Donegal na Valenfaer had never thought he’d live to be bored in the Port of the Sun, but it had happened. He told Captain Fynystere this, and the captain laughed.
“Well, after seven years of wintering, anything would pale,” Fynystere supposed, “even a city on the coast of Duparyn.” The captain considered. “I once thought as you did–that there were so many things to do in the Port of the Sun that I could never do it all. But I did,” Fynystere concluded with a smile, and Donegal shouted his laughter. “Richard’s borrowing my sailboat for a trip to the Isles of the Sun; why don’t you ask if you can go along with him?”
And so Donegal had sought Richard just Richard, a shipmate who had served–and wintered–with Captain Fynystere nearly twice as long as Donegal had. After quickly scouring the house, the surgeon found the man he sought in a work shed set up to make and repair arrows. This was hardly surprising. Richard was the Eclipse’s bowmaster, or chief archer; besides expertly shooting a long bow, he manned the huge crossbow and tended the hellfire in battle.
Richard looked up at Donegal and smiled when the surgeon entered. “Come in,” the archer invited amiably. “I’m almost done.”
Donegal watched Richard glue an arrowhead onto a shaft, reflecting as he did so how different he and the archer were. Oh, they were about the same height and build, and they were both reasonably good-looking, but there was no other likeness. Richard was bright as Braigh, his skin bronzed and his hair gilded by sea and sun, and his eyes as blue as the water he sailed. As for Donegal, the surgeon doubted that even the night goddess could have been as dark as he was. His curly hair was raven black; his eyes were a deep, warm ebony; and his skin was the color of the smooth, dark chocolates with which his former master, the kind leech, had often treated him when he was a child. Night and day, Fynystere called them sometimes, night and day.
And Donegal laughed. Richard looked at the surgeon, smiled through his neat beard, and continued repairing arrows. “The captain says you’re sailing to the Isles,” Donegal began, leaning comfortably against a wall. “Want some company?”
“Certainly,” Richard accepted quickly, picking up a half-dozen newly mended arrows and depositing them in his quiver. “I’ll probably be in need of your skill, Donegal.”
“What’re you doing?” the surgeon wondered eagerly, standing straight.
“I am going to do something I’ve wanted to do for thirteen years.” Richard lifted his long bow from a shelf behind him. “I am going to hunt the Lowenrote.”
Now Donegal had heard of the Red Tiger–or Lowenrote, as the Sun People called him–that roamed and ravaged the Isles of the Sun, but he had never thought anyone would be crazy enough to chase the beast down. Well, Richard was strange, all right, but he wasn’t boring. So despite the madness of the scheme, Donegal sailed at dawn to the island of Grian with Richard. The trip was calm and quiet–for which Donegal offered brief thanks to Moire–and by mid-day, Richard pulled the sailboat onto the beach.
After several determined attempts, the archer and the surgeon managed to yank the small ship past the high tide line, and then took the extra precaution of tying the boat to a stout palm tree. That done, Richard leaned past the sail for his bow and quiver, and Donegal recovered his Bichanese sword, his knife, and his surgical pouch. “How long’re we going to be here?” Donegal wondered as Richard strung his bow.
“I don’t know,” Richard answered simply. He reached beyond the surgeon for a small bundle. Unwrapping it, he put a piece of flint into a pouch, hung his spying glass on his belt, and slipped two large wine skins’ baldrics over his shoulders. “We’ll leave tomorrow noon at latest.”
“I don’t know,” Donegal hedged, hefting a small backpack containing some food, cloaks, and extra medical supplies. Well, Richard couldn’t very well carry it with that quiver on his back. “I hear they sacrifice people here.”
“That’s over in the Siopi Islands,” Richard corrected swiftly. “We’ll leave before nightfall, if you like,” the archer offered, but Donegal could tell that Richard would prefer to stay and hunt the Red Tiger.
Well, that’s what they were here to do, and as Richard reached for his short sword and knife, Donegal asked him, “Where do we start, Rich?”
The archer straightened and smiled as he placed the weapons in their sheaths. “I honestly don’t know–” Suddenly, Richard stared and grabbed the surgeon’s arm. “There! Look!”
