Cath ducked out of the Inn, letting the cold night air fill her lungs and savoring the fresh air. The meeting had gone longer than she’d thought to even plan for. Sure they’d woken up the live in cook, but his meat pies were second rate compared to the usual fare. At least her little band of crooks had come to agreements. The merchant’s at the dock would keep answering to Jot, while Monae would handle the Rom and Desiree already had a leash on the central market. Des had the worst of the squabbles, but anything they could do to regulate the gold in the capital would help out the king on the hill. Cath was eternally glad she had a foot in the pool of politics, but even more happy to know she hardly needed to worry about the King’s Laws. After all, what could her brother-in-law do to scare her? He’d have to deal with his formidable wife before even getting close to Cath the King of the Streets.
Cath had been King so long she’d almost forgotten what it was to have no responsibilities. Now, if she wasn’t waking up to some note left for her by Kin, her Master of Intelligence, she was waking up to some floozy thinking to garner some favor with… favors. Cath shuddered at that last thought. Some people were incredibly desperate, which was why the meeting had gone for so long that evening. The south street markets were getting too big for their britches and Kin had even stuck around long enough to relay the information personally. His presence alone was enough to grab Cath’s undivided attention.
Since the day the Crazed King Raymond had been overthrown by his very own son, Kin had been missing. His missives and other bits of information had been what kept Cath from looking for him. Two years had passed since she’d seen her little spying troll, and he’d barely aged a day. But damn if his eyes were haunted like an old man’s. Sometimes Cath forgot how old the troll really was, and she wasn’t the only one. By the young woman’s calculations the “kid” had to be over sixty. A couple years was nothing in the life of a troll.
The gold metal imbedded into Kin’s hands had been new, though, since normally he could get hot enough to just drop pools of molten to his feet, leaving his tough skin clean.
Lost in thought, Cath let her feet choose their own route. As she passed a sweetmeat booth, the old man called out. “Miss, if you have some coin, I still have buns to sell. The last two.”
Never short on coin and still hungry for something delicious, Cath ambled back to the booth. “You’re open late, Hankson.”
He nodded and handed over the buns as she dropped the coins into his other hand. “Wife says I’m not to show my face as long as there is sommat to sell off.”
“Wise man. You’re wife is a formidable woman. Now, close up shop and go see her without fear,” Cath teased, biting into the bun.
“Aye, lass. Off with ye now. Come back soon.”
“Take care, Hankson.”
Cath woke to a mouth that tasted like death and a rolling wave of nausea that didn’t seem to know how to quit. Even her worst hangover had never left her so miserable. If this was due to another one of Jot’s mystery ales, she was going to hang him up by his balls and leave him there a month. At least.
If only she could remember where she was and how long she’d been out. It was hard to think as each wave of nausea felt as if it made the whole world tilt and dip.
Or was it the other way around?
Swallowing back bile compulsively, Cath levered herself up with shaking hands so she could inspect the dark room she’d holed up in. What she saw made her pause, then curse as hard as her pounding head allowed. If someone had the audacity to throw her behind bars, that meant she was in more trouble than Cath had been in ages. Kin would be the first to notice something was amiss, but even that would take the troll a couple of days, and this lady wasn’t going to wait for rescue.
Her legs trembled as the world rolled under her feet, and that was infinitely more concerning than the iron bars. Locks and traps of any kind didn’t keep Cath well contained. If she couldn’t break out, she could always use the shadows and leave an empty cell behind.
On closer inspection, the lock was no trouble, and without hesitation Cath was opening the cell door. The hinges let out a teeth rattling screech, making Cath wince. Maybe the shadows would have been the better option after all? She held her breath a few beats, listening for guards of any sort. When none came, she released the breath and went back to trying to keep her stomach inside where it belonged. The hall was dark, and everything was wood. The floor was smooth with age under her bare feet, and the walls were of a similar condition. They had been sealed a long time ago, but hadn’t been cared for since the room was erected. Keeping in mind her need for caution, Cath peered into a number of open doors that she passed, only for find crates and other things thrown into piles for storage. Everything was tied down efficiently.
