This is for Fantasy Writers on Facebook(This submission is too long to post on the group.) I apologize for the formatting. This is not how I received this submission but, again, there have been technical difficulties. It is still a wonderful submission.
Fantasy Writers Events Grading Rubric
Explanatory beginning – 10
Establishment of character(s) – 10
Descriptive – 10
No confusion – 10
Flowing and well planned – 10
Fits the event – 10
Has a theme, main message – 10
Strong vocabulary – 10
No grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors – 10
Clear climax – 10
Satisfying ending for the reader – 10
All will be judged by numbers 1-10, 10 being the highest/perfect score.
Cat And Mouse by Chantal Boudreau
Urwick, the assistant dean of Magic University, watched as his lovely dryad wife, Jadira, circled the newly constructed monument and ran her hands over the smooth worked stone. Erection of the tribute, dedicated to six alumni wizards who had died during a very special mission for the University, had brought the dark elf some peace, but he still suffered from nightmares and moments of guilt. He felt responsible for their deaths, yet until now, he had been unwilling to explain to his spouse exactly why. Urwick felt bad about not sharing his feelings. She had been patient with him, and supportive, but he had not found the will to relive the past as he knew he would while recounting the circumstances surrounding those deaths. As a result, Jadira had played witness to his reticence and his self-torment for some time now, waiting for him to find the strength to share his pain. She was tired of being shut out, and waking to his screams.
“I’ve given you plenty of time, love,” the green-skinned woman said. “How much longer do I have to watch you suffer without being able to help you shoulder the burden? Don’t you think that it’s about time you started talking to me about this. You promised, once the monument was finished. Talk to me.”
Her tone was insistent and Urwick knew that his days of dodging all of her questions about the incident had come to an end. He would have to give up something to ease her mind before she began losing faith in him.
“Alright,” he agreed, “But you have to let me start this slowly. I can’t bring myself to discuss the worst of it, Jadira, but I’ll tell you what I learned of the people involved, if you like. Where would you like me to begin?”
Jadira strolled along the outer edge of the monument, gazing up at the statues and giving them each the once over. When she reached Urwick again after contemplating all six, she stopped behind him and draped her hands lovingly over his shoulders, teasing at his moonlight-coloured locks with her slender fingers.
“I don’t know, it’s so hard to choose,” she sighed. “Unlike you, I know absolutely nothing about them. Which one would you deem to have the most romantic background? Tell me about him or her?”
Urwick eyed the six figures and scratched at his chin. Half of the wizards could be described as having romantic backgrounds, but after mulling it over in his head, he settled upon one. He strode over to the statue of a mature but handsome woman, a woman who looked unusually athletic for a spell-caster.
“I would have to say that the most romantic of this motley crew would be Adriana Perla, by a slight margin. But, then again, how much more romantic can you get than giving up the life of a pirate for the sake of love.”
Jadira approached the feminine figure as well, and took the dark elf’s hand. “She looks strong-willed and fearless. I can’t see her falling victim easily to emotion. How did that happen?”
Urwick took a seat upon the stone ring by the statue’s feet. He had promised a dear friend that he would remember a night’s worth of stories regarding the six who had sacrificed themselves to save the world, and that he had. Adriana’s strange tale of encountering the man that would steal her heart would keep him and Jadira occupied for quite some time.
“Not that her loss was any more tragic than the others,” he remarked, “But she left behind a very passionate fiancé, one who had gone to great lengths to capture her, you could say.” He chuckled quietly at a private joke. Then his expression saddened as he considered how Adriana’s loss would have impacted the man who had loved her. Urwick took a deep breath. “He was no doubt devastated by her loss. She also had an adolescent son who was robbed of his mother, another black spot from this incident.”
Jadira perched beside her melancholic spouse and looped her arm around him.
“A son? From a previous marriage?”
“No,” Urwick said wistfully, smiling a little again. He turned to glance up at the statue, his silvery eyes scanning Adriana’s likeness. “Her son was born out of wedlock, and was actually the product of her fiancé, but they were separated for many years by circumstances and status. They could not be kept apart forever, though, except perhaps by death. Her fiancé was of noble blood, and the boy a bastard child. Adriana cared nothing of etiquette or propriety. She was all about adventure, about seizing life and living it to its fullest. She wasn’t as concerned about how her actions impacted others as you or I might be. The gentleman’s family was dead set against her, and it was not until her lover became the head of his household, that he was able to cast aside expectation and declare his intention to wed her. I guess his family got their way in the end, however. ”
Sensing his sadness intensify once more, Jadira snuggled up to him. “Sometime life is tragic, love. That’s why we treasure the good times. Tell me about one of her happier moments. Tell me how they met. Like I said, I want romance.”
Urwick leaned into her, savouring her warmth, and gathered her leafy-green hand into his own, her paler skin contrasting with his midnight-coloured flesh.
“All this insistence on romance – I guess it’s the price I get to pay for shutting you out for too long. I’ll reward your patience, then, although I’m not sure I’d exactly describe this as a happy tale, or the most romantic. Then again, Adriana likely would have, but happiness is relative. In this case, their meeting involved a game of cat and mouse, although in the end, I’m not exactly sure who was cat and who was mouse. ”
Jadira’s emerald eyes sparkled with merriment at the notion. “Do tell?”
“Upon first glance, Adriana was the mouse, and her pursuer the supposed cat, but there was nothing at all mouse-like about that brash woman.” He paused to gesture at the statue. “She turned the table on her rival, and soon he was the mouse, running a maze of her making.”
The dryad grinned. “And in the end?”
“In the end it was not quite clear who caught whom – but I don’t think it really mattered by that point. It was no longer a game of win or lose.”
Jadira rested her head on Urwick’s shoulder. “It sounds perfect. Tell it to me.”
“As perfect as you, but if I focus on that, I’ll be far too distracted to tell you Adriana’s story,” the dark elf teased. “Allow me to get started and when I’m done, I can contemplate more of your perfection at my leisure…”
Adriana Perla slid the oars back into the rowboat, breathing heavily and sweating profusely under the hot sun. Her vessel rocked gently in the shifting waters, with the only sound accompanying her gulping pants being the soft splash of small waves breaking against its wooden sides and the occasional gull passing overhead.
