The repairs to the Calinda’s rigging kept Captain Lafitte and most of his crew occupied day and night after their tumultuous exit from Sesus. For two days, the brothers, Peino Starhand and Jeneyeru Nightwise, made it their business to keep out of the way if they were not needed. They passed the days seated under a rain awning in an obscure corner of the forward deck, where they sipped tea or coffee, smoked their pipes, and observed things.
Meanwhile, their ostensible “servants,” Lotye and Thimble went here or there about the ship on various errands, collecting for their employers more observations as well as other things.
“He takes rather a hands-on approach, does he not?” said Peino, watching Jean Lafitte III laboring up in the superstructure. “Very hail-fellow with the crew.”
“Not so different from yourself,” said Jeneyeru as he sipped tea from a delicately carved wooden traveling cup. “He shows less temper than you do.”
“He is fortunate in his engineer.” Peino exhaled a cloud of brine-scented smoke that immediately vanished in the wind. “The dwarfish fellow, Ogges I think is his clan name. See how well and quickly he manages the work.”
“Perhaps you should offer him a place on the Daughter.”
“Perhaps I shall, if he ever desires a change of captain.”
“The storm eases.”
“For now, as we leave the sea behind, but the mountains have their own weather. Manawydden will surely find something new to hurl at us before long.”
Heavy gouts of water poured off the canvas awning above them, and the wind of Manawydden’s curse whipped the elves’ long hair wildly, but it was true, the skies were less dark, the clouds less thundering. As the selkie lords hummed or whistled some jaunty tune between conversations, the storm seemed to respond by keeping the Calinda’s sails full and the airship moving swiftly over the rolling forests. Legends said that Manawydden, god of weather and sailors, was a selkie, and perhaps it was true, for it seemed as if even his curse danced to the Wind Singers’ songs.
Another time, Jeneyeru looked up as if with a sudden thought.
“Whatever became of that young wizard,” he said, “the one who came in through the glass, carrying on about clockworks?”
“I believe we offended her,” Peino answered. “She has been avoiding us, though upon advice of Thimble, I did pass by her quarters once, on my way down to the head. That clockwork seems to be quite the contraption, takes up most of the cabin. I thought I might pop my head in to ask about it, but of course, everyone is busy.” He waved towards the ongoing work around and above them.
The brothers, for their part, were not entirely idle as the Calinda flew along, either.
Jeneyeru spent a good amount of time gazing into the Cup of Shadows, one of the magical tools he had brought along, trying to see through the barriers around Mt. Isolla. Peino, at the same time, recorded the details of the voyage in his personal “ordinary,” a small notebook usually used to record receipt and consumption of daily supplies. So far, the small book contained several detailed drawings of the rigging and equipment of the airship, as well as a plan of the lower decks, the full complement of the crew, the location and type of lock on the armory, all provided by either Thimble or Lotye from time to time. The prince noted landmarks they had flown over, with reference to information in the Raurugian atlas he had bought in Sesus, in which he also scribbled calculations of distance and speed and plotted courses from point to point.
Further marked on those maps were three burned villages and notes of whether Peino thought they’d been destroyed by bandits or a dragon. The decision went two to one for bandits, but Peino still looked ahead to the fast-approaching snowy peaks with some concern.
“Yes,” said Jeneyeru, “it is the terrain for them here at the edge of the high ranges, particularly yearlings.”
“Any luck with the scrying?”
“Perhaps you should toss it in, then, and cast a cloak about us instead.” He sat back down the sling chair and relit his pipe, puffing casually on the stem. “Speaking of magic,” he said, “it occurred to me that this storm is magical. Won’t it alert the Masters to our approach?”
Jeneyeru tilted his head in contemplation of the rain. “Now that you mention it,” he said, “I suppose I should give that some thought. It belongs to a god, so I’m not sure how they would interpret it. However, I’m afraid a cloak would certainly give us away. Ironically, it is better to go naked than clothed in this case.”
So the flight of La Danse Calinda went across plains and then highlands, until on the third morning, the airship passed among the jagged, white walls of the high mountains. The rain turned to frozen sleet, which would add weight to the vessel. The high altitude and cold would likely have other effects as well, which Peino and Jeneyeru could only guess at.
That dawn found Peino on deck in the gray pall, before breakfast, a fur-lined cloak wrapped around his shoulders, the icy pellets pattering on his tricorn hat, watching. He was watching everything, the way he did as captain on his own ship — the wind, the build-up of ice, the responsiveness of the ship to her helm, and especially the sky and the land.
It felt strange to him not to see the horizon. He wondered if Lafitte would fly higher to see above the peaks, or continue low to hide their approach towards Isolla, or if the matter was out of his hands in this weather. The Calinda was hemmed in on all sides by monsters of stone and snow and cloud, crags broken with crevasses and caves. The mountain wind howled with a voice utterly foreign to his ears.
But then he heard a sound he thought he recognized. A thumping kind of whoosh of heavy wings. In the shadowless half-light, no sign of movement showed on the slopes around them. He craned out over the railing, looking eagerly in all directions, when he caught just a flash of something swooping above the balloon. Something dark and long and big.
He didn’t know if he was the first to shout, but shout he did.
Nor did he wait for others to act, but he made immediately for the armory where the bows and crossbows were kept.