Chapter Four: The Spark of Revolution
Gordon Tripp awoke with a start. From outside the camp he heard men yelling and metal clanging and animals growling. He immediately thought of the bears that had been spotted south of their traditional hunting range.
To his right was the blurry orange splotch of the firepit at the center of their camp, nestled deep in the woods of Bukovyna, Hungary. He groped about with his right hand and located his small day pack, the only possessions that hadn’t been stolen the day before by the highwaymen and teamsters. He located his spectacles and pulled those on. Now that the world had come into focus, he could see the individual orange embers that burned within the larger splotch of the firepit.
“Elie!” he whispered sotto voce across the fire. She was a year older than him, and tended to be much braver, and he shuddered to imagine facing whatever was happening outside the camp without her.
Elie Doolittle was dreaming about her trunk. She was sitting atop it as it flew over the endless forests, lit only by a full moon. She craned to each side, looking down, searching for her parents, for the ancient city of Kraków. She heard strange howls and odd growls. Wisps of fog escaped into the sky, illuminated slivers in the silver moonlight.
The arm of her favorite pajama top caught her eye, flapping behind the trunk. It had come free from within and was now trailing behind, like a ribbon behind a kite. She reached back and pulled at it. It fluttered to the ground, but she had inadvertently pulled out a bit of the flannel pajama bottoms as well. Now she pulled those, freeing them, and then her heavy winter dress, and then her rain jacket. The trunk lurched skyward, as if the contents had been ballast.
She pulled out one of the three pairs of boots she had brought—the ones meant for use in portaging, should the need arise—and she soared higher. Now the wooded valleys below were but a black line. She saw the full expanse of Europe below her and then a shadow on the far edge of the world. America.
She realized with a jolt that she would probably never see her parents again, as high as she was now, and then the trunk was wobbling. It tipped left and then right, then left again, threatening to flip, and she awoke.
Gordon was shaking her, pushing her right and left in an effort to rouse her from her dream. His face was obscured by the dark of night and a thick fog. But his nasal voice and Bostonian accent were unmistakable.
“What is it?” she said, irritated at being woken.
“That must have been some dream,” he said.
“My trunk,” she said.
He nodded sympathetically. “No sign of it. In the meantime, I think we’re being attacked by bears.”
“Bears?” She could hear a clatter off on the edges of the camp.
“By the sounds of it, a family of them.”
“Let’s take a look,” she suggested, intrigued by the notion. Even in the dark she could sense Gordon tense up. “Come on,” she said, hopping up and pulling at his arm. “We’ll just follow the noise.”
They made their way through the dark of the camp to the ring of caravans. Gordon fell three times en route, tripping over rocks twice—and once, as far as Elie could tell, over his own feet.
But eventually they arrived, just as the fog cleared and a mysterious silver-haired revolutionary named Loiza Amriya appeared.
“I apologize for waking you,” he said to the assembled men, and Elie looked at Gordon meaningfully. But, as always, Gordon was not paying her any attention; he had already taken out his journal and was trying as best he could in the lantern light to take notes.
Loiza explained that he and his men had mistaken the gypsies for a camp of the baron’s forces and had mistakenly set upon them. At once, his audience responded with questions and commentary.
“The Baron?” said Myron. “Who is that?”
“Our opponent in this uprising,” Loiza said. “An enemy of all free men.”
“What you lack in reconnaissance you make up for in verve!” said Seamus.
“Our men are the bravest I’ve ever known,” Loiza said.
“What is the strength of the Baron’s forces?” said Myron.
“And we heard more than men on the attack…” Roland began to say.
“They are a ragtag army,” said Loiza. Elie was not sure whether he referred to his men or the Baron’s.
“Yes!” said Gordon, perhaps agreeing with Roland. “Do you employ bears?”
“Do you know where my trunk is?” asked Elie, thinking now was the time to get the question in.
“Not now,” said Seamus to the children.
“I know little of bears nor trunks,” said Loiza.
“An ambush at night is a risky tactic,” said Myron.
“Why do you get to talk about dumb adult stuff when my trunk is still missing?” said Elie to Seamus. It was not fair that the men were always going on about tactics when her art supplies were gone.
“I definitely heard a bear!” said Gordon.
“Personal safety is a small price to pay for the freedom of our brethren,” said Loiza to no one in particular.
“As did I!” said Roland, now standing beside Gordon. “Or some animal.”
“And do you know the whereabouts of Roland’s nephew?” said Seamus.
Loiza cut them all off with a loud whistle. He was perhaps losing track of the conversation’s threads. He raised his arm in a high hand gesture, and from the trees emerged a small cadre of young men. They were dressed like farmers and pig herders and manual laborers. None was older than twenty years old, from what Elie could tell.
They shuffled from the tree line, weapons in hand. Some carried spears, others pikes, and a few, pitchforks and axes. Though their clothes differed, they shared the same expression: devotion and adoration, directed at Loiza, though Elie thought she noticed something else, too. Glazed over, like they had all just awoken. A bit like the Haitian zombies they had once battled in New Orleans.
“Now gather around,” said Loiza, “and your questions shall be answered.” He motioned for Roland to approach. His eyes widened, and Elie thought his look became a bit crazed. “To begin, I know where your nephew is.”
