18 Taking a Stand
Several times on their way to Tuva, the boys had to stop their progress. Something about the swishing of tails and the sound of hoofbeats caused Ena to burst into a full run. She spooked the horses every time she passed them.
Josah would stop, jump off his saddle, and call Ena. Already nervous, his horse would snort and shake its head to warn the cat whenever she came near. He would swing his left-arm away from his body, then force Ena to move to his left.
After repeating the exercise a few times, the cat seemed to understand what Josah wanted. They stopped by the old barn in Tuva, watered the horses, and ate dried slices of meat. Conall stretched his hands out, then counted his fingers between the sun and horizon. There was plenty of time to get through Filgore Valley before the sun would set.
Wasting little time, the boys mounted their horses and continued their journey. Slowing the pace down allowed Josah to keep Ena under control.
The Palouse was ablaze in fall color, with wildflowers dried to crisp shades of brown and orange. The barley and wheat fields turned white. Several wild horses on the Plain of Vandeer ran after them before veering away.
The boys made it to the stream below Promise Gorge, the place to stop and free their horses. They set their saddles, reins, and blankets next to the nearest tree. Then each boy slapped their horse’s backside, sending them off in a run.
Expecting to be in Southport by evening, the Evermores traveled light. They left everything they had in Bon Abbi. Now it was all about making it through Filgore Valley.
Josah squatted and gently tugged the fur along Ena’s jowls. “How am I going to make you understand that you must stay in the Valley? Or that we are returning?”
With his last measurement, Conall said darkness would come in less than two hours. Josah stood and started walking down the path. Everyone kept quiet until they came to where Filgore Valley began.
“Remember,” Josah said. “Leave your swords sheathed. The dry leaves will announce when the Dragoons arrive. Let’s hope we can make it through the forest without them knowing.”
He led the way, with Caleb and Ena following. Conall stayed a few steps back, making sure nothing was following them. Trees shedding their leaves meant that the canopy wasn’t as thick as before. The fallen leaves were wet in some places, making the path precarious in spots. Josah kept glancing at Ens, wondering if these woods now felt foreign to her.
Approaching the final passage leading out of the Valley, the big cat took a defensive posture. The boys heard the crackling sound of leaves under the feet of oncoming Dragoons. Ena yowled a warning. The older cats appeared, stomping the ground and returning a yowl, but not advancing. The younger Dragoons kept their distance.
“What do we do?” asked Caleb.
“We head through the passage. Ena won’t let them follow,” Josah said confidently. “Go ahead. I have to tell Ena to stay.”
Conall waited for Caleb, who rubbed Ena’s head one last time. Josah stood in front of the cat so she wouldn’t follow. He knelt and placed his hands behind her ears. It was all the cat needed to start her rumbling. But she kept the other Dragoons in view.
“Ena,” he said. “You need to stay here where you are safe.”
Holding his hand up, Josah signaled Ena, then he stood and walked away. The crunching sound behind him meant the cat didn’t understand. Josah watched as the other Dragoon observed in silence. He brought Ena back a few steps then motioned her to stay,
Walking backward and holding his hand up, Josah took several steps away from Ena. He stopped, repeated the stay command, then took a few more steps. When Ena sat down, Josah knew she understood what he wanted.
He paused for a moment, promising Ena he would come back, then turned. With deliberate, long strides, Josah made it out of the Valley. He found Conall and Caleb waiting at the top of the elevation and walked past them. “Hurry. Ena may try to follow if she comes out of the Valley and sees we are here.”
The youngest Evermore asked if Ena would be safe. Josah didn’t want to think about it. He felt relieved when Conall assured him the cat was back home. Josah never said it out loud, but he vowed this was the last time he would leave Ena behind.
As they walked to King’s Road, Josah realized the horses made it possible to reach Southport in half a day. If only he knew to ride a horse the first time he came to the Valley. He may have prevented his brother’s death.
The horizon swallowed the remaining light as shadows caressed the treeline behind them. Josah saw the flickering lights of Pub’s Row out in the distance. Steady streams of people hurried towards Casselberry. Most appeared to be travelers, late arrivals from ships docked at the Southport pier.
The boys blended with the few going to Cornor for their evening meal. As they passed the Pouring Rain pub, they grinned at each other. This pub was where they first met Graybard, a fortuitous encounter. It was good to have a new memory of Cornor Square.
He pushed past the spot where Nolan died, shaking his head, refusing to become sad over his loss. Quickening his pace to Southport, Josah whispered, “Please let the Molly Red be waiting for us.”
