meddling Hallers in the dark.”
“But once we have Antonio, we can’t let these villains get away. Solanio and the Guild have to pay for their cruelty once and for all!” Bianca’s cheeks burned as her anger bubbled to the surface.
“You know that Father has been waiting for his chance to uncover the treachery of the Guild for ages. Trust me. They will not be able to hide for much longer.” Valentine gently placed her hand on Bianca’s. “It is my job to make sure the Hallers don’t send their drones after us and alert the Guild. So I need to make sure the cell isn’t empty.”
“What are you trying to say?” Bianca’s brow furrowed.
“Do you remember the Shadow Walkers helped remove the body of that pirate I found on Antonio’s skiv?” Valentine slipped her hand back to the controls.
Bianca’s eyes flew to the tarp in the bow.
“No. You can’t be serious. How . . . ? Where . . . ?” Bianca stammered, her face turning green.
“Shadow Walkers embalmed the pirate in the brackish waters of one of our hidden estuaries when we got word of Antonio’s imprisonment. It became apparent that we would need a decoy to avoid suspicion if we hoped to successfully help Antonio escape.” Valentine slowed the skiv at the edge of the Forest of Arden. “The Hallers won’t even notice it’s a different person, though the salt did shrink him closer to Antonio’s height. As long as they have a body, they’ll think Antonio died, and their uneasy alliance with the Guild will be complete.”
Bianca, mouth gaping, stared at her sister’s calm face. Although she knew the lengths the Shadow Walkers went to in order to complete the missions Leonato set for them, she was somehow unprepared when it was her own sister that was given such a grisly task. Bianca reached forward and pulled back a corner of the tarp. She found a pair of black boots identical to Antonio’s awkwardly pressed against the bulkhead. Her hand flew to cover her mouth with the sudden fear that if she removed the rest of the tarp, she would see Antonio’s face instead of the pirate’s. Valentine reached over Bianca and replaced the tarp over the pirate.
“Bianca, think for a moment. What a fitting end for the pirate that attacked Antonio, ultimately bringing on all of this heartache and strife. Left in a cell to rot, it is exactly what a scoundrel like him deserves.” Valentine steered the skiv into a tall patch of shrubs and killed the engine.
Bianca intertwined her fingers to keep them from shaking. Valentine wrapped her arm around her sister, holding her for a moment. Bianca gave Valentine a squeeze back and a half-hearted smile in an unspoken gesture to let Valentine know she was okay once again. Valentine returned the squeeze then reached into her pack and pulled out a scroll.
“This is the map you’ll need. It will lead you to the wall to find Antonio’s cell. When your medallion blinks, send the key through the window slit. Then return here and stay out of sight.” Valentine handed Bianca the scroll. “Emilia will meet Antonio in the cell block and escort him through the Vestra work passages to an external door. I will get the pirate to his final resting place with Cleo. We will all meet you here.”
Bianca unrolled the map. Valentine used the secret code they had created as girls to label the landmarks. If someone found the map, they wouldn’t even know which way was up let alone where it led. The last bit of tension melted out of Bianca’s shoulders, knowing Valentine had thought of everything.
“Okay, I will see you soon.” Bianca smiled at her sister, confident the plan was going to work. She would have Antonio in her arms again soon.
Bianca carefully made her way to the edge of the forest when Whitehall’s shining exterior wall came into view. She stayed within the safety of the treeline but kept the wall in her line of sight. Bianca read the next map point, labeled Anchor’s White to Bitter End. A white light usually was lit at the top of the mast when a boat was anchored. The boat Valentine meant must be Antonio’s cell. Bianca scanned the exterior wall again. Sure enough, she found a floodlight illuminating the pristine white wall. Through the light’s glare, she saw it.
“A window slit!” Bianca gripped the map tighter. “And to Bitter End . . . That means the end of an anchor. Antonio! It’s Antonio’s cell! Valentine, you clever girl.” Bianca hugged herself knowing Antonio was so close.
