tagSci-Fi & FantasyVannerbehn's Luck Pt. 10

Vannerbehn's Luck Pt. 10

byAspernEssling©

I contacted both Inavar and Ledomir; they had to be told what I'd learned. I wasn't sure how they'd take it, but I insisted that we had to meet at the Narimac, so that Ludianne could block any scrying or listening spell. Syrava might know where I was, but she wouldn't be able to see me, or listen in.

Inavar came the very next day.

- "Ledomir will see you the day after tomorrow." he said. "It wouldn't do for us to be seen in the same place too often. Now - why did we have to meet here?"

I explained about Syrava. The Wolf just grunted. So I backed up, and told him everything - from the beginning. I gave Taliesine and Kima full credit for what they'd done - it never hurt to have a Pirate lord beholden to you, even in a small way.

- "It's not Jerian, Lord." I said. "It's Cremyne."

- "Because you overheard the lesbian wizard say that it wasn't just sex?" He sounded skeptical.

- "No, Lord. I have several reasons. After following Jerian on multiple occasions, I can only conclude that he isn't up to anything. Drinking and wenching, mostly. Yes, he's seen a few independent captains, but all Pirate Lords do that."

- "True. But what makes you suspect his wife?"

- "She discredited his best friend, his right-hand man. He took on a new head of security: Syrava. Jerian may think that she works for him, but she's in love with Cremyne. If you want to be absolutely sure, you can ask Jerian if he knows who I am. I suspect that he has no idea that I've been inside his house - twice. Or that Syrava's tried to kill me - three times."

- "If it is Cremyne," said the Wolf, "what is she after? What does she hope to gain?"

- "I'm not absolutely certain, but my guess is that she'll take over his power base. She's seduced three of his four captains. The one she couldn't win over, she had murdered. His successor may have feared the same fate; he's gone on a cruise to Iir."

"She tried to infiltrate your ranks, with Teeshay. I wouldn't be surprised if she's already siphoned off a substantial amount of Jerian's money. When she's ready, Jerian will die. Suddenly. But accidentally. And she'll step into his place. She's laid all the groundwork, so it'll be a fairly smooth transition."

Inavar frowned, but otherwise, didn't move. He was remarkably still: he didn't fidget, or scratch, or tap his fingers. It was tremendous self-control; I wondered how he'd learned to do that.

- "I can't take these suspicions to Jerian." he said. "There's not enough solid proof. I'm not disagreeing with your interpretation, Kelsen. But at this point it's mostly conjecture. I would need more facts before I could bring it to him."

"Otherwise, he'll suspect that I'm interfering, trying to sow confusion among his crews. He won't thank me for it, that's for sure. In the meantime, we have to keep you from being assassinated. But we also need more solid proof of what Cremyne is up to."

Great. Try to stay alive, Kelsen. But keep looking for more evidence. Catch them red-handed, if you can. Then bring the proof to us - preferably on a silver platter. The gratitude of Princes ...

Inavar saw my reaction. "It's not as easy as you think." he said. "We can't just arrest the wife of a Pirate Lord for plotting. This is Kumyr. Everyone plots. All the time."

"The only way we could arrest Cremyne would be if she tried a coup - and failed."

- "I understand." I said. I did: if Inavar simply had Cremyne killed, that would eliminate the problem. But if Jerian - or any other Pirate Lord - ever found out ... Powerful as they were, neither Inavar nor Ledomir were absolute monarchs. They led a council of other Pirate Lords.

Pirate justice could be swift, and it could be very cruel. It just couldn't be arbitrary.

So where did that leave Kelsen and friends?

Ledomir, when I saw him, was a little more sympathetic. But he came to the same conclusion: we needed considerably more proof before they could approach Jerian. In between my meetings with the Pirate Lords, though, I'd had a little time to think.

- "I have an idea." I told Ledomir.

***

Taliesine was extremely busy. She was helping Ludianne, first of all, with research and the gathering of materials; all of this in order to prepare a spell which would return Ludianne to her own original plane of existence.

The wizard was also trying to come up with a long-lasting spell of concealment, which would hide me from Syrava. Until I had that kind of protection, I would always be in danger the moment I stepped outside our house, or the Narimac.

Somehow, though, my raven-haired housemate found time to take on a student. I had the harder part: getting Denya to show up.

- "Do I have to?" she whined, when I insisted that she take a bath.

- "You aren't sitting on the furniture in our house until you do."

- "I can sit on the floor."

