Authors: Nicholas Anderson
Bax gave a
mockery of a bow.
“Dutifully reporting for duty, your
“And what is she
Bax looked over
his shoulder as if he didn’t know who Dane was referring to.
He shrugged. “You know how it is with
me and the ladies. I just can’t shake her.” He smiled and nodded to
someone over Dane’s shoulder and moved to step around him.
into his path once more. “Is it true what they say about her?”
she’s a barbarian witch?
Every word of it.”
“You know what I
meant. Is she pregnant?”
grinned. “Did you expect anything less of me?”
“Go to hell,”
“Oh, I will soon
enough,” said Bax, shouldering his way past him. “Your old man’s seen to
Dane grabbed his
shoulder and spun him around. Their faces were inches apart. Dane
was vaguely aware of the rest of the crew staring at them. “Then what do
you think you’re doing endangering the lives of two noncombatants?”
shrugged. “They’re my lives to risk.”
He turned away
and Dane jerked him back by his shoulder. “Well this isn’t your mission
and it’s not your ship.”
Bax glanced at
Dane’s hand which still gripped his shoulder and then turned to Dane.
“And just whose are they, your highness? Are they yours?”
Bax gave a tug
with his shoulder and Dane released him. Dane turned to the girl.
He didn’t even know her name. But why should he? It bothered him
that that bothered him. “You shouldn’t be here.” His voice sounded
far gruffer than he had meant it to. The girl did not even look up at
him. She stepped around him and followed Bax. “You should go home,”
he said, trying to control his voice.
She turned to
him. She looked him in the eyes. “Home, Captain?” Her tone was
a slap in the face. “Are you sending me back to Alistar?” She
turned and continued making her way along the deck.
“If you have a
problem with her…” Bax began, his voice betraying how much he was enjoying all
“I don’t have a
problem with her,” Dane said. “I have a problem with you.”
“Take it up with
your old man,” Bax said, turning his back on him. “You don’t think I’d do
something like this without clearing it with him, do you?”
Dane felt the
anger that had been boiling inside of him spread across his face in hot,
prickly patches. Wasn’t this just like Bax? To use this poor girl
in a power play on the eve of a mission like this. To do it in front of
all the men Dane was supposed to lead, who were supposed to follow his
To remind Dane who was in control and why he,
Dane Hallander, was on this ship. Not to lead it.
But to learn a lesson and to teach one.
And maybe, just maybe, to have another chance to prove himself to
if this whole thing of Bax’s was not his father’s idea. Wasn’t Bax the
kind of son he would want to leave a throne to? The bravado, the deadly,
deceptive charm, the scars and brawn earned from pointless (and nigh countless)
bloody brawls, and now the culmination, the pregnant slave girl in tow.
It was as though, when his father handed him the list of the men who would be
accompanying him, the list topped by Bax’s name, he was saying,
peaces with this man, become his brother again, or at least his pupil. Or
don’t bother coming back at all.
Dane shook his
head. He still had a job to do. It may have been the most hopeless,
damnable job in the world – but these men, not just his father, these men, were
depending on him to do it the best he could. And he couldn’t let Bax or
the girl or his father or anything else distract him. He glanced about
him, registering faces, running down the list in his head. All the
soldiers and crew had made their way aboard. All
one. Dane made his way to the prow and climbed back onto the dock at the
point where one of his father’s officials stood with the roster. “All
suspect?” Dane said, smiling and nodding
toward the roster.
The man looked
at him drily as if he saw through the attempt.
he charm people like Bax?
Dane took the
man by the arm to lead him away from the ship. It would not do to excuse
Joseph’s absence in front of the men who had showed up. It would only be
fuel for a mutiny. But he wanted to pull one good thing out of this
mess. And the men hadn’t seen the list; they didn’t need to know.
Dane leaned close to the man. “We’re enough here for a good sad song when
this suicide business is over.”
“I’m afraid I
don’t catch your meaning, Master Dane,” and the man’s voice was drier than
Dane dug in his
pocket and came up with several coins. He pressed them into the man’s
hand. “My father doesn’t need to know.” The man pulled his hand
away and wiped it on his tunic. He fixed his gaze over Dane’s
shoulder. “Dammit, man,” Dane said, fighting to keep his voice low.
