Authors: Jonathon Burgess
Yeah. And I’m the Sheik of Salomca
Fengel coughed loudly, and her crewmates moved forward. Shoving, tripping, and yelling, they made a path through the crowd for Fengel. Lina followed behind, letting Runt snap at townsfolk as her captain reached the tavern.
Two dour guards stood before the door: Euron’s men, a pair of old and hardened killers past their prime but tough like hardened leather. They drew cutlasses at the sight of Fengel, glaring. Slowly, they pulled aside, allowing him alone to pass. One moved to bar Lina’s way and she let Runt snap at him, forcing the older pirate back with a curse, giving her and the rest of her friends enough time to push on through the door.
If the Bleeding Teeth had been uncomfortable before, it was now downright infernal. The blazing lanterns illuminated a mob just as thick as the one outside, though this one was more prestigious and wealthy. Fengel took the lead now, pushing through to the fireplace along the far wall where a cluster of pirate captains stood in a rough circle, arguing fiercely.
Lina recognized most of them from their descriptions or time spent in port. There was Natasha, of course, her puffy blouse spattered with blood. She glowered at James Glastos, who was standing across from her and cradling his bandaged shoulder. Beside him was a woman wearing goggles and a tight, double-breasted jacket, with short, close-cropped, copper-colored hair: Captain Tooley, of the
. Winston Duvale, the captain of the
was an older gentleman, who looked more like a clerk to Lina’s eyes than anything else. At the moment he hung back from the discussion, trying and failing to seem aloof.
Beside Natasha stood Captain Weatherby, of the
He had come into port just after the end of the earlier incident. Lina avoided the man whenever possible; he was older, experienced, and charming. Yet beneath that veneer was someone ugly and murderous. Weatherby was smiling with disdain at the hulking, ill-tempered Salomcani, a man who went by Khalid al-Murdawzi
Brunehilde, mistress of
and Khalid’s wife, had a hand against her husband’s arm, holding him in check. From what Lina gathered, Fengel and the rest of the
crew had prior history with the pair, though no one would ever say what it was.
Last were those pirates who still sailed upon the ocean waves. They were less glamorous than their skyborne associates but still respected. The dour Cadmus, originally hailing from Greisheim, commanded
. His long blond hair starkly contrasted the half suit of plate armor he wore, which extended down to the iron gauntlet clutching a tankard of ale. His counterpart was Matice, captain of the
. She was well known around Haventown as an eccentric; her outrageous explosion of hair was dyed all the colors of the rainbow, complemented with an eyepatch and skirts sewn from the remnants of three others.
Beside the fire rose the imposing bulk of Euron’s throne-like chair. There the pirate king slouched, for all the world seemingly asleep. Lina swore she could hear him snoring.
“We should take to the skies,” said Captain Glastos. “Hunt those bastards down and burn them off the ocean.” He shook his injured arm at the assembly, then winced.
“That is just an excellent idea,” replied Weatherby, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “Let’s just jaunt on out and show those fellows in the powdered wigs what for, eh? That armada I spied out west is only composed of dozens of warships, filled with thousands of soldiers equipped with the finest weaponry the Kingdom can afford.” He took a drink from his tankard and wiped the foam away from his handlebar mustachios. “Idiot.”
Khalid Al-Murdawzi stepped forward as Glastos’s eyes popped wide in outrage. “Captain Glastos has the truth of it,” said Khalid, his voice thickly accented. “These pasty people of Perinault think to attack us here? In our home?” The huge pirate slammed a fist into a meaty palm, his eyes eager. “We will fall from above and make an example of them before all the world.”
“We cannot fight the whole Perinese navy,” replied Brunehilde. She crossed her arms and shook her head, her thick blond braid swinging. “We are reavers, not soldiers. Every last one of us relies upon the element of surprise to hit fast and hard and fly away before anyone can do anything about it. A pitched battle would be the end of us, even if we can fly. No amount of bloodthirst will change that.”
