La Danse Calinda came flying in low towards the Marsh King’s Daughter. A strange amalgamation of parts that seemed, to Peino Starhand’s eye, to struggle against themselves in the battering wind, her flight seemed precarious at best. Still, the selkie could see well enough how Captain Lafitte managed her. Must be like gathering weasels and eels, he thought.
“That is the maddest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Tahain o’th’Farwind.
Peino cracked a grin. “It takes a particular set of skills and a particular sort of person, I would imagine.” He turned to the rest of the staff on the castle. “Where is the signal officer?”
“Signal Captain Lafitte. Once in the harbor, he may proceed to the state piers and moor with the Daughter as a guest of the Sovereign Duchy. Then, signal the harbor that the Calinda is under the aegis of the Navigators.”
Peino caught Tahain’s look. “Easier to watch if they’re close. It’s not as if it will grant them any privileges, aside from saving the mooring fee.”
While the signal flags ran up the line, the Daughter’s officers and many of her crew paused to watch the airship set down upon the water and, wondrously, convert to a sailing ship. The complicated procedure was a novelty to the mariners, but Captain Starhand gave them little time to appreciate it, as no sooner had the message been sent than the Daughter turned her rudder for the harbor of Sesus.
The Daughter’s flags and emblems gained her immediate access as a ship of state, expected on a diplomatic mission. Two coast guard cutters clears the way for the schooner through the harbor traffic and among the fortified, bridged islands of the city. The arrival of the famous ship still bearing the scars, in the form of patched paint and some missing scale plates, of her battle with the monster off the Hammer of Arelaan would add a novel note to the buzz of the city’s festival.
Concentrating on preparing for docking, putting the crew at liberty, and so forth, Peino did not look to see how the Calinda fared with the Lyrion Coast Guard who policed the harbor and oversaw the piloting of all ships to their moorings. He trusted the word of the Prince and Lord of State of the Navigators would be enough to pass her through, but he had not time to test that trust.
Ambassador Ceula waited on the dock. Lines cast, the Daughter nestled up to the pier, the plank lowered, and the senior diplomat of the Navigators to the Floating Throne was whistled aboard.
“Serene Highness, Most Exalted Lord, welcome to Sesus.”
Ceula’s theatrical bowing was answered in a rather more restrained way by Peino.
“My lord Ambassador, how are you?”
“I am well, thank you, Your Highness.” More bowing. “I trust the latter portion of your voyage went well? We were all greatly distressed to hear of the trouble off the Hammer. I said so to Master Nightwise.”
“Oh? When did you speak with my brother?”
“The other day, when he arrived–”
“Jeneyeru is here?”
“Indeed, and very anxious to speak with you.”
“Hm, interesting.” Jeneyeru Nightwise, the most determined homebody Peino knew, had left his comfortable home at Three Bears Cove. Peino’s order of priority for the secured items he was carrying, the cards and the diplomatic chest, began to shift. “And convenient as well. Ceula, the ship La Danse Calinda is tying up here as my guest. Her captain has business with me at the embassy. Put a guard around the ship, if you would. There’s a good fellow.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“I suppose the King intends to keep me waiting as payment for the delay in Aria?”
“His Majesty did send a letter round, about fifteen minutes ago, suggesting that the ceremony be put off till tomorrow, to give you time to rest.”
“Typical.” Peino scowled at the ambassador’s apologetic shrug. “Ah, well, no matter, as I don’t have to rush off home now. Right, let’s see this chest secured then. There’ll be a storm before dawn, by the way.”
“Yes,” said Ceula, “one can smell it already.”
“Followed us all the way up from Kledy, like a hungry dog.”
“A propelling influence, certainly. No, no, after you, milord.”
The usual brief to and fro fluttered over disembarkation, but within minutes, Peino stood upon the land of Raurugia — well, on a dock, at least, handing over his ship to Tahain. All too soon, he would leave the pleasant smells of seaweed and salt water soaking into hardened wood, and the music of ships creaking and rolling in their moorings, for the luxurious palaces of the royal city. Soon, he would change the oiled leathers and knitted jerkin of a sailor for the elegant fashions of the court, and the role of captain for that of a government official. Then it would be all “Highness” and no “Captain.”
“Let’s get this over with,” he said, almost by reflex as the diplomatic chest was loaded into the goat carriage that would carry him to the embassy. “Will you ride, Ceula, or shall we walk?”
“As Your Highness prefers.” Bowing and bowing…