Episode 13

Previously in Up and Under:

The owner of the Mytilan Militantes, Cassandra Thordwall, meets with the head coach of her team, Umberto de la Calle. He advises her to crack the whip, meaning instill some discipline into the squad, and specifically rogue star player Anne d’Arc. She says he won’t like it if she does. He figures out that if his boss uses her whip, it’ll be on him. She tells him she’s not paying more than forty silver a game to Anne for her to sit on the bench. She encourages him to earn Anne’s respect by becoming the most professional coach she’s ever had. Umberto accepts his fate but tells Thordwall, “…this isn’t going to end well.”

Jacyntha takes her recuperating teammate, Ellpay, to meet Thalia Espinas, the young journalist, inventor, and entrepreneur. It was Jacyntha’s way of keeping Ell’s morale high, and the Militante catcher gets on well with Thalia, who shows the two footy players her invention: the printing press. Jacyntha can’t believe neither Thalia’s mother nor the Hierarchs of Guayamartí are impressed by the invention. Thalia notes it’ll only draw her mother’s attention if it can print gold coins, not pages adorned with words. Neither player realizes Thalia might have figured out a way of reeling in those gold coins using her invention …


Dred won’t kill me.

Umberto folded up the sheaves of paper and rolled them into a tube that could swat flies.

This damned tale will do the job for her.

It was early in the morning and he had been on his way to training. But he remained worried that he might be under surveillance by someone in the hire of Dred Curseweaver, the Duskdaggers’ star witch. She was a Dark Elf on a mission to avenge her dead sister. Yes, she still had to prove Nytmir hadn’t killed herself, but she was convinced someone else was responsible and Umberto knew he was high on her list of possible suspects. Ever since having returned to Guayamartí, he had taken the sorts of precautions that would have complicated the task of eliminating a target had he been the assassin hired to do the deed. Thus, he had been creeping around the Barrio, looking for a mateo.

Worrying about Dred Curseweaver certainly made finding one of those open-air carriages harder. These days he kept passing up ones he could see would immediately get bogged down amongst the people on the streets, not wanting to be an immobile target. He also passed up others that seemed too evident, too well-placed, too easy to hire; that would be one way he’d have done in a target. Then, as he was casing out a potential carriage to take him over the Bridge of a Hundred Arches to the Militantes’ training ground, he’d heard a crier shouting about “… all the news you wanna read from the world of footy!”

With a surreptitious glance left and right, he’d let curiosity get the better of him and he’d sauntered from cover to the girl standing in front of a pile of folded-up papers. “So what’s this all about?”

The girl had beamed up at him. “It’s new, innit? They calls it a broadsheet. And folk’re buyin’em up like they was pipin’ hot churros.”

“But not many folk in the Barrio read.”

“Must have friends who can read it to ’em, I s’pose.”

“How much?”

“Two centavos.”

He had shrugged and coughed up the brace of coppers. It was entitled This Week in Footy and was three pages of paper folded on themselves cunningly so that they read like a short book, albeit a big, unwieldy short book. And the text wasn’t all scribbled notes. The letters were all uniform, with every “s” looking exactly like every other “s”, each “ñ” looking like any other “ñ”, and so on. The letters seemed to take up much the same space, and the lines of writing weren’t all wavy or off-kilter, wandering across the page. It looked like a proper book … of twelve pages.

Umberto’s eyes had been drawn to the Sommer Sea Football League standings enclosed within a box along the right of the paper. He loved examining the standings and had hitherto always bought the standings sheets for a centavo. He had been contemplating how this new thing might offset that expense when his gaze had shifted to the headline.

Then his jaw had dropped.

Unrest on Militantes’ Training Pitch?

Without giving thought to Dred Curseweaver and the danger those working for her might pose, he came to a halt in the middle of the Calle de la Harmonía and immediately read the article.

“Anahuark stormed out of training?” he asked of the sea air around him. “Anne d’Arc refusing to pass to commoners? Moreaka upset over usurped role? Coach de la Calle risks losing the dressing room? Owner Cassandra Thordwall contemplating a change to rescue season?”

And so, Umberto had folded up the sheaves of paper and rolled them into a tube that could swat flies. He also muttered, “But we’ve only played two games!”

He flagged down that obviously-too-convenient mateo and jumped in. “Across the Bridge of a Hundred Arches. As quick as you can, see, without driving over anyone … unless it be a reporter by the name of Thalia Espinas.”

Illustration of Umberto jumping in a mateo.


“Who’s been shooting their mouths off?”

As was his wont, Umberto had gathered the team about him prior to training. But instead of the usual business of explaining their objectives that day, he had held up the broadsheet.

The women looked more curious than nervous. “No one?” He pointed to the headline and then read out:

The crowd signing Anne d’Arc’s name at the end of the last match might have papered over an otherwise open wound. That one player on the team earns as much per match as the other starters combined clearly doesn’t sit well. While only into their second season as footy players, and despite a welcome lack of injuries in the squad, at least two Militantes are seeking out greener pastures either with the Wharf Rats or the Imperials. Another one is reportedly ready to hang up her boots. An anonymous source close to the team said, “Anne d’Arc might be the greatest player of her generation for all we know. But she can’t win a game on her own. Her earnings are disgusting in comparison with the other players. It’s exploitation.

The out-loud recital of a chunk of the lead story had a sobering effect on the players. Most were as shocked as he had been that morning on Calle de la Harmonía. But one or two weren’t. Anahuark, who hadn’t stormed off the training pitch yesterday or the day before as far as Umberto was aware, looked sullen, angry. Anne d’Arc, too, looked disgruntled underneath her haughty mien. Jacyntha had gone wide-eyed and flushed red. Mind you, so had Ellpay, so maybe he was grasping at straws.

“So … who’s been shooting their mouth off?”

Jacyntha stepped forward. “Coach, can I see that please?”

No … please tell me it’s not ’Cyntha!

He folded the paper in two and thwapped it into her outstretched hand. “I don’t believe I have to say this to any of you! Carramba! You’re all former soldiers! When you were skirmishing against the Geckoids, did you pass it around the jungle that morale was low? Did you put your arm around a spy and whisper that your sister-in-arms had a better javelin than you? We’ve got a match against the Mongrels to prepare for. Now they think they’ve got half the job of beating us done already because we’re ready to tear each other’s throats out!”

The boss had taken Karsgaard Neuvil to task early last season for yelling at the women. The Nordman had gritted his teeth and couched his anger in seemingly calm words.

Umberto wasn’t under the same orders.

He yelled. “There’s some things that just aren’t done, see. Setting out your dirty laundry for everyone to gawk at is top of the list in my books. You know why? It smacks of betrayal! And we do not betray each other!”

He glared around the line of players. His yelling had done its job: he toned down his next words. “I don’t go gabbing about anyone on this team behind their backs! And from this day on, neither do you. You can all have confidence that everyone on this training pitch is ready to stand with you. Because you now know, all of you, that anyone who betrays us won’t be on the training pitch.”

He continued, “And does anyone know someone by the name of Thalia Espinas?” Everyone standing around him shook their heads … except for …

“I do, coach,” Jacyntha replied.

“So do I,” added Ellpay.

He turned to fix his most menacing stare at them.

That’s when someone in the ring of players hissed, “Mine earnings are not disgusting. She who spake that slander hath done me a grave dishonour. I sayeth it now so all might hear: I shalt have my satisfaction.”


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