Raurugia Rail Lines Train No. 47
Haug cracked an amused smile at the cocksure elf. At the same time, though, he took the man’s measure. A Selkie born and bred. It came shining through all that lace and striped silk, that sun-baked, salt-scoured look, the sharp teeth that gave an edge to his urbane grin. Lean, wiry, they were fast and deceptively strong, these Wave Rovers, and this one had the posture of a swordsman and a nice looking dagger in his belt. Haug was certain he could break him in half, but laying hands on him without getting his throat cut, that would be the trick.
Still, Haug had two objectives in coming here, and neither of them involved backing down to some upper class jackdaw.
“Lost?” he said, with a mild tone to match his mild amusement. “I’m not lost, though I think you are.”
For his part, Ruili had also been taking the measure of the man before him, in further detail than in the galley car. If asked, he would have to agree that Haug probably could break him in half, but more than strong, heavy features, seemingly equal parts eorman and goblin, and the really rather stunning size of his arms and hands… and chest… and shoulders… etc… Ruili was impressed by the easy stance of a natural athlete and the cool eye of a seasoned killer. Soldier, enforcer, whatever he was, it was no mere crusher who had stopped by to visit Y’lanna of the Lavender. In Ruili’s head, a flurry of calculations of time, distance, speed, weight, and strategy was playing out in a rush. Step One: Talk.
“Oh, aye?” he said. “I think not, good sir. The number on the car matches the number on the ticket. I believe I am where I should be.”
Haug, his brain clacking through similar calculations like a mental counting board, said, “My boss thinks you’re on the wrong train.”
Ruili allowed himself a short but confident laugh. “Does he indeed? Well, sir, my compliments to your boss and I thank him for his concern but he need not worry over us.”
“That’s true,” said Haug, “because he sent me to ease his worries.”
Ruili casually stepped closer to Y’lanna. “I thought you came to visit my lady friend,” he said to Haug.
At that, Haug’s grin widened and a sly glint entered his eyes. “Well, that’s a question now, isn’t it? There’s setting out and then there’s arriving, aye? So there’s why I was sent and then there’s why I stand here. You heard her ask it herself. Haug, what are you doing here?, says she. And I says, let her tell that to me. What am I to do here — my boss’s business, or my own unfinished with her?”
Ruili’s casual attitude hardened as he sensed the direction the gang-man was taking.
“This lady is under my protection,” he said.
“Why’s that? Ain’t she a free woman?”
“Of course she is, but I am responsible for her and I will not see her importuned.”
“See her what?”
“You know what it means, you tart pisser.” Ruili’s jocular pub insult got a chuckle out of Haug. He decided to drop pretense. “I don’t give a windy fart why you’re here. I am not leaving her alone with you to be mashed by those great paws while your cohorts jump me in the corridor, so what else would you like to bargain over?”
Haug laughed again. “You’re a canny one, I’ll give you that, Selkie. Well, it’s the fortnight for bargains, aye? My deal is a simple one. I’m to get rid of you because you make my boss nervous. I’d trade that for a few things, but three’s a crowd, ‘tis said. So what else have either of you to offer?”
On board La Danse Calinda
Jeneyeru Nightwise was not sure if he had fainted. He only knew he was barely conscious now. Part of his mind was telling him so, the part that was yelling at him to get up. Slowly he pieced things together. Explosive harmony interruption — with the disruption of his spell, the aura he had been absorbing from the surroundings and forming into harmony with his will had burst through his nervous system like an engineer’s demolition black powder blast. He had not been hit so hard by an unexpected evocation cancellation in more than seventy years. But what had caused it?
He tried to rise up off the deck, and pain stabbed through his back, even through the aura numbness. Something must have hit him. Flying debris was a common enough hazard on a ship in rough action. It would certainly explain what had happened to his spell.
In the midst of apparent chaos on the castle deck, Jeneyeru rolled himself painfully to his knees. His long fingers numb and shaking, he patted the many pockets of his coat and waistcoat until he found some small potion vials, minor healing elixirs such as any wizard usually carried. Popping the small corks, he quickly downed two of the faintly glowing, pink concoctions. A refreshing scent of apples and cucumbers filled his nose, but the taste on his tongue was as bitingly sour as a lemon. He shuddered as the effect spread through his limbs and organs, and his vision and hearing and thinking cleared.
