Chapter Fifty-One: Catching UpDeck of the Second Chance Bird, Swedish Colony, Mauritius

Torbjörn leaned against a red lacquered rail next to his old friend and shipmate, the bosun. They were catching up after their long separation, during which Torbjörn had been a prisoner of the French pirates. The bosun had just finished telling him the story of the Harlot Dancers and their capture of the ship they now stood on.

Torbjörn shook his head in wonder at the wild tale. "I tell you Nils, I wish I had ended up on that beach with all of you! I'm sure the life of a marooned sailor is hard, but it sounds like you had a lot more fun, and better food, than I did," Torbjörn said, smiling and shaking his head ruefully.

The bosun, reflecting that he hadn't been called by his given name in a very long time and was glad to hear it again from a presumably lost friend, nodded with grave sincerity. "I can tell you this, Torbjörn, you were sorely missed. Once we finally decided you weren't coming back, poor Captain Pam spent all night painting up a pretty tombstone for you. I'll wager a lot of saltwater went into the mix, if you get my meaning."

Torbjörn smiled, blushing slightly under his seaman's tan. "It sounds like she really missed me. No use hiding it, we were already getting sweet on each other before the wreck happened, both of us just too shy and set in our ways to do anything about it. For my part I grieved for her, and all of you, not knowing if you had survived or not. It is so very good to find that you did. When I watched you all pile into the pinnace I feared I was sending you to your deaths, in that wild sea making it to shore was nothing sort of a miracle!"

The bosun squeezed his friend on the shoulder as if to check that he really was standing there beside him, back among his people. "What about my piloting skills? Surely I deserve some credit here!" They both laughed. "I'm not much of a believer in miracles, or destiny, but sometimes it seems that even the most awful things can bring about some good later." The older men leaned in closer to his tall friend. "It's certainly good to see you and Pam have gotten over that shyness."

Torbjörn blushed, and laughed at the bosun's good-natured encouragement. "Mostly gotten over our shyness, mostly! When we are together now we both act like a couple of smitten teenagers! I know Pam was married once, and has an adult son, and, well, let's just say I have gotten around a bit in my time."

The bosun nodded sagely. "Yes, you have, but I think it's been a long time since either of you have gotten around. Don't worry, you'll get the hang of it again. Pam says that things like that are like riding a bicycle, once you learn how you never forget." he turned to gaze out at the bronze glow of the evening sea. "I keep meaning to ask her what a bicycle is. I've never heard of that particular beast of burden before."

Torbjörn turned to scan the shore and hillside above town for the hundredth time, wondering what was keeping Pam, his date for dinner on this splendid evening. He forced himself not to worry; the woman had more than demonstrated that she could take care of herself. Without a doubt, Pam Miller had the strongest heart of any woman he had ever seen, and she didn't even seem to realize it! Still, it was getting near sunset. She had just said "tomorrow night." What time of night did people from the future eat dinner?

Chapter Fifty-Two: Good and Proper German

Dore peered around the wide shoulder of young Pers to make sure he was washing the dishes with proper attention to cleanliness. The boy, nearly a man now, was still recovering from his head injury, and had a tendency to drift into a dream if left to himself, something that wasn't going to happen on Dore's watch! The sight of him with his head wrapped in bandages made her remember the many, many young men she had seen terribly injured during her husband Gerbald's long years of soldiering. Most of them hadn't survived. Dore had always done what she could for them, but usually their youthful bodies were broken beyond repair. They would grip her hand and call her "Mother" in their delirium, while she comforted them until they drew their last breath. Boys barely in their teens or younger, robbed of life and left to decompose along the blood-stained roads that followed war wherever it goes. The thought of them still brought tears to her eyes, and she whispered a quick prayer for their souls.

