18: I Can’t Protect You From Stupid

The Story So Far

Jacyntha comes across her lover, Pierce Rosethorn of the Gloriana Quarrels, dining with her best friend and teammate Occlo. The situation descends into yelling (Jacyntha’s), mocking (Rosethorn’s), and a goblet-full of water (Occlo’s) thrown into Jacyntha’s face. Enraged, Jacyntha attacks Rosethorn but he dodges away from her punch, reminding her of something he said to her when they first met: “The moment you lay a finger on me is the moment I hang up my boots. That moment is not now. Good day.”

Still nursing her fury at Rosethorn, Jacyntha ignores Coach Karsgaard’s game plan against the Quarrels. Intent on hurting Rosethorn, she sets aside her designated role as thrower and joins the Militantes’ point of attack. Her plans fall to pieces as, despite her efforts, Rosethorn dodges around her attempts to hit him, causes a turnover, and grabs the ball. Despite the action happening all around, he takes the time to tell her, “This is not the moment I hang up my boots!” Then he bolts for the end zone and scores. The game ends three – nil to the Quarrels. During a post-match meeting, Neuvil strips Jacyntha of the captaincy.

With the game against the Quarrels completed, the time has come to put into action the plot that Wharf Rat owner Eguardo Giamucci proposed to Cassandra Thordwall …

“I can’t protect you from stupid.”

Cassandra Thordwall’s eyes narrowed and pivoted to take in Umberto’s face. He was watching the darkened doorway and obviously didn’t catch the warning in her glance because he added, “Boss, you pay me to protect you, and I have done, but this … I can’t protect you if I’m locked in the Almenara and they’re dragging you off to get hung. This is stupid.”

Thordwall glanced up and down Ruelle des Gambettes; it was empty … still. Nothing showed against the stars above the cluster of buildings opposite their hiding spot, no flickering torchlight crept up the lane from the Calle de Caballerosidad, no sounds echoed off the lime-washed walls of the neighbourhood. “I never knew you were a worrywart,” she whispered.

He huffed under his breath. “I worry all the time, boss. I worry about the assassins you tell me are out for you, I worry about the assassins you have no clue about, I worry about that inquestor coming back to pluck you off the street, I worry about Gosling putting nightshade in your rum when you visit the Luffing Lateen. I worry about lots of shit.”

Gosling? Surely he’s no threat.”

“Low threat profile, I admit. As long as you’re still taking the team there post-match. If those visits stop or if someone passes him a heavy purse … someone like Giamucci, say … then all wagers’re off.” He sighed. “Giamucci! Boss, you’re in this stupid mess with Giamucci!”

“Umberto de la Calle, you’re skirting close to the shoals of mutiny.”

“Oh trust me, boss, I don’t wanna take over this ship!” His hushed tone was sarcastic but it wasn’t angry; he might be worried but he wasn’t truly afraid. “Remember you asked me to have people watching Rennigan Slythe? Well, he met your friend Eguardo a couple of days ago, see, and …”

The door they were watching creaked and a black crack in the shrouded dimness appeared and widened. Through it stepped a cloaked shape, who took care to draw the door so very quietly closed again behind them. Thordwall heard a faint click as a lock shifted into place. Then the shape turned away from the threshold and swivelled to look both ways along Ruelle des Gambettes before heading up the lane towards the Barrio, keeping to the shadows.

As the figure neared the Avenida de los Pretendientes al Trono, Thordwall made to rise from her crouch and follow but Umberto laid a hand on her arm and pointed. The figure had stopped before the intersection and now took the time to sneak a peek around the corner, checking out the street. “He’s being awfully careful.”

She whispered, “If I had a powerful, wealthy, and suspicious wife who was aunt to the King Over the Water, I’d keep to the shadows if I slipped off to see my mistress and I’d damned-well check out streets before barging onto them.”

The figure finally seemed satisfied with their safety and slipped around the corner, heading in the logical direction, left, towards the citadel.

“Boss, sneaking out of the house is one thing, creeping about town like a criminal is another. He’s a duke! Where’s his carriage waiting for him? It’s a long walk through town and over the bridge to Ísquita, and we well know it can be dangerous at night in this city. A man might find himself jumped by a former pirate, her bodyguard, and a gaggle of hired muscle.”

Thordwall shook her head and got to her feet. Again Umberto delayed her with a hand on her arm. “Boss, if he’s being so damned discreet, why did Giamucci know about this sordid tryst?”

She looked him in the eyes. “You’re really worried about this?”

“It’s a trap, boss, I’m certain of it.”

“Come on,” she ordered. They followed the duke up to the Avenida de los Pretendientes al Trono. Ahead, they saw the cloaked figure slip cross the broad street and dart into a narrow alley. Two big men detached themselves from the ink-black shadows of Santo Peregrino’s Temple and made to follow their target. Thordwall put her fingers to her lips and gave a shrill whistle, stopping the two men in their tracks. She beckoned to them urgently. They stood for a moment looking around, and then came skulking over.