Seamus Tripp moved closer to Loiza, to hear what the man had to say.
This was more like it. The previous day’s frustrations with exotic languages, pesky business partners, unreliable teamsters, and unnatural fog were cleared away by the promise of adventure from this rebel leader. After the fits and starts, this nighttime battle was good for the soul. Got the blood flowing.
“I can take you to your nephew,” said Loiza. “He has quickly become one of my most trusted fighters. I’m certain that meeting him will inspire you to the righteous nature of our cause.”
His eyes were bright in the lantern light, and Seamus found himself lulled by the man’s charisma. This was certainly a leader worth following.
It would be a half day’s trip, Loiza explained. Roland nodded his assent and began to assemble his entourage. Seamus called over Gordon, Myron, and Elie. They, too, were eager to accompany Roland to whatever revolutionary stronghold awaited them.
Gordon and Elie ran back to the camp to gather their meager belongings for the trip. When all had reassembled, just a quarter hour later, the full moon had just begun its descent. The hour was just after midnight.
“We must hurry,” said Loiza. “We wish to reach our camp before sunrise.”
Roland was accompanied by his two closest lieutenants, one of whom was the burly fellow who had manhandled Seamus the morning before, as well as Tsura, a lass of Elie’s age who was Roland’s niece. They fell into a disorderly column two across to follow Loiza and his dozen men through the forest, farther down the hill.
They followed a narrow path, little more than a game trail that wound through the ancient oaks and fruiting dogwoods. The lanterns illuminated to the edge of the trees, leaving to the imagination what was chirping and scratching just off beyond the light. Seamus thought through the list of appropriate fauna Gort had enumerated earlier. Would wolves stalk a noisy group of men under such circumstances? Or was it something else? Something more predatory?
Before he could dwell on it too much, the topography began to flatten and they emerged onto a larger road. Not a highway, by any means, but the press of the tree line felt less threatening. They hiked for another half hour, and the overhead stars faded out one by one. The sun was rising.
They arrived at a crossing, where a railway intersected with the road. On it, just a hundred yards down the tracks, sat a carriage and small engine. Loiza motioned for them to load up, and he and his entourage jogged ahead, leaping into the dark car.
Here, as he watched the revolutionaries run ahead, Seamus hesitated. Perhaps following them was not the most prudent course. This was, after all, not their battle. But Roland, seeking after his beloved nephew, followed close behind, companions in tow. Inspired by their lead, Myron, then Gordon and Elie, moved ahead as well.
Not one to be left behind, particularly when adventure beckoned, Seamus shook off his worries and ran to catch up.
The carriage was not as sinister within as he had imagined. It was well furnished, with a stack of bunk beds on the back and a small sitting area, where Loiza apparently held court. The windows of the car were quickly screened by heavy cloth as they entered.
“My whereabouts cannot be revealed to the villainous Baron,” Loiza explained as the shutters were closed. “I travel in extreme secrecy at all times.”
“We’ve heard rumors of disappearances,” Seamus said, thinking that these perhaps explained Loiza’s extreme caution. “Are these to do with the revolution?”
“The Baron,” Loiza said from his padded chair, “will stop at nothing to maintain control of Bukovnya, including kidnappings.”
A trio of rebels pulled the big door closed, and the carriage lurched forward down the tracks.
“The peasants of our republic have toiled for generations under the yoke of the nobility,” Loiza continued. “They extract profits from the workers’ labors, compensating naught but a meager ration of bread.”
The rebels all looked at Loiza solemnly and nodded. A rather boring group, not unlike a troop of sullen teenagers.
Seamus looked across the assemblage at Myron, who was standing propped against the opposite wall. He, too, was listening, though his brow was furrowed. He tended to dislike men who disparaged profit.
“These laborers are not free,” said Loiza, as if detecting the whiff of skepticism in the car. “A man should not be bound to the poverty inherited from generations of grandparents before him.”
The carriage rattled as it picked up speed on the tracks.
“Look out there,” Loiza said, motioning to the shutters farthest from him. “Carefully now.”
Seamus, Tsura, and Elie stood and peeked out the window on their side of the car. The forest here had been cleared away, replaced by neat squares of farmland, where laborers pushed large plows in preparation for spring planting.
“Farmers,” said Elie.
“I’m afraid not,” said Loiza. “They are slaves.”
“I don’t see any chains,” said Elie, pressing the point.
“These chains are not metal. They are poverty and inequality. And the slaveholder is the Baron.”
Seamus, still looking out the window, imagined Myron’s brow furrowing yet more.
The tracks bent southward, and the train passed a small, orderly village, low thatched huts centered along a dirt road no wider than two wagons across.
“And this village,” said Loiza. “Look at the squalor of these conditions. Compared to the luxury of the estate of the Baron.”
“We haven’t seen it,” said Tsura.
“And the village doesn’t look so bad,” said Gordon.
“The nobility are parents whose children work tirelessly to clean their mansions,” said Loiza, his voice rising. “And they use the switch to demand obedience.”
“We haven’t seen the mansion!” said Elie.
“You haven’t seen it, I know, but it is magnificent beyond description. What parents would allow their children to live like this?”
