Pirates on the River
This was the hardest part of the book to cut out. It has all the hallmarks of a quick, easy adventure with some romantic tension and a reasonable amount of action. It was part of chapter 22 and fit in right after the tavern incident where Khazav, Ritchar and Donal are attacked by half-ogres and a sneaky Chitzo bartender, Chubregor Baresti.
At this point in the story, the group is planning to us a barge to sail south so they can get closer to the westbound highways leading to Gerne. In the final manuscript, the trip goes without incident but in the older drafts, it was far more complicated.
Arek Balten is a river pirate, in league with Chubregor Baresti. Those passengers that are suckered into going to the tavern are either robbed or killed. The rest on the boat are an easy prey for Arek and his crew. To his great surprise, Khazav, Ritchar and Donal survive the tavern without a problem. So he rejigs his plans. He plans to distance Oa-neth from Don-zee to cause tension in the group and then attack them.
This segment was removed because it doesn't really add to the story and could be safely cut to save space.
Here, then, is the original version of the story. Note that it was written before I changed the racial names to their current forms, so Oa-neth is called an elf, Donal a halfing, etc.
For the next twelve days, the group worked hard as if they were members of the ship’s crew, albeit using false names. Their days began early and ended late, but they found after a day or two that the sailors on the ship, including the surly Larlor, began to become friendly towards them. Even Don-zee won the respect of many of the sailors for his dedicated work and seemingly endless energy and after a few days, Oa-neth began to speak with him again when they had a few free moments together. Khazav spent time with Larlor at first, then worked with other members of the crew but if there was some vast conspiracy to harm the group in some way, none of the sailors gave the slightest hint of it. Most evenings, the ship would stop at another of the many docks that lined the Pool River and when Arek and Larlor returned from the town, he would bring food not only for his men, but for them as well. The days were sunny and hot and only a few times did they see any clouds in the sky. Oa-neth had the hardest time of the six of them. Despite her strength and training, she found the work exhausting and at times found herself lagging behind in her tasks. Larlor frequently goaded her on and they noticed after a few days he seemed to take a personal, and very unfriendly interest in her.
On the tenth day of their voyage, they reached a fork in the river, the third since they had left Rishna. Khazav and Arian stood near the bow of the ship, looking at the two branches in front of them. Arek join them and pointed to the branch flowing west.
“That there,” he said, “is the Temes River. It flows from here along Greatwood’s southern edge and several days from here passes along the north edge of the Storm Mountains before turning southwest to flow through the mountains and into Gerne. The branch south is our route, through to the green lands of Yalu. “Arian’s eyes lit up as he said that.
“Captain,” she said, “if one wanted to go to Gerne, would that not be the fasted way?”
“Perhaps on paper,” he answered, “but there are few captains who would sail a river with barren mountains on one side and the evil darkness of the forest on the other. I don’t know of anyone who uses that river as a passage to the Midlands.” He stopped suddenly as the sound of shouting erupted behind them. They turned to look and saw Oa-neth looking up the much taller Larlor, standing toe to toe with him. They were arguing loudly.
“Perhaps if you had the muscles of a man instead of a child’s, you’d be able to carry your weight around here!” he shouted down at her.
“And perhaps,” Oa-neth shouted back, “if you had the compassion of a man instead of a gibberling’s, you’d realize I’m doing the best I can!”
“A gibberling,” yelled Larlor in outrage. He grabbed Oa-neth by both arms. “A gibberling would not have the strength to throw you in the water, but I do.” He started to lift her off the deck. Khazav and Arian started to run towards their friend but Arek put up his hand to block them.
“Larlor,” he called, “put the elf down.” Larlor turned and looked at Arek as Oa-neth struggled to release herself from his strong grip.
“Captain,” he answered, “she is lazy and I think a dip in the river might cure her of that.”
“The heat has made you crazy,” the captain said. “Put her down.”
Larlor took a step forward towards the deck when he felt a sudden, sharp jab in his back. Wincing in pain he dropped Oa-neth and as she hit the deck, she scurried away from him and over towards Arian and Khazav. Larlor whirled around to see Don-zee standing behind him, the front part of his hair flattened from where he had head butted him, and a fierce hatred burning in his eyes. The other sailors, Ritchar and Donal among them, had gathered around to watch the seemingly uneven contest.
“Runt,” he growled. “I’ll teach you to strike me.” He lunged forward but Don-zee, showing surprising speed, ducked out of the way, stretching out his leg and tripping the sailor. Larlor fell flat on the deck, landing on his chest. He tried to get to his hands and knees but Don-zee landed a kick in his mid-section, flipping him around and onto his back. Don-zee jumped into the air and landed hard on Larlor’s chest, knocking the air out of him. He raised his fist to deliver the final blow but Arek had rushed forward when Don-zee had first tripped his man, and now grabbed his arm.
