Chapter Seven: The True Nature of the Revolution
Myron Fish knew, of course, that all magicks hit their caster with shockback, the term Seamus had coined to describe the exhaustion that accompanied spellcraft. Last he remembered, he’d led the children to the trainyard warehouse to free the Romani imprisoned there by the villagers of Buckovnya. The revolutionary Loiza Umriya had been stoking the passions of the farmers in the barony, and they had risen up at his orders: first against the Baroness and now against the gypsy travelers who’d been camped outside of the village.
Opening a hole in a stone wall was a powerful spell, but Myron was surprised nonetheless by the severity of the shockback. Almost the instant he’d cast the aperatospell, he felt the darkness begin to close in around him. Just maintaining consciousness long enough to keep the gap open drained the rest of his strength, and he’d collapsed into a dreamless sleep just as the gypsies had escaped the storehouse and the fireball had erupted in the terminal building.
He thought of the fireball first thing when he awoke. He was lying in a paddock of soft grass beside the road. Seamus lay beside him, his hair covered with soot and dust. Clearly his state was the result not of magicks but of the more mundane explosive variety.
Where Seamus had acquired the clockwork detonator Myron did not know, but as their investigation had progressed into the gypsies, and the revolution, and the Baroness, it had been becoming clear that they were facing an enemy of a supernatural variety. Seamus believed explosives to be the ideal antidote to supernaturality.
There were others in the grassy clearing, now that Myron looked about, and they were speaking quickly to one another in their Romani language. He could not quite fix on who was saying what, but there seemed to be some disagreement as to their destination.
“We must fly,” said one of the old women in the tribe. She leaned against a cane and shook her head. “The butterfly does not sting. That is the role of the bee. We are not bees.”
“But we must learn to sting!” said Tsura Pike, Roland’s niece. “We cannot simply run.”
“We are Romani,” said the crone. “Ours is the life of the wagon, the wheel, the road.”
“It’s not so simple this time,” said Roland, Myron’s old friend. He seemed to be gathering himself up for something courageous. “We face a foe of unprecedented evil.”
Now he switched to the native Roma tongue and began regaling the assembled gypsies with a dramatic presentation.
“What’s he saying?” said Elie. She was crouched next to Myron and Seamus and was watching the goings-on intently.
“He’s telling them about the Baroness,” said Gordon. How the boy picked up languages so quickly always impressed Myron. “Now he’s telling them about the battle he and Uncle Seamus fought against Loiza in the train depot. I guess Loiza grew to a height like a great elm and displayed the strength of a team of oxen.”
“Vivid imagery,” said Myron.
“That’s what I was thinking,” said Gordon, who patted down his jacket’s front pocket, apparently in search of his journal.
Roland continued to speak. Myron recognized the name of the town but not much else in his speech.
Gordon continued to translate. “He’s saying he believes the revolutionaries and even the townsfolk are under the spell of Loiza.”
“I don’t know that word in Romani, but that seems like a good way to say it.”
“Now what?” said Elie. Roland had stopped talking, and all gathered turned to look at the Americans gathered on the paddock.
“Uncle Seamus is awake,” said Gordon, and—sure enough—Myron’s partner had finally come to.
Seamus hoisted himself up onto his elbows and let out a terrific yawn. He scratched his head, absentmindedly extracted a few twigs from the tangles and rubbed his eyes. Then he looked around, noticing for the first time the crowd of onlookers.
“What ho?” he said warily.
Seamus Tripp knew what it was like to feel out of place. He was one of the world’s most renowned adventurers, and a fair amount of a life of adventure was traveling to places as a stranger. The desire always lurked there to return home, to his people, to blend into the masses and just be a face in the crowd.
Even these gypsies, though they professed to celebrate individuality and cleverness, traveled in a herd of caravans and deferred critical decisions to elders.
Along those same lines, the newspapers routinely ran stories of exotic fauna far from home, perhaps escaping into the wild of their adopted homeland or at the very least taking up with a new owner.
A great grey parrot, for example, would fly the coop from some middle-class home in London only to turn up three years later speaking Italian or Japanese. No doubt to a parrot the word of the day in such a situation was “go along to get along,” and Seamus could think of no better advice for travelers feeling out of place in a foreign land.
