The slap echoed through the noisy common room. The ensuing laughter covered the thud of the woman’s body hitting the floor.
Waaj winced in sympathy as the pirate named Bronak, dressed in slovenly gaudery, disciplined Tora, the newest barmaid at Jo’nass’ Tavern. He sidled closer to his fellow employee as Bronak shouted, “When I ask for spirits, I don’t want ale! Got that, ya stupid slattern?”
The other pirates, who filled the room, went back to their raucous activities, the amusement of Tora’s humiliation being short lived, so Waaj was the only one who saw the look of utter hatred on Tora’s face as she started to pick herself up. Bronak, still standing above her, wasn’t in position to notice the grimace. The chief pirate said, “Now, go get me spirits, even if you have to break into the owner’s stock. Or I’ll give you and Jo’nass more of the same!”
Waaj took Tora’s arm and helped her gain her feet. He was surprised at the strength he felt under the barmaid’s sleeve; her arm was rock hard and bulged with muscle. He looked at Tora with amazement and wondered if maybe she had formerly worked for a blacksmith.
Once she was standing again, Tora shook off Waaj’s arm firmly but with a hasty smile of thanks and turned toward the back room. Waaj mumbled placatingly, “Be right back, Captain Bronak, sir,” before following.
The heavy curtain dropped behind him and dulled the noise from the common room of the tavern. Waaj found Tora searching harshly through the cabinets, shoving jars aside and poking into piles of produce. He said, “You won’t find any private stock here, Tora. Jo’nass always said his type of custom don’t have the tongue for spirits.”
Tora turned her furnace-hot glare on him, and he threw up his hands in mock surrender. “I know, I know, Bronak won’t lie down for that. I can get some hard stuff, no trouble. Relak’s bar’s just a few blocks away. He’s gone now, and no one’s been in there since, for true. Not after he just vanished in front of our eyes …”
Tora dropped her gaze to the floor as Waaj trailed off into silence, remembering that singularly strange day three fortnights past. The moment stretched awkwardly, and he was about to quietly leave when Tora said, “At least they’re finally all here.”
“Who?” he asked.
Tora lifted her head and said, “The pirates. I heard Bronak say that the last of his new captains just sailed in this afternoon, and now his new fleet is all here. Now it can … Er, well, now their occupation of Port Andestn is complete. If they’re gonna stay, they can’t keep acting like animals, right?”
Waaj nodded in agreement, and then remembered a question he had been wanting to ask. “So, Tora, just what were you before you came to Port Andestn?”
Tora looked at him with eyes gone suddenly doe-soft and wide. “Serving tables and cleaning rooms, Waaj, just like you. Now, weren’t you going to go get some juice to make Bronak happy and keep me from getting slapped again?”
When she looked like that, she was very pretty, and Waaj let himself be seduced away from his question. He smiled at her, grabbed a lantern, and left the tavern, determined to eventually find out just where she had come from.
Waaj walked toward Relak’s bar through the quiet, dark streets of Port Andestn and thought about the way things used to be. It was only the third bell of the night, but the city seemed deserted. That was not how it once was. He wondered whether the city would ever recover.
He remembered that night in the month of Naia, sitting in the tiny corner bar with no name other than the owner’s. He had been sitting in the dim room, sipping a wine sweet enough to unpucker a lemon, commiserating with his friends about how the war had hit them so hard. True, the fighting hadn’t yet come close to their port town, but the levies and musters had stripped the bulk of the fit population away.
And then it had begun. First the barmaid, crossing the room, had walked into the shadow of a pillar and not walked out, just a short scream marking her passing. Then two patrons had slowly dissolved, their anguished yells persuading most of the people in the bar to leave before the strange plague struck them too. The pot boy vanished next, writhing against a wall and then disappearing as if falling piece by piece through it. Finally, Relak himself had gone, shouting in surprise rather than pain and fading away quickly. The tankard he had been filling dropped to the floor to smash amidst the ale pouring out of the open tap.
