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Section 1

The Buccaneers of Vinicoti (Abridged)
Translated from the original Mellifluan by Banton, a rammybobble survivor.

I have been entreated by my dear Chabuti friends, Dr. Dvangeti (now sadly departed) and the man I gravely misjudged, Captain Gerundin, to relate to you the happenings on the isle of Nicobocar, all those years ago. It all began with the arrival of a carnival, their chequered sails hoving into port, and every Fasio louse creeping out from beneath his log.

I remember as if it were yesterday, how Dr. Dvangeti, standing at my father's bedside, described the scenes at the pier, and that my father gave a disapproving nod. Fool youth that I was, I remained in the room only half as long as was polite, before rushing down the stairs and bursting out of the front door.

The pati-pikks squawked, and the tom-drummers rattled. The nanban smoked on their griddles and the dancing girls smirked. Fire sticks whorled like bodies of the heavens, and every distraction bore a whiff of danger. Wanting to assert my sophistication, I was quickly drawn to the throwing bar. A single concon was perched at the far end, and a scrawny man was distributing sets of three polished wooden throwing balls at the near. I remember his hat filled me with terror, for it was just the kind of black hat a nefarious man would wear, buckled grimly around the middle, and rather too upright in its manner. His left eye was trying to escape its socket, and the right already had.


Section 2

Above the bar was an ornate pair of pizzles, flinted and gilded, the star prize. I paid, was given my three balls, and took up position. I was so eager to claim the guns, that my first throw missed by a wild margin, thudding against the rug behind the concons. Realising I was being watched by a small crowd, I was determined to appear more calculated with my second shot. The resulting throw lacked instinct, and even before the moment of release I knew the ball did no desire to hit its mark. The crowd groaned, but goaded me on for my final attempt.

With this, the third, I was so convinced the feat could no be achieved, that I threw with more liberty again. In doing so, my throw achieved the perfect balance. The wooden ball planed sweetly through the air, and with a sharp crack, the concon-king was deposed. There was a great cheer, and the one-eyed stallman hawked and spat on the straw carpet.

"Wellun, boy," he said, in the most grudging possible tone, "pick ee reward."


Section 3 MISSING


Section 4

The spectator drew his rapier, and lurched suddenly toward the stall man, who raised his own scimitar and deflected it. It is these brief moments I still dream of some nights, such were their lasting significance. Seeing my chance, I reached up and siezed the pair of pistols I'd longed for. I frantically primed them as well as I knew how, and lined up the skeletal stallman in my sights. As a matter of honour I'd decied I must vouch for the man who had some to my aid.

Though my champion was fit and strong, and must have fancied his chances against a skinny one-eyed man, it became clear that there would only be one winner of the duel. Seeing the nimble and well instructed movements of the fearsome stall man, and being unable to muster the courage, and sank backward into a crowd of bodies. They had rushed from up and down the pier to see the fight, and being so small I had to squirm my way through. When I finally broke through their ranks, I heard a piercing yelp from the arena behind me, and knew at once my champion had fallen.

"Where are me guns ye maggot?!" I heard the one-eyed knave cry, and I sprinted home, as fast as my legs could carry me.


Section 5

The next few days and weeks, I presumed to conceal my winnings. I had stowed them away in the armoire, and when my studies were done of a morning, I'd open the bottom drawer and peek beneath the handkerchief I'd covered them with. Oh how I adored the delicious metalwork - which on both guns depected bustling crabs and bony dice. My stupidity even extended to looking down the barrels in the hope of some insight as to why I found these tools of death so fascinating.

Much to my father's surprise, I did not once return to the carnival at the pier, and instead remained resolutely indoors. Clearly he was prepared to forbid me from returning to the carnival once he'd realised it was something I might actually enjoy, and was greatly disappointed that I now denied him the opportunity to express his authority.

Dr. Dvangeti's noticed father's general surliness, and put it down to a lack of fresh air. Father was prescribed a wheeled chair, and sent away to a retreat in the mountains to pick wildflowers. It left mother and I ad odds, for she lacked the same licence in enforcing my studies, and made weak threats to report my lack of application to father. But just when I had forgotten the incident that kept me away from the carnival, it surfaced again in the most unnatural fashion.