So whilst he sympathized with the butterfly/bee conundrum the gypsies were continually invoking as they considered their role in the matter of the Baroness and the revolution, it seemed to Seamus that these Roma travelers must make as the parrot and, to switch back to that analogy, learn Japanese.
All eyes were upon him, and Seamus began to explain his thoughts along those lines.
“What ho!” he said again.
“We are butterflies,” said Roland, “unbound to any kingdom. We are not bees, yet there are some who would stay and fight. Your counsel is sorely needed.”
Myron emitted a harrumph, which implied his counsel had not yet been requested.
Seamus pulled himself up and stretched his back. The gypsies were all watching, but he thought limbering up the best course of action as he contemplated what to tell them next.
“We are not bees,” he said. “’Tis true. But it appears we’ve stumbled into their hive.”
There was a murmur. One of the old Roma ladies shuffled forward on a cane that looked as old as she. Which is to say several centuries old.
“This revolution is not our concern,” she said.
“Aye,” said Seamus. “But this is more than a revolution. If the Baroness falls to Loiza, it will light a fuse of unrest and disorder that would surely leave this entire region in ashes.” He saw Gordon nod in approval. He had extracted his journal and was jotting down notes as Seamus spoke. The boy did love a good metaphor.
“So we will leave the region,” said one of the older men. Perhaps the crone’s husband. “I have cousins as far south as Istanbul.”
“You cannot flee what Loiza will wreak,” said Seamus, “if he’s allowed to succeed. For he is of a nature that craves unrest. And there are others like him.”
He had them wrapped about his finger. What is his nature? they were no doubt wondering.
“We must stop him here. Even now he has recovered from our ambush.”
“How do you know?” said the crone.
“He’s supernaturally strong!” said Mircea.
“But why would anyone follow him?” the crone’s husband asked. “With the destruction he causes?”
“His followers believe in his message of creating a new order of equality and fraternity by leveling the old order.”
“That they do,” said Seamus. “But I doubt he does. His revolution is not about fraternity. It’s about chaos.”
“Chaos?” said the crone. “What do we care about that? We Romani thrive no matter.”
“Gort,” said Seamus, motioning his nephew to his side. “Turn back in that journal, to your description of the train ride into town.”
Gordon dutifully did as told.
“Now read the section about the village.”
Gordon flipped back several pages and cleared his throat. It was a rather large audience now that turned to listen:
“Buckovnya is a village locked in time, pulled from the illustration of some medieval tome: industrious farmers plow out neat plots of Spring planting, as orderly as the pieces of a chessboard set up betwixt two wise men in a Spanish fishing village; whilst livestock graze within pasturage of hearty grains. Flax, wheat, grasses, millet, chickpeas, perhaps lentils, even sesame…”
“I’ll stop you right there,” said Seamus. He’d forgotten about the exhaustive list of grain crops. “Skip ahead to Loiza’s reaction to the, um, wise Spanish chess players’ board.”
The lad bravely skipped ahead and resumed:
“Loiza, the charismatic egalitarian revolutionary, responded with derision to the order of this ancient little hamlet. ‘These are the chains of the nobility,’ he snarled monstrously, ‘a carcel of the feudal order, meant to imprison the people in generational bonds behind bars made not of metal but tradition and avarice!’”
“Loiza does not hate inequality. He hates order. He hates security. He wishes to throw off the old order in order to create chaos.”
“What does it mean?” said Elie. She was always willing to ask the question.
“He’s the one behind the disappearances,” said Seamus. “For it is not the Baroness snatching dissidents or the Roma kidnapping babies.”
“Why would he kidnap babies and dissidents?” asked Elie.
“He’s a strigoi,” said Seamus, and at the word several of the old gypsy women made signs to protect themselves from evil.
“A revenant,” said Gordon unhelpfully.
“A strigoi,” said Seamus, “a revenant…a vampire, the mullo. He is the Shadow Walker, and Loiza plans to use the chaos of his revolution to create a hunting ground.”
Chapter Eight: The Rebel Assault
Gordon watched Roland and most of the other gypsies head away from them, down the road back to their camp. Only Mircea, a half dozen of the young Roma men and Tsura had decided to return to the manor of the Baroness to assist her against the inevitable attack that Loiza would launch. Tsura’s announcement that she was staying had caused an uproar and argument that even he could not follow, the end result being that she joined their group, tears in her eyes but standing proudly.
