“He who experiences loss knows pain. He who seeks vengeance for that loss willingly gives more of himself only to find more pain.”
Father Penitence, former murderer and brigand
The tavern buzzed with snoring. Those who had participated in the celebration lay strewn about the room wherever they could. A dark-skinned sailor, the one Jake had tussled with, scanned over the sleeping bodies, locating the knights. Some of the partygoers had vomited, giving the dank room a pungent odor, but the sailor was used to it. He slowly and silently backed out of the tavern’s back door on bare feet. He let the door close but did not engage the latch.
The sun had barely begun to shine over the horizon to the east. The ground was wet with dew and covered in a thick blanket of mist. The colony’s early risers had just begun to stir into their daily routine.
Five sailors stood lined up outside the tavern’s back door. The dark-skinned sailor addressed the others in a low tone.
“Listen t’ me,” he hissed in his thick Tichulute accent. “We walk in, real quiet, do da deed an’ walk out. We disappear an’ meet at da spot for payment. Mista Gray don’t want no mistakes.”
One of the sailors sneered as he eyed the pistol in his hand. He cocked it and de-cocked it several times. Jitters, some might call it. Each member of the small group had them. The black man slapped the sneering sailor in the back of his head hard enough to make him bite his tongue.
“You listenin’ t’ me?”
“Aye,” the sailor said tensing his brow and rubbing the back of his head. “I heard e-ry word. Why you gotta be hittin’ me for?”
“Mista Gray made it clear dat if one o’ dem knights walks outta here, none of us have any coin a-commin’.”
The leader thumped two men armed with pistols and cutlasses in the chest with his index fingers. “You two take da blokes asleep in da pub. Wait for shots from upstairs.”
“Just us?” a sailor protested nervously. “There be three o’ them.”
“They asleep, dunderhead. Use ya blade on the first while all is quiet den da irons on da otha two.” He returned his attention to the others still waiting for assignments. “You, take da lady’s room. She be in dere all alone so no worries.”
“None at all,” the man said, grinning and thumbing the razor edge of his scimitar. “I shall take my time with her.”
“No,” the leader said sharply. “We gotta be quick so do ‘er quick. Unda’ stan?”
The man with the scimitar sighed and nodded his head in agreement.
“You an’ me will take da room across da hall. We kick down da door and hit ‘em wit da blunderbusses den use pistols and blades on da survivors. I don’ care bout da savage or da white boy.” His eye took on a sinister look as he drew his sword. “I wan’ that Zimmar fella t’ feel it. I want to push dis troo ’im slow, so he feel it.”
The two privateersmen crept into the tavern as the others moved silently up the stairs, weapons in hand. Amir and Brutus were hunched over the bar snoring and Jorn lay prone on a bench several yards behind them, drooling on the arm his head rested on. They were surrounded by a sea of other partygoers who had passed out wherever they found room.
Tiptoeing over the sleeping bodies, the sailors argued with their eyes and hand gestures over who would take the two at the bar. The dark sailor snapped angrily from the staircase to get their attention.
He scowled and mimed, “Just do it.”
The sailor who lost the silent argument took his position behind the sleeping men as the other drew his blade slowly and loomed over Jorn. The dark-skinned sailor continued up the stairs shaking his head.
Jake’s eyes fluttered open. The dark room felt damp and cold. The only light peeked from under the door and around the thick curtains. Brom and Dogwa snored in their beds and he felt tempted to let the curtains fly open letting the bright sunlight beam in. The perfect cure for a hangover, he thought sarcastically. But later. It was still very early.
Suddenly, Jake heard the slightest creak in the hallway. The floorboards complained of weight yet the footfalls were silent. He began to grow nervous as his thoughts went to the location of his pistol and whether it was loaded. Then he remembered the last time they’d had an early morning visit. It had been Master Salvo coming to bring news of an assignment.
His shoulders relaxed as he sat up in bed, watching the door. Two shadows appeared in the thin strip of light at the bottom. Two feet. Then two more and the anxiety returned. His pistol was on the nightstand, loaded. He placed a hand on it and cocked it as he contemplated waking the others.
