Scimitar Moon Excerpt: Deleted Scene

Scimitar Moon coverHere’s a little nugget: A deleted scene from the Foreword Reviews gold-medal winner, Scimitar Moon. The chapter was vastly shortened for length, so a five-page feast was pretty much cut out. I love food descriptions, and it really hurt to kill this one…but I throw nothing away.

Enjoy!

Dinner Among Friends

 True to her expectations, a meal at the Galloping Starfish and an evening among friends put her to rights.  The entire crew of the Winter Gale came ashore for her promised round of drinks and many stayed well into the night.  Cynthia enjoyed herself thoroughly, but much to Mouse’s disappointment, took care not to over-indulge,.  Consequently, the following morning when she woke early for a brisk walk around the grounds, the sprite remained snugly huddled in her sock drawer, oblivious and unrousable.

Marta rushed her through breakfast, claiming she had to make a trip to town to purchase stores for dinner.  Marta had been cooking for Cynthia her whole life, but couldn’t remember the last time guests had been invited, let alone such a number.  Despite Cynthia’s assurance that the guests would find anything up to Marta’s standards sheer ambrosia, the woman verged on panic.  Cynthia inspected the shopping list, started to say something about the expense, but then decided against intervening.  One night’s revelry for her new officers was worth the expense.  She had things to tell them that were best said after a good meal and a few drinks.  The thought of money did prompt another idea, however: she would visit her banker Master Furgus today to evaluate her financial status.

After eggs, sausage, two of Marta’s fabulous scones and three cups of blackbrew, Cynthia felt ready to face the day.  That was when Mouse finally fluttered into the room.  He peeped at Marta miserably, and received a scowl, half a sausage and the corner of a left-over scone.  He sat back and munched as Cynthia shook her head and went to get ready.

She refused a ride and thoroughly enjoyed the walk down the hill.  Mouse fluttered along side her, investigating every blossom and leaf beside the road, not to mention terrorizing half a dozen squirrels along the way.  Her financial concerns were minor really, but being absent for two months during such a demanding project could have put a pinch in her funds.  She’d given Master Fergus explicit instructions about who could and could not draw on her account.  That list included Master Ghelfan and Master Keelson, as well as Marta, Koybur and herself.  What she really wanted to see was the list of expenditures; she wanted to know exactly how much this was costing her and how close to their original estimates these costs had come.

The last person she expected to bump into upon entering Fergus’ office was Koybur, but chance brought them together in a tangle of skirts, twisted limbs and screeching seasprite.

“Koybur!  I’m sorry.  What are you doing here of all places?”

“Where should I be, Lass?”  He extricated himself from her skirts, propped a slightly squashed Mouse onto her shoulder and explained.  “Sunrise and Seven Sisters made landfall while we was out gallivantin’, both with a tidy sum in their strongboxes.”

“Oh?  How much?”  Perhaps her finances weren’t as depleted as she’d thought.

“Well, as I said, a tidy sum, but after Master Keelson dipped into the pot there weren’t much left to pay the piper.”

“Keelson?  Why would –  Oh, I forgot.”  She’d left orders for her other three ships to have whatever repairs were deemed necessary by their masters when they next made landfall in Southaven.  Evidently both had needed extensive repairs.  “Well, at least they’re both ship-shape.  They’ll earn more in good condition than leaking like sieves and caked with growth.”

“Aye, and as I said there was a bit left over.  Seven Sisters made a good run on silks and spice.”

“Good, that means I can pay you this month.”  She clapped him on the shoulder and grinned.  “See you up the hill tonight.  You don’t want to miss it; Marta’s been all a twitter.”

“Wouldn’t miss it fer the world, Cyn, though you might regret tellin’ Ghelfan to bring that acid-tongued little brick of a dwarf along.  She’ll eat you out of hearth and home.”

“No worries, Koybur.  From the shopping list I read this morning, we’ll have enough to feed Winter Gale’s entire crew and have leftovers.”