Though Seamus and Myron had implored Roland to stay, he was first and foremost his clan’s leader, and if the elders were determined to flee the country, then it was his sacred duty to remain with them.
So Seamus led the small band back up the road, back to the estate of Baroness Lia Corrine. They were a sober bunch, not just because of their various bumps and bruises, and the disconsolation of the Roma departure, but also because night was again falling, and they knew now what that meant: Loiza could lead his forces openly rather than from the dark confines of the train depot.
The valet let them into the manor, and the Baroness listened somberly as Uncle Seamus explained the situation: the strigoi revolutionary Loiza Amriya had enthralled the townsfolk under the guise of his uprising. Now they sought to overthrow the Baroness, plunge the barony into chaos and provide Loiza with fertile and lawless grounds in which he could slake his diabolical thirst.
As Seamus finished his explanation, the captain of the honor guard burst into the foyer. Unaware that the visitors had returned, he fumbled to remove his hat and formally greet each of them in turn, with a series of elaborate bows that each time pushed his belly over his belt and strained his tunic.
“Madame Corrine,” he said once greetings were done. He was out of breath and his face was flush. “I’ve only just returned from the village. They are mustering!”
“Thank you, Captain,” said the Baroness calmly, “I am aware of the threat. Are they en route now?”
Her demeanor appeared to settle the Captain. “Well, my lady, it appears they are just beginning to muster. Shuffling about in the village square. Perhaps four dozen of them.”
“Who is leading them?”
“Hard to say, madame.”
“Are they armed?”
“They carry torches.”
“And pitchforks?” asked Elie. Seemed the appropriate weapon for such an army.
“Those who don’t carry torches carry pitchforks.”
“And their numbers grew while you watched?” said Uncle Seamus. He was no doubt already calculating how many more they might expect before sundown. For Loiza could not strike until sundown.
“Yes, sir.” The Captain was clearly not sure who was now in charge—Seamus or the Baroness—so he looked back and forth as he spoke, as if following a very miniature game of tennis. “Shall I call the rest of the guard?”
Uncle Seamus made a great show of turning to Baroness Lia, to defer to her orders.
She nodded solemnly. “Igen, Captain. Deploy your honor guard to defensive positions within the estate’s walls. And tell your men that the villagers who are attacking are under the enchantment of a vile strigoi, so they must strike with subduing force only.”
“Strigoi, madame?” said the Captain, his face changing from flushed to pale in an instant.
“The leader of the revolution,” said Seamus, taking back ownership over his half of the conversation. “He is a parasite. Using his charisma to feed off the vitality of the barony’s hard-working farmers.”
“And he’s a vampire,” said Myron, chuckling to himself, though Gordon did not understand the joke. “We will handle him.”
“The children will stay back, at the bulwarks of the manor,” said Seamus, waving Tsura, Gordon and Elie to his side.
As the adults discussed the tactics for the battle—subduing force and deployment to the estate walls and such—Gordon found himself growing increasingly nervous. What was to be his role in all of this? Though he was nearly thirteen, and knew that someday these adventures would serve as inspiration for his many novels, he was concerned that perhaps fighting in the midst of this battle was too early in his life to provide much benefit.
He greeted the assignment on the battlements along the manor wall with a sigh of relief. Seamus handed a satchel full of flash bombs to each of the children.
“They’re explosive,” said Seamus, “but won’t do much damage, even to those in close proximity. Their primary use will be to illuminate the battlefield for us, so we can best marshal our limited manpower.”
Gordon looked at Elie and Tsura when they had received the assignment, and he saw that they did not seem elated, or relieved, by their duty.
“We’re always on the crumby lookout,” Elie said, “while the adults get to do all the good stuff.”
“We are not deer,” said Tsura, “apt to flee at the first scent of a predator. We must face the wolves and fight!”
But Seamus had already moved along to planning the next section of defenses, leaving Gordon to feel equal parts embarrassed and relieved that they remained on battlement duty.
They dutifully followed the valet, Mr. Büffka, to their positions behind the walls overlooking the approach from the village. Like many of the ancient manors and castles Gordon had seen in his travels, whether Irish or Danish or Japanese or Persian, this one was situated atop a hill with a view commanding the country all about.
A vineyard ran down one slope, a wooded ground down another, and a wide field—cut in half by the road—down the south side of the estate.
