Contemplating where he might sail, Gavin looked out over the waters of the Bay of Terius. As a ship’s captain, he could simply give the order and the crew would take him leagues away. They could sail around the tip of Ludera and all the way to Athoz.
Gavin often imagined what it would be like to be a ship’s captain. Of course, he’s not a captain. At twenty-three, he was much too young. And, he’s never been on a ship outside the bay. He loved the idea of the open sea. The openness, the freedom, they beckoned.
He drew in a deep breath, the salt of the sea air slightly stinging his nostrils. He could taste it. And it smelled and tasted good.
Gulls flew around Gavin, a couple alighting on the mainmast yardarm next to him. He shooed them away with a wave of his hand. A few sailors would feed them scraps, while some would catch and eat them. The last few months have been hard, he has had to bring a few home for his mother to cook in a stew.
Gavin looked to the right, looked at the wharf district of Sedare. It has been the only place he has ever called home. He could see where he and his mother have lived for six years now. Though the room was several hundred yards on the far side of the district, Gavin could still see it. And he could just make out the door opening and a figure stepping through. It was his mother.
Must be leaving for Mr. Jacobs, Gavin thought to himself. His mother hasn’t been paid since starting to work two weeks ago. Gavin fought with her about it. He wanted to storm into Mr. Jacobs’ home and demand the money owed to Gavin’s mother. She wouldn’t have it. She fully believed he would pay her maid wages at the end of the week. She said the same thing last week.
“Oy! We’re ready now.” A burly man on deck below called up to him.
Gavin had been working on the docks for about six years. At first doing odd jobs, then more labor intensive as he grew older. He was lean, the kind of lean from not enough food and too much–
“Dammit boy! I said we’re ready!” yelled the man below. Gavin didn’t hear the first call and it startled him.
“Sorry, sir!” He stood up and started working the rigging to keep it clear of the block and tackle as the other dock workers hoisted crates out of the hold.
In most ports, the sailors would empty their own cargo, but in Sedare, that wasn’t the case. Here, the laws of harbor encourage captains to pay locals to help unload and other minor tasks. Most comply, but there are some that would rather pay the fees to have their crewmen unload their own cargo.
The hoist-beam was carefully centered above the amidship hold, Gavin pulling on this rigging and that one. He watched as the hoist rope was lowered to the men in the hold. They secured the line to the crate’s netting and called out. Then the crate was lifted up and out of the hold.
About twenty feet above the deck, the rope jammed in the hoist’s lower pulley. The sudden stop jerked the crate about. Men scurried from underneath it. The hoist men’s voices grew loud, issuing warning and commands.
Gavin grabbed a nearby line and jumped off the yardarm. With a quick swing and twist, Gavin maneuvered near the crate and latched onto the netting. Abandoning the rope, he climbed up the thick netting and hoist-line to the lower pulley. Carefully, he worked at the line until the rope was free to move. Reihl reeved the hoist, if Gavin remembered correctly. He just saved his fair weather friend a stiff fine. Any damages would have come out of his wages. Perhaps Gavin could persuade him to buy a few rounds this afternoon. He’d have to follow him to the same tavern, but that was easy enough.
The crate was slowly lowered while the hoist-beam moved over the ship’s railing. Gavin gauged the distance to the dock landing and leapt from the crate. His launch barely disturbed the crate itself. He took the twenty foot fall with a tucked roll and ended in a full stand, unharmed. Gavin’s lean and wiry body was quite graceful.
“We don’t have time for your foolishness, boy,” scolds the dock foreman. “Pay attention when you’re rigging. If you can’t, you will be replaced. What would you and your mother do if you broke a bone when jumping like that? Starve. That’s you’d both do.”
“Yes, sir.” Gavin tried desperately to recall the first order. He realized that when the order was given, he was watching his mother leave their room. He sighed. He has had trouble hearing out of his right ear since he was a child and had a fever. The doctors had given up hope, but his mother didn’t. She remained at his side and nursed him back to health.
He went about his duties for the rest of the day, sure to pay extra care in listening to orders and to carrying them out. He picked up his meager wages from the foreman and waited about in the growing shadows for Reihl to get his.
Gavin did just as he planned. He followed Reihl, keeping his distance so as not to call attention to himself. After a few turns, though, it seemed as though Reihl could sense he was being followed. He picked up his pace, walking briskly through the crowded streets. Based on his route, Gavin suspected where his friend was heading and decided to beat him there.
