tagSci-Fi & FantasyVannerbehn's Luck Pt. 05

Vannerbehn's Luck Pt. 05

byAspernEssling©

It wouldn't have been wise to linger too long in Molun's house - not after unleashing a lightning bolt and killing a dozen of his henchmen.

Kima re-hired the wagon from the stable down the street, and we commandeered Molun's carriage. The first vehicle was for the coin chests I had found. The second was for the bodies of Malena and Sinker.

We left the as-yet unidentified third victim where we had found him. Perhaps the Watch could discover who he'd been, and why he was there. Someone else who had run afoul of Molun? Or just some unlucky sod who'd been mistaken for one of my friends?

Kima, the wizard and the elf made off with the coin. Pamna and Aressine helped me bring the bodies of my friends to the Bell and Candle.

That was what I decided, after the fight. Malena had been my friend. My lover, too, and a beautiful, intelligent woman. Visions of the marriage that might have been were just that: visions. I was dreaming if I thought that I could have made her happy.

I stopped chiding myself for her death almost immediately. It may sound cold, but I realized that I couldn't have prevented her kidnapping, or rescued her by myself once she'd been taken.

Sinker was my protege, a lad I was grooming to be my successor, if that was what he wanted. Would he have been safe if I hadn't given him my room?

It was ironic. I had always taken steps to protect myself, and those I worked with. Keeping their names and true identities a secret, or pretending that the relationship between us was merely casual, or superficial ... yet their connection to me had cost them their lives.

- "It was Molun who did this." said Pamna. "Not you. It wasn't your fault." Very perceptive, that one. She knew that I was punishing myself.

- "I could have prevented it."

- "Are you prescient? And should you go through life without friends? Molun had no friends. If you were like him, he would have gone after your associates. Or innocent people."

Good points, all of them. I appreciated what she was doing. Someday, I might even come to agree with her.

I took Malena's body to her uncle, and left a sizeable sum to give her a fine funeral. I didn't think that it was my place to do more.

Sinker's body went to the shop of a coffin maker just off the Hill. Again, I spent far more than necessary on his funeral, and set it for the day after tomorrow.

Pamna took charge of me, after that. She instructed Aressine, who took the carriage away. I had the presence of mind to thank the big fighter for her assistance. She gave me a curious look before she left.

- "What was that?" I said.

- "What was what?" asked Pamna.

- "That look on Aressine's face."

Pamna just shook her head. "You can be remarkably dense sometimes, Kelsen. That girl has a big crush on you."

- "What? Because I healed her, once?"

- "As I said: remarkably dense."

I didn't understand. But then, my mind was rapidly failing. It was all Pamna could do to get me to direct us to one of my most recently rented rooms.

She got me undressed, over my weak protests, and into bed. Then Pamna stripped off her own clothes.

- "No." I mumbled. "I can't." For the first time in many ... actually, for the first time ever, I didn't want a desirable naked woman in my bed.

- "Be quiet, Kelsen." said Pamna. "I'm not here to ravish you."

She climbed under the covers with me, and wrapped her arms around me. I felt her softness, and her warmth. Against my will, I began to relax.

Pamna cooed me to sleep.

***

I woke before her, the next day. Pamna was breathing softly. She was a sweet witch, to devote herself to comforting me like this. Clever, too, to have mentioned Aressine's feelings. I don't know if women are the same - perhaps not. But when a man finds out that someone is interested in him, I defy that fellow not to be at least a little interested in return.

A woman who likes me is immediately more attractive and more intelligent than I had first thought. I understood what Pamna was doing. She was appealing to my curiosity - giving me a reason to look forward to the next few days. If her ploy failed, no harm done. If it succeeded, all the better.

Pamna stayed me with the next day.

- "Why are you doing this?" I asked her.

- "Why not? Aren't we friends?" she retorted.

- "This goes beyond simple friendship."

- "Not for me." she said. "Look, Mehdawi and I had a long conversation. Naturally, we talked about you a little."

- "A little?"

- "Perhaps more than a little." Pamna tilted her head, and smiled. "What do you expect? It's not like we had all that much in common. So we talked about our mutual friend. And I liked what I heard. It confirmed my suspicions."

- "Which were?"

- "That for a rogue, you were a remarkably good person." Pamna nudged me. "I told you, Kelsen, that we would be good friends."