Donegal whirled and caught a brief glimpse of blurred, fiery red on the dark, tropical green.
“It’s the Lowenrote,” Richard concluded, sprinting toward it. “Come on, Donegal!”
And slightly surprised, the surgeon followed the gold streak that was Richard’s long hair. Donegal could hear the swiftness of the chase, the crashing of the brush, and the cry that could only belong to a creature of such ferocity as the Red Tiger. The surgeon followed the haphazard trail of broken brush and broken noise that Richard had left in his wake with confident speed. Oh, Richard was strong enough, stronger than Donegal on any day of the year, and that was his nature; but Donegal was swifter by far, the best runner and the quickest, most limber fighter on the Eclipse.
Within moments, the surgeon compacted violently with the archer, whose drawn shot sprung, spoilt, from the long bow. Over Richard’s shoulder, Donegal could see the Lowenrote rear its head and cry out, as if laughing, in triumph and invitation. Donegal heard Richard speak a foul word–yeah, he and Donegal knew them all–and then, the archer drew another colorful arrow.
Laughing, the Red Tiger sprang into the jungle.
Without hesitation, Richard relaxed his draw and raced after it, and Donegal effortlessly ran after him. “Let me track,” Donegal begged. “I’m faster.”
“I have the bow,” Richard reminded him through slight panting.
“And I can’t shoot,” Donegal finished. It was something that the surgeon considered a fault. Yes, once they returned to the Port of the Sun, Donegal would ask Richard to teach him to shoot a bow.
They stumbled through the jungle, always just in sight of the scarlet flash that was the Lowenrote. Only once did they lose sight of the animal, and then, suddenly, there is was, twenty yards ahead of them, as if it had waited for them. Richard paused, drew his readied arrow, aimed, and–
The arrow followed the Red Tiger into the dense jungle. Richard cursed again, and Donegal followed his companion and the beast.
The tiger suddenly and conveniently chose a broken, well-used path. Donegal had slight misgivings; the People of the Sun weren’t all that far from barbarians. Richard sprinted without concern, and Donegal knew that running a cleared path would be easier for Richard anyway, so the surgeon left his fear in the jungle and followed.
And abruptly, the pathway stopped. Well, not exactly stopped, Donegal amended hastily, just veered right and left instead of straight. A quick glance assured Donegal that the Red Tiger was nowhere nearby.
“What now, Rich?” Donegal wondered.
The archer grimaced, then reached for the spy glass on his belt. Gently, Richard took both ends and pulled; the six inch tube expanded to twelve inches. Richard put it up to his eye and glanced down both trails. “Nothing,” he concluded with disgust.
“What *does* that thing do?” Donegal asked, reaching for it.
Richard looked over at him abruptly. “Seven years on a pirate ship, and you’ve never looked through one, Donegal?” The surgeon smiled brightly but shook his head. Richard handed the contraption to him. “Here.”
Slightly dubious, Donegal took the thing and held it up to his eye. Richard’s beard became gigantic. “By Sanar,” Donegal swore with a smile. “It makes things bigger.”
“No, it only makes them appear so,” Richard explained. “Marcellon told me that it has something to do with the shape of the glass inside.”
“Who’s Marcellon?” Donegal inquired automatically, gaily examining treetops and the far edges of the paths through the spying glass.
“An old friend,” Richard replied evenly.
Abashed, Donegal quickly looked away. He had just broken one of the two sacred rules of the Eclipse: “Ask no questions.” (The other was, “Tell no lies.”) Whatever happened before a man came aboard, the captain had explained to Donegal when he signed on seven years ago, was that man’s business, and his alone. Anyone might disclose his history–Donegal’s, for instance, was well-known–but, as a point of honor, the entire crew, Fynystere included, avoided interrogations. “Sorry, Rich,” the surgeon mumbled, handing back the spy glass.
Richard smiled and clapped his friend’s shoulder. “Let’s go catch a tiger,” the archer suggested, and Donegal knew that Richard had forgiven him, if, indeed, the man had taken offense in the first place.
“Lead on,” Donegal agreed.
