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Blood & Earth


still been there. I wa s slow to peek again, and saw the crossbow rising into position. I
snapped a shot off-target, but at least his missile went wide.
Bobbing up once more I caught the pirate with his foot in the stirrup, cocking the
weapon. Taking careful left-eyed aim and timing the dipping of the boat, I plugged him
in the gut. The bronze figure twisted before rolling off the deckhouse.
I kicked at the girl's shoulder, stopping her in mid-scream. Left eye still propped
open, I lay back half under the deck, waiting for boarders to show above the combing.
None did, but—Lord love me!—the pirate's mast was moving. I sat up as their sail
began to rise, thinking of taking another shot. But no—no point needlessly taking life
even if I could shoot. And more important under the circum stances, ammunition wasn't
available at what passed for weapon shops on Nov Austrasia.
Odd, though—I heard splashing to starboard.
* * *
I extended an oar to the barbarian I'd shot—the first one—and he clambered over
the gunwale, coughing and blowing after his dunk. Sprawled on the deck, he drew his
chopsword and tossed it aside. A heavy cough shook his sturdy frame.
"Heed Bahkælt's plea: I offered you, man of dirt, a speedy death. I now beg the
same."
This was more like it!
"Listen:” I said. “Your life you shall keep, if you take oath to serve me."
He turned aside, speaking as if to himself.
"I! Serve this pale misshapen male who brought me down with alien thundermote,
not honorable edge? My soul would shrivel within me—my body enfeeble."
It was the indirect speech employed among acquaintances, conveniently avoiding
the declamatory mode.
"Hear, Bahkælt: Have you not, by accepting my aid, given up your life to me?"
"Nay, man of dirt. I am become, rather, your guest, just as the newborn offspring—
thrust unwilling into the world—is esteemed a cherished gift, to be offered all welcome
and hospitality."
What gall. "Know, man of blood, that it is otherwise on the dirt world. Thus must I
dictate—become my cohort and deputy in full ardor, or resume on the instant your
previous means of reaching land."
He again spoke aside. "What choice is this—low slavery or a grave beneath billows?
I am not made fish-like, to cleave the sea to depths unplumbed. Better the first, which
will surely end some day at death—his or mine—if not before." He turned to me.
"Know that I, Bahkælt, accept your dictate, lacking in honor though it might be."
"Thus take..." I caught myself. Better to use ceremony, however slight, in this
society. I snatched up his sword—short, heavy and one-edged—and handed it back to
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