The Dracheneisen Cutlass
by Rob Wieland
It was a tavern like many others they frequented: pretty girls, dirty tables and alcohol they could have used to swab the deck of the Uncharted Course. The rest of the crew had crossed the threshold to a heavy ovation. The big bartender clapped Philip on the back like his own brother and ordered the girls to stop keeping tabs. Some of the crew joined the bard in the corner and quickly picked up the tune he was playing. Even old Padre Ochoa had procured himself a glass of Castillian wine.
In the middle of it all were Dupré and Hans, the former dancing with a barmaid and the latter enjoying the entertainment -- and his drink with his feet up on the table. Dupré, ever the charmer, turned the young girl in a nobleman's slow waltz despite the fast up-tempo romp of fiddle and heel. He held her waist firmly with his hand and her eyes firmly with his as they spun slowly and dazzlingly, recreating the Montaigne court in the midst of the rough tavern. Then he pulled away, bowed deeply, and spun her suddenly into the waiting arms of two other crewmen.
With a grin, he joined Hans at the table amidst a roar of applause.
"Why do you do it, Dupré?"
Three beats to a measure. One, two, three, one, two, three.
"A skilled dancer such as you shouldn't be involved in piracy. It's not a respectable occupation."
"The men involved make an occupation respectable. I have relatives I trust less than the captain."
"Were these the relatives who taught you the courtly dances of Montaigne?"
Dupré appeared to ignore the direct question. "Hans, my friend, I have discovered that there are two reasons why men take to the seas. The first is to make their reputation and their children rich. I was the fourth son of a minor noble in a land where a man's reputation was destroyed if he wore the wrong collar fabric. I'll take cannons raining down on me any day."
The barmaid walked by, filling their mugs as she passed.
"Here's to that", Hans said, chuckling and raising his cup as he watched the girl.
"And women. The other reason. Is that why you left?" said Dupré, raising a quizzical eyebrow.
The young Eisen closed his eyes and recited: "She had eyes like the summer sky and hair spun from clouds and gold. She smelled like angels ought to smell."
"My dear Hans, Eisen mourns the loss of its first great poet. Does this vision have a name?"
"By the end of all this, you'll be rich enough to hire someone to cry tears of joy for Fraulein Emilie when you return."
It was the first laugh they shared, thick with brotherhood and friendship.
"How did you know that dance was Montaigne?"
"Can you keep a secret, Dupré?"
Duprée leaned in close. "Of course", he said with hidden smirk.
Hans leaned in as well and smiled. "Well, so can I."
Smoke swept across the deck. Dupré and
Hans crept cautiously along
the rotting planks.
"We are on the deck of the Black Freighter", Hans said, in an almost breathless whisper.
"I trust you are not scared", said Dupré. They shared a pair of nervous smiles.
"I never thought I'd do anything like this, even after being part of Gosse's Gentlemen for so many years."
"Were not out of this yet, Hans. We've got to keep the crew at bay while Phillip puts his plan into action."
"And what plan might that be, breather?"
As the ashen smoke cleared a skeletal thing appeared, sporting the scarlet rags of a fine coat. It's mouth was set in a malicious grin and wedged into the ribcage was a jewelled dagger that poked out through the holes of his coat. Dupré and Hans readied themselves simultaneously.
With a bravado he only barely felt, Hans asked, "What manner of thing are you?"
The creature answered, its voice tinged with a very real human anger. "Don Rodolfo de Anna del Torres! I was a man once."
"Don Deanna? With that name you should have been a woman", chuckled Duprée, who was surprised his wit was still intact. It was either that--or scream in terror.
"Laugh now, sunflower. I was an expert of the Aldana school until that Montaigne sent me to this pit!"
"An expert, eh?" asked Hans, advancing slowly. "Do you feel up to facing two men at once?"
"My dear mud farmer," said the Don, "what kind of a Castillian do you take me for? I brought the Montaigne with me."
There was a shrieking noise from high above and something smashed Hans into the deck. His sword slid through the slime and landed at the creature's feet.
"Gracias, mi amigo. Gentlemen, may I present Gilles Allais du Crieux", the Castillian said as he bent over to pick up the blade. "Just leave me the eyes."