Richard looked left and right, considering, when both he and Donegal were startled by voices. Richard again raised the spying glass and looked toward the jungle directly in front of him. The archer stepped forward, parted the growth in front of him, and peered through the glass again. “There you are,” he said with satisfaction, and he handed the glass to Donegal and pointed. “There she is.”
Donegal took the spying glass and gazed at the indicated spot. Graceful and patient, the half-hidden Lowenrote stood across a huge clearing filled with about a hundred People of the Sun, twenty-five sailors, a great pile of palm nuts, palm fruits, and filled botas. “We’d better go around, Rich,” Donegal advised as he handed the archer the device. Richard folded it and replaced it on his belt. “I hear the Sun People worship the Red Tiger as some sort of god, and I don’t think they’ll take kindly to us hunting it.”
“You’re right,” Richard concurred, lowering his voice. He readied another arrow and turned to the left footpath. “Let’s go, and quietly, Donegal.”
Listening to the Sun People’s chatter, Donegal nodded and followed silently. Someone replied–no, translated, for he said, “The chief demands two iron swords for the fruit and oil.”
All feeling left Donegal’s limbs, and he stopped dead. “Rich!” he choked.
“What? What is it?” came the quick, concerned reply. When Donegal couldn’t answer, Richard turned back and joined him. “What is it?” the archer asked again.
“We have to leave,” Donegal finally managed to rasp. The leader of the sailors gave into the demand for two swords.
“Beinisonian,” Richard realized, listening. “Don’t worry, Donegal. They haven’t seen us.”
“If we go after that tiger, they will,” the surgeon, terrified, pointed out. “They’ll take me back. I won’t go back, Rich.”
“You’ve covered the brand,” Richard reasoned, indicating the bright, Bichanese band that covered Donegal’s forehead. “They won’t have any idea you were a slave, unless,” the bowmaster continued, another thought dawning, “there’s some other sign. Were all slaves like you?”
“Like me?” Donegal questioned, confused out of his fright.
“I don’t know–curly-haired, maybe, or dark-skinnned.”
Donegal, with much effort, managed to curtail his urge to laugh. “Do you think my skin-tone matters to the Beinisons, Rich? They’ll enslave anyone–dark as me or light as you, tall, short, men, women, children, Stevenics, criminals, whatever. If slavery was as plain as the skin on my face, do you think they’d bother to *brand* us?”
Richard bowed his head. “Sorry.” He raised his head to peer through the trees. “Then you should be safe.”
“I’ll never be safe, and I’m not going back,” Donegal insisted. “I won’t risk it.”
“And how much will you ask for the twenty girls?” Donegal heard the Beinisonian ask. “I can assure them all good marriages, for there are few women in our land.”
Donegal gasped and parted the bush in front of him. “No,” he breathed. But there they were, twenty lovely, half-dressed young women, excited and eager to be sold.
“He’s a liar,” Donegal said, more to himself than Richard. “He’s buying them as slaves.”
“What do you mean, he’s a liar?” Richard demanded. Richard, as far as Donegal knew, only understood his native Baranurian, which was also the language of communication aboard the Eclipse, and a little Bichanese. “What’s going on?”
“Twelve pounds of gold, and twelve pounds of silver,” said the interpreter. “More than that we will not ask, for you have promised them honorable marriages.”
“That’s a lie,” Donegal protested in whispers. “He won’t marry them off; he’ll sell them as slaves. Rich,” he began suddenly, grasping his friend’s arms, “we’ve got to stop them!”
“What?” Richard ejaculated, looking at Donegal as if he were a madman. “Stop them?”
“They’re buying those girls,” Donegal explained hastily, indicating the women. “They’ll sell them as slaves. We’ve got to stop them!”
“Stop them!” Richard, shocked, echoed. “Donegal, they are twenty; we are two. We can’t do anything. Let’s hunt the Lowenrote.”
“Rich, listen!” Donegal commanded, pounding the soft, fertile earth. “I know what it’s like. They’ll take those girls, and they’ll brand them, burn slavery into their foreheads so they can never be free–And then they take them across the ocean–no beating or rape, of course, for it lessens the value–but half of them won’t survive the journey. Then, in Beinison, they’ll be sold like animals–then beaten and raped and–”
“I thought you were treated kindly,” Richard argued seriously.