Captain Tooley raised one gloved hand. “The fact remains, dear, that we were attacked. Here. In Haventown. If we’d all been more in our cups, the whole damned Skydock would have gone up and our airships along with it. How did they even get in here without anyone noticing?”
s fault!” said Cadmus in his broken Perinese. His armor clanked as he pointed accusingly at Captain Fengel. “I am hearing rumor. Was one of the men on that ship, Oscar Pleasant, who led Bluecoats to Haventown.”
Natasha strode over and shoved her face into his. “I will cut off your lips and eat them with minty jam,” she snarled.
Cadmus jerked away. He opened his mouth to reply, then thought better of it. Natasha whirled to face the rest of the captains.
“Aye,” she said. “An old crewmen was with the raiders. But he jumped ship three months ago. Turns out he threw in his lot with the damned Perinese.”
Fengel held up a hand for attention. “And those saboteurs arrived here,” he added “on an airship. Which was not one of ours.”
Murmurs of consternation erupted across the room, spreading among the pirate officers and noteworthy townsfolk like flames on dry kindling.
“Impossible!” said Captain Duvale.
“What are you talking about?” demanded Glastos. “I didn’t see any damned airship in that fight.”
“If you pulled your head out of yer arse more often, you couldn’t have missed it,” shot back Natasha.
“It’s true,” said Weatherby. “Saw a ship I didn’t recognize making speed westward. Was going to ask who it was. After I’d finished worrying about the damned naval fleet on our doorstep, of course.”
“How?” asked Brunehilde in utter bewilderment. Beside her, Khalid stood with a stunned expression on his face, his eyebrows almost climbing back over his bald, dark head.
The tromp of heavy leather boots silenced the discussion. “We believe that we can provide an answer,” said a muffled, resonant voice.
Lina stepped aside along with the rest of the crowd as a troupe of Mechanists pressed through. They all wore their heavy goggles and gas-mask rebreathers, looking as if they had come straight from fighting the fires aboard the Skydocks. It was impossible to tell them apart, whether they were short, tall, thin, or fat. She could not even tell their rank within the Brotherhood. Allen had once mentioned that a shadowy cabal ran the Brotherhood, these days. For all she knew, this group of Mechanists was them.
They moved into the open space in a triangle wedge. The speaker was at their head, his gait made mechanical by the skeletal metal foot poking out from where his right boot should have been. “The secret of powered flight is no longer only our own,” he said bluntly, stopping stiffly before the assembled captains.
Gasps echoed about the tavern walls. Fengel and Natasha shared a look. Even old Euron jerked in his chair before settling back down to snore faintly. Lina held very still, working through her own shock and wondering at the ramifications.
How could it have even come to pass?
She wasn’t the only one. Questions shot about the room, so many they became an indistinct, muted roar. The lead Mechanist held up a hand for silence and was ignored.
!” roared Khalid, glaring death about the tavern and dropping a hand to the scimitar at his hip. One by one, people obeyed. The big pirate captain had a violent reputation and looked more than a little wild at the moment. Lina shrank back herself, and Runt hunched low against her shoulders.
The metal-footed Mechanist glanced about the room, turning his goggles this way and that, verifying that all eyes were on him. Everyone still watched Khalid, but this apparently seemed good enough.
“We are the Mechanist faction of the Brotherhood of the Cog,” intoned the man. “For a little over a year now, we have been without our leader, First Mechanist Atherion Helmsin.”
Captain Fengel looked at him sharply. “That explains it. I remember you lot wouldn’t take new ship orders after I lost the
. This is why?”
The Mechanist nodded. “First Mechanist Helmsin alone possessed the skill to weave the skysails used to ride the aetherlines of the world. Yet he disappeared during a conference of the Brotherhood back on Edrus. Our efforts since have been directed towards discerning his location while maintaining the Haventown infrastructure. It is obvious now that the Perinese have him captive.”
Captain Glastos stared at the man in dismay. “There’s a Mechanist working for the Kingdom?”
“No,” replied the Mechanist, emphatically shaking his head. “Helmsin would not willingly share the secrets we have developed.”
“Yet he obviously has,” drawled Weatherby.
“The key word here is ‘willingly.’”
“From a practical point of view,” asked Weatherby, “what’s the difference? The fact of the matter is that we no longer own the skies.”
Every pirate in the room traded worried glances.
