Silah glided into Butterwicks slinking around the tables to approach the where Floki and Bromm sat. They had barely moved and their respective moods seemed to slowly diminish. Bromm's mug now held a light ale that he was nursing. This distraction was more than Silah could bear with the stunning finery she wore.
"You look nice." Bromm said, nodding.
"What is it with you men?" She looked incredulous at Bromm, who was now under scrutiny for the same passive reaction I had given her earlier.
"No, I mean it. You look very nice." Bromm said, taken back by her reaction.
She looked up and breathed a heavy sigh, she stood by a chair then glanced at me with a furrowed brow. I looked at her curiously.
"It just comes and goes with you, doesn't it?" She said, practically kicking the chair, not doing well at gauging her strength.
I realized that I was under threat of being in trouble for, yet again, being inattentive. I grimaced and pulled the chair out quickly, presenting the seat to her. She sat daintily in her stunning new evening gown that was far too glitzy for an afternoon in Butterwicks.
There was a plate from the kitchen in front of me by the time Danin and Sig walked back in. Silah was picking at parts of my meal, finding her previous experience making her suddenly picky about what she ate. The greasy residue from her previous meal prompted a look of disdain.
Danin approached the table first, being especially deft on his feet.
"The deed is done. The cargo is on it's way." He stated gruffly.
He seemed a little annoyed by the fact that he had to participate in the situation, but his voice did not belie those feelings. Sig pulled a seat sat down, looking at the faces that lined the table with nary a word.
Silah nodded, smiling at the report. She then tilted her gleaming smile to her new audience.
"Not bad, Silah." Sig said with a deserving nod.
"Not bad?" Her face fell yet again, "Not bad is barely good. I've failed somewhere. I can't even get a second look out of a bunch of country boys."
Eyes around the table glanced to each other and then to me. I shrugged. It seemed that the rest were flummoxed by her mood. I knew well enough, but held it to myself. I wasn't in the mood to fawn over her after the damage she'd done to my pocket book.
After Sig and Danin ordered, casual conversation sprang up about the table. They said that the guard presence on the street had been remarkably light and there seemed to be something stirring up the residents of Dowry.
It was apparent that Floki was tired of waiting. He stood as people were finishing their meals and looked disgruntled at the continuing conversations.
"Are we about ready?" He said after a moment..
He was packed for travel. In fact, he had been ready since early this morning when we first came down. I glanced over at Silah in her sleek black dress who sat quietly, musing to herself.
"We'll be back." I said standing quickly.
He huffed a sigh and sat back down. I looked toward the stairs, but, remembering Silah's mood, I extended a hand to her.
"My dear?" I said in an attempt to pull her back in.
She grimaced at my hand then looked up at me for a moment, then took it and stood. Her gait was especially slow, but I didn't rush her.
She looked through our borrowed accommodations as I scooped up all of our worldly belongings. I changed out of my finery and into my tattered undershirt then put on my well worn campaigner breastplate. Then I bundled all of our clothes neatly together and pressed into the bottom of the rucksack.
"Silah? You might want to put on a different dress for traveling."
She glanced at me with a fiery smolder in her eye, but then grimaced, gathering the dress up and pulling it over her head. She stood, naked, with the dress in her outstretched hand and looked at me.
"Have I just become familiar?" She said with her fiery gaze turning more earnest.
I grimaced at the question. There was no good answer, this I knew. I stepped toward her and took the shimmering dress from her hands carefully, rolling it as I did my own clothes, but being careful to avoid creases. I stooped over the rucksack and pulled out the most travel capable dress, the purple one we had originally purchased from Mont Brooks so very long ago.
"I don't think that's possible." I said with a smirk, "I've never felt so out of sorts as I do with you."
"And what does that mean?" She scrunched her face in an adorable expression of consternation.
"It means life will never be boring with you?" My smirk widened.
I moved forward and handed her the purple dress, pulling her in close. I caught her chin, leaned down, and kissed her gently.
"You are my only." I whispered, "Just be sure your expectations of who and what I am don't get the better of you."
As I pulled away, she wore a confused expression. I busied myself with packing the rucksack.
We need a more permanent place soon. I thought. I don't think I can carry much more of this.
"We best be on our way. I don't think I've seen Floki so bored." I said, pushing the last of my worldly goods into the bag.
