The mid-class stateroom looked much like any other passenger berth offered aboard the Britannia. A bed, long and narrow, dominated a section of the far wall from the entrance. Next to that was a wardrobe made from a rich, amber-toned wood. Inside, a few pressed clothes hung waiting as anyone would expect. The only article of clothing that stood out was Durante’s ominous black opera cloak. It lay tossed over the foot of the bed. A few feet away, a set of padded chairs sat against the same wall.
Other than the door to a washroom, the only remarkable feature consisted of a small wooden desk and matching chair. Durante Marino sat casually working away at a complicated diagram that covered the scattered array of papers in front of him. Occasionally, he set his pencil down to frighten a mouse away from the corner of his desk. It retreated to a rough hole gnawed in the wooden baseboard. Marino stood when the ladies entered.
“Ciao,” he said with a gracious smile. “Please accept my apologies, Signora Wycliffe and Signora … Salgado, sì?” His Italian accent danced playfully around the words, yet only partially concealed an underlying suspicion directed towards his unexpected visitors.
Adonia Salgado smiled and inclined her head. Her hair tendrils writhed slowly against themselves; the ends trailed down to her shoulders from the ribbons that secured the majority of her hair behind her head. “Sim, Senhor Marino,” she replied. Her voice was polished, appropriately elegant, and very cordial. Her Portuguese accent had a soft, musical quality to it.
Moira rested her hands on her hips and grinned. She knew how formal Durante Marino was, just from her very short time collaborating with him on the bomb that had wrecked the Britannia’s engine room. “Good seein’ you again, sirrah.”
Marino bowed slightly at the waist, then gestured to the two nearby chairs. “It is good to see you both today. Sit, per favore. I was going over an idea I have been working on for some time. As I am not reaching any promising conclusions, I would welcome the company. I have so few visitors! What can I do for both of you today?”
Behind the women, the porter quietly entered the room with his burden. The senhorita smiled to the porter then gestured casually to the table. The young man glanced briefly at Marino, then the spartan stateroom. He gave the senhorita a curt nod then set the tea tray with its biscuits on the desk.
“Madam, is that all you require?” he asked.
She smiled warmly. “Sim, that will be all for now. Obrigado, senhor.”
The porter’s smile was brittle, but civil. “Quite welcome, madam.”
Quietly, the man retreated from the room. Adonia turned to face Marino, her blue dress swirling around her in a shimmer of color. The charybrian folded her hands in front of her. “Only some conversation over tea, Senhor Marino. I thought, as we are all working together on this unpleasant situation, we should be better acquainted, sim?” She gestured for the man to resume his seat.
Close by, Moira pulled one of the chairs away from the wall and towards Marino before the man could recover it for her. She sat down, then leaned back slightly so that the front two legs of the chair just rose above the floor. “We be a bit curious about a few things, sirrah. Cap’n figured we should just go along and ask. Quicker that way instead of spinnin’ our gears without gettin’ any traction.”
Once Moira had settled, Marino crossed over to the other chair and pulled it over to sit between the desk and Moira. He gestured graciously for the senhorita to take a seat. Adonia curtseyed, but gestured to the tea. The man nodded and moved it closer to the desk and its contents. The senhorita graciously sat, smoothing the folds of her long blue dress.
The Italian eyed the two women carefully a moment before he returned to his chair. “So this visit would be at the urging of your capitano? Certainly this is not more about the bomb. I thought that was settled?”
Senhorita Salgado reached over to the tea, then moved three teacups from the tray to the desk. Slowly, she lifted the pot and filled the first cup with the steaming brown drink.
She replied casually. “Oh no, senhor, this is not about that.” Senhorita Salgado offered the man one of the cups. “This is about the daggers themselves.”
Durante Marino’s eyes narrowed. “I have told the capitano all I can about that. I wish I could say more. The rest should be discovered, not taught. It is the rule of my Brotherhood.” He sniffed the tea slightly, then reached over to add a cube of sugar.
“We’re not meanin’ any harm to your Brotherhood, though.” Moira protested. “We’re just needin’ to get at the root of this trouble. I thought after helpin’ out with the bomb, you might help us here.”
Durante started to drink from the cup, but instead set it back on the saucer. “Ah, but signora, you have all the tools to find this ‘root’. I have faith in your skills.”
Adonia surreptitiously shook her head at Moira, then briefly touched a hand to the Italian’s shoulder. He looked as if he might jump out of his chair at the forward gesture. She smiled, and her eyes twinkled as they locked on his a moment. “We have discovered much already, senhor. The daggers, how they relate, and the map they show. However, the story is incomplete.” She turned again to the tray and uncovered a small dish of biscuits, offering them.
