A circle of mercenaries clapped and jeered as Mary and Tostig fought. It had been a week since Mariqah had left and the remainders had little to do but idle and entertain themselves.
Mary sent one of Tostig’s blows wide. He recovered and struck again, his face pinched in a sneer, but Mary rolled away. She struck and he blocked, the swords ringing. Tostig smiled at her.
“What?” said Mary, panting.
He kicked and took her legs from under her. Mary landed on her back with a yelp, but blocked as Tostig tried to land a coup-de-grace.
“I believe I’ve won,” said Tostig.
“You know the rules,” Mary strained through gritted teeth. She knocked Tostig’s sword back and rolled over, getting up on one knee, “The winner pins the loser down.”
Tostig shrugged and struck lazily. Mary threw the blow away, ripping the sword out of Tostig’s hand.
The mercenaries hooted at that.
“Oh my…” said Tostig, rather unconcerned, “now that will put a real damper on my chances.”
Mary sighed, “You’d think, after losing an arm, the guy would lose some ego…”
A bell rang from the docks.
Everyone went silent, listening to the bell.
“We should probably check on that,” said the mercenary named Matthew.
There was a loud thump and then strained cursing as Mary and Tostig grappled on the ground, “You go check,” she told Matthew, “It’s probably a leak in a boat or something.”
Tostig bit her nose and she screamed, kicking wildly.
The mercenary laughed a little, before turning and making his way towards the docks.
Tostig punched her in her side and managed to turn her over, sitting on her back.
“Do I win now?” he asked, twisting her arm back.
Mary sighed, “Yes, I suppose so.”
“Oh, thank Heavens!” he fell to a side and laughed, “I thought that was going to go on forever! What’s the score now?”
“Seven-nine, still to Mary,” said one of the mercenaries, “but you’re getting better, elf. That was three wins in a row.”
Tostig sighed, “Maybe Mariqah was right. I’m under-practised, now that I have to fight with only one arm. I’d’ve been murdered on a battlefield.”
“You’re still going to get murdered,” Mary muttered sourly, holding her bleeding nose.
“Ah, no need to be a sore-loser about it, Mary,” said Tostig, laughing, “You’re still in the lead.”
“Aunt Mariqah says that sore-losers have a potential for improvement.”
“No. Sore-losers are to avengers, what infantry soldiers are to sergeants,” said Tostig, “and currently, you’re Aunt Mariqah is a Commanding General of avenging positions.”
“Well, she slapped you about well-silly, now didn’t she?” retorted Mary. She stood up and took a towel from one of the mercenaries and sat by him. She took a flask of water and drank from it, “She always has mopped the floor with everyone, even my Uncle Darim. And if she doesn’t win the first time, she comes back a second time, and makes sure she buffs the floor with them too.”
“All winners start as losers, Mary. Don’t make a legend out of a woman who isn’t one.”
Mary glared at Tostig, as did some of the mercenaries.
Tostig passed a sheepish grin, “I’m only just saying…”
“Hail, Mary!” cried Matthew as he plodded back. A few people were following him as he neared.
“Don’t say that,” said Mary, rolling her eyes.
Matthew scoffed, “Some… envoys have come round. From Eversby,” he called back.
“That can’t be good…” Tostig murmured, as he got up and left.
Mary wanted to call him, but decided against it. He was a high-profile criminal, after all.
The elf leading the party behind Matthew immediately reminded Mary of Ethelbald. Why, though, was beyond her. This man was much cleaner and smelt fresher, his beard was cropped neatly and he had a comically twirling moustache. But he was tanned, and his skin had a… diseased-quality to it – as if he’s had something like small pox and the scars hadn’t healed. He wore a hat with a huge brim – no feathers – and a fine coat of expensive material. A large machete hung in his belt.
Mary regarded him for a while, before saying, “And you are…?”
“Captain Owayn of Eversby, at your service. I come seeking the… leaders of the self-declared Republic of the Guild. We seek parlay,” he spread his arms, “The Lord Ragnarr and Lady Etain understand that this is a safe-haven for criminals, vagabonds and miscreants – which cannot be allowed to continue.”
Only marginally taking all of this in, Mary said with narrowed eyes, “How did you get here? How did you find us?”
A smirk played on the captain’s lips, “I’ll not impart that to you now.”
Mary folded her arms, “Ethelbald mentioned to me that only the most skilled of buccaneers can guide their ships to the coasts of the Guild.”
The smirk waned a little, “I’ll not impart that to you now,” Owayn repeated more tersely.
Mary yawned, “Who exactly are you looking for? As far as I know, this place has no leaders.”
“Ead of Skye, Ethelbald of Ery, Gwyn of Greenloch and – after certain… actions taken by Lady Mercia – Mariqah de Saint-Omer of the Earth-realm: which I believe you also belong to?”
Mary snorted, “That would be correct. I’m afraid none of your listed are here, Captain Owayn. Save Gwyn… I’m not entirely sure I know her.”
Owayn raised a brow, “Oh? Where are they?”
“I’m not sure I should say exactly – forgive me, but we don’t exactly trust you. The only back-story I can give you (since you are so reluctant to present one yourself) is that you were a pirate belonging here and then defected to Eversby. Or got captured. Whichever,” she saw Owayn’s face slacken at the remark, “but they seemed determined to journey back in time.”
“And you will grant me stay here?”
“There aren’t many people about, at present, so I don’t see why not. You’d probably want to write back to your superiors though, concerning a delay.”
“I know how to do my job, girl.”
“Well, I hope so. God forbid that the Lord and Lady of Eversby should fire you after your lack of penmanship – and then for you to be forced to defect back to us.”