Moonlight and Swordplay
by Martin Hall

  Shantytown was far from quiet late at night. Carousing sailors, the inevitable fist fights, and the occasional drunken demolition of makeshift inns that had run low on rum drifted across the night air. Clouds of dust and staggering mobs loomed in and out of the shadowy recesses of the pirate haven.

   Sam Hobbes liked to take his time on his nightly constitutional, as he called it. To others, it would be a drunken stagger through the cold night air, often ending in his falling in the lake. Luckily, reflected Hobbes as he leaned on a wall for support, he didn't have to explain his waterlogged state to anyone. He tipped his hat, ran a finger around the band, and replaced it very carefully on his head at an angle he considered jaunty.

   "Hey, Friend! Need a hand getting home?" A loud Castillian voice blasted out over Hobbes' shoulder. Hobbes jumped, though the effect was hardly noticeable beneath his overly large coat. He slewed round to face the figure in the alley and smiled, despite his face's best efforts to go to sleep.

   "Oh, it's yerself." Hobbes bowed extravagantly. The man who walked out of the alley was dressed in clothes that embodied function over fashion, cut from the cloth of generations of swordsmen. His sword hung ready at his side and two angry scars ran along his cheeks, parallel to his eyes. "Mister Anquilar. Have ye had a fine evening, sir?"

   "I have had a very fine evening, Senor Hobbes, as you well know. I bought you five drinks." The Castillian fell into step beside Hobbes as they wound through the irregular streets toward the lake.

   "Did ye now? Spirits, I hope. We haven't been lucky enough to get Inish beer over here for months."

   Anquilar nodded sombrely. "Whiskey. Now, Senor Hobbes, is it true what you said? That you have seen captain Allende this evening?"

   Hobbes nodded vigorously and his hat slid from his bobbing head. He bent to pick it up, beating the dust of the road from the misshapen thing. "That's the thing. Saw him myself, made port this morning in some navy ship flying his colours. A glorious thing to see. Those Castillians, they couldn't catch him if they tried!" Hobbes chuckled. "No offence."

   Anquilar smiled humourlessly in the shadowy night. "None taken, friend. Now, captain Allende, where is he tonight, do you think?" His voice took on an eager tone. "Did he say?"

   Hobbes tapped conspiratorially on his nose. "Ah, now! That would be telling, would it not? Surely it would. Can't have folks bothering the captain tonight. First time to relax he'll have had in months, eh?" He shrugged. "My stop I'm afraid, Senor. I haven't fallen in the lake all week, and we put to sea tomorrow. If I don't fall in tonight, that's the trip cursed, isn't it?" He pointed to the end of the jetty where a young lady, the light from a lantern catching on the skirt of a silk dress beneath her thick cloak, sat. She scribbled in a small volume with a pencil and hummed absently to herself as her sketch took shape. Anquilar frowned, his scars underlining his dark eyes. "Who's that?"

   Hobbes followed his companion's cue, looking slowly and laboriously along the jetty. The figure was definitely a girl. Hobbes blinked and squinted. "I think it's a lady. She ain't dressed like any of the girls on my crew, I'll tell you that."

   Anquilar loosened his sword in its scabbard as he advanced down the jetty. "Wait here," he spat at Hobbes. "I'll be back for you." He strode over to the figure at the end of the dock and towered over her. She had a book open in her lap. At the sound of Anquilar's approach, the book snapped shut in a flurry of half-glimpsed verse and line drawings.

   "Senorita," he hissed, "I have important business here, and I require you to leave." Anquilar looked about uneasily. The woman was dressed in the sort of finery that would be more at home in the court of King Sandoval.

   She twisted to look up and sighed, a sound that carried an armful of nuisances and woes. "I shall leave when they provide a vessel to return me to Castille and a formal letter of apology for my abduction, and not before."

   "I had no part of your abduction, and I can assure you passage to Castille if you will retire for the evening." His eyes glowed in the light that spilled from the lantern. "This town can be dangerous at night."

   The girl stood up and smoothed her red silk dress. "Really? You can send me home?" she pouted.

   Anquilar nodded indulgently. "Of course. I shall be sure to speak to the next captain to head for Castille. It is assured."

   The pout disappeared from her lips as they broke into a smile. "Oh, thank you! Thank you!" She curtsied to the swordsman enthusiastically and trotted past him down the jetty. Anquilar smiled knowingly over the dark waters.

   The girl suddenly stopped. "Oh, and Mendoza?"

   Anquilar turned and had begun to reply when he halted himself.

   The girl smiled. "Thank you." Anquilar uttered a curse and reached for his blade. Like a flash, the girl dived under his guard and wrenched his scabbard from his hip. The blade was in her hand and Anquilar grabbed empty air as the scabbard was tossed into the lake. Anquilar roared and flicked a knife into his hand from his sleeve, slashing at the girl's face.

