The Pirates of Ersatz-Twenty-Five

The Pirates of Ersatz-Twenty-Five

After a long time the door of the cell opened. Thal was back, chastened.

“Don Loris wants to talk to you,” he said in a subdued voice. “He’s not pleased.”

Hoddan took another gulp of the wine. He picked up his ship bag and limped to the door. He decided painfully that he was limping on the wrong leg. He tried the other. No improvement. He really needed to limp on both.

He followed a singularly silent Thal through a long stone corridor and up stone steps until they came to a monstrous hall with torches in holders on the side walls. It was barbarically hung with banners, but it was not exactly a cheery place. At the far end logs burned in a great fireplace.Don Loris sat in a carved chair beside it; wizened and white-bearded, in a fur-trimmed velvet robe, with a peevish expression on his face.

“My chieftain,” said Thal subduedly, “here is the engineer from Walden.”

Hoddan scowled at Don Loris, whose expression of peevishness did not lighten. He did regard Hoddan with a flicker of interest, however. A stranger who unfeignedly scowls at a feudal lord with no superior and many inferiors is anyhow a novelty.

“Thal tells me,” said Don Loris fretfully, “that you and he, together, slaughtered some dozens of the retainers of my neighbors today. I consider it unfortunate. They may ask me to have the two of you hanged, and it would be impolite to refuse.”

Hoddan said truculently:

“I considered it impolite for your neighbors’ retainers to march toward me waving large knives and announcing what they intended to do to my inwards with them!”

“Yes,” agreed Don Loris impatiently. “I concede that point. It is natural enough to act hastily at such times. But still– How many did you kill?”

“None,” said Hoddan curtly. “I shot them with stun-pistols I’d just charged in the control room of the landing grid.”

Don Loris sat up straight.

“Stun-pistols?” he demanded sharply. “You used stun-pistols on Darth?”

“Naturally on Darth,” said Hoddan with some tartness. “I was here! But nobody was killed. One or two may be slightly blistered. All of them had their pockets picked by Thal. I understand that is a local custom. There’s nothing to worry about.”

But Don Loris stared at him, aghast.”But this is deplorable!” he protested. “Stun-pistols used here? It is the one thing I would have given strict orders to avoid! My neighbors will talk about it. Some of them may even think about it! You could have used any other weapon, but of all things why did you have to use a stun-pistol?”

“Because I had one,” said Hoddan briefly.

“Horrible!” said Don Loris peevishly. “The worst thing you could possibly have done! I have to disown you. Unmistakably! You’ll have to disappear at once. We’ll blame it on Ghek’s retainers.”

Hoddan said:

“Disappear? Me?”

“Vanish,” said Don Loris. “I suppose there’s no real necessity to cut your throat, but you plainly have to disappear, though it would have been much more discreet if you’d simply gotten killed.”

“I was indiscreet to survive?” demanded Hoddan bristling.

“Extremely so!” snapped Don Loris. “Here I had you come all the way from Walden to help arrange a delicate matter, and before you’d traveled even the few miles to my castle–within minutes of landing on Darth!–you spoiled everything! I am a reasonable man, but there are the facts! You used stun-pistols, so you have to disappear. I think it generous for me to say only until people on Darth forget that such things exist. But the two of you … oh, for a year or so … there are some fairly cozy dungeons–“

Hoddan seethed suddenly. He’d tried to do something brilliant on Walden, and had been framed for jail for life. He’d defended his life and property on Darth, and nearly the same thing popped up as a prospect. Hoddan angrily suspected fate and chance of plain conspiracy against him.

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