“*I* was. Millions weren’t. But I know how bad it is, Rich; I saw it. I talked to them. I helped my master treat beaten and raped slaves. Many *died*, Rich. We’ve got to stop them!”
“You can’t stop it,” Richard insisted. Donegal opened his mouth. “No, hear me out. We know there are twenty, and probably more aboard their ship–wherever that is. And even if we could stop these men, there will be more coming, Donegal, always more coming. We can’t stop Beinison.” Donegal frowned. “Let’s go hunt.”
The surgeon scowled at his friend. “Go ahead,” he sneered. “Go and chase your cat, Rich. I’m going to do something about this.” Donegal rose and dashed the way they had come.
After a few minutes, he crouched behind the brush and listened. “Done,” said the interpreter.
“Very well,” the sailor replied. “Tell the girls to prepare themselves. We’ll leave soon. Mon-Arnor, take the oil, nuts, and fruit to the ship. I’ll follow after the feast with the–the brides.”
Nervously, Donegal drew his knife and pondered. What to do, how to do it…
There was a rustling to his left; with all his swift reflexes, Donegal whirled and presented the knife boldly. He heard a tear, and Richard, his blousy shirt ripped, collapsed onto his backside. “Damnation!”
“What, did the cat come this way?” Donegal snapped.
“Don’t be an ass, Donegal. You’ll never do this alone.” Richard sat up and squinted through the trees. “What happened? Some of them are leaving.”
“Yeah, they’re taking palm fruits and palm nuts and oil to the ship. The women will follow after they eat, with some of the sailors.”
“Looks like five are staying behind. Good.” Richard rose. “Well, let’s go,” Richard directed expectantly. Donegal stared at him. “Donegal, trust me. The best bet is to let those fifteen return to their ship and then sink it before the women and the other five get there. We can pick off the others later. Otherwise, it will be too messy–and the women will be killed.” Donegal was still confused. “Trust me,” Richard repeated, holding out a hand to help the surgeon to his feet. “Believe me, Donegal. I was trained to run military campaigns. And,” the Baranurian added, his blue eyes twinkling like a sunny sea, “I have a wonderful idea.”
Desperately wondering why Richard had been so trained, Donegal rose. “Lead on.”
Richard nodded and began to follow the circular footpath around the clearing. “We’ll come to their outlet eventually,” Richard whispered. “We’ll follow them to their ship.”
“Then what?” Donegal rasped, crouching close to the archer.
Before answering, Richard unfolded his spy glass and carefully peered through it at the Beinisonian slavers. “They’re taking a path not far from this one; look, Donegal.” He handed the spying glass to the surgeon, who dutifully raised it. Fifteen Beinisonians, hefting the oil-filled botas and fruit-filled sacks, were making their way along an eastward path. “We’ve got to get ahead of them.”
“I thought you said to follow them.”
“It’ll be easier if you get there first. How well do you swim, Donegal?”
“Better than some fish; I use to live on a river.”
“Good. I have an idea for disposing of most of these men at once.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“No time,” Richard countermanded. He reached across his shoulders and divested himself of one of the wine skins. Handing it to the physician, he instructed, “Take this, and get ahead of them. Swim up to their ship, and…” The archer grinned. “You’ll know what to do.”
“What is it?” Donegal wondered, sniffing the packet. He nearly dropped the bota when he smelled the sulfur and pitch. “Hellfire?” Donegal smiled wickedly. Hellfire was just the thing they needed. But.. “What did you bring hellfire on a hunting trip for?”
“I had– We don’t have time for this,” Richard reminded him, rummaging in the backpack that Donegal wore. He retrieved something and put it in his belt purse. “You know what to do. I’ll meet you at the beach. And be careful that no one sees you.”
Donegal nodded once and stealthily ran toward the path. As Richard had conjectured, it wasn’t far, and Donegal, after a quick look either way and a hurried prayer to the Masked God, sprinted out upon it.