Their lookout post was over this last view, and as the sun set to their right Gordon watched Seamus and the Captain deploy the dozen members of the honor guard and the half dozen Roma to positions along the estate’s outer ring of low stone cattle fences. He stood between Elie and Tsura as they complained to each other about their role in the battle, quite as if he wasn’t there at all.
Seamus came back to check in one last time, just as sunset turned to dusk and the last red in the west turned to blue.
“We’ve a long night ahead,” he said.
“I’m not scared!” said Elie, as if hoping for a battlefield promotion to Lieutenant.
“Nor am I,” said Tsura, as if hoping for a promotion to metaphorical wolf.
“How about you, Gort?” Seamus asked.
“Um,” he said, not sure how to answer. At the moment he was not really scared, but that was largely because he was assigned back at the bulwarks. His concern was that saying so would get him reassigned up with the men.
“Say no more,” Seamus said before he could reply. “Just remember this if you’re nervous: we may be outnumbered. And outgunned. And we’re defending ground unfamiliar to us. But we have one thing they don’t…”
Just then there was a sharp bang farther down the hill—the sign that someone had been spotted on the road—and Myron called backward for Seamus to return to the front.
And so, without completing his thought, Seamus hurried forward, leaving Gordon to guess what they had that the rebel assault did not.
The girls had each extracted a flash bomb, so he fumbled in his bag to quickly extract one himself. He looked it over as they waited. It felt the size of a large goose egg, wrapped in paper and heavy as stone.
“Over there!” yelled Elie, jumping to her feet. Gordon nearly dropped his flash bomb, he was so surprised, but he recovered and looked where she was pointing. Sure enough, a small pack of men was moving up the left edge of the south hill, along the vineyard and straight toward the manor.
Elie threw her flash bomb and it landed amongst the crowd, exploding with a terrific pop and illuminating the group of them. She let out a whoop. Another loud crack and blinding flash followed immediately to the rear of the group, and Gordon saw Tsura steadying herself on the bulwark after her own throw.
“There probably aren’t a hundred of them in all!” she said as she let another bomb fly, this time at a column of men marching like zombies up the road. Elie added another that succeeded in shifting the center of the line. Both girls whooped.
Gordon had thought a hundred men seemed like plenty, especially since they were fewer than twenty on the defense, but said nothing. He was already two volleys behind the girls and the flash bomb, though only as heavy as a goose egg, was beginning to weigh down his arm. He spied a small cluster of men who were approaching an unguarded spot along the wall, took aim and threw with all his might.
Elie Doolittle loved the feeling of the flash bombs. They were the same size and weight as a billiard ball. The perfect projectile weapon, particularly for a girl with a very good arm. Elie played in an underground baseball league at Abigail Adams Preparatory School in Washington, DC, where young, proper ladies like her and her classmates were discouraged from such pastimes, so they had to disguise their games as bird-watching or landscape-painting outings.
She noted a clump of attackers approaching the main gate. Though certainly everyone else saw them too, she decided the flash might spook them, and she tossed the bomb directly into the middle of them. They shouted in surprise and a couple turned to run.
Gordon was showing he was a better pitcher than Elie would have guessed. He was responsible for the third of the slope that bordered the woods on the right side of the field, and on occasion a group of rebels would pop out of the woods and approach the wall from that side. He was vigilant on the lookout and surprisingly accurate with his throws. And Tsura, the rebellious young Roma girl, was defending her section with an aggressiveness and accuracy that made Elie long for her presence in center field rather than that blasted Rose Seward with her noodle-like arm.
Seamus and Myron led the honor guard of the Baroness. They leapt atop the wall to smite the rebels from above. They cast cantrips to blind opponents and bewilder would-be attackers. Their punches and kicks were delivered in bursts and combinations that knocked down the villagers like bowling pins.
The honor guard took inspiration from the potent mix of sorcery and baritsu, and they cheered each time they repulsed an attack.
But, despite Seamus’ and Myron’s best efforts, the attackers re-formed and continued their assault. One by one the honor guard fell, and the outer walls were just too wide for such a small defense against such a large attacking force.
“I’m out of flashes,” said Gordon. Elie, too, was down to her last. She pocketed it.
“And I have but two,” said Tsura from atop the bulwark, illuminated by a burst of light that indicated that she had recently had three. She dropped the two explosives in a small pouch on her belt and turned to Gordon and Elie.
