Van (van_writing) wrote,
Van
van_writing

The Coffee War - chapter fifteen



Chapter Fifteen:

Even with everyone by Kovel rowing, it still took nearly an hour to reach the Lightning. It was easy to see why it had taken Cannon’s crew of four so long to reach them. When they arrived, they found the ship dark and silent. They only managed to board due to a series of low-pitched calls Cannon made, which were barely loud enough to reach the ship. Eventually the call was returned, and ropes were dropped down and secured to their boat.

Everyone as soon climbing up the rope ladder, save for Kovel, who was to be raised with the boat itself.

As soon as Denny was safely onboard, Life tracked Paramis down.

“It’s good to see you.” She was watching the operation of lifting the boat, coated arms crossed over her chest. “One or two of us might have begun worrying you hadn’t made it.”

“Your concern is touching.” Life chaffed his hands and turned to look into the darkness, squinting for the invisible shore. “As soon as the boat is secured, we have to get underway. The drunken sailor we paid to take out here has probably reached the shore already. He may have passed out or he might have decided to raise an alarm. We have no way of knowing and thus no more time for stealth. We have to go now. We have to—“

“Calm down.” Paramis took him by the arm and shivered. “You’re freezing.” She peered into his face. “When did you last sleep?”

Life squeezed his eyes shut tightly, trying to fight off exhaustion. “It took longer than we expected to get to Tykovalt. The maps weren’t as accurate as we were promised, and we were slowed by snow. Then Denny insisted we took the woman—Mila, that’s her name—and Kovel was injured. It was an icicle; no one knew we were there.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“I’ll sleep once we’re safe.”

“We’re safe now and will be underway in minutes. I want you to go to your quarters now, and don’t come out again until sunrise. “

“But, Denny . . .”

“That’s an order. Denny is safe. After Danae checks him over, I’ll get him some food and send him after you.” She turned to one of her crew. “Reya, see that he gets to his quarters.”

“Sir!”

Life would have protested if he weren’t already so exhausted; instead he let Reya take him by the arm and lead him across the deck. As the peril of escape began fading behind him, all the fatigue he had been putting off started to catch up.

The tiny little cabin was cold and dark, but Life hardly noticed. He only managed to get out of his boots before he collapsed into the small cot that served as his bed in winter. Already he could hear the roar of the boiler as it began powering up and he took comfort knowing there would be excess heat to warm his room.

Though every fiber of his being ached to for Denny to arrive, Life closed his eyes and let his body relax. He knew he’d awake when Denny arrived with food.

Hours later, it was sunlight streaming in from the port hole in his room and falling across his eyes that woke him. He was stiflingly hot and blearily realized it was because he was still fully dressed in heavy clothes, sleeping in a boiler-warmed room with Denny pressed up against him on the narrow cot.

Now rested, naturally, the first thing Life decided to do was take off all his clothes and wake Denny up to do the same.

Denny’s eyes fluttered open as Life began kissing him, and he smiled when he realized what had disturbed his sleep. Without saying anything, Denny let Life help him out of what little clothes he wore.

“Morning,” Denny finally said, stretching the full length of the cot once he was undressed. “Sleep all right?”

“Yes.” Life allowed himself to admire Denny’s body, taking in the dark hair that grew now in places it hadn’t seven years ago and the muscles that had developed beneath that milky skin. He ghosted his palm down Denny’s chest and stomach. “You?”

“Mmm. Oh, yes.” He stretched up to kiss Life again. “Haven’t been so warm since summer. This is quite a ship. Steam powered?”

“I’ll give you a tour later.” Life lazily traced his hand lower, unable to explain even to himself how much he longed to touch Denny.

Denny’s eyes twinkled. “Have something else on your mind first, do you?”

“Perhaps.” He was delighted to find that Denny was not completely flaccid when he touched him, and the excitement of doing so after so long drew him to kiss Denny again.

To his surprise, Denny didn’t lie back at the touch. After a few seconds Denny sat up, putting a gentle hand on Life’s chest to stop him. “It doesn’t bother you?”

