Monday, June 8, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 31

< Chapter 30                                                                                                 Chapter 32 >
Author's note: In the rewrite, the following chapters featuring Callan will be interwoven with the chapters featuring David, giving the reader an alternating point of view as the story develops.

As David faces an attack from five hundred men and trogs, it’s time to look in on Callan and see what she has been doing since the pair split up.

Callan

Captain Cochran’s young son offered me a hand up into the little pinnace. I didn’t need the assistance, but smiled gratefully and accepted the boy’s hand.

“Thank you, Master Cochran.”

The lad’s eyes gleamed as he responded in a formal tone, “You’re most welcome, Your Highness. I’d be most pleased if you would call me William.”

I settled into a seat on the pinnace as the rest of the passengers came up on deck and were helped aboard. Besides Captain Cochran’s wife and youngest daughter—an energetic girl of about six named Sasha—there was a gaunt man in his middle years and his plump wife.

Our pilot, Jade, bounded onto the pinnace and went straight to the controls. After a quick scan of the dials, she turned to the crewmen holding the pinnace at bay. “Release the lines!”

The little airship rose from the deck as Jade fed power to the propellers. Taking off from a moving airship is trickier than most people know. Without careful control on the part of the pilot, the pinnace’s propeller could slice through crewmen, the lines connecting the parent ship’s hull and the envelope, or even the envelope itself. Jade’s eyes never stopped moving as she deftly maneuvered the pinnace away from the Wind Dancer.

“What is the meaning of this?” The plump wife turned a glare on her gaunt husband. “Vass, why don’t we have a real pilot for this airship?”

Prompted by his wife, the man turned his own glare on Mrs. Cochran. “I would like an answer to that question, myself. Rest assured, Mrs. Cochran, I will register a most stern protest with the merchant guild!”

I inherited my mother’s short temper, which I struggle to hold in check for the sake of court diplomacy. But this pinnace was far from the Mordanian Court, so I relished one of my rare chances to release my temper. “That girl is handling a very difficult bit of piloting and doing it exceedingly well. Now kindly be silent and stop distracting Jade from her job!”

The couple turned their glares on me but kept quiet. Mrs. Cochran smiled gratefully at me, as did young William. Jade never changed expression or even gave an indication she heard the exchange. Thirty seconds later, the pinnace pulled away from the Wind Dancer and Jade relaxed a bit.

The plump wife wasted no time venting her anger at me. “How dare you take such a tone with me, young woman! Do you have any idea who my husband is?”

Putting my elbows on the pinnace’s railing, I leaned back nonchalantly. “I neither know nor care who your husband is, madam. Do you know who I am?”

Vass, the gaunt husband, sniffed. “A well-mannered young woman, which you most assuredly are not, would show respect to her elders and introduce herself first.”

Captain Cochran told David a man would have to be blind not to recognize me. Since neither of these two was blind, I had to assume their heads were stuck too far up their backsides to see me clearly. I turned on what David calls my princess glare and was pleased to see the couple pull back slightly.

“I usually have someone with me to handle introductions, but he stayed behind on the Wind Dancer to ensure all of us get away safely.”

I felt a tug at my sleeve from William. “May I introduce you, please?”

I sat up and inclined my head. “It is most kind of you to offer, William. I would be honored if you would proffer introductions.”

William stood and bowed slightly to the irritating couple. “This is Mr. Vass Sune, merchant of the city-state of Oshwindon, and Mrs. Sune, his wife. Sir and madam, may I make known to you Her Royal Highness, Princess Callan, heir to the throne of Mordan?”

Rob, the much-missed late captain of my guard and namesake to my son, taught me many things during his years of service. Among those lessons was to never take pleasure in the discomfort of others. I guess that’s one lesson that just didn’t stick, because I took considerable pleasure watching the Sunes’ mouths open and close without any sound emerging. They looked exactly like a couple of fish out of water—or at least out of their depth.

Ignoring them, I smiled at William. “That was very well done. Where did you learn all of that?”

William flushed with pleasure but wasn’t inclined to answer. Mrs. Cochran came to his aid. “Jade has all of the adventures they’ve written about your husband and reads them aloud to William and Sasha. I don’t doubt William can recite most of the stories word-for-word, he’s heard them so often.”

