Donegal na Valenfaer laughed as he watched the Beinisonian slave ship burn blue with hellfire. “Well, that wasn’t so hard. The Beinisonians aren’t as tough as they think they are. We’ve had more trouble pirating some rowboats.”
“Getting the others will be more difficult,” Richard warned him sternly. “Those girls they bought will be in the way.” He gazed at the blazing Beinisonian ship and frowned. “You know, it’ll be much more difficult for me to pick them off. Here we had nothing to be careful of.”
“Don’t worry, Rich,” Donegal reassured him cheerfully. “I’ll stab a few in the back, slit a few throats…it’ll be easy.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re too optimistic?”
“You’ve told me a dozen times.”
“Why doesn’t it sink in?”
“Because I’m too optimistic, Rich,” Donegal answered innocently.
“You’re also a pain,” Richard growled playfully, making his way to the path the Beinisonians had taken. “Let’s get moving, Donegal. Maybe we can catch them at supper.”
“Did you bring any poison?” the leech wondered, only half-jokingly.
The archer abruptly stopped and turned to his friend. “Poison? Why would I bring poison on a hunting trip?”
“Hey, why would you bring hellfire?” Donegal countered with a knowing smile.
Richard flushed slightly, but he returned the smile and continued down the path. “Last time I was here,” the archer explained, “I had a little trouble with the Sun People. A young lady and I were enjoying ourselves, and a few of the men became rather irate.” Richard chuckled softly. “Luckily, I had a little hellfire on me; my sword couldn’t have fought their spears.”
“Sounds like a close call.”
“It was worth it. She was a fine woman.” Richard retrieved the spying glass from his belt and surveyed the path in front of them. “All clear ahead,” he reported in a low voice. He crouched. “Still, we’re getting pretty close. Can you hear them?”
Donegal listened; music and laughter floated merrily through the jungle. “Maybe we can get them now, while they least expect it.”
Richard shrugged at the possibility and crept along the path. When they neared the clearing, Donegal stepped into the shadows at the edge of the brush; seeing him, Richard did the same. The volume of the music grew.
Finally halting, Richard parted the underbrush and motioned Donegal to join him. The archer was grimacing.
About two hundred People of the Sun–men, women, and at least fifty children–filled the clearing. Despite the carnival atmosphere–large groups were dancing, and a huge carcass cooked over a spit–each man bore a spear, and some also had strung bows set carefully beside them. A few even had iron swords. In a moment, Donegal, too, was frowning. So much for getting them out while they were off their guard.
Richard reached for the spying glass and unfolded it. “Do you see the Beinisonians?” the archer rasped.
Donegal quickly scanned the jubilant tribe while Richard meticulously searched with the spy glass. “There they are.” The surgeon pointed to four men; three were Beinisonians, and one was an older, elaborately dressed Sun Man. “At least three of them. Weren’t there five?”
“That’s what I thought.” Richard compressed the glass and attached it to his belt. Turning his back on the festival, he said, “We have some time to kill. It’ll be a while before that beast is cooked fully.”
“Do the People of the Sun eat their meat fully cooked?”
Richard made a face. “Raw meat? Don’t make me sick.” He rose. “Want to search for the other…” His voice trailed off, and he stared over Donegal’s shoulder.
The leech whirled. Calmly and patiently standing, not ten feet from them, was the Red Tiger.
“Or,” Richard continued softly, “we could go hunting a different animal.” Slowly, he rose and drew an arrow from his quiver.
The Lowenrote waited.
Donegal began to stand. Richard placed the arrow on the bow. The surgeon straightened. Richard drew the arrow back.
And the Red Tiger leapt, laughing, into the jungle. “Let’s go!” Richard urged, and in a split second, he crashed after the animal. Donegal rolled his eyes, sent a brief prayer to Gow, and plunged into the jungle after his friend.
Once again, he collided with Richard abruptly. Richard raised his hand swiftly and sharply to still Donegal’s question. It didn’t matter; Donegal understood what was happening in a matter of moments.
While the Lowenrote stood patiently–no, expectantly–on the other end of the small clearing, two men–two Beinisonians–were chasing two desperately frightened native women. The farther man reached out to snatch his prey–
And fell to the moist ground, an arrow in his neck.
The second, running past Donegal, paused as he heard his companion’s cry. Donegal leapt upon him, forcing him to the ground, and in a moment, the surgeon had buried his knife in the Beinisonian’s back.
When he rose, Richard was slitting the other man’s throat for security’s sake. The women–and the Red Tiger–were gone.
