The Story So Far
Jacyntha meets her mother, Queen Beatriz, aboard the latter’s flagship sitting at anchor off Guayamartí’s harbour. Beatriz declares that Jacyntha’s days as a footy player are over; the Queen had a deal with the owner of the Mytilan Militantes, Cassandra Thordwall, to let her daughter play a season, that season is over, it is time for Jacyntha to come home and do her duty. Jacyntha protests that although the regular season is over, the Militantes have qualified for the play-offs and they might have another three games to play. Beatriz brooks no dissent; Jacyntha is coming home. As though to underscore the statement, the ship weighs anchor. Jacyntha tries to escape her mother’s cabin only to discover the door locked. Then Beatriz reveals one final piece of news. Jacyntha is to become a queen, just not of Mytilan. In two months she is to marry the Pretender, the deposed King of Chivalria and nephew to Duc Tancred de Baston, Carles le Vorace, and Mytilan intends to help restore Carles to his throne.
League Officer for Conduct Rennigan Slythe rudely awakens Militantes’ coach, Karsgaard Neuvil in Nytmir Curseweaver’s flat the morning after Queen Beatriz’ fleet sets sail. Gloating, he says he doesn’t doubt that Neuvil’s in the flat because Nytmir’s giving him rat-root. Then he tells Neuvil the league governors have asked him to investigate a fishy result – the Militantes’ victory over a weakened Imperials side – and as it happens, he knows a man with a history of arranging fishy results. With the help of hired muscle, Slythe hauls Neuvil out of the flat.
Later, during the day’s scheduled training session for the Militantes, Umberto de la Calle turns up to discover a coach-less, captain-less team. Karolyse tells Umberto that the players have seen neither Neuvil nor Jacyntha and assumed the pair were doing something together somewhere else and would soon show up. Umberto goes off to find answers.
“Our captain has deserted us?”
Cassandra Thordwall had been sitting with her feet up on the table she used as a desk in the Kingfisher Inn: now she slipped her boots off the table, sat up straight, and glared at Umberto.
“Hard to say, boss,” her bodyguard answered. “I spoke to a stevedore down on the wharves, see. He attended two of our games with his cousin. Says he recognized Jacyntha because he likes needling his cousin for going all soft on the Militantes and she’s our best-known player. He said she showed up down there yesterday and got a Xonyxa dinghy crew to row her out to her mother’s ship. No heavies were shifting her, no crossbow was pointed at her back, nothin’. Own free will and all that. The ship sailed without her returning to shore.”
Cassandra Thordwall drummed her fingers on the table. “I think I know what happened. When I was with them coming back from Halos, Queen Beatriz put a proposition to Duc Tancred de Baston. She offered the help of Mytilan’s navy in putting his nephew back on the Chivalron throne … so long as Carles the Pretender married Jacyntha. I thought the whole plan would take ages to line up. I guess Beatriz likes striking while the iron’s hot.”
Umberto shook his head. “Jacyntha was overjoyed at making the play-offs. Doesn’t sound like her to bail out now.”
Thordwall shrugged. “She might be under a direct command of her Queen.”
“So … where does that put us?”
Thordwall pursed her lips in thought. “I don’t know. I don’t think we can do anything about it. What does Neuvil have to say?”
Umberto sat down on a stool opposite her. “Well, boss, there’s more news you need to hear, see? Our friend Rennigan Slythe’s taken Karsgaard.”
She stood and walked over to where she had hung her whip on a nail protruding from the wall. She uncoiled it, splaying its leather on the floor in front of her. She gave it a few gentle flicks of the wrist, sending curling waves along its length and setting its barbed tip thrashing about like a fish out of water.
Umberto shook his head, “Nah, boss, it’s weirder than a simple abduction. You’ll remember I’ve had someone watching Slythe? Well, my informant said someone interesting went to meet him at the league offices this morning at daybreak: Nytmir Curseweaver.”
“Nytmir? That creepy Dark Elf Witch?”
Umberto nodded. “Just the person.”
“But … she’s the captain of the Jesters! What’s Slythe doing meeting the captain of the team we’ve got to play in five days?”
“Well that’s the thing, see. Right after Curseweaver visited our friend Slythe, he left the league offices in the company of a trio of minders and they all went to a flat in Monte Alto. A few minutes later, they all come out, escorting Neuvil. So, maybe it’s an abduction. I’d almost say it’s more like they arrested him, if the league can do something like that.”
She gave the whip a good snap, sending the portrait of some lady or another crashing to the floor. “Slythe cunningly waited until the day after Mytilan’s navy weighed anchor and sailed off. Whatever we do, Umberto, we’re on our own.”
“One other thing, boss. I’ve had a question bubbling in my mind, see …”
She gestured for him to continue.
“Who benefits? I know Slythe’s looking to bring Neuvil down any way possible, so maybe it’s no more than that. But who actually benefits?
