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Chapter 5

“Stay hidden.” Thoster said to Berwyn as he took a step towards the door. He just had a bad feeling about this that he couldn’t quite shake. Why couldn’t he remember these two? If they had been around for as much of their childhood as Berwyn seemed to think they were, why couldn’t he even remember their names? It didn’t sit right with him, and the last thing he wanted was to have Berwyn anywhere near a trap, if that’s what was awaiting him.

Thankfully, Berwyn didn’t argue with him, but instead just slipped into the shadows and all but disappeared in plain sight. Thoster marvelled at how he did it, how easy it was for him. Once he was sure that his friend was out of sight, Thoster knocked on the door, taking a step back and preparing himself for the worst.

What he wasn’t expecting was for a beautiful red haired woman to open the door, looking perplexed at his presence. In the moonlight, her green eyes seemed to sparkle like emeralds. She wore simple clothes, hanging loose over her thin frame. She was something out of a dream. She was breathtaking.

“Can I help you?” She said with a slight tilt of her head, looking more confused by the moment as to what he was doing at her door.

“Ah- yes. Lucia, is it?” Thoster watched at her mouth curved upward into a small smile, one that tugged at his memory, but he couldn’t quite place. He only knew that it made him want to give her reason to smile more often.

“And who wants to know?”

“They call me Dash, miss. Just some business with your husband, actually. Is he in?” The lie seemed like a harmless one, but as he spoke, he watched her mouth turn down, that smile slipping so quickly into a frown.

“No, he’s with his crew, fishing through the night. Just what business do you have for him?” -- Her words were soft, but came with an edge to the tone that he couldn’t quite place.

“Perhaps it would be better if I came inside, miss. I promise I won’t take much of your time.” He did his best to seem harmless, which, in all reality, he was. He didn’t want to see her hurt. But he needed to get inside if he was going to sort out just where the gold was.

She stared at him for a moment before stepping aside and letting him enter. Thoster dipped his head in gratitude as his hand moved behind him, gesturing for Berwyn to take a look around. They had worked out plenty of small signals as children for the mischief that they would get into, the pranks they pulled on Shaylee. This was the first they had used them in ages, but it all came second nature. As the door shut, Thoster saw movement in the shadows, his half elf companion moving around the edge of the house to have a look for himself.

“I appreciate you understanding how important business matters can be.” Thoster said, keeping up his lie a bit longer. The red haired woman took a step back, studying him for a moment before her smile returned.

“You really don’t remember, do you? Oh, they did a number on you.” She chuckled, the sound low and rich, but it chilled him to the bone.

“Sorry? Don’t remember what?” Thoster’s stomach was in knots, but he did his best to appear calm in the face of this uncertainty.

“A shame, really.” She went on, not bothering to explain herself. “We did have a great deal of fun, but you were a liability, Thoster. I hope you understand.” His name on her lips tugged again at his memory. He licked idly at his lips, clawing for the pieces to fall into place, but something kept his mind from being able to see it clearly.


“I don’t know how you found me, since you don’t seem to remember any of it, but I suppose it doesn’t matter since you won’t live to tell anyone.” She reached back and pulled a sword from the table behind her, holding it as though she had been born with a blade in her hand. This was no fisherman’s wife that he had ever known. No, she was more of a pirate than any on Cal’s ship.

“Gwyn.” He whispered the name, causing another chuckle to rise from her throat.

“Such a clever boy.” She cooed, like a mother praising a child. “You know, I had the wizard wipe your memory of me as a favor to you. I didn’t want to kill you and leave your family without you to keep the children fed, but you aren’t really leaving me with much of a choice.”

“I don’t understand.” He said, the fog in his mind still firmly in place. Just how often had magic been inflicted on him without his knowing. Thoster was more confused by the moment, but he just had to keep her talking. Something in him knew that the moment she lunged at him with that weapon, he was done for.

“Of course you don’t. It’s not your fault. It just would never work out between us. And seeing as you were the only person who knew about this place, I had to take care of that, didn’t I?” She looked a little exasperated, annoyed that she was having to explain all over again.

Suddenly, there was a noise at the back of the house. Gwyn’s eyes flashed with anger, looking at him accusingly.

“Bring someone for supper, did we?” She narrowed her gaze on him before turning to move towards the sound. Thoster knew what it was, though. Berwyn was likely trying to give him time to escape. He couldn’t just leave his friend back there, though. This woman was completely mad, and wouldn’t let either of them leave alive if she had any say in it.

