Tostig stepped out of the Evenstar, looking fondly at the rising sun. He breathed in deeply, savouring the fresh air - an accent of sea salt reaching his taste-buds as he did so.
He could feel his returned Ide within him. The Ide that he had passed to Mariqah.
Can she die? he thought deeply,
Can Mariqah die?
The Ide was useless now, Tostig knew. It had remained in a dying body. It was broken. He could be corrupted by magic.
He found it strange that the thought didn't perturb him.
Not as much as the idea that Mariqah was dead perturbed him.
He had believed that Mariqah was the single forced that could kill his former contractor and torturor: Britney FeCamp, the Witch-Queen of Skye.
But with Mariqah gone, what chance was there of besting the Witch-Queen now?
As he walked along the pier, he saw a familiar face approach him. Her face was sullen, tears caught in the corners of her eyes.
“Mary,” Tostig greeted her softly, as she embraced him and sniffed.
“Is Flaed dead?” she whispered.
Tostig returned the embrace with his one arm, “Very.”
“Good,” Mary pulled away and rubbed her eyes, “She deceived her. She deceived Aunt Mariqah.”
“I am sorry for your loss...” Tostig mumbled.
“I've been waiting for you.”
“Have you now?”
Mary nodded, “Uncle Khadir wants to leave, as Aunt Mariqah asked us to do so. I... I wanted to see you before we left.”
Tostig raised a brow, “You're going to go? Just like that? Without...?”
“I'm afraid so. Aunt Mariqah asked us to drop the campaign, to forget about my mother and to just go home.”
Tostig looked away, attempting the to hide the almost disgusted look on his face, “I see.”
Mary paused, “It wasn't my choice, Tostig.”
Tostig passed her a side-glance, “I never said it was,” he said, before sighing and asking, “Do you know where I can find Ead?”
“Tostig, you have to understand-”
He wanted to hear nothing of it, “Where is Ead?”
Mary dropped her gaze and mumbled, “The Flintlock Inn, with Ethelbald and an old woman called Gwyn. They're speaking to an Eversbian envoy called Owayn.”
“At this time?”
“He hasn't been getting much sleep,” Mary commented, “None of us have, really.”
Tostig pulled Mary along as he made his way to the Flintlock Inn.
“How is Khadir?” asked Tostig.
“What do you mean?” asked Mary.
“Is he touched on the head now that his commander is gone?” Tostig snapped.
“Uncle Khadir wants to honour Aunt Mariqah's dying requests!”
“Oh, that's it, is it?” Tostig stopped abruptly, “And he didn't think that honouring her, as a whole, was a bigger priority?”
“Don't talk about him like that!” Mary barked.
Tostig regarded her.
Mary panted, “How can you say those things about him?” she slapped Tostig hard on the cheek, “How? That man is the most loyal companion that my aunt ever had! This event might be hard for you or me or anyone, but it isn't harder for anyone but for him! Uncle Khadir would never seek to disgrace Aunt Mariqah - not on pain of death - so how could you accuse him of that?”
Tostig blinked and didn't say anything. He turned and continued to pull Mary towards the Flintlock Inn. As they entered, Ead rose from his seat - Owayn, Gwyn and an uncommonly seething Ethelbald seated around him - and nodded a greeting. There were a number of people surrounding them, just standing by and watching as issues were discussed.
“Good morning, Mary,” Ead said quietly, “Welcome back, Tostig.”
Tostig glanced at the man in the funny hat and the twirly moustache, “Is this the envoy from Eversby?”
“Envoy!” laughed Ethelbald tightly, “Jus' a fancy word for
Owayn rolled his eyes, “You always were like this,” he muttered.
“Ah, look! The dandy speaks the fairer tongue now!”
“Stop it, the both of you!” Ead barked.
“What's... going on here?” Mary asked slowly.
Ead regarded her, before he looked at the table and said, “The Lord and Lady of Eversby seek control over the Guild. We've become noticed and, apparently,” Ead passed a sour look at Owayn, “reachable. The Guild cannot continue as it has.”
“That's nonsense,” said Tostig, “We just rid ourselves of this lout and carry on!”
“The Lord and Lady of Eversby have offered us all a Pardon,” Ead continued. There was a thoughtful - and perhaps shocked - pause from everyone before Ead resumed, “We'll be free of our crimes, the slate cleaned for all of us - even you, Tostig - only if we hand sovereignty over to Eversby.”
“And... you seek to concede?” said Tostig.
“I, for one, do,” said Ead, “But I am not the sole founder and-”
Ethelbald snorted and spat on the floor, “By Wulf o' Ery's locker, I've ne'er heard such
twaddle in all my life!” he pounded a fist on the table, “Concede the Guild? Have ye forgotten what this place was? All o' ye? A sanctuary for us all; where no man'd feel unwelcome. This place was your shelter as a thief, Ead. And yours as a witch, Gwyn. Yours as an assassin - a murderer! - Tostig. And yours as a pirate, Owayn. And you'll jus' toss't away, will ye?” Ethelbald sat up, “This place is our dream made true. Isn't that somethin' worth fightin' for?”
