Captain’s report: We have been dispatched to assist the cargo ship ‘Charlotte’, which had her shipment of elemental artifacts stolen while they were en route to the elementalist colony Dalborg, formerly known as World-42. The Pantheon hopes the artifacts can be recovered and studied. If this isn’t possible their destruction is preferable to falling into enemy hands.
Meeting over lunch in the officers’ mess, Captain Baxtor finished explaining their current mission. The stout figure of the captain wore a neatly maintained uniform. Long, brown curls fell from his head and a bushy beard adorned his face.
“Won’t the pirates be long gone by the time we get there?” asked Henry Cook, the Phoenix‘s chief engineer.
“Yes, certainly,” said third captain Albert Reeves. “But we can render aid to the cargo ship and try to pursue the pirates and retrieve what was taken. Elemental artifacts aren’t something they can sell anywhere. They’ll command a high price, but it would need to be to one of the great powers or someone who will resell them to a great power. Assuming they weren’t stealing them on someone’s behalf, we might be able to track them down before they can arrange a sale.”
“But we won’t be able to track their ship across the water? How will we possibly find them?” asked Cook.
A silence fell over the assembled men as Baxtor and Reeves exchanged a significant look. Joseph Baxtor gave a small shrug.
“I’m surprised gossip hasn’t gotten around the entire ship yet,” began Reeves. “I came to serve on the Phoenix after I met Captain Baxtor when he was the second captain on the the Pegasus. At the time I was the captain of a ‘privately operating’ ship in these waters. Our ship was captured by the Pegasus and I proved to be more… accommodating to the Pantheon’s requests than my crew and ended up here.”
“What do you mean ‘privately operating’? Why did they seize your ship?” asked Henry Cook.
“He was a pirate,” said Sinclair Foran. The red-headed healer looked across at the third captain and, after the well-groomed man smiled at him, looked away.
“That’s about it,” agreed Albert Reeves. “Captain Baxtor advocated for me, my crimes were punished by indentured servitude and, when he got command of the Phoenix, I was assigned here. Hopefully, I’ll be able to work my old contacts and track down the stolen cargo.”
* * *
Pulling abreast of the cargo ship Charlotte, the Phonenix drifted to a halt. The cargo ship’s main mast had been broken off, and the crew cheered at the arrival of their rescuers. Putting a gangplank between the two ships, the Charlotte’s captain was welcomed aboard by Joseph Baxtor and Albert Reeves, then taken for a drink in the Captain’s mess.
“So, they were specifically after the elemental artifacts?” asked Captain Baxtor. “How do you think they knew you were transporting them?”
“We have no idea,” answered Captain Hill. “They took out our main mast with a chain shot and announced that they were taking our cargo, but it was up to us whether we wanted to be unharmed, injured, or dead after they did so. When they boarded us, we let them take the artifacts and they didn’t injure any of my crew.”
He looked apologetically at Captain Baxtor. “Maybe we should have fought, but we were so overmatched it seemed like we’d be throwing our lives away for nothing.”
“There will be an inquest, but as far as I’m concerned you made the right decision,” said Joseph Baxtor.
“Were any of the men who boarded you distinctive at all? Any that you can describe?” asked Albert Reeves.
“I tried not to look too closely at them, in case that antagonized them. Their leader was a redhead, with long braided hair. The men didn’t have a consistent uniform and they’d covered the name of their ship and any markings. It was a gaff rig schooner, but those are pretty common in these waters,” said the cargo ship captain.
“An older class of ship,” said Joseph Baxtor.
“Did the redhead with braids carry two hand cannons,” asked Reeves.
“He did!” answered Hill. “He waved them around at us when they boarded and his men took our freight. You know who he is?”
“Edward Shaw, I’d wager,” said Albert Reeves.
“We’ll tow you to land near here and leave you with supplies. Will you be able to manage repairs or contact someone to come and tow you?” asked Captain Baxtor.
