If it was still in fashion to name blades, Briditte was pretty sure Hanna would have named her sword Lady Sparkle. She wore the blade as no warrior or soldier or killer ought to, more as decoration, touching its pommel the way one might touch a pendant or bracelet when the conversation became uncomfortable. Briditte had never seen her draw the sword from the scabbard, and she doubted that Hanna had ever drawn it other than to show off its blade. If she polished it at all, it was only to increase its shine and not to keep it sharp. Probably Hanna had servants to polish the blade for her, though. Briditte hoped that the servants knew their mistress well enough to go for more effect than practicality.
Guarding Hanna was an awful bore, Briditte thought, less appealing though better paying than guarding the most innocuous cargo on its journey. On a journey at least there was often good company. Hanna was vapid and unable to carry on a conversation that wasn’t about fashion, men, or bloodlines. Not that Briditte had much tried to engage Hanna in conversation. Briditte knew her place.
Today Hanna was meeting with the Lewises, a family of the upper echelons, rich, their money made in the shipping industry. Briditte wasn’t sure exactly what it was that the Lewises did nor did she particularly care.
Hanna sat at tea with Leanne Lewis, a young woman of about Hanna’s age in the Lewises’ hillside garden. The garden, Briditte had to admit, was lush, a cacophony of bright flowers and densely leafed bushes and trees, carefully planned to maintain a view from this spot of the sea into which the hill sank, its waters as bright as any flower in the garden and seeming as tamed by the Lewises’ hands as the garden.
Briditte might have enjoyed the setting in other circumstances.
With only Leanne in Hanna’s company, Briditte thought that she might not have to be as vigilante as usual. Briditte allowed herself to listen to the birds singing and the cicadas humming and the waves soughing against the cliff instead of the conversation between her charge and her host.
Before she had left on this particular outing, Hanna’s father had taken Briditte aside and warned her that she may need to guard Hanna particularly well. Briditte did not now understand the man’s fear. Hanna seemed as safe here as she might in the garden of her own estate.
The Lewises—or Leanne at least, who was the only Lewis whom Briditte had yet seen—had met Hanna warmly, was pleasant towards her servants, and treated security in a manner of which Briditte approved, staying safe behind high stucco walls and employing several guardsmen. One remained some ways up the hill from them. Leanne had bid him stay within call but out of sight for the duration of her tea party. She had tried to dismiss Briditte too, but Briditte had been adamant about staying and Hanna had not echoed Leanne’s request with a demand.
That one slip was all that put Leanne Lewis out of Briditte’s favor. Otherwise she had thus far been amiable.
Briditte’s open ears detected the crunch of footfalls along the gravel walk, and she straightened herself, adjusted her grip on the hilt of her sword.
A tall and broad-shouldered man entered the glade where the girls sat at tea. He was dressed all in dark greens and wore a sword and a dagger at his side, Briditte noticed, but such was the fashion. Even Hanna wore a sword. And the Lewises had always been good friends with Hanna’s family.
Leanne beamed at the man and threw herself from the chair and into his arms. “Robert!” she exclaimed. “You’ve been gone too long!”
“I asked after you up at the house. They told me you were here. They warned me that you were accompanied, but I couldn’t wait.”
Leanne led the man forward and introduced him to Hanna as her brother. Hanna stood and curtseyed to the man, but Briditte noted that her eyes returned quickly to his face and flashed towards his hands. Hanna’s fingers brushed the pommel of her sword.
Briditte shifted, wondering after her charge’s interest. She was not introduced, but she saw Robert’s eyes dart to her, and she nodded to him as he was invited to join the girls at the table and the last of the tea was poured for him, Leanne giving up her empty cup for her brother.
Hanna tried to inquire after Robert’s occupation, but Leanne, laughing, cut across her guest to tease her brother about his long absence. He had been at sea, Briditte learned. There was mentioned between the two siblings a troublesome business partner, but “Lewises take care of business,” Robert told Hanna, “on our own,” he pulled a face, “as my father is so fond of saying. It’s how we’ve come as far as we have.”
“And it’s taken care of?” Leanne asked delicately.
Robert nodded. “But you’ve a guest,” he reminded his sister. “We bore her with our talk of business.”