She slipped the dress over her shoulders and it dropped into place. This purple dress, while still elegant, was of a much heartier construction than both the white and black dresses she now owned.
On the way out of town, it was apparent that something was going on out on the streets. The guard presence was nearly non-existent as we moved toward Pike's Pier. Just North was a road that ran along the rising cliffside out of town up to farmlands and a lake. Beyond that was the cape that Biedrick had to pass for each trip delivering both ale and gunpowder.
From what Sig and Bromm had said, there were smaller, faster ships pushed against the shoreline. And the threat of Biedrick being waylaid had gotten Sig's attention very quickly.
It was an incredible trek on foot, but beyond the scenery that unfolded, looking out over the seas for long periods of the walk, there was little more than wildlife visible. The lake itself was broad, with many smaller boats with fisherman bobbing gently in the water. Near the shores of the lake were small farms that dotted the landscape closeby.
Bromm pointed out that this was where the farmhands Finn and Tad had come from. Beidrick had rescued those boys from their increasingly dull lives as farmers, while also saving them from a wagon sized beetle. There were signs that those beetles were still burrowing around, from the massive holes they burrowed to their large carcasses discarded along the landscape.
The sun rose high as we hiked. The trail narrowed and then spread out to an overlook of the jagged cliffside. We were a dizzying height up, reminding me of standing on the edge of the great mining pit that Sig and Bromm had claimed. Floki moved along the cliffside, looking for signs along the beach. He ranged a good distance away from us then lifted a beckoning hand, calling us over.
The beach looked much like the sand bar where we had met the large crab. This place was clear of crabs, but the sandy shore was pockmarked with men's footprints. A boat had been pulled ashore, flipped over, and covered to disguise it.
"I saw a few men milling around. There were about ten at first, but I guarantee there's more." Floki spoke in a normal voice, not fearing that anyone could overhear us at this distance.
"What do we plan to do?" Tagaern was the first to respond.
I shrugged, looking on to Bromm and sig.
"I see some sails out there." Floki announced, hunkering down and shielding his eyes from the sun to focus better.
Voices floated up from below and a couple men walked out to the beach and looked out at the boat. Some time passed as the men scrutinized the sails.
"That's not the boat!" The man shouted back to others, his voice drifting up to us.
"There must be a cave below us." Sig said, "That accent. That sounds like the rough side of Dowry."
"Six Crates." Bromm said, "I've heard men—well boys—talk like that before."
Bromm shook his head and Floki smiled.
"Yep. That's Six Crates." Floki said, pulling an arrow and nocking it loosely in his bow, "But, if it changes anything, that boat out there? I swear it's Biedick's boat."
"Must be slow going with the winds out of the North," Sig grimaced.
"So, then, do we fight? Or do we leave?" I asked, feeling a bit exasperated at the time and effort spent getting out here.
"You can fight them if you want." Floki said, "Good luck getting down there in one piece."
"I didn't say I wanted to do either, but I'd rather do something than nothing." I said, gritting my teeth.
Floki looked at me sidelong with an annoyed expression.
"Let's wait a bit more." Floki said, "I think I see another set of sails on the horizon."
I slumped where I stood. Silah was close to my side.
"I have no idea why I'm even here," I whispered, turning to her. "I feel useless."
She slipped her small hand into mine and squeezed gently in response. I watched the shadows of the plants move around me. The sun had moved quite the distance before anyone said anything. There was the clang of pots and other noises stirring from the men below. Shortly after, the smell of food cooking rose and lingered. My stomach started to growl.
The other boat had been steadily approaching from the North, but only now did the men below see it and start to act. A burly man moved out to the overturned boat. He attempted to shield his eyes the best he could as he looked out over the water.
"That's the one. Boys, get ready!" The man called out, pointing toward the sails.
There was a slight buzz of anticipation around the group as we waiting on Floki's observations. He was crouched with one hand to the ground in front of the cliff's edge the other hand held his bow and arrow with a crosswise grip.
The men poured from the tunnel, fanning out on the shore, but making no move to right the boat and mount an assault.
Ah, they are receiving a shipment. I thought.
