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unassailable.
Blade had ample leisure to contemplate this fact, because winter gales were
closing the seas to
honest commerce and pirate raiding alike. It had been more than two
generations since the half-legendary
Dystronos of Cral led five ships across the winter seas in the teeth of wind
and snow to plunder shipping in the very High Port of Royth itself. On the
occasional calm and clear day, ships would indeed make their way out through
the passage to exercise their men at the oars and help them keep their sea
legs, but none went out of sight of Neral. Even with this precaution, two
galleys attempting a night passage of the reefs to avoid being caught at sea
by a gale took the ground and were pounded to pieces, drowning better than a
hundred and fifty men.
Many of the pirates spent their winters in debauchery, spending whatever gains
they had made during the season of raiding and inevitably ending up the next
spring penniless, if not in fact many silver bits in debt to the brothels
and shopkeepers. Blade, however, spent his enforced leisure
maintaining his proficiency in arms, memorizing charts and sailing
instructions for all parts of the Ocean, and, very rarely, roaming about the
northern end of the island. He had to face the fact that the only way to
safety for him and his companions lay in escaping from Neral entirely. By the
time spring came, he meant to be ready.
And it was important for more than the three of them to make their escape in
spring. All the evidence he had gathered and put down in a secret set of
ciphered notes told him that Indhios' plots were going to come to fruition
next spring or summer as well, and he had to reach Royth and carry the
warning, somehow.
Seeing that sharing her bed revolted him, and recognizing that sex had never
given her much influence over him in any case, Cayla consented to his taking
quarters of his own. He was not yet ranked as a
Captain (although she planned to have him promoted in time for the spring
voyages), so Blade took a three-room apartment in one of the more expensive
boarding houses on the terrace below. Cayla visited him occasionally to take a
cup of hot wine and enlarge on her plans for the future.
At other times, Alixa came to him. It had come hard for this sensual young
noblewoman to sleep alone when Cayla had dragged Blade off for her own
purposes and pleasures. Now, wasting no further time in jealousy after her
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initial flare of rage, she returned to him, visiting his quarters as often as
she could find Brora, Tuabir or some trustworthy sailor chosen by them to
escort her through the dark streets of the pirate city. She never stayed more
than an hour or two, for Blade was by no means certain that Cayla was not in
fact giving both him and Alixa enough rope to hang themselves. Their
lovemaking was intense and sometimes exultant, but always crammed into too
short a time for either of them. Gradually, Blade came to wonder whether Cayla
had in fact abandoned her claims to him as her Companion.
Then came a night in the dead of winter. "Dead" indeed as Blade stood at the
window and stared out into the darkness, it seemed that the whole world was in
fact dead. No moon, no stars, no wind or snow, nothing moving below in the
street. Only a single yellow puddle of light from a lamp hanging from
someone's front door. It would be easy for Alixa to reach the house, and once
she was there they would finally have the whole night ahead of them. Blade was
much too lusty a man to tolerate having his pleasures in rationed
installments.
He was so busy anticipating his pleasures that he almost ignored the knock on
the door. Even then, he had to move down the stairs cat-footed to avoid waking
the other mates and factors and shopkeepers who shared the house. Opening the
door, he saw Alixa's face grinning into his from her blue hood, and behind her
Brora, his face strained, his eyes roving watchfully, frost on his brown beard
and hair. He took Alixa's outstretched hand and led her up the stairs, Brora
following at a discreet distance, his hand never far from the hilt of his
cutlass.
She was urgent and tumultuous in her love-making that night, more than ever
before, gasping and crying out with each climax, and so stimulating Blade
every time she felt him flagging that he reached new heights of his own. In
time, it was sheer exhaustion that led them to collapse, limp and
sweat-glazed, amid the tangled sheets.
Sleep was just beginning to drift over Blade when he heard a rattle and
a bang from above.
Somebody or something was climbing down through the roof hatch. He reached out
of bed to pluck his sword from the floor and his dagger from its boot sheath,
but did not light the lantern, murmuring to Alixa, "Don't move."
Feet sounded on the attic stair. He heard Brora draw his sword and step in
front of the door; then the attic door burst open with a crash. A moment later
the door into his own rooms flew inward off its hinges. Before it had hit the
floor, Blade had rolled out of the bed on the far side, so that he was
invisible from the doorway.
Cayla charged into the room with a cutlass flashing in one hand and her whip
cracking in the other.
"Whore!" she shouted, with a note of indignation in her voice that sounded
grotesquely false to Blade.
"Bed with my Companion, will you? Accept my Challenge, or die here in your
foul bed!" Alixa played her part well, moaning and shivering wordlessly as she
clasped the bedclothes about her. Cayla darted across the room, raising her
whip, and as she did so Blade sprang to his feet and slashed at her in a
deadly overhand stroke that should have split her like a salted fish.
Instead, his feet tangled in the fallen blankets as he rose, throwing him off
balance, and the sword whistled harmlessly down past Cayla and hit the floor
with a tremendous clang. Cayla sprang back, and
Esdros, with more courage than craft, charged in. Blade had only to raise the
sword point and let the young Captain spit himself on it. He went down with a
gurgle and a scream. Blade jerked his sword free and turned to face Cayla.
But that lady saw no place in her plans for a fair duel against Blade. She
backed out of the door at almost the same furious pace at which she had
entered, Blade hard after her. As he charged through the door the two bravos
who had Brora trapped in an angle of the corridor turned to face him, not fast
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enough to do themselves much good but fast enough for their mistress to vanish
down the main stairs.
Blade's massive fist smashed into the face of the first bravo, hurling him
backward onto the other's sword. Both went down, and before either could rise
Brora had thrust twice, and both stayed down.
"Master Blahyd," said the sailor, "I think we were best thinkin' to take our
leave." Blade nodded.
"Brora, go and barricade the stairs to keep anyone from coming up until we're
ready to leave." He darted into the bedroom. "Alixa. Put on some warm clothing
and get stout shoes and a dagger." She scrambled out of bed and began
rummaging through his clothing chests. As tall as she was, she could wear his
clothing with little difficulty.
A new uproar of feet and voices sounded on the stairs below as the rest of the
tenants woke up and took notice. Blade heard Brora's voice bellowing, "An
affair of the Brotherhood! Send for a Captain
Councillor!" Sending for one of the Brotherhood's ruling body as a
trouble-shooter would effectively keep prying eyes and ears busy for a few
more minutes. Blade joined Alixa at the clothing chests and began his own
hurried dressing.
They left the house through the same roof hatch that Cayla and her party had [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]