First things first: once again, happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers.
This week: a chapter that probably could have stood to be split up. Clearly, this story was not written with the intention to be serialised weekly.
Copyright 2021 J.B. Norman
It looks like a hurricane, or maybe a particularly excited Dunstana, has swept through the café’s patio.
Tables have been overturned and chairs upended. Pots, cups and saucers lie strewn across the tiles, drenched in puddles of spilled coffee.
Still, Kat can’t help but notice with a certain pride that one of the discarded coffeepots has been conspicuously dented.
The members of the Goldharbour guard pick through the ruins and scribble down notes in little books as they examine and document the scene.
“How are you feeling?” Kat asks Amara.
“Furious,” Amara offers sullenly. “Outraged. Sick with anger. All of the above. And those brutes are still out there, running around like they own the place. The very thought boils the blood.”
She frowns, and just for a minute, Kat thinks that she sees her friend’s lip quivering.
“And they almost took Mother’s necklace,” she adds quietly.
Kat reaches for her friend and puts an arm around Amara’s shoulder, drawing her into a hug powered by fifteen years of friendship.
“I’d never let them,” Kat promises. “And even if they did, there’s nowhere they could run to keep me from getting it back.”
“Thank you, Katherine,” Amara says, resting her head on Kat’s shoulder.
“Yeah, well, what are best friends for?” Kat asks.
Whatever Amara is about to say next never comes, as a strange look crosses her face. It looks something like surprise quickly devolving into anger.
Without a word, Amara rises from her chair and storms across the patio. For a brief, panicked moment, Kat is worried that the Bandits are about to make a reappearance, but she soon sees that the apparent cause of Amara’s sudden anger is one of the guardsmen, standing at the far end of the patio.
As Amara storms off, Estelle moves to Kat’s side. “Are you sure you’re alright?” she asks.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Kat answers. “Just a little scared for Amara. That necklace is so important to her.”
“We’ll keep her safe,” Estelle promises.
After what she witnessed on the patio, Kat has no doubt that her mother will be able to make good on that promise.
“Hey, Mom?” Kat asks.
“That was pretty awesome.”
“Thank you, dear.”
“And, uh, I’m sorry for all those times I made you mad when I was little. And I promise that I will never do it again.”
Estelle smiles. “Thank you, dear.”
Moving away from her mother, Kat moves close enough to hear Amara’s words to the guardsman who has just stepped out onto the patio. Given the volume of those words, she doesn’t have to move very far.
“Where in the Powers’ name were you when this was going on?” Amara asks fiercely. “How could you just let them saunter in here and hold us all at knifepoint?”
The guard takes a cautious step towards her. “Amara,” he begins, though he doesn’t get a chance to finish.
“They tried to take Mother’s necklace!” Amara continues.
“Ah,” the guard says, a look of sudden realisation spreading across his face.
Amara crosses her arms over her chest and turns away in outrage. “Don’t you dare ah me! I’m not some little girl for you to talk down to!”
Amara’s indignation quickly turns to embarrassment as she notices Kat’s approach. “Oh dear,” she mutters.
Hearing someone else utter those words for once is a strange feeling, Kat realises.
Smiling weakly, Amara turns to Kat. “I don’t suppose I’d be lucky enough for you to have missed that little, ah, outburst?”
Kat shakes her head. “Nope. I heard every word.”
“Oh bother,” Amara mutters, turning a deep, deep shade of red.
She takes a deep breath and turns back to the guard, now standing with a wry smile on his face.
“Uncle, I am truly and deeply sorry for treating you so churlishly. I’m sure the Guard is doing everything in its power to catch these brutes, and I should not have suggested otherwise.”
She touches her necklace.
“But the thought of losing Mother’s necklace just makes me so angry that I’m not myself.”
The guardsman, in fact the Captain of the Goldharbour Guard, nods and pulls his niece in for a hug.
“I know,” he reassures her. “I know how much your mother’s necklace means to you. And I promise we’re doing everything we can to catch the Bandits. We’ll get them soon.” He smiles. “We’ve got our best men on the job, Amara.”
“I know, Uncle,” Amara answers.
He lets go of Amara and tips his hat to her and Kat. “And if we are going to get them, we shouldn’t spend any more time here.”
He calls out to the assembly of guardsmen surveying the patio.
“Alright, boys, we’re done here. Wilson! Get back to barracks. I want a report on what happened here, and I want it five minutes ago! Longvale! Take five men, fan out and head west.” Continuing to give orders to his guardsmen, he strides off the patio.
As the guardsmen leave, silence settles over the patio. The few remaining bystanders begin to disperse, and the employees of the café begin to clean up the mess.
Estelle moves beside Amara and puts a gentle arm around her. “How are you feeling, honey?”
“Better. Still a little upset,” Amara admits.
Absently, she begins to finger the golden chain of her necklace.
Estelle pulls Amara closer, putting Amara’s head on her shoulder. “I know, honey, but Kat and I are right here if you need us.”
“Could we perhaps go somewhere quiet?” Amara asks.
Kat nods. “Quiet sounds good.” Between Dunstana’s snoring last night and getting held up by bandits this morning, Kat hasn’t had much of a vacation yet.
Maybe this will finally be her chance.