“What?”

Denny lowered his gaze. “That I was with Visnek.”

Life blinked. “I have hardly been celibate myself.” Life reached out, thumb tracing across the faint prickle of Denny’s unshaved beard growth. “Did you love him?”

Denny shook his head. “No.” He kissed Life’s palm.

“Do you still love me?”

Denny sat up, which wasn’t easy on the narrow bed. “I think I could.” He gently nudged Life, urging him onto his back without asking.

Remembering how they had made love that first time, Life acquiesced. “I think I do.”

A smile lit up Denny’s face. “Oh?” He straddled Life and then reached between them, drawing each of their hardening lengths together. He let out a breathy sigh. “Tell me more.”

Life gave a low, appreciative groan. “I haven’t got . . .” He swallowed. “I should have thought about it; been prepared.”

“That’s all right. I’m . . . not ready for that yet, anyway.” Denny reached down and picked up Life’s hand. He slipped one finger into his mouth, sucking on it languidly before swapping it for the next. When all five were slick, he licked Life’s palm and then placed the hand around the base of their shafts. While Life stroked, Denny extended his hand out to Life, to let him suck Denny’s fingers. Denny bit his lip while he did. “This is better than anything Visnek ever did with me.”

When Denny’s hand was slicked too, they found words too much to bother with and instead focused on the motion of their hands. Denny was not as vociferous as he once was, but it was still clear he enjoyed himself.

It had been long enough for Life that he came first, riding out the wave of euphoria while looking up into Denny’s beautiful face. Words came to his lips, but he found he couldn’t voice them. Instead, he drank in the feeling of belonging to someone again and began memorizing those features that time had long since begun to fade.

He remembered to keep his hand working only because Denny’s was there too, still rubbing their lengths together. With Life’s climax, there was additional slickness and before long, Denny joined him, crying out sharp and short at first, followed by several low, deep grunts that punctuated each additional stroke. Denny stroked them together a while longer, mixing their fluids until they both grew flaccid and tender to the touch.

Life swallowed hard, still trying to catch his breath. “What . . . what happened . . . to your hair?”

Denny stared at him for several seconds before breaking into something very similar sounding to a giggle. “What a romantic you are.”

Life felt he would have blushed had this been a different situation. “No, but.” He reached up with his clean hand, touching the ends of Denny’s hair. It hung almost to his collar now, but sprung up in wavy curls in a way it hadn’t when it was longer. “It used to be white-gold; the color of the sun through mist.”

“I lightened it.” After unstraddling Life, Denny picked up a dirty shirt and used it to wipe himself clean, and then gently cleaned up Life. “Carelle and I both; it was the style at the time, in Arisle. You didn’t know?” He laughed and bent to kiss him. “Do you not like it brown?”

“I do like it. I . . . I just had no idea you could change the color of your hair like that.”

“Mmm. I forget sometimes how primitive your people are.” He grinned wickedly at Life’s expression. “I find it charming!”

“I’m sure you do.” Life propped himself up on his elbows, some of the euphoria of sex and sleep fading away. “You are happy I came for you, aren’t you? I would rather you told me now if this were just a thank you for rescuing you if you don’t plan to see me again after we return to Arisle.”

“Is that what you think?”

“I don’t know what to think about anything anymore. If you don’t love me, I don’t want to delude myself into thinking this is more than it is.”

Denny’s beautiful features darkened. “You left me for seven years, Lie. You never even once sent me a note to let me know you were even alive, let alone that you still thought about me. You hurt me in more ways than you’ll ever know. I do still love you; I will always love you. It’s just going to take a little more time to see if I’m still in love with you.” His smile returned as he reached out to caress Life’s cheek. “I’d like to be. I’ve never loved anyone else half as much as I loved you.”

Life felt his chest tighten. Perhaps the gods had cursed him, but he could no longer deny it. “I love you. I never got to tell you how much.”

Denny smiled tightly. “I look forward to getting to know you again.”

