The enemy fell like wheat being threshed.

Gabriel flowed through the forms – Kingfisher Circles the Pond batted aside a wild swing, setting the pirate up for Kissing the Adder; the man gasped at the lethal thrust, staggered a half step, and then fell on his face, dead or dying – and barked out a bitter laugh at the wide-eyed reaction from his sole remaining foe. The fool lunged forward and Gabriel did not even bother using a different set of forms, knowing the man would not recognize the insult being directed toward him. He let his eyes flicker away from the man very briefly as the pirate stumbled back and stared at the growing crimson stain on his leather jerkin. Most of the pirates were down and it seemed that his friends were mostly uninjured, though the crew could not quite say the same – Merasiël, especially, had been busy, it seemed and was standing in a ring of corpses, one of which was even missing his head! Rainald let fly a spear as Gabriel looked on and it pinned a fleeing pirate to Gestlin’s cart which made the Northman bellow out a laugh. The elf woman shouted something about the boats, but her words were lost to the wind as the fool in front of him finally collapsed to his knees. Gabriel’s smile deepened. Seven had fallen to him in a matter of seconds and he had taken no injuries worth noting. That was a good start. He glanced up the moment he realized the others were reacting to something..

The pirate ships. They were breaking away.

He was moving before he truly realized it. At his back, he heard the others calling out – Dane was issuing orders, he guessed, and Mera was snapping something in Elvish that was spoken too quickly for him to translate – but Gabriel’s attention was focused on those before him, not behind. There were only four on the deck of the boat closest to him, and he covered the distance to the other vessel with an easy, almost leisurely jump. The closest man gasped and abandoned his efforts cut free the ropes and scrambled back, going for the ridiculous weapon at his side. His face … dear God, he looked like Fat Tom.


Fourteen Years Ago

He was hungry.

His stomach rumbled nonstop and Gabriel grimaced at the uncomfortable sensation. For a moment, he considered his very few options – he’d spent the last of his coin the day before yesterday and Raphael was not a good place to be without money. He still had his father’s sword, of course, and the many skills he’d developed over the years, but the eyes of the city guard were particularly sharp at the moment since some damned fool had tried to murder the Archbishop. Gabriel wondered if it was the same sort of madness that had infected Craine.

He weaved his way through the crowds, divesting a few of the wealthier-looking patrons of their coin purses as they bartered and argued with the vendors – there was one particular close call as his victim reached for his money just as Gabriel cut it free, but he was able to divert attention away from him by stopping and beginning to pat himself down, an alarmed expression on his face as if he had just been robbed. Gabriel met the merchant’s eyes and shared an identical look with the man. Both cried out ‘Thief!’ at the same time and Gabriel joined the man in casting around for the ‘culprit.’

And fortune delivered a fool to take the blame. With a startled, backward look, a boy threw himself forward into a sprint, drawing all eyes. The merchant roared in anger and lurched after him, still shouting for the city guard. Gabriel waited for a moment, and then walked leisurely away.

He spent most of his ill-gotten coin on food – the meat pies were room temperature, the ale was old and watered down, but his stomach settled and his hands were no longer shaking from hunger – and relaxed with the last of his ale. The small tavern was comfortable-enough without feeling cramped and looked to mostly cater to those of a Mohammedian persuasion. In fact, Gabriel actually stood out, both with his features and his clothes. More than few of the larger men shot him irritated looks.

“You look to be lost, my friend,” a large man with dark skin and very wealthy-looking clothes said as he took a seat before Gabriel. Automatically, Gabriel tensed, readying himself for action should it be necessary, but the man before him suddenly grinned, his teeth bright against his dark beard. “Less lost, I think,” he said, “than hiding.”

“May I help you, friend?” Gabriel asked calmly. He did not allow himself to relax.

“Perhaps.” The man’s eyes flickered, taking in Gabriel’s posture as well as the rapier and knives he carried. “You have the bearing of a man who knows how to fight.” He grinned again. “I have need of such a man if you are seeking employment.” That caused Gabriel to blink. In his experience, few men were so open with their need for murder. “Forgive me!” the man said abruptly. “I have forgotten my manners! I am Sayyid Taimur bin Faakhir bin Taayib.” He offered a slight flourish. “I am but a humble merchant seeking wealth in the lands of the infidel and am putting together a wondrous caravan that will spread our name to the lands bereft of joy and beauty.” His eyes gleamed. “I have heard the stories of the Caithness barbarians and how they bed down with their horses and keep their women in the stables.” He shivered. “It will truly be an adventure to see such a thing!”

“I’ve been to Caithness,” Gabriel replied coolly. “And I do not recall men sleeping with horses.”

“Splendid!” The large man’s grew even wider. “Then you can serve as my native guide! We shall need one if we are to navigate the treacherous waters betwixt here and there!” He continued on, extolling the virtues of his grand expedition, all the while taking for granted that Gabriel would accompany him. Payment was mentioned once in passing, and then again when the man clearly saw Gabriel’s less than enthusiastic interest. Thinking of his limited funds and what he would have to do in order to gain more, Gabriel frowned.

“Very well,” he said. “I shall accompany you.” Sayyid Taimur grinned broadly. Within the hour, they would depart Raphael to begin their long, slow journey. Fat Tom as he was known, would become a good friend.

And a year later, he would fall screaming to a Saurian blade at Blythe.

Snow in High Wind sent the man with Fat Tom’s face onto the deck, blood seeping into the deck, and Gabriel felt more than heard a steady drumbeat from below. He flowed toward the next man, aware of Mera’s presence at his back as she side-stepped into view, her knives bathed in blood, and grinned darkly at the swordsman before him..

“If you were wise,” he said in his accented Arabic, “you would surrender.

The man was not wise and, in a moment later, he was dead.