Three days later, Trewhella, and two of his men, watched the rear of Farriver’s Supply. At about 6am, the upstairs door opened, and Smeeth descended the staircase to the street. Then he opened the rear entrance of the store.
The mercenary waited five minutes and then quietly mounted the stairs climbing up to the apartment door. From his pocket he pulled a flexible blade which he inserted between the door and lock. After a minute or two he had jimmied the door open. He gestured to his men. Klipe followed him up, and the other, Milmot, drove a small covered wagon closer to the back door.
“Let’s get this done. Fast and quiet.” Trewhella opened the door, and the bandits stepped inside. The pair moved through the apartment quietly, when they arrived at the bedroom with the closed door they stopped.
Trewhella whispered, “Remember alive, or we get nothing. Clear?”
“Clear, Blackthorn.” Klipe poured a foul-smelling liquid into a cloth. “Ready.”
“Let’s go.” Trewhella turned the knob, and they peered into the room. There was a small lump in the bed. “Go.”
Klipe held the cloth over N’than’s nose and mouth. The Hydorcivis didn’t stir and remained asleep.
“Wrap him up in something.” Trewhella shoved all the clothes and things he could find into a sack. “I’m done. Let’s get out of here.”
Leaving everything else, they left the apartment. Trewhella stopped on the outdoor landing and observed carefully. Seeing nothing untoward, he went first down the stairs, followed by Klipe, who carried the still body.
They quickly put N’than into the back of the wagon. Once the tarp was retied, Klipe climbed onto the seat beside the driver.
Trewhella stood next to the wagon. “Go quickly back. I will wait ten minutes then leave and make sure no one follows. Keep him tied, but warm. The General wants him alive.”
The driver tapped the horse with the long reins and guided it out to the main road.
Blackthorn Trewhella walked out and watched the wagon as it moved at a trot through the quiet streets. He walked to his horse and pretended to adjust the harness and saddle while watching for anyone following the wagon.
He patted the horse’s neck. “All is quiet, as it should be, Asas.” Trewhella untied the animal and mounted. “Let us go back, slowly.”The pair moved at a walk down the main street following the tracks of the wagon. Once he reached the outskirts of Deegan’s Port, Blackthorn Trewhella kicked his mount to a trot.
At midday, Smeeth left the store and climbed the stairs to his apartment home. He entered and walked through the kitchen.
“Hmmm, N’than normally makes lunch.” Smeeth walked on. “N’than?”
Reaching N’than’s room and finding the door open, he entered and studied the scene before him. The bed was unmade. “N’than? Lad?” The shopkeeper moved to the window and pulled back heavy drapes. Then he stopped in surprise, seeing the room in the light. “Nothing. All his things are gone. Awww, no.” Smeeth ran to the wardrobe and then to chest of drawers. “No, lad, no. Aww, why? Why at least didn’t you tell me?” Smeeth sat on the bed and dropped his head to his hands. “You only had to say, lad. I’d have talked to you, but never stopped you.”
From where he sat at the end of the bed, Smeeth could see something behind the open door. He rose, walked to the door and closed it.
“His boots! Why would he pack all his things and leave, taking all but his only pair of boots?”
Smeeth left the bedroom and closed the door. He returned to his kitchen to prepare a quick lunch. Over his bread and cheese, he wondered, “He’d not leave his boots behind; that’s a fool’s errand. So where did he go? Did he go, or was he taken?”
Once back at work, Smeeth continued to mull over why N’than would leave of his own accord.
He would not. N’than would tell me to my face if he was unhappy and he’d put his boots on to leave. Smeeth unpacked a box of metal dinner plates and put them on a shelf. He has been kidnapped I am sure of it … but by whom? Not the ship’s captain, or the Daryaneeg … who else would want N’than. Smeeth pulled open a crate containing forks and spoons. That soldier … the one who wanted N’than dead! His stronghold is Sanoat, but he holds offices here.
Smeeth finished unpacking and went to see his father. He knocked on the office door and entered.
“Father, I need a word.”
Gadaniel Farriver looked up from this work. “Aye, lad?”
“Father, I need to be away—”
“What? Again? This is a business, boy. It will not run itself!” The elder Farriver removed his spectacles. “What is it this time? Is it that young’un again?”
“Aye, Father, but ….”
