Paulek looked around the deck, against the rails were all that remained of the crew, they were well guarded by Pavlik and the other boys, with little thought, Paulek wrapped his little brother in his arms and both shed red tears of relief at once again being together. Both boys cried for minutes as the stunned crew looked on, after a while the two boys stepped back and released each other, some of Milac’s boyish charm began to return as he stayed close to Paulek’s side, with a look at Pavlik, Paulek asked.

“Well, what do we do now?”

“I guess we get back to the farm, I think we need to send a message to Sergei, he can tell us what to do next after all, we have your brother and no other plans after that.”

“Good, then let’s do that.”

“Excuse me Milord, what about us, we have no captain now, I know you said we could have the ship but without a Captain we don’t know where to go or what to do, I know how to keep these dregs in line but as far as actually sailing this ship, it is beyond my knowledge?”

Paulek listened to the worries of Margate, he had no answers either, he turned to Pavlik but a shrug of the shoulders told Paulek he didn’t know as well, Paulek thought for a minute and then said.

“The ship will stay here until we have heard from the Kings Marshal, the crew may stay on board or go and find other work, when we have heard from the Kings Marshal we will tell those who are staying what will happen.”

“Thank you Milord, I myself will stay, I know nothing else, if you would return tomorrow eve I will let you know who else will stay.”

“Done, then the ship is yours to watch over Margate, until we hear from the Kings Marshal.”

“Very good Milord.”

Paulek almost laughed at the seriousness of Margate’s words and the fact that he was all of a sudden a Lord, well that would soon be put right, he had no idea of sailing a ship or controlling a crew, it would all be sorted when they had sent the message to Sergei, he would find some Captain to run the ship.

All the boys left the silent ship, Milac refused to be further than a few steps from Paulek as they all made their way swiftly through the dark streets and back to the farm, the wagon was driven slowly behind them with the two small black boys up on the seat, they arrived back an hour after the others had got there.

Much to Paulek’s surprise, the two small drivers immediately left the seat and boldly walked up to Milac and, with one on each side of him, took his hand and stepped in close to his young brother, it appeared as though they had made up their own mind as to whom they liked, Paulek almost smiled as he saw Milac look at the two small boys and then back at Paulek, all Milac could do was shrug his shoulders and give his older brother a half hearted smile.

There remained about two hours to sun up, much to Paulek’s joy, Bevic was waiting at the door of the farm house for him, without any further thought or trepidation, Bevic threw himself into Paulek’s arms, the warmth of his living body soon had Paulek very hard and he pushed lightly into the boy he was now holding, the answering push set the rules for the next two hours as they both walked back into the house with the others watching them with wide smiles on their faces, they all knew what was going to happen for the next few hours.

As the first of many moans and groans issued from behind the closed door of the farm house, Pavlik reached for the hand of Hawk and disappeared into the darkness, at a loss as what to do next, Milac just let himself be pulled by his two small chaperones towards the small barn where the now slept through the daylight hours, the other boys joined up and also disappeared although all of them could still hear the first sounds of pleasure coming from the house.

By the time the sun rose, the wagon was full except for Milac and the two small boys, they had found a dark place in the small barn and buried themselves into the small pile of straw and hay each entwined with the other as they slept their death sleep, in the house Tito, who had also disappeared until the sun rose, along with Bevic, sat and talked over what had happened, too Tito’s knowing eyes, Bevic had no secrets to withhold, and, as they talked the morning through, Tito saw where the conversation was heading.

Finally, in a round about way, Bevic got to the question he had been wanting to ask.

“Do you think he would change me to be like him, and then we could be together for ever?”

“You would have to ask my Master Bevic, but he is too new to this way of living, he would need an older drinker to change you or you might die, it would be best to talk with my Master first.”

“Do you think he would do it though, even if he had to get an older drinker here for the change?”

“Well he has shown you how much he loves you so, I would think he would but he would want you to make the decision, he would not make it for you as much as he would like too.”

Bevic wriggled a little, his butt was still a little sore after what he and Paulek had done earlier, even though it had felt so good it was still a little painful, Bevic listened to Tito attentively, he had already made up his mind, he could not imagine living without Paulek now that they had consummated their feelings for each other.

The last rays of the sun sank below the western horizon, all the boys stirred and stretched as they came awake from their day sleep, Tito and Bevic were waiting for them as they all emerged from their places of rest, Paulek ran straight to Bevic and drew him into a long hug, both their faces glowing with lust and love, it was Pavlik that finally broke them up.

“We have to get word to Sergei, I think I should go, I’m the oldest and fastest, I can be at the castle in two nights and back here by the fifth night.”

