In due course, Balstep finished his performance. To be fair to him, he didn’t go on for too long, and he had enough decent material, so I felt it was a creditable performance. So to the tumultuous applause of his minions he climbed down to join them in the audience. I moved once more to the front of the stage and was about to say something when I heard the sound of hammering coming from the town. Like everybody else I looked in that direction but could see nothing. Then like everybody else I had something of a fright when Lord Cartin, who had climbed silently onto the stage from behind me, marched to the front, and addressed the crowd.
“Good people of Slipshade.” He paused briefly and added, “And for the sake of completeness, the rogues of Slipshade as well. I’m sure you’ll all join with me in thanking Master Steelyard here for organising an excellent evening’s entertainment.”
There was sporadic applause, but most of it seemed to come from a row of dismounted men-at-arms who were now standing at the side of the stage. The audience stood into total silence. Thus, in a conversational tone, Lord Cartin continued. “Inspired by the efforts Master Steelyard has made, I felt I would add a further act to this performance. In the town at the moment my men are building a gallows and another is being erected in the Keep. In the next half an hour we will start rounding up those pirates and other villains who justice demands should dance from these scaffolds for our edification and delight.”
As I watched men seemed to fade seamlessly away. Within moments the crowd was perhaps half the size it had been. Lord Cartin added, almost as an afterthought, “Oh and my men are already on the boats, anybody leaving will do so on foot.”
As I left the stage, Old Jerky approached me. “Was this your idea?” I got the impression he wasn’t entirely happy.
“So what now?”
I had been pondering that myself. “Personally I think we need to get out of Partann as swiftly as possible. The roads are going to be clogged with people who feel we have in some manner, cheated them.”
Ever practical, Old Jerky nodded. “Right, I’ll get everybody together.”
The problem was deciding exactly how we would leave. On the understanding that the assorted pirates and others would be on the roads, having been denied access to boats, leaving by boat seemed sensible. If we left soon, we could cross to Travitant Quay long before anybody else from Slipshade arrived. It struck me that once there, we could trade the boat for passage back to Port Naain. I put this to Lord Cartin, who raised an entirely reasonable, if inconvenient point. Any boats belonged to Lady Kastair. Thus he could hardly give me one of his employer’s boats for me to sell on.
Then I had a moment of inspiration. “I gather she wants to assume ownership of the crown of Slipshade keep?”
“There is the problem that the three stones that graced it have disappeared.”
Lord Cartin remained silent, as an encouragement for me to continue.
“I assume that if I could arrange for the return of the stones, she would consider that adequate recompense for a boat?”
“I think we can assume that. Where are the stones?”
I recounted the entire story, and finished with my suggestion that they were currently lodged, along with a lot of very dubious pie, in the digestive tract of Flobbard Wangil.
Lord Cartin was as good as his word. The company, on this occasion not graced by our friend Flobbard, was assigned a boat. In all candour, it wasn’t the newest or the largest of the boats available. I tried to hold out for something larger on the grounds that we had to be able to sell it and buy passage home. Lord Cartin countered that not only did he doubt our ability to manage a larger boat, he didn’t want us to make so much money that we travelled home in luxury, thus becoming discontented with our lot once we were forced to revert to our normal penury in Port Naain. We compromised, as we had both intended, on something of moderate size.
As a company we boarded a boat and on discovering that Old Jerky had worked as a seaman, I appointed him captain. We were lucky, having a fair number of vigorous young women who were perfectly capable of swarming up masts and suchlike. We also has enough people to stand on the deck and pull ropes as directed. Thus and so, we crossed the estuary. It must be admitted that our progress wasn’t elegant but we arrived safely. I confess that as we reached our journey’s end, we might have been a little slow to lower the sails. Also boats don’t stop abruptly unless they actually hit something. So we probably ‘kissed’ the wharf at Travitant rather more firmly than might have been hoped.
Of course this led to a frank and open exchange of views with the harbour master. He claimed that the wharf had shifted a foot when we hit it. Given that the wharf was in reality built of large stone blocks we begged leave to differ. Indeed Old Jerky suggested that there might be an element of hyperbole in the comment.
When the harbour master realised we wanted to sell our boat he changed his tune and pointed out that ramming a big solid wharf like his with a rotting hulk like ours would have sprung every plank and it was amazing she was still afloat.
There was then a prolonged inspection below decks showed she was still dry and there were no leaks. This revelation merely had him muttering about ‘seams opening up when she hits heavy weather.’
In spite of this we managed to sell our boat for rather more than I expected, (but less than I hoped for) and booked passage for everybody to Port Naain. That boat we were to leave on had not arrived but was expected later that evening and was scheduled to leave the next day.
At this point Nilinda joined the discussion. She had given returning to Port Naain due consideration and felt that her career would be advanced by a period of travelling. She had decided she would travel to Prae Ducis where she had every hope the populace were suffering from an insatiable craving for the marimba. Her boat also left next day. She intimated that she had access to suitable accommodation for us. This was good news as we had wondered whether we would have to spend that night sleeping on the beach. It appears when she was mistress of Hulan Dorca, she had many times travelled with him to his villa at Travitant. Apparently it was when Hulan announced he was taking his third wife to this villa for a honeymoon that Nilinda decided that it might well be time to terminate her relationship with him. Given that the villa would now be unoccupied and she had the key, she would be delighted to welcome us to stay there with her. We took her up on her kind offer and walked down the road to where the villa overlooked the sea.
The caretaker was somewhat surprised to see us, but obviously knew Nilinda. So she bustled about and with the help of a lady from the town, eventually prepared a perfectly acceptable repast for us. I am afraid we probably made considerable inroads into the wine cellar, but still, it was a most pleasant evening. Next day we left, taking with us several rather nice items of furniture that Nilinda felt she wanted to remember the relationship by. Personally I suspected that they were doubtless pieces that would sell well in Prae Ducis or Port Naain. Next morning when we arrived back at the wharf, we discovered that our passage was booked on the Unrivalled. It has to be said that there are advantages in familiarity, but frankly the stench below decks was no less it had been on the previous voyage. Still our voyage home was comparatively stress free.
Indeed, to be honest when we got back to Port Naain we just dispersed and got on with the constant striving to earn a living. I wondered whether I would still have to maintain a low profile, or whether there were ruffians out there looking for me still. Shena wasn’t sure if there were any unkind receptions planned for me, but was happy with the trip I’d made. Indeed I think she summed the whole episode up nicely. We’d been well paid, in advance, and had managed to make a little extra on the sale of the boat, and I even hung on to some of the money I had been given for expenses. She felt that it had gone well.
I suspect Flobbard would have disagreed with her.
The town of Slipshade did become more civilised. Lord Cartin’s men, under contract from the Kastair family maintained civic decorum. The problem for the Kastair family was that when they arrived in Slipshade, they too were expected to behave in a becoming manner. So the family decided that Port Naain was a more tempting target for extortion and graft. Thus they blessed Slipshade by becoming absentee landlords. Gradually, as word got round, villas appeared along the coast and painters jostled with fishermen in the bar of the inn. Gentrification, after a fashion, doubtless beckons.
Nobody ever recovered the stones and I did wonder about them.
We’re still on tour, and to read more go to Ashlynn’s blog at