By Andrea Radius • All Rights Reserved ©
The first two days were long and boring. I spent the day counting the wooden boards on the crates around me, playing cards against myself–Fanarel had actually packed a deck for me–, and eating my rations only when I couldn’t hold my hunger any longer. I’ve heard that the sooner you can get to another continent is in three days or so. I was hoping those were exaggerations and that I would get to land much sooner, but it seemed I still had one more day to go.
I could only tell time by the rays of light filtering through the cargo deck’s door, which was made of wood like the rest of the ship but designed as a grid instead of a solid piece. Right now, the light had died down and only flickers of light could be seen dancing every now and then. My guess was that those were torches or lanterns.
No one had been down here since we set sail. I figured that whatever was stored here was not needed until we reached the captain’s destination. I also assumed that there must have been a storage room on the main deck for the tools needed throughout the journey.
I was about to eat something before I fell asleep for my third night at sea when I heard someone come down the steps. I waited in silence, without moving a single muscle. The sound changed from footsteps to someone opening and closing crates.
Without waiting any longer to see what was happening, I got the blowgun Fanarel had packed for me and loaded a poisoned dart. I quietly climbed the crates to take a look at what was happening near me.
A man wearing a dark cloak with its hood down was looking through the crates across from my hiding place. He had short yellow hair and common looking garments. He was the one who paid for this voyage. I got back down and hid in my corner. He probably needed something to take back with him.
However, whatever he was looking for wasn’t found in that area because he pulled down one of the crates that was keeping me out of sight. He saw me instantly and drew a dagger from his belt. With great agility, he climbed over the crate blocking his path and charged in my direction.
I didn’t have time to think, so my body did what it knows best: get out of harm’s way. I dodged the man’s thrust by ducking and rolling past him. Right before I got back on my feet, my ears told me his dagger got stuck on the wooden wall that had been behind my back moments ago. Without waiting to see what he did next, I jumped the same crate he had climbed over and quickly found a new hiding place behind some barrels.
I eventually heard footsteps coming from where I had been previously hiding, slowly moving across the wooden floor of the ship’s hold. I took a chance to look and saw him with dagger in hand, eyes searching everywhere as he slowly moved. He was beginning to head in my direction, so I quickly moved away to the other side. One advantage of having such a small body is that I can move silently with ease. The idiot never heard my footsteps because none had sound.
However, this was no victory. Sooner or later, he’d either find me or get the smugglers here to help him. I had to get the best of him before he did either.
With my knapsack left behind in my little corner, I secured my blowgun in my boot and began moving around him instead of away from him. Slowly but surely and with the help of the many crates, barrels and sacks the smugglers had stored in the cargo deck, I finally made it atop a crate behind the man. Before he knew what hit him, I tackled him.
We both fell on the floor hard with a grunt, the man’s dagger sliding away as it escaped his grasp. With the man’s body breaking my fall, I was able to recuperate faster. So I got to my feet and ran for the dagger before the man could even see where it had gone.
This dagger was a neat little thing. The handle was wrapped in leather dyed in moss green with a bronze pummel. The guard was designed as a cluster of bronze leaves, giving way to the sharp iron blade as if it was the cluster’s flower.
“Alright, fine…” the man said, standing up and looking annoyed. “We’ll do this another way.”
This was about to get interesting. I couldn’t afford to kill or subdue this man. He had paid a fee to travel in this ship and so he was expected to disembark once we reached the planned destination. If he went missing, at the very best the crew wouldn’t notice until we reached land, but the odds were against me.
I didn’t have to chat with any of them to know that all the cargo stored in here did not belong to this traveler and smugglers don’t only move people. Whatever was stored in the cargo deck was part of the crew’s business and they would get suspicious if their guest went missing. If I was one of the smugglers, I would check here first.
I was also under orders to kill myself and destroy Master’s journal if I had no way out, but I wasn’t ready to give up. Right as I was about to speak and buy myself time to think of something, I heard footsteps above us. Someone must have heard something when we fell. Blindly trusting that my opponent would keep me hidden, I jumped behind the nearest barrels just before the footsteps made it to the stairs. I made sure to grab my blowgun with my empty hand out of my boot and keep it at the ready while I gripped the dagger I had just stolen even tighter.
“Lilenn, what is going on down here?” someone asked.
“Nothing… I’m sorry, I just fell while I was searching for my things,” the traveling man answered with a nervous laugh. “I can be rather clumsy at times.”
“The deal was you don’t touch anything else in here,” the man who had just come in said, threat clear in his voice.
“Oh, no sir! I am just moving them around to find my supplies.”
“Make it quick,” the man said and I heard him walk away.
“You can come out now,” Lilenn said.
Uneasily, I slowly walked from behind the barrels.
“Why didn’t you give me up?” I asked, keeping a close eye on Lilenn.
“Because I want to have a little chat,” he answered.
“Charging at me with a drawn weapon sure is one funny way to show it,” I replied unhappily.
“Well, I wasn’t really expecting to find anyone here,” he said. “So, here is what I propose. You give me everything you brought with you, and I’ll keep my mouth shut. If what you have is useful to me, then I’ll forget to tell the captain and his crew they have a rat problem in their cargo deck.”
“What do you mean useful to you?” I asked, wondering how I could get Master’s journal out of my knapsack. I could replace everything in there except for that.
“I am starting a new life in a new, strange place,” he said simply. “I could use all the supplies I can get. Not to mention the hefty fee I paid to travel to said place. A fee I suspect you didn’t pay. I think it’s fair you get to pay me for your secret considering you are traveling for free.”
I just stood there, frozen in time. I had no guarantee that if I did what he said he’d keep my presence here a secret.
“Food is going to be ready soon, so I really don’t have much time,” Lilenn said with a sigh. “I’ll give you until the count of ten. If I don’t have your possessions at my feet by then, I’ll scream for help. Yes, you might kill me with my own dagger by the time someone comes, but you are still going to be found.”
“And you’ll still be dead,” I replied, venom in my voice.
He was right, though. No matter what I did, I didn’t have many places to go and I would eventually be found and my fate would be sealed.
“One…” Lilenn began to count. “Two…”
I rushed to the corner where I was hiding, hoping to have enough time to hide Master’s journal behind a crate, but I heard Lilenn walk behind me.
He would be keeping a close eye on me while I retrieved my knapsack. If he saw me pick something out, that would attract his attention toward that object. I definitely didn’t want that.
I needed a distraction, but I didn’t have time to create one. I had no choice but to pick up my knapsack and leave it at Lilenn’s feet, journal inside and all.
“Seven… My dagger and your blowgun too, please,” he said. “Eight…”
I dropped both items by my knapsack, both hitting the wooden floor of the ship as Lilenn spoke the number nine.
“Very good, gemcys,” he said and picked up my things. “I’ll go over these items after I’ve had supper. If what I find pleases me, I’ll leave you alone. Otherwise, we will have to discuss a new agreement.”
And just like that, he walked away from me. “Ah! Almost forgot…” he said and opened the crate he had moved before when he first saw me. He then picked up a bottle and closed the crate back up. “Sweet, rich red wine,” he said as he stashed the wine in my knapsack. “They won’t miss just the one bottle. Besides, if they do, I’ll tell them it was in your knapsack all along.”
And with an irritable smile, he put the crate where he had found it in the first place and left the cargo hold.
That urine-haired son of a troll! I had to do something…