“My kinda party.”  He nodded and lurched out the door and down the steps, whistling and tapping the ashes out of his pipe as he made his way across the cobbled street.

She watched him for a moment and shook her head in wonder; Koybur always managed a smile.  Considering what he had to live with every day of his life, her trials seemed miniscule.  A distant memory surfaced of her mother telling her to count her blessings every night before bed.  With all that had happened to her, she still had four sound limbs and a roof over her head.  Things could be far worse.

With that thought she turned to Master Furgus to find out just how much money she had left, and how much had been tied up in two partially built hulls.  The result surprised her.  With luck she would have enough to outfit both ships nicely and have coin left to buy their first cargoes.

Yes, things could be far worse indeed.

She exited the office and took a deep breath.  One more errand awaited her, and it would require a considerable walk.  Weary but steady legs carried her through town, past the Starfish, where she considered stopping for fortification, but decided against, knowing she was only stalling.  At the far end of town she looked up at the distant lighthouse, wondering if the old lightkeeper would indulge her strange request.

 

Dinner was an affair to be remembered.

Part of Marta’s shopping expedition had evidently included hiring one of the serving girls from the Galloping Starfish for the evening.  Kara was not the most comely of the girls Brulo employed, but her skills at seeing to the needs of her customers outshone the others’ by far.

They arrived in twos and threes, Captains Ulbattaer and Troilen first, then Brelak and the boatswain Karek.  Vulta had struck an instant friendship with Finthie Tar, two kindred spirts, Cynthia thought, and arrived arm in arm already singing sea chanties.  The last were Ghelfan, Keelson, Koybur and the stout dwarven woman Dura ShunTaren all piled into one of the shipyard’s wagons.

Kara met the guests and ushered them to the sitting room, where Cynthia had been instructed to keep them all company until everyone was in attendance.  The estate’s extensive cellar had been broached, and all manner of rare liquors, whiskies, ports, rums, wines and ales were arrayed for the guests.

“Drinks, Lady and Gentlemen?” Kara asked the last four to arrive as Cynthia shook their hands and welcomed them to her home.

“Bloody right, drinks!” Dura said, nodding to Cynthia and raising one bushy eyebrow at the expansive array of bottles.  “Damned buckboard near pu’ a permanent dent in me arse!  Somethin’ ta kill the pain’d be much appreciated.  The Nort’umberland single malt, neat.”

When all had received drinks, or in Vulta’s case, puffed amiably on her pipe, she took them on a short tour of what remained of the estate house, from cellar, which left Dura gaping in appreciation, to the top of the tower.  Mouse accompanied Brelak on the tour, not due to any preference in company, but purely in preference of beverage.  Feldrin had chosen the rum Cynthia had only recently won from Koybur, Brulo’s finest stock.  The sprite perched on the rim of the Morrgrey’s glass and hummed a happy tune, dipping in for a nip every once in a while, oblivious to the big man’s scowl.  The night air atop the tower refreshed their senses.  Moonlight on a calm sea and an expansive view of the flickering lights of Southaven lay before them like a child’s glittering toy.

“This, Ladies and Gentlemen,” Cynthia said with a wave of one hand, “is where I fell in love.”

Several eyes cocked at her curiously, but more than one pair looked on knowingly.  Mouse simply sighed, fluttered to her shoulder and planted a resounding kiss on her cheek.  Finally Brelak voiced what many of them knew.

“With the sea.  Aye, I can see it in yer eyes.  She’s a harsh mistress though Miss Cynthia.  Don’t let her get her claws too deep in yer heart.  She’ll break it sure.”

“Too late for that, Master Brelak,” she said, her voice cracking slightly.  She sipped her wine and pointed to a fat galleon anchored in the harbor.  “But not too late to have at least some of my dreams come true.  This is also where I got the idea for the ships you’re all so diligently working to bring to life.  When I was ten years old, I watched a dhow cut a line for the channel that no galleon could match, but she was slipping downwind so badly that it did her no good.  I thought, why not put a decent keel on her, or put her rig on a small galleon?  The rest happened on paper.”