“We should be able to make repairs ourselves, but why can’t you help us? Where are you going?” asked the cargo captain.
“After this bastard Shaw to get your shipment back,” said Joseph Baxtor.
* * *
Sinclair Foran entered his cabin and placed the tray of food on his table.
“It’s just me,” he announced, and the compartment under the bunk popped open and his daughter Norah emerged. The red-headed healer kissed her forehead, avoiding the rotting boils on her cheek and neck.
“What have you been doing today?” he asked her.
“Nothing,” she said, annoyed. “I’m tired of reading and there’s nothing to see outside.”
“I know this is a hard life for you, but we need to keep you hidden. The crew wouldn’t understand that we have your condition under control,” said Sinclair.
“The captain understands,” said Norah. “He’s always nice to me.”
“Not everyone is as understanding as Captain Baxtor,” said the healer. “I’ll be away for a little while, so I’ve brought you extra food.”
* * *
Albert Reeves and Sinclair Foran, out of uniform and socializing, made their way independently around ‘The Mermaid’s Teat’, a dive bar in the small, poorly maintained port of New Moon. The patrons mostly ate cheap food or drank watered-down beer and almost all of them were willing to talk to someone buying the drinks.
Walking up to a group of three men seated at a table, Albert Reeves motioned for the bartender to bring them four beers.
“I’m trying to track down an old mate of mine, Edward Shaw. I’ve heard he’s running his own ship and crew these days, but I don’t know the ship’s name. Have any of you seen him recently?” asked Reeves.
Waiting until the beers had been delivered, one of the men took a drink and said, “You’re from that Pantheon ship in the harbor, aren’t you? Why would we help you track down poor Shaw?”
“You’re right, but I used to sail with Shaw,” said Reeves. “We served together on the Asp and the Wasp, back when it was running contraband. I was the captain of the Rabid Dog until it was captured by the Pantheon.”
“What’s it worth to you?” asked one of the men.
“Thirty denarii, if the information leads to me catching up to him. An ass-kicking when I get back here for anyone who gives me bad information,” said Reeves. The men at the table chuckled.
At a nearby table, Sinclair Foran sniffed the beer that had been served to him and then pushed it away. The man who sat across from him had chugged half his beer already, then returned to scratching a rash.
“So,” began Foran, “as I was saying. I’ve come into a sum of money and am looking for investments. I’ve heard about a collection of elementalist artifacts that might be coming up for sale and was hoping to get in touch with the sellers.”
Finishing his beer, the man across the table looked questioningly at the beer Sinclair had pushed away. After receiving a disdainful nod, the sailor started drinking the healer’s beer.
With a belch, he said, “I don’t know about no elementary artifice…”
“That rash looks like it might be a parasite,” observed Foran. “Clove oil should clear it up for you. Coconut oil might relieve the itching.”
The dirty sailor looked at him in surprise. “I’ll try those,” he said. “You know, most rich guys who come around here wouldn’t give two squirts of piss for us. I’m touched that you give a damn. Those artifacts are being sold at Bigcord Refuge. They’ve put the word out that they’re looking for a buyer, so you might be able to get a good price on them.”
* * *
“I don’t understand why the Pantheon armada doesn’t just come in here and blast the ships and harbor. Finish these pirates off once and for all,” said Henry Cook, happily munching on lunch in the Captain’s cabin.
“We could certainly do that,” agreed Joseph Baxtor, cutting into his chicken. “The survivors would hide better and be more desperate in the future. A man doesn’t turn to piracy for the fun of it; he does it because he doesn’t have any other options. There wouldn’t be much honor in devastating a group of people who barely have anything as it is.”
“But they’re stealing from Pantheon cargo ships and disrupting our activities. Doesn’t that make us look weak?” asked Henry.
