Chapter 19…The Sea Ghost
Carona wasn't happy to be dragged away from her dinner to yet another dark, quiet warehouse. The assignment her guild master gave her did not improve her mood.
"A Luskan sloop, the Sea Ghost, docked here this evening. They carry no cargo, or so they claim, and our eyes in the Docks inform me that they are more heavily manned than they choose to reveal. I wish to send Luskan a clear message: without my permission, they will not be doing business here."
"And how do you want me to deliver this message?" Carona asked.
The mask the guild master wore that evening left his lower face exposed. His skin was dark and she wondered if he were perhaps a Sembian. That would explain a few things.
His lips formed a small smile. "I am certain you can force home the point," he said. He stepped close and his fingers flicked the hilt of the sword at her hip. "Waste no subtleties on the Luskanites. Call upon Moire for any assistance you need. I expect she will find this task exactly to her taste."
"Why not give it to her then?"
"Oh," he said. "The choice of messenger is a message in itself, don't you agree?"
"Waste no subtleties on me, please. I don't understand you."
"Don't you? Ah. Perhaps the one the message is intended for will understand it well enough."
Carona frowned. "Sir, I have no desire to give Moire," more cause to hate me, "an affront. Surely she will see this as one."
"If any affront is taken, she will know where to lay the blame." He had a low, pleasant laugh. "Come now, Carona, I am pleased with you. Continue to serve me well and your rewards will be—substantial."
"I am satisfied with the rewards you've given me," she said uneasily.
"Gold has its uses but have you no ambition?" More softly, he added, "I thought—in light of your relationship with Janit—"
She took an angry step backward. "My relationship with Janit had nothing to do with ambition! Far from it."
"My apologies. I meant no—affront. For a man in his position, a companion with no personal ambition was, no doubt, refreshing. And yet I thought it clear he was grooming you for more responsibility."
The guild master smiled. "I have been wrong before." A languid wave of the hand dismissed her. Her steps were so quiet that she could hear the words he murmured. "But not often."
The smell of the Docks was as foul as her mood. She was taken back to see the district master with no delay. The long, silent and speculative look Moire gave Carona would have chilled her if her own thoughts had not already done so. The elf's eyes may have been insolent but her tone was business-like as they discussed the Sea Ghost.
"She's a gaff rigged schooner, a fast ship designed to be run with a small crew," Moire said. "They are trying to hide their numbers. There are only a few sailors on deck at a time but they are rarely the same men. No one has come ashore, nor has the Sea Ghost received any visitors. Yet."
"One of the sailors sent a message to the new Luskan ambassador. Torio Claven is her name. I don't know much about her yet. She normally lives in the embassy in Blacklake but was caught out by the lockdown. She rents a house in the Merchant Quarter for now."
"I wonder why she rented a house instead of rooms in an inn. Seems like a lot of bother. Surely Blacklake won't remain closed much longer."
Moire shrugged. "Perhaps she likes her privacy, perhaps because of the size of her entourage but more likely, it's for security. There is hardly a person in this city without a personal grudge against Luskan. She has a big brute of an aide with her who, by all accounts, looks more like a bodyguard than a scribe."
"So you think the Sea Ghost is waiting for the ambassador? Do they carry dispatches perhaps?"
Moire shrugged again. "Anything official should have come by the fast packet in a sealed pouch. However I suggest we take care of our business before she shows up, to avoid any complications. How do you want to handle this?"
"I think you and I should go down and have a word with their captain." Moire raised her brows. "And maybe there should be a lot more of us out of sight. In case the Luskanites don't appreciate a friendly hint."
"I've already arranged that the Watch patrols on the wharfs enjoy an evening off. They won't interfere. I suggest you station someone at the bridges to intercept and delay the ambassador's carriage."
Before long they had a couple of dozen guild members dressed out as sailors, stevedores and other dock workers. Once they were in place, she, Moire and Caleb strolled out along the wharf.
"Sea Ghost!" Carona called. "Send out your captain."
One of the sailors on deck—an unusually large, muscular, and sunburned sailor—looked them over one long insolent moment. He spoke to Caleb. "These your drabs?" he asked. "An elf and a half-breed?" He spat a thick gob over the rail and onto the dock. "The captain didn't send for a whore."
Moire turned to Carona and raised one brow. They were both openly armed and dressed in well-worn leathers. Carona would be hard pressed to think of a less provocative outfit. "I believe he is trying to be offensive," Moire said in a mock tone of surprise. "Are these typical Luskan manners, do you suppose?" She winked, to Carona's astonishment. "Will you give him an etiquette lesson?"
A quick movement sent Carona's throwing knife straight as an arrow. It pierced the back of the sailor's hand and pinned it to the rail. He let out a loud curse and pulled out the knife with a grunt of pain.
"Nice lesson," Moire said.
Carona was rather pleased with the throw herself. "Such language," she said. "Do we want any foul-mouthed Luskan pirates here, contaminating the docks of our fair city?"
"No, we do not," Moire said. She drew her rapier at the same moment as the sailor drew his sword. He climbed onto the rail, ready to jump down to the wharf.
"I'm going to spill your guts, trollop—Get your hand off that rope!" Carona had gone to one of the lines securing the schooner to the pier.
"Tell your captain to make sail tonight," she told him. "Now, in fact. It would be a pity if your ship were to meet with an accident." Caleb waved his burning torch. Men from below began coming up on deck. They made way for an older man with a short gray beard and skin deeply weathered by the sun.
