Tempest Bound: Chapter III

In addition to a PDF version of my Tempest Bound preview, I’ll be publishing the early chapters of my upcoming novel right here in plain text. You can start with the prologue here or the first chapter here.

 

C H A P T E R

I I I

It is with deep and profound sadness that I stand before you today. Tragedy has consumed us all.”

A tall, slender man in clean, black clothes stood atop a modest podium before three dozen men, women, and children who sat silently in neat rows on long, wooden benches. They all wore black.

“I, Allus Thernmore, knew him well,” the man atop the podium said. “We grew up together, our houses a stone’s throw from one another in the small town of Tidestone outside of Breakport. We chased cats in the alleys as children and snuck into the taverns at night and shared many a good time.”

Allus had a soft face—softer than most men born on Thundersong Coast. But his pale green eyes told the story of a man who had seen many fights. The scar on his left knuckle suggested he had also been in a few.

“There are many great things that can be said with about Theoran Kalorn,” Allus said. “He was cunning, first of all. The man was so clever that I must admit I sometimes felt simply stupid beside him. And he was ambitious as well. Breakport was hard on him, and yet still he became a successful Salt Street merchant. He was also madly generous, sharing his wealth with friends and family and strangers alike.”

He paused for a moment. He looked at the crowd before him. There was Theoran’s mother, old but beautiful, with bright blue eyes one could swim in. His father, a gnarled old man with a weathered face and more knowledge of the sea than any pirate Allus had ever met. And there was Theoran’s sister, Salana, a stunning portrait of his mother from twenty years ago, light brown hair flowing past her shoulders like silk. A pale grey dress flattered every inch of her. Her soft skin was radiant beneath the glow of painted glass that adorned each wall of the room. She had her brother’s deep turquoise eyes. She was younger than Theoran, an infant still when Allus met him as a child. Now, nearly twenty years later, he realized she was more than just Theoran’s sister; she was her own, an adult, and a gorgeous one at that.

Staring a moment too long, Allus began to see in Salana’s eyes the eyes of Theoran, and fought back tears. “And above all,” he continued, “he was loyal. This city—this city is littered with liars and bullies and thieves. And then there was Theoran, this beacon of integrity—he was one of the few with a true sense of honor. A soul uncorrupted. He will be sorely missed.”

Allus nodded gently. The crowd murmured softly in agreement. He stepped down and shook the hand of a sad-faced man, then hugged a weeping woman. He exchanged somber smiles with a priest, and a priestess, and an odd looking man with a hooked nose and crooked teeth he hadn’t recalled seeing before. He turned to Salana, who appeared neither sad nor happy.

“I am so very sorry for your loss,” Allus said, clasping his two rough hands around one of hers. It was smooth and delicate. It caused his heart to flutter. He let go. “I know he was closest with you.”

“Thank you for a beautiful eulogy,” she replied, her voice almost a whisper. Her thin red lips barely moved as she spoke. Then it became a whisper: “May I speak with you in private, Allus? Outside? It’s… urgent.”

Winter was nigh and it was not raining in Breakport. That was a most unusual event. Sun poured through cracks in the clouds. One man with a scraggly beard the color of rust and unwashed hair staggered out of an all-night tavern and had to shield his eyes from the light. Handsome despite himself, he was evidently used to the city bathed in overcast at every hour of the day, his eyes squinting as he adjusted to the relative effulgence. But he didn’t seem to mind. He slung his dusty green coat over his shoulder and stumbled down the street, whistling to himself as a warm breeze swept in from the Broken Sea.

Allus stepped out of the building with Theoran’s sister. It was a small church made of beige stone with an oversized archway over the door and a pointed roof sprinkled with patches of moss and seagull droppings. A wooden sign reading South Savior House hung lopsided above the archway. It was splintered and the words were faded with age. And its nearest companion was The Cannonade, where sins of every manner were committed at all hours. In a city as godless as Breakport, churches commanded no exaltation.