Paulek looked at Pavlik, he had to agree, Pavlik was the most experienced of them all, as he thought about it Bevic whispered in his ear, although he should not have bothered as his quietest whisper was still loud enough for the others superior hearing to take notice of what he said, Paulek leaned back and looked into his lovers eyes.

“Are you sure that’s what you want, you know you will never see the full sun again as long as we live.”

“Yes, it’s what I want, I have given it a lot of thought all day, if I have to lose the sun to gain your love for the rest of my life then I will give it up gladly.”

“Do you know that I can’t change you, I’m not old enough yet, I would have to ask and older drinker to do it so that you are safe.”

“Yes, Tito told me but I still want to do it, I want to be by your side forever.”

Paulek turned to Pavlik, with a nod of agreement from all the other boys, he too agreed.

“Ok, Pavlik, now what do we tell him?”

“Everything, tell him what we have done and what we have found here in the port, also what should we do with the ship, none of us know anything about ships or the sea.”

“Right then, I will get going now, the sooner the better.”

Pavlik turned and gave a hawk a very tight and loving hug before sprinting off into the night as only a drinker can do, for the rest of the boys they could now only wait for a reply, Paulek also noticed that the two small boys never left his brothers side and always seemed to be holding tightly to his hands, Paulek could only smile, it looked like he had two more little brothers.

For the next three nights they could do little but talk and play, they kept their distance from the port and the town around it, Paulek had visited the ship each night, they had now missed the highest of the neap tides but, as they now had no where to go and the crew had decided they could not handle the ship on their own, they sat at the pier and waited, most of them spent all their time in the taverns and grog shops to while away the days.

It was in the early hours of the third night that the boys first heard, and then saw, two dark shapes high in the night sky, they appeared to be very large birds, as they got closer they looked more like a cross between a bird and a huge bat, under the larger of the two they could make out a pale figure being held in its talons.

As they drew closer, it became very obvious that they were going to set down in the farm yard, not knowing who or what they were, all the boys took up their arms and readied themselves for battle; these huge beasts of the sky were not going to be an easy fight.

Paulek watched with some little fear, he had never seen anything like these night beasts, finally, with their huge wings stirring up the dust and dirt of the yard, the black flying beasts settled on the ground in front of the boys, Paulek and the others now saw that the pale figure under the beast was in fact Pavlik, as they stood stunned and watched, the beasts shimmered and changed into the figures of Sergei and another teen boy whom they had never seen before, one look at the teen and Paulek knew he was older than he looked.

Sergei stepped forward and smiled at the boys still in the ready stance.

“Well young Paulek you have got yourself quite the army here, they even look ready to fight, now this is Stanislaw, he has been a seaman all his life and knows everything about ships and the sea, he will be your new Captain on the ship, also I have here a scroll right from the hand of the King, he has listened to Pavlik’s tale and has recommended the following.”

Sergei stopped and unrolled the large scroll he had carried.

“From His Majesty King Ivor the 5th to his brave subjects of the night, henceforth the following persons will be known by the titles written below, Pavlik Savinski is hereby named commander of the Kings Marshals for the Port Town of Staveki, Hawk Wolenski is hereby named Lieutenant of the Kings marshals of the Port Town of Staveki, Paulek Valsec is hereby named Lieutenant of the Kings Ship as yet to be named and will be under the command of Captain Stanislaw until such time as the new Kings Ship ‘Vengeance’ is constructed, herein this scroll will be the pass for Commander Savinski to take control of all the Kings Marshals now residing in Staveki, Lieutenant Wolenski will hold and judge all courts in said town, signed and sealed by his royal hand on this 9th day March 1465.”

Sergei rolled the scroll up then passed it to Pavlik.

“This is your authority to clean up this port for the King, the ship will now be used along the coast of his lands in the search for pirates or any other undesirables until his new ship is constructed, until then this Port is under your rule, each year you will be responsible for sending the Kings tithe in the form of taxes to the Capitol, now Pavlik, time for me to get back to my own castle, you are now in charge, good luck.”

Immediately Sergei changed back into the huge flying beast and took to the air, within minutes he was only a small black dot in the night sky, from behind the boys came Milac’s voice.

“I would love to be able to do that.”

Stanislaw smiled as he turned and looked at Milac.

“You will be able to in about twenty years boy, it takes that long to fully grow into your new self, now Commander Pavlik, where is this ship you talked of, perhaps my new lieutenant can take me too it?”

“Paulek will take you too the ship, Captain, I’m going to start thinking about what needs to be done here in town.”

“Come Lieutenant Paulek, let’s see our new ship.”

