Peino Starhand had to admit it, he was starting to find Captain Jean Lafitte fascinating. He had such a strange way about him, and that name, and that accent — Peino had traveled all over Aeldreth, but he had never heard anything like it. Listening to the eorman’s minor mistakes of grammar and wording, Peino thought Lafitte must have learned Common fairly recently, and that combined with his clothes, that mad flying vessel, planted a suspicion in Peino’s mind.
However, it would be rude simply to ask outright, and in any event, time was short this morning. Lafitte, for his part, seemed eager to waste none of it.
“Someday, Captain, when we are at leisure,” Peino said with a smile, “we shall have to tell each other all about ourselves. For now, though, if I understand you right, you wish to accept my invitation to accompany the Daughter? By all means. I am perfectly happy to introduce you to my lord brother, for what it may be worth, and as round about as it seems, a personal introduction would be the simplest and most expedient course.”
Peino paused to pull several morsels of the smokey, salted kipper filet off its bones with knife and fork, piercing the fish together with sections of roasted orange. He sighed as the complex, aromatic combination of savory and sweet, tangy and briny filled his senses, and smiling, washed it down with a gulp of coffee.
“However,” he dabbed his mouth with the edge of the linen tablecloth, “as I mentioned last night, I have urgent business in Sesus, so I must beg you to indulge me, if you will be so kind. Come to Sesus and wait until I am free — I promise I shall be as quick about it as I can — then we shall continue on to the Navigators. Now, if you don’t want to be left knocking about idle in Sesus, you could go on ahead to Plesz, but then you’d only be left knocking about idle there until I catch you up, so six or half a dozen, as they say.”
Peino was well aware that these were not the only options available, but if Lafitte was willing to stay within his sight, he was not going to encourage him otherwise. This intriguing person was still a conundrum and one that, under the circumstances, he was not willing to set loose upon his nation or family without supervision. Certainly, he would be happy to bring Lafitte and the Calinda to the Navigators and introduce them both to his brother, the State Magus, his other brother, the Lord High Admiral, his parents, the Duke and Duchess, and any number of other relatives with titles like Lord Protector of the Isles and Seer of Ereon, and the like — but only if he, the Prince, Scion, and Lord of State, was standing right there to make sure the Flying Eorman (as he was coming to think of Lafitte) and his ruffian crew didn’t cause or get into trouble.
Finishing off a few more bites of his bracing meal, Peino rose and pulled a rolled chart from the rack on the wall of his cabin.
“Allow me,” he said, shifting some dishes aside and flipping up the cloth. He laid flat a section of the chart next to Lafitte’s plate. “We shall leave port as soon as the tide peaks — any moment now, really — and follow the Great Stream in a more or less straight course for Sesus.” His long, dark fingers traced the path with practiced ease. “A day or two in the royal city — it had better not take longer than that — then on through the Serpent Straits to the Navigators. Though I supposed you could go overland, shave some time off your voyage…”
Ding-dong, ding-dong, ding…
Peino looked up, counting the peals of the harbor bell. “Ah, there’s the tide now.”
A knock at the door, “Mr. Farwind’s compliments, sir, and we’ll be ready to cast off in fifteen minutes.”
“Thank you,” Peino called. “Time for one more cup, eh, Captain?”
Mariners were one of the few professions in Aeldreth that cared much about timekeeping, dependent as they were on the schedule of the tides and movements of the stars. The rapid conclusion to the captains’ meal was, therefore, nothing uncomfortable, and after concluding the last details of their plans and exchanging a few pleasantries and compliments, Starhand bid Lafitte a following wind and saw him down the boarding plank.
True to Farwind’s report, within minutes, the Marsh King’s Daughter was away from the dock, the plank being withdrawn almost as soon as Lafitte stepped off it. At the harbor mouth, the lines of the pilot boats were dropped, and the schooner dropped her sails to catch the ocean wind. As soon as they had reached a natural cruising speed, Nyora Watersinger would conjure the wind that would carry them the hundreds of leagues to Sesus in less than three days.
Feeling his ship awaken beneath him, Peino glanced over his shoulder only a moment to see what La Danse Calinda was doing, then turned his eyes and mind forward.
“Do you think they’ll be able to keep up with us, sir?” asked his first mate.
“We’ll see, Tahain, we’ll see,” said Peino with a sharp half-grin.