“What did you want to talk about, Salana?” Allus asked once they were outside. His hazel hair shone almost blonde in the sunlight.

“Not yet,” she replied quietly. She tugged at his arm. “Let’s go for a walk.”

The pair cut through an alley behind the church, stepping over a rotting feline corpse a threesome of rats was feasting on. Then they turned left and onto Salt Street, the city’s main drag. The only church on Salt Street, originally named House of God, had been converted to a brothel before Allus was born. In mockery of the faith, the new owner, a notorious pirate named Regibald Bones, had decided to alter the name only a bit: House of Goddesses.

The two walked through Port Square, a cluster of merchants and shops off the west end of Salt Street. The square, which was shaped like a circle, was abuzz with business even during light storms. On a day with sun, it was positively chaotic. Hundreds of men and women flooded the cobblestone and dozens of eager merchants catered to them. Wenches waved handkerchiefs from upper-level balconies at grinning sailors on the ground, while a patio beneath a tavern called Crabswallow Inn played host to a triumvirate of musicians. The flutist was a little off-key, but the merriment of the crowd was palpable and no one seemed to notice—certainly not Allus, whose boots slapped the street swiftly as he slithered through the crowd after Salana.

“Where are you taking me?” he asked between heavy breaths. “The funeral…”

“Just keep walking,” Salana said, not glancing back.

On the opposite end of Port Square was a narrow path carved out between a blacksmith’s shop with a large purple sword painted on the door and a place selling peculiar trinkets called Watermoon Wares. The path was scant wide enough for three men, and although a sign hung between the two shops read Leave Here, it seemed that the constricted road was filled mostly with people rushing in. Here, Salana let Allus take the lead. He nosed his way through groups of people, swimming against the current like a deft fish, Salana trailing right behind. And, when necessary, he became a bull, bowling his way through hordes of those too excited or ignorant to move.

Allus let out a small huff after they got through the path. They emerged on a dusty side street with half-empty stables and run-down city houses. The only people around were those going in and out of Port Square.

“I’ve never used that alley to get into the Square,” he said, rubbing his shoulder, which had taken a mild bruising from the event. “They really ought to widen it somehow.” He looked up and noticed a sign that read Enter Here.

No wonder there was pandemonium, he thought.

Salana eyed the stream of people they had just swum out of. Then she pulled Allus off to the side, pressing him against the faded brick wall that made up the bland backside of Pearl’s Weapons of Distinction.

“I have something to tell you,” she started, her voice still low.

“Yeah, I know. You already—”

“Sssh,” she interrupted. “I can’t tell you yet. Come with me.”

She tugged at Allus’ sleeve, but this time he didn’t move.

“I’ve followed you across half of Breakport,” he said, panting, planting his feet in the ground. “I’m not going any further until you explain yourself. It’s your brother’s funeral. Have you gone mad?”

Salana looked around. “Please keep your voice down,” she said, stepping closer to Allus. “Look, we’re—we’re being followed, okay? We need to keep moving.”

She took off at a brisk pace, west again. Allus hesitated for a moment, scanned his surroundings, and then chased after her, shaking his head. For a fair stretch of time the two walked quickly, darting through alleys and zigzagging between side streets, past the shuttered Wet Coin Commerce Company and down the muddiest stretch of Twin Oars Lane and across the strongly scented fishermen’s market, heading west in a deliberate, jagged meander. Salana was considerably more fit than Allus would have guessed; he found himself struggling to keep up.

Salana ground to a sudden halt and Allus nearly bumped right into her. She made a sudden jerk movement to the left, bolting into a tall, skinny building. He hurried in after her.

The building appeared to be some sort of lodge. Simply designed, with framed paintings of famous Broken Sea ship captains squarely hung along the walls. There was a long wooden bench and two chairs without arms on either side of it and a tiny table with a red vase on it with yellow flowers sticking out. Not a local plant—imported, which suggested the lodge was not built for cheap customers. That made Allus uncomfortable. Boys born in Tidestone weren’t used to luxury.

