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Authors: Rowena Cory Daniells

Tags: #Fantasy

The Kings Man (5 page)

BOOK: The Kings Man
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Even though the lamplighters were taking their ladders from pole to pole, plenty of people were still coming and going. With no sign of the loading slowing down for the night, he could blend in when he got away.

At the far end of the wharf they came to the last pier, presumably where Lord Travany’s ship waited. The cart travelled along the pier until it was opposite the ship.

Stores stood stacked, waiting to be loaded. Lanterns hung on posts, casting haloes of light in the cold air. It was harder to get away here, with the ship’s captain and sailors, and Master Cialon and his servants.

Garzik watched the gathering mist, willing it to grow thicker. It didn’t oblige. While they waited, around fifty captured Rolencian men-at-arms were herded onto the ship and down the hatch. More unlucky seven-year-slaves.

When they were all safely belowdecks, Grufyd opened the cart’s door and they clambered out, stumbling and moaning as circulation returned to numb legs and aching backs. By lantern light, breath misting in the cold, Grufyd drove them across the pier, up the gang plank, onto deck and down the hatch to a cabin below.

It was all over so quickly, Garzik had no chance to slip out of line, no chance to go over the ship’s side.

Mind you, with the cold, he’d be risking death in that sea.

Garzik cursed himself, furious. He should have taken the chance afforded on the sled-ship, when Grufyd belted Feo. They’d all been watching the by-play. It would have been easy to slip over the side and make his way off the ice.

Why hadn’t he used his wits? Orrade would have been on alert. Orrade would never have gotten himself in this position. His brother had never failed Byren.

Feeling sick, Garzik blinked as they were herded into the cabin. No chance to escape here. No windows. One narrow bunk, a fold-up table and a fold-up chair hanging from a hook. The fifteen injured captives shuffled in, filling the narrow space. A sailor threw some blankets and a bucket after them and shut the door, leaving them in the dark. Being last in line, Garzik heard the bolt shoot home.

As good as blind, the others scrambled for blankets.

‘What, no dinner?’ the baker’s apprentice muttered.

‘Be thankful we’re not spending the night in the cart,’ the cabinet-maker answered.

‘I heard what you said to the pie girl,’ Mitrovan whispered to Garzik. ‘Is she a spy, too?’

For a heartbeat, Garzik was tempted to say yes. Mitrovan had gotten it into his head the pair of them were part of a big adventure, spying for Rolencia, and Garzik wished it was true. ‘No. But King Rolen’s youngest two sons still live, so –’

‘Who’s talking of King Rolen?’ the cabinet-maker asked.

Garzik said nothing and Mitrovan took his cue from this.

‘Goddess bless King Rolen.’ The cabinet-maker was undeterred. ‘They were Halcyon’s days under his reign. Thirty years of good harvests and peace.’

‘May Goddess Halcyon bless King Rolen,’ several others echoed.

‘My old gaffer said we won’t see the like again,’ the baker’s apprentice offered.

‘You wouldn’t be so quick to praise King Rolen if you saw your family’s farm confiscated because your father had Affinity,’ Feo snapped. ‘I bet you never saw your mam forced onto the streets to feed you and your brother, never saw your little brother take the Goddess Halcyon’s service because it was that or banishment?’

Silence greeted this outburst.

‘Don’t talk to me of good King Rolen.’ Feo made a disgusted sound.

‘King Rolen only issued the Affinity decrees to protect us. Those touched by Affinity must serve the church or risk becoming channels for evil,’ the cabinet-maker stated.

‘Affinity is a tool, like fire,’ Feo said. ‘Evil lies in the hand that wields it and the heart and mind that directs the hand.’

An uncomfortable silence greeted this sacrilege.

‘If your father and brother had Affinity, perhaps you also have it?’ a new dry voice suggested. ‘Maybe you’ll be right at home, amongst the ungodly Merofynians.’

Feo surprised them by laughing bitterly at this insult. ‘D’you think if I had one skerrick of power of my own, I’d be here locked up with you lot of sorry-faced gimps?’