“Every great power deals with piracy, it isn’t unique to the Pantheon,” said Joseph Baxtor. “The powers that try to brutally stamp it out create bloodthirsty pirates who don’t leave survivors and sink the ships they’ve plundered. Who has room for dessert?”
“I do!” said the young engineer.
* * *
The Phoenix was docked at Bigcord Refuge and Sinclair Foran was wandering around town, dressed in the finest clothes the men onboard could assemble for him. Albert Reeves and Radiance followed him, staying a few steps back and pretending to be bodyguards. Without having to explicitly ask anyone, they overheard multiple parties talking about the artifacts for sale in the Morgan warehouse.
Making their way to the warehouse, they entered the reception area and were met cordially by a receptionist who clearly didn’t know who they were or how they were supposed to be received. After being ushered into an office area, they were greeted by a slender man who introduced himself as Arthur Carter. A red-headed man with braided hair was standing behind him. As Sinclair Foran was introducing himself, the man with braids suddenly interrupted, “Albert Reeves, I knew that I recognized you from somewhere!” His joviality suddenly turned suspicious, he said, “Weren’t you captured by the Pantheon when you were captain of the Rabid Dog?”
The slender man pulled a sharp dagger from his desk, stood up, and pointed it at Sinclair Foran. With a whistle, a number of goons came running into the office to join the men.
“So, now that the nonsense you were trying to feed me is revealed, let’s start again by you telling me who you really are and what you really want,” said Arthur Carter.
Sinclair Foran speechlessly stared at the dagger pointed at him.
“We’re exactly who we said we are,” said Reeves cutting in. “And your man Shaw knows me and what I’m about. We want to buy the elementalist artifacts that you have.”
“A more suspicious man than I might worry that you were here to take the artifacts by force, rather than buy them,” said Carter.
Holding up his hands, Albert Reeves said, “Easy friend. We each have something the other wants. There’s an opportunity for everyone to win here. Start throwing accusations around, and it’s going to be harder for us all to benefit. How about you get your men to stand down, we share a drink, and we talk about what it’s going to cost us to walk away with those artifacts?”
Squinting at the third captain, Arthur Carter said, “Your men wait in the street outside and they take any of your weapons with them.”
“Fine, fine,” agreed Reeves, handing over his weapons to Radiance and Sinclair Foran, then nodding at them encouragingly to depart. After they’d left, the slender man continued.
“So, the price for the elemental artifacts is 30,000 denarii,” said Arthur Carter calmly, looking at the third captain. “Hard currency. We don’t take promissory notes.”
“How are we supposed to pay you that?” asked Reeves. “We don’t sail around with bucketsful of denarii in our hold.”
“That’s not our problem,” said Carter. “I can give you a week to get the denarii here. After that, the price goes up by 5,000 and I start talking to other buyers.”
“The artifacts did belong to us before our ship was attacked. Doesn’t that warrant any sort of discount? 30,000 is more than we paid for them when we first bought them,” said the third captain.
“You seem to have forgotten your roots, Reeves,” said Arthur Carter. “We’re not here doing this for fun. Our families and communities are starving. Thanks in large part to embargoes by the Pantheon and the other great powers. You’ll happily deal with us when you’re trying to get something, like this cargo, but if we want to trade at your ports or manufacture goods for you, suddenly you won’t do business with us.”
“We’re happy to do business with you, we just need you to worship Mytar or one of his client gods,” said Reeves.
“Which you know we won’t do. You force us to squeeze every assarius out of the few opportunities we get. Shaw and his men didn’t want to rob your cargo ship, but they were desperate and didn’t have any other choice. You ask me for a discount, then after this transaction, you’ll spit in my face and sail away for good. 30,000 is the price because we know how afraid you are that these artifacts will end up in the hands of another great power, which apparently the original sellers were too lazy to figure out,” said Carter.
“You’re remarkably well informed about our shipping schedules, needs, and who we’re doing business with,” observed Reeves.
“One week,” repeated Carter. He told his goons to escort the third captain out.
