“I’m sure my boyfriend will be back any minute now,” Ellison said. “I’m not in the way, am I?”
The sailor grunted and looked up at the setting sun, the same way that someone on a different, more civilized, world might pointedly check their watch.
While Ellison had been keeping an eye on Pompas’ boat, he’d read all the travel brochures, asked all the questions, and learned how to check fishing nets for damage. He was about to volunteer to try his hand at scrubbing some of the harder-to-reach places on the deck when he saw Matilda approaching the docs with a half-dozen heavily men and women. They paused while still out sight of Pompas’ ship.
Ellison stood up and stretched. When she noticed him, he nodded slightly and cast a side glance at Pompas’ boat. She nodded back and she and the mercenaries huddled together, strategizing.
Then they waited for a couple of minutes, still out of sight of Pompas’ boat, until they heard an asthmatic bird caw twice from the far end of the docks. At that point, they split up. Matilda and two others headed straight for Pompas’ ship, while the others spread out to strategic positions, ready to catch Pompas if he ran again.
“What are you looking at?” the sailor asked.
“I’m thinking of asking those guys to take me back to the gate,” said Ellison. “I’m sure nothing would happen to me if they were around.”
“Sure, except for them. They will happen to you.” Then he spotted Matilda. “Oh, hey, it’s Matty.” He waved his arm. “Matty, over here!”
She looked over, saw him, and raised a finger to her lips.
“I wonder who she’s here for,” said the sailor, then patted Ellison on the shoulder. “She’ll get you home safe. Just don’t get her mad, or she’ll stab you.”
“Oh? What does she get mad about?”
The sailor started checking off his fingers. “She hates puns. Amateur guitar playing. Losing at cards. But if she wins at cards, she might stab you to celebrate, so just don’t play cards with her. Also, don’t eat her skirrets. But if she eats your skirrets, don’t complain about it.” He shook his head. “Learned that the hard way.”
This was good stuff. “What else?” Ellison asked.
“Don’t mention dragons. Don’t mention wizards. In fact, don’t talk to her about anything related to World of Battle. She’s got a personal grudge against that world.”
“Who doesn’t?” said Ellison, who’d been killed on World of Battle more than once.
Meanwhile, on Pompas’ ship, Captain Clare Lestrange had seen the approaching mercenaries. She called a note of warning down to Pompas, then grabbed a sailor and pointed to the heavy ropes that connected the boat to the pier. She and the other sailor ran to the gangplank but didn’t get to it before Matilda was on it.
“She’s going after Pompas,” said the sailor. “This should be good.” He pulled a paper twist of sunflower seeds out of his pocket. “Want some?”
Ellison held out his hand and the sailor poured some seeds into it. Then they leaned on the guardrail, spitting sunflower seed hulls into the water, and watched Pompas’ crew valiantly try to defend the ship. However, they were unprepared for battle and were quickly stripped of pointed objects and tied up.
Finally, guard poked his head up from below decks.
“That’s Hildy,” said Ellison’s sailor pal. “This is going to get good.”
But the guard disappeared below, and slammed the hatch shut.
The sailor spit a seed shell into the bay. “They’re going to barricade themselves in. Well, I guess Pompas is going to win this round.”
“It’s only going to take a second for Hildy to snap Pompas’ neck. Not a painless way to die, but at least it’s quick. I’m sure Matty wants him alive.” The sailor cracked open another seed. “Probably something to do with debt collection,” he said. “Pompas owes a lot of people a lot of money. Unless…”
“Unless they want Pompas to die because the debt collectors are waiting off-world, ready to slap a lawsuit on him the minute he shows his face.”
The man was right. Ellison’s brother was, in fact, going to do just that.
“In that case, won’t Pompas come right back to Krim?”
That’s what Pompas did the previous night.
“Ah, I’m sure Matty’s thought of that.” The sailor tapped his skull. “She’s devious. She’ll have someone stationed at the gate waiting for Pompas to pop out. I’ve seen this kind of operation before. There’s no way Pompas is going to escape.”
But Pompas was, in fact, trying to escape. He had opened a porthole and poked his head out, scanning for threats. Then he pulled his head back in, then both his arms through, and wriggled around until both shoulders fit through the hole.
Meanwhile, Matilda and the other mercenaries had pried up the hatch and headed below.
“He’s going to escape,” said the sailor.
Ellison climbed up onto a wooden crate next to the railing, whistled and waved his arms until he caught the attention of one of the mercenaries stationed along the dock. Then he pointed at the porthole, where Pompas was now half-way out. He was wedged in tight due to the size of his belly. but he was wriggling around, and could pop out, like a cork, at any second.
The mercenary swore, stripped off his heaviest weapons and armor, kicked off his boots, and dove into the bay.
As he swam along the side of the ship, Pompas stopped wriggling for a second, then redoubled his efforts.
“They got him,” said the sailor.
He was right. A second later, Pompas was pulled back into the stateroom.
“Well, that was a nice bit of excitement,” said the sailor. He patted Ellison on the shoulder. “You come back now, you hear?”
We sail every other Wednesday. You’ll love it. There’s no better way to die than by falling off the edge of the world.”