The Prophetess's Tale: Part Three
As he often did, the pirate Bori grinned.
The sea air tousled his body, welcoming but freezing. The waters, colder than he was used to, sparked him into awareness: an adventure was coming. A brand new one.
He leaned over the edge of the mediocre ship (also not his regular fanfare) and waved at the coming forms in the distance: a brown Lutari and a shadow Gelert. The shadow Gelert cowered in a hulking mass; she had to be wearing at least three coats. Audley sprang alongside her, as though the weather didn't faze him.
Charlie was quite convinced that nothing did.
It wasn't until they were much closer that Charlie realized the Gelert was scared out of her mind.
"Oh, Audley!" he admonished with a good-hearted laugh. "Have you been telling her ghost stories all night?"
Audley winked at him and hopped into the canoe, sending cold water sloshing at the Gelert. "Something like that."
The Gelert glared. Clearly she didn't like his joke. Charlie held out a claw to help her in anyway. "Charlie," he said. "What's your name?"
She turned her nose up.
"Cheyenne," Audley answered for her. He greeted Charlie with a customary back-pat. "And if she wouldn't mind hurrying, it would be nice to get on our way, yes?"
Cheyenne stepped into the canoe awkwardly.
"Whatever it is you've done to her, you better fix it quick. She looks as though she might die of fright," Charlie quipped.
"I'm not that weak," Cheyenne murmured. She blinked up at them, as though the sound of her own voice startled her.
Obnoxious cracking noises came forth as Audley thrust his arms behind his back and stretched. "I suppose we better get this thing going." Sending Cheyenne a vulgarly kind smile, he gestured toward the many rope mechanisms. "That's for us, but a little magic shove would get us to our destination faster."
Charlie watched Cheyenne contemplate it. "Really, the sooner we're out of here, the warmer it will be," Charlie said.
The ship set off at an alarming rate, but she did not respond.
Audley hopped behind the wheel, leaving Cheyenne down below. Charlie was ever-observant of them both: Audley's constant exuding confidence, Cheyenne's wilting willpower, or whatever it was about Cheyenne that was wilting. Perhaps everything.
He chose to speak with Cheyenne first. She needed it. "What did he do?" he asked, sitting on the hard planks of the ship floor beside her.
"It's not your business." The words themselves were cold, but her tone was not. Her tone was grieving.
But grieving for what?
"That's fair," he said, rewarding her with one of his smiles again. She made eye contact but said nothing. Her unwavering gaze might have made him uncomfortable if he'd been anyone else. "I know that whatever he did was mean. He's a bit of a bully, always pushing everyone around."
"And yet you're working with him," she said quietly.
"Yes," he agreed, "and he's quite a dear friend to me, actually."
Cheyenne finally looked away. He'd lost his chance of winning her over. A friend of an enemy cannot be a friend.
"Audley isn't so bad. He has a weird way of doing things, but he's just like everyone else at heart. He's passionate, goal-driven. He'll do anything to get where he wants to be. It's admirable, really." A prickling feeling tore down Charlie's spine. They spoke low, but Audley would be listening anyway. He always did.
"Everyone else isn't that great either," Cheyenne said. "And he's not like everyone else, because no one is as bad as that."
"Oh, give him a chance," Charlie chuckled. "This will be plenty of fun. Think of it as an adventure. Plus, he's only good at first impressions half of the time. Surely he couldn't have done something that bad."
"It's not what he has done," Cheyenne said with a dangerous glint to her eyes. "It's what he will do."
For a moment, he tried to come up with a response. He hastily decided against it. She was the one who could see the future, if the rumors were true. She knew better than he did what Audley would or wouldn't do.
"He hasn't done it yet," Charlie said as he got up, more to himself than to her.
He skipped up the short flight of stairs to Audley with a joy he didn't quite feel anymore.
"I think maybe I underestimated the effects of my visit," Audley said to him, sitting under the wheel and pushing it with one hand when he felt necessary.
