The portrait makes me think of Chartan looking out to the port of Chardogne, searching for Lady Dauphine in one of the boats. His eyes forlorn, longing, wishing he could go on this mission with her. But before I spoil more of the story, let's get to chapter 6, shall we?
The King's Thief
“I have a surprise for you.” The words purred out from luscious lips.
Working on his boots, shoving his ripped shirt under his trousers and slipping his coat back in place he ushered me out the door and onto the deck. The man look delicious even after he’d been tousled. Chest hairs peeking out the middle of his shirt enticed me all the more.
Up on the quarter deck, Gustave faced West looking through an eye piece. On the horizon the red and black sails of a Randish ship approached headed straight for us.
I gripped the railing. “Can we out run it?”
Chartan held his hand out for the ocular lens and Gustave relinquished it to his captain.
“We may not want to.” Whatever Chartan spied through the hole was met with a smile. “In fact, we definitely don’t want to avoid them.”
Catching Gustave’s eye, the boy opened his mouth.
“Don’t” Chartan quipped. “It’s my surprise.”
Gustave cut-off whatever he was going to say and shouted, “Full sails to the West!”
The men on deck shouted back in unison, “Aye!”
Turning to Chartan I said, “Out with it, I don’t like surprises.”
“I thought you loved surprises.”
“Not these surprises.”
A creeping grin slipped over the profile of this gorgeous man. Gustave, wide-eyed and gapping, stared at his Captain in open admiration.
“What?” Chartan slid a slanted eye to his first mate.
Gustave leaned closer to me. “I like it when your here. He’s not so remorse.”
“Roy, Dean!” Chartan walked forward. “I’ve a mind to speak to you.”
Before I could get him alone, Gustave escaped out of sight. The child knew I’d work Chartan’s surprise out of him. Instead of chasing LeBeau around I choose to sit on the quarter deck stairs and observe. The men seemed unperturbed about the enemy ship and more eager to get to it than anything. Not every man relished battle or war. Some, yes, but most wanted security and fought only to protect. A good woman could drain the fight out of a man and recast the energy into lust and protection. Knowing these men had wives and families, they would not relish battle. But meeting up with friends would be cause for Roy climbing up the foremast and waving his hat to the other ship.
Spray hit my face and dress, the breeze favored our ship and the sun glinted off the vegetation on the main land to the East. Boots clomped behind me and stopped, pinning me between them. “Up wench.” Chartan’s rough hand offered me a boost to my feet.
“One skirmish and I’m back to ordinary courtesan?”
“There’s nothing ordinary about you, my queen.” Deep conviction shone in those blue eyes. How could I mistake it for coldness? But when it came to Chartan, everything I knew about men and seduction fluttered away leaving me to fend my heart for myself.
“Have you figured it out yet?”
“What?” I pulled back believing my thoughts betrayed me.
“Oh.” I looked to Randish ship sliding next to us port-to-port side. “Well, this is either a rouse to turn me over...”
Chartan near looked angry with me.
“Or,” I quickly amended. “You’ve captured a Randish ship.”
Chartan preened at that explanation. “I’m sure you understand what a boon that is for our efforts.”
I nodded. “As surprises go…”
He pressed a finger to my lips. “That’s not my surprise.”
Looking over at the other ship I couldn’t help notice some of the most despicable rogues I’d ever seen. I looked to Chartan, who in turn, smiled at them in greeting.
One of the more seedy of the group launched himself from the railing of the Randish ship to the bowsprit of ours. He seemed near skill and balance as Chartan and worked his way down to the base of the pole. Running down to the main deck, across the aisle and leaping up to the quarter deck the man bowed to Chartan with a flourish.
“Junipero, may I introduce you to Lady Dauphine.”
Charming smile in place I extended my hand. “Pleasure to meet you.”
Junipero kissed my knuckles all the while consuming me with his dark eyes. He looked of Randish decent and I trusted him as far as any thief.
Chartan embraced the worn rogue. “Safe sails?”
Junipero sagged as if he’d been shamed. “Once on board yes.”
“Where’s the sorcerer?” Chartan scanned the other ship.
Bowden! He must still be alive.
We both noticed Junipero wouldn’t meet Chartan in the eye.