- "No, you'll get the carpet dirty. Look, I bought you some clean clothes to wear."

She made a fuss, but Denya was actually keen to meet Taliesine. My little street urchin was clever; she knew that I could cast spells, and she understood that it gave me an edge. I think that Denya looked forward to matching or even surpassing my ability. But was she prepared for the hard work that it would require?

"You'll have to show Taliesine some respect. Don't talk back, and don't be sarcastic: she has very little patience, and no sense of humour."

I looked her in the eyes. "This is important, Denya. Don't screw it up."

- "I know." she said. For the first time - ever, for as long as I'd known her - Denya lowered her eyes. "Thank you, Kelsen."

***

A week later, Ledomir hosted a party for the Pirate Lords and their families. The occasion, supposedly, was to show off two new accomplishments. One of the independent pirates, Tumanang, had agreed to join the Blue Cloaks. The most powerful of the Pirate Lords was now that much stronger.

But Ledomir had also acquired the services of Maharis LongFinger, an elven bard of great renown in Kumyr. Maharis had a voice that people described as other-worldly. I was looking forward to hearing her perform.

There was another reason why I was looking forward to the party: the whole thing was my idea. I'd explained what I was thinking to both Ledomir and the Wolf, and I'd even loaned them the money to hire the elven bard.

The purpose of this whole exercise was to make sure that Jerian would attend, with his wife. And if they were present, then Syrava would be, too. While the two women were enjoying the party, it would not strike them as unusual if Jerian was called away, briefly, to meet with a few other Pirate Lords.

Besides, I would be there, to distract them just that little bit more.

There might have been three hundred people there, many of them dressed to the hilt, and decked out in their best jewelry. The women looked quite good, too. Cremyne, though, outdid them all.

Her auburn hair was drawn back, to highlight the fabulous earrings she wore. Her lips were painted a subtle shade of amaranth. Cremyne's gown was a marvel all on its own: black silk, low-cut to reveal nearly half of her prodigious breasts, with only two thin straps anchoring it to her shoulders. I'm sure that many of the other guests were secretly hoping that these slender strips of fabric might snap, or slip.

The rest of the dress was more like a sheath, clinging to her sensational body, emphasizing her flat stomach, the swell of her hips, and the jutting bowls of her exquisite arse.

Jerian himself seemed oblivious; or maybe he no longer cared what impact his wife was having. Syrava stalked behind them, scowling. Was she concerned for the security of her employer(s)? Or jealous?

There were three others in their party, two of whom I didn't recognize. A red-haired male, with a neatly trimmed goatee and mustaches so long that they were braided, and had small gold rings dangling from them. He also had more earrings than Cremyne. Handsome enough, I suppose, but he carried himself with a certain arrogance, which put me off.

The woman on his arm was a slender blonde, whose dress was as tight as Cremyne's, though she didn't have as much to showcase.

I decided to make my presence known early, so I approached them.

- "My Lord Jerian." I said, with a half-bow. "My Lady."

- "Hey - I know you." said Jerian the Younger. "You own the Narimac!"

- "I have that honour."

- "That was a fun night." he said. "We should do that again." As Jerian spoke, his wife studiously ignored me. It probably took more effort to snub me like this than it would have taken to acknowledge me briefly and then move on.

Syrava didn't ignore me. She glared. If we had been playing the acting game, I would have guessed that she was trying to express sheer bloody murder with her eyes.

- "You're the new owner of the Narimac?" said the red-headed male with the jewelry, as he stepped forward.

- "My brother-in-law, Armon." said Jerian, already bored.

- "I've been to the Narimac several times," said Armon, "but I've yet to see to see you there."

- "Ah, my partner Ludianne does such a good job of running the place, it isn't always necessary for me to be present." I said.

- "She's quite something." said Armon, with a leer. Up close, he was that much more handsome. He introduced the woman on his arm - Cleona, or Cleano. I forgot her name the moment he said it. Then Armon introduced the last member of their party.

"My man, Samadar."

- "We've met." said the dark-skinned, dark-eyed asshole that I'd encountered at the Eagle - when he claimed that I was sitting at his table. He'd shaved his head for the occasion. His voice was just as cold, just as expressionless as the first time I'd heard it.

"I remember Master Kelsen." he said. "I remember him very well."

Had we been meeting outdoors, I would've been reaching for my pistols. They wouldn't dare to try anything at a party, in a crowd - would they?