Durante, cleared his throat then selected a biscuit at random. “Grazie, signora. Now, as I told your Capitano, the seventh knife is the cornerstone. It is the key to what he wants to learn. I truly can say no more.” The Italian gestured at each woman in turn with the biscuit. “I trust he will discern the meaning, for everyone’s sake, sì?”
Adonia glanced at Moira. The engineer, a notoriously direct woman, looked more frustrated now than before. Senhorita Salgado was not surprised in the least by Senhor Marino’s response. In fact, she expected no less. However, it was no less frustrating for her, either. She offered a reassuring look to Moira before returning her attention to the stubborn Durante Marino to increase the gentle pressure.
The charybdian slipped on her most disarming smile. “Oh, senhor, you misunderstand. Capitão Hunter has puzzled out what he needs to already.”
Durante started to take a bite from the biscuit, but thought better of it. He set it down on the teacup’s saucer, giving the charybdian woman a confused look. “Then what are you curious about?”
Moira answered first. She abruptly set the front legs of her chair on the floor, then leaned forward with anticipation. “What kinda metal be keepin’ its edge so long, but can be as magnetic as a compass? It be no lodestone, that’s for sure and certain. Who made it? I looked all over and saw no maker’s mark. How can ya make such a thing? I’d be giving a try at it myself!”
“Such enthusiasm! It’s almost contagious!” Durante laughed, then set his teacup down on the desk. The mouse, who had gathered its bravery enough to reach the leg of the desk, scurried away for cover once more. Marino looked thoughtful. “However, I shouldn’t get taken away by the moment. I wouldn’t want to misspeak.”
Adonia put a gentle hand on his shoulder. This time, Durante did jump ever so slightly. The senhorita riveted him to his chair with another wide-eyed look, followed by a gentle smile. “Oh, but senhor, it would be nothing more than a history lesson, sim?” She gave him an imploring look. “We understand your Brotherhood wants to protect the daggers. You want them safe, which is all we want. But here? Now? We are interested in the very rich history. Who better to tell us than an expert!”
Durante’s resolve wavered slightly. “Ah, you flatter me, signora. I would hardly call myself an expert.”
“Oh, you are modest.” Her yellow eyes twinkled. “The Brotherhood revels in learning, sim? What harm could it be to teach about not the items, but their maker? Surely there were other things this smith created?”
“We can’t be passin’ up a chance to learn something like that!” Moira quickly chimed in. “So your Brothers say ya can’t even tell us about that?”
Durante Marino frowned. “No, they say nothing about that. We are supposed to protect certain … knowledge … if it’s deemed that the world isn’t ready for it yet. The history around the man who forged the daggers is interesting, but even a little knowledge could lead to something dangerous here.”
Senhorita Salgado turned and gracefully swept up Marino’s teacup from the desk. She placed it gently in his hands, meeting his eyes with her own. The exotic beauty looked meaningfully into his, her yellow eyes wide. “Ah, but senhor, you proposed one should not be handed knowledge, but should have the experience of learning. They should seek it out for themselves, sim?” She smiled at him once more. “So, we are here seeking.”
The Italian cleared his throat again, then blinked. He stared at the cup of tea a moment as he gathered his wits about him. He gave the ladies a broad smile. “Defeated by my own words. Well played, signora. Very well, some history of the daggers it is.”
Adonia secretly winked at Moira, and prepared two more cups of tea. She passed one to Moira, then kept the remainder for herself. “History would be lovely, senhor.”
“First, we start with the metal and its sculptor, eh?” Marino slowly swirled the tea in his cup while he talked. “What we know comes from a metalsmith named Titus Galeria Figilus. The metal, as it was recorded, fell from the sky late one evening. At this time in history little happened that could not, or would not, be attributed to the works of one of the gods or goddesses of antiquity. This was no different.” He shrugged. “You see, this stone from the heavens fell during a particularly exciting lightning storm, which only served to exaggerate its divine origins. We know it struck the ground in a bog near the Pillars of Hercules.”
“Straits of Gibraltar?” Moira asked.
“The same, signora.”
Senhorita Salgado nodded thoughtfully. She toyed with her teacup. “Interesting. Did they carry the stone from the bog?”
Marino shook his head. “No, signora, it couldn’t be moved.” He hesitated a moment before continuing. “However, I can say no more about that part. It deals with what the daggers were made for.”
The senhorita smiled. “Oh, my apologies then. Please, do continue.”
“Certainly. Titus Figilus was first among my order. A brilliant smith. He expanded on the works of Archimedes in several areas. A gifted mind, he understood that at many different temperatures, metals could combine or react in different ways.”
