The Dragons Of Arbor
Chapter 17: Banishment and Black Hearts

Copyright© 2007 by Sea-Life

Three months after the Captain's Ball, it was finally time for Baron McKesson and Lady Dambro to take their leave of Seacroft and the Sparine Peninsula. It was time for us to get back to being Sid and River again, maybe even Mat and Sparrow for a little while. We only had a few things to wrap up, and we had been saving them, reluctant to confront some harsh reality in the midst of what had turned into such a lovely situation. But we still had Oereia to deal with. Still had Joist and Link Yauntz to deal with, and still had Spray and Scatter's parents to deal with.

Spray and Scatter had not just stepped into River's position with Dambro & Ewren Rare Game and Spices, they had thrived in it. Scatter's initial fascination with the world of spices had slowly developed into something of an apprenticeship with Master Ewren, who was thrilled to have someone to teach. Particularly someone who approached the knowledge with enthusiasm.

Spray was now the game hunter that Seacroft looked to with pride. The young woman had moved beyond her status as River's student, and had mastered the skill set needed to replace her in the business. There was even talk of finding vendors in remote locations across Arbor who might ship live game to Seacroft, adding to the exotic side of the business with things not available in the region at all. Trunk, having access to many of the Gurmot, Gurmot and Sons Factors and agents in various places gave her some starting points, and there were already some items in the pipeline. The one that was going to be tricky to arrange was the elkaphant that Acre Arica, owner of the Seacroft Inn had inquired about. Getting a live elkaphant was out of the question. Getting fresh cuts of elkaphant to Seacroft, that was another story. Possible, but tricky. Few shippers were able to keep raw meat fresh over long distances, and those that did were pricey. There was usually magic involved of some kind.

I still had the bracelet that Dad had given me, and still had the excuse of it to provide transportation to Oereia and beyond. I was going to maintain that illusion, even with River for a while. She needed to know the truth as soon as it was practical to tell her, when we had time to get through what it would mean to us and our relationship. Trunk was going to need to know too, I mean the complete truth of it. He already knew about the family gifts, he just didn't know the complete truth.

Lord Kilber, by virtue of his new position had become somewhat un-retired. As Duke of Seacroft, he received an administrative stipend, out of which he hired staff to assist him. The first person he hired was Captain Halico, who was glad to have the opportunity to settle down in Seacroft with Flutter Bockoroy. Those fires may not have been the youngest, but they were fresh, and it was fun to watch River reacting to Flutter's actions.

Lord Kilber and Captain Halico had turned right around and hired the younger sons and daughter of Haul Trupp, Barn Joise and Vast Arica. All three were glad for a chance to shine outside of the family enterprises, most of which they weren't in line to assume command of, since they all had older siblings who had been training for those positions for years. They were all young, though none as young as River and I.

With a new level of oversight available, some things became easier, some became harder, most just stayed the same. King Artful didn't mess with the people of Seacroft to make up for the new expense. He wasn't conscripting more citizens into the military or raising taxes or imposing fees. Some people grumbled, but someone is always grumbling about government.

"If you aren't hearing a little grumbling, your citizens are afraid of something, and you had best investigate that!" Trip had said plainly early on.

With some small gifts gathered to bring to friends left behind, we gathered ourselves and I jumped us to the path in Oereia, the same spot beside the bath house that I remembered from my first trip.

It was not Tremor Stelp who saw us this day. It was someone who spotted Spray and Scatter and ran off immediately.

"Well, here we go." Trunk said.

A dozen men, armed mostly with spears and pikes came our way before we could even make it to the back row of cottages.

"Halt!" One of them called. From the set of him and the sound of his voice, I suspected this had to be Joist Yauntz.

"I heard you had been here Dambro!" He said with a sneer. "We chased you and these brats out before, you should have stayed away.

"Lady Dambro." I said.

"What?" He said, as if he hadn't thought he'd heard it right.

"Lady Dambro." I repeated. "You will address her by the title King Artful saw fit to give her, and call her Lady Dambro."

"What nonsense is this? He said. "Who are you to tell me how to address this outcast?"

"You may address me as Baron McKesson." I answered. "The woman you continue to speak so haughtily of is my intended sir, and you would do well to have a care!"

"Regardless sir, you have brought outcasts back to our village where they are not wanted. You all must leave immediately." Joist said, maneuvering himself away from the dangerous topic.

"We shall not be staying Mister Yauntz, there is nothing here we want, but to deliver a few messages, pay some respects and then be on our way." River said. I could tell that the way she said 'Mister Yauntz' was intended to irritate.

The crowd behind the men had grown larger, and suddenly I recognized Floe Mosas who came shouldering her way past the armed group to give River a hug.

"You found them and they are safe! Good job!" She said, looking at Spray and Scatter. A man made his way beside her and gave River a hug as well. This must be Floe's husband Hold. After those hugs were exchanged, Floe turned to her husband and then motioned to me.

"Hold, this young man is Baron McKesson, River's intended."

Suddenly I was being reevaluated, and then a hand was held out.

"I am pleased to meet you sir. We have prayed that some day our foster daughter would find a good man. A Baron huh?"

"Freshly named by King Artful at this year's Captains Ball." Spray said.

"Quite a few people were rewarded by the king after we wiped out the nest of slavers that were operating on the peninsula." Trunk said. "Must be rough now, not getting those payments, eh Yauntz?"

The man began a blustery denial, but I cut him off. Time for the spiel I'd been practicing for weeks now.

