“Princess, I’m not sure this is what the captain had in mind when you told him you were going ashore to go shopping.” The brown-haired man looked nervously around as he followed his royal charge into the more industrial part of the port town.
“I don’t see how that could be. We are ashore, and on a shopping trip.” The tall woman glanced around, then changed direction and picked up speed as she seemed to spot what she was looking for.
Jean’s eyes widened when he saw the storefront Princess Lena was leading him towards. “Your highness, I’m not sure what we’re looking for, but this-…” The lanky crewman’s objection trailed off as the princess pushed her way through the door without a pause, then sighed as he hurried in after her.
“Welcome!” A large man, with a dark complexion rendered several shades darker by several grease and soot stains, approached the pair with a wide smile and a predatory glint in his eyes. “I rarely see such a fair lady in my humble store.”
The proprietor paused his greeting for a brief moment as he assessed the pair more closely, then turned all his attention towards the raven-haired woman. “What manner of armament does my fair lady seek today?”
Jean glared briefly at the larger man’s choice to ignore him, then shook himself slightly to keep a vigilant watch of his surroundings as the princess responded.
“I require two heavy cannons. They will need to manage at least thirty degrees of vertical traverse, and be able to outrange a Kestrel’s strike cannon.” Lena listed her requirements in a calm, but authoritative tone.
“Heavy cannons we have, in plenty. I’m afraid I am unfamiliar with the exact range of a ‘strike cannon.'” The proprietor’s smile remained wide, but the predatory glint had dimmed slightly in response to the princess’s tone.
“More than five thousand feet. Accurately.” Lena glanced disdainfully at a few of the older designs spread around the large store.
Jean slid smoothly in front of the princess as the large store owner’s smile withered for a moment, but the man managed to paint a polite expression back onto his features before the dark-haired woman’s focus returned to him. “I believe I have exactly the items you are looking for. And even a matched set!”
Lena’s expression shifted to one of definite interest at the mention of ‘matched set,’ and Jean stifled the urge to groan. How the hell am I going to explain a shiny new pair of CANNONS to the captain?
“You-… My lady Lena,” Jean barely caught himself from addressing his companion as royalty in such a questionable setting. “Could I have a few private words with you before we commit to such hefty purchase.”
If looks could kill, the glare from the store owner would likely have been the end for crewman Jean Russell. Lena, seeming oblivious to the silent exchange between the two men, nodded her acquiescence and allowed Jean to lead her several steps away from the store owner.
“Your highness, have you consulted the captain or the first mate about this purchase?”
The princess offered a confused look in response to the whispered question. “Not specifically, though we have had several discussions about the Pelican’s lack of a good defense against more modern, military ships. This seems an appropriate solution.”
“Your highness, cargo ships like the Pelican are usually forbidden from carrying such heavy weapons in nearly ANY civilized country. Your brother’s fleet is only an exception within Cheles because he is one of the princes.”
“There’s more than sufficient space in the cargo hold for a pair of heavy cannons to be stored when approaching a port, and I’m certain this crew can manage to camouflage them sufficiently while in flight to escape notice. And once we return to Cheles, you’ll have the same advantage with regards to excessive armament as any of Gregor’s ships.” The princess listed each of her points calmly and methodically, and continued to look a little puzzled when Jean’s expression didn’t become appropriately reassured.
“I think this is definitely the sort of purchase that should be discussed with the captain FIRST, your highness.” Jean struggled to keep his voice to a whisper as he tried to find an objection the princess would consider valid.
“I’ve bought out the entire cargo hold for this voyage, Mr Russell. If the captain or first mate believe these new weapons will be unsuitable for the ship, they can simply remain in the hold until such time as I can find a better use for them.” The tall woman turned to stride back towards the shop keeper as soon as she finished speaking, before Jean could try to come up with another excuse that would see them leaving the shop without owning a pair of very large, and expensive, cannons.
“Is everything resolved, my lady?” The proprietor’s grin had returned, though he looked quite a bit less certain than before.
“I believe so, good sir. Please, show me what you have.”
Jean grumbled softly as he followed the princess and the hugely smiling arms merchant.
“I am sorry you are unhappy with the price, Captain Damini, but as you know from your previous visits, Jiungli is far more interested in acquiring tangible trade goods than small amount of precious metals” The dark-skinned, pot-bellied money changer offered a patently false smile to accompany his insincere platitude.
