Category: Book, Phantom of the Opera
Rating: T for mild language
Summary: Leaving Paris, Erik takes on the personae of Charles Martin and hires on Javier Fernández to crew the cargo boat he operates. Through Javier we are introduced to Erik, and we follow them on several journeys that forge their friendship.
A/N: This is a back story for The Sorcerer of Rouen, if you have not read Sorcerer, please understand that references to Erik and Martin are the same person. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: Who owns Erik? Only Erik himself. Although none of us have ever met him, we feel his loneliness, his pain, and marvel at his search for a world that would welcome him. Leroux told us his story, Webber gave us the music, and Schumacher embellished it as so many others have. Based on events following the movie.
The Golden Lotus
Chapter One: January, Le Havre France, the English Channel
The wind off the churning iron grey waves would cut through a man's clothes like a knife, and paint exposed surfaces in a rim of ice. Winter was always a dangerous time of the year. The damp cold would sear the lungs; numb the fingers, and bring tears to the eyes of the men who worked outside loading the boats and barges. Even the boats in their berths along the docks seemed to shiver under the onslaught of the winter storms.
Javier Fernández hovered near the small coal fire in the stove. They hadn't had snow in the south of Spain. He could remember the hot sun, and the endless fields of grain. His family had left Seville behind, his father never told him why. He took out a pocket flask and took a drink; it snaked down his throat leaving a trail of fire in its wake. He sat forward to toss another small lump of coal into the stove.
Across the cabin of the boat his father sat at a table. "I'm telling you; go see Martin about the job. Stop wasting your time on Forchein. He pays next to nothing, and his men are always getting hurt."
Javier respected his father. He was a decent man, and did his best for his family. "I hear you. I'll talk to Martin when I can find him." He took another drink. "What's his boat called?"
"The Erebus." His father added, "He makes runs to Paris and Belguim, but uses Rouen for a port like we do."
The pale morning sun brought wan illumination and no warmth with it. Javier walked briskly towards the warehouses, his collar turned up and his hands jammed in his pockets. He walked between the wagons as they pulled out of the warehouse doors, and the men moving barrels and crates from the boats, the horses blowing gouts of steaming breath from their nostrils. He looked for the boat.
It sat next to a steam-powered shovel. Like some terrible iron giant, the shovel turned, opening its jaws to bite down into a pile of coal. Swinging back to the boat, it would open that metal maw and drop the coal into the cargo hold. "Hey, where's your boss?" He asked one of the crew. The reply was that Luc Forchein was at a tavern. Cursing in fluent Spanish, he turned on his heel and headed back against the iron teeth of the wind.
By the time he found the tavern, Forchein had just left. Javier ordered a drink and sat on a stool, rubbing his stinging face. Tossing down the drink, he waited for the inevitable burn in his stomach, flexing his stiff fingers. When the pins and needles sensation left his face, he got up to retrace his steps back to the docks.
Moving towards the door, another man got up to leave the tavern. Tall and lean, he moved fluidly through the crowd as other patrons glanced his direction and stepped out of his way. A slight turn of his head revealed a dark expanse of material on one side of his face. Javier remembered his father's description of Charles Martin. Picking up the pace, he closed in on the man he was following. "Excuse me, monsieur! Are you Martin?"
The look on the man's face stopped Javier dead. He had the strange feeling that this is how a dog felt when it came up against a larger, meaner dog. The black material covered the side of his face from a mismatched hairline to just past the nose. Part of the cheek was exposed; the skin carried the red color of flesh that had been burned. The right eye was covered, and there seemed to be something wrong about the angles of the bones the material rested on. He waited for the man to reply.
Erik turned to look at the man who had called his name. Almost his own height, the boy looked to be in his mid twenties. "What do you want?"
"A job, monsieur. I am Javier Isandro Galván Fernández, at your service." He gave the cold eyed man a moment to look him over. As the impassive gaze rested upon him, Javier felt his chances of working with him diminishing with every moment that ticked by. He shrugged, "Failing that, I am going to get one with Luc Forchein."