Pirate Lord Rymogo extricated me from what might have become an awkward situation. She threw an arm around my shoulder, and shouted in my ear.

- "Kelsen! I was looking for you!" Then she pretended to catch sight of Jerian's party.

"Jerian." she said, coolly.

- "Rymogo." he answered, equally cool. "You know my wife, Cremyne." Then he had to introduce the rest of his party. They were - understandably - much more polite to old Rymogo than they'd been to me.

She greeted them perfunctorily, and then returned her attention to me.

- "So: when are you inviting us back to the Narimac?"

- "When I recover from the losses you inflicted on us the last time." I said, with a grin.

- "That was enjoyable - I'd like to do it again." she said. Jerian and his group had moved on, and were out of earshot.

"So -" said Rymogo. "What are you doing here?"

- "Pardon?"

- "Simple question. Why are you here? Who invited you?"

- "I don't understand ..."

Rymogo shook her head, sadly. "Look, Kelsen: you own a gambling den. You seem like a nice fellow - but how exactly do you belong here tonight?"

I didn't have a ready answer. It wasn't a question I'd expected to be asked.

"Just tell me who invited you. I'll take it up with them."

- "Ledomir." I admitted. What else could I do?"

- "All right." said the Pirate Lady. "Enjoy the evening."

Things went much better after that. I got to have a few drinks, and enjoy Maharis LongFinger's performance. She was even better than I'd expected. For the rest of the evening, I avoided other Pirate lords, in case they wondered, as Rymogo had, what I was doing there.

Well before the party ended, Ledomir caught my eye, from across the room. He winked, and scratched his chin three times. That was the pre-arranged signal.

It was done.

I left a little early, escorted by four Blue Cloaks - just in case. We made it back to the Narimac without incident.

Business looked good, but I was more interested in what I would find upstairs. Ludianne joined me on my way up.

- "All done." she said.

- "Thank you."

Upstairs, Taliesine and Kima were waiting. Between them, tied to a chair, was a young woman - unconscious, or asleep.

Teeshay.

***

- "Any trouble?' I asked.

- "She was exactly where you said she'd be." said Kima. "Little Denya got us close, and then distracted Teeshay at the last moment. Taliesine hit her with a sleep spell. Easy."

Kima had then carried the unconscious girl to the Narimac. They'd come in through the rear entrance, to avoid attracting too much attention.

- "Ludianne put her under again." said Taliesine. "Remarkable: it is not a spell at all. I cannot quite describe how it functions - yet it is supremely effective."

- "How long will she sleep?"

- "Until Ludianne decides that we are ready."

- "Perfect."

I had something to eat, and then a short nap. When everyone involved in our little plan arrived, Ludianne woke me.

- "Ready?" she asked. "Everyone else is in position."

We left Teeshay tied to the chair. If she was uncomfortable, that was all to the good. I sat on a chair opposite her, about ten feet away. Ludianne sat on a cushion, next to me. I had to avoid looking down at her; I had a tremendous view down the front of her blouse. That wouldn't help my concentration at all.

Taliesine and Kima sat behind us, just off to the side, for a little added menace.

- "All set?" asked Ludianne. Then she waved at Teeshay.

Our captive awoke instantly. She was confused for a moment, to find herself tied to a chair, when her last memory was of hiding in the park across from our house. She saw the four of us, and began to add two and two together.

- "Hello, Teeshay." I said.

- "Kelsen? What's going on? Why am I here?" She blinked rapidly, feigning confusion. I didn't say anything. An innocent person would have continued to ask questions, or to protest, but Teeshay was too busy planning her next move.

- "You're here, Teeshay, because you're a habitual liar. We wanted to have you in an environment where we could compel you to tell the truth."

- "Compel?"

- "That's right. You know who this is, don't you?" I asked, indicating the Janni seated beside me.

- "Of course I do - you introduced us. What's this all about, Kelsen? Why am I tied up?" Finally, she was asking the right questions - but too late for them to be genuine.

- "Ludianne can detect lies, Teeshay. We're here to ask you some questions. And you'd better tell the truth - because for every lie you tell, I'm going to give you a stroke of the rod. No, not on your back. Across the back of your legs."

Teeshay winced. She knew the difference.

"Five strokes on one leg, five on the other." I said. "After that, the soles of your feet. Then I'll switch to the hot iron, and I'll begin to mark you. Permanently."

Teeshay swallowed. It took a moment for her to remember that she was supposed to be innocent.