Cutting down a few alleys, Gavin arrived at Salty Dogs. It was one of many taverns in the wharf frequented by sailors and dock workers. He waited for Reihl outside at the corner of the alley.
After fifteen minutes or so, and no Reihl, Gavin thought maybe he had changed his mind.
Hmpf. Oh, well. I guess he found another tavern to drink away his coin. Giving up on a free round or two, Gavin left and made way toward his home.
On his way, Gavin checked the alley entrances, just as he had since he was old enough to know the dangers that lurked in the shadows.
A few streets from Salty Dogs down an alley leading back to the docks, he saw three men–no make that four–roughing up
another man. After a quick focus on the man, he knew it was Reihl. Gavin’s heart beat hard in his chest. He knew he must act soon. He made a bounding leap, grabbing a railing on the second floor of the building facing the street.
Quickly now. Another reaching jump brought him to the eave. He pulled himself up and onto the roof.
Quietly now. Crouching, he moved over the roof to the edge.
There they are. Two of them were holding Reihl’s arms. One was punching him in the gut. The other stood by, watching. No weapons drawn. Just fists.
Think. The group was close to the wall. That’s good. Only one dagger. That’s bad.
Think. Jump. Knock down. Attack. Attack again. Help from Reihl?
Good enough. Gavin pulled his dagger and jumped, aiming for the one watching. He landed squarely on the man’s shoulders, sending him face first into the pebbly dirt.
Next, he launched himself from the shoulders into the man beating his friend to mincemeat. His blade sunk deep into the left shoulder. The man cried out in pain. Gavin pulled it free and stabbed again, this time into the man’s throat. He fell to the ground, making gurgling sounds as he choked on the blood spewing from the wound.
The two attackers holding Reihl, threw him back into wall on the other side of the alley. They moved to flank Gavin.
He glanced around and could see the other one slowly getting up from the ground. Seven seconds. Ten tops.
Focusing his attention on his current attackers, Gavin took a measure of their skill. The right one moved slower than the left one. He was bigger too–not taller, but more muscular. He easily outweighed Gavin by four, maybe five, stones. But, again, he was much slower. Simply better to avoid him.
The one on the left was about the same size as Gavin. He still seemed shocked by Gavin’s attack. Shocked means Distracted. He just became Gavin’s next target.
Gavin tucked and rolled under the man’s grab to the man’s left side, swinging backwards with his knife. Gavin felt it hitting bone high in the back of the man’s leg. He continued through with another roll and spun around to face the group.
The thin man fell back, screaming and grabbing the back of his leg with both hands. Gavin saw the blood flowing from the man’s leg, but it probably wouldn’t kill him. Cutting bone deep must hurt like hell, Gavin thought to himself, making a mental note not to ever let that happen to him.
The larger man got into a more aggressive fighting stance. He looked Gavin in the eyes and Gavin could see the determination and hate swelling.
“You have made a mistake, interloper,” spoke the man that Gavin tackled just a few seconds ago.
Gavin glanced back at the man who drew a short sword from its leg sheath.
The larger man charged and Gavin barely managed to dodge the attack. In his left ear, he heard the swoosh of the man’s powerful swing. Gavin made his way to Reihl, stopping just in front of him.
“Reihl! Get up! Can you fight?!”
He could heard Riehl stirring behind him, groaning, slowly rising.
“Can you fight?!”
The man with the sword slowly walked toward Gavin and Reihl. He didn’t even have it raised.
“Why did you interrupt our business?” Despite the fray, the man seemed calm and collected. He wore dark brown leather pants and a white shirt and vest. The sleeves were rolled up and Gavin could see markings or tattoos on his arms.
“You were killing my friend. I couldn’t let that happen,” Gavin replied.
“We weren’t going to kill him. If we did, how could he repay us? His coin is worth more than his blood.”
At that moment, Gavin realized that Reihl was an idiot and a fool. And he just may have cost Gavin his life.
“What now? Two of us against the two of you,” Gavin wanted this to end. Maybe he could talk his way out of it.
“Now? You will learn a hard lesson, boy. You can’t trust anyone.”
The sharp blow to the back of Gavin’s head sent him crashing to the ground. The last thing he saw was Reihl standing over him with a brick in his hand.