Still trying to deny what she already knew in her gut, Cath kept going. Then she found stairs that were so steep they may as well have been an overachieving ladder. The sound of voices made her pause on the second landing she passed on her ascent.
Careful of any noise she could make, the young woman pressed her ear against the thick wooden door. The old paint flaked away under her hands as she tried to gather her wits long enough to make sense of the conversation.
“First stop is going to be Paxton. They have a good underground slavery business there, and the boss said to unload the woman first.”
“Paxton? We could try selling the rest there, too. They are always happy to spend gold there.”
“Mind we have supplies to Keilantra, so we can’t rest in Paxton too long. The boss would be upset if we make his associates wait too long for their goods.”
“Aye, Rosswood, aye. Boss this, Boss that. Ye want to catch a cruise back to ‘im? Ye seem to be missing our boss an awful lot.”
“Don’t be getting jealous, Halfwit! He means no harm!”
The men roared with laughter as Cath eased away and fell into thought. Paxton? Keilantra? How in the goddess’ good name had she ended up on a damned ship? And who had the audacity to think they could sell her into slavery? When she got back to Rannan she’d have a fun task for Kin to handle. There was no if.
Forming an escape plan in her mind, Cath made her way back down the ladder to the cargo. She needed water and dried food if she could find it. And at least a blanket. Gathering her supplies was uneventful, lugging them up the ladder was cumbersome, and sneaking her way onto the deck was tricky while loaded down with goods. Cath hadn’t a clue as to how she was going to get home on a lifeboat, but it was better than staying on a ship bound for Paxton. If she stayed too long, they’d brand her as a slave and there would be the matter of removing that before someone threw her back into the pens. Unless of course she found her way to some land like Domokos, where she could get help… if she agreed to live in a convent for the troubled soul.
Her soul might be troubled, but it didn’t need another god stepping in to save her. Cath had plenty of that from her own goddess.
On the deck of the ship, Cath had to finally admit she was a little over her head. She’d only spent time on ships that were safely docked. She had no clue as to how to navigate waters or even tell what direction she was heading. Jot had teased her about that often. He’d threatened to take her along when he went sailing, but they had never found the time. Now, with nothing but water all round her, Cath wished she’d taken up the jackass on his offer. He was the brother she’d found when her blood relatives had been out of reach.
Grim with determination to make it back home alive, Cath shouldered her burden of supplies and eased back into the shadows, away from the night watches’ eyes. She breathed in the cold and the dark, becoming one with the shade. She’d done the same thing millions of times in the past and it always felt like she was disconnecting from reality. It was one of her gifts from the goddess, and by far the most useful for the King of Thieves.
The lifeboats swayed at the end of ropes that looped through mechanisms that seemed alien to Cath. Frowning, she dropped her supplies into the boat before inspecting the riggings again. In a panic, the crew would need to release the boats in short order, so there must be a switch… ah, there, a little lever that would release the tension and drop the boat to the sea below. After a moment of deliberation Cath hopped into the lifeboat before flipping the lever. Better safe than sorry.
As the whole little ship dropped like a rock to the water, Cath held on for dear life, hoping she didn’t get thrown overboard. She heard the shouting far above her on the deck as she wrestled the ropes free from her new little vessel. Her hands trembled with adrenaline, making the wet ropes harder to hold onto. At long last, she was free and not a moment too soon as the grizzled face of a sailor looked down on her in shock.
She bit her lips to keep silent and maintain her hold on the shadows that now covered her boat completely. The the man above it probably looked like the lifeboat had disappeared into the deep dark waters. And as long as they didn’t shine a light on her and she got away from them before the sun rose, Cath was feeling safe for the first time since she’d woken in the cell.
As the sun beat down on the open sea, Cath sprawled out in the bottom of the ship. There were little sails she could set up to catch the breeze, if she knew how. There were also oars she could employ to move along, but to where? At least she knew which direction was east, but that didn’t tell her what direction home was. She ate and drank what she had sparingly. Letting the quiet lull her into a doze. Sleeping was better than going crazy.