“What’s the point of sending one more of these kids out there to die?”
But Dane had
lost the man’s attention completely. His gaze was held by something at
the other end of the dock. Dane turned to see Joseph moving towards
them. Joseph slipped past without even acknowledging them and down into
the boat. Dane released his grip on the man’s arm. The man took a
step back and made a tick on his roster. “I’ll be sure to let your father
know he made it.” Dane climbed back down into the
without another word.
his name and he turned to see Leech on the edge of the dock above him holding a
large canvas bag. “There are quicker ways to kill yourself than sailing
to Haven, you know,” Leech said.
“You come down
here to gloat?”
this for me.” He tossed Dane his bag, nearly knocking him over.
“What the hell
“We can hardly
blame your father, with his militaristic preoccupations, for giving you a ship
full of soldiers and not a single surgeon. But I’ll do what I can to
remedy his oversight.”
“I can’t ask you
to do that,” Dane said.
Not after what you did for me.
contrary, I should be begging you for the opportunity.
entire colony in the throes of plague or starvation or all-out war.
Death and danger at every turn.
I can’t think of
a better way to make a name for my practice.”
Dane hefted the
bag. “You pack like a woman. Did you expect me to give you your own
remember you complaining about the last bag I threw at you.”
“You want to do
the same for every man here that you did for me? You know what it will
onto the deck. “I don’t want to do anything for anybody. I just
want a place with the rest of you vultures.”
Dane tossed his
bag back to him. “Then make yourself comfortable.”
Soon the only
people left on the dock were the well-wishers. Some of them undid the
mooring lines from the pier and tossed them into the ship. Dane assigned
men to the oars, all younger men, Paul and Rawl and Fletch and several
others. He chose younger men for a reason – he knew leaving them idle
would only allow them to spin stupid stories about where they were going.
began to move and the
sails came down and Dane stepped to the stern to get his last glimpse of home.
There was a string of lights along the coast, the fishermen's shacks and the
greater signal light at the Seat of Kran, the cliff-like outcropping that
towered over the northern end of the harbor. Above the coastal lights, up
on the hills, there were more lights; some of them he knew. He could see
the lights still burning at the feasting hall on the hilltop, bigger and
brighter than the others. To the right, he could see what he guessed was
the temple torch, a light that would burn all night, continuing its constant
vigil, silent and faithful as Elias Wick. Using the lights of the temple
and the hall as guide points, he thought he could name a few of the houses,
Leech's place and Bailus’s, at least.
ship gained distance from the shore, the lights seemed to converge into an
individual, united thing, like the stars that shown over some small and lonely
The only world he had
And beyond it, on land
and at sea and in the sky, their boundaries now blended for the darkness so
that they were all one great frontier, lay the unknown. And Dane’s small
crew was sailing right into the heart of that bleak mystery. He listened
to the soft splashes as the oars rose and fell and he watched these beacons of
the familiar fade into obscurity.
"Let go of me, you big
brute," the girl shouted.
struggling and it won't hurt so
Conley said. He was pulling her by the ear across the length of the deck.
had been at sea for a night
and half a day. Bailus had been below gathering things for the noon meal
when he heard a sneeze from back in the further reaches of the hold. He’d
crawled back to investigate and had found the girl hiding behind a pile of
packs. He’d grabbed her by the wrist and strong-armed her up and out of
the hold. Once on deck, he’d shifted his grip to her ear.
done anything wrong," she said.
the Captain decide that," Bailus said, continuing to pull the girl along
behind him. "The Captain and your father when we boot you back onto
problem, Bailus?" Dane said, stepping in front of him.
and pulled the girl up alongside him. He did not loosen his grip on her
ear. "Captain, we have a stowaway."
see," said Dane, forcing down a smile.
hadn't escaped me either," Dane said.
give the order to swing us around?"
Bailus looked at
him for a moment as if the question made no sense. "Why, to hand
this brat over to her father so he can beat some discipline into her."
easy, Bailus," Paul said. "If we're short on beds she can bunk
Paul," Rawl said.