Paulek briefly turned and looked into the house, he could easily make out the sleeping figure of Bevic, he knew he wanted to go and give him one last hug before going to the port but thought better of it, there would be time before the sun rose, turning from the open door he led the new Captain towards the port at a fast pace.

It took no time at all for them to reach the tied ship, as they appeared out of the dark, they saw four crew patrolling the deck, it appeared that the Bosun still took his duty seriously, Paulek led the new Captain towards the lowered gangway, as he stepped on it a deep gruff voice broke the silence of the night.

“Who goes there, this ship is protected.”

“It’s me Margate, Paulek; I have the new Captain with me.”

“Come aboard Milord, we’ve been waiting for you.”

Once on the deck, Margate took one look at Stanislaw and touched his hand to his forelock, Margate knew instantly by the Captains youth that he was another of the drinkers, he had no problems with this as he had been a crew member on this ship since being taken as a slave many years ago by the original owner, the Trader, all of the crew had been held by the same knowledge, the Trader had only one way for the crew members to leave his service, they had all known that this ship was the last one they would ever sail but, over the years it had also become a matter of pride to serve on it for such people.

“Captain, this is Bosun Margate, he has held the crew together while waiting for you too arrive.” Paulek said.

“Thank you Lieutenant, Bosun you are promoted to 1st Mate and will be responsible for the day watch, this ship is now the property of the King, the crew are now all members of the Kings Navy and will come under all the same rules and regulations, now 1st Mate Margate, bring your rowers up on deck, I assume they are all chained slaves?”

“Yes Captain, all are men and boys condemned to slavery for crimes in the old Captains country.”

“Bring them all up here Mr. Mate.”

Margate turned to the deck crew and told them to get the slaves up, it took nearly half an hour before the bedraggled and dirty slaves were all on deck, their chains rattling on the steps as they climbed out of the dark hold, among them were five young boys, they stood dejectedly at the front of the long row of one hundred rowers.

“Who are the boys, Mr. Mate?”

“As they are too young and small to row Captain, they are worked as water boys for the rowers when they are at oars.”

“I see, and when was the last time the slaves were washed Mr. Mate?”

“The previous Captain had no interest in the lives of his slaves, Captain, as far as I know they never have been.”

“Right, Mr. Mate, Call all hands on deck immediately.”

Margate touched his forelock again and answered.

“Yes Sir, Drummer, beat to quarters.”

The deck drummer started to beat a fast paced note on his side drum, within seconds the rest of the crew were running up the gangways and onto the deck as though there was a fire on board, the men were taken aback when they saw the two newcomers and all the slaves up on deck in the dark of the early morning light.

Once they had all been lined up, the Captain stepped forward and looked them over before setting out his rules, after telling the crew that they were now in the Kings Navy, he went on to tell them what was going to be done in the future.

“First are the slaves, in three years time, a new ship will be ready, I will need a crew of one hundred a eighty men to run her so, from today the slaves will be freed, you will remain for the next three years as rowers but will be free to walk the ship, any slave who does not wish to remain and earn his freedom will be killed immediately, if you put your best into the next three years, you will receive at the end of your service, the sum of one copper for every day you are at the oars, at the end of your three years you will have enough coin to make your own business or resign as free men for the King. Mr. Mate, you will select a new Bosun from your crew, he will be responsible for the ship during the night shift, now, which of you slaves will sign his mark for the three years?”

There was a soft murmuring among the slaves, now they at least had a chance to survive which they did not have before, every one of them stepped forward, the rattle of their chains sounding hollow in the still air of the early morning.

“Mr. Mate, strike the chains and have every slave make his mark in the crew book, they will then be allowed to wash and use the lye to clean themselves, the slave hold is to be cleaned thoroughly and set up as extra crew quarters, I will select two of the boys for duty in the Captains cabin, have them cleaned properly.”

After Margate had touched his forelock once again and began to give the orders, the Captain turned to Paulek.

“Come Lieutenant, lets have a look at our quarters, knowing the type of man the Trader was, it is probably more like a brothel than a mans cabin, do you have a lover or partner yet Mr. Paulek?”

At first Paulek felt his cheeks warm up as he thought about his nights with Bevic, he also had his brother to think of.

“Ah, yes Captain, we have just begun to know each other, there is also my little brother, if we could find a place for him I would be very grateful, I lost him to the Trader and have only just got him back.”

“So is your lover one of us, Mr. Paulek?”

“No Captain, he is the owner of the farm back there.”

“What will he think of you being away for months at a time?”

“I don’t know Captain, I will have to discuss it with him but it is the Kings wish so I can do little about it.”

