I can’t sleep.
Exhausted, Lally scowled at the dark ceiling with an hour remaining before sunrise. He didn’t normally dream when he slept, however ever since Captain Green’s crew hurt friends, his subconscious replayed the nightmare of that day every time he closed his eyes.
In his dream, the broken bodies of his friends were strewn about the pier. The remaining ten able-bodied sailors of Captain Green’s large crew lingered with hatchets and swords but didn’t advance because Zvonko stood against them. Green coat discarded, Zvonko’s pale shirt had been slashed to ribbons and so thoroughly soaked with blood it was impossible to tell where the fabric ended and mangled flesh began.
With only his ruined sword, Zvonko had defended as many of his wounded friends as he could but was unable to prevent three from being taken captive before he collapsed. For the terrifying sixty seconds it took Lally to crawl to where Zvonko fell, Lally had thought he’d lost his first mate and best friend.
Zvonko can’t come with us. Lally put a hand over his face. Not in his condition.
Lally counted it as luck that Mesa showed up when he did. He had been so intent on leaving straightaway that the idea of delaying rescue for the arrival of any allies felt like a waste of time. However, the more he thought about it, Mesa was the exact person he needed at a time like this.
He wouldn’t ask Mesa about how he wanted to carry out the rescue. Mesa’s ideas sounded crazy when they were, in fact, utter genius which made it pointless to attempt to weigh in or object. He’d reveal pertinent details when necessary, and not a moment before. It was better that way. The best avenue was always to trust.
Arm draped over his face, Lally clenched a fist. And then there’s Zvonko.
Lally resented his first mate for stopping him from giving chase to the Green crew to recover their friends. He understood why Zvonko did it but, even so, it unnerved him.
I know he did it to protect me but what if, later on, he decides something else is too risky and he gets in the way again?
Being at odds with his friend sickened him almost as much as as the realization that he had to command Zvonko to stay behind—partly because of his health and partly because he didn’t trust him.
Lally threw aside his blanket, frustrated. “I need some air.”
He dressed and tried to open the shoddy door but it wouldn’t budge.
“Is it locked?” He checked. Not locked. The bolt wasn’t thrown and the knob turned easily. It wasn’t this stubborn earlier, was it? Grunting, he struggled vainly to get out. “Why can’t I get this open?!”
Aw, forget it. He jimmied open the small front window and set about crawling through head first when a male voice made him jump.
“I don’t believe it,” said Zvonko.
Outside, Mesa and Zvonko sat side by side on the ground with their backs to the door of Lally’s room. Something was jammed under the door. Lally couldn’t tell what it was. Mesa’s knees were propped up and he cradled a distinct paper bag of crunchy seasoned bread bits from the famous bakery on the hill. Both men were snacking, nonchalantly.
Half through the window, Lally stared at them. What is happening right now?
“He’s thinks he’s sneaky,” said Mesa, popping a bread bit into his mouth. “It’s cute.”
Color rising, Lally bristled. “What the hell, you two!” He clambered out the window and to his feet. “Don’t barricade people’s doors! I know it was your idea, Mesa, because Zvonko isn’t that rude!” He gestured angrily at the door they were blocking. “How was I supposed to get out?!”
“You weren’t,” said Mesa. “Not until we could be positive you wouldn’t leave without us.”
Lally’s irritation deflated. Guilt turned his stomach sour. Sighing ruefully, he slid down beside Mesa who was sandwiched in the middle between him and his first mate.
Mesa wordlessly held out the paper bag to him.
This is too strange.
Lally reached in the bag for a handful of crunchy bread bits and nibbled. A flicker of hope tingled in his chest as the moment caught him by surprise. There he was sitting with the two people he loved most in the world—peacefully. “How have you two not killed each other yet?”
“We have something more pressing than ourselves to focus on,” said Mesa.
“Indeed, we have a particular mutual friend,” added Zvonko vaguely.
“Who is denser than we are,” mused Mesa mercilessly.
Zvonko’s head bobbed in agreement.
The tingly feeling went away. Bastards.
“Gross,” said a woman’s voice. “Are you eating sourdough bits for breakfast?”
A strong-looking woman with a long, thick braid of dark hair stood over them. She wore a trim blouse, fitted trousers, well worn boots, and a unique coral blue sash about her waist. With a large bag over her shoulder, she wore a two short scabbards, one behind behind either hip, and held the long scabbard of a sword in her fist.
Zvonko smiled in the moonlight. “Good morning, Miss Hunt,” he said softly. “You’re early.”
[to be continued…]