Lost on the Last Continent, Episode 64, Tumult at the Widow’s Tower

Lost on the Last Continent, Episode 64, Tumult at the Widow’s Tower, is now posted.

Episode 64 Tumult at the Widow’s Tower

In this exciting episode, Colonel Lost performs a daring rescue of a fearless damsel, who has seen strange things in her dreams.

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Oddly, the link above is not working. In the meanwhile, I will post the episode below, and see if I can insert it into its proper place in the manuscript later.

Episode 64 Tumult at Widow’s Tower

Preston held his breath.

From his awkward perch on the sill of the barred harem window, he carefully, soundlessly, raised his Mauser pistol and aimed carefully at the guard. With his other hand, he clung to the sharpened antler horns blocking the window. Only the toes of his boots could grip the sill. A thousand-foot drop was beneath his heels.

Now what? If he fired, the shot would alert the tower full of armed pirates. And if he did not? He was a noisy intake of breath away from discovery.

A score of young beauties slumbered in the chamber, dressed in diaphanous chitons or short tunics. Only Cynisca was sleeping soundly; the others were murmuring, turning over, twitching with nightmares. As soon as one woke, a sigh of surprise would be as bad as a scream: the long-necked Second Man leaning on the door bars need but turn his head an inch and see Preston’s shadow filling the window.

Even without turning his head, the stench of slug secretions dripping from Preston’s torn buckskins might reach through the opiate perfume of the gem-studded lamps hanging in the chamber to tickle the guard’s nose. The urge to shoot first was overwhelming.

The wiser course would be to release the bars and leap silently away, letting his ring parachute him to a safe landing on some balcony below, in the faint hope of somehow returning here again once he had reconnoitered other approaches.

But the idea of departing without a word or a glance was torture: Preston stared at her sleeping face, as if by silent willpower alone he could somehow stir her awake.

There is always something strange about staring at a sleeping face: an innocence and serenity not found on Earth can often be seen there. Preston, still holding his breath, was staring in absorbed wonder, dumbstruck by her loveliness. Cynisca’s face in repose was angelic in its serenity. He could see the slight motions of her breathing with rise and fall of her bosom, an at her swanlike neck. He stared at the firm point of her fine chin, the fulness of her parted lips, the regal delicacy of her slender nose. He was fascinated by the lambent play of light across her closed eyelids, as delicate as the petals of a dark rose.

Then, as if she had indeed heard his silent plea, her eyelids parted. Beneath, brighter than sapphires and deeper than wells, her eyes gazed into his. It was eerie, for she was just as still and serene as if sleep still held her. No hint of surprise was in her smooth expression. The soft rhythm of her breathing did not change.

He wondered for a split second if she did not recognize him, waterlogged and bruised as he was, or if she was not seeing him at all. Her eyes seemed to be staring past him, as if at a vision in another world.

He parted his lips to speak. She touched her finger to her lips, a symbol for silence all the years between her era and his had not changed. She beckoned him to duck.

His Mauser was hanging by a lanyard around his neck, along with the broken halves of his survival bow. The bowstring was intact: and he had plucked it often enough to trust its strength. He slipped a loop of the string around a projecting curlicue of the ornamental window bars, and took the two halves of the bowshaft in his free hand. Then he moved his boots slowly down the red bricks of the tower wall, seeking toe holds.

Clinging to the bowstring, he did not need to expose a hand to grip the sill. When his eyes were even with the lower sill, he could see the ceiling of the chamber and the upper part of the opposite wall, but no more. He could not see the guard, who could not see him.

Meanwhile, he could hear the rustle of silk, the murmur of soft voices, as Cynisca moved softly about the chamber, speaking to the other captive women. The sounds grew louder. Preston craned his head. He could see the tops of the heads of some of the taller women moving across the chamber toward the door, and out of his angle of vision. Suddenly the voices became loud and shrill, jocular and teasing, a mixture of laughter and complaints. He pulled his head higher to catch a glimpse.

A cluster of chattering women now crowded the barred door, each complaining to the guard about laundering her costume. They spread the wide the folds of their long, diaphanous lingerie, or chiton, camisole, or veils both to block his view of the chamber, and to lure his gaze.

Cynisca stepped to the window, as if to gaze idly at the clouds over the sea. “I dreamed of you,” she said softly.

“Me, too!” Preston’s voice was low and husky. Mostly this was the strain of hanging one-handed to a sheer wall. Mostly. “I am always thinking of you!”

The sight of his black-and-blue face and torn buckskins appearing outside a thousand-foot high window had not perturbed her, but his awkward revelation of his feelings did. Delicate blush touched her cheek and brow. She put her slender hand to hers lips as if to hide her expression and turned her eyes to the horizon.

“No, I mean a true dream, through the gate of horn. Fyodor, who counts you as his blood brother, is in need of you, and must be saved.”

“You first,” he grunted.

“I have seen a vision!” She said, her eyes flashing.

“You are a vision. Stand back. I’ll shoot out the bars, and have you out of there, lickety-split.”

Cynisca lost her poise. She lowered her head and spoke forcefully. “Do not resist the rogues who rule here! I have foreseen this! Do not come for me!”