It was a dark omen my mother discovered that night. A crab the size of a dog, pinned by a knife to our family door. She rightly assumed this to be some mischief I had brought about, and dangled the poor crab in from of my face.

"What is this?"

I looked at the vulgar blade which scarcely protruded from its chell, and sweated at the thought of the force with which it must have been thrust. The one-eyed man come for revenge. I mumbled something to mother, and rushed to my room to check the pistols were still there.


Section 6

<blockquote"There he be!">

The rain lashed the bay, and Fasio glowed behind me as I ran. There were five of them, maybe six. I heard the shattershot of a pizzle and I saw a puff of fire. There was a whistle, and bark split from the trees ahead. I kept to the shoreline and ran hard. If I stayed low, there was every chance they'd lose me. But then my ankle turned on the sand, and I fell.

"Hold it there boy."

They were too close to miss. I turned and cocked my pistols, training them on anything I saw move. One-eye stepped out from behind a tree, the water dripping from his mangy beard.

"Your flints are as damp as a hound's licker. And if that weren't enough, they're sham pizzles! They're for show boy, do you hear?"

I wept as those words, and there was a peal of laughter from the trees ahead and behind. I couldn't see them, but they were there.

"Hand'em over, and you'll live, boy."

I got to my feet, and stepped gingerly over to one-eye, holding out the guns by their pommels.

"Thank you kindly," he said. They he signalled, and I was snatched and bound by one of the ruffians.

"What'll we do with him, Potty?" one of them said.

"You said I'd live," I managed, before the gag was fully over my mouth.

"Not your kind of livin'!" cackled Potty, and they took my aboard their skyship.


Section 7

By admitting my resistance was broken, and that I was theirs to own, I managed to get off lightly. I sensed the presence of a young fellow like me had improved morale aboard ship, and the old dogs would ruffle my hair, or threw me bits of bread to watch me eat "all uppity". Still the manacles were a hinderance, and made cleaning the privy harder, so it was a proud moment when I was released and given a scrubbing brush for deck.

"One man broke the code," cackled One-eye, "he usurps yer throne of muck."

One-eye, known as "Potty", still continued to kick me affectionately in the spleen when'er he passed by. I was surprised to discover he was no more senior than the others. Stranger still, the pistols were not his, but belonged to the captain. who I was informed was not presently aboard.

I had lost interest in the pistols. For one, they were to me, the cause of my present grief. Second, as Potty had been at pains to point out, they were never intended to fire a shot. Their purpose then, their significance? I did not think further on it since they had been locked away in Captain Skora's cabin.

The ship rocked down from the dusky clouds to the sweet isle of Nicabocar, where plumes of pipesmoke rose from bark rods, the Vinitotian girls sand, and the moth-bitten sailors chewed the corks from casks and tilted firewater down their gullets.


Section 8

That was the first time I saw him. What a different proposition to the others. Dressed in the attire of a Mellifluan painter, his sweeping beetle-red fabric light as air, he strutted up to the mooring like a piped riverhen. It turned out he had been ashore at Nicobocar for some time, and desired to debrief his crew on their nefarious reconnoitering. He beckoned from shore, and the crew sloped off to the inn.
If I ever wanted to get back home, I'd have to play along. Even so, I couldn't help but follow them to the inn when the asked me to stay put. I kept my distance, and once they were all inside, I crept up to the door to their meeting room, and opened it slightly. I peeked and saw Captain Skora float down upon his soft skirts. The other sailors gathered around him, mopping his brow, feeling his clothes, and combing his fashionably floppy hair. Potty did not join in the adoration, and sat awaiting his instructions with Kazimin, a gigantic man with tiny black eyes and a bloated steaming face. It wasn't long before the Captain got down to business.

"Clear away now, give us peace," said Skora to his crew, who as the left the inn, gibbered over the fine ornaments and clothes they had seen. Captian Skora whispered now, and I took the liberty of moving behind the ale trolley so as to hear.


Section 9

"So, how did you come across them?"

"The conconman had them, as you prophesied," said Potty.

"What did you do with his body?"

"I slung it into the river," said Kazimin.

"Good and weighted down," said Potty, "then we kept up the charade of stall-keeping until the carnival was concluded."

