I was almost entirely mobile again in a four days, the cuts and scrapes were healing and my ribs were now considerably less painful. I didn’t feel fully back to my old self, but a steaming bath and the opportunity to dress into something passably stylish made me feel more prepared to face Lion’s Arch again.
Baen and I had only had the chance for brief conversations, but she’d been making regular forays into the city, often with Coalpaw. Ostensibly, it was to collect supplies but she’d made secretive attempts to contact Tianne. She’d failed, but when she learned that The Gilded Anchor had been burned to the ground she had assumed – and I agreed – that the Lightbringer was well aware of the situation.
She’d returned from one of her trips with fresh clothes and a new pair of spectacles for me, similar to my old pair, and with my eyes once again hidden from sight I felt appropriate enough to mingle with the rest of our company. Baen had sighed when she’d seen me dressed and rolled her eyes, but otherwise held her tongue. I’d resisted the urge to snap at her that she’d been the one to decide what clothing to buy me, the clothing she clearly wanted to mock.
I left my room on the morning of the fifth day since I’d woken, and it was Tatianna who led me downstairs to what I might charitably have called a courtyard. Our little band was having breakfast, six of them – two charr – crowded around a garden table meant for four humans, if that. They took their turns greeting me – I was surprised at their warmth. Though I had not expected hostility, but they acted as though I was a friend of years rather than an acquaintance of weeks.
Even Grapple, who sat comfortably in a corner of the little courtyard looked up at me and gave me what approximated to a canine grin, tongue lolling out of the little beast’s mouth.
Wilhar had apparently been the cook’s assistant on The Covenant and I was pleased to find that his poached eggs were not too dissimilar to what I had grown up with. Served with cold meats, cheese, and toasted bread I found the meal to be unexpectedly satisfying, not only for my body but for my general mood. Even my companions generally abhorrent table manners scarcely bothered me – sitting at a table, eating, talking, it seemed normal. A sign that I was recovering.
As the meal drew to a close, we discussed in more detail what had happened on The Maiden. I’d already relayed the rough story of my experience, and heard some of what had happened to the others, but there were inevitable questions. There was little to add, I learned, and in fact my own story made theirs seem rather prosaic in comparison.
When we had gone our separate ways on Levaunt’s dying ship, Coalpaw and Laissa had found nothing and returned to the deck to find the Baen and the others trying to get to me. The powder store – or whatever it had been that exploded beneath me – had almost torn the ship in half.
It had been blind luck that I had survived, though Coalpaw speculated that The Maiden’s reinforced hull had already been severely damaged, allowing the main force of the blast to be channeled out the sides of the ship instead of up through the mostly-intact deck. With the ship literally coming apart now they had managed to commandeer a longboat from some fleeing pirates and had found Tatianna and I adrift. Apparently there are had been others in the water, but Baen’s tone had been carefully flippant when she explained that there’d been no room for any other survivors aboard.
“Lucky they found us at all.” Tatianna said.
“Kaede’s always been lucky.” Baen had said, which had drawn a few smiles.
“Let’s hope that holds out.” Coalpaw had muttered darkly, sobering the mood considerably.
It led, inevitably, to us discussing our current situation.
The Misericorde had taken out Levaunt. I felt, as did many of the group, that this was a mixed blessing. On the one hand it meant no more looking over our shoulders for him, but there was no way of knowing who The Mis was going to go after next. Coalpaw seemed distinctly worried that it might be his captain, but Tatianna disagreed – she had no real power, what threat would she pose to someone like him?
“He’s plenty smart.” The charr countered. “He knows you threaten him if you wanted to, especially now that Levaunt’s out of the way.”
“And what about Levaunt’s men?” Baen interjected, somewhat alleviating the rising tension. “He might have lost the bulk on his men with The Maiden but any survivors are going to be sure we’re responsible for what happened, given that Levaunt himself seemed to think we were working for The Mis.”
“Levaunt had at least two other ships.” Coalpaw said. “The Scape’s Rage and Tumult’s Horn. I saw both of them sailing out of the harbour a month ago. At best it’ll be weeks before they’re back.”
“Assuming they come back, how many more men does that make?” I asked.
“Anywhere between fifty and three times that.” He said. “Depends on how full they were running.”
“Wonderful.” I muttered. “That’s not counting anyone else who made it off The Maiden.”
“A lot of them will have deserted with Mishael gone.” Tatianna reasoned.
“Baen and I have been snooping around.” Coalpaw said, looking to me. “We know that some people made it off The Maiden, but we’ve no idea exactly how many or if they’re still working together. Things are mad out there.”
“Sahir is gone. Who’s got authority now?” I asked.