"I would have to agree with you. She won't even talk about it."
"Not to me, either. Should've picked a safer tactic, I suppose. One where I actually knew what impression she'd get of me." Audley scowled to himself. It was rare that things didn't go his way, and this was perhaps not one which he could shift to his advantage. "Did you tell her what we want from her?"
"You know I didn't," Charlie said. The corner of Audley's mouth perked up. They knew each other well.
Cheyenne materialized before them. Her face was a mask now; could she have composed herself so quickly? It occurred to Charlie that if she really wanted to, she could change the direction of the ship and have them crashing into some remote island, far from civilization. Or she could have a storm swallow them up and never be seen again.
Charlie relaxed immediately after these thoughts appeared, because there was no way Audley hadn't thought that through.
"Where are we going?" Cheyenne asked, each word a knife.
A gush of sympathy struck Charlie's heart. She was going to work for them, with whatever leverage Audley had, and it was going to change her life. Perhaps not for the better.
Audley stood now, disliking others seeing him in a less-than-optimal portrayal. That was reserved for Charlie, who loved him whole-heartedly, and for whom very little could break down that perfect image.
"The Kingdom of Tristan is our destination," Audley said. "I am quite sorry, by the way, for intruding upon your lovely home. It seemed quite nice."
"It is quite nice."
"I hope you understand why I did what I did," Audley said. Charlie gave her a You see? He's not that bad nod. "I've heard tidbits of your history and I wasn't sure what would work."
"Well, it worked, and I'm going to stop you," she said.
A slight uneasiness grew in Charlie's stomach, but he pretended it wasn't there. Something would go wrong, relating to Audley, and he didn't like to think about that. Audley had done so much for him, after all.
"That is up to you," Audley said with a dismissive shrug. "But helping us in the meantime is just the way to it, wouldn't you say?"
Already fed up with him, the Gelert closed her eyes. "What are you planning?"
The uneasiness was gone now, replaced by relief. "The scam of all scams," Charlie said, gesturing with his arms at the enormity of the thing.
"The con of all cons," Audley agreed. "We're creating a conflict, and then solving it."
"We're the bad guys and the good guys this time," Charlie said. "Cause King Tristan a problem, then solve the problem for him without him ever knowing we caused it. It's actually sort of simple."
"As long as you don't get caught."
Charlie shrugged. Audley laughed heartily. "We don't get caught unless we want to be caught, Cheyenne," he said. "Oh, you're in for some fun."
"I think you'll end up liking it," Charlie added.
"What is the full plan? What's—what's the conflict?" she asked. She looked almost intrigued. Charlie couldn't blame her; Audley had that effect on people, and his ploys were often irresistible, even to someone who'd been around him for most of his life.
"The conflict," began Audley, "is that Prince Linus happens to be missing. Who knows how that could have happened."
"Yes, who knows," Charlie said, wiping away a false tear.
The shock only registered for half a second on Cheyenne's face before she wiped it away. Charlie was proud. She'd do well. "Okay, so he's gone missing, and you find him?"
"He's not merely 'gone missing,' dear Cheyenne," Audley said. "He's been kidnapped. We're going to find the kidnapper and the prince, and bring both back to the king."
"You are the kidnappers, though," Cheyenne said with a peculiar tilt to her head.
"She's catching on quickly," Audley said in Charlie's direction. "Yes. We are the kidnappers, but the king will think it's someone else. Then we return the prince, everything wraps up nicely, we get our reward, and we move onto the next thing."
Moving onto the next thing after the wrap-up was Charlie's favorite part. The possibilities were endless, the route to the end of their journey an unknowable and wonderful force looming over them. There was nothing quite like it.
Cheyenne rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "What role do I play in this?"
"You're presenting yourself to the king as the kidnapper's messenger, and you're going to tell him all about the kidnapping."
To be continued...