“Well,” Richard began softly, “it won’t be long now. When those girls return to the party, one of two things will happen. Either they’ll tell how they were nearly raped, and the Sun People will slaughter the other three Beinisonians, or they’ll tell how these two were killed, and we’ll have an entire tribe on us.” Richard turned to his friend. “Well, Donegal, which do you think?”
The surgeon grinned. “I think we may be in for it, Rich.”
The Baranurian smiled ironically. “You’re probably right.” He loaded an arrow. “You know, it might be best if we took off and left this island right now. The Beinisonians can’t come after us, and they certainly can’t take those women any place.”
Donegal glared at his friend. “We started this, Rich, and we’re going to finish it,” the surgeon commanded. Richard raised an eyebrow at Donegal’s tone of voice, but he said nothing. Donegal saw this and grinned gratefully. “Besides, Rich, it’s much more fun this way.”
“That’s a fact,” Richard agreed good-naturedly. He stepped back into the brush. “Well, in any case, they’ll likely bring the entire tribe on us. We’re going to need surprise on our side, Donegal. We don’t have much else.” The archer took two more steps backwards, and then Donegal could not see him at all.
Donegal glanced about the clearing and quickly moved to the shadiest spot he could find. He hid the backpack under a nearby bush, carelessly flung his white shirt into the jungle–let them look in the wrong spot!– and hid himself in the shadows. Donegal smiled wickedly. No one would spot him in the murky shade.
“The band!” Richard hissed, and Donegal remembered and panicked. Remove his headband? But that bright red and yellow band hid the mark of slavery! If the Beinisonians saw it– No, he wouldn’t–couldn’t–risk it.
“You stupid ass!” Richard’s voice harshly mocked the surgeon’s hesitation. “Why don’t you just wear a target on your head?”
Donegal scowled, furious at Richard for stupidity that was the surgeon’s own. With a growled oath, Donegal reached for the Bichanese band and hurled it from him with a vengeance.
A crash sounded nearby. “A black angel and a golden one?” scoffed a voice in drunken accents. “The woman has had too much wine!”
A couple of loud guffaws seconded the opinion. Another Beinison voice said, only half-jestingly, “Don’t be so sure of your mocking. This is the year of the Incarnations. It could be Braigh and Alana, you know, and I wouldn’t want to anger them!”
The laughs became louder. “Don’t be silly,” a third voice ordered. “They were probably just attacked by some jungle animals; that Lowenrote that we hear of might well be the golden angel–or demon–the women spoke of.”
“Exactly,” the first of the voices agreed. A heavy-set, half-drunken man parted the vegetation on the north side of the clearing. “The women had too much to drink.”
“I don’t think so,” the third voice argued, stepping into the clearing. This man was younger and cheerful, and reminded Donegal in some ways of himself. “Look there.” He pointed to the man Richard had slaughtered. “Angels don’t use bows. And look there.” He indicated the discarded shirt.
The first retrieved it while the owner of the second voice, a strong- looking man with a scar across his bare chest, entered the clearing. “It’s a shirt,” the heavy-set slaver said. “They weren’t lying.”
“Exactly. An angel wouldn’t leave a shirt be–” the youngest man started, but the arrow that went through his eye stole his final word. The heavy man jumped backwards; the strong man burst into the jungle in pursuit of whoever shot his friend.
And that, Donegal decided, leaves one for me. Screaming the Highlander war cry, Donegal leapt onto the heavy man’s back and slammed the knife into his back. The heavy man yelled his pain, and, cursing, he threw Donegal to the ground. Turning, the enraged man, the blade still in his flesh, now leapt for the surgeon.
Donegal swiftly rolled to the right, and the husky Beinisonian fell onto the ground. Quick as levin, Donegal drew his Bichanese sword and stabbed again.
Again, the man let out a roar more bestial than the Lowenrote’s. He sprung to his feet–how can a man that big leap like a deer? Donegal wondered–and charged the leech.
Donegal lowered his sword instantly, and, thank Gow, at the right moment. The heavy man impaled himself.
Donegal stared, disgusted, at the surprised corpse. After a few minutes, the surgeon mentally shook himself out of his stupor and slid the heavy man from his sword, lest the weight damage the blade. Sighing in relief, Donegal wiped his blade on some nearby vegetation. It was over, aye, and they were successful. All the Beinisonians dead, thanks to him and Richard.
The jungle was silent.
“Rich!” Donegal shouted, frantic. “Rich!”
The jungle was silent.
“*Rich!*” Donegal cried. If he had gotten his best friend killed in this stupid crusade, Donegal would never forgive himself.
