Wheelworks: Ice Domes of the Bandit Queen – Episode 10: Ice Hotel

Wheelworks by KT Sebastian

Part one: Ice Domes of the Bandit Queen

Episode 10 – Ice Hotel

Cover art by Sarah Rocheleau

Wheel Works

Courtesy of Sarah Rocheleau

In the previous episode, Lee and Brand come aboard the ice boat, Lawless. Although relieved to have escaped the dangers of the elements and beasts of the glacier, they cannot be certain of their status with these strangers. Both guests and prisoners, they rely on the hospitality of their captors.

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The night darkened. The ice boat Lawless flew across the glaciertop, leaning to starboard in the wind. At her prow, the eagle figurehead clutched the wind with open claws.

In the ship’s cabin, Lee sat up in her hammock and threw the wool blanket off her lap. She yawned and uncurled her arms.

The lamps in the cabin had gone out. Outside the portholes, the ship’s outrigger skates hissed on the ice. Brand slept against the ship’s bulkhead. Flapjack lay curled up at his side. In the other hammock, the rescued pilot remained motionless.

A dim light glowed in the helm. Captain Nemo, in his kilt, stood at the ship’s wheel. Vera Nulla leaned on a railing.

“Where are we?” Lee called out. “I must have fallen asleep.” Flapjack lifted his ears and opened his eyes. Brand, snoring with his mouth open, did not stir.

Vera Nulla excused herself from the captain with a nod and descended the steps, holding the brass handrail.

Wind whistled, and the iceboat shook. The baronet steadied herself in the hatchway. “Was that you, Lieutenant Lee?” Her voice was quiet.

“Yes,” Lee said, nodding in the dark.

“We are on the Hudson River section of the Laurentide glacier.”

“Where are we going?”

“I told you earlier, Freehold.”

“I – I have never heard of it,” Lee stammered.

Vera Nulla frowned. “You didn’t strike me as being that naive, Lieutenant.”

“The – the outlaw town? I had heard of the outlaw town on the glacier, but I had never heard it called Freehold before.”

“What had you heard it called? I’m curious. The Megalopolis of Megalomaniacs or somesuch? Banditburg? I suppose it depends on the newspaper.”

Lee made a weak smile. “The Cryopolis of Crime, the Old New York Post called it.”

Vera Nulla’s laughter filled the cabin. Flapjack, lying on the deck, lifted his head and flipped his tail back and forth.

“If a spy you are, you are poorly informed,” the baronet said, tipping her red cap.

“I still don’t understand just who you represent,” Lee said. “And these titles -Baronet of Delaware? What does that mean? I am sorry to say it sounds, well, almost ridiculous. Well, – ridiculous, really.”

Vera Nulla frowned. “The truth is more complicated than you have been led to believe.”

Somewhere above them, the ship’s bell rang distantly. Abruptly, Vera Nulla stopped. Her face paled. She looked out the porthole and gasped, “Hold on!”

Lee gripped the sides of her hammock. Next to her, Brand awoke and sat up, blinking, eyes wide. He leapt to his feet.

The lower hatchway slammed open. Sir Jean-Jacques entered.

Tenadi por via vivo!” he shouted, motioning for Brand to sit. He steadied himself with both arms on the lower hatchway.

Another trumpet volley shook the portholes. Vera Nulla seized the handrail so tightly her fingers turned white.

The ice boat dropped sharply, swerved upward, and jumped up and out into a void. The portholes revealed, beyond the rushing snow, a great black gap stretching into the distance beneath on either side: a gaping glacier crevasse. The ship tottered from side to side as it flew.

The main deck hatchway blew open. Brand, thrown backward, landed against the wood-paneled bulkhead. Flapjack hurtled toward the bridge steps and landed on Ver Nulla. The red cap swooped from the baronet’s head, revealing her black braids.

In her hammock, Lee swung from side to side; she shouted, but the sound vanished in the wind.

Jean Jacques lost his grip on the hatch frame and flew across the cabin, catching the rope of the pilot’s hammock with one hand.

With a thump, the ice boat landed on the other bank of the frigid abyss. The outrigger skates hissed. Snow flew. Wind filled the lounge.

