Peino Starhand did not see all of the exchange between Captain Lafitte and the gigantic bandit because only a few seconds into Lafitte’s speech, he clapped a hand over his eyes in chagrin. Under the protective shield of his palm, he fell to silently cursing the day he met this Flying Eorman and all his mad schemes and contraptions.
When Lafitte had done talking, Peino looked up to see both Ruili and the bandit both gaping in stunned surprise. He had almost composed a counter-offer to try to salvage the situation when the bandit threw back his head and laughed out loud at Lafitte.
“You think I’ll be in search of employment, do you?” he said, bouncing the spear on his massive shoulder. “I think I’ve already found my situation, so I’ll say thanks and no to your most kind offer. I’ll take king on a mountain over deckhand on a…whatever that thing is, any time I’m asked.”
He reached out a long arm and grasped another bandit who had been standing around simply watching the proceedings. Yanking the man nearly off his feet and up to his face, he declared, “Round up your fighters, your cooks, your whores and smiths, and anything else you’ve got left. Let them know, you’re all trounced and fairly done and ‘tis time to meet the new boss, Haug Handslayer, son of Berr of Arun.” He wiped the spear blade on the shaking man’s chest, adding, “There’s what’s left of Baugl if they need proof to move their tails. Gather them on the field, below that floating thing. Shouldn’t be too hard, as the faerie have done most of your work already.”
He dropped the man, who ran off in a panic, and Peino stepped up, his thoughts finally in order, and a possibly fateful decision finally made.
“Master Handslayer,” he called before Haug could stalk off, “a moment, if you please. I am Starhand.” He executed a short bow. “And this is my brother, Windwolf.”
Half a second late, Ruili snapped to attention. “Hm? Oh, we’ve met, informally. On the train.”
“Aye,” Haug grunted. “And have you thought of something that is yours to divide?” he added, referring to how Peino had handed him off to Lafitte, a move the elf now regretted, mildly.
With a gracious and deprecating smile, Peino said, “Indeed, sir, I have. The prize I claim, and to which I offer shares, is the stronghold of the Guild of Wizards and Magi at the summit of Mount Isolla.”
Haug Handslayer’s eyes widened, and Ruili began to stutter a “Wait, what?”, but before Peino could say more, Ionas Farseer, lookout of La Danse Calinda came running up.
“Lord Starhand. It seems the Lord Magus is recovering well. He’s regained consciousness. How are things up here?”
Peino and Ruili both focused like sharks on Ionas.
“What do you mean by ‘recovering’?” Peino demanded.
“What do you mean by ‘regained consciousness’?” demanded Ruili.
“Quickly, take us to him,” said Peino. “Mr. Handslayer, your pardon. Kindly wait upon me to discuss this matter later. Until then.”
Without another word, the two Ereonis brothers ran off, following Ionas Farseer. Peino, having no idea what had happened after his fall from the Calinda, was surprised that the lookout did not lead them to the airship but towards the Temple instead, but he did not question it. He only ran the faster the short distance, his hand on his sword, his brother at his side.
They were led down to the healing caverns where he had also been cared for by Priestess Moonrain, and where he had met Y’lanna Sparti. There he and Ruili found yet more friendly faces — the pretty Lotye O’Tulvar, looking harried and concerned, Thimble who looked as if he’d been through a hedge and back, and Jeneyeru himself, lounging invalid-wise on a bed of soft cushions as the Priestess wrapped a fresh bandage around his midsection.
“By the gods, Jeney,” Ruili cried, “what happened?”
“Ugh, brothers,” the wizard said, visibly relieved to see them both, “it was simply dreadful. We mounted a rescue party for you, Pei–” Ruili looked quizzically at Peino who shrugged it off “–and, well, we had to walk, didn’t we, because that ridiculous contraption wouldn’t float or some such nonsense, and we managed somehow to walk right into the jaws of one of those dragons.” Ruili now looked quizzically at Jeneyeru. “Someone must have thrown a knife, I suppose, though I don’t know — I can hardly be expected to have been paying attention to every little thing — but however it happened, I was quite stabbed. Just here.” He pointed to the bandage. “It was very painful. If not for Mistress O’Tulvar and Thimble, I really don’t know what would have become of me.”
“I’ll be blowed,” Ruili remarked. “I thought I had the tale to tell, but it seems mine was the dull passage after all.”
“But all this is of little matter,” Jeneyeru continued. “Hours have been lost by this misadventure. We must make haste to Isolla. I received a vision of the Masters. Our enemy is there now, and I fear he knows we are coming.”
Peino caught the movement of Priestess Moonrain to restrain her patient as Jeneyeru leaned forward in his urgency. He laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder to press him back onto the cushions.
“Patience will do more good than haste,” he said. “Are you aware of our situation?” Briefly, he reported on the battle, the defeat of Baugl’s army, and the declaration of Haug Handslayer. He made certain to include Lady Moonrain and the faerie folk in the discussion. “Let us take this time to rest. If this Handslayer can master the bandit forces, we may reach terms with him and thereby strengthen ourselves and remove all the bandits from this temple in one pass.”
“What?” said Jeneyeru. “Did you actually invite an army of bandits to pillage the Guild’s stronghold?”
“Do you think you can trust these criminals?” Ruili asked, laughing at the idea. “And what if he cannot master them?”
“Of course I don’t trust them,” said Peino. “I have an idea for that as well.”
“The Garrison of the North?”
“If I can find it, but that’s beside the point. We have the bandits now, and I say we need their force to mount a two-pronged assault.”
“On the ground,” said Ruili.
“And in the air,” said Jeneyeru.
“Precisely. I may need this night to talk that Handslayer fellow into it.”
“And what of Captain Lafitte? What says he to all of this?” Jeneyeru asked.
Peino grimaced. “We shall see,” he said, dreading the need to bring it up to the Flying Eorman, and wondering if by some miracle he might actually climb on board with everyone else this time. “I must arrange a parlay with all captains and commanders present.”