* * *
“They must have some spies in the Pantheon,” said Reeves, reporting about his meeting to Captain Baxtor. “They’re too well informed.”
“We’ll send in a report. I suspect he’s right that 30,000 denarii is better than the loss of the artifacts. I imagine that a galleon will be needed to transport the payment here if he won’t accept a promissory note,” said Joseph Baxtor.
* * *
Sinclair Foran moved around the makeshift infirmary that had been set up for him in the shack by the pier. Word had spread among the locals, and every day was busy for the healer as he saw people with complaints ranging from mundane to life-threatening.
“I don’t know what to tell you, ma’am, except that your son’s rickets is caused by malnutrition,” healer Foran told the mother who was hovering over her son. “He needs more fresh fruits and vegetables. More meat wouldn’t hurt him either. With a proper diet, it should clear up in short order.”
“And how am I supposed to get him those sorts of things?” the irritated woman asked.
“Could you start a garden?” asked Foran.
“The neighbors would gobble up anything I planted before I could get it into his mouth,” she answered.
“Well, I can’t help you with that, but that’s the solution to his ailment,” said Sinclair Foran, exasperated with the recurrence of diagnoses that didn’t allow treatment.
Seeing Captain Baxtor waiting to talk to him, healer Foran made his way over.
“Good work here, Mr. Foran. I hope ‘The Phoenix’s‘ medical supplies aren’t too depleted,” said Joseph Baxtor.
“No, sir,” said Sinclair Foran. “I only used things we had a surplus of or local resources. Which are in very scant supply. You wouldn’t believe the number of issues that I’ve seen that were a result of malnutrition. The conditions these people are living in are killing them.”
“Keep it up and let me know if you need anything,” said the captain.
* * *
Looking around the table at the men he was shooting dice with, William Nickerson said, “Well, I have everything you’re looking for, but it’s going to be tough to bring it ashore with everyone from the ship crawling around port. Also, we’re not exchanging any merchandise, so I can’t very well slip it in with something else. I might have to bring it ashore on a dinghy. What do you have to trade?”
“There’s nothing much here to trade, but we have lots of denarii. It’s always hard to spend it here,” said one of the men, taking his turn.
“That should be fine… Just fine…” said quartermaster Nickerson. His rough face fought to not break out in a smile.
* * *
Sitting at the bar with Edward Shaw, Albert Reeves reminisced with him and some other old acquaintances.
“I should be angry at you for giving me up, Reeves,” said Edward Shaw.
“Giving you up? All I did was remember the ginger who was foolish enough to braid his hair. One braid for every victory? Ridiculous!” said Reeves, eliciting laughter from the others present. “And you’re the one who actually did give me up to Carter.”
“I’d do it again if I had the chance,” said Shaw with a laugh. “So, how’s life as a dog serving the Pantheon?”
“This dog gets three meals a day. A personal healer. Fair pay. The respect of my men and fellow officers. The best captain I’ve ever served under. An armada ready to back me up, if need be, and a clean record after five years of service,” said Reeves thoughtfully. “So pretty good overall.”
“Yeah, but you have to worship that prick Mytar,” said the red-headed pirate.
“Do you even know what worshipping means? Basically, if I’m asked if Mytar is a god and if I’ll obey him, I say yes. And that’s true. I don’t have to love him. I don’t even need to like him. He is a bloody god, and if he gives an order I’m going to follow it. I’d be an idiot not to. If he gives you an order, my advice is to follow it. It’s not like anyone checks if I’m praying to him at night or anything. I serve with his son, and…” said Reeves.
“Mytar has a son?” asked Edward Shaw. “And you serve with him?”
“Is he the big orange fella who’s been wandering around port?” asked one of the other men.
