Paulek

                                            By 

                                         Arthur 

 

CHAPTER 8


Tito was quite taken by the sheer size of the town, while it was nothing more nor less than a rough sea port, it had, too a certain extent been roughly planned and the different strata of town society could be seen by their position to the long sweeping docks.

The two boys stopped on a small rise so that Tito could look over the large bay, he had never in all his young life seen such a vista of sea and sand, below him and along more than half the length of the bay, ran wooden wharves, from his vantage point, they looked like dark teeth set in the bay, tied up to the wharves were numbers of boats and ships, all very distinctive in their own way.

Far out in the bay other ships waiting to load or unload, sat at anchor as they waited their turn, others were waiting for the high neap tides so they could make their way across the shallow and dangerous sand bar that sat at the entrance to the bay, only the most shallow of drafts could make it across on an ordinary tide.

Behind the wharves and large cargo sheds, ran a rough cobble stone road, along this lines of carts and wagons carried the goods too and fro from the warehouses, on the other side of this road were all the shops and dealers in cargo, they were interspersed with taverns and grog shops that seemed to take up every available space, even though it was early in the morning, Tito could see that most of the grog shops were still doing a roaring trade, it seemed that sailors never got tired of being under the influence of strong drink.

Another wide well cared for road ran behind this port road, along its length sat many fine shops and the better class of tavern and hostelry, it was the play ground of the wealthier people of the town, the road was well paved and the walkways were wide and clean, unlike its twin road close to the wharves, this one had deep drains to keep the effluent of a big town from soiling the shoes and boots of the better class citizen.

As the land rose higher along the dunes of the bay, the houses got larger and more expensive, the prime location was overlooking the bay and well away from the stink of everyday life in a port town, many of the houses resembled small estates with large gardens and rolling vistas, the air up there was clean and clear on most days, it was only if the wind changed and blew off the sea that some of the stink rose to these rich heights.

At the far edges of the town were the lower class hovels, narrow and dangerous lanes of mud and dirt led into warrens and dead ends, this was the home of the lowest workers and the starving where a life was worth less than the price of a loaf of bread, adults moved with menace as they stalked the lanes and alleys, packs of young children scampered about as they learnt their trade as cut purses and cut throats, in these mean alleys, there was no such thing as innocence, it was a dark, dank miserable place and any who wished to survive had better be ready with a sharp wit or sharper knife.

Tito looked up at the opulence on the hills above the port and then down at the misery of the outskirts and the bustle and wealth that poured into the port town, it was hard for him, a Roma, to understand how people could be so isolated in their misery, all Roma stuck together, it was there strength, if one suffered, all suffered, it was the secret to their success and survival, below him he could only see greed, anger and violence.

Bevic watched the dark young boy from a far away place, it was clearly evident the boy had never seen a big town before, he stood patiently waiting for the boy Tito, too take it all in, even as he watched, Bevic could think back when the town was only a small port of little importance, in his fifteen years, Bevic had watched the once sleepy small port grow insanely into one of the major ports for ships from the south lands.

When Bevic was a small boy he would come to the market with his father, he would have been able to count the number of flat bottom barges on one hand, they carried all the produce from the area to the markets of the big cities, the shallow draft barges could cross the sand bar at most times after half rising tide, it had only been ten years and now the once peaceful farming bay was full of ships of all types from all over the nation and further away.

From where they stood, Bevic could even see one of the large triremes of the southlanders, its central masts stood above other biremes that surrounded it, its huge striped sails were folded and rolled along the top spar, its three tiers of oarsmen were nowhere in sight, it was said they were all slaves and had to row the enormous vessel until they dropped dead from hunger and exhaustion.

From this distance it was hard for Bevic to truly understand the size of the trireme, the few men he could make out on the far off deck, looked no bigger than ants, the detail on the boat was astonishing, it looked more like a kings barge than a working cargo vessel, Bevic shook his head as he felt the pressure of Tito’s hand on his arm.

“Come on Bevic, show me the council chambers, we have to get your taxes paid then I want you to show me everything in the town.”

Bevic nodded and took a last look at the once peaceful bay, along the length of the port facilities were fifteen long wharves, the two in the centre were longer than the rest, each wharf had a large ship tied up on either side, the two central ones had two on each side, there were a mixture of one, two and three masted ships as well as more biremes, all of them were a hive of activity as they were loaded and unloaded, Bevic turned away and led Tito down the rise and into the better streets of the town.

After working their way through the ever growing crowds, the two boys came to an open central plaza, a large new fountain was spurting water up high into the air as children frolicked in the shallow pond around it, garish stalls were selling fresh food and produce from the surrounding farms and behind them were the bright stores of the merchants, at the far end of the plaza stood the tall council building, it was three stories high and had only been completed two years previous, it was the seat of power as well as the place where all taxes and port duties were paid, it was also the first and only completely stone building in the town and towered over the single story businesses around it.

