Twilight Of The Dawn
by Andrew Theisen
Chapter 2: Crossbow Bolt and Light Foot
One shot. One less difficulty to contend with.
Loh Chang stared down the length of his crossbow, steadily adjusting his aim at the distant figure of Gorudiro Dwair. Chang's rival was cutting a swath across the deck of the enemy ship, striking down pirates with bare hands and feet. Forearm catch, twist, drop the other hand to opponent's lower back, shove. Dwair disarmed his opponent with fluid grace, movements too swift for any but Chang's magically enhanced sight to clearly discern.
As the pirate's cutlass dropped to the deck, Dwair had already positioned its wielder to intercept an incoming blow from the pirate's crewmate.
He's damnably skilled, Chang conceded. Still, one shot and all of Dwair's troubles would be over. An eager finger twitched slightly on the trigger. But mine would be just beginning.
He turned his attention below, to the deck of the Serpent's Kiss. There, several pirates struggled to maintain their holding position at the vessel's port rail. A valiant defense by the crew of the Kiss was making the enemy's position perilous. Added to their troubles, the stream of reinforcements from their own ship had waned considerably since Dwair's heroic charge across the boarding planks.
"To Black Tarr's Seachest with 'em, lads!" Captain Hugh Dunwich rallied his crew with a hearty cry and a toothy grin. A swift punch with the hilt of his heavy broadsword felled another of the attacking buccaneers.
One shot in the back, Chang thought, bringing his deadly gaze to bear on the vessel's commander. That's how you'd do me, isn't it, old 'friend'?
That Dunwich would sell his new passengers out to the highest bidder, there was no doubt. For his own part, Chang would prefer not to leave any witnesses to his current assignment. Five inches above the waist, mid-spine. But no, he needed Dunwich. The man was useful still.
A flash of gold from the enemy ship caught his eye. Blond tresses, whipping free like a deadly halo. Two short-handled axes, chopping and gouging in a lethal dance. Dwair's apprentice, Cylla, face impassive as she coldly maimed her opponents. A lot of anger in that one, Chang decided.
She'd come abovedecks before the first shot of flaming pitch had catapulted from the enemy vessel, and been right at her mentor's side in his counter-boarding measure. Chang had never seen her in action before, but he recognized Dwair's fighting style in her movements. I may need Dwair, but no one said anything about his student. One shot...
His finger had barely tightened on the triger when suddenly his target was gone, hidden behind a tall black man in a green shen-i. Chang's eyes widened slightly as they met Dwair's own for a brief second. Just as suddenly, the Islander disappeared back into the swirling melee. Chang frowned. His enhanced vision hadn't even registered the movement. Dwair couldn't possibly be that fast...
Just then, the Serpent's Kiss was rocked by an explosion and a burst of light. A blazing hole tore through the main sail, already damaged by enemy fire, as a magical lightning bolt narrowly missed the main mast.
The Ochaelean rogue paid it no heed, instead searching the deck of the pirate ship. There! His target had finally revealed himself - a dusky skinned man, probably a Dawn Islander - steadying himself against the starboard rail of the forecastle. A moue of disappointment settled on the man's face, even as he produced a small glass rod from his doublet. His Adam's apple rose with the beginnings of an incantation.
Chang raised his crossbow. One shot.
"Nearly lost the mizzen, an' I've got a blasted hole the size o' Hengist's Gorge in me port rail!"
Loh Chang shrugged. "And you've also got a new ship and a host of slaves to sell in Caerdwicca's market. A more than fair trade, I'd say." He drummed his fingers anxiously against the rail, watching as Caerdwick's port drew nearer. "You really need to adopt a more positive attitude, Hugh."
Dunwich tapped his eyepatch thoughtfully. "Yuir still not going to tell me what this whole blasted thing's aboot, then?" He spat a brown wad of tobacco over the side of the Serpent's Kiss. "Dinnae matter. Way I see it, I got the best end o' the deal. Yuir money in me pouch, an' as you pointed out, the pirates, their ship, an' their booty." He jerked his thumb to indicate the decks below. "An' ye? Ye've got yuir blasted secret mission, one little lady who 'appens to be very talented with an axe or two, an' a legendary hero o' two nations that's just aboot the most dangerous weapon in 'is own right." He clapped a comradely hand on Loh Chang's shoulder. "An' 'es got quite a mad on for ye, ta boot. How's that for a positive attitude?"
