The Pirates of Ersatz-Twenty-Six
But there was an interruption. A clanking of arms sounded somewhere nearby. Men with long, gruesome, glittering spears came through a doorway. They stood aside. A girl entered the great hall. More spearmen followed her. They stopped by the door. The girl came across the hall.
She was a pretty girl, but Hoddan hardly noticed the fact. With so many other things on his mind, he had no time for girls.
Thal, behind him, said in a quivering voice:
“My Lady Fani, I beg you to plead with your father for his most faithful retainer!”
The girl looked surprisedly at him. Her eyes fell on Hoddan. She looked interested. Hoddan, at that moment, was very nearly as disgusted and as indignant as a man could be. He did not look romantically at her–which to the Lady Fani, daughter of that Don Loris who was prince of this and baron of that and so on, was news. He did not look at her at all. He ground his teeth.
“Don’t try to wheedle me, Fani!” snapped Don Loris. “I am a reasonable man, but I indulge you too much–even to allowing you to refuse that young imbecile Ghek, with no end of inconvenience as a result. But I will not have you question my decision about Thal and this Hoddan person!”
The girl said pleasantly:
“Of course not, Father. But what have they done?”
“The two of them,” snapped Don Loris again, “fought twenty men today and defeated all of them! Thal plundered them. Then thirty other men, mounted, tried to avenge the first and they defeated them also! Thal plundered eighteen. And all this was permissible, if unlikely. But they did it with stun-pistols! Everybody within news range will talk of it! They’ll know that this Hoddan came to Darth to see me! They’ll suspect that I imported new weapons for political purposes! They’ll guess at the prettiest scheme I’ve had these twenty years!”The girl stood still. A spearman leaned his weapon against the wall, raced across the hall, shifted a chair to a convenient position for the Lady Fani to sit on it, and raced back to his fellows. She sat down.
“But did they really defeat so many?” she asked, marveling. “That’s wonderful! And Thal was undoubtedly fighting in defense of someone you’d told him to protect, as a loyal retainer should do. Wasn’t he?”
“I wish,” fumed her father, “that you would not throw in irrelevances! I sent him to bring this Hoddan here this afternoon, not to massacre my neighbors’ retainers–or rather, not to not massacre them. A little blood-letting would have done no harm, but stun-pistols–“
“He was protecting somebody he was told to protect,” said Fani. “And this other man, this–“
“Hoddan. Bron Hoddan,” said her father irritably. “Yes. He was protecting himself! Doubtless he thought he did me a service in doing that! But if he’d only let himself get killed quietly the whole affair would be simplified!”
The Lady Fani said with quiet dignity:
“By the same reasoning, Father, it would simplify things greatly if I let the Lord Ghek kidnap me.”
“It’s not the same thing at all–“
“At least,” said Fani, “I wouldn’t have a pack of spearmen following me about like puppies everywhere I go!”
“It’s not the same–“
“Their breaths smelling of wine except when they smell of beer, and they breathe very noisily and–“
“And it’s especially unreasonable,” said the Lady Fani with even greater dignity, “when you could put Thal and this–Hoddan person on duty to guard me instead. If they can fight twenty and thirty men at once, all by themselves, it doesn’t seem to me that you think much of my safety when you want to lock them up somewhere instead of using them to keep your daughter safe from that particularly horrible Ghek!”Don Loris swore in a cracked voice. Then he said:
“To end the argument I’ll think it over. Until tomorrow. Now go away!”
Fani, beaming, rose and kissed him on the forehead. He squirmed. She turned to leave, and beckoned casually for Thal and Hoddan to follow her.
“My chieftain,” said Thal tremulously, “do we depart, too?”
“Yes!” rasped Don Loris. “Get out of my sight!”
Thal moved with agility in the wake of the Lady Fani. Hoddan picked up his bag and followed. This, he considered darkly, was in the nature of a reprieve only. And if those three spaceships overhead did come from Walden–but why three?