The Bent Cutlass Inn
Port of Tabriz Pirates’ Commonwealth
For several weeks Grijalva had been in a good mood, so much so that his customers now had longer tabs than ever before, and none had been threatened into settling their accounts. He spent most days singing and occasionally (to everyone’s surprise) breaking into impromptu jigs, and most nights dreaming of the wealth that would soon be his when the fleet returned. Although he had not sailed with the fleet, he was still due his share, in fact a double share – for with Captain Bartholomeus’ encouragement the Council had unanimously agreed that he should be well rewarded. After all, it was he who had found the golden token around Webbe’s neck, it was he who had recognised it for what it was, and most worthy of all, he had chosen not to keep its existence a secret but had told the council of it immediately.
Even more, Grijalva looked forward to the rewards his true master would surely gift him for having been instrumental in the birth of this enterprise. There was in his mind little doubt that there would be magical artefacts by the chest-full in such an ancient and golden city. Once his master Scholten and the god he served were truly ascendant, then he and the others of the Trusted Six would surely rule Tabriz, and go on to rule much, much more. The world would be his oyster, and he would be so wealthy that even the riches of a fabled city would seem paltry to him. In the meantime, however, he liked the sound of a double share.
Now he sat in his chair in his withdrawing room at the back of the inn, looking once more at his copy of Webbe’s scribbled map, idly pricking at the supposed location of the city with a pin as if by doing so he might somehow urge the fleet on to that same location. His musings, however, were brought to an abrupt end when his servant Goncalo Po came bursting into the room.
“You’d better get yourself out here, master, and quick,” Goncalo said. Grijalva simply frowned at the man. He had heard no racket, no tumult, no shouting, no gunshots, not even the clash of steel. So how could there be trouble? Goncalo Po recognised Grijalva’s frown for what it was.
“It’s Bertrand Le Bourreur,” he explained. “He’s back. He’s heard about the golden city and he demands you speak with him.”
The innkeeper now understood. Captain Bertrand was a member of the Pirate Council and had been admiral of several Tabrizian fleets in the past. He was successful, powerful, lucky – not a man to be kept waiting. And if he had heard of the city of gold, he would be (as any pirate) somewhat miffed that he should miss out on such a rich haul. Grijalva cursed, for such as Captain Bertrand had low cunning enough to turn mere knowledge of the expedition somehow to his own profit and damn all the rest. Worse, he was not one of the six, and with his reputation in the past of fighting as a privateer for the more civilised realms of the north such as Marienburg, it was highly unlikely that he could ever be tempted to join them. Considering these things, Bertrand was a danger, so Grijalva hid the map in his shirt and headed towards the door, a plan already forming in his mind.
He stepped into the tap-room to discover, unsurprisingly, that Bertrand was not alone. He had with him his old bo’s’un Nicolas Bruggeman, carrying the multiple barrelled musket known throughout Tabriz to be deadly (though many an argument had raged over whether it was potentially more deadly to its target or its wielder). Behind him stood one of his younkers, by the looks of him a new recruit – yet even he, clad in but a shirt and breeches, without even stockings or shoes, had an air of threat about him, helped by the fact he was clutching a cocked pistol. The famous Captain Bertrand was dressed as always in a scarlet shirt, his short buff-leather waistcoat and a wide-brimmed hat in the fashion of a Bretonnian sea-farer, matched by his neatly trimmed Bretonnian style moustache and beard. His cutlass was unsheathed, the blade well sharpened and oiled so that it glinted in the light coming through the high windows. To unsheath it was a breach of all normal alehouse etiquette, but Captain Bertrand was not the kind of man to care about rules when he wanted to make a point, and the naked blade was very persuasive.
Considering those he could call on to back him up, Grijalva was not exactly reassured by the odds. Goncalo Po was still in his office, no doubt preparing the blunderbuss so that he would be ready to lend aid should Grijalva call. Apart from this one ‘heavy’, the only other person Grijalva could possibly expect help from was Corine Lagerwerf. She stood over by the large casks of beer, dressed in her yellow bodice, as sultry and confident as ever, hands on hips whilst grinning suggestively at Captain Bertrand. Grijalva knew full well just how dangerous she could be: how often she had ‘disarmed’ enemies of the Six and so allowed them to be dispatched with ease; and how she had used her reputation as a cunning woman to steal away so many supposedly still-born babes from their ignorant mothers in the service of Scholten’s god. But hers was a particular kind of ‘dangerous’, one that did not exactly lend itself to being able to deal with three well-armed and purposeful men. In their current mood they were very unlikely to succumb to her charms.
“Good Captain Bertrand!” began Grijalva. “It’s been so long since you graced my humble inn, nay the entire town, with your presence. I hope fortune has smiled on thee many times since we met last.”
“Not as much as fortune seems to have smiled upon those who were here when Webbe’s gold was found,” said Bertrand.
“Ah, such news carries fast. Aye indeed, but my friend all Tabrizians shall share in the profits – even those here will have their chance at dice and cards to make a tidy sum when the fleet returns.”
Bertrand was smiling, but there was little friendliness in the expression. “I do not intend to wait for them to return. I shall follow them, and have my share at the source.”
“Of course, good captain,” said Grijalva, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “I should’ve known that a noble Tabrizian such as thee would see it as thy duty to go to the assistance of thy friends.”