Waaj hadn’t lingered after that, and he had yet to return. He learned eventually that several score of the port’s residents had also disappeared that night, further crippling the city.
He crossed the wide, empty Merchant’s Lane and his eyes went automatically to the right, toward the harbor. There was enough light from the moon and stars for him to see the masts rocking there, but they didn’t provide the comfort the sight usually did. Port Andestn lived on trade, and a forest of masts in the harbor normally meant markets full of goods and taverns full of people, but these weren’t the masts of trade ships.
The pirate invasion hadn’t been sudden but it had been irresistible. They came and never left. He remembered the first ship to sail into the harbor with a yard of scarlet rope tied to its tallest mast, and how everyone had marveled at the audacity of its captain to openly flaunt the pirate standard. That ship, Bronak’s own, had arrived a fortnight ago. Others had soon followed. The pirate crews had filled the city and the taverns, right enough, but their coin stayed in their ships and they supplied the markets with nothing. No one could find the strength to stand up against their taking ways.
Waaj had learned by listening that Bronak had decided to take advantage of the war by attacking shipping on the eastern coast of Baranur. Heartened by the easy pickings, he had started to take over the ships he attacked, building a fleet of pirates by doling out his own officers to lead his new crews. The fledgling pirates had learned their trade quickly, and soon Bronak and his fleet dominated the waves. Then one day Bronak had sailed into Port Andestn, intending to make the crippled city his headquarters, a goal he had easily completed.
Waaj continued past Merchant’s Lane, leaving the view of the harbor behind. His mind drifted back to childhood games of floating chips of wood with leaves for sails, and pretend assaults against other fleets, or armies on shore. With a secret grin, he fantasized about solving the port’s current pirate problem by assaulting the harbor with a fleet of giant bark-and-leaf ships crewed by acorn-armored ants firing pine needle catapults loaded with blackberries that exploded into flame on impact.
He pushed through the unlocked doors of the bar that Relak had owned, ignoring the squeaking of rats scurrying for cover. There were no signs of looting, just tables and benches and a dried stain around the bar from a drained keg of ale. Waaj wasn’t surprised; there wasn’t any sign outside, nothing to reveal the place as a business of any kind. It had been a regulars’ bar, and all of the regulars had been well and truly frightened off.
As Waaj crossed the room, his thoughts turned back to Tora. He wondered again where she had come from. He couldn’t recall ever seeing her around before; she had arrived at the same time as the first of the pirates. As he rummaged behind the bar for Relak’s stash, he imagined that she had been fleeing from something horrible, hence her reluctance to tell about it, like an attack on her tiny fishing village, where she had been the blacksmith’s only child and so apprenticed to him. A pirate ship, emboldened by their successes raiding the trade lanes, had decided to despoil her village. She had watched them slaughter everyone she had ever known, and had fled in terror. It had only been sheer bad luck that she had just accepted Jo’nass’ job offer when Bronak’s ship had sailed into Port Andestn.
Waaj smiled to himself. He collected up an armload of bottles and started back. He knew that he was only dreaming, but he decided to provide Tora a safe haven from the wreck of her former life, even amid the very scum who had enacted that ruin.
The harbor of Port Andestn was a large, rough oval of calm water well protected from the ocean’s storms and tides. A narrow cliff extended out in a long arc from the southern part of the city to form one breakwater. On the north side, a shorter, thicker stonework mole had been built out from the city. A modest fort capped the tip of that mole to command the quarter-league gap that gave access to the dredged depths within the two arms.
While the serving man from Jo’nass’ Tavern walked the dark streets of the city out of sight of the harbor, a small boat rocked gently against the tip of the southern breakwater. Six black figures occupied the boat, watching the shore. Suddenly a light appeared in a window of a building just beyond the wharves. It winked out and then brightened again. A moment later, it briefly stuttered, shone steady again, and then went out.
