A Silent Game of Spies

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She had worked the floor for a week at The Laughing Pelican to make up how much she owed Larcy for the shoes, though she’d had to wait until the Stordish soldiers had left town.

And what a celebratory mood the Port Stanton was in. When the skippers of two different fishing berths came in, reporting that they had seen Royal Navy ships sitting in the bay, the whole town whooped and hollered, supposing that maybe the Navy had chased off the Western soldiers’ ships, and that maybe they wouldn’t be visited by the Westerners anymore.

Shadow wondered privately if the message she’d sent to King Rhutgard had gotten through, and if so, if these ships were the result. She certainly hoped so, for then these people could leave and return again by ship. But not Shadow. She had had enough of soldiers, no matter whose they were. She would walk as far as she could along the coastline, then take a boat across the RiverLands to the Coastals. Shadow wanted out of the East and all its deceptions.

Larcy remarked one day, “Mitzie, it’s as if you were born to work tables, you’re so good at it.” Shadow had kept a smile to herself, for she wasn’t born to wait on anyone.

But finally, when Larcy told her that her debt was paid in full, Shadow said she’d leave in the morning. Both Larcy and her cousin said they could use the help around the bar during the off-season, if she was willing to trade for room and board, but Shadow wanted to be off.

“Well, all right then, have it your way. Lots of girls would want a roof over their head and free room and board, Mitzie. I don’t know where you’re going that’s got a fire lit under your tail so, but you need to be careful. A girl traveling alone – she’s not safe, you know. It’s not just soldiers you have to watch for, it’s dishonest types in general.”

In the end, the next morning, Larcy’s cousin arranged for Shadow to ride with a pickled fishmonger and she could catch a ride with him the next morning, for he was going to Ferrisport and then stopping at Chesterport, where he would restock with his supplier. It would be a three-day trip, if she didn’t mind traveling with him, but at least she wouldn’t be walking. Of course, Shadow had accepted gladly, and took a place in the back of the wagon.

Eventually, she got used to the rumbling of the empty barrels, the faint leftover smell of pickled fish, the stony road, and the occasional spitting to the side of the road that her traveling companion, Wilhelm, made.

Mostly, Shadow dozed under the wagon cover, though once Wilhelm was stopped by a pair of Royal Crown soldiers who asked where he was headed. Once he told them he had a wagon full of empty pickled fish barrels he was taking back to Chesterport to restock, they seemed inclined to believe him and told him to be on his way. Shadow wondered what about Wilhelm made him more believable. Did he have an honest face, or just appear to be a merchant more than others on the road? What would Wilhelm have said if they had looked under the canvas wagon cover?

They arrived slept under the stars the first night, and Wilhelm allowed her to sleep in the wagon, while he slept on the grass in a horse blanket. The second night, they reached Ferrisport, and he slept in The Barn Owl Inn, while Shadow slept in the stable, glad of a roof above her head that did not smell like pickled fish and moldy canvas. She had enough copper chips to buy herself a bowl of fish soup and a cup of mead. One last day would get her free of her silent traveling companion, though she had no idea what Chesterport had to offer, nor if soldiers were camped there.

But Ferrisport was much in the same celebratory mood as Port Stanton – Shadow heard talk of the Royal Navy ships sitting offshore, and townspeople wondered if that meant the Western soldiers would not be returning.

Chesterport was a half day’s ride away. Shadow attempted to pay the fishmonger, but he shook his head. She suspected that money had already exchanged hands on her behalf back in Port Stanton. She also suspected that he was quite glad to be rid of her. Well, she was glad to be in Chesterport on her own, though she kept Larcy’s words to heed – watching for soldiers.

It was after she had determined that the town was safe from the Western soldiers that Shadow felt free enough to explore Chesterport for an inn. She paid for a room at the Cast-A-Net Inn, though the innkeeper looked at her with a stern eye. Shadow glared back at him and made as if to leave. He finally said, “Third floor, back room. No trouble.” Ha. She couldn’t agree more.

But as she was exploring the town on how to find a way to the next port, Shadow fell in behind a group of Crown soldiers. She had learned to walk silently and so they never knew she was there.

“Hey, Bandster, I know of a way to make a little extra coin on the side. Sound like somethin’ you’d be willin’ to take part in?”

The other soldier studied him for a moment. “Nah. This don’t sound legal-like. My wife, she just had our first child and I can’t get in no trouble for nothin’, leave her on the high and dry. But I tell you who, who might would be interested, you know that Ragom? We always call him Rag. He’s just the kind who’d help out on this, ah, venture you’re talkin’ about. Big guy. Bald. Scar by his left ear. Tell him I sent you so he knows you’re legit.”

Shadow sighed to herself. Soldiers were soldiers. This didn’t sound good at all. And if she saw a bald man with a scar behind his left ear, she would avoid him like the plague.

She hated dishonesty. But she couldn’t turn in all the dishonest men she ran across, could she. She wondered what the proposal was. Probably smuggling or some such idiocy. An arrangement with the local fishermen, or the Navy for a cut.

Maybe she’d follow the first soldier and see what sort of scheme he was involved in. But Shadow was more interested in moving south. She hoped that not all the soldiers she ran across were involved in schemes and rackets. She just wanted to get to the Coastals.

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