“That’s right Mr. Paulek, it is the Kings wish, well talk it over with him, I’m sure you will find a suitable way to settle it all, as far as your brother goes, he can join the crew as a midshipman and lean the trade if he wishes to do so.”

“Thank you Captain, I’m sure he will want that.”

They arrived at the door to the main cabin, it was in fact two doors, when they opened them the sight that met their eyes almost made them laugh, the cabin, while totally light proof did indeed look like a brothel room, it was the full width of the ship and could easily have held twenty men, there was a large table at one end and at the centre a bed large enough to lay ten men, the floor was strewn with countless cushions and rugs with a lot of soft wispy curtains falling to the floor all around the walls.

“Indeed Mr. Paulek, a brothel if ever I saw one, that Trader did well for himself, but then again, those southern men did like girly things, we will have the crew fix this room for us during the next night, we will divide this cabin into three smaller rooms, one each for you and your brother, the other for myself.”

Paulek looked around the huge cabin, it could easily be made into three smaller cabins and still have room to spare, all he needed now was to ask his little brother about joining the ship and too see what his new love Bevic wanted to do.

“Well Mr. Paulek, I’m going to stay here and get things in order, you return to your boy friend and come back tonight, we will start your instruction in the ways of a ship, let’s go and see how our new 1st mate is doing.”

They both returned to the deck, Margate was in the middle of watching the one time slaves being well washed and scrubbed of their months and for some of them, years of grime and dirt, the chains were piled in the centre of the deck, Paulek could easily see where the rough metal of the chains had caused sores on the ankles and wrists of the rowers, much to his surprise, the Captain went to each injured man and let a few drops of his blood fall on the wounds, his blood was so strong that Paulek could see them heal before his eyes.

“Mr. Mate, did all sign the crew book?”

“Most Captain; we had to toss seven over the side as they refused to stay.”

“That was a waste Mr. Mate, in future any and all captives will be held for our use, we could be at sea for a number of months at a time and will need their blood, set aside a part of the bilges for cells to hold any we capture in future.”

“Yes Captain, what else would you like us to do?”

“On the next night you will have the carpenters start to alter the main cabin to my specifications, you will also start to train all the crew in arms, they will be both sailors and soldiers, detail two of the boys for my cabin staff, make sure all the new crewmen are well fed and are allowed to rest for this day, tonight we start to train as crew of the Kings Navy.”

Even to Paulek’s untrained mind, the ship seemed to have a new feel about it, the crew were happier and the ex-slaves could now smile at their new turn of luck, they were given their freedom for only three years as crew, it was a better chance than the one they had before under the Trader, with him they only had a slow death too look forward to.

There was only an hour until the sun rose so Paulek left the ship at speed to return to the farm, he had a lot to discuss with Bevic and his brother before they went to their day sleep.

When he got back to the farm, Paulek found Bevic newly awoken, he was sitting at the table with Pavlik and Hawk, they were talking about how Bevic had lost his lands, as Bevic told them about the council and what they had been doing, Pavlik’s calm face slowly changed to one of anger, apart from Bevic now being Paulek’s lover, the injustice of his situation only rankled in Pavlik’s mind, he had seen it so often that now he just got mad and started to plan revenge on any who thought they were above the Kings justice.

The approaching dawn had the boys head towards their sleeping places, Paulek did not have a chance to talk things over with either of the others, he would have to do it first thing when he awoke that night, their was a lot to go over, Tito appeared and started to get breakfast for both he and Bevic, the Roma boy seemed just as happy as he always was.

At dusk, just before he left for his first full night on the ship, Paulek called for a meeting of all the boys, Tito and Bevic had occupied themselves during the day with cleaning and looking for a more permanent place for the others too sleep during the day, once all the boys were together, sitting on some hastily dragged logs around a small central fire in the front of the house, Paulek began the meeting.

“Well my friends, it looks as though we have a new life to start, Milac and I are going to work on the ship along with Tito who will look after both of us during the daytime, the only one I am really worried about is you, Bevic, you know how I feel about you and the thought of being away from you for months at a time scares me, I want to know what all of you think we should do from now on?”

Bevic replied first as the others thought about what they wanted for their future.

“I really would like to go with you Paulek, but you know I have to think about my land, or what’s left of it, it’s all I have left of my family, I too will be lost while you are away but we both need to follow the foot steps we have selected, I’ll always be here waiting for you too return from each trip and, as much as I love you with all my heart, this is my one and only home.”

They all heard the sob in Bevic’s voice as he turned his head away so they could not see the tears falling, he well knew that he may have just cut down the one bridge he had for a lifetime of love, try as he might, Bevic could not stop the tears from falling as he thought about losing his first love, a gentle pair of arms surrounded his shaking shoulders and his loves soft whisper entered his ear.