Tito followed Bevic up the wide stone steps and into the building, its opulence was there for all too see, well dressed men and women moved through the building on some errand or other, their faces set in determined visages as they scurried about, Tito was not overawed by the building as some yokels may have been, he had seen castles bigger than this and his natural curiosity kept his head moving in an ever alert manner as he followed Bevic to a long wooden counter behind which sat many desks with people all working over large ledgers.

Bevic stopped in front of a gruff looking man that stood at the counter, after waiting for a few minutes, the man looked up at Bevic with impatience written plainly on his face.

“What do you want, boy?”

Tito watched as Bevic squared his shoulders and looked the caustic man in the eyes.

“I’ve come to pay my taxes in full.”

The man looked at Bevic as though he had picked up something nasty off the street.

“Name?” The man said gruffly.

“Bevic Strangeblood of the farm of Gaston Strangeblood.”

The man had almost a sneer on his face as he opened a large brown ledger and ran his finger down page after page until he stopped at a name.

“Do you have enough coin to pay the full tax arrears?”

“Yes, I have eight gold coins; it is enough to pay it in full.”

“Eight? Eight? That’s not enough, there has been interest added for the late payment, it is now ten gold coins, do you have that much, if not then we will be taking the farm next week as part payment and you will have to be indentured for five years to pay off the rest, now, what will it be?”

Tito could feel the tension in Bevic’s body at this latest news, with a soft hand he tried to sooth the other boys nerves, finally Bevic spoke up.

“Yes I have that.”

Bevic threw ten gold coins on the counter and they both watched as two of them rolled over the counter and onto the floor with a loud tinkle, the surprised look on the mans face said it all, he had not evidently expected the boy to come up with the coins for his farm, the mans eyes scrunched together, the Mayor was not going to be happy about losing that piece of land but there was little he could do about it, he had nothing else he could delay the boy with.

The man picked up the coins and counted them twice, each time looking up at Bevic with a thin veneer of hate in his hard eyes, throwing the coins into a hidden drawer under the counter, the man was about to turn away when Tito spoke up for the first time.

“Bevic will need a written receipt to prove he has paid in full.”

The man turned his angry eyes on the smaller dark boy, he had hoped to get away without writing one and then, again, claiming the boy had not paid as they had done in the past, the Mayor would then be able to get the land for nothing, a number of the wealthy merchants had plans for the plot, now, if the boy had a receipt their plans would come too nothing but he could not refuse, with as much bad grace as he could muster, the man took up pen and paper and wrote a receipt for the ten gold coins, once done he hardly looked at the two young boys as he threw it over the counter and then stalked away, he would have to report this to the Mayor at once, the one problem he had was, where did the boy get so much gold coin.

For the next two hours the boys wandered the main business street of the town, Tito had never seen nor smelt so many new things, fruits that could only be thought up by some weird god, smells that filled the nostrils with sweet and then sour odours, strange burning sticks that filled the air with scented smoke, hot spices for cooking that could bring tears to the eyes if you inhaled them, Tito was quite taken by all the new things he saw.

As noon approached they decided to go into a tavern for their midday meal, they would have a tankard of ale and talk over all that had happened that morning, the coolness inside the smart tavern was welcome after the heat of the day, outside there was not even the faintest of sea breezes to cool the skin, as the boys sipped their tankard of ale and waited for their meal of stew with bread and cheese to arrive, they sat back and talked over the mornings events.

Unknown to the two, a pair of dark eyes watched them from a deep shadow in the back of the tavern, the man who watched the pair was quite nondescript in his appearance, he looked much like any other worker in this part of the city but his intentions were far different as he watched the two young boys eat and drink while they talked softly too each other, every movement, every gesture, was taken note of by the watching eyes, by the end of the day he would report back to the Mayor and they would see what could be done about the sudden wealth of the farm boy, the dark boy was of no consequence as far as the watcher was concerned, he was just another young boy with nothing to do.

Their meal and ale finished, the boys left the tavern and made their slow way to the dock area, Tito found he had to keep sharp eyes out for all the traffic moving back and forth along the narrow road of the wharves, as they drew closer, Tito realised just how big most of the ships were but, for some unknown reason he was drawn to the large trireme, it had the look and feel of the trader they had disposed of, when they got closer, he was certain it was the one they were looking for, on the wharf waiting to be loaded onboard, stood seven very beautiful horses, they looked well rested although a little jittery about going onto the ship.

