It’s Friday, so it’s time to post the next chapter in my ongoing serial for the Warriors of St. Antoni.
Warriors of St. Antoni is the first of my new Portal World Tales. The book is still being written and edited, so what you read today is subject to change without notice in the published version.
On St. Antoni, you got tough or you got dead. The only defense is a gun; your safety depends on your ability to use it. This is the story of three sisters and the choices they make to survive on St. Antoni. Bethany marries a mercenary warrior to shield her family from a predatory neighbor. To protect her baby sister, Iris chooses an arranged marriage with a beloved old friend. Jeanne and the son of their greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.
This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is unintentional and accidental. © Gail Daley 2017 All Rights reserved. Any duplication of this work electronically or printed, except for brief publicity quotes, is forbidden without the express written permission of the author. Cover Art © by Gail Daley’s Fine Art 2017
Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays. Check in next Friday for the next chapter of Warriors of St. Antoni
Click below to Download a PDF copy and start reading Broken Shackles
Max Franks woke up shackled and with a raging headache. He soon discovered he was not the only deckhand wearing chains. Tom and Jeff Bardeoux, who owned the Tumbling Gem, ‘hired’, if it could be called that, some of their crew from the jails in the towns they traded with. The practice of renting prisoners out for work saved a town the expense of housing and feeding the prisoners, and it was cheap labor for the rivermen. In return for a small fee, rivermen like the Bardeoux brothers agreed to put a town’s prisoners to work as deckhands feeding and housing them for the term of their sentence. When a prisoner’s sentence was over, the Bardeoux brothers dropped the prisoner at the city he came from on their next trip, or let him leave the ship at the next port.
Franks was an angry, unhappy man when he woke up and discovered what had been done to him, and the longer he stayed aboard the madder he got. For the past three weeks, he had been stuck on a cargo barge traveling slowly up the Black River. His chains allowed a shuffling walk around the deck but he knew if he dived into the river they would drag him under and he would drown. There were small outposts and towns along the river, but they were small oases of civilization between vast stretches of wild lands. Thick forests of Skinwood trees (so called because of their flesh colored bark) stretched up into the rugged mountains. In some places the brush and vines were so thick no boat could land even if it had been wise to do so.
The fierce Dire bear clans made their homes in the thick bushes along the river. Higher up in the mountains, striped lions hunted game in prides of two or three. Both would find an unarmed human a tasty meal. Franks had no intention of attempting to traverse the wilderness on foot.
The Tumbling Gem kept to the deeper waters in the center of the river and away from the banks the further north they traveled, because if they were hungry enough the bears and lions had been known to board a ship moored to close to the shore at night, and ocassionally during the daylight when a ship was moving.
Franks was determined to escape. He knew that while one man couldn’t handle a ship the size of the Tumbling Gem, but he was confident that if he stole a smaller steam powered boat, he could make it back down the river. The Tumbling Gem stopped at small outposts on its way upriver and usually there were a few boats docked at each hamlet. First, he had to find out where the Bardeoux brothers kept the key to the shackles. Then he needed to steal a gun and wait for the proper time.
Franks watched the brothers and the free deckhands, looking for weaknesses he could use in his escape. While he waited, and watched his captors, a deep and bitter anger toward Iris St. Vyr built. It stung his pride that the two women had trapped and drugged him. When he got back to River Crossing, that sweet-face liar would be taught something. He would teach her a lesson she wouldn’t forget.
The deck crew comprised three other chained men like himself, the two Bardeoux brothers Hank and Jim, and two free deckhands. Franks and the other three prisoners got the dirty jobs of cleaning cabins, swabbing the decks, washing dishes, and cleaning the fish caught in the nets thrown over the side each morning and evening when they dropped anchor for the night. The Bardeoux brothers steered the boat, and the other two freedmen kept the Tumbling Gem away from sandbars and other obstacles with long poles. Each evening before sunset, the Barge dropped anchor. Without lights, traveling the river at night was suicidal. If they didn’t run aground on a sandbar in the dark, they could hit a fallen log or a boulder.