The smell of human waste and the touch of cold stone awoke Gavin. He started retching. He wasn’t sure if it was from the putrescence or the pounding headache that banged against his skull with each heart beat.
My heart’s beating. I’m alive. Gavin would have let out a sigh, if it weren’t for the fact that he was still vomiting.
He became too keenly aware that he was laying face first on cold masonry. The cold felt good. But he needed to move away from the puddle of partially digested food.
As he stood and spat out the remains, he felt the irons on his wrists. It was dark, but there was a faint light coming through the bars of the cell.
Wait! I’m in a goddamn cell!? Reality hit home in Gavin’s mind harder that the brick that Reihl used to knock him out.
“That lousy bastard,” Gavin cursed softly. But not softly enough.
“Who’s there?” a tiny voice called out. Gavin thought it was tiny because it sounded like a child’s voice. He wasn’t sure if it belonged to a young boy or girl.
“Where am I?”
“I asked you first. Who are you?”
Gavin was taken back by the response. He didn’t know if they were trying to be funny. If they were, he surely wasn’t in the mood.
“Listen, I want to know where I am. And I want to know right now!”
“How rude! Maybe they brought you here to teach you some manners. What do your senses tell you?”
Gavin’s head still hurt. The smell was horrible. And now, whoever this person was they were toying with him.
“Are you thinking about hurting me?” asked the voice.
Gavin was shocked again. “How did you know?”
“Everyone thinks about hurting Soracha, in the beginning. Then, they come to know her. And then, they like her,” Soracha responded proudly.
Gavin felt a little guilty for being so harsh. Apologetically, he says, “I’m not myself. I was betrayed and brought here, wherever here is–”
“Just use your senses. What do they tell you?”
He took a moment to clear his head, very difficult when someone keeps making it hurt.
“Okay. The nasty smell. And the stone, cool and damp. Are we in the sewers?”
The word puzzled Gavin. He had never heard it before and it didn’t sound like any language that he’s heard at the docks, which were quite a few.
“I’m sorry… What’s that?”
“Pajay means ‘you are correct as much as you can be today’,” replied Soracha.
“I’ve never heard of–”
“Pipe down!” yelled a heavy voice. The large man from the alley stepped up near the two adjoining cells. “Both of you, shut up!”
The man raked a baton across the bars, making a noise much louder than Gavin and Soracha’s conversation. Gavin wondered about Soracha. She was different, very different from anyone he had ever met. Her personality was somehow off. He just couldn’t place it.
Gavin moved to the small cot in his cell. He was surprised that it had straw under the moldy cover. The small manacles were chafing his wrists, but he needed rest. He laid down, hoping his headache would go away. Hoping he would wake up in his own bed, with his mother making breakfast.
This time hunger woke Gavin. Maybe it was because he went to sleep thinking about food. Or maybe it was because it had been several hours since he ate.
He wasn’t sure of the time. It was a little after dark when he jumped down into that alley. But he had no way of knowing how long he was knocked out or how long he just slept.
Just as he sat up on the side of the cot, the sound of clanking metal began. Softly at first, then growing louder each moment. In the dim light outside the cell, Gavin saw someone new. He was much older than any of those in the alley, his white beard an obvious sign.
Behind him, the large alley man and another unknown face followed. The large man had his baton, the other one had a dirk. Both seemed eager to use them.
“Get up, boy. The master wants to see you,” the old man said. He took the large key ring from his neck and searched through the rusty keys. “Ah, here it is. Stay on the cot or bleed on the floor. Your choice.”
The old man unlocked the cell door and pulled it back. The other two stepped inside. Dirk came over to Gavin, putting the tip of the blade close to his throat. Gavin could smell something. It smelt bitter. And it overpowered the smell of the sewer. Poison perhaps? Gavin didn’t know how poison was supposed to smell. He was sure that there were different poisons and each one could have its own unique smell.
Baton bent over, grabbing Gavin’s right arm. Gavin winced from the viselike grip of the large man. He recalled his first impression of him, So much for avoidance.
The two lead Gavin out of the cell. Dirk was behind and Baton was in front, pulling Gavin along by the manacles.
Outside the room with the cells, Gavin’s speculation was proven correct. The men guided him through a corridor that opened into the sewers.
