Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 4

Tewer went down to the cabin, and stopped in shock as he opened the door. It held luxury beyond his dreams. The wood was carved into plant-like forms, with the symbol of a small bird worked into it in many places. Paintings hung from the walls, and the windows at the stern were clear panes of glass—something he'd heard of but never seen before, like clear water hardened into something other than ice. A large bed stood to the left, and a carved oak table to the right. A scarlet tablecloth lay on the table, gleaming faintly in the sunlight—silk? The bed was covered with a blanket that looked soft, and the mattress was at least six inches thick. Carpet covered the floor with a pattern of blue and gold. Two chests stood on either side of the door, just beside him, and a little cupboard with glass panes in the front of it hung above the bed. He saw the bottle in question within that cupboard, and shook his head in disbelief. He had struck a bad bargain! A sword to save all this? Yet one thing he'd learned from Krasten was that a bargain was a bargain. It must be kept at all costs.

It took him some time to figure out the latch on the cupboard, but then he retrieved the bottle and took it back onto the afterdeck and handed it down.

"Thank you, lad," said the man, "you have my thanks, in addition to our bargain."

"What is a lad?"

The man chuckled a little, then winced in pain.

"It means 'young man,' of a little younger than you, to a little older. My father still calls me lad, however, and I'm forty years old."

"Lad," said Tewer, "I'm not sure if I like it."

"Rest assured, I mean no insult," said the man, "you are my only hope, after all. Even if I were the sort who insulted others with pleasure, as I am not, it would be bad policy to insult the one on whom rests all hopes."

Tewer understood only a little of this, but felt satisfied that the man meant no harm by it.

"I am Tewer," he said, "I don't have an epithet yet, but I have been a hunter for all my life until yesterday."

"I am Sir Rudigar Taiantes," said the man, "Knight of Taianto, an estate near Archegor, in Eunessos of the Empire of Chai'ia."

Tewer had heard of none of these places, so he just nodded his head as he would to an equal, and climbed back aboard his boat. He had already seen that the tide was rising a little, and he thought it wouldn't be too hard to pull the small ship free. He tied a long rope from the ring at the ship's rudder to the stern of his boat, and paddled out until it was taut.

It took more than an hour of hard work to get the ship off of the muddy bar. When it finally came free, he slumped over his long oar, exhausted, and breathed a great sigh of relief. He left his boat tied as it was, and leapt up to the rail of the afterdeck of the ship and climbed aboard.

"You're very strong," said Rudigar, who looked a little better, "I'm amazed that you managed it." He had pulled himself away from the tiller, and sat partially upright against a coil of rope.

"We can use this wind," said Tewer, ignoring the compliment, "the cove I'm thinking of is just over there." He pointed, then took hold of the tiller. He guided the small ship around two of the dees copses, then turned between two others into the shadow of a semi-circular mogote. The ship drifted into the cove as it lost the wind, and Tewer hurried forward to lower the sail. He took the trouble to tie it down as well, and then dropped the anchor, which was just a large steel ball on a thin chain.

When he returned to the afterdeck Rudigar smiled and patted the falchion, which lay in its sheath, the belt coiled neatly around it.

"It is yours, with my blessing," he said, "you have done me a good turn, even if you're being rewarded for it. I shall always be grateful."

Tewer took the sword and looked at it lovingly.

"I am grateful too," he said, "I've always wanted to have a sword." He helped Rudigar down into the cabin and onto the bed, where he examined the man's wounds a little more closely. There were two arrows in his back, one of which he withdrew easily, but the other was barbed, and lodged deeply.

"It's bad?" Rudigar didn't seem particularly frightened.

"I don't know if I can draw it," said Tewer, "it's barbed."

"Unlucky," said Rudigar, "but not unexpected. I'd hoped this potion would make a difference, but it's only helped a little." He coughed. Tewer wondered whether his lung was pierced, and what else might be bleeding inside him.

"I'm sorry I can't do any more," said Tewer, and meant it. "I would like to hear about the place you come from, as it sounds very different from here."

"That's easy enough," said Rudigar, "I'm good for a few hours, most likely. Draw up a chair, and I'll tell you what the world is like outside this stinking swampy island."

Tewer learned more in those short hours than he'd ever known before. Whaelhreow was a tiny island, so tiny that it wasn't even included on many maps. There were dozens of nations and kingdoms all around, some noble, some wicked, but none of them so squalid and petty as his homeland.

Rudigar spoke most of his home in Eunessos, a series of islands along the northern coast of Kavonsaw, the southern continent which Tewer had never known to exist. They sounded lovely, with sandy beaches, green grass that grew half a man's height, and small forests amid the central hills. The city of Archegor was one of four cities in the isles, and all of them home to ten times more people than lived on Whaelhreow. He spoke of the famous wars along the southern borders, where the legions of Chai'ia fought against the ragged hordes of the desert across a river that was a mile wide, of the ancient realms that all became part of the Empire of Chai'ia, and of its neighbors, Holy Anjalakh to the West, and the Thousand Kingdoms of Mozquinia to the East. All that lay far across the sea, but Rudigar also told him of Ascalon, a land of which Tewer had been told much.

"Ascalon," he spat, "you were bound there? They are a pack of murderers! They send their ships here to kill us all, almost every year. They burned Slegebyrig last summer, and killed everyone there!"

"What should they do?" Rudigar seemed amused at Tewer's vehemence. "Your ships raid their coasts, attack their ships, steal their women and children, sometimes for ransom but often for nothing but murder. Your land is a land of pirates."

"Pirates are the lords of the sea," said Tewer, "whatever they take is theirs by right."

"Not in the wider world," said Rudigar, "pirates are loved by no nation, and are hanged without pity wherever they are discovered. Do you think the Asgaladanes were glad to kill everyone in Slegebyrig when many of them must've been captured Asgaladanes? It is said that for any woman, death is preferable to a life on Whaelhreow."

"I don't know much about that," said Tewer.

"Your ignorance is not your fault," said Rudigar, "you've been taught things that are wrong, but you have a good heart. I am glad to have known you. And what's more, I'm going to show you that the world outside holds many things better than this little island you've always called home. Bring me that parchment and pen that lie on the table."

Tewer brought them over, and Rudigar began to write.

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