Tito spied an old man he presumed was once a sailor, sitting on a broken woven lobster cage, the old man was carving some sort of white bone, out of curiosity, one of Tito’s well known traits, he approached the old man and started to talk to him, over the course of many stories about his time on the sea, the man eventually told Tito that the large southern ship would sail on the next neap tide in four days, they were now only waiting for the owner to arrive with his caravan and they would leave, Tito thanked the man and turned to Bevic, as he did so, Tito spied something further down the wharf.

“Can you wait here for me Bevic, I have to piss then we can go back to the farm, it’s getting late and my Master will wonder where I am.”

Bevic nodded and watched as Tito ran for a nearby alley, it was not unusual to use the narrow alleys for this purpose, Bevic waited patiently for his new friend, after about five minutes, Tito was back beside Bevic with a wide smile on his face.

“Ahh, thanks Bevic, I really needed that after all that ale, let’s get back to the farm.”

So saying, the two boys turned their backs on the bustling wharves and hurried their steps back towards the farm, it was only an hour until sundown and they needed to be back before dark, Bevic to once and for all, settle into his free home, Tito to report what he had seen to his Master.

In the office of the Mayor, three men waited patiently for their spy too report, the treasurer and secretary sat on the other side of the desk from the obese figure of the Mayor, he had held the office for twelve years now and had never been defeated at any election, of course the fact that most of his one time opponents seemed to either disappear or lose interest also had a lot to do with his long run as Mayor.

It was fully dark and their spy had still not appeared, the Mayor looked at the secretary with an inquiring glance.

“Well, where is he?”

“Let me go and check Mr. Mayor, I’m sure he was held up somewhere or is still watching the boy, I’ll send out the Captain of the town guard, he’ll soon find him if anyone can.”

The secretary left the office and the others waited impatiently, it was another half hour before the secretary returned, with him came the Captain of the town guard, both men did not look happy, the Captain most of all.

“Well?” the Mayor asked.

“The Captain found him, he was dead in an alley off the wharves, I’ll let the Captain fill you in on the details as he saw the body.”

“Well, Captain?”

“Well Mr. Mayor, he was stabbed by a long thin blade of some sort, it must have been a highly trained assassin to be able to get close enough to him and the means of death I have only seen once before in my life time, it was a thin puncture wound at the back of the neck, between the spine and the base of the skull, the blade must have gone straight up into the mans brain and killed him instantly, there was little blood and he looked as though he was just sitting down resting, whomever did it was a master assassin.”

“You said you have seen it before?”

“Once, a long time ago when I was a Kings man, we were routing some families from where they had squatted on the Kings land, they called themselves, Roma or Romani, lazy bunch of lay abouts, two of my men were found later that night, both had been killed like he was today, no one saw or heard anything, we never saw those people again, never did like them, something not right about how they lived.”

“Thank you Captain, you may leave us, we have important things to discuss.”

“Well gentlemen, what are your thoughts on this matter, we need that land the boy is on if we’re going to enlarge the town in the manner we had planned?”

“What about this murder Mr. Mayor?” The secretary asked.

“What about it, it was probably some cut throat out for the mans purse, I’m damn sure two young boys would not be able to overpower a man like that, you heard the Captain, it was a professional assassin and those boys certainly don’t fit that bill.”

“It doesn’t answer the question of how we are going to get the land, Mr. Mayor.” It was the Treasurer this time that asked the question.

“We will just have to think of another way to get it, how that boy came up with so much gold I will never know, you said, Mr. Treasurer, the boy had the full eight gold coins for the back taxes?”

The Treasurer lightly fingered the two gold coins in his pocket as he answered with a very straight face.

“Yes Mr. Mayor, eight gold coins in full, mind you we have not done too badly from that family, we have collected a full sixteen gold from them, more than most of the town put together and, we have managed to get most of his land for nothing as well, perhaps we should let him have that small piece that’s left.”

“No, we need the rest of it, I suppose we could always bring in our own assassin and rid us of the boy all together, that would solve a lot of problems, if we’re going to put the new larger cobbled road through, we need that land, I don’t want traders to see bends in the road just to go around a boys plot, what are your thoughts on the matter?”

“Personally,” replied the Secretary, “I think we should just get rid of the boy, he has no relatives to lay claim to the land, it would revert to the council or, one of us could buy it for a small sum and sell it back to the council for the road.”

“And which of us should buy it, Mr. Secretary?”

“Why you Mr. Mayor, I’m sure we all agree it would be best for us all if you did.”

“Of course it would, right then, we get someone in to get rid of the boy and I will buy the land from the executor then sell it back to the council for the new road, we can all share in this little venture, do you have your masons working on the cobbles, Mr. Treasurer?”

“Yes, we have a nice stock pile all ready to go as soon as we have that last piece of land.”

“And Mr. Secretary, you have made all the arrangements for the slaves to be brought in to do the work as we discussed?”

