“Where’s your search warrant? You have no right to board, this is my property! I’ve taken this raft up and down this river the past four years without causing the slightest hint of trouble,” shouted Libus’ angry voice from above.
“Listen here,” responded the gruff voice of a palace guard, “hold your tongue before I cut it out. These are orders straight from the king.” He began rifling through the cargo, kicking crates and unceremoniously dumping a large sack of apples to the deck. His foot stepped on the crack just above Cinis’ head, blocking out the light, and a thick layer of dust descended on him as he stifled a sneeze. He held his breath, his muscles tensing as Jessica shook her head.
“You said you were traveling alone?” asked the guard, sifting his way through crates.
“Yes. I don’t care much for visitors, especially those uninvited.”
The guard ignored the comment and issued a command to his counterpart.
“That crate, pry it open. That’s big enough to fit a body.” Nails screeched as the lid was removed, and the guard continued speaking, pulling items out of the crate and scattering them on the raft floor.
“Linen, silk, cookware. That’s a strange assortment.” The pot hit the deck with a clang as it was dropped. “More silk. Hey, what have we here? How—” The guard gasped as Cinis heard a new sound, a gruesome thump, followed by something similar to a hundred beads being dropped at once. The guard’s body collapsed to the deck above, blocking their view, and Libus’ voice called out.
“Cinis, Jessica! That’s our cue to go, now!”
Quickly they resurfaced and boarded the raft, dripping wet. Libus was holding the crowbar that had been used to open the crate against a struggling guard’s throat as his superior lay on the deck, unconscious from a blow to the head.
“Don’t just stand there!” hissed Libus as the guard tried to call out, and he tightened the crowbar, cutting off the sound, which made its way out as a strained gurgle. “The silk, get the silk and tie him up. And you, stop struggling, or you’ll be going the same way as your superior. Do you really want that?”
“Tie him up?” Said Cinis, “Why should you tie him up? We’ll take him as a prisoner, or finish him off now. It’s not as if he doesn’t deserve it.”
Jessica froze, as Libus’ gaze fell upon Cinis.
“Boy,” He said, eyes squinting, “Don’t be so quick to pass judgement. I understand you are angry, and rightfully so, but killing him would be both unnecessary and imprudent. Now go on, the silk.”
In moments Jessica had the unconscious guard bound with strips of silk that Cinis had ripped apart, he helping her tie the knots and making several unnecessarily tight, and together they dragged him to shore before returning to Libus and the second guard.
“Now look here,” Libus said to the guard, “I know as soon as we set you on that bank you’ll go crying to your superiors. And I know that if you go missing, they’ll assume the worst, and we’ll have a swarm on our hands. So this is what we’re going to do. Cinis, there’s a bottle of whiskey in the crate he emptied, along with a pot, fetch them both. A shame to waste it, truly, but it must be done. Jessica, bind his feet, we don’t want him running off.”
“I swear I won’t tell,” gasped the guard. “I swear it! What are you going to do with me?”
“Unfortunately, we both know that’s a lie. So tell me, do you drink?”
“Drink? Well, no, I can’t say I—”
“All the better! Looks like we have a man with no tolerance!” Libus said as Jessica finished tying his feet, and he let the guard fall to the raft floor.
“What are you thinking?” hissed Jessica, as Libus uncorked the whiskey bottle and took a swig before pouring half the bottle in the pot.
“I’m thinking we don’t get caught,” he answered, and he handed the pot to the guard, reading his name badge and tapping the crowbar against his palm. “Here’s the deal, Ansell. We either kill you here, or you drink this pot of whiskey. All of it, understood? So, what’s it going to be?”
In response, the guard started sipping from the pot, coughing as he struggled to swallow the liquid.
“There we go,” said Libus, tipping the pot upward with his foot. “All of it. Now, tell you what, Ansell. I like whiskey myself, and I’m in need of a drinking partner, so we’re going to share a few more sips while we wait for that to kick in.”
The guard groaned as Libus pushed the bottle toward his lips.
“This is ridiculous,” complained Jessica, hands on her hips.
“I agree,” Commented Cinis, eyeing the crowbar in Libus’ hands.
“Sorry, I don’t mean to choose favorites or make you jealous, Jessica you can be my drinking partner next. Cinis, frankly, you’re too young, though I don’t doubt that you’ve had your share of alcohol.”
“Not that,” said Jessica, as the guard took another swig. “You’re getting drunk while we should be fleeing.”
“Correction,” replied Libus, a finger in the air, “I’m getting the guard drunk. The very guard who is going to rush back and try to rouse the troops, but won’t be able to walk in a straight line. Tell me, Ansell, what is the punishment for getting drunk on duty?”
“Lashings,” mumbled the guard, his voice already slurring.
“Right, lashings. And in the state that you’ll be in, it could be worse. Maybe even death, considering that in your drunken rage you hit your superior with a crowbar!”
“I didn’t do that!” exclaimed the guard.
“Then why are you drunk, Ansell? Think about it. Are your counterparts really going to believe you? If I were you, I’d walk on back, and sleep it off. Make sure that the other guards see you, so they don’t come rushing down here to find the body. By the time he wakes up, he’ll be so disoriented you could claim he was drunk with you and passed out on the bank. Up you go, one last drink!”
A quarter of the bottle was left when Jessica untied the guard’s legs, and they let him ashore. He wobbled as Libus shooed him forward, quickly disappearing as he walked back toward the town. Then Libus took the bottle of whiskey and sprinkled it over the unconscious guard before untying the silk then the ropes holding the raft in place, and leaving him alone on the bank.
“You’re just going to let him walk?” Asked Cinis, fists clenched and voice rising, “After what they have done to you? After what they’ve done to us? Libus, you were not supposed to join us, and we never put you in charge to make the decisions.”
“Until your head is in the right place, I’m declaring myself as the one in charge,” replied Libus as they floated away. He cut Jessica off as she opened her mouth to object, “I nominate you, Jessica, as co-leader. Listen, there are now two drunk guards. One with a wild story to tell after he is caught trying to sneak back drunk, and the other so drunk he passed out on the bank. They’ll be the laughingstock of their troop, and we’ll be long gone before the truth comes out. Use your head, Cinis, or your heart will have us killed.”
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