“Might as well head down,” Elie said. She stepped between them, toward the small pile of improvised weapons Mr. Büffka had left with them “just in case.” She picked up a short shovel, heavier than it appeared, and grasped it with both hands. Tsura grabbed an axe, equally heavily by the looks of it, and they both turned to wait for Gordon.
Gordon hesitated, fidgeted, stared at the remaining weapon. Finally, stooping, he picked it up: a broom handle with a few bristles still attached. He appeared resigned to his plight, for they were going to head forward to do whatever they could with whatever weapons they had.
They could see Seamus and Myron now fighting against a man who towered over the rest. Loiza, thought Elie, remembering that he could grow to supernatural height and strength. He deflected Myron’s kicks and Seamus’ punches, returning them blow for blow in a swirling, dizzying array of parries and strikes.
“Come on,” said Elie, leading the way and not looking back.
They ran the short distance down the road, toward the main gate that was now the focus of the rebel attack. Elie could see Mircea Pike grappling with a trio of villagers while the Captain of the Guard attempted to subdue his own pair of opponents. She took out the last flash bomb, aimed for the perfect spot between the two clumps, yelled a warning to Mircea and the Captain, and let it fly.
Just as it burst, a brilliant explosion of yellow and orange that stunned everyone around it, there was a cheer from the west, from the edge of the field that bordered the woods.
“It’s the Roma!” cried Gordon, and Elie looked. Tsura joined in the cheer.
Sure enough, a column of gypsies had emerged from the woods, breaking through faint wisps of fog that were gathering across the field, led by Roland Pike himself. There must have been fifty of them! Those not armed with short knives or the few ancient rifles of the tribe carried quarterstaves and torches. They let out another cheer and charged into the mass of enthralled villagers and rebels clustered about the main gate.
The attackers, surprised by the force to their flank, turned and began to run. Not even the enchantment of Loiza could hold them in place against the rout. They dropped their pitchforks and ran down the road, to the village whence they had come.
She stood side by side with the other children, watching the villager army retreat. Her heart pounded in her chest, but the feeling of exhilaration quickly turned to dread: for she noticed that what were previously wisps had now grown into long, heavy arms of fog reaching up the hillside and through the gate. The land darkened around them.
A single, shadowy figure, as tall as an elm, barreled past, pulling the thick mist along with it.
“What was that?” Gordon asked from somewhere on the ground to her left. He sounded close, but the thick fog had shrouded the battlefield completely.
“I’ve got two bombs left,” Tsura said, and Elie heard the telltale whoosh of Tsura’s delivery. A few seconds later, back up the hillside, a flash ignited, briefly and weakly illuminating the figure climbing the hill twenty feet past them.
“As tall as an elm…” said Gordon. Elie recalled the description too. “I think that was the Shadow Walker!”
And then she heard Gordon’s footfalls leading away as he bravely, and unexpectedly, ran back up the hill.
Elie followed. Once more she heard Tsura throw, and the final exploding billiard ball landed true just at the entrance to the castle: the figure of the mullo filled the doorway. Loiza.
The vampire had breached the manor.
Chapter Nine: The Final Showdown
Roland Pike had led his clan away from the crossroads with a heavy heart. He agreed with his temperamental nephew Mircea that the best course of action for their people would be to stand with the Baroness and her small cadre of allies. She was as a rock in a river: an obstacle if one were traveling by boat, but their people traveled by caravan, and she instead stood against the currents of a malevolent force.
Nonetheless the elders of the clan, always esteemed highly by the Romani, spoke out against intervention. They were as butterflies, said the old ones, seeking sweet clover whilst the bees buzzed about them.
But as Roland led his people away from the town via the forested road, it was his niece’s unexpectedly defiant choice to stay that gave him the most pause. Perhaps the badger could shake its timidity. How then would the mother bear react?
The evidence of Loiza’s rising power became manifest as the day waned. Abandoned wagons, left behind by drivers seized by the revolutionaries. A riderless horse, still saddled, running back to town. A hand-painted sign that said, among other things, that the town was now under the control of the People’s Republic of Buckovyna, and that all foreigners were subject to the Republic’s immigration rules. Roland knew this meant Roma in particular.
It was the overturned caravan that persuaded the others that they must turn back: it was one of their wagons, stolen from their camp when the villagers had raided them the morning before.