"We did have a further trouble..." began Kazimin, but Potty slapped him roughly on the cheek, and the giant was quieted.

"Well where are they?" said the captain, his great frilled sleeves flopping here and there.

"Just here," said Potty, unwrapping the wretched things from their 'kerchiefs and holding them up to the candle light. It hurt me to see their glimmer again.

The Captain pried them impatiently from Potty's grasp. "Yes...hmmn..." he said, running his finger over the golden filigree of the barrel and hilt. He lay one back-to-back on the table with the other. At that moment, it struck me what was odd about them. The numbers on the dice were not identical on both pistols.

"We head to the gaol tonight. We have what we need," said Captain Skora, placing the pistols on his table.

I was still puzzling over the dice. Hoping to see them more closely, I wrenched over the trolley, only to topple a lewd tankard which spilled its liquor everywhere. The barwoman screeched and put here hands to her mouth. In an instant, Captain Skora had drawn his thin sword and was holding it to my throat.


Section 10

"Who is this?" he said, addressing everyone at the inn. He feigned surprise when Kazimin spoke.
"He's the trouble."
Kazimin gave Potty a victorious look.
"Then why is the trouble still trouble?"
"I thought he'd be of use alive," said Potty, "a cunning little swindler he is. One of us I'd add, if he were worked upon, and schooled in our ways."
"As Captain, I'd be the one to say.." said Skora, turning the sword tip on Potty, "..if he's right for us, wouldn't I?"
Something like panic came over me, and I jumped between the Captain's legs, grabbed up his garmet on the near side, and tugged sharply as I scrambled out from the other. Skora went head-over-feet, and his sword rattled upward into the air. Kazimin and Potty both took cover as the blade somersaulted and stuck end-first in the floor.
By this time, I'd managed to get my hands on the mock pistols, and danced out the door.

This time I would not be caught so easily. I bolted into the trees behind the inn, and leapt upon the bough of a friendly-looking tree, scaling it as fast and high as I could. I caught my breath at the top. From the vantage point, I was able to see the thugs lead by the fragrant Skora. He frothed at them for their stupidity as the walked the sand, shining their lanterns vainly along the line of trees.

I stayed in the tree long after they had gone back inside. By the light of the moon I looked at the two pistols.

There were five dice engraved on each. On the right, one, six, one, six, one. On the left six, one, six, one, six. I thought carefully. One totaled fifteen, the other twenty, was that significant? I looked inland were the jungle climbed toward the foothills, and when I fell asleep, I dreamt I was a monkey cavorting between the branches.


Section 11

The next day began with a violent storm, and I was flushed down from my tree. The raindrops swelled and smushed like fruit, and I dashed beneath a woodshed. It was full of spiders. Just as the rain slowed, I heard their voices carry.

"I guarantee it is remembered sir," said Kazimin presenting a bent reddish fruit, "I have scored it on the peel of this nanban."
"We will find the boy and the guns later then," said Skora, as the two emerged from beside the inn.
Where is Potty?" Kazimin said, gormlessly.
"He is disgraced, and will lose this share. He mopes aboard ship, expecting forgiveness, when the plank is more likely. Come, we have much to do."

The Captain swaggered along a barley discernible path through the greenery. Kazimin slunk after him, and I in the rear, at a safe distance, so that my feet couldn't be heard. For half the morning we walked, as the sun drank the puddles. Then the going because steep and narrow. Stiff corridors of rock watched us by, and seed pods swung and burst their fluff in the air, which drifted and stung my eyes.
Finally Captain Skora halted Kazimin at a high pass. A spit of a bridge periled over the chasm, where heavy plaits of water flowed.

"Do you have the nanban?" he said.

Kazimin produced something from his pocket, and looking at it, suddenly became rather sheepish.

"Well? Hand it over!"

Into the Captain's hand, Kazimin placed the peel of the nanban he had eaten. The peel was brown and withered, and the cipher he had scratched on it now indistinct.

"You ate it?" said Skora, bellowing/

"I had a hankerin' for breakfast,"

"You lubbering boob!" said Skora, hopping from one foot to the other.


Section 12

"I can't be sure without it," said Kazimin, "but it might be sixes and ones, ones and sixes."

"Six one, and half dozen of the other, eh?" squawked Skora.