Although the young Eisen was pinned against the deck by the screaming thing, he managed to get his hands around its neck as it clawed at his arms. It was completely skeletal except for the wild slivery hair whipping around its head and the rapier dug into its side. Dupré dashed toward his friend.
"Never mind me", shouted Hans. "Behind you!"
Dupré whirled and parried a deadly accurate lunge by the Castillian.
"That was rather rude, Don Rodolfo", Dupré said, tossing a few blows at his opponent to feel him out. "A true gentleman never stabs in the back."
The creature hissed at him, "I was a gentleman in title only. Now you will know me only as your death."
Hans pummelled de Crieux's skeleton as it closed its hands around his neck and began to squeeze with inhuman strength.
Meanwhile, Dupré traded parries with Don Rodolfo. The creature was his superior despite being dead. Every sword thrust was met with a parry that nearly knocked his blade out of his hands. The Castillian thing toyed with him, laughing, taunting, dancing.
Dupré drew up the last of his strength and slashed his opponent across the torso. Without even looking down to notice, the Don sent Dupré's sword sailing over the rail.
"A hit, sunflower", De Anna growled. "Were I a breather like you, I would most certainly be dead."
Dupré grabbed the railing tightly. His opponent pressed the tip of its weapon into his chest.
Don Rodolfos eyes burned with unholy hatred and a sickly red glow.
"But soon, you shall be just like me..."
Suddenly, the dead Castillian swordsman slumped to the deck, a fine rapier buried in his back. Dupré was relieved to see Hans standing in front of him despite deep scratches in the Eisen's neck.
"Couldn't have it kill you with my sword", Hans said with a grin.
"I pulled this blade from his friend", Hans said, gesturing to the silver-haired body on the deck. "I figured he'd want it returned to him."
A young mans scream cut through the air.
"Daniel", gasped Dupré.
"Lets go!" Hans shouted as he grabbed his sword.
"I'll be with you shortly", Dupré responded. "I need to find a new weapon."
Hans nodded and made his way toward the scream. Dupré scanned the deck. He kicked over a few of the skeletons -- nothing worth fighting with. He turned back to Don Rudolfo de Anna. He had both a dagger and sword lodged in him. He began to pull the dagger out. The Don and de Crieux had apparently killed each other, with the Don having been silenced when his own rapier had been plunged into his back. Which meant…
Dupré heard the shriek again and turned just in time to catch de Crieux's charge full in the chest.
They tumbled across the deck like dice. The force of the attack had pulled the dagger free from De Anna's body but sent it skating across the deck. Apparently whatever frustration it had gained by not feasting on Hans it was taking out on Dupré. He felt deep cuts and gashes opened on his chest and arms. His hands searched for anything he could use as a weapon. Dupré's fingers wrapped around a bone and brought it up as hard as he could. The Montaigne beast howled as it tumbled away from Dupré.
Dupré brought himself to his feet and stumbled toward the daggers resting place on the deck. He dropped to his knees as he clutched the fine hilt. He heard Gilles' skeletal feet quickly scrape along the deck.
Dupré whirled at the last second, driving the dagger deep into its skull. They both collapsed to the deck as an eerie stillness fell upon the ship.
"Goodnight, Snowbeard", whispered Dupré. While he did not find the deck comfortable, he had no problems sinking away from consciousness.
The wood was cool underneath his face. Even with his eyes closed, Dupré could
feel the slow tumble of the sea beneath him. A vicious headache cut in suddenly
and he let out a small moan.
"More wine?" said a voice, coming from somewhere nearby.
His mouth peeled open. "Yes, please", he croaked.
Dupré heroically forced his eyes to open. He discovered an excellent view of an empty bottle lying just beyond his eyelids. He fumbled about his person for money.
Dupré drew himself up slowly. He was able to focus on the woman across the bar from him for a moment. The floor pitched suddenly, and he tumbled off his stool.
"No", he groaned.
"Figures", she said. He heard the bottle thump onto the bar and footsteps walk around it.
"Am I still at sea?"
Hardly. "The River runs through town, but I couldn't afford a place near it."
He felt small hands grab his shoulders and help him up.
"I'm surprised a man of your means made it this far inland. You told me quite the story."
