A Summertime Storm Chapter 2

Dunn’s ship was  set to arrive any day and Tarin had been making a habit of walking down to the  docks to check to see who’d arrived that morning and if there was any word.  Going close to the sea helped to clear his thoughts and the travelers and  sailors that moved around weren’t as likely to know him. It gave him a small  measure of obscurity that he found he wanted. There was still a thrill that  went thru him when he saw a ship, even the smaller river runners, raise their  sails and dance with the wind and tides.

It was late in  the day as he wandered around the docks, just enjoying the look and style of  the smaller boats moored there. Most were busy with ship board life, loading  and unloading cargo and the day to day work to maintain any ship. His thoughts  drifted to his own time on the sea. How he almost longed to return to that  life. The day to day work was back breaking and endless but he never had to  think about what to do next. He even found himself missing the companionship of  the crew. He regretted not knowing how to fit better with the men he’d served  with, they’d tried to befriend him but he’d always kept them at a distance.  After four years they’d come to respect his solitary ways and in that  acceptance Tarin had found a sense of belonging. He missed that now, and his  thoughts wandered to the possibilities of his life had he continued in the  Navy.

“Morris? Tarin  Morris?” A voice called out as he walked past.

Tarin turned to  the voice carefully, his hand moving to the hilt of his blade. The man that  hailed him was standing at the gang plank of a river runner, his hair was grey  now and thinning but Tarin remembered his face.

“It’s me, Zas  Bumpion, remember?” The man hurried down the plank with long practiced ease.

“Of course,”  Tarin smiled warmly. “It’s a fool that forgets his first hire.”

Zas chuckled and  offered his hand. “Didn’t expect you to remember, it’s been a long time. How  are you?”

“I’m well, how’s  life treating you?” Tarin accepted the hand and shook it firmly. He couldn’t  recall just what the river runner’s dispute was over but he remembered it gave  him a good start as a hired sword. Zas’ father had been in a collar as a young  man and he’d raised his children to hold no prejudice against freed slaves.

“Come on board,  we’ll share a drink. Unless this is a bad time for you? I know you’re all  famous and such now. No one down here believes me when I say I hired you  first.” He smiled good naturedly and nodded back to the boat. “What was your  cost back than?”

“Two bishops.”  Chance encounters and friendly receptions generally made Tarin nervous. The  boat could contain an ambush, he wasn’t without enemies. The boat would be a  good place for it there were plenty of spots to hide armed men. Ambush was the  paranoid explanation, but a trusting swordsman was a short lived one.  The most likely explanation was that the man  was wondering about his rates today and needed a swordsman’s service again.

“How much is your  going rate now?” The sailor asked in qood natured curiosity.

“About forty  crowns.”

Zas laughed  cheerfully. “I got a grand bargain! Come on lad, come have a drink with an old  man.”

His good humor  was infectious, Tarin grinned and nodded.   “A drink sounds good.”

It never once  occurred to Tarin that the man was lonely and merely wanted to talk. The boat  was in good repair and Zas was friendly and welcoming. They drank ale and  shared stories of storms, fighting and the sea. The conversation was free and  easy, the older man not at all shy over Tarin’s past or awed by his current  reputation. Finally, the long time sailor nodded knowingly.

“You’re a  Spotter, aren’t you?”

Tarin just shook  his head. “Spotters are a myth.”

Zas snorted and  took a long swallow from his drink. “Says you, but I’ve spent my life on the  water. I’ve seen true Spotters, they’re rare but real. I’m surprised the Navy  let you out, a Spotter’s worth his weight in gold. A ship with a Spotter on has  never been lost, not so long as the Captain listens to what he says anyways.”

“I don’t believe  in Spotters, and all ships can be lost.”

“Not if the  Captain listens to his Spotter it won’t be. Not surprised a man like you  wouldn’t believe.”

Tarin bristled  and sat straighter at the implied offense. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Believing  requires a suspension of logic, accepting that there are things beyond what you  can see. You’re far too logical of a man to do that easily, far too reasonable.  If you’d been blessed, you’d have been born to a seafaring family, your pa  would have seen you were a Spotter from the time you were little and raised you  to trust that skill as surely as you trust that blade you wear. One day, one  day you’ll learn to see what you aren’t able to see with your eyes. My nephew  was a Spotter, he was a lot like you but his father let me take him out on the  water. If I’d been around more I would have seen sooner what he was, but by the  time I did he believed in logic.” The sailor’s tone grew bitter and cold.