There was a rustling in the bushes, and the picaroons fell silent. Skora shushed Kazimin, and crept to a nearby bush, where he parted the leaves to reveal two faces staring back. The white faces were daubed in red paint, and they were carrying sharp pointed sticks.

"Oh hello," said Kazimin cheerfully.

"Hello," said she, the leader of the tribe, and stepped out of the foliage to lock arms with Kazimin in greeting, "Come, this way."

Off into the thickest part they went, and I followed, trying not to rustle. The land seemed to fall away either side to from a ridge. I smelt a meaty char, and saw a plume of smoke rising up ahead.


Section 13

Sweat overloaded my brows, and weeped into my eyes. The dwellings in the clearing, which comprised a series of extravagant stilted towers, were as well-made as any in Fasio. Each topped with a gold crest, in the shapes of ears, legs and eyes among other things.
At the centre of the village was a pit no more than five feet wide, over which Skora and Kazimin stood. It was surrounded by sharpened wooden stakes.

Some instinct kept me back in the bushes. The whole scene wavered as if distorted by rising heat. I was right to be cautious, as it transpired that the whole village was before me, so well camoflaged and still, that they were almost invisible. I saw a flicker of movement here and there, and the hair stood up on my neck. The paint-daubed faces, silently watching the scene at the pit unfold.
"Captain Gerundin!" said Skora, into the pit.
"I, not being amenable to scollybottoms and winkletinkers, refuse to have a dialogue with you," came a croaky, tired voice.
"Stop blathering. I have your pizzles now, and you are about to witness me opening your chest. Or should I saw.. my chest."

Kazimin stomped off to a tree, and dragged a great sea chest from beneath it. He brought it to rest at his master's feet. The conundrum of its clasped locks gleamed in the sun.
"Here Kazimin. What are the numbers?"
"All ones and sizes, on both left and right," said Kazimin.
"Which on which one, in which order?" said Skora.
"One then the other on both."
"Beginning with one or six?" growled Skora, who was not beside himslef with anger.
"Aye," replied Kazimin, at which miscomprehension Skora saw fit to strike him heavily upon the nose. There was a bellow of laughter from the pit, and Gerundin stood up so I could just about see his haggard face. He was black with silver hair, an Ishgiruan. Never a more fearful-looking warrior had I chanced upon before, and thought it sensible they kept him contained.


Section 14

The night passed in waves. Whenever I awoke, I'd look over to the pit, and see Skora shaking Kazimin by the lapels, or threatening Captain Gerundin who laughed madly, or kicking the dust in exasperation. At one point, I heard a high-pitch chipping, and saw that Skora was hammereing away at the lock. But the lock was so sturdy it bore no mark, and then the natives came out of their dwellings to complain about the noise. From the signage of the elder tribeswoman, I understood she was also agitated because her people had not seen their side of a bargain. Whatever bargain it was, it seemed obvious that Gerundin was a part of it.

Before dawn I crept towards the camp. Skora and the faithful Kazimin had finally fallen asleep with their heads resting on the chest. That made it tricky for me to open safely, without disturbing them, and I had no intention of leaving the isle of Nicobocar without uncovering the plot.
I mustered up some courage, and decided to gamble upon the fearsome warrior's predicament counting in my favour.
After all, isn't an enemy's enemy, a friend?


Section 15

I made a noise like a cicada.
Captain Gerundin murmured sleepily from the pit.
"Psst" I said.
"Gahh!" he started loudly, then started up at me, eyes wide.
We listened nervously as his exclamation faded into the darkness.
"I will free you, but I will have your oath that you will help me escape this island," I whispered through the rows of tiny spines surrounding the pit. I had no inkling of how I would keep him to this promise.
Kazimin snorted suddenly, but did not awake.
After a suitable pause, Gerundin spoke quietly in broken Mellifuan.
"Don't touch the spines. They're poisonous, and will turn your insides to mush."
I moved my palms well away from the darts poking form the soil.
"How do I get you out?" I said.
"Pull the thickest towards you," he gestured, "no not that one. That one."
I pulled the largest and to my surprise, it came free of the sandy soil. It was about three feet long. Its removal effected the collapse of an entire side of the pit, and the Captain was able to escape. The whole thing was wonderfully simple, and crucially, made very little noise. I could smell his rummy breath as he leaned down to me, and I wondered if I had made a mistake.
"Good work young man. I needn't ask why you're here," he said, glancing at the chest and back, and raising a white-grey eyebrow.
Of course, I had no idea what lay within - some treasure perhaps. Immediately, I handed over the pistols presuming he know how to use them should his captors wake up.
"O-ho!" he said, stifling his delight, "just remember. One-six, six-one. That means run."
With a caring touch, he lifted the snoring Captain and his stooge Kazimin aside, and began forthwith to adjust the combination according to the numbered dice on the pistols. With a satisfying clack, each brace unclasped, and the Captain lifted the lid.


