Edward Damini straightened reflexively from his casual position next to the helm, before shaking his head slightly and turning away from the currently useless wheel to face his first mate. “I have to say I’m impressed, Olna. I always blamed the engine noise on you being able to sneak up on me whenever I’m on watch.”
“Had to come up with SOMETHING to try to keep you alert, instead of falling asleep at the wheel.”
“The northern imperial run, with hold full of brass fittings? Where we almost ran into a mountain?”
“Alright, but that never happened more tha-…”
“The trip out from the Theocracy to the Midden Islands, farming equipment? Where we alm-…”
“It hasn’t happened in more than fiv-… almost four years!” Edward ground his teeth as the pleasant smile and affirmative nod from the blonde somehow felt MORE mocking than the interruptions had.
“So, report. Aside from still broken, how’s my ship doing? Do we have workable navigation charts yet?”
“Princess bookworm and her chosen minion are about halfway through fixing their mess.” Olna seethed at the reminder of their passenger’s tampering with her navigation room. “I still say you’re insane for letting her walk free on the ship after that stunt, by the way.”
“You really think we should just lock the princess in her cabin for the entire trip?”
“Yes.” The immediate and deeply emphatic response drew a muted chuckle from the captain.
“Duly noted, however since the only locking doors on this ship are in the cargo hold and MY cabin, I think I’ll stand by my original decision.”
“She’s a MENACE, Captain. She doesn’t even understand WHY tampering with delicate equipment like that could go horribly wrong!”
“I seem to recall the modifications being quite expertly done.”
“Not the POINT. What if she’d tampered with things while we were a week out over the ocean?”
“Have you ever been out of the navigation room for more than eight hours when we’re underway? Didn’t Jean say he was working with her for almost six hours AFTER he found her? And she’d been going for longer than that before he did?”
“ALSO not the point. Cap-…”
“And now that we know to keep an eye on our passenger to watch for signs that she’s growing bored, do you really think that she’ll endanger the ship again?”
“Not intentionally.” Olna muttered the response defiantly, but wilted after several seconds under a stern gaze from her captain. “Alright, no, she won’t be able to wreck anything else now that we’re watching her. Happy?”
“Ecstatic, actually.” The sandy-haired man smiled at the glare his response provoked. “I mean, we’ve needed to update all the charts and equipment down there for what, four years now? Don’t I listen to you complain EVERY time we make port that all the updated maps are using the new reckoning system and it was a pain to convert on the fly from our old tools?”
“Well…” Olna finally sighed and slumped in defeat. “Yes, you’re right, that girl saved us a small fortune. And she’s paying us a large fortune for a simple job. I still don’t LIKE when someone takes my things apart and messes with them WITHOUT asking.”
“Have you tried explaining that to her, without any screaming? She’s royalty, Olna, she’s probably never had to live with only ‘one’ of ANYTHING, especially something that her life might depend on. Now, can we move past this problem you’re having with our guest?”
“She also did something to Chea.” Edward allowed an expression of absolute disbelief to show in response to this claim. “No, really. She wanted to talk to Chea about something, and then we all got sidetracked with the engines and this damned insane plan to freeze ourselves to death up here so that we wouldn’t get murdered by her brothers’ soldiers down on the ground, and…”
The interruption stopped the first mate’s speech, and left the woman shaking her head for a moment. “And also the air is too damned thin up here. Gods but we need to get down to a proper elevation. Anyways, she showed Chea something out of one of those books she brought with her and Chea’s been acting odd ever since then.”
“Hmm? That’s it?”
“Well, what do you want me to do? Chea has ALWAYS been a little odd. Give it a couple days, and if she’s still acting off just ASK her what’s going on.” Edward noted the stunned expression on Olna’s face and sighed deeply. “And we DEFINITELY need to get back down below the clouds SOON.”
“I’ll second that!” Both captain and first mate jumped at the cheerful cry from behind them, before both turned to glare at the grinning face of crewman Gil Meyer. “Man you two are jumpy! So, evening report; we’re still clear as far as anyone can tell. No sightings of any traffic for the past three hours, and no one’s sighted a Kestrel, or anything that could BE a Kestrel, since just after dawn.”
“Thank you, Gil. Anything else?”
“Then get over the port side and take over for Antony on the rigging.”
“And maybe don’t take so much enjoyment out of startling your ship’s officers next time, hmm?”
The lanky blond sighed. “Yes, captain.” The crewman turned and strode towards his new duty post, muttering under his breath as he went.
“We are ALL going loopy up here, aren’t we? Any word from Frederich yet on when we can get the engines back online?”
“Oh!” Olna started in response to the captain’s question, then flushed a bit with embarrassment. “Yes, that. I was actually coming up to let you know; Frederich says we’re set to fire up the furnaces. We can be properly underway within the hour.”
“Really, Mr Russell, I’m quite certain I’ve learned my way around the ship completely now. I appreciate you guiding me, but I’m sure you have other duties you can attend to.” Princess Lena Malaire tried to keep her tone completely polite as she addressed the crewman following her, but she could feel some of the exasperation she felt slipping through.
“Oh, it’s no trouble, your highness. The captain doesn’t want you to not have someone on hand, should you need assistance, and I don’t mind getting out of the usual tasks.” The dark-haired man responded with an easy smile, either not noticing or ignoring the undercurrents in the princess’s voice.
Lena sighed loudly, then stopped to face her shadow. “You know, if you’ve been sent to keep an eye on me, you can just SAY that. I’m royalty, we’re USED to having people spying on us.”
