Captain Hunter crossed the distance to where Senhorita Salgado and the Duchess Von Ferrin were talking. Luckily, there was no blood on the intricately woven carpet around the two women. However, the tense lines around the Senhorita’s eyes, coupled with how calmly her hair tendrils lay against her head, suggested that the idea of spilling blood was not out of the question.
Since the captain knew both women well, he would have placed his money on the Senhorita. The phrase itself implied a gamble, and the captain did not see it being a ‘gamble’ by any means. He knew the Senhorita’s temperament, which with the proper motivation was quite ferocious.
The current object of said ferocity, Duchess Von Ferrin, greeted Captain Hunter with a smile as he approached. It was as if she looked for a proper ‘social’ means to withdraw from the tense conversation, and he might just fit the bill nicely. Apparently, this silent war was at best a stalemate, and the Duchess’ highly developed sense of self-preservation had emerged.
“My dear Captain,” Von Ferrin said with a sultry, inviting smile. “I take it you’ve concluded your business?”
“Only for the moment, Duchess,” the captain replied with a polite smile. “Negotiations will resume at a later date, I assure you.”
“I’m sure,” she replied silkily. “If you both excuse me, I should see to Archibald before he gets too far.”
“Of course,” Captain Hunter replied courteously.
“Naturally,” Senhorita Salgado said in a brittle voice and a polite nod.
Once the Duchess Von Ferrin had lost herself among the other passengers, Adonia’s hair tendrils twitched sharply as she let out a long, heavy sigh. She closed her eyes for a moment in an attempt to let the tension drain away.
“Vile woman!” Adonia eventually managed, with only a mild growl to her voice.
“Indeed,” Anthony agreed, offering his arm to Adonia. “Quite lethal, as well. She does grows her own poisonous plants. Quite the horticulturist.”
“I am not surprised,” she snarled. She interlaced her arm with the captain’s. “What does surprise me is that you let her get that close once to poison you!”
“A sad lapse of judgment,” Anthony replied casually. “One that nearly became a tragedy. Were you able to discern if she has anything to do with our current troubles?”
Adonia shook her head while Anthony led them slowly between the dining tables. “I do not think so,” she replied. “Her current obsession apparently is you, too much so, in fact. This cruise? Captain RiBeld? Merely an ‘entertaining dalliance of the moment’.”
“That will last only until she’s grown weary of Duke Archibald RiBeld,” Anthony added. “When the clock strikes that particular hour in her mind, she’ll be more than happy to fix a ‘special’ high tea for him. Most likely flavored with a dash of hemlock.”
“Duke?” Adonia echoed with a mild astonishment.
The captain nodded. “Yes, fourth duke of a small place called Collinsway, just North of London. Never heard of the place, myself. The ‘Captain’ title notwithstanding, ‘Duke’ is likely the only real title he could lay claim to, in my opinion.”
She nodded, then smiled a polite greeting to another passenger who passed by. “So, what of our Duke RiBeld? What was he so intent to speak to you about, Querido?”
“Unsurprisingly, he wants ‘his property’ returned, and made it clear that he’s willing to harm me to get it,” Anthony replied. Avoiding a knot of guests deep in their own conversation, he took a longer route to the Captain’s table than he had first planned. “He wasn’t specific as to ‘his property’ and I wasn’t willing to suggest any options for him. However, I suspect he meant the journal, since we took it from his mercenaries at the High Fens relay station last year.”
“Did he notice the forgery?” Adonia asked, keeping her voice low.
“I wasn’t making an attempt to conceal it; he might have spotted the forgery and mistook it for the real thing,” Anthony responded quietly. “I did push on to see if there was any association with the Brotherhood.”
“And?” she asked.
Anthony sighed lightly. “He claimed no knowledge of them. Although, that may have been an act for my benefit.”
She nodded thoughtfully. “True. Though Querido, consider this: if he was with the Brotherhood, he would know of the arrangement to deliver the journal and the knives. Therefore, why threaten you at all? If with the Brotherhood, he should be under the assumption that in a few hours he has the journal of his desire.”
The two of them stopped at the Captain’s table. Anthony pulled back a chair for Adonia. “Brilliant, and very true. He would gloat only after he had the journal, not banter with idle threats now. This also means Moira may indeed have something with her theory of more than one antagonist. The question now becomes: is RiBeld an unpleasant chance encounter among this mess, or not?”
Without warning, the power dimmed across the entire room with a static-filled shriek. Sparks jumped between the arc lanterns in the candelabra, and the faint smell of burnt cotton puffed out from the fixtures. The blue-white light sputtered, dimmed, then finally threatened to extinguish completely.
A rumble of discontent washed over the passengers like a wave crashing to shore. Suddenly, a man cried out in alarm! A woman screamed! Captain Hunter glanced around, trying to look between the moving knots of people. It was like trying to find a single cork cast free in the debris of a wrecked ship that floated in rough water. Everywhere alarmed guests looked around, others clustered near the closest dining table, while a few noble souls searched for some way to help the three overworked sailors who immediately arrived to restore the smoking, dimmed lights.
Adonia touched Anthony on the arm. “There, by the musicians!”
Beyond the guests, next to the recessed pit that held the musicians, a group of people clustered around a figure that lay prone on the floor. The captain quickly assessed the mob between himself and the victim in the poor light. He glanced over to Adonia.
“Follow me, I see a clear path,” he told her, pushing into the crowd. Adonia nodded, then kept close behind him.
A few moments later, they arrived at the source of the commotion. Six people were gathered around a fallen man. Two guests had knelt beside the victim, but seemed unsure of what to do. The rest stood by in appalled panic. Only one called out for a doctor, but his voice was lost in the chaos of the moment. Duchess Von Ferrin, upon seeing Captain Hunter, shoved two of the guests aside then clutched, panic-stricken, at Captain Hunter’s arm.
“Captain, please, help him!” Von Ferrin pleaded.
Adonia gave Anthony an uneasy look. Her eyes were tight and her hair tendrils clenched from concern. The captain nodded slightly at her unspoken worry: a lethal ploy on the part of the Duchess.
“I know,” he replied briefly, then gave Adonia’s arm a brief, reassuring squeeze.
Captain Hunter extracted himself politely from the Duchess’ grip, then slipped beyond the small group gathered there. He stopped dead still as he gained full view of the victim. Laying on the floor with a knife deep in his shoulder, was Archibald RiBeld!
Hunter immediately shed his constricting coat, then tossed it onto the back of a nearby chair. He rolled up his sleeves before kneeling down to have a better look at the wound. When he touched RiBeld’s arm, the man’s eyes opened. He glared at Hunter.
“You,” RiBeld growled weakly. “Come to gloat?” he asked bitterly, trying to reach the dagger protruding out from his shoulder. “Or admire the handiwork of your assassin?”
“Neither,” Hunter’s reply was curt while he gently brushed the man’s hand away. He carefully studied the large knife that was buried nearly to the hilt in RiBeld’s shoulder. Captain Hunter estimated the blade was two or even three inches long. The lack of blood concerned him. It meant the knife itself was possibly acting as a plug in the wound. Removing it might be dangerous. It also might mean the knife had not cut anything severe, yet. Hunter hoped it was the latter case. He gave RiBeld a sour look. “While I may regret it later when you try and kill me yet again, right now I plan on saving your misspent life.”
“Oh, my hero,” RiBeld said with a dry, snide tone.