The sailors poised their weapons over their sleeping victims. Brutus and Amir hadn’t stirred, but Jorn rolled onto his back to get comfortable. The sailor grew nervous as he stood, ready to stab downward with his cutlass. He stared his victim-to-be in the face. Jorn could open his eyes at any moment while they were waiting for the sound of shots from upstairs.
The nervous sailor hissed and motioned to the stirring knight with his eyes. His companion shrugged and nodded upward as if to say, “Wait for the signal.”
A bright strip of sunlight shone in through the front window and right on Jorn’s face. The knight pressed his eyes shut and twisted his face in the light. The sailor licked his lips and watched the knight’s eyes carefully. He clenched his sweaty palms around the hilt of his cutlass. The tip of the blade shook over the knight’s heart.
The sailor flinched as Jorn swung his hand up to cover his eyes. Letting out a shaky breath, the assassin tried to calm himself and steady his hands. Then he noticed a small twinkle between the knight’s fingers. Jorn blinked and squinted.
He sees me, the sailor thought. By Poseidon, he sees me!
The assassin plunged his blade down in a panic but Jorn pushed it away at the last instant and the tip sunk into the knight’s shoulder. Jorn kicked the back of the sailor’s knee sweeping him off his feet before he could curse. The assassin came tumbling down right on top of the sleeping barmaid.
Watching the shadows under the door, Jake grew more and more anxious. What were they waiting for? He gripped his pistol with white knuckles. Then he heard it. A woman’s scream from downstairs in the tavern.
“Wake up,” he shouted at his sleeping comrades just as the door was kicked in and two blunderbuss barrels leveled at them. Jake dove over the side of his bed to avoid the first blast that sent shrapnel straight into his sheets, shredding the mattress and pillow.
Dogwa gripped his tomahawk firmly and gave a loud whoop, drawing the attention of the first shooter. The native threw the ax with all the force he could muster and struck the man in the chest.
Still waking up, Brom sat up in his bed. The dark sailor aimed the scattergun at him and fired. Burning shrapnel tore through the knight’s chest and neck before he had fully opened his eyes. Jake sprung from cover and squeezed his trigger. Click. Misfire at the worst possible time.
The assassin drew his pistol and fired as Jake once again ducked beside his bed. When he popped up again, dagger in hand, poised to pounce on their attacker, the assassin was nowhere to be seen.
He turned his attention to Brom. Jake’s dearest friend lay on his back, gasping for air. Fluffy down feathers floated in the air around them. Jake shook Brom. Hot liquid welled under Jake’s palms. Blood. Brom’s hands were twisted and tense. The agony he was experiencing was something the two had seen often but this was much different. Surreal, like Jake watched this all from the outside through a window. Tears collected in the corners of Jake’s eyes as he grasped his dying friend’s hand.
This could not be fixed. There was no point in lying to him.
“Go with honor,” Jake said between sobs. Brom shook his head in agreement. Fear bloomed on his face and his body seized. His eyes glazed over. His lips moved but no sound could be heard. He tried again.
“Tell Anna—” Brom couldn’t finish. His voice hoarse, his body failing him.
“I understand,” Jake said as Brom’s body relaxed. He was still. Jake threw his head back and inhaled sharply through his teeth. The veins of his neck bulged as he stifled his rage. Then he let it out in the form of a wordless roar. He scooped up two shot cartridges and tucked the dead assassin’s pistol into his pants before sprinting into the hallway.
Through the open door, Dogwa saw Margaret under her attacker on her bed. The man attempted to thrust the scimitar onto her throat with his palm on the back of the blade but she resisted with a hand on the hilt and the other on his wrist.
Just as Dogwa was about to step in and help, Margaret drove her knee upward into the man’s groin and rolled him off the bed. With the attacker on his back, Margaret straddled his torso and turned the blade to face his neck.
“Do you need assistance?” Dogwa asked.
“I’ve got this.” She put all her weight on the blade and with a guttural grunt, sunk the blade slowly into the man’s throat. He gurgled and died quickly.
Margaret stood triumphantly with the wide blade in hand. Her smile quickly disappeared as she noticed Brom’s bloody body lying on the bed.