Silah appeared in my mind, resting her chin on my shoulder, entwining me with her arms as she looked out over the scene with me from my perspective. The men pulled the ship up on shore and began to move cargo around, pulling some off of the ship and tucking it into the caves and taking others of it out to the boats and strapping it into place. A balding man with a mustache jumped off the boat and started barking out orders.
"But there's more. Do you see it?" She whispered close. "Look further to the left."
I scanned briefly and Floki announced it just as I saw it.
"It looks like another boat is tracking toward them. They don't see it yet." Floki called out.
I nodded in response while feeling Silah's close embrace and reveling in it.
"Don't get distracted now." She said with a tinge of mirth. "We might finally get to do something."
There was some shouting below as the boat came closer.
"That's the princesses' boat and it's coming quickly." Bromm said, stepping forward. "We might be seeing a demonstration of the might of her navy very soon."
He was right. With its three full sails, it had grown from a small speck to a formidable looking boat in a frighteningly short time.
I wouldn't want to be a smuggler on those waters. I thought.
"It looks like they don't either." I felt her point towards the men on the shore who were beyond panicked and the mustached man was trying to bring them under control.
Typical Six Crates. I thought to Silah. No discipline, every man for himself.
"Not every man gets the opportunity to learn discipline from a master." Silah said with a touch of ridicule.
The frigate's sails dropped and it slowed with it's profile facing us. There were splashes around the water and smaller boats fell into the water. No more drills for these men, this was probably some of the only action most of them had seen. Puffs rose from the side of the ship.
"We should move back." Bromm announced quickly, stepping back from the edge.
Floki followed suit, quickly. I heard the cannon fire and took a step back, but was suddenly rocked forward when the blitz of cannonballs battered the cliff's edge. I felt the tickle of free fall as the ledge I stood on gave way. The wind was rushing around my ears as the rock plummeted toward the sandy beach. I looked quickly, seeing an adjacent solid ledge. I took a step and leaped, landing face down in the rocky ground, splitting skin and knocking the wind out of me. The taste of blood lined my mouth as I gasped. Righting myself, I rolled to the edge to watch as the rock sunk into the sandy beach and rolled away, crushing screaming men in its path.
I looked up at the edge and saw everyone looking down.
Not everyone. I panicked with the thought. Silah!
I looked back down, combing the beach with my eyes until I saw her. She was spread eagle, and sunk deep in the sandy surface. I held out my hand and I called her to me. She appeared in my hand in her sword form.
Can you speak? Are you whole? I thought fervently.
There were no words, but I felt an echoing ache roll from her, adding to my already pounding headache.
No sharing. I need to focus so we can both get out of here. I thought quickly, pressing a hand to my face.
"It's turning! They have to reload, but they're not waiting. They're getting the next shots in place." Bromm called out. "Move quickly!"
I stood and stumbled dizzily to the cliff's edge. Normally, I could cover the distance easily, but the stones were sharp and immediately crumbled when I took hold. Above me Tagaern had dropped his backpack and pulled a length of rope. He looked back and tossed the extra to others that were out of sight.
"I see two portholes on the back." Bromm called out. "They're almost in position."
I grabbed the rope and eased my weight into it. Tagaern grunted with the effort.
"Get a move on. I don't want to be joining you with that next round of shots." He's voice said under the strain.
I kicked against the wall and felt the strength from the others above pull me up as stepped over the sharp crags.
"Two up!" Bromm said, "Back up!"
The cannon fire echoed again but this round of shots were expertly trained on specific targets. Crates on the newly arrived boat exploded with the impact, sending fragments everywhere.
I moved away from the cliff face, inspecting my wounds which consisted of newly formed bruises and a few deep, but serviceable, gouges from the impact on the rocky face.
I pulled Silah from her sheath. The blade was covered in sand that resisted being brushed off. I thought of her in her human form and she reformed, covered in the selfsame sand.
She teetered unsteadily, and moved over to where Danin and Tagaern now sat taking a breather, at a good distance from the cliff face. Floki had moved well away with his wolf, watching the goings on from what he considered a safe distance.
I looked around, unable to see Sig.
"Where's Sig?" I said with a little panic.
"He's, uh, down there."
"Did he fall? I swore I saw him up there."
Bromm put out his arms and flapped.
"Ah." I said, then, taken back by the thought, I asked, "But why?"
Bromm shrugged then looked out to the water.