“Don’t get excited,” the Baranurian counseled drying, stepping out of the jungle behind the surgeon. “I’m all right.”
Donegal turned. The statement was true, to a point; Richard was well and whole, but a nasty cut decorated the archer’s chest. “Let me take a look at that,” Donegal ordered.
“Are you all right?” Richard wondered as Donegal scrutinized the wound. “It’s just a scratch; don’t worry.”
“You’re right, Rich. It isn’t bad.” But Donegal went to the backpack anyway and returned with some gauze and whisky. “Did you get him?” Donegal asked as he cleaned his friend’s wound.
“Yes. The arrow hit him right in the heart. The blood was incredible.”
“How’d you get this, then?” the confused surgeon asked.
“You’re not going to believe this,” Richard warned, “but a tree branch leapt out in front of me, and–”
“There’s some weird things on this island,” Donegal admitted as he finished his task. He capped the whisky flask and looked at his friend. “Now what?”
“Well, now that we’ve finished with the Beinisonians, I thought we might go hunting the tiger,” Richard suggested.
Donegal, suddenly weary, sank to the ground, but he found himself unable to protest. After Richard had helped him, it seemed to Donegal that he would be unfair or ungrateful to refuse to help Richard.
“But I’m tired, too,” Richard added, smiling calmly at his old friend. “What do you say we go back to Port of the Sun? We can come back next week; I’m sure that no one will kill the Lowenrote between now and then.”
“Sounds great,” Donegal agreed with all the tired enthusiasm he could muster. He slowly rose, donned his shirt and backpack, and retrieved his knife from the back of the heavy man he had killed. He stared at the corpse for a moment, then said, “Let’s take care of one thing first.” He bent and severed the head from the body.
“What are you doing?” Richard asked, appalled. “Why are you doing it?”
“I think the Sun People have a right to know why these–men–aren’t coming back,” Donegal explained gruffly. “And I’m going to make sure they don’t make the same mistake again.”
Decapitating the Beinisonians took several minutes; Richard consented to return and bring back the head of the young man he had killed. That done, Donegal took the heads by their hair and carried the gruesome bouquet to the celebrating Sun People. Richard thought the surgeon was crazy and told him so, but he followed anyway, to “make sure you don’t get yourself killed.”
So Donegal marched like a conqueror into the clearing; Richard, beside him, carried himself like a grim guard. Within moments, the music died. Fearful questions filled the clearing a moment later.
“Where is the interpreter?” Donegal loudly demanded in Beinisonian.
The older man with the profusion of feathers and shells decorating his person came forward. Beside him stood a younger man, who spoke. “I am the interpreter. The chief wishes to know why you have done this. Why have you dishonored our tribe by robbing our women of honorable marriage?”
“No!” Donegal shouted angrily. “I have saved them from slavery. They weren’t going to marry the women; they were going to sell them!”
The interpreter turned to the chief and spoke. The chief replied, and the interpreter said, “Why do you suspect this?”
“I have seen it!” He pointed to the ugly brand on his forehead, the most dominant feature on his face when he did not choose to cover it. “This was the first thing they would do–burn slavery into their faces and into their brains! I, too, was a slave there, and I saw the injustice–the beatings–the rapes–the whippings–the torture! I know! These snakes tricked you! Your women would have been made slaves, sold like animals, made prisoners until they died!”
The young man paled and relayed this to the older man. The older man considered. A young woman timidly approached the older man and spoke. The old man muttered something to the interpreter, who again spoke. “If this is so, dark one, you and your companion have done us a great service.”
“I am not lying,” Donegal assured him stubbornly. “I would not make up something so horrible.”
“We must then give the women to you, since you not only have won them fairly from their purchasers, but since you have also saved them from this misery.”
Confused, Donegal turned to the archer. Switching to Baranurian, the tongue spoken aboard the Eclipse, Donegal said, “They want us to take the women.”
Richard half-smiled and considered. “Not a bad deal.”
“What are we going to do with them?”
“Use your imagination,” Richard suggested, laughing. “But unfortunately, we can’t do it. I can’t handle more than five or six at a time, and we’d never get them all in the sailboat, anyway.”
Donegal looked at the interpreter and shook his head. “We didn’t fight for their freedom to take it away again. Let them stay here with you.”
The interpreter relayed this to his elder, who spoke, and some men came forward bearing bars of gold and silver. The interpreter told the visitors, “You must take something for the deed.”
Donegal eyed the metals for a moment, then shook his head. “I did this to save them from what I escaped. I want no gold.” He turned to Richard and switched once more to the Baranurian tongue. “Do you want some of that?”