“That’s him, Radiance. And yes, he’s Mytar’s son. And he thinks Mytar is a right bastard and will tell anyone who asks him. So I’m not sure if following a god is the burden you all seem to think it is. I can get away with bad-mouthing him more than any captain I ever served under. Would I rather live a life free of all the gods? Of course. I just don’t know if I’m better off with Mytar or if you lot are better off here. Doesn’t matter much until my five years are up, but even after that, I wouldn’t trade places with any one of you. Can you say the same?” said Reeves. “This rounds on me, you sorry curs,” he winked at the men who were eyeing him intently.
* * *
Walking into the shop, Radiance and Adam Hudson began to browse. Radiance pointed out various products, described how to assess their quality visually, and identified items that can be dangerous to use if their purity isn’t as high as the vendor claims.
“All our products are top quality here,” claimed the owner, eliciting snorts of derision from some of the other patrons browsing.
“Your pink focusing crystals weren’t cut properly,” observed Radiance.
Squinting at the crystals, then at Radiance, the owner said, “That’s just a fashion choice, it doesn’t affect the performance.”
“It does affect the performance. You’d get 17% better channeling through properly cut crystals compared to these. It’s easy enough to recut them. Do you have anyone doing elemental refining for you here?” asked Radiance.
One of the other patrons cut in, “No one does refining here. It’s so hard to get any mystical supplies, when something is available we’re told that we’re lucky to have access at all and shouldn’t complain about the quality.”
“If you have a refining workshop, I’d be happy to teach my apprentice to recut them for you and you can have the improved crystals,” said Radiance.
“No one here has a refining workshop,” said the shop owner.
The seven-foot orange giant replied, “Well, I’m starting to understand the poor quality materials. Do you just beat them with a club until they start working?” The shopkeeper and the customers chuckled ruefully.
* * *
Captain Baxtor and Albert Reeves were reviewing the day’s activities when a sharp knock sounded on the captain’s cabin door. “Come in,” said Joseph Baxtor, and the door opened, admitting the ship’s elementalist.
Ashen-faced, Radiance said, “We just received word from the Pearlguard, the galleon that was on its way with the ransom for the elemental artifacts.”
“Excellent,” said the captain. “When are they due to arrive?”
“They’ve been attacked and robbed. The ransom has been seized and their full complement of marines was killed. The rest of the crew sustained serious injuries and their rigging was damaged beyond repair. They’re requesting assistance,” said Radiance.
“Blast,” said Joseph Baxtor. To Reeves, he said, “Prepare to set sail, we’d best go to their assistance.” Pulling on his jacket, the two men headed onto deck and Reeves called orders to begin preparations to depart.
Looking across the harbor in the late afternoon sun, a ship approached the port town. Retrieving his farscope, Captain Baxtor told Reeves to cancel the preparations to depart. Handing the farscope to the third captain, he said, “The Onell have sent a ship. I imagine they’ll be joining the negotiations.”
* * *
“The famous Captain Joseph Baxtor. Your exploits at Hollowmound have been discussed at length,” said the Onell Captain Alethius, looking across the meeting table. “I have to say, you’re fatter than I imagined.”
Grimacing, Captain Baxtor said to Arthur Carter, “We are buying the artifacts. You said we’d have a week to do so. There’s no need to involve the Onell.”
“Captain Baxtor, I’m surprised at you,” said Alethius. “Why would you deny this hard-working merchant the opportunity to get the best price for his goods? Unless you’re trying to cheat him, you shouldn’t be afraid of us helping him determine what their real value is.”
“That all is exactly true. I warned you that I’d start talking to other buyers, Baxtor, and that’s just what I intend to do,” said Carter.
“It’s only been five days out of the week you gave us. And I’ve brought the 5,000 denarii you requested for an extension,” said Joseph Baxtor. A deckhand carried the chest over and put it on Carter’s desk. “This should give us exclusive rights for another 9 days.”
“Where did you find 5,000 denarii? I was told you didn’t carry hard currency by your third captain,” asked Carter. Opening the chest a crack and verifying its contents, he had one of his men take the chest away.
