The faerie pulled up sharp from his rush through the weapons market. He squinted up at the tall elf leaning in the doorway of a swordsmith’s shop, the identical image of — quickly, he tallied up the details — mask, no braids, buff coat and blue waistcoat, fish-skin cloak, perusing an album of maps —
“Milord Starhand.” Thimble bowed deeply. “You are purchasing a new sword?”
“No, just having my own sharpened and charmed. You?”
Thimble shook the sack in his hand. “Faerie shot and caltrops, sir. Wasp stings and spider bites and barbs of five curses for Master Nightwise.”
“I suppose then you are coming with us?”
“Master Nightwise has not yet said which of his servants he will take with him. He has two now, while Your Highness has none. I will do for you, if you like.”
Peino laughed. “We shall see. I may have a use for you, if my brother does not.”
A call came from within the shop. The swordmaster in his apron covered with sigils and charms beckoned. “Would Your Highness care to test?”
“Certainly. Hold these for me, will you?” Peino handed his packages to Thimble and stepped inside to receive his weapons.
The long, slender, double-edged rapier and its partner, the shorter, broader dagger, both gleamed with the shimmering sheen of sunlight on waves. Peino smiled as he took the grips, carved in the shape of kraken in narwhal’s ivory and steel, the gold-chased tentacles wrapping around his hand, entwining with his fingers. He whipped them through the air, causing a few patrons to duck reflexively, and the blades sang for him.
“Yes, very lively.”
A few practice moves on the sparring dummy at the back of the shop, and Peino Starhand warmly declared his approval of the re-energizing of the god blessings on the blades.
“Fresh blades, fresh charts, fresh winds,” said Thimble, returning to Peino his book and the heavy package of knotted wind cords. “Your Highness is well-equipped.”
“I doubt we’ll need the winds on this trip, but one can never have too many, so say I. Where is my brother?”
“I know not, but I know where we are to meet, and it’s just the time.”
The faerie and the selkie made their way back to the temporary docks where the water-taxis came and went. Thimble did his best to appear stoical under the constant rain, though truth be told, he hated getting wet like this. Born of a fire clan in arid Belenosia, he considered it a bitter fate that he had ended up in the service of a selkie, as that tribe would rather be soaked in their clothes and boots than dry naked, or so it seemed sometimes, such as now. For here was the Sovereign Prince himself with the waves lapping at his shoes and the rain pouring in spouts off his tricorn hat, strolling among the equally sodden sea elves and water fae as if he had not a care in the world. Indeed, he even smiled happily as they approached the rendezvous spot with the first chiming of three bells.
Peino’s smile was actually for Lotye O’Tulvar who was there waiting for them with her battle-hardened bumbershoot, but before he could do more than bid her the day, Jeneyeru appeared, laden with bags and packages.
“Ah, there you all are. Greetings, brother. I hope everyone has all that they need. ‘Pon my word I declare shopping is quite the delight when one’s reputation is known to the merchants.”
“Jeney, you are a cynic under all that lace and pixie dust,” Peino said with a wink.
“Oh, pish. What did you buy?”
“The usual, and a guide-book.” Shielding the atlas under Jeneyeru’s rain veil, Peino unfolded one of the bound maps and, touching his finger to first one spot and then another, triggered a melodious voice to rattle off all the details and features of the route to connect them. “New this year, should be more or less up-to-date.”
“Handy. Come, let us get back so we may pack. Captain Lafitte wishes to set sail at sunset.”
So it was, a little after the first falling of dusk, with “Mr. Farseer’s Rain” still pelting down upon them, that the party from the Grand Navigators appeared on the dock where the airship La Danse Calinda was moored.
Peino had left behind his fine court clothes, returning to his comfortable cottons and oiled skins, his long, silken hair bound up in a sailor’s braid down his back. Only the blades and compass in his sash and the books under his arm hinted at his station in life. In the bag at his feet was a kit for basic survival and a new knitted jerkin for warmth against the mountain altitude.
Jeneyeru never left the fashions of court far behind, but in the deepening gloom of the stormy evening, he looked more wizard than lord, wrapped in a gray cloak that seemed to want to dissolve him into the rain. The Staff of Ghosts rode in the crook of his arm, and an elegant traveling case carried a number of instruments and charms among his clothing and personal items.
It also held a Box of Nothing, which was to be expected, though the other two Boxes of Nothing that rested in Peino’s sailor’s bag and Lotye’s Bag of Holding may have been less so.
The selkie lords, Lotye and Thimble were joined by Peino’s wizard Nyora Watersinger and by Tahain o’th’Farwind. Nyora was packed for the journey, and Tahain for another attempt to persuade Peino that he should come along as well. And just in case neither of them rated a berth, Nyora slipped Peino the item she had prepared for him.
“It is a Device of the Distant Lord’s Skies,” she said. “You know, a wind dial. A selkie has hardly any use for such a thing, unless the winds are very big and very angry. I thought a god-cursed storm might qualify. The spell in Atul is wrapped with it. Sing the wind into harmony with you, then use the dial to raise or lower the energy levels at your will.”
“You’ve used it this way before?” asked Jeneyeru.
“Ehm, no, Master Nightwise,” Nyora admitted sheepishly. “It is an experimental model I thought of today. I’m afraid it’s untested, but I believe the principle is sound.”
Peino shrugged. “Good enough for me.”
“In any event, it shan’t be needed if I can get on board.”
“Speaking of which,” Peino stepped up to the Calinda. “Ahoy, the ship! Permission to come aboard, if you please.”