Mickey Reichert: Flight of the Renshai

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Mickey Reichert Flight of the Renshai
  • Название:
    Flight of the Renshai
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    Фэнтези / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Mickey Zucker Reichert


Flight of the Renshai

CHAPTER 1

When a man believes he lives only once, he becomes obligated to make that one life virtuous.

-Knight-Captain Kedrin of Erythane

A sea breeze riffled the black bangs of Prince Arturo of Bearn, carrying the rich, salt aroma of the Southern Sea. Overhead, the mainsail fluttered restively, and a cleat drummed against the mast. The young prince rested a booted foot on the gunwale, and his two-man Renshai escort shifted with immediate and effortless grace to the rail. Should the ship lurch, should Arturo slip, should some inexplicable madness drive him to leap overboard, they would rescue him with the same swift and bold dexterity that characterized their legendary swordcraft.

Arturo studied a sea glazed with calm, the occasional puff of air chopping foamy wavelets into a rich blue span that might otherwise have passed for woven tapestry. The sailors aboard the warship worked with a leisureliness that suggested boredom, and the soldiers sat in conversational groups as they routinely sharpened and oiled their weapons. Two weeks upon the Southern Sea had revealed no sign of the pirates that had been plaguing the trading ships over the last several months. They had seen only one other vessel while guarding the docks, a cautious freighter from the East that had successfully delivered a load of spices, cosmetics, and fine fabrics to Bearn's port.

The Bearnian ship, numbered Seven, might have seemed a dull prison to most of the men aboard her; but Arturo savored the dense salt tang of the ocean that flavored every bite of food and every breath, the rock and toss of the deck even at its most extreme, and the looming sky, whether bright sapphire and full of fiery sun or dark slate beneath a threatening network of clouds. At sixteen, he appreciated any real-life activity that rescued him from the monotonous lectures of his many tutors, the seemingly endless parade of hangers-on and malcontents through his father's courtroom, the pretty manners of the courtiers, and the delicate, fawning tiptoeing of servants in his presence. Here, the sailors mostly ignored him, not even bothering to curb their jargon laced with saucy talk well beyond that which would gain him a severe scolding from his nursemaids and mother. The soldiers accepted his presence among them, their hygiene nonexistent and their bodily noises loud, crude, and unpardoned.

Only the Renshai maintained proper decorum, their demeanor professional and their competence unquestionable.The larger,Trygg, bore the classic blond hair, fair skin, and blue eyes that betrayed the Renshai's Northern origins. He carried more bulk than most of his kind, all of it muscle, though it seemed not to hinder the lightning refinement of Renshai maneuvers that relied on quickness and dexterity rather than strength. The smaller warrior fit the body image of Renshai better: thin and sinewy, fine-boned, his muscles totally defined but utterly lacking in bulk. Named Gunnhar, he had hazel eyes and sandy hair, hacked functionally short. Not a strand ever fell into his eyes. Each wore a sword at his hip, the leather of the sheaths and hilts smooth with use but without a hint of dirt or darkening. Renshai tended their swords with a fanaticism most men reserved for family.

Prince Arturo considered moving to ease the watchful burden from his escort, then decided against it.The Renshai probably appreciated the need for some attentiveness. Though he knew they would have preferred charging into an army, mowing down enemies like wheat stalks before a scythe to protect him, he supposed worrying over his position and mental state proved more interesting than staring at him while he read or groomed or slept.

Arturo blinked salt-rime from his brown eyes, then ran his hands over his coarse features and generous nose, glad he did not have to worry about his appearance on board. The hems of his blue-and-gold cloak had come undone in the drenching winds of the previous day, and his broad knees poked through tears in his britches. His thick, dark hair now lay in a thick, dark snarl. At the best of times, he barely resembled the massive, well-groomed bear of a man who was King Griff of Bearn.

A shout wafted from above and forward. "Ship off the port bow!"

The conversations in the stern cut off in mid-sentence. Every man whirled toward the sound, and several rushed forward. Gunnhar and Trygg displayed no reaction, other than to look askance at their charge. When he moved, they would also, far fleeter and with a natural, delicate grace that would make all the accompanying Bearnides, including Arturo, seem massive and lumbering in comparison.

Heart pounding, Arturo lowered his foot. He turned, eager for more news from the forecastle.

The lookout did not disappoint him. Over the deck-level rumble of new conversation, he cried out clearly, "Dark sails. No standard." His voice sank as he shinnied from the riggings, and his tone held admiration as well as a hint of fear, "Coming at a right goodly clip." Their own sails could scarcely find wind, moving at a snail's pace, if at all, in the quiet calm of the morning.

Footsteps pounded from below, and the night crew spilled onto the deck. Captain Jhirban waited until the last man had joined them before slamming the hatch closed with a sound like thunder. Having seized every man's attention, he sprang onto an overturned crate with a spryness that belied his Bearnian bulk and his advancing age. Curls cascaded to his shoulders, a wind-tousled mixture of silver and black, and he wore Bearnian blue and gold, with the rearing grizzly on his chest.

Arturo glided forward to join the rest of the men, the Renshai dogging his every step. He noticed that most of the soldiers' hands had instinctively drifted to their sword hilts and cursed his own inexperience. He mimicked their stances, but his hand fell on empty air. Three times, he reached for his broadsword and, three times, he missed. Finally, he took his eyes from the captain to look at his sword belt. No blade hung there; he had removed it while seeking a more comfortable sitting position earlier in the day.

An icy bolt of fear spiked through Arturo. He tensed to turn, when something cold poked the back of his hand. He glanced at it, recognizing a familiar engraved hilt with a brilliant sapphire in the pommel. The split-leather enwrapping it looked stiff, unhandled. He followed the bright scabbard, its tooling still deeply fresh, to the pallid long-fingered Renshai hand that cradled the sheathed blade.

"You might need this, Sire," Gunnhar whispered, making no mention of the prince's antics, though they surely amused him.

"Thank you." Prince Arturo accepted the sword without a glance toward his benefactor. The Renshai's tone was flat, but Arturo dared not face the judgmental hazel eyes. A Renshai would rather enter a courtroom stark naked than unarmed. Their parents thrust swords into their fists the instant their pudgy baby fingers could close around a hilt, and they demonstrated the same respect for their chosen weapons, always swords, that other men reserved for royalty. If a man toppled overboard at the same time as a Renshai's sword, Arturo suspected the weapon would get rescued first.

"Sailors." Captain Jhirban glanced around the gathering, his features squinted into wrinkles and crow's-feet. Salt crusted his cheeks, and the sun had baked his skin into leather. "Man your positions and prepare to back up anyone who needs it, but stay out of the soldiers' way should battle become necessary. Friendly deaths and hampered sword arms can turn the tide of a battle."

"Aye," the fifteen sailors chorused, scurrying to the lines and tiller, attentive to the fighting men.

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