“My boy I understand the ways of men … if I didn’t I would not have you. You’re single and free to choose whom you love, but if this one does not want you … well, you cannot force him.”
“He left his boots.”
“What?” Smeeth’s father rose to his feet. “What do you mean? Why would he do that?”
“That’s the point, Father. He wouldn’t.” Smeeth dropped into a chair opposite his father’s.
Gadaniel retook his seat. “I remember you telling me about the lad and all that went on. Do you think it is that General? Jeptha? What the King sees in that man I cannot say.”
“Aye, I do think so. I need to go and try to … well, save him.”
“Alone? You are not a soldier, Smeeth. You go prepare a few things. I will visit Obertan and see if the Guard can help.”
“Thank you, Father.”
“Aye, let’s go now.” The Elder Farriver walked around his desk, swung on his cloak and hollered as he left his office. “Padandrew? Come here. Smeeth and I have business. I will return within the hour. Run the place until then.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Farriver. I’ll take care of things.”
“Your loyalty will not go unnoticed or unrewarded. I’ll be back soon.”
Padandrew nodded and went back to his work.
Twenty minutes, or so, later Smeeth returned to the front of the store with a bag over one shoulder. Obertan and another soldier of the Guard stood with his father. Three horses stood waiting.
“Smeeth, Obertan and his man will travel with you.” Gadaniel Farriver explained. “They can help you if needs be.”
Smeeth nodded to all three men. “Thank you.”
Obertan cocked his head. “Your father tells me Jeptha attempted to kill this man before in a tide cave near Sanoat.”
“Yes. I think he will do the same again, yet I don’t know why, but I feel it.”
“Well, we must go in that case. It is three days hard ride and they are ahead of us.” Captain Obertan said. “However, we can ride hard but change to fresh horses at any Guard outpost. Let’s go.”
Smeeth eyed the horses. “I am not the best equestrian.”
The guardsman handed him the reins for one of the animals. “Then you shall learn to be better, and quickly.”
“Aye, I suppose that is the right of it.” Smeeth put a foot in the stirrup and hauled himself up.
The elder Farriver smiled grimly. “Good luck, boy. May you travel with the wind at your backs.”
The trio turned their horses and the two Guards asked their mounts to trot, while Smeeth managed to convince his to walk. One of the Guards went back and offered the inexperienced rider a few tips.
Smeeth followed the directions and the animal moved on. The Guard rode alongside Smeeth while he settled into riding.
On the second day of travel, Smeeth and the Guards’ progress was slowed, as extreme winds and hail made local travel nearly impossible. As it was, poor Smeeth was in some pain due to the hard riding the prior day.
“I can barely walk! Everything hurts.” Smeeth moaned to his travelling companions as they sat in an Inn where they had taken shelter.
“Ask the landlord to set a hot bath for you,” said the Guard named Albirit. “No one in their right mind will travel today. ‘Tis too dangerous for man or beast.”
But Blackthorn Trewhella and his men did travel. They were several hours ahead of the little group who followed them. However, physical needs and hunger caused them to pull off the road.
N’than was awake, but trussed up and kept under the tarp in the wagon. His belly groaned and rumbled. He desperately needed to relieve himself.
“Get him out and let him piss, Klipe. Milmot, you get the biscuits out and we’ll let our little prisoner eat.”
Both men answered, aye. They made a quick fire and tea that was barely more than boiled water but it helped the biscuits go down.
“Eat, you dog!” Klipe had given N’than the hard biscuits and tea.
N’than sipped the drink, but refused food. Klipe was ready again to say something when Trewhella said, “Nay, don’t bother. Let him simply drink.”
“Yes, sir.” Klipe and Milmot sat and dipped their hard biscuits into their tea and ate them. They then went off to feed the horses some grain before they again began their travels.
N’than sat with his left arm free and the right bound to his tied ankles. He sipped the flavourless tea quietly.
Trewhella chewed his food, swallowed and then sipped from his tin mug. “You are small and weak to cause so much trouble to General Jeptha. You must have had your worth to him. Likely sucked his cock better than the wife.”
Sipping his drink once more, N’than said nothing.
Irritated suddenly by the Hydorcivis, Trewhella got to his feet and hollered, “Klipe, get over here and get this piece of shit stowed away. Let’s get moving. Sooner we deliver this baggage, the sooner we can have ale and a decent meal.”