"They're lined up for the next round. We might want to stay a bit lower." He said, crouching against the cliff face.
Seven puffs of smoke dotted the side of the ship and began to rise as the sound thundered across the water with the resulting whirring sound of incoming devastation. The shots impacted well in front of the cliff face with mild secondary impact thudding into the cliff face.
I moved forward and saw that the devastating round of shots destroyed the boat and more goods were scattered along the beach. The was various finery, now devastated by the cannon fire. Golden candlesticks and silverware scattered far and wide while expensive cloth and torn clothes were fluttering in the air. There was a large specialized alchemical engine that had fallen from one of the crates. The curious device was likely broken beyond repair now, but would have fetched a high price somewhere, no doubt.
"Someone's calling those shots," Bromm said, "They're very good, whoever they are. It also means that they likely have a spotting glass and we're not very far away."
"What are you getting at?" Tagaern said, sounding worried.
Sig hovered to the edge of the cliff holding a block and a rope. He wore the dwarven mining mask we had found ages back. He shoved the block into a crevasse and turned a crank until it was stuck in place then looped the rope through.
"They've likely seen us and, possibly, well enough to identify us." Bromm said, now looking over at the masked Sig with concern. "It looks like Sig will be fine, at least."
"We're helping them?" I asked, Tagaern's expression echoed the sentiment.
Sig hovered close, overhearing the conversation.
"We're keeping our options open." He said, muffled by the mask.
Bromm nodded, but Tagaern's brow was furrowed.
The boat continued its pivot.
"I'll make you a bet, Sig." Bromm said, eyeing the boat on the horizon and watching the smaller craft approach the shore. "I will give you five gold for every man that makes it up alive, but you pay me five gold for each that doesn't."
Sig looked over the edge and looked back at Bromm with his eyes narrowed. Bromm looked down and counted it out.
"There are six men climbing up." Bromm said, "That's thirty gold, potentially."
"Fair enough. The bet's on." Sig nodded with a small smile.
Tagaern's eyes were getting wider through this whole conversation, looking between the two of them.
Bromm glanced out at sea and I followed his eyes as the boat pivoted into position and there was a moment of silence before a series of smoke clouds burst from the ship, followed by the report of cannon fire. I felt the cliff shudder with the impacts while a stray cannonball whirred overhead. The stray rocketed off, bounding through the dirt and bushes until thudding to a stop. Floki's head popped up from cover and glancing around.
"They're aiming higher, now." Bromm called out, "Stay low!"
A grimy hand crested the cliff wall. I prepared to call Silah and to take her into a fight while Sig pulled manacles from his haversack and held them loosely in his hand. Sig whispered, and the man's eyes went half-closed, operating in a daze. Sig offered one hand to pull him up and then gave him manacles with the other. The man took the manacles and put them on his wrists and feet and stood, seeming none the wiser for how he had just been captured.
I stood, bewildered, looking on. Tagaern looked just as shocked.
Bromm had backed away from the cliff with the barrage, but moved and looked down and shook his head.
"That's one." Bromm said, with a bit of a smile. "Out of five? That's twenty-five gold to me."
"Fine, I'll owe you." Sig said, furrowing his brow.
"What do ye plan to do with me?" The man said, suddenly realizing his situation.
"We're handing him in, right?" I said.
"Oh, I'll hang for sure." The mustached man looked pathetic and small. "Perhaps there's something I can do for you and you let me go? The name's Garr Finlayson, by the way."
I grimaced at the man. Still trying to look at him as a villainous sort, but his demeanor was so passive at the moment, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the man.
Perhaps I've never been a good judge of character. I thought mildly.
"If they've seen us," I said, looking out toward the boat, "We'd take the fall, too."
I looked down at my gouged and bloodied hands and wiped them under my breastplate.
"How close are the boats?" I asked Bromm.
"A ways out yet." He grimaced, looking out at the boats then looking over at the descending sun.
"Do you think they'd be able to recognize us?" I asked Bromm.
He looked worried, but shrugged at the question.
The boat continued to pivot.
"They're still gearing to fire at us." I said, with some wariness. "They wouldn't keep spinning the boat if they weren't, right?"
