Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 22

It took him several minutes to get back to the girls, and they could instantly tell that something had happened. He explained quickly, and they gathered up all their belongings as swiftly as possible. Tewer carried two of the bundles back to the beach, while Nimianne carried the extra weapons and Darah carried the third rucksack. They pushed everything into the boat and Tewer got them out to the ship with a few deft strokes of his sculling oar. He tossed the bundles onto the deck, and clambered up and got the tow line, and then sculled back to the front of the Martlet where he tied the two vessels together.

"It's not midnight yet," said Tewer, "but the tide is coming in. You can see those little waves. Each of us should watch a different spot. Darah, you watch that rock over there," he pointed, "it's got a high-water mark on it, see what I mean?" She nodded. "Nimianne, you keep an eye on that driftwood right at the waterline. It should start to float at one end when the tide gets a little higher, and then break loose and float freely when it's at its height. I'll keep watch on my ship, see if it moves at all."

They sat there for more than an hour as the tide slowly rose, and the Nimianne gasped excitedly when the driftwood started floating, and then got pushed up to the shore again.

"It's about six inches below the high water mark," said Darah, "and it doesn't look like it's going to get much higher. It's been the same quite a while."

"The ship hasn't budged," said Tewer, "Luck be with us!"

He set his sculling oar into an oarlock, and then levered a second sculling oar opposite it. He'd found the second oar in the hold the day before, and thanked Laome for such a lucky find.

"Paddle," he said, "dig deep each time!" He leaned as far forward as he could and dug his oars into the water and pulled with all his might. The boat didn't move, and neither did the ship. They strained for several minutes, and made no progress.

"Alrighty," Tewer said, "I rigged another oarlock." He pulled up one of the sculling oars and set it in the oarlock near the prow, so that it stretched over the port side of the boat. "Sit on this little cubby, and both of you pull it together," he said, "and I'll pull the other oar. Hopefully that'll give us a better chance at it. I was hoping it would be easier." He sat to his own oar and dragged it in so he could grip it with both hands. "Put the oar in the water as far back as you can," he said, doing the same himself, with the starboard oar, "and pull!" All three dug in hard, many times, but nothing happened. The ship creaked a little, and the rope bounced them backwards a couple of times, but the Marlet remained aground.

They stopped at last, sweating and gasping, and Tewer laid back in the bottom of the boat and looked up at Nimianne and Darah.

"A rotten end to a perfect day," he said, "well, there's nothing for it. Let's get on board and prepare to fight, if we must. And I think we must."

The girls slumped together at the back of the boat and nodded feebly.

"I don't think I could fight right now," said Darah, "I'm so tired."

"You speak for me," said Nimianne.

"And me," said Tewer, "but we'll feel better in a bit, I think. Hopefully a little rest will cure us. Back on board!"

The girls weren't pretending. They couldn't lift themselves on board despite the ladder he had rigged. Tewer had to help them, and then his arms almost gave out as he tried to climb up. All three lay there on the deck, hoping nothing bad would happen, but Tewer knew it couldn't be very long.

Fortunately he did begin to feel stronger, and he rummaged through the packs until he found some cold yams. He wolfed down a few, and got Nimianne to do the same, but Darah still felt too ill. He carried her down into the cabin, followed by Nimianne, and they turned on the mage-light for a few moments. Darah looked fatigued rather than ill, and Tewer cursed his foolishness as he commanded the light to cease.

"I shouldn't have done that," he said, "I could see we weren't going to move, no reason to keep going so long. What should we do now?"

"Just wait here," said Nimianne, "maybe they won't notice us."

"They'll notice their missing crewman," said Tewer, "and they'll come this way in the morning. Either we've got to run, in the boat, now, with whatever we can carry, and hope to get off the island another day, or we've got to fight."

"I say we fight," said Darah, "span a few crossbows for us, Tewer, we can shoot from the deck. I'll just lie there and shoot when I see them. If you span them, I can shoot."

"That's a good idea," said Tewer, "but not enough. We need to scout them out, find out how many, who's wounded, all that. If there's twenty we're doomed no matter what, but twenty is all a tolvern holds. Unless two tolverns went down."