Behind us, the Wind Dancer gracefully changed course, swinging out of our wake and onto a northerly heading. Without the massive envelope above it, Raoul’s distant airship was more difficult to see. Then the dot elongated, evidence it was also changing course to follow the Wind Dancer.

The Sunes finally found their voices and offered profuse apologies. I waved off the whole affair before heading aft to put some distance between the Sunes and me and to watch the Wind Dancer for as long as possible.

“Thank you for defending me, Your Highness,” Jade said quietly.

“Your piloting skill should be all the defense required,” I replied. “I did nothing but point it out.”

Behind us, Mrs. Sune spoke in a stage whisper, apparently thinking me too far away to hear her. “Mrs. Cochran, why did you not tell us you had royalty on board your airship? It is your fault we made such a poor initial impression on Her Highness!”

“They only came aboard twenty minutes before we left on the pinnace, Mrs. Sune. No slight was intended,” Mrs. Cochran replied quietly and far more politely than the Sune woman deserved.

I turned back toward the Sunes, preparing to unleash my temper yet again. Jade caught my eye and shook her head. “I know you wish to help, Your Highness, but please don’t.”

“Why is your mother so polite to those people? And what are you afraid will happen if I speak up?”

“The Wind Dancer is registered in Oshwindon and flies their flag.” Repressed anger smoldered behind Jade’s green eyes. “Mr. Sune is a powerful member of the city-state’s merchant guild. He can cause real trouble for us if he wants to.”

I considered the problem for all of one second. “Could they bother you if the Wind Dancer was a Mordanian flag trading vessel?”

Jade snorted. “No, Your Highness. The Oshwindon merchant guild needs Mordan more than Mordan needs the merchant guild. But you, of all people, must know the fees to register as a Mordanian vessel. And there’s a long waiting list, too.”

“You do realize your father saved my life when he pulled David and me off that mountain, don’t you? My family takes our debts seriously.” I switched to my princess-of-the-realm voice. “On behalf of your father, will you accept my royal decree naming the Wind Dancer and any other ships your family owns, now and in the future, Mordanian flag trading vessels?”

“You can do that?” Jade goggled at me. “I mean, you can do that, Your Highness?”

“Does that mean yes, Jade?”

The pretty young woman nodded emphatically. I turned my attention back to the ongoing recriminations Mrs. Sune threw at Mrs. Cochran, who remained polite and deferential throughout the harangue. “Mrs. Cochran, may I be the first to welcome you and your family to the Mordanian merchant fleet?”

All eyes turned my way as a startled Mrs. Cochran said, “Pardon me, Your Highness, I must have misheard you.”

“You heard just fine, Mrs. Cochran. By royal decree, your family now sails under the Mordanian flag. These people,” I pointed at the Sunes, “no longer hold any power over you. Please feel free to stop deferring to this woman’s craven attempts to lay her boorish behavior at your feet.”

Mrs. Cochran stared at me for a few brief seconds. “Thank you, Your Highness! Oh my, you have no idea what this means to us!”

“I owe your family my life.” I turned back to the Sunes, igniting my princess glare again. “If I hear the barest whisper that you have used your position in Oshwindon to cause even the smallest trouble to the Cochrans, I will personally see to it that my father enacts a special tariff on all goods offloaded by Oshwindon airships. We’ll call it the Sune Surtax. I’m sure it will make you quite popular among the other Oshwindon merchants.”

“W-w-why we would never dream of causing problems for these fine folk, Your Highness!” Mr. Sune stammered.

“Your Highness!” The urgency in Jade’s voice drove the Sunes from my mind.

Spinning around, I saw Jade pointing toward the Wind Dancer. More accurately, I saw her pointing to where the Wind Dancer used to be. A billowing cloud of dust hid both the Dancer and Raoul’s airship from sight!

Will Callan and Jade continue fleeing from Raoul’s airship? Okay, that question has already been answered in a previous chapter, but you still don’t know exactly what the pair does next. Find out in Chapter 32, coming Wednesday!