Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 3

All eyes were on Tewer when he rowed into Swartmutha that evening. He sat perched atop the huge worm, using his sculling oar as a paddle, his almost naked body covered in sweat-streaked blood. He wore only a loincloth and a belt with a sheathed knife thrust through it, but also Kadron's distinctive boots. He'd actually had to lever the worm's thick tail back under its hind leg, because it stretched even longer than his newly acquired boat, and he didn't want to offer another worm a bite of his prize. The guards took a step back as he stepped onto the Counter's dock, sculling oar still in hand.

They saw his new boat and boots at once, and they behaved far more respectfully than the day just past. One simply nodded to him, turned and vanished, while the other whistled.

"He's a big bastard, that's for sure," he said, "eighteen feet, you think?"

"Or a bit more," Tewer panted, "and it took me two hours to get him on board. I had to kill two smaller ones who wanted him for dinner. I couldn't get them back here, though—they ended up being dinner for other worms."

"Too bad," said the guard.

The Counter came out and whistled appreciatively at the big worm.

"Two worms in two days," the Counter said, "you're doing well, young Tewer."

"Have you ever bought a bigger?" Tewer asked, looking over his kill proudly.

"One or two," said the Counter, "but no more than that. I take it you want Krasten's axe? And another twenty five nails?"

"Krasten's axe, and ninety nails," said Tewer. That got the bargaining started, and Tewer ended up with fifty-five nails and the beautiful axe. It could be used one-or two-handed, and had a haft wrapped in blue leather. The head was of an ancient Gyrson design, with a long blade and a cut lower portion known as a 'bearded' axe. Tracings of silver ran along the blade, and there were actual silver-inlaid runes carved there as well. Tewer felt very pleased to have it back.

"You might find other thieves after you now," said the Counter with a cruel smile.

"No doubt," said Tewer, "but I guess I'm ready for them now. I've killed six worms, four of them murder-worms, in two days. I can handle myself."

"Did the big bugger eat your goat?" The first guard smiled.

"No, I forgot about her and left her at home, surrounded with bloody water," said Tewer, "I don't know if she's alive or dead. I had other meat to use for bait."

It took all four of them to get the huge worm out of his boat. The Counter measured it: nineteen feet and two inches.

"Second largest I ever bought," said the Counter, "by an inch. I paid you more than him, so I guess that's right enough." Tewer almost thanked him, but caught himself in time. He nodded, and stepped back onto his boat.

The very guard who had yesterday called him 'Tumor,' waved.

"Be careful now," he said, "don't spend it all in one place. The Steamroom is overrated." He laughed and Tewer grinned back.

He rowed over to the used clothes shop and bought himself two newish sets of clothes, and four blankets, including one made of three sheepskins sewn together. He found two good pairs of gloves and a hat, and bought them as well, then stopped when he saw a leather rucksack among a pile of others made from canvas or wool.

It was expensive—3 nails—but he couldn't resist. Most of his new clothes fit into the rucksack, and he stacked them on the only part of his boat that wasn't bloody and rowed away from the little town, keeping careful watch on his wake.

He didn't go anywhere near the shack, but instead went far out into the tidal swamps on the off chance that the other worms he'd killed might be salvageable. He found the spot, but there was no sign of the earlier killing except for a human foot and ankle hanging from a mangrove tree. He didn't know which man it belonged to, but it made him feel a little sick. He couldn't argue with the results of his actions, but it seemed a little horrible just the same.

He rowed out into the calm sea around the marshes and used a bucket he found in the little cubby forward to wash the blood from his boat. Soon it was bright and new looking, and he saw Krasten's name carved just above the cubby. It made him sad, for though gruff and impatient Krasten remained the only person who had ever done Tewer a kindness. He had no memory of his mother, but that didn't matter—she had been a whore, and wanted him no more than he wanted her. His father might be anyone, even Krasten. He'd pretended that Krasten was his father for several years, but when he'd told the old man about it Krasten had reacted angrily, so Tewer had put it aside.

His boat clean, his booty safe, Tewer set out for his hideaway. He took almost the longest route possible, well out to sea, then through a mangrove swamp, and between numerous mogotes, and then into the forests of dees trees that grew along a dozen channels between twenty or thirty mogotes. Between the trees he turned back toward the hideaway, but then he stopped, and his jaw went slack. To his right, aground on one of the little islands covered with dees trees, lay a small ship. She measured no more than sixty feet in length, with a single mast. Her afterdeck was seven or eight feet above the water, and upon it lay an unmoving form. Her sail still fluttered in the breeze, but she appeared to be beached. She had a narrow, sharp hull, and looked faster than any of the pirate tolverns of Whaelhreow.

Tewer guided his craft towards the ship, and as it bumped into the side, the figure on the afterdeck stirred.

"She's gone, curse you," rasped the man lying by the tiller, "no ransoms here."

Tewer tied up his boat and climbed onto the larger craft. There were three steps up to the afterdeck, and when he had climbed them he looked down on the glaring man curiously.

"Who's gone?" Tewer looked around. "I think you're alone, my man, and wounded. I might be inclined to help you, for a small price."

"For a small price," the man spat, then seemed to consider. He was a handsome fellow, with golden hair and a neatly trimmed beard of the same color. His clothing was the finest Tewer had ever seen, rich blues and greens with strange patterns worked into them with silver. He had a polished leather belt around his waist with a silver buckle, and a very fine curved falchion lay beside him. "What do you consider a small price, my lad?"

Tewer had never been called a 'lad' before, and didn't know if he liked it.

"Twenty five nails," Tewer said, "or that falchion, with its scabbard and belt."

"It's worth more than twenty-five of your iron spikes, lad," said the man, "but if you can help me hide my lovely ship, and help me with my wounds, you can have the falchion, scabbard and belt and my blessing besides."

"Why do you need to hide?"

"Pirates have been chasing me," said the man, "I led them off to ensure my lady Nimianne's escape. I pray that she did indeed escape! I stayed aboard alone, and drew them away from her, and I haven't seen a sail for hours, but my own sail can be seen from the sea, I fear."

"It can," said Tewer, "but I do know a place where they won't find it. I can lower the sail, too, I think. I'm young, but I'm strong, and I've killed two men."

"You do seem formidable," said the man, the last a word that Tewer didn't know, but it sounded like a compliment.

"I'll try to pull you off with my boat. As for your wound, I have only a few clothes, but if they will serve..."

"No," said the man, "go into the cabin below us, and find there a blue bottle with a silver stopper. Bring that to me, and if I can be saved, it will save me."

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