"What then?" Nimianne took hold of his shoulder. "We should run, Tewer. We'll be your women, and just live here. Like we promised."

"I would say yes," said Tewer, "but they won't leave it at that. If there are enough of them, they'll be able to get my ship afloat, and they'll search every part of the island. We don't know it well enough to hide forever, and they won't give us time. We're going to have to fight."

"But," Nimianne said, suddenly sobbing, "how do we do that, exactly?"

"Darah's idea is a good one," said Tewer, "there are eight crossbows. I'll span all eight for you, and that'll give you eight shots. Make them count! Wait until they're close, and then loose right into the chest."

"What about you?"

"I'm going to sneak over there and take a look. I'll have to just find out how many there are, and decide what to do after. I'll thin them out if I can, and lead them the other direction if that's all I can do."

"You're going to sacrifice yourself for us?"

"I didn't say that," said Tewer, "I don't plan on going berserk or anything. I'll be back as soon as I can. But if she starts floating, you don't wait for me. You head out of here, due north, and send somebody back from Ascalon."

"We're not leaving you," Darah said it weakly, but firmly.

"You're the only friends I've ever had," said Tewer, "that are still living, anyway. You think I want you to be raped and murdered by Rask and his men? If she comes loose, you run. Swear it by your Three Gods."

"Three Divines," corrected Nimianne softly, "very well, Tewer. I swear."

"I don't," said Darah, "we can't do it, Tewer."

"Yes you can," said Tewer, "and you will."

"I don't want to," Darah sobbed, "how can we leave you when you've done so much for us?"

"I wasn't pretending when I said today was the best of my life," Tewer said, "I felt happier than I ever did before. My whole life has been fear and envy and struggle, and today I finally learned how good life can be. And better still to come. I'm not going out there expecting to die, Darah. I want to live now more than I ever did before. But I don't mind dying anymore, if I must."

"You're too good, Tewer," huffed Darah, "and how you became so good is a mystery."

"You made me good," said Tewer, "you and Nimianne. Krasten only started it."

"Don't go," begged Nimianne, "please, just wait here with us. Let's fight and die together, if it comes to that."

"Remember," said Tewer, "if they get to the ship, stab them in the face. Don't let them get their legs under them. Even if you don't kill them, they'll let go and fall back into the water. It's not going to come to that. The one I killed looked pretty hurt. If he's the one doing the scouting, the others must be hurt too. And I doubt there are twenty. But we've got to know."

"Tewer," said Darah desperately.

He turned and went to the armory, carrying all the crossbows and a bundle of quarrels to the deck. He spanned them all, one by one, and laid them by the gunwales, then he set the girls' spears beside the crossbows along with a few blankets. He carried Darah back onto the deck over her protests, and laid her there with crossbows and spears in reach.

"Keep a good watch," he said, "I'll be back before long."

Before he left, however, he got out a pair of bracers from the armory and had Nimianne tie them to his forearms. She called them bazubands, whatever that meant, and he hoped it would give him an advantage over the pirates. He belted on Rudigar's falchion, and thrust a steel-handled axe through the belt, and threw Krasten's spear all the way to shore. He turned to the girls, who wept still, and smiled, his teeth flashing in the moonlight.

"Be safe," he said, "I'll be back before long."

Nimianne embraced and kissed him, and he had to lean down so Darah could as well. They begged him again to stay, but he shook his head.

"Don't worry so much," he said, "I've slain five men, you know. Even some pirates can't claim that. And I hunted murder-worms. I can handle myself."

They finally realized that begging did no good, so they clung together and watched as he lowered himself into the water and swam ashore. Taking up Krasten's spear, he retrieved the sandals he'd left by the log and put them on, staring intently at the gloom around. He looked back at the dark bulk of his ship, and felt a terrible ache at the thought of leaving her behind. Not for herself, he realized, but for the two girls who watched him from the shadows. He had no word for the feeling, but it steeled him as nothing had before. He would not fail them!


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