“On paper?”  Ghelfan asked, interest arching his brow.

“Well mostly, yes.  I took some measurements from Koybur’s little smack, and there were some sketches in the library, things my father did when he was young.  The rest I just drew because it felt right.”

“Amazing.”

“Aye, amazin’ that my drink’s empty again!  Where’s that girl?”

“Dura!  We’re guests here!”  Ghelfan swatted her shoulder, but only succeeded in injuring his hand.

“Aye, an’ thirsty ones!  Shall we retire to the parlor?”  Mouse cheered, fluttering from Cynthia’s shoulder to hers, and she laughed as she led the way back down the stairs.  “Now there be a bug after me own heart!”

Kara awaited their arrival with a platter arrayed with tiny loaves of bread, each no larger than Brelak’s thumb.  At the center of the platter huddled three bowls of creamy, spicy and cheesy sauces for dipping.  The first bite revealed that each loaf had been baked with spicy sausage and garlic wrapped inside, the mix of flavors exploding in their mouths.  Mouse promptly snatched one and burrowed right into one end until his head poked out the other and he was wearing the crust like a waistcoat.  While he struggled to free himself from the constricting crust they each tried all of the sauces in turn.  Kara replenished their drinks at a leisurely pace and opened the two mahogany paneled pocket doors that joined the sitting room with the main dining room.

Light flooded from the room’s two crystal chandeliers and the eighteen polished bronze wall sconces.  The silk embroidered tablecloth glittered in the light along with a strangely miss-matched set of crystal, porcelain and silver.  At the far end of the table the portrait of Ben Garrison met their eyes, his grey brow knitted in thought, bright blue eyes piercing them through.  None noticed, but more than one member of the dinner party found it hard to meet that steely gaze.  This single portrait had hung there for as long as Cynthia could remember.  The others in the room had been salvaged from storage closets and cellars after the fire.  Many, Marta explained, had been ordered burned by Cynthia’s Grandmother, but the maid had secreted them away for safe keeping, knowing that one day Cynthia would be the mistress of the house, and that she would want these portraits above all else.

Orin Flaxal stood upon the south wall, his slim form clad in a white linen shirt and a vest of azure blue, his deep green eyes squinting and his mouth turned up in a mirthful quirk.  On the opposite wall Peggy Flaxal stood in a light green gown, her auburn hair drawn up into a complicated coiffure, tendrils curling down the graceful curve of her neck.   The two looked across the ornately arranged table at one another as if oblivious to the rest of the room.

Around the rest of the periphery hung paintings of every ship Ben Garrison had owned, from the greatest three-masted galleon to the lowliest barge.  These, along with the portrait of Orin, were the ones Julia Garrison had ordered burned.  When Marta brought them out of storage after the fire, Cynthia had all but broken down in tears with joy and gratitude.

“I must apologize for the miss-matched place settings,” she began, waving a hand for the others to follow her into the dining room, “but along with the entire north wing of the house, the dinnerware seems to have taken the greatest damage by the fire.”  She motioned the others to their seats as she took hers at the head of the table beneath her grandfather’s portrait.  The two captains sat to her right and left, the first mates next, boatswains next, then master Keelson across from Dura and Koybur.  Master Ghelfan took the opposing seat at the foot of the table.

“Not used ta such fin’ry,” Dura said, placing her glass of single malt whiskey beside the plate of alabaster porcelain edged in royal blue and gold.  She tapped a crystal water goblet with a thick fingernail, smiling at the tone.  “Somebody gimme a kick if I grab the wrong fork, ay?”

“I don’t stand on ceremony much, Dura.  Ask Koybur about that if you don’t believe me.  I was raised to all of this, but my father and my mother’s father were sailors.”  As she raised her glass and toasted them all, Mouse finally returned to her shoulder, having extricated himself from his crusty prison.  “All I ask is that you enjoy my hospitality.”

