The middle-aged captain’s expression darkened a few shades when he saw the smirk on his first mate’s face as he made his way across the deck.
“I suppose you think I deserved that?” Edward tried to keep his anger foremost in his tone, but as soon as he spoke the words he found it hard not to think of all the trouble he had shuffled onto the blonde woman over the past several hours.
“I simply assumed you would want to be informed about any potential threats to your ship, Captain.” The platinum-haired woman maintained a perfect deadpan as she replied.
“I would have wanted to know if I was captain!” The random interruption from the grinning crewman as he rushed to re-secure one of the loose, rarely used, sail lines drew a fresh scowl from the Captain.
“Then it’s a good thing you AREN’T captain, Antony. A captain has better things to do with their time than to spend hours of it listening to trivia about the princes of Cheles.”
“I wouldn’t call a potential FLEET of Kestrels coming after us ‘trivia,’ captain.” Olna’s voice was lower as she made her statement, pitched to carry only to the man in front of her.
“We already knew about Gregor’s famous Talons, Olna. I confess that I hadn’t thought he might be sending them after us so quickly, or that he had THAT many of them.” The sandy-haired man attempted a casual tone at this, but the likely reality of such pursuers caused the attempt to fall somewhat flat. “The complete breakdown of normal troop positions for Prince Milo’s garrisons, when we aren’t planning on heading anywhere NEAR the northern borders, was a bit much though. I swear once that girl starts talking I don’t think she has an off switch.”
“She stops talking for a bit when you interrupt her, you just have to do it and get out quickly before she can start talking again.” The grin on Olna’s face shifted slightly, leaving Edward fairly certain that this statement was NOT one of baseless conjecture.
“You still should have let me have another couple hours of sleep. It’s been a long night.”
“Longer for me than you, oh captain my captain. You got through most of the night before Frederich woke you, and then another hour while you left me to deal with our passenger. Now take the damned helm before I pass out on it, you ol-…” Whatever insult the woman had intended to finish her order with was swallowed by a massive yawn. “Just remember, the wheel doesn’t really steer a hell of a lot without power, so you have to yell down at…” The blonde trailed off as she tried to remember which crewmen were providing the extra sail control.
“You sent Sam and Santos down to replace Antony and Gil about twenty minutes ago, boss!” The cheerful cry from the female crewman brought a spark of recall to the tired first mate’s expression.
“Right, thank you Kristina! Sam is over the port side and Santos is starboard. Just yell at them to manually trim the side-sails if you need to not run into something. And something else…”
“Yell at me to run down to the engines if there’s a REAL emergency.” Both first mate and captain jumped at the sudden voice from directly behind them, followed by a pair of glaring expressions at the young man who had crept up noiselessly on them. “Frederich says he’s got something rigged up so you’ll have enough steam to make a couple quick corrections if we need it.”
“Thank you, Antony. Now stay where I can SEE you while you’re up on the deck.” The dark-haired man shrugged and grinned at the order from the captain.
“You’re relieved, Olna. Get some-…” Edward trailed off as he realized his first mate HAD actually fallen asleep, leaning against the wheel. “Antony, please help the first mate get to her cabin. And watch where you ‘help’ with those hands if you want to keep them both.”
The younger man grinned again, wider this time, and hoisted the blonde woman unceremoniously over his shoulder.
“OW! You son of a bi-…”
“Captain’s orders, ma’am. Now I can carry you to your quarters or I can walk with you to make sure you don’t fall somewhere.”
“…carrying sounds nice…” Edward shook his head in disbelief as he realized the woman was asleep again.
When I signed her on seven years ago she said she was a crack shot, a hell of a navigator, and she could sleep anywhere. I don’t think she ever got around to proving the third one before this… Another quick shake of his head dispelled the random train of thought, and the captain took his place at the wheel and gazed out at the sky surrounding his ship.
“When the hell did we head above cloud level?”
“Wear your mask, Del.” The order from the massive Chea was accompanied by a large hand pushing the mentioned mask over the smaller man’s face, before she turned to the engineer. “Though he IS right, Frederich. You always told me that open flames in the engine room was a BAD thing.”
The grey-haired man waved a dismissive hand at the objections. “If the two of you would spend as much time helping me with the repairs as you did worrying about the temporary emergency furnace, we’d be half-finished by now!”