A short, stubby man with a trimmed moustache sat behind a wooden desk, etching something into a thick, leather-wrapped tome. He was well dressed in maroon livery and wore a small silver badge on his chest. He looked up at Salana, not noticing Allus, and smiled wide.

“Salana,” he said warmly, placing his pen down. “What brings you to this end of the city?”

“We need a room, Esmond,” she said. “Just one night, but we need it now.”

He now noticed Allus. “Will that be one room or two, my dear?”

“Doesn’t matter,” she replied.

Esmond flipped through his tome with his left thumb. Stopping on a particular page, he ran a chubby finger down it for a few moments. “I’m afraid we’ve only got one suite vacant at the moment, and it’s in dire need of cleaning. The last guests in it were, ahem, less than kind to the room. But Greaves took the day off to tend to his sick aunt. He won’t be back to clean it until tomorrow.”

“It’s alright, Esmond,” Salana said. “We may not even stay the night. Can we get in now?”

Esmond leaned back slightly, as if it were preposterous to suggest renting a suite that was not perfectly manicured. Then he clapped his hands together and smiled again.

“For you, but of course,” he said. He jotted her name into his tome and ducked behind the desk. He popped up seconds later with a key in his hand.

Salana stepped over to him. As she took the key, she whispered into Esmond’s ear. Allus heard her voice but couldn’t make out any words. Whatever she said, it turned Esmond’s face much more serious than it had been when they walked in. He didn’t say anything back to her. Just nodded and sat down, returning his attention to the tome.

Salana motioned for Allus to follow her and he did. They walked down a quiet, dimly lit hall with no windows, turning left, then left again. They arrived at a spiral staircase. The torches that lit it were encased in glass and wrapped in metal cages; still, Allus figured it would have been easy to crack one open and burn the whole building down. He shrugged. They ascended the stairs. Most didn’t make a sound, but one creaked so loud it made Salana jump.

“You know that guy?” Allus asked her as they climbed the stairs. His legs were sore now.

“He’s an old family friend,” she replied. “My grandfather helped build this place, and my father was involved in its expansion a few years ago. I don’t know him very well, personally, though.”

“Did you tell him that Theoran is dead?”

“He doesn’t need to know that right now. Besides, Esmond has not seen Theoran since he was a boy.”

They stopped on the fifth floor, second from the top. They exited the staircase into a hallway lined with small, frosted-glass windows. They were tall and skinny, seemingly proportioned to the building itself. Allus glanced out one. There was more cloud and less sun than there had been an hour ago.

The pair turned right and came to a door with X IV carved into the wood and painted black. Fifth floor, fourth room. Salana pushed the key into the keyhole and twisted it. There was a clicking sound and the two walked inside.

Esmond was not lying about the suite’s previous tenants. The floor had smatterings of food all over it and the bed linens had stains that might have been piss. Salana noticed spots of blood on one of the walls and shrugged at Allus.

“You’ll have to believe me when I say the rooms are usually very pleasant,” she said apologetically.

He believed her. Though stained, the sheets were made of remarkably soft wool, the headboard wrapped in tufted leather, and the furnishings impeccably crafted.

“Better than I’m used to, even with the mess,” he replied honestly. “But what are we doing here? We fled Theoran’s funeral, walked and walked, and now—now we’re in a lodge, of all places. Why? And how do you know someone was following us?”

Salana opened the door and peeked into the hall. Pulled back in and turned both locks on the door. Then she walked to the window, which offered an expansive view of Rend Harbour stretching out into the Broken Sea, and drew the blinds shut. She collapsed in a chair and gestured for Allus to come closer.