“Yes Mr. Mayor, we will charge them out to the council at one silver per man per day, as they cost us only four coppers per man to hire from their Master we should all make a tidy profit from the venture, the towns people will not object when they see such a fine road leading into and out of the port and town environs.”

“Good, now all we need to do is find someone to rid us of the boy once and for all.”

“I’m sure we can find a couple of good cutthroats down at the wharves that will do the job quickly and cheaply.”

“We’ll leave it too you then Mr. Treasurer, get it done as soon as possible so we can get started on the road, well gentlemen, here’s to a very successful and profitable venture.”

The three men smiled broadly now that they had their plan revised and nearly in operation, before too much longer they would all be wealthier by a considerable amount, the Mayor more than the others.

As the three talked on into the early evening, at the farm of said boy Bevic, there was a lot of movement as the sleepers awoke, they had been awake only minutes before Tito and Bevic arrived from their visit to the town, Paulek immediately noticed the slight change in Tito but the awareness of the change fled his mind the moment he spied Bevic, it was as though his mind insisted on going blank and only taking notice of the young farm owner, everything about Bevic held Paulek’s attention, it was a feeling he had never had before, it was more intense even than his feelings for his lost brother.

Every movement, every gesture, every pause that Bevic made, held Paulek spell bound, the soft lilting of his voice filled Paulek’s ears like music, his desires and senses could only see Bevic, could only hear Bevic, it was as though he had been missing some part of himself all these years and Bevic suddenly came along and filled him to overflowing, it took every bit of his inner strength to stop himself from racing to the boy and holding him as close as he could, even the lightest touch of his hand sent Paulek into a dizzying spiral, had Paulek been alert to what and who was around him, he would have seen the smiles on the faces of the other boys, he seemed to be the only one that was not aware of what he was feeling for the first time in his life.

It took a little time before he heard Tito’s voice as the boy reported what had happened in town, what he had seen and where they had gone, it was not until he was alone with Paulek later in the night, that he reported why he had got rid of the man that had been following the pair all day, Paulek just smiled at his protector and said.

“Thank you Tito, you did the right thing protecting Bevic.”

Tito’s face reddened a little and then he asked.

“Master, when are you going to bed with Bevic, he really wants to be with you as you want to be with him?”

Paulek was taken aback at the young boys boldness, even though it was the truth it had not seemed right but, now that the words had been spoken out loud, the idea became more solid in Paulek’s mind, it was of course exactly what he wanted to do, his only concern was, how would Bevic react to what Paulek now was, would he be afraid of him to the point that he feared him as some sort of monster, or would he just run and not look back, this was Paulek’s greatest fear as he knew he could not go on without Bevic in his life.

When Tito and Bevic had finally decided it was time for sleep, Paulek and the others sat outside to discuss what Tito had seen at the port, the ship was evidently that of the caravan Master they had disposed of but, how long would it wait for his return before they set sail for the southern lands, the new boys told them that the ship would never sail without the master of the caravan unless he had given them explicit orders to do so, with this in mind, and the fact there would be a very high neap tide in four days, Paulek decided to go and look the ship over for himself, Pavlik and Hawk would spend the time teaching the new boys how to defend themselves. With this decided, Paulek took one last, long look at the sleeping form of Bevic and started for the port while Pavlik and Hawk set about the new boys first training, with there enhanced abilities it would not take long for the boys to learn enough to protect themselves and others.

Keeping to the dark shadows of the night, Paulek sped through the town and down to the docks, the usual uproar of drunken sailors and workmen filled the night as he slid from one shadow to another as he closed on the large ship, on the dock beside the ship stood four very large men, he could see instantly they were not drinkers but they also were very alert and obviously well trained in their work.

The men were wearing what appeared to be a long set of chain mail, it covered them from their heads to their knees, there was a thicker piece of what looked like leather around their necks to protect them from any sword, the men were armed with double swords as well as a short bow, these were hand picked and trained guards.

Paulek looked over the ship, it was a large trireme, fitted in the deck were two tall masts for the lanteen sails, below the deck were three tiers of oars, this large ship was made for war more than for trade, on the upper deck at the bow was a Ballista filled with six long spear like shafts, on the aft deck was another weapon called a catapult, it was not loaded with anything but it’s size would have made any pirate think twice about attacking the ship.

Paulek also saw small patrols of men on the deck, they walked back and forth in pairs, every part of the ship was under observation at all times, it was going to be difficult to get on board, especially if the crew, who Paulek could discern as human and not drinkers, had been well trained and were aware of what a drinker could do, this was not gong to be an easy rescue, Paulek could almost feel his brother on the ship, he knew he would have only one chance to rescue him, if it was not done now he could very well lose him for months or even years before he could find a ship to take them to the south, Paulek set his young mind to thinking up a plan of attack.

