Being tackled last evening by Cyan had been something of a surprise, especially when when it became apparent how desperately he was hugging her. She pet the top of his head reassuringly and looked him over. He’d been well fed and healthy, which made her purr with delight. They had not starved or beat him as many feared.
They were not completely alone, of course. Their reunion was brief, but the cub told her Tepic was here though most prisoners had been taken to the Riff. She informed him and the nearby pirates she came in peace to set up a parley. The pirates seemed to then understand her presence on the ship and not in the brig.
The Captain was summoned, and she returned to her room and changed into one of the stolen dresses. They were too big on her, but she found one she loves with yellow flowers intricately glittering on the black surface.
Her appreciation turned to surprise as a loud voice cried out in pain.
“AGH!” The voice shouted, sounding vaguely familiar. She opened the door and found the pirate Khopesh, a captain who had been humiliated in their previous encounter. He had turned too quickly hitting his head on the door beam. He kicked it in frustration. “Heathen ship! It is trying to kill me still!”
He was yelling at Pan, who had returned, Ambal and others crowded around. Many looked like they had never seen the captain before. “Do not tell me I should be resting! My First Mate has made too many decisions for me lately! The healers insisted I rest two months too! Even chained me to my desert tent after that doll tried to kill me! But what do they know!”
He turned to Beryl with a snarl, though she could not see it through his cowl. All of his features were hidden by a turban, cowl, and flowing Arabian garments. She half waved to him smiling, as his venom washed over her unnoticed. Some part of her thought she should try to focus, like she had for the others, but it was a distant thought.
“You…You are some kind of bad omen?” Khopesh remarked as he studied her coldly. “Why are you here? Why do you claim to be captured?”
“I….never claimed that?” Beryl replied. Perhaps someone else had claimed that, but the cat herself had never had time to tell anyone anything.
“She is my guest” Pan replied quietly.
“Guest? Do we look like Babbage luxury ship to you?” He thought about that a moment and then quickly changed the subject, “Now tell me what you really want.”
What she really wanted? Beryl tilted her head slightly as she considered the unexpected question, “I wanted to see Cyan and Tepic. And she offered to take me to them…and I was hoping to set up a parley…” Before Khopesh could reply she quickly added, “Not with me…I’m….not right…right now.”
“Indeed not” Pan growled softly. She had no idea if she was talking to Khopesh or herself. Perhaps both. “However, she is the only one of the imbeciles landside that had sense enough to see what I was doing. It was a tactical decision to deprive the others of her…insight.”
I had insight? Beryl thought to herself while Khopesh growled. “Parlay? Yes, I know the rules.”
He slowly put away the khopesh blades at his side. “Except I am captain and now you are talking to me! So give me reason not to harm you after.”
“My word.” Pan snarled. Her baleful gaze rested on Khopesh as her hand went for her weapon.
Beryl did not notice those arguing for her safety. She was thinking about his question. “For starters…you want coffee yes?” She didn’t wait for his nod as she raised her paw. “I know where to get a lot of Mondragoran coffee.”
“Without being roasted by air guards in the plundering?” Khopesh queried after some thought. She nodded and he seemed to accept that for now. “I have nothing to gain in your death, alley cat. You live tonight. But, be anywhere you are not supposed to be. Perhaps munitions, or turbines, or navigation engine…my crew will not hesitate to make you trophy pelt.”
“She leaves here intact and in good health” Pan replied quietly, smiling the sharp, predatory smile that suggested mayhem was imminent. Khopesh seemed to dismiss her comments and never once turned towards her. She was not the only one that had daggers for his back in their gaze. He seemed as blissfully unaware of how unpopular he was on his own ship as Beryl herself.
“I promised I would do nothing to harm you, and I must follow my word.” Familiars had to keep their ends of the bargain. A terrible thought occured to her. “Do you know the Hag?”
He spat at her name while others looked uncomfortable at best. “Two faced bitch! Thinks she is tribe because she manipulates all! Leaders should fight at the front of the battlefield!”
“Is that what you do? How brave.” Beryl looked around the ship, distracted.
He seemed to think this meant she had not believed his boast. “Well, maybe not right now. Tribe heard that Khopesh try to steal little doll at air race, get beaten up.”
“That was unfortunate,” Beryl muttered half listening. The design really did seem more steamlands to her.
“Khopesh keeps his new ship, but Tribal Elders assign him to borders! And who invades Riff from desert? We are here too long I say!”
He went on speaking, losing more respect from his crew as he spoke, but Beryl had forgotten he was talking. When he said that his crew had been hired for the coffee job she turned back to him. “…I’m sorry….what?”
Khopesh blinked as if he had forgotten what he was saying. “We are capturing coffee that pass us! Big plan and we keep goods we plunder from desert border!”
