Hans laughed, causing a sudden eruption of gravied delicacies across the heavy oaken table. He doubled over, one hand dropping to clutch the warbling corpulence of his belly as the fat noble croaked in unrestrained merriment. The sailor before him gave a small smile as the old man struggled for breath, hoping he had managed to restrain the annoyance from reaching his eyes.
“And then-” Archduke Hans spat, hawking up the remainder of his last mouthful as he spoke, “and then what did the little lamb croak?”
Redrigg did his best to hide the stab of annoyance that engulfed his mind. The archduke spluttered, his idiot old baby face covered in the detritus of his drunkard meal. His dishevelment was matched all along the length of the great feasting table, a fact which only heightened Redrigg’s annoyance. He stood with military straightness as the Archduke threw his corpulent baby fist back into the wide plate before him, dragging another oversized scrap of pork from the bowl. Simmering oil and fat dribbled from the noble’s fist as he tore into the fistful of spiced meats. Red firelight gathered around the dribbling liquid, falling to the floor in a gathering pool of forign spices.
“He said, your honour” Redrigg breathed, keeping his face neutral “that the Island did not belong to Soldarn as long as he lived.”
The drunken old piglet sat forward, his eyes widening above the gravy stained fall of his long mustache. Redrigg smiled, remembering the expressions worn by old Soldarian pigs when shocked by a stranger's intrusion. He coughed, trying to ignore the exhaustion of his last voyage, feeling the eyes of every gathered reveller bore into him.
Distraction. The word flashed before Redrigg’s mind like a stark wind. Keep them distracted until all is in readiness.
“So we boiled him in acid and tossed him into the sea.”
The assembled nobles erupted. The geriatric gathering of elderly lordlings let out a collective explosion of joy. Redrigg noticed several fall to the floor, crumbling from their plush high backed chairs in flailing rapture. The mariner turned his gaze to the high roof, watching the shadows play across the high rafters of the hunting lodge, trying to breath through the irritation gathering within his mind.
It would be so like the men assembled here to do such a thing. One single act of defiance and they would throw their own mothers into the ocean. Such men had no idea of just what such defiance, such energy could be used for.
His eyes caught the motion of something high within the rafters. Here and there the shadows gathered, spitting themselves across the high beamed roof in dark rivulets. Redrigg smiled as the darkness danced amongst the ceiling, seeing a familiar form within those shadows.
No idea at all.
“My boy!” the old Archduke gasped, one fat fist pulling at the collar of his rich clothing. The fat old tyrant turned to Redrigg, watery eyes straining to concentrate through the drunken mist gathering within his empty mind. “You have come here with great news!” Hans staggered slight as he stood fully, one gravy glazed fist around a heavy ale cup. “You and your men have battled our...enemies? Yes! Our most deadly enemies! You and your vessel have chartered unknown waters, faced the beasts of the waves and of the islands that prey upon them, expanding my domain and the domain of all those who follow me.”
Archduke Hans shuddered, his roiling belly threatening to split the rich fabrics of his tunic. The old man roared his laughter again, childish delight splitting his drunken face. Redrigg felt his eye lid twitch as he forced his face to stillness. In his mind he could still see dark shapes making their way across the high beamed roof, moving silently towards the heaving table and its fat nobles.
All along the length of the table the other lordlings assented. Several even staggered to their feet, raising heaving tankards and several dripping haunches of meat in salute to their conquering explorer. Each swore and slurred and laughed to one another, speaking of the wretched frog-like natives of their new realm, how they would themselves go away to these lands and crusade across their swamps to civilise these backwater savages.
Redrigg glanced momentarily upwards. The darting shadows had vanished, moulding into the pooling darkness beyond the fires' reach. The mariner nodded to himself, returning his gaze to the drunken monster before him.
“Would my lord like to see one of the people he now rules?”
That got their attention. The dozen assembled nobles turned, their vision snapping towards him with burning interest. Redrigg smiled, turning from their stupefaction to the cluster of shadows a dozen paces behind him.
“I present to my assembled lords one of those most savage natives” Redrigg declared, seeing the trio of shadows come forward at his words. Shadows peeled away at their approach, revealing a pair of sailors, dragging a smaller figure hidden by the fall of heavy rags. The smaller of the trio seemed to disappear completely within the fabric bundle, exposing only the stumbling fall of small webbed feet.
Redrigg watched the party come forwards. The twin mariners kept their sunburnt faces down, avoiding the gaze of the assembled nobles before them. They dragged the prisoner forwards till it stood fixedly at their leader's side. Redrigg nodded, signaling the pair to fall back, leaving their leader flanked solely by the strange prisoner.
Every eye stared pointedly at the bundle. Redrigg watched, seeing the fascinated play of emotions across the faces of the assembled guests. His eyes fell once more upon Hans, seeing the dribbling tyrant stare at the newcomer with undisguised interest.
“Well” the monster gasped after a long silence. “What are you waiting for, dolt? Uncowl the little monster.”
“Of course, Archduke.” Redrigg kept his face still but did not move immediately. He watched the play of frustrated curiosity across the tyrant's porcine face, imagining that face in abject agony before him. He had thought of that sight for so many years. He restrained the rise of a smile as he turned with theatrical slowness towards the prisoner besides him.