It wasn’t long before they reached the warehouses. In the distance, the boys saw ships moored along the docks. Most captains avoided late-night trips, allowing the crew to unwind at the local pubs.
“Do you see the Molly Red?” asked Caleb.
“Not from here,” Conall responded. “Stay, and I’ll run down to the pier to take a closer look.”
Those people leaving Rylie Glen walked towards the few ships that sailed overnight. Stacked cargo, unloaded earlier in the day, waited in front of warehouses. Merchants shouted instructions, with an occasional insult to the men under their servitude.
Josah rubbed his right arm and felt his branding. He was sure that his future changed when Captain Munro took him on as a crew member. Walking over to a covered porch off the first warehouse, he motioned Caleb over.
“If the Molly Red isn’t here, we’ll wait until the merchants close up their warehouses. Then we can sleep on one of the porches. Cornor is not safe for us.”
Before Caleb could respond, someone walked behind Josah. He felt the tip of a knife on his back, and heard a man huff, “There aren’t too many places safe for water rats like you!”
It was Jeera McKanzel. “What a surprise to find you here, all alone, with your little brother!”
The McKanzel clan were rivals to everything Evermore. They lived and operated shipping vessels in Liez, beyond Rona Island. Treynor McKanzel and his three sons made sure to disrupt the Evermores when they could.
Jeera, the oldest, had many fights with Josah whenever they found themselves in the same port. “I’m shocked you’re not here with Delmar or Manish. What happened? They couldn’t stand your smell anymore?”
Josah arched his back as Jeera applied more pressure with his knife. “Don’t worry. They’ll be here soon. You’re going to regret what you did in Mercil!”
“You had that coming to you!” shouted Caleb. He remembered Josah taking things from vendors and stuffing them into their cart.
“I had to pay coins to get out of Mercil. Now you’re going to pay up.”
“What little money I have isn’t with me today, Jeera,” Josah sneered. “Besides that, I won’t give you a thing.”
He pushed Josah off the porch, yelling at Caleb to stay in front of him. Taking a few steps towards the other warehouses, Jeera suddenly stopped. A firm hand gripped his wrist and squeezed until the knife dropped to the ground.
It was Captain Munro. He whirled Jeera around, grabbed his neck, and drove him back toward the porch. Slamming him into the post, the McKanzel boy slumped to the ground. Jeera’s tall, muscular frame didn’t help him this time.
“Don’t ever threaten my sons!” roared the Captain.
Conall, who stood by the Captain, walked over and picked up the knife. One glance at Caleb confirmed he heard their father refer to Josah as a son. He couldn’t hide his grin.
“You alright, Josah?” asked Munro.
“Yes, I am fine,” Josah replied.
He didn’t know how to react to Captain Munro’s reference to him as one of his own. The Captain pulled out a leather pouch, pinched a few coins then tossed them at Jeera. “This will defer your losses. Now get out of here!”
Jeera reached for the coins, then stood, pulling his long dark hair around his ears. The flickering torches shed enough light to see the anger on his face. Conall slid the knife between his sword and sheath as a prize.
As he walked past Josah, Jeera muttered, “Better watch your back, Water Rat.”
“Where did you come from, Father?” Caleb asked.
The Captain didn’t respond right away. He watched Jeera running down towards the last warehouse. “Let’s go. If Treynor is here, he’ll send his crew after us.”
The boys followed Captain Munro towards the pier, hurrying after him to keep up with his long strides. Conall told his father that he didn’t see the Molly Red moored to any dock.
“That’s because she isn’t here.” He proceeded to lead them from the docks to the shoreline. The Harvest Moon, not quite full, offered enough light to see the ships nearby.
Captain Munro whistled three short blasts once they reached the water. In a few minutes, a longboat with two crewmen came from under the dock. They rowed the vessel towards the Captain. He waded out into the water, grabbed the edge, and barked, “Get on board!”
Caleb and Conall waded to the opposite sides of the boat, then pull themselves in at the same time. Captain Munro slipped into the stern, rocking the boat with his movement. The sea was calm, with small waves breaking onto the shore.
Josah gave the longboat a push as the hull scraped the bottom. He dredged through the water before it got too deep, hauling himself over the side. The Captain tugged on Josah’s belt until the boy fell into the small vessel.
“Row like the Remis I know you are,” Captain Munro commanded.