“All right, dwarf,” he said calmly, “that’s quite enough.” He pulled hard on Don-zee’s arm, lifting up off the dazes Larlor. Two other sailors rushed forward and lifting him to his feet. He stood a few feet away from the glaring dwarf.
“It is not over between us,” he hissed at Don-zee. Then he shook himself free of his helpers and stomped over to the steps, disappearing below deck.
“Disperse back to your duties,” ordered Arek and slowly the sailors, constantly glancing over their shoulders at Don-zee, moved away back towards where they had been working. Arek looked down at Don-zee. His face was stern.
“Now then,” he said, “I can’t just have you assaulting members of my crew. What should be done with you?”
“Your man was attacking my friend,” replied Don-zee in a subdued, but angry voice. “I had a right to defend her before he threw her into the river.”
“Is that it?” asked Arek. “You consider yourself lucky that I don’t throw you into the river instead.” He released Don-zee and pushed him back. “Return to your duties. If this happens again, you will be cast into the river.” He turned and looked towards Oa-neth who was standing next to Arian. The taller woman had put her arm around her.
“My dear,” he said, “I must apologize for Larlor. He is a perfectionist and often has unrealistic expectations of others. This won’t happen again.” His face changed as he spoke. Now it looked almost gentle. He walked over and took Oa-neth by the hand. “Come with me and I’ll show you a different task you can do which will keep you on the other side of the boat from him.” She walked slowly with him towards the bow of the boat. Arian and Khazav looked at each other, then walked over to where Don-zee was still standing and silently fuming. Donal and Ritchar also jumped down from the mast where they had climbed to watch the fight and came over.
“Don-zee,” said Arian. “I am impressed. I didn’t think you had it in you.” The dwarf let his shoulders fall as she spoke. Khazav clapped him on the back.
“Well done, dwarf,” he said. “I shall feel more secure the next time I need you to watch my back.”
Don-zee looked up at them. “We need to get off this boat, Khazav,” he said softly. “I have a bad feeling about things right now.”
“Are you sure it’s just not the mead running through your system?” asked Donal.
“That was two weeks ago,” he retorted. “Listen to me, before Larlor attacked Oa-neth, he was standing and talking to some soldiers who were glancing in her direction. This was no spontaneous outrage on his part, I am sure of it!”
“What are we to do?” asked Ritcher. “We are still four or five days away from where we need to leave the river. Having spent money on this passage, horses are not an affordable option for the entire group. We must continue on.”
“You are both right,” said Khazav. “We cannot leave the boat yet but we must watch our backs even more. Especially where the benevolent captain is concerned.” They turned and looked towards the bow of the boat. Arek was standing there with Oa-neth, pointed south and east, describing the country before them. Suddenly Arian grabbed Don-zee to prevent him from running forward. The captain had put his arm around the elf’s shoulder.
For the next three days, they continued their quiet but tense routine with the crew. Whereas before they had joined them for meals and socialized with them when they stopped for the night, they now sat separate again. The only interaction between the crew and the group seemed to be the captain and Oa-neth. In contradistinction to Larlor, the captain took a very friendly interest in the elf, helping her with her tasks and inviting her to spend mealtimes with him. Don-zee tried several times during the day to get close to her and speak with her but whenever he tried, a crewman seemed to appear with another job for him to do. At night, the exertion expended on the day’s labours left them too fatigued to speak. Finally, on the thirteenth day after leaving Rishna, three days after passing the fork in the river with the Temes, Arek assembled the entire crew in the early afternoon. The day was clear and hot, as all the days had been since they left Laiiâiel and a light breeze pushed the ship along at a leisurely pace. The river was so wide, the opposite bank could barely be seen. Both sides of the river bordered farm fields and many roads could be seen stretching into the distance. In contrast to the empty land of Rishna, the fields here were full of people and animals. The crew and the group assembled near the bow of the ship and Arek ascended the dais.
“Men,” he said in a loud voice, “you have worked hard and well. I am pleased with our progress. I recognized the land around us and we will reach the main dock in Yalu tomorrow afternoon.” Cheers rose from the assembled sailors. At the main dock, they were to pick up their next shipment and instructions on where to take it. Arek waited for the noise to die down, and then spoke again.
“As a reward for your hard work, we will spend the afternoon relaxing. The wind is gentle, the river is straight, and the ship will tend to herself for a while as we tend to ourselves.” Another, louder cheer went up, and then the group dispersed. Don-zee ran over to Oa-neth who was standing near the dais. When the elf saw him, she smiled and walked forward, clasping his hands as he drew near.
