Ian has won Angelique - but at what cost?
The trip to Hampton’s Cove was too long to please Ian. Dennis lent no hand to the sail or tiller, nor to the rowing when the wind calmed and the current threatened to take them back. At one point, Ian stopped for a breather.
“Come on, man!” chided Dennis. “At this rate, we’ll be sailing by the stars before we get to port.”
“You might try this yourself sometime!” snapped Ian over his shoulder, bending his back once again to the oars.
A sly smirk showed on Dennis’ face. “But I do it every day, Innis. This is a Sunday row for me.” He leaned back in the prow of the boat.
“Then,” Ian grunted between pulls, “why ... aren’t you ... doing this?” The wind began to fill the sail, and Ian gratefully shipped the oars and trimmed the sail to catch the wind. This moved him back to the tiller end of the boat, where he stared at Dennis across the 15-foot length, his chest heaving to fill his lungs with air.
“But you won the contest, Innis! This is part of your prize. Far be it from me to take any of this away from you!”
Ian hesitated a minute, his breathing slowing down. Then he looked at Dennis. “You hate me, don’t you?”
Dennis leaned forward, hands gripping the sides of the boat until his knuckles turned white. “Yes, I hate you!” he threw at Ian. “I despise your very presence! If it not for the money I received to come, I would not be here now.”
“Not even to save Angelique?”
“She belongs to you now, Innis. You’ve defiled her.” He sat back, the smirk returning. “Though if she were whole, just a bit sick — why, I would sail with you in a moment, just to have the opportunity to throw you overboard and save her from a living hell!” With that, he ripped an end from his loaf of bread and took a huge bite.
The rest of the voyage was completed in silence. The two beached the craft as the last edge of the sun melted below the horizon. Together they plodded across the sand to the road into the village, then up to the inn.
Inside the common room, a large cheery fire blazed on the hearth, a small pig turning on the spit. Laughter and conversation floated in the air as men held forth their opinions over dinner and tankards of ale. Dennis went directly to the innkeeper, a large man with full jowls who stood wiping his hands on an apron stained with food, especially where it met the top of his belly.
With a voice like thunder in a cavern, he said to the two damp men, “I got a bit of beef left from noon an’ some fish that was fairly fresh this mawnin’. Plenty of ale, too, to chase the sea water you gents been gulpin’.”
Dennis smiled and replied, “Two of the beef, please, and a tankard each of ale. Then we must find the doctor.”
The keeper nodded in the direction of a table. “Three shillings each. If you sit there, I’ll bring your food, an’ the doctor will be right across from you.” He turned to the kitchen and lumbered away.
“Three shillings!” protested Ian to Dennis. “That’s fair robbery!”
Just before the bench, Dennis stopped and put his face close to Ian. In a hoarse, angry whisper, he said, “It’s obvious you are both knowledgeable about robbing people, and stupid about how to get along with them! Now just shut up and pay the man when he comes! I’ll speak to the doctor.”
They sat, and Ian, stung with the rebuke, kept his eyes averted. Dennis plucked at the doctor’s sleeve and smiled.
“Kind sir, are you the good doctor of which we were told?”
The man looked up from the rim of his tankard. “Some call me that. Others want to ride me on a rail because I could not do the miracle they sought.” He pulled another great draught of ale and set the tankard down. “If you seek a bit of healing skills, then I have a bit to offer. If you want a miracle, you need to seek elsewhere.”
Just then the innkeeper pushed his way through and set down plates heaping with slabs of beef drenched in gravy, and half a loaf of bread getting soggy in the middle of each plate. “There you be, gents. Six shillings total. I have no rooms left, but you be welcome to space on the floor here. Two shillings each now; three each later, if I have to move bodies around to make you room.”
“We’ll sleep here, too,” Dennis told the man. When nothing happened for a moment, he turned to Ian. “Pay the man, Innis!” he hissed.
Cringing, Ian pulled out the coins and dropped in the keeper’s meaty palm, which snapped greedily closed. He pushed the beef around on his plate with his bread. He was hungry to be sure, but he had no energy left. He pulled out his knife to slice the meat, then noticed Dennis had done the same. The contrast between the two knives was stark: Ian’s was near-new, no nicks on the blade, no stains on the handle, the metal gleaming bright. Dennis had to wipe off some scales clinging to the dull blade, now curved and gouged from much sharpening on a rough stone.
The doctor addressed Dennis. “So what is your medical need, sir?”
“We’ve come up from Black Cliffs just this afternoon. A young lady fell off a ledge into the water. She lives, but she’s not awake.”