Bianca pulled the key out from her pocket. She unwound the twine Antonio had put on her finger and tied it into a small bow on the key. With the key in one hand and her eel medallion in the other, Bianca waited for her signal. Her legs shook and her palms became pools of sweat. She could barely restrain herself from running straight across the open field while screaming Antonio’s name. Bianca closed her eyes and took a long meditative breath. When she opened her eyes again, the eel’s eye pulsed blue. A jolt of electricity shot through Bianca’s veins. She carefully looked to see if the coast was clear. Satisfied that it was, she pulled her hood over her head and silently crossed the open field toward the light.
When Bianca reached the edge of floodlight’s reach, her melody from the clifftop echoed in her mind. She waited just outside the pool of light and whistled her siren song, hoping Antonio would know she was close. A whistle of the same tune echoed in response. Antonio! It’s him! Bianca’s heart sang within her. She crossed into the light only long enough to throw the key through the slit. She heard a faint clank of metal hitting metal. She leaned against the wall separating her from Antonio for a moment to say a silent prayer of protection to Elizabeth Hathaway before she raced into the darkness to wait for her love.
Bianca tried to sit patiently in the skiv while she waited for everyone to return. Thunder clapped overhead and rain started pelting her cloak. The unease she felt watching the storm roll in over Newlondon’s cliffs earlier settled back in the pit of her stomach. She climbed out of the skiv to get some cover from the pounding rain. In a concealed patch of shrubs and trees, Bianca paced to keep warm and keep her mind from drowning in dread.
“What can be taking so long?” Bianca muttered to herself, feeling the panic rise in her throat as she squinted into the rainy darkness.
A bolt of lightning illuminated the dank forest for a moment followed by an explosive rumble of thunder. Bianca jumped at the commotion, gripping her cloak tighter around her shoulders. She slumped into the squishy patch of muddy grass, pulling her knees into her chest.
“What if they have been captured? I can’t bear to think what they will do to Antonio or Valentine, or to poor Emilia!” Bianca buried her face in her hands.
“We can worry about that another day,” a deep voice called in the dark.
“Antonio?” Bianca bolted up.
Squelching footsteps crept closer and Antonio, Valentine, Emilia and another woman came into view. They were dripping under the cloaks that Valentine had brought to conceal them during their escape. The new woman’s eyes were a light violet that shone in the darkness. The deep hollows of Antonio’s cheek were covered in long stubble and dark circles rimmed his eyes. Bianca leapt up and threw her arms around him, tears already streaming down her cheeks.
“My dearest Bianca! I knew you would come for me.” Antonio nestled into the curls of Bianca’s hair.
“Always and forever, my love.” Bianca kissed Antonio deeply.
Antonio brushed the tears from Bianca’s cheeks as they both smiled. Antonio replaced the twine onto Bianca’s finger and kissed it gently. Bianca squeezed Antonio’s hand and turned to Valentine and Emilia. She wrapped them in a strong hug.
“Bless Hathaway, you are all safe. Thank you, both of you. You have no idea the gift you’ve given me.” Bianca squeezed them both tighter.
“I could not have done it without Cleo.” Emilia drew Cleo into the group hug.
“Thank you, Cleo. I thought Emilia was unique in her willingness to aid a complete stranger, but I see it must be a remarkable trait you Westies share. It is a pleasure to meet you.” Bianca’s eyes glittered with new tears.
“No one should be caged. I am glad that more than one of us could be freed tonight.” Cleo winked.
Bianca’s heart felt as if it would burst out of her chest. Her family was complete once again.
Bianca entwined herself in Antonio’s arms. “Let’s go home.”
If you enjoyed Shanel’s story, feel free to leave comments below. If you would like to read more about Newlondon, read “The Beast Below,” which kicked off the Newlondon stories in the Globe Folio series.
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
- “Eyes Up the River–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “Shambles” by Matthew Cross
- “Interrogation” by Matthew Cross
- “The Burning Flame–Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Burning Flame–Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- “Swift as Shadow–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson
- “Swift as Shadow–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson
- “Song of Thieves” by Frasier Armitage
- “The View from the Wall–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson
- “The View from the Wall–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson
- “Outcast of Belmont- Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- “Outcast of Belmont- Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- “Bounty” by Matthew Cross
- “Feral Fields” by Jeremy Wilson and Shanel Wilson
- “A Matter of Details” by Matthew Cross
- “Siren’s Song–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson
- You just read: “Siren’s Song–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson
Now you’re all caught up. But don’t worry, we have more stories from the Globe on the way soon!