The six figures started moving. One slipped around the ledge at the waterline until it and its unlit lantern were hidden from the city by the cliff. Another eased a long, wide board with four handles on its edges into the water, and then joined three more figures in entering the bay, grabbing a handle, and slowly propelling themselves and their float toward the ships at dock. The last opened the door of a dark lantern, flashing light briefly back at the third story window a few blocks from the water.
More than a bell had passed since Waaj had returned to Jo’nass’ Tavern. Bronak was happy with the selection Waaj had provided and the other pirates were even more drunk on Jo’nass’ ale. Tora had thanked him when he’d returned, but he hadn’t seen much of her since. When he thought that the crowd in the room wouldn’t notice his absence as well, he slipped up the stairs to find her, imagining himself providing comfort to the poor refugee.
He had to climb to the third floor before he found her standing in front of a window that faced the water. He came up behind her and thought he saw a flash of light from out across the bay. He caught sight of her reflection in the glass and saw her smiling as she gazed into the night. Then her eyes lifted and their reflected gazes met, and she whirled around and said, “What?”
“I just wanted to see … where you were,” he answered. “You’ve been gone for a while.”
Tora frowned and said, “Has Bronak been looking for me?”
“No, no. I don’t think anyone but me noticed. Ah, what were you doing up here, looking out to sea like that?”
Her frown vanished, but she didn’t answer right away. She seemed to be concentrating on the center of his chest. Finally she said, “Thinking about before, wishing about after.”
Waaj wasn’t exactly sure what she meant, but he took a step closer to her and said, “I’m sure everything will be fine, Tora. One way or another.”
“One way or another?” she repeated, her voice hard with anger. As she continued, though, it quickly softened to a scared whisper, her head bowed, face hidden by her hair. “How many ways are there, Waaj? This city is filled with pirates and no one to rescue it ’cause of the war, and that isn’t fine, now is it, Waaj?”
Waaj hesitated, raising his arms to embrace her, then dropping them again. When she just stood there, he took one more step and wrapped his arms around her. She stiffened for a moment, and Waaj smiled, imagining her blacksmith’s pride asserting itself. He didn’t clutch at her, and was rewarded by having her arms come up around him and her head press into his shoulder.
“We could always run away, Tora,” Waaj said softly after a bit. “Find another town to settle in, buy an inn where you could run the stables and I could manage the bar.”
Tora gave a short, strangled-off laugh, and said into his shirt, “We could flee, sure. But that wouldn’t help everyone else in Port Andestn, now would it?”
Waaj liked how Tora felt, pressed into his front, her breath warming his shoulder, her arms lightly clasped around the small of his back. He wanted to stay like that for a very long time, but he didn’t know how. Tora would never be happy with him. How could she? She had courage and ideals. She had survived the destruction of her family and tried to start a new life, and now wasn’t willing to leave the port to its fate. He hadn’t done anything more exciting than live in Port Andestn his whole life, drifting from job to job, wherever unskilled labor was required. No, Tora needed a hero, someone to save the city and win her heart. If only …
“Maybe …” he ventured.
Tora looked up, her brown eyes wide. Her voice was gentle when she asked, “What, Waaj?”
“What if we, or just me, ran … or, rather, left to get help? Take word to the duke, or even the king. If they knew about Bronak, knew what he was doing to Port Andestn, surely they would send an army, or ships to bottle the pirates in the harbor and execute them all?”
She shook her head, her pretty lips turned down in a rueful frown. “Not possible right now, Waaj. The war with Beinison is straining the kingdom’s resources. Duke Monrodya’s soldiers are all fighting the more dangerous enemy with the rest of the king’s armies in Pyridain and Magnus and Kiliaen. And the duke’s ships, the entire eastern fleet, are all sailing north, around the top of Cherisk by Dargon, to join the conflict with Beinison’s navies. We are alone in this, Waaj, at least until Beinison is no longer a threat. Of course, by then, Bronak might have a real, unified force, instead of eight ships with new captains and green crews plus his own seasoned men a nd women. In other words, it might be too late.”