Pan narrowed her eyes at Khopesh. “We are partoling Babbage airspace, Captain. The blockade?” Her expression was clear to most. If her salary was not contingent on keeping this ‘Captain’ alive, she’d have great glee in rendering him not so living over the course of a few days.
Khopesh shook his head, “Bah! I just escaped healers at my tent! I am catching up on airship paperwork. I get facts mixed up!”
“I think we both do…” Beryl replied quietly. “This is going to be an interesting parley. The man who wants to speak to you is Sir Sir Emerson Lighthouse. He is a local Babbage hero…and a bohemian.”
The Captain scoffed, “I heard tale he was just another stuttering drug pusher gone mad with Babbage swill and visible air.”
“He’s also that yes.” She could tell that his reputation might proceed him here. These men had many spies in the city with those working the land jobs. If Emerson did not have their respect how could the parley work? Her dazed thoughts churned and a thought occurred to her. She purred demurely, “He can prove his worth if you like! Set him an impossible ordeal!”
“Really?” Khopesh wondered aloud. “Because I prove worth by tearing out vital organs one by one and seeing if he survives.”
Her purr faltered. That sounded less like an ordeal and more like seeing how long it took to kill someone. “No, really…you don’t send out people to fight the mosquitoes or deal with the snakes as young men? Trials to prove yourself? Nothing?” They needed something to work with. Some hope. “There is no beast there that only a fool or hero would face?”
Beryl noticed something beneath her chin finally. She had not noticed when Khopesh drew his blades and brought them to her throat. Pan had pulled out her own weapons as had some of the crew. The Captain ignored them all, meeting Beryl’s glazed gaze. “I should kill you where you stand…but…this is an excellent idea. Why must I get my hands dirty? He bring me eye of Rif mosquito, scale of Rif snake…” He began to laugh wickedly, as if anticipating the show to come. “With bare hands! And no armor!”
“DONE!” Beryl shouted without hesitation, but something nagged at her. “But there should be three threats. Just to make it a good challenge.” She didn’t want him to weasel out of it later.
“I’m making the rules here~” The Captain growled at her. She nodded in agreement, her mouth touching the blades. She’d forgotten they were there again. “Which is why I am making three threats…yes…”
He thought for a moment and then cackled, “I want him to bring me head of the angel of death on the Hag Islands! And if he runs into Hag, and he shall for they see everyone who enters their realm…he must call her a Bitch for me and escape alive! Which will never happen!”
“Perfect! Consider these things done!” She shouted, not really hearing what he was saying as she tried not to think of the Hag. “He and his squires will earn the right to parlay!”
“Mosquito will kill them in first challenge and then Rif takes over his business, hm? Poor thing about the squires, but more bodies for the Rif Snakes.”
“Sure,” she agreed and stuck out her hand. “It’s a deal! He wins you must parlay fairly!”
Pan approached the Captain. If she had ever meant to spare him after this endeavor that was gone now. And no one seemed in a hurry to defend him. “You know how I feel about killing children.”
“Don’t worry. They will not die,” Beryl replied smoothly, catching everyone’s attention. “I said that Sir Sir Emerson will finish this and I meant it.” She purred, grinning triumphantly she was not quite looking at any of them. More like over their heads at something they could not see. The design on the doors.
After a moment the Captain turned to the crew for the first time, “This cat has gone mad with the heat. Babbage heat, not true Rif heat, either. And is it me or does she look like that cat on the Magistrate’s council!? I saw her before and this cat is nearly identical.” He stared back at her, but then for the first time caught her eye colors. “Ah, but as you can see, the eyes are incorrect. She is very lucky. If she was of the council her head would have mounted my wall. I want to add another head to our glorious tribes flag.”
Beryl paused for a moment, remembering that the Riff liked beheading foreign government leaders. Good thing that Emerson was not actually an Ambassador yet. And Knighthoods didn’t count. Probably. She nodded slowly, “Yes. I do have some family around.”
“Yes, that Magistrate chose many wise and knowledgeable, and of course, spoiled soft people for the Council. None of them would have been foolish enough to give themselves to the Rif as a prisoner!
“Definitely not!” She was a guest after all.
The Captain seemed to be enjoying himself as he found another tack to tease his guest, “Besides, ships have ships’ cats. She can eat our mice.” If that was meant to insult her it did not. She had that job before and quickly agreed. “Stay out of engines. Stay out of navigation engines! Stay out of munitions and weapons decks. Do not escape. Especially do not escape.”
“Look at me. I am your captain now.” Cruel amusement twinkled in his eyes. He laughed under his scarf, “You will be fine! I will make shawarma and other delights! We can eat and drink when watch Lighthouse die together!”
“Harumble!” She cried caught in how passionately he was saying it. “Very well Captain. I will not escape as already promised, no engines or weapons. And we can watch Lighthouse face the trial!” She smiled. Emerson was going to prove him wrong. She was certain of it.
True she had no idea how, but that was a minor detail.