“Where’s he now?”  Sailors had been calling him a Spotter from almost the moment he’d set off to  sea. Tarin hadn’t really believed it than and he still didn’t. He didn’t hold  special skills or knowledge, he simply processed information differently from  the men around him. Being a slave had taught him to always be alert, always  watching and studying and that alone explained why he knew the weather, he  simply must pay more attention than the average man. That didn’t mean if given  the opportunity he wouldn’t like to meet someone else called a Spotter, maybe  than he could better learn what the difference was and prove finally it wasn’t  anything supernatural.

Zas sighed.  “Dead, a few years ago. The wind pulled off a shingle and it smashed his head  in. Damndest thing too, boy almost seemed to expect it to happen. I sort of  lost my taste from running the river after the lad died. I was going to let him  take over in a few years but, well, that won’t happen now.”

It hadn’t missed  Tarin’s notice that the ship seemed hollow and unused. The line and rope were  coiled too neatly, the ship a touch too tidy for one in between trips. “What  will you do now?”

“I don’t know,  the boat, she’s a lady, you know? You don’t blindly turn away from a lady you  love. My brother’s offered to let me buy a part of the building his shop’s in,  I’d be close to family but I’ve this lady here. She counts on me to look after  her, I couldn’t just sell her.” He smiled weakly and knew instantly that the  too handsome swordsman truly did understand, after all he was a Spotter.

The idea came  quickly. “You would sell her, if you found the right buyer?”

“Aye, but she’d  have to be loved by her new man. I just don’t have the energy or the heart for  it anymore.” Zas narrowed his eyes. “You thinking about shoving off out to sea?  She’s not made for the open water.”

“I know but she’s  a beauty of a river runner. I want you to sell her to me.”

“What for? You  don’t have an interest in the river.”

“No, but my Uncle  does. Look, he was in the Navy, he knows ships and is a hard worker.” Tarin  found himself quickly explaining. “He’s proud, he’d never accept a ship I  bought. So I want you to hire him on as a hand, a partner, show him the river.  After a few runs, when you are convinced he can handle the sand bars and  currents and equally convinced he’ll love your lady as you do, sell him the  boat. Let him make payments to you, don’t worry, I’ll pay you outright. When he  makes payments to you, deposit them into a holding account minus a percentage  for your efforts. For all my uncle will know, you’re financing his buying you  out. How’s that sound to you?”

Zas thought about  it for a moment. “If I don’t think he’ll take care of her?”

“Than you pay him  his share of the run and drop him on shore, no hard feelings.”

“You’ve a deal,  Mr. Morris, you’ve a deal.”

 

Dunn hiked his  pack higher on his shoulders and entered the yard to Tarin’s building. There  had been a message waiting for him from Tarin that when his ship had finished  docking he should send word. Tarin would than send a carriage down to fetch  him, but Dunn hadn’t. The weather was delightful in its spring softness and  warm sunshine and being back at sea had made him feel born anew. He’d walked  the streets to Tarin’s building on light feet and wasn’t prepared for the sight  that greeted him in the yard.

There were no  less than six young men hauling boxes and crates from a cart out front. They  called cheerfully to each other and laughed. One man sat on part of the old  garden wall and played on his violin, the music rolling and joyful, setting a  pace for the work of the others. Each were dressed in the simple, poor style of  students, the few pieces of furniture Dunn saw were second or third hand,  shabby and plain. It was the care given to the easels, boxes with paint  splatters, instrument cases, and canvases that gave them away as struggling  artists.

That didn’t  surprise Dunn, fourth year art students and recent graduates often moved down  to the better neighborhoods of the lower city. It lent them an air of danger, a  sense of rebellion and wildness plus, the rent was cheaper. What did surprise  him was seeing them hauling their supplies and belongings up the Grenk’s  stairway. Mrs. Farntell sat at her window watching and listening to the life  and music with obvious glee.

She called out to  Dunn and waved, obviously wishing him to join her near her window. He smiled  and called out a greeting but kept moving. He’d traveled too long to not find  Tarin right off. He’d make a point of visiting the elderly lady soon. The noise  and life from the side of the building carried to the back and Dunn climbed the  steps with a shake of his head and a grin that was infectious from the group of  young men.

Tarin’s porch  windows were cracked open, a spring breeze blowing inside. Dunn peered in and  saw the young man, he was running forms, the weighted practice blade in his  hands. Dunn was struck again at the swordsman’s skill, his grace and more, at  how thin he looked, how hollow.

“Hello.” He  called out and Tarin instantly stopped his practice.

