"Oh!" Tewer ducked his head and removed his hand from the axe-head immediately. "Sorry, Cap'n, of course I'll show you Cap'n."
He led the four boats around to the shore and the entrance to Riddler Channel. Luckily bits of Gars' clothing had come ashore, and a few of the tidal pools had a blood in them. A small murder-worm lay stranded on the beach, wriggling madly in its attempts to get back into the water. Its long snout snapped open and shut many times, its flippers flailed and its tail splashed in one of the tidal pools.
"Anybody got a rope?" Tewer looked around, but nobody had anything but thongs or whips. They wanted to be able to restrain the girls, not hang them.
"Soft-hearted, boy?" Rask sounded disgusted.
"No, Cap'n," said Tewer, "little worm like that isn't worth much. We get him back in the water he may grow some. But I'm not doing it without we have a rope. He's not that little!"
"Tewer brought in the 2nd biggest worm we've ever had, Cap'n," said Floke, "day before yesterday."
"And he's a slayer you say?"
"This is my fourth day as a slayer, Cap'n," said Tewer, "I used my first two kills to bring in that big worm. And Gars was my third."
Rask looked pleased. He was a big man, with straw-colored hair and a long beard a little darker in color. Even in the dim moonlight Tewer could see the scars on his face. Rask wore a fine brigandine, black covered in little rivets, and he had a broad-bladed short sword at his side. Though Rask had become Tewer's enemy, he couldn't help admiring the man. Even so, he felt a comfortable glow in his belly that he had a half-dozen armors better than that worn by the pirate captain.
"What did you do with their boots, Tewer?" Floke suddenly looked suspicious too.
"Hid them, of course," said Tewer, "did it when I washed out this boat a bit. Too much blood'll bring worms when you don't want 'em. That's why I'm out this way, finding hiding places for my things. I've never been this rich, don't want nobody stealing my stuff."
"That makes sense," said Floke, turning to the captain, "he got that axe and fifty-five nails for the big worm, and I know he bought some clothes and blankets and such with it. He knows lots of hiding places around here, Cap'n, he was Krasten's catamite."
"I wasn't," said Tewer, "Krasten was my father."
"No chance of that," scoffed Floke.
"Well he treated me like it," said Tewer, "did me a good turn, teaching me like he did. I buried him secret, but he's got a marker and everything."
"Loyalty," said Rask, "that's rare enough on the island. And to a dead man! Grow yourself another few inches, boy, and put on some meat, and I'll take you aboard any time. Show us this hiding place for the boots."
"Alright, Cap'n," said Tewer reluctantly, "but it's such a good hiding place."
"Sorry," said Rask, and sounded like he meant it. A little.
Tewer led them to the waterfall, and produced the boots, knives and spears of Gars and Pirants. That satisfied Rask, and they returned to the seashore.
"You can keep the two coins, boy," said Rask as he turned his boats back towards the west, "one of them will get you a night in the Steamroom. If you find those girls, I'll give you the best girl in the Steamroom, your choice, for your own. Their names are Nimianne and Darah. So keep your eyes open!"
"I will, Cap'n," said Tewer, not needing to feign surprised pleasure, "has anybody gone further east? I don't know much beyond Riddler Channel, but I'll be glad to look."
"No," said Rask, "my own crew is out that way. We're working westwards, they're working east. We'll meet up again hereabouts in a day or two. If you find anything be here at Riddler Channel in two days, I'll leave a boat out this way after tomorrow."
"Right, Cap'n," said Tewer, "I guess I'll head up north then, north of Riddler Channel in Spotsy Channel and Skull-head Marsh. I know a few good hiding places up there."
"Good," said Rask, "if you're still alive in a year, you come see me, boy. I might have a place for you if you can pull an oar."
"Thanks Cap'n," said Tewer, "I'll try to stay alive that long." He grinned, and Rask actually laughed, a harsh, grating sound that nonetheless pleased Tewer's ears. He wouldn't be taking the Captain's offer, but it gratified him to hear it. Captain Rask was one of the greatest pirates of Whaelhreow, after all.
Rask and his four boats headed west, and Tewer followed them and then cut north, just as he had said he would, and as he had intended to do before he met the pirate's little flotilla. He knew he'd never reach the hidden cove by dawn, so he made for another hiding place that would get him back before moonrise the next night. He hoped really hard that the girls would be all right without him, and instead of grabbing his crotch, he actually spoke a prayer.
"Give them good luck, Lady Laome," he whispered, "and me too. Please."
He spent the day sleeping, and when he woke at dusk felt relieved that none of the tell-tales had been tripped. He worked his way southeast, and lay still under the mangroves, listening hard for many minutes, before he even approached Riddler Channel and the secret way into the cove. Hearing nothing, he sculled slowly along, making no noise, and as the great moon peeped over the horizon he shot into the hidden cove with a breath of relief. Even so, he didn't go straight to the girls. He waited, silently listening for pursuit. He pulled a couple of branches back into the narrow passage as tell-tales and then made for the ship, seeing nothing but a black hulk barely distinguishable from the mogote behind it. He tied up the boat and waited for the moon to show above the trees. Nothing stirred on deck save the shadows that moved with the slow rise and fall of the ship, and he crept aboard like a shadow himself. He heard nothing, and when he stole down inside, he found nobody there. He checked every room twice, and finally breathed a sigh of relief.
He got back into Gars' boat and sculled over to the hiding place, nervous again. What if they screamed?
"Nimianne!" He whispered it softly, then a little louder. "Darah! Are you there?"
"Tewer," said Nimianne softly, "thank the Three. Yes, we're here. We heard a couple of boats, but none came into the cove."
"I think we're safe enough, for now," said Tewer, "I heard and saw nothing follow me. I saw Captain Rask, spoke with him."
"You did!" Nimianne's exclamation was almost a shriek, but soft enough that Tewer didn't reprimand her. He explained briefly, and proudly, and both of the girls surprised him again by breaking into tears.
"What now?" Tewer grew quite exasperated, but kept his voice to a whisper. "Why are you crying?"
"You're so good," said Nimianne, "you could've had everything..."
"We're so lucky to have been found by you," said Darah, "out of all the people on this accursed island, it happened to be you. Oh, Three are with us!"
"It would make no sense to join him," Tewer objected, "if he knew I had that ship he'd slit my throat in a heartbeat. He means to profit by me, that's all. He'd much rather steal my ship and her contents than give me a share in the booty. I did only what any sane man would do."
"You could've given us up, and still kept the ship," said Nimianne.
"Still could," said Tewer, "and will, if you two don't stop crying."
"I'm sorry," said Nimianne, "it's been a horrifying day."
"Well I've been sleeping all day," said Tewer, "so you can sleep now, and I'll keep watch."
"Should we go back on board?"
"No, let's stay here," said Tewer, "they probably won't be checking here tomorrow, but better safe than sorry. In the morning I'm going to cache a few things here, so we won't lose everything if we lose the ship. With these two boats there's more than enough room for us to sleep comfortably."
Nimianne took a deep breath, and then chuckled.
"I was going to say we shouldn't sleep together like this," she said, "but you're right, Tewer. It's safer, and this is an emergency. Thank you for saving us, Tewer. Thank you for keeping your word, and keeping us from that Rask. It was nobly done."
"If you say so," said Tewer.