Boots came stomping down the stairs just past what I guessed was sundown. Ten minutes too early. I dropped my furry friend, who ran off with a hiss, and fled behind a stack of boxes. The crew was never off-schedule, even in a tempest such at this. The captain kept a very tight leash on everyone.
“Jarlforder!” called a deep voice. “We know you are here!”
Damn. So many damns. How was I to get out of this one? It wasn’t like there was anywhere to hide. Also, how had they found me? I had been extremely careful, even by my own standards.
“We offer truce and a vow of no harm,” the voice continued. “We wish to make a deal.”
A deal? What in the world did I have to offer them? I barely had the clothes on my back anymore. Still, hiding here was not going to do anything besides make my knees ache even more. I stepped out.
The man standing there wore a heavy beard and was covered in heavy canvas, all soaked through and torn. He held his palms out and upwards, showing them empty. He may have meant peace, but the look on his face was pure hatred.
“Good. You are not as much a coward as we thought. You are to bring a message to our clan leader.”
“Um… can I ask why you won’t do it yourself? Aren’t you headed there?”
“The ship will not survive. The most recent storm has breached the lower hull and we expect to go down within the day. As true Vjardelmen, we will serve it until it sinks to the bottom.”
I shuddered. All this way just to sink into the sea due to a bad seam?” “I have a feeling I’ll be joining you there. I forgot to bring my own boat.”
“You are Jarlforder and have no such honor. Else you would not be here.” The man pulled off a glove and reached into his pocket. He withdrew a leather envelope, sealed with wax, and offered it to me. “We have a magic that will send you to Vjardelford.”
This was bizarre. Was I really negotiating with a Vjardelman? “I can see the benefit in that for me. But if I am so honorless, what is to keep me from just throwing the letter away when I arrive?”
“The magic comes with a cost. We will lay geas upon you. You will deliver the letter to our chieftain or you will die within a fortnight.”
I hesitated. I’m not sure why. The shouts from above and below along with the hideous cracking noises showed I had precisely zero other options. The Vjardelmen were not exactly known for their trickery, either.
I reached out for the envelope and prayed to God to deliver me from this in one piece. I had my doubts, though, seeing as it was prayer that gotten me in this mess in the first place.