“Yes, sir.” Klipe retied N’than’s hands, pulled him to his feet, bent and then carried the smaller man over his shoulder. “Back you go.”
N’than landed with a thump on the rough bed they’d made him. Why must I travel so before I die? I wish they would just kill me and be done. I should never have said no to Qa. I should never have said yes, to Junius. The young man closed his eyes and slept to conserve his strength.
The wagon finally halted. N’than could hear the men’s voices, and something more. It was on the air and from the sky … seabirds. When the tarp was pulled back N’than blinked against the sun. He could hear waves, smell the saltiness of the water. Peering around he saw where they had come.
Panic gripped him as they pulled him from the wagon. As soon as his legs were untied, he kicked at Klipe’s shins and kneed Milmot. The surprised men let go of their captive.
Taking advantage of the moment, N’than sprinted straight for the surf, his feet left imprints in the wet sand. Leaping over the waves he fell into the water and kicked hard, moving his body farther out into the Mother.
Grabbing the amulet, he screamed into the cold water, “QA! QA! Help me.” He continued to yell between gasping for breaths of air.
“Go and get him,” Trewhella said to Klipe, who waded in.
Klipe who was much taller than N’than, reached the Hydorcivis easily and dragged him back. N’than didn’t struggle. I only hope Qa heard.
Qavrind stood with his youngest son in the bivalve beds. They picked fresh oysters, mussels and clams each day. As the first wave of sound washed over him Qa had to reach out to steady himself. “Oh …”
“Are you all right, Papa?”
N’than! He calls. Qa smiled at Tacid. “My son, you need to go home, I am being summoned.”
The youngster smiled up at his father. “Papa?”
“It’s fine. You go home to Mama. I will not be too long.” Qa pulled Tacid along and pushed him in the direction of their home.
“Go on now.” Qavrind smiled at the little fellow and then bent and kissed his cheek.
Qa watched the little one for a few moments. The feeling is strong. I must find N’than.
General Jeptha dismounted. He scowled as he walked over the warming sand. As he neared the rocks, he could see N’than tied up and leaning against the white standing stone.
Trewhella glanced around at the sound of approaching footsteps. “General.”
“You have him. Good. Let’s get him to the cave.”
Trewhella considered Jeptha for a moment and then turned to his men. When he caught their eyes, he gestured to the cave.
“Come on.” Klipe bent and hauled N’than to his feet. “Let’s go.”
“No! Please don’t do this to me,” N’than cried out and refused to walk.
Milmot laughed. “Let’s just drag him.”
“Yeah, come on.”
Several minutes later, N’than was again shackled to the cave wall. He kicked the men who fastened him there.
“Li’l hellion, this one, Milmot.”
“Aye, well, not for much longer now.” The man laughed but stopped when N’than jumped at him, his small foot catching the man’s privates. “OWWWWW! Be damned!”
Klipe laughed. “Seems he is. Let’s go. Leave him to his watery fate. The tide is turning.”
The pair left; neither gave a second thought to the struggling Hydorcivis.
Outside, Trewhella was mounted. “Thank you, General. You’ve been generous. We will depart. Don’t hesitate to visit if you have a need in the future.”
Jeptha’s smile was grim and he nodded curtly. Then spinning on his boot heel he headed to the cave.
Junias stood in the mouth of the cave, waiting until his eyes adjusted to the gloom. As they did, he watched his ex-lover struggle against the shackle that held him.
N’than noticed him. “Why can you just not kill me? Does this give you pleasure?”
“It gives me no pleasure, N’than. But you must realize I cannot just run you through. That is murder and I simply cannot have that.”
N’than stared and seethed. “No, you’re incapable of honesty on any level.”
“If you say so, N’than.”
“It is not only he who thinks so, Junias. You lied to him, me, your wife and your King.” Qa stood an arm’s length from the General. “It is time you paid for all the pain you have caused, General.”
Junias whirled at the sound of the Daryaneeg’s voice. He attempted to draw his sword, but Qa caught him with a well-placed punch. The General fell to his knees and then pitched forward.
“Wake up, General.” Qa spoke loudly. “It’s time to see your punishment commence.” He kicked the now-trussed and prone man. “Up!”
Jeptha opened his eyes and squinted in the sun. Qa stepped forward, blocking the blinding rays.