“Change of plans,” she hissed. “Follow me.”

She led them back into Ruelle des Gambettes. As they descended towards Calle de Caballerosidad Umberto caught her up and asked in a hushed whisper, “If you’re calling it off, boss, why’re we back here?”

“Because I haven’t called it off,” she said. “Make sure they’re ready.”

Thordwall marched right up to the door they had spied on earlier and knocked on it, loudly. Duc Tancred de Baston’s voice sounded through the door, “Prithee cease the banging, Rennigan, I shall attend to thee in but a moment.”

The bolt of the lock slid with a clack and the door opened. The duke stepped over the threshold, either so confident or so incapable of seeing in the inky darkness, he didn’t even bother looking at who stood nearby. He simply turned back to the door and flipped through the keys on his keyring to find the right one to re-bar the lock As he fumbled a key into the keyhole he said, “So, Rennigan, the deed is done already, is it? Nary didst I think our ambitious Cassandra wouldst take the bait.”

Grinning – unseen by the noble with his back turned to her – she nodded to their hired muscle. One grabbed the duke in a bear hug, pinning the Chivalron’s arms, while the other stuffed a rag into his mouth and slipped a jute sack over his head. The duke squawked, but a fist to the guts silenced him and bent him double. Thordwall’s goons quickly bound the duke’s wrists behind his back and then the big one hoisted the trussed noble onto the back of the bigger one.

“This way,” Thordwall said, trotting off down the Ruelle des Gambettes to Calle de Caballerosidad. They hadn’t planned on grabbing Tancred in front of his house, so their wagon was almost as far away from them as the Menace. Thus, she led them directly down to Avenida Marman. The duke was a big man and by the time they slipped through the Sea Gate into the Barrio, Umberto and the two hired goons were all carrying Tancred on their shoulders like a log, albeit a thrashing one.

They were no longer alone on the streets; the Barrio famously never slept. But its denizens also famously minded their own business, so everyone took great pains not to look at them. They reached the Maral Canal and followed its length past the Luffing Lateen and down to the strand just as the sky was donning tints of rose and orange along the horizon. The goons were stevedores by day and no longer needed her to guide them to her ship … her brother’s ship.

No sooner had they hauled the duke up the gangplank and into the Menace’s hold than a cacophony of hooves and excited chatter broke the pre-dawn tranquility. Thordwall hurried back on deck and called to her brother, “Horatio, we’ve got to weigh anchor, now!”

“You’ll want your ’Nyxas on-board first, no?”

She crossed to the port rail and saw that the racket came from a mateo and a pair of coaches that had trundled up to the wharf and were presently disgorging fifteen excited Xonyxas and a groggy-looking Nordman. She yelled down to them, “Stop your chattering and get on-board! We’ve no time to spare!”

Indeed they didn’t: they had hardly pushed off from the docks before another clatter of galloping hooves filled the air. Horatio ordered the mainsail lifted to catch the early morning breeze just as the sound of hooves transformed into another coach, one with two night watchmen perched on the bench beside the driver.

Cassandra Thordwall waved to the passengers who disembarked from this new coach: that pesky inquestor who had tried to pin the sacking of Eguardo Giamucci’s villa on her, Duc Tancred de Baston’s lady wife, Duchesse Gwennifer Loira de Baston, league Officer for Conduct Rennigan Slythe, and none other than Thordwall’s supposed co-conspirator, Giamucci himself.

“What was all that about?”

Thordwall turned to her coach, Karsgaard Neuvil, and leaned her forehead against his chest. She caught her breath and stepped back only to see a look of deep confusion on his face. “Very nearly the end of our season,” she said, smiling.

He didn’t respond immediately, trying to discern what Slythe was yelling from the wharf. The league Officer for Conduct harassing him and his team was one thing, but the presence of an inquisitor and night watchmen was another, and it clearly suggested trouble with the law. “I think they are ordering us to return to port,” he said.

Thordwall slapped his back. “People yell lots of things at pirate ships. It never does them any good.”

“When I sailed with Svein Bearbeard, he was careful not to anger Nordhaven’s Jarl Magnusson. He also kept on the good side of anyone else who had a port he might need. Your brother does not want to return here?”

Thordwall shrugged. “The Menace can slip in and out of a half-dozen wharves on this archipelago. I wouldn’t worry.”

The Menace cleared the headlands beneath the Forteresa Almenara and tacked to catch the wind that would take them across the Procura Strait to Halos on Oscurisla.

Not all of the Sommer Sea Football League’s games were played in Guayamartí; some few were played at the great haunt of the Duskdaggers, the league’s team of Dark Elves, the Mytilan Militantes’ next opponents.

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