“Not if Eversby launches an attack on us,” Gwyn spoke, standing as she did, “Eversby are the strongest of the strong, Captain Ethelbald! How will we contend with such a force?”
Ethelbald grunted, “That's easy. Just send 'em this bugger's head,” he gestured to Owayn, “There's a reason we chose this place! They'll never make't here in one piece without their guide.”
“I believe we are all forgetting,” said Ead, “that the Witch-Queen is still at large.”
“That strumpet's old news, Ead.”
“And yet,” said Ead indignantly, “it won't take long for her to become breaking news once more. Mariqah's contention with the Witch-Queen proves as much. The Witch-Queen challenged her from over a
Ethelbald straightened, “You seem t'think that Mariqah's personal quarrel wi' Britney FeCamp remains our concern, Ead.”
“We aided Mariqah,” Ead replied slowly, “The Witch-Queen will know. Each and every one of us.”
Gwyn regarded Ead and, barely above a whisper, she said, “What has she done?”
All looked at Ead warily.
Ead sighed coldly, “When the Witch-Queen led the rebellion against Ethelred in Skye, we all thought he had died,” he looked up at Gwyn, “We were wrong.”
The old she-elf looked suddenly pale. She gripped the backrest of her chair, steadying herself, before she took her seat, “She... she...?”
“Britney FeCamp has reanimated Ethelred of Skye into her employ,” Ead looked at Ethelbald, “That, captain, is always something to worry about. Several of the Skyean prisoners that we released have confessed this. He not only thinks and speaks - but he moves and
Ead glanced at Tostig and Mary. Tostig remembered scoffing at the idea if Mary's “orcs”. At the idea of “undead elves”. It didn't seem so funny now.
“I will not be overcome by some fairy-stories!” said Ethelbald defiantly.
“These are no stories, captain!” said Ead, “But I'll bargain with you - thief to thief. Skye is rid of its leader,” Ead nodded suggestively, not wanting to discuss too much in front of Owayn, “and I guarantee that you will be present at the nation's lord-choosing. If.”
Ethelbald looked more relaxed, “If?”
“We go over to Eversby, hand over the Guild, accept the Pardon and be clean of our past crimes - in return for the Lord and Lady's aid to kill Britney FeCamp.”
“You're making the task sound easier than it is,” Ethelbald pointed out, “The Lord and Lady of Eversby'd never-”
“I believe I have been appointed to speak on their behalf,” Owayn interjected.
Ethelbald sneered at Owayn, and leaned over the table so that their faces were nearly touching, “Ye'll not say a thing, turncoat! Not lest I give ye leave. I ne'er had much patience t'begin with - don't think that I'll spare
you some!” Ethelbald sat back down and continued, “As I was saying, the Lord and Lady o' Eversby would ne'er believe us, let alone aid us. We're scourges and scoundrels, one and all!”
“All,” said Ead, turning to Mary, “except one.”
“Ah...” Ethelbald smiled, understanding, “a sharp mind as yours'd be quite welcome on my ship, lad. A mercenary's word - Mariqah's word and that of her ilk - weighs far more than the word of a thief.”
“What?” said Mary, looking at then both incredulously.
“You,” Ead smiled and stood to speak to Mary directly, “Your words will aid us to put your aunt's murder to justice.”
Mary paused, not knowing how to break Ead's pleased spirit with the truth, “I cannot help you,” she mumbled.
There was a pause.
“What?” said Ead suspiciously.
“We...” Mary hesitated, all eyes watching her as she spoke, “We are leaving the Havens. We're going home.”
It took a moment for the words to sink in. Mary felt Tostig take a step back. Just before -
thwack! - a fist crunched into the side of her face. Mary staggered back, holding her head as she looked up at Ead.
Have you no honour!” he yelled.
“It was not my decision-!” Mary tried to protest.
“Oh, this is
decision now, is it?” Ead's face went red with fury, his frame shaking and his lips quivering, as Ethelbald held him back. Ead looked as if he was going to have a nervous breakdown, “A passing
fancy? A fleeting
desire? Damn you! Damn
you, Mary! You shame your
status! You shame your
profession! But most of all,
you shame Mariqah! Do you believe you would be
half the woman you are, without Mariqah? Or perhaps you believe that your
caniving mother would have wrought you into a better piece of work?”
“Stop it!” Mary cried.
“Stop it?” said Ead, “Stop it?
You had her for nigh two decades! Two decades you had Mariqah's love and affection! And yet - of the both of us -
I am the one that loved her more?”
The whole room took a gasp.
Mary stared at Ead, “What... what are you talking about?”
Ead waived the question away, “I am going to end Britney and you are going to help me -
not you want to,” he stood straight and looked around the room, “Are any opposed? Good. Lock Mary in the Evenstar. I want all the ships and boats removed from port before the mercenaries wake. We sail for Eversby.”