Author’s note: One of the problems I’ve always had when trying to do NaNoWriMo is that after some small number of words(usually around 5,000), I would fizzle out and have no idea where to go next. So far with Airships I’m not having that problem, because situations keep leading to other situations. And it’s totally ok if this thing takes me a couple hundred pages to write out, because that’s the nature of the novel and the first draft. Jim Butcher always says that one of his favorite things to do is put Harry Dresden in impossible situations and trouble just to see what happens, and I feel like that’s a good way to get conflict going. I think you see that a little already with Captain Janus; first he gets stabbed, and then he finds that his trusted second in command made off with his airship.
The guard was efficient, and quickly led Janus through the city to the jails in the palace. Marrakesh at the time was ruled by a sikh, advised by the leaders of the nomadic desert tribes. The prisoner was brought to the jail through a back entrance, avoiding needless attention. The cell was surprisingly spacious. Small barred windows near the top of the high ceiling showed that they were at ground level.
“Stay here. You will be brought before the sikh to hear your sentence shortly,” said the guard.
“What are my charges?” Janus clutched the bard. “You haven’t even charged me with anything!”
“Listen to that, Jasim. The city treasury is emptied and leaves on this man’s airship, and the stinking cur pretends not to know. What a fool does he think we are?” The guards laughed and left, leaving Janus to his thoughts.
He sat back against the cool wall. So that was what Slyne had planned, why he’d stolen the Sky Drake. The captain wondered how the first mate had managed it. The city treasury gone… Small wonder he’d been arrested. It must have taken months of meticulous planning, an incredible risk with a huge payout.
He had been attacked at sunset, and the rest of the crew had been led out drinking around the same time. The money must have been stolen just after full dark, maybe with the help of a bribed guard. It would have taken hours to haul everything across the sleeping city; the air-port was on the opposite side of Marrakesh from the palace, because the sikh still mistrusted technology, nevermind the huge sums that his import taxes were raking in. Loading the Sky Drake added several more hours, meaning that Slyne had probably flown at or just before dawn.
Had Janus gone to the airship, he would have ended up as dead as Len. In hindsight, staying at the inn to make plans was the best decision they could have made. Best of all, the Drake being full of gold meant that the airship was heavy in the air, burning more fuel and needing many more stops to take on supplies. That meant the route Slyne chose was much more predictable, with more chances to get caught.
Janus looked around his cell. The room measured perhaps twenty feet by fifty, with the long wall at the back of the cell across from the bars. The ceiling was high, probably another twenty feet, with small windows near the top that led in morning light. He was currently the only prisoner, and the room beyond the cell was equally empty. The guards were likely certain of their security, and felt no need to keep watch on a single prisoner.
He sighed. The problem came in getting out. Trying to argue with a man already convinced of your guilt was often pointless, and Janus was certain that the sikh was of the mind that he was indeed guilty. The captain doubted that anyone would be breaking him out of jail anytime soon. Escape almost certainly carried a death sentence, as if the penalty for theft – loss of one or both hands – wasn’t bad enough. Janus had no intention of hanging, nor did he want to spend the rest of his life as a handless invalid. That left a strong convincing argument as his defense. Maybe the fact that he was stabbed would actually work in his favor. He closed his eyes, and fell into a doze.
‘Wake up, dog,” the voice said. It was accompanied by a rattling of metal on metal – a halberd being dragged across the bars. Three guards waited outside the cell. The light had changed, and Janus guessed that he’d been asleep for several hours. He stretched and took a moment to wake up. They had untied his hands when he arrived, and without being told he held them out to be bound again. The guard had changed, and one who now tied him was younger, and nodded approval. The cell door clanged shut behind Janus with an unpleasant finality.
The walk to see the sikh seemed to take an eternity, through endless palace corridors filled with sumptuous carpets and beautiful knick-knacks. Staff rushed by, often carrying trays of delicacies. His guards bantered back and forth, and Janus was beginning to suspect that they were deliberately leading him in a longer route than necessary. They stopped in front of a pair of ornate doors just as he opened his mouth to ask.