“My quartermaster has been trading ship surplus to locals. They’re starved for goods and, apparently, he’s been getting quite a good price,” said Captain Baxtor.
“We’re starved for goods because your two governments starve us. Literally,” Carter replied, giving the two men an angry look.
“If you joined the Onell, you’d find yourself awash in material plenty,” promised Captain Alethius. “We could expedite your joining, as part of our offer on the artifacts.”
“If the people here have any love of freedom whatsoever, they’d be miserable under Onell tyranny,” said Baxtor.
“Calm gentlemen, calm,” said Carter, clearly enjoying having the two parties at one another’s throats. “I don’t make decisions about joining up with one of your great empires, but I’d be leaving town tonight if my countrymen were planning to join either of you. I’ll give you a three-day extension for the 5,000 denarii Captain Baxtor. After that, the sale will become an auction I’m afraid.
“Three days! But the galleon bringing our payment was attacked. It’ll take longer than that to get replacement funds sent. The pirates seemed to be well equipped and knew that our ship was worth taking as well,” Baxtor responded.
Arthur Carter shrugged. “I don’t know what you’re implying, but you can’t blame anyone other than yourselves if you can’t protect your vessels. Three days.”
* * *
Joseph Baxtor sat in the Captain’s mess with Albert Reeves and Radiance. He had finished relaying the current situation to the two men.
“There’s no way the Pantheon will be able to get us another 30,000 denarii within 3 days,” said Radiance.
“If they’re even willing to send more,” added Reeves.
“If we can’t get the denarii we need by the deadline, we have to start considering other alternatives. Mr. Reeves, do you think you could ‘liberate’ the artifacts?” asked Captain Baxtor.
“It will be tough,” said Reeve appraisingly. “They’re well guarded and they’re on high alert. They’ve been suspecting we’ll try to steal them since we arrived. Their code of honor can seem quite peculiar to people not from the area, but even though they robbed us, the attitude is that ships at sea are fair game. If we come to their port, interact with them like friends, then rob them, they’ll be deeply offended and the Pantheon will have made a committed enemy.”
“I’m not overly concerned about staying in the pirates’ good graces right now. Think it over and see if you can come up with a plan,” ordered Captain Baxtor. “Dismissed gentlemen.” Joseph Baxtor started scribbling notes on a piece of paper as the other two men prepared to leave. After Reeves’ departure, Radiance said, “I can wait if you have messages for me to send, sir.”
Looking faintly embarrassed, Captain Baxtor said, “This is actually just a short summary of our current situation for second captain Ward. It helps me organize my thoughts and sometimes he comes up with an option I hadn’t thought of.”
“Very good, sir,” said Radiance and departed.
* * *
Henry Cook sat with a number of marines and deckhands in the pirate bar drinking watered-down beer. “It may be watered down, but it’s still beer. Right sir?” asked one of the deckhands, prompting a polite chuckle from the young engineer.
A group of Onell crewmen came into the bar and looked around, quickly zeroing in on the Phoenix crew. One of the Onell, a woman, stood near their table, then loudly told the others, “Have you heard why ships from the Pantheon don’t sail with women? Apparently, they like to bend over for one another as entertainment when they’re out at sea. One hundred and forty men head out and seventy couples come back to shore.”
Bristling, one of the Phoenix marines started to stand up. “Sit back down marine,” ordered Cook. “Words can’t hurt you.”
Walking over to Henry Cook, the woman looked down at him. “Such a level-headed, very young, little man. Did your Captain Baxtor teach you to be a coward? I’ve heard that fat slug will steal anything that isn’t locked down.”
“You don’t know his other faults, otherwise you wouldn’t have only mentioned these,” said Henry. “Let’s give up on this posturing. None of us gets much shore leave, let’s leave one another alone and enjoy the little we get.”