“Damn!” she cursed, as she draped her arms over her knees. Adriana leant forward, bowing her head. Her long, straight, dark hair hung over her sallow-skinned face. She had escaped the unexpected naval raid upon her ship, The Hurt & Hazard, but she had paid a hefty price in the process. She was far from her ship and isolated from the rest of her crew, a crew now possibly in shackles in the custody of the Anthis City-State Navy. Even worse, she was drifting across a vast expanse of ocean in a little dinghy, with no supplies to speak of.
Adriana sat up briefly, but returned to her slouched position after her head started to swim and the sky above her began to rock as much as the boat below her. She was starting to feel the effects of exertion followed by exposure to the elements with no clean drinking water. It made her dizzy and nauseous.
“I told you a woman on board ship was bad luck,” a male voice said. It was gruff and mocking.
“Ah, shut your trap, Malcolm,” she snarled in return. Adriana covered her eyes with one hand and brushed the sweat from her brow with the other. The sun’s glare off of the water was blinding and made her head ache as much as her raw throat. “You’ve only ever said that because you were jealous that the captain promoted me to first mate over you, when Dregs died in that fire fight. He picked me because I was smarter than you, you worthless turd.”
“He picked you because he wanted to get in your pants,” the voice taunted.
“Hah! Shows you what you know. He was already in them. He didn’t trust you, Mal. He said you couldn’t hack the pirate life, and I bet it was you who turned traitor and sold us out to the navy, you cheeky bastard. I wouldn’t have put it past you. I’d bet my share of the last score that you were the dirty rat who tipped them off to where we’d be anchoring for repairs. They knew exactly where to find us, when we were most vulnerable. Someone traded them our secrets, and I’m sure the rest of the crew were loyal. What did they give you to squeal?”
Her words came out as little more than a croak, her tongue a swollen piece of dead, cracked flesh in her mouth. Adriana expected more sarcasm in response, but there was only silence. She glanced up, still trying to shade her eyes from the sun. There was no one on the seat across from her. She was alone in the boat, the tormenting presence of Malcolm’s voice only a figment of her half-baked mind.
Adriana shook her head vigorously, trying to free herself from her muddle thoughts. If she was already hallucinating, she was worse off than she had first believed. It was usually only a short time before attempts to drink sea water would follow, and after that would come death, more parched than hydrated by the brine. She forced her bleary eyes to focus and scanned the horizon. The only way of preserving hope would be to find land and some source of potable water. Otherwise, saving herself from the gallows would turn out to be only condemning herself to an equally unpleasant demise.
Where skyline met ocean jumped and skipped before her gaze, but she gritted her teeth and gripped the sides of her boat with fierce determination. Adriana would be a fighter to the end, and would press on with dogged persistence where others might yield themselves to an unhappy fate, and curl up waiting for what they might deem the inevitable. The veteran pirate had survived worse scrapes than this, living through damage than might have killed a larger and more rugged man. Her resilience was her greatest strength and her cunning second only to that. If there was a way to get through her current crisis, she would find it.
After several moments of searching she thought she detected a pinprick of darkness amidst the glare-crested waves. It might be only another delusion created by the extreme heat and her dehydration, but considering the alternative, she considered it worth her best effort. Mentally, Adriana reached into her core and found the last vestiges of her personal strength. She slid the blades of her oars back into the water and began to row with fervour in the direction of what might be her only chance to survive.
Adriana threw everything that she had behind the to-and-fro motions necessary to guide the dinghy towards that speck, and found her second wind when the relief at seeing that speck grow into an actual shape flooded her with adrenaline.
There was no guarantee at that point that the mostly indistinguishable dark outline would be anything more than an out-jutting of barren volcanic rock, but she thought she detected some green there, and that was enough to keep her invigorated.
The closer she got, the more she could see that it was a proper little ocean oasis, the area past its beaches flush with heavy greenery, the type that grew abundantly in the rich mineral-filled soils that had formed from eroded igneous and metamorphic rock. Where there was jungle-like foliage, she would expect to find fresh water as well – preferably something not too stagnant to drink.
The desperate exertion made her muscles burn, her head spin and her thick and rubbery tongue stick to the roof of her mouth. Perspiration had ceased to pour from her pores, leaving cloying strands of black hair plastered to her face and her breath coming in ragged dry gasps. She felt feverish, with no way left for her body to rid herself of the excess heat that she was generating through her efforts to reach land. She would not give up however. The fire within her that clung to life roared with as much intensity as the burning yellow sphere in the sky overhead.
When her small boat finally made shore, Adriana’s limbs were shaking with fatigue and heat exhaustion. She was seeing double, making it difficult enough to clamber out onto the hot dark sand without falling over. She did not even have enough strength left to drag her vessel up onto the beach and out of reach of the hungry pull of the tides. She used all that she had left to stumble to the edge of the brush into the shade of an overhanging tree, where she collapsed. Her world grew dim and then went black.
Adriana awoke late in the day to the sensation of cool saltwater nipping at her toes. Her muscles stiff and her limbs still heavy from the earlier strain, she still managed to stubbornly push her head from the sand in order to glance behind her. Apparently, the tide had risen and the current had carried her boat away. Her clouded thoughts did not allow her to fret over the loss; she merely hoped that it had drifted further up shore and that she could recover it later. Otherwise, her arrival on this island might prove to be a permanent stay rather than a temporary sojourn. Instinct kicked in and over-rode forethought. The boat would wait but her raging thirst would not.
Adriana found the wherewithal to lift herself shakily to her hands and knees, but could rise no further, so she crawled towards the jungle foliage before her. She realized as she gained a bit more awareness of her surroundings that she trembled not only from physical weakness, but also from the cold. Her body was damp, despite her throat being bone-dry, sodden with salty ocean spray, and the air was taking on a slight chill as dusk approached. Her stomach rumbled as she shifted slowly towards the broad leaves and vines beyond the black sand, and she had to fight through a wave of nausea. Food was not priority; finding potable water was first and seeking shelter for the night second.
The first proved easier to accomplish than she had been expecting. It had rained the night before and there was still fresh water collected in some of the large bowl-like leaves of select plants there. Adriana had to restrain herself to keep from gorging on what tasted like liquid gold, knowing that if she filled-up too quickly on the refreshing find, she would vomit it up again equally as quick. After a slow process of drinking carefully, her head finally began to clear and her throat loosen. With her thirst no longer a distraction, the cold damp that surrounded her became more obvious. The dimming light reminded her she would have to find shelter until morning soon.