This time Life kissed Denny’s hand. “It is ironic that we will have as long to get to know each other on the voyage back to Arisle as we did originally.”

“Yes.” Denny took a deep breath and nodded. “Speaking of which, perhaps we ought to get dressed so you can show me this fancy steamship of yours.”

Life kissed his wrist. “Must we?”

Denny laughed, delighted. “You really have changed. I’m afraid we ought to at least put in an appearance. Besides, you need to eat something . . . and I should probably check on Mila.”

The memory of Kovel lying pale and unmoving in the boat returned to Life and he felt a pang of guilt. “I should make sure Kovel is well.”

“That you should.” Denny slipped off the cot and got to his feet. “And after all that, perhaps you can show me where I can wash up?”

Life laughed. “Ah, if we were on any ship but this one, you would not like the answer to that.”

Denny raised an eyebrow. “But since we’re on this one?”

Life got to his feet as well and, wrapping his arms around Denny’s middle, drew him close. “Then, ‘after all that,’ I will show you the steam-heated bath we have.”
--

When they joined the others on deck, they found Paramis smiling at them from her usual spot on the bridge. “Thought you two might never get out of bed.”

Life self consciously rubbed the back of his neck, trying not to grin. “How’s Kovel?”

“Sore and groggy, but he’ll live.” Paramis nodded to Elias, her navigator, and left the ship to her, starting down to join Life and Denny. “He’s resting in my cabin.” She shook her head. “Amist has been sitting up with him since last night.” She sighed and turned to face the sun. “I fill my ship with women so she won’t be threatened, and what happens? She falls for the first man she gets her hands on.”

Life tried to suppress his smile. “Don’t tell that to Cannon.”

Paramis snorted. “Cannon? He’s like a father to her.”

Life raised an eyebrow in genuine surprise at this unexpected admission. “Not sure I’d tell that to him, either.” Paramis didn’t turn around, making it impossible to judge her expression.

“Who says she needed a man for that, anyway?” Denny said, grinning. “You can’t tell me that on a ship full of women, not one of them prefers the fairer sex?”

“There are a few.” Paramis shrugged. “I’d keelhaul her as good as I would any man if she touched Amist, and none of them want to go back to the mainland. Jobs for single women aren’t easy to come by in Feor, and I pay well above the going wage. I’m fair and they like me. They’re loyal. None of them would risk it. If one of them were genuinely interested, she’d come to me first. Men too often act before thinking; even loyal ones.”

Life shook his head. “Well, go easy on Kovel, will you? He’s had a rough few days.” He glanced around. “And where’s Mila, then? Still asleep?”

Paramis lifted her chin, nodding toward the stern. There, Life could see the small Korvalstieniav woman, hair blowing in the wind. She held the railing tightly so she could lean forward and watch the water receding away in the wake of the ship.

“She’s been there all morning,” Paramis said. “I tried to get her to eat some breakfast, but either she didn’t understand me or she didn’t want to.” She crossed her arms. “What’s her story?”

“She was taken by Visnek as well.” Denny locked his gaze on the figure across the ship. “As a general, he was away a lot of the time, and we were frequently left alone together. I suppose we became friends of a sort, after a while.” He considered his words a moment, before nodding slightly. “There isn’t anyone in Korvalstieniav for her to go home to—Visnek saw to that. I couldn’t just leave her. Right now, I think she’d be happier in Arisle than her own country.”

Paramis gave a grunt of assessment. “Well, she did a fine job stitching Kovel up; Danae sang her praises. Said she only had to clean the wound and add some dressing. If you can get her to help out on the ship, you tell her she can stay with the Phoenix—that’s my ship back in Arisle—as long as she needs. Maybe she’ll consider apprenticing to Danae; ships are always looking for a good doctor, even female ones. She might want to learn some Feorean though, or at least Arislean.”

“I’ll talk to her.” Denny pulled away, turning back to smile at Life. “Go on in; I’ll bring her in for breakfast in a bit.”