Paulek was about to turn away and return to the farm to talk with the others when he heard a commotion on the ship, most of the guards immediately turned to look at something below them inside the ship, it was then that Paulek heard a familiar voice swearing like a rough worker, there came thumps and crashes from inside the ship as his brothers voice filled the still night air, from the crew came laughter as well as swearing until, finally, Paulek saw a small fighting figure appear on the deck in chains, three grown men were holding tightly to the ends of the chains as Milac fought them all the way to the centre of the ships deck, the chains holding him were then locked into large rings set in the deck, it seemed that Milac was allowed some fresh air each night as long as he stayed chained.

Paulek could see so well in the dark that he could make out the main problem and the reason for Milac’s behaviour, the boy had been kept hungry, he was almost starving and, while this kept him weaker than normal, it also increased his blood lust, Paulek could now see that Milac was almost totally into blood lust and was nearing the point where he could turn feral if he was not fed soon, to the crew it was no more than a game, a dangerous game, but still a game, Paulek’s anger rose as he watched helplessly, alone he could do little, he had to get back and make a plan quickly, his brother would not last much longer in his present state.

Paulek left his shadows and sped back to the farm where the others were still training hard, it was an hour to the middle night bell, he had time to go tonight as long as the others thought they were ready for a fight. Once at the farm Paulek called all of the others to him, he then explained what he had seen and what he wanted to do right then, it was Hawk that calmed him down.

“Paulek, we truly understand how you feel but we are not ready, one mistake and your brother might be killed, we have to plan this properly, how long do you think your brother can last before he is feral?”

“Three maybe four days, he’s very weak and won’t last much longer than that, I want to go as soon as I can, I don’t want him to go feral, I couldn’t kill him, he’s my little brother.”

It was one of the new boys that gave some hope.

“The guards on the dock are specially trained by the Master, they are very hard to kill even though they are not drinkers, it would be better to bypass them, the other two guards will be placed outside the Masters rooms at the stern of the ship, the room has big windows overlooking the sea, as we do not need to breathe, we can approach the ship under water and climb the stern to get through the windows, once inside we would only have two guards to get rid of, if we could do it silently, the others would never know, it would just be a matter of waiting for your brother to come from the slave cages in the bottom of the ship and then take him before he goes up on deck.”

“He would need to feed first, he’s very weak.” Paulek told the boy.

“We just keep one of the guards alive, let him feed on him then we can go out the same way we came in.”

“We don’t have much time, when will you new boys be ready to fight?”

“One more night, we don’t have enough weapons for all of us.”

“Ok, I’ll get Tito too look for some weapons tomorrow and we go the night after, it will be close to their sailing time and they may be a little more relaxed.”

Suddenly Paulek felt a little better, he glanced through the farm house window at the sleeping form of Bevic, his heart raced like it had never done before at the sight of the sleeping boy, if it was to go further, he needed to tell Bevic what he was and what it would mean for them both, it was just then that it struck Paulek, if he was to continue his new found love for Bevic and, he was almost immortal, he would have to watch Bevic age and eventually die while he lived on still as young as he now was, this thought caused Paulek to pause in his thinking, could he watch the boy he had fallen for, age and die while he himself stayed young and alive, it was something he needed to think on more closely before vowing his newfound love for Bevic.

The rest of that night was spent in teaching the six new boys how to use weapons and how to best use their extra blood abilities just as Sergei and Jorge had taught them, the boys were quick learners and they were soon sparring as though they had done it all their lives, once Tito had weapons for them all, Paulek would feel much better, he was now building quite a little army of his own, in the back of his mind he saw a glimmer of an idea begin to form for their future, that was if they had a future after the night of the attempted rescue of Milac.

When the drinkers had gone too sleep, Tito, along with Bevic, took the list of needs that Paulek had left for them and made their way to town, Bevic had said it was not going to be easy to find all the weapons, they were very closely controlled by the town guard but he thought he might know some street boys that would be able to tell them where to get some that the guard had no knowledge of, it was going to be very expensive he said, but Paulek nodded to Tito and they both understood that as much of the gold under the floor could be used to purchase the weapons as was needed.

During the day, Tito noticed that Bevic was watching him like a hawk, Tito could feel the tension in the air each time Bevic looked over at him, he decided that, at their break for lunch at the same tavern, he would ask Bevic what was worrying him, although Tito began to suspect what the problem was, he thought it best to let the farm boy raise the subject in his own time, Tito had a very old head on very young shoulders.

When it came time for their lunch, Tito purposely found a table well back in a dark corner of the tavern, during the morning he had seen the worry on Bevic’s face grow stronger at each passing minute, he thought that this was the time for him to seek out what it was and he didn’t want anyone else to hear their conversation.

Once lunch had been ordered and the usual tankard of ale had been placed before each boy, Tito looked at Bevic and began the conversation.

