Chapter 23 – Side Story – Blue’s Escapades III
Blue untied the boys, then has them untie the girls.
She then turns to questioning them, asking if anyone knew about the surrounding area. The first boy replies that they had traveled once before this way with their father. There should be a draw bridge that they need to cross eventually. They would need to manually draw the bridge down, so that would give them time to get out.
Blue tells them that they have to leave right as the cart starts moving again, and to jump into the grass to not make sound hitting the dirt. Absolutely no sound must come out, and must be at the same time so they do not notice the shaking of the cart. Hopefully the horses starting forward would mask their movement and sound.
The Boys grab a girl each, while the other girl and Blue jump.
They successfully jump without notice, and hide in the reeds while the cart continues onward.
Blue presses the boys, while they wait for the cart to be out of sight, about the nearest landmarks and cities.
There is a city due north the way that they were driving, and that was probably the kidnappers destination and their home base.
There is a town to the west that it a bit further, but they would need to cut across country to get to the road. The road they are on has a lot of traffic during the day, but is empty at night due to the cities closing their gates. That must mean that the kidnappers are well connected to be able to open the gates at night.
There is a mill on the river to the east of them, one boy mentions as if he had forgoten. Blue says that is where they will head towards.
The Kidnappers will retrace their steps when they find they are gone.
North or South on the road, they will be found out.
If they go West, it is likely that they will be head off by the time they reach the other road if the kidnappers go by a connecting road.
The Blue tells the boys to run towards the West through the grass, then stop, run back, and then they will come back along the reeds on the hard part of the soil to not leave traces, then they all will head for the mill.
They will stay outside the mill in the grass until morning. If the kidnappers come, they will check the mill, but not the surrounding area. Then, they will make for the road again, and hitch a ride back home.
The plan works, and they successfully hide from the kidnappers while the mill is checked.
In the morning, they go to the road, and the boys and two of the girls manage to grab a ride with a merchant going back to town that recognizes the boys.
The stern girl stays with Blue.
She tells her that unlike the other two, who were snatched, she was sold by her uncle, who had been doing things to her without remorse or punishment.
She was sold because she kicked him in the nuts so hard he may have lost them.
She has no desire to return, and decides to stick with Blue, who seems to know what she is doing.
Blue decides to let her tag along.
Along the way, she asks why Blue is trying to leave, and why she was not scared of the kidnappers.
Blue replies that she can handle herself well enough, that she has to get out of the city as far as she can, and that it was the quickest expedient to get away quickly, quietly and unseen from the city, so she let herself get kidnapped.
The girl asks her how she had the guts to do that.
Blue replies that well, she was worthless to the kidnappers anyways. Girl doesn’t understand, as Blue is very handsome and would for sure fetch a high price.
Later in the journey, she sees Blue’s back and the high class slave seal.
Trusting the girl by now, Blue tells her that her mother was a servant mistress of a noble, and that once her father had died, the mistress killed her mother. So she escaped as fast as she could before the mistress could remember her, and her goal was to get as far away as possible in the hope that the slave key would, somehow, be too distant to activate.
Blue asks if she still wants to come with her, if she wants to go.
She replies go where? She has no place to go to, anyways, so why not accompany a friend who’s fun to be with.
Along the way during the travels, Blue ‘acquired’ a couple short swords, and began to combine all of the techniques that she has learned, while she teaches the girl how to defend herself.
This is what evolves into Blue’s signature fighting style, Shipboard Combat, who’s focus is to be able to fight regardless of opponent and take advantage of any terrain. The style is complicated and has a lot of moves, and requires a lot of skill to handle. Like Ashen’s magic, with Shipboard Combat, instead of learning a Style, or a set Technique, you learn the basics. Then you learn advanced things you can do that modify the basics. You learn hundreds of small movements involving your body and your weapons. You then fluidly improvise techniques as you go during a fight.
This is very hard, and to most expert swordsman, seems very nonsensical and weak.
To Blue (and her disciples), having set techniques is useless.
You are almost never in the perfect position to use the technique. Your opponent has studied all the counters to your techniques. Such sword fighting is just chess, or maybe even just checkers. You just keep making moves until the game is over and the one who played the right order wins.
For Blue, the fight is fluid, and the fight is always unique. There is no such thing as the same fight twice. There will always be a different opponent, a different terrain, a different environment, a different mindset, even if some parts of it overlap.
Even in exact same scenario, it will not happen the same way again.
So instead of using a predictable pattern with set moves, you throw that out the window, and adopt a fluid approach that you conform to any situation as it happens.
Your opponent cannot counter you, because there is nothing to counter.
