Episode 38( No Comments! )

Scribed by: CB Ash in The Seventh Knife

Captain Hunter awoke with a start, a sharp convulsion shaking his limbs like a rattled marionette. The fog-like vapor of sleep burned away in the harsh light of pain. Hunter grimaced as a dozen small burn wounds clamored for his attention; behind those several more waited their turn. With his eyes closed, the captain took slow, shallow breaths until the pain ebbed away. Whether it faded, or he had gone numb, Hunter did not know or care. All he knew was that the sharp, sizzling sensations were gone, and he was glad for it. With a sigh, Hunter relaxed against the thin mattress in the Britannia’s tiny hospice. It was a small room, hardly large enough for a handful of beds, each separated by a cotton sheet. But it served its purpose.

“Intolerable,” Hunter complained and rubbed his eyes. The bandage on his right hand received a stern glare. Not that it was deserved. The bandage was simply a convenient outlet. When that did not improve his mood, he released his hold on a frustrated sigh.

“I agree,” said an all too familiar, and unwelcome, voice. Duke RiBeld drew aside the partition around his own bed and glared at Captain Hunter. “I would have hoped you would have retired to that antique you call an airship. At best, left entirely. But when I felt that recent explosion, I knew better. You had to still be aboard.”

Not to be outdone, the captain returned his roommate’s glare with one of his own. For a few seconds, neither of them budged. It was a stalemate. Fortunately, a nurse breezed in to break the tie.

She hesitated at the sight of the silent quarrel. Either she already suffered from a bad day, or Duke RiBeld had discovered her last nerve before the captain had arrived. Hunter doubted much could be attributed to himself. As far as he knew, he had not been there long enough to become a problem. With a focused effort, she put on a pleasant smile that did not quite reach her eyes. Those were flinty and exasperated. Her red hair, drawn up in a bun, had lost its original neatness.

“Captain, complaining will not make the burns heal any faster,” she scolded him. Quick as a whip, she turned on RiBeld. “And your Grace, please remember that the knife wound will not heal properly if you exert yourself.”

Hunter’s grimace shifted between RiBeld and the nurse, but he could not argue with her sound logic. “My apologies.” He put on his best smile. The young woman was not impressed.

Duke RiBeld followed his lead with a curt, “I’ll bear it in mind. Thank you.”

The nurse watched them both for another few seconds. Satisfied they were not about to embark on any new mischief, she first checked the bandages on Duke RiBeld’s knife wound. Satisfied, she then examined the bandages on Captain Hunter. With one final stern reminder for the two men to not overexert themselves and rest, she left the room. An uncomfortable silence settled in the air. Captain Hunter broke the mood first.

“I’m surprised,” he said.

He could tell the choice of words caught the duke off guard. RiBeld turned to look at Hunter with a mix of surprise, interest, and suspicion. “Pardon? What of?”

Hunter waved a hand to take in the hospice and its contents. “This,” he explained. “All of this situation and your relationship to it.”

The captain could tell he had struck a nerve, as RiBeld’s composure slipped. “What are you prattling on about? I was stabbed and practically incarcerated here. I believe you were there during the stab portion,” RiBeld said.

“What I mean is that before her Grace, the Duchess, tried to electrocute me with extreme glee, we had a brief conversation,” Hunter replied. He paused to let the statement sink in. The duke was unfazed by the implication, so Hunter continued. “Chief among the topics was about ‘power’ and ‘control’. Two things she is rather interested in. She insinuated being the patron of a great many problems I’ve had the misfortune to stumble across.”

RiBeld gave a derisive sniff at that. “How unfortunate for you.” His tone was thick with sarcasm, but Hunter could tell he had the duke’s attention. He was just reluctant to show it.

“Thank you for the sentiment, m’lord duke, even if you don’t mean a word. The duchess referred to a dangerous and insane woman from Edinburgh that I crossed paths with. A murderess and a scientist, which was a bloody combination.”

“She sounds like interesting company.” RiBeld folded his arms over his chest, then grimaced when his stitches nagged him. “Your point being?”

“My point being, she inferred being the patron behind this and previous events.” Hunter mimicked the duke’s gesture, and raised a curious eyebrow at his rival. “Since we are stuck here, I was curious how much of that was true? I first thought this was your venture, but are you and your mercenary company nothing more than an elaborate ‘hired gun’ as the Americans say?”

Captain Hunter knew the question was inflammatory, it was intended to get a rise out of the duke. He hoped that the feeble attempt might pry loose valuable information about the current problem. The risk was that the captain might have pushed too far, in which case RiBeld would not reply or might physically assault him. Such was the nature of their particular ongoing disagreement.

Hunter braced himself for the ego-fueled bluster, or torrent of protests followed by a healthy death threat. As fate would have it, none came. RiBeld’s frown melted into a toxic glower.

“No matter what, you do know how to drive to the heart of the matter,” RiBeld told him after a pregnant pause. “My arrangement with her Grace was not ‘employee to employer’. It was a matter of convenience. An alliance that was a means to a common end.” He gave Hunter a piercing look that told the captain there was much more about this caper than what could be seen on the surface.

RiBeld looked away before he continued. “That was until she had me stabbed. That was not part of our arrangement. It was far outside it, and a warning I took to heart. But I’ve now realized it has come with a unique tactical advantage.”

Hunter went from braced to tensed, certain the duke might try something violent. “And what was that?”

RiBeld gave a dry, humorless chuckle. “Don’t be insulting, Captain. It’s the same advantage you’re enjoying right now. A chance to gather information.” He turned to look at the captain once more. “The partnership I entered into with the Duchess Von Ferrin had one goal: the Roman knives. Being unique, they are of immense value to the right collectors. What I did not know was that she had them the entire time.”

Hunter blinked in surprise. “Wait, you knew?”

The duke shook his head. “I know now, not then. Be quiet and let me finish.”

Hunter gave the man a sarcastic look, and gestured for him to continue.

“Thank you,” RiBeld said. “I did not know, which was why I agreed in the first place. Had I suspected, I would have taken them from her myself.”

“Chivalrous,” the captain commented.

“And you are noble to the point of stupid, which is why I’m amazed that I’ve failed to murder you so far,” RiBeld replied. “Once she had me stabbed, I realized she was playing a larger game.”

“So the outcry to blame me was a ruse?” the captain asked.

“It was,” he said. “A weak one, but one that worked since it removed me as a threat to her. And by now I’m sure you realize there is a select group working among the crew of the Britannia?”

Hunter nodded. “Indeed, I do.”

“One remained loyal to me, the others? Not so much. They followed the lure of money.” RiBeld made a grand sweeping gesture to emphasize his point and frustration. “The one that remained loyal kept me abreast of her actions, until her ‘plan’ got him killed. I’m sure by now she’s murdered the others one by one.” The duke shrugged. “A just payment for a pack of disloyal scum.”

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