Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 24

Only the tiny red moon remained in the sky when Tewer finally reached the cove where his ship lay. The dawn couldn't be far off, and he didn't remember ever feeling quite so tired. He looked at the thirty yards of water that separated him from his ship, and he shook his head.

"Nimianne!" He called it softly, sure the sound would carry. "Darah!"

"Tewer!" Nimianne answered, "Thank Three you're back. Are you coming out?"

"No," said Tewer, "I'm too tired. I'm going to hide here just next inside the trees. You two take turns sleeping. There are at least seven of them still hale. I killed two, and two others died, and a third got his fingers almost cut off. Keep your crossbows handy. I'll swim out as soon as I can manage it."

"Very well," said Nimianne, "I'm so glad you're back."

"Glad to be back," said Tewer. He got back in among the trees and sat down behind several ferns. He could see the ship, and the trail down the ridge to the beach. He didn't feel in the least sleepy, but bone-weary and a little giddy. He slept almost at once.

"Tewer!" He heard Darah scream and started up at once. Two pirates stood on the beach, staring at the ship. One turned and ran back towards the pirate camp, but the other stood there just at the water's edge, making obscene gestures at the two girls who aimed shaking crossbows at him.

Tewer dashed from the trees with Krasten's spear held high, and as he did the pirate whirled and swept out his sword. Tewer still had the advantage of surprise, but the pirate's quick reaction spoiled his aim, and his spear only scored a slight wound in the side. Tewer reversed at once, but the pirate deflected the butt of his spear and Tewer had to jump back to avoid being spitted in return.

"I'll kill you, boy," snarled the pirate, "then I'll rape them both together."

Tewer feinted forward and whirled the butt of his spear around again, but the pirate twisted out of the way and winced as blood dripped down his leg. Tewer realized he didn't have time to wait for the rest of the pirates to arrive, so he feinted again, trying to get the pirate thinking he felt too frightened to commit to an attack. He lowered his spearhead marginally each time, and the pirate seemed to take the hint. He sprang forward with his curved sword high, but Tewer sliced him across the inner thigh, and the pirate staggered back, cursing. Tewer didn't wait, but charged forward, his spear giving him the reach advantage. The pirate weakened as blood poured down his leg, and Tewer didn't give him a moment to recover. With a lightning thrust he nicked the pirate's face, and as the man recoiled, he whipped the metal butt around and knocked the pirate sprawling. He reversed the spear and stabbed towards the pirate's heart, but the pirate desperately parried and instead the spear thrust through the man's belly. Tewer could feel the edge scrape the spine, and the pirate went limp, though he still gasped for breath.

Tewer didn't wait, but ran into the water and swam immediately out to the ship, where the girls breathlessly helped him climb aboard. He set down his spear and dragged his boat around to the far side of the ship, and then settled down with both girls and eight crossbows.

"That leaves seven at most," he said, "so if we aim carefully, we can get them all without having another fight like that."

"You were wonderful, Tewer," said Nimianne, "I didn't know you were so skilled!"

"Krasten taught me," he said, and bowed his head. He told them about what he'd learned from Floke, and they believed it instantly.

"It makes sense," said Darah, who had recovered almost completely from the night before. "He exiled himself to Whaelhreow for a good, or at least an understandable reason, and then he decided to help at least one boy to be better than anyone else on that island."

"Yes," said Nimianne, "he gave up his life for his brother, but then Floke embraced the life on Whaelhreow, so Krasten decided to pass on what he knew to somebody else. Good fortune for you, Tewer, but more than that. Good luck for us too."

"I don't know if I hope it's true or not," said Tewer, "but like you say, it does make sense. Well, I hope the part about Krasten never being a murderer or robber is true. I always wondered why he wasn't a slayer—he knew the spear better than anyone I ever saw. But he only broke the heads of thieves, he never killed them. Used the chape."

"I think it is true," said Darah, "I think the Albinics are testifying to us right now." Nimianne gasped and looked at Darah, then waited several moments before nodding. Tewer didn't want to know what the 'Abinics' thought, so he stood up.

"Let's get to the top," he said, "we can squeeze in together well enough, and that'll give us time to reload if they get on board."

Both of the girls saw the sense in that, and each took a quiver of quarrels and climbed up at once. Tewer tied all the crossbows together with their three spears and carried a line up with him, hauling all the weapons up afterwards. The top was only six feet by six, slightly rounded on the edges, and they had a very hard time squeezing themselves and all the weapons into such a small space. Tewer finally rigged some ropes to hold their extra crossbows, and all three lay flat with a crossbow aimed at the beach. The angle of the ship would help them, if the pirates had bows. They lay on an incline, and could steady their crossbows right on the edge of the top. Tewer had his legs on either side of the mast, and his head would be most exposed, but that didn't worry him...much.

"It's harder to shoot from high up, isn't it?" Nimianne looked calm, though she still trembled a little.

"Yes," said Tewer, "harder to judge the distance. We're close, though, and these crossbows are good quality. Just put your spy-ring on the chest and squeeze the tiller. Wait till they're not moving. They'll certainly stop when they see the ship. We don't want to all shoot the same man, so we'll shoot as we lay—Nimianne, you take the leftmost man, Darah, you take the rightmost, I'll take one in the middle. We'll worry about the others later."

"Thank you, Tewer," said Nimianne softly, "even if we die, I am most grateful. These last few days have been wonderful. I have never felt so free in my life, even though I've been terrified half the time. Today was the best day of my life too...or maybe it's yesterday now, we must be coming towards morning."

"We are," said Tewer, "dawn can't be far off, I think."

"Good," said Darah, "yesterday was the best day of my life too. I've danced before...many times, before many men, and it never made me feel so..." She shrugged and rolled partway over, patting Tewer on the shoulder. "You make me feel alive, Tewer. Awake. I don't know how to say it, but I'm glad of it."

"I'm the one who woke up," said Tewer, "before I met you and Nimianne I knew nothing about anything outside Whaelhreow. Why didn't I think to leave since Krasten died? Two years of effort just to get his axe and spear back, but when it came down to it I left his axe behind because that was the only way. His spear isn't him–I didn't need it, not really. I could've just gone and never looked back."

"I'm glad you didn't," said Nimianne, "I'm thankful you didn't. No matter what happens, Tewer, I'll always be grateful."

"And I," said Darah, "always."

Tewer glanced at each of them and smiled.

"You are the best friends I ever had," he chuckled, "but you do get distracted. Keep watching the shore! Instead of preparing for the worst, let's try to avoid it instead."

"You're right," giggled Darah, "as always!"

"I'll remember you said that," said Tewer, "but look down there! Here they come!"

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