Turning to walk away, the woman said, “I don’t blame you for being happy at getting off of that run-down, filthy, rotting carcass of a ship. It must be a relief to be able to breathe for a change.”
Standing up behind her, chief engineer Cook quietly said, “Perhaps you’d like to repeat that.” The marines and deckhands stood up behind him.
“Yes, I would,” the Onell woman said, turning back to him with a smile. “Your crew are incompetent and can’t maintain their vessel. It sullies us to share a dock with your stinking ‘boat’ that can barely float.” With each word she advanced on him until spittle flicked on his face as she finished her insults, her nose less than an inch away from his.
Flushing red, Henry Cook punched the woman, laying her flat on the floor in the bar. The two groups attacked one another.
* * *
“So, you admit you threw the first punch,” Joseph Baxtor asked Henry Cook.
“I did, sir, but you didn’t hear what they said,” said Henry.
“They insulted us, did they?” asked Captain Baxtor.
“They went on about man-on-man love on the high seas. It got the marines upset, but I cooled them down and kept control of the situation. Then they insulted you,” said the engineer.
“What did they say about me?” asked the captain.
“They called you fat, a coward, and a thief,” said Henry.
“Their captain called me fat too. Maybe I do need to lose a few pounds. They don’t know my other faults if they only mentioned these,” said Joseph Baxtor.
“That’s what I said!” said the young engineer.
“And then you hit her?” asked the captain.
“No, sir,” said Henry. “Again, we turned the other cheek, just like you’ve always taught me.”
“Then why did you hit her, Henry?” asked Baxtor.
“They said such vile things about the Phoenix, sir. It makes me furious to just remember them. I couldn’t let them insult her that way. I just couldn’t,” said Henry.
With a wry smile, Joseph put his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Your heart was in the right place, and it’s good to have pride in your ship and to love her,” he said. “The authorities here have taken Sinclair Foran and Radiance into custody and are holding them against any additional disturbances. That woman went into the bar trying to stir up trouble and you fell into her trap. You’ve made things harder for us here.”
Looking deep into the engineer’s eyes, Baxtor said, “You’re confined to your quarters until we leave port.”
* * *
Closing Sinclair Foran’s cabin door behind him, Captain Baxtor said, “It’s just me” into the darkness and moved carefully to the table, setting down the food.
A flame flared in the darkness as a lantern was turned up. Norah approached the captain and put the lantern on the table.
“I have bad news about your father,” Joseph Baxtor said. “He’s been imprisoned by the pirates who live here. They arrested him, not because he did anything wrong, but because they were angry about what someone else did and they want to put pressure on us. He’s safe and we’ll get him back. Second Captain Ward had a great idea that we’re going to try.”
Norah looked back at the captain wide-eyed and nodded. “Is he all by himself?” she asked.
“He has Radiance with him. He’s probably the man I’d choose to have with me if I had to be imprisoned somewhere,” said the captain.
* * *
Radiance and Sinclair Foran sat in the jail cell.
“Isn’t there anything you can do?” asked Sinclair.
“I am doing something. I’m organizing my thoughts on some recent ideas I’ve had about the elemental plane of water. What would you prefer I be doing?” asked Radiance.
“Could you use earth sprites to break us out of here?” asked the healer, eyeing the rusted metal bars in the small window.
“I could, then our captors would likely shoot us both dead,” said Radiance.
“Well, then what should we do?” asked Sinclair Foran.
“I’d suggest thinking about any of the recent illnesses you’ve seen that you find particularly interesting,” suggested Radiance.
* * *
Captain Baxtor walked into the bar, and a number of his marines took up position outside. Inside sat Arthur Carter, Edward Shaw, a number of shop owners, and many of the other prominent residents.
Eyeing the door, Shaw asked, “Are they there to stop us from leaving?”
“No, they’re there to keep the Onell from causing another disturbance,” said Baxtor. “This is to keep you from leaving.” A deckhand placed a small cask on the table and began pouring glasses of Mytar Whiskey and passing them out.
