Lane Fremont, captain of the Second Talon, strode to the front of his small ship in response to the lookout’s cry. A cursory glance was all it took to confirm that the wrecked skyship on the beach below was NOT the one belonging to his current quarry. “Helm! Bring us around, and make a low pass. Let’s find out whose ship that used to be.” The grey-haired captain was nearly certain of what they would find, but he needed absolute confirmation before he sent his report.
The crew immediately jumped to their stations, trimming the small sails and adjusting the vessel’s liftbag in preparation for the rapid turn and descent. Fremont took a moment to make sure that all of his men were in their proper places before turning his attention back to the beach below his ship.
“I can see bodies! Two… no three! At the waterline, sir.” The spotter quickly handed his spyglass over to the captain, and pointed to accompany his instructions on where to look. “I’m not completely sure, sir, but… The one in the middle looks like Captain Fiero.”
Fremont took a moment to sight the glass in properly, finally getting a good look at an all-too-familiar face. “Well spotted, Gibson. That is most definitely Tomas Fiero.” The older man bit back the urge to spit over the side as he said the name. I guess we’ve finally got the proof we need that it should have been ME captaining the First, eh, Tomas?
“Helm! Cut speed, bring us in above the wreckage and drop anchor.” The small ship lurched almost as soon as the orders were out of the captain’s mouth, as the crew immediately began to make the needed adjustments. “Hans! Jerald! Get into harnesses and get ready to go over the side. Find me something that tells us more about where our quarry went than simply ‘west.’ Find me something that can tell me exactly when the First Talon was lost.”
“Yes, captain!” The two men responded in near perfect unison as they ran to follow their orders.
“And take your time down there, gentlemen. Find ALL of us anything that might make this little detour worth our while.” Fremont grinned at the sudden wave of greedily anticipatory looks that swept through his crew. “I’ll be in my cabin, preparing the pigeon for a trip back to Prince Gregor. Get me that information FIRST, then we can rip Tomas’ wreck to pieces.”
The captain continued to grin is he walked back down below deck, and headed into his private cabin. I should start the other pigeon on a relay to the rest of the Talons while I’ve got the time. That idiot Fiero let our target escape to sea, and we can’t risk following without knowing her destination. Damn that idiot, how hard could it possibly be to take on one ancient cargo-tramp and bring back Princess Bookworm?
“I have news, your majesty, but less than you desire I’m afraid.”
King Devon Malaire just managed to keep himself from jumping at the sudden whisper in his private chambers. “Sero, so help me gods I will have the Lightning Guard ANNIHILATE you if you keep sneaking into my chambers like this.”
“An old spy must always stay in practice, your majesty.” The king finally spotted the source of the voice as a portion of the wall seemed almost to detach and form the shape of a man. The Royal Spymaster was cloaked from head to toe in a fabric that seemed to have been painted to perfectly match the natural texture of the marble walls in the King’s Chambers.
“So you keep saying. And, being honest, as long as you remain ‘in practice’ I will likely continue to allow these lapses in decorum.” Devon laughed softly at his own admission. “So long as you know that you’ve long used up my store of leniency. You’d better not have TOO much less, than I desire, Sero.”
“Less than you desire, but still more than anyone else has brought you, your majesty.” The cloaked man made a show of kowtowing to the king, a gesture that drew a snort and an impatient handwave.
“Get on with it then.”
“The captain of your daughter’s escape ship is one ‘Edward Damini.’ All accounts put him in his early forties, and he has a reputation as both an honest merchant, and a man who should NOT be crossed, amongst those who put a great deal of stock in such things.”
“Then I can see why my daughter retained him to orchestrate her escape.”
“Actually, your majesty, neither myself nor my people have been able to find any pre-existing link between your daughter and Captain Damini. Putting all accounts together from those who witnessed their meeting in the capital, it would seem to have been chance that put the two of them together.”
Devon laughed again, this time much louder and longer. “And what are the odds that my daughter would happen to find such a capable skyship captain, MILES from the docks, immediately after arriving in the capital from fleeing the castle?”
“I admit, it is not a likely coincidence, sire. If the princess DID prearrange it all, then I must say,” a note of genuine good humor found its way into the cynical spymaster’s voice. “I find myself hoping she triumphs and claims the throne, in the end. What it would be like to serve someone that could orchestrate so much, and leave so little trace.”
“I do hope that the name of her retainer is not the only information you’ve brought me tonight, Sero. I’m sure even Tavis would have managed THAT in another few days.”
“A message is passing through Prince Gregor’s kestrel fleet. The Pelican, your daughter’s ship, has evaded them and headed for the open waters to the west.”