Adriana was fortunate to have spent a fair amount of time in tropical locations because of her travels with the pirates and had already been exposed to what dangers the jungle might hold. In spite of being tired and ready to drop, she knew that she could not merely curl up on some drier spot on the ground, having witnessed signs of the presence of ants’ nests, which meant the possibility of fire ants. Also, while she had noticed some rock outcroppings suggesting a cave, it appeared to be mostly subterranean. It would be damp and pitch black down there, and she would have no way of detecting any threats there such as hidden venomous spiders or snakes. Instead, Adriana used the one real tool that she actually had on her person, her knife, and cut some vines with which to bind some tree branches together for a make-shift bed that would keep her off of the ground.
It was a cool night, but not brutally cold. She was still damp, however, so Adriana wrapped her arms around herself and shivered herself to sleep. The night would have been a mostly restless one had she not been so exhausted, so regardless of her discomfort, sleep soon claimed her. She was dead to the world until morning sunlight began to trickle through the leafy ceiling overhead. She awoke to warmth and light on her face and a hole in her stomach begging to be filled.
Adriana staggered to her feet, still a little shaky, and gulped down more water trapped by the surrounding foliage. The hunger that gnawed at her convinced her to head back down to the beach. She was not sure if there was anything in the way of fruit, nuts, roots or greens, but she could search for shellfish as she hunted for her boat, killing two birds with one stone. She did not trust the jungle, much more comfortable wandering the shore. Not that the overgrown wilderness was unfamiliar to her – she was fortunate that her travels with The Hurt & Hazard had taken her to several tropical locales, and she had traipsed through the jungle on more than one occasion, following the captain on one of his crazy detours. She had resented what she had considered whimsical foolishness at the time, but now Adriana was grateful for Argus’s oddball ventures. At least she had an inkling of how to survive there, especially considering that she might be stranded there for some time, if not for good. But it was better this than the gallows. Anything was possible as long as she was still alive.
Her heeled and buckled boots sank a little into the black sand as she treaded towards the water which was currently retreating away from the shore. Adriana glanced up and down the beach but found no sign of her dinghy, or any obvious shellfish. Instead her eye was caught by something completely different in the colourful dawn sky – a dark spot on the horizon that as she watched was growing ever so slightly.
After a few more moments of careful observation, Adriana was certain that it was a fairly small ship, something akin to one of the small naval runners that accompanied the larger vessels in the fleet, purposefully for errands and messages that required something especially fast. They were customarily tiny caravels that could not support a large crew, six men at the most, but could move like the wind. If the approaching vessel were one of these caravels, it suggested that the navy had managed to follow her, and somehow were about to catch up to her. They were still likely several hours away, and might not bother to make land if they arrived close to twilight, waiting out the night on the ship, but that still would not leave her with much time to prepare for their arrival.
Her sallow face set with a scowl, Adriana stomped her way back towards the bush, finding a boulder at the edge of the shore where she could sit and plot. She gnawed fiercely at her nails as she attempted to focus her thoughts. She had been forced to flee The Hurt & Hazard with only the clothing on her back and the knife at her belt. That was all she had beyond any natural resources the island could provide. She had no rope, but she could use strong vines in its place. She had rocks, greenery, fairly thin trees, bamboo and an assortment of island creatures at her disposal. She also had a network of subterranean caverns to explore, caverns that might yield new ideas. She could jury-rig tools for digging if she needed to, or hopefully find natural depressions in the soil in places, so she would not have to dig in the first place. All was not lost yet.
Adriana did understand that she would have to outwit them in order to avoid capture. They would be armed properly, and they would have her outnumbered. She could never expect to win if she faced the naval sailors head on. Her only hope was to set traps anticipating their arrival, and try to draw them in when they attempted to claim her as their prisoner.
She cycled through several potential traps in her head, and decided on a couple to begin with. She would supplement those ideas with a few more, once she had the area properly explored. The process would have been faster had she been able to shake one thought from her head…how had they managed to find her? But that question kept coming back to haunt her until she set aside her planning long enough to figure out the answer.
Adriana had fled quietly from The Hurt & Hazard when she had seen Argus fall, after the navy had attacked. She had been well aware what was going to happen next, once their leader had gone down. They were already in a defensive position, more of the pirates falling than navy men, but watching their captain die would demoralize the majority of the rogues and panicked attempts at an exodus would follow. Adriana had chosen to make herself scarce before the real chaos had begun, and to slip away unseen in order to avoid capture and punishment. The obligation to go down with one’s ship belonged to the captain, not the first mate, and that was a general ship-faring acceptance, not pirate’s code. Once they were in deep trouble, Adriana’s only duty had been self-preservation.
So, if the navy had been too preoccupied with continuing the fight with those who remained on board ship to notice Adriana flee, how had they succeeded in pursuing her once she had stealthed away? There was only one possible solution. They had tracked her with magic.
Military units were not normally known to recruit wizards. The pirates had the occasional Renegade mage in their ranks, but the navy would not welcome one of the stigma-bearing wizards. They were too orderly to risk the potential control issues that were reputed to accompany a Renegade. Rather, the navy would insist any wizard amongst them would have to have University training, and no Master mage in his right mind would choose to join the military.
Adriana frowned and contemplated the last memories she had of the action upon The Hurt & Hazard. Most had looked like your typical burly sailor, the usual navy thugs and certainly not the image of a Master mage, but their leader had been a different story. He had appeared to be the picture of a navy brat come full-term. He had been an athletic man, his frame slightly on the slender side, clean shaven and his hair, almost as dark as Adriana’s, had been pulled back neatly into a ponytail. He had not been wearing the customary navy uniform either, distinguishing him as a higher-ranking officer. He had instead been clad in wealthy garb, the frills and filigree one would associate with a rich fop and Adriana would have assumed him some sort of pansy, had he not commanded his men with such clear authority. On a superficial level, she would have dismissed him as any sort of threat, but he had managed to earn her respect. It was because he had led such a tight ship that the navy had been winning when Adriana had taken her leave.
Adriana had also heard one of his underlings refer to him as “my Lord”. If he were a nobleman, it would not be unthinkable that he might have University training in magic. The training tended to be costly, which restricted the availability of that type of magic. That was the reason why the only wizards in league with thieves and pirates were Renegades. If he were a Master mage, it was also possible that he had access to a tracking spell, which could explain how he had found her. Apparently, he was the persistent type, who did not give up the chase that easily.