“Ingesbror.” Tatianna said distastefully. “He was second mate, remember? Until the captains of The Rage and the Horn get back he’s in charge, and I’m not sure he’ll give it up easily when they do.”
“Always was a bit of a bastard.” Coalpaw agreed. “But we don’t know if he survived.”
“If he did he’ll be hunting us – it’s the only way to to legitimise his control over the Levaunt’s men.” I said, which drew nods.
“We’d come to the same conclusion, but the same’d apply to anyone who’s stepping up to take Levaunt’s crown.” Tatianna said. “But we’ve heard nothing about Ingesbror. We don’t know what’s going on, so we shouldn’t act as if we do.”
“It does beg the question – what do we do?” I said.
“Lot of possibilities.” Coalpaw rumbled, and Tatianna gave him a hard look. “We’ve done some talking.” There was a coldness between them now that I didn’t recognise. It made me suddenly uncomfortable.
“We need to get out of the city.” She said, and already I could see Coalpaw tense. “Once Kaede is well enough to travel we slip away. Maybe to the north, head deeper into Kryta.”
“Run away?” I asked, surprised.
“For now.” Tatianna said. “We can hide out in mountains for a few months till all this blows over.”
“We know running from the Mis won’t do any good.” Coalpaw insisted, and I could sense this was an argument they’d had many times before.
“We leave what money we have for him as a payment of good faith.” She pressed. “He’ll accept it with a message that we’ll return to pay the rest later.”
“And what if he doesn’t accept it?”
“He’ll take The Covenant.” She said, a note of finality in her tone. “And that’ll be the end of it.” Everyone stared at her, shocked. Everyone but Coalpaw, who had apparently heard this suggestion before.
“Captain, I-” Fotti began, but Tatianna silenced the asura with a raised hand.
“Better the ship than our lives.” She said. “This whole mess could have been avoided if we’d simply accepted that from the beginning. She might not be seaworthy at the moment, but she’s worth more than our debt.”
“The Covenant is our home.” Coalpaw said. “Selling her is giving up.”
“Selling her is surviving, Darrus.” She said. “We can find a new home, but if we stay here we are all dead. Not just you and me, Darrus, but everyone at this table, and I will not have it.”
“If we start running now we’ll never stop running. You don’t win a war by deciding not to fight.”
“We can’t win this fight.” She said. “It’s too big for us.”
“So you’re just going to-”
“Enough!” Tatianna was on her feet, suddenly enraged, chair clattering to the floor. “If we stay we’re dead, so we’re leaving.” Coalpaw was up to, fur bristling, muscles rippling beneath the skin.
“Everyone here knows what they’re up against.” He snarled. “If we choose to stay and fight then we’ll stay and fight!”
“This is not a debate!” Tatianna snapped back. “This is not a discussion or a vote, this is your captain telling her first mate to do as he is told!”
“If the next words out of your mouth aren’t words out o’ obedience by the Six I swear I’ll have you eatin’ this floor.” She cut him off, her accent slipping in her rage. “I don’t want to sell ‘er either, but lives are more important than any ship.” She glared at him. Coalpaw glared right back, and for a long moment neither so much as blinked.
“We can’t do anything till Kaede’s healed anyway.” Baen said, breaking the almost painful silence. “So there’ll be more time to discuss this later.”
“Indeed.” I added, unable to entirely keep the acidity from my tone – I didn’t like my weakness being used as justification, but I had to admit that I wouldn’t make it far if we did try to leave. The simple act of walking down the stairs had made me grit my teeth and all the sitting and talking had sent my ribs to aching quietly. “But the point is moot; I’m not leaving.”
“What?” Tatianna looked at me, surprise taking the place of her anger.
“I don’t like running from things, and I don’t like leaving things unfinished.” I said. “Levaunt is gone, but the Mis and his pet are still at large.” I could see her jaw tighten. “I haven’t settled things with it yet.” Baen grunted in agreement, but Tatianna’s anger was clearly not entirely gone.
“You’ve seen the monster now, fought it.” She said. “Staying is suicide, and I have decided that we’re leaving.”
“We’re not part of your crew, you’re not our captain.” Baen said, her voice calm. “Me and Kaede will find a way to kill the bloody thing.” Tatianna looked back and forth between the two of us for a moment, then sighed, suddenly seeming more tired – discouraged – than angry. It hurt, felt oddly guilt-inducing, to see her like that. “We could use your help doing it, but we’ll do it alone if we have to.”
“We’ll talk about this later.” The captain said. “Syman – help Wilhar clear breakfast up, would you?” She left the table, heading back towards the stairs that lead up to the bedrooms. “Baen, Darrus, if you head again… be careful, alright?”
She vanished up the stairs then, and it was a long time before anyone could bear to break the silence she left in her wake.