“Ok, Bevic, what’s worrying you, you’ve been away in the clouds all morning?”

“I, I don’t know if I should say anything, Tito.”

“There’s nothing you can ask me that I won’t answer as best I can, I know it’s something to do with my Master and it’s worrying you.”

“There is something, but I think it’s all just an old wives tale, I don’t really want to make a fool of myself or ruin any feelings that Paulek may have for me, I know I want to be with him very much but there’s this thing inside my head that makes me afraid of him for some reason.”

“So just tell me, if it’s something I can help with I will tell you right away.”

“It all began when I was just a little kid, when I played up or made my parents angry, they would say that one night while I was asleep, the night monsters would come and drink all my blood and send me to hell, it really scared me, after all I was only five or six at the time but, now I’ve seen Paulek and his friends, well, I mean, look, they never sleep at night only during the day as though they were afraid of the day light, they also seem to be faster and stronger than normal teen boys, Tito? Are they all night monsters, if so are they going to kill me?”

Tito sat and thought for a little, he then waited while the pot boy put their meal on the table and left them alone, how much should he tell Bevic, what would his Master expect from him when asked this question, as he began to chew of the hot stew and sip his chilled ale, Tito decided to tell as much as he thought Bevic could take and then leave the rest up too his Master.

“They are not monsters like you think of them, but they are different and it is not their choice, they were given no choice by the ones that changed them, you’re quite right that they are people of the night and they have to feed on things that we can not but they are not monsters. Paulek I am sure loves you very deeply even though he has not yet said anything but all of us can see it, if you feel the same way about him as I am sure you do by your actions to date, then you will give him the chance to explain everything to you before making a final decision on your future.”

“Am I in any danger from the other boys, Tito?”

“Danger; Not even in the slightest if anything you are the best protected boy in the land, there is not one of them that would damage as much a single hair on your head, if Paulek asked them they would all lay their life down for your protection so you have no worries on that score but, to really find out all there is too know, you really need to speak to Paulek, there is much I can tell you but he is my Master and it must be his words that you hear not mine.”

“So I am safe with them, they are not the night monsters of my childhood.”

“Yes, you are safer with them than if you had a hundred of the Kings Guards around you, as too being monsters, well that is only for enemies to find out, for you they are friends and protectors, now lets eat and go and see if those street boys have found any weapons for us before we get old and talk too much.”

Tito laughed at his lame joke and turned back to finish his meal, he had the distinct impression that Bevic still had questions but the boy opposite him did seem a little more relaxed as he too began eating the cooling stew.

Tito and Bevic met with the street boys they had talked too earlier in the day, the boys had managed to find some weapons for them, they had them wrapped tightly in thick sail cloth, in a dark alley, the two boys opened the package and inspected the weapons, it was obvious they had been stolen either from their owners or from a store house, they were in reasonable condition although would need a little attention before being used.

The street boys had got them five short swords, six daggers and three short horse bows, these could be fired while on horse back and at the same time were very good when in the close confines of the forest, after some haggling, not to beat the price down on the street boys but more to maintain a sense of the rights of trade, Tito handed the small gang of young street boys a leather bag containing three gold and nine silver coins, both parties parted ways happy in the knowledge neither one had been cheated.

Tito, once they were back at the farm and away from prying eyes, set about cleaning and sharpening the newly bought weapons, Bevic paced back and forth most of the time, his head bowed while he was deep in thought, there was so much he wanted from Paulek and so much more he was afraid to ask about or even admit to himself, the only thing that brought a modicum of peace was the steady sound of Tito sharpening swords and daggers.

As night drew in, the first murmurs and sounds of the boys awakening came to the two boys ears, it was time to face his fears and seek Paulek, Bevic straightened his young shoulders and, even with the old tales of the horrors of the night monsters still fresh in his mind, Bevic walked towards the fancy wagon where the boys always slept.

As Paulek stepped down from the wagon, he saw Bevic approaching him, with sudden clarity, as though something during the day had awakened him, he saw right into Bevic’s mind, he also became more aware of Tito and what he was thinking, the two boys conversation of the afternoon was the first thing he saw in Bevic’s thoughts, with a soft sigh to himself, Paulek smiled at Bevic and then said.

“It’s time we talked, isn’t it.”

Bevic blushed and could only nod his head as he saw Paulek reach out a hand to him.

“Lets go for a walk so we can be alone, I’ll tell you everything you want too know, if after you have heard it all then you can decide for yourself what you want to do but, remember this, at no time are you in any danger, not from me and certainly not from the other boys, whatever you decide to do after we talk will be respected by us all.”

Bevic could only nod his head and take the offered hand, it was the first time they had actually physically touched, the cold feeling of Paulek’s skin made Bevic jump a little at first but, with no sign of anger of distaste from Paulek, he tightened his grip again and followed the boy into the darkness of the new night.