Waaj wondered how a barmaid in a nest of pirates knew so much about the business of the nobility. As he was about to ask her, though, she began to run her finger along his jaw and he forgot his question to concentrate on the feeling. After a moment he turned his attention to finding another way to be Tora’s hero.
“How about an uprising? I could talk to some friends, spread the word, try to gather together people willing to stand up to the pirates. I’m sure we could find enough to rout those misbegotten scum right out of here!”
“Shh!” hissed Tora, looking around. “Not so loud. Come, this way.” She deftly slipped out of his arms and, grabbing his sleeve, started down the corridor and away from the window and stairs. She dragged him around a corner and into a room that seemed already prepared for sleep with linens on the bed and candles already lit. She let his sleeve go and climbed onto the bed, sitting tailor-fashion near the wall. She gestured to the bench at the foot of the bed, and Waaj sat. Smiling sweetly, she said, “Now, what were you saying about finding support in the city?”
Disoriented from the abrupt location change, Waaj fumbled for an answer. He was unfamiliar with going from idea to execution, so he fell back on his imagination. His eyes unfocused and he began to speak. “Whispers and suggestions first, I suppose. Feel out sentiment, figure out how to separate spirit from bold words. Organize slowly, keep groups of rebels small and separate. Learn capabilities, count numbers, and eventually begin to plan.”
Waaj focused on Tora to find that she was staring at him, her eyes and mouth narrow. “Very good, Waaj. Time consuming, but good. Unfortunately, the time you take building your rebels is time the pirates are consolidating their hold on the port.”
Waaj nodded, seeing the truth of her words. He opened his mouth to provide another option, but she continued, “Suppose, however, that you have organized some people. You have a double-handful, fifteen at the most, of your best rebels, and you know you have to strike now. Your rebels against nine pirate ships, Waaj. How would you do it?”
Waaj wondered why she was asking him this. She didn’t seem frightened and looking for reassurance. She looked more curious, if anything. He pondered her question, and realized that she was playing a game with him. Of course, that was it! A game of question and answer, and if he won, well, the setting predicted the reward, didn’t it?
He turned his imagination to answering her question, and found himself stumped. Fifteen rebels against nine pirate ships and their crews was an impossible proposition. Then again, this was only a game, straight? Waaj recalled the stories he had heard all of his life, stories that sailors told, that entertainers and bards recited, that grandpas told their children’s children. This was just another story. Straight.
“First, we block the harbor mouth,” he said, “so no one can get in or out. We conjure a stone spirit, who makes the cliff flow down to join the fort wall on the mole to the north …”
Out on the moonlit bay, the two figures on the end of the northern mole climbed the wall of the fort situated there. A few moments later, they exited the fort again from a shadowed niche at the base of the wall, carrying a thick coil of rope between them. They piled its length into a boat, one end trailing behind them back into the niche. They climbed in after, and began rowing across the mouth of the bay, paying the rope out behind them.
Reaching the other side of the harbor’s mouth, the two black-clad figures clambered out of the boat, carrying the rope with them. They looped the rope around the narrow middle of the bollard, keeping its length taut. Then they began to haul on the rope, its loop maintaining the tension. Back on the northern mole, the other end of the rope appeared out of the niche in the wall, fastened to a chain with links that were each the length and width of a hand.
Pulling hand-over-hand, the two figures dragged on the rope which drew the chain across the water. Soon, Port Andestn’s defense chain was securely blocking its harbor mouth.
“Next, deal with the ships themselves,” Waaj said. He remembered more sailors’ tales, and continued, “Nine ships to sink quietly, stealthily. Find some Mandrakan fire starfish and affix a few to each hull. Give each some slow poison, and when they die, boom! Silent bombs just waiting to go off.