Adriana assumed that he would not have set off in pursuit without a full crew for the runner vessel. That meant she would have to confront a half dozen competent opponents on her own. They would be fully armed with a spell-caster in their midst and she was a single woman, and essentially weapon-less, hence the necessity for the traps. The only things playing in her favour was the fact that she had time on her hands until they made shore and her wits about her. That would even things out somewhat, she thought with a smirk.
If there was one thing that Adriana always insisted upon, it was a fair fight. She refused to fight an opponent who was at a disadvantage, she never fought dirty one-on-one, and she always accepted a surrender if it was offered to her. Unlike most pirates, she lived the life for the adventure, not out of greed or a lust for blood. She was neither cutthroat nor a murderess, but she had killed on many an occasion when circumstances demanded it, and currently, she suspected, her circumstances would warrant it.
Six against one, hardly fair, and that meant fighting dirty to even the odds; she hoped she could play their own weaknesses against them, until she could reduce their numbers to an equitable duel. Then it would be a matter of fate and luck, things which she had relied upon in the past, and had fallen in her favour. Someday her luck would run out, but she hoped that she was not there just yet.
With a look of feisty determination, Adriana turned back towards the jungle, and set about constructing her traps.
“My Lord, there’s an island ahead. Perhaps she took shelter there,” the sailor who went by the nickname “Snaky Jake” reported to his superior. He was a wiry little man, the smallest of the crew who currently worked the Zephyr.
Earl Wyatt Draven’s frown was barely perceptible, but noticeable on someone who was usually a calm and level-headed man. Anger, frustration, fear and disgust were all emotions rarely demonstrated by the young nobleman. This woman, however, had manage to locate that place within him where he liked to keep any unpleasantness contained, and now his discontent at having allowed her to escape was slowly leaching its way to the surface.
“It’s certainly worth investigating, Jacob,” he said, an edge of irritation to his voice. “She was the only one of the pirates unaccounted for on the ship, based on the list provided by our informant. I’m not about to let this task go unfinished. We were ordered to bring in every member of the crew of The Hurt & Hazard and I plan on seeing this through to the end. I’m not about to let a lone woman make a mockery of my efforts. She’s a criminal, and she will pay for her crimes if I have to hoist her over one shoulder and carry her back myself.”
One of the larger men in the caravel known as Otis the Ox, scruffy-looking and clearly at least a decade older than the young officer, chuckled at this. “I ‘ardly think that will be necessary, Sir,” the hulking man snorted. “There’s no way some wench who fancies ‘erself a swashbuckler will ever get the best of me. Give me the chance to pin ‘er and ‘ogtie ‘er and I’ll ‘appily tote ‘er back fer ya.”
Most of the rest of the crew snickered at this except for one nervous-looking fellow, tall, lanky and pale, whom the others called “Spooky”. “I wouldn’t be so confident, Otis. There’s a pirate code that prevents just anyone from rising in the ranks. If she made it to first mate, she would have had to prove some amount of skill and intellect. I wouldn’t discount her merely on the basis that she’s a woman, if I were you. I’ve encountered plenty of women in my time that could have handed you your ass on a slab. She’s probably better than you might assume.”
The last two men, Lars and Oscar, both of average height and a somewhat stocky build, grinned and elbowed one another, but chose not to comment. They were more inclined to side with Otis than Spooky on the matter, finding it hard to believe that a single woman would prove a threat to six trained, hale and competent men.
They continued to debate the issue as they set course for the patch of jungled land far ahead, and they began to discuss plans for disembarking and hunting her down. The earl would maintain his tracking spell so that they could seek her out without any long, drawn-out search.
“It will be close to dusk when we reach shore,” Snaky Jake informed his superior. “The winds have been disagreeable and we’re fighting the currents. I suggest we drop anchor and wait until morning to flush her out. That way, we’ll be well rested and have the light of day to aid us in our brief search. You may be able to lead us to her, but if she’s well-hidden, we’ll still have to root her out. That will be difficult in the dark.”
Earl Draven agreed and they anchored the ship not far from the shore, spending the night in reasonable comfort on board the Zephyr.
When the sun crested the horizon, they rose and lifted anchor, sailing the caravel in close enough that they had not beached it, but where the waters were sufficiently shallow that they could wade in waist deep in order to make their way to the island. The air had already warmed to the point that none of the men minded getting wet. The day would likely be sweltering by noon, and being damp would be welcomed by then.
When they were all on solid ground, and had shaken off the excess water, they all turned their focus to the Master mage,
“Which way, chief?” Otis demanded, speaking for the other men.
Earl Draven directed them a short way into the jungle. They soon came upon a small clearing in the leaves and vines, and to their great surprise, as opposed to being well hidden, the woman whom they suspected must be the first mate of The Hurt and Hazard sat perched on a small log at the centre of the clearing – in plain sight.
Quite an interesting sight, at that, the young nobleman thought. She was an attractive woman, not beautiful in the traditional sense, although her high cheekbones and full lips were certainly appealing. She had an exotic air to her; her eyes were wide and a little deep set, almost black in colour with marked epicanthic folds. Her hair was a silky black and dead straight, and she had it tied back from her face. She was a lean muscular, with small breasts somewhat exposed by the opening in her flared beige shirt, and her black leggings clung to her angular hips, ending at her knee-high boots. Probably the most amusing thing about this brash woman before him was that she sat with arms crossed and a smug expression on her face. She was facing six men who might be willing to kill her if they could not capture her, but she did not seem anxious in the slightest. That was enough to cause the naval officer to hesitate.
“Wait,” he told his men, gesturing for them to halt. They did so, but not without some lamentation.
“Adriana Perla – we have come to arrest you on behalf of the Anthis city-state. Your ship’s crew have been accused of piracy and murder. If you come peacefully, we will do you no harm, and you will have the opportunity to defend yourself in the city-state court and face your accusers. Resist and we will use whatever force is necessary to apprehend you,” the earl stated, making effort to enunciate loudly and clearly.
She cocked an eyebrow.
“Anytime we boarded another ship, it was in open water. You have no jurisdiction over those areas, and you have no right arresting me. Do yourself a favour and go back to where you came from. I promise to leave you unmolested, despite the damage you and your boorish ruffians have done to my ship and my crew, if you turn and go right now. Refuse and I can guarantee you that it will be a decision that you will immediately regret.”
“Snotty little bitch…” Otis growled under his breath.
