Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 5

"Now," said Rudigar, "I need some of that wax—do you see the little red square over there? Can you melt it a little?"

"There is no fire," said Tewer.

"You don't know even so much magic?" Rudigar looked stunned. "Very well, I will do it, if you will bring it." Tewer brought the wax, and Rudigar whispered a few words. His face paled even more, but the wax became soft at one end. He smeared some of the wax on the paper, pushed his ring into it to make an imprint, then said something else in a language Tewer didn't know, then continued in Thellarnish.

"I, Sir Rudigar Taiantes, Knight of Taianto, captain of the Martlet, am of sound mind, and under no duress when I make this pledge. I am wounded to the death, and believe that I have been led by the Talvasi to this young man Tewer, mentioned herein, who perhaps alone among all the brigands of Whaelhreow is not lost to honor and righteousness. I make this pledge in the name of the Three Divines, and with all my heart."

"What pledge?" Tewer asked curiously. Rudigar said another word, and then smiled weakly.

"That hurt," he said, "but I believe it to be the right course. Do you read?"

"No," said Tewer, "only a few know how."

"This document," Rudigar explained, "makes you the legal owner of the Martlet, this ship, so long as you do not turn to piracy. I cannot bear that my swift little Martlet should become a corsair, and I believe that leaving her in your hands will ensure that. Use her, Tewer, to escape from this place. There is a box of silver coins under this bed, and it is yours. There is an armory below us in the hold, with a dozen swords, a few bows and crossbows, and twenty boarding pikes and axes—all yours. If you will promise never to turn pirate, this document will make you a man of means in any nation you visit, yes, even Ascalon. Martlet is worth a great deal of money on her own—enough to buy you a house and food to eat for many years. Will you promise never to use her as a pirate?"

"Yes," said Tewer, "it's a bargain. I never ever break a bargain. It was Krasten's iron law, that no bargain must ever be broken."

"I knew there was integrity in you," said Rudigar, "I am not skilled in magic, but I can feel that the Albinics have not given up on you."

"What's an Albinic?"

"I'm sorry I cannot explain more," said Rudigar, his face twisting in pain, "I feel my time is short. I suggest you sail east to Ascalon. It is only eighty or ninety miles. But if you hate them too much, further east is Amor. If you sail straight south, you might reach Chai'ia, but you might also fall afoul of the slavers of Jaffe. They were a mistake of my own king, long ago. He pledged never to harm them in return for a service, and they have used that promise against us ever since. But as you say, a bargain must never be broken, even a bad bargain."

"I am sorry," said Tewer, "I wish you could be healed. I haven't spoken to anyone hardly at all for two years since Krasten died. I didn't know there were men like you in the world, other than Krasten, who also did me much good without any return."

"I bless the memory of your Krasten," said Rudigar, "for he has done me much good, as you have. May it be accounted to him as righteousness."

Tewer didn't understand what that meant, but he was having a hard time not shouting for joy. He was leaving Whaelhreow! He had a ship!

Rudigar rolled up the parchment and pulled a ribbon from his clothes and tied it tight. Then he handed it to Tewer.

"You're a good lad," he said, "as I said before I knew you better. May your future be bright, and your heart find every joy."

"Thank you," said Tewer, realizing the man wouldn't think him weak for saying it. "I hope..." It was too late. The breath rattled out of Rudigar's mouth and he breathed no more. Tewer felt glad and relieved it had gone so easily, but he had no idea what to do with the body. He didn't feel that he should use this man...his bait, and what need of bait anymore? He'd be richer than any man on the island when he got wherever he was going. He'd have to decide soon.

He decided he'd bury the man, as he'd done with Krasten at the old man's request. It would be hard to get the man so far through the swamp, but he felt it an obligation. The dusk gathered outside as he got Rudigar's body up onto the deck, and made a difficult task to get the big man into the boat. He hoped as well as expected that nobody would find his new ship, and for once he felt glad it was night. It would be no fun moving a dead man through the swamps at night, with hungry murder-worms on all sides, but he knew he could do it and nobody would see him. He took a long last glance at his ship in the fading light, and set out. He had already decided he couldn't return to the ship before dawn, and so he'd spend the night at the hideaway, which lay very close to Krasten's grave anyway. He worked the long oar slowly to conserve his tired and aching muscles, but he made good time despite the burden. He reached the hideaway, and poled his way in. He tossed his rucksack and blankets into the dark valley, then went out again, with only Rudigar's body and his weapons aboard.

It took two hours to carry Rudigar up the narrow path to Krasten's grave, and he felt immensely grateful that he'd already dug a second grave for himself when he buried Krasten. He laid Rudigar in the narrow grave, and used the shovel left there for the purpose to lever dirt and rocks over the poor man. When finished he paused for a moment beside the two graves, but found nothing good or worthy to say.

"Thanks," he said finally, "to the two men who did me good turns. I won't forget."

He stumbled down the trail and into his boat, then took a long way back around to his hideaway. Tying off the boat he was dismayed to discover his pack and blankets missing. He didn't dare use his witchlight, so instead he silently climbed up into the cleft where his money was hidden, and laid himself upon the cold stone. Tired as he was, he didn't sleep. He kept his axe close to hand for the rest of the night, and when it began to gray in the cave below him, he slipped down and crept into the hidden dell.

He saw two figures wrapped in his blankets, huddled against the far wall where there was a slight overhang. He moved silently through the ferns, his eyes roving the shadows, but they seemed to be alone. When he reached them he raised his axe and pulled back a corner of blanket so he could see who had robbed him.

He gasped in surprise.

A girl!

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