The courtyard was a mess of discarded foodstuffs and broken archery targets, shot to pieces by the new garrison. Ahead loomed the towering keep where Hiwei assumed the royals were being held. Their guide, strangely, veered away from it; leading them instead into a smaller tower. The inside was almost pitch black, as the pirates hadnâ€™t bothered to light any of the lamps. They ascended the spiraling steps, emerging onto the wall.
Hiwei looked down into the courtyard, wondering why they hadnâ€™t been taken directly to the keep. She gauged Kinnut, who looked uneasy. Less than assured, Hiwei let their guide pull ahead a few paces,Â certain that the extra room would help somehow. They passed by a lonely guard in a salt stained storm cloak marching along the wall. His bloodshot eyes appraised Hiwei as she passed, a hand rising to scratch his stubble. With all her might Hiwei stopped herself from reacting. Apparently satisfied, the guard returned to his patrol.
Their guide approached the door of a smaller tower and opened it, beckoning them inside. Hesitantly, they obeyed. Once through the door he slammed it shut. Instantly panicked, Hiwei rushed back to it and began pulling on the knob. A small peep hole slid aside.
â€œYouâ€™re going to wait in here while we bring the royals in for their examination; one at a time, too.â€
â€œI-I suppose this will be acceptable,â€ Hiwei said quietly, looking around the debris strewn room.
â€œGood, I want to get this over with. Oh, and youâ€™ll be looking at a few of my comrades too. They actually need healing. You do heal all those in need, correct priestess?â€
â€œOf-of course, it will be our honor.â€
Apparently satisfied, the peep hole snapped shut, leaving the two women in the dank room. Instantly Kinnut began pacing inÂ a circle, muttering to herself. She circled Hiwei like a vulture, stealing glances at her every other second. After the third circuit Hiwei began getting dizzy.
â€œUh, whatâ€™s areâ€¦â€
â€œWeâ€™ve been caught, been made, theyâ€™ve figured it out,â€ Kinnut replied, running her hands through her hair. â€œThis is a trap, a thing, a, a, a, aâ€¦â€
â€œCalm down, I doubt weâ€™ve been discovered.â€
â€œWhy are they playing at then? Why keep us here?â€
â€œSearch me, but I think youâ€™re over reacting.â€
â€œHuh, thatâ€™s something Soshet used to say.â€
Kinnut fell silent and began pacing more slowly. With the sun nearly gone, Hiwei decided they needed a bit more light. She stumbled to the outer wall, bumping into a small table. An iron lantern and a few matches sat atop it. After fumbling around for half a minute she managed to light the candle. Lantern in hand, she took a better look at their surroundings. A broken cupboard stood against the other side of the round room, four jars lined on its last intact shelf, an old chair leaning up against it.
Before she could inspect them however, Hiwei noticed a latter embedded in the wall. She approached, an idea formulating a master plan. She snatched the chair and stood on it, pressing against the hatch above. It opened easily enough, giving her hope that she had found their way inside. Before she could open it completely and see what was above, a loud noise shattered the silence. Instantly she jumped backwards off the chair, nearly stumbling to the floor as the old chair crumbled from the extra weight.
After righting herself, she spotted the source of the disturbance. The shards of a jar lay scattered across the floor, a black spider scurrying for cover. In the opposite corner knelt Kinnut, staring intently at the beast, her eyes wide. Hiwei sighed
â€œDid you see the size of that thing?â€
â€œYes, and it was nothing to get worked up about.â€
â€œBut, but it popped out so fast. If only there had been some kind of warning.â€
â€œLike it being a nasty old jar in a nasty old tower?â€
â€œI must pray, for this is surely an ill omen,â€ Kinnut whispered, bowing her head low.
â€œThis is going to be a long night.â€
Pahwon and Soshet cautiously exited her apartment building, making for an alley just across the street. A nasty stench emanated from the darkened lane. At the far end was Belariti, leaning calmly against the wall. After bathing with fragrant soap, Pahwon was uncertain if the smell was coming from a large refuse pile or from their leader. He beckoned them closer, squatting down low as they approached.