“Do I look like the good Lord Himself? I told you, sir, I do not do miracles. If she fell and missed the rocks, and she stills lives, then it sounds like One mightier than I is already working on her behalf. Trust Him to do what He will, for it doesn’t sound like there is much that I can do.”
Dennis was silent at this, staring into his gravy. Ian’s heart sunk; if the doctor could do nothing and Angelique died, they would hang him! Why, she might be dead when they return, and he would step off the boat into a noose!
Desperate, Ian grabbed the doctor’s arm, nearly spilling his ale. “Please, sir, you must come! I’ll pay double your fee.”
The doctor looked from Dennis to Ian, as though seeing the smaller man for the first time. “She means a lot to you, does she?”
Ian nodded. “Even life itself.” Dennis sputtered into his tankard.
The doctor looked at them both again. “I know not what is between the two of you, though I’d wager it is more than coming for a doctor. I’ll be ready at first light.” Then he said to Ian, “But you must understand me. It’s not for more money that I hesitate. I don’t want to take time away from those I can help to attend to one who needs a touch I cannot give.” He sighed and rose. “I will come.” He left.
The two travelers finished their food, then sat sipping their ale until the voices began to quiet down and men began to arrange themselves on the floor. Dennis spied an open spot near the fire and was on it in an instant. Ian sat there still, nursing his tankard, worn to rags from the day’s exertions, but unable to go to sleep. Gradually, weariness overcame him, and his head sunk to the table, tankard still in his hand.
Low voices awakened him slightly, but he believed it was only travelers leaving before the fist dawn and didn’t open his eyes. Light sensations around his waist niggled at the edges of his mind like the dregs of a dream, until his mind screamed that his money bag was in danger. He shot bolt upright, the form of a man just a shadow to his sleep-filled eyes. But that man’s hand was at Ian’s waist, even inside his coat. Ian’s hand tightened on the tankard and swung it, crashing it against the man’s head. Pottery and ale flew about the room, and the man screamed and dropped, still as a clubbed fish.
Men jumped up and someone threw open the shutters to let in the false dawn. With the little light, it was hard to tell one man from another, but there was no mistaking the man on the floor, blood running from his ear, nor Ian standing over him, knife blade gleaming in his hand.
Dennis quickly approached. “What the devil did you do, Innis?”
Ian pointed to a small dark lump on the floor near the fallen man’s outstretched hand. “He lifted my bag,” he said simply. “I woke before he got away with it.”
The innkeeper pushed his way through the crowd, taking in the scene with a single sweeping glance. “Better you should have let him have it. His family is clannish, and each of them will have a knife bigger than yours.”
“But he was a thief! Would you protect a thief?”
The keeper shoved his large belly against Ian, pinning him to the table. “No one likes a thief! But we be not as quick to call a man what we cannot prove, either.”
“What about my bag?”
The keeper shrugged. “All I see is a local man on the floor with blood on his head and a money bag — maybe his own — on the floor.” Angry mutterings came from the crowd, which began to close in behind the innkeeper.
Dennis grabbed Ian’s arm. “I’m sorry for the disturbance, sir. We’ll go now.”
“Aye, you do that!” the keeper growled. When Ian reached for the bag on the floor, he flopped a fat boot on top of it. “Leave it! His family be needing it, and you won’t reach your boat alive with it!”
“Let’s go, Ian!” Dennis drug the bewildered man quickly down to the boat. At the water’s edge, they pushed the boat off the sand. “The water’s coming in, so we’ll have to fight the tide to get out to open water.”
“What about the doctor?”
“Consider yourself lucky to leave with your life! Stay much longer, and the doctor will be no use to you. He doesn’t do miracles, remember?”
The sounds of a man running came down the beach, and both men looked up, frightened for their lives. But it was the doctor, bag in hand. pounding across the sand and then splashing through the shallow waves to the boat.
“You’ve stirred a hornet’s nest, lads. You will be much safer with the morning breeze in your sail.”
Ian and Dennis tumbled into the boat. Ian hoisted the sail and trimmed it out, while Dennis locked in the oars and began pulling with all his might. The wind finally filled the sail and pushed the boat faster than Dennis could row, at which point he gladly stowed the oars back in the bottom.
“Thank you, doctor, for coming,” said Ian.
The doctor shrugged. “Thank God for waking me before your little fracas. Otherwise, you would either be halfway down the coast, or lying on my operating table, I think.” He looked up. “In fact, I think you may have much to thank God for, before all this is over.”
Ian and Dennis looked at each other, but neither could fathom the man’s cryptic comment. The rest of the voyage passed in silence. With a good wind, it was just before lunch when the boat grounded at the beach of Black Cliffs.