Lee sighed and closed her eyes. When she opened them, she shook her head. Jean Jacques, the musketeer, rose to his feet and slammed shut the hatch, then turned and went through the other way down to the lower cabin. Brand, groaning a little got to his feet.

“Are you alright, ABF Brand?” Lee asked him.

“I am,” he said without smiling.

“I beg your forgiveness. I forgot to warn you about the jump horn,” said Vera Nulla; her hands trembled. “We had to jump a wide crevasse. The first jump is the widest.”

“Are you joking?” Brand asked, shaking his head. “Will there be any more?”

“No,” said Vera. “Not to speak of. That was the big one.”

“Not to speak of!” said Lee. Sitting straight in the hammock, she folded her arms. “Just who are you people? If you are not aligned with NAC, then who-?”

“We are an anarcho-primitivist commune,” the sergeant at arms said, interrupting.

“That is not precisely correct,” said Vera Nulla snapped, glaring at the sergeant. “Let’s just say we come from a settlement made up of people who find life too constricting in the floating soccer balls you call civilization.” She smiled mysteriously.

Lee, bewildered, looked at Brand; he shrugged his shoulders.

“We are a representative feudal republic,” Vera Nulla added.

“I beg your pardon?” Lee asked. “I didn’t study Political Science in school and this is all awfully academic.”

“Why won’t you answer the Lieutenant’s question?” Brand asked. “Just who are you aligned with? You say you’re not groundhogs, but-”

From the top of the steps came the low rumble of laughter. On the deck above, Captain Nemo coughed and spit into the spittoon.

The baronet sighed. “For spies, I must say, you are woefully under-informed. We are not ‘aligned’ with anyone. The Anarcho-Monarchy is not a state but a voluntary mutual aid association. We call it the anti-state. During the early twentieth century, frustrated by a lack of progress toward a stateless paradise, a secret assembly of anarchists founded the free association. Our laws -‘agreements’ we call them – are based on the ‘Articles of Agreement’ used by 17th century sea-pirates. When a noble passes away, a new one is elected.”

“Elected?” Lee asked.

“Yes. We are a representative feudal republic. Each title is endowed for life but is not inheritable. As Baronet, I was elected by the knights and ladies of Delaware, where I was born, but I answer to the Viscount and Viscountess of Greater Maryland. They, in turn, answer to the Count and Countess of Chesapeake.”

“I know about you,” Brand said. He nodded; his eyes were dark in the cabin’s dimness. “You’ve been repressed quite heavily during different times or in different countries. That’s why you are mostly a secretive organization.”

“You make it sound as though NAC did not have spies,” said the baronet.

Lee stopped and her face flushed. “But isn’t your system an oppressive system? As bad as anything the Neo-Prussians have done? It sounds like it. Doesn’t feudalism require peasants?”

“We have citizens, not ‘peasants’ and while they do provide labor as in medieval societies – although only four hours a day – they are also provided for generously by our nobility.”

“Aren’t you one of the nobles, baronet?” Brand asked, frowning.

“Feudalism is a surprisingly fair system,” she answered. “Services and goods, after all, are exchanged in both directions. In any case,” Vera Nulla continued, “if you want to know who we are allied with – in a very practical sense – it would have to be with the North Atlantic Community. It is they, after all, who have turned a blind eye to our occupation of the glacier.”

The sergeant at arms cleared his throat. “I agree. We aren’t allied with the Spaniards, Russians, or the Prussians, but I beg to differ about the NAC council.”

The sergeant at arms bowed. “Please excuse me,” he said; he turned and went out the hatchway in the stern toward the galley.

Vera Nulla nodded. “The NAC council shows no sign of wanting to bother with our Queen.”

“The Queen? What about the King?” Brand asked. “Doesn’t sound very egalitarian to me.”

“Yes. There is a king. But no one knows where he is. They say he is in hiding. No one is sure.”

“Look,” Lee said. “All of this is well and good. But – please – don’t you see? The battle zeppelin? The dead soldiers. The pilot, more dead than alive. This must be reported to the North Atlantic Council. Surely you don’t think the Neo-Prussians are just the same as NAC?” Her voice rose. “They must be stopped!”

The captain spoke up from the top of the bridge. “We’ve been dodging the damn huns since yesterday. Do you know the name of the battle blimp? I do.”