Yes, I slept with her that night. It was comfort sex. She offered me warmth, and affection, and I gave her back affection in return.

The next day, we went to Malena's funeral. Her uncle asked if I wanted to say a few words, but I didn't trust myself. I paid for food and drink for the mourners, and went off to bury Sinker.

Quite a few people were there. People who'd known him, or both of us. Many were my informers and contacts. It was a subdued affair, because so many of them knew why he'd died. They weren't about to abandon me because of that; street folk are much more loyal than you would expect. I had stood by them in their time of need, and would again; they knew that.

Aressine and Fhaernala came to both funerals. I was quite surprised. Pamna wasn't. Part of their presence was business.

- "Your shares come to just about 6,000 each." said the elf.

- "Molun had 36,000 gold pieces there?" said Pamna.

It made perfect sense to me. Having seen how much money the Narimac could make in a single night, I wondered if its former owner had more money squirelled away in other locations. I would have, if I'd been him.

I handed Fhaernala a small piece of paper, which she tucked away. Then I thanked Aressine again.

- "If I wanted to get in touch ..." I said.

- "Pamna knows where to find me." said the tall blonde. Without armour on, Aressine was quite attractive. Or did I think that just because of what the witch had said?

Pamna stayed with me until I assured her that I wouldn't do anything stupid.

- "It wasn't your fault, Kelsen." she said, for the 16th time.

- "Thank you, sweetheart." I said. "For all you've done. I have some thinking to do, but I hope to see you soon."

I did have to think. I was famous, now. My precious anonymity, essential to my career as a burglar and a thief, was gone. If I worked a successful con, my victims would know where to find me. All right - I probably didn't need to steal or run cons anymore.

But my friends and associates might become targets of ruthless and unscrupulous people. They might not all be so cruel as Molun, but they wouldn't all be Bance Rayners, either. Ludianne could look after herself. But Mehdawi? Or Pamna?

That was enough thinking. I went back to the Narimac.

Ludianne knew. Somehow, just from looking at my face, she knew.

- "Tell me what happened." she said.

I did. I told her all of it. Ludianne might be a creature from another dimension, but she was a remarkably good listener. When I had related the whole story, she asked what she could do to help. The answer to that, of course, was nothing. She couldn't leave the building.

But she was smarter than I was. She took me to her room, and made love to me.

I'd been so wrong. I'd told Malena - sincerely - that she was the only woman I made love with. I had sex with other women, but it wasn't the same. But with Ludianne ...

She sensed my need, and gave me what she could - which was more than enough. And as I lay back on her cushions, breathing deeply, I realized that Pamna had done the same. She loved me, too.

Not in the 'Let's get married let me bear your children we'll be happy forever' sense - but it was love. Food for the soul, nutrition for the mind and the body. I was such an idiot.

Before Gartnait recruited me for his stupid dragon adventure, I'd never worried if I was happy or not. I stole enough money to live in some comfort, met and seduced a number of pretty women.

Now I was perplexed. Before the dragon, I'd never have met Pamna, or Aressine. Without the rabbit's foot ... no Ludianne. Malena and Sinker might still be alive. But I wouldn't have been able to give Mehdawi 3,000 gold pieces (so far), with the potential for many more.

Too much thinking.

***

They came for me three days after the funerals. Three big lads in blue cloaks.

- "The Captain would like to see you." they said.

It would have been rude to turn down a polite invitation from the foremost Pirate Lord. Foolish, too. So I went along. To my surprise, my escort headed downhill.

- "Where are you taking me?" I asked.

- "He's on the docks."

I'd seen Ledomir twice before - from a distance. Up close, he was both less - and more - than I'd expected. He wasn't especially big, or broad. Short black hair, neatly-trimmed beard and mustache ...

But his eyes. They were the eyes of a man who'd clawed his way to power, who had outfought, outthought and out-maneuvered all of his opponents. Even the far-away Eastern Emperor knew who Ledomir of the Blue Cloaks was. Yet his men called him only 'Captain'.

- "You have time for a drink, Kelsen?" was the first thing he said to me.

We sat down in a humble dockside tavern. By chance, it was Anson's, a place I knew well. And by a second chance, my friend Codyla was working that day. She was the one who served us.