The two crewmen dipped their oars into the water, powering the longboat through the waves. They navigated the vessel away from the other ships moored at the pier, then rowed towards the open sea.
As the longboat glided beyond the Southport bay, they saw the Molly Red. Her lanterns burned bright against the night. The ship anchored to the “Point,” a sandbar that extended twenty meters from shore.
The two crewmen brought the longboat to the starboard side of the Molly Red. Everyone but the rowers climbed up the cargo net. Reaching for the two ropes thrown down, the men tied them to hooks at the bow and stern. They waited as those onboard hoisted them with the vessel, up to the main deck.
Captain Munro shouted his orders to get the Molly Red into open waters. Men scrambled to their posts, some raising the anchor. Others extended the sails, trimming them to catch the wind. The boys followed him to the stern, as he told his First Mate to head home.
He gestured toward the stairs leading to his quarters. Caleb led the way, walking through the doors. The room was in disarray. There were stacks of parchment laid upon the table, along with uneaten food. The bunk, usually stowed away, was down, with bedding piled on the floor.
Munro walked around the desk, scooping up the parchment stacks and placing them on top of a cabinet. He told the boys to pull up chairs as he sat down at the table.
“I’m sorry for the mess. The Molly Red has been here for two days. During the day, we sailed to the east side of Rylie Glen, out of the shipping lanes. Then at night, we anchored at the Point and came onshore to find you.”
“But we agreed to meet in a fortnight, which is today,” Conall reminded his father.
The Captain acknowledged the fact. “I wanted to be here in case you arrived early.”
Josah looked at him with suspicion. Captain Munro was deliberate and precise to a fault. He never missed appointments. Always on time, the Captain never wasted opportunities to take on other business. Waiting two days early in Southport didn’t sound like him.
Munro held his hand up and dropped it on the table. “Alright, this isn’t what I normally do. I worried about your safety. Especially you, Josah.”
“Sir, what made you worry about us?” asked Josah.
The Captain proceeded to tell them of his trip from Northport to Mercil. He spoke of Brother Sammil’s warning to get them out of Bon Abbi. “He said a Chronicler named Theotello was on his way there.”
“We know him, Father!” Caleb exclaimed. “He was in Bon Abbi while we were there.”
Captain Munro widened his eyes at the news. “Brother Sammil is a good man, the head Chronicler of Northport. He measures his words before speaking. The more I thought about his advice, the deeper my concern.”
“Well, we weren’t in any immediate danger,” Josah offered.
“That was true when we left for Southport,” Caleb said. “But dangerous moments followed.”
Before Josah could intervene, Caleb told about their days on Rylie Glen. He shared how they met Graybard and about going through Filgore Valley. He told him of Ena and how she traveled with them to Bon Abbi. Conall tried to soften details about Luka, but Caleb spoke over him.
“Theotello stopped Luka from attacking by declaring Eva Marie as the Lady of Bon Abbi.” Caleb paused to catch his breath.
Captain Munro leaned forward. “Now, I know why you are wearing swords.” He looked down, then said, “Well, you’re safe now, and we’re heading home to Rona.”
“Excuse me, sir,” Josah interrupted. “This isn’t over. We have to return to Bon Abbi in five days.”
“What’s this, you say? I’m not returning you to danger.”
“Father,” Conall pleaded. “You must take us back. Graybard is attempting to build an army. But all they have to defend themselves are farming tools and sticks.”
“The more reason you aren’t going back,” Captain Munro said, pushing away from the table.
Conall glanced at Josah, unsure how to proceed. He took a cleansing breath and said, “You are correct. Conall and Caleb won’t be returning, but I must go back.”
Caleb led the objections on why they all needed to return. “Hear me out,” reasoned Josah. “Bon Abbi is where I am from, a city defended by my people. Their struggle is mine, and I cannot abandon them any longer.”
“No, I can’t accept what you’re saying, Josah,” Conall challenged. He looked and pointed at his father. “You called Josah a son when you stopped Jeera. Did you mean it?”
Captain Munro rocked slightly in his chair. He looked at Josah, his hands folded, resting on his torso. “Of course, I meant it! I’ll defend you as my own.”
“Thank you, sir,” Josah responded.
“Then if Josah is an Evermore, his people are family,” Conall reasoned.
The Captain cleared his throat, uncomfortable with the idea. “We can’t make everyone our family, Conall.”