“Parents?” said Gordon. Seamus knew him to prefer more elaborate metaphors.
“The workers have the right to their own palaces!”
At this the rebels cheered, unexpectedly. Their looks had transformed from solemn to fervent in the time Loiza had been laying out the Baron’s crimes. They reminded him now less of sullen teenagers and more of unruly rioters.
All at once the carriage’s brakes squealed, signaling the end of their trip. And not a moment too soon, as far as Seamus was concerned.
They stopped at the landing of an old rail station, apparently abandoned excepting revolutionary purposes. A pair of rebels pulled opened the sliding door, and Loiza led Seamus and the others quickly through the shadow of the platform’s wooden awning into the dim environs of the old stone station house. It, like the carriage, had been repurposed comfortably for the uprising, this time as military barracks. Dozens of armed shepherds and lumberjacks were just arising for the morning. Some had taken to the things revolutionaries typically do upon waking: making breakfast, sharpening knives, and repairing boots.
A yell rose up as Loiza entered, and he gave a strong wave back to his soldiers in recognition as he found his way to a desk at the center of it all. He was about to sit in his padded chair when a ruddy-faced messenger approached, bearing a small letter in hand.
“Captain,” he said. “Sir, we’ve lost the recon group.”
“What happened?” said Loiza. Seamus noted that he glanced at Roland.
“They’ve been captured. By the, um, Baron.”
“And where is Mircea?” said Roland, perhaps also noting Loiza’s glance.
The young rebel shifted in place uneasily. “The gypsy prince?” he said. “He led the recon group. They’re being held prisoner at the Baron’s estate.”
Myron was standing aside Roland, between him and Loiza’s fine desk. Seamus and the three children were on the other side, all facing the young rebel messenger who’d delivered the news of Mircea’s capture by the forces of the sinister Baron.
Though how sinister the Baron really was had become a bit doubtful, in light of Loiza’s speech en route.
“We must act quickly!” said Roland. “To secure his release.”
“I will send my best men,” said Loiza.
“You lead an army of angry young men,” said Roland. “We do not need to assault the Baron’s keep; we need to negotiate.”
“We shall take up the negotiations, naturally,” said Seamus, always up for such a task.
“Very generous offer, comrades,” said Loiza, “but that is unnecessary.”
Myron spoke up. “Roland is the leader of his people. He is temperate and wise. And Mircea is his kin.”
“This is not your fight,” said Loiza.
“He is my nephew!” said Roland.
“Just so,” said Loiza, “but it is as the story of the mother brown bear and the angry water rat…”
“Water rat?” said Gordon, clearly intrigued by whatever fable Loiza was about to begin. He’d taken out his omnipresent journal.
“I know the story,” Roland cut in, “and I am neither a mother brown bear nor a timid badger.”
“Badger?!” said Gordon, now writing furiously.
Roland’s people had wandered the dark forests of Eastern Europe for generations, so it was no surprise that he and Loiza spoke the shared language of ancient folklore. That did not, unfortunately, help Myron to decipher whatever shorthand they were using.
Myron had met Roland fourteen years previous, when they had been imprisoned together in a subcellar jail beneath the palace of Sultan Abdul Hamid in Istanbul. They grew in one another’s esteem in that month, both being men of trade, commerce, and travel. They exchanged letters following their escape but fell out of touch as Roland’s clan returned to the isolated forests and Myron focused on his business partnership with Seamus at Tripp’s Imports & Antiquities.
Now they were reunited unexpectedly in the midst of an uprising fomented by a revolutionary who was falling, by the minute, in Myron’s esteem. First the rhetoric about the farmers, now the opposition to Roland’s joining the rescue team. He wondered what the next revelation about Loiza would be.
He caught Seamus’s eye. Clearly his partner was thinking along similar lines. With just a glance, Myron knew Seamus would be taking the lead.
“Family!” Seamus said, loudly, visibly startling both Gordon and the messenger boy. “Is there nothing more sacred than family?” He looked at the young rebel.
“Uh, hmm,” the boy mumbled, perhaps still rattled by the sudden turn of conversation.
“‘Uh, hmm,’ indeed,” said Seamus, gesturing around widely. The messenger boy ducked, probably fearing an inadvertent strike. “This lad knows. Family! My aunt Patricia always told me ’tis no tart as sweet as an aunt’s hug, and I believe that applies equally to an uncle’s hug. Wouldn’t you say, Roland?”
Roland looked dubious about the whole performance, but he had his wits about him enough to at least nod in response.
Seamus turned back to Loiza and leaned over the desk. “So that is why we must depart forthwith. Send along your finest men as escort if you insist, but there is no separating this uncle from his beloved nephew.” He still spoke with his singsong brogue, but his posture clearly communicated their resolve to leave.
Loiza began his response but Myron interrupted.
“My sense is that we do not have need of an escort. Consider us as a neutral delegation. We will return your recon party, though without Mircea. He shall be returning to his clan.”
Loiza sat back in his padded chair. He looked at the three men before him, one after the other.
“Point us in the direction of the Baron’s estate,” said Roland, “and we will make our way there. Alone.”
