Chapter Three Hundred and Forty-Five - Diplomats in Distress
We woke up bright and early the next morning. Caprica wanted all of us together for breakfast because she’d received some important news that she wanted to share. There was a tasty spread waiting for us, and Caprica had obviously been patiently waiting for everyone to be gathered before she ate.
Orange, who had a majestic bowl placed at the head of the table, hadn’t been so patient, but she was excused on account of being a cat.
So, we all sat around the inn’s dining table, again, and ate while Caprica went over a few reports. When most of us were done eating and drinking, she looked up and with a serious expression, spoke up at last. “There’s a ransom,” she said.
“How bad is it?” Amaryllis asked.
Caprica lowered the pages. She didn’t look very pleased. “It’s not ideal. They have a number of politicians, diplomats, and various nobles in their care. The original document was signed by each, and I believe a number of their identities have been confirmed by experts. The ring-seals attached to the ransom note match up as well.”
“We kind of knew that already, didn’t we?” I asked.
“Yes,” Caprica said. “But now this is becoming a much wider incident. The harpy will be demanding their diplomats back, of course.”
“Obviously,” Amaryllis said. “If the Nesting Kingdom itself doesn’t respond, then it will fall to individual families to reply as they see fit. That might turn messy. I don’t want to imagine my countrybirds acting cruelly, but I can still envision some families asking that other hostages not be returned.”
I gasped. That was terrible!
“It’s worse than you know,” Caprica said. “They’re not merely asking for gold.”
“Territory? Legitimacy?” Amaryllis guessed at.
Caprica shook her head. “They want a prisoner exchange. Specifically, for a prisoner that’s being held by Sylphfree.”
“Rainnewt!” Awen gasped.
I glanced at her, then back to Caprica, who was nodding already. “Exactly. How did you make the connection?”
“Well, awa, it sounds like the kind of thing he would do,” she said. “He seemed very, ah, invested in his plan to plunge the entire continent into war. So ... it would make sense for him to have some redundancies in case his original plan failed, and he’s probably responsible for the diplomats being kidnapped.”
“If his bombing plan worked he could have used the hostages to heighten tensions between our nations,” Amaryllis said. “Much of the Nesting Kingdom’s best were supposed to be sent to the summit. Removing them from the board only makes it harder to act diplomatically.”
Caprica dropped her reports down with a sigh. “I don’t know what the Nesting Kingdom is going to do, but I can predict how the Sylphean military will react.”
“There’s no way that you’ll surrender him,” Amaryllis said.
Caprica shook her head. “He attempted regicide. You could make a case for treason, and you could certainly make a case for mass homicide. Any one of those would make it impossible for us to surrender him to the Nesting Kingdom. We certainly wouldn’t hand him over only for him to be freed into the care of pirates.”
“Are they asking for anything else?” Amaryllis asked.
“So far, no. They’ll trade any five hostages for Rainnewt.” Caprica pushed the papers towards Amaryllis. “There’s a list of them on the third page.”
Amaryllis took it, flipped over to the list, then winced. “There’s an earl here. Two barons. I recognize the names of two harpies here who have parents who are dukes. These are some important people, even setting aside the career politicians. The Nesting Kingdom will be under a lot of pressure to get them back.”
“What about the crews?” I asked.
“Nothing on them, except for captains and first mates,” Amaryllis said.
“There had to be dozens of them,” I said. “Those ships were way bigger than the Beaver, and even we have a full-time crew of six sailors, not counting those of us here. A bigger ship will need a bigger crew, right?”
“And servants too,” Awen said. “Ladies maids, cooks, cleaning staff, porters and entertainers. Big-name nobles don’t just travel without a big entourage. Oh, and guards too.”
“Right, for when they arrived in Sylphfree,” I said. I nodded. “Whelp, in that case, let’s go free them all. That way, if they have no hostages, they can’t make ransom demands and Rainnewt will stay in jail where he deserves to be.”
Bastion, who had been quietly standing guard two and a half steps behind Caprica’s chair, cleared his throat. “I think you may be over simplifying things somewhat,” he said.
“No, she might be right,” Amaryllis said. “We know more or less where they are, don’t we? North of the Trenten Flats, possibly within the Snowlands, and about as far as you could expect to travel on a normal ship’s fuel reserves. That narrows it down. And we’re relatively close at the moment. Certainly closer than anyone else. If we can gather a large enough group and move in stealthily, we might be able to surprise the pirates.”
Caprica blinked. “That’s quite reckless.”
“I like it,” I said.
“Of course you do, it was yours,” Amaryllis huffed.
“You liked it too!”
“Well, mostly because of the massive clout we’d gain if we succeed,” she reasoned. “I can’t see how we could manage it, stealth aside.”
Caprica tapped the table, then half-turned to Bastion. “How many troops are stationed in Goldpass?”
“It’s a frontier town,” he replied. “One company. About a hundred flying-fit troops and twice as many in logistics. In addition to perhaps fifty full-time guards working for the city itself.”
“That’s not nearly enough to take on a pirate’s den,” Caprica muttered. “But... perhaps we can bolster those numbers.”
“Maybe you don’t need to fight at all,” I said. “The goal is to free the hostages, right? You don’t need to beat up every pirate you find to do that, you just need to grab the hostages and run.”