“And if we didn’t have to dance around the room to avoid the giant, barely-contained bonfire you’ve set in the middle of the engines we’d be three fourths done instead!” Both men halted and exchanged sincerely startled looks through the lenses on their smoke masks, most likely at the correct use of a fraction from the dark-skinned woman.
“Stop worrying about the emergency furnace and concentrate on the work that needs doing.” Frederich was the first to shake his expression back to the usual look of intense focus he wore when working on the Pelican’s engines. “It’s safe enough. Now Chea, I need you to lever this section up so that Del can get inside and replace the calibration gauges.”
“Wait, gauges? We didn’t pick up any gauges in Cheles.” The engineer’s assistant sounded alarmed as he made the observation. “Oh hells, did we get the wron-…”
“We picked up the gauges in Sykimer, about four months ago.”
“Wait, we’re just NOW replacing those? That means… I mean… You…”
“Yes, we should have gotten to it sooner, but the captain kept picking up quick work and we weren’t pushing the engines too hard.”
“We burned out those gauges almost a YEAR ago, you mean you’ve been running the furnaces by guesswork for a year? Gods, it’s no WONDER we’re having to replace ALL the primary valves. We could ha-…”
“Your hatch is open, get in and get to work.” The strained command from Chea drew both men’s attention again, and both gaped in surprise again as they saw the massive woman holding open the massive panel with her bare hands.
Del forced the argument out of his mind for the moment and scrambled for the heavy pouch of tools and components he would need for the long-overdue repairs. He paused for only a moment at the access point to look back at the old engineer, but Frederich had already moved on to start work on the next part of the project. “Crazy old man.” With those muttered words, Del pushed forward into the cramped space to begin his work.
“Chea! As soon as you get Del out of there I need you to start hammering out some of the patch metal so we can resurface enough of the primary furnace to get it back up and running too! I think this might be a good time, with both furnaces cold, to work in that-…”
“Just the repairs, Frederich!” The combined shout that cut off the engineer was almost perfectly synchronized, as if well-rehearsed.
“Princess Lena?” The nervous question echoed through the empty guest quarters as the crewman stood in the doorway. “Princess? I brought you some lunch, are you here?” The lean man sighed as his anxious queries failed to cause the absent royal to materialize.
“Great. Now where the hell would a princess wander off to on a crappy ancient cargo ship.” Crewman Jean Russell, most recent addition to the Pelican – Well, second most recent if the princess counts – contemplated his own question for several moments before sighing again.
“At least the ship’s not THAT big.” The brown-haired man turned away from the room and opted to head towards the bow of the ship. “And hunting errant princesses for lunch service is a better job than hanging on the rigging off the side of the ship.”
Jean’s randomly chosen direction bore fruit quickly, as the young man heard some odd sounds coming from the navigation room. A glance through the slightly ajar door caused the crewman to nearly drop the tray of food he was carrying.
“Princess? What are you doing?”
“Oh!” The quiet question drew a startled exclamation from the raven-haired woman as she whirled to face the door. “Ah, crewman… Russell, right?”
The brown haired man found his shock deepening as the royal woman correctly remembered his name. “Um, yes, Princess, that’s righ-…”
“Could you assist me with this? The top piece is heavier than I expected and I don’t want to crack the glass getting it down.”
The mention of cracked glass caused the crewman to pale visibly and he quickly set his tray on the floor and moved into the room. Olna is going to kill someone. I really hope it isn’t me. Jean managed to get a good grip on the large dome the princess was removing from the ship’s compass and assisted the woman in getting the piece onto the floor. He quickly wished he hadn’t come fully into the room, as he hadn’t seen from the doorway that the princess had apparently dismantled the ship’s astrolabe as well as the compass.
“Thank you, crewman. I should be able to properly calibrate the instruments and get everything MUCH more accurate. Could you find some proper tools for me to work with? Calipers and some fine-tipped pliers, please.”
Jean tried to find his voice to object, but then forced his mouth shut as his train of thought caught up. If I help her, maybe she CAN put this all back together and then Olna won’t kill us both. “I’ll be back soon. Your lunch is on the tray!”
