Tewer retreated at once. What was a girl doing here? He realized things were not as he had guessed. He looked up and saw two pins in the rock, from which depended ropes, perhaps of a rolled-up ladder. How had they found his dell? And why keep this girl here?
He saw his rucksack lying on the ground and opened it, finding only some of his clothes. He put them on over the clothes he wore, and soon his shivering ceased. He debated what to do, but he had no time. He needed to get away before it was full daylight.
He brushed his witchlight on and strode over to the sleeping figures boldly.
"What are you doing here?" He shook them awake roughly. The faces of two girls looked up at him in fear, and he took a step back. "What are you doing with my blankets? I almost froze last night, you know."
"I'm sorry," said one, who had dark brown skin and curly black hair, "we didn't know. We thought they'd dropped them in here for us."
"Who is they?"
"Captain Rask," said the girl, "he captured us yesterday, and brought us here for safekeeping until our ransoms are paid.
"Captain Rask, eh?" Tewer had heard of him. He had four tolverns, and his home port was Cwaluwine, on the far side of the island. "He's a right bastard, so I've heard. He left you here with nothing?"
"Yes," said the girl, "we were very cold. We're sorry we took them, but my lady might've frozen without them."
So the other girl was a lady. That explained the ransoms.
"Never mind, then," Tewer said, "I've got to get out of here. You can have the blankets, and the clothes—I assume you're wearing my clothes too."
"They put us in here naked!"
"What of it? It's not cold enough to kill, and that would keep you from escaping. Be glad I'm so generous, but someone else was generous to me yesterday, so I'll let you keep what you've stolen. I killed two other thieves day before yesterday."
"We are not thieves!" The lady looked up at him with disdain, now, her fear gone. She had hair only slightly less curly than the first girl, but her skin was golden red.
"Of course you are," said Tewer, "or at least you were. Now you're just lucky I don't beat you and leave you naked. I'm off."
"Wait!" The dark girl stood up. "Take us with you! Take us to Ascalon, and we'll make sure you are paid whatever ransom the pirates demand."
"Yes," said the lady, "if you take us, I give you my word, as a Sarke's daughter, that you shall have double whatever they demand for us."
"Why should I?" Tewer couldn't let them have the upper hand before the bargain was struck. "That's a promise that might never come true. I get to risk my life and most likely die for something that might never happen. And you already owe me. Let's keep accounts current."
"How can we? They took everything from us!"
"Maybe we'll never reach Ascalon. Maybe we'll be stuck on an island somewhere. Maybe I'll have to keep you, and never get any reward but yourselves."
"How dare you!"
"You need me, lady," said Tewer, "but I don't need you. I have a way out—finally. I can go wherever I want. If I steal you, I'll have not just Captain Rask but a hundred...five hundred other pirates after me—everyone on this island will be wanting to cut my throat. Whatever ransom you're worth—how do I know how much that will be? And even if I get it, they'll chase me forever unless I can find protection somewhere. Add to that the risk that maybe we'll be wrecked somewhere because we have to flee thirty tolverns, and live out a couple of years on an island or a desert shore—it's a big risk for an unknown quality."
"What did you have in mind?" The dark girl sounded nervous.
"Nothing much," said Tewer, "I just want to see if you're worth the effort, even in the event of failure. Just show me your teats, both of you, and that will both recompense me for the theft, and give me a reason maybe to take such a terrible risk. I'm risking my life just being here, and the longer you bargain, the greater the danger."
"You..." the lady seemed to choke, but the dark girl shook her head and quelled her with a look.
"I'll go naked for you," she said, "if you'll let the lady remain clothed."
"No," said Tewer, "both or nothing. We're talking about my head."
"It's not right," said the dark girl.
"Never mind, Darah," said the lady, "he's right, we need him. And it's much less shameful than what happened yesterday." She drew the blanket down to her waist and opened up his new shirt. Darah did the same, and for two or three seconds Tewer looked back and forth in amazement.
He'd never imagined anything like it. Their breasts were much smaller than those of the hag that had fondled him on his fourteenth birthday, and they looked firm, not sagging bags of flab. His gasp made them blush, and as they wrapped his shirts back around their bodies he took a shuddering breath.
"Very well," he said, "let's get this bargain done. I will get you away from Whaelhreow and to some port of Ascalon if I can. If for some reason we are shipwrecked, you will be my women. In the first case, you will pay me double the ransom demanded by Captain Rask, and in the second case you owe me nothing but yourselves. Agreed?"
"Yes," said Darah.
"You have the word of Princess Nimianne Zandreya," said the lady, "but if you wreck us on purpose, or do not strive your best to take us to Ascalon, then I will tear out your throat with my teeth rather than submit to you."
"I'll do my best," said Tewer, "my only friend taught me that a bargain must be kept no matter, what, and I have never broken one, ever. Come with me, and hurry."
They gathered up their meagre possessions and hurried into the cave where his boat was concealed. Both girls were shocked to see it–the trees and ferns hid it very well. They stepped gingerly into the boat, and he poled them out into the trees beyond. He sculled them swiftly away, working as hard as his sore muscles could manage, and he breathed a sigh of relief when he reached the dees forest. He'd seen nobody, and prayed that nobody had seen him. The sun had only peeped above the horizon when he brought his boat into the hidden cove where the Marlet lay.
"That's our ship!" Lady Nimianne looked up at him accusingly, her black eyes flashing with anger and hate.
"It's my ship," said Tewer, "I'm the legal owner. I have a title right here." He put a hand to his chest, where the parchment lay hidden.
"What happened to Sir Rudigar?"
"He died," said Tewer, tying up the boat, "he had two arrows in his back. I wish I had known you were his friends! I wouldn't have bargained so hard just now."
"What did you do with him?"
"I buried him, next to my father," said Tewer. He'd decided that the old man had been his father in every way that counted, and he would call Krasten father whatever the truth. "That's why I was so late last night, and left my blankets in the hideaway. I carried him up the cliffs to my father's grave, and buried him in the grave I dug for myself when I buried my father."
"Why did you do that?"
"He was kind to me, and my father was the only other person who was ever kind to me in my whole life. It seemed right they should lie there together." He clambered up onto the ship and was surprised when they held out their hands for him to help them. He did so, wondering at their clumsiness and lack of strength. "I cannot go back on the bargain we struck, but I will add something on my own. If we are lost, and you become mine, I will treat you kindly, remembering his kindness to me."
To his utter shock both girls burst into tears.