“What’s going on?” The princess frowned as her question was ignored, or possibly not heard over the blaring alarm, by the crewmember sprinting past her in the corridor, and a questioning glance at her escort drew only a shrug.
“It’s an all hands call, your highness. We’ll have to go topside and find out.”
Lena nodded her agreement with the suggested course, though she paused to offer a glare at the still closed engine room door before departing. As the pair reached the flight of stairs leading up to the deck, the princess was shouldered aside by another rushing crewmember headed the opposite direction. Before Lena could manage an indignant reprimand, the blond crewman had grabbed her escort by the shoulder and was dragging him down the passageway, yelling something about the powder hold. The raven-haired royal received a single apologetic look from Jean before he turned to run with his fellow crewmember.
Lena finished ascending to the main deck with quite an irritated expression in her face, and was almost run over again by the massive form of Chea. The huge woman paused long enough to make sure the princess had her footing, then sprinted down below deck with a mumbled apology. The royal passenger turned and stormed towards the helm, happy to note both captain and first mate were there.
“What is going on?” Lena suppressed a wince at the shrillness she heard in her own tone, and forced herself to take a deep breath as the ship’s officers turned to look at her.
“We have a ship pursuing us, it appears to be a Kestrel.” Olna answered the princess’ question brusquely and turned back to her discussion with the captain.
“One of Gregor’s ships?” Lena pretended she hadn’t noticed the first mate’s tone, especially as her initial question had hardly sounded polite.
“It changed to a pursuit course as soon as they spotted us, so we’re assuming so.” Captain Damini spoke quickly, and made a small gesture at his first mate that Lena couldn’t quite make out.
Probably a small reprimand for behavior. About time. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Unless you have some way to shorten the range on our pursuer’s forward cannon, I recommend prayer.” Lena was pleased to note that the first mate, while still sounding a bit harried, was at least making an effort to sound polite.
“Their main gun, it would shoot the Pelican out of the air?” Lena waited for a nod of confirmation before waving dismissively. “We simply need to climb a bit higher and they won’t dare to use it.”
The captain offered a confused expression in response. “Why would they care how high we are when they shoot us down, your highness?”
“If those are Gregor’s men, they don’t simply need to kill me. They need to recover my crest, intact, to fulfill father’s demands. A bad enough crash would make that… unlikely.”
“And you’d gamble our lives on that?” Olna tried to keep the disbelief out of her voice as she asked her question, though not very successfully.
“I don’t see how it’s more of a gamble than doing nothing. You’ve already said that their guns shoot farther than ours do.”
“They’re climbing, sir. Fast.”
Tomas Fiero growled and clenched his spyglass so tightly that the lenses cracked. Apparently we won’t be able to do this the easy way after all.
“JANNIS!” The bald captain turned to make sure his most trusted crewmember was paying attention. “Send out our last pigeon to the Second Talon. Tell them our location and heading, and that we’ve found the princess’ antique ‘ship.’ We’re going in to see if we can have a chat.”
Tomas ignored the wide-eyed looks from all four of his crewmembers at that announcement. “Someone get the semaphore flags up, and signal that ancient piece of junk. Tell them we’ve been sent to speak with the princess.”
“Captain, are you sure?” The captain answered the question with a threatening glare, but the heavyset crewman pressed on. “We can SEE that they’ve already got some deck guns set up on that old boat. We outrange them, we should just shoot out their lift-bag and get what we need from the wreckage.”
“We were ordered by Prince Gregor to recover either the princess or her royal crest, INTACT.” Tomas’ voice was a low growl as he visibly restrained himself from doing something violent to his crewman. “If we shoot them down at this height, NEITHER of those things will be possible. Now let those damned tramp-merchants know we’re coming alongside and politely ask them NOT to shoot at us.”
The captain’s scowl lessened for a moment as he saw his crew finally jump to do their duty, though it returned in full force as he realized that it was the reminder of Gregor’s potential displeasure that was motivating them. I’ll have to remember to set an example when this is over.
A soft whirring sound behind the captain drew the bald man’s attention away from his scurrying crew for a moment, and his lips parted in a grim smile as he saw the clockwerk pigeon flap away from his ship.
“The message is away, captain. I really hope you’re not about to get us all killed.”
The smile shifted back to a glare as Tomas regarded the redheaded woman. “Get to the lower deck and have all our grapnels and boarding equipment ready.”