Beneath his feet, Gavin felt an occasional slip of his boots. Nothing he couldn’t handle. Up front, the old man slipped a couple times. The stone walkway was damp, but some sections were outright treacherous.
The walkway itself was maybe twelve feet wide with a wall on one side and a sewage canal on the other. Gavin could see unnamable things move with the current in the black-green murky waters.
Gavin and his captors came to a crossing where two planks were laid across the canal. The old man crossed first.
Dirk leaned forward to whisper in Gavin’s ear, “If you dare move an inch to either side, dare move any way except forward, you will feel this steel in your back and in your heart.”
Gavin’s idea of escaping through the muck quickly dissolved before it had a chance to become anything larger than a grain seed.
He did as instructed and soon they had reached a door a hundred feet or so down the walkway.
The four entered the room and Gavin saw a face he recognized from the alley. The man with the tattoos sat behind a desk. Papers sprawled out in front of him.
Without looking up, the man said to Gavin, “Oh, good. You’re here.” He motioned to Baton, “Set him here.”
Gavin was pushed down into a chair facing the door, just a mere four feet from the tattooed man.
“Leave us,” the man ordered. And the other three left the room without hesitation.
Gavin started to turn his head left.
Before he could focus, he felt cold steel biting at his throat.
“I did not say you could look,” said the man, calmly, while still focusing at the papers.
Gavin faced forward and looked down over his cheeks. It was the man’s sword. I didn’t even seem him move! Gavin thought.
“That’s more like it. Now, you will listen to me, Gavin, and you will listen well, for your life depends on it. As does your mother’s. And your friend’s. Do I have your undivided attention?”
“Yes.” Gavin didn’t like the fact that the man knew his name. More importantly, he didn’t like this man threatening him or his mother, but he was powerless to do anything about it.
“Let’s test that.” The man kept the sword against Gavin’s throat. With his free hand, he snapped his fingers.
In a moment, the door opened and in walked Reihl.
“This is your friend, yes? You killed to protect him. Yes?”
“Yes,” Gavin grew nervous.
“In doing so, you have proven yourself to me. And you have proven that you are more valuable than your friend.”
Gavin watched as Reihl turned to run away. He was grabbed by Baton, turned around and brought closer to the desk.
Then with a swiftness Gavin has never seen, the tattooed man stood up, twirled twice going around the desk. He stopped with sword raised at an angle behind him, right leg bent, left leg outstretched and low. He gave a quick nod to Baton who stepped away from Reihl.”
“Reihl. Our business is concluded,” said the tattooed man. Then, in another whirlwind motion, almost like a dance, the blade flashed and slashed.
The tattooed man stopped in the exact spot and stance.
At first, Gavin saw blood trickle from at least ten cuts. Then the cut on Reihl’s neck opened and sprayed on Gavin’s face. Reihl crumpled to his knees and fell over.
Gavin’s stomach churned. He fought back another vomiting. It wasn’t easy.
The tattooed man stood up and checked his sword for blood. There was none, the movement was too fast.
“It’s a shame really. I’ll have to rescribe these documents,” he said as he shuffled the papers, now splattered with blood, into a neat stack. “I realize that you will need time to adjust. And time to heal. When I call upon you, you will do as I bid. Or your mother’s death will not be so swift.”
Gavin wiped the blood and tears from his eyes. He had never felt so powerless.
The man took a clean piece of parchment and dipped his pen tip into Reihl’s blood. He scribbled something onto it and let it dry.
He motioned for Baton. The large man took the note and stuffed it in Gavin’s blood and vomit covered shirt.
Baton placed a black sack over Gavin’s head. Shock had numbed Gavin. He was led out of the sewers. Or at least he could smell the sea air. He’s free.
He felt the first blow to the left side of his head. The second was an uppercut. The third and forth went to his gut. The fifth against his head again. He stopped counting and started crying. He collapsed to the ground. Then the kicking started. Gut. Back. Face. They didn’t spare the boot.
Near dawn, a light rain fell on Sedare. Gavin shivered from the chill, every muscle aching. He sat up. The gentle rain washed some of the blood, vomit, and mud off his clothes and his face.
The note! He stood up, his legs uncertain under the strain of his weight and the pain. He managed to stumbled underneath a door frame, protected from the drizzle.
He pulled out the note and unfolded it.
It read, “Remember our business agreement, Hawke. With warmest wishes, Sirthas.”