Instead of following her out back, Thoster moved back to the front door and ran around the house as quick as he could. Berwyn’s black clad frame came flying towards him at the same time, running as fast as his lean legs would carry him.

“Seems like she remembers you, doesn’t she?” He joked as he grabbed onto Thoster’s shoulders to steady himself. Berwyn could make light of any situation, it seemed. Thoster could only wonder just what memories had been stripped away from him. It didn’t seem as though Berwyn knew of the relationship Thoster and Gwyn had been engaged in, so it was something of a secret relationship? All the more curious, really.

“Oh, I really didn’t want to get this shirt bloody.” Gwyn said with a slight pout as she stalked after them, sword still in hand. “Why did you have to bring a playmate, Thoster. We were always so much better when it was just the two of us.” With a sigh, she adjusted her grip on her blade before rushing at the two unarmed men. Thoster jumped back, watching as Berwyn rolled into the grass, nimble as ever.

Gwyn scowled at the half elf. “Ah, Berwyn. It’s been so long. You know he’s told me so much about how you’ve grown up. Naughty boy, aren’t you?” That was more of a shock than anything else. He had told her about Berwyn? They must have been closer than he originally knew. He didn’t really talk much about the half elf- not out of shame, but out of a desire to keep his friend safe. The more people that knew about Berwyn and his less than moral habits, the more likely it was that someone would try to hunt him down and stop his thieving.

Berwyn just shrugged and gave her a grin, a little shaken by how she seemed to know about him, but trying not to show it. He pushed himself back to his feet and eyed her blade. Gwyn took a menacing step forward, then another. Thoster glanced around wildly for some sort of makeshift weapon to use against her, but there was nothing.

“It’s me you want, isn’t it?” Thoster called out, trying to divert her attention. All Berwyn needed was a few seconds to get away. That’s all.

“Oh, you’ll have your turn. I want to take care of him first so we can have some time alone to chat.” She gave him another smile, just as enticing as the first he received at the door. Her attention shifted back to Berwyn who was now backed up against the outer wall of the house, her blade at his throat.

“Neither one of you were ever any good with a sword, even when we played as children. All talk, the both of you.” She pressed the edge of her blade into Berwyn’s neck, watching as blood blossomed beneath the shining silver metal, trailing down his skin. Thoster watched in horror as this unfolded, unable to find an answer to the problem in front of him. If he didn’t think quickly, his best friend was going to die before his very eyes.

Instinct took over, a part of him that he couldn’t really pinpoint, a part he didn’t realize was there. As he opened his mouth to shout for her to stop, what poured from his mouth was a note, so clean and pure that he hardly recognized it as his own voice. Thoster was a talented singer, but this was something else entirely. The note seemed to visibly vibrate in the air, stirring up the wind around them until he swore he could see it braid into a cord that reached for Gwyn, wrapping tightly around her. He continued to sing, the note changing, shifting lower, and the invisible cord tugged roughly to yank her back, pulling the pirate woman away from Berwyn with arms pinned down to her sides.

“Wha-?!” She sputtered her surprise, glancing wildly around, trying to find the source of this offending magic. As she locked eyes with Thoster, the sound pouring from him changed again, as if he was able to sing a complete chord all on his own. It was an impossible sound, but more than that, it was impossible the way that he knew that what that sound did was effectively knot the invisible rope around her, holding her firmly in place.

Back against the wall, Berwyn only then managed to open one eye, his chest heaving with heavy, panting breath. Thoster could practically see his heart hammering away beneath his flesh. He imagined it nearly matched the quickened pace of his own. Seeing that their attacker was subdued by some invisible force, Berwyn cautiously pushed away from the wall and reached up with one hand to tenderly touch the small wound to his neck. He hissed as his fingers brushed the open skin, pulling back his hand to see fresh blood staining his fingertips.

“We should kill the wench.” The half elf said with a wince as he shook off a few droplets of blood from his hand. “Take her gold and leave her for her sister to find her. Before this...whatever it is wears off. How’d you do that anyway?”

Thoster just shook his head. “I have no idea. I just saw you were in trouble and--”

“Aw, I’m touched.” Berwyn grinned, despite the grave situation they had just been in moments ago. It was things like that which helped Thoster feel slightly more at ease in most cases. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a normal situation by any means.