It is like a battle to see who can hit their opponent first, and while their weapon is a rapier, your weapon is a water hose.
They can’t block it. They can’t deal with it. They can’t avoid it.
They have honed themselves to winning a certain game, against certain opponents.
All you need to do is keep changing the rules of the game you are playing until you find one they are bad at.
They are good at a couple games. You re great at all of them.
Shipboard Combat is an evolving style, as it can always be improved simply by adding to the list of actions that you are capable of doing.
She eventually names it Shipboard Combat, not because it is primarily used for fighting at sea, but because it is a style that assumes that, like sword fighting in a rough sea, the environment that you are fighting in is always fluid and changing.
Eventually, they make it near the coast.
Along a backwoods path, they encounter some bandits, and a few of them waylay them while the others look on while chiding them about attacking children.
The attacking bandits are immediately defeated in a style that they had never seen before. The two girls smugly invite them to carry their comrades and lead them to their camp.
Once at the camp, they are chided for bringing children with them, that they are too young to be good for sex, and too small for work.
They reply that they didn’t bring them, they were brought by them.
Blue inquires about a boat. Bandits laugh her off, and tell her she can’t handle even a rowboat. They ask where she wants to go, and Blue says to the continent.
A rowboat won’t even get a hundred yards to sea, what the hell is she going to do.
Blue asks about passage.
The Bandit Leader comes out, and starts talking with them.
Unlike the others, he is talking to her as an adult, and not a child.
He says she would not be able to handle a boat, she would need passage on a ship.
Blue asks where she can gain safe passage.
He says that while they’re alive, there ain’t no safe passage.
Blue says, ah, pirates eh. Well then, why don’t you take me.
He replies that he ain’t taking her for free.
Blue says she will work it off on the voyage.
He replies that it ain’t no voyage, they have no destination, no path, and no timetable. She would be useless in combat with her size, and that she should just go home and play sailor somewhere else.
Blue starts replying that if he’s not capable of a simple job of carrying a couple girls, but gets cut off.
He attacks her instantly. Blue immediately reacts, jumps back, and draws her sword in a fluid motion.
He fights in a one handed saber fashion. He sets his stance and starts to move at her, and Blue’s movements become sloppy to him.
He is confused as the leap backwards indicated a lot of skill, but her movements since then are sloppy as if they have no meaning nor technique to them, as if she is just making it up as she goes, and that he would have thought that she had been trained by the conversation that he had been listening in on since then.
As he moves to attack, he keeps finding himself off balance.
None of his attacks are landing right. His footwork keeps becoming sloppy and off center. He comes to start thinking that she is doing it on purpose. That every time he goes in, or adjusts his style, she immediately moves to counteract him regardless of how he attacks.
Even when he abruptly switches styles from fencing to two handed, he can’t control the fight. He changes to two handed, and while the girl starts fighting worse, and her movements are becoming jerky, she is still adapting to him. His strength is that he knows many sword fighting styles. Whatever his opponent uses, because of his knowledge, he can use the technique that counters it.
But this girl takes that to a completely different level.
It is like being proud that you built a tower out of blocks, then seeing one made out of water.
Instead of a technique to counter technique, she has no technique at all. However you slash, like flowing water, she will separate before you, then reform afterwards. B
ut, her movements are slowing down, he notices.
He takes advantage of that, and swings with an uppercut, hitting her sword and flinging her arms above her head. In the same motion, he tosses his sword in the air, and throws two daggers from his belt with each hand, hitting her shirt above the shoulders and pinning her to the wall behind her.
Then he catches the sword.
Blue glares sadly at him.
He stares at her, and then looks at the other girl who had accompanied her.
Her movements had been weird throughout the fight. She had stood with her sword drawn at the sidelines. And as the fight had progressed, she had constantly swung her sword.
But she had not joined in.
She just swung it.
It dawned on him that she had not been watching the fight.
In her minds eye, she had been participating in it. Studying the techniques being used, going with the movements, and swinging her sword against a shadow.
After either of their sword moved, she would follow with a similar movement.
Was it her studying habit, or the other girl’s? Or both?
He called out to his first officer to give the girls a tent, and give her a cloth to wipe down.
He looks between Blue and the other girl, and calls out that looks like he’d have a couple of cabin tomboys after all.
The other bandits start mumbling between themselves, about the fight, and how the captain never chooses an attendant since he keeps kicking them out.
One of the boys is grumbling jealously at Blue, as he had been trying to work on the ship for a long time, had finally got approval to, and was told sarcastically that he’d have to settle for him as an cabin boy, only now for a couple of girls, younger than him, to stroll in and take that away from him.