Section 16

"It's empty," I whispered, looking at the red lining.
"It's O-PEN!" shouted Gerundin into the night.
The alarm was raised. Within moments there was a general rattling, and then faces appeared beneath the lick of their torches. I felt cool metal bounce softly upon the nape of my neck, the two of us at the tips of their falcatas.
Finally, the bleary-looking Captain Skora stood up, almost as astonished as I was at Captain Gerundin's daring. When he saw the open chest, he hurried over.
"I told you," said Gerundin smugly.
"What in Foundation! Where is it?!" said Skora.
"It was never in there, it was always in here," he said, pointing at his temples.
"I don't believe you," he said.
Kazimin spotted me, but before he could strangle me, a mesh of falcatas came between us, and would not part for him.
"Heyy!" he grumbled gormlessly.
At that moment, I felt a great deal more worried by the tribe that Skora and his lumber-brained aid. What was their stake in this? If the chest was empty, why had Gerundin not allowed us to escape when we had the chance? Wherever the treasure was now - for only treasure could draw such men to such a place - it must be highly desirable, and small enough to have fit into this sea chest.


Section 17 MISSING


Section 18

Gerundin pointed to a small patch of sand which, auspiciously, had recently been disturbed. The leader of the tribe promptly stood over it. "No treasure until we get the Verdubans," she said. "Oh no, quite right," said Gerundin cordially.

A little way up the beach so that it was also visible around from the next bay, a fire was built of matted palm and all the sticks and branches that could be found. I gathered its purpose was to lure a Verduban boat. Much to his dismay, Kasimin's firewater was confiscated and used as fuel, and we all fell silent under the shade for several hours until the sun began to descend. I thought of running during those long hours, but to where? That's why I'd enlisted Gerundin's help, but to my dismay, he was proving himself to be just as selfish as the rest of them.

"A skyship!" cried Kazimin. Sure enough it was. Two other vessesls followed. I could tell from the ear-shaped pring on one of the ship's pennants that it was the Verduban crossing we had been expecting. The fire had been enough to pique their interest, and they landed their vessel up the beach.

"By diplomacy I shall lure them out and into the jungle, where you can do with them as you see fit," said Gerundin. "Bake them in the ground, slow-cook," said the leader of the tribe, licking her lips. "Very good," said Gerundin nervously, holstering the fine pistols at his sides, "I shall shortly return."


Section 19 MISSING


Section 20

"We feel terrible," said the grey Verduban man I had seen talking with Gerundin.

"Please, it isn't necessary to apologise," I said for the umpteenth time. If they hadn't just saved my life, these Verdubans would be unbearable.

"No indeed, do not trouble yourself with what could have happened," said Gerundin smiling, "think of what did happen - the boy was saved! Besides, it is my fault that he was left to cotton on of his own accord."

Why didn't you take me with you?" I said.

"It would have been too suspicious to take you with me. I'm afraid I played on the bond the leader of the tribe thought existed between us."

"Are we not friends?" I said sadly, He put an arm around my shoulder.

"Of course, my boy, of course. And I knew you were smart enough, and that you'd remember. One-six, six-one. You probably knew the meaning of those numbers all along."

"Did I?"

"Aye. Let me ask you, what do you say was inside that chest?"

"It was empty."

"Aye, but what was in it?"

"The treasure?"

"No, boy," laughed Gerundin, "it was always empty."

"What then?"

"Misdirection," he said, delighted with himself. I looked at the pistols as he took them from his holsters. I watched him cock the flints, undo the catches, hold them to my forehead, and pull the triggers.


Section 21 MISSING



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