She set him back upon a stool. Her blonde hair eked out from underneath her barmaids cap like a pile of twigs. She was pretty, but her beauty was beginning to be worn down by worry and work. She offered him a glass of wine.
"Thank you", said Dupré, drinking slowly. He was so parched the cheap wine could have been a vintage fit for a nobleman's table.
"You might as well finish that bottle as well."
"I meant for helping me up and not throwing me out onto the street. I've been through a lot of that lately."
"You remind me of someone I knew. A poet. A long time ago." She broke away suddenly.
Dupré glanced around the tavern. He had been in worse, especially since washing ashore those many months ago. It seemed like a pleasant enough place, even cozy. Right now, though, it was an empty place.
"I see you provide personalized service", said Dupré, taking another drink.
"This used to be a good place", she said as she straightened the bottles. "I had regular customers and even hired musicians. Then I got too profitable. Hennig started coming in and asking for goodwill donations. When I refused, he hired some brutes to show me what goodwill means in Vendel."
"I see. That scared away the patrons."
"And now he comes around every week with a smaller offer to buy me out. Every week I have to threaten that I'll run him through."
"Can't you report this to the constable?"
"This is Freiburg, sir. I have to be able to afford one."
Dupré drank again. Slowly, the sober moments of his life began to drift together. Neither Hans nor Daniel had survived the explosion. He waited on that beach for a weekend, hoping Hans would wash ashore. He never did. Only a few of the Gentlemen had survived. They had all parted ways. Since the Freighter, he had hired himself out as a Swordsman and spent his commissions drinking himself to the past. He had been hired in Freiburg. But he couldn't remember why.
"You don't want to sell?"
"Where would I go? I put everything I own into this place. Well, almost everything."
She reached under the bar. She withdrew a bundle and clapped it down. One of the folds slipped away and he saw the glint of metal.
"Dracheneisen", she whispered. Even in the dim light of the tavern, it seemed to glow. She unwrapped it reverently. It was finely crafted, with a dragon cut into the hilt and a guard large enough to fit a panzerhand. He had only seen one other sword that was its equal.
Dupré's eyes widened. Two emotions shot through him like lightning: joy and a horrified realization.
"Good evening, Fraulein Bergman, sighed a tenor voice behind them."
Dupré grabbed the hilt of the Dracheneisen sabre and levelled it at the barkeeps throat.
"I believe you've met my Swordsman", Hennig was thin and well dressed. His thinning blond hair was well hidden by his fashionable Vendel hat. The blues and greens of his suit blended with the shadows.
"My final offer", he said, quietly. "Your life. Leave now and I'll let you live."
Duprés eyes met those of the shocked tavern owner -- and they reminded him of a summer sky.
"So, this is how Freiburg repays charity", she said to him coldly.
"I'm sorry, Emilie", Dupré whispered.
Emilie Bergman closed her eyes and prepared herself for death.
Dupré whirled suddenly and advanced on Hennig, a scowl cut deep into his face. He raised the Dracheneisen weapon as he walked. The Vendel fumbled for something in his pocket as he moved away from the advancing swordsman.
"I'll make you an offer", Dupré said. "Leave now and I'll let you live."
Hennig drew a small pistol but Dupré knocked it away without a second glance.
"Never come back. To this place. To Freiburg. To Eisen. Unless you want to feel the heat of my anger and the coolness of this blade."
Hennig backed completely out of the door and bolted down the street, the feathers on his hat flapping like those of a frightened chicken.
Dupré stood in the doorway and looked at the blade in his hand. All this time and Hans had never mentioned his station. He had given up his title to impress this girl and had found a friend worth more than all the Jennys in Vendel. He took a deep gulp of the night air. There was something electric. Something he hadn't felt in a long time. Hans should have been here, Dupré thought. He turned the blade and smiled. I guess he was.
"You'll never be a very good Swordsman reneging on contracts like that", he heard from inside.
"My days as a sell-sword are over", Dupré said. He walked back into the tavern. It already felt warmer.
"You knew Hans, didn't you?"
"He was my brother of a different mother", Dupré said, chuckling. "He was brave. He made me feel like part of something greater. Together we were unstoppable."
"Not all endings are happy", he said quietly. He looked up and was surprised to see her smiling.
"But beginnings are", said Emilie, as she put her hand over his.