“Lieutenant!”  Tarin answered with a grin. “Come in, why didn’t you send word? It’s a long  walk from the harbor.”

Dunn pulled the  door open and entered the darkened room. “It was a pleasant walk and don’t call  me that.”

“Yes sir. Have  you eaten? There’s plenty left from lunch, Eve makes enough for four.” He  pushed his short hair back, still not comfortable with the length, and racked  the practice blade.

“Eve from the Pearl?” He dropped his  pack and stretched out his shoulders.

“The one,  Shelee’s been sending one of her girls down every day to see to it I eat.”  Without being asked he put water on for tea and uncovered dishes of food and  set them on the table.

“Thank you.” Dunn  answered and didn’t make the comment that sprang to mind that maybe Shelee  should be sending two women to cook, because the swordsmen looked like he was  fading away. He amended that after a second look, Tarin had the appearance of a  man recovering from a long illness. “What’s going on out there? It looks like a  circus is moving in.”

Tarin snorted.  “Might as well be. Mrs. Grenk moved out a few weeks ago, went north to open a  shop or something. Somehow Mrs. Farntell got into her head the place was too  quiet so she rented the rooms to a group of artists and musicians. I think she  likes the idea of eccentric tenets.”

Dunn chuckled at  the sour look that came to Tarin’s face. “She can’t well rent to another  swordsmen, everyone knows your kind are territorial.”

That made Tarin  grin. “Bloodshed in the garden might be a touch too eccentric for her taste.  They’ve already started calling her grandma, it’s amusing her to no end.  They’re making a horrible racket.”

“I thought you  liked music?”

“I do, just not  in the flat next to mine. Tell me, how was your journey and how’s Jolie?” He  poured the tea and eagerly sat down across from Dunn.

“We had beautiful  weather the whole way down, only had rain one day and she took to travel well.  Loved the sea, had to tie her down to keep her out of the rigging. She’s a good  child.”

“And this  school?”

“The Bor’slinich  Academy for Young Girls? You’d approve of it. They only have seventy one  students, there are five students per teacher, they offer a wide range of  classes and have high standards without high pressure. The girls were all tight  knit and happy, Jolie’s sharing a room with three others and had already made  friends before I left. I set up the money you sent with a third party agent in  the form of a trust for Jolie, her tuition and board will be paid automatically  for as long as you wish her to stay, additionally she will receive an allowance  for expenses. I don’t think she understood yet how generous you were with that,  but she will.” The tea was the same expensive brew Tarin preferred and the food  was well made and good. Dunn ate hungrily.

“But she’s  happy?”

“She’s happy.”

A weight seemed  to lift from the swordsman. “Good, very good. Thank you, I can’t ever repay you  for what you’ve done for me.”

Dunn waved the  debt off. “You’re working a job?”

“Small one, just  body guarding for a few nights. Don’t worry, you’ll have the bed, I’ll be up  till dawn.”

“Dangerous?”

“Not really, just  another fine example of the rich and paranoid. A wealthy merchant is convinced  his partner is going to have him killed in his sleep. He’s paid a fortune to  have me watch him for the week. Should have charged him more for having to  listen to them snore.”

“Doesn’t sound  like you think there’ll be an assassin.”

Tarin shrugged  and toyed with his tea. “He’s made it clear he hired me, there are plenty in  the city who’d still risk coming against me but I’m not sure his partner can  afford to pay the higher fee. Two more nights and he heads out to the country  for a few months, whatever upset his partner should blow over by the time he’s  back. Don’t worry over it.”

“I won’t, you’re  good at your job.”

“Speaking of  work, I know you asked me not to meddle.”

“Tarin,” Dunn’s  voice grew reproachful.

“I didn’t do  anything. I ran into my first hire last week. He’s got a river runner and he’s  getting old. His father was in a collar so he doesn’t care about a body’s past.  He mentioned he was looking for a second hand. Thought you might want to look  him up. That’s all.” It was only from spending most of his life as a slave that  gave him the skill and control to not show his delight in the plan he’d set up.  Shelee had helped him when he was newly free, now Tarin was finally being given  a chance to return that favor to someone.

Dunn sat and ate  in silence for a moment. He owed the younger man for so much already, much more  than he was truly comfortable with. There were limits and lines that pride  wouldn’t allow him to cross. The truth of it was he’d do almost anything to be  back on the water again, Tarin’s meddling could easily be overlooked. Dunn had  little illusion that Tarin had more than just spoken to this river runner, he  had no doubt that a job stood waiting for him.

“What’s this  man’s name? Maybe I’ll look him up tomorrow.”

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