“A free afternoon,” she said. “I never thought I would feel such joy to hear those words.” Don-zee nodded vigorously. They turned and walked towards the edge of the deck and when they reached it, they sat down, dangling their legs over the side of the ship.
“The river is so peaceful here,” Don-zee said after they had been sitting quietly for a few minutes.
“See how the bank of the river slopes up to a rise down there?” said Oa-neth. Don-zee nodded. “Once, long ago, the river was even wider than it is now, and it’s waters reached to that small hill. That’s why the river down here is deep enough to allow even large boats to sail down it.”
“As the dwarves know the rocks of the world, so the elves know the more pleasant places above them.”
“It almost feels like I haven’t seen you in weeks,” said Oa-neth. “Has it been that long?’
“No, I don’t think so,” replied Don-zee. “More like several days. You’ve been busy with the captain.”
Oa-neth groaned as he spoke. “I know,” she said. “It’s been so annoying. He won’t leave me alone. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he’s trying to keep us apart. I don’t care though. I’m glad we have this time together.” She paused and looked at the river. “We’ve been so busy, and I was so shocked initially by what had happened, that I never thanked you,” said Oa-neth. Don-zee looked puzzled.
“Thank me for what?” he asked. Oa-neth tapped him playfully on the back of the head.
“For saving me from getting thrown in the river,” she said. “You do remember doing that, right?”
“Oh yes,” said Don-zee. “It was a privilege to serve you.”
“I don’t want a servant right now, sir dwarf,” Oa-neth said softly. “I want a friend.” She shuffled over and they sat close to one another, holding hands and watching the shore roll quietly by. Suddenly, Don-zee felt a strong hand grip him by his long, tangled hair and lift him to his feet. He spun around to see Larlor standing above him, an angry look on his face. Seeing this, Oa-neth jumped to her feet but before she could stop him, the muscular man gave the dwarf a quick push, sending him flying into the water. Oa-neth screamed and landed a punch in Larlor’s midsection. The sailor had not been expecting her to have such strength and doubled over in pain. Quickly she drew close to him and raked her fingernails over his eyes, causing him to shout in pain. Then, as he tried blindly to grasp at her, she kneed him in the chin, sending him flying back onto the deck. Khazav and Ritchar appeared from behind the mast and ran over to her as other sailors gathered around their fallen comrade.
“Don-zee!” she gasped. “He’s in the river! Dwarves can’t swim!” She pointed to the water behind the boat. There, in the wake, they could see the small figure of the dwarf, struggling to stay afloat in the water. Ritchar threw off his work gear and immediately dived into the water, swimming rapidly towards him. Within moments, he had reached him and began pulling him towards the shore. Khazav turned around and saw Arian standing by the mast, trying to see what was going on.
“Get the captain to stop the boat!” he shouted. “Ritchar and Don-zee are in the water and we need to wait for them.” As he watched, four of the sailors unexpectedly lunged towards the tall woman, grabbing her arms and legs. She struggled but they held on tight. Four more of the crew drew short but sharp swords and began pointing them at Khazav and Oa-neth. They parted and Arek, carrying a long scimitar, walked up between his men and over to them. He looked back at Larlor and shook his head.
“First the dwarf bests you,” he said sadly, “and now the little elf maiden. Larlor, what will I do with you?” Larlor grunted through lips left swollen by the elf’s knee. The captain sighed and turned towards Khazav and Oa-neth. “Really, it was quite amusing at first. Imagine a dwarf running to defend an elf. Goes against everything else I was ever taught. But now it is simply annoying. Can’t have complete strangers pummelling my crew. And don’t try to shift the blame! The way I see it, if you had never come aboard, Larlor would never have had these problems.”
“That was the plan,” retorted Khazav, “right from the beginning. I’ll bet you told the halfling innkeeper about us. Set us up to be killed and you keep our possessions from the start.”
Arek smiled through thin lips at them. “You are a clever man, Butcher,” he said. “Yes, Chubregor Baresti and I are old friends, and I was truly impressed that you survived him and his servants. But your luck ends now. I give you a choice. Jump into the water voluntarily and I will spare the ladies as well as your life. Refuse and we will kill you now, and the ladies… later.” His smile turned wicked as he spoke and his men laughed as he spoke. Khazav instinctively reached for his sword but he had left it below in the room, hidden under his pack. Quietly, he cursed.
“If you are such a man,” he said to Arek, “drop the weapon and let us settle this honourably.”
