Excerpt from Irith Queen
“It would seem not,” said Elissa. “The imperials have occupied all of Kemlane along with their port at Legionair. We would have sent a message south if we had a way. But by my advice there is no way now – even if you turned around and went back, and if you slipped past all the hordes in the wasteland, you would still come to Vestrodge too late.”
“You are right,” said Hayley. “It would do no good for us to turn around. We must push forward.”
The cook then came and announced that the meal was prepared. It was a hasty affair, thrown together quickly and with little art, but to the company it was as good a meal as they had eaten in more than a week. Elissa left them while they ate, and with Hayley’s permission, she instructed her men to unharness the dashers. The sleds were left in the middle of the courtyard, their contents untouched. Then she disappeared inside for a while, returning when they had finished their meal.
“Captain Bresh is ready to see you,” she said. “He’s inside.”
They followed her through the kitchen, and found Arlen Bresh in the large room that must have been living room or common room at one time. Now it was bare, except for a few chairs and some crates. Bresh sat in one of the chairs opposite the doorway, waiting for them. His face was drawn, but he was calm. His cutlass lay across his knees in its sheath.
“My first mate has explained your situation to you,” he said. It was a statement, not a question. “You are now faced with a dilemma. You should procure horses immediately and set out, but unless our enemies have been napping, they are already aware of us. If I were they, I would lay in wait on the road out of Soptrod with a hundred men or so, and ambush you when you rushed out. Would you not agree?”
“That is the greatest danger, I think,” said Hayley.
“Then you must not leave by land,” said Bresh. “You must procure a ship, and sail over the bay. There is a river there I know of that is wide and deep for some way inland. A ship could take you far from the ocean by night, and by noon tomorrow you would be far away indeed, and these skulking assassins might search Soptrod for a week before discovering that you were gone.”
“You’ve given this a great deal of thought,” said Hayley.
“I have,” replied the captain. “Which brings us to your last concern. There are no roads in these lands, and your dashers have reached the end of their usefulness. You have no way to transport your companion Leordon. If you strap him to a horse his wounds will bleed him to death, and you have not the time to wait for him to heal.”
“What are you getting at, Arlen?” asked Hayley a little shortly.
“Just this,” said the Pirate. “I am willing to give you the horses you need. I will take your dashers and hire Bandits to dress in appearance like your company and set out east down the coast in your sleds – away from your intended direction. I will also take you aboard Der Anjet up the river to the north and drop you on the southern border of Oomar with your steeds and supplies. My first mate will take Leordon into her keeping, and Der Anjet will depart these waters, sailing north. If possible, he will be taken to Gaeline and, if he is slow to recover, or dies along the way, left in the keeping of his brother there.”
Hayley thought for a moment. “That’s a very generous offer,” he said at last. “Our sleds are not filled with chests of gold. What price would you name?”
Arlen smiled, his speech having finally come to point. “I will not ask much,” he said. “Certainly it will be nothing you cannot give. My price is this: that when you disembark in Oomar you take me with you.”
Gail might have thought the Pirate was joking. But his face was grave and he did not smile. There was a long pause before Hayley made a reply.
“Why would the captain of the Der Anjet desire such a thing?” he asked. “And determine your answer with care, because the only way I would agree to such terms is if I felt that I completely understood your intent and motive. Do not attempt to deceive me, Arlen.”
Bresh nodded. “I have not spent much time aground since the Paladin came,” he said cautiously. “You, Caval, of all men should understand why. Now that danger has passed, and the sea has grown thick with these imperials. Der Anjet is running out of places to dock. But I am weary of the sea. I want adventure again, and adventure is something that always follows you. I have great skill with the sword; a skill that I think you have need of. You have recently lost an Elemental. Another strong companion could not hurt your cause. As a condition of my coming I say that I will stay with you no longer than is my wish or your command, but should I fall in the protection of such fine men and women as yourselves then perhaps I will find some small redemption.”
“And what of your ship?”
“I have already declared Elissa captain of the Anjet,” said Arlen. “With your leave, she will order that the horses be taken and boarded now, and we will go when night falls.”
“I have not agreed yet to your terms,” said Hayley.
“As I said,” replied Arlen, “with your leave. What is your answer, Lord Caval?”
Hayley thought for a long time. He looked to Freyn and Gail, but they made no motion, either yes or no. Then he looked back at Arlen, but he addressed Elissa. “Captain,” he said, “Do you agree to these terms, that you will care for Leordon and deliver him safely into the hands of Gomarden Varyen in Gaeline?”
“I do,” replied Elissa.
“I shall hold Arlen’s life in contempt if that promise is not kept,” said Hayley. “However, on these terms I accept your offer.”