The Bretonnian captain’s smile widened. “I knew you would understand. Of course, there is the matter of learning where exactly they have gone. And as you yourself were the first to learn of the secret, then I can safely presume that you have the most perfect knowledge.”
“I ain’t so sure, good captain, that I understand.”
“You are the wellspring through which the secret sprang,” explained Bertrand, somewhat poetically.
Grijlava shook his head. “Nay, you have it wrong. Webbe was closest to the secret, I only discovered he was hiding it.”
“Do not be so modest, master innkeeper. You were there from the start. You heard every word that Webbe spoke. I know you were present at the council when his secret was revealed, and at the meetings afterwards. And he was lodged here with you until they took him aboard ship and set sail. You must know where the city is.” He paused a moment and began to study his blade as if searching for imperfections, then continued. “Aye, you must know. I’d bet your life upon it.”
Grijalva realised the threat was coming before it had even been delivered and had already prepared his reply.
“I shall not shirk from helping a bold captain such as thee. I will do my best and shall ask only a modest recompense of thee for my service.” This last touch was a gamble by Grizalva, an attempt to make his words sound sincere by giving the impression he expected payment for honest information. Apparently, however, Bertrand had not really heard that part, for it was something else which irked him.
“Your best? Have you not a map you can give me?”
Grijalva tried to look as if the thought had not occurred to him. “A map? No, not I. I saw the chart drawn up by Webbe, and heard him tell of the sights to be seen on the way – capes and river mouths and rocks and such like. But I myself have no map.”
“Where is it, then?”
“With the fleet o’ course, as is Webbe.” He put his finger to his mouth as if pondering something. “I s’pose I could draw what I remember for thee.”
“Good enough,” said Bertrand. “Be about the business immediately. I’ve little patience.”
“O’ course, you’d not want to be considered tardy by the fleet. Come, friend, I have paper and ink in my room. I shall fashion thee up a map you can be proud of.”
Grijalva led the way, making sure he called loudly for Goncalo Po even before reaching the threshold saying,
“Goncalo, the good captain and I are to come in. Be so kind as to find us out some paper.”
This was his way of forewarning his servant to put away the blunderbuss. Bruggeman halted outside the door, like a guard keen to ensure those within were not disturbed, but Bertrand and the boy followed Grijalva inside. The innkeeper was soon busy scratching out a fictional piece of coastline upon a sheet of paper, waxing lyrical about the features that might be seen there and how to spot the right river mouth.
Suddenly Captain Bertrand spoke, addressing the young seaman by his side.
“It occurs to me lad that having never been to Tabriz you would not know Goncalo here. Let me introduce him to you, Goncalo is one of our host’s guards – without the likes of him poor Grijalva would be at a considerable disadvantage in this town. His customers, being fellows of a rough disposition, would no doubt take liberties. I intend to take just such a liberty, so please, lad, if you would be so kind.”
Grijalva had ceased both drawing and babbling, his mild confusion turning suddenly into fear. Goncalo on the other hand never got to feel fear. He had not got past confusion when the younker’s pistol ball smashed through his forehead and out the other side, taking much of his brains with it to create a grisly decoration upon the wall surrounding the spot where the ball was became buried.
Very calmly, Bertrand went on, only just loud enough to be heard over the ringing in Grijalva’s ears.
“That’s a pretty map indeed. Not just fancy, but fanciful. I know the western coast of the Southlands, and there is no such stretch as you have committed there to paper. Now, you see from poor Goncalo just how strongly I feel about obtaining the real map. I know you have a copy, for who but a fool would watch a fleet set sail to its potential doom and allow the map to be lost with them? You’re no fool. I suggest you show me the map now, otherwise I might have to see if mine own pistol is as reliable as Adriaan’s, then I’ll have a look around this room myself.”
All thoughts of trying to trick Bertrand had fled Grijalva’s mind. All that was left was a rather large thought concerning how to stay alive. The first part of the answer was obvious – he would have to part with the map. He put his hand down the front of his shirt and pulled it out.
“Wouldst thou believe it?” he said, his pretence at humour failing due to the tremor in his voice. “Here it is. How foolish I must appear … to … to have thought to outwit thee. B-believe me when I say I have learned my lesson well here today. I will from this day hence speak always honest with thee, captain. O’course, I expect no share of thine own profit from the city of gold, for I am ashamed to admit I have no right at all to ask it of thee.”
Captain Bertrand considered this confession suitably contrite, and decided there was no reason to kill the innkeeper. Grijalva had been caught out in a lie to a captain of the council, and his man had suffered for it. Apart from that he had done no wrong. Bertand took the map, bowed a little and left. His lad lingered a moment, looking at the bloody stain on the wall, then he too left. Finally, Bruggeman’s face appeared in the doorway, peeking in. He looked at Goncalo and the wall above him and said,
“All that mess and with just one little bullet. Makes you wonder what would have happened if I had entered with the captain.”
With that he hefted his terrifying piece of personal artillery onto his shoulder and marched away to join the others. Grijalva sat at his desk, trembling. He did not really notice when Corine entered, nor how she crouched beside Goncalo to stare at what had once been his face. Slowly but surely a thought pushed its way to dominate his consciousness – revenge. One day, when Scholten and the Six and the god they served had finally wrested control of Tabriz, he would start his own rule of terror by seeking out Bertrand and making him as afraid as he had been just now. Then it would be Bertrand Le Bourreur’s turn to struggle for excuses to save his life.