Friday, March 24, 2006


A Pirate Tale 140: The Far Door

Ol’ Chumbucket sighed. It was a deep sigh, a sigh from the very bottom of his soul.

“What’s the matter?” Cap’n Slappy asked, turning to his friend.

“Just once couldn’t we go to a lost ancient city and have it turn out to be just a lost ancient city? Just once?”

“We play the cards we’re dealt,” Slappy said.

“I know, I know,” Chumbucket conceded. He sighed again. “Teleportation? Jeez! It might as well have been a fucking time machine. What’s the difference?”

Slappy’s stern visage masked the fun he was having at his partner’s expense.

“So it might not have been just you expected when we came out of the tunnel, but here we are, so let’s try to make the best of it. At least they’re giving us dinner. We left most of our supplies on the other side of the waterfall, that’s something to be thankful for.”

The five pirates and one English officer had been given a room where they could prepare for the banquet. It was about halfway up the temple, with a balcony looking out over the golden city. Flanking the balcony on either side were statues of a local female deity, both made of gold – naturally – and their eyes were matched sets of dilithium crystals, their hands upraised, palm out, as they formed a V between their middle and ring fingers.

“You know, it seems like there’s something they weren’t telling us, maybe a lot,” Ol’ Chumbucket mused.

Slappy looked puzzled. “Like what?”

“Well, they said we ‘missed’ the Bawdy Boys, but where did they go? There’s not exactly a highway offramp. If Cementhands hadn’t fallen in the right place, we’d probably be heading back to Gibraltar by now. I figure they have one, maybe two other secret entrances to this valley that we don’t know about. We need to find ‘em.”

“Alright, that’d be a good start,” Slappy said. “What else?”

“Well, this teleportation business. What’s that? Have you seen any sign that these people have anything like that power? Or ANY magic?”

“Well the queen said she gave it to ‘em, and she certainly seemed all witchy.”

“Yes, but remember that one of the biggest exports from this area is coca leaves. Chewing on those will give you quite a buzz. All I’m saying is, I reserve judgment.”

”Seriously,” Chumbucket continued, “how much sense does it make that Leech and his pals went to all the trouble of suborning a British man o’war, setting booby traps all over the Caribbean, pounding Gibraltar into dust, and leading a party of mutineers through the jungle, if he was after was some kind of mystical power? He could have done that with a couple of guys and a rowboat. He must have expected he’d need all those other hands to carry a lot of something out. And they expect us to believe that he took the ‘gift’ and walked out of a valley with enough gold in it to buy the British Navy?”

Slappy looked nonplussed. “You’re no fun at all,” he objected. “It was cool.”

“Well, maybe that’s exactly what happened, but I’m not buying it until I have to.”

On the balcony, Tharp sat, still in shock at learning he was related to the pirate he had expressed contempt for. If Slappy was his uncle, then anything was possible. And that meant that that sailor on the Festering Boil, the one who looked so much like him, might …

No, some thoughts were best left unvoiced.

His reverie was broken by the return of Leftenant Keeling and Black Butch. The Boil’s chef had wanted to tour the kitchen where the banquet was being prepared.

“This is going to be something,” said Butch, who had worked in Europe’s best kitchens and had his own five-star restaurant in Port Royal before joining the Boil. “The goat is fresh and tender, the fish caught not 10 minutes ago. They use stone knives, but they still have an edge on them that lets them slice meat as thin as parchment. And it’s all cooked by chefs who have no reference to our own cuisine. They cook by their own rules with their own flavorings. It’ll be very different.”

Very different, and very good. The meal was everything Butch had promised, strange, delicious and intoxicating with new smells and tastes. The six visitors, with Strumpet the monkey on Slappy’s shoulder, were placed at a special table, just a step below the royal table. The king was there and the queen, still looking pale and woozy. She barely smiled, hardly touched her food. Each of Slappy’s party was assisted by an attendant, a muscular man carrying one the stone knives and used it to help prepare the meal for the pirates, slicing meat and other delicacies in a blur of blades.

The banquet was held in the lowest hall of the golden temple. The vast room was an airy space, with wide-open windows, the weight of the edifice resting on slender pillars. The effect was as if the entire pyramid, which must have weighed thousands of tons, was almost floating just over their heads.

It was Butch’s well-trained nose that first detected the trouble. As the plates from the last course were cleared away, an urn was brought in and goblets were poured from it and placed before the guests of honor. Butch waved his goblet under his educated nose, gave a start, then inhaled the aroma more deeply. Looking sharply across the table, he gave a short hand gesture and the smallest shake of his head. All six goblets were place back on the table.

Stalling until he could get more information, Slappy rose to make a speech.