“Let me go!” Gwyn shouted at the both of them, snapping their attention to their captive. Thoster still didn’t understand just what he had done or how. She was clearly bound against her will, struggling in vain against the restraints. Reaching out, Thoster gently touched the invisible cord that was wrapped around her and found a slight resistance that vibrated against his fingertips as he pressed against it. All three of them looked a the band of energy in shock as a blue green glow spread along the coiled band that wrapped around her.

“What..? I don’t…” Thoster, for one of the only times in his entire life, was speechless.

“Looks like magic to me. Where’d you learn how to do that, Chatty?” Thoster had no answer to that question, just a blank look as he stared down at his hands, hoping they would offer some explanation. Meanwhile, Gwyn continued to struggle against the restraints, causing the same turquoise glow to pulse as the bond was tested.

“Whatever it is, it won’t hold her for long. Quick. We have to find the gold for Cal.” The mention of the captain’s name sparked something within the red haired woman. She pushed harder against her restraints.Thoster pushed for Berwyn to lead the way, wanting to keep himself between the half elf and Gwyn. Glancing over his shoulder, he couldn’t help but find her reaction strange.

“There’s something more going on here.” He said as Berwyn began to open drawers and knock on various sections of wall and floorboards, searching for some hidden compartments.

“What do you mean?” Berwyn inquired as he continued to search. He was only half paying attention to the conversation, but Thoster was content to simply verbalize his thoughts for the sake of his own clarity. He didn’t often go to Berwyn for much in the way of intelligent discourse. His friend was a talented man, but in other ways.

“Just something in the way she reacted when I mentioned Cal. I think there’s more to it than he’s saying. If I could just talk to her, maybe I could--” Berwyn reached over and punched him lightly in the arm.

“Are you kidding me? She nearly killed me out there and she only wanted to get me out of the way so that she could take her time to kill you slower.” Berwyn did truly care for Thoster’s well being, as he was the truest friend the half elf had. Losing him would be devastating.

“I know, I know… But she said she had my memory wiped away. I think she and I were… I think we were together.” It seemed so strange to think, that he had been with a woman he couldn’t even remember. He had surely joked of finding a woman for the night when he was drunk and not recalling her name the next morning, but this was different. This was a huge portion of his life ripped from him. He had to know why.

“Keep looking for the gold. Shout if you find it. I’m going to go talk with her.” Before Berwyn could try to protest, Thoster moved outside, leaving the door partially open as a small means of comfort for his friend that he could hear everything that transpired outside. He stepped carefully, quietly, trying to study her from a distance before he spoke.

“You’re not as good at sneaking around as you think you are.” Gwyn said, her tone a mixture of anger and amusement. “But if you’re working for Cal now, maybe there’s more to you than I knew.”

“What do you care if I’m working for Cal?” Thoster said, moving around to face her, trying to read her expression, to force his memories to return so that he could understand just what part of this he was missing. There was nothing, though. Whatever magic had stripped away the memories of his time with this woman, they were long buried within the recesses of his mind.

“He’s a coward and a cheat, that’s all. I thought you were a better man than that. It’s the reason I decided to spare you.” She sneered at him, not an ounce of mercy in her tone. He doubted she had spared him of anything. It was likely easier than finding a way to cover up a murder.

“Spare me but wipe away my memories.” Thoster shot back, trying to sound colder than he really felt. He was shocked and confused to learn about missing chunks of his life, but he couldn’t really miss what he couldn’t remember, could he?

“It was that or kill you. I wasn’t given much of a choice. You knew too much of what I was planning. You knew about this place, how I was going to leave his ship. If Cal knew about our past, he’d never let you touch a single piece of his gold. Be thankful that I paid for that wizard to give you a new start.” She struggled against the magical restraints. “What will you do with me? You don’t have the taste for blood. You’re a kind man, Thoster. I know that. Just let me go and I’ll make sure you and Berwyn are paid handsomely.”

“Trusting you wouldn’t exactly be my finest move, lass. You could just as soon send me back to that wizard of yours to make sure I forget ever seeing your face. As for the magic, I haven’t any idea how it came to be, let alone how to dismiss it. I think you’re going to be stuck there for a good long while. Gives Berwyn and me plenty of time to find what Cal sent us for.”

“You’ll never find it.” She said, her tone biting into him, mocking him. “Even if you do, once this magic wears off, I’ll find you. And this time? I’ll cut you into pieces and send them bit by bit back to your family. But don’t worry… I wouldn’t leave them out of the fun. All of the Chatwyn brats will join you in death.”