Jake flew down the stairs after the assassin, dagger in his teeth and fingers fumbling with a pistol reload. He reached the bottom of the stairs to find the tavern full of panicked patrons. He scanned the room quickly. Brutus smashed a stool over a sailor’s back. Jakes eyes flicked to Jorn. He had a hand pressing firmly on a gushing shoulder wound, but when Jake locked eyes with him, Lieutenant Fitzand pointed a bloody finger to the back door. Jake’s eyes followed and he caught a glimpse of the dark sailor before he disappeared through the doorway. Finishing his reload, Jake threw the ramrod down as he shoved his way through the crowd. He pushed two frantic townspeople and they tumbled backward over something on the floor. Another sailor. This one had one of Jorn’s knives in his spine. The sailor groped at Jake’s leg to slow him down. Jake drove his bare heel into his face and broke his nose with a crunch before flinging himself outside.
The air was cold and damp, the ground spongy under his bare feet. Jake tried to block out the chaos inside. Scanning the area, Jake looked for any sign of where the assassin might have gone. His palms sweated around the stock of his pistol and the hilt of his dagger.
Behind him, in the distance, Jake heard a horse whinny. Swinging around, Jake found the sailor tugging forcefully on a horse’s reins, leading the frightened beast into the street.
Jake sprinted for the man, not caring where his feet fell, whether on sharp stone or soft soil. His heavy breathing drove the rhythmic thumping of his feet on the ground. Terrified, the assassin swung a leg over the horse and galloped through the gate, out of town, down the long, straight, marshland road.
Jake redirected to the stables and spooked the horses as he thumped toward them. Jake mounted the first horse he came to, bareback, still holding his dagger in his teeth and his pistol at the ready. Kicking the horse violently, the horse reared before taking off in a full gallop.
The morning mist stung Jake’s cheeks. His untucked shirt flapped in the wind. His feet were caked in black mud and his heels bled onto the horse’s flanks. Grasping a chunk of the horse’s mane in a tight fist, he dug his bleeding heels into the horse’s sides, willing the poor creature to go faster. Nostrils flaring with a powerful sound of rushing air, the animal galloped as if its life depended on it.
Drawing closer, Jake’s terrified target looked over his shoulder. The assassin turned, pistol in hand, and fired. Jake didn’t need to duck out of the way, the shot was rushed and nowhere near him. Taking aim with his own pistol, Jake shot at the fleeing man. Jake’s shot was also rushed, and the jostling of the galloping horse did not help. The ball hissed over the assassin’s shoulder. Jake threw the spent pistol out to his side and drew the second from the front of his pants. He took his time and squeezed off a better shot. The bullet struck the back of the assassin’s arm just above the elbow. The dark man called out in pain and his horse swerved as he jerked its head.
Still gaining ground, Jake turned the pistol in his hand to use as a club, with the barrel resting in his solid fist. He rode up next to the other horse and swung the makeshift club in a wide backhand arc. The stock, bashed into the man’s face, knocking out his front teeth. The assassin tumbled backward over his horse’s hindquarters and slammed into the gravel road below, tumbling to a stop.
Jake slowed his horse and dismounted some distance off. He tossed his pistol aside as he charged at the man with a fast and angry walk. The assassin regained some of his senses and saw his quickly approaching demise. He scrambled around in the gravel looking for his knife that had fallen out of his belt. He found it and turned on his knees in a defensive posture but Jake was already there. The knight kicked the assassin’s wrist as hard as he could and the blade went flying into the marsh.
Jake tucked his blade into the back of his pants and crouched over his enemy with clenched fists. Gripping him by the collar, Jake punched the man repeatedly in the face and gut.
“Coward,” Jake spat. Jake brought his fist all the way back for a devastating strike. The assassin’s jaw crunched under Jake’s knuckles. The sailor fell flat on the road, his collar slipping from Jake’s grasp. Jake shook his hand out. That last strike may have broken a finger or two.
“It was just”—the sailor struggled to speak between bloody coughs—“a job.”
“Who gave the order?” Jake asked without a second wasted. The assassin shut his mouth. Jake shook him violently.