“To Mistress Cynthia Flaxal!” Troilen offered, raising his glass, “may her hospitality never run short.”

“And her cellar never run dry!” Dura agreed as the others burst into laughter and raised their wine, ale, whiskey or, in Vulta’s case a goblet of water, and drank.

Kara entered the dining room hefting a huge tureen and a platter of sliced bread.  Marta entered with two more platters, one of thinly sliced cheeses and one of tiny dishes of chilled butter.  While Kara filled their bowls with thick, steaming soup, Marta placed butter, cheese and bread around the table within reach of each guest.  The soup was creamy and spicy with hints of onion and pepper blending with a base of potato.  The bread, cheese and butter mixed well, and the diners were encouraged to experiment with each combination of flavors.  Mouse needed no encouragement, but after losing two wedges of cheese in Cynthia’s soup and nearly falling in during a rescue attempt, she ladled some onto a dish for him.

The next course came out on individual plates, an artfully arranged array of cool fruits, kiwi, mango, papaya and sour-sop, to cleanse their palates as the soup bowls were whisked away.

“Oi, I coulda done wi’ a bit more o’ that broth, there.  It was right tasty!”

“Patience, my good dwarf,” Kara told her, patting the woman’s broad shoulder.  “You’ve five more courses to sample before you’re done this evening.  Save room for the rest.”

“Oh, donna worry ‘bout tha’, missy!  There’s room in here fer as much as y’u c’n dish out, rest assured!”  She patted her broad middle and grinned.

The others laughed as Marta poured the first wine of the evening, a delicate white as crisp as the fruit on their plates with wonderfully clean of finish.

Dura sipped daintily, raising her bushy eyebrows at the flavor.  “Always thought wine were just brandy what weren’t quite ripe yet, but this’s right nice.”

“I’ve never had wine like this,” Karak commented, looking up through the crystal at the overhead light.  “How do they make it not red like regular wine?”

“I have no idea,” Cynthia confessed, sipping and smiling.  “Kind of nice, though, isn’t it?”

“Oh, Aye.”  He sipped again, wrinkling his sunburned nose and smacking his lips.

“It has to do with the peal of the grapes, I think,” Rafen said, peering at his glass. “Someone told me once about the process, but…  Ah, why analyze something like wine.  It is wine; it is delicious.”  He sipped and smiled beneath his dark moustaches.

“I’m sorry you can’t enjoy it, Vulta,” Troilen said, spearing a thin slice of kiwi fruit and popping it in his mouth.

“As am I,” she admitted.

“Well, just this once, then!”  Finthie Tar held her glass out to Vulta.  “Just a sip.  It won’t hurt you, and we’re all sworn to secrecy.  Right mates?”

They all replied with a resounding “Aye!” and Vulta gave in, sampling just a sip of the crisp vintage.  Her eyebrows arched and she cleared her throat in surprise at the crisp flavor.

“Well?”

“Very… interesting, but I think I’ll stick with water for the rest of the meal.”

“As you wish,” Finthie said with a shrug, raising her glass.  “Kara, I’ll just have to make up for her, I’m afraid.”

“Oi, I was just gonna offer me services fer that very duty!”  Dura raised her glass and tapped it delicately against Finthie’s.  “Here’s ta holdin’ y’er own, and somebody else’s, too!”

Laughter and toasts rounded the table as the fruit course was finished and the first meat course of the evening arrived.

Each diner received a plate with a single center cut portion of almond-crusted and seared ahi tuna.  The fish had seen the heat of the skillet only enough to cook the outer crust to about a third of its thickness on each side, so the interior was pink and firm.  Each plate also arrived with three different sauces: mustard, honey and red pepper.  Brelak wrinkled his nose at the thought of fish that had not been thoroughly cooked, but at Cynthia’s insistence, he sampled the firm piece of flesh and found it more than to his liking.  In short order they were exchanging recommendations for mixing the dipping sauces for unique flavor combinations.  Mouse sniffed the fish speculatively, but chose not to sample it, already full from the soup, cheese and bread.