Fury boiled beneath his skin as she threatened his family. The turquoise glow of the coiled magic around her grew brighter and brighter. Without realizing it, Thoster had begun to hum, the sound reverberating in his chest. The note was low, simple, primal. Gwyn shifted uncomfortably beneath the band, smoke rising from her flesh as it seemed to heat up with the intensity of the color. Words came to Thoster, sung without him realizing as he watched her burn.

Fires burn brighter, engulfing all with unchecked might,

Obeying their new master, abiding by his laws.

Hotter sparks have caught flame before this night,

But none more wrought with fury and righteous cause.

The last note of the song hung in the air between them as Gwyn’s body was consumed in flames. It wasn’t until she collapsed in a charred heap and his song ended that he had a chance to process what had happened. Thoster took a shaking step back from the body, his mouth dropped open in horror. He’d killed her. He’d never hurt a soul before, not outside of a drunken bar fight.

As he backed away from the smoking corpse, Berwyn emerged from the house with a large sack in one hand. He looked triumphant for all of a few seconds before he too noticed just what had transpired while he was inside, hunting for treasure.

“What..? Thoster, tell me you didn’t..” Berwyn rarely called Thoster by his given name. It only happened when things were too serious to call him anything else. The last time Thoster had heard his name on Berwyn’s lips was at his mother’s funeral. This was another sort of serious entirely. Thoster turned to look at Berwyn, still too shocked to say a word. Emotion contorted his features into an indistinguishable expression.

“I had to…” He finally managed a few words, the sound of them already seeming like an excuse for the horrible thing he had done. “She said she was going to hurt the kids, come after us and… and I just..” It had happened before he could realize what he was doing. He still didn’t know just how he had done it in the first place, honestly.

Berwyn didn’t say anything at first, just shook his head as he looked between his best friend and the dead woman on the grass in front of them. The half elf was a lot of things, but he was no murderer. Stealing from those who had more than their share was different from taking a life. Considering how righteous and indignant Thoster would get about Berwyn’s thieving ways, this was more than a small shock to see just how far the man would go when pushed.

“Yeah, sure. ‘Course you did.” Berwyn laughed nervously, trying to sound like everything was fine. He held up the bag, shaking it a bit so that Thoster could hear all the gold pieces inside. “Found what we came for. Why don’t we, uh… get out of here before anyone comes by this way.”

“Should we do something with the body?” Thoster was so inexperienced with any of this, but the idea of leaving it out in the open seemed like it would be asking for trouble. People would ask questions, and if anyone had seen the pair of them headed this way, it would all be over.

“Right. Yeah, probably should, huh?” Berwyn had no idea what to do. He’d never been in a position like this before, neither of them had. “Maybe put her back in the house? Set the place on fire? Make it look like an accident?”

Thoster nodded along, mostly because he didn’t have a better idea. It could work, maybe. Accidents happened to all sorts of people. Getting her back in the house meant moving her, though, and Berwyn certainly wasn’t strong enough for it. With a grim look on his face, Thoster bent down to gather up Gwyn’s burnt, lifeless body. The stench of her burnt body was enough to make him retch, but he did his best to bite back the instinct as he brought her inside and laid her on the bed in one of the back bedrooms.

“Didn’t mean for it to come to this, lass.” He said quietly, emotion choking in his throat. He couldn’t excuse his actions, couldn’t convince himself that he had no choice, despite what he had told Berwyn just moments before. There was always a choice. He had made the wrong one.

Stepping away from the bed, Thoster moved to a table in the far corner where a candle burned. With a heavy heart, he picked it up and brought the flame down to catch the sheets of the bed. With that done, he stepped away and exited the room, closing the door behind him and letting the room catch fire. Eventually, the whole house would burn. With any luck, no one on the street would notice until enough of it burned that Gwyn’s horribly burned body would at least make sense to them. Leaving the house, Thoster couldn’t bring himself to look at Berwyn. He had accomplished his task, but at what cost?

“Come on. Best get to the docks as quick as we can.” He said in a gruff voice before he walked with heavy, purposeful steps, leading the both of them to the docks. He let Berwyn carry the gold, not feeling much for touching anything. His arms and chest were bloodied from carrying Gwyn back inside, but the smears of it were speckled with flakes of charred skin as well. It was revolting, but Thoster didn’t have the heart to wipe it away. He felt like he needed to wear it, like he hadn’t earned the right to be clean.

