Thievery Abhors

The island’s docks were not entirely as I’d left them. Gulls cried, sailors swore, rope and canvas snapped in the wind as they always had. But the warriors coming down the dockside market street were new. I held up a hand to keep my crew steady. There had been rumors.

Black ink twined around the newcomer’s arms in stylized serpent’s coils. The fresh tattoos were dark and bright in the morning sun. I stepped down to meet them.

“So the old snake managed to take the castle?” This was the archipelago’s largest island and possessed the only fortress among them. Competing families fought for control of the stone castle. The bloody clashes crowned a king for a decade or two before they were ousted in the next spectacle. My own kindred lost the place a century ago. We’d largely given up on it since then,  Apparently, management changed again. I recognized the snake symbol, Rais had made a move.

The leader of the small band sneered, the corner of his nose twisting. “Not so old Fortunatta.”

I shrugged. My eldest brother ran the family now, I’d leave it to him to assure the snake we weren’t interested in his nest. My brothers and I still hunted merchants to bring wealth back to the isles, we had better things to do than fight over a meaningless crumble of stone and mortar. “Take any political matters up with Adan. It’s been a profitable season, I’ve got cargo to unload.”

It would be foolish to turn my back to him, especially with blood running hot from a recent victory. Instead, I waited for them to back down. The leader only smiled. “That’s good as we’re here to collect the tariff.”

I didn’t like his smug reaction to my sudden confusion. “There are no tariffs on Skye,” I said.

“Now there are. Things are going to be civilized from now on.” The leader said through yellow teeth. Behind him, others leaned forward ready. I wondered how many Captains had bought this amateur shake-down. “Twenty percent of the take.”

“Get off my dock. Pirates don’t pay taxes.”  Now I did turn my back on him.

He laughed as I walked back to my ship. “You’re going to have to take that up with the king. He’s quite serious about it,” The leader called.

I stopped, wishing the bruisers would have attacked me. It would have been a proper fight instead of shouted absurdities. I turned back around, conscious of my crew waiting still and ready to see what I would do. “Then the king can take it up with me.”

Their departure did nothing to quiet the brewing unease in my gut. Something had changed, and it wasn’t just the flags flying distant on those castle walls.

A brief continuation of the Thievery Series I started back in December.

 

Legal Theft: The Old Whore

They untangled, him with a soft pleased sigh, her with a stretch.

Vael reached an arm down and blindly felt around the damp floorboards. Her fingers landed triumphantly on the glass bottle. She twisted onto her back, settling again on the hay stuffed cot. Vael took a deep sip and then offered the same to Tanner.

He took it. “Not bad.”

“Not at all.” Vael stretched again so that her leg hung off the cot, bare toes brushing the floor. She stood with a slight sway. Beneath them she could hear the soft roar and clink of the common rooms. Quieter than normal, her people were gone then. That gave little time to get back to her ship before they did something stupid. Vael swore and began looking for her breeches.

“Ahh.” Tanner said, eyeing her search with a knowing smile. “You’re one of those.”

Vael stopped, one pant leg on, and looked at him. She scowled at his fond expression. The man didn’t have any right to look at her like that, it hadn’t been that good. “Huh?”

“I’m the same. You and I, we have salt water in our veins.” Tanner swung his feet onto the floorboards as he spoke. Vael was only half-listening, fondly remembering when Tanner was putting his tongue to a better use. He continued, unaware of her disparaging thoughts. “Can’t wait to get back on a ship, back out there. She’s a harsh mistress, but we love her.”

“Who?” Vael found her shirt.

“The sea.” He said, frowning at her.

“Oh.” As close to praying as she ever did, Vael wished respite from every young sailor who fancied the sea a personal muse and their ship a creaking disease-ridden wife. Vael grabbed her boots and coat. She’d put them on downstairs. “Well no offense, but your mistress is an old whore. Men have been in and on her for centuries.”

His lip curled in disgust. Tanner reached for his pants and pulled them on huffily. “Just another crude gob then.”

Vael grinned, pausing half out the door. “Pirate actually. Stories are for fancy hatted pricks and children, what the whore and I have is a business arrangement. And the bitch is waiting.”

This is the Legal Theft Project…. and this week I wrote a thing. This page will tell you if anyone stole the line “You and I, we have salt water in our veins.” from it. 

 

Legal Theft: Distant Views

Imagining the city before her in flames was torturing. Like a starving woman envisioning a fresh cooked goose, picturing the destruction only left her salivating with no satisfaction.  Seva took another long drink from the bottle and set it back on the rail, cringing at the sweet taste of rum as it coated her throat. The balcony, her balcony she corrected herself with a sneer,  and its view only served to darken her mood.

Set on the east of Cliffwalk, as far from the docks as a city villa could get, her new home looked over the winding streets and multi-layered districts that made up the largest social hub of the country. A year past, Seva would have fallen upon the rich maze of bars, whorehouse, powder dens, and underside degeneracy of Cliffside with gluttonous abandon. Now the thought left her sick. Above those bars and dens the other aristocracy in their villas watched.