“For what?” the archer inquired.
“For saving the girls.”
“I didn’t do it for money, Donegal.”
The surgeon smiled gratefully at his friend, then turned back to the chief and the interpreter. “We want nothing,” Donegal concluded, but then the aroma of the cooking meat assaulted him. “Except,” he continued, “for a piece of meat and a drink of water to refresh us.”
The interpreter spoke, and two women came forward with meat and drink for the visitors. Donegal spoke their thanks and began to eat timorously.
Richard sniffed the meat and started to eat ravenously. “Sun buffalo!” he cheered. He took a long draught of water. “Best meat in this part of the world!”
Donegal took a larger bite and found he agreed with the archer; the meat was rather tasty. The Sun People returned to their dancing, singing, and feasting as the visitors ate. “It’s nice to see them happy again,” Donegal sighed contentedly. He turned to the Baranurian. “Sorry we didn’t catch your tiger, Rich.”
“As I said, the Lowenrote will be here next week.” Richard wiped his hands on his leggings, took another draught of water, and retrieved his bow. “We’d better be leaving if we want to reach Port of the Sun at a reasonable hour. Let’s go, Donegal.”
Donegal nodded and faced the chief. “Thank you,” the surgeon said. “Good-bye.”
The chief seemed to understand without the interpreter. He smiled. Donegal waved farewell and followed Richard along the eastward path.
“This is the one the Lowenrote led us to,” Richard commented. “It should come out on the beach, and then we’ll just follow it until we reach the sailboat.”
“Whatever.” Donegal smiled tiredly. “What a day.”
“You do seem to bring excitement wherever you go,” Richard teased with a grin. “I’ve gotten into more scrapes with you…”
“Hey,” the leech protested good-naturedly, “of course it was exciting. I only came with you because I was bored!”
“Bored?” Richard laughed. “Well, that’s what you get for seeking adventure, Donegal.”
“And don’t blame me for all those brawls I seem to get into,” Donegal continued hotly, glaring jestingly at the archer. “I don’t start them.”
“No, you usually just–holy Stevene!” Richard screamed in a shocked tone which Donegal had never before heard the archer use. “Donegal, look– ”
Instinctively, the surgeon dropped, and a knife whizzed over his head. He looked up to see three demons, charred, ugly beings straight from the fires of hell, attacking Richard with fists and blades. Two more of the appalling creatures were running toward him.
“Gow!” Donegal screamed for aid and drew his katana. The horrifying man-shape jumped back and circled. The other skirted behind Donegal.
“Don’t call for his help,” the one behind the surgeon taunted him sinisterly. “Gow rarely helps those who use Amante’s methods.”
And the devil leapt onto Donegal’s back. The surgeon dropped and rolled, thus pinning the creature under him. But there was the other, coming at him with a short sword. Donegal lifted his legs and kicked as the one underneath him tried to stab him from behind. Again, Donegal rolled a little, pinning one of the ugly thing’s knife arm.
“Rich!” the surgeon called for his only aid. His only answer was loud crack and a cry of pain. “Rich!”
The pinned thing was pummelling Donegal with his free fist; the other charged again. Frantically, Donegal swung his katana. The charger leapt backwards and stumbled. The pinned one was moving, trying to roll.
Again, the free one charged. The pinned one sought to roll. In a stroke of inspiration, Donegal stopped fighting and rolled with the monster he had pinned. The thing screamed as its companion buried his short sword in him. The other cursed and took the name of Sanar in vain.
Donegal slid from under the body, dragged his Bichanese blade with him, and attacked the fiend facing him. The short sword, Donegal knew, would be no match for his katana, if he were a great fighter. But he wasn’t; the dead beast had been right to say Donegal followed Amante’s methods. No, Donegal couldn’t win a straight fight; he had to strike from behind, use surprise. Well, he was a pirate, after all, not a Knight of the Star. Still, his blade cut his opponent’s arm.
“Rich!” Donegal called. He couldn’t spare a look; the grotesque thing came at him again. What were these things?
Donegal managed to leap away from the intended blow and deliver one of his own. He whirled to face his attacker again. From here, he could see Richard. The archer was lying on the ground and using his left hand to wield the cutlass. The bow was nowhere in sight, but one of the demons, an arrow in its belly, lay dead near Richard’s feet. With another stroke, Richard killed one of his opponents.
“Well done!” Donegal encouraged, sidestepping another attack and aiming a blow at his antagonist’s head. Good Sanar, what *were* these ugly, burned things?