“No matter where I am, I will always have you in my heart, I will always return to your side regardless of what I have to do too get there.”

Bevic leaned into Paulek as Pavlik began to talk.

“Well I have the duty to clean up this port, too me that means we have to get back what was stolen from you Bevic, the town needs the farms and their produce as much as they need housing, we both know that there was some skull duggery done to take your land away from you and your family, that’s the first thing we will attend to, next we have to get our little friends from the Trader settled, personally I think with a little training some of you could become part of the night Marshals, you others we will find something for you in time but for now I want you to start enjoying your freedom. Hawk is going to be the Judge for those brought to trial, we now need to find out as much about the council and the wealthiest of the ports people as we can, perhaps you younger ones can help with this, try to mix with the street children and find out any gossip they know, it will be a good start.”

All the boys saw the sense in this approach and agreed to follow it all up.

“Now” said Paulek, “What do we do with all that coin we have, there’s more there than we could ever spend, I’ve thought about this and have decided we only have two ways to go, one, we just divide it up evenly between all of us and use it anyway we want or, two we put it into some form of businesses and let it work for us, we can then all benefit from what the businesses make, most of us are going to live a long, long time, in the years too come we could all be wealthy and go our own way if that’s what we want, I feel we should all decide on what we do, it’s too big for one person to make the decision for the rest of us.”

“Well.” Said Hawk, “I don’t see where we have to make a final decision right now, let’s all think on it for a while and then come together and see what we all think.”

All of them agreed and Paulek called the meeting at an end, he gave Bevic a bone crushing hug and, along with Milac, took off for his new job on the ship, the others all began to talk about what should be done.

“Hawk and I have to go and visit the council members, Bevic, can you watch over the other boys for now, I know you’re tired so you go to bed when you think it’s time, you other boys listen to Bevic, I want you to protect him at all costs, he is now your responsibility while we are away, we should return well before sunrise so look after him until then.”

The younger ex slave boys nodded and smiled, they, for the first time in their short lives, had been given responsibility, no more just taking orders or being a subject for an abusive Trader to get his own thrills with, it was as though the younger boys finally had a purpose in life and, along with the training they were being given, began to feel as though they had a new purpose, for now it was to protect the human boy Bevic.

Pavlik and Hawk left the small fire and walked into the dark as Bevic stretched, the young drinkers all looked to him for something to do, he could only smile at them all and, as though struck by some bright light, he decided to tell them a fictional story that his mother used to tell him.

It was a story of magical beings along with demons and devils, large dragons and elves, Bevic almost laughed as he watched the expressions of the boys as the story unfolded, the two youngest even kept looking over the shoulder too watch the blackness behind them, finally Bevic felt the long day sneak up on him, as he came to the end of the story, much to the disappointment of the boys, he yawned widely and told them he had to sleep, the boys all clapped at his marvellous story and then checked their weapons, they were now on duty to protect this human boy while he slept, it was the first time they had such a heavy responsibility and they were determined not to fail Pavlik or Paulek.

At the rear of the new council building, the original conspirators sat and looked at the tall man in the long brown cloak, the hood was pulled over his head, hiding his face from those in the chairs before him.

“Do you fully understand what you are asking of me, it’s not my normal trade to kill young boys, this job could be done by any street thug, why call on me and my men?”

The Mayor answered in his usual gruff voice.

“We don’t want to use anyone from around here, the less the locals know about this the better, besides, it’s only one young farm boy or, perhaps two but, they are only boys, we will pay your price in full if the land is in our hands by tomorrow midday, you can burn the buildings as well if needed, they are of no use to us.”

“The price for my men and I is fifty gold, this is not open for negotiation, you will pay ten now and the other forty when we have completed the job, failure to pay will not be an option so don’t get any ideas of trying to weasel out of payment, do you understand Mr. Mayor?”

“We don’t go back on any agreement, you will be paid in full on completion and once the land is in our hands.”

The tall man turned and left the small room, he had things to do before this night was done, unknown to the council members, he had already watched the farm during the day, he well knew there were only the two boys there, it would be the easiest fifty gold they would ever earn.

Once the man was well away from the building, the Mayor turned to his friends.

“Well, once we have that land all we have to do is call the Marshals and have that man and his friends arrested, there’s no way I’m going to pay off an assassin like him, what do you say?”

The others in the room agreed, after all, what could a criminal like the assassin do about it, they were the law in the town and nothing he said would do him any good in the eyes of the law, he would die on the gallows for killing two innocent farm boys, they felt very pleased with themselves, it was a good nights work.