When the fish course dwindled, Kara took their glasses and replaced them with more rounded cut crystal ones which she filled with a light red vintage.  Plates of round, thinly cut bread sprinkled with spices and toasted until crispy cleansed their palates in preparation for the following course.

“Peppered pheasant with mango glaze,” Kara announced as she entered the room balancing four plates on her arms.  Each supported a half-pheasant, its skin the tone of burnished teak, glossy with the sweet glaze.  Thin slices of lightly steamed yellow and green squash garnished the plates in a sunburst of color.

“Oh my!”  Ghelfan’s slim brows furrowed as he sampled the tender flesh of the pheasant.  “This is… This is…”

“Wonderful,” Keelson said, finishing for the tongue-tied shipwright.  “Absolutely wonderful, Mistress Flaxal.  My complements to your cook.”

“Marta’s been taking lessons from Rowland and every other cook in Southaven for longer than I can remember.”  She sampled a bit of tender breast meat and her eyes closed in bliss.  Mouse lounged at the edge of her plate, nibbling pieces of the crispy skin and tender meat.  “She is a wonder to be sure, but you haven’t experienced true paradise until you’ve tasted her scones.”

“So, wha’ time’s breakfast, then?” Dura asked, grinning broadly, a tiny pheasant leg in one of her huge hands.

“Dura!”  Ghelfan’s tone was admonishing, but only in jest.

“I was gonna ask if that were an invitation ta spend the night!”  Karek raised his glass and grinned to match the dwarf.  “Here’s ta hospitality!  I’d return the favor, but I got no house!”

Laughter filled the room again, and Cynthia thought it the most wonderful sound she’d ever heard.  She could not in her life remember the last time she’d heard laughter in this room, save for perhaps Mouse’s high-pitched thrill.

As the pheasants were transformed into bones picked clean of every edible morsel of their delicate flesh, Kara once again circulated the room and replaced their wine glasses with new ones.  Cynthia had been careful not to over-eat, but Mouse already lay beside her plate, his tiny tummy as tight as a bass drum.  Well, his loss, she thought, for she knew what the next course would bring.

Kara brought out four bottles of a different shape, presenting one to Cynthia for inspection.  Yes, this was the right one.  The short knife clicked in Kara’s hand as she cut the wax free and expertly removed the cork.  She poured a measure into Cynthia’s glass.  It shone in the light the color of blood, its heady aroma filling her with her first careful sniff.  Yes, this was the one she remembered.  She’d insisted on only one item of the meal, and knowing the main course, she had chosen this wine.

She sipped, and an ambrosia of flavors cascaded over her palate; nuts and plums and berries with the after-hint of oak and the tang of tannins.

“Yes, Kara, that will do nicely.”  She watched as all their glasses were filled, inspecting their faces as they sampled the vintage.  The responses to the wine were as varied as the people seated around the table, but that was really no surprise.  Wine, like many things, was subject to taste.  Koybur obviously cared little for it, though she doubted he would turn it down.  Brelak’s thick eyebrows shot upward at the first sip, the surprise on his face there for everyone to see.  Vulta scowled and pushed it aside, unused to such fare, but Finthie appeared to explore the flavors one at a time and finally approve of the overall effect.  Rafen knew wine, and appreciated the vintage fully, as did Troilen and Ghelfan, but Dura simply sipped at her glass and shrugged.

“Not bad fer spoiled grape juice,” the dwarf said, nonplussed by everyone’s glares.

“It should go well with the meat.”  Mouse raised one eyelid at her mention of meat, quirking a smile and stifling a tiny belch.