The first thing he saw as he rose unsteadily to his feet was Captain Lafitte speaking hurriedly but with an awkward sense of calm. He was assuring Jeneyeru of something, and it took a moment for Jeneyeru to realize what it was, even with Thimble eagerly chattering it right beside the eorman captain.
“But don’t worry. He’s in the trees. We’ll find him,” Lafitte was saying, and Thimble at his heels was crying in a high-pitched chirp like a panicked sparrow, “Milord, milord, he went overboard! The Prince is lost!”
“Believe it or not, we’ve done this before,” Lafitte added with a smile he hoped inspired confidence.
The tall eorman turned away, and Jeneyeru, grimacing through his pain, lurched as gracefully as he could manage after him.
“Captain Lafitte! Captain Lafitte, one moment, if you please!” He got ahead of the eorman and struck a stance with one hand on the rail, the other on his hip, holding his pain and dizziness within. “Captain, what has become of my brother? Am I to understand he has fallen overboard?”
In the distance, he heard Lotye’s voice calling for help, but he remained focused on the captain for now.
“If you are organizing a search, I request to be given charge of it.”
Not on board La Danse Calinda
This was actually not the first time Peino Starhand had fallen from a great height and ended up suspended in a tangle of ropes. Like his brother, Jeneyeru, however, it had been a very long time since the great ship captain had experienced this particular common, though embarrassing, accident. The fact that it had been caused by dragons mitigated the embarrassment somewhat, but still, it’s not a situation any Selkie, or any sailor of another tribe, enjoys.
For several minutes, Peino could only groan and twist feebly in his snares. Thick, slushy snow plopped down on him as he shook the pine branches around him, which at least helped bring him back to alertness with the icy wetness seeping through the gaps in his clothing. Gradually, he was able to figure out his condition.
His entangled arm was definitely dislocated at the shoulder, and he suspected some ribs were cracked as well. Somehow, he seemed to have avoided cracking his skull, probably through an instinct to duck his head when he saw the tree coming at him. He was fairly certain neither of his legs was broken, though there were probably other injuries yet to be discovered if he could get himself loose.
With a conscious effort to move some muscles and not others, he wrangled himself into a somewhat more upright posture and rested, letting the blood and dizziness out of his head. Looking around, he realized the Calinda was no longer above him. She must have been carried over the peak by the wind, but they knew he’d fallen. They would certainly come back for him. Good sense dictated he should stay put and wait for them.
But good sense met a counter-argument in a loud hiss-rumble and an odor on the wind of something noxious and acidic and burnt.
Lyr’s blood, thought Peino, that corking dragon again?
It was, of course, the beast whose swipe across the Calinda’s prow had caused Peino’s fall and which the lightning bolt had driven to the ground. As unpleasant as hanging from a tree might be, it was doubly, triply so in the company of an animal that could pluck him off these boughs like an apple.
Wincing, Peino struggled even more upright and swung his legs and body about until he managed to brace himself against a strong branch, using the bow – still slung across his torso – to hook it and pull himself in. He used his dagger then to cut the ropes that bound him. Carefully, he slid down the tree, dropping the last several feet to the wet ground. The pain of the landing brought a curse to his lips, which he bit back into a furious whisper.
He froze, listening. The creature was huffing and puffing not far enough away to suit the elf. If it was injured, it probably would not come hunting, but it would be just as dangerous to be around as a hungry, healthy dragon. Peino held his dislocated arm close to his side, and quickly gathered up as much of his belongings as he could find — the arrows that had fallen from his quiver, some lengths of the cut rope. His bag, like the bow, had remained secure on his person, and the buckles had not opened. The contents were safe.
The last thing he did was arrange some of the evergreen boughs he’d knocked off the tree into an arrow indicating direction in case the Calinda should return to his landing spot. Then, limping, wet, cold, and in increasing pain, Starhand set off down the mountain slope, in as much the opposite direction of the acidic smell of the dragon’s breath as his nose could send him.