Dawn found Peino Starhand signing papers by lamplight on the castle deck of the Marsh King’s Daughter. The dark and early hours before the sun peeked above the sea had been loud with the rumbling of carts and the groan of loading cranes, the whistles and shouts and lusty songs of the loaders loading, and of the Daughter’s crew boarding, and of the carpenters and painters and riggers finishing their work. Peino and First Mate Farwind had walked down from the Alderman’s Inn, with a lamp-boy leading them, to find the docks already awhirl with the preparations for the Daughter as well as the other ships coming in and going out that morning. No sooner had they set foot on the dock planks than they were besieged.
“Milord Captain, please come and inspect the rigging of the aft mast.”
“Sirs, be so kind as to approve the hull patching there and there and there.”
“Milord, kindly sign these bills of lading.”
“Sir, milord, can you describe the attack of the pirates, please? How many were lost in the battle? Was the Daughter boarded, sir?”
To which Starhand and Farwind would look sharp at the eager, fast-talking strangers with notebooks in hand. “And who are you?”
“News of the Realms, milord.” “Kledy Clarion, sir.” “Mariners’ Monthly Log, if you please.” And so forth.
To each of the news reporters who had gotten wind of the events that had brought the Marsh King’s Daughter into Kledy, Peino gave a short speech prepared over dinner at the inn, before the arrival of Captain Lafitte and his people. The gist of it gave the basic outline and timeline of the attack, the intervention of the Calinda, a rough number of casualties, the fact that the pirates were taken into custody, and a summation of the victors as having performed their duty with the utmost bravery and skill, etc., etc., etc. Peino smiled graciously as he promised that his full report on the incident would be made public in due course of time and referred the reporters to the Kledy Guardians and to Captain Jean Lafitte of the exotic and exciting airship La Danse Calinda for more details. He was kind enough not to mention that the airship captain who had saved the Daughter’s crew from what would doubtless be called a fate worse than death would soon be there to share breakfast with the grateful champion and prince of the Grand Navigators, but that kindness was perhaps as much for himself as for Lafitte.
At one point, though, he did nudge Tahain. “You should give an interview to that lady from the Mariner’s Monthly. Might raise your profile a bit if you got written up in that.”
“D’you think so?”
“I do. And she seems a likely lass, as well. Walk her ‘round while you sign off on things.”
“Heh, don’t mind if I do.” Tahain touched his hat to his captain. “Sir.”
“Mr. Farwind,” Peino nodded in assent.
So the first quarter of the day passed till the rising of the sun. When Jean Lafitte arrived, within moments of the sixth bell, the labor was nearly done and the traffic beginning to drain away from the Daughter’s decks. The tide would be high in less than an hour. Peino stepped away from the camp desk on which he’d been writing his signature over and over and the quartermaster, Alaiss Grayboar, had been paying out sums from a strong-box.
“A good morning to you, Captain Lafitte,” he said, bowing. “I trust your night passed well?”
For the first time, Peino took a good look at the man in front of him, free of the distractions of battle and suspicion. Lafitte was as tall as Peino himself and broader through the shoulders and chest, heavier overall. He looked like he could handle himself in a fight. Dull as a hen in his odd, grim clothes, compared to Peino’s vibrant blue coat and tricorn piped with white ribbon and fluttering red insignia. His hand resting on the hilt of his sword, the selkie took note of the eorman’s weapons — more unusual choices. Peino suppressed smile. In the distance, above the forest of masts that was the Kledy waterfront, he could make out what he thought was the hump of the Calinda’s balloon rising above her mooring. He wondered if the reporters had made their way there yet.
“Grayboar, I believe you can handle the rest, yes? Captain Lafitte, will you accompany me to my cabin?”
With a graceful wave of his hand, he invited his guest to follow him down the steps to the door nearly immediately below the wheel.