Stenwulf arrived with his guards but was drawn on the ship before anyone discovered it was a trap. Owyn was the only one able to fight his way up the gangplank before the disguised pirates removed it. Now, as the ship drifted towards the open sea they stood back to back surrounded.
A lithe young man with finely tanned skin approached Stenwulf. He had to look up to meet Stenwulf’s gaze but that did nothing to diminish his confidence. He proudly announced, “I’m Captain Aelwig and you’ll be my guest for the evening.”
His jovial attitude would make the less weary dismiss him, but his eyes held a hard glint. Stenwulf remained quiet and Aelwig’s smirk disappeared. He quickly crossed the distance between them, unsheathing his sword as he did. Stenwulf moved to counter. Instantly there were multiple weapons pointed at him.
Aelwig touched Stenwulf’s chin with the tip of his sword. “You’ve got a lot more fight than other nobles I’ve met. It’s a shame.” He turned away and shouted over his shoulder, “Put them in the cargo hold until we hear word what he wants done to them.”
Stenwulf and Owyn struggled. They landed a few solid blows with their fists that knocked men out. Owyn’s sword left a gash from one man’s shoulder to his elbow, that arm hung limply. Stenwulf gutted one man before they were both disarmed and beaten. Stenwulf remained conscious long enough to be carried by four men down into the cargo hold. Black dots danced before his eyes when he hit the floor. His head grazed the jagged corner of a broken crate. He finally lost consciousness when they dropped Owyn on top of him.
Bonfire was tending her garden when Maelna and Dremi ran up to her. She dropped the knife she used to cut plants and shot to her feet. “What happened? Where is he?” Her heart beat was so frantic her chest began to hurt. She looked for Owyn and saw he was missing two.
“The dignitary proved to be false and the ship has left the docks.” Dremi’s grey eyes were full of shame.
“We must get another ship!” Bonfire was already to the steps before they caught her.
“You must stay here.”
“We can’t risk the pirates taking you captive too.” Maelna voice was firm.
Bonfire knew she couldn’t use a sword but she would not be left behind. Her control of magic came back more every day. That had to count for something. Before they could stop her she ran up the steps, glad she wore riding pants, and threw open the door. Their footsteps echoed behind her. Their protests overlapped. Curious servants and guards were left in their wake. Bonfire stopped at the hallway leading to her grandmother’s room. Only the royal family was allowed there.
“Go back to the dock and find us a ship. I’ll meet you there.”
They gave each other desperate looks, but finally bowed and ran off. Alani looked up startled when Bonfire ran into her room. Her brows furrowed together as she asked, “What is the meaning of this? Being queen does not allow you to forget your manners.”
“I apologize for interrupting your meditation, but the king is in danger.”
Alani’s features became drawn and she tried to hurry to her feet. Bonfire rushed over to help her. Alani grabbed her cane and shuffled from the room.
“Where was he last seen?”
“He was captured by pirates claiming to be dignitaries. I’ve sent Dremi and Maelna ahead to secure another ship.”
They got to the stables. In a panicked hurry a small carriage was readied for Alani and saddling Stormbringer for Bonfire.
“Get to the docks and find a small ship. It must not be seen. I will conjure the illusion of storm but it will not last long. The king must be onboard our ship before then.”
Bonfire nodded and mounted, slapping the reins before she was fully seated.
Stenwulf groaned but his voice was drowned out by the pounding in his head. The only light in the hold was a lantern at the top of the stairs. He had no way to tell how much time had passed. Stenwulf turned his head to find Owyn and instantly regretted it.
“Hold still. That’s a nasty cut.”
He bit back a cry as Owyn ripped off a sleeve and used it to tie around his head. “Why didn’t they bind us?” he asked through clenched teeth.
Owyn shrugged. “We’re outnumbered. Why bother?” He threw Stenwulf’s arm over his shoulder and they tried to stand. A moment later they were sprawled across the floor as the ship lurched violently.
“A storm?” He held bruised ribs.
Owyn grunted. “That would be lovely, your majesty.”
Stenwulf chose to ignore the remark. He wasn’t happy about their situation either. The ship lurched again and he could hear the shouts of Aelwig’s crew…but no sounds of a storm. They exchanged confused looks. Owyn moved cautiously towards the steps. Stenwulf started to follow but his vision wavered. He tried to keep walking and stumbled.
“Stay down,” Owyn hissed.
“You can’t fight alone.”
Owyn’s protest was interrupted by the sounds of clashing swords. A dying scream filled the air. Owyn rushed up the stairs and threw himself against the door. Stenwulf gritted his teeth and climbed up after him. When the door finally broke they saw a chaotic scene. It looked like the crew was in the middle of storm preparations when they were attacked. Stenwulf caught sight of Captain Aelwig and took the sword of a fallen crewman.
The sword’s weight drug Stenwulf’s arm down as he swung it. Aelwig blocked and the shock sent a fresh wave of pain through him. The world seemed to slow down as he focused completely on the fight. He fought viciously but his blows were easily parried and deflected. And slowly Stenwulf was being pushed back, towards the bow of the ship. If Owyn hadn’t intervened he would’ve gotten a sword through the gut, or pushed overboard. Someone grabbed his arm and his first instinct was to attack. At the last moment he realized it was Dremi, who pulled him away from the fighting. He saw a medium-sized fishing boat barely fit for the open sea floating beside Aelwig’s ship. The guards and fishermen threw up a rope ladder. Dremi caught it and pulled it over the side. He held it firm as Stenwulf struggled to climb down. By the time he reached the boat he was panting, unable to focus on anyone.
“Take the captain alive!” he shouted to anyone.
He was forced to lie on a cot and he felt someone’s hands on his head. He felt a fuzzy touch and knew someone was attempting to heal him. With that realization he shot up, meeting Bonfire’s tearful gaze. Stenwulf wanted to scold her but his strength gave out. After what felt like an eternity, a guard approached them to say Captain Aelwig had been caught.
Stenwulf felt proud when Bonfire calmly replied, “Let’s return then. We’ll let the council decide his fate.”