A blade–Richard’s blade–flashed past Donegal’s astonished eyes. The surgeon stumbled and fell. The attacker came forward and held his sword’s point at Donegal’s throat. “And now, slave,” said the Beinisonian, “you will die.”
“Rich!” Donegal called, praying for a miracle.
“Your friend can’t help you,” the man-thing laughed cruelly. “Look, slave.”
Without moving his head, Donegal glanced aside. Another charred being held his blade at Richard’s throat. Damn!
“Now, slave, say prayers that Sanar will save your soul,” snickered the monster, “thought I doubt that slaves–”
Giving a bestial roar, a red blur flew over the creature’s head. He looked up; Donegal buried his katana in the burnt thing’s gut. It fell; Donegal turned to help his friend–
But the other creature was engaged, its throat locked in the teeth of the Red Tiger. Donegal sprinted to Richard’s side, lifted the archer’s head. “Are you all right?” the surgeon breathed, watching the Lowenrote rend the attacker with teeth and claws.
“My arm,” Richard answered, his voice stiff with pain.
Donegal gently probed Richard’s right forearm. “Broken.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Richard snapped.
“Hey,” Donegal began, “don’t–”
The Lowenrote tossed its victim away with a sudden movement. Carefully, deliberately, it approached the men it had saved.
“Run!” Richard rasped, shoving Donegal away with his good arm. “She’d catch me, but if she’s busy, she’ll never catch up with you. Go!”
Donegal stood; often the commands in Richard’s voice were too powerful to be disobeyed. But the surgeon was still, unsure. The Red Tiger trotted to the pair and paused. Donegal’s limbs froze although Richard again was shouting at him to leave.
Gingerly, the Lowenrote approached the paralyzed surgeon and began to rub its head against the back of Donegal’s hand, much as a pet cat would. Donegal wondered if he would die of the shock. Then the tiger approached Richard and nuzzled the archer’s neck.
“I’ll be damned,” Richard said, reaching out and petting the beast. “She wants to be friends. Hello.”
Donegal was finally able to move; he blinked, then ordered, “Stay put, Rich. I’m going to find something to splint that arm to, and then we’ll leave.”
“Use my bow,” Richard suggested, gesturing with his left hand. “It’s broken. I’m glad I didn’t bring my best one. You like that, don’t you?” the archer added, scratching the Lowenrote behind its ears. “You’re a good kitty.”
“I didn’t know you liked animals,” Donegal laughed, retrieving the bow and its string. He patted the Red Tiger’s nose as he approached. He gently reached for Richard’s broken arm.
“I’ve always like–damn, that hurts!”
“Well, it’s going to,” Donegal reminded him practically. “I’ll set it when we reach Port of the Sun. I don’t have everything I need here.” Quickly, the surgeon finished the job and offered Richard a hand up. “Let’s get going.”
“I’m with you.” Richard stroked the Lowenrote’s head, and the tiger purred. “I guess I won’t be hunting you anymore. Let’s go.”
Silently, Donegal led the way through the jungle path. After a few minutes, he turned to say something to Richard, but stated instead, “That tiger’s following us.”
Richard turned to the beast. “Go away,” the archer commanded gently. “Go on.”
With a resolute tilt of the head, the tiger nuzzled Richard’s leg and trotted after him and Donegal when they moved on.
“I don’t think it’s going,” Donegal observed, looking over his shoulder. “What are we going to do ?”
“Take her with us, I suppose,” Richard guessed. He sighed. “I’m not fighting with her.”
“But a tiger?” Donegal protested. “On the Eclipse?”
Richard, his pain still evident, tried to smile. “Hasn’t Captain Fynystere been saying we need a cat aboard?”
It was near the next dawn when Richard, Donegal, and the Lowenrote–whom Richard gave the original name of Kitty–finally returned to Captain Fynystere’s house in Port of the Sun. They had had a hell of a time returning; it was difficult to maneuver the sailboat with only three arms. But luckily, the break had been clean and easy to splint and set. Unfortunately, Donegal rued, it would be six or eight weeks before Richard could teach him to shoot a bow.
“You two look like you’ve been through a battle,” Fynystere observed cheerfully when the pair joined him for breakfast. Then he saw the Red Tigress. Fynystere looked briefly nervous, but calmed when Kitty approached him gently and nuzzled his hand. “So I see you got your tiger, Richard.”
Richard looked at Donegal and smiled. The surgeon grinned back. “Yes, Captain,” Donegal answered, “and we managed to hunt us a whole pack of wolves, too.”