“What do you think you’re doing? Let me up.”
“No, General. It’s time for you to pay for what you have done; the suffering you have caused.” Qavrind bent and pulled off Jeptha’s right boot. He then slid his shell knife from its sheath on his hip. Bending once more, he cut away the right leg of the General’s uniform trousers.
“What are you doing?”
Qa squatted. “I promised you, if you should ever hurt N’than again, I’d feed you to the sharks. And that is what I intend on doing.”
N’than, who had been quiet, looked up sharply. “Qa?”
“Shhh, my sweet friend. He won’t die. That wouldn’t be any fun.”
The General struggled as the Daryaneeg pulled him closer to the surf. “Are you insane? Free me now.”
Qa pulled the General farther in. Then leaving the man for a moment, he ducked under the waves and called out. Grabbing hold of his prisoner once more, he smiled. “It won’t be long.”
And it was not, for moments later a triangular dorsal fin broke the water. As it drew close the gray, sandpapery body could be seen. When it arrived, it greeted Qa.
“This is Xaqutal, King of the Sharks. He has agreed to start by removing only your foot.”
The blood drained from Jeptha’s face. “Let me go.”
“Don’t be silly. I have a guest whom I promised to feed.” Qa grabbed the General and hauled him into deeper water.
“Qa! Do not do this.” N’than was on his feet. “Do not! Please.”
The Daryaneeg glanced at his friend and then squatted again near the General. “You see, he is faithful to you even now. And you could not trust him to be silent, no, you decided instead to kill him.”
Junias twisted around to see N’than on his feet up to his knees in the sea.
Qa continued, “And when I saved him, and took him away, still that was not enough for you. You arrange again to have him killed. He loved you.” He lifted his arm and said, “Xaqutal, come, my King.”
The shark moved closer, and Qa held the prepared leg, as the General struggled with the surf crashing over him. “NO! No … please.”
The Shark King opened his mouth. The General saw the rows of triangular saw-blade teeth moving toward his waiting foot. “No … no. Please! I cannot be a soldier. I’d be a cripple … useless.”
The maw closed slowly around the foot at the heel. Junias closed his eyes as the sharp teeth bit into his tender flesh. Then it stopped.
Qa reached out and touched the shark’s snout, and then gazed at the victim. “He is waiting for me to tell him to finish. Shall I?”
N’than, who had been watching in silence, moved closer. “No. Please.”
“Why, N’than? This man wants you dead.”
Turning to his ex-lover, N’than whispered. “Junias, please. I do not want to see you hurt, even now. Please just let me live in peace. I will not come to you, or talk about you … this I swear on my own life.”
General Junias Abiel Jeptha lay in the surf. His lower body, to his relief, was covered by the ocean. In his fear of the mighty toothed creature, he had soiled himself. He stared at the Shark King, Qa and finally N’than. His eyes lost their anger and hate. “I … I will leave you be; I promise this. I swear it on my duty, my honour as a soldier.”
The mouth opened and released his foot, which bled freely but the cuts were not serious ones.
After Qavrind thanked Xaqutal, the mighty animal turned and with its tail flicked water over the General. It then disappeared into the Mother.
Qa glared down at the General. “You are marked now. You will remember this lucky day each morning when you draw on your boot, and each night when you remove it.” Then he squatted once more. “Should I hear as much as a rumour you have been bothering N’than or his family, next time I will not be stopped. Next time, you will watch as sharks take your arms and legs. But I will make sure you do not die. I hope that is as clear as this day.”
“Aye, it is clear.”
“Good. It would be wonderful for us to never see each other again.” Qa bent and cut the General’s bindings. “Your mount is tied up on the other side of the dunes.”
As Qa walked away he caught N’than’s hand. “Come, sweet one. For there has been word given me earlier that someone comes for you.”
“That was the name. Do you know this man?”
N’than trotted beside his rescuer through the sand. “Yes, I know him. He is a good man.”
The pair neared the road. Ahead N’than saw a man and also another Daryaneeg. Qa stopped.
“Ahead is a man with a horse for you. Ride with him, back that way and you will meet Smeeth. If this is not what you wish, you can still come with me. I will take care of you; give you purpose and a life.”
N’than stepped forward and embraced his friend. “Thank you, for caring about me and for all you have done.”
“Are you sure?”