â€œIs our agent in place?â€
â€œHiwei should be there by now, if thatâ€™s what you mean.â€ Pahwon replied.
â€œExcellent, now, we must get to the island.â€
â€œYeah, how are we going to do that, exactly?â€
â€œThere is a ship in the harbor, I believe we can sneak on board quite easily. Once onboard the pirates will transport us there themselves.â€
â€œOh, good, when does it leave?â€
â€œIâ€™m not sure, we might have to wait overnight.â€
â€œB-but Kinnut said specifically this evening.â€
â€œWait, this evening? As in, a few hours from now?â€
â€œDamn, how are we supposed to get them to move?â€
â€œSomething important,â€ Soshet reasoned, â€œweâ€™ll have to give them something, something that they would have to deliver to the fortress.â€
â€œThat might work. Uh, what did you have in mind?â€
â€œA cask of rum? Errâ€¦â€
â€œA letter,â€ Pahwon murmured. â€œNo, an urgent dispatch for the Admiral himself. Wait, the prince, heâ€™d want to see a message from him. â€œ
â€œThatâ€™s a great idea,â€ Belariti breathed, starting for the open sewer. â€œSoshet, you come with me and proof read his letter, make sure heâ€™s not trying anything funny.â€
â€œYeah, Iâ€™ll go get Sapphire and Tossmek,â€ Pahwon said, turning back for the building.
â€œAlright, you know the way to the meeting place, donâ€™t you?â€
â€œSure, see you in a minute sis.â€
Pahwon dashed back across the street and burst through the doors. Tossmek was standing over the hearth, pouring herself a cup of tea. She stopped, and looked at the source of the disturbance.
â€œWe have to get going, weâ€™ve got a plan. Sapphire, Sapphire come quickly.â€
â€œWhat is it?â€ She asked quietly.
She was seated on a small sofa just a few feet away, but Pahwon hadnâ€™t recognized her. He blinked, turning to face her. Sapphire was covered from head to toe in a long robe, a hood concealing her hair and most of her face. He found the sight of her oddly discomforting.
â€œUh, listen, weâ€™ve got to go,â€ he mumbled. â€œSoshetâ€™s on her way now.â€
â€œRight, away we go.â€
Sapphire simply nodded, silently following them outside. Pahwon lead them down into the darkness, stopping at the bottom of the ladder to look for tracks. The stench seemed far worse than he had remembered, causing him to feel nauseous. He shook his head, trying to concentrate. Then, just a few feet down the walkway, he spotted footprints. He followed them, soon feeling confident he was on the right track.
The stench gradually faded as he walked, a low murmur in the distance spurring him to walk faster. Around the next bend he spotted the encampment at the end of the pipe. Thrilled that he had found the way, Pahwon sprinted down the last hundred feet and arrived amongst the shanties. Three men peered at him suspiciously from behind cover, though they relaxed as he stepped into the light.
Pahwon approached the centre of the camp where Soshet and three other men were standing. Between them was a table, upon which their captive was composing a letter. One of the men looked up as he approached.
â€œAbout time you lot showed.â€
â€œHey now, Gvirtri, show some respect.â€
Intrigued, Pahwon approached, taking a closer look at the parchment. He stared intently at the strange glyphs as they emerged. Despite not understanding what he was seeing, a part of Pahwon seemed convinced that he had to look.Â As he watched, something gently bumped into his shoulder. He glanced back. It was Sapphire, leaning over him. She had let her hood down and appeared more at ease than before. For some reason this made Pahwon a little more at ease too.
â€œThere, finished,â€ Rudolpho moaned, leaning back from the table.
â€œSoshet, does it say anything, err, suspect?â€
â€œHmm, I donâ€™t think so, not unless itâ€™s very cleverly encoded.â€
â€œExcellent, then the plan is hatched,â€ Belariti crowed.