Chapter Five: An Audience at the Estate
Tsura Pike was a Traveler. She had lived her entire life in her clan’s caravans, migrating from place to place like the great flocks of geese bound north and south with the seasons.
Her earliest memories were of life in the Balcani Mountains, her people traveling upon the trade routes originating in Istanbul and spreading like a spider’s web north and west into the deep forested valleys of the Dunărea. They moved between kingdoms and duchies and baronies like a frog upon the river’s stones, effortlessly leaping from one village to the next.
Through these travels she had met merchants and clerics, farmers and teamsters, coopers and wheelwrights. But she had never, ever met anyone like the four gadjos who now led her uncle Roland to the manor of the Baron, who held her cousin Mircea.
They ascended the hill upon which was planted the Baron’s monstrous stone house. The thought of being trapped in such a place for weeks, months, or even years filled Tsura with a sense of dread, like a dark cloud passing before the moon.
An ancient man, perhaps as ancient as the castle itself, greeted them and waved them into the front room. He motioned for them to sit upon the lumpy seats.
“Monsieurs et mademoiselles,” he said. “I shall inform the baroness that you have arrived.”
“Baroness?” said the Irishman.
Elie Doolittle picked at the mud caked into the bottom of her boot. She had already picked the loose leaves from her hair and had smoothed down the wrinkles in her trousers, but she nonetheless felt frumpy and grubby in the sitting room of the palatial estate. The unexpected revelation that she was soon to meet a baroness, rather than a baron, made her feel more self-conscious about her appearance.
The room was lushly furnished, its stone walls covered with tapestries depicting war, and agriculture, and parties, and churches. Its chairs were overstuffed and its tables covered with antique trinkets: candelabra, statuettes of carven stone, and delicate vases filled with fragrant flowers.
She was seated next to Gordon, as always with his nose in his journal, furiously scribbling down notes in his frenetic cursive. They sat in front of a table that looked like it was three hundred years old, based on the style of the woodworking. Elie attended Abigail Adams Academy in Washington, D.C., along with dozens of other daughters of diplomats and elected officials, and in her studies she had just completed a class in traditions of Slavic furniture making. She leaned over the table, looking at the unique corner the carpenter had used to bind tabletop and leg.
“Old, isn’t it?” said Myron from his seat on the other side of the table. He did not appear nervous or anxious about his own dirty attire.
Elie agreed. “At least three hundred years old, I think,” she said.
“Aye,” said Seamus, who—unlike Myron—was pacing like a caged wolf. “Everything in this place is old, from the tapestry of the ancient chapel to this outdated sconce.” He pointed at an intricate bronze piece mounted on the wall.
“Old but in fine condition,” said Myron, taking the tone of an insurance appraiser.
“You have a good eye,” said the gypsy chief Roland Pike. “In this day of factories and assembly lines, it is a rare talent to find the value in things handmade.”
“Even the chairs are old,” said Elie. She now noticed the subtle creak of the seat beneath her. Now that Mr. Tripp had pointed it out, she noticed that all of the furnishings of the room were lush, clean, and yet very old. Tsura was seated opposite her, sharing a settee with Gordon, who looked even more anxious than normal in the presence of the Romani girl.
“We should not have come,” said Roland, changing the subject. “Loiza was right: she will not negotiate.”
“Let’s give her a chance, at least,” said Myron to his old friend. “Better to offer negotiations and be rejected than withhold the invitation and guarantee hostilities.”
There was a soft knock at the door, and all quieted. It creaked open and the valet reappeared. He, too, was clean yet old. His thin, wrinkly face was far from lush. He wore a black suit, though it showed patches of wear, as if it had been in use for three hundred years as well.
“I am Mr. Büffka, the valet of this estate,” he said with his thick accent. He motioned for them to stand. “The Baroness will see you now. How may I introduce each of you?”
“I am Roland Pike, chief of the Romani and uncle of a nephew lost.”
“I am the world-renowned traveler Seamus Tripp. Also the uncle of a nephew lost…in his book.”
“I fund the travels. My name is Myron Fish.”
“I am Gordon Tripp,” said Gordon. He closed his journal with a resigned clap. “I am the nephew of the aforementioned world-renowned traveler and uncle.”
Mr. Büffka turned to Elie and Tsura. “Et les mademoiselles?”
“I’m Miss Elaine Doolittle,” she said. “Owner of a lost trunk.”
“And I am Tsura,” said the Romani girl simply.
“Very good,” said Mr. Büffka. “If you care to follow me.” He turned and made a subtle hand gesture that said “everybody out.”
They did not have to walk far. The sitting room was just inside the entrance of the manor, off the main hall. They turned from the gallery to a pair of heavy doors, which the valet pulled open. Within was a great room, with an ornate wooden mantel over a wide fireplace and a great bear’s head mounted above that.
There, beside the wide fireplace, beneath the great bear, stood a tall woman. She had curly brown hair that cascaded over her shoulders. She was dressed in a somber fashion, wearing a fine, but well-worn, black silk dress with a ruffled lace collar.
Mr. Büffka made a great show of introductions.
“Madame Baroness”—he motioned toward the visitors—“may I present the Romani chief Roland Pike, the world-renowned traveler Seamus Tripp, the American financier Myron Trip, Mr. Tripp’s nephew Gordon Tripp, the luggage-less young lady Elie Doolittle, and, finally, Tsura.”