Caprica hummed to herself. “You might be onto something,” she said. “A special operation, designed like a smash and grab. A good number of the hostages might well be fighting-capable if freed. Though... maybe they won’t be as well. I’ll talk to a few people here. We have a number of ships available that we can commandeer.”
“A distraction?” I asked. “Send a big fat merchant ship close to the pirates, then have it fly away, and while they chase it we invade their base!”
“They won’t leave it unguarded,” Amaryllis said. “But it could work to divide their forces.”
Awen raised a hand. “Um, what about the Snowlanders. The pirates are near them, right? Are they okay with them?”
“Officially, the Snowlands condemn piracy. But... it is quite suspicious that the pirates were able to acquire such an advanced Snowlander vessel. So, I think some level of under-the-table collusion is plausible,” Caprica said.
“In any case,” Bastion said. “None of this is possible without a much better understanding of the local area and the forces we’re dealing with. I wouldn’t want to deploy troops in a foreign nation like that at the best of times either.”
“Ah, you’re correct,” Caprica said. “The Snowlanders might take umbrage if we storming their lands, even if they’re occupied by pirates and worse.”
I crossed my arms. My breakfast had been nice and tasty, but I had a bit of a sour taste in my mouth now. “Well, I don’t like the idea of sitting back and doing nothing.”
Awen raised her hand again. “That would only be a problem if the troops are Sylphean, right? What if, um, they were all privately-hired mercenaries?”
“That would violate all sorts of codes of conduct,” Bastion said. “But... it might be doable. The force would have to be all-volunteer, and it would be a mess no matter the results.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Caprica said. “On that note, I need a few hours to prepare things. If you want to visit the town, then feel free to do so, Goldpass is open to you. The docks as well, I imagine you might want to revisit your ship after so long away.”
I nodded vigorously. “Yes! We definitely need to check out the Beaver again. It’s been forever! I have weeks of overdue hugs to hand out to the crew.”
“And I need to see if the repairs pass muster,” Awen said. “Um, no offence.”
“None taken,” Caprica said. “You girls... and sir, go and enjoy yourselves. I’ll keep what you said in mind.”
With that, Caprica stood, nodded to us, then gathered her papers and shuffled off.
“She’s got a lot on her plate,” I muttered as I stood too.
“Yes, but it’s important work,” Amaryllis said. “And it’s the kind of work that could earn her a lot of political clout. Saving desperate harpy captives of a known pirate would earn her, or at least Sylphfree, a lot of goodwill. It might be the public relations victory we all need to finally put these stories of war to rest.”
“I imagine the folk them pirates have captured would be mighty pleased to be saved,” Calamity added with a cat-like grin. “Meow, you had a ship to show me?”
I dragged Calamity along after me as I left the inn, and my other friends filed out as well. I really couldn’t wait to return to the Beaver Cleaver after so long away.
The docks weren’t as busy as some I’d seen before. Goldpass was too quiet of a city to really have much air traffic coming and going from it, so it was easy to navigate the many stairs and towers around the docks to reach the level where the Beaver Cleaver was currently parked and waiting for us.
I paused as I came close, taking in the ship in all of its splendour.
Someone had clearly taken some time to spruce it up a smidge. Not so much cleaning it--after all, it was my ship, so it had had plenty of Cleaning magic splished and splashed across its deck. No, what took me by surprise was the fresh coat of paint on the sides and the patched up holes in the hull.
I couldn’t even tell where he’s been smacked and shot and magiced anymore. I kinda missed the splashdash and kinda terrible paint job I’d given the ship, but there was no denying that he was a lot more handsome now.
The rigging had all been replaced with new ones, the balloon was fresh and new, and someone had even taken the time to replace many of the bannisters and railings with shiny metal ones that had heaps of whirly bits and decorative metalwork.
“Wow!” Calamity said. “That’s a beaut of a ship. When nya said nya were a captain, I didn’t rightly believe nya, nya know?”
"I know, right? It's like a dream come true!" I felt myself smiling so big it hurt. "Let me grab my captain’s hat. It should be aboard the Beaver. Come on!”
I skipped over the gangplank and onto the ship. Almost immediately, Gordon spotted me. He grinned a harpy grin and flapped his wings. “Captain on deck!” he squawked.
There was a rush of boots, and soon the entire crew rushed up from below to join us.
“Scallywags!” I cheered as I launched myself at the crew. There was Two-Eyed Joe, and No-Pegs Oda, and of course the Fearsome Sally, our sorta-piratical human crewmates. They’d actually grown a smidge since I’d last seen them, maybe. They were certainly looking more fit and fed.
Hugs were had while Amaryllis and Awen followed aboard more calmly.
Then it was time to hug Clive and Steve and Gordon, our more experienced harpy crew. “The Beaver Cleaver’s ready to set sail at a moment’s notice, ma’am,” Clive said. “The stores are full, the fuel bunkers are stocked, and everything’s running better than new.”
“The Beaver looks so good,” I said. “What happened?”
Clive puffed his chest out. “The sylph were mighty insistent on giving him a little bit of a refit. We made sure they didn’t mess anything up, but they do know their shipwork and it was only the work of a day or four to get all the holes patched and all our troubles smoothed away. Lady Bristlecone will be wanting to look at the engine. The rooms haven’t been touched, of course.”
"Well, let's take a look then!"