When they stopped each night, one of the brothers lit a fire under a steam powered grill on the deck. Jason Bourteen usually cooked the meal and boiled the next days drinking water pulled from the river. The other freedman, Leo Miller was in supposed to keep an eye on the chained crew.
The other three prisoners had their own pecking order. It was an old story to an outlaw like Franks who had fought his way to the top of many outlaw groups. Ray Ponce was a big blond man, but Franks judged him to be too soft to give him much trouble. Of the other two men, Franks figured that only John Waters would be trouble. A medium sized, gray-haired man, he was manifestly the leader and the most dominant of the three. Jeff Bridger, the third man hung around Waters and visibly curried favor with him. The first day after Franks awoke, Waters attempted to assert dominance by making Franks move from the place he had sat down to eat.
Aware that the little scene was being watched by Ponce, Bridger, and Miller, Franks stood up and faced Waters.
“I like it here,” he said.
“I said to move. That’s my place,” Waters snarled.
Franks wasn’t interested in challenging Waters, but he knew if he ignored the man it would get worse. He set his plate down and sneered.
“Make me,” he hissed.
Waters took a swing at him, which Franks easily sidestepped, and followed it with a smashing blow to the man’s gut. Waters was out of shape. He let out a whoosh! of air and doubled over. Franks hit him a second time, this time beside the ear, and Waters went down hard.
“That’s enough of that!” Miller yelled. “You,” he pointed at Franks, “sit back down. Waters you go back where you were. Any more trouble like this and both of you will get ten lashes. Got that?”
Franks sat back down and picked up his plate. “He started it,” he told Miller.
Miller glared at him. “I don’t care who started it. It ends now.”
Franks shrugged and went back to eating.
It was several days before he was assigned to clean the cabins. Franks had already realized Miller was lax in keeping an eye on them. When he left Franks alone in Hand Bardeouxs cabin, he saw the keys for the shackles were hanging on the wall, along keys to the desk and several other items. Chuckling at the foolishness of leaving the keys out in plain sight, Franks used the desk key to open it and search for a weapon. He found an old percussion type pistol and ammunition for it in one drawer. He stuffed it down in his pants and carefully re-locked the desk. Removing the shackles key from the ring, he pocketed that too. Tomorrow they were stopping at Grayson’s Landing to take on cargo. That was where he would make his move.
They docked the next morning. Grayson’s landing was small, two or three houses set against the sheer cliffs behind them. A larger building bisected the end of the short wooden wharf built out over a sandy beach. A small cultivated field ran down to the edge of the river. Tied to the wharf were three steam powered fishing boats that could safely be handled by one or two men.
While everyone was distracted as they docked, Franks overloaded the bluestones used to make the Tumbling Gem’s steam engine run. When mixed with water, a chemical reaction caused the stones to produce heat. Enough stones and you had enough steam power to run an engine. It was tricky knowing the right amount of stones to mix with the right amount of water to get the correct controlled chemical reaction. Too little and you didn’t get enough heat; too much, and you got a nasty explosion. Franks was counting on an explosion. To make sure it would be a big one, Franks also added more water to the engine, and bent to unlock his shackles. When he spotted Waters watching him, he tossed the keys to him before he slipped over the side. He swam to the nearest boat and boarded. He was in luck, it was fully stocked with bluestones. He added water to the amount in the engine and waited for the water to produce enough steam to start the engine.
In the meantime, Waters had used the keys to unshackle the other prisoners and he and Bridger had jumped Hank Bardeoux. Jim and Leo Miller came to help while Ponce stood there watching. In the melee that followed, no one noticed Frank’s absense or that the gauge on the engine showed it was dangerously overheating.
The brothers had just realized they were short a p prisoner when Franks finally had enough steam rising to start the engine on the boat he was stealing. Looking over his shoulder as he left, he heard a massive blast and saw the great gout of flames streaking toward the sky that tore half the dock away and most of the Tumbling Gem. As everyone ran to fight the fire created by the explosion, Franks laughed as he headed back down the river.
It’s Friday when I post the next chapter in my serials. I also decided that Friday would be the day I choose to pay it forward to other independent authors by sharing their books on my timeline. Please keep in mind that I haven’t read most of these books. Please check them out for yourself.