Life watched Denny go and join Mila on the stern, but soon felt Paramis staring at him. “What?”

“Just glad to see it was worth it.”

Life smiled, not taking his eyes off Denny. “It was.” He stretched slightly. “Should I go check up on Kovel, or leave him and Amist alone?”

“You go have some breakfast. I’ll check up on Kovel.”

Life found himself humming as he slipped into the galley.
--

Before the week was out, Kovel was back on his feet. His left arm remained in a sling, but color had returned to his face and he cracked jokes and ate as heartily as he ever did. It was clear that the attraction between he and Amist was mutual, and they were rarely be apart.

To Life, things couldn’t get much better. The Lightning was fast and there was no sign of pursuit. Winter was rapidly receding into spring as they raced southward and on the ship, love was in the air. Though Paramis certainly never gave any indication of it, Life noticed how she sat close to Cannon at night and he could see the fondness for her in the other man’s eyes.

In many ways, he wished they weren’t headed back to Arisle. He had found a safe little bubble of happiness unlike anything he’d ever known before; the closest he’d had in the past were those first three months he’d spent with Denny. There was a degree of cabin fever on the ship, but whenever Life thought about returning to Arisle and the blighted war zone, he was grateful for the reprieve.

Only once did they pass a ship during their journey to Arisle. It was at such a distance that they couldn’t tell if the ship was Korvalstieniav, Arislean or something else, and they didn’t alter course to find out. It followed them for a short while, but their speed soon out stripped it.

At night, Life walked the length of the ship with Denny, enjoying the cool breeze and the warmth of being with another person. Though there was no way to broaden the bed in Life’s room, they shared the narrow cot, even though it meant they often had to sleep end-to-end.

After three months, Mila was speaking Arislean considerably better, and she understood more than she could speak. She also turned out to be a surprisingly talented cook, and frequently turned the fish they caught into exquisite meals with only a bit of salt and warmed hard tack. Members of Paramis’ crew were quick to accept her as one of their own. Life knew he wouldn’t be surprised if the girl decided to stay with Paramis’ crew once they reached Arisle.

Kovel’s wound healed over the course of the three months, and Paramis put him to exercising the arm twice a day after the wound had closed. It often resulted in him having to do menial chores like swabbing the deck, but sometimes he just took a sword and went through left-handed moves with it. He was surprisingly good left-handed and Life always knew where to find Amist when Kovel was practicing.

And then, after three months of some of the most pleasant sailing Life had ever experienced had passed, the islands of Arisle came into view. Approaching from the northwest gave Life a strange view of the coast that he’d never seen before, but even at that distance he could tell war had changed things.

The steam ships that he had negotiated for in Feor had been built and launched after all. They now surrounded and patrol the main island. A great deal of other ships clumped at ports along the coast, but at their distance he couldn’t tell if they were Arislean, Korvalstieniav or Feorean ships.

None of the ships were engaged in fighting, which was both welcoming and a little unsettling.

When at last they closed the distance between themselves and the main island, one of the patrolling ships broke off to intercept them. It was clear within a few minutes that it was not an attacking Korvalstieniav warship, but one of the new Feorean steamships.

“She’s Feorean, flying welcoming flags.” Cannon took the spyglass from his eye. “Almost looks like they’ve been expecting us.”

“They knew our plans the night we slipped away. Perhaps they have been expecting us.” He took the spyglass from Cannon, peering through it himself. “Do we let them board?”

Paramis’ voice was flat. “Do we have a choice?”

Two Feoreans on the patrol ship came across once the ships were in range. Under their command, the Lightning was escorted around the island to another ship where they could confer with one of the Feorean war generals.

Life was somewhat relieved to realize he didn’t know the general—or any of the crew on his ship. It meant he didn’t feel he owed any allegiance toward the man, and therefore harbored very little guilt for how he’d left Feor.

Paramis left the others, only taking Life across to the war steamship. “What’s going on? Why haven’t we been allowed to dock?”

