By the time Shanwei helped Ellison stagger the rest of the way down the corridor, crawl up the staircase, and get to the docks, most of the battle was over.
Two men with their hands up in the air were sitting on a wagon holding six wooden crates and a couple of other fighters were bleeding out slowly on the dock leading to a half-loaded cargo ship. Ellison didn’t recognize the dying fighters. They weren’t part of Matilda’s crew, so maybe they were with the kidnappers. Or innocent bystanders.
Ellison staggered past the wagon and leaned against a post between it and a pier that led out to the ship.
Matilda’s mercenaries had the ship’s sailors cornered on the forecastle, and three others stood around the companionway on the main deck. Ellison guessed that the rest of the kidnappers were hiding below decks. Or in the water. He could see at least three bodies floating, one of which sank as he watched.
Matilda stood on top of a crate at the bottom of the gangplank that led from the pier to the cargo ship.
“Pry them out,” she told her fighters by the companionway. “Or burn them out.”
“No!” A woman pushed her way through the crowd of spectators who invariably showed up to watch any mayhem. Krim had few entertainment opportunities, with no television, radio, movie theaters, or sports arenas. Other than killing people, the only major diversions were drinking and gambling.
“I bet ten silvers that the ship will burn,” said the bystander closest to Ellison.
“You’re on,” said his mate, and they clicked beer mugs.
The woman who had pushed her way to the pier glared back at them. “There will be no burning!” She strode up the pier towards Matilda. “I’m Captain Barnabas Pubwash and I’m also the owner of this cargo vessel.”
“How do you plan to stop us?” asked Matilda.
Captain Pubwash glanced around at the army of mercenaries that had now assembled on the docs then glared up at Matilda. “By telling you that you can go in through the cargo hold instead.” She nodded up at the ship. “The cargo hatch is on the main deck.”
One of Matilda’s mercenaries tried to lift up the cargo hatch. “It’s too heavy,” he yelled down. “Send a few more guys up.”
“We have a hoist,” said Captain Pubwash and started up the gangplank. The mercenaries guarding the sailors at the forecastle stepped aside so that the sailors could go help.
But the companionway door was already opening and a white cloth fluttered out.
“Hey, that’s my underwear!” said the captain.
“Let them out, boys,” Matilda yelled up and her fighters stepped away from the door.
Two men came up onto the deck, both holding their hands up over their heads.
“No need for any burning,” one of them said.
“Good, we won’t have to kill the captives then,” said Matilda.
“We keep telling you, we don’t have any captives,” yelled the prisoner sitting on top of the cargo wagon. “All we have are the guns. If you’re looking for kidnappers, you’re in the wrong place. And these guns are ours and perfectly legal.”
Matilda jumped off the crate she’d been standing on and held out her hand. One of her mercenaries dropped a crowbar into it and she pried up the lid. It was full of long guns, packed in straw. She picked one up.
“That’s a matchlock arquebus,” said one of her men. He took the gun from her and peered at it through his glasses. “Hand made. Smooth bore. Wildly inaccurate.” He picked up a second gun and compared the two. “These are identical,” he said. He passed the first gun back to Matilda and put the second one under his arm so that he could wipe his glasses on the hem of his shirt so that he could examine the gun better. “They’re the same, down to the machining marks. There’s either a powered machine shop somewhere on the grid, or someone managed to get a firearms export license.”
“Well, they’re our guns now,” said Matilda.
“No, they’re not,” said the prisoner. “We paid for them, and you can’t take them. Wait until the rest of the guild gets here. You don’t want to take us on.”
“The mercenary guild has more than a hundred members,” said Matilda. “Just watch us.”
“And the Armstrong Guild has an army.”
The mercenary digging through the crate found a bag nestled in between the guns and looked inside. “Gunpowder.” He looked further through the crate and found the lead ball ammunition as well. He started to load one of the guns. “It’ll probably explode the first time we shoot it,” he muttered.
Meanwhile, a coach pulled up through the crowd and nearly all the way up to the captured wagon. Ellison watched Clinio Lind climb out, followed by Rodge Bannister and Welton Layton. Matilda came down the peer to join them as, being her, the gun fan found gunpower and a bag of lead balls in the crate.
“I came as soon as I got word that you found the kidnap victims,” said Clinio. “Where are they?”
“We didn’t find them as such,” said Matilda. “But we found where they were held.” She handed him Wynefrede’s handkerchief and glared at Rodge. “After following two Armforge guards to the location.”
“I swear that the guild knew nothing about this,” said Rodge. “Maybe they were investigating on their own. If they did, they didn’t tell anyone.”
“Or they were part of the gang,” said Matilda. “These were the same guards who were at the circus at the time of the kidnapping.”
“If the guild is involved, that would be a significant violation of your contract with the Royal Season,” said Clinio.
“In-world contracts aren’t enforceable,” yelled one of the prisoners on top of the wagon.
“That’s why we sign all our contracts in-world,” said Clinio.
“The guild has no knowledge of the kidnapping,” said Rodge. “I swear.”
“What about the guns?” asked Matilda. “They were stored in the same place.”
“Can I see the gun?” Weldon reached out and Matilda handed him the arquebus.
Rodge looked pained. “They’re not ours,” he said.
Weldon looked at the crates. “Those are all full of guns?” he asked.
“Identical.” The mercenary with the glasses came up behind Matilda and handed her the loaded gun, a thin rope hanging down from the pan. “Someone’s mass producing them,” he said. “And they found enough sulfur to make quite a bit of gunpowder.”
“That can’t be right,” said Weldon. “We haven’t issued any export-import licenses. I’m going to have to confiscate the guns.”
“You can’t confiscate them,” said the prisoner on the wagon. “We got them fair and square. There’s nothing in the terms of service that says we can’t buy guns.”
“I’m confiscating them,” said Matilda. “The mercenary guild will be happy to get them, right guys?” The mercenaries around her yelled out a loud hurrah, followed by a “damn right.”
“We’ll be able to double our rates,” one said.
“I’ll need to do an investigation,” said Weldon. “Can I have at least one?”
“You can have the prisoners,” said Matilda.
“You can’t take the guns, we need them,” said the prisoner, jumping off the wagon and rushing at Matilda.
She shot him, aiming right for the center of his chest. The bullet grazed his shoulder and slammed into Ellison standing ten feet behind him.
Ellison clutched his chest and sank down. “I need to get back to the gate,” he muttered. “Can someone drive me, I’ve got money…” He felt around his jacket. The money pouch was gone. Well, that explained why Shanwei was so helpful earlier.