Much later, in the officer’s common room aboard the Brass Griffin, Captain Hunter stood akimbo, boots planted on the worn wooden deck planks, hands clasped behind his back. Through the sole door out of the room, he gazed at the afternoon light drifting through the gray clouds passing overhead. His thoughts spun like the flywheel of an Automata Servitor. Renegade stage magicians turned thieves and killers, ancient Roman daggers, and apparent forgeries cooked up by Adonia had attracted more intruders to his ship than had dared come aboard in the past two years. It was enough to give a man a headache. Then there was this latest turn of events.
He glanced over to his right, where Moira and Noel stood. Moira fidgeted nervously, toying with one of the countless tools she carried in her weather-worn brown leather vest. Occasionally, her boots scuffed the deck as she shifted weight uneasily. Beside her, Noel St. Claire kept his hands behind his back, his usual perpetual smile of bemusement on his tattooed face. It was well over an hour since the incident aboard the Britannia amid her boilers. Since then the pair had managed at least a few minor repairs, created some notes on work yet to be done, and cleaned up for their meeting with Captain Hunter.
“A mallet?” the captain asked, as if he still did not quite believe what he had been told. Hunter slowly stalked the length of the room, a frustrated pace that matched his mind. “You hit him with a wooden mallet?”
“Oh, oui, mon Capitaine,” Noel replied cheerfully for the blacksmith. “The number twelve one.”
Captain Hunter stopped in mid-stride, and gave the pilot a sour look.
“Shut it,” Moira said in a low voice, “that’s not helpin’.”
Beyond the trio, Krumer Whitehorse folded his arms over his chest, trying not to grin – and failed. He had already heard some of what had transpired aboard the Britannia. The first mate attempted a more serious appearance. They had assaulted an officer of another ship, even if said officer possibly had earned it fair and square. Although, as he turned the image over in his mind, coupled with what he knew of the events and Moira’s near-legendary temperament, he found it difficult to maintain the look of a stern disciplinarian.
To Krumer’s right, Conrad O’Fallon, the Griffin’s quartermaster, sat in one of the few wooden chairs. He was leaning backwards with a leather-patched, brass-trimmed booted foot propped up on the edge of the wooden table. O’Fallon’s grin was no smaller than Krumer’s, the only difference was that the Scottish quartermaster did not try to hide it.
Hunter resumed his pacing. “You hammered that journeyman engineer – their only journeyman engineer – with a mallet,” the captain said, almost as if he still could not fully believe the story. “Now, I have the Britannia’s first officer demanding the both of you be strapped to the wheel and flogged with twenty lashes!” Hunter shook his head, then stopped pacing to face Moira and Noel, who looked embarrassed and cheerful, respectively. “Do the two of you have anything to say? Such as what, pray tell, were you thinking?”
Moira quickly replied as Noel grinned and started to open his mouth. “Beggin’ the Cap’n’s forgiveness, when the insults started, I couldn’t keep me head about me. He was struttin’ about, gettin’ in the way. I … I just lost me head. It won’t happen again.”
Hunter raised an eyebrow. He knew her temper, so therefore knew better, but he also knew she would try to keep her ferocious anger under some measure of control. The captain glanced over to Noel. “And you? What say you, Mr. St. Claire?”
“Mon Capitaine,” Noel replied with a small, yet humble bow which was closer to a brief bend at the waist, “I throw myself on your judgement. If I might say to our defense, the Journeyman Marris is un connard, non? Moira is quite accurate. The man’s insults were insufferable! It was as if he did not wish the help!”
“I see,” Hunter replied. The captain’s mouth set into a firm line while he bored looks into both of his accused crew. “What were these insults? Were they personally directed at either of you?”
Moira and Noel exchanged a momentary glance. Noel shrugged, but it was Moira who answered. “Aye, some. A few at Noel here, about his heritage an’ all. A few at me bein’ a woman.” Despite her best effort, she could not quite keep the bitter undertone from her voice.
Behind Hunter, Krumer glanced at O’Fallon. The Scotsman shook his head slightly in silent reply to the questioning look. He then made a slight, silent, dismissive motion with his right hand to the first mate as if to say: ‘that didn’t do it’.
Hunter frowned. “So that started it?”
Noel shook his head. “Oh, no mon capitaine. That marked the man as a swine, but we carried on. Better to finish our work then leave, non? After that, however, he must have felt quite proud of his small intellect. It was then he called the Brass Griffin ‘antiquated’ and claimed Moira’s work would not be ‘proper’ repairs and would require rework once in Boston.”
“That’s when I bopped ‘im,” Moira admitted staring at the floor, her cheeks flushed a brighter red with embarrassment and a small touch of anger over the memory.
