A Tall Ship Tale #43: It’s Yuri Funeral

The series by Paul de Anguera continues.

Clambering over the debris, the sailors peered at the output pipe. “I saw something move in there!” Johann exclaimed. “Did you see something move?”

“Nope, nothing,” his brother Wilhelm responded. “But I think you Musawwarat.” An uneasy thought! But then they looked behind them at Chapter 42 and took courage from the sight of the lion they had killed there. Led by the Bach brothers, the search party strode into the next pipe. Surely the nefarious cryptographer Rita Hentrack and the letter she had stolen could not be much further ahead?

Too bad it turned out to be a bag-pipe! They found themselves trapped in the large, floppy membrane at its outlet. Worse, their struggles attracted unwanted attention. A scimitar slashed through a wall of the bag, and light from the torches of guards shined through the ragged gap.

Sanders left the other sailors, parted the gap and stepped menacingly among the guards. “You don’t know who you’re dealing with!” the towering Unix Kernel thundered. “I am infinitely scaleable! I shall grow into a giant, and I shall pinch your heads like fleas!” Indeed, even as he spoke they could see that he was taking new extents.

But the well-trained guards were ready even for this contingency. Two of them stepped to each side of Kernel Sanders. One intoned “‘A stitch in time saves nine!'” The other added “‘Sin in haste, repent at leisure!'” Wickedly and in unison, they grinned. And Sanders’ shoulders sagged in defeat, for a metacharacter between quotes cannot expand.

Marched into a throne room at spear-point, the sailors gaped at the splendors around them. Here, beneath the crumbling ruins of Musawwarat-es-Sufra, the 3,000-year-old Kingdom of Kush was still very much alive. Meroitic hieroglyphs picked out in jewels glittered from long-fringed tapestries surrounding the onyx throne. Its gold-laden occupant half-rose in startled fury. “Who are these people?” demanded Queen Pharaoh Dei.

The Captain of the guard knelt before her. “Intruders, your highness. And they have terminated your lion!”

“Kill them. Instantly!” With a clatter of hard- edged steel, the guards leveled their spears and drove the interlopers toward a wall.

“Once upon a time, there was a cabinetmaker who…” the First Mate shouted, and then stopped. The guards paused uncertainly.

“Yes?” the Queen prompted. But the First Mate bared his throat submissively, and would say no more.

“Oh, very well then! Let him tell his story,” she said in annoyance. “Then kill them,” she added in an undertone.

“To hear is to obey, O Queen!” The First Mate said, kneeling toward the throne.

Once upon a time there was a cabinetmaker whose poor village had purchased all of the chests and sidetables and samovar cabinets and footstools that they could reasonably be expected to absorb. “Yuri, we are very fond of you, and so please permit us to present you with this real leather suitcase,” the village elders said. “You will go far, and we hope soon!” Yuri took the hint and moved to Salacgriva . He knew that his workmanship was good, and his hopes were high. But not long after he had set up shop, he discovered that another cabinetmaker had moved his family in from Riga and audaciously bought a house right across the street!

Yuri very civilly visited the shop of the new fellow, Nikita, whose daughter Natasha received him. She was entrancing, but as she conducted him about the shop the workmanship he saw was quite distressing. The Kurzeme forest surrounding his old village had afforded an ample selection of beautiful lumber. He joined his wood lovingly, aligning each junction so that the grains of the pieces blended harmoniously. But it was plain that Nikita had mastered his craft in big cities. Knots and splits in his inferior wood were merely turned inward or to the back of a cabinet, and he joined the pieces together in a quick and simple way without much thought. Yuri supposed that this was how things were done in Riga and that the poor fellow knew no better. “I will help your father,” he assured Natasha. “We will build wonderful things together! And, perhaps someday, you and I…”

But at that moment, Nikita stormed in the door. “Get away from her, country lout! And never come here again!” he bellowed.

“But I came to welcome you to Salacgriva, and to practice our craft together,” Yuri offered. But peace was not to be. For lack of any better weapon, Nikita snatched off his shoe and pounded it on the bench. “We will bury you!” he shouted. And with that he shooed Yuri right out of the house!

Yuri, quite shaken by this, headed for the neighborhood coffee shop. Nikita left too, but soon returned. Far into the night, lamps blazed within Nikita’s workshop, while those in Yuri’s little home were never even lit.

When Natasha stepped down from her bedroom the next day, she was puzzled to see no new piece in the shop; she had expected a china cabinet or a wardrobe at least, to judge from all the racket her father had made. But there were only a pair of empty sawhorses and some scraps of fresh-sawn wood. Across the street she noticed a black-clad gathering, and was horrified to realize that they were mourners. She ran to the police station and returned with an inspector.

“How can you be sure that your friend Yuri was a victim of foul play?” the police inspector asked. Natasha recounted her father’s threat, and led the officer to the casket. “It is his work!” she exclaimed tearfully. For this, she realized, was what her father had been building in the night.

The inspector withdrew his powerful lens from its special quilted pocket, examined the casket minutely, and nodded sadly when he finished. It was undoubtedly a classic example of….

Riga mortise!

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