Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 2

He heard another scrape, then a hiss of indrawn breath and a few shuffling steps outside his door. The door burst open, and two thugs from town rushed through, but Tewer felt no surprise, just a strange, hard, cold calm. The spearhead licked out and sliced the side of the nearer thief's neck, then slashed sideways into the second thief's side, just under the upraised arm. Blood sprayed as they screamed, but Tewer didn't hesitate. He drew back his spear and stabbed hard into the second thief's chest, piercing the ribcage to the heart, and the thug stopped screaming and slumped to the ground. The first thief gurgled and sobbed, his hands vainly striving to hold back the blood as he sank to the floor, but it was far too late. Tewer felt no pity, but the sound of the villain's squalling set his teeth on edge, so he thrust at a second heart, and soon blessed quiet descended. He waited for a moment, to see if they had friends, but heard nothing but the lapping of water and the drip of blood.

He stole through the secret entrance and came out on top of the hut, where he could see their large boat tied up beside his raft. The cold feeling began to fade, and elation took its place. He had a new boat! And other thugs would think twice about stealing from him now. And best of all, he had bait for the worms. Two human bodies would bring big ones. He could drag two, maybe three of the big worms back to town in that big boat. He would be rich!

He returned to the little hut and frowned. Blood stained his blankets and bed, and pooled a quarter inch deep on the floor. It would drain out, soon enough, but there was nothing but water below, and he might find himself sleeping inside a murder-worm before dawn. He would have to sleep elsewhere.

He brushed on his stolen witchlight and surveyed the scene. He knew them both, of course. The taller they called Kadron, supposedly from Rizantia far to the southwest, while the other was Ulf, born on Whaelhreow like Tewer. As they had scrawny bodies not much larger than Tewer's, their clothes would fit him well enough, and they wouldn't be too difficult to move. He started at once, spoiling their corpses and stripping off their clothes. He tossed the clothes down onto the raft, then dragged each of them down the steps to their boat. First he dipped them in the water of his little landing, then hauled them out onto their boat, where they made a pathetic sight lying there in the light of three of the moons.

He couldn't wash their clothes too thoroughly, but he did wet them down, and gathered all of his belongings into a bundle which he packed aboard their...his long, swift boat. The spoil was nothing—two daggers, both inferior to his own, and a few copper pins. At forty pins to an iron nail, it was barely enough money for a drink at the tavern. Ulf had worn only worn sandals, like Tewer often had, but Kadron had ankle-boots of reasonably good quality. Though a little large, they fit well enough, and they would let everyone know what had happened to Kadron, thus enhancing Tewer's standing. He tossed them into the boat and smiled up at the great moon.

"Thank you lovely lady Loame," he said, patting his crotch in the most deferential way possible. He had little experience with ladies, of course...better to say no experience. Krasten had bought him a quarter hour with a whore for his fourteenth birthday, and besides that, Tewer had never even spoken to a woman. He saw a few girls around, now and again, but he wasn't allowed to speak to them. Women were precious possessions, and castoffs like Tewer didn't rank high enough to own any, or even buy time with the better sort. The hags at the Bloodstain tavern were the best his type could afford, or were allowed to afford, and he had not much enjoyed his coming-of-age experience with a woman old enough to be his mother...maybe grandmother.

Whaelhreow society had its ranks just like any other, and Tewer crouched at the bottom. Hunters, trappers, fishermen, and thieves were the lowest rank, while killers, cutthroats and mercenaries ranked next. Above them were the pirates and the fences who bought and sold for the pirates, and that was the highest rank, the upper class of a society of villains.

By killing the two thugs, Tewer had joined the ranks of the middle class. He was a killer. No matter that it was self defense. When he strode around Swartmutha in Kadron's boots, everyone would know that he was a killer, not just a hunter. He might be able to afford a girl at the Lickspittle, or perhaps even the Steamroom. Imagine that! He'd need to be careful with money, if he wanted to rise that high, because it was 50 nails for a night at the Steamroom. The Lickspittle would cost only 20. He mulled it over for a while, but realized he was wasting time. He grabbed the oar and left his hunting shack behind.

Navigating the swamps with the large and heavy boat made no easy task, but Tewer kept at it, working the sculling oar at the rear of the boat with dextrous skill. It was too dark to be sure, but she felt like Krasten's old boat, which had been confiscated and sold off. He'd never learned who bought it, but it wasn't necessarily Kadron or Ulf. They might've stolen it from the owner or another set of thieves.

He stopped suddenly, cursing. He'd forgotten his goat! She was still back there, asleep hopefully, but likely doomed with all the blood in the water. He shook his head at his own stupidity, then shrugged. He had better bait now, and with any luck, he'd have a hundred nails and Krasten's axe within a day or two. He got the long paddle going again and threaded his way through the stagnant pools and bubbling springs to the hideaway known only to him—and his dead mentor.

He got very little sleep, as it was quite cold in the hidden valley. The sun only peeped down into the narrow crack between the cliffs for a couple of hours each day, making it endlessly chilly. It was a pretty place, several big trees up against the cliffs, a thick patch of ferns everywhere else, and only one way in or out. It had been Krasten's secret for thirty years, which made it the safest place Tewer knew. There was a little cave, colder than the valley itself, just over the low entrance, and there he cached 20 nails, both of his new knives, and several oddments from his shack. The little dell was still dark even though the sun was up, and he shook off the dew and crept back out to his boat.

He used extreme caution in exiting. The hideaway lay in an unfrequented part of the swamp without anything useful, and so known to few, but Tewer took no chances. He finally poled his boat away from the cliffs and back towards the tidal swamp, trying not to look at the two almost nude bodies lying in the bottom of his boat. In the light of day they seemed even more pathetic and pitiable, and Tewer felt a tiny stab of remorse. It didn't amount to much, as they had intended to beat and rob him at least, but he did feel a twinge of pity, especially for Ulf. The man might be twenty year's Tewer's senior, but they'd both grown up on Whaelhreow. Tewer had learned pity from Krasten, who after all had taken him in, fed him, raised him and taught him, without any benefit to the old man at all, at least none that Tewer could see. That tiny spark was enough to make his feelings mixed, but only slightly. After all, he was still pleased to have so many new possessions, and even more pleased at what he might soon have.

And in the end, a twinge of pity wasn't enough to make him give them up as bait.

He reached the tidal swamps at last, and threaded through the mangroves and tussocks of grass towards the outer shore.

He wanted one of the big boys.

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