Their clan, Roland argued, owed no allegiance to the Baroness. But Myron Fish and his world-famous business partner, Seamus Tripp, had undertaken a mission, without hesitation, to rescue them from the clutches of Loiza and his minions. And now they were at risk, confronting those same minions to protect the Baroness.
So, as the sun set behind them, the elders agreed to allow the fighting men of the clan—nearly three dozen—to return to Myron and Seamus to support them in defense of order in Buckovyna. They turned away and moved at double speed back toward the estate of the Baroness, brandishing their weapons and torches and singing to hearten one another ahead of the battle.
They could hear the booms of small explosives as they approached. They rushed through a tangle of woods and emerged to the east of the battle. By the looks of it, Roland at first feared they had arrived too late. Then he saw, at the heart of the battle, Seamus and Myron still standing but surrounded by Loiza and dozens of enthralled villagers. He led the Romani warriors with a mighty cry, and in no time they had broken up the rebel assault.
But before they could enjoy their victory, before Roland could embrace his old friend Myron and apologize for the tardiness of the clan’s relief, a thick fog descended on the battlefield. As the men muddled around, re-forming to make sure they had subdued the last of the villagers, Roland bumped into Seamus. They greeted each other.
“About time you got here!” said Seamus cheerily, as if Roland’s arrival was part of his stratagem.
“Where are the children?” said Myron from nearby.
“I saw them ascending the road,” said the guard Captain, “back to the lady’s manor.”
“More importantly,” said Roland. “Where is Loiza?”
Myron Fish was relieved and grateful to see his old friend Roland Pike. Like a Gristmill shopping spree on the last day of the month, Roland had arrived just in time.
But the disappearance of the children, and Loiza, complicated this final entry in the ledger.
“To the manor!” cried Seamus, and Myron followed the sound of his voice through the fog. He emerged ten feet behind Seamus and Roland, and the trio raced up the small drive toward the manor at a full run.
“Messieurs,” said Büffka. He sported a terrific cut on his forehead and a shiner that would be black and blue for a month beneath his right eye. He looked like the proverbial gutter cat, dressed in one-hundred-year-old butler’s garb. “The Baroness. The children.” He was gasping between syllables. Myron wished he would take a deep breath and allow himself a moment to settle.
“Out with it, man,” said Seamus.
“They are in the sitting room. With that monstrous man.” Roland stepped forward and caught Büffka as he slumped to the ground.
“You two go on. I’ll take care of Büffka.”
Myron slipped past the gypsy and the valet—would not do to knock the poor man completely over—and rushed down the hall to the sitting room. The door was still partially ajar; he pushed it open with his shoulder, and he and Seamus tumbled into the room.
They took it all in again in a moment: the great fireplace, the head of the black bear growling over the mantel, the fine furniture, the overstuffed lounges, the veneer of age and use over everything. Seamus kicked the door closed behind them and moved to the left, negotiating between a fine, dark wood credenza and a free-standing cellaret.
Behind one of the great chairs on the other side of the room, next to the fireplace, cowered the children. They were guarded by the Baroness, who held a rapier before her in a serviceable sixte position.
In the center of the room, apparently put off by the Baroness and her swordplay, Loiza was glowering at the four of them, but when they entered he turned to face Seamus and Myron. He stood a head taller than either.
“Your plot is foiled,” said Seamus. He was in an awkward spot next to the waist-high wine rack. “Your thralls are routed. Buckovyna will remain at peace.”
Loiza made a sound like a laugh. “If I kill her,” said Loiza, pointing at the Baroness, “her lands still fall into chaos. She has no heir.”
“Not if we have anything to say about it!” said Seamus, pushing past an end table and approaching. Loiza seemed to grow even taller, his features more grotesque in the low light of the room. He struck at Seamus unexpectedly, before he had worked his way clear of the furniture, and sent him tumbling backward over a green velour ottoman.
Myron leapt forward as well, just a step behind his partner, and attempted a hold to pin the giant’s arms. Loiza shrugged it off, turned Myron in place and tossed him back whence he had come.
Loiza now returned to the Baroness.
“They cannot help you,” he said. His voice had turned monstrous too. The Baroness, for her part, transitioned from the sixte position to the quarte. “En garde?” he said, knocking the rapier to the side. He took a big step toward her, raising a hand to strike. Myron briefly imagined poor Büffka and the evidence of the same violence on his face.