“Come on,” she says. “We’ll go to the docks. We can watch the ships and get some fish-on-a-stick.”
Kat doesn’t usually like fish, but the fish-on-a-stick they sell in Goldharbour have been deep-fried well beyond any semblance of their previous life.
“And pay those fools no mind, Katherine,” Amara says, looping her arm through Kat’s. “You have some perfectly handsome eyebrows.”
“Yeah. Thanks, Amara,” Kat mutters, not feeling particularly comforted by her friend.
“What’s wrong, Honey-Bear?” Alison Steel asks. “You’ve barely touched your fish-on-a-stick.”
“My head still hurts, is all,” Dirk Broadsword admits. “They hit me pretty hard. A lot.”
He rubs the goose egg on back of his head where the mean old lady, the uppity Elf, and Eyebrows had walloped him with their silverware.
“And everything still feels a little Thursday-ish.”
Alison frowns. “Oh, Honey-Bear. Are you sure you’re alright? Should we kidnap you a doctor?”
Dirk shakes his head as he stares at his fish-on-a-stick. “No. It doesn’t actually hurt that much,” he assures his beloved companion.
He’s been feeling better since they held up that ice seller and made off with enough ice to apply to his poor, battered head.
“I’m mostly just mad that they kept hitting me like that. Man, I must be having an off day. My reflexes are usually better than that. And what really irks me is that we didn’t even get that Elf-girl’s necklace.” He turns to Alison. “You saw that thing, right? We could have bought a house with it — a nice one!”
Alison reassuringly rubs his shoulder. “I know, Honey-Bear, I know. But you can’t get yourself down over one necklace.”
She points to the door of the inconspicuous, abandoned cellar where they’ve stashed their loot. “Look at how much other stuff we got today. We’ll be rich in no time.”
Dirk sighs heavily. “Yeah. I guess.” He smiles weakly. “But we’re the Bandits of Goldharbour. We always take whatever we want. I guess I’m just not used to losing.”
“We haven’t lost yet,” Alison insists. “This wasn’t a defeat. It was just, uh, a tactical withdrawal. We’ll get that necklace, and whole bunch of other loot. And while we’re at it, we can get back at the mean old witch and her little friends for trying to bash your sweet head in like that.”
She gives him a reassuring kiss on the cheek.
A determined look settles on Dirk’s face.
“Yeah,” he decides. “Yeah. We’ll show her. We’ll show them all. When this is all over, we’ll be the most famous pair of bandits that Realmgard has ever seen, or ever will. And then, when we’re rich, we settle down somewhere, in a big, fancy house. With a big, fancy dog. And a solid gold butler. And whatever else you want. And we’ll be happy.”
He looks at Alison and smiles.
“Together,” she says, taking his hand in hers and squeezing.
He looks into her beautiful, beautiful eyes and momentarily loses himself. Then he flings his arms around her and holds her tight.
“I love you, Sugar-Blossom,” he says, with more honesty than he has ever said anything in his life.
She returns the embrace with a fiery passion to match his own.
“I —” she says, meaning to finish with ‘love you’, but is distracted by the sight of something utterly unexpected from over her beloved’s strapping, muscular shoulders.
“I — I —”
“I don’t believe it!” Dunstana exclaims, leaping to her feet in triumph.
The best day of her life has just got even best-er.
She hadn’t really been listening to her father’s speech about the Rookie of the Year Award.
Then she’d realised everything had gone quiet and everyone was looking at her.
Then Dorian had looked down at her from the podium and gone, “You won the Rookie of the Year Award, Dunstana. Come get your trophy.”
Then Dunstana had gasped “I don’t believe it!”
And now everyone’s clapping, and Dunstana is starting to believe it.
When Dunstana reaches the stage and stands beside her father, he shakes her hand and hands her the trophy for Rookie of the Year, in his capacity as official presenter of a Brotherhood Award.
In his capacity as her dad, he kisses her on the forehead and wraps her in a bear hug of fatherly pride and joy, and a deep sense of relief that at least one of his daughters will carry on the family traditions.
After Dorian finally releases her from his crushing embrace, Dunstana is left standing in a daze as her brain attempts to process the fantastic events of the last thirty seconds. She looks up at her dad.
“What do I do now?” she whispers.
A voice from the crowd answers on his behalf, “Speech!”
“Speech!” another voice agrees.
Before long, the entire crowd is chanting ‘Speech!’ at her.
Even No-Tongue Ximenez is holding up a hastily-scrawled placard.
“You probably shouldn’t keep them waiting, Captain Kid,” Dorian tells her.
“O-okay,” Dunstana agrees, barely pulling herself out of her daze. “But what should I say?”
Dorian shrugs. “Maybe start with a joke?”
Dunstana nods, grips her trophy determinedly and moves towards the podium. She soon realises an obvious problem with this plan.
Her head barely appears over the top of the podium. Thankfully, Plaid Jack produces an empty, upside-down fruit crate to boost her up.
“Um,” she says once she’s up.
She doesn’t usually get stage fright, but looking out at so many faces looking expectantly back at her is pretty daunting.
So is the fact that she didn’t know she’d have to give a speech. She clears her throat to buy herself a little more time, trying to think of a joke to tell.
“So, um, a captain and his men walk into a bar…”
And come back next week to see more things people can’t believe.
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