â€œCan it,â€ Gvirtri scolded, â€œWeâ€™ve got a heck of a job ahead of us, so donâ€™t get carried away.â€
â€œSure, sure. Whoâ€™s going to deliver this letter to the men on the dock?â€
â€œI will,â€ Soshet said, stepping forward.
â€œGreat,â€ Belariti said, rolling it up before adding a wax seal.
â€œYou are not going to be successful, you must know that deep down,â€ the prince retorted.
â€œQuiet kid,â€ Gvirtri suggested, â€œHey, tie him up, weâ€™ve got a schedule to keep.â€
â€œHang on, arenâ€™t we forgetting something?â€ Pahwon asked.
â€œUh, weapons of some kind? J-just in case something goes wrong, we ought to, be armed.â€
â€œThere will probably be weapons on the boat,â€ Belariti reasoned, unease in his voice, â€œwe shall steal them once on board.â€
â€œOk, that sounds, reasonable, I guess.â€
Less than confident, Pahwon and Tossmek exchanged a nervous glance before joining the growing column of rebels. They marched down the pipe, Belariti in the lead. Before too long they arrived at the end of the line, emerging on the rocky shore. The sewers emptied into a small bay just north of the harbor. Carefully, their group dispersed into the quiet neighborhood, making their way to an old warehouse in ones and twos. Once gathered, they took a final appraisal of their situation.
The ship that would hopefully take them to the island was moored just a few yards away. Six men were easily visible on deck, two more on the dock. The main harbor patrol was marching in the opposite direction, up north were they had been. With darkness falling, it seemed likely they could sneak to the water and then onto the boat. All eyes turned to Soshet.
â€œWait here for three minutes,â€ Belariti said quietly, as everyone else filed out of the warehouse. â€œWeâ€™ll be waiting.â€
She nodded, clutching the parchment tightly in her hands. Soshet watched her brother intently as he walked out of sight, a sudden wave of guilt washing over her. She bit her lip, trying to focus. With all her might, she tried to concentrate on the countdown. Despite all her effort, visions of death clouded her, mind. After what she hoped was around the allotted time, Soshet staggered out of the warehouse and started for the men on the dock.
By now the patrol was closing in, four men strong. The moment she arrived at the end of the dock, all eyes turned to her. Twelve men in all stared as she walked towards their leader. The portside patrol had fallen in behind her, a buzzing filling her ears. A terror gripped her as she took the final steps up to the captain. The man approached her, his cruel blue eyes examining every inch of her frame.
â€œWhat brings you out here, miss?â€
â€œMessage, an, an important message.â€
â€œNo need to be nervous, just give it here.â€
â€œYes, of course, it, itâ€™s from.â€
â€œQuiet, Iâ€™ll know in a moment,â€ the captain replied, breaking the seal open.
Soshetâ€™s heart skipped a beat. He looked over the document, first confused, then pale, then furious. He crumpled up the paper, and tossed it into the sea, marching for a small table at the end of the dock.
â€œGiorgio, get me the admiral on the horn, heâ€™s not going to like this.â€
Time froze as Soshet realized their plan was ruined. She stared in horror as he marched to the ancient radio set, knowing what the foreign device did. Her mind went completely blank. Then, without realizing it, she began to move. Soshet, without thinking, began rushing forward. In the blink of an eye the captain toppled into the sea, knocking his radio in as well. She blinked, realizing that she had pushed him in. A cold stone dropped in her stomach. She spun around just as the patrol was upon her. The biggest of them grabbed her by the arm.
Before he could enact retribution however, a shout came from the boat. The pirates on deck had rushed to the dockside of their ship, allowing a number of intruders to get the drop on them. In a matter of moments the eight on deck had gone down. Before the patrol could ready their muskets, ten rebels jumped down onto the dock and clobbered them with whatever hefty object they could wield.