“Ah, well, that’s definitely not the case, your highness!” The raven-haired woman offered a disbelieving glance in response. “It’s the truth! The first mate, and the captain of course, want to make sure we don’t have any more… misunderstandings, bu-…”
“So instead of a spy, you’re assigned to be my KEEPER? Does the first mate think I’m an irresponsible child?”
“Well, you did dismantle the only working navigational instruments on an airborne skyship while fleeing from pursuers who are, in your own words, ‘very likely to murder you at the first opportunity.'”
Lena opened her mouth to respond, then closed it as a contemplative look came over her. “I suppose that IS an accurate statement. Very well, Mr Russell. I am not highly experienced with skyships, and I will defer to your advice if you think a course of action I select is unsafe.”
“Thank you very much, your highness.” Jean’s tone was equal parts sincere and profoundly relieved. “So, where are we headed this morning, your highness?”
“Now that we’re properly underway, I would like to properly see the engine room.” Lena noted the sudden change in expression on her companion and sighed again. “I swear, I don’t intend to take anything apart. I just want to see how this engineer of yours modified everything so completely. I’ve rechecked the schematics since my one glimpse in there, and NOTHING looks the way it should.”
“A visit to the engine room to LOOK should be perfectly fine, your highness.”
The pair made their way across the deck and down to their destination in a comfortable silence, though Lena still noted frequent flashes of worry across her companion’s face. I wonder, is he naturally nervous or is there something he’s not telling me? Oh, no matter, we’re here!
The princess reached the closed door first and nearly plowed straight into it as the handle didn’t budge when she attempted to open it. The young woman turned a questioning look back to the crewman, and he stepped quickly forward to try it himself.
“Huh. It appears to be locked, your highness.” Jean noted the glare the princess cast him as he stated the obvious, and quickly turned back to the sealed portal. “Frederich! Open up man!” A few quick raps on the metal door accompanied his shout.
Some clanging sounds were heard from the other side of the door, and several seconds later a loud *thunk* echoed through as the latch was undone. The tall frame of the ship’s engineer leaned out into the hallway to inspect the duo.
“Ah, hello princess, crewman. I’m sorry to announce that the engine room is off-limits to passengers. Also to crewman Russell. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Wait, what did I…”
“Since when is this room off-limits?” The imperious question came from the princess as Jean barely started his own response.
“In your case, since about the time we found out that you DISMANTLED our ship’s navigation instruments without first insuring you had a means of putting them back together. For the crewman, since he came in and STOLE my tools!”
“That was the spare set, and I only borrowed them so that the princess could finish working on the navigation room! You got them all back!”
“Engineer Weilander,” Lena had paused to take a deep breath to calm herself before responding, and actually managed to keep her voice level and pleasant. “I can assure you, I’ve learned my lesson about tinkering without asking and I-…”
“No admittance to EITHER of you. Good morning!” With that interruption, the engineer leaned back into his engine room and slammed the door shut, locking it again with another audible *thunk*.
“How DARE you accuse ME of lacking proper preparation when YOU left your engines unmaintained to the point where we all nearly fell out of the sky in a giant FIREBALL!” The princess screamed at the door and pounded a fist into it, the dark-haired man with her stepping back in surprise at the unexpected display of fury.
After almost a minute of banging, and progressively less intelligible shouts, the princess seemed to calm down a bit. Or at least stopped to rub some feeling back into her abused hand. “Mr Russell?”
“Yes, your highness?”
“Would you be so good as to fetch some tea, and perhaps a pair of those folding chairs I saw down in the hold?”
“That man HAS to come out of this room at some point, Mr Russell. I fully intend to be waiting for him when he does.”
Jean Russell looked for several long seconds as if he was going to argue the point, but after opening and closing his mouth a few times he stepped back and shrugged. “Yes, your highness.”
Olna leaned against the helm, smiling as she felt wind blowing against her face that did NOT bite with the unnatural cold of the upper altitudes. The late spring, late afternoon sun provided some actual warmth again, and the first mate was deeply enjoying the calm skies and smooth sailing.
“Ship sighted off the port quarter!” The first mate snapped fully aware as she heard the cry from the aft spotter, turning her gaze towards the female crewman.
“Details, Kristina! I need some details!” The brunette woman made a rude gesture towards the blonde first mate before turning back to the heavy spy glass mounted on the stern railing.
“It’s the right size to be a Kestrel, looks like they’re heading more south than towards us.”
“Any chance they haven’t seen us yet?”
“Have you SEEN the size of this boat?”
Olna sighed and ran through options in her head. They could push the engines, and try to put some more distance between themselves and the mystery ship, but even with Frederich’s modifications there was no chance the Pelican could actually outrun one of Prince Gregor’s Talons. They could continue sailing on as if they were oblivious, and hope that the other ship was either not one of their pursuers, or could be tricked into thinking this wasn’t their target if they made no move to run.
“Correction! The unknown ship is coming around, she’s coming right for us now!”
Ah, well. Decision made. “SANTOS! Get down to Frederich and tell him to give me all the speed we can manage. Kristina! Give me an estimated time til our new friends arrive!”
Olna waited impatiently as the female crewman made some focus adjustments to her spyglass, jotting down notes on the railing next to her as she did so. “At full speed, two hours, maybe two and a half!”
The blonde smiled at the news; if they were going to have to deal with hostile pursuers, at least they were going to have time to get properly ready for them. “ALL HANDS! Prep the ship for combat!”
Olna reached down towards the bottom of the helm and pulled hard on the half-concealed cord waiting there. A shrill whistle immediately emanated throughout the ship, warning anyone that couldn’t hear the first mate to get ready for a fight. Confident that her crew knew what they were doing, Olna turned her attention back to the helm. Looks like it’s time we earn that extravagant paycheck for this trip.