“If she wants to
be here so bad, she can take my place,” Vick Crane said.
said, drawing the girl back and leaning towards Dane, “You cannot allow this
kind of thing. It’ll destroy our discipline.”
“Get rid of
her,” Edric Embries shouted. “Does she think this is a joke? She’s
only going to get in our way and put all our lives at greater risk.”
“We don’t have
time to turn around,” Will Thatcher said.
anything about turning around?” Edric said. “Throw her over the side and
let her swim home.”
Markis Evans said. “She’ll be nothing but a cursed nuisance.
Worse than useless.”
“I’m sure I
could find a way to make use of her, sir,” Rundal Tillman said.
Dane turned to
face the crew. "How many of you volunteered for this?" he
"I asked, how
many of you men volunteered for this?"
at the deck, except Elias and Leech, who were watching Dane keenly.
half raised his hand and half cleared his throat. He was staring out the
starboard side of the ship as though he had found something there of great
volunteered," Dane said.
exactly, sir," Paul said. "Except I might have if I'd gotten
half a chance before I got my orders."
"So, in a different
world and another life you might have possibly volunteered if you'd had ample
time to consider the pros and cons?"
less I'd say you've got it, sir," Paul said. He had turned from
watching the sea and his eyes were flitting back and forth from Dane's knees to
something about two feet to the left of them.
Rawl rolled his
Crossbowman Johnson the Older," Dane said.
Paul turned to
his brother with a self-satisfied little grin and then back to Dane's knees and
shrugged as if to say, "It was nothing, sir."
else kind of sort of maybe half-way consider volunteering?" Dane asked.
No one else half
raised their hands or half cleared their throats. "Then what do you want
me to punish her for?” Dane said. “For having more guts than the rest of
you put together?"
He turned to the
girl. “Walk with me to the bow.”
you can push me over the edge?"
Dane lowered his
voice. "In case you hadn't noticed, I'm trying to help you
here." He nodded towards the front of the ship. "Come on,
"I'm not an
idiot," the girl said. “I know where the bow is.”
you doing here?" he said when they reached the bow. The ship’s
ballista, a giant mounted crossbow, stood between them and the rest of the
“Why’s it your
“This might have
escaped you,” Dane said. “But I happen to be the captain.
Which means I have the power to let you stay or to throw you
overboard with our anchor tied to your ankles.
aren't here for any better reason than that they were told to. Why should
I have to have a reason?"
you look at it that way, these men were invited to be on this ship and you
weren't. So why are you here?"
The girl looked
past him out to sea in the direction of their bearing. "My sister's
My sister and my two nieces."
sighed. It was as good a reason as any and better than most.
"And what do you expect to be able to do when we get there?"
She turned from
the sea to look into Dane's face. "What do any of you expect to be able
to do when we get there?"
thought about what we're heading towards? You think you know what you're
you know what you're getting into. But you're going. Why shouldn't
I be able to go?"
“Think of what
you’re doing to your parents.”
“I left a note.”
“Oh, yeah, I’m
sure it eases their minds to know you’re sailing straight into a warzone with
nothing but a bunch of oversexed killers for company.”
are you?" Dane asked.
You’re not Gwen
Tailor’s sister, are you?" He hoped she wouldn’t know what that
meant to him.
right. She found a man who wasn't afraid of commitment.”
here it comes
surprise you?” Josie said. “That someone actually thought she was worth
formerly Gwen Tailor, had been Dane’s first kiss. She'd been his first in
a lot of ways. They had been together when he first went to war for his
father. She had had all kinds of plans about their future. Dane
hadn't had a one. It wasn't that he didn't like her, or even that he
didn't love her, or at least thought he had. It was that he was never
sure he'd have a future. He was going into every fight dreading it would
be his last. For some of his friends, it was.
Live it fast, ‘
today could be your last
. That had been his
His and Bax’s.
And they’d lived by
it. He’d just wanted to do the things that felt good today and not think
about what they meant for tomorrow. He’d thought Gwen had enjoyed doing
those things with him. He’d never realized how much destruction that
detached form of living created.
“You know, this
would be more fun if you’d try to defend yourself,” Josie said.
Dane looked at
her. “What do you want me to say?”
