Chapter no 7 – The Father

Tress of the Emerald Sea

LEM WAS NOT a poor man.

Now, you might say to me, “Hoid, this entire story has shown me the opposite. Lem’s family is always scrimping to survive.” And I would reply, “Please stop interrupting.”

Lem was not poor, he simply didn’t have a lot of money.

That night as Tress slept, Lem limped down the long road to Brick’s tavern. He knew for certain that Gremmy and Sor would be there. After all, the tavern didn’t close until two.

Lem hobbled in. It was still early enough that the place was happy and boisterous. Evenings at the tavern, as you know, are like fires in a hearth. They live two lives.

There’s the part where they’re roaring, festive, and cheerful. Then the evening begins to drift. The tavern becomes colder, darker, and quieter.

Those who populate the tavern during its second life don’t want companionship. Just company.

That was a few hours away, so Lem passed laughing miners sharing rounds and chatting about their boring boring. He spotted Gremmy and Sor together, as they often were. The dockworker and the dockmaster looked like

opposite ends of a tack. Gremmy—with his squat body and flat head—had a haircut that said, “What’s the cheapest?” Sor was ostensibly Gremmy’s boss, but rarely brought the matter up, in case it might accidentally sound like he was offering to pay the tab. He sat tall and straight, and sipped at a beer because he didn’t want to be seen drinking the wine that he could afford.

Brick, of course, was behind the bar, standing on his stool to be at eye height to his patrons. Tress needed all three men’s help, but Lem didn’t

approach any of them. Instead he took up position near the dartboard. Jule was playing, and offered Lem the next game, which he happily accepted.

Lem threw the first dart several feet below the board, hitting the wood there on one of two knots that bore holes from a large number of darts.

Jule eyed it approvingly and took his own throw, hitting near Lem’s.

“I heard,” Lem said, taking his second throw, “you helped Gremmy with his tab again. Right nice of you, that was.”

Jule nodded in appreciation.

Next game was against old Rod, the innkeeper. Lem missed his first two throws, unfortunately. One was so off, it hit the dartboard. The third hit far beneath it though.

“Nice,” Rod said. “Does that cane help with your balance, Lem? I swear you’ve gotten better at darts since the accident.”

“Having a cane doesn’t help with darts, Rod,” Lem said. “Havin’ nothing to do though…”

Rod grunted.

“You still help Brick with the brewing on weekends?” Lem asked.

“More often than not,” Rod said, and took his throws. After that Rod moved off, making way for another game, and another. As men came to play Lem, they read the unspoken script of his questions.

They remembered that time when Rod had been drunk, and Lem had helped him home. And Jule, when he’d lost his roof during the windstorm, Lem had helped build a new one. There were dozens of similar stories. Lem was the human equivalent of a deep, pure well, always full of water when you needed it. He’d offer what you needed and ask nothing in return. In fact, he’d never bring it up again.

Unless it was urgent.

Unless it was important.

In those cases, well, Lem might have been poor in the kind of currency that paid taxes. But he was downright wealthy when it came to the kind of

currency that mattered.

Word got around that night. Lem needed something, specifically from

Gremmy, Sor, and Brick. Lem—the man with no debt—needed this favor so badly, he almost asked for it. In the language of men like these, that’s the

equivalent of begging.

Lem continued playing darts, and scored quite well. If you’re wondering at the odd targets they used, it should be noted that—one evening a couple years earlier—someone had noticed that a group of knots high on the wall looked an awful lot like a face. The duke’s face, in fact, if you imagined the

grain of that wood as his hair, and the dart board as the family insignia on his chest.

And, well, somewhere below that were two prominent knots in the wall.

Right above where the legs would have been.

Lem threw, and nearby men winced. “Nice,” one noted.

As the night progressed, quiet, invisible ledgers were tallied. Decisions were reached, but not spoken. They didn’t need to be, for the next morning

—too early for any of them—Tress found the barkeep, the dockmaster, and the dockworker on her doorstep. They demanded to help her in whatever she was doing.

So it was that a little over a week later, a large keg was deposited on the dock for inspection. Gremmy pushed it up alongside five others.

The perfect ship had arrived for executing Tress’s plan, a vessel known as the Oot’s Dream. It needed to be a ship with a crew that didn’t often visit

Diggen’s Point, and it needed a king’s writ authorizing the purchase of Brick’s ale.

The sailors of the Oot’s Dream nearly took the kegs on board without inspection, but the captain had read the terms of his writ. “There is supposed to be an inspection, is there not?” he demanded. “We cannot leave port until it has been done.”

So, the inspector was summoned. She arrived with a scowl that could have killed spores, her rod held at the ready to deal out justice. She examined the first keg, then used her listening device on it.

Nearby, Sor peered at his pocket watch, counting the seconds, his heart thumping. Gremmy mopped his head as the inspector moved down the line of kegs. Brick nudged him, trying to urge him to not look so suspicious.

Finally, the inspector listened to the last large keg. Just big enough for a girl to curl up inside, it was. The inspector listened closely, and found…


She waved for the cargo to be loaded. The three conspirators exchanged glances. Until the inspector paused and turned back. Then in a sudden motion, she kicked over the last keg.

It went thump. Then it went ouch.

“I thought so!” the inspector said, grabbing a crowbar from the dock, then prying the keg’s top free to reveal the truth—a raven-haired young woman hiding inside, trying to sneak off the island. “Feathers as insulation!” the inspector cried. “You thought that would muffle the sounds enough to fool my ear?”

Well, after that, things went downhill at speed. “This couldn’t have been managed without help!” the inspector snapped at the dockmaster. “This

couldn’t have been managed without a conspiracy!”

Poor Gremmy couldn’t take it, and started bawling right there. Brick tried to quiet him, while Sor wondered out loud if maybe he could order Gremmy to take his punishment for him.

“The king has worried about your disloyalty,” the inspector said with a

sneer. “He warned me about the people of this town. He will be told of this, that you all worked together to circumvent his laws. Pay for only five kegs, Captain.”

The other five kegs were loaded onto the ship, and the ship took off toward the Emerald Sea’s Core Archipelago to deliver the ale. The inspector went with them—leaving her assistant to watch the docks—declaring she

would tell the king personally of the betrayal at Diggen’s Point.

Now, you might have noticed that the young woman in the barrel was not Tress, and you might think she was actually in one of the other kegs. She

was not.

Tress was not hiding in some other piece of cargo. Tress was not hiding at all.

Tress was the inspector.

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