No one answered.

‘Fools,’ Feo spat.

There was silence for a bit.

‘I’ve never been on a ship. Never left Rolenton,’ the baker’s apprentice muttered. ‘You hear tell of storms and Utland raiders and wyvern attacks and –’

‘It’s a quick voyage to Merofynia,’ Mitrovan spoke up. ‘Usually between five and eight days, depending on the winds. My master’s ships used to make the trip all the time.’

‘And how many of those ships foundered on spar rocks?’ Feo asked.

That was the problem. Thanks to Queen Myrella’s tutelage, Garzik could visualise the rival kingdoms of Rolencia and Merofynia. He could still hear her voice describing the two as horse-shoe islands. Rolencia faced north and Merofynia south. From the mountains that formed the outer curve of the horse shoes, long fingers of land stretched out like the spokes of a wheel, the spars.

‘A captain must make a choice,’ Mitrovan said. ‘Either he makes his way through the broken tips of the spars and risks the rocks, or he plots his course wide –’

‘And risks Utland raiders,’ Feo finished for him. ‘Either way our goose is cooked.’

‘We sail in convoy with sea-hounds to protect us.’

‘Great. So we’ll reach Merofynia safely to serve out our seven years of slavery!’ Feo made a disgusted noise. ‘Wish I’d made it over the side back in Port Marchand.’

‘We all wish that,’ the dry voice muttered.

There were some surprised chuckles.

‘Everyone wants to go home,’ Mitrovan said quickly before Feo could retaliate.

The captives grumbled some more, but Garzik ignored them.

Leaning his head against the cabin wall, he weighed up his chances. If Grufyd let them out while the ship was still in port, he would slip over the side into the sea and make a swim for it, cold or not. But that was a big ‘if.’

Eventually, the others settled down.

A sliver of light came under the door. As his eyes adjusted, Garzik saw that three of the injured now shared the single bunk, while the rest stretched out across the floor. They were packed like fish in a net, for the cabin was only as wide as Garzik was tall.

Through the cabin walls, he heard shouts, creaks and thumps as the Lord Travany’s stolen riches were loaded aboard. His stomach cramped. Instead of filling him, the pie crusts seem to have made him hungrier.

Despite his discomfort, he must have slept, because some time later the door opened, throwing a shaft of light into the crowded cabin. He winced, protecting his eyes.

Someone shoved a pot of hot soup in, along with a basket of bread stubs.

Garzik squinted to see a lad of about his age in the doorway. With Grufyd behind him there was no chance of slipping past. He turned back to find the others all crouched around the pot. Garzik’s stomach knotted with hunger, but...

‘Where’s our bowls?’ he asked the lad.

The lad and Grufyd looked at him, then at each other. As one they burst out laughing.

Mitrovan shoved a heel of bread in Garzik’s hand. ‘Scoop out the soup with this. And be quick about it, or you’ll miss out.’

By the time he’d come to his knees and pushed through to the pot only the oily scum was left on the bottom. But he scraped his bread across it anyway and sucked the soup from the bread. It tasted so good: beef and onion.

Tears stung his eyes. Who thought food could make you cry?

The others settled back to gnaw on their bread. Garzik tried one more scrape of the pot but it was empty.

‘Push the pot and empty basket out here,’ Grufyd ordered.

He did as he was told, and the cabin door was shut in his face.

Garzik leant against the wall and chewed his way through the bread, savouring every mouthful. With food in his belly and the combined warmth of the cabin he felt a glow move through his body and sleep creep upon him.

He should stay awake in case a chance presented itself to escape.

He woke when the ship’s motion changed. It felt like a lot of time had passed; he had to pee. From the muffled shouts they were sailing with the tide. He’d missed his chance.

Now he’d end up in Merofynia serving Lord Travany, just as the scribe said. In fact... he’d be in an ideal position to spy. Between them, he and Mitrovan could find out something useful to help Byren.

Now, he was glad he’d let Mitrovan believe he was a spy.