The brown-haired man didn’t look back as he exited the room quickly, racking his brain as he went. Where to find… Frederich maybe? No, they’re in the middle of repairs. But Frederich’s quarters… A quick turn had the young man on a new route with a renewed look of determination. Next time, volunteer to hang off the side of the ship, Jean. The easy job is a trap.
“So Olver’s forces are moving uncontested so far, Milo has either lost his mind or he has a truly impressive play in reserve that he’s playing VERY close to the chest.” The neatly dressed man paused his report to see if his liege desired any further details, but the blond man seated on the throne simply made an impatient waving gesture. “Gregor has gone fully to ground, although he does seem to still be managing Freeport in absentia. Your sister has also dropped out of sight after successfully escaping the capital, though she did such a wondrous job recruiting competent individuals to manage the city for her that few of the people realize the princess is gone.”
“Any news yet on the ship Lena fled on?” The blond man finally looked interested as the conversation turned towards his sister.
“Our agents have determined that the ship was known as the ‘Pelican,’ and that, to all appearance, it’s nothing more than a foreign cargo hauler.” The advisor ran a nervous hand through his grey hair. “A few rumors of smuggling, but one would be hard pressed to find a ship’s captain NOT accused of that at one time or another.”
“We haven’t managed to identify her captain yet?”
“I’m sorry, Prince Tyler, but no. The ship was only docked overnight and we have very few agents in the capital itself. Your sister was hardly considered to be the threat your broth-…”
“You can relax, Shaun. I understand the difficulties involved, just keep working as best you can.” The youngest royal turned to another elegantly dressed man. “Grigory, your report?”
“Sadly, still poor news, your highness.” The thin, black-haired man spoke with a deeply conciliatory tone. “The Theocracy continues to shift troops closer to the border, though they claim to have no interest in re-igniting hostilities with Cheles. We would be foolish to take them at their word, seeing the anticipated unrest your father has cast the country into. I don’t believe we can safely shift significant resources away from the border at this time.”
“That is a fascinating report, Grigory.” The prince turned his attention back to the first man. “Shaun, would you be so kind as to escort our guest in?”
The black-haired advisor looked confused for a moment as his grey-haired counterpart left the room. The confused expression melted into one of dread when Shaun returned with an elaborately robed man.
“Bishop Treses here was quite surprised to hear about his nation’s recent troop movements. He was even so kind as to volunteer to take a few of my more LOYAL men on a tour through the Khathael settlements closest to the border. They didn’t notice any of these troop movements you’ve been reporting on all week.”
Grigory tried to put some distance between himself and the coldly enraged expression on the prince’s face, but found his escape suddenly blocked by a pair of grim faced soldiers that had silently entered the room.
“Which of my brothers are you working for?” Tyler practically spat the question at his now-former advisor.
The black-haired man wore a defiant expression for a moment, but that moment quickly vanished as the pair of guards wrenched him painfully to the ground and placed a blade to his throat.
“Gregor… your highness. I serve Prince Gregor.”
The blond prince strode over to the pinned man and glared down at him for a long moment. “So, Olver then? Milo would never employ agents that would turn on him so easily, and Gregor would have found a way to arrange ACTUAL troop movements to report on. So Olver is left by elimination, isn’t he?”
The pinned man attempted to stammer out a denial, but the royal cut him short with a savage kick to the skull that left him barely conscious. A wave of one hand sent the soldiers back a few feet as he produced a heavy looking pistol from his belt. “It’s a true shame, and a great sin before God that my father has decided to set his children against each other like this. But I believe a message needs to be sent to my elder brother regarding an insult to my intelligence such as this.”
Rather than a pellet or dart, the heavy pistol fired by the royal emitted a gout of brilliant white flame at the dazed man on the floor, immolating him completely. Tyler turned from the screaming, burning man on the floor and strode over to face his gray-haired advisor. “See to it that the remains are delivered to Olver, with my regards.”
Shaun nodded, and walked quickly over to bark orders at the soldiers, yelling to be heard over the fading screams from the floor. The prince turned his attention towards his visitor, an apologetic expression on his face. “I apologize for the unpleasantness, Bishop. Perhaps we should retire to another chamber until this mess is cleaned up.”
The religious ambassador nodded understandingly. “That sounds like an excellent idea, your highness.”