- "Why?" she shouted. "Why are you doing this? I've never lied to you!"

- "That's one." I said.

- "It certainly is." said Ludianne.

- "How would you like to feel the rod, Teeshay? One stroke at a time? Or would you prefer to defer them all until the end? Because I have a feeling that's not the only lie you're going to tell us tonight."

- "I'm not lying! Why would I lie?" she shouted, even louder.

I shook my head. "No one can hear you. It's well past closing time. But you repeated the same lie, Teeshay. That was foolish. Something tells me that you need a demonstration."

Kima rose to her feet. I passed her the rod, and she strode over to where our prisoner was seated. Teeshay's legs were tied to the sides of the back legs of the chair. Kima touched the tip of the rod to the skin of Teeshay's calf.

Then she pulled it back, and swung it - hard. Teeshay nearly gagged on her own shriek. It's hard to scream when you're swallowing your own tongue.

I didn't enjoy seeing that - not at all. Nor did I like seeing Teeshay cry, as Kima came back and passed me the rod. But if that little exhibition taught Teeshay a lesson, then it might be worth it.

Originally, I had suggested that a blow across the back of the chair might startle and intimidate her enough. Taliesine and Kima disagreed. Ludianne had abstained from voicing an opinion. But she had offered a solution.

- "I can make Teeshay feel the pain, without having to actually strike her."

- "Pardon me?"

- "It would be an illusion. She would feel it, but there would be no contact."

It wasn't perfect. I wasn't torturing a young woman; neither was Kima. It just looked like we were. My partner was doing the actual torturing, with simulated pain. I just had to pretend that this whole scene didn't disturb me.

- "I'm going to count your lies from here on, Teeshay." I said. "You'll get a stroke for each one. Do you understand?"

She was still sobbing, but she nodded her head rapidly.

- "Alright. Let's try this: who are the two women seated behind me?"

- "I don't know! I've never met them before!"

- "The first part of her statement was false." said Ludianne. "The second was not."

- "That's because they've never been formally introduced." I said. "But she knows very well who they are. Second lie." I held out the rod, and Kima stood up again.

- "Kima!" shouted Teeshay. "Kima and Taliesine!"

Kima sat down again. I sighed.

- "We won't count that as a lie, since you corrected yourself. But don't try our patience, Teeshay - that's a commodity in short supply, tonight."

"How about this: how do you know their names, if you never met them? Who told you?"

Teeshay thought about it for a second. I extended my arm, with the rod held out.

- "Syrava!" she snapped.

- "Better." I said. "Who is your employer?"

- "Jerian, the Younger." Technically, I suppose, that was true. I decided to let it pass, for the moment, and let Teeshay think that she'd gotten away with one.

- "Have you slept with him?"

She hesitated for a moment. "Yes."

That gave me a sudden inspiration. "Who else have you slept with, in the past month?"

Her jaw dropped. "Are you serious?"

- "Very. Who else?"

- "You, for one." Then, reluctantly, Teeshay proceeded to name nine more men. Three were independent pirate captains; three were members of Inavar's crews. The last trio were one of Ledomir's captains, his first mate, and a man whose name meant nothing to us. Teeshay glanced at Ludianne, quickly, as she finished her list.

- "All true." said the Janni. "But she left out two men, and two women."

Teeshay could only stare at my partner, her mouth open.

- "That counts as a lie, I think." I said.

- "Armon. Samadar. Syrava. And Loella." said Teeshay, rattling off the names.

- "That was Armon, Cremyne's brother," I said, "and his bodyguard. Armon shares you, does he?"

Teeshay scowled at me. "No. Samadar is my boyfriend."

Good grief. Samadar was either very open-minded, or completely oblivious. It was hardly surprising, though, that Teeshay worked both sides of the street.

- "Who is Loella?" I asked.

- "Rymogo's mistress."

Oops. I hadn't expected to learn so many new things. The whole reason for this exercise in coercion was to expose facts that we were already sure of.

- "Teeshay, how many times have you tried to have me killed?"

- "Only once."

- "So it was Syrava, the other two times?"

- "Yes."

- "Now, you said earlier that Jerian was your employer. But you really serve someone else, don't you?"

Teeshay hesitated. "I work for Jerian." she said.

- "That's a deliberate evasion. Pretty much a lie." I said. Kima stood up.

- "Cremyne!" shouted Teeshay. "I serve Cremyne."

- "Did she get rid of Jerian's oldest friend, and replace him with Syrava?"

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