“Rack of Lamb,” Kara announced, entering the room holding a platter the width of her outstretched arms.  Upon it lay not one but several full racks of lamb ribs, all aligned so that the bones made a perfect “V” down the length of the platter.  Peppers, onions, potatoes and full cloves of roasted garlic lay beside the racks, basting in the meat juices.  The aromas of garlic, spices and roasted meat brought everyone’s appetites to full attention as Kara placed the heavy tray on the sideboard and drew the long carving knife and fork.  Marta arrived with a stack of large plates in one hand and a platter of freshly sliced bread in the other, ready to serve them.

Kara began to carve.

Slabs of steaming meat adorned each plate, surrounded by roasted potatoes and vegetables, all carefully drizzled with meat drippings.  At the center of each tiny rib a single clove of freshly roasted garlic lay steaming, pressed from its husk moments before.

Conversation was non-existent during the course, save for the necessities of “Please pass” or “May I have” or “My God this is wonderful.”  Some asked for second portions.  Dura asked for a third, and a number of ribs still lay on the side board when all had ceased their efforts.

“I never knew food could taste like that,” Karak said, holding his outstretched hands over his stomach.

“It usually doesn’t, unless it is created by the hands of a true master in the culinary art.”  Ghelfan raised his glass to Marta as she helped Kara take away the plates.  “My dear, if our ages were not separated by seventy years, I would ask you to wed.”

“Why, Master Ghelfan!”  Marta blushed beautifully and giggled like a girl.  “If I were             twenty years younger, I might accept!”

Cynthia stood and raised her glass. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I offer a toast to this evening’s benefactor.  To My Lady Marta.  May her skills never wane and her eye never wander.”

They all cheered and raised their glasses amid the laughter of friends plied well with good food and drink.

“Ah!  But wait!”  Marta raised a hand and favored them all with a sly smile.  “You’ve forgotten…  Desert!”

A series of delighted groans circulated the table.

“With the sweet I can offer you blackbrew, tea, brandy or port.”

They all made their choices, some more than one, and Marta departed.

“Well, ladies and gentlemen, I hope the repast has not so befuddled your senses that we can’t have a little conversation.”  Cynthia took in the gazes of all those present, and saw the quirk of amusement only in Koybur’s.  The others, it seemed, we oblivious to her intent.  Just as well, she thought, bracing herself.  “Tonight I would like to divulge to you my true intentions behind building these new ships.”

“Intentions?”  Ghelfan asked, his ears perking up visibly.  “I was under the impression that your intensions were to rebuild your grandfather’s empire.  To build a fleet of ships.”

“That is only part of my intent, Master Ghelfan.  But rest assured, that is an integral part of my overall plan.”

Marta and Kara entered from the kitchens bearing beverages and platters of tiny dishes.  Each diner received a dish, and inside each dish, a baked custard.  On the top of each custard an intricate silhouette of a ship was rendered in spun sugar, the perfect profile of Cynthia’s new design under full sail.

“As you may or may not know, my parents were murdered by the pirate who calls himself Bloodwind.”

The table fell utterly silent as Marta and Kara finished serving.  All eyes were on Cynthia, and she felt sorry for having interrupted their deserts.  She took her spoon and sampled her own, signifying that they should all eat.  Several sipped their beverages, and a few sampled the sweet custard.  It really was delicious.

“I am no warrior, and no seamage like my father, much to my own chagrin, but I will have my revenge against the man who murdered my parents.”  A few eyes strayed to the portrait to Cynthia’s left, that of Orin Flaxal, and she saw some trepidation in those eyes.  “By building these new ships, ships that can sail faster and closer to the wind than any corsair on the sea, I intend to starve Bloodwind to death.”

They stared at her, some in recognition, some in utter shock.  Finally, one of them voiced his concerns.

“Pardon me, Mistress, but with two ships?  You can’t be serious.”

Cynthia met Rafen Ulbattaer’s eyes squarely, and smiled.  “No, not with just two ships.  These two will be the first of many, and despite my own and master Ghelfan’s best efforts, the design will be copied and other ship builders will soon be launching similar hulls.  Additionally, I have started plans for larger versions of the same design.  Three and even four-masted versions which can haul as much as any galleon on the sea, and get to their destinations in half the time.”