“Thank you my friends. Your hospitality has been spectacular, and I know we’ll start out on tomorrow’s journey with great energy.” The royal court and temple priests smiled at this remark.

“Before we depart I want to bless you with the words of one far wiser than me: Live long and prosper!” At this, several of the Incans smiled and copied the hand gesture of the statue of the goddess, the V made with middle and ring finger.

“In our travels we have received many honors, but none as lavish as this, although a few scantily clad dancing girls might have been a nice touch but please don’t take that as a criticism. Trust me, wherever we go we will pass on tales of our wonderful hosts in the Lost City of the Incas.”

That should have been an applause line, but instead there was an angry murmur. The king rose, silencing Slappy.

“You know, there may be a problem with translation here,” he said. “You keep referring to this as a LOST city, but it’s really our hidden city. C’mon! We didn’t just wander off and forget how to get back to Peru. After the Spanish wiped out our empire, we came here on purpose and hid our city in the hopes of remaining forever out of the eyes of Europeans. It’s hard to get in here and harder to get out of. So when you say you’ll talk about us everywhere, well, that confirms for me the wisdom of our law – Anyone who enters this valley will stay in this valley. Forever.”

The pronouncement took the guests by surprise. Even Strumpet the monkey stopped her chattering. At the royal dais, the queens’ face went even paler and her goblet cattered to the floor.

“What if we promise to never tell anyone?” Cementhands asked.

The king waved his hand. “Oh, you need not worry. You were made an honorary member. You can tell anyone you want, because you will not be leaving.”

Chumbucket suddenly shot to his feet.

“Wait a second. You told us the group we’d been following, the ones you gave ‘teleportation,’ had already left. How come they got to go but we don’t?”

“Ah, yes, I see, another problem with translation, I think,” the king said in embarrassment. “They have left. They were teleported away. The word teleport in your language comes from two Greek words – tele, which means far or distant, and port, for door. We showed them to the far door, just as tomorrow morning, we will do the same for you.”

The queen was shaking her head violently now and moaning, but the king ignored her other than to signal to two of the hulking attendants, who lifted her litter chair and carried her out.

“Teleport? You’re going to teleport us? Just what the hell does that mean? And what was all that business about 10 mile limits?” Chumbucket asked.

“Oh, it’s very simple. At the end of the meal – and please drink your goblets down to the bottom, sometimes the narcotic that will make this less terrifying for you doesn’t mix as well as it should – you will be taken to the chamber at the top of this temple. As the sun rises, our high priest will cut out your hearts and teleport you to the bottom of the temple. From there, your spirits will fly to the ‘far door,’ or as you say, the tele port, where you will commune with our gods. As to the 10 mile limit the queen mentioned, that was a little joke. As you may have noticed” (and indeed it was mentioned in Chapter 138, your author points out) “this valley is 10 miles on a side. That was the queen’s way of saying ‘ain’t nobody leavin’ here, even as a ghost.’”

“Wait,” Slappy said. You said the other group already got this ‘honor?’”

“Yes,” the king said. “They drank up before all the talk started, they got nice and stoned, took it all in stride. They had fun with it. Now, c’mon, drink up! Chin-chin!”

“So they’re all dead?”

“I think so. I mean to tell ya the truth I didn’t count. There were a lot of them and it took a while for everyone to get teleported, and we’d all been drinking. But it sure is big a heap o’bones down there at the bottom of the temple. I’ll tell you, I didn’t much like those guys. Seems like they never took their eyes off our gold, and the missus just hated them, said they had the blackest hearts she’d ever seen. That was one of the reasons we wanted to cut ‘em open, to see if they really were black. THAT was disappointing. They looked like normal, cut-out hearts to me, but what do I know? Still, in all the excitement and drinking and cocoa leaf chewing, we sort of lost track. If any of ‘em are left, they’ll never find their way out of the valley and we’ll teleport ‘em all eventually. But why ask me? You’ll be seeing them yourselves in just a few hours and you can take a head count then. But we’ve really got to get going now because it’s a long walk to the top of the temple and we’ve got to get started right as the sun is coming up or it messes up the gods. Trust me, you don’t want to get to the far door and have the gods waiting around, looking at their watches and making small talk just because you’re late. Drink up, guys.”

“But we’re not ready to go,” Slappy protested.

“Well, get ready, because you’re GOING!” the king said, clapping his hands. The attendants standing behind each of the guests of honor drew their stone knives and took a step toward the sailors.

Slappy gave a look to each of his comrades, picked up his glass, and signaled them all to stand.

“Very well. Lads, raise your glasses.” Six goblets were raised sky. “Gentlemen,” Slappy said, eyeing the window. “Time to defenestrate!”

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