Someone settled themselves on the balcony rail next to her. She stiffened, only two people freely came and went through her rooms. She didn’t want to face either of them right now. Coward, the word came floating up through the sickly haze of rum. She promptly told whatever pansy-ass-introspective part of her brain that was mouthing off to stow it, and turned with a sigh.

It was neither of the people she was avoiding. “Hey kid.”

Leon narrowed his eyes at the nickname she sometimes pulled on him. He was older than Sean, but Seva never called the brawler kid. Leon only mentioned the reason for that when at a safe distance from both of them. “Enjoying the view?”

She didn’t answer that, just took another long swig from the bottle. From the corner of her vision, she could see him open his mouth. Seva interrupted before he could get the question out, eyes still on the distant and moonlit waves. “So help you, if you ask me how I am fucking feeling I am going to throw you off this fucking balcony.”

He laughed at her, and Seva debated doing it anyway. “Fine.” He said.”How about a gift instead?” Leon drew something from his left pocket, splaying his hand over the rail. Three small square pieces glinted in the moonlight.

Seva squinted at the iron. “Dice?”

He nodded at her.

She picked them up. They were heavy and rough against her fingers. The mark etched deep into her back stirred, the skin tightening across her shoulder blades like an old burn. Pure iron, she could feel it calling to the magic in her veins. Seva set the dice down quickly.

She didn’t want to talk about the mark growing over her back, its effects on metal, or the nobles overjoyed it was happening, but this was her own damn balcony and Leon looked too comfortable leaning over the balcony rail. Seva starting counting down the minutes before she scruffed him and dragged him back to his sister.  “You want me to help you win at crown and anchor? Talk to Sean, or Dirk. I don’t cheat at dice.”

“Might want to start.” He looked at her sideways. “Could be good practice.”

Seva growled. Brat, coming in here, telling her how to do her thrice-damned job. A messy flop of hair obscured his eyes, she couldn’t tell whether he was serious or if this was particularly effective jibe.

Leon continued. “You know, before you have to impress that council and their teachers. Get a feel for the small stuff.”

She felt her her lip twitch into a snarl. Next week, she had until next week before the lessons started. They wouldn’t have her crashing ships or shattering swords. The lessons would be safe, controlled, and infuriating. “Don’t you have someone else to bother?”

He grinned at her but took a step back, swinging his arms. “Yes. You were just first on my list. Enjoy the view.”

“Fuck you.”

The salute he gave her was barely recognizable as one, laden down with mockery. Seva listened to his footsteps off the balcony and through her new chambers. She’d shake him down for whatever he pinched later.

The city before her was still serene when she turned back to the view. Seva took a deep breath, another long drink of rum, and pocketed the dice.

Pirates, thieves, and degenerates, I have them all. The librarian over at The Gate in the Wood can be thanked for this week’s prompt three metal dice. See what they, and the rest of the thieves too, did over at the Legal Theft Project. 

Searching Part 5

So continues the closest thing I’ve got to a serial. The previous chapters can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4

Her boot slid down the loose wooden slate. She let herself slide, leaning over the edge of the rooftop, fingers curled around a chimney pipe.

If anyone noticed the girl hanging over the dockside market street, half poised and eyes set on the coastline, they didn’t bother themselves about it. Westport was a trade hub, plenty of odd people passing through. It was better to just let them do so, better for everyone that way.

From her precarious vantage point Ferra counted ships. Six months ago she’d not been able to tell a sloop from a snow. Now she could list off the dozens of vessels that made their way in and out of the port.

She craned her body, squinting into the bright noon and the sparkling flat of the sea. This ritual was as part of her day as the unending search for food and her nightly lessons with Ghost. Half a year she’d waited for Aren’s ship, she’d wait dozens more but she sure as hell wasn’t going to miss it when it did finally cross back into the harbor.

Seven new vessels. She could name their build but her eyes were for their colors. Two red for the Vrack Empire, one pale blue with lavender from the Gurish fleet. Those were easy. The mishmash of shades and symbols the pirates used were harder. Daggers, bones, hanged men….she’d seen so many.

An hourglass, white against a black field. Ferra blinked. The thing snapped in the wind like an animal caught in a trap.

It was here. She wanted to spring into the street and chase it down. Her muscles begged for it. But tearing her eyes from its colors for even a minute, lest it slip away again, was harder than it should have been.

That ship had taken Aren. It was the closest she’d been to finding her wayward cousin and best friend since she left home. Ferra took a breath drinking in the sight of the ship instead. Being rash got you killed here, she’d been lucky enough to find Ghost before her blind search ended that way. She had a little while to plan, the hourglass ship had just come in. Plenty of time to get close and find Aren.

Her six months in Westport had taught her more than the times bakers left bread unattended. A valuable bit of knowledge to be sure, she was alive because of it. But her talents had always rested in the sword still slung across her back. And now she knew no one ever looked up.

If Aren wasn’t on that ship, if they’d done something with him, they wouldn’t see her coming.