“Did you see that odd man at the funeral?” she asked, her voice low. “The one with the hooked nose?”
“Aye. Can’t say I’ve never seen him before. Figured he was a distant relative. Might have a drinking problem, not to be ru—”

“He’s no relative. You say you have never seen him—well, there’s a reason for that. He’s neither friend nor family of Theoran, Allus. He goes by the name of Rackman. He works for the Oxran Consortium. He’s a spy, and likely an assassin besides.”

“What?” Allus sat for a moment, wide-eyed, shaking his head. Trying to piece together a puzzle in his mind. Ulster Oxran and his business partners operated a slew of brothels and gambling houses in Stonam, he knew, and a few others across the Coast and in Qavos. Not the most honorable men making money in the realm, it was said, but the Consortium was not known for violent crimes.

“That doesn’t make sense,” he concluded. “Ulster’s crew does fair business in Thundersong, far as I know. And I’ve never heard of his consortium hiring assassins. Besides… even if they did hire one, why would he be at Theoran’s funeral?”

“Because my brother knows something that Ulster doesn’t want him to.”

Allus tilted his head. “Knows? He’s… he’s dead, Salana. He may have known something, but he’s dead. We both got the letter. A bandit shot him down just off Ash Road, near the Threshlands, that wretched place.”

“He’s not dead, Allus,” she said.

Allus reached out and squeezed her hand. “I know it’s crushing, but he’s in a coffin in a church. Really, I know it’s—”

She stood up. “Listen to me, Allus! That coffin is empty.”

Allus stared.

“I wrote the missive notifying his death myself,” Salana continued. “The funeral was a fake. It’s all a decoy to give Theoran more time.”

“So… he is alive?” Allus took a step back, stunned.

“Well, I hope so,” she said, lowering her eyes briefly. “He should be near Mount Aslund by now, following Boundary Creek—he knows the way to Northgarde. But we stopped communication in case of interception. Ulster’s men are crawling along the main roads like insects. Perhaps he’s been killed. There truly are bandits out there, not to mention wolves and who knows what else in the North.”

She sighed. “But as far as I know, he is alive.”

“Why, though? Why all this? What does he know?”

Salana sat down again, rubbing her temple. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast. I’m starving,” she said.

Allus rooted through some cupboards. Found some bread. Looked fine enough. Handed it to her. “Salana, what does your brother know that would have Ulster send a spy after him?”

“Ulster has been using one of his establishments to practice warlock magic,” she said between bites of the bread. “He closed down a brothel near Hunter’s Cross and turned it into a chamber for testing ritual spells.”

“Black craft is strictly—anyone caught even attempting to practice it is put on trial,” Allus said. “Not two moons ago, a ship captain was hung just for reading lines from old warlock scriptures in Port Square. That’s a mighty risk for a man as well known as Ulster.”

“It is,” Salana replied. “And Theoran knows he is doing it. He has proof—letters to Ulster’s closest partners, parchments detailing spells, and warlock talismans. Ulster would be executed without trial, I’m certain of it. He’s a powerful man, and the United Throne is wary of his reach—but if the entire realm turned against him… well, any mortal would shatter under that pressure.”

Allus stared intensely into nothing. Ran a hand through his hazel hair. Sighed. “So Theoran wants to put him away, but Ulster got word before he could?”

“Precisely. He was caught stealing talismans right from under Ulster’s nose and barely escaped. Took him days to shake off his pursuers. As you can imagine, Ulster was furious. The way I hear it, he killed at least two guards for failing to protect his belongings. He started sending soldiers out in every direction, with a concentration along the Coast.” She sighed, turning away. “He made it impossible for Theoran to return home without being killed on sight.”

“So that’s why he’s not here,” Allus said, nodding his head. He rested a hand on Salana’s shoulder; she returned her gaze to him. “But why did he go all the way to Mount Aslund? And why fake his death? What does he need more time for?”