“Not at all,” Hanna hurried to say, and Briditte was surprised to see that she seemed to be genuinely interested, and that her fingers still toyed with the pommel at her side. “I’d like to hear more about your business, Robert, and about this devious partner of yours.”
“He was no one of consequence.”
Leanne elbowed him, laughing, but Briditte noticed that her smile seemed a little overly bright, and the eyes that caught her brothers were just a touch stern.
“As it happens,” Hanna said, “a partner of my father’s recently ran into some trouble at sea as well. His ship was accosted, raided, and sunk. It sounded as if there was more unpleasantness than my father wished to share with me.”
This was a tale that Briditte had not heard.
“I am sorry to hear that,” Robert said, his expression sober.
Hanna nodded. “I thought you might be, Robert. You seem a man who knows the seas, who knows what unpleasantness might befall a man while abroad.” Hanna confessed, “I had a friend aboard that sunken ship.”
Hanna nodded again.
“Again, I am sorry.”
“You are not yet sorry, Robert,” Hanna told him, and her fingers shifted from pommel to grip almost too quickly for Briditte’s eyes to follow. The sword was whipped from the scabbard and flicked into Robert’s gut in a quick, practiced movement.
Leanne screamed. Briditte hurried forward, drawing her own sword. Leanne screamed for her guard, and Briditte knew she would have to fight him and protect Hanna from the vengeance of the grieved sister.
“Tell me the ship’s colors, Robert,” Hanna demanded, turning her wrist. Another rivulet of blood seeped from beneath Robert’s green doublet.
Robert coughed. “I don’t know.”
Hanna inched the sword more deeply into his stomach.
He was not nearly so handsome with his face twisted in a grimace. “Green,” he coughed. “And purple.”
“Those colors won’t fly again, Robert.”
“You’ll kill me, Hanna?”
“You killed him. But I don’t intend to kill you, not if you accept that the Lewises make their money fairly from now on. No more piracy.”
“I sail on my father’s orders.”
“Next time he gives you those orders, if you’re not brave enough to contradict him, you take to your ship, and you sail under your own colors. You don’t return if you can’t return without your father’s stolen booty. Or return with an army. My family will sail with you against him. But from now on, Robert, you are an honest sailor. Those are my terms. Do you agree or shall I skewer you to the garden walk?”
Despite herself, Briditte was impressed by Hanna’s viciousness.
“One hears tales of your families’ rigidity, Hanna—”
“We fight for what we believe to be right.”
“I agree,” Robert said. “I will sail away.”
Hanna looked at Leanne, who had her hands over her mouth. “Send your guard for a surgeon. I’ll leave my sword in him till the surgeon comes. It will staunch the blood.”
“Merciful too,” Robert groaned.
Leanne spoke a few quick words to the guard. “I cannot leave you with this monster,” the guard complained a little too loudly.
“Too right,” Hanna said to the guard. To Leanne, she said, “Leave the sword there. Consider it a present from my father and I. Thank you for the tea. It truly was delicious, and your garden is magnificent.” Hanna curtseyed to both her hosts, and began up the garden path. Briditte followed, and Leanne’s guard took up the rear, apparently not willing to pass them and put them between his mistress and himself, despite Robert’s need for a surgeon. Hanna amicably told him that she had done and she was now weaponless, which Briditte thought unwise; she gripped her own hilt more tightly but did not draw for fear of provoking the guard further.
They did not go into the house, but angled away from the guard towards the gate. As they crossed the open lawn, Briditte sure that they were at any moment to be attacked or arrested, Hanna apologized. “I’m sorry to have put you in that danger, Briditte. My father said he warned you of the danger of this visit, but I doubt he was quite specific on what had happened and what might happen. I thank you for not stopping me.”
“It was an impressive display, my lady.”
“Thank you. I do hope Robert will live. I might enjoy fighting beside him. I will need a new sword first, I suppose, unless he brings me back my own.”
“You think he will sail away from his father?”
With a wry smile, Hanna answered, “I don’t think he will quickly forget the threat of my house.”
Hanna waved at the guards as they passed out of the gate in the stucco wall.
I am a thief! That first line comes from “Sharp Smile,” written by Gwen of Apprentice, Never Master.
I should also apologize for the length. That story got away from me a bit, but I couldn’t bring myself to destroy the sense of place that I felt was established merely to truncate it.