“The way I see it,” he continued, “only one team benefits. The Mongrels. Whether we finished in or out of the play-offs don’t mean shit to the other teams. Well, in addition to the business about Neuvil’s arrest, my informant also had something interesting to say about who Slythe met with yesterday. He met that Goblin agent who’s been creeping around the Barrio.”
“The very one. When the Mongrels aren’t here, he represents their interests, see.”
“He hasn’t lodged a complaint with the league about the Imperials’ line-up against us.”
“It’ll come, boss. You know, when we were over in Halos, it was nearly two full weeks after our game against the Duskdaggers when Neuvil presented his formal complaint about the assassination of Ocllo to the league’s Officer for Conduct there, the Dwarf Dwarrig. Two weeks. Even with the delay, the Dwarf managed to penalize the Dark Elf team the three points that put them out of a play-off position and us into it.”
“So there’s still time for Slythe to get us kicked out of the play-offs by penalizing us for something Neuvil has done.”
She smiled. “Except I know something Slythe doesn’t. Neuvil didn’t do anything wrong.”
Umberto breathed a sigh of relief. “Phew! That’s good. You can never be sure with these recovering addicts, see, and I had a few doubts.”
“Well you needn’t. He did nothing illegal. I did.”
Umberto closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Boss?”
“But don’t you get it? They can’t prove anything against our coach. They know his history and assume it was him that fixed things with Duc Tancred. But they’re sailing into fierce headwinds.”
She flicked her whip again. “And I intend on making the headwinds fiercer.”
“This is an even stupider whole new level of stupid.”
“You worry more than an old granny,” Thordwall replied. They were walking along the strand by the Maral Canal. Umberto was more on edge than usual, his head shifting left and right, eying up any and all possible threats, no doubt. She was also on edge, but not in the sense she was worried. It was more like she felt energized, ready for a fight. It was exciting; the same feeling she used to get chasing down a fat, rich cog lying low in the water from all the wealth it carried.
“Boss, I keep telling you I can’t protect you if I’m locked up in the Almenara and they’re dragging you off to the gallows. This is even stupider than kidnapping Duc Tancred de Baston.”
“That stupid idea netted us some bribes for the refs in Halos and a win against a weakened Imperials … a win that got us into the play-offs I might add.”
“No it didn’t! The refs reneged on their bribes for fear of getting slaughtered by the home crowd and the business with the Imperials might get us kicked out of the play-offs. That crazy plan got us into this mess!”
“Umberto, I tried playing nice, only breaking the rules after someone broke the rules against me. Who am I kidding? I’m not a footy team owner; I’m a freakin’ pirate! I intend to show them what happens when you cross a pirate.”
“You know they hang pirates here, right?”
They entered the Luffing Lateen and looked around. There were just enough patrons inside for her idea to work. “Sam!” she called out to Gosling, the owner.
He scurried over, “Mistress Thordwall! Nice to see you. A flagon of Pintó Macía for you and your man? It’s almost dinnertime … I could throw in some shrimp fried up in garlic.”
“As nice as that sounds, Sam my man, I’m in a rush. I’m trying to free Karsgaard Neuvil from the clutches of tyranny.”
Gosling looked shocked. “Did that Nytmir Curseweaver do something awful to him?”
Thordwall narrowed her eyes. “Nytmir? What does she have to do with him?”
“Well, he and her’ve been frequenting the Lateen regularly over the past couple ’o weeks. It didn’t look nothing nefarious … she even paid his outstanding debts to the house … but nothing good ever comes from associating with them witches.”
“Neuvil’s been racking up debts?”
Gosling shrugged. “He had been. But like I says, Nytmir cleared those up and she seems to be paying for the both of ’em these days.”
Thordwall nodded and held up a finger to him. “All right, we’re going to return to this conversation on another day. It’s not Nytmir who’s doing him wrong … well … not at this very moment at any rate. It’s … someone else. But I’m minded to do something about it. I would take it as a special favour were you to point me to the ten most likely criminals stewing in here right now.”
“Criminals?” He looked more surprised than conspiratorial, so she threw an arm around him and guided him over to his tavern’s bar, where no one could hear. “You’ll not get into trouble, my friend. If anyone’s going to get blamed, it’ll be me. You see, I want the league to know who it is they shouldn’t mess with in the future. And I can make it worth your while. I’ll even see to it that over the coming months some … goods … find their way into your hands, for mostly legitimate re-sale, if you take my meaning. But people have done me and mine wrong and I mean to do some wrong right back. Got it?”
“Think of it this way, you get rid of your ten most troublesome clients and you help out a friend.”
“The ten won’t come back?”
She shook her head. “I can’t have people linking me to anything and everything now, can I?”
By dinnertime, she’d recruited nine dockside heavies happy to take her coin and every one of them a die-hard Wharf Rats fan furious that the league had “arranged” a one-win season for their team (some embellishment of the truth had helped rile them up).
She marched them down to the league’s office and they tore it apart.
But they didn’t find Neuvil.