Caleb stood to make his point. “He’s not talking about everyone, Father. He’s referring to Eva Marie, Graybard, and Dali. We stood with them when no one else could. The people of Bon Abbi are gentle folk who don’t know how to defend themselves.”
Placing his arms on the table, Captain Munro leaned forward. “What do you know about battles? It’s nothing like the games you play with the McKanzel boys. People get hurt. Some even die.”
Neither Caleb or Conall responded to their father. Josah stood and walked over to the map posted on the wall behind them. He ran his finger from Rona Island, inside Liez Bay, to Bon Abbi.
“The world seems so broad and spacious when you see it on parchment. It’s a different place when you experience it firsthand. Now when I look at Bon Abbi on this map, I see the faces of people who trust me.”
He turned towards Captain Munro. “All these years on the Molly Red or Rona Island, I’ve watched you care for people. You paid the debt for those indentured, offered freedom, and gave them a place at your table. I know what you’ve done for me.”
The Captain couldn’t hold his gaze anymore. “I can’t change the world, but I can try to improve my little corner.”
Josah came back to the table. “That’s all I want to do! Bon Abbi happens to be my corner.”
Captain Munro tapped the tabletop with his fingers, clearing his throat a few times. Josah leaned closer, commanding attention. “Sir, I would be proud to call you, father. All I ask is to allow me the opportunity to make a difference. Isn’t that what a son should do?”
Leaning back on his chair, Munro placed his hands on his head. He closed his eyes and tightened his lip, then nodded his head. “Alright, I’ll take you and Conall back to Southport. It’s time the Evermores took a stand. But Caleb stays!”
The youngest Evermore protested but stopped. He knew his father wouldn’t change his mind. “Alright, I’ll stay.”
“Good,” Captain Munro said. He slapped the table with his hands. “What do you have planned?”
Josah looked at Conall, who asked, “Do you know of a warehouse on Liez that stores weapons?”
The Captain rocked in his chair a few times before admitting he knew of a place. “It’s by the east docks. I never see ships moored on that side. But on occasion, I’ve seen unmarked vessels make their way through the Strait at night.”
Rona Island, located at the top of Liez bay, formed natural shipping lanes. Sailing vessels entered through the west side, then docked to unload and load cargo. They exited through the Strait, a narrow passage with deep waters, on the east side.
“I’ve heard they carry weapons to Casselberry,” the Captain said, tapping the side of his nose.
“That’s what Graybard told us,” Caleb confirmed.
Conall asked, “Do you know anything about the warehouse?”
“I’m way ahead of you, Conall. I’ve had some of the crew go to Liez and watch this place. Someone in Mercil wanted to pay me to secure weapons. But before he could pay me, he died.”
“Please tell me that this place is easy to break into, with minimal guards,” Josah responded.
Captain Munro smiled. “They load body boxes on smaller ships, except there aren’t any dead people inside them. I suspect they hold weapons.”
The Captain held his broad grin before answering. “There are only two guards on the other side of the building. Never near the docks.”
Conall clapped his hands in delight. “How do we do it?”
Pondering the question, the elder Evermore mentally ran through scenarios. “We can’t use the Molly Red. The ship is too big to hide, and it takes too long to get her to open waters. “
“Why don’t we use smaller vessels,” Josah offered. “We’ll hug the far side of the Strait. The cliffs can mask our presence. We can tie at the last dock.”
“Too risky,” the Captain responded. “As I said, I’ve never seen a ship at the dock.”
“Maybe they only tie up during the early morning hours,” ventured Caleb.
“Caleb has a point, Father. We leave before morning breaks so we can cloak in the darkness.”
Josah liked Conall’s plan. “We use longboats, cover up with old sails no longer in use, when necessary. Let’s put two men in each vessel.”
Captain Munro agreed. “We’ll launch four longboats and retrieve one box for each. But be aware. Unless marked, we don’t know what’s inside or how heavy they may be.”
“The heavier the box, the more important it’s cargo,” said Conall.
“True,” said the Captain. “Whoever goes on this raid must be strong and agile, which excludes me as I don’t move as fast anymore. We need to get in and out with speed and precision. The guards aren’t expecting anyone bold enough to raid the warehouse.”
“If the three of us go,” Josah said, “Then we’ll need five volunteers.”
“Getting help isn’t a problem. There is someone you forgot that needs to approve the plan,” said the Captain.
The boys looked at each other. When they couldn’t figure out who the Captain referenced, Caleb asked him who they forgot. Rubbing the side of his beard, he said, “Yeva Evermore, your mother!”