“Who ordered the attack?” Still no response. Jake gripped the man’s wounded arm, pressing his fingertips into the bullet hole.
“Listen,” Jake said, placing his dagger under the man’s chin. “You can tell me and I can kill you, or you can remain silent and I can find a much crueler fate for you than death.”
Spitting a broken tooth into Jake’s face, the assassin gave a bloody grin. Jake placed the blade behind the man’s knee and pulled, severing tendons. The assassin screamed as Jake repeated the action on his other leg. Jake gripped the hobbled assassin by the hair and dragged him down the embankment and into a stinking pool of stagnant bog water.
Jake palmed the back of the assassin’s head and held him under. The assassin struggled and bubbled frantically. Jake held him under until the struggling stopped. He pulled the drowning man up and slapped his cheeks. The assassin coughed up brown water with little flecks of green algae.
“Tell me,” Jake demanded. The man made no attempt to speak as he hacked and coughed. As soon as he stopped, Jake plunged him under again. Struggling, the sailor groped for Jake behind him. Jake pulled him up, waited for the assassin to gasp for air then dunked him again mid-breath. The sailor kicked and thrashed helplessly until Jake pulled him up again. The assassin vomited and hacked. Jake flipped him over to look into his eyes.
“Who is he?” Jake screamed desperately into the assassin’s face. Sputtering. Gasping. Jake cocked his arm back to strike and the sailor raised his hand for Jake to stop. He spat out some more water and spoke.
Jake inhaled sharply and let out a shaky breath through flared nostrils. Defeat and hopelessness occupied the assassin’s twisted expression. Jake could no longer find signs of deceit or spite. Nothing. This man was broken. Could it be true? Was he the informant for the Spratzian warlock as well? Was Governor Bradford a spy? Jake returned his attention to the assassin.
“You lie.” Jake shook him by his collar.
“I do no’ lie ‘bout dis.” The assassin looked almost offended by the accusation. “Bradford an’ Mista Gray are innit togetha. He sends coded lettas so dat da Spratzians let ’im run his crooked vessels when dis all blow ova.”
Jake thought for several moments. It all made sense. The Spratzians were very interested in the well. They had known too much about it from the start. They would promise whatever they needed to for information. This however put Jake in a bit of a tough situation. This assassin must die for what he had done. Jake wanted the privilege, but if they used him as a witness in Bradford’s trial, some executioner would do it when all was finished. Jake could not let that happen. He needed to do this for Bromley.
“Thank you,” Jake said softly as he placed his dagger’s point over the assassin’s heart.
“W-wait,” the sailor pleaded, grasping Jake’s shirt, tears streaking the mud on his cheeks. The knight slowly pressed the blade into the assassin’s flesh. As it sunk, the assassin’s pleading turned to gasps and gurgles. He threw his fists wildly into Jake’s sides. Vision blurring, Jake realized tears welled up in his own eyes. His lower lip quivered. His hands felt cold but his chest burned as if he had swallowed a mouthful of embers.
Jake slowly twisted the blade and the sailor’s struggling stopped, his eyes locked on Jake’s face. Jake dropped the lifeless body in the bog and watched it float face up for a moment. Bending into the muddy water, Jake washed the blood from his blade before clambering up to the road. The horse he had ridden turned to meet him from some distance down the road. When he drew closer, Jake recognized the white coat speckled with gray. He hadn’t realized the horse he had taken from the stables was Brom’s until that moment. He fell to his knees and cried into his hands.
The world around him was a blur until he heard distant galloping hooves. He stood up and wiped the tears on his wet sleeve. Amir spooked Brom’s horse as he skidded to a stop.
“Are you alright?” he asked. Jake nodded, eyes flicking to the bog below. Amir stood in his stirrups to look down the embankment to the body floating in the water. Jake stepped forward and looked directly up at Amir. The mounted knight recoiled as if he was seeing something he was unprepared for. It felt as though Jake could breathe fire in that moment. Rage, sorrow, regret, despair all rolled into a single confusing feeling inside Jake and all his thoughts at that moment went to revenge.
“We must make certain the Governor does not leave the island.”