70 ~ Lares

He’d been treated worse. Much, much worse, and with less provocation.

It still vexed him. First the girl in the rowboat had held a dirk to his throat the whole way to the ship, asking him what he’d done to her sister, and now he’d been pushed to his knees on the deck of a ship and a cutlass was held to his still sore neck.

A frisson of anger ran his spine. He’d saved Anala’s life, by Vulcanus, and this was how they thanked him? It was a good thing he was not a more defiant individual. He would have spit at the captain’s feet, and that would have landed him in even deeper trouble.

They’d taken his weapons away. Which he could understand, he supposed, but he had used two of them to save Anala and that sailor. I hope these provincial bastards don’t get the powder wet in my musket, or we’ll really be up a creek. He’d brought it because it would be the only weapon on the ship that might have the range to fight off whatever pursuit they had. His pistols would work in closer quarters, and he wanted those intact as well. But the musket was the important part.

At least they were making all haste in escaping, and not wasting time asking stupid questions. He gave them a little credit for that. Nevertheless, the cutlass was still against his throat and he was still held fast, and he found it hard to keep up the pretence of a good mood.

The ship began to move then, using the lucky wind that had sprung up. Out of the corner of his eye he saw they were taking the horses to the hold, and being gentle with his mare Dike and with the stallion Endymion, for which he was grateful. He was glad he’d insisted the horses come on board – he’d need a mount if he lived to make a life in Athering, and it was a definite pleasure to deprive Maurice of his favourite animal. He wished he’d thought of it himself.

Presently the captain came to stand before Lares. His hands were on his hips, and his gaze was neither friendly nor hateful; so Lares took some small comfort in that.

“So,” he said, his voice booming and deep. “Ye’d be that bad-tempered man what escorted Anala ta Clifton, am I right?” Lares nodded, inasmuch as the cutlass against his skin would allow. The captain absorbed this, then asked abruptly: “What’d be yer name, boy?”

What does that matter? “Stout-Heart. Lares Stout-Heart,” he said hastily, not seeing what it could hurt for this man to know his name. What could it help to hold the information?

The captain nodded. “Let ‘im go,” he barked to the men holding Lares, and a moment later he was on all fours on the deck, catching his breath in bewilderment.

He swayed to his feet, sea-legs being something he’d never owned, and walked after the giant bear of a captain.

“Begging pardon, Sir,” he began, easily falling into a submissive role with who was obviously the alpha dog on board, “but why did my name make a difference, when naught else had?” He’d protested, of course, of his loyalty to Anala’s safety. It hadn’t mattered – that sailor who’d witnessed it didn’t trust him at all, and would not vouch for Lares’ actions.

The captain turned and regarded Lares, fingers playing with his long beard. At length he shrugged. “Ye’d be Hope’s man, aye?”

Lares rocked back on his feet. How did this man know Hope? How did he know Lares’ was Hope’s agent? No one knew that. No one save Hope and himself.

Stunned, he nodded. The captain shrugged again. “Then I’d no reason not ta trust ye,” and he walked away, heading to the bridge.

Lares shook his head bemusedly and headed below decks in search of the bellica. He wanted to make sure she still lived. Otherwise, what would this journey be good for?

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