The second blow hit me on the back of the head, slamming my face back down into the blood and beer-soaked wooden trestle and loosening three of my teeth.
I had not been expecting this.
Now I found myself at a considerable disadvantage, my unknown assailant twisting my arm painfully behind my back, forcing my head to remain on the table. My tankard had retched up the last of its contents onto the trestle at the first blow and it spattered sadly onto the floor of the now silent inn.
I struggled, but whoever he was was stronger than me. The more I fought the tighter he held. I soon gave up and went limp in his arms.
The stranger wrenched me back up to standing, kept my arm behind me and shoved me hard towards the door. I still couldn’t see his face. Once we were outside he dragged me down a dark, urine stinking alley, kicked a beggar from his lair then spun me round to face him at last.
I staggered, hardly believing my own eyes. There was the long black hair, the ugly, jagged scar down the left cheek and, of course, the three trademark gold teeth winking at me as he threw me a sadistic grin, daring me to run.
“That’s right lad. That father of yours has landed you in a whole heap of trouble.”
“They say you’re not real - a story to frighten children and upset the peace.”
“A fine peace it is, where the nobility trample over the backs of the poor to line their own pockets and stuff their fat faces. But that’s a matter for another day. Your father owes me a debt that he’ll not pay. So I’ve come to take it from you.”
I literally quaked. I had never been in so much as a dockyard scrap before today. Without meaning to, I took a step back. It was a mistake. A flash of silver a blinding pain and then darkness.
When I opened my eyes again it took me a moment to work out where I was. There was the salty tang of seawater all around and the floor beneath me swayed alarmingly. There was a flash of agony in my head and I found I was dressed in the cheap, rough garb of a seaman.
A shot of fear coursed through me. I leaped to my feet, realising too late that I was surrounded by dark turbulent water as far as the eye could see.
Behind me I heard a group of men guffawing as I realised my predicament. What had my father dragged me into?
I explored my pockets. All the coin I had had on my person had of course been taken, but in one pocket I found a scrap of folded paper with my name scrawled across it in spidery black ink. I ducked behind the mainmast and out of sight before I unfolded it and, with trembling hands, began to read.
Alright lad. You’re here to repay that debt I spoke of. Now here’s what I want you to do...