It took them both an hour to talk it all through, Paulek answered every question that Bevic asked, he showed him his special skills and strengths, the hardest part was telling Bevic that he had to drink blood to live but, after he told Bevic how he became like he was and who had done it too him, Bevic seemed to relax, it had not been a choice that Paulek had made it had been forced on him and he now had to live with it for as long as his life lasted and, as Bevic found out, that would be along time.

The final problem came when they discussed their aging, for the first time in the days he had known Paulek, he saw the boy with red tears in his eyes as he wept and told him why he cried, it was not for himself but for Bevic, he then told him about the immortality he had been given and that he would have to watch Bevic age and die while he lived on in his youth, at the heartfelt sound of Paulek tears and sobs, Bevic reached out and hugged the blood drinker for the first time, his own feelings were now as raw as Paulek’s but for a different reason.

The two boys continued hugging and at the same time talking about the possible future for them both, it soon became apparent that they would stay together, somehow it made sense to Bevic even though Paulek still knew he loved the farm boy, he had slight doubts as to his own ability to live up to the other boys expectations of him, he knew it would take time for them to become one but it was certainly going to happen if Paulek had anything to do with it, the two boys stood in the dark of the night holding each other as close as they could, all the fears and worries were now past and there were no secrets between them.

Slowly Paulek pulled away from the warm embrace and looked again at Bevic, both boys had unknowingly become very erect as their bodies were crushed together, had there been enough light for Bevic’s eyes to see, he may have been embarrassed, not knowing how good Paulek’s eye sight was in the dark, he felt no worries about the hardness of his boyhood, thinking that his new found love could not see it pushing out the fabric of his homespun trousers.

An hour had passed and they decided to return to the farm where the others were now practising with their new weapons, as they walked into the yard lit by an open fire at the centre of the yard, Paulek suddenly stopped, there, right in front of them all was the simple answer for getting onto the ship without having to go for a swim in the dark night, Paulek drew Bevic into another close hug and then ran to the middle of the yard and called the other boys to come and listen to his new plan.

When he had finished, the others were all smiles and decided not too wait for the next night, they would go now, with a little luck they would soon have Milac back with his brother, Paulek asked Bevic and Tito too stay behind, this was work for those who could use the night to the best advantage, Pavlik and Hawk took off to the small paddock and brought in the six wagon horses. Within half an hour the horses were back in their traces and ready to go.

Tito and Bevic watched as the large wagon pulled out of the farm yard, on the driving seat sat two of the caravan Masters boys, hidden in the back were all the others, slowly the darkness swallowed the large wagon as it rolled on towards the port town and finally the docks where the ship awaited them, it was hoped that the wagon was a familiar enough sight to the guards to allay any fears they may have if strangers tried to approach and, the two boys on the front seat were well known by the guards, all that remained now was for the story they had thought up to be believed and they would have the ship before any alarm could be raised.

As expected, when the wagon appeared around the last bed on the dock street, the four guards left their posts and stood together waiting for the Master to arrive, they took notice of the two boys driving and, although it was unusual to see them there, it was not totally unknown for their Master to do something like this to try to catch them unawares.

The guards stood erect with their shoulders back, their hands nowhere near their weapons, this was not a strange wagon and so they felt no threat to the ship or themselves, the wagon came to a halt a short distance from them, the two senior guards stepped forward and asked the boys.

“Where is our Master?”

“He’s staying at the tavern for a little while, he said he had a last trade to take care of and sent us on ahead so the wagon can be loaded ready for when he gets here.”

“You had better bring it closer to the ship then.”

“Master asked that his four chests be unloaded first, he wants them secure before the wagon is loaded on, it may be better if you four can take them out now and carry them up on the deck.”

Knowing better than to argue with the Masters orders, the senior guard turned and called for the other two to join them and carry the chests, without waiting for the other two, the first two guards went to the rear of the wagon and opened the heavy gate, as the gate dropped, two shafts shot from the inner darkness and lodged themselves into the necks of the guards, the men fell without even seeing who had fired them, as they dropped dead to the dock surface, the second guards came around the end of the wagon and they also had no time to defend themselves from the seven boys who had suddenly appeared in front of them.

The fight lasted only seconds and all four guards were dead on the dock, the shipboard watchers saw nothing in the darkness, the wagon had been parked just out of the range of the ships lanterns and the rear was still in deep shadow, using their superior strength, the boys hefted the four chests and walked towards the ships gangway, the deck guards barely looked at them as they carried the chests up to the deck level.

On deck were eight sailors acting as temporary guards, after placing the chests on the deck, the boys, now joined by the two younger ones from the drivers seat, quickly drew their swords and faced off against the deck guards, Paulek said in a voice just loud enough to be heard by those on deck but not any that may have been below.