Codyla was a sweet girl. There wasn't a bad bone in her body. She tended to make unfortunate decisions, especially regarding men and tattoos, but I liked her. Her chin was a little too narrow, and her face was a bit plump. But there was nothing wrong with her body. She also sported a fine pair of boobs.

We'd been bedmates more than once, and remained on friendly terms.

- "Hello, Kelsen." she said. Codyla didn't make eye contact with the Pirate Lord. Even if she didn't recognize him, it was hard to miss the six fellows in blue cloaks keeping watch, just out of earshot.

- "Hey, Codyla. How are you, love?"

- "You've been here before, Master Vannerbehn? And more than once, from the sound of it." said Ledomir.

- "Yes. I come for the ambience."

Ledomir chuckled. Anson's should have fallen down a decade ago - and would have, if it wasn't being supported by the buildings on either side, much like a drunken sailor being helped home by a couple of friends. Many people believed that there was a spell on Anson's, which prevented it from collapsing.

But the Pirate Lord's eyes quickly grew hard again.

- "I'd like to hear your story, Master Vannerbehn. Say, from the time you left the city with Gartnait Redbreeks."

You don't spit in a gorgon's face, and you don't lie to Ledomir of the Blue Cloaks. I told him the truth (leaving out the sexual parts). Once or twice, he asked for additional detail.

- "What happened to that rabbit's foot?"

- "It blew up."

- "You wouldn't lie to me, would you, Kelsen?" he asked. Then he answered himself: "No, I don't think you would."

I resumed my tale (leaving out Ludianne's massage - though I would have liked to tell him that part, just to see his reaction). I didn't fabricate, or obfuscate. Just the facts.

- "How did you find Molun so quickly?" he asked.

- "I have ... contacts."

- "Is that so?"

- "Are we in trouble because ... because we took justice into our own hands?" I asked.

Ledomir frowned. "That's not ... an issue."

- "Is it about the tax on the loot we took?"

Ledomir took a deep swig of his ale. Rundown though it may be, there was nothing wrong with Anson's ale, which was why sailors and pirates kept coming back, night after night.

- "No, Kelsen. The late, unlamented Molun had money stashed in several places. He'd also invested in property across the city. Since he died heirless, that property reverts to the Pirate Council. Kumyr did very well out of Molun's death."

He took another swig. So did I. I might have suggested that Molun's money came from the profits of the Narimac. By all rights, it belonged to Ludianne and me. I could have said that. Are you shocked that I let the matter lie?

- "Then - if you don't mind me asking: why am I here? It doesn't sound like you're all that upset about Molun's ... passing."

- "I'm not. Met him once; always wondered how such an insignificant little shit could be so rich, and so powerful. Now I understand: the Janni is the powerful one."

- "And I'm the new insignificant little shit?" I suggested.

- "No, Kelsen. You're lucky. That's very rare, and very valuable. I've been lucky for most of my life. I know how important that is."

"But you're also resourceful. You found Molun's home. Then you assembled a party powerful enough to take him out in a matter of moments. That makes you a rare individual. From the Gale, to the Narimac. You have friends in high places, and in low places, too."

Mostly the latter, I thought. But I didn't say so.

"And Codyla likes you. That's another good sign. No, I think that you're a man worth cultivating, Mr. Vannerbehn. I'm glad we met."

Ledomir left a generous tip. I'd have liked him for that alone. Codyla came back, once he'd gone.

- "You know Ledomir?" she said, plainly awed.

- "I do now."

- "I hear about you, from time to time." she said. "I like hearing about you."

- "I was away - out of the city. Otherwise, I would have come back to see you sooner."

- "You don't have to say things like that." said Codyla.

- "Sweet girl. I haven't told a lie yet today. Would you have dinner with me?"

A few gold coins to her employer would provide for a substitute to take her place. Codyla was free for the rest of the day. I bought her two new dresses, a sensible pair of shoes, and a nice meal.

- "You don't have to buy me things." she said. She meant it, too.

- "Codyla, if you had one million gold pieces, would you buy me anything?"

She had to think about it for a moment. I suspect that she was more puzzled by the concept of a million coins, than anything else.

- "Course I would. I've always liked you." she said. "Wait - do you have a million gold pieces?"

I laughed. "No, sweetheart. But I have enough that buying you a few luxuries just seems like the right thing to do."

I took her to my second new room, and shared a decent bottle of wine with her. Then, out of deference to Malena, I didn't fuck Codyla. Instead, I made love to her.

