Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 14

Before dawn Tewer headed out again, eager to be out of the cove before anyone might see him. The girls bid him a tearful farewell, but if he missed the rendezvous with Rask it might raise suspicion, so he ignored their pleas to remain with them. He could make no sense of their behavior. He explained exactly why he needed to go, and they didn't dispute his reasoning, they just pleaded for him to remain. They didn't care that it meant more danger. It was almost like they didn't even think about what would be best, they just felt frightened when he was gone, and that was all that mattered. Tewer had never heard of such a thing, but he couldn't put it down to insanity—either they'd been taught to think like that, or women were simply made that way. He didn't know which, It might be both, but it didn't make any difference. No matter what they felt, he wanted to win. He'd do what he had to.

He made his way through the swamps without seeing anyone until after he turned back south towards the rendezvous, and fell in with two other boats that were headed the same way. He kept well away from them, but nodded greetings and followed them down the channels toward the sea. There were thirty boats at the mouth of Riddler Channel, and Tewer made his way all around the outside, so that he could run out to sea if necessary. It wasn't an extraordinary precaution. He saw two young men about his age doing the same thing with their boats. It was a hard thing growing up in Whaelhreow!

Rask arrived last, and in a tolvern. It was forty feet long, with six oars to a side, too large for the swamps and just barely large enough to be seaworthy. The high prow had a carved likeness of Uor with his lightning bolts, and Tewer felt it would be something to sail with the pirate captain.

Many of the boats reported that nothing had been found, and Tewer waited patiently. Nobody had discovered anything that mattered to him, not even one of his hiding places, but he avoided any sighs of relief, keeping his face stony. Rask shouted his disgust at the hunters and swamp-men, then turned to the three boats to seaward, his eyes lighting a little when he saw Tewer.

"What about you, boy?" He didn't sound like he expected much, but his harsh voice seemed to soften a little.

"I don't know if I want to show you what I found, Cap'n," said Tewer, "I don't know what it is. But I've never seen anything like, so I thought it might be something."

"Just show me," said Rask, "I'll tell you if it's something."

Tewer held up a piece of female underclothes he'd taken from his ship. It was a lacy little shirt, wet and torn a little, like the girls had worn when he tried to teach them the spear. He had no idea what it was called, but Rask bellowed in glee.

"That's a camisol," he said, "fancy women's underclothes. Either somebody found their ship, and is holding out on me, or one of those accursed sailors got ashore and is sneaking around using witchcraft to hide them. Where did you find it, boy?"

"In the middle of a channel, up in Skull-head Marsh, near the Water-Tower. I didn't go any closer to the tower, of course, but I looked around in every hiding spot I knew of. I didn't know if this was a real clue or not, Cap'n, I'm glad it was. I don't know if they left it there to throw me, or what. But it didn't tell me where they went, so I thought I'd best come tell you."

"Haven't you had a woman before, boy?"

"Spent a bit of time with a crone on my fourteenth birthday," said Tewer, "but never had money for more since then. I'm looking forward to the Steamroom, Cap'n, but I never been there yet."

"Here," said the captain, flipping a coin to Tewer, who caught it deftly. Tewer sculled in closer and handed the camisol to one of Rask's men, and the man grinned at him and winked. "Have a whore on me, boy," said Rask, "she'll make a man of you, and like I said before, when you get your man's growth, you come see me. I'll find an oar for you."

"Thanks, Cap'n," said Tewer with an excited and entirely unfeigned grin, "I'll take you up on that, I hope." Then his face fell. "I don't suppose, Cap'n, that you need me to show you where I found this kammissile thing? I mean it's still early, and if I hurry can get back to Swartmutha in a couple of hours..."

Every man in every boat roared with laughter, and Rask most of all.

"Get to the Steamroom, boy," said Rask, "there are enough of us to search all of Skull-head Marsh, and I will speak to the Marsh-Wizard at Water Tower myself. Have fun!"

Tewer nodded and grinned, and turned his boat southwest at once. That brought even more laughter from the gathered men, and Tewer grinned to himself. Even when he failed to appear at the Steamroom nobody would suspect. He intended to be 'murdered' very soon; after all he was carrying three silver coins and everybody knew it.

He turned north on the West side of the mogote above his hidden cove, and carefully staged his own murder. He cut himself and dripped some blood into the brown water, and within a few minutes a murder-worm came calling. He brained it with Krasten's axe and left the axe in the wound. He felt a pang at losing the axe, but at least he'd be able to keep the spear. He climbed up a tree while other murder-worms came to devour their fellow, and he watched in satisfaction as they partially swamped his boat, including quite a bit of blood. He tied a thong around his spear and slung it over his back, and started climbing.

Climbing a mogote is no simple matter, but he'd done it before. That particular mogote had a long, narrow cut in one side, and he reached it within a few minutes. He climbed up the tapering break in the rocks for nearly an hour, and reached the forested top of the mogote completely exhausted. He rested for a while, then moved slowly through the small trees and brush, carefully trying not to disturb the birds who nested there. He reached the far side and looked over, seeing the little cove and his beautiful ship a good three hundred feet below. He could also see the last of the boats accompanying Rask disappearing into the distance, and hard by his cove, he saw nothing.

It took over three hours to climb down to the cove. Every muscle quivered as he reached the last ledge, and there he waited for at least half an hour, gathering a bit more strength. He had to leap the last fifty feet, and then swim over to the hiding place, and he couldn't be sure he would make it.

He finally decided more rest wouldn't help, and slid over the ledge with a deep breath.

He hit the water with a shock, and it seemed an eternity before he broke the surface. He tried to float on his back, but the spear and his boots weighed him down, and he struggled towards the hiding place instead, feeling the cool water leeching his strength away. Then he heard two other splashes, and moments later he felt hands gripping him by the shoulders. He stiffened, but then realized who had him, and relaxed as they pulled him toward the hiding place. When they reached the little boat, Tewer couldn't even stand up. With the help of Darah and Nimianne, he managed to get into the boat, and there lay on his face, utterly spent.

"What happened?" Nimianne waited only a few minutes before she asked.

"I sent them to Skull-head Marsh," said Tewer, "so we've got to get out of here, tonight. We'll raise the sail only halfway, so from a distance we'll look like a tolvern. There should be a stiff breeze tonight, so we should be far out to sea by morning."

"Are we going to Ascalon then?"

"Not directly," said Tewer, "I'm sure there are ships out there, waiting for us to try that. We'll head southwest, directly away from Ascalon, just as I said before. With luck nobody will know where we went. We have food and water for weeks, so we should be fine until we're well out into the Ivory Sea. Then we'll turn east for a few days, and then back north toward Ascalon. Maybe a week, maybe two, and we should be there."

"That's better than waiting here for another week," said Darah, "but can you do it? You can barely move."

"I'll be alright," said Tewer, "we can't leave until well after dark, so I'll rest until then."

"You can't rest in wet clothes," said Darah, "but..." She had already removed Tewer's spear from his back, but hesitated to do more.

"You're right," said Tewer, "I don't think we're in danger this afternoon, so let's head back to the ship. Can you two paddle us over?"

It would've taken Tewer no more than a minute to reach the ship, but it took the girls five. Neither had paddled before, nor sculled, nor pulled an oar. They had no idea what they were about. Tewer managed to turn over and give them some advice, and eventually they got back to the Martlet. It took another ten minutes for Tewer to get himself aboard, and he limped down to his cabin using the bulkheads to keep himself upright. He stripped off his clothes and left them in a heap, for once forgetting to set a watch or do anything he would normally do. He curled up in his blankets and slept.

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