Pers was lucky. He had the benefit of a safe berth and a real physician; the French doctor, whom she still hadn't quite made her mind up about, but would defer to on medical matters, since he had adequately demonstrated his skills to the always observant Dore. He had recommended the lad be given light duties and engaged often in conversation, to help his mind recover all its faculties. It was Dore's turn today, and she intended to have him trained as a skilled galley helper, head injury or not. She made him use his German too; they had started teaching him the language way back during the voyage of the Redbird, and it had been too long since he had been given a lesson. Dore was enjoying the chance to use her native tongue for a change, the only other fluent German speakers aboard were Gerbald and Pam, and they had both decided to become Swedes along the way!

Worse yet, if it wasn't that silly sing-song they were yapping in, it was English, yet another bastard cousin of sensible and proper German, the true mother tongue of Europe in her estimation. She herself had become fairly proficient in Swedish and English out of necessity, but knew she would never reach the level of fluency Gerbald and Pam had. The two of them were natural mimics who could even charm the birds out of the trees with a few whoops and whistles! She had even seen Pam make a flock of crows fly away in a panic with just one croaking call! Pam had told her that she had learned their simple language, and they could understand her. Dore thought the whole idea smelled of brimstone, but then so much of what the up-timers did was strange, and frightening, that she gave her friend the benefit of the doubt. In any case, she wasn't really jealous of their seemingly effortless adaptation to foreign tongues, but it would be nice if they would do her the courtesy of speaking to her in her native language once in a while. Oh well, at least she still had Pers; she would make a good German out of the always eager-to-please boy yet.

Just then, an unwitting Gerbald walked in and said hello to them both in Swedish.

"Attention please!" Dore shouted in German, making Pers jump, and nearly lose his grip on a beautiful Chinese plate he was drying, "The galley is now a German speaking zone only! Or, have you completely forgotten the tongue of your birth, you shiftless vagrant?"

"Forgive me, my dear." Gerbald answered, in German, of course, not really being the fool he sometimes played at when around his wife of many years. "I hadn't realized you had grown homesick." Before Dore had a chance to protest that observation, since she was no such thing, Gerbald turned to Pers and asked, also in German, "How are your lessons coming? You are lucky to have such a dedicated teacher!"

Pers smiled at his hero, and blushed a bit before answering back in the same with only a trace of a Swedish accent. "She says I am improving, Herr Gerbald! Frau Dore has been very kind to me. I enjoy speaking your language very much, I am very lucky as a poor sailor to receive such education."

Dore, mollified, smiled benevolently at her student. "You are doing very well, Pers, I can barely hear any of that Swedish lilt in your words. When you one day visit our country you can pass for a native if you wish."

Pers smiled back, his lights were all on today, and Gerbald was glad to see the boy returning to his former sunny self. He turned to Dore, and smiled at her in the way that usually melted whatever ice she might have been chiseling at. "You are good with him, my dear. He seems much better, in health as well as fluency, thanks to your kind attentions."

Dore turned away before her husband could see her blush, and muttered "I am just a servant of God doing my duty to help His children whenever I can."

Gerbald, seeing that it was a good time to change the subject, asked them a question that had begun to niggle at him as the afternoon passed into evening. "Have either of you seen our dear Pam this evening? Poor Torbjörn is wandering around the decks like a lost lamb. According to the bosun he is to dine with her tonight."

Pers shook his head in the negative. Dore frowned, pausing in her work to wipe her hands on a dishtowel, a sign that she was thinking. "Yes, I am well aware of that assignation, and it has my approval. I have a suitable menu prepared, of course! But no, I haven't seen her since she left." Dore's eyebrows stitched themselves into a line of concern. "Why don't you take a walk and see if you can find what's keeping her. The poor fellow must be starving. Our Pam tends to eat like those birds she admires so much, a little peck here, and a little peck there, and has likely forgotten that men's bellies get restless when the sun sets! Go find her!"

Gerbald nodded his agreement with her orders, and went quickly on his way. His wife was truly a wonderful woman, and Gerbald loved her deeply without fail, but she tended to be a bit of a bear when faced in her den, the sacrosanct, and exceedingly clean realm of the galley. Well, he thought with a grim smile, she can be a bit of a bear anywhere. Best to keep her happy. Gerbald certainly didn't fear God, but he did maintain a healthy respect for His servant, Dore.