After a five minute run–thank the Masked God that the clearing wasn’t far from the coastal beach and that the captain’s sailboat was in another cove!–, Donegal came to the edge of a deserted beach. Hiding behind a funny-looking plant, Donegal observed a long boat resting upon the tranquil sand. In the calm lagoon was anchored a small ship–forty man, Donegal guessed with a grimace–with Beinisonian flags and markings.
Behind the bush, the surgeon shrugged out of the backpack and removed the surgical pack from his belt. He took off his high boots and his shirt and used them to cover the pack and the pouch. He secured the skin of hellfire over his shoulder, checked his katana and knife, and snuck silently to the water. Without waiting–every second he could be observed, killed, or worse–Donegal slid lengthwise into the shallow lagoon. He smiled, for the lagoon was as warm and soothing as a bath, and stroked quietly toward the ship.
While taking a breath, Donegal heard the first of the men coming close to the beach. They were singing a bawdy song and having, Donegal suspected, the time of their lives. Well, the surgeon thought grimly, they had better enjoy the time while they had it. Once the hellfire was in place, the Beinisonians’ pleasures would be over.
But he would have to move quickly, lest they see him. Keeping his strokes as quiet as possible, Donegal approached the ship’s bow. For a moment, he paused, unsure; on the Eclipse, they spread the hellfire on the water with small catapults, not swimmers.
A little on the ship, then a ring of hellfire, Donegal decided after the short consideration. And best to start here at the bow, he reasoned, before they get to the beach and can see me. And if I stay reasonably close to the ship, its curves should hide me from those on board.
Donegal chose what he deemed a good spot and began treading water with his legs. With his arms thus free, it was easy to open the wine skin and begin pressing the jelly-like hellfire onto the bow of the ship and then onto surface of the water.
Watching the greasy hellfire float, Donegal remembered how he and Richard had discovered the stuff five years ago. They had been looking for some way to fuel the Eclipse’s lamps; the pirates had run out of oil on the latest attack, when they had used it to ignite the victims’ ship. So Donegal, who knew a little about alchemy from his medical training, and Richard, who knew a little about alchemy from Sanar knows where, volunteered to try to make something to tide the ship over until they reached port.
The surgeon and the archer started mixing all manner of flammable stuff–exotic oils, the yellow sand which Richard called sulfur, incense, tar, pitch, potatoes, wine, ink, whatever they could find. They found that an excellent, bright, long burning fuel could be made of a neutral jelly- grease, sulphur, pitch, and a few other–now secret–ingredients.
The hellfire had burned so brightly, Donegal recalled, continuing his deployment, and had kept the ship so well and economically lit that the captain insisted upon buying the ingredients for the yet-unnamed hellfire instead of oil when they reached port. While testing the second batch, Donegal accidentally splattered some in a filled bucket, and he and Richard realized how extraordinary their invention was.
Soon the Eclipse became the most famous–and feared–ship on the Valenfaer Ocean.
Donegal finished his circle of death by placing some hellfire on the slaver ship’s stern for good measure. Pleased, the surgeon looked toward shore and frowned; the Beinisonians had arrived.
Donegal cursed internally. He couldn’t stay by the ship; only Sanar knew where they would bring the long boat. If he struck for shore now, they might see him, and that would be his undoing. The Beinisonians would hardly think Donegal a native–a Man of the Sun, in Bichanese clothes?–and if they removed the headband–
No, he would kill himself–and some of them–first. And if he couldn’t, well, then Richard and the hellfire would take care of it.
The Beinisonians pushed the long boat into the balmy water and rowed toward their mother ship.
Without thinking, Donegal sank himself and swam away from the slaving vessel. It will be a long swim, especially as he was taking an indirect path to avoid the long boat. A shot of panic seared Donegal like lightning. He hadn’t swum beneath the waves in so long–
But Donegal had mastered water and fear as a child, and he refused to let them conquer him now. Was he not Donegal, the surgeon, the pirate, and the runner? A brief lack of air could hardly vanquish him. Determined and again secure, Donegal pulled himself toward the shores of Grian.