The chamber inside was sumptuous, tiled in an intricate design of repeating shapes and abstract forms. Janus vaguely remembered that Islam forbid direct representations of animals and man, so architects had turned to lines and repetitions of curves to decorate. It was beautiful but sometimes overwhelming. One wall of the chamber opened into a shaded garden, with multiple decorated archways leading out.
The room was so busy that it took Janus a moment to notice the people. The sikh sat on a large thronelike chair and wore robes in a rich cream color with gold thread.
He was an older man with grey in his hair, and a finely trimmed mustache. Courtiers surrounded him, wealthy men who supported the new trade agreements and dealt in goods from all over the world. Janus recognized several whom he had traded with and delivered cargo for in the past. A table to the side was laid out with food, and more people wandered through the garden, conversing quietly. The guards with their halberds stood out sharply in their red uniforms.
“Captain Janus, welcome. I am told that you were made aware of the charges against you. How do you plead?” The sikh had a quiet voice that commanded respect, silk with iron underneath.
“Innocent, your lordship. Does my plea make a difference? Haven’t you already condemned me in your mind? I swear on my life that it wasn’t I who robbed your treasury, but I know who did,” said Janus.
“Your ship, the Sky Drake, left this morning with most of the gold in our treasury in his hold. And yet you claim innocence? Your only mistake was in not leaving the city with your airship! I can only guess at the devious plots you have in motion which kept you here.”
“Like I said, I knew you wouldn’t hear my reason. What was the point of bringing me out of my cell to have this farce of an audience? Why even bring me to the jails at all, why not simply execute me on the spot?” One of the guards raised his halberd to strike, but a gesture from the sikh stayed his hand.
“Let him speak. He only digs his grave deeper. I have witnesses who will tell of your guilt. Bring them out!” The sikh stared at Janus with cold eyes.
Two men entered the chamber, both wounded. One had a leg in a cast, and the other was bruised and battered. They bowed low to the sikh, before turning to face the captain and his guards.
Both men visibly started. They looked at each other in confusion and hesitated, reluctant to speak.
“Well? Speak his guilt,” said the sikh. Impatient for his trial to end, he tapped the fingers of one hand along the arm of his chair.
The man with the broken leg opened his mouth to speak, but the other talked first. “Your eminence, this is not the man we saw last night.”
“Of course it is, who else could it be? He is Janus van Koonns, captain of the Sky Drake. He was arrested just this morning. Look again, fool.”
“I am sorry, but this is not he. The man we saw leading the attack was also blonde, but much taller and thinner, with a sharp face. This man’s face is rounded and his hair is short and shaggy, while the other had long hair slicked back,” said the man with the cast. He looked severely apologetic. “This is truth,” agreed the other. “Though each has blond hair, they look nothing alike. This Captain Janus was wounded, it seems, while the man from last night escaped with no harm to his person. I am sorry your eminence. You have our deepest apologies.”
Janus’ mouth hung open in shock. The two men had risked their lives to tell the truth, and had perhaps inadvertently saved his life. He glanced at the sikh, who had a similar expression on his face. Murmurs spread through the watching crowd.
“Captain Janus, do you know the man they describe?”
“He was my first mate, your lordship. I was attacked last night at sunset, cut by my attacker, and spent the rest of the night at the inn called the Wandering Crocodile. Two of my crew were with me, and the rest were out drinking. They’re all in the city right now. My first mate, Ruther Slyne, betrayed me as well. I had no idea what his intentions were until one of your guards mentioned the stolen gold to me this morning. My crew and I were actually supposed to take on a load of cloth and spices and leave for France this morning.”
“If what you say is truth… I must think on this matter. Take him back his cell. Do him harm, and give him food and water.” Janus nodded in thanks, and gladly followed the guards. It wasn’t the best outcome, but it was better than hanging.