“And most fools would have already ASSUMED that my daughter had gone in that dire-…”
“Additionally,” Devon ground his teeth together at the interruption, certain he could actually HEAR the impertinent smile on the cloaked man’s face. “Prince Gregor’s First Talon caught up to the Pelican, at or near the coastline. The wreckage was combed through, but there were no survivors.”
The king’s eyebrows had shot up in surprise at the news that one of his son’s ships had caught up to his daughter, and his mouth dropped in shock at the last sentence. “The CARGO SHIP bested one of Gregor’s Talons?”
“It can’t be decisively confirmed, your majesty, but the captain of that ship sent out a message that he had spotted the Pelican and was moving in, and the wreckage was found the following morning, drifted up on the beach.”
“A reputation as a man not to be crossed, I think you said? Managing to take down a strike ship with an old cargo tramp, I can see how that reputation could be warranted. Did the fool who lost his ship think to send the last heading with his final message?”
“He did, your majesty. But as his quarry was already changing course in response to his pursuit, it does us little good. A ship that size could be headed to a dozen ports.”
“Make a GUESS then, Sero!” The king allowed his frustration to get the better of him as he snapped at his spymaster. “Gods, but what is the point of orchestrating such wonderful entertainment if I never get to see or hear about the best parts!”
“Considering all their options to the west, and the princess herself, I would hazard she might be headed for the Capari Islands, sire.”
“To seek help from her mother’s family?” Devon waved a hand dismissively. “A month ago, I would have thought her naive enough to do exactly that. But after seeing all that she’s accomplished? She’ll have a better play than that one.”
“Are you certain the princess is aware of the bad blood between her mother and that side of the family?”
“As certain as I am that she didn’t make it out of the castle and meet with the perfect skyship captain by chance, Sero. Have your people figure out where that ship is headed, but STAY OUT OF THE WAY. I want to let this entertainment unfold as naturally as possible!”
“It will be done, your majesty.”
“You know you don’t have to keep me chained up like this!” The red-haired woman on the floor of the cargo hold directed her shout towards the ceiling, but kept one eye on the shadows she was certain was hiding the crewman assigned to watch her. “My captain was an idiot, but I’m not! I’m not going to try and overpower the entire crew and then sail an antique ship I don’t even know how to pilot back to the kingdom!”
Jannis waited for the echoes to die down, and then waited a few seconds longer to see if the shadows showed any sign of responding. “PLEASE! If nothing else, unchain me long enough to take me to the privy and back! Unless you want a mess in your hold to clean up…” The redhead hid a smirk as she was certain she saw an uncomfortable shifting in response to that one.
“Please! I can’t just sit here forever witho-…”
Jannis’ last plea was cut off in a startled yelp as a heavy, lidded bucket thudded onto the deck right next to her. The chained woman twisted around, and found herself gaping in shock at the figure that had crept up on her unnoticed.
“Here you are, m’lady. One privy, as requested.” The massive, dark skinned woman smiled politely down at the captive, but her voice practically dripped with sarcasm.
“What the hell are you?” Jannis regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth.
“Oh, don’t flinch little one. I’m used to that response the first go-around. It’s the SECOND go-around and on where you have to remember to be polite.” The large woman cracked her knuckles for emphasis. “My name is Chea, and I’m the Pelican’s cargomistress.”
“Look, Chea, I’m sorry. You surprised the hell out of me is all. But please, please don’t make me use a bucket in front of your crewman over there!”
“Oh, no worries there.” Chea waved a hand, and the figure concealed in the shadows stepped forward to reveal that she was also female. “It’ll mostly be me and Kristina there keeping an eye on you, and you don’t have anything we haven’t already seen.”
Jannis let out an overdramatic sigh of defeat as her mind raced to find another avenue. “Could you at least loosen the chains a little? I can barely move like this.”
Chea laughed in response, a deep chuckle that set Jannis instantly more nervous than she’d already been, chained down underneath the giant woman. “Little one, we both know that THAT is a lie. I watched you haul your skinny ass up that rope with just your arms, so I KNOW you’re not the wilting flower you’re pretending to be right now.” The large woman turned and strolled away from the prisoner, quickly leaving Jannis’ limited line of sight. “But do keep trying to trick us into letting you out. I’m sure that’s BOUND to work sooner or later. And I haven’t gotten to toss anyone overboard in AGES.”
Jannis sighed again, this time softly and genuinely, and began the slow and embarrassing process of getting far enough off the deck to make use of the ‘gift’ the giantess has dropped off for her.
“And do make sure NOT to make that mess on my deck you were threatening earlier. Not unless you fancy a long dive followed by a longer swim.”