Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 26

"Come on up," he said as he loosed a quarrel at the running, straining men, but his bolt slammed harmlessly into the shield at the front, and the two men dropped it right at the water's edge, ducking behind the low parapet they'd built. Darah joined him as he picked up his second crossbow, and he had just readied it when two more men, including Rask, dashed out of the woods. He and Darah both loosed, but neither hit the moving targets. All four hid behind the wooden shield, and Tewer smiled at Darah.

"Gave us time for spanning," he said, "not wise." He spanned the three crossbows and called softly, "can you see them from there?"

"I can almost," Nimianne replied, "do you want me to try it?"

"Wait," said Tewer, "if they get that beast in the water, you'll be looking down at them."

Nimianne said nothing, and Tewer watched the raft very carefully. He didn't know how they expected to get it in the water, as they must expose themselves to lift it. Then the whole raft shifted slightly, and again, until the shield at the front almost faced the front of the ship.

"Stay here, Darah," he said, "keep your crossbow trained on them, and shoot if anyone pokes his head out. I'm going to the stern, see if I can catch them out."

He didn't wait for a reply, but stole to the port side of the ship, a good two feet lower than the starboard side, and reached the back of the ship without ever seeing the water beyond the starboard side. He crept up until he peered through the railing, and saw one of the pirates, or at least the lower half of him, wrenching the raft towards the water an inch at a time. Another set of legs he saw just behind the first, both digging great furrows in the sand as they struggled to move the heavy burden.

Tewer took careful aim, then breathed several times, trying to clear his mind and slow his pounding heart. He didn't need to kill the man yet; wounding him would suffice. He aimed for the fat of the thigh, let out his breath slowly, and loosed.

His quarrel sped true, and the man jerked up and back in pain, and another quarrel appeared in the pirate's throat. He couldn't tell if it had been Darah or Nimianne, but the man was dead; he slumped down and his comrades pushed him out of the way, using him for cover as the levered their unwieldy craft towards the water.

He rejoined Darah, and found that she still had two ready crossbows, so he called up his praise to Nimianne.

"It's so horrible," Nimianne whispered, so faintly that Tewer could scarcely hear, "look at the blood."

"Don't look at the blood," Tewer called, "look at the woods. That last fellow is out there somewhere. Don't let him get close. We'll take care of the other three." He reloaded his crossbow and smiled at Darah.

"Worked better than I thought," he said, "but they'll be coming. It may take two hours with that barge they've built, but we'll be ready. They can't get up the side without exposing themselves, so we'll just wait until they do. Aim for the chest, and then catch up your spear." He put his hand on hers, and smiled. "Stay behind me as much as you can, and act more scared than you feel. They don't expect you to be brave. So when one of them dodges past me, just strike true. You're a slayer. Nobody can say you're a helpless lady ever again."

"Right," said Darah, following the slow movements of the pirates with her crossbow.

They pirates finally got their makeshift raft afloat, and it handled as badly as Tewer had expected. No shipwrights lived in Whaelhreow; tolverns they bought from the Uorings of Uorhold, and any other vessels they stole. Though excellent sailors and navigators, Rask and his men didn't know anything about shipbuilding, and their impatience made them even less skilled.

The raft wallowed back and forth, and Tewer got off several shots more, though none so final as the last. As the barge approached, Nimianne took another shot, and from the hoarse cry they heard, she had at least wounded one of the pirates. It only took about thirty minutes for the raft to cross the thirty yards of open water, but at last it bumped into the side of the ship, and three things happened at once.

First, the Marlet drifted free, jerking upright and staggering Tewer and Darah. Second, the pirates rose and grabbed the gunwales, and third, Tewer and Darah loosed their quarrels.

Though he almost fell, Tewer hit his man, who flew backwards with a quarrel in the eye. Darah missed, but she clutched her second crossbow as she slid along the deck. Tewer grabbed his spear and thrust at once at the pirate clambering aboard, but he missed, striking between the arm and the side, and he recovered his spear and fell into a defensive stance. Rask and the other pirate got their feet under them, just the thing Tewer had wanted to avoid, but both had several wounds. Rask's sword-arm had blood all over it; apparently Tewer's miss had nicked him. The other pirate also had a bleeding shoulder and a useless right arm, but he wielded his sword in the left with deft skill. Tewer faced them for a long moment, then feinted forward, slashing at both of them but taking a step backwards immediately after. Both reacted sluggishly, dodging away and spreading out. They might be feigning, but Tewer didn't think so. He just needed to get man on the left to go a little further to the left. He struck again at Rask's face, then slashed towards the other pirate, who dodged leftward and walked right into the quarrel from Darah's second crossbow.

"All alone, Rask," growled Tewer, "with a broken arm and bleeding wounds. Even if you kill me, my girls will do for you."

"You'll never know," said Rask hoarsely, "stinking catamite."

Tewer grinned at him.

"Krasten always said the weaker man hurls the insults," he said.

Rask wasn't done, however. He lunged at Tewer and only a quick duck kept Tewer from injury. They traded blows for several minutes, circling and feinting, the pirate's experience and cunning matched against Tewer's better training, condition and longer reach. Tewer tried to pin Rask against the mast, but the pirate dodged, his short sword striking sparks as he deflected Tewer's blow.

"Too bad," Rask gasped, "you'd have been a good hand."

"I wouldn't sail with a fool," said Tewer.

"We'll see who's the fool," said Rask, then he cried out and arched his back. Tewer didn't wait, but stabbed him through the heart. As the pirate fell, he saw Darah next to the mast, the tip of her spear bloody.

"I went for the liver," she said faintly, "did I kill him?"

"Maybe," said Tewer, "but I made sure of him. Even a dying man can hurt you." He stamped his feet. "We've done it, girls," he said, "we've done it! We've won, and we're free of the sandbank! Laome be praised!" He looked at the side of the cove, which loomed ever nearer, and gasped. "We're free, but we're going to get hurt if we don't pull her clear! Come on down, Nimi! Darah, take the tiller, I'm going to haul her to the deep water."

He threw his spear down and climbed down to his old boat, but then gasped as he felt the boat move under him. He turned in time to see the last pirate climbing aboard the low boat, naked but for a kerchief bound about his thigh, a short sword in his teeth. He heard a scream, shouted as he drew his sword, but it was too late. He raised his left arm to ward off the blow, but blade hit his head anyway in a shower of blood. He fell into the bottom of the boat, his arms flying about nervelessly, and through a red haze he saw the pirate draw back for a lunge. A quarrel sudden sprouted from the pirate's head, and he tumbled down onto Tewer, who blinked on the stinging blood once or twice, and knew no more.

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