“Come on, Oldo. It never was a secret I wore a disguise,” he said in a deep, rumbling voice.
It didn’t take Oldo Raldiz long to realize fully who stood before him.
“Chief?” he asked, an incredulous tone in his voice. “Is it really you?”
Lee-Lack put his right hand on the pommel of his sword.
“I know of a way or two to convince you, Master Raldiz.”
Oldo laughed out loud. He knew there was little chance his former chief would draw his weapon in the tavern.
“Let’s take a seat, Chief. We’ve got much to talk about.”
“Yes, we have.”
Lee-Lack noticed how Oldo surreptitiously glanced at the table of the first mate of the Cormorant. Although their eyes met for only a fraction of a second, Lee-Lack got the distinct impression Oldo and Master Noull Finkey had met before. The fact that it took both men some effort to look away only reinforced his sense of foreboding.
Oldo sat down at a table in the front of the tavern, to the left, as if he wanted to distance himself as much as possible from the first mate of the Cormorant, who was still talking to the two young men. Lee-Lack sat down as well and ordered a pitcher of beer from a passing servant maid.
“Well, well, well. Who’d have guessed our chief was a young man of barely twenty in disguise?”
“I’m as old as you are, or near enough, Oldo. I’m almost thirty. I just look younger. Surely you can understand why I needed to change my appearance.”
Oldo wiped his high forehead with one hand and then straightened his greasy, thinning black scalp with both.
“We always gathered you didn’t want anyone to know what you really looked like. A smart move, we thought. We never guessed it was to conceal your age.”
“My age was never a secret. You could have calculated it — at least approximately — if you wanted to. It was all about appearances. I needed to look fiercer. Not necessarily older,” Lee-Lack thought.
“My age was never the issue, Oldo,” he said out loud, speaking in a tone that brooked no contradiction. “My grandmother tells me some of our men found refuge here. I want to speak to them. Can you contact them and arrange a meeting?”
Oldo didn’t reply immediately. Lee-Lack noticed he kept his face deliberately even. A sure sign that behind the blank facade some calculating was taking place.
“Of course, Chief. Could you tell me something more about why you want to speak them?”
“No. I realize the Renuvian Plains Robbers as such don’t exist anymore. I just need you to convey the message. Those who are interested in what I have to say should come to our little get-together. The others…”
Lee-Lack finished his sentence with a disparaging gesture.
“Consider it done, Chief. It’ll take a while though.”
“How long and why?”
“Life isn’t all that expensive in Tarbalainn, but still… We need money and the men are away to earn some.”
“More likely they have turned into ordinary thieves,” Lee-Lack sneered silently. The Robbers had never been just about the money. They had protected Mirkadesh from all external threats and brought much-needed funds to the county. Funds that had made it possible for the self-ruling county to survive.
“When will they be back?”
“Who’s to say?”
“Well, I’m in no particular hurry. How many men found their way to Tarbalainn?”
“Not all that many, I’m afraid.” Oldo massaged the bald front of his head with one hand. “Let’s see…” he began, counting on his fingers. “There’s Alvaer, Roddar… ah, the Huldar brothers, of course, Ingimund and Ingimar… Then there’s Frickmur, old Hustav and Jortan.”
“I remember old Hustav and his rusty sword, of course. I also remember some of the others, but I don’t recall someone called Frickmur. Neither does Jortan ring a bell.”
“Frickmur and Jortan are kind of new. We made their acquaintance here. They’re young men who had to leave their birthplace rather suddenly.” Oldo winked.
Lee-Lack gave him a faint smile in return.
“Tell you what, Chief. The men will be excited to see you again, and I have a fair idea where they are. I’ll go look for them. If I don’t they could take another week or more before they come back. Where are you staying?”
“In the Drifting Rudder. If I’m not there, you can leave a message with Erwick, one of the landlord’s son.”
Lee-Lack thought he saw a strange flicker in Oldo’s eyes, but it was gone so fast he began to doubt it ever had been there. He concluded his imagination had been playing tricks on him in the dim light.