“You think we’re so easily bribed? With a few glasses of whiskey?” asked Carter, taking a sip from his drink.
“The whiskey isn’t a bribe. It’s a demonstration. This isn’t from my god, or government, or navy. It’s from my personal stock that I have to celebrate special occasions. You’re some of the most prominent members of your culture. How often are all of you drinking something better than watered-down beer?” asked the captain.
“With hungry children to feed, we can’t be wasting money on firewater,” said one of the women angrily.
“You make my point exactly,” responded Joseph Baxtor. “Your children are hungry, you don’t have basic health treatments available, your food choices are limited and the amounts are meager, the simple pleasures of life are denied to you. Your elemental supplies are coarse, and you lack the means to improve any of these issues.”
“And after we get paid for those elemental artifacts things are going to be better,” said Arthur Carter.
“Yes, some of these things will be a little bit better,” agreed Baxtor. “But how long before those denarii are spent and things are back to the way they are now? No matter how much you get from whatever great power purchases them from you your lives are going to continue along much the same way they’ve been going.”
“So, what are you willing to pay?” asked Carter.
“I’m suggesting you give the artifacts to the Pantheon as a gift,” said Baxtor. At this, angry muttering broke out between the assembled people. Holding up his hands, Joseph Baxtor continued “And in return, we’ll help you solve all those problems I listed earlier yourselves.”
Most of the conversation died down, with some isolated muttering. The owner of the elementalist supply shop flatly said, “Explain.”
“We’re willing to lift the embargo on New Moon and the rest of your culture. You’ll be able to trade with the Pantheon and all of our allies. Trading vessels will start visiting you here. At first, they’ll come for your denarii, but you have lands and aptitudes. Once you have goods and services for sale, they’ll be people hungry to buy them. I know two cargo ships that would love to hire you to make repairs for them.”
At this, there were a few small chuckles.
“And what do you expect for this?” asked Arthur Carter.
“The return of the elemental artifacts and no more attacks on vessels belonging to the Pantheon or our allies,” said Baxtor.
“And as soon as you’ve gotten your artifacts for free and sailed off, suddenly there’s a change of heart. No deal!” said Carter.
“You’re welcome to retain the artifacts until you’re convinced we’ve lived up to our words. If that takes a few weeks, so be it. If it takes a few months, that’s ok. If it takes a few years, we’ll keep at it until you’re convinced,” said the captain.
“And if we’re not allowed to attack any ships, what do we do when the denarii dry up, and we’re still building up these markets you’re promising us,” asked Edward Shaw.
“I didn’t say you couldn’t attack any ships. I just said you couldn’t attack Pantheon ships and our allies. We’d be delighted to have you attack all the ships you’d like from the other great powers. Personally, I’d love to hear about some attacks against Onell vessels,” said Baxtor, getting more laughs than before. “As a trading partner, we’re willing to protect you against any formal retaliation, so you’ll be able to go after bigger prizes than you may have in the past. I’ve found diplomacy goes smoother when you have a big cannon next to you.”
“In addition to all this, you’ve shown an aptitude for gathering information that the Pantheon is very interested in. If you’re able to provide us with verifiable information that’s useful to us, we’d be happy to regularly pay to keep that flowing to us.”
Looking around, Carter asked, “And to get this, all I have to do right now is not sell the elemental artifacts to the Onell?”
“Or anyone else, until you feel we’ve earned them from you,” said Baxtor.
“I think you have a deal,” said Carter.
* * *
Sailing away from New Moon Port, Captain Baxtor looked back at the two Pantheon cargo ships being repaired.
“Are you sorry to be sailing away with us, Mr. Reeves?” Captain Baxtor asked his third captain.
“A bad day at sea beats the best day on land, sir,” said Albert Reeves.
“It does indeed,” said Joseph Baxtor. “It does indeed.”
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