He then turned and faced them. “This is the Baroness Lia Corrine,” and Mr. Büffka listed a dozen titles and sobriquets, which he rattled through like a menu of the evening meal. Finally he concluded and the woman herself approached each guest. She curtsied to the gypsy chief. She shook hands and offered a light kiss on the cheek to Mr. Tripp and then Mr. Fish. She welcomed Gordon warmly as well with a quick hug.
Then she arrived in front of Elie and Tsura. The Baroness had a long, elegant face with light crow’s feet aside bright brown eyes.
“Welcome to my home,” she said genially to the girls. “I always treasure hosting strong young women, and as a guest everything here is at your disposal.”
Elie weighed this outpouring of generosity against the descriptions the rebels had made. What to make of this nice lady?
“We have come to discuss the disappearance of my nephew, Mircea Pike,” said Roland.
“I’m afraid I do not know him,” said the Baroness, “at least not by name.”
“A young revolutionary,” said Seamus Tripp.
“Ah, the ‘revolution,’” she said. Her voice was weary.
“It has been going on for some time?” said Myron.
“No, not at all. Just a few months, in fact, just after the death of my husband. These troubles are new to my little barony. The citizenry has been quite happy. For generations.”
“The citizenry?” said Seamus. “We’d been led to believe they were subjects.”
“Far from it. Many have been freeholders for nearly a century.”
“But then why do they rebel?” said Gordon.
“The size of the estate, I suppose. There is one rabble-rouser in particular who seems intent on tearing down anything built more than twenty years ago.”
“Who is that?” said Elie, thinking maybe she already knew the answer.
“Loiza Umriya is the name, I believe. I’ve been unable to meet with him, however. Though I’ve tried to contact him, he always refuses parley. I believe, in part, that he feels I might gain sympathy if seen standing up to him. In the meantime, the discontent spreads and the rumors of disappearances have increased. And no one knows who is behind them.”
“Your troops!” Gordon said suddenly. He had his journal out and was reading as they chatted. The transition to shouting was therefore a bit unexpected. Elie worried he’d offended the Baroness, so she shushed him.
“That is fine,” the Baroness said. “Let him continue.”
“Loiza claims you and your army are behind the disappearances.” Gordon indicated a passage in his journal. “He told us so this morning on his secret train!”
“My ‘army’ is an honor guard of a dozen men. They live in barracks by the stables. Sadly, they hardly qualify as a military force anymore.”
“But the battle at the gypsy camp!” said Elie. She was having trouble piecing together what they had heard from Loiza at the camp with the news now that there was, in fact, no army. She began to sputter out further explanation, but her thoughts were all mixed up.
“What she means,” said Seamus, “is that your ‘army,’ such as it is, was purportedly on patrol a long ways from here, perhaps on the edge of your barony itself, in pursuit of revolutionaries.”
“Mr. Tripp,” said the Baroness, “the only thing my men pursue with such relish is dinner.”
Gordon Tripp jotted down a note about the Baroness Lia Corrine’s small cadre of fighters and put down his pencil to flex his fingers. He had taken down nearly four pages of tight description of the great room, and the Baroness, and her estate.
Probably three hundred years ago when the place had been built by Lia’s great-great-great-and-so-on-grandfather, it had been magnificent and luxurious. Now, as the winds of modernization blew through the region, the aristocracy had lost its grip, and the Baroness did not appear to be resisting in the slightest.
The estate, like her, was aging with grace and beauty.
Gordon observed that their story, such as he had recorded it, had taken a narrative turn. The villain had turned out to be—at the very least—sympathetic. What then to make of her opponent?
The Baroness instructed Mr. Büffka to call for the captain of the guard to help them sort out the question of the missing rebels.
While they waited, Mr. Büffka also brought in a coffee service. Uncle Seamus dug in with aplomb. One of his rules when traveling was to never decline a refreshment, as refreshments tended to be unreliable when one traveled. He stacked up three of the little biscuits and poured a full cup of the dark, acrid coffee.
The others followed suit. Elie and Gordon were both well versed in Seamus’s rule of travel, and they each selected two petit fours and poured themselves smaller cups of coffee. Myron opted for coffee alone, and Roland and Tsura stood back, looking at the service with skepticism.
Gordon thought to set a good example—teach them the rules of travel by action, as it were—but had just started to nibble at the first little cake when a portly middle-aged man ambled into the room.
“My lady,” he said to the Baroness, bowing, and then acknowledging the others with a half-hearted salute. Gordon spied a thin cluster of ribbons upon his left breast, a delicate juxtaposition to his sizable gut, which hung over his belt like a glove full of gravy. Was this the captain of the guard?
The captain approached the Baroness.
“The rebel scout unit is here, my lady,” he said.
“Imprisoned?” she said. “Is our jail even outfitted for prisoners?”
“No, my lady,” he said. “They are staying in the guest quarters. When we found them at the foot of the hill—on the road approaching the estate—they were standing still, gazing up at the manor.”
“That is odd behavior,” said Seamus, “even for revolutionaries.”