I looked at eyes on me and unslung my rucksack quickly. I pulled out Silah's white dress and unfurled it, waving it back and forth as a white flag. The boat completed it's turn, but remained silent. I sighed, rolling up the white dress and stowing it again.
Danin was dusting Silah off and I could hear her cooing. She started speaking louder until she knew I could hear her.
"You're such a gentleman. Taking care of me like this." She said to Danin, who was basking in the attention, "Simply a catch. It's a wonder a woman hasn't snatched you up already. Oh, that Reena, right? She's a lucky girl."
Silah looked my way and continued, "A lucky, lucky girl to have someone so attentive. And someone you can rely on, too. Someone who won't let you plummet off a cliff to certain doom."
I ground my teeth with the grating monolog and turned to her and lifted my hands wordlessly.
"See, even he is in awe of your greatness." Silah continued to eviscerate me with her words.
"Are you done?" I shouted, feeling the pulse in my temple.
"So dangerous. Well, sometimes he's dangerous." She pawed at Danin, "I can't help but worry at what else he may do to me. It's a long way down from all the way up here."
"Silah, stop it, or I'm putting you away." I growled at her.
She scoffed at the threat, but then leaned a little into Danin while looking at me. I hissed my breath out and walked back over to where Sig and Bromm stood.
"What's the plan? I think I'm pretty much done here." I rubbed my hands together and flexed them, wanting to hit something or someone.
A lot. I want to hit someone a lot. I thought with vivid detail.
"Shh, we've got this." Sig said.
I eyed him warily. I wasn't ready to be a fugitive just yet. I stepped back from the cliff edge and took a seat near Tagaern, shaking my head.
The boats landed and were pulled ashore. Then they began to comb the beach. The leader stepped forward and called up the cliff face. His voice wavering on the wind.
"Who goes there, by order of the princess?" His voice was sharp with self-assured authority.
The mustached man cowered further with our silence.
"I say again, who goes there?"
Bromm looked to Sig who seemed out of sorts, and Bromm stepped close to the cliff without showing his face and took a deep breath.
"Just travellers. Passing through." Bromm said, his voice wavering.
"I don't like being lied to." The man called up, he pointed to the rope and commanded one of his men to use it.
"Your name, man. What is your name?" The officer bellowed from below.
Bromm sighed, I could tell he was now totally invested. I grimaced as he braced himself and looked over the edge.
"Name's Bromm. Bromm go Brach. From Hlofreden." He moved to the edge, looking down at the man.
"We heard the cannon fire and wanted to see the show." Bromm said, with his lilting voice, "We were told that there were brigands about and we came to protect our own interests."
"Oh? What interests are those." The man was still not convinced, but with Bromm speaking plainly, he had settled back into his assertive and self-assured personality.
"That of Richter Holdings." He said loudly, "We'll be delivering the powder for those cannons of yours soon. Tomorrow, in fact. It's the best on the market."
The man nodded slowly. The two men who were climbing the rope were struggling and the officer waved them down, looking frustrated.
"One of them made it over the cliff edge." The man shouted, "We need you to send him down."
Bromm nodded, but Sig approached the edge.
"He bled out up here from that last cannon volley. We intend to give him a proper burial up here." Sig asserted.
"And who are you?" The man raised his hands in exasperation.
"I am Sig Richter, of Richter Holdings."
"How many of you are up there? I need all of your names."
"There are seven of us. We all work together and we'll be delivering powder to you tomorrow if you wish to see us." Sig said.
"Fine. Just toss the body down here and we'll take care of it." The man called up.
"He's dead. We're going to give him a proper burial." Sig repeated.
Danin looked flustered and walked to the edge.
"I am a cleric of Derum Ebbar. I will be performing services on this man." Danin boomed, his deep voice echoing down the cliff face.
The man looked aggravated and then waved a hand off.
"Take care of your business, cleric, and let the lot of your be on your way." He shook his head and immediately started barking orders at his men.
"You'll let me free, then?" Garr said with some hope lighting up his eyes.
"Shhh… let's make our way from the cliff edge." Sig said, unshackling the man and moving inland.
The group followed, gathering out of sight of the shore and menacing frigate.
"I think that not handing him over was the bigger bet than if they'd reached the top." I said, moving in close to Bromm, "We had far more to lose if that didn't go well."
(Get to know Akeron.)