“Ah,” replied Arek, “but I am not honourable!” He lifted his scimitar and took a step towards Khazav. Then he heard a loud, rustling sound. He turned to see the sail on the mast immediately behind him come flying down, covering his men as it landed on the deck. Dumbfounded, he turned back to Khazav and charged forward swinging his weapon wildly. Khazav pushed Oa-neth out of the way, then leaped forward to tackle the captain. Not expecting this, Arek’s scimitar was out of the position as Khazav’s body crashed into his. The two of them went down and began struggling for the weapon. Khazav grabbed at it but missed, and Arek briefly got his arm free. He slashed Khazav’s arm above the elbow, causing the warrior to grunt in pain. In the meantime, Oa-neth staggered to her feet and ran over to help Khazav who had rolled up the captain and was lying in pain but before she could reach them, she saw Arek standing over him, ready to lower the scimitar across his neck. Unexpectedly, a thin sword blade appeared in the captain’s chest. He collapsed to his knees, then fell over, dead. Behind where he had been standing, Donal appearing, flinging his magical cloak over his shoulder. He gave a wide grin to Oa-neth, then kicked the body of the captain overboard.
“Watch out!” the elf screamed. Larlor had snuck up behind Donal and landed a hard punch across the back of his head. The halfling’s head jolted sickly and he flew to the deck, unconscious. Larlor staggered forward, frowning at Oa-neth.
“Now there is no one to save you,” he growled. He reached for Oa-neth’s arms but the elf dove between his outspread legs. He turned to face her but she kicked his knees out from behind him before he could. He fell to the deck and she jumped in the air, landing on his shoulders. The sudden impact of her weight forced him down to the deck and his head bounced off it as he hit it. She rolled off and for good measure, lifted his head and slammed it twice more into the deck, the rolled him into the water.
She stood up to hear the sound of fighting behind her. The men with swords under the sail had succeeded in cutting open large swaths of it but Arian had managed to free herself in the confusion and grab one of the swords herself. As Oa-neth watched, she hacked at one sailor after the other until there was only a handful left standing. They dropped their swords and raised their hands above their heads. Arian stepped forward and grabbed one by the scruff of his neck.
“Now,” she said, gripping tightly, “how do you stop the boat?”
With the unwilling help of the remaining sailors, the boat was brought to a halt. Ritchar and Don-zee, walking on a path at the river’s edge, soon caught up to the boat. Arian grabbed a long rope from the deck, tied a metal weight to it, then threw it over to the river bank. Ritchar tied the rope around Don-zee then pushed the protesting dwarf back into the water. Arian and Oa-neth pulled him through the water and up the side of the boat. He laid on the deck for a moment, looking drained and bedraggled and muttering about his dislike of water. Oa-neth took a moment to heal Khazav’s arm which had almost been amputated by Arek’s vicious slash, then revived Donal who spent the rest of the day complaining about a severe headache. Ritchar jumped in the water and swam over to the boat, then Arian and Oa-neth helped him on board as well. While Arian and Ritchar guarded the sailors, Oa-neth, Don-zee, Donal and Khazav went below deck. They checked their own possessions first to ensure nothing was missing. Then they pushed their way into the crew’s cabins and searched until they found the gold coins they had used to pay for their passage, along with several other pouches of gold, which they helped themselves to.
“You’re talking out money?” a sailor with a blackened eye asked.
“We really weren’t happy with the service on this vessel,” replied Arian sarcastically. She and Khazav turned and pointed their swords at the four sailors left. “When do we reach the next docks?”
“Later tomorrow afternoon,” replied the sailor. “Just as the captain said.”
“What if we sail through the night?”
“We do not sail through the night for the waters are black and treacherous at that time.”
“Then you will have to keep a keen eye,” said Khazav in a tone that suggested that he was not interested in an argument.
For the rest of the afternoon, the boat sailed slowly on. The sailors, under the watchful eyes, and swords of Khazav and Arian. Through the night, the group took turns at the watch. All but one of the sailors remained in their room, with Ritchar taking a moment to magically lock the door. The remaining sailor guided the ship through the dark night. Early in the morning, they saw a large set of docks, and a city of considerable side surrounding it, up ahead. The sailors steered the ship towards them and by noon the ship was in its berth. Before the port authorities could reach the ship, Arian and Khazav had taken the sailors down to the hold and tied them up. Then the group gathered on the deck of the ship and looked out over the city.
“The captain told me this town is called Nodnol,” said Oa-neth. “I hope it’s nicer than the other places we have been recently.”
“I have been to Nodnol before. It is near the main highway. We must walk further south until we reach the road west,” said Khazav. “Bamfortia is only a few days away in that direction.” They turned to face south as the forlorn sailors walked around the deck of their stranded boat. Khazav walked over to the bedraggled Don-zee. Even after the warm afternoon and evening before, his hair was still wet and seemed even more tangled than before.
“I guess you were right,” he said. “We did need to get off that boat.” He pushed past and began walking down the gangplank which Arian and Ritchar had lowered. Oa-neth walked over and squeezed the dwarf’s hand tightly. Then the group set out off down the dock towards the city.