He reached the shore only a little short of breath. Am I not Donegal, he repeated, laughing silently at himself, the runner and the pirate? Aye, and a good thing too. Richard, though strong, could hardly survive so long beneath the waves. Satisfied, Donegal pulled himself onto a shady spot of the sand, and after only a brief glance at the Beinisonians, he dashed behind the funny-looking plant and recovered the rest of his belongings. Richard would be coming soon, and Donegal would have to be ready to dispose of the rest of the slavers once Richard had disposed of their vessel.
Donegal idly replaced his boots on his feet and carefully watched the Beinisonians. The long boat, which had just reached its destination, was filled to its capacity, but a large, somewhat sloppy, pile of palm fruit, palm nuts, and oil skins still dominated the lagoon’s shady beach. Four trips at least, the surgeon decided. He and Richard had plenty of time.
“Donegal,” a whisper rasped behind him. Donegal waved the archer forward. Richard crawled out of the jungle to sit beside him. “All ready?”
The surgeon grinned. “Whenever you are.”
Richard took out his spy glass and watched the long boat. “How far away is the hellfire circle?”
“Not more than ten feet, and I put some on the bow and stern.”
“I can see it. Good job.” The Baranurian archer lowered the spying glass and considered. “Ten feet…we’ll wait for them to start the return trip,” Richard decided, “which is just as well.” He reached into his quiver and pulled out five arrows swathed in Donegal’s best bandages. The surgeon grimaced at the ill use of his medical supplies, but Richard sent him an ironic glance that silenced the leech’s protests and handed his friend a piece of flint. “When I give the word, light the arrow.”
“Just like on board,” Donegal finished, grinning. He drew his sword and experimented upon it with the flint. The water on the steel prevented a spark. The surgeon frowned and dried the blade with his shirt. “We’ve been through this a thousand times, Rich; I know the routine.”
“They have a sweet little cargo there,” Richard remarked, glancing again through the spy glass at the sailors unloading the fruit, nuts, and oil. “It’ll be a shame to torch it.”
“Better it burns than the women.”
Richard nodded, but didn’t lower the spying glass. “Freedom never comes cheaply,” he agreed; then abruptly, a shadow of pain crossed his face. “I’m still paying for mine.”
Then the archer set the spy glass on the sand and readied an arrow. “Get ready,” he warned, watching. He stood, looked over the distance once more, drew the arrow, and aimed. “Now.”
Donegal struck the flint against the katana, and an eager spark leapt to the loose end of the maligned bandage. Richard allowed himself a fractioned second to check his aim and let the shaft fly. With eerie beauty, the blazing arrow soared across the sky like a lazy comet and landed upon the bow of the ship. Another flaming shaft followed it closely and struck the water just as the long boat pulled ten feet from her mother ship.
The lagoon, the long boat, and the ship erupted into demonic, blue- white flame.
“Good shot!” Donegal declared, elated with the inferno and the screams of the damned. Well was their concoction named hellfire.
“Get back,” Richard warned sharply as he readied another arrow. “There’ll be stragglers.”
“They won’t make it through the hellfire,” Donegal protested, but he drew his Bichanese sword anyway.
“Don’t count on it,” Richard advised. “It’s been done before.” The Baranurian archer smiled with sinister glee. “But it won’t be easy or painless; freedom never comes cheaply.”
Donegal chuckled. “If Jilana wills, they won’t be able to buy it at all.”
“I’m so glad I was raised to believe in one God,” the archer muttered. “I’d never keep track of so many.”
“But monotheism is so dull,” Donegal reminded him with a grin.
“Don’t make me laugh,” Richard commanded sternly. “I’m trying to concentrate.”
Richard often was like that, Donegal noted with a smile, joking one moment and ordering people around the next. Yet Richard commanded well, Donegal admitted. Perhaps, since he had been trained for military strategy, Richard had also been trained in leadership. In any case, the leech obeyed.
“Take my spying glass,” the Baranurian said, “and look at the water. Is anyone swimming toward shore? Check all directions.”
Once again, Donegal did as he Richard bade him. “Two, coming from the long boat. I doubt anyone made it off the mother ship alive–no, wait. Two more, heading toward us!”
