Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 23

Tewer reached the ridge above the abandoned cabin several minutes later, going slowly and carefully through the trees, and keeping watch on the beach as he went. He saw no movement around the cabin, and the glow of the firelight in the distance had dimmed. He crept along back down the ridge, and stopped at the edge of the trees, watching the beach and listening for any sign of danger. He heard nothing but the waves lapping the shore, for the air was calm, with scarcely a breeze stirring.

He continued to weave through the trees near the beach, and stopped again when he came parallel to the cabin. He listened again, and heard nothing, and breathed a sigh of relief as he sneaked along towards the next ridge. He crouched low as he came to the top of the ridge, so that only his head and eyes appeared, and saw a long, flat, empty beach stretching for at least a mile, and there, about halfway along its expanse, a fire burned between two makeshift lean-toes. They appeared to be crafted from broken spars and canvas, and couldn't hold more than six or eight men altogether.

He retreated a little further into the trees, and stalked along silently, covering the distance in about an hour, so slowly did he travel. He shook his head as he saw the three hundred yards of open space between the tree-line and the jury-rigged camp, and moved a little farther so that his approach would be screened by one of the tents.

He reached the edge of the trees and stopped, hesitating for a moment, worrying about the girls. Just as he tensed to start out, he heard a gasping sigh nearby.

"Ah, Tewer, is that you?" The hoarse voice sounded familiar, and Tewer looked over and saw a man lying on his side against a log. He couldn't make out the man's face in the dim moonlight, but something jogged his memory.

"Floke?" He whispered it softly, and the man stirred.

"Aye, it's Floke," breathed the man, "and I'm dying."

"They leave you?"

"They killed me," said Floke, "Rask is mad! You've driven him mad, Tewer. He trusts nobody, drove out his bosun for putting us on the rocks, when any fool could see it was the storm. We got scrambled and broke up in the surf, only seven of us made it to shore, and some with broken bones. Them rocks and reefs here are sharp! He set his men to kill me then, just because I knew you back at Swartmutha! He's got four men left over there, that's all. I don't know where the bosun is."

"He's dead," said Tewer with grim certainty, "and I thank you, Floke. I'm sorry you got killed. How'd he find me?"

"Marsh-Wizard," said Floke, "he scried you out in a ship, the princess' ship, heading south and told Rask for a tidy sum I bet. You have them girls?"

"No," Tewer lied, "but I have the ship, the Martlet. Legal, too. I took care of her captain before he died, and promised I'd bury him, and he gave me a title."

"Why are you here?"

"Got her beached over on the far side of the island," Tewer said, pointing over the mountain, away from the cove where the Martlet lay, "couldn't get her in quick enough before the storm."

"Don't tell mad Rask," said Floke, "he'll just kill you and take it. He's sure you've got the princess and her wench."

"Can I do anything for you? I've got some water."

"Thanks," said Floke, choking as Tewer gave him a swig from his water-bottle. "Wish I'd known what you did for Krasten when he died. I wouldn't have called you Tumor, or…his catamite. He wouldn't never do that anyway."

"You knew him well?"

"Krasten was my brother," said Floke, "I thought you'd tossed his body to the worms when he died. They just left you there in that hut with him, didn't they?"

"Yes," said Tewer, "it was damned hard getting him through the swamp and up that hill. But I owed him."

"Thanks," said Floke, "I never did you no kindness, but if you live through this, I'd appreciate it if you'd bury me too."

"Done," said Tewer, "I wish I'd known you were his brother."

"Too late, now," said Floke, choking again. "Listen. Two of Rask's men are hurt bad. I killed one and wounded two when I tried to run for it. Rask has a broken arm, left arm. He's still dangerous, but he's hurt and hungry and mad. If you're careful you could do them all before anyone wakes up."

"What's your real name, Floke?" Tewer gave the man another sip of water. "And Krasten's?"

"I was Gaevan Kravaith and Krasten was Stenmard Kravaith," said Floke weakly, his voice faint and gasping, "sten-kra...kra-sten...get it? You don't want to know how I came by my name. We came from Sorpriam in Ascalon. I was the murderer, he came with me to protect me, and I was not grateful. He didn't deserve this life. It was all my fault."

"I'm sorry," said Tewer.

"He did something good," said Floke, or Gaevan, "which I never did. If you see him in the Fields of Peace, tell him..." He choked again, and then whispered almost too faintly for Tewer to hear. "Tell him I'm sorry."

"What are the Fields of Peace?"

Floke…or Gaevan…never spoke again.

Tewer slung his water-bottle and looked towards the camp. He felt tempted to believe Floke, but he couldn't be sure. Maybe the man told the truth, maybe he didn't. He dashed about fifty yards towards the huts, then stopped, his spear over his shoulder. Looking around and listening, he waited a full five minutes and then set out again, more slowly, and soon found himself behind the canvas wall of the nearer hut. He crept carefully around it, and saw the interior of the far lean-to. Three men lay there, one clutching a sword, another with his back to the fire, and the third lay flat on his back, eyes open, a wound in his thigh wet with blood. In the firelight Tewer could see a great puddle of blood—must be one of those Floke had wounded. He looked dead, but Tewer couldn't know for certain without touching him.

He wondered whether he ought to kill them all at once, or leave them. They wouldn't be able to swim out to the Marlet, it seemed clear, and if they tried, he had more than enough crossbows to do for them all. He crouched back behind the tent and thought for several minutes. He didn't want to just murder them. It wasn't the same as fighting, or even like the way he'd killed Gars and Pirants from ambush. They'd been awake and wary, at least.

Then something happened to change his mind.

"Cap'n Rask," called a voice from far up the beach, well away from where Tewer had come, "is that you Cap'n!" He turned and saw a half-dozen figures on the beach, at least two hundred yards away. He leaped up, and stabbed the pirate nearest him, then as the other started awake he slashed out the man's throat. In the other tent the two men sat up, and the one with the weapon, who turned out to be Rask, got it up in time to deflect Tewer's blow.

"Help, help!" Rask cried, "he's murdering us!"

Tewer cursed and struck again, but he only managed to nick the pirate captain's ear. The other man jumped forward and grabbed Tewer's spear-head with both hands. Tewer jerked it back, but a glance up the beach told him he needed to retreat. He ran down the beach a good way and then ducked into the trees, slowing to a walk and going as silently as possible. He could hear several pirates cursing the darkness as they tried to follow, but they had no torches, and could see no better. He climbed and climbed, deeper into the forest and up the hill, and soon he heard nothing at all except the occasional call of a bird.

He emerged into the moonlight in a small clearing, and saw a rocky outcropping rise above him. He climbed it carefully and looked back the way he came. He could see the beach, where a big fire now blazed, and seven or eight dark figures around it. They must've given up the chase. He looked back west and to his dismay he could see the Marlet quite clearly in the waning moonlight. She looked black against the silvery water, but there was no mistaking her for anything but a ship. He couldn't lead them over the mountain; they'd find the ship as soon as they started looking for him.

He had to get back to the girls!

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