Einarr took off at a sprint down the pier. The two could not have got far yet, and he remembered their faces. Jorir kept up admirably well, despite his shorter legs.
“You remember what they look like?” Einarr asked between breaths.
They pulled up short where the pier met dry land. There were only two ways the boys could have gone; a disturbance in the dockside market crowd said the answer was left. A heartbeat later Einarr, too, was dashing off after the ripples his fish made as it swam through the crowd.
He did not hear the dwarf’s footsteps pounding after him; a glance over his shoulder revealed Jorir examining something on the pavement. A glance was all he could spare, however, as the crowd was reluctant to be shouldered aside a second time in so short a period.
Scowling, Einarr gathered his breath without slowing. “Stop! Thief!”
Now the crowd parted for him easily. He began to close on the fugitive more quickly: it seemed some of the people farther ahead didn’t care to let the boy escape either. Bellowing like that had been risky: while Kem was at least nominally Northern, and the Gufuskalam was here on legitimate business, this close to Imperial waters it was still chancy.
“Thief!” He yelled again for good measure.
A dark-haired man in a butcher’s apron sauntered towards Einarr from down the street, clutching the boy’s arm in his outsized hand. The treasure sack was nowhere to be seen. “This the brat you’re looking for?”
“One of ‘em. Where’s your friend?”
The thief spat at the ground. For his trouble, Einarr boxed his ear.
“Seems like every other week this one an’ his lads are in and out of the guard-house.” The butcher jerked the young man forward and offered his arm to Einarr. “Do as you will.”
Einarr gripped the arm hard enough the boy winced. “Come with me.” Hopefully Jorir got the other one.
* * *
Jorir had, in fact, found the other one. He returned to the Gufuskalam only a few minutes after Einarr did, dragging his prisoner rather more unceremoniously than Einarr had. From the looks of them, Tyr hadn’t gone overboard without a fight. Both boys were shoved down on unattended crates on the pier, where a somewhat drier Tyr had joined his crewmates.
“These the ones?”
“Them’s the ones.”
“I think this is what you were looking for?” Jorir handed the sack he carried in his other hand to Einarr.
A quick glance inside revealed that everything was accounted for. He inclined his head to the dwarf in thanks. “Now. What to do with the two of you.”
The two young men sat sullenly, not yet seeing an escape.
“You see, as the son of a Thane, ordinarily I’d have my choice of punishments. Couple of strong backs like yours would make valuable thralls. I could gift you to my future father-in-law.” Now they looked nervous. That’s more like it. “Lucky for you, I don’t have room for two more people on that little boat of mine.” He waited until their expressions brightened, as though they thought they might get away with it after all.
Einarr smirked. “Or maybe not so lucky. In the process of stealing from me, you also attacked an unconscious man, and tried to drown another of my men. Back home, I’d be well within my rights to have you executed. I could hand you over to the guard and let you take your chances with the gallows.” Not that he would, even if he had a home port, but if he could put the fear of the gods in these two so much the better. “…Hm. Now there’s a thought. You see, I have little enough coin on me, and I expect to owe a fair amount to Master Mathis, there, who has been so kind as to treat the man you assaulted. Master Mathis, would you have a use for a pair of strong backs and deft fingers that plainly have nothing better to do with themselves?”
The apothecary studied them for a moment. “Not I. Keeping thralls in the city is frowned upon. But my brother-in-law maintains a homestead elsewhere in the Islands, and is forever complaining about a lack of hands to keep up with the work.”
“There you go, then,” Einarr said, looking at the boys as if that sealed the deal. “As you were so foolish as to steal from a Prince, plainly what is required is for you to learn the value of honest work. Master Mathis, will you accept these two scoundrels as payment for your services to my friend there?”
The apothecary’s smile was thin and not at all pleasant as he looked over the two thieves as one might inspect a horse. “Yes, I think a farm is just the place for a pair like the two of you, and I suspect I will more than make up for the loss in the foodstuffs of my sister’s gratitude.” He extended a hand toward Einarr, and the two shook on the deal. “Now, since that is dealt with, I’ve already explained to Tyr the treatment your patient will require while you sail. The medicines are in an oilcloth, I’m sure he can point it out if one of you will be taking charge of the care. He should recover his senses any time now.”
“We appreciate it. Will he… will he walk again?”
Mathis shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s too early to say. The knee didn’t seem to be too badly damaged, so it is possible.”
“Thank you. …Your brother-in-law, he is a good man, yes?” Einarr whispered the last: most men saw the value in treating their thralls well, but there were always exceptions.
The apothecary nodded. “My pleasure. And now,” he turned his attention to the newly-minted thralls, who were looking around as though for an escape route. “I must be going, before these two get it into their thick heads to do something stupid. Again.”
Mathis took the boys by their ears and led them off towards his apothecary.
“Well. That took gratifyingly little time. We should be able to get out with the next tide. Tyr, do we have the coin to reprovision?”
“Already seen to.”
“Wonderful. Next stop, Kjell Hall!”