The others in the room left and, just as the Mayor and the Secretary were about to close and lock the door of the council building, two young looking boys arrived, the eldest looked to be about seventeen, her held himself with something akin to authority as he stopped the two men from leaving.

“Mr. Mayor, I believe?” The older boy asked.

“Yes, what do you want boy?”

Pavlik unrolled the long scroll much to the disbelief of the two men, Pavlik proceeded to read it out aloud, the contents soon had both men beginning to worry, this was a new twist they had not expected, that and not knowing who these two boys were, made both the Mayor and the Secretary start to rethink their plans, it was the worst possible time for new Marshals to appear.

Pavlik finished reading his authority and looked up at the two men.

“From tonight I will take charge of all Marshals, you will open the council doors and I will select an office, it is to be made ready by tomorrow afternoon, for now I will send word for all Marshals to gather here to be told their new duties, Mr. Mayor, if you would be so kind as to lead the way inside so I can find an office, my friend will go and spread the word for all the towns Marshals to come here now.”

There was little the Mayor could do, his friend the Secretary walked away towards his home as the Mayor reopened the door and let Pavlik step inside, the Mayor hoped his wife would hold his dinner for him, his belly was beginning to feel the pain of emptiness, he hoped this would be over quickly, he had been lucky to get the assassin away before these new men turned up, the Mayor sighed and watched as Pavlik began to look through the offices.

The tall man in the dark cloak looked at the small farmlet below where he stood hidden by the surrounding trees and bushes, his five men, all as well trained as himself, lay on their bellies as they too looked at the scene below them, this looked too easy, two older teens were working around the house, another handful of very young boys were playing some sort of war game in front of a small fire, not quite a typical farm scene but there was nothing to alert the six men that there was any danger in these young boys.

The tall man fingered a black bone medallion that hung around his neck, his five men also wore the same item, it was the symbol of Temple Trained Assassins, these men were not to be trifled with, they were the best at what they did, there services were highly sought after and very expensive to obtain, 25% of everything they earned was returned to the Temple in payment for their training.

The tall man led the others back deeper into the bushes, there they set out their plan of action, it did not have to be too fancy, they were after all only young boys and, while it went a little against the grain to kill off young ones, this was their task at hand and the payment was in gold. The tall man gave his instructions and the others began to fade into the darkness as silently as they could, within seconds they could no longer be seen, they had their orders and could now work independently of each other.

The stealthy approach went on, hardly a blade of grass moved or a sound could be heard, these men had done this so often they were like shadows in the night, down below the slow moving assassins, the boys were playing a game of pick stones, there was a lot of half hearted arguing and a lot of laughing, Tito and Bevic continued to get the house ready for the next morning, they should soon retire to sleep as the young boys played on.

Without notice, one of the very young black skinned boys whispered into his brothers ear then giggled loudly, he got up and left the others still playing by the fire, as he came close to where Bevic and Tito were finishing off their work, he whispered so softly that the boys were not sure they heard him.

“Slowly go inside and close the door, don’t open it until you hear one of us call for you.”

The young boy looked at them with a frown on his young face, slowly the boys finished what they were doing and turned and entered the house without looking back, the young boy giggled loudly again and returned to his friends, as he sat by his brother, he said.

“Are you sure there are only six of them?”

“Yes, they spread out in a half circle; they are about fifty metres out, just at the edge of the bush line.”

“What do we do now?”

The younger boy looked at the oldest among them and lifted an eyebrow in askance.

The semi leader of the boys looked at each one; they had little time left so he had to work quickly.

“You two brothers go into the shadows of the house then use your speed to get behind those at the far left,” turning to one of the others, he said, “You go out a little then do the same but go to the right end, the rest of us will continue to play here and distract them, when they attack we all go for the centre, don’t let any of them escape, if you can keep some alive for Pavlik to question then do so but don’t take any chances, we have to protect those boys, ok, go now.”

From behind the last of the bushes, the tall man watched as two small black boys held hands and walked towards the side of the house, ‘it looks like they are going to bed, that’s two less” he thought too himself, as he watched, another boy rose and went in the other direction and disappeared into the dark shadow of the house, there were now only three older boys around the fire, he could see that the boys were armed but only with small daggers, their blades reflecting the fire light as they sat and talked, with a hand signal he set his men to work their way further forward, there was not as much cover but, for well trained assassins, it would be enough, they would be on top of the boys before they knew it.