She leaned toward him. He could see, nestled in her cleavage, a glass ampoule dangling from a necklace of fine chain she wore. In the ampoule was his long missing bullet, long as her finger.

Preston answered with a grim grin. “Not likely. Stand back, I said.”

And he drew the blade hidden in his belt buckle, and cut the line lashing his Holland & Holland securely to his back. He shrugged it into his hand.

A sharp voice now interrupted. Preston did not hear the words, but it was the sonorous, deep voice of the Ipotane, whose longer throat made a note no man of Preston’s race could make.

A choir of girlish voices rang out. Cynisca glanced over her shoulder at the scene outside Preston’s range of vision. The sudden motion shook fragrant coils of jet-black hair tumbled down across her naked shoulders. Preston heard the sound of the barred door rattling in its frame, doubtless being pulled open.

She turned back to Preston. “Flee! It is fated!”

He said, “Not without you.”

“Uzerin comes!”

“Take cover. That’s an order!”

She rolled her eyes upward. “With suchlike men, what can fates do? I say no more, but obey.” She drew back out of sight.

The long-necked Ipotane man, mottled like a giraffe with skin tones of black and yellow, now appeared at the window, peering down at Preston with large, solemn eyes. He blinked at the sight the ominous twin barrels of massive Preston’s elephant gun pointing up his nose. The man yelped, and started to raise his spline gun.

Preston said, “Now, come on, Uzarin, if that is your name. I can blast you from here to next Tuesday before you can point that thing at me, and have time left over for tea and crumpets. Take your gun but the barrel and shove it through the bars stock-first. Let it drop.”

Uzarin did as he was told. He looked mournful as the weapon with its wooden stock and enamel barrel slid away and fell toppling through the air. He said, “The Widow will take the cost out of my next nine shares.”

“At least you will be alive to be in debt. Get back.”

But Uzarin moved with snakelike quickness, grabbed Cynisca by the shoulders, twisted an arm behind her back, and thrust her before of the window. Preston could not blast the bars, nor the Ipotane, without risk to her. She wore a cold, dignified expression at this rough handling, but there was no trace of fear in her face.

“Your weapon is cumbrous, First Man,” said Uzarin with a sad smile.

Preston grinned, let go of the bowstring connecting him to the window bars, and kicked himself up into the air. Immediately, he lost all sensation of weight. He floated like a feather. At the same time, with a motion no less swift than the Ipotane’s, he raised his pistol in his left hand, and held it steady, pointing over Cynisca’s shoulder at Uzarin’s narrow, solemn, lynx-striped face.

“I got a lot of weapons, Second Man.”

“You feign! I you were sure of your shot, you would have shot already…”

“I miss talking with Terrors. They always knew I never bluff.”

Cynisca said in low tones, “My lord is compassionate, and will not slay you, for fear his bolt with strike one of the maidens behind us. He waits until they depart through the door you left ajar. Then he kills you.”

Uzarin turned his head, and saw the line of girls, either pale with fear or smiling impishly, skipping silently out the door. The sound of naked feet rapidly slapping on stairs came from below, and began to recede.

Preston grinned, “I guess that comes out of your pay, too, eh?”

Cynisca now hooked her ankles around the leg of a heavy couch. Uzarin started to step back, but saw he had no hope of dragging the tall Atlantean girl with him. He shoved Cynisca toward the window roughly, and ran after the fleeing captives.

It did not seem right to shoot a man in the back, but seeing him manhandle Cynisca nearly convinced Preston. Nonetheless, she was safely on the floor, which was covered with pillows, and so he took the opportunity to take his elephant gun into a proper grip — as proper as any man can contrive while floating weightless in the air.

Uzarin paused and looked back. “You have a Winged Man’s ring you hoaxed into serving you? We are the Free Men of the Air! You are in a city of fliers! How can you escape?”

Preston’s answer was to shoot. He aimed at the sill where the bars were embedded in brick. The shot fell with a force of a dozen sledgehammers, and the brick could not cushion the blow.

The bars were made of something that shattered rather than bent under impact. The whole length of the sill fell outward, dragging the embedded bars with it, and then the window frame came free of the surrounding mortar, and the whole thing fell down toward the balconies far below.

Meanwhile, Preston was sent end over end by the recoil, and was tumbling away from the tower. Like a spinning ballerina watching the band circle past, he could glimpse the sight of Cynisca as she appeared. She was standing on crumbling lip of brick. The opening was larger than the window had been, since the falling frame had carried part of the wall away with it.

She shouted. Preston’s ears were ringing with the echoes of his shot, and he heard nothing clearly. He spread his arms and legs to slow his topple, and then he beckoned for her to jump. She did not answer, but popped out of sight. A moment later, she was back, and in her arms a length of long, slender chain from some lamp or drapery. She threw it.

The first time, he missed the catch, and the second. But the third time, the moment he grabbed it, this tenuous connection to an object connected to the earth was enough to break the spell.

Down he plunged. Cynisca who was holding the end of the chain, was yanked out into midair, her black hair swirling like a long, silken banner behind her.