Jannis snapped a mocking salute to her captain, but turned quickly to follow his orders.
“Am I reading that right?” Edward Damini blinked several times as he brought his binoculars down from his eyes.
“Depends, sir. What do YOU think they’re saying?” The captain suppressed a sigh and tried to focus on the positive; at least Olna was in a better mood since they’d convinced the princess to head back below deck.
“They want to come alongside and talk to us.”
“That’s what I got, sir. Also they keep repeating, ‘please don’t shoot at us.'”
“But you think we should do exactly that.” Edward was unsurprised when Olna nodded immediately and vigorously.
“Her royal highness was right, they aren’t shooting us down. But if we let them get that close, I’d bet anything they’re going to try and board.”
“A Kestrel only crews what, six at most? That’s a five man boarding party at best, against a ship that normally sails with twenty.”
“We don’t HAVE crew of twenty though, captain. We have eleven.”
“I don’t see why we should assume that THEY know that. And we still outnumber them more than two to one.”
“I’m not sure if Frederich and Del count, and I’m certain the princess doesn’t.”
“The princess killed at least two assassins before she found me, and wasn’t exactly cowering in the corner during all the fighting we found on our way out of the capital. And Chea should count for at least two.”
“You’re going to let them in close, aren’t you?” Olna’s pained expression and strained tone made it clear the question was rhetorical.
“Would you really want to serve on my ship if I was willing to order an entire crew executed before exchanging a single word?” Edward waited for several seconds until Olna looked away. “That’s what I thought. Now, have Santos and Antony bring the smaller deck guns around, and have them make it VERY obvious that we’ve got them aimed right at their lift bag.” The sandy-haired captain turned and headed for the stairs to below deck as soon as he finished speaking.
“And where are you going?”
“To see if I can remember where we stored the damned flags so we can signal back to our new friends.”
Jannis Ruby stood stiffly against the railing nearest the large ship they had pulled alongside, and struggled to keep from hyperventilating. The old cargo ship had three deck guns, likely all loaded with grapeshot or shredders, quite pointedly aimed at the smaller Talon’s lift-bag. This is crazy, this is stupid and crazy. Those aren’t merchants, merchants don’t carry THAT much firepower. The red-haired woman forced her gaze to look away from the small cannons that would likely kill her and her crew sometime in the next few minutes, and tried to focus her attention on her insane captain and his shouted exchange with the captain of the larger ship.
The two men had been arguing for several minutes now, and Jannis became more certain with each passing second that her captain had NOT noticed all the little clues that they were dealing with a more prepared opponent then they’d hoped. A grunt from the lower deck drew the woman’s attention, and she nearly fainted when she looked down and realized one of the idiots below deck had swiveled out one of the grappling cannons into plain sight. You MORONS! Get that back under cover bef-…
Jannis’ train of thought was derailed as the grappling hook fired, the compressed steam launcher not making a great deal of noise, but the biting *THUNK* as the grapnel embedded in the other ship couldn’t possibly have been missed.
The redhead didn’t pause for any more consideration, she simply leapt over the railing with her hands outstretched for the grappling line. Somewhere above her came a rapid sequence of loud blasts as the cargo ship’s small cannons opened fire on the Talon’s lift-bag. Screams were audible behind her as the small ship started its uncontrolled plummet, but she ignored it and focused every ounce of her being on closing her hands around the rope. Jannis almost screamed out in elation as she felt the course fibers scrape against her palms, and she squeezed so tight that her fingers went numb almost on contact.
An instant after the redhead secured her grip on the line, she was nearly flung away as the rope jerked wildly and the grappling cannon ripped free from the Talon. Jannis hung limply for several seconds, unable to do anything but gasp for breath. Before she could decide what to do next, she felt herself jerk again as the line began rapidly pulling her up towards the large ship above her. All she could do was clutch the line tighter, and hope that whoever was up there had something in mind other than throwing her overboard.
They’d just cut the rope if they were going to do that, but they didn’t. I’m gonna make it, I’m gonna live through this! The thought had barely completed when Jannis realized she had reached the small side deck of the cargo ship, and a massive silhouette loomed into view. The redhead had no time for words, as she felt one massive hand grab her by the collar and something heavy smashed down onto her skull, dropping her thoughts into a sea of darkness.