She paused and fixed them all with an even, steady stare.

“I have patience, ladies and gentlemen.  I’ve been waiting fourteen years for this, and I can wait that many more if need be.”

“Why not just hunt the bastard down and kill him?” Brelak asked with all the direct honesty of his Morrgrey heritage.

“Two reasons, Master Brelak, the first of which I already stated: I’m not a warrior.  The second is that war is very expensive, not only in money but in lives.  I’m not prepared to spend anyone else’s lives on this.”

“Why tell us?” Karek asked, sampling his custard and sipping his brandy.  “It’s not like you’re askin’ us to go to war.”

“Actually, that is exactly what I’m asking, Mister Karek.”  This brought everyone up short, even Koybur.

“But you said –”

“I said that I wasn’t going to ask anyone to hunt Bloodwind down and kill him.  I’m not so naïve that I think he won’t be hunting me.”

“What?”  Troilen sat up like he’d been slapped.

“Think for a moment, please,” she said, sampling her own desert and sipping her blackbrew.  “These ships are faster, more maneuverable and sail closer to the wind than any ship on the sea.  What would be their most profitable application?”

“Piracy,” Rafen Ulbattaer’s flat tone hung in the air like the blade of a guillotine.

“Exactly.  And that is the one application that I cannot allow them ever to be used for.  These ships would make the perfect corsairs, and so, can never be allowed to be used for piracy.”

They all waited for her to finish that thought, for they all knew there was more.  They could see it on her face.  There were few ways to prevent a ship from being taken.  Surprisingly, Brelak had the answer first.

“So, if we’re boarded by pirates the ships are to be sunk.”  His matter of fact tone cut through the room like a knife.

“No.  Burned,” Cynthia countered, raising her cup and draining the last of her blackbrew.  “Scuttling a ship is too slow and too unsure.  I’ve spoken to the lighthouse keeper here in Southaven, and he assures me he can prepare something that can be lit and catch an entire ship on fire in any weather or conditions.  He is an expert in the area, trust me.”

“What about the crew?”  Finthie’s voice was thin, and somewhat strained.

“Pirates don’t take prisoners,” she said, her eyes flint hard as she met the boatswain’s gaze.  “Abandoning ship and taking your chances in an open boat or even adrift is no worse a fate than the one Captain Bloodwind would offer, I think.”

“True enough,” Brelak confirmed, his voice steady as stone.

“But to try to eliminate piracy…  It is impossible.”  Rafen sipped his port and smoothed his black moustaches.  “There will always be piracy, Mistress Cynthia.  It is a fact of life, just as there will always be trollops awaiting sailors in every harbor.  You cannot have one without the other.”

“You sound very sure of that, Master Ulbattaer,” Troilen said, his eyes hard and his tone flat.

“Yes, I am sure.  It is a simple fact: where there is wealth, there will be someone who wishes to take it away from the wealthy.  It is the same with the caravans of the deserts to the south.  It is the same in every large city.  It will remain so forever.”

“But I’m not trying to eliminate piracy, Master Ulbattaer.  I’m only trying to eliminate one pirate; the one who murdered my parents.”  Cynthia stood and inclined her head to her guests.  “I’m sorry if I’ve ruined the mood.  We can move into the sitting room and relax if you wish.  I just felt like you all should know the truth of my intentions.”

“Yes,” Koybur said, pressing himself painfully to his feet.  “We’ve eaten well and drunk enough to float a skiff tonight.”

“True enough,” Cynthia agreed, calling for Kara.  “And there’s a whole cellar full of bottles yet to be breeched!  Enough of my intentions.  I want to learn more of all of your intentions, if they don’t include getting as far away from that crazy Flaxal wench as possible!”

They all laughed and rose, moving into the sitting room to continue the evening’s festivities, but the mood had been snuffed out like a candle with Cynthia’s talk of piracy, and the flame of camaraderie was slow to be reignited.


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