When the tall man thought they were no less than ten metres from where the boys sat, he eased his head up slowly, much to his surprise, the boys were gone, the fire was flickering its soft light onto an empty space, had he missed the departure of the three boys, they must have decided to go to bed as well, it was after all, very late, with a soft whistle, almost as though he was just breathing out, he rose to his feet, they were well close enough to make a dash for the house and finish off the boys inside.

Suddenly something caught his ear, both too his left and right came a soft grunt and then nothing, he turned to his men and was suddenly shocked to see only two of them stand up, drawing their thin swords, they took the first step towards the dark house only to be stopped by a young voice behind them.

“Looking for something, stranger?”

The tall man spun around to see who belonged to the young voice, as he recognised one of the three from the fire he was just in time to see his last two companions take a crossbow bolt through the throat, he now stood alone and could only watch in stunned silence as the six young boys appeared out of the surrounding darkness, each had a lop sided smile on his young face but the bright flaming eyes told him he was now in real danger.

The tall mans mind was now in chaos, how could such small boys have defeated his five well trained assassins so easily, he had heard nothing and seen even less, it was impossible for such young boys to do what they had done, his mind now in turmoil he could no longer think straight, nothing like this had ever happened to him, he had no idea of what to do, the boys slowly closed in on him until they stood no more than a few metres away, two of the boys were reloading their crossbows, the three smallest held only small thin blood soaked daggers, the eldest stood in front with a long curved sword.

The lack of fear showing in the young boys faces gave him no security at all, he held his own sword in a defensive pose as he set his feet for battle, the boys watched him with amusement, they looked almost bored, this brought a new round of fear into the once top assassin in the Kingdom, his head still spun with questions, for the first time in his life he felt the beginnings of fear work inside him.

“Who...who are you, how did you kill my men?”

“Who are we?” the eldest boy asked before smiling at the now scared man, “We are the protectors of this farm and its people, now lay down your sword or die, there is no way out unless you tell us who sent you here, if you tell us we may let you go.”

“But; my men?”

One of the small boys smiled at him then tossed his small bloody dagger in the air and caught it by the very sharp point, “Your men, oh they were easy.” The small boy said as he flipped the dagger back again.

“Enough of this.” The older boy said, “Who sent you?”

“It’s against our code to tell such things.”

The tall man then let out a scream as he felt the cut of four daggers on his arms and legs, his sword fell to the ground as his hand could not hold it any longer, someone had severed his right hand at the wrist, he then looked down and saw that he was kneeling on the grass, a long gash in his left forearm was bleeding profusely, his left leg had a very deep gash in the thigh and his right foot was hanging uselessly from a cut tendon, he was now totally defenceless and bleeding badly.

“Next time you will have no manhood left.” The older boy said in a grim voice.

The man now knew he was totally defeated, the promise of gold would mean nothing now but it was hard to go back on his long years of training, while he wanted to save his own life he could not break the ingrained code of the Temple Assassin, he just shook his head, it was the last thing he knew as he felt a boy on each side of his neck bite deeply and begin to drink from him, he felt no more pain but could only see a slow darkness approaching as they drained him.

The two black boys looked up from their victim, a smile on their faces, “He tasted good.” Said one of them and then giggled, for the next hour the boys worked to clear away the dead would be assassins, carrying them deep into the nearby forest, they left the remains for the wild animals, they then returned to the fire and continued their game, the two boys in the house by now were well and truly asleep, the fight outside had been in almost total silence apart from the tall mans dying scream.

On board the ship, Paulek and Milac were surprised to see it a have of activity, there were rows of ex rowing slaves hauling buckets of fresh sea water over the side and carrying them down into the hold, from below came loud voices and the sound of scrubbing as well as more men standing at a large wooden pump, as they worked the long handles, a flow of smelly dirty water was sent over the side, it was easily apparent that the ship was being cleaned from top to bottom, from the aft deck came the sound of saws and hammers, the 1st mate was everywhere pushing and cajoling the crew to work harder, captain Stanislaw stood on the aft deck looking at rough hand drawn charts, beside him were some strange instruments that he occasionally took up and looked up into the dark night sky, he would then put them down and make marks on the chart.

Paulek and Milac went up to the Captain, after a smile and greeting, the Captain began to show them what he was doing and began to teach them what to look for and how to do the figuring so they would now where the ship was once they were out on the open sea, it was Milac that seemed to understand the quickest, for Paulek it was more to do with the way the ship was built and how things worked to make it go.

Captain Stanislaw, being well versed in detecting the likes and dislikes of all manner of men, then began to teach the boys in the things they were most interested in, he had long held the belief that not all young men liked navigation and not all like to see the workings of a ship, for the next four hours he had them try, repeat and then be tested on what he had told and shown them, both boys proved fast learners and the Captain was glad he had them on board.