They couldn’t even challenge the captain in a fight where he had gone easy on them, somehow not registering that the captain had not gone easy at all, nor that the second girl could kick his ass as well.
The first mate talks to the captain that if it is alright, and the Captain says that he lost that fight. He only won because she ran out of stamina, and that advantage will go away naturally, since all she needs to do is grow up and forge her constitution.
The girl who accompanied Blue will be her personal adjunct, never letting that position go. When Blue moves to the mansion in the countryside after her marriage, she will follow her there and help raise Ashen. She is extremely loyal and very strong, and has an even more level head than Blue. Her name? Amelia.
Ashen becomes the captains cabin tomboy, as he calls her. He is surprised to find that every time he or another member of the crew tries to teach her something, she can already do it, so they end up teaching her mastery of it, and teaching her assistant instead.
As time goes on, Blue assumes more and more responsibilities, and people follow her.
She shows talent by introducing new lines of work for bandit troupe, finds the right people to run it, and sets a code of honor and morals for the organization to clean up their behavior, though it was a bit similar to the captain’s before her.
Her reasoning for it is that they must be professional and businesslike in everything they do. They must show their victims, their rivals, their enemies, their pursuers, and their customers that they are doing a business, and that they will conduct themselves with a predictable, expected behavior that shows no malice.
At first, many chafe and disagree.
But as new lines of enterprise are created, and are made to follow this system, they notice things.
For one, those business lines always seem to do very well.
In the Black Market, rather than charging a lot, they charge a premium on market price.
Because of that, even if they are selling for more at times for things than their competition, everyone seems to always go to them first, and buy from them if they have any choice.
The Escort Squad has set team roles, and set numbers for how much protection you order, and replacements sent if personnel losses occur. They work together with adventuring parties rather than quarrel against them. Thus, they keep getting hired even on relatively safe journeys, and even get referrals from adventurers who should be their competition.
Smuggling rates are set by cargo type, cargo risk and cargo size, in a matrix that is easy to use for the illiterate, and an equation that is easy to use for the merchants. Since the cost is always known before hand, they have a steady stream of business based on the known price and the reliability.
The Bandit Troupe got reorganized as well, with the intelligence branch working on gaining information from the government, adventurers guild, merchants guild, and so on. Because of that, they avoided bandit clean ups, they preyed on merchants that were out of favor with the guild, and knew when strong adventurer parties would be protecting potential targets. Instead of laying in wait, they were scheduled and planned ahead of time. And increasingly, instead of seizing the cargo or taking a hostage, they would simply be given a fee for letting them go.
That cut down casualties, and profits were still high since they did not have to try and sell the plunder and instead got ready money.
In addition, part of the guarantee of the bandits was that they would not be attacked by their organization again for that or the return trip, and for an added fee, they could get an escort service for less than the normal cost.
Eventually, the Escorts and the Bandits started to be seen less as robbers and thieves and more as a form of tax and law enforcement.
Some of the funds even went towards rebuilding roadways to make them better, which improved travel time and increased traffic on the roadways that they wanted to target.
The merchants seemed to treat it as a known cost of doing business and a road maintenance tax, and as they did not bother targeting civilian carriages, which made travel safer, more frequent, increased business, meaning more merchants.
The country even stopped trying to deal with them and left them to their own devices, instead hunting down other bandit troupes instead.
Rumor was that this was due to the intelligence branch coordinating with the government, setting some ground rules, and letting certain shipments go unmolested while targeting certain ones that seemed at the time to be of no value.
They had somehow become a respectable criminal enterprise.
On the sea, Blue had shipbuilders cranking out ships for the organization as fast as they could build them.
Using the slave system, which initially many were unhappy with, they were able to crew ships and acquire human resources quickly.
Motivated crew, as well, which was something unheard of previously even when they had just 1 ship.
The Fleet, as the organization began to be called, dominated the sea around the kingdom, and expanded all along the coast.
Eventually, rather than raiding, they became more focused on shipping itself.
They started acting like the maritime police. They would end up protecting other ships more often than not.
The Captain and First Officer had retired from sea life, and now worked in an advisory position to The Fleet, and training new recruits.
Blue assumed control over the organization, and her fame rose.
She became legendary, and a popular topic across the country.
Eventually, her exploits reached the capital. And there were many who remembered her from their childhood.
Things in the government, partially because of the intelligence branch, started to change as well.
The King and his advisers would look at the way things were ran, and started to change their views. The Fourth Prince had become a close, though secret, adviser to the King who had despaired over the quality of his first three sons. The Fourth Prince proposed a plan to his father, and his father gave him cart blanch. A plan was put into action.