“Or maybe some heat-seed to feed to the barnacles, so they’ll burn through the hulls and ignite them? No, that would take a sennight or more. Well, you could just hole them direct. Some drill-nose sharks …”
Out on the bay, the four figures with the board float had long since reached the docks after moving with agonizing slowness across the harbor so as not to attract any attention. They singled out one ship with “Stars Standard” lettered plainly on it. Two went to the bow, two to the stern. In each position, one slowly climbed the side of the ship to affix a small oilskin bag inconspicuously near the deck rail. The other used a well-oiled wide-bore auger to drill a hole through the planking of the hull well above the waterline. When the hole was complete, another oilskin bag, trailing a length of rope, was pushed through.
The scaling figures came back down, tacking a length of rope down the side of the ship with gum. At the waterline, these ropes were joined with the interior rope, and then the pair at the bow began to tack their rope along to the stern, where all four ropes were joined. A hand-span wide balsa wood box was fixed to the rudder and the ropes were fed into it.
Finally, the four figures grabbed their float and began to gradually drift across the bay again.
“Wait, Waaj,” interrupted Tora. Waaj set aside his mental catalog of tall-tale creatures and listened. “Your rebels don’t want to sink all of the ships if they can help it. The pirates have been hard on shipping; their ships would help restore it.”
Waaj frowned and thought harder. Sinking was out. What then? Those sailor tall tales flashed through his mind, and he came up with an idea.
“Separate the officers from the ships first,” he said. “Lure them all together, maybe with some treasure, or hints of secrets to be revealed. Lock them up in a dungeon somewhere, with chimeras and gryphons and cunning, magical traps for guards, secure from everyone.”
“Go on,” Tora said. Waaj realized that she was no longer sitting up, but lying across the bed, her head next to his elbow. He stared, then realized that she was smirking at him. She said again, “Go on,” so he did.
“Well,” he said, “sailors are a superstitious lot. Pirates are sailors, and from listening to the crowd below these past sennights it is clear that there isn’t a more superstitious sailor than a pirate. With their officers locked away, the common crew of the pirate ships will be very vulnerable to anything out-of-the-ordinary. With the right incentive, they should be easily persuaded to flee their ships for their lives.”
Tora had begun stroking Waaj’s arm. She said, “And what incentive did you have in mind?”
“It occurred to me that the legend of Prayan’s Revenge would work.”
Tora laughed and rolled off the bed and to her feet. She stood in front of Waaj, pulled him up, and kissed him. She dragged him over to the bed and tossed him into it. Climbing back onto the bed and straddling his hips, she said, “Tell me about that one, Waaj.”
He found it very difficult to comply, since Tora was proceeding to undress herself and him by turns. He found his situation very exciting, almost too much so, and he realized that he needed to concentrate on something else very quickly.
“Prayan was a wizard a long time ago,” he said. “He lived in a tower by the sea and had a grown daughter. One day his daughter was coming to visit when her ship was attacked by pirates. She was taken by them as part of the ship’s treasure.”
Waaj forgot what came next when Tora’s blouse came off. She stopped and stared until he resumed his tale. “Ah … Prayan … learned of the theft, and set out to right the wrong. He conjured up an ancient ship from the depths of the sea by his tower, a giant ship with oars and a beak. He sailed it alone, with only his magic to row and steer. He chased the pirates down, but the effort cost him: his magic had driven him mad. He destroyed the ship, but without rescuing his daughter first. His grief further twisted his mind, and they say that he and his ship roam the seas, looking for his daughter and taking revenge upon all pirates.”
Had there been any more of the story to tell, Waaj couldn’t have told it. He was far too busy concentrating on his body, and Tora’s, to put any effort into tale-telling. He enjoyed his reward greatly, and he knew from Tora’s screams that she did, too.
When silence had returned, except for heavy breathing, Tora slipped from the bed. Waaj sleepily looked around, wondering where she’d gone. He found her standing beside the bed, several scarves in her hand.
She leaned down and kissed his forehead, then took his wrist and began fastening it with a scarf to the bedpost. She said, “I like your thinking, Waaj. You have an amazing imagination. But just at this moment, that imagination needs to be kept in check.” She worked on his other wrist, then moved to his feet. Waaj was too confused to protest. Tora continued, “I don’t think your guesses would do any harm at the moment, but I don’t like to take chances either.”