“Junipero?” Chartan gripped the front to the man’s cloak.
“We’d all be dead if it weren’t for him.”
“Where is he?”
“He told us to go.”
“What!” Chartan shoved the man so his back bent over the railing.
Junipero instinctually clung onto Chartan’s shoulders. “He spelled himself so he wouldn’t speak.”
Chartan stepped back brining Junipero with him. “He was captured then?”
“They’ll torture him until he dies.” Chartan vibrated in rage. “On top of that he can not speak to relieve his suffering. They’ll keep him alive for years to get information out of him.”
“He was holding off twelve inquisitors when we left…maybe…”
“Did he rendezvous after?” Chartan’s sarcasm hit Junipero like a blow.
The other man winced. “No."
"Then he didn’t escape.” Chartan pulled the man upright and smoothed Junipero’s cloak with a swipe of hands.
Desperation in his eyes, Junipero said, “Landon stayed, just in case he was delayed.”
Before my eyes Chartan shut-off his rage and cloaked himself with calm command. “You’ve done well Junipero. We have a freighter.” As he said the words he couldn’t look at the other man.
Junipero bowed and took his leave.
I felt a sickness worm inside my chest. “The sorcerer, it was Bowden? My Bowden?”
Chartan turned to me. “I’ll get him back.”
“We’ll get him back.” I raised my chin. I’d had enough friends die to the Randish.
“You will port at Chardogne, greet the men and return to Xaxyia.” Chartan turned and started walking away. Conversation finished. No reputing his word.
“Fine.” I folded my arms. He thought he could board the Randish ship and rescue Bowden without me. He’d find the rogues gambit following right behind him.
He stopped in his tracks and turned around. His gaze swept over me, then scanned the main deck, and settled back to my face. “Follow my orders wench.”
“If I am your queen, obey mine.”
Taking two steps up to me he tried to stare me into submission. “Is that what it would take? You would have me forget Bowden?”
“No.” I flustered.
“You would force me to wait another day to babysit you until we port—”
“I’m not a child.”
“—All the while every moment that passes, Bowden…” he grit his teeth. “Do you know the inquisitors torture methods?”
I stood silent. He knew the answer. Chartan had saved me from the fate of falling into Randish hands.
“If they find out he can’t talk, they’ll impale him with a hot spear from anus to throat.”
Pinching the underside of my own arm to keep from letting the pain in my heart show, I meet his gaze.
Scorching my soul with his disapproval he ran a finger down my cheek. “Is that what it would take for you to claim your mantel and embrace your heritage?”
I needed the old Dauphine back. The courtesan that could convince any man her bidding. It pained me to lie to his face, and as much as I trusted him, I had to take something from those Randish bastards myself. “Go.” I said. “If inquisitors took him, they’ll question Bowden at Cadia. Hide your identity on the other ship. Sail to Lago Del Paolo. Slip into Cadia. Find him.”
“You will meet the men in Chardogne?”
“And you will return from there to Xaxyia.”
After I help you free Bowden. “You have my word.”
It took him a while to accept my word. “Yes, your majesty.”
Gustave stayed with me as we watched Chartan board the Randish ship, St. Maria, and headed South to follow the Quenarre-Randisar Oceanside. The Rogues Gambit would continue Northeast under Gustave’s command. Once LeBeau’s boots hit the deck of St. Maria, the winds changed to favor the ship he boarded and they were long out of ear-shot before I turned to Gustave.
“Let’s not pretend that I’m going back to Xaxyia.”
The boy tried his best to hold a strong front. “We’re going to do as Chartan says.”
I heaved the remaining vestiges of a Courtesan’s life. “If I am your queen, then you will trust in me.”
Not letting him speak, I continued. “Chartan is a thief, they’ll cut off both his hands. Both of them so the offense is sure never to happen again.”
“Chartan wouldn’t be caught.”
“Could he fend off twelve inquisitors?” I allowed the slight hint of Bowden’s capture, a sorcerer of royal renown, shove doubt into the boy’s mind.
“He wouldn’t be caught.” But Gustave said it as a pout of stubborn child fighting blazing truth.
“How long till we port?”
“Good. We have that much time to plan.”