“With the number twelve mallet,” Noel added cheerily. Moira gave him a withering look.
Captain Hunter momentarily raised his eyebrows at the explanation. Behind the captain, Krumer suppressed a chuckle. O’Fallon gave Krumer a small, knowing smile followed by a wink.
The captain let a long, pregnant silence fall through the air between him and his crew. At long last he spoke. “Very well. I’m in no mood to grant Mr. Mason any such satisfaction in accordance to his wishes, even if I felt flogging with a cat-o-nine tails was proper in these modern times. However! You two should have held your tempers better. Therefore, given light of the current situation aboard both vessels, you are restricted to the Brass Griffin. No wandering about, no off time other than to eat, sleep for the following two duty shifts. Understood?”
Moira and Noel nodded glumly.
“Capital,” Hunter replied, his voice as rigid as steel. “As I know neither of you are off shift for several hours, report below and get to work assisting my brother and Dr. Llwellyn with something to subtly track an object at a distance. After that, get to work on this second explosives expert theory of yours.”
Moira and Noel blinked in surprise. The young woman grinned from ear to ear, while Noel bowed graciously to the captain as they realized the extent of their ‘punishment’.
“Mon Capitaine, it is a fair and just punishment. We shall learn the error of our ways,” he said lavishly with a deeper bow.
“Aye, Cap’n!” was Moira’s only reply. “Right away!”
Captain Hunter folded his arms over his chest, and shook his head slightly. “Move! Both of you! Before I alter my decision.”
Once the pair had bolted for the door, vanishing out on deck, Krumer could no longer contain his mirth. Hunter turned around to see his two officers grinning at him like cheshire cats.
“You two! Stop encouraging them,” he growled, a corner of his mouth crooking in a tiny, unwanted, bemused smile.
O’Fallon chuckled a moment before he replied. “Och, come now, Cap’n. The man be soundin’ like a wee bampot. He be gettin’ what he be askin’ for.”
Krumer nodded, trying to contain his grin. “Spirits know, it sounds like he went out of his way to be a problem.”
The captain quickly concealed his own grin, then shook his head. “There is no proper excuse for what happened, even if the man was an ass and even if he did practically beg for it,” Hunter said.
“Ah no call it ‘practically’,” O’Fallon replied with a bemused grin.
Anthony shook his head, then started to pace once more. His brown knitted in concentration, while his mind chewed on various bits of information as surely as a grinder shredded steel. Finally, he spoke his mind. “Journeyman aside, Moira’s theory of a second bomber interfering with the first is fascinating and troublesome. That could mean we face two opponents at once, and not necessarily working together.”
Krumer shrugged. “Perhaps this ‘Brotherhood’ is not so ‘brotherly’?” he suggested. “They might not all agree on how to steal Miss Adonia’s cargo?”
“Perhaps,” Hunter agreed. He looked over at the quartermaster. “Where are we on crafting something to pacify these murderous magicians that keep hounding the bloody hell out of us?”
“William be takin’ a hand at forgin’ a fake diary for us,” O’Fallon explained, still leaning back in his chair. “He be sayin’ the wee thing will be havin’ the right look, might even pass a wink and a nod, but he canna be makin’ it better without addin’ detail from the real MacKay, Cap’n.”
Hunter started to pace slowly. “Which is the last thing we want. We only need them to think it’s genuine enough to carry it with them.”
The Scotsman nodded. “Right now, he still be under lock an’ key. Little Tom be keepin’ his eye on him.”
“Good,” the captain replied. “Once young Will is done, and Thorias and my brother concoct a way to track that forgery, we’ll turn the tables on these bloody irritants. Let me know the moment the fake journal is ready. By then Adonia should have checked on the false knives, and Moira and Noel might have made better sense out of the parts they recovered.”
“Aye, Cap’n,” O’Fallon replied, lowering his chair to the floor.
“Captain,” Krumer asked curiously, “the Brotherhood never mentioned where to put the items they want. Do we know they’ll find the bait?”
“True,” Hunter agreed, “we don’t know. However, we do know they have been observing us to a limited degree aboard the Griffin, otherwise they would’ve burrowed their way into the armory and taken the knives by now. They have to be holed up aboard the Britannia somewhere, which means the moment we place the forgery down, it will be seen. We need a distraction.”
“Do you have one?” Krumer asked.
Hunter smiled thinly. “Indeed. It seems that Captain Bellgrave has invited myself and Adonia to dine at his table this evening. There will be entertainment to follow. If the Brotherhood are among the Britannia’s crew, they will be there and notice that I have the ‘journal’ along for some ‘light reading’. We shall see if they take the bait.”