“We are AWARE of the local preferences.” Olna Dahl leaned over the table with an angry expression before her captain could attempt his own response. “We do, however, take exception with this RIDICULOUS price you are quoting at us. It’s not even half what you offered when we docked here two years ago.”
The large, fake, smile never wavered. “Perhaps during your last visit there were no questions as to the purity of the gold you sought to tra-…”
Edward interrupted the money-changer with a loud, deep, laugh. “We bring trade bars, stamped with the royal seal of Cheles, and you question the PURITY?” The sandy-haired captain shook with genuine laughter as he finished his incredulous question. “Take one and test it then. Test ALL of them if you like. But you agree up front to pay the NORMAL rate for the full weight of all the bars.”
The balding man behind the desk looked more than a little taken aback by the offer, but managed to calm his expression quickly. “That is a most… unusual request.”
Olna snorted dismissively. “You’re trying to cheat us even more than you people usually do. Is it really unusual that we’re REQUESTING a fairer price?”
The dark-skinned man did a far better impression of sincerity when he began his indignant sputtering than he’d managed earlier in the exchange, but his half-formed retort was cut off when Edward slammed a hand loudly onto the desk to bring the man’s attention away from the blonde first mate.
“Take the offer or leave it. If you don’t think it’s good enough, we’re far more willing to lose ten percent trading directly in gold with everyone else on the island than we are to lose fifty percent getting cheated by you. Do we have an agreement?” Edward stared unblinkingly at the man behind the desk, every bit of his expression openly daring the man to say no.
The false smile returned to the money changer’s face. “Your terms are acceptable, Captain Damini.”
“Yay. We’re only going to get ripped off the normal amount.” Olna’s muttering as she walked out with her captain was more than loud enough for the pot-bellied money changer to hear
“We budgeted for that, Olna.” Edward’s expression was no happier than his first mate’s as the pair turned down the street towards the docks. “And it’s hard to be TOO upset when the princess is the one footing the bill.”
“Except that we’d be getting all that extra money for ourselves if we weren’t losing it to some backwater island?”
The captain’s only reply was a dissatisfied grumble as he led the way back to his ship.
“To shopping!” The brown-haired woman raised her nearly overflowing mug cheerfully to bang against her companion’s as she made the slightly slurred toast.
“To AFTER shopping!” The woman’s drinking partner countered with his own toast, drawing wider smiles from both before they downed the contents of their cups.
“It may be the ass-end of civilization, but they have GREAT beer.” Kristina leaned back on her stool and waved at the bartender for another round.
“Be a little polite, Kristina!” Santos leaned closer to whisper to his companion. “I mean, at least until we’ve finished!”
“Meh. She’s right.” The bartender appeared in the middle of the dark-haired man’s whispered request, wearing a placid expression. “Besides, we wouldn’t dream of ‘adding’ anything to your drinks while you’re still here ordering more of them.”
Both sailors chuckled at the bartender’s humor, and Santos made a point of tossing a couple extra coins onto the counter to pay for the new drinks he deposited.
“Well WHAT do we have here?” Santos and Kristina both started on their stools at the sudden, loud, and somewhat sinister voice from behind them.
“Gods Sam, you have GOT to stop sneaking up on people.” Kristina turned a withering expression on her grinning crewmate standing behind her, while her companion subtly slid a concealed knife back into his sleeve. “One of these days it will not go well for you.”
“But not today!” Sam dropped onto the open stool to Kristina’s right, while a grinning Antony appeared to occupy the space to Santos’ left. “Today, sneaking up on people has earned free drinks for Antony and myself!”
“How do you figure?” The brunette asked with equal parts disbelief and amusement in her tone.
“Well, I figure that’s the least you two could do to return the great favor we’re doing for you.” Antony joined the conversation with a deadpan tone. “After all, what would Chea say if she knew the two of you were here drinking it up when she specifically TOLD you to finish the food shopping first?”
In response both Santos and Kristina produced slightly crumpled sheets of paper from within their jackets. “You mean THIS food shopping?” Santos asked smugly as he dropped the receipt in front of a no-longer smiling Antony.
“We got all the non-perishables taken care of today, plus enough fresh stuff to last through our stay.” Kristina smirked at the disbelieving look on Sam’s face. “And I think you may have forgotten something important with your little blackmail plan.”
“And what’s that?”
“That would be how much your cargomistress disapproves of crewmembers trying to coerce free drinks from each other, WITHOUT including her in the fun.” The massive form of Chea K’rst leaned over the group at the bar with a very serious expression on her face. “Antony, Sam, you two are buying everyone a round.”