She was back at his side, leaning over him again, smiling into his confused face, a last scarf in her hand. “Everything should be over by fourth or fifth bell tomorrow. I’ll come back up here then and let you go and tell you how your predictions went. Maybe I’ll let you be my second mate, should I decide to take up the pirate life for good.
“By the way, you didn’t have any of that ale downstairs, did you?”
Waaj let himself be gagged without resistance. His fantasy of Tora’s past had slipped away, but he didn’t know what to replace it with. She had been a pirate? Then why had she let Bronak slap her around? And what would be over by the middle of tomorrow? He hadn’t been predicting anything, just playing a game with her.
Tora dressed quickly in dark, tight-fitting clothes completely unlike her barmaid uniform and walked out of the room, leaving the candles burning on the shelf by the door that she shut behind her. Waaj wondered, yet again, just who she was.
At two bells to dawn, an enormous ship sailed into Port Andestn’s harbor. Those on watch on the pirate ships had never seen anything like it, nor had any of the rest of the hastily-roused crew. Its deck was as high as the lowest yard on the deepest-draw of the pirate ships, and its stern-castle mounted several decks above that. Three banks of oars protruded from either side of the hull, and the two huge masts had a single lateen sail each. It had large, luminous eyes painted on the bow, and a wicked, sharp spike jutted out just at the waterline. The entire ship was black, from sheets to sails to hull.
An alert pirate noticed that the ship had no bow-wave nor wake. Another realized that the oars made no splash as they dipped and rose, nor did they move water. It was not an hallucination, not with every single pirate seeing the same thing. The whisper of “ghost ship” was the only logical conclusion.
The pirates all milled about in confusion, not sure what to think or do. The senior watch on Bronak’s ship, the Stars Standard, debarked and hurried through the streets to Jo’nass’ Tavern. She found the place utterly silent, all of its windows and doors boarded up from the inside. She tried to break through one, but an eerie moan from the docks drew her back to her ship.
A figure had appeared on the ship. A shining white man in a white robe with flowing white hair stood on the stern castle, calling out in a loud voice, but no one could understand the language he spoke. He raised a hand as his voice grew harsher, more angry, and lightning flickered around him. He pointed and exclaimed, and all heads turned to see another ghostly figure on the deck of the Stars Standard, a woman hovering above the deck.
More angry shouts from the huge, black ship. Demands sounded, more lightning flashed. The hand pointed, a command rang out, and the Stars Standard exploded. No one noticed the arrow that flashed from behind the luminous eyes, hitting the balsa wood box on the rudder with a spark which completed a complex bit of sorcery, made the four ropes shine briefly, and ignited what was in the four oilskin bags. The archer’s platform was a small, rocking boat, and his sight lines were obscured by the illusion that surrounded him, but his skill was up to the challenge.
The desertions began slowly. As the crews nearest the Stars Standard tried to keep their own ships from catching fire, those farthest from the conflagration began to slip down the gangplanks and vanish into the city. When the ghostly woman appeared on another deck, that ship emptied before the shining man’s hand could begin to point.
Leaderless and frightened, the pirates deserted the docks in ever greater numbers. Seeing the regular pirates fleeing, the conscripted crews didn’t take long to follow. A few hardy souls made attempts to free their captains from Jo’nass’ boarded up tavern. Silent, dark, and deadly figures, one with a bruise on her face, darted from the shadows to make sure no one succeeded.
By the time the Stars Standard sank a bell later, the decks of the other eight ships at dock were empty.
Waaj managed to free himself from Tora’s knots eventually. He wondered whether she had purposely left them loose, or perhaps her mention of being a pirate was just another tale.
He left the room and encountered daylight. He found the window Tora had been at earlier and looked out on change.
The first thing he saw was a ship moored by the northern mole’s fort, outside of the harbor. It was flying the flag of the Duchy of Monrodya, and from the end of a yard of dangling scarlet cord was a bannerette indicating direct ducal sponsorship.