Chapter Fifty-Three: A Bad Feeling

Gerbald saw that the bosun and Torbjörn were still shooting the breeze up on the castle deck. They noticed him leaving the ship and heading for shore, and called after him. " Gerbald, have you seen Pam?" the bosun's rich baritone voice carried clearly across the growing evening breeze.

"No, I'm just going to go have a look for her. She was going to walk up to the high fields. She probably got stopped on her way back by colonists wanting to talk." Gerbald kept his voice light, but there was a bad feeling growing within him. It was unlike Pam to stay out by herself this close to dusk.

The two Swedes looked at each other worriedly. Torbjörn called to him "Shall we come with you?"

Gerbald almost told them that honestly, a couple of sailors used to the confines of a ship's deck would just slow him down on a hike, but held his tongue. "No, I think it's best you be here in case I miss her, and she comes back. If that happens, tell her to stay put and enjoy her dinner. I'll be back in an hour or so after taking a stroll around up there."

This failed to make their Swedish friends look like they felt any better. "Don't worry, Pam is a very experienced outdoors-woman! She's fine, I'm sure!" Gerbald added cheerfully, wishing he was actually so sure. One thing any soldier and woodsman that had attained Gerbald's august age of fifty-four could rely on was a strong sixth sense. He didn't like what his was telling him right now, but he nonchalantly waved at the bosun and Torbjörn before heading up the dock at as fast a clip as he could without seeming to run. Once he was out of sight behind the town's sturdy timber walls, he broke into a jog.

"Have you seen Captain Pam?" he called to those he passed. Those who had seen her told him she had been heading up the hill, but that was hours ago, in the early afternoon. Soon, Gerbald was leaving the growing town, following the hard dirt paths upwards. He paused at a crossroads. To the left was the cemetery and the prison, he was quite sure she wouldn't go that way. He headed to the right, keeping just outside the treeline. Soon he was rewarded with sign that Pam had passed this way, a bent stem of grass here, a fallen petal there. Pam didn't leave much of a trail. He had trained her well in their years trekking around the wild places of the State of Thuringia-Franconia, but Gerbald knew just what to look for. Here she had stopped and smelled the blossom of a flowering tree, jostling its branches, there she had knelt down to get her scope out for a better look at a bird, leaving a light depression in the ground cover. Only an expert tracker, and moreover, an expert on Pam Miller, could follow her in the growing gloom, and Gerbald hurried his pace. He almost missed the spot where she had left the treeline to cut across the open meadows of the high field. She had, probably operating on what was now second nature to her, chosen an open area of hard scrabble that few things could grow in, stepping carefully so as not to leave any prints. Gerbald was proud of his student, and cursed himself for having taught her so well. In his heart he knew that his ability to track her might mean her life.

Reaching the far treeline, he quickly found the place she had stopped to rest, first noticing the older marks the enslaved Swedish women had left during their foraging mission. Next, he found the small cairn of stones Pam had left to mark the spot.

"So, here is where you first met Bengta," Gerbald whispered to himself. Now, which way? Instead of heading back down the hill, he found her path leading still upwards. His heart sank as he closed in on the far reaches of the clear cut fields, the treeline a wall of giants brooding in the deepening gloom, still no Pam. A freezing dagger plunged though his heart. There, lying in the grass at the forest's edge, was her grandmother's walking stick.

We're really sorry, but this is only available to up-to-date paid subscribers.

Perhaps you just need to log in.  If you're already logged in, please check if your subscription has expired by looking here.

If you're not already a subscriber you need to know that our columns and editorials are free, along with a few other items, but almost all stories and all downloads are paid only.

If you want to read the entire gazette, you need to either subscribe here, or purchase a download of any single issue at the Baen Books e-book store  or at Amazon.com.

- The Grantville Gazette Staff