Still stunned, Soshet continued staring, uncertain if what she was seeing was even real. Belariti approached her, placing an outstretched hand on her shoulder.
â€œGood thinking Sosh, weâ€™d have been sunk if heâ€™d gotten the word out.â€
â€œUh, are you ok?â€
â€œIâ€™ll, take that as a no. Hey, Pahuâ€¦â€
â€œThatâ€™s Pahwon,â€ Pahwon called, â€œonly one person in the world can call me, err, what you just said.â€
â€œEh, ok then, Pahwon, could you tale to your sister, she seems to be in shock.â€
â€œYeah, I will.â€ He hopped down and approached her. â€œSis?â€
â€œI hope Kinnutâ€™s part went better than mine.â€
Hiwei, careful to keep one eye on the door, pulled a brightly colored sash from her robe and wrapped it around the heaviest of the remaining jars. Once secured, she slid the fabric out the loophole, a light breeze whipping it around. With darkness falling fast, she placed a candle on top of the jar to make it more visible. Proud of her resourcefulness, Hiwei stood back, hoping that the signal would be understood.Â She had enough time to take a single step away before the door burst open.
â€œâ€¦acceptable,â€ hollered a young voice.
â€œShove off kid,â€ The pirate snarled, shoving the young boy across the threshold. â€œHereâ€™s your first victim, girl.â€
The boy stumbled and fell to the floor, his robes nearly falling off. Still grumbling, he looked up at Hiwei and instantly blushed scarlet. She approached him, offering her hand. But he scrambled to his feet before she got there, readjusting his clothes and standing with a straight back. Hiwei looked down at him, confused.
â€œEh, hem, youâ€™re my fist, um, patient?â€
â€œI am, Prince Taldumu, here for, uh, his appointment,â€ he said hurriedly, bowing his head. â€œAre, youâ€¦â€
â€œIâ€™m Hiwei, the healer, here to make sure youâ€™re fit.â€
â€œGood, good, that is good to hear. I, I am glad to meet you.â€
â€œYou seem quite nervous, my liege,â€ Kinnut said softly.
â€œI have-ve been, been-it was so horrible.â€
Suddenly his demeanor changed completely. Tears began running down his face as he lowered his head. Startled by his outburst, Hiwei reached a hand out to him. Taldumu took it, then rushed into her arms, crying into her shirt.
â€œNot seen mom, weeks, so lonely.â€
â€œErm, there, there,â€ Hiwei said awkwardly, patting him on the back.
â€œThe nightmares, wonâ€™t stop; please, tell them Iâ€™m sick and you need to take me away, to the mainland, or, or anything. Please, miss Hiwei, donâ€™t let them take me back.â€
â€œL-let, if you promise not to tell, Iâ€™ll let you in on a secret,â€ Hiwei said quietly, glancing back at Kinnut as she spoke, â€œdo you promise?â€
â€œWhat is it?â€
â€œI-I promise I wonâ€™t tell, just, let me know.â€
â€œThereâ€™s a rescue coming, youâ€™re not going to have to go back.â€
â€œEh-eh-eh-eh, you mean it? You really mean it truly?â€
â€œTruly, I mean it; they should be here any time now.â€
The fortress loomed ahead, illuminated windows hanging in the black night sky. A dark silhouette formed as they neared the pier, Tossmek pulling her hat down low over her face. Her new outfit was baggy and ill fitting, though she hoped it would conceal her identity. She pulled the helm a few inches, making a final adjustment to their course.
â€œHow you hanging in there, captain?â€ Pahwon asked, stepping in beside her.
â€œHeh, fine, itâ€™s just like the Tub, except bigger.â€ She looked over her motley crew. â€œAnd with more people to screw things up, hey, erm, G-Girvki, get that lantern off of there.â€
â€œOh, sorry maâ€™am.â€
â€œDonâ€™t be sorry, just move it; Iâ€™m not having another ship blow up on me. Uh, Pahwon, is everyone ready?â€
â€œI think so,â€ he murmured, glancing at Soshet, â€œHey, sis, you better.â€
â€œYeah, just getting my poker face ready; I doubt we could-could, well, repeat the dockside save.â€
â€œProbably right about that,â€ Pahwon said softly.