Then the door flew open and in charged Roland Pike. He held a broomstick— where he had gotten it, Myron had no idea—and charged directly at Loiza.
Roland was not a small man. He was broad and strong. He raised the broomstick over his head and let out a fearsome gypsy shout before striking Loiza across the back with it. The murro turned as if struck by a particularly pesky housefly. He reached out and grabbed Roland by the throat. The broomstick clattered to the floor and rolled toward Myron.
“I’ve seen this one before,” Seamus said, on his feet again and moving left to surround Loiza.
“I hope you have a better idea than the last time,” said Myron, circling right so he and Seamus were on either side of Loiza. “This room is too small for one of your clockwork incendiaries.”
Loiza dropped Roland in a heap at his feet and let out a deafening, terrifying roar. Myron knew that strigoi could transform into animal form. Probably how Loiza had hunted and survived in the region before concocting the plan to overthrow the Baroness. Perhaps the thrill of battle was reawakening that animal aspect.
Myron gave a short wave to Seamus, to coordinate their attacks, and they moved forward again. He retrieved the broomstick and waved it before him, employing an array of baritsu attacks that—he hoped—would at least confuse Loiza.
Seamus moved in from the other side. Though his approach was now obscured to Myron by Loiza’s bulk in between, the flashes and popping noises indicated spellcraft. Myron, for his part, was still mentally exhausted by the day’s magicks: he would leave that tactic to Seamus.
The big vampire was unperturbed by their attack. Once they were in range he lashed out, first at Seamus, knocking him backward over the ottoman again; then, turning to Myron, he parried the broomstick, grabbed it from Myron’s grasp and hit him with an open-palm strike to the midsection. The air was knocked from Myron’s body and he tumbled backward heels over head, coming to rest beneath an ornate coat tree.
Roland had come to, perhaps accidentally kicked by Myron or Seamus during one of their offensives, and he was again face-to-face with Loiza.
But the monster was too strong. He was now transformed into a half-bear beast, his muzzle elongated and his hands extended into long paws. His jacket popped and rent beneath his bulk, exposing a thick mat of fur.
He roared again, and Roland stumbled back a step, tripping and falling onto his bottom.
The fall made Myron think of poor clumsy Gordon, and he glanced over toward the children, behind the chair.
But they were no longer there! His heart skipped a beat. Myron scanned the room in a panic until he spotted Elie behind a settee, scrambling on hands and knees toward a dark corner of the room. Gordon was crawling close behind. They seemed to be talking to each other, though too far away for Myron to hear. What were they up to?
Loiza had reared up over Roland, to bring down a killing blow, but Seamus leapt in front of him, casting a spell that extended a weak but effective field in front of them. Myron knew this was a last-ditch move, that the spell was temporary and exhausting for the caster. Loiza’s attack was diverted by the field, and he staggered backward in surprise.
Myron got to his feet and picked up the only weapon close at hand: the coat tree. He held it in both hands and charged at Loiza from the side, holding the rack like a battering ram.
It struck Loiza at full speed and pushed Myron backward over a chair, right in front of the fireplace. There stood Tsura and the Baroness, each with an oil lamp raised in hand. That was what Elie and Gordon had retrieved! Something to weaponize the flame within the hearth.
The Baroness smashed the lamp upon the floor at the feet of the rising Loiza just as Tsura’s lamp exploded in the hearth, spraying glass and oil across the beast. In an instant the strigoi was aglow, his great furry body engulfed in flames.
Myron cringed at the idea of the great menace’s setting the entire room on fire, but Loiza burned preternaturally fast, quickly reduced to a pile of smoldering ash.
“The fire,” said Seamus. “Thank heavens. Brilliant idea, Lia.”
“It was not mine,” said the Baroness. “It was Gordon’s. Left with naught to do but look for clues in that old journal of his, he stumbled upon a Roma proverb he’d jotted down yesterday evening at the gypsy camp.”
“It was something one of those old crones said,” Gordon explained, taking out his notebook and finding the page marked with the nub of his pencil. “Gypsies are like butterflies / in search of fields of sweet clover / they fly past towns and villages, abuzz with activity / and avoid the terrors of the night, those which fear only the flame of life.”