Nearing Cal’s ship, Thoster slowed his steps and glanced back at Berwyn. For as excited as the half elf had been to work for Cal, he now seemed hesitant to approach. Thoster turned and held out a hand for the bag.

“I can bring your share by in the morning if you’d like.” Berwyn opened his mouth to protest, but Thoster shook his head. “He needs to know what happened tonight. If he’s going to be cross with anyone about it, I want it to be me. No sense dragging you down for my mistakes.” Thoster had no idea what Cal might say or do to hear that Gwyn was dead. The man was unpredictable, after all. They barely knew one another. And if Cal thought there was money to be had in turning Thoster in, he had little doubt that it would cross Cal’s mind.

“I’ll be by first thing to check on you, then.” Berwyn said with a nod, looking nervous and grateful all at once. “Take care of yourself, Chatty.” He added before he turned to head off into the night. Thoster watched him go, holding the bag of gold. The weight of it was a reminder of why he was doing this. His family needed this. They could never know what he had done to get it, but he would provide for them by any means.

With a deep breath in, Thoster steeled himself for whatever might come of this. Walking up the gangplank, he looked left and right for any signs of the crew he knew. The ship was eerily quiet, though. At first, he saw no one at all, but after a moment, a flutter of red cloth and the swish of a dark braid caught his attention.

“Back for more, I see?” Vashile’s mouth curved up into a dangerous smirk. She stepped forward, head tilted to one side, examining the state of him and the large parcel he carried. “Here for the captain, I imagine?”

“Aye, if you could let him know I’m here, I would be much appreciative.” There was no humor in his tone, no teasing glint in his eye. It made Vash pause, not entirely certain if something was wrong. She doesn’t exactly know him well enough yet to think that she could say he’s not acting like himself.

“Wait here.” She said with a nod, giving him a final long look before she turned to head for the captain’s quarters.

Once she was out of sight, Thoster turned and let out a heavy breath, shaking his head and pinching the bridge of his nose as he played over the evening’s events in his mind. What was happening to him? What was he becoming? He didn’t know and it terrified him. Still gripping the bag of gold, Thoster moved to the edge of the boat, his free hand gripping around the wood, as if it could ground him and make some sense of what had happened tonight. Minutes passed, but no clarity came. He was more confused than ever when he finally heard the sound of boot steps behind him.

“I see you’ve brought me what’s mine.” Cal’s voice was too pleased to sit right with Thoster. It wasn’t the man’s fault, of course. He didn’t know what had transpired, didn’t know what Thoster had done to get that gold for him. Maybe if he did, he’d know to be a little less excited about it.

“Should all be there. Everything she had, at least.” Thoster held out the bag, not noticing just how dirty and bloody his hand was until that moment. Handing the bag off, he pulled his hand back quickly to try to wipe it off on the back of his shirt.

“I’m guessing you ran into some trouble?” Cal said, eyebrows raising slightly, waiting for Thoster to provide some sort of explanation for the state of him.

“She was there. Tried to act like she was her sister, but it was her, Gwyn. And she didn’t plan on letting us just take the gold.” Thoster paused and shook his head. “Things got out of hand, and I…” He trailed off, glancing down. Cal stepped forward and placed a hand on the younger man’s shoulder.

“You did what you had to, I think. Completed the job I sent you on.”

“But at what cost?” Thoster said, His voice very quiet. He didn’t think any amount of gold was worth someone’s life. How did that make him any better than Pava and her brutes, coming after Matt?

“A high one, I take it?” Cal asked, already knowing the answer, but wanting to hear it for himself.

“Aye. She’s… she’s dead, sir. I killed her. Still not even sure how. One minute we were talking and the next…” He shook his head again, as if he could rattle the memory right out, not have to hear her wails as the magic burned her alive.

“She was a thief, son.” Cal said quietly, as if that was meant to make Thoster feel any better. “She betrayed her crew and her captain. The fact that her captain happened to be me is of little consequence.”

“What?” Thoster glanced up sharply. “But you said she was a captain of her own ship, someone who owed you money that you gave in good faith. I don’t…”

“The truth was too long and complicated, my boy. I told you enough for you to know the sort of person you’d be dealing with. The fact that she stole from me when she was part of my crew matters very little, I think. I gave her the same courtesy once she was off on her own, told her she could pay me back in the proper time or pay the price. Seems she paid it, doesn’t it?” Cal rubbed his chin, thoughtfully. “Still, I didn’t think you’d have it in you to kill her. You surprise me at every turn, Chatwyn.”