 

 

Chapter Four

 

 

B
Y MIDDAY, EVERYONE
was seasick. At first they complained and whined. In the end, they endured.

The one bucket acquired a queue. Not everyone made it to the bucket. There was nowhere to empty it, and soon they were all soiled. The soup, so good going down, soon covered the floor. The stench, combined with the lack of light, convinced Garzik he had never been more miserable.

In all his days, fishing on the lake, he’d never been seasick; but back then he’d been in the open air.

When the cook’s lad turned up that evening with another tub of thin soup, he took one look inside the cabin and backed off.

‘Bring another bucket,’ Mitrovan called.

‘Bring a dozen,’ some wit yelled.

A few moments later an old sailor opened the cabin door for Master Cialon, who took one breath and backed up, sleeve over his mouth and nose. The door was shut and locked.

Garzik waited, hopeful for hot water to wash in, some sailor’s remedy to settle their stomachs and a change of clothes – at the very least, some time on deck in the fresh air.

They were left in their own filth.

Garzik no longer felt sick. He no longer felt anything.

It might have been mid-morning the next day when the door finally opened. Grufyd stood there, watching over the cook’s lad, who carried buckets and mops.

As the lad handed these over, Grufyd told them, ‘clean up and you’ll be allowed out to wash.’

Garzik had never cleaned his own clothes or scrubbed a floor in his life, but if it meant getting out of that cabin, he’d do it.

Three of the captives were too sick to move. The others pitched in, some mopped up and the others shuffled out of the way, while Garzik and Mitrovan scrubbed.

Once the cabin was clean and the filthy bedding rolled up, Grufyd let them out. They carried the three weakest up to the middeck, where they all stripped off and were doused with icy-cold sea water.

Meanwhile, the sailors and Merofynian men-at-arms mocked them. A lad of no more than nine or ten scampered about. Egged on by the jeers and cheers of the audience, he darted in to pinch cold buttocks.

‘Make them squeal, Yorwyth!’

Garzik was sorely tempted to trip the lad, but it would have only brought the ire of the men-at-arms down on them, so he ignored Yorwyth and took advantage of the saltwater soap to wash; it stung his abraded skin.

By the time the bathing was done, Garzik was blue with cold, teeth chattering so badly he couldn’t speak. Feo kept up a constant stream of complaints, but never loud enough for their captors to work out who was speaking.

Given dry blankets, they rubbed their chilled skin to get some feeling back. The ship’s surgeon inspected their injuries, repacked the wounds of the weakest three and announced they would have to be moved to the sickbay.

Their clothes and blankets had gone into a tub of seawater and now had to be washed. Naturally, when there was work, Feo was nowhere to be seen. Fed up with him, Garzik wrapped the blanket around his hips and plunged his hands into the cold water.

After a moment, Mitrovan joined him.

‘This is not right for your disguise,’ the skinny scribe whispered. ‘This is women’s work. No man, let alone an educated scribe, willingly does women’s work.’

‘Then why are you helping me?’

‘To cover for you.’

‘What about scrubbing the cabin?’

‘That...’ Mitrovan shuddered. ‘That was self-preservation.’

Garzik grinned.

He didn’t mind washing. Moving kept him warm and work took his mind off the seasickness. Although, now that he was out in the fresh air, he felt better. Almost hungry.

It was so good to be out of that foul cabin.

While the others huddled in their blankets in a corner of the deck, out of the wind, he and Mitrovan wrung the clothes and hung them on the rigging.

A man-at-arm grabbed his crotch. ‘I got something here needs wringing out. How ’bout you come over an’ fix it.’

Garzik pretended he didn’t understand him. With the wet washing flapping around them, Mitrovan pursed his lips in disapproval.

‘You speak Merofynian?’ Garzik whispered, although the man’s gesture had been enough to convey his meaning.

‘As do you.’ Mitrovan cast him an assessing look. ‘I read and write it, too, Ostronite as well. You?’

Garzik nodded. He was beginning to think the skinny scribe was as smart as Orrade.

BOOK: The Kings Man
6.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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