The earl did not agree with this assessment. He was impressed that she had some understanding of the regional laws and that she spoke with confidence and clarity. She was obviously a woman of some intellect and plenty of bravado. Despite wanting to despise the pirate woman, he found her intriguing.
“It’s not that simple, Mistress Perla. Those who claim to be victims of assault at the hands of your crew are citizens of the city-state. They still have a right to protection and retribution, even if attacked in open water. We also have a right to seek justice on their behalf, even in areas not assigned a particular authority. Now will you come quietly, or must there be trouble,” Wyatt continued. He was hoping she might recognize her poor odds in this situation and yield to them after all.
“I’m neither a cruel woman, nor one without mercy – er…” Adriana paused, not knowing how to address the stately man who had been making all of the demands,
“Earl Wyatt Draven,” Snaky Jake spat. “But you may call him ‘my Lordship’ or ‘Sire’.”
“Fine – nor one without mercy, Draven,” she taunted. “I’m giving you one and only warning to let me be. If you choose to ignore it, then suffer the consequences.”
“I’ll show you consequences,” Otis snarled and before the earl could stop him, the large man threw himself towards the lean woman. He got about two-thirds of the way when the ground gave out beneath him. It was only a slight depression, but enough to cause him to stumble and fall. He landed heavily, but it was not just dirt beneath him, and his massive form was pierced by the series of short bamboo spikes that were planted within, jutting skyward. He screamed, and flailed, as his blood began to flow from several points of penetration, including a rather fatal looking one at his throat. Instant chaos followed as the other sailors sought to pull him free from the hidden trap and staunch his wounds. In the midst of the distraction, Adriana took her leave, escaping deeper into the jungle.
A few minutes later, despite the efforts of his cohorts, Otis gurgled his last breath. A very disturbed Earl Draven lingered at the edge of the clearing, trying to decide how to proceed. He was offended by what this conniving woman had done to a member of his crew, but she had bothered to warn them, as opposed to simply allowing them to unwittingly fall victim to her traps. There was some show of integrity there, even though he certainly did not approve of her tactics.
“Damn!” Oscar cursed, staring at his leader. “She killed Otis! We’re going to follow her right? We’re going to catch her and make her pay, right?”
“If we do, we’ll have to advance with the utmost of caution. She was expecting us and planned for our arrival – who knows what else she had out there. We don’t want to all end up like Otis,” Wyatt responded. “On the other hand, I had no intention of simply letting her go. I will not insist that any of you come with me. Those who would prefer not to risk it can return to the ship to wait for the rest of us, but I’ll be very appreciative of any show of solidarity and will be sure to recommend anyone who accompanies me for a commendation. If you do come along, there will be no more charging off blindly at the slightest prompting.”
The young earl made this decision with some trepidation. Mistress Perla was dangerous, and was playing dirty, but the odds were against her presently. Wyatt could not say that he would not use a similar ploy were he in her position, and at least now they knew that they had to be on their guard. Attractive, clever and deadly – this Adriana was apparently a triple threat. Under different circumstances, he would already be considering what methods to use to attempt to woo her.
For a moment Spooky looked as if he were ready to beg off and return to the ship, but several disapproving stares from his peers was enough to convince him otherwise. Wyatt hoped the fact that Otis had been the most reckless and hot-headed of his men would mean that he would be the only fatality that they would encounter that day, even if he did not prove to be the only victim of one of Mistress Perla’s traps. They would have to tread carefully, watching both high and low for any surprises.
“Trying to pick us off will only worsen your lot, Mistress Perla. Those of us who survive to take you in will then have further evidence to present against you,” the earl called out to her. He heard her laugh.
“Either I succeed in taking you all out or I die trying. I warned you and you made your choice. There will be more of my handiwork to come, so be prepared,” she cried in retort. She had gumption, he had to give her credit for that.
While he took up the lead Wyatt noticed that his men, as they cautiously picked their way through the foliage, were avoiding the most obvious path, clearest of growth. For the most part, they were watching their feet attentively but being a little ignorant otherwise. They were concerned about another trap, no doubt, that they expected to be similar to the one that had killed Otis, but Adriana was a clever woman and the earl did not think that she would use the same tactics repeatedly in order to exercise the element of surprise.
“There’s a likelihood that she will not use the same hazard twice,” the young nobleman began to explain. “Each one will probably be original and…”
Before he could finish the thought, there came a shriek from Lars and he turned to see the man ensnared in some looping contraption of knotted vines. It had him entangled by the throat, and his struggles were pulling those vines taut across his windpipe, stifling his breath. Lars was not tugging frantically to try and remove the vines though, which were already chafing a red mark upon his skin, as Wyatt would have expected. Instead, the sailor, his eyes bulging from the strain, made an occasional desperate grab at the noose, but quickly yanked his fingers away again as if in pain. Something was wrong.
Wyatt did not have the opportunity to share this impression. Ignoring the possibility of further danger, Oscar dashed over to try to help his good friend, grabbing the vines and pulling full strength to attempt to free Lars. Now it was Oscar’s turn to scream. He released the snare, dancing backwards in agony, wailing and wringing his hands.
“Glass,” he yelped, the pitch in the man’s voice elevated. “It’s like broken glass!”
Lars had fallen to his knees, making his situation worse, and was scrabbling at the noose that continued to choke him regardless of the pain at this point, his breath barely a whine and his face turning blue. His fingers, like his throat, were flushing bright red and swelling up
“Damn!” their leader hissed, “Stinging vines!”
He had heard of the horrible plant, akin to stinging nettles only much, much worse, but this was his first time actually seeing its terrible effects in action. Anyone touching it would be afflicted by a debilitating numbness and excruciating pain for days. Being throttled by the plant, even if the noose were removed almost instantaneously, would cause a man’s throat to swell and cut off his air supply. Lars was almost guaranteed to suffocate, even if one of them succeeded in coming to his rescue. Mistress Perla’s latest trap had surely killed a second of Earl Draven’s men and made Oscar practically ineffectual for the near future.
With an irritated huff, Wyatt sprang forward, still constantly aware of his surroundings, and withdrew his naval-issue sword. He sliced through the vines attaching the snare to the trees, cutting Lars down with two easy swipes, but the nobleman had to be very careful as he slid the blade between the ailing man’s red and puffy skin and the vine encircling his neck. It did not yield as quickly as the ones that had suspended Lars to the trees, and Wyatt was forced to saw a little with the sharpened edge before the green noose fell away.
