Lord Jeneyeru smiled with a quiet delight as he watched Jean Lafitte III figure out his logistics, reflexively lifting his fingers to his lips and frowning in brief frustration again and again.
“Now, Mistress O’Tulvar?” he said in answer to Lotye’s question. “Now we set ourselves to work.” With an impish wink, the wizard went to the sideboard and returned with a silver box and the flint-striker.
“You must have considerable experience of dragons, dear Captain Lafitte. Such a shame you have not met my brother Ruili. He’s quite the dragon hunter, when he gets the chance for it. Would you like one of mine? It’s my own blend.”
Opening the box, he released the aroma of long, slim, leaf-wrapped cheroots, redolent of various herbs and, perhaps, a hint of some variety of mushroom. Lighting one off the flint-striker, he leaned back on the sofa, one leg crossed over the other.
“Tonight, then, as soon as we may.” He drew in and blew out a long drag of the strangely fragrant smoke. “Up, up and away, eh, Captain?”
— — —
“As soon as we may” was a good many hours off from that breakfast meeting, and all parties would have a great deal to do in the meantime. Lafitte, re-equipped with his crossbows and foreign clothes, would have the day to prepare the Calinda for the journey. Jeneyeru, for his part, would spend the day in the wizards’ markets, with Thimble and Lotye in tow, while Prince Peino, when he was apprised of the plan, would make provision for the Daughter and her crew.
A deal of work for all, indeed, and not just the lords and captains at the Embassy of the Grand Navigators. For on that busy day, when even the nearly constant rain and street flooding was not enough to dampen the activity of the Feast of the Triumvirate (the merchants merely moved their goods to boats and floats), another was also making travel plans.
At the central terminus of the Raurugia Rail Lines, located on the north side of the city, a black-cloaked figure in a black mask was trying to buy a train ticket. He leaned close to the ticket-seller’s window to be heard over the echoing roar of traffic through the station’s great hall and the omnipresent hum of aura throbbing through the crystal amplification towers and the locomotive automata on the tracks outside. One bag rested at his feet, but the cloak hid three more burdens, all very heavy in their way — a sack of gold and silver coins, a box of playing cards, and a dagger stained with blood. Black eyes glared at the ticket clerk.
“Well, when can I get a north-bound berth?”
— — —
Meanwhile, on the Sea of Lyr, Westward Passage, bound for Raurugia…
All things seemed aligned to speed the Guardian Cat on her way.
Fair skies and rolling seas made the voyage a simple matter of keeping the sailboat steady and on course. Ruili, true to his word, taught Y’lanna the basics of handling the boat, showed her the ropes — and the knots and beams, etc., as well — and made pleasant sport of her first experiences of riding the waves up close and personal, the selkie way.
The nights were spent together in the snug cabin, sharing simple meals and the twin bunks while charmed winds carried the Cat along. Sharing such close quarters with the alluring alien had its own pleasures, which Ruili was content to let Y’lanna dole out as she might, great or small. Even her smile was enough to grant him a smile as well.
The days were spent with Y’lanna’s hand on the tiller while Ruili managed the rest, adjusted course, or relaxed with her in the sun and spray, to work on his play. The strong, cooperative gale seemed to love the sound of the selkie’s voice as he invented or revised verses for the players’ songs.
“How like unto a summer’s day, my lovely lady,” he sang in a strong light baritone, reclining beside Y’lanna, “something, something, something, the stars sing her lu-ullaby…”
And so on across the sapphire sea to the mouth of the Serpent Strait, and onward to Raurugia, carrying a dangerous cargo.