"Only an imbecile works for Forchein. You'll enjoy better health if you distance yourself from his boat." Erik added, "Are you any relation to Héctor Galván?"
"Yes, he is my father. He is the one who pointed me in your direction." Javier replied.
No doubt the touch of the Moorish blood in his family spoke for the younger man's dark good looks. Erik had worked with this man's father before. If the son had learned his work ethic from his father, this young man might make a good partner. "Be at the last warehouse on the Rue Daudet tomorrow ready to leave."
Javier began to reply, but the man had already turned and headed towards the door. Going for another drink, Javier weighed his choices. Forchein worked quickly, and was reputed to put a little extra cash in the pockets of his crew. He knew nothing of this Charles Martin except that his father had been impressed by him.
Laying his empty glass on the bar, he gave it a spin. If it stopped pointing to his left, it was Forchein, if to the right, Martin. The glass stopped, pointing left. Ah well, he thought, what does a glass know? He kept buying drinks until the glass finally stopped, pointing to the right.
Sitting down on a crate next to the warehouse wall, Javier huddled in his coat, rubbing his fingers to keep the feeling in them. From the warehouse strode Martin, a cargo manifest in hand. He glanced at Javier and nodded towards a boat.
Javier grabbed his bag of clothing and tools and followed the man. The boat was a mid sized version of the canal boats that hauled cargo the length of the Seine, and up the north of Normandy to Belgium. Stepping inside the cabin Javier was surprised by how clean and organized it looked.
Erik walked in front of the Spaniard. Giving him a quick tour he pointed out the cabinets on the left with the food and supplies, the table and stools to the right, farther back, the small coal burning stove with a bench by it, several machines on stands, and beyond the partition, the bunk area and water closet. "The cabinet next to your bunk locks," he pulled out a key from the top drawer. "You can lock up your personal items in it."
Javier took a moment to hang up his few extra clothes on the pegs that lined the partition wall. He left the key laying on the cabinet. As of yet, the only valuables he had were five francs in bills and coins, and the crucifix around his neck.
Going forward, he joined Martin in preparing to cast off the boat. "We are due to make three stops between here and Paris." Erik told him. He was about to add more, when shouts erupted from down the docks.
Men came running from every direction. Javier quickly climbed up to the top of the cabin roof and looked at a birth where men were casting ropes into the water. "What the hell?"
Martin joined him. "Forchein," he said quietly, "he finally overloaded."
"What? You mean the coal?" Javier looked back in horror. The entire boat had disappeared. He had heard stories of it happening under too much weight. The boat would pop apart at the seams, and drop to the bottom taking everything on it down. "¡Dios mio! There were three men on that boat."
"There still are."
Martin's softly spoken reply made the skin crawl up Javier's back. Looking at the man, he asked, "How did you know?"
Erik looked at the man's shocked face. He gave a careless shrug. "Forchein is like the butcher who puts his thumb on the scale as he weights the meat. Sooner or later, his fixing the numbers to hide the actual weight was going to catch up to him. Unfortunately, it also caught up with his crew." He turned away and went back to work, leaving Javier to say a prayer.
There was a kind of kinship between the men who did this job. More than once crews broke apart to reorganize and take on other men. Gossip from one end of France to the other helped the crews know what was happening in the towns they thought of as home. When a family was in trouble, a collection would be tossed in a hat in a local tavern to be sent to the man's family. Tonight, a hat would be passed for the widows of Forchein's crew. Somewhere along the Seine river, a husband and father would not be coming home. It was the news no one wanted to bear home to the grieving family, but happened often when the times were hard.
"We take the Seine by Conflans, north on the Oise River to Compiegne, join the Canal Du Nord, the Canal de St. Quentin, and across on the Canal de Mons into Brussels." Erik instructed. "Monsieur Dugast should have a return cargo waiting for us in the city."
"That's quite a run," Javier commented. "Will we need to pick up more supplies?"
"I have some stops along the way," Martin replied, "places I frequent."
Javier was to learn the places Martin spoke of were pick up and drop off points for some small packages that would be nestled into the cabin in the dark of night, and leave later under the same cover of darkness. On an otherwise boring trip, they stopped six times briefly to pick up these goods, meeting with men in village taverns along the river.
