Edward Damini stood staring at the door in front of him for long minutes, hand half-raised to knock but not yet making it to contact the wood. Finally, with a resigned sigh, he tapped his fist softly against the door three times.
Edward sighed again before pushing the door open. He was clearly not looking forward to this conversation, but he managed to school his features into a polite expression as the door swung inward. “Good afternoon, your highness. Might I have a moment of your time?”
“Captain! It’s fortunate to see you now, as I was planning to seek you out before the evening meal. Your engineer has been quite frustratingly rude for the past few days, and I cannot for the life of me determine the cause of his enmity.”
Oh good, THAT will make this go much more smoothly. A small shake of his head banished the sarcastic thoughts as the captain tried to keep his expression unchanged. “Yes, well, I believe I’m here to shed some light on that very topic. It’s all a matter of… you see…”
Edward’s eyes darted around the room in an effort NOT to maintain eye contact with the princess spotted a possible salvation on the spine of one of the many books she had pulled from her chest and set up on the room’s few shelves. “Etiquette!” The captain attempted to collect himself as his outburst set the princess rocking back in surprise. “Shipboard etiquette, your highness. It didn’t occur to me with the incidents we were dealing with immediately after departing, and other recent unpleasantness had pushed the matter even further from my mind. I must apologize profusely for this.”
“Oh.” Princess Lena’s expression was caught somewhere between embarrassment and earnestness. “I must confess, captain, that the idea of ship’s having their own etiquette never occurred to me, either. It really should have though, seeing as how all other facets of life are lived by their governing codes. I must not let you shoulder the burden of this oversight alone, and I apologize to you as well.”
Edward resisted the urge to dance with joy at the princess’s response, and pushed forward with a great deal more confidence than he’d entered the room with. “Well, unfortunately your highness, I cannot accept your apology here.” He paused only long enough to see the shocked look descend across his passenger’s face before he continued. “As the ship’s captain, matters such as this are wholly my responsibility. It’s a part of the etiquette that I would like to teach you now, and it seems an appropriate place to start, given this misunderstanding.”
“I’m not quite certain I follow your reasoning, captain.” The young woman’s tone was hesitant, but the captain could see her mind working rapidly behind the unsure facade. “It’s the captain’s responsibility to teach things to passengers? That doesn’t seem right. Especially when it seems impossible that you could have known whether or not I was already familiar with ‘Shipboard Etiquette.'”
“The actual instruction is rarely the captain’s responsibility, you are correct there, your highness.” Edward suppressed a grin at the formal emphasis the royal had placed on her last two words. “But it IS the captain’s responsibility to find out details like this about his passengers, and then see to it that those who lack knowledge that they will need while traveling aboard his ship are appropriately instructed. Seeing as how I made the initial oversight, and your own royal status, I believe it in the best interest of all parties if I make the offer to provide teaching myself.”
“That… that makes a great deal of sense, captain. I would be deeply grateful for your instruction on Shipboard Etiquette.”
“Now, if you’ll bear with me a bit, I’d like to start at the areas where problems are currently arising rather than the beginning, and then work our way back. In the interest of resolving the current conflicts as quickly as possible.” Edward hastened to tack on the last part when he saw something like suspicion in the princess’s eyes at his initial suggestion.
“Oh. Yes, that also makes sense. Very well, please continue, captain.”
“So, I believe that most of the current misunderstandings stem from a few simple rules that those who crew a skyship have so ingrained in themselves that it doesn’t occur to them that a newcomer would be unfamiliar with them. I imagine you might have similar experiences at the capital when dealing with those unused to the workings of government?” Edward did allow himself to grin this time when he saw the look of comprehension and nod of agreement. Progress!
“So, there are certain areas aboard a skyship where passengers, and even off-duty crewmembers, simply do not go into without an express invitation of some sort. The first is the helm, which is a small enough area on the top deck that it’s unlikely to come up. The second is the secure section of the cargo hold, which contains both any precious cargoes that are currently being hauled as well as the ship’s safe.”
“Theft is such a great worry, while trapped on a ship almost a thousand feet in the air?” The princess looked confused again, but there was no sign of disbelief on her face or in her voice.
“Honestly? Even on the more disreputable ships, theft is essentially non-existent for the reasons you’ve thought of and a few others. But in this case, it’s the appearance of things that’s important. I believe this particular tradition started decades ago, when most of the skyships weren’t owned by their captains, but by merchants who rarely set foot on board. A rule issued by a paranoid merchant, which is then copied by other merchants because they can’t see that the problem really ISN’T there since they rarely set foot on their own ships. A rule that stands for a long time simply becomes part of day to day life, and it’s ingrained because no one really thinks to question it.
“The third area that is mostly ‘off limits’ is the navigation room.” Edward paused long enough to see the princess’s expression flutter through surprise, comprehension, and landed on something that he assumed was remorse. “The fourth area, or areas really, are the crews’ private quarters. And the last are-…”
“The engine room.” Princess Lena blurted out the interruption with a deepening of her remorseful look. “That’s why your man, Frederich, had the door locked. He thought that I KNEW about this Shipboard Etiquette and was intentionally ignoring it. He must think me the very definition of spoiled royalty.”
“Now now, your highness, as I said earlier; this is my responsibility. I’ll be sure to make certain Frederich is aware that the root of this issue lies in MY oversight, not yours.”
“Thank you so much for this instruction, captain. I believe I must pen an apology to both your first mate and your engineer now. Unless you’re worried that there are other major points I may fall afoul of in the short term?”
