As soon as the spriggan Reputation was lost beneath the waves, the Marsh King’s Daughter set full sail for Kledy, a busy fishing port on the western tip of the Hammer of Arelaan. With a conjured wind at her back, the short detour would not take long, and there was much to do on the way.
In short order, the pirates were secured in the forward hold under armed guard. Like many in their profession, they seemed resigned to their fate once captured, perhaps trusting in the vagaries of the Arian legal system or the corruption of local jailers to save them. Peino had little concern for their future in that regard.
As the Daughter sped towards land, a meeting was convened in the captain’s cabin. Present in addition to Peino Starhand were First Mate Tahain o’th’Farwind, Ship’s Wizard Nyora Watersinger, and the spriggan captain, brought in by two armed crewmen with his burly arms bound tight to his sides by the brightly colored sash of the Brethren. His heavy jaw was beginning to swell between the horny growths on his face where the pommel of Peino’s dagger had knocked him down at the moment of his surrender. At Peino’s nod, the sailors shoved the pirate into a chair and shackled his ankles to its legs.
“That will be all,” Peino dismissed the men.
The spriggan and the selkie regarded each other with cool venom, each of them proud and confident of their people’s conflicting claims to mastery of the seas of Aeldreth. The pirate glared stoically through his bruises and reddening jaw. His grayish brown eyes followed Peino as he laid his weapons on his bunk and removed the bloodied laminate vest before returning to the chart table to sit upon it with arms folded and one long leg swinging.
For his part, Peino mentally inventoried the pirate’s relatively elegant clothing, his grizzled face, the row of short, conical horns that lined his jaw like a stone beard, the greased brown hair twisted into myriad knots full of charms.
“You must be good at your trade,” he remarked, “but this was not your day.”
“Aye, true enough,” the spriggan growled, “the luck was with you and that flying humbug.”
The captain and officers of the Daughter all grinned at that.
“Your name, sir?” Peino asked casually, and the spriggan scowled brutally.
“Typical elfen trick,” he said bitterly. “You know no spriggan will lower himself to answer an elf’s questions, yet no spriggan will be coward enough to hide his name. You spindly legged scum think yourselves clever, don’t you? Well, you’ll not hang me up, even if the dirt-licking Arian screws will. I’m Bom Boneshred of the Bone Clan of Gallows Isles. Loose these bonds and learn how I earned the name.”
“No need,” Peino smiled, “I can imagine well enough. My healer informs me your wizard’s wounds are grave. He may live but may not regain consciousness soon, if ever. So you must do in his stead. Come.”
Peino stood from the table and pulled the captive’s chair up to it. He nodded to his officers to be attentive as well.
“Mistress Watersinger, the circle?”
“Here, sir.” Nyora spread on the table a cloth painted with a circle of containment, which her captain had requested she bring. She traced the required gestures in the air, murmured the words of Atultaec, the gods’ speech, which activated the aura of the diagram, creating a nearly tangible field of dampening energy like a bubble emanating from the cloth. “Ready, sir.” Nyora’s dark eyes shone with curiosity as to what Peino needed this field of energy absorption for.
She and Tahain found out soon enough. They could not quite hide their combined disappointment and surprise when Peino pulled the playing card from his pocket and laid it carefully in the center of the cloth. But their expressions changed when they leaned in to look at the bit of paper. Bom Boneshred, meanwhile, did not look surprised. He was trying hard to look disinterested instead.
“Don’t break the circle,” Peino warned his people before turning to the pirate. “Now, Captain Boneshred, tell me, where did your wizard acquire this item.”
“How should I know?” Boneshred snarled. “He got ‘em and used ‘em, that’s all. Shit-load of good it did us.”
“Them,” Peino repeated, “more than one. Mr. Farwind, Milady Watersinger, have every prisoner searched down to his skin, and search likewise every bit of goods brought on board before we make port. You are looking for more cards like this one. See to it yourselves. No one should handle the cards but Watersinger, and she only with appropriate wards.”
Nyora pulled her eyes from the card with some difficulty, so transfixed had she been by the painful image on its face. “Sir, this thing… it’s…”
“Yes, Milady Wizard,” Peino answered, “it is.”
“It has a glamour to it, an allure.”
“Yes, beware its touch. I have felt something like it before. It is intended to steal your soul.” Peino turned from the shocked Nyora and fixed Bom Boneshred with a harsh look. “Did you know that, Captain? Were you aware what poisoned pills you were carrying aboard your vessel?”
“Ha! Impossible. How can a soul be stolen? You talk nonsense.” But the suddenly guarded expression on his face, the faint weakening of the bravado in his gravelly voice, told Peino that Bom Boneshred had perhaps known, or at least suspected, but possibly not before it was too late to do anything but try to resist the magic lure.
“Be that as it may,” he said with a shrug, “we have more practical business to discuss. Mistress Watersinger, remember your wards and if you find more cards, secure them together with that one. Farwind, stay with her. No one is to be alone with those cards. When you are done, return to me. In the meantime, Captain Boneshred and I shall discuss his knowledge of his wizard’s shopping habits on the one hand and the possible testimony of a high-ranking noble at his trial for piracy on the other. Yes, Captain? Excellent.”
The remainder of the speedy voyage yielded mixed results, in Peino’s opinion. The search discovered no more cards like the Deuce of the Chained Hearts, but a well-balanced negotiation with the spriggan did reveal that his wizard claimed to have acquired a couple or a few strange cards from a dealer he knew from the Thieves Guild, who was following the markets of the Feast of the Triumvirate. Ten days ago, the dealer had been in Sesus. Most convenient.
By the time the Daughter sailed into Kledy under the warm glow of sunset, Peino Starhand had several letters and a report of the battle drafted, a course plotted, a plan outlined, and was cleaned up and properly kitted out in the blue and red coat and cocked hat of his rank. The harbor authorities met the famous ship of the Navigators with excitement, but were soon swept up in her captain’s swift and brusque demands.
Mooring was secured and repairs ordered from the harbor master. A runner was dispatched to the local pyschegraph office. The Guardians of Kledy were summoned and the pirates handed over together with the written report and a statement dictated on the dock.
“You were assisted by the Calinda?” the City Protector commented, as he listened to Starhand’s declarations.
“Yes, some floating thing, a ship of the air of some kind. Privateering for Bull & Jackal, I gathered.”
“Yes, Milord, we know it well.”
Peino gave his seal to the statement and immediately lost interest in the prisoners being marched or carried off. After overseeing the rest of the details of settling his ship into her berth, to be worked on throughout the night by the riggers and carpenters, he repaired, together with his senior staff, to an establishment recommended by the harbor master, The Alderman’s Inn, for dinner and lodging.
And as the noble captain and his officers tucked into a hearty casserole of fish and tipped a few bottles of mead while they discussed the unusual events of the day, messages went flying along the ley lines of the world from local psychegraph seers to their counterparts in receiving offices in Arelaan and Sesus and all the way around the world to the Grand Navigator Islands.
The first two, addressed to the Royal Chancellors of the Glimmering and Floating Thrones, outlined the cause of the one-day delay in the completion of the Daughter’s mission and advised the adjusted expected arrival date.
The third, addressed to Lord Jeneyeru Ereonis, High Magus of the Sovereign Duchy of the Grand Navigators, read as follows:
“Jeney ~ Awkwardity in Arian Sea. Advise you contact Guild at your earliest convenience regarding that deck you donated. Details and example upon arrival home after Sesus. Kindly wait upon me in eight days or less. Your brother, Pei.”