Lars curled on the jungle floor, clawing desperately at his throat, but there was not even a wheeze escaping now. A few seconds later his bloodshot eyes rolled back in his head, he convulsed a few times and then lay deathly still, as the other men watched on helplessly. They were quiet after this, all but Oscar that is, who sobbed softly and continued to wring his badly swollen hands.
“I’m going to kill that whore,” he vowed between sobs. “How can she claim to not be a murderess? She’s a monster. This is worse than stabbing someone in the back.”
Wyatt, however, did not agree. He felt terrible that his men had died or been injured, but he blamed himself, not the woman who had set these traps. She believed that she was acting in self-defence, protecting her freedom. She had warned them to turn back, to leave her be, but it had been him, the commanding officer, who had chosen not to need that warning. Whatever tragedy had befallen them was on his shoulders.
“Go back to the ship,” he ordered hoarsely.
He should have insisted on this after Otis had fallen, the nobleman thought. He still had an obligation to bring her in, but he refused to place his men at risk any longer. He had his spells. Being a Master wizard, he could not cast them quickly enough to use them effectively on her without something else to keep her preoccupied as he prepared those spells, but after everything that had happened so far on the island, this should not be their concern. Oscar, however, chose this moment to be mutinous, and in Wyatt’s opinion, stupid.
“Hell no, I won’t!” he snarled, pulling his sword awkwardly from its sheath with unresponsive fingers. “I’m killing the bitch myself! She’ll pay for this in horrible ways and I’m going to make her scream in more ways than one before I put her out of our misery!” He then began barrelling through the brush in their original direction, slicing in wild gestures at any leaves and vines that got in his way.
“Oscar!” Wyatt bellowed, tearing after him, knowing that this would only end badly. “This is insubordination! I’ll have you charged!” If you live to make it off this island, he thought.
They quickly found themselves on the edge of a second clearing, and Adriana Perla stood on the far side, giving them a contemptuous glare.
“Not turning back yet. Need more convincing?” she sneered, her dark eyes shining brightly. “I told you I wouldn’t go willingly. I told you that you would regret pursuing me. That hasn’t changed. I’ll accept a fair fight, but the way I see it, you still have three people beyond what I would deem fair. I’ll continue to even the odds, if you force me to. You could have left me to exile. I have no ship – where would I go? Use some common sense, and leave now, while you still can.”
“I’m not leaving until I see you dead!” Oscar raged. “You killed Lars, you evil and merciless bitch! All he ever did was follow orders and do his duty to the navy. He didn’t deserve to die!”
Adriana shook her head. “If you don’t want to be the next to go, then I suggest you return to your ship and go about your business as if you had never found me here.”
Oscar scowled, trying to better secure his shaky and unstable grip on his weapon, glancing at the pathway before him. There was a minor dip there, a flurry of greenery along with the suggestion of a seam, and the sound of trickling water.
“I’m not falling for your tricks this time, pirate hag. I’ll be going around your trap and severing your ugly head from your body.” He turned to avoid the area with the obvious dip in the clearer path, and began to plunge his way through the thicker foliage on the side. Spooky had been scanning the area and had noticed something that the furious Oscar, blinded by tunnel vision, had missed.
“No wait!” the lanky man exclaimed, grabbing for his cohort. This turned out to be a mistake on Spooky’s part.
This trap had been Adriana’s most elaborate. The others had been intended to be damaging but not necessarily lethal, planted mainly as warnings to scare them off. Fate had decided otherwise, however, their impact greater than anticipated, but if they were still doggedly pursuing her at this point, she had wanted to assure a kill. She had found a naturally existing trench, no digging required, where a small stream passed through the jungle. Instead of limiting the trap to the clearest path, she had extended it across the full clearing. Oscar had not noticed that the seam extended into the denser brush, as Spooky had, and when Oscar toppled into the disguised trench, he took an unwitting Spooky, who was trying unsuccessfully to restrain the more muscular man, with him.
The trap that had unintentionally killed Otis was a lesser version of the one that Oscar and Spooky had now fallen into. Not having to dig, Adriana had focussed her efforts on carving many bamboo punji sticks to a needle-like point. She had then fabricated a drape of vines and leaves to cover over the natural trench in order to camouflage it, and after inserting the base of the punji sticks firmly in the mud, she had pulled the drape into place.
Some of the spikes caught at the men’s flesh, penetrating skin, but also twisting in the mud beneath them and not impaling them properly as the bamboo points tore at them and drew blood. Spooky landed dead centre on one, however, driving it back into the mud a little as it pierced its way through several major organs. He made no sound, slumping limply face down into the small stream. Oscar was more fortunate to an extent. He did not die immediately, but did end up gouged in various places, taking wounds to all four limbs, his face and his abdomen. The injuries did not run through and through, but they were not shallow either and poured blood upon the spikes that stuck into him.
Wyatt approached the edge of the trench and grabbed onto the crewman who still lived, trying to pull the screaming, flailing man free from the trap. With great exertion, he succeeded, pulling some of the bamboo posts free in the process, as they both fell backwards. The earl had been expecting help from Jacob, but the wiry man had not lifted a finger. Once Wyatt had Oscar up on solid ground, as he moaned, writhed and clutched at his wounds, the naval leader realized why he had been alone in his efforts. Jacob, almost out of line of sight, had panicked and had fled. He was likely trying to make his way back to the ship, but in his overexcitement, he had taken a wrong turn, and was headed deeper into the jungle.
“Jacob, no! Come back! That’s the wrong way!”
The smaller man appeared not to have heard him, and continued to run, somewhat blindly. Earl Draven glanced about frantically. Mistress Perla had vanished again, Oscar lay bleeding and growing paler by the second, and if Wyatt did not go after Jacob, the fleeing man might stumble upon another of the pirate woman’s traps, or get lost beyond easy recovery. Regretting the fact that he would be leaving an injured man helpless and alone, the navy commander set off after his last unmolested crew member.
It turned out that the real concern regarding Jacob was neither of those things, but rather a natural obstacle of no one’s making. Wyatt lost sight of the seaman briefly as he followed after him through the jungle growth, and almost found him the hard way instead. The young nobleman managed to backpedal just in time to avoid the same obstacle to which Jacob had fallen victim, but twisted his ankle badly in the process. He sat in the grass, massaging the rapidly swelling body part and trying to catch his breath as he stared at the gaping hole in the ground before him, his heart racing like mad. There was no possible way that Mistress Perla had excavated this during her short stay on the island. When he had recovered enough, Wyatt leaned forward and looked in.