In Brussels, he accompanied Martin to a district where the Chinese lived. With their dark straight hair braided in long queues along their slim backs, their beautifully shaped eyes took him in impassively as they dealt with Martin. Words were exchanged in a quiet economy. Martin introduced him to the eldest man, Han Shixiang, his hair sported streaks of black and grey. Javier nodded politely and waited quietly for the business to come to a close.
As they left the small store, he caught a glimpse of a slight figure wrapped in silk. Hair as dark as his own drifted in a fall around a serene face, the woman's eyes moved over his body, and she appeared to like what she saw.
"Forget it, Javier." Martin took hold of his arm and pushed him through the shop door. "They will castrate you and hand you your balls in a silk lined box if you even entertain that thought."
"She's beautiful," Javier replied. "I've never been close enough to see one of their women."
"She's the old man's last daughter. Their marriages are arranged. Their women are a means to make more money or assure ties to other families."
The old man had offered Erik one of his daughters. She would have come to him willingly for the sake of her family's pride, but he had refused. He didn't want a martyr, a woman who was doing her duty, rather than her desire. He didn't want a woman who would close her eyes and turn away from him. He was reminded every day that his face set him apart, he didn't want to come home to it every night.
Nursing a glass of wine, Erik ignored the serving girl as she swept past. He'd been there enough times that the patrons and bar girls knew to leave him alone. When the glass would run empty, he'd set it towards the edge of the table and another would be dropped off quietly. They never asked for payment. When it was time for him to leave, he'd toss coins on the table.
Another winning hand and one of the Spaniard's companions was complaining about his wife not liking how much he spent on cards. Javier pursed his lips and nodded sagely, "Tha's why I don't have a wife." When his companions had finally given up for the night, he surreptitiously slipped a few francs back in the pocket of the complaining husband.
Erik approved. The dock workers earned their money in sweat and backbreaking work, but often wasted it on drinks. Many a time he had handed over a few franc notes to some quaking little mouse of a woman who had found her husband face down in the street outside a tavern.
A man alone in the world, he would have been glad to earn a day's wage and bring it home to a family that eagerly waited for him to return. Women stayed away from him. A few must have been curious, but shied away after taking a good look at the patched side of his face.
He'd left by the river as the hellish glare from the dying Opera house lit the Paris night two years ago. He'd been resigned to leave it all: the music, the dreams, and Christine. The devouring fire wiped out his chances of staying at the Opera, and truly, he would not have stayed even if it had not. With Christine's kiss, he knew his life would never be the same.
The Opera Ghost died that night, and Charles Martin was born. After swapping clothes with a drunk in an alley, he had begged a ride to England on a barge. When the barge passed through Rouen, he got off on an impulse. Rouen was close to the village where he had been born, and listening to the chiming of the hundred church bells in the evening light had caused a deep melancholy to find him, hold him, pull him back to the city to stay.
When he'd made enough money on his own, he'd purchased a boat, and let the current crew run it. Cargos for it were secured through a man named Georges Dugast. As his fortunes increased, he purchased another boat he renamed the Erebus. Christened for one of the infernal regions below the earth, it was an apt description of his life after separating himself from his music and Christine. It became his home, and Dugast once again kept the manifest booked.
After Javier left, Erik finished the last of the wine and tossed a few coins down. The serving girl had glanced away as he got up, he was used to that. If eyes were truly the windows of the soul, no one wanted to see what was in his.
Outside the wind off the river pushed his hair over the large black patch that covered one side of his face. He began walking back to the boat, when he heard a scuffle in the alley. Stopping, he listened before carefully moving around the corner of the building and into the shadows.
Two men were at the opposite end of the alley holding up a third. Erik recognized Javier, and moved closer.
Javier was more than a little drunk, his pockets lined with his winnings from cards. He had thought to take a short cut through the alley when someone had clubbed him over the head. With a lance of agony stabbing his temple, someone had tossed him up against the wall while another man was rifling his pockets.