“What?” Lee was pale and her voice shook.

The captain’s voice lowered almost to a whisper. “She’s the Angrboda.”

Lee’s hands twisted together. “Oh no – the Angrboda?” she said. “How could that possibly be?”

“Good Lord,” said Brand. The baronet shook her head and sighed.

“Yes,” the captain said. “I saw her name with my own eyes. The deadliest, most well-equipped battle zeppelin in the world. We’ve been playing cat and mouse almost twelve hours now.” He spat again into the brass spittoon.

The ice boat turned slowly to the starboard. “Wait, what’s this ahead?” Captain Nemo said, too loudly.

He leaned on the wheel, and as he did the boat shifted. The cabin turned faster and faster in a circular motion.

“Hang on for your life!” the Captain cried. With one hand, he seized a brass tube protruding from the ceiling and shouted into it: “Bring in the sails.” Snow blew out of the mouthpiece as from a funnel.

He turned the ship’s wheel in the opposite direction. The boat halted in its slow motion spin with a soft thud and swiftly stopped. Beyond the starboard windows was only whiteness.

“All hands aboard?” the captain called again through the tube. A distant “Aye aye,” answered him.

Captain Nemo turned and looked down the steps into the cabin and took off his Brodie helmet. His red curls were wet with perspiration.

“The way into the valley has been blocked by avalanche,” he said.

“Oh dear,” Vera Nulla said.

“What does this mean?” Lee asked, exchanging a glance with Brand.

“We won’t be able to go directly into Freehold.” the captain said. “We will need to stop at the hostel on the city’s outskirts and harbor there.”

He barked an order into the brass voice tube. In the stern, the ship’s small engine came on; the ice boat grudgingly stirred, dropping snow and ice from its gunwale as she gained speed. Her sails caught the wind.

 

 

The boat flew on over the neverending glacier for several hours. Above, the moon crossed the sky, emerging and disappearing. Night passed.

The sun rose, turning the snow clouds yellow, pink, and white. The glacial ice, gray in the early light, turned white, then vivid blue.

Lee awoke when the ice boat hit a bump on the glacier. The cabin, unlit, remained dark.

The musketeer, Sir Jean Jacques, still slept at one end of the bench, left leg up, cradling his musket. Brand sat at the other end, both boots on the deck, snoring. On the upper deck above the steps, Captain Nemo still manned the ship’s wheel, a bottle of whiskey in his hand.

“Brand!” she said. Brand, his face sandy with stubble, sat up, his red eyes as big as his uniform buttons. His eyes followed Lee’s gaze outside into the sunlight.

The boat followed a winding river of blue ice. The sun was directly above them in a misty sky. A sunshower of snow filled the air, each crystal sparkling in the air. Above a gray and blue ridge on the horizon, a rainbow floated.

“There’s a lot of tracks here from ice boats,” Brand said, yawning.

“The hills are almost too bright to look at, covered in snow,” Lee said.

Brand turned and looked out the portside in the other direction. He gave no indication he had heard her. She stepped toward him, but when the ice-boat turned sharply she was tossed against the wall. Brand helped her up.

“Look,” he said.

For a moment only, the ice hills opened up on the portside and a panoramic view of the glacier valley spread out before them.

“It’s a city!” she gasped. “How is it possible? I had heard rumors about people living here but I never realized it was a real city. Only the most disreputable dirigibles will call there, I’ve always heard. But…. it’s beautiful.”

The city on the glacier lay in the center. There were at least a dozen domes of transparent ice, taller than stadiums, enormous even in the distance. Inside, there were buildings, trees, and streets. Multi-colored lights sparkled.

Lee gasped. Flapjack, beside Lee’s legs, wagged his tail.

“Good Lord,” Brand whispered.

Lee and Brand huddled together and looked out the cabin porthole. The ice boat sailed on through a rift between outcroppings of ice and stone and then down a curving frozen channel.

The outrigger skates hissed. The ice boat, slowing, rounded a frozen hill and entered a flat, circular field. Snow blew horizontally, tapping at the portholes.

The hatchway opened. Baronet Vera Nulla emerged, red-faced from cold. Seeing Lee and Brand, she smiled.