Chang clenched his hands tight on the rail. "Remove your hand before I do so for you, Captain."
Hugh Dunwich left his passenger standing alone on the quarterdeck, though his guffaws of laughter hung lingeringly in the twilight air.
To be continued...
The Barony of Caerdwicca
In 858 AC, the Light of Rad decision made the Republic of Glantri into a magocracy, restricting rulership of that land to wizards only.
This arbitrary decision raised discontent among much of the populace, in particular among members of the Klantyrian Clan McRhomaag. Notorious in their distrust of magic and the magic-using Clan McGregor, the McRhomaags had nevertheless joined in the migration from their original homeland in 743 AC. Clan strife and invasions from outsiders in their native highlands prompted them to seek their fortunes in a new realm.
Aengus McRhomaag was a fourth generation Mystaran-born Klantyrian. Outraged at the declaration, and at his clan's tacit acceptance of it, he left Glantri and embarked on a life of adventure. He eventually settled in Thyatis, impressed by the mighty empire and its disciplined military. For years he served with the Thyatian army, before retiring to Kerendas.
Aengus and his Thyatian bride bore a son, Eoghan, who also joined the Thyatian army, and distinguished himself greatly over the course of his military career. The new branch of the McRhomaag clan looked to have a promising career as loyal Thyatian soldiers. That is, until Eoghan's son Cuilean was born.
Cuilean was also enlisted into the Thyatian army, but quit its ranks at the earliest opportunity. He was a gambler, he associated with riff-raff, and he was generally a great disappointment to his father. Nothing Eoghan tried to do to better his son seemed to work.
When Emperor Gabrionus I began a series of colonization efforts on behalf of the Thyatian Empire, Eoghan, through a series of personal appeals and bribes, managed to secure a fief in the Provincia Meridiona, on the Isle of Dawn. He hoped that the prospect of rulership might make his son into a more responsible man.
Much to his father's surprise, Cuilean embraced the idea, and in 912 AC, he set off with a group of retainers and colonists and founded the village of Caerdwick, on the eastern shores of the Shadow Coast.
Cuilean deliberately chose the most remote location he could for his fief, so that he could finally be away from his father's meddling. Together with his underworld contacts, he set about turning Caerdwick into a pirate den, where he and his allies could plunder merchant vessels sailing along the Barbarossa Straits. The threat of imperial action kept most of his rivals in the region from attempting to assault Caerdwick, but a serious enmity developed between Cuilean and the pirates of N'er-do-well, who viewed him as an unwanted newcomer.
Cuilean's son Darragh, raised largely by his grandfather, grew up in the patriotic mold of his forebears. A naval officer, he once again brought honor to the McRhomaag name. During the Spike Assault of 959 AC, he led a daring assault on Alphatian naval forces. Though he died in the effort, he was posthumously awarded the title of Baron, and his son Malachy inherited Caerdwicca.
The current ruler, Uthgaard McRhomaag, inherited the rulership of Caerdwicca from his father Malachy in 993 AC. He exhibits a curious blend of the patriotism and self-interest of his various ancestors, and has exhibited a degree of interest in expanding and settling his baronial holdings beyond their current size. To that end, he has recently begun making appeals of alliance to several nearby lords.
Uthgaard does not get along at all well with Catullus Florus, the current governor of the Provincia Meridiona.
The current provincial governor, Catullus Florus, frowns at Uthgaard's attempts to gather more power for himself. From his residence at Grosmouth Castle, Florus exerts all of his influence to keep McRhomaag and the petty lords of Meridiona at odds with one another. For his own part, Uthgaard is apprehensive when dealing with the governor- though he considers Florus to be little more than a weaselly conniver, the deadly reputation of the man's personal guard keeps Uthgaard wary.
Copyright (c) 2000, Andrew Theisen. Used by permission. All rights reserved.