Y’lanna was not the only one who found an objection in Lafitte’s plan. Both of the Ereonis brothers had visibly gaped at the suggestion of ten years service, and visibly winced when he’d pronounced the “or death” part of his suggestion.
“The lady makes a strong case, sir,” Lord Ruili began, jumping in on the heels of Y’lanna’s words. “Surely you can offer something more enticing than mere death. One must sweeten the pot a bit. And ten years? Lyr’s blood, man, that’s a far reach.”
“Besides which, Captain Lafitte,” added Lord Peino, “I estimate perhaps eighty fighters remaining, by my count as we crossed the field. I doubt you’ll fit all of them on board La Danse Calinda. What then? Shall you decimate the lot to make the room? That would hardly do, sir. My own habit with prize crews is to offer a fair share of future spoils as an incentive to cooperate, but then I usually have two ships to man by the time I have to make the offer.”
“Aye,” Ruili agreed, “the standard deckhand’s percentage usually suffices when the alternative is a long swim home, but we are not at sea now.”
“No, nor are we currently in the air. How shall it be managed, Captain Lafitte?”
“Leave them to us!” shouted a Brownie warrior, and a chorus of faerie hurrahs echoed his sentiment. “We should be the ones to bring justice on them for offending the goddess.”
Peino Starhand shrugged. “That is a reasonable course, to be sure, but I wonder…” As his brother, who knew his expressions, crossed his arms and waited, and the faeries continued to press their case, the Prince of the Grand Navigators calculated the many options before them — the value of trained fighters who knew these mountains up-side and down, and the threat of such fighters as well; what it would take to bring said justice to eighty violent criminals; the possible weight of the anger of Flidais for the desecration of her temple versus the possible weight of the anger of Pwyll for any abuse against his followers, either or both added to the weight of the anger of Manawydden. Good gods, but they were accumulating divine annoyance on this quest, like a ship’s hull accumulates barnacles.
Peino had no more than a few seconds, however, to mull over the situation. Likewise, Lafitte had only a few seconds to defend his idea, and everyone else around the campfire had only that same time to add any opinions, because someone else had also been watching and calculating all this time.
Haug Handslayer had seen Baugl of Caernith fall to an assassin’s dagger and bleed his life out into the mud. He had seen his own boss, Ashcat of Sesus, fall to the sword of the Selkie, clearly brother to his rival from Train 47. He marked how the general battle had moved out from the campfire and none of Baugl’s guard had remained close enough to see their leader’s end, let alone defend him, and Haug was experienced enough in the bandit life to know an opportunity when he saw one waiting to be snatched.
The huge enforcer, who had the blood of goblins and eormen and perhaps a few other folk coursing through his veins and whose loyalties placed just about everything second to himself, grabbed up a pike from the ground and plunged the long point into the chest of the dead Baugl, tearing it out again with a brutal jerk on the bloated corpse.
He then marched over to the nearest of the defeated bandits, who sat on the ground nursing a bloody head wound. With a huge fist, he hauled the dazed man to his feet and bellowed at him.
“Baugl of Caernith is dead and every man here is taken. Spread the word.”
He threw the terrified bandit from him, and as the man scrabbled off through the rain, Haug returned to the group at the fire, the gory pike on his shoulder.
“Well, then,” he said, “here’s a proposition. Let me claim the killing blow on Baugl, and I’ll take them off your hands. Refuse, and I’ll give them you as assassins who struck him down from behind. I’ll wager they’ll take a tale told in their own mountain tongue from one who speaks it from his birth over fine words from a lot of lacy pantaloons from the south. Accept, and we’ll make terms. You said something about a fair share of spoils. Just what is a deckhand’s percentage?”
The Selkies, Peino Starhand and Ruili Windwolf, each raised a brow and gave a glance to each other and to Lafitte.
“Four percent or less,” said Ruili by way of a start.
Haug grunted and grinned. “Seventy percent for me, and ten per man out of the rest.”
Peino and Ruili both could not help but laugh.
“Forgive us,” Peino said with a slight bow, answered by a slight nod from Haug. “I may say my brother and I were both uplifted by the refreshing novelty of such an offer. However, we overstep ourselves. It is not our ship that bears its weapons against this camp, nor are these bandits our prize to divide. You must make your deal with this gentleman.” Peino stepped aside and extended his hand to direct attention to Jean Lafitte.
Peino Starhand had never been slow to grasp an opportunity, either. He had not wanted to leave the defeated bandits in their wake, to regroup and come hunting for revenge. Nor had he wanted to be responsible for holding so many in check, especially if the promised spoils failed to be won. He could have done exactly what this fellow had done, if he had been so inclined, and if the Calinda had been his ship, he would have made a counter offer of 35/35 between him and this opportunistic interloper with an even cut per man out of the rest, and a split of the men of seventy-five percent to this new bandit king and twenty-five to man his vessel. But he had only fought this action to get clear of these bandits, not to press a crew into service. He was just as happy to leave that chore to Lafitte.
Provided, of course, Lafitte did not do something entirely ridiculous. Considering his record so far…
“Captain, what say you? On the whole, this gentleman offers an open field for negotiation, does he not?”
He could only hope that hint, as broad and heavy as a mainsail, would not be too subtle yet.