“Come along then,” she said with a half smile.

“Where?” Lee asked.

“We are on the outskirts of Freehold at the Grand Ice Hotel.”

“What?” Lee asked. Blinking, her mouth fell open.

“Yes,” Vera Nulla said. “The hotel is lovely, if something of a tourist trap.”

“W- what?” Lee stammered again.

“We have a lively tourist trade here. Illegal, but substantial nonetheless. You would be surprised by the people coming through here.”

“Atlanticans?”

“Yes, but anyone really that wants to get out of your tin clouds and get some fresh air.”

The sergeant at arms appeared at her side in the hatchway. He gave them a weary grin. “Speaking of fresh air, will you follow me?” He nodded at the steps leading up to the main deck.

“What about him?” Lee asked, glancing at the pilot, still wrapped in his hammock.

“He will be well cared for, you have my word,” Vera Nulla said.

Lee nodded and rose, tightening her parka as she did. “Let’s go,” she said to Brand and Flapjack. She stumbled; Brand caught her elbow. He helped her up the steps, the dog at their heels.

One after the other, they followed Sergeant-at-arms Goldman out the hatchway. A weak breeze blew. In the sky overhead, the sun escaped the clouds. Wisps of snow blew across an ice field about half a mile long. A half a dozen smaller iceboats docked against an ice jetty. Beyond this was an ice wall about three stories high.

Their boots crunched and squeaked in the snow on deck. One of the Lawless’s crew, a solid fellow in navy blue, lowered a ladder from the deck to the ice field and held it as first the sergeant the sergeant climbed down. Lee was next in line. She stopped and looked at the dog.

“I will carry him down,” said Brand. Lee nodded, grasped the ladder and swung out and down.

“Thank you,” she told the sailor. Step by step, one foot below the other, she descended. Brand followed, the dog gripped in one arm. When he reached the ice, he dropped the dog, who bounded away with a sharp yip.

“This way,” the sergeant at arms commanded. They all followed him along the wall’s edge until they came to an alcove in the wall. Within the alcove was a heavy door of wet black wood with heavy iron hinges.

Vera Nulla smiled and nodded. “Well alright then, we have a few things to attend to here. Why don’t you two go on through the door and check into the hotel.”

“Yes,” the Sergeant-at-arms nodded. “The doorman will meet you on the steps. Tell Jeffrey at the front desk who you are and that the black crown is picking up the bill. He is expecting you.”

“Yes,” said the baronet. “Walk up the path. I will meet you at the hotel: just go on in the lobby and wait for me.”

“What?” said Lee. “Aren’t you going to accompany us? I mean, aren’t we your prisoners?”

The baronet and the sergeant at arms looked at one another and burst into laughter. “Where are you going to go?” Vera Nulla asked. “There are a hundred miles of ice all around us.”

“Honestly,” the Sergeant said with a chuckle, “it would be more than suicidal.”

“It’s alright, Lieutenant,” the baronet said, “I will catch up with you in a moment. You are unarmed. Tell the doorman at the hotel you are prisoners of His Majesty.”

“Tell the doorman you are the prisoners of Her Majesty.” He scowled; the baronet ignored him.

The Sergeant-at-arms kicked the door with his boot, and it swung open with a rusty groan.

Brand looked at Lee. She nodded. He took her by the elbow. Flapjack led the way, tail flitting back and forth.

A short passage through solid ice opened into a courtyard. Lee, looking around, gasped and shook her head.

On the other end of the yard was the ice hotel a fairy tale edifice of ice block walls, steep, triangular rooftops and round conical towers, it resembled a Norwegian stave church built entirely of crystalline ice. The walls were blue ice; the windows were clear. The entryway, a grand arch lifted by spiraling columns, sheltered steps of chalky white. Above the double doors a sign read: Granda Glacio Hotelo.

Off to the side was the hotel’s restaurant, La Tiki Trinkejo, a circular pavilion with walls, columns and a peaked roof. A palm tree carved of ice guarded the doors.

An ice wall tall as a man announced:

Tonight!

Wenchie and the Monk

and

Ego LLC

opening for

Herrick Clapton.

Flapjack whined. Lee caught her breath. “Wh-where are we?”

“I don’t know what to say,” said Brand.

 

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