Richard squinted. “Four! Damnation!” Re-aiming, he let his arrow loose. The archer re-loaded his bow without waiting for the scream that confirmed his accuracy, and he shot again. Richard immediately loaded his bow.
Donegal concentrated his spying glass on the ones heading toward Richard and himself; those two were, after all, the immediate danger. No, not two, one; a slick of blood was rapidly forming on the lagoon’s surface. “Got him, Rich!” Donegal cried as Richard fired the second arrow. In the spying glass, Richard’s arrow was seemingly swallowed by the other. “Right in the throat!” Donegal exulted gleefully. “Well done!”
“Two on shore!” Richard cried, turning. He drew another arrow and shot.
Donegal whirled to the pile of tropical produce. Two were indeed on shore; they were badly burned, but well-armed. One, whose arm had been nicked and bloodied by Richard’s swift arrow, had a mean-looking cutlass; the other had a bow and–
“Get down!” the physician screamed, collapsing heavily onto the sand. But Donegal heard the shot release–or was it Rich’s shaft?–and heard it dully contact with a tree. A dull twang sounded; Richard’s arrow had misfired, and he cursed.
Brandishing his Bichurian sword, Donegal shouted a Highlander war-cry learned from the mate, Cedric of Gallows’ Lane, and charged the intruders. Aye, intruders, for they had invaded this peaceful isle to take advantage of its serenity. Donegal? He only came with Richard to hunt the Lowenrote, but Erida could take his soul and devour his body before he would just allow these serpents to destroy this island’s women.
The Beinisonian archer clumsily prepared a new arrow, and Donegal didn’t bother to suppress a contemptuous grin. Richard would have had another shot off by now–why *didn’t* Rich have another shot off by now? Donegal dived at the archer, spoiling his shot and breaking his shaft. One swift stab–right to the heart, Donegal thought–and it would be over for this one.
The archer twisted with a bestial cry, and Donegal managed to plunge the tip of the katana in the man’s stomach. The leech withdrew the blade, held it high–
“Donegal!” Richard shouted with alarm.
The katana fell, and the surgeon heard an arrow make a *thunking* sound behind him as it penetrated the swordsman’s flesh. A *thump* followed as the dead man hit the ground. The now-harmless cutlass fell simultaneously off Donegal’s back. The archer’s blood spurted onto Donegal’s chest.
And Richard was beside him, helping him up. “You were almost dead,” the Baranurian explained. “He had the cutlass ready for you.” Swiftly waxing angry, Richard violently jostled his friend. “Damn you, don’t do stupid things like that! I could have picked them off where we were, but I couldn’t risk shooting you!” The archer took a deep breath and smiled. “You stupid surgeon. Are you all right?”
Donegal nodded. “You?”
“That arrow sailed right past my ear; God protects archers, I guess,” Richard laughed. He retrieved the cutlass from the sand and inspected it. “A very nice blade,” he complimented the corpse and slipped the blade into his belt. “Thank you.” He took his hunting knife from its sheath and began cutting his arrow from the swordsman’s flesh. “Would you please run back to our little niche and get our things? We’re going to need the spying glass. I want to see if anyone got off of that ship.”
“I think we got them all, Rich,” the leech speculated, but he returned to the funny-looking plant anyway. Quickly, Donegal slung the backpack over his shoulder, slipped the surgical pouch onto his belt, tied his shirt around his waist, and retrieved the spying glass. Polishing it gently on his shirt, he returned to Richard.
“Can’t be wasting arrows.” Richard sighed as Donegal approached. He looked seriously at his friend as he cleaned the bloodied head and replaced the shaft in his quiver. “We still have much work to do.”
“Aye, that we do,” Donegal agreed, offering Richard the glass.
The archer took the spying glass from his friend and examined the blazing ship. It was a glorious sight, Donegal decided, and he laughed. The purifying blue-white flames of the hellfire were awesome and beautiful, aye, an apt agent of just death and essential purgation. Donegal, satisfied, turned to Richard.
“Yes, we got them all,” the Baranurian declared, folding the spying glass. Snatching his bow, he rose and smiled at his old friend as he hung the device on his belt. “Shall we get the rest, Donegal?”
“Let’s,” grinned the leech.