“He’d be havin’ to control the heat, though,” Moira quickly commented.
“Sì, sì, he would!” Durante was obviously caught up in the excitement of his story. “And he did! The bog was rich with a ready and flowing source of water, which was connected to two very old Moorish baths.”
“Which would surely make it child’s play to create an alloy of the meteorite with which to fashion the daggers, sim?” Adonia prompted gently. “Why, he was another Leonardo Da Vinci!”
“Oh, sì, he was.” Durante smiled and nodded at the charybdian woman. “Many of his drawings still exists. The Brotherhood has most, but some rest with the Vatican. Others are stored safely with the British Museum. We know. We check on them regularly to ensure they are given the best of care.”
Moira glanced at the floor, her mind chewing on the information like a dog that worried with a fresh stew bone. “Lodestone’s not known for being something that keeps a proper edge, it be too soft. You’d have ta put it with something right inventive.” She theorized then focused on Marino. “If that be so, could the daggers be called metal? Might be a different beastie?”
The Italian smiled politely, a faint blush crept into his cheeks. “Ah, now that I cannot say. I might have said too much already, signora. Perhaps we can continue to talk about Titus Figilus’ other inventions, sì?”
“But?” Moira protested, even though the expression on Durante’s face was determined.
“No,” Marino said quickly. “It would be far too much.”
Senhorita Salgado was not deterred. She locked her eyes with the stubborn man in front of her. “Please, senhor, please. We were carried away with the moment,” she said pleasantly. “Really, it is impossible not to be!” She flashed a smile that practically shone from her eyes, while her hair slowly entwined rhymically, sliding against itself in a constant, slow motion.
Moira grinned. “You be a bit carried away too, y’know. Not a bad thing. Helps us all figure out what’s goin’ on.”
Durante stammered a bit at the intense attention. “Ah, yes. Well, the Brotherhood shares a love of learning.”
“They seem to have a gift for teaching as well, senhor.” Adonia flashed another of her flattering smiles.
Moira, who had long since caught up with Adonia’s plan, smiled as well. Flattery was not Moira’s style, though she had her own skills. “He’s right sharp with his designs, too. Knows a lot about alloys. Why when we were goin’ through that bomb, I came away learnin’ quite a bit. I never did know explosive powder could be made like a paste and sculpted proper.”
Durante shrugged. “Well, signora, I’ve had to study many things. The Daggers of Mulciber are only one set of relics. You may start with metallurgy, only to your surprise, you have to learn ceramics to forge what you’re after!” The Italian laughed, cheerfully. With a sudden start, Durante coughed, clearing his throat. His expression turned abruptly nervous, as if he had just misspoke.
Senhorita Salgado casually changed the subject. “Oh, senhor, we prattle on. Our tea is getting cold. We shouldn’t neglect it. If I may ask though, Capitão Hunter was concerned about the seventh dagger of the set. If the others are at risk …?” She let the question go unspoken.
“There is no need for concern,” Durante replied, almost grateful for the change in topic. “It is not aboard the Britannia. It is with the Brotherhood, safely stored away.”
“So long as it is not nearby, then the Capitão will rest more at ease,” the senhorita replied.
Durante silently nodded in agreement. It was not the nod that bothered Adonia, but the sage look the Italian gave her. Such a look often could be used to conceal a deeper meaning. Of course, she did realize it could mean nothing at all. Adonia kept her thoughts to herself on the matter.
“Do ya think anyone could just suss out what the seventh knife has on it?” Moira asked, concerned.
Durante Marino hesitated at that. “Perhaps. They would need to know the riddle of all six. However, it would still not be easy, signora. It could be done, though.” He shrugged. “I have no concerns. Others of my order are aboard and they are watching for us. Additional security to allow us all to feel a bit safer. They would know if our enemies are far too close for the comfort, sì?” He lifted his teacup to his unseen Brothers. “Salute.”
Before the liquid could touch his lips, Moira was out of her chair in a flash, her teacup clattering to the floor. She darted right for Marino. At the last moment, she sidestepped the startled man, and latched a vise-like grip on his wrist.
“Signora! What are you doing?” Durante stammered in shock, his own cup only inches from his lips.
The engineer pointed solemnly at a the mouse on the desk. The small creature lay motionless, its mouth open and tongue swollen to an ugly gray-blue color. A small pool of tea stained it’s furry muzzle. The eyes were already lifeless.
“Bad tea,” Moira suggested darkly.
“Suspicious service,” Adonia added. “I suggest we complain! Let’s start with our porter.”