Only eight ships floated dockside, every deck empty. Waaj could see over the warehouse between him and the water well enough to see the masts of the ninth ship jutting up out of the water at an angle; apparently that ship had sunk. He could see no other damage to account for the abandoned ships.
The next thing he saw made him stare in disbelief. Standing at the land end of the largest dock was a small group of people backing Tora. She wasn’t dressed like a barmaid any longer, nor in the dark clothes of the night before. She wore leather leggings and tall boots, with a white shirt under a tightly laced leather vest. She had a sword at her side and a dagger at her knee in the top of one of those boots. She looked commanding, menacing, beautiful. Waaj knew by her bearing, and by the standard of Monrodya that one of those behind her bore, that she was the captain of that ship by the fort and therefore the author of the destruction on the docks.
In front of her were the bound and gagged bodies of the officers and captains of every pirate ship in the harbor. Waaj could see that Captain Tora was talking, but he couldn’t hear her. When she lifted her arm to point at her captives, he imagined that she was berating them all for trying to band together under Bronak, and not her. Their punishment would be banishment from the water until they could raise the funds to buy new ships. And until then, she would be Queen of the Ocean!
She pointed at the bound officers, her arm moving up then chopping down. He only watched what happened next for a moment. His gorge rose, and he turned from the window doubled over, clutching a hand over his mouth. He knew that he would never forget the image of Tora standing there gazing impassively as her order was carried out, blood pooling around her boots.
He straightened and glanced around, unsure of what to do next. His foremost thought was to find someone to protect him from the refugee-turned-ruthless Captain Tora. A tear formed in his eye as his dream of being her hero finally died. Then he bolted out of Jo’nass’ Tavern and out of Port Andestn.
Thornodd, who had masqueraded as Tora the barmaid as well as the captain of the carrack anchored just outside of the bay, stood in front of her captives and the demoralized, broken remnants of the crew of the ships behind her. Her mission, given her by the son of the duke, was over. She no longer owed Masrobak a favor.
She had already given her speech, decrying the worthless cowards before her, denouncing their attempt to band together in the face of the kingdom’s crisis of war, decrying their abuse of Port Andestn, condemning their wholesale assault on the shipping along the east coast of Baranur just when the kingdom needed it most. She could see how dispirited the few remaining crewmembers were as they stood there, bound together and well guarded by her people. But she could also see the fire and hatred in the eyes of those bound before her, the captains whose ships she had won, the officers whose men and women she was haranguing. Then again, perhaps they were simply angry at how they had succumbed one by one to the dosed ale. Even Bronak, who was now lying directly in front of her, hadn’t escaped; she had simply slipped the same potion into the bottles that funny, fanciful Waaj had brought back for h im.
She gave the order as her arm chopped down: “Kill them now.” Her own sword left her side and repaid Bronak for the slap of the previous night. Her “crew”, her raiders, stepped forward and completed the task, ending the threat of every bound officer before her. Not one of the standing pirates moved or made a sound.
When the killing was over, she looked at the remaining flotsam and nodded. The score or so bound pirates were herded along by her people; they would be freed on the outskirts of town. She saw no reason to kill these few who had been slow, or unlucky, enough to be caught. They had simply chosen the wrong people to follow. Maybe some of them would end up going south or west to join the fighting against the Beinison invaders. Some would surely remain in the area to cause more trouble, but she would deal with those consequences later.
She led her raiders to Jo’nass’ Tavern to celebrate their victory. She thanked Rhand for contributing his excellent archery to the success of the illusion of the ghost ship, then sent him up to the third floor to release Waaj. She directed Dzory to be sure to remove the bad ale keg before giving everyone a drink. Just as she was about to question Jerek about his performance as a legendary wizard, Rhand returned.
“There’s no one there, Thornodd. Every room above us is empty.”
“Thank you, Rhand. I wonder what got into him?” She looked at her raiders sitting around the common room, cleaning blades and drinking ale, and muttered, “Maybe my reality and his fantasy just don’t mix.”