"Here is the message we came to deliver. It is sent jointly, from King Artful, your rightful ruler and the High Wizard of Arbor, Weaver McKesson." I said. The matching last names suddenly drew a couple of quick double takes. "People of Oereia, Let it be known that the High Wizard, through the craft of his office has learned that Joist Yauntz, knowingly, and for gain, has been aiding and abetting the practice of slavery in and about the Sparine Peninsula and within the kingdom of Norsea. King Artful declares him then anathema, and unwelcome anywhere King Artful's lawful rule holds sway. In addition, the High Wizard of Arbor declares that no wizard, nor those over whom the Wizards of Arbor hold sway will offer aid or succor to Joist Yauntz. Furthermore he states that any Wizard of Arbor who may find Joist Yauntz within the confines of any town, city or village where the rule of law exists shall make him captive and he shall be brought to justice."

That was a lot to swallow, and I let them stew in their own juices for a long moment over it. Even Joist himself was so stunned he never thought to speak even a syllable in his own defense. I continued.

"King Artful proclaims as well that the citizens of Oereia themselves are found guilty of complicity in these acts. However, recognizing that this was unknowing complicity, acts intended only to support your fellow townsman and leader, His royal Highness hereby decrees that any fines or punishments shall be waived, and stricken from the rolls, as long as you honor all the laws and proclamations of your rightful king, as good citizens of Norsea should."

That tore the lid off it then, and Joist Yauntz suddenly looked panic-stricken as he realized he would be finding no support among these people any more. He grabbed the shaft of the pike the man next to him held and pulled it sharply towards me. I moved inside the arc of it and stepped slightly to the right and did the one thing he never expected. I hauled back and punched him in the face with everything I had. Nothing borrowed, nothing of the stone, just all Obsidian, and all pissed off Sid. I knocked him flat and knocked him unconscious as quick as an eye blink.

Damn that felt good!

"Spirits! That man has needed that for a long time!" Someone muttered from the middle of the crowd. There might have been laughter at that, but it was cut off by a sudden blow from nowhere that sent me falling to my right, off balance. I was back up and on my feet in an instant, with my staff in hand, but River put her hand on my shoulder.

"This fight is not yours." She said. There was something in her eyes. I nodded and stepped back, expecting River to step forward. Instead it was Spray who did.

"Hello Link." She said. "I see you still are stuck on believing your own lies. You are no match for Baron McKesson, so you will have to match yourself against me, I guess."

The young man who had blindsided me stood, staff in hand and a snarl on his face, waiting.

"If the Baron were fighting you..." Spray said, a sudden snap of her staff slapping Link across a shoulder with a stinging blow.

"He would have you on the ground..." Snap! Another stinging blow, to the left thigh this time.

"Or dead by now." Snap.Snap. Two blows, ribs and face.

"If it were River Dambro..." Snap! Across the right thigh, harder this time, more than just a sting. Link Yauntz finally reacted, taking a swing in return and missing wildly. As he over spun from his missed shot, Spray whipped around and sent two more blows. Snap! Snap! Across his back. One low and into the kidneys and the other high into the ribs.

"... She would ruin your face, or leave you an invalid perhaps." Snap! A hard blow into his chest.

"She has, after all, more experience dealing with animals than I have."

The next move was a thing of beauty, despite its final result. Spray stepped forward and into a spinning kick to Link's chin that rocked him up and back on his toes. Her spin through the kick moved into a vertical sweep with the staff, moving it around and back up like a classic uppercut, only her target for the second blow wasn't the chin. Her blow went rock hard and lightning fast to his groin with every bit of strength and velocity she could muster.

"I shall only take what you were so keen to give me the last time we met."

Link Yauntz fell to the ground, blood flowing into the cloth of his trousers, and a girlish scream escaping his lips like steam from a kettle.

The visiting was brief and more somber than it might have been, but I had moved on from these people some time ago and I was able to muster little in the way of my affection. Even Floe and Hold Mosas were less than the foster parents they had once been. I had brought them a nice bronze platter, and a half a dozen jars of Bright Ewren's rarest spices. It was not a display of affection, simply a thank you for having taken in a girl when she needed it.

Spray and Scatter refused to meet alone with their parents. Scatter's mother was as close to a healer as Oereia had, and was busy at first tending to Link Yauntz' ruined testicles anyway. By the time she was clear of that emergency, I was done with my own tasks. The meeting took place in Tremor Stelp's cottage. Grist and Clasp Diophre and Rigger and Swan Latta sat across from Scatter and Spray, who themselves sat together, arm in arm. Sid, Trunk and I stood behind them.

"We live in Seacroft now. We will not live here, and we won't live with any of you." Spray was saying. "You can come visit us in Seacroft if you wish, but we have been taken in by Lord Kilber, the Duke of Seacroft and his wife Lady Kilber. They may not welcome you into their home if you do.

"Is this how you are getting by then, letting some rich older couple pretend you are their children?" Swan Latta said.

"Perhaps you should have worried more about that when you were allowing us to be banished into the wilderness." Spray said. "Now it is to late to make such protests honestly."

"Besides, we live with them because we care for them and they for us. They are happy to see us prosper, and even if we were not living with them, we are operating a successful business in Seacroft and making good money." Scatter added. "We could afford to buy our own home in a few years if we chose to. Instead, we are using our money to expand our business. By the time we are ready to make you some grandchildren, a few years down the road, we may even have expanded beyond the Peninsula and opened shops in other places."

"You gave birth to us and raised us to be honest and hard working, and for that, you deserve our thanks and eternal respect." Spray said.

"But when the time came, you abandoned us in favor of a man who trafficked with slavers!" Scatter said hotly. "For that, you can no longer claim any say in our lives. 'Honor those who brought you into the word.' the Spirits tell us, and we shall. But you will have to earn our forgiveness and our understanding."

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