In the early hours of the morning, the rest of the crew was well asleep apart from a skeleton crew to guard the deck, the Captain had taken the two boys below and shown them their new cabins, Milac could not believe he would have his own cabin, granted it was smaller than his brothers but well big enough for a young boy and the little he owned, Paulek’s cabin had an extra alcove with a small bunk set in the side, this was for Tito, all the cabins were well insulated against any light getting through during the day.

The Captains cabin was of course bigger than both the boys put together but he also had two small alcoves for his two boys to sleep in, on one side was a huge bed, a left over from the Traders cabin, in the middle of the cabin sat a large heavy desk with many drawers and the walls were lined with other cabinets holding all manner of things including weapons, the long row of small windows that ran the width of the cabin were somehow blacked out with a type of paint or tar, there was now way light could penetrate during the day.

The Captain sat the two boys down at the desk, he then pulled out a large sheet of paper with drawings on it, from behind them came the soft snore of the two cabin boys, Captain Stanislaw showed Paulek and Milac the new uniforms they would wear as junior officers of the Kings Navy, the crew would also now be dressed in the same colours so that everyone knew who they sailed for.

Paulek and Milac were very impressed with the designs, the men would be dressed in a type of short sleeved smock with blue stripes across it, their pants would be of white canvas with a wide black belt, their hair, the Captain said, could be shaved completely or if they wanted to grow it long it had to be tied back in a cue, the 1st officer and the Bosun would also wear a black leather hat so everyone knew who they were, for the two boys there were the same white canvas pants and striped smock but they also had a blue short jacket along with the black hat, for battle times, the men would have thick leather shoes with small spikes in the soles to help them keep their feet when the decks were slippery with blood.

The Captain then took out another fine drawing and smiled as he watched the reactions of the two boys, it was the plan of the new ship “Vengeance” it was like nothing the boys had ever seen, the first thing they noticed was that it had so many sails instead of only the three lanteen ones that the usual ships had, all three masts were covered with smaller square sails, the ship was narrower and longer than the normal bireme or trireme that were so common, there were also no place for rowers, instead there were small square doors along the sides, it looked to be a very fast ship perhaps it would even be as fast as a man running.

“What are these windows for?” Paulek asked the Captain.

“Ah yes, those are for something new that has just been invented in the far east, they are called ‘Carronades’, they use a form of Greek fire called ‘Gunpowder’, it throws a big lead ball called ‘Shot’ they are very dangerous I hear, there are also some other arms that the eastern people have invented called ‘Rockets’, they fly through the air and set fire to another ship, I have not seen them yet but am told they are very effective in a fight, this ship will be the most modern and fastest one ever made.”

The boys could only look at the drawing and wonder what new marvels they would see in their new profession, until then they had a lot too learn and only one month to do so before the next neap tides would allow them to sail out of the harbour, an hour before dawn they set their feet towards the farm, it was time to get ready for the daylight and their sleep cycle, they both hoped all was well at the farm, they could not wait to hear from Pavlik and Hawk.

When Paulek and Milac arrived at the farm, they were surprised to see all the boys in a circle around the front door, beside them stood Bevic and Tito, there appeared to be a deep discussion going on among them all, from behind Paulek he heard a pair of fast approaching footsteps, it was easy to define them as Pavlik and Hawk, Paulek gave a sigh of relief, all his friends were back together, as he and his brother had to go back to the ship to stay on the next night, he thought it may be the last time for some while before they were all together again.

As the four older boys arrived, a silence came over the others around the front door; Paulek watched as Pavlik looked around then lifted his nose to take a deep sniff, Pavlik then turned to the younger boys that had stayed at the farm.

“I smell fresh blood, what happened?”

The oldest of the boys spoke up.

“We were attacked by six assassins last night, we got them all and nothing happened to Bevic or Tito, we put them out in the forest for the wild animals, I tried to question the leader but he told us nothing.”

“You all did very well, I’m glad I left you here to guard those two, from now on that will be your main duty, you two older ones will start to come with Hawk and I to train as Night Marshals, the Marshals they have in town are pitiful to say the least, most are in the pay of the Mayor and his cronies, I don’t trust any of them.”

When Pavlik had stopped talking, the younger boys lifted their heads with pride, for the first time in their short lives they had been told they had done well, it lifted their spirits and, even though there were now some yawns appearing, they felt truly free from the influence of the Trader for the first time.

For the next thirty or so minutes, everyone told about their day and, it was only the lightening of the sky that made them head for their respective beds, Tito and Bevic took over the watching duties for the day, it was going to be another long night ahead of the boys when they awoke.



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