Snaky Jake had stumbled into a bit of a sinkhole that had been loosely covered over by soil and grass, tumbling down into the subterranean caverns below. The fall was significant enough that the man would have likely been dashed to gory pieces on the rocks below, under normal circumstances. Instead, enough rainfall had collected into a natural water reservoir, and Jacob had landed in that water. He floated there, unmoving. There was a clear gash on his head, but Wyatt was unsure whether it had left the wiry man dead, or merely unconscious. He would have to get down to him to find out, and if Snaky Jake were still alive, Wyatt would somehow have to manage to pull him out again, even with a bum ankle.
The naval commander sighed and wiped his brow. This entire endeavour had been one big mistake, and perhaps a matter of ego. He should have been satisfied with capturing the majority of the crew of The Hurt & Hazard. He should have let Adriana Perla simply slip away. Now he had three men dead, and two at least badly injured, if not worse. She had warned him, but he had not believed her capable of wreaking this much havoc. He had faced her challenge and lost to someone both cleverer and luckier than he had ever been.
The voice was familiar enough now and taunted him without having to possess a mocking tone. Just knowing that she had followed him and was standing there was enough to humiliate him. Wyatt staggered to his feet, staring at the triumphant-looking woman and hobbled a couple of steps towards her.
“Damn,” she said quietly. “I can’t fight you now.”
Wyatt paused and frowned.
“I’m not about to surrender,” he insisted. “I have had enough. Let’s just duke this out and get it over with.”
Adriana shook her head. “No. I won’t fight you. I told you, it has to be a fair fight. I won’t fight children, pregnant women, old people and I don’t fight cripples. We’re done.”
“What kind of a stupid pirate are you? Eliminate me and our caravel is yours to take. You leave us all dead or dying and you escape on the Zephyr, off again to do as you please. That’s how you live, isn’t it – with your devil may care attitude? Existing with reckless abandon without a thought for anyone else? Besides, it’s only a sprain, and I still have my spells. I don’t have time to argue with you about this. I have a man back there to bandage and another to pull out of this pitfall. Just fight me and stop playing games with me, or do you enjoy tormenting me the way a cat plays with a mouse.”
“If you were a Renegade, your spells would be a real threat to me, cripple or no cripple, but I know how your magic works, Master mage. By the time you’re ready to cast, I’ll have you down and out,” she sighed. “And I would prefer you not judge me based on preconceived notions. I’m not what you assume me to be, just because I’m a pirate.”
“You killed my men. I can’t just ignore that,” Wyatt stated firmly. “You are guilty of theft and murder.”
“As are many of the sailors in your navy. The only difference is that they do so with the permission of your city-state. I did not kill your men. I set up a protective barrier and you chose to cross it. I warned you. This didn’t have to be a battle. You chose to make it into a war.”
“Fine, if you won’t fight now, then I guess I’ll just have to wait.” The nobleman limped back toward the sinkhole. “I have other things to attend to, more pressing things, but this isn’t over.” He crouched by the opening, wincing as he did so, and wondered how he could possibly lower himself down to reach Jacob. As he hovered there contemplating, Wyatt did not hear her approach and did not notice her until she was standing directly beside him and had dropped a roll of interwoven vines at his feet.
“You won’t get down there without this, and you won’t get him back out of there on your own,” Adriana said. Wyatt glanced over at her and found himself with at perfect view of her side profile, just below waist-level. He tensed a little, both at her proximity and the stimulating sight and almost toppled over into the hole. He shrugged off the tension and raised his eyes to her face.
“Are you offering to help?” he asked. Her face relaxed a little and she nodded.
“I’ll hold the line. Once you have him secured down there, I’ll pull him up.”
Wyatt slid his feet into the hole and started attaching the vines to his belt. He did not face her when he asked the next question.
“How do I know I can trust you?”
“You don’t, but what other choice do you have? Trust your gut. What does it tell you?” She spoke a she knotted the far ends of the vines to a tree.
Wyatt did not respond to this, but the fact that he began to lower himself down. As she moved to assist them, their hands brushed briefly but neither of them flinched away. There was an understanding between them, as awkward as it may be, and Wyatt suspected if they had met under different circumstances, he would have liked this woman – a lot.
The air was much cooler underground, and the water that Jacob floated in was cold. Wyatt was relieved to find that while his crew man was unconscious, he was still alive. The naval leader tied the vines tightly around the wiry man’s limp form and gave it a tug. Then Adriana began to hoist him up, and Wyatt watched as Jacob rose out of sight.
He held his breath, waiting for the line to return, and worried at first that this was some kind of trick. She had no obligation to help him, and this would be an easy way to rid herself of him without allowing him the opportunity to target her with his spells. He was pleasantly surprised to see the line return, and dragged himself up onto the rocks to grab for it. They were wet, however, and slippery, and he was off-balance because of his ankle. He slipped as he reached for it and before he could grasp it, he was falling. His head met rock and all went black.
Wyatt awoke blearily to the sensation of being pulled from the water and thin calloused fingers on his face.
“Draven – Draven, can you hear me? Can’t you do anything right?” He gazed up to find her dark eyes looking down at him with a show of some concern.
“Sorry,” he mumbled. “I slipped…my ankle.” He saw those full lips curl into a smile at the sound of his voice, and then she quickly switched back to a stern expression.
“That’s the problem with you girly men, you look pretty, but there’s not much use to you otherwise,” she teased as she began hitching him up to her vine rope.
Wyatt wavered in and out of consciousness as he was hefted up to the surface and then he did not come around again until, based on the shadows around him, it was dusk again. This time, however, there was the light and heat from a campfire, and he saw the shapes of Oscar and Jacob lying some distance away. Both men looked like they might be on death’s door, motionless and, particularly in Oscar’s case, pale, but they had been bandaged and tended to, as had been his ankle. He also noticed what appeared to be his and Adriana’s clothing drying by the fire and he reflexively moved to cover himself with his arms. He was not totally naked, wearing a sliced up version of what had likely been Lars’ shirt. He heard her snicker.
