The day passed slowly. Avarron watched the landscape pass by as they steadily sailed up the stream. Nariain had left him again and it seemed as if everyone on the ship was afraid to come near him. For that, he was grateful. Keeping his thoughts on the mission was challenging enough without interuptions.
In his mind, he repeated the plan over and over, making minor adjustments that somehow made the plan all that more likely to succeed. At the same time, there was this voice in the back of his mind, telling him that it was all insicnificant. Indeed, no matter what he added or changed, the core remained the same: to disembark early in the morning and sneak in the shadow of the city walls to the other side, where the palace lay, to sneak in, find the necromancer and slay him. Simple and direct, yet rife with uncertainties. Thus, he spent the entire day fretting over details such as the time of arrival and their break-in of the palace.
“Ready?” Nariain’s sharp question pulled him out of his thoughts.
He looked at her confused, wondering what she was talking about.
“Doesn’t matter. You’ll never be,” she filled in the unspoken answer with a chuckle.
“Ready for what? Avarron finally asked.
“Dining with the fat man,” she said, making no effort to hide her disgust.
Avarron nodded slowly. Convincing the captain to make a stop just outside the city was first on his list of uncertainties. If he failed here, the entire afternoon of planning would have been in vain. “Let’s go,” he said, holding back the tense sigh that welled up in him and offering his arm to Nariain.
She looked at it with a defiant look that told him exactly what she was thinking about the gesture. Releasing the sigh he said: “We have to look the part, you know.”
“It doesn’t matter. None of it does,” she replied, but took his arm anyway. As she did, she cast him a glance that made him brace for one of her violent outbursts.
Her glare turned into a mischievous grin and she pulled him along. “As long as you know that it’s just an act.”
Avarron rolled his eyes at her. Now was hardly the time to be fooling around, and it wasn’t like he wanted it to be more than an act. Fae or not, she was about as charming as a stray dog. He decided against telling her and simply let her lead the way.
She practically threw him through the cabin’s small door. It was dark inside, yet gold and silver glittered in the candlelight. Coins, jewels and other treasures lay in heaps in the corners of the room. Tapestries hung on the walls and in the centre stood a large, righly decorated table, with smoked fish, roasted meat and exotic fruits displayed. The captain sat in the centre of it all, wearing clothes as extravagant as the room.
He must have stood staring for a moment, for the captain said: “A man can make a decent living being a merchant these days, provided he doesn’t spend all his coin on frivolities, of course.”
“I see,” was all Avarron managed to reply. The wealth contained under the low ceiling could rival the hall of more than one castle he knew.
A hand with sausage-thick fingers shot out towards Avarrron. “Name’s Andaor, but you can call me Capt’n if you prefer,” he chuckled with his entire body.
Avarron forced a faint smile on his face and tried to humour the man. “I’m Avarron, but you can call me ‘Sir’, if you prefer,” he said as he shook Andaor’s hand.
The captain burst into laughter. “Hah, I like you already! Now, who’s the pretty lass at your side?”
“That would be fair Lady Nariain, my graceful companion,” Avarron said and strained his muscles in expectation of her elbow.
It didn’t come. Much to his surprise, she made an ever so slight bow, barely more than a nod, to the captain and thanked him for his hospitality. Then her eyes flicked from the chair in front of her to Avarron and back. He knew well what that meant, yet stood a moment to take in the surprise that she did, and even more so that she expected it of him. They had to look the part, he reminded himself and presented the chair to her, allowing her to sit before he took his own chair.
Over the dinner, Avarron casually asked about the state of affairs in Terrálh. Often, he received general answers, things the Ardaithe had already told him. Other times, the captain would talk endlessly about the shipping business. The one thing he always returned to was the ever-present conflict and chaos in Terrálh, and how it yielded the most fantastic business opportunities. “Peace,” he said, and Avarron could already fill in the rest of the often repeated creed: “Peace is for the dim-witted and the weak.”
Avarron simply nodded politely, trying his best to avoid any form of conflict, but he felt that Andaor already considered him one of the ‘weak and dim-witted’. Still, he took every effort to get amicable with the captain. If only Eleana were here, he mused. She would have wound the man around her finger within a minute. Only at the end of the dinner, after about two hours of telling stories and jokes to get on the captain’s good side, did he dare to ask the question: “Will there be any stops before Lainthair?”
Immediately, the captain eyed him warily. “Why do you want to avoid the city?”
“Surely you understand the need for discretion at times,” Nariain jumped in with a sweet voice. “We’d rather not draw unnecessary attention.”
“Of course, we would compensate you for any caused delays,” Avarron added.
Andaor grinned knowingly. “Yes, I understand discretion, but I’m afraid that I cannot help you. My shipment cannot wait and is already suffering aggrevating delays due to the lack of good wind.
“We’ve had excellent winds for most of the journey,” Nariain protested.
“The answer is no,” Andaor said resolute. “I must bring my shipment to Lainthair immediately. King’s demand, you see.”
Avarron raised a confused eybrow at the captain. Terrálh hadn’t had a king since…
“We’ll not be delivered to Donash on a silver platter,” Nariain interrupted his thoughts.
“We’re the shipment?” Avarron asked, an incredulous look on his face.
“Of course. He knows we’re coming,” Nariain responded.
“Heh, she’s one with the brains of you lot, it seems,” Andaor chuckled, clearly delighted by the turn of events.
Avarron’s eyes narrowed. As much as he hated it, it was time for another form of persuation. “You’re forgetting one thing,” he told the captain as he slowly drew his sword.
Andaor wasn’t intimidated in the slightest by Avarron’s sword, waving the threat away with a laugh. “And what do you think you’re going to do with that sword? You think you can take over this ship with just one sword?” he taunted.
“You forget that I’m not alone. I have enough loyal men with me to eradicate any resistance.” The thought of it was repulsive, but he had played this scenario over and over in his head. If it came that far, it was still a viable route. Even without sailors, it would be simple enough to run the ship aground on the river bank and escape.
Andaor returned to his smug grin. “Even if you could, you wouldn’t. You’re one of those peace lovers. Weak. You’re overestimating yourself here, little knight.”
As if on cue, Asratorix stormed in the room. Seeing Avarron with sword in hand didn’t surprise him in the slightest. “We’re surrounded,” he said, making an effort to keep his voice calm. “All of the other passengers, they’re living dead.”
“Of course. It’s a trap,” Nariain stated with unbelievable calmness.
“This isn’t over yet,” Avarron yelled at the captain’s chubby and ever so amused face before he headed out to assess the battle.
“No, Sir. It isn’t nearly over,” Andaor said delighted. “Not until I collect my reward from Lord Donash.”