“Your Master is dead, you now have to make a decision, you can fight and die now or step aside and let me get my brother, if you lay down your arms you will live, when we are finished here you may take the ship if that’s what you wish.”

The eight men looked at the armed and ready boys, they had been in the employ of the Master for many years and knew a blood drinker when they saw one, with the odds of nine drinkers to eight humans, they stood little chance and they knew it, all of the sailors lowered their weapons and stood aside as six of the boys went towards the ornate carved doors of the rear cabin.

Paulek and the others well knew that there would be two of the special guards behind the doors and behind the guards would be the accommodation that the Trader had used, all they had to do was either kill the guards or capture them so that once they had Milac freed, he would be able to feed on at least one of them.

While Paulek and the five boys readied to go through the doors, Pavlik along with the two black youngsters, had the eight crewmen carry the four heavy chests back to the wagon and place them inside, the ship they could have but not the gold and silver, even with the odds of eight to two the sailors knew better than to try anything, they had their lives and the ship, it was enough, there was no need for any of them to die for a dead Master.

When Paulek threw the doors open, he quickly saw that the confined space of the short passage would work against them in a fight with well trained men like the two that were rapidly advancing on them, Paulek quickly got the others to step back into the more open space of the deck where they had the advantage of numbers and their drinkers abilities, the two large guards rushed out with their wide curved swords swinging at the boys.

This fight took a little longer and a lot more skill as the boys worked together so the two guards could not get an advantage over a single boy on his own, slowly they wore the two down until Hawk managed to drive his dagger deep into the throat under the chin of one of the guards and, as he dropped to the deck dead, one of the smaller captive boys managed to duck a wild blow and sever the Achilles of the other, the man dropped to the deck now unable to defend himself as three swords were quickly held at his throat.

The noise of the fight had by now drawn more of the crew up on deck but they were not soldiers, they were just ordinary sailors and the dead and injured guards were enough to make them keep their distance, Paulek turned to the watchers.

“Where is my brother being held, the captive drinker, hurry up, where is he?”

A large burly man stepped forward.

“Your Honour, I am Margate, the Bosun, if you mean the young drinker in the hold, then come with me, I will show you.”

Paulek looked at the man and saw that he did not have any other ideas, asking the other boys to keep watch, he and Hawk followed the large man to a covered hatch and then down a set of narrow steps, once inside the dark hold, the only light was that of a small lamp hung from a metal hook in a central beam.

Margate led them deeper into the ship until, finally, Paulek could see a number of iron cages, from below his feet he could hear other voices in the darkness, he assumed it was the area where the rowing slaves were kept but they were of no interest to him, only the cages held his attention as, from the last one in line he heard the growling and swearing of his brother Milac, Paulek looked at Margate.

“Where are the keys to the cage?”

Margate reached up to a hook that Paulek had not seen, there was a large metal ring with a number of keys on it, taking this Paulek ran to the last cage in the line, there crouched in the confines of the small cage was Milac, he looked dirty and roughly treated but, as he took in the face through the narrow bars, red tears began to fall down his young cheeks.

“You came for me, Paulek you found me, that camel fucker said he left you dead, please Paulek, get me out of here so I can kill everyone of these goat fuckers.”

Paulek did not know if he should laugh or tell Milac not too use swear words, he was just so relieved that he had finally found his little brother although, by the sound of the language, Milac was not so little anymore, Paulek quickly found the right key and threw open the door, his brother jumped into his arms and wept on his shoulder, his arms trying to strangle Paulek in his need for reassurance that he was finally free.

Paulek held Milac as he too wept with the joy of finding him, Milac still looked starved and very dirty, he had not been treated well by those guarding him, slowly Paulek leaned back and took in the smudged face and red bloodshot eyes, it was then he saw Milac’s fangs fully extended, his little brother needed blood fast he was on the point of going entirely feral from which there was no return, Paulek began to forcibly drag Milac from the dark dank hold, silently and with a certain amount of trepidation, Margate followed at a small distance.

As he made his way up through the hold, Paulek began to hear a deep growl from Milac’s chest there was also an almost snarling sound as they came closer to the smell of hot blood, using all of his drinkers speed and strength, Paulek rushed them both up on the deck, without pause, Paulek told Milac to feed on the wounded guard.

Milac didn’t need to be told twice, the guards was one of those that had treated him the worst, in minutes, along with some snarls and gurgles, Milac had drained the man, he was not yet totally full but he did feel better, the blackness that had almost overtaken him was now pushed into the shadows, Milac had been sure he was not going to survive the blackness until he saw the vague and misty figure of Paulek appear in the darkness of his prison.

TBC.
Artcart65@vodafone.co.nz

 

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