“It is doubtful that the Perinese possess more than the one ship,” continued the Mechanist before anyone else could speak up. “Airship construction requires significant resources, and even if First Mechanist Helmsin revealed the secret of light-air, acquiring enough to lift a vessel is no miniscule feat. With the recent Salomcani war, we surmise the sighted vessel may be the only Perinese airship in existence.”
“Surmise?” Captain Duvale stepped forward, pulling at his mustache in worry. “You can’t know. If Weatherby’s right, the whole damned fleet is outside our door. They’ve built an airship to boot, subverted one of our own, and sent in saboteurs as the opening act. The Kingdom means to crush us, burn us out for good. This isn’t some spur-of-the-moment action, gentlemen. Who knows what mad tricks they’ve got up their sleeve?”
Everyone turned at the whisper, so hoarse and unexpected that it carried across the room. Old Euron Blackheart sat up now, leaning forward in his throne. Excitement glimmered in his eyes, and a cruel smile played across his lips.
“Years,” he said. “Years and years and Goddess-be-damned years I been pillagin’ their merchants and slayin’ their people. Finally,
, they’re going to do something about it.” The pirate king made a fist with one liver-spotted hand. “I always knew this day would come. Well, they haven’t found me idle. I’ll be sendin’ those kneelin’ dogs back to their decrepit master with their tails between their legs. They do not control the skies.” He thumped his chest. “
Lina watched the pirate king uneasily. He seemed more...focused...now than she’d ever seen him before, sitting on the edge of his throne, gripping the arm with his free hand beside the broken tankard that symbolized his rule.
He’s been waiting for this attack.
Fengel gestured impatiently. “Euron, we can’t fight the whole damned navy all at once. Even bombardment from above is only going to be so effective. We’ve a little time to prepare; they’ll expect us to meet in a pitched battle tomorrow that won’t be coming. But we’re still outnumbered a hundred to one here.”
The pirate king narrowed his eyes at Fengel. “I always knew ye be weak.”
Fengel flushed. He went very still, but he appeared to master himself and continued on. “They know where Haventown is. If they didn’t, we could perhaps harry them, weaken them enough to make the cost of taking us not worth it. They won’t try the waterways for days, and only one ship at a time, at that. But they’re already
. Even if they just use that airship of theirs to ferry men, they could have thousands of Bluecoats walking Nob Terrace in days. We can start reinforcing the Graveway fortress now—”
I do not care
!” roared Euron. “This be
town, and these be
islands! I built you up from a bunch of squabbling scallywags into something even the Perinese king must acknowledge! And now they think that sauntering in with a few new toys will cow me? No! I mock them, an’ I’ll kill them an’ leave their entrails hangin’ from the yardarm!”
Lina winced. The others in the room didn’t look any more comfortable. Fengel was right. She was all for gutting a Bluecoatie now and then, but if the whole fleet was here?
I had enough of that back in Breachtown
Fengel wasn’t cowed. “Damn it, Euron. There’s the townsfolk here to think of as well. Not everyone can fight. We’ve got to at least think about evacua—”
“Don’t ye finish that word,” snarled Euron Blackheart. He leaned forward on his seat, his eyes dangerous and spittle flecking his great grey beard. “Don’t ye finish that word ye, yellow-bellied coward.”
Fengel froze. His hand dropped to rest on the pommel of his saber as the room went deathly silent. Natasha glanced back and forth, obviously torn. For once, Lina felt for the woman.
The muscles in Fengel’s jaw worked furiously. But slowly, deliberately, he moved his hand away from his blade. The tension in the room eased palpably.
Euron leaned back with a smile. “That’s right. Remember who be in charge here.” He looked to the room at large, to the Mechanists and apothecaries, the tavern-owners and well-to-do pimps in the crowd. “This be my town. Ye
“Oh yes,” continued the pirate king with a relish. “I’ve been waiting for this day. I have not been idle, whatever ye dogs be thinkin.’ Natasha.”
Lina’s other captain turned to him with no hint of reticence. “Yes, Father?”
“Take yer ship and half yer crew. On the very northern tip of the Copper Isles is an island, the one I have forbidden ye all on pain o’ death. Be there before dusk tomorrow.”