The ship drew alongside the dock, a pirate baring a lantern approaching the side. Soshet jumped down from her position, startling him.
â€œWhat in blue blazesâ€¦â€
â€œI have an urgent message,â€ Soshet said breathlessly, brandishing the letter. â€œFrom the prince himself, for Montagueâ€™s eyes only.â€
â€œReally, why wasnâ€™t I informed over the radio?â€
â€œNot sure, youâ€™d have to ask the man on the dock.â€
â€œIndeed I shall,â€ he replied, stepping over to his own set. â€œCaptain Yissleman, are you there, over?â€
After waiting a minute he snorted and replaced the receiver.
â€œTell me young lady, was he drinking?â€
â€œHe might have been,â€ Soshet supplied helpfully.
â€œTypical. Give me that, Iâ€™ll take it to the Admiral.â€
As the pirate departed through the gates, Pahwon, Sapphire, and Belariti slipped over the side and crept to the fortress wall. Once certain they hadnâ€™t been spotted, Pahwon slid along the wall, his shirt catching in the chipped stone. He looked up for any signal Hiwei might have left, focusing on the small towers that dotted the walls.
They passed directly under a guard, seeing only his shining spyglass above. Pahwon took this as a good sign, assuming that the guards were focusing their attention far out to sea. Then something in the next tower caught his eye. Something glittering in the night sky. An illuminated ribbon of fabric, the kind Kinnut and her ilk wore, was wafting in the wind.
Exited, he pointed towards it, the three realizing what it meant. Then something else occurred to them.
â€œHow do we let her know weâ€™re here?â€ Pahwon breathed.
â€œFire an arrow?â€ Belariti suggested, getting out his bow.
â€œBut how will she know itâ€™s us, scratch that, how do we keep from accidently killing her?â€
â€œA blunted tip.â€
â€œMade from ice,â€ Sapphire added.
â€œYeah, thatâ€™s sure to work.â€ Pahwon said, backing down the wall, â€œIâ€™ll go get the ladder.â€
â€œGood, be back here soon. Stay safe. Uh, Belariti, hand me an arrow, Iâ€™ll put our letter on the end.â€
â€œWow, and I thought Durus was impregnable,â€ Taldumu said in awe. â€œI guess big brother will have to make some changes.â€
â€œI guess so,â€ Hiwei said, smiling.
â€œWhat happened next Miss Hiwei, after the fortress fell?â€
â€œDo you know about the Magnusâ€¦â€
An arrow sailed through the room, passing an inch from her nose, before impacting the wall. For a split second the two stared at each other. Then they simultaneously jumped backwards, the prince stumbling over his seat and tumbling to the floor. Hiwei staggered back, looking frantically around the room. When her mind resumed rational thought, she realized that it probably wasnâ€™t an attempt on her life. She then realized that it was probably some sort of message, from her friends most likely.
Spurred on by the idea, she turned towards the inner wall to begin her search. Kinnut handed it to her, ending the search before it had begun. To her dismay there was no letter on the arrow, just a wad of wet cloth wrapped around the tip. She poked at the fabric, a shard of ice falling into her hand. She blinked, realizing there was only one person who could have put ice on the arrow. A scraping sound echoed through the chamber. She looked over to see Taldumu putting his seat back in order.
â€œM-Miss Hiwei, what is that?â€
â€œA message, from a friend, I need to check something.â€
She raced over to the ladder, climbing up the rusted rungs and popping out onto the weathered roof. A cold jet of wind blasted over her as she carefully laid the covering back into place. Knowing she was passed the point of plausible deniability, Hiwei crept carefully to the side of the tower and looked over.