Continued from Chapter 287…
The two men – the Selkie of the Grand Navigators and the Raurugian of the mountain highlands – stared at the strange and alluring Y’lanna as she made her conciliatory speech. And when she’d finished, they each of them blinked at her a few times. Finally, the mighty Haug Handslayer looked at the noble Ruili Windwolf and twitched his head towards Y’lanna.
“What’s she talking about?” he said.
“I have no idea, old fish,” answered Ruili. “Foreign, you know. Something lost in translation, no doubt.”
“Foreign, eh?” Haug chuckled. “I guessed Danulian.”
Ruili looked Y’lanna up and down and shrugged. “It’s far enough away. It’ll do. Look you, let’s be straight, yes? I take it you’ve been told off to jettison us, and I hope I’ve given it that we’ve no intention of going. Now I suppose we could erupt into violence, but what would that profit either of us, in the confines of a moving train?”
Haug’s massive bulk filled his end of the car, as he flexed his shoulders and cracked his thick neck. “You have something else in mind?”
“Why, very simply that we wait until the next station and see then who shall vanish and who carry on.”
Ruili smiled warmly as he said it, and the wave of his hand was casual, but the look in his eye was not. Haug Handslayer laughed as he gave back the same look.
“As fair a lass as any I’ve seen and as pretty a challenge as any I’ve heard. You like to keep things sweet about you, don’t you, Wave Rover?” he said, and then he nodded short and grim. “So be it then, and be it on your head.”
The gigantic gangman tossed aside some cushions to make room for himself on one of the benches. “But if it’s all the same to you, I’ll keep your company till then, since we have no seconds to keep you honest.”
“Sir, you wound me.”
“Not till the next station.”
Ruili joined in the gallows laughter and sat down on the upholstered bench facing Haug, across the fold-down table. He offered Haug a pinch from his smoke pouch, and Haug proposed a game of sixes-and-sevens with a set of knuckle bones he carried in a pocket.
Whatever effect Y’lanna had been hoping for from her speech, whatever down-played impression of Ruili Windwolf she may have wanted to create, however she may have wished to redirect Haug’s thoughts, the fact remained that Ruili’s true purpose was to get to his brothers and to Mt. Isolla, and Haug’s true duty was to carry out his boss’s orders, namely to dispose of her and her companion. They each might bend and interpret said purpose and duty, but neither man would be deterred by a heaving breast and a batted eyelash. Perhaps if she had not been wearing the Amulet of Suitor Deflection, which had the magic of defusing her otherwise powerful sex appeal, but she was wearing it. And anyway, in a world, indeed a reality, completely alien to her own, to the one her kind evolved in, who could say what effect her beauty would have on two seasoned warriors?
And so no violence erupted immediately. Ruili’s gambit paid off in time bought for a duel instead of an assassination attempt. He had until the late of night till Train No. 47 North rolled into the next town, a little farming hamlet named Teur, according to the map. The hours passed in rings of fragrant, stimulating smoke and the rattle of bones on the table, the calling of scores and chit-chat about this and that. Keeping their eyes on each other rather than Y’lanna’s charms, they talked of travel and trade, weapons and schools of training, tailors and neckcloth knots. They both laughed over Y’lanna’s heirloom story and how Haug had naturally assumed she meant she was seeking to buy contraband. He mentioned that he knew a good many dealers of “heirlooms” he could have set them up with, if only he would not be killing Ruili so soon. Ruili commented what a shame it was that Haug would not live long enough to consider a career in the navy, what with his talents and all, and Haug shrugged, saying it was just as well, as he never had developed a taste for fish.
Finally, when Ruili began really to warm to this enormous assassin, he asked the question that was most pressing in his mind. “Look here, old squid, what would you rhyme with lilac?”
Haug, his feet up on the bench, counted off on his heavy fingers. “Back, track, lack, sack, fal-da-whack…”
And that was when the train crashed into the shock wave of an explosion that threw the party in the state car to the floor as the line of cars buckled in a deafening eruption of tearing metal and splintering wood.
The car jumped the tracks and rattled and rolled sideways as it was hit by the cars behind it. Ruili, Haug, and Y’lanna had to protect themselves as best they could from loose furnishings, baggage and glass, and when the car came to a crooked halt, the two fighting men immediately struggled loose and to their feet. A racket of shouts and cries – hurt and confused passengers, rushing train crewmen – filled the air.
“Y’lanna, are you hurt?” said Ruili, while Haug looked out the window at torches carried at a run down the length of the tracks.
He growled and punched the wall as the calls could be heard coming from various points along the train.
“Stand and deliver!”
“Friends of yours?” Ruili quipped to Haug.
His bags were mostly still in the overhead compartment, and the Selkie lord quickly pulled out a long wooden traveling case, which he set on the table to unbuckle. Inside was a sword in a shoulder scabbard chased in arcane symbols of silver, with a hilt capped by a single, gleaming star sapphire.
“Milady Y’lanna, stay by me,” he said, slipping the sword over his shoulder. He took his dagger from his belt and offered it to her.
“Well, sir?” he added to Haug, who glared at him while listening to the approaching bandits. “It seems our business shall be postponed somewhat. Which do you prefer, that door, that door, or the window?”