“Don’t worry, pretty boy, I didn’t ravish you in your fragile state. I like my victims willing. Our clothes were soaked through thanks to your major slip up and once I had your men sorted out, and the fire going, I set our things out to dry. The fire’s thanks to one of the dead fellows. The thinner blond man impaled in the trench had flint and steel on him.”
That made sense to Wyatt. Spooky never went anywhere unprepared.
“But you could have just left us all to die,” the nobleman said in disbelief. “Why go to all this trouble to assist us, especially after going to all that trouble to try and kill us in the first place?”
She laughed and rolled her eyes. “You just don’t listen, do you? I wasn’t the one hunting you…you were hunting me. I was just defending the latest home-front. I had no bone to pick with any of you, but I wasn’t about to go anywhere with you either. I value my freedom, and my life. It’s not my fault you couldn’t let well enough alone. I figure now that you’re all broken, I’ll just bundle you up, stick you back on your ship, and send you on your way again.”
“I won’t be able to sail the caravel alone,” Wyatt protested. “Especially not like this.”
“Just work some of your wonderful magic then,” Adriana replied smugly. “Make the ship sail itself, or whatever.”
“I don’t have a spell for every occasion. It doesn’t work like that.”
She shrugged. “Not my problem. Your men need medical attention, and they won’t get it here, but you never surrendered, and I’m not about to help you sail into some port just so that you can have me arrested and tossed in prison.”
“What if I surrender then,” Wyatt sighed. “What if I yield to you? We sail to the next port, and you let us go, as opposed to the other way around?”
Adriana padded over to him, barefoot and dressed only in a simple cotton undershirt that barely covered her in the front, and left much of her exposed in the back. Wyatt drew in his breath sharply. She sat down beside him on the ground, without any finesse.
“Hmmm,” she said. “That would make you my prisoner.”
She reached over and pulled the tie from his hair, fluffing out his dark locks with one hand. She eyed him curiously, nodding. She then pulled apart the tattered shirt he wore, getting a clear view of his chest, and ran her rough fingertips over the skin there. Wyatt gaped at her startled. He was even more surprised when she reached for his crotch and groped him, and he recoiled slightly in shock.
“Yup, I’d deem you worthy. I’ll accept your surrender, if you agree to let me ravish you. I am a pirate after all, and that’s what pirates do – spoils of war, and all.” She grinned at him wickedly. He suspected that she was as tired of these vicious games as he was and was looking for a way to de-stress.
Wyatt was more than a little taken aback. It was not exactly that he objected to her advances; far from it, he found her very desirable, but he had never encountered a woman before who was this indelicate, this forward, or this…crass. In some ways, it was even more arousing, and he was not exactly in the best position to negotiate, but it also went against everything he had been taught to consider proper behaviour from a lady.
“Well, if I surrender, I guess I don’t really have the authority to dictate what pirates do, do I?” he murmured. “If it means saving what’s left of my men, I’ll do it. I surrender. Consider me at your mercy.”
Adriana laughed sensuously, and pulled him close. “I always wanted to get me a piece of something rich and flashy. Finally a taste of the good life – prepare to be ravished.”
She leaned in and pressed her soft, full lips against his.
Earl Draven marvelled at how skilfully Adriana Perla handled the caravel. He was supposed to be helping her, but she hardly seemed to need any assistance. She was the most incredible woman that he had ever met and he doubted he would meet anyone else like her ever again.
“I can tell where we are now,” he remarked. “We’ll be arriving at Irmidia very soon. Obviously, I’ll be seeking out a medic or healer for my men. What were you planning on doing when we get there?”
“Disappearing into the crowd – and you won’t be following me. You gave me your word. I’m delivering you to Irmidia, not the other way round.” The wind blew through her dark hair and it trailed behind her like a dark flag. The sun made her sallow skin glow.
“No, of course I plan on holding to my word, I meant where will you go? What will you do? The Hurt & Hazard has been confiscated by the city-state, and the crew imprisoned. You can’t take the Zephyr or the navy will be out looking for her and you.”
Adriana shrugged. “I’ll get by, find something new. I always do manage to make my way.”
“You’re not going back to piracy are you?”
“If that’s what’s there. I want adventure, Draven. I was born poor, lived poor, and never had much in the way of options. If being a pirate is my only means of getting to enjoy my life, of offering me a challenge, then that’s what I’ll do,” she stated nonchalantly.
“You’re a brilliant woman from what I’ve seen, Adriana, creative, intelligent and resourceful. You are wasting your potential. You’d make an amazing wizard.” Wyatt hoped she would bite. If she returned to piracy, he would never see her again, unless he were forced to try to arrest her in future.
“I don’t want to be a Renegade. It’s safer being a pirate,” Adriana scoffed.
“I meant a Master,” he said. “University trained.”
She erupted in peals of laughter. “Do I look wealthy to you? I told you, born poor, lived poor.”
“What if you had a sponsor? An alumni sponsor?” he offered. “You want challenge and adventure? You’ll find that there, and it would be a much better use of your attributes.”
She said nothing.
“And as your sponsor, I’d be obligated to come visit you, to monitor your progress.”
Adriana still remained silent, but her dark eyes glimmered with mischief and she wore a smirk.
When they arrived in port, Adriana hopped off the Zephyr onto the wharf and secured the caravel to one of the
posts there. Then, without even a goodbye, she starting heading toward the town. Wyatt watched her go, disappointed. He was pleasantly surprised when she paused at the end of the wharf and glanced over her shoulder.
“I’m heading north. Tell your University to be expecting me. I’ll get there when I get there.”
And with that, she disappeared into the crowd.
Jadira eyed Urwick with amusement.
“You have an odd definition of romance,” she murmured, “But it was a fun story, and from the sounds of it, she really was a remarkable woman.”
The dark elf nodded.
“- And a great loss to this University, certainly someone worth remembering. I’m thankful that I wasn’t the one who had to inform Lord Draven, or her son, Adrian, of her passing. I can’t imagine losing someone that special.”
Jadira could see the gloom seeping back in to his expression, and she was not about to let that happen.
“I like her way of thinking,” she said with a wicked grin. “I want to take you prisoner. Will you surrender to me and be my willing victim?” she asked playfully, rising and pulling Urwick to his feet. The dark elf knew where this was going, and he was not about to object.
“If it means you intend on ravishing me, certainly,” Urwick chuckled, and happily let his lovely green wife draw him away from the monument that symbolized his greatest regret. She laughed as well, happily inspired by tales of cats and mice.