"Get down, Sannik," he told the man on the rail. With a scowl, he obeyed. "Get that hand bound up," he said, noting the blood dripping from the thin wound in his hand. Sannik scowled deeper and the captain jerked his head at him. Sannik went below.
"I'm Captain Daros," he said. "What seems to be the problem here?"
"The problem is you Luskanites wore out your welcome five years ago," Carona said. "I don't know what business brings you here but you can consider it over and done."
"Luskan and Neverwinter are not at war," he said, opening his hands in a peaceful gesture. "This is a free port."
"Not to you, it isn't," Carona said.
"And you are—?"
"All you need to know is that I represent a group who finds your presence here objectionable."
"And what group might that be?" He leaned over the rail to smile across at her. The Sea Ghost was not a large schooner and the deck of his ship was more or less at the level of the wharf where Carona stood. Carona's return smile was about as sincere as the captain's. She turned her head. Several of the thieves moved out of the shadows to show themselves and the crossbows they carried, held ready to fire.
"I see," the captain said. "Perhaps we can come to some accommodation."
"I'm sure we can. Here's my offer," Carona said. "You leave now, and we won't fire your ship."
"Come now, surely—" He turned as another man, this one in the robes of a mage, joined him on deck. His elegant blue robes fluttered around his knees in the sea breeze and looked wildly inappropriate next to the sailors' simpler garb. The big man, Sannik, stood by his side.
"What is the matter, Daros?" the mage asked in a bored and supercilious voice that set Carona's nerves on end. She noticed that the captain clenched his jaw as if he felt a similar reaction.
"It would appear that your master neglected to clear our visit with the local guilds," the captain said.
"So? Why should he?"
"It is common knowledge that the Thieves own the docks in Neverwinter. They say we cannot land."
"That's ridiculous," the mage said. "Pay them off." He looked over in Carona's direction. "You there!" He pointed at her. "How much?"
"You misunderstand," Carona said. "We are not here to negotiate."
The mage's eyes narrowed in irritation, but as he continued to look at her, his expression altered. He clenched the fingers of his left hand into a fist and looked down at the dull iron ring he wore.
"By the gods, it must be her," he said, so low she could barely hear. "What an amazing stroke of luck." He backed away from the rail and looked back at the men now crowding the deck. "Kill them all," he shouted. "Except for the half-breed—keep her alive. If you can't, keep her body as intact as possible."
"What are you doing?" Captain Daros roared but it was too late. Men swarmed over the rail and soon Carona found herself in trouble. She and Moire fought back to back. The first man who rushed Moire dropped instantly, pierced in the throat by her rapier. The elf let out a disturbing laugh.
Crossbows twanged and the remaining thieves rushed out of hiding to join the attack. Carona had her sword in her left hand and her punching dagger in her right. She had neither the strength nor the size to excel in a straight-out brawl and the wharf, wide as it was, didn't give much room to maneuver. Caleb had drawn his heavy scimitar and used his torch as a highly distracting off-hand weapon.
The mage's men didn't move like sailors but like soldiers. A couple of them ran past to prevent Carona from retreating off the wharf. And then the mage attacked.
With a roar, a huge great beast—a dog out of a lotus smoker's nightmare—appeared from mid-air. It leapt past Carona and she heard a man scream. She thought it was Caleb but she couldn't turn to check for she faced two men with cudgels. One of them cursed when a crossbow bolt thudded into his thigh. A roiling ball of blue fire roared past and she heard more screams behind her. The mage had hit the archers with a lightning spell.
"Mind my ship!" the captain shouted. His words made her wonder if they were going to be hit with a fireball next but instead a cold dense fog rolled over her, blinding her and muffling all noise. One of the Luskanites laughed and struck her hard on the elbow. For a breath or two, it didn't hurt and then pain roared up her arm. Her sword fell from her hand.
She heard a large splash and realized she must be close to the edge of the wharf. Someone had gone into the water but whether willingly or not, she did not know. She shook her head but still couldn't see. In fact, she felt strange and dizzy. She punched with her off-hand dagger but missed. Before she recovered her balance, the cudgel struck her shoulder, bounced and clipped her chin as well. She staggered back. Although she was blinded by the fog, apparently her opponents were not.
She staggered again and someone tripped her. She fell. She was kicked in the side twice while she was on her knees, trying to get up. Surely no sailor would wear such heavy boots, she thought vaguely.
"Drop the knife," someone growled. She tightened her grip and struck out at the voice. One of those heavy boots stamped on her wrist.
"Don't kill her," the mage yelled. With another couple of kicks, she lost her hold on her blade.
"Are the others dead?" the mage asked. His voice seemed much closer. A cool breeze puffed up out of nowhere and in moments, the dizzying cloud was gone.
"Dead or crawled back into their holes," said the Luskan soldier who had kicked her. He was the one she had hit with the throwing knife, the one called Sannik. "What should we do with this one, Ahja?"
"Get her up," he said. "We'd best get her onboard before the Watch comes nosing about." Sannik dragged her up by the back of her tunic but her legs were still too weak to support her. She saw that Caleb lay dead in a pool of his own blood. Half of his face had been torn away. "The rest of you—get rid of these bodies. Throw them in the harbor."
"What about my men?" Captain Daros asked. "My injured?"
"What about them?" the mage asked curtly. He pushed past the captain. "Take her to my cabin." Over his shoulder he said, "When Torio comes, let me know. Otherwise I do not wish to be disturbed."