“It gets yet odder,” said the Captain. “We approached, asked them their business, and not one of them responded. It was as if they were entranced.”
“Odd, as you say, but good news that they are safe. Please release Mircea to his uncle and the others back to the village whence they came.”
“As you wish, my lady. I have yet more news.”
Here he leaned toward her and whispered something in her ear. Her eyes widened in surprise, and she looked sideways at Roland Pike.
The others had all stopped eating and were watching closely. The Captain handed her a rolled parchment.
“I’m afraid it’s grievous news,” she said before opening it. “There has been an attack on the gypsy camp.”
Roland stood up. “Your troops?” he said. A dumb question, Gordon thought.
“Your people have nothing to fear from my Captain and his men,” said the Baroness. This should have been obvious from the Captain’s ramshackle appearance, assuming his men followed the lead of their commander. “I’m afraid a mob of villagers attacked and took them.”
“But why?” said Roland.
“We shall soon find out.” She held up the scroll of paper. “They’ve delivered demands.”
She unfurled it and read it over once. Then, mistaking him as the most literate of the group, called over Uncle Seamus to read it with her a second time.
“Seems fairly simple,” said Seamus. “The villagers now believe the Travelers, not the Baroness, are behind the disappearances in the area.”
“We would never!” said Roland angrily. “We are a peaceful, law-abiding people. We travel for commerce, not for criminality.”
“Of course,” said the Baroness.
“They’ve seized them all,” Seamus continued, “men, women, and children—and are holding them at Loiza’s camp. They demand that Lia Corrine appear before them and pass judgment.”
Roland’s face turned a redder shade of brown, and he began to speak again, but the Baroness motioned for him to quiet and then waved him forward. She put her hand on his shoulder. “My barony has always been a place of welcome for your people, as they bring joy and trade with them wherever they travel.” This seemed to calm him slightly.
“Then why would the villagers attack now?” said Elie. She tended to ask obvious questions.
“Because of the revolution!” said Gordon.
“Yes, that appears to be the case. I’d never seen tensions between the village and the Roma before this Loiza began his campaign.”
“Aye,” said Seamus, stepping around Roland. “Baroness Lia, my friends and I will find the rebel base and have them stand down. ’Tis no place for a lady to answer the demands of the mob.”
The Baroness agreed and ordered Mircea immediately reunited with his uncle.
“To accompany you,” she said to Roland. “And thank you for your help, Seamus Tripp.” The round captain departed to retrieve the gypsy prince.
Gordon took out his journal. The narrative had turned again, and he intended to record it.
“No time for that,” said Seamus. He closed the notebook back over Gordon’s fingers. “We’ve a revolution to quash!”
Chapter Six: The Hidden Rebel Base
Roland Pike had lived a life of constant motion. The Roma people were, as the old fables recall, like the butterflies of the field, wafting on the zephyrs of the sky, migratory and transient. Never settling. Because of this, he was used to a certain amount of disorder. Chaos and anarchy were to the Roma the same as bricks and mortar to these sedentary villagers who inhabited the towns and cities the Romani traveled through.
Yet Roland was uncomfortable with the plan hatched by the two gadjos Seamus Tripp, an Irishman of extreme glibness, and Myron Fish, his old friend with the thin mustache and dour demeanor. Even by the standards to which Roland was accustomed, their strategy seemed uncomfortably haphazard and hastily formed. In fact, the pair had concocted the plan en route to the camp of the revolutionary Loiza Amriya.
“These gadjos,” said Mircea as they walked. He spoke as someone only recently awake from a long slumber. “They move rashly.”
“Just so,” said Roland. “It is as the story of the bee and the butterfly…”
But before he could say any more, Seamus appeared at their side.
“Sorry to interrupt,” he said. “Change of plans.”
“But…” Roland began to interject.
“Sorry, no time. We will split the party. The three of us will return to Loiza, act as a distraction whilst Myron and the children free your people.”
“Split our force…?” Roland knew enough of combat to know that concentrating fighters, not splitting them, was the wisest course of action.
Seamus tut-tutted him. “Aye. Mircea, you will lead us direct back to the train station.”
Mircea, the poor slow-witted fool, simply nodded.
Then Myron approached, accompanied by Gordon, the bookish bespectacled boy.
“We will need a signal to coordinate the timing,” Gordon said.
“Oh, I’ve a signal you won’t miss,” said Seamus, patting his waistcoat pocket meaningfully.
“And you’ve a plan for when you confront Loiza?” said Myron.
“Of course!” said Seamus. Roland exchanged a glance with Myron. “We’ll use a code phrase to signal that it is time.”
“What is our code phrase?” asked Roland. Better to get those specifics now.
“Um, let’s say ‘hereditary lineage.’ Has a certain ring to it.”
“That is a terrible code phrase,” said Gordon.
“It is so conspicuously nonsensical. Surely it completely undermines the actual purpose of a code phrase.”
“And what is that purpose…?” Seamus asked. His tone was rhetorical, though Roland was not sure he did know the answer.
“To be inconspicuous,” said the boy. “If your intent is to draw attention to the thing, why use a code phrase at all?”
“And that, dear Gort, is precisely the point!” Seamus said, raising his hand victoriously. Gordon sighed and did not respond.