   She whirled around, catching her heavy cloak on Anquilar's knife and twisting it in his grip. He lunged forward, desperately keeping his grip tight on the trapped blade. She brought the flat of his cutlass down hard on the back of his knees, sending him crashing noisily to the jetty.

   A confused voice poked timidly into the combat. "Here! Lass! Hey, now!"

   The girl smashed the hilt of the sword into Anquilar's face as he stood. The swordsman's eyes crossed as the back of his skull was knocked into the hard wooden slats and he lay groaning on the floor. "Who…?"

   "A friend, monsignor." She chirped, her bright voice incongruous with the blade in her hand. "Not a friend of yours, though, or your Cardinal's. A poor disguise you adopted. I happened to visit La Pasiega last Quintus, Mendoza, and I know who gave you those scars." She looked at the blade and tutted, raising her eyebrows like a disappointed tutor. "A serpent sword? Only agents of the church carry these, Monsignor. As you are aware."

   Monsignor Diego Mendoza raised his hand weakly to the scar on his left cheek, gritting his teeth against the swimming pain in his head. The girl looked down at the prostrate Inquisitor. "El Vago sends his regards." With that, she smashed the hilt of the sword against his forehead, and the Inquisitor lay wheezing quietly on the jetty. For a long moment she looked at the unconscious man, then spun on her heel and marched up to Hobbes.

   The drunk stood at the beach, his legs jelly beneath him. He watched the petite lady gather a coil of rope from one of the tethered fishing vessels, then he watched her bind the Castillian swordsman to a mooring post, completely unable to move so much as a finger. Then he watched her pick up her book and carefully conceal it somewhere in her cloak. Then he watched her mess up her hair and run away in a panicked dash. Then he shook his head and jumped in the lake.

   When he got out, the Castillian was still bound and senseless. Samuel Ignatius Hobbes wrung out his hat and walked home in the cold night air, his boots squelching with every step.

   The Free Man's Tavern was a roaring success, as far as the Brotherhood was concerned. Rum, tobacco and plates of sausages swam through the thick air of the converted storehouse, contraband taken from every nation of Theah. Buccaneers and pirates of all varieties rubbed shoulders, from the simple farmers of La Bucca itself to the most famous former inmates of the prison. Massive tables stretched on through the smoky air, songs were roared out discordantly, the purple-faced chantey men in direct competition with each other. A sailor, his legs hooked around a cart's wheel laden with candles, scooped a mug from the hand of an unwary patron and vanished into the smoke. The laughter of the drunken pirates was music to the ears of Carlo San Teodoro, who chuckled softly and sung along as he wiped a filthy rag along the interior of a filthier mug. The captain was back, and the men had a right to be boisterous.

   The doors flew open, letting out a wisp of greasy air. The innkeeper looked up with a start to see a terrified woman tearing through the rows of drunks, parting them in a confused wake as she passed, her red silk dress rustling as she pushed the rowdy men aside. Tears streamed down her face. "Captain Allende! I need to speak with the captain!"

   A tall man stood up and swept low in a bow to her. When he spoke, his voice was sober and educated. "Dona Lucia. What brings you here at this time of night?" He grinned, and remarked over his shoulder, "Or is it morning already?" The men laughed hard, but stopped when they saw the little noblewoman frowning at them.

   "Captain, I have been most sorely tried since my arrival here, and just now I have witnessed two men fighting in the street." Her lip quivered.

   Allende ran a hand through his dark hair and looked her in the eye. "My crew have just returned to port, my lady. It's just high spirits."

   "No, it is most certainly not high spirits!" Her cheeks flushed red as her voice rose. "A scarred man fighting a duel with El Vago is not high spirits!"

   The air of humour left the pirate's face. "The Vagabond was here? Where?"

   Dona Lucia pointed to the door, her finger shaking. "By the jetty out on Gregorlake."

   Allende signalled two men to follow him, and bowed to the girl. "You have my thanks. El Vago would not be here if the threat was not great." He bounded toward the door.

   She called after him, as if she had forgotten something. "I demand you tell one of your ships to return me to Castille, captain!"

   The Pirate King turned and laughed. "If I could, I would, my Lady! These people are not my subjects, they are free men! I can't tell them what to do."

   She reddened further as she shouted after him. "Then take me back yourself!"

   As he got to the door, he replied over the returning din of the tavern, "I just got here, my lady. We have to provision and repair the Roost. She can't sail again for a while. You have my regrets." With a roguish grin, he bounded out into the night.

   Dona Lucia del Torres stormed out of the tavern. "The impudent swine! Who does he think he is?" She stalked off into the night of Shantytown, muttering to herself until she was sure she was far away from the tavern. They would have found the Inquisitor by now. Good. That meant her Prince was safe. Looking around furtively, she drew her book from the folds of the cloak and fished a pencil from her sleeve. His was a hard smile to capture, but Dona Lucia had all the time she needed to work on it.