“We have been here before, however” the mariner stated flatly, raising one hand to the rim of the prisoner's massive hood. “Many years ago, another explorer came before you. He spoke of rich new lands he had found, new places and peoples he could display before your Imperial throne.” He toyed delicately with the sack cloth hood with his finger, watching the growth of irritation gather like thunder around the fat monsters face. “That was when you had claimed another land for yourself, another land which had nothing to do with you, that possessed no threat to you.”
The mariner turned then, staring the old tyrant dead in his porcine eyes.
“But that never stopped you from coming, from enslaving my people, from destroying our homes and everything before you.”
The fat man seemed to take a moment, caught between the rising tide of wrath and confusion.
“Vetran?” the fat man slurred, enraged disgust flowing from his drooling mouth. “You...your a filthy little Vetran?”
Redrigg smiled, a full and unrestrained expression of joy.
“Yes your corpulence” he whispered, knowing only the fat man would hear. “And now, your reckless pillaging ends.”
The noble closest to Redrigg staggered to his feet, his face a thunder of disgust and anger. The piggish brute staggered forwards, one meaty hand clasping the rim of the prisoner's hood.
“When the lord says do something, little Vatran” the looming noble smeared “you had better not mince words-”
A sudden sound, the rush of sudden compressed air, sounded within Redrigg’s ear. The man’s voice failed as a dumbstruck expression covered his face. He staggered back, rasing one vast obese paw to his throat. He retracted the shivering paw, eyes bulging in shock at the red wash of blood he saw there. The noble had an instant to look back at Redrigg before he slumped heavily to the floor.
“Conary!” one of the other nobles screamed. He turned his gaze on Redrigg, his eyes filled with sudden fear. “Guards! Guards!”
The man stopped suddenly as two more compressed rushes sounded. His collapsed, eyes bulging, both hands pawing at the sudden release of blood from his newly opened neck. The men around him leapt back, knocking over high backed seats in the sudden rise of their shouting screaming panic.
Redrigg did not watch as they died. He kept his vision square upon Hans as, one by one, the surrounding nobles all collapsed to the floor. They crashed and screamed and bleated like fat swine, eachones fall precipitated by the sudden sound of rushing compressed air. Copper scent stained the air, drowning out the gathered spice scent.
Silence smothered the instant after. Hans sat, shivering his head darting side to side from his seat. Everywhere he looked lay a corpulent body, each bearing the subtle protrusion of a dozen darts from their exposed flesh. Firelight crackled, casting dancing lights across the slow pooling of life blood.
“Well?” Redrigg asked in the silence, his eyes locked upon the shivering old tyrant.
The old man just stuttered in response. His eyes continued to flash across the floor, staring into each corner of the sudden massacre. His eyes rose to the rafters, seeing the cluster of dark shapes, shadows within shadows, for the first time. He wheezed, words failing him in the silence.
Then his eyes fell once more to Redrigg and the twisted smile set upon his features.
“You have caused a very great deal of pain, Archduke Hans Obershtaad.” He let the pronouncement hang in the air, letting it toll within the empty recesses of the tyrant's mind. “You have charged armies across a dozen lands, building on your fathers empire with the hunger of a starving pig.” Redrigg raised his hand, clasping the fabric of the other cowled figures' hood with a slow delicacy. “But in your destructive capacity, you have made enemies, old Duke. Many at home. Many abroad.”
Hans stood up suddenly, his face a split of defiance. Redrigg pulled back the hood as the fat man looked to be about to speak. The sudden rush of compressed air sounded in the fire light, causing the Arch Duke to freeze where he stood. The fat man dropped his gaze, his eyes alighting upon the small protrusion from his chest.
“Do not worry” Redrigg said as the wide porcine eyes returned to him. “Your compatriots here were poisoned for death, you, my liege, are poisoned simply to paralysis.”
Redrigg turned as the fat man fell back into his chair, ignoring the scream and creak of protesting wood. Behind him stood the silent shadows, each one a small diminutive figure completely hidden behind the fall of their heavy cloaks. One approached, moving to stand beside the other diminutive assassin at Redrigg’s side.
“All the guards are gone” croaked the small figure from its wide mouth. “All the nobles, staff and groundsmen have been dealt with.” He cicked his head in the direction of the frozen Archduke. “What should we do with the fat old tyrant, then?”
Redrigg smiled, finally feeling the release of hearing that phrase spoken aloud, unhindered by frightful angry whispers. The mariner turned, seeing the slow gathering of the assassins he had brought with him from the Emerald Isles shuffle towards him in the gloom. The two deck officers who had accompanied him here from the dock were now absent, vanishing into the night to perform their own tasks within the conspiracy. Redrigg imagined each leading a small squadron of little webbed individuals through the silent nights street of the port capitol, their passage marking the deaths of any who acted to stabilize the current regime. The thought brought a smile to his sun-darkened features.
It is afoot then, he thought with a relieved smile.
Redrigg turned to meet the Archduke’s saucer gaze and his smile widened yet further.
“We do what those who claim to be our betters should have done long ago.”