Thoster didn’t have any response at first, just standing there, staring at the captain with disbelief. He had expected some sort of repercussions for his actions, for taking a life while on a job for the man. Hearing the way Cal was talking now, he almost seemed impressed. It was hard for Thoster to comprehend, hard for him to know how to take it. Was it something to be impressed by? Was this some sign of something larger that he wasn’t aware of?

Cal didn’t seem too bothered by the silence, waving a hand, as if he could wipe the topic from their minds entirely. His expression was far more pleased than Thoster expected, but if nothing else, he was glad that it wouldn’t impact his payment.

“Suppose I need to settle up with you for the night’s work then, hm?” He took the bag from Thoster and reached inside, pulling out a handful of coins. It was a fair amount of money, more than he would normally make in a week, but it wasn’t what he had been expecting. Seeing the way Thoster’s face fell in disappointment, Cal tilted his head. “Something wrong, lad?”

“It’s just not as much as I expected. The first job--”

“The first job was a test of your character and involved something far more precious to me than a thieving rogue who needed to learn her place.” Cal cut him with another dismissive wave. “Are you in need of gold, lad? Some trouble you’ve gotten into?” Thoster sensed that Cal genuinely cared about his plight, but after seeing his harsh reaction to Gwyn’s death, it was hard not to wonder just how long that compassion would last.

“My sister, sir. Her fiance is in some trouble with a woman in town. Pava’s her name. No surname to speak of, or not one she gives out, at least. His family owes her a great deal of gold, and they aren’t kind to his delays on getting it back. It isn’t his fault, though. He does what he can, helps Shaylee and I keep the children fed. Every extra scrap we can manage goes to Pava, but it’s never enough for her. So I was hoping to make enough tonight to settle his debt once and for all.” Thoster spoke with conviction. The only thing he knew about himself above all else was that his family was the most important thing to him. Matt was apart of that now, and he intended to help the man in any way he could.

Cal was quiet as he listened to the younger man’s plight. He gave away nothing in his expression, just standing there, idly stroking his chin and mulling it all over.

“Afraid I can’t give you more for the work you’ve done tonight. Wouldn’t be right.” Cal started, looking quite serious as he delivered the unfortunate news. “But I may be able to help you, all the same.”

Thoster perked at that. “You would? How’s that?

“Anyone who joins my crew is giving a starting wage to do with what they wish. Most buy themselves weapons and armor, preparing for whatever adventures the open seas may provide for them. But it’s certainly not a requirement to own your own sword to board my ship.” Cal rocked back on his heels, clasping his hands behind his back. He looked so pleased with himself to be offering this. Thoster wasn’t sure what to make of that. “If you were to agree to join my crew, work for me for the next year, I could provide you with twice as much as I gave you for the first job as your starting salary. How’s that sound?”

Twice as much? Over a thousand gold pieces for his family, for a fresh start. Thoster mouth went dry as he ran the numbers in his head, based on what he knew about Matt’s debt. Pava wasn’t unfair with the additional charges she put on her loans, and from what he recalled overhearing in conversations between Shay and Matt, she had provided a brief relief in that regard when Matt’s father went missing. It would take most, if not all of the gold Cal could provide him to clear the debt, but that was all he needed, honestly. The peace of mind Thoster would have to know that his family would be able to live without fear of Pava’s forces knocking down the door was more priceless than any coin or gem.

“Aye.” Thoster said, his voice a bit hoarse as he realized that he was agreeing to leave Merrowport for the first time in his life. He had dreamed of going off and having an adventure of his own, rather than simply telling the stories of others, but this wasn’t quite how he pictured it happening. He had hoped that Kip and Annabelle would be much older, able to care for themselves, but by then, he would be well on his way to being an old man. Opportunities like this came more often when you were young and spry enough to reach out and grab them.

“Good lad. Let me just…” Cal reached into his coat and pulled out a large coin purse, bigger than the first one he had given Thoster, which had been the largest he had seen in his life up until that point. “Here we are. Take this back to your family. We leave at first light tomorrow. Pack light. We’ll provide all that you need.” Cal clapped a hand to Thoster’s shoulder and gave him a fond smile, one that Thoster wasn’t quite able to return.

“Thank you, captain. You don’t know just how much I appreciate this.” Thoster tried to pour as much sincerity as he could into the words, to make them stick. He wasn’t sure if he would measure up to Cal’s standards, but he would do his best. Serving the good Captain Calvin Roff might well be the only thing that could save his family from being ripped apart.