Codyla's face was getting plump. She'd borne two children, that I knew of - no, neither was mine. She was thickening a bit, about the middle. She did have those great breasts, but she'd never been a beauty, and her youthful vitality would soon start to fade.

But I liked her. And sex with someone you actually like is highly underrated. So I sucked and licked her pussy until she had a fine orgasm. Then I kissed and caressed her, and fondled her plump breasts until she began to moan.

I put her on top, and let her ride me. From her happy expression, it wasn't a position that she got to enjoy all that often. She came again, and suddenly passed out. I jerked myself off, and finished on her belly and breasts.

Then I sat by the window, and thought about ... everything. Meeting the most powerful of the Pirate Lords will do that to you.

Kumyr, the Pirate city, had been founded by Albysians, the western-most of the peoples of the far-flung Eastern Empire. During a particularly violent and drawn-out succession crisis, with three Emperors in a single year, this distant outpost of Empire was captured by pirates.

Seven years later, the eventual winner of the civil war was crowned Emperor. Karad IV had already come to several conclusions about the faraway city of Kumyr.

1- It was in the most remote corner of Albysia, the most distant and least profitable province of his enormous empire.

2- The Albysians had supported one of his chief rivals. Ineffectively, for the most part, but still ... disloyalty should never be rewarded.

3- Kumyr was a port city. It could be supported and supplied from the sea. The pirates had a substantial fleet - considerably more powerful than what was left of the neglected and decrepit Imperial navy.

4- Those same pirates had assisted Karad IV by ferrying his army to the Isle of Samarka, so that he could eliminate one of the last pockets of resistance to his rule.

5- The pirates had paid him a hefty sum for free and clear title to the former Imperial city of Kumyr.

The Emperor chose not to undertake the arduous task of dispossessing them. Nor did Karad's successor, when Karad was assassinated six years later. Nor did any of the five Emperors who reigned over the next eleven years.

Kumyr was a polyglot, multi-racial and cosmopolitan city. There were Albysians, Potolians, Iirans and Samarkans. Humans mixed with elves, dwarves and a small community of gnomes. Non-humans made up approximately one-twelfth of the population.

Profit was king, in Kumyr. Trade dominated. But there were multiple possible routes to wealth, power and influence. Invest in a pirate ship, hire yourself a crew, and anything was possible.

With a leaky boat and sixteen confederates, Jerian the Younger had found success. He now had four ships, 300 men - and a seat on the Pirate Council.

Pirate justice was often arbitrary, but at least it was swift. It wasn't particularly cruel, either. Prison was a place where people waited for their sentence; it was not a punishment in and of itself.

I thought about all of this, and much more, until the oncoming dawn began to lighten the sky. It looked like rain.

I had a debt to repay.

***

I walked Codyla home the next day. I could feel her fluttering and fidgeting next to me. I took hold of her hand, and held it as we walked. It was such a little gesture, but she beamed at me. Codyla knew that this was not the beginning of an exclusive relationship between us.

Instead, it was the conclusion of a happy episode. I had shown her, last night, that I cared for her, and genuinely liked her. Holding her hand as we walked merely confirmed it.

- "Oh, look!" she said, as we went down the hill toward the docks. "A fleet coming in!"

Half a dozen sleek warships were gliding into harbour, with flags raised. A successful run, then. Three of the ships belonged to Inavar the Wolf. The others were independent captains, no doubt happy to sail under his banner.

The return of a fleet like this was a major occasion for the city. There would be plunder to be unloaded, catalogued and appraised. An auction would follow, in a few days. There would also be business for the taverns and brothels as the sailors spent their shares.

More money - the lifeblood of Kumyr.

Codyla wanted to watch the ships dock, and perhaps hear where they had been, or what sort of loot they had acquired. I stood with her, and watched as well.

But I did not forget where I was. We were on the edge of the Old Fish market - which of course sold wine, leather goods, and slaves. Fish were actually sold further down the docks, towards the Bottoms.

I was alert to everything around me. I am almost always alert, of course - that's how I've survived this long. But a marketplace attracts more than honest and dishonest customers. Pickpockets and other thieves are drawn by the money being spent, and the goods on display.

No, thieves wouldn't attempt to steal a slave. But you'd be amazed to see what can be stolen, while a shapely female slave is being shown.

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