Edward started to shake his head, then paused in consideration. “Actually, just one, your highness. It’s something of another long standing tradition that one doesn’t ask for information about a crewmate’s past, unless that crewmate has previously offered such information freely. A prime example might include questions about a man’s possible criminal history, such as if he knows how to pick a lock.” The captain wore a perfect poker-face as he invented a new tradition for his ship.
The princess nodded again. “Thank you again, captain. Would it be acceptable for me to deliver these letters in person, or is it more customary that they go through an intermediary aboard a ship.”
“Any sort of formal missive traditionally goes through the captain.” Edward kept a solid poker-face up as he made up another new rule on the spot, then exited the room with a polite goodbye before the princess could ask him anything else.
Well, that’s the one crisis averted. Though I think I’ve bought myself at least a week of teaching the princess all about ‘Shipboard Etiquette.’ I’d better go make sure I’ve made up enough material to make it all believable.
Only one boat here, and it’s nowhere near the size of the one we’re looking for. Mathias Tiever let out a long, exasperated sigh as he examined the docks up ahead of his ship with disdain.
“Can’t believe they still haven’t modernized the place a whit, eh captain?” Mathias turned at the voice behind him, seeing the normally smiling face of his first mate examining the port with an even deeper disdain than his own.
“More disappointed that our quarry isn’t present than I am about having to get my ship wet again, Shaun.”
“Oh, aye, a shame that ancient tramp wasn’t at any of the ports for certain. And that WOULD likely matter more to you, captain, seeing as how your cabin is ABOVE the waterline.” Mathias laughed as his swarthy, and slightly rotund officer headed back from the bow, shouting orders to the crew to ready his ship for a wet landing.
The muscular blond man continued to stare at the port as his ship descended, remaining unmoving even as it touched down gently in the calm water and came to a perfect rest against the long dock.
“What’s REALLY on your mind, captain?”
Mathias started a bit at the second interruption, then laughed at himself for getting so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he hadn’t heard the heavy footsteps of Shaun’s second approach. “If you were on a Laridae, and you were running from Cheles, what’s the first place you would stop at?”
The shorter man grinned, somewhat mockingly, at his captain. “Right here in Jiungli, captain. That’s why we’re here, isn’t it?”
“Any chance a Laridae could have beaten us here by so much that they’ve already resupplied and gone on to their next destination?”
This question drew a contemplative look instead of a mocking grin. “That old boat would only have had about three days on us, plus starting a full day closer to the coast when you think of where Cheles and Freeport are at. Maybe, if they really pushed it they could have beaten us by a day, no more. Not unless they’ve had an absolute madman rebuild their engines and sailed some of the best winds I’ve ever heard of. More realistically, they’d be between five and seven days BEHIND us.”
“What’s the range on those old boats?”
The new line of questioning was taken in stride by the first mate, familiar with his captain’s tendencies when working through a problem. “Laridae, fully fueled? She can take you nearly to the end of the world and back, long as you don’t mind a slow trip.”
“So she could have set out straight for the Capari Islands without planning a waypoint here.”
This time the question drew a shocked look, and the beginning of a headshake, before a contemplative look hit the shorter man. “Yes, captain, that’s definitely a voyage a ship like that could make in one leg. Most crews would mutiny if you tried to keep them in the air that long straight, but…”
“But with royalty footing the bill, a LOT of extra loyalty can be purchased.” Mathias sighed and watched a distance down the dock where his quartermaster was engaged in a loud shouting match with someone that was probably the local version of the port authority. He was forced to smile as the uniformed man was driven back one step at a time by the tiny, but enormously loud and foul-mouthed woman screaming at him.
“It was an EXCELLENT idea to hire Marie, wasn’t it Shaun?”
A chuckle was the only response the first mate offered to that question.
“Assuming that ship headed straight for Capari, how far ahead of us could they get there?”
Shaun switched back to his contemplative look, running over the charts in his head and trying to dredge up everything he knew about the outdated Laridaes. “With good winds, and a captain willing to take some chances with his fuel stores, they could beat us there by a day or two.”
“So the insane engineer and miraculous winds scenario would put them there over a week ahead of us?” Mathias offered a glare that cut off the objection he could see forming on his first mate’s lips, and the man gave a simple nod instead. “So if they’re coming here, they most likely are almost a week behind us, but if they’re taking the direct route, they could already be over a day ahead of us.
“Order the men to get everything resupplied as fast as possible. We can’t afford to wait on a ship that might be bypassing us entirely. We need to be back up in the air no later than tomorrow morning.”
The first mate offered a mournful look to the west, where the sun was just kissing the horizon. “The crew isn’t going to be thrilled about that, captain.”
“It’s a long trip. Raid my personal coffer and buy a couple kegs of the good stuff, on me. Make sure everyone knows that’s just the first course for the celebration we’re looking forward to when we catch up to Princess Lena.”
“Yes, captain. But…” Shaun trailed off, obviously uncertain if he wanted to finish his objection.
“Just spit it out, man. Even if I do throw you overboard, it’s only ten feet and you know how to swim.” The blond man’s attempt at humor didn’t do much to defuse the situation, but the moment of forced chuckling did let the shorter man calm down enough to continue.
“What if the princess isn’t headed for the Capari Islands, captain?”
“I was that girl’s shadow in the palace for five years. After that I was the one in charge of her shadows for the last two. The only two interests that she never gave up on in all that time? Her books, and her obsession with meeting her mother’s family. She’ll be in Capari, Shaun. It’s all a question of being there in time to greet her, or having to try and chase her to wherever she runs AFTER that. Get my orders to the men.”