They reached the crossroads into the village. Myron and the children would continue a short way up an overgrown cart track to an abandoned hamlet where the Romani were most likely imprisoned.
Roland, Seamus, and Mircea followed the main road into town, to the old train station that acted as headquarters for the rebels. It was still full of cots and young men, milling about doing odd jobs, perhaps waiting for the revolution to begin in earnest. The Irishman asked around confidently after Loiza, eventually being directed back to Loiza’s chamber on the second floor, an old office overlooking the main terminal.
Mircea’s manner improved along the way: he was greeted with a cheer by a small group of his comrades, and he waved back in a salute of acknowledgment. And when they reached the flight of smooth wooden stairs to the office, he bounded up the steps two at a time.
But before the office door his demeanor quickly changed, and when Loiza’s guards permitted them entry, all spirit fell away, replaced by a slack-jawed blankness.
“You’ve returned!” said Loiza, rising from his chair and approaching. He clasped a hand upon Mircea’s shoulder. “And Mircea is free.”
“Tell him about it, Nephew,” said Roland. Seamus had specified in the plan, vague though it was, that Mircea was to “butter up” Loiza with his tale of capture and imprisonment. That Loiza would then “let his guard down” and Seamus could move ahead with his “grand stratagem.”
Now that Mircea had suddenly become mute and sedate, Roland feared the plan would surely crumble.
“He is overjoyed to be here,” said Seamus, apparently not missing a beat. “Told me en route that he treasured the anticipation of this reunion.”
“Did he?” said Loiza. His brow furrowed at that notion.
“Aye. Flitted about like a hummingbird. Though he’s taken a turn for the morose now.”
Loiza did not seemed concerned by this. “He’s a noble, loyal boy.” He turned to Roland and looked at him intensely. Those blue eyes seemed almost silver, they were so clear. “Isn’t he, Roland?”
A feeling of lethargy suddenly took hold. All at once, Roland had the intense desire to simply close his eyes, whilst standing right there, and take a quick nap. He shook off the feeling.
“He is,” Roland said. “Mr. Tripp’s description is correct. He was—um—flitting about like a—um—hummingbird.”
“Was he?” said Loiza, his brow refurrowing.
“Enough about Mircea,” said Seamus. “We must tell you all about the Baroness and her hereditary lineage.”
The code phrase. The signal for the next steps of their plan, which—now that he thought of it—he didn’t understand in the slightest.
Seamus was looking at him. “I said, Roland, why don’t you tell us your thoughts on the hereditary lineage of the Baroness?”
“Er,” said Roland. He was not completely sure, but he was certain he had not been told to have any actual conversation to fill in the gaps. Was Seamus not planning to launch an attack at this moment? “Er,” he repeated and then, mercifully, there was a clanging noise behind them that drew everyone’s attention to the doors.
The two guards had thrown down the latch behind them.
“I tire of this game, Tripp,” Loiza said.
“Game?” said Seamus.
“And now…” said Loiza. He shoved Mircea back and turned to face Seamus and Roland. “…we will find out what you truly uncovered when you met the Baroness!”
He raised his hands and motioned the guards forward. They shuffled ahead, spears raised, as Loiza straightened himself up and appeared to grow in size. He looked tall, and wide, and menacing in the lamplight.
Tsura Pike felt out of place. Like a butterfly in a bee’s hive. The American children and the gadjo man Myron Fish tromped upon the gravel of the cart track like a team of draft horses, though they were trying to remain quiet. They were like a trio of crows roosting among a flock of doves, uncouth and awkward.
The redheaded girl, Elie Doolittle, was brave but temperamental. Asking questions and never listening. Acting and never waiting.
The little professor Gordon, shy and nervous, his nose in his journal, recording everything.
And the accountant Myron, her uncle’s friend, worldly and sophisticated and cautious when it came to money, yet now barreling ahead on a half-formed and haphazard plan. He led them through the pathways of the abandoned train yard.
“We need to give Seamus ten minutes,” Myron said. He extracted an elaborate pocket watch from his vest. “Eight minutes to go.”
They continued on, the other two children chattering between themselves, though Myron asked them repeatedly for silence. They maneuvered behind a row of old crates beneath the side of a storehouse. A guard stood outside, lazily leaned against the corner of the building. He had not seen them, but surely his presence meant something, or someone, of value was inside.
“You know the story of the butterfly,” said Tsura, thinking about the huge building within which her friends and family were imprisoned. This was why the Romani never settled down, never put down roots, never became entangled in the affairs of the non-Roma people with whom they traded. Because to become entangled meant to be trapped. For months, perhaps. Or years. Or generations.
“We don’t know it,” said Gordon.
“There once was a hive, where lived a great swarm of bees.”
“I thought this was a story about butterflies,” said Elie impatiently.
“It is,” said Tsura. “I will arrive there.”
“Children,” said Myron. “No more time for stories. Three minutes.” He moved to the opposite side of the crates and raised his hand toward the guard. Tsura was amazed to see a ripple of force flow from his palm toward the guard. It struck him in the head, and his feet buckled.
Myron motioned for them to follow, and he ran toward the building. Tsura followed but Elie soon passed her, red hair streaming behind. She glanced back: poor Gordon had tripped over his own feet and was sprawled in the gravel.