“You don’t need
to say anything to me. But I can think of plenty of things you should
have told my sister a long time ago.”
off without me,” Dane said.
“Try something I
don’t already know.”
Dane figured his
only hope was to change the subject. He turned slightly and put a hand on
the arm of the ballista, hoping to signal he meant to end the
conversation. "Don't mind Bailus. He's a good man, but he’s
been a widower a long time now and I think he’s forgotten how to handle
my sister said you never had."
He turned back
to her. "You don't know when to quit and make friends, do you?"
"But you sure
seem to know when to quit and cut 'em loose."
Dane swore under
his breath. "Look, you don't have to like me. But if you're
coming with us we're going to have to set up some kind of working
"Huh, and I
would have thought you'd be afraid to even say that word."
Dane had a
vision of lifting the girl bodily and hurling her into the ocean. But,
since he had implicitly promised he wouldn't, he banished this fantasy from his
mind. "I'm sorry about your sister. And I promise I'll do
everything in my power to see the two of you happily reunited."
She seemed to
soften a little. Then her lip curled. "Yeah, she said
you were quick with the empty promises then, too."
Dane put his
hands to his head as if he meant to pull out his hair. "Look, there
are over thirty men on this ship. Try to find one you don't hate the very
look of and tell him if you need anything." He ducked under the arm
of the ballista and headed back down the deck.
“So, I can
stay?” she called out from behind him.
If I had a chance
to go back and be where I needed to be for who I needed to be there for, even
if it was just a fool's hope I could make it in time, I'd be doing exactly what
you are now. And by the way, I'm sorry about your sister. I never
meant to hurt her.
He turned towards her.
sending me back?"
said, turning and continuing down the deck. “You're just too much fun to
Dane spent the
rest of the day trying to get to know the new bloods. His conversation
with Rawl and Paul was as fruitful as any he had that day. “Have either
of you seen combat?” Dane asked.
“Yes, sir,” Rawl
said. “We saw your fight at Loshōn.”
“And a fine
exhibition of Hallander manhood that was, wasn’t it?” Bax said.
To their credit,
the twins ignored him.
“I meant,” said
Dane, “Have either of you ever been in combat?”
“First time for everything, right?”
took Josie under her wing and kept close to her the rest of the voyage.
“Don’t dote on
her, ma’am,” Bailus said. “She’s not a lost child; she’s a criminal.”
Molly said. “This girl is an angel.”
That night Rawl
was wrapped in his blanket, leaning against the gunwale between Paul and
Fletch. He was almost asleep when Josie came up and knelt beside Bailus
who was reclining against the opposite side of the ship. Her arms were
wrapped around her. “Where could I find a spare blanket?” she
“On this ship?”
Bailus said. “Not likely.
Each man has only what he brought for himself.”
Josie sneezed as
he was speaking. She crouched there a moment longer, then rose to her
feet with her arms still hugging her shoulders.
“I can keep you
warm, sweetheart,” Rundal said from his place beside Bailus.
Josie turned and
started walking back to her place near the rear of the ship without giving any
indication she had heard him. Rawl rose to his feet and slipped out of
his blanket and folded it hastily. “Did someone need a blanket?” he
asked, looking more at Bailus than Josie’s retreating figure.
“Seems the young
lady was too busy climbing out her window to pack a bag,” Bailus said.
“I have an extra
blanket,” Rawl said, holding his out to Josie. She hesitated. He
tossed it to her.
“You don’t need
it?” she asked.
Rawl shook his
head. “Paul said I was a fool for packing so much, but now it seems it
wasn’t a mistake to bring a spare.”
him and walked back to her place.
Rawl wrapped his
cloak about himself and sat down again beside Paul. He started shivering
almost immediately. Paul stirred beside him.
spare blanket, huh?
Tell me, little brother, did you even remember
to pack a change of clothes?”
But Rawl’s teeth
were chattering too hard to respond.
The rest of the
voyage was uneventful. Which meant time stretched on like the endless
blues of sky and water before them and the men had far too much of it and
nothing to do with it but worry. They had fair winds and little need to
use the oars but this only contributed to the men’s restlessness. On the
morning of their third day at sea, they came in sight of the island.