N’than paused for a moment. “Yes. Smeeth is patient and kind. I like him very much. He will never hurt me.”
Qa smiled. “I am glad. I hope we will meet again. I come, sometimes to Deegan’s Port, I will seek you out.”
“I should like that very much.”
They walked on together until they reached the man with the horse. He mounted and then pulled N’than up.
“Watch after him until you meet Smeeth and his escort.” Qa held up a small bag. “For your trouble.”
The man nodded and accepted the tiny sack. “I will do as you ask. Do not fear.” The rider turned the brown horse and asked it to move forward.
As it did, N’than twisted around and waved. “Farewell, my friend … farewell!”
Qa lifted his webbed hand, held it high for a moment and whispered, “Farewell.”
The other Daryaneeg clapped Qa on the back. “Let us take our leave. Earthers, it seems, are complicated.”
“Aye.” Qa walked toward the surf. “Too much so. Let’s go home.”
Several hours later, Smeeth, who had been drooping in the saddle raised his head as his comrades called to him.
“Come to attention, Smeeth. Rider coming.”
The two Guardsmen halted and raised their rifles. Smeeth pulled his horse to a stop behind Obertan.
“Appears they ride double.” Obertan stared ahead, moving his head to and fro in an effort to get a better view.
Smeeth also watched. “The one in front … he’s small. That is N’than. I’m sure of it.” Smeeth urged his mount onward. “Come on!”
“No! Smeeth … we cannot tell. Stop!” Obertan watched in surprise for a moment before kicking his mount too. “Damn him. Suddenly he can ride!”
The ride had been long, and N’than was tired. He also had nodded off. The man he rode with said, “Riders come. Two are Guards.”
“Maybe that is Smeeth. They are too far away.” N’than rubbed at his eyes.
“Aye,” replied the escort. “But they gallop. We shall stop and show we mean no harm.” He pulled back on the reins, asking the horse to slow to a walk. The pair watched as the three riders drew closer.
N’than watched as one galloped on; waving. The man also called out. Faint it was, yet it made N’than’s ears prick up. He waved back.
Smeeth waved and slowed his mount. “N’than!” He jumped from his horse and caught the Hydorcivis as he clambered from the safety of the rider’s arms.
“Smeeth! I can’t believe it’s all over.”
“Is it? Are you safe now?” Smeeth glanced at the rider. “What happened?”
The rider smiled and shrugged. “I was told to bring him to you. It’s all I know.”
“Thank you, for that. For everything.” N’than smiled at the man. “I don’t even know your name to thank you properly.”
“Have you been paid?” Smeeth hunted in his pockets.
“My name isn’t important. You’re safe, that was my job … to deliver you. And yes, I’ve been paid.” The man smiled at the pair. “I’ll be off. I’ve no need to be spoken to by the Guard. Good day.” He wheeled his mount sharply, and the animal sprang forward at gallop.
N’than waved and called out, “Thank you, again. Farewell!”
The two officers of the Guard arrived at a walking pace. Obertan jumped from his horse. He strode over to Smeeth and N’than. “The man that brought you … who is he?”
“Just someone Qa found to bring me here.” N’than gazed up at the Guard.
“He left in a hurry. Perhaps we should give chase.”
N’than said, “He did nothing other than bring me here. Please let him alone.”
Obertan looked after the retreating rider for a moment and then agreed. He started back toward his horse. “Let’s go home.”
Smeeth held N’than’s hand and asked, “Do you want to go, N’than?”
“Yes, I’m ready.”
The shop-keeper mounted the horse and helped the Hydorcivis up. “Where do you want to go?”
N’than settled on the animal and then leaned back into Smeeth’s warmth. “Anywhere, where you are.”
The two officers moved their horses off. Smeeth urged his to follow.
“You won’t find my simple life too quiet?”
N’than smiled. “Our simple life.”
Smeeth grinned and urged the horse onward.
My thanks to all of you who read this short story. It was to be an anthology entry, however ... here it is. I hope you enjoyed it.
Thanks to @AC Benus my friend and editor for his time, and effort. I am grateful. My thanks to @mollyhousemouse and @Brayon for their reading skills and thoughts.
While N'than was a short story, i hope you will look for @Wayne Gray 's and my next story currently being written, called Wild Maple Farm.
I appreciate you choosing to read N'than and for your thoughts and comments. Thanks once again,