The Alderman’s Inn was a typical waterfront establishment catering to sailors and travelers, and as such, it offered the same comforts to all who passed through its doors, regardless of what their visiting cards looked like – hearty food, strong drink, and upstairs, bedrooms that were small but clean and warm and to be had for a standard price. After days, weeks, or months at sea, no mariner would need or ask for more or other. Peino Starhand, who spent more time on the waves than the land in any event, also spent more of his time in places like this than in the halls and courts of rulers and lords. A good tavern within view of the docks suited him well, and the Alderman’s, with its well-cooked fish and briny salted mead and the musicians singing a familiar tune and the smell of the sea wafting through the hearth smoke and kitchen fragrances, suited him better than some.
But still, he was a prince, and a prince, after all, is a prince. They tend to come with certain expectations.
He had barely lowered the hand by which he had beckoned the barman when a fresh bottle thumped sharply on the table next his elbow, followed by Jean Lafitte and two of his crew, demanding an audience.
Whatever momentary shock the captain and the officers of the Marsh King’s Daughter may have felt at the sudden and invasive appearance, it was turned to action the moment Peino glimpsed the card Lafitte slipped out of and back into his pocket.
Peino’s ivory-handled dagger was drawn in an instant. The move triggered like moves from his people. By the time Lafitte and his officers touched the wooden chairs with their backsides, they were hemmed in by an array of steel.
Three from the Calinda – captain, first mate, and wizard – and six from the Daughter – captain, first mate, wizard, bos’un, navigator, and quartermaster. Vaet Longblade’s long blade lay against the back of Lafitte’s mate’s neck and the point of Quartermaster Aelaiss Grayboar’s dagger pointed neatly at the eorman’s throat, while the blades of Tahain o’th’Farwind and Lariud Moonwood, in his unburned arm, and the crystal dagger of the wizard Watersinger, all hovered between the hands and the hearts of Lafitte and the elf lass next to him.
The music and general noise of the Alderman’s taproom fell slowly quiet as Peino rose from his seat. The selkie’s dark eyes blazed, never leaving Lafitte’s golden brown eyes, while his blade never wavered from a line with Lafitte’s chest.
“Upon my word, sir, you’re easy in your manners, aren’t you?” he said, evenly. “You sit yourself down neat as a cat without so much as a pause for welcome, and worse, you dare to bring that abomination unwarded to my table? I’d be within my rights to cut your throat here and now.”
“Serene Highness!” A panicky cry fluttered up as the innkeeper, a rotund dwarf with a beard to his knees ran up to the suddenly unfriendly group and executed an awkward bow even before his feet got planted. “My Lord Starhand, good sir, is there… a problem? Shall I call for the guardians?”
“I don’t know, Master Landlord,” answered Peino, tilting his head slightly as he glared at Lafitte. “What say you, Captain, is there a problem? Should the guardians be called? Or will you put your card, sir, on the table, as it were, sir?”