Tsura turned back to him, helped him up, and together they ran to the side of the storehouse.
“Won’t we circle the building?” said Tsura when they had gathered before the stone wall.
“There will be other guards,” said Myron. “And I’ve but power for one more exertion.” He rubbed his palms together. “Remember,” he said, “do not wait for me. Free your people.”
Myron then stepped back and pressed his hands into the wall itself. It warped and twisted beneath his touch, opening slightly and then into a wide door, wide enough for the children to enter the building.
He fell to ground, exhausted, but Tsura obeyed his command and did not wait for him. She entered the low light of the storehouse to find her people.
They were scattered about the inside of the building. The only doors, on the opposite side of the building, were locked from the outside and presumably guarded as well, so the Romani prisoners had been left to wander the empty room freely. She quietly gathered them together by name as she found them, and led them to the phantasmic gap Myron had created.
They filed out quietly, whereupon Gordon and Elie met them and directed them down the track, out the opposite side of the yard and the town, where they would have to circle back through the forest to return to their camp, their caravans, and—eventually—freedom.
Tsura performed one more check of the building and then emerged, just in time to see a great ball of flame erupt on the horizon, matching the location of the train terminal where Uncle Roland and the others had gone. Myron sat up and rubbed his temples.
“Seamus,” he said, then slumped to the ground, unconscious.
The explosion surprised Roland Pike.
When the guards had bolted the doors from the inside, and Loiza raised himself up to an unexpectedly monstrous height, Roland considered the possibility that his life, a feather on the wind, blown from place to place with his clansmen, was to come to permanent rest ingloriously on the dirty floor of that cavernous old train station.
“Mirče,” he said, using his nephew’s true Roma name. But his nephew did not respond, enthralled by the sight of Loiza looming up over them.
“Loiza,” said Seamus. Despite the fact that the rebel leader now stood fully a head taller than before, the glib Irishman did not seem at all concerned. “You should’ve bargained.” His hand went into the right pocket of his waistcoat, presumably to extract some item that would trigger the planned surprised.
Now was the time for action. The two guards were lumbering closer, spears raised. Loiza’s hands were occupied suspending Seamus Tripp a foot over the office floor.
But Loiza noticed the motion as well, and quick as an adder closed the distance between the men. He grabbed Seamus up by the throat. Seamus grabbed at Loiza’s wrists, to loosen the grip. Failing at that, he swiveled his head slightly and grunted at Roland, nodding down toward his hand in the waistcoat pocket.
And poor, stupid Mircea was standing comatose. Roland lunged forward and slipped his hand into the waistcoat pocket next to Seamus’s.
He found it immediately, whatever “it” was. A small, round, metal object. He pulled it out and took a split second to observe: it was a clockwork device of some type, its exterior intricately carven brass, within which spun some dials and gears, and, ever farther within, the slightest glow of its center. Like the incandescence of a limelight, though what could power the fist-sized sphere was unclear.
And, atop one of the poles, was a brass plunger. Just as he had known to pull the clockwork ball from the waistcoat pocket, Roland knew to depress the plunger, and he did so without pause.
He looked up. Loiza’s silver eyes registered no reaction. Probably he had as little idea as Roland what the device did.
But Seamus, also looking on, reacted with an expression of surprise and terror. This was a cause for concern to Roland, as Seamus was already being held aloft by a charismatic rebel leader with supernatural size and strength. For his look to now become terrified boded ill for the rest of them in the room.
The gears within the sphere began to whirr, and the device emitted a high-pitched squeal, and every animal instinct in Roland’s mind yelled that he jump for cover. But he did not. He dropped the device at Loiza’s feet, turned to his nephew, the idealistic fool, and pushed him behind the cover of Loiza’s desk, just as the clockwork ball detonated.
The blast was terrific. It knocked Seamus from Loiza’s grasp and erupted in a fireball that tore through the top of the room and the floor below.
The force of it knocked Roland to the ground next to Mircea. He was dazed and covered in dust and splinters of wood.
He pulled himself up and peeked over the desk, back to the hole the explosion had ripped through the floor of the office. Loiza had slipped through and was lying in the cavernous dark of the ground level below. Seamus, however, had been tossed a couple of feet clear of the hole, and lay in the sunlight that was now pouring in through the ceiling.
The two guards had also been both been knocked over, and now they pulled themselves to their feet, weaponless, shaking their heads as if awoken from a long sleep after a longer night of drink. Roland pivoted and saw that Mircea, too, was standing, shaking his head. The three no longer had the glazed look they had had moments before; they no longer lumbered about.
“Come, help me with Tripp,” he said to the three, and they pulled Seamus’s arms over their shoulders and dragged him from the office.
Inside the train station was not the chaos Roland would have expected, but rather the quiet of a troop confused and dumbfounded by the loss of their leader. No one stopped Roland, Mircea, the guards, and Seamus as they wound their way back through the depot and out into the sun.
Jon Garett and Richard Walsh are the authors of The Adventures of Seamus Tripp, a series of adventure-comedies set in a Victorian world of monsters, treasure, magic & mystery. Find more adventures at www.seamustripp.com.