“We wanted to throw Ulster off any trail he might think he has,” Salana explained. “The letter suggests a bandit shot Theoran down near—but not in—Breakport. I left copies of that missive at a couple of places I figured Ulster’s men might stay while skulking the city. They’d report to Ulster immediately, we knew. And they’d either tell Ulster they personally killed Theoran—in order to collect a tidy reward—or they’d give him a copy of the letter.”

Allus smiled, impressed. “And Ulster would no doubt assume one of his men was the so-called ‘bandit,’ and that we just didn’t know Theoran was being hunted by assassins.”

Salana nodded. “It should buy Theoran a fortnight—hopefully more, but possibly less.” She toyed with her necklace. An iron hawk hung from it. She clutched the hawk. Allus remembered it was a gift from her brother. “As for your other question,” she continued, “he’s heading to Northgarde to speak with the Queen of the North, Ranka Mowbray. As you know, her husband Archus never liked Ulster; the brutan once opened a gambling house there but the king shut it down after it stirred up too much trouble with locals in Goatsbane. With the evidence Theoran can present to the Court of Northgarde, we’re sure Ranka would issue a royally decreed bounty for Ulster’s head. She is not known for mercy.”

“Aslundites seldom are,” Allus said, forcing a smile. “Even if Ulster found out your brother isn’t dead, he’ll wager he’s safe so long as Theoran doesn’t return to Breakport. A bounty and assault from the other corner of the realm will surely counter any plans he may have.”

“Let’s hope so,” Salana said. She turned around and pulled a drape back slightly to look out the window. The sun was now gone, a thick ceiling of clouds blotting out the light. “The good weather didn’t last long,” she remarked.

“It never does,” Allus shrugged.
“I was planning on leaving here this evening. Rackman will give up for the day in an hour or two after our trail goes cold, I imagine. What do you think?”

“I think you’re in more danger than you realize, Salana,” Allus replied. “If all this is true, Ulster would love to capture you for ransom. If he has any lingering belief Theoran is alive, holding you captive would force your brother to crawl out of the woodwork. You need to lie low.”

“What do you mean? Hide?” She snorted. “Kalorns do not hide.”

“So they die from ignorance?” Allus asked, his voice hardening. “Don’t be a fool and get yourself killed, Salana. Keep yourself safe while Theoran does what he needs to do.”

Salana plopped onto the edge of the bed. She let out a long, heavy sigh. “I know you’re right, Allus. It’s just… hard to accept. I feel like I should be helping him somehow.”

He hauled her back up and hugged her. “You’ve already helped him so much. This is the best thing that you can do for him right now. Listen, Salana, you’ll need some protection. I’m going to head back to my house to get us some weapons. We both need to be armed. I’ll return as quickly as possible, I promise. Meanwhile, you get some food for us from your friend in the lobby. I’ll surely be starving by then. Tell Esmond we’ll need this place for at least a few days. Can he do that?”

“Yes. I’m sure he can.”

“So how do you like to be armed?” he asked, managing a grin.

“A bow and a dagger,” she said. She too managed a smile. “I’m a better fighter than you might think, by the way.”

Allus winked. “With the hell you’ve gotten us into, I hope so.”

He reached to open the door, then stopped and turned. “I have just one more question, Salana.”

“Yes?”

“Theoran’s always been a man of justice,” he said. “But for him, that’s been catching pickpockets in Saltford and ending drunken street fights outside Crabswallow. Why would he leave Breakport and risk his life to take down Ulster? What could Ulster have done to make Theoran hate him so deeply?”

Salana looked at him sadly. “It’s not something I’d like to talk about.”

Allus frowned. “If I’m going to help you take Ulster down, I need to know the real reason we’re doing it.”

“I promise I’ll tell you,” she replied. “But first, let’s survive tonight, alright?”

“Alright,” he said. “Let’s do that.”

Allus stepped out of the room and jogged down the hall and Salana locked the door behind him.

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Tempest Bound: Chapter III