“And you deduced that they were literally afraid of fire?” said Seamus, sounding dubious.
“We didn’t have anything else to do,” said Gordon.
Myron dusted himself off. “Well, Baroness, it appears we have at the very least limited the destruction to one room of your fine manor.”
They all surveyed the wreckage in the room: the broken furniture, torn upholstery and scorch marks on the floor.
“I owe you a great debt,” she said to Seamus and Myron. Then she leaned over and helped Roland to his feet. He had a great knot on his head, and his heavy coat was torn. But he was smiling broadly. “And, most of all,” the Baroness said, “the Romani people may always call Buckovyna home.”
Chapter Ten: Back at the Shop
Seamus Tripp felt an uncharacteristic sense of calm, seated behind the long front counter of Tripp’s Imports & Antiquities. It was midmorning and he felt none of the typical anxiety of a long day of tending shop.
“The wandering life has a certain appeal,” he said aloud, though he knew no one was listening. “But there is nothing like the comforts of home.”
Gort was at the small writing desk tucked in a nook beneath the salon’s grand staircase. He had been ensconced there for nearly an hour, scribbling away furiously.
Elie had the easel out and was noodling over something that made her wrinkle her nose in concentration. She tugged on occasion at the silver bracelet on her left wrist.
He could hear Myron and Mrs. Doolittle in the kitchen, discussing the state of affairs at the shop from Myron’s favorite perspective: the financial one. Apparently prices had risen on flour or some such, and they were in a heated discussion about how to offset the corresponding rise in bread costs around the house.
Seamus stood and meandered toward the bookshelves. “The comforts of home,” he repeated to no one in particular. He ran a finger along a bookshelf at random, returning a modest coating of dust. “Provided, naturally, that the home is in good repair.”
He arrived now at Gort’s nook. The poor bugger had taken no notice of his approach.
“Let’s clean up the place a bit, shall we?” said Seamus. No one had been listening up to this point, so Seamus was surprised by his own irritation that this subtle command elicited no response. Yet it irritated him nonetheless.
He gave Gordon a tap on the top of the noggin. He started and looked up, his eyes confused behind the round spectacles. “Yes, Uncle?” he asked obediently, once he had found his bearings.
“The bookshelves, lad. They could use a dusting.”
“Yes, Uncle,” said Gordon. He retrieved the omnipresent feather duster from its perch behind the counter and got to work straightaway on the shelves.
He left behind his journal, and Seamus picked it up to peruse. It was full of the boy’s signature purple prose. Never used a simple word when a polysyllabic one was available. Every noun accompanied by two or sometimes even three garish, unnecessary and overly descriptive adjectives.
But he did spin a good yarn. The journal, such as it was, read more like a novel. Plotting was well laid and characterizations strong. The Baroness, with her air of detached nobility. Roland Pike, a strong Roma clansman. Loiza, the vampire/revolutionary who devolved into a monstrous strigoi werebear.
Seamus kept the journal in hand as he wandered over to Elie’s perch. The painting looked like something from a Dickensian novel: grim and slightly dystopic. He thought it a fitting companion to the boy’s journal work and said so.
“Is that right?” said Elie. “At the time I was not feeling so glum as Gordon was.”
The girl’s mood had turned when they had all finally arrived in Kraków, only to discover another note from her parents: Papa off to Siam to renegotiate a trade deal; Mama to South Africa to bring Boer farmers and British financiers together again.
She tugged at the bracelet and applied a smudge of gray to a tree trunk.
Seamus opened Gordon’s journal and read out loud:
“The woods here are wrought from the nightmare of the Grimms: the great canopy blocks out the light of the sun; eerie shadows obscure predators, and menacing silhouettes lurk behind every tree trunk. The wind ruffles the fallen leaves, a great rake passing through the landscape, pulled by a spectral gardener.”
Seamus groaned to himself. The metaphor was difficult to grasp.
But the boy had sidled up, gazing at Elie’s painting as Seamus had read the descriptive paragraph, so Seamus stifled any critique.
Together, they looked at the dark green of her rendering, at the hint of dark brown wending through the forest floor, what must be a small trail tracing through the wood, and there—at the end—a touch of blue ringing a dot of orange. The gypsy camp, off in the distance. Whether just arrived or preparing to depart was not clear, but Seamus was certain that it would be on the road soon enough.
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.