The man that greeted them was middle-aged, fit and wore a serious expression. He was dressed in the sand and black of the Feorean military fleet uniforms and wore insignia designated him as a general and captain of this vessel. “Captain Spectre, Captain Jarae,” the man said with a grave nod of his head. “I’m General Aetim. You should know, I ought to have you both arrested immediately. You both abandoned your posts and risked war by infiltrating Korvalstieniav without permission. Extremely serious charges.”

He focused on Life. “I’ll overlook them, for now, though, as I’m far more interested in the information you’ve obtained from Korvalstieniav. I am pleased to see you’ve made it out of the country and the Tarsil Ocean without bringing the entire Korvalstieniav fleet after you.” He clasped his hands behind is back. “Your little personal mission was a success, I take it?”

Life and Paramis exchanged glances. The disdain and patronization in Aetim’s voice was unmistakable. Life understood it; they had, after all, left Feor under the cover of night instead of staying on for months so he could become a general of the fleet. He wasn’t sorry for abandoning a post he’d been forced into, though. “We successfully recovered the Arislean man we went in search of, yes. We also obtained significantly useful reconnaissance on Korvalstieniav, especially the capital of Tykovalt.”

Aetim’s face twitched slightly, clearly processing his interest in that information against his dislike of Life’s actions. “Perhaps you’ll consider a debriefing with some of my officers later?”

Life smiled mirthlessly. “Well, I did not risk my life to obtain the information to keep it to myself.”

“But first,” Paramis cut in, “we need to know what is going on here. Why is the Feorean fleet still at sea? Why have you not recaptured the island?”

“Mm.” Aetim waved his hand, gesturing for them to follow him across the deck toward the main cabin. “The Korvalvs are not eager to relinquish their hold on this island.” He held open the door for them and stood by it until they were inside and could close it after them. “After we began arriving in force and they discovered we would soon easily be able to overrun them, they went to . . . somewhat extreme measures.”

Life’s body tensed in anticipation.

“I see you can guess what they had in mind.” Aetim gestured to the table in the cabin and when Paramis and Life had uneasily settled themselves into chairs, he poured them each a glass of a dark brown liqueur. “We estimate over a thousand Arisleans were killed during their retaliation before all the Feoreans finally received the ceasefire order. There is significant intelligence out to confirm that they have plenty of other Arisleans to execute should any of our ships attempt another unauthorized landing.”

Life slammed his fist down on the tabletop, cursing.

Paramis’ face remained controlled and stony. “We were able to land in unpopulated areas before. Has that no longer become an option?”

“Correct. All the previous landing sites have been compromised.” Aetim poured himself a shot of the dark liqueur and quickly drank it down. “Our patrols have located new landing sites that appear to be unmonitored by the Korvalstieniav forces, but it has been determined that the risk associated with landing there is not worth the potential loss of life should our ground forces be discovered.”

Life couldn’t bring himself to look at Aetim. “What of the Arislean government?”

“All overrun, I’m afraid. If any of the officials are still alive, they are in hiding for their own protection.” He sat down finally, looking ill at ease. “We have additional ships arriving from Feor almost daily now, for all the good it will do.”

Life scrubbed his hand over his face. “There must be something we can do.”

“Perhaps your reconnaissance information will be of some use.” Aetim sat up, setting aside his now empty glass. “One proposed scenario involves sending the majority of the Feorean fleet to Korvalstieniav. If we can lay siege to Tykovalt, it may just be that they’ll retreat.”

Paramis shook her head. “That would take months.”

“And there’s no guarantee that they wouldn’t just kill the Arisleans to get us to stop attacking Korvalstieniav.”

Aetim smiled tightly. “The idea is to not let them know we’ve begun attacking their country.”

“As far as risks go, that’s a pretty high one.” Life finally swallowed some of the drink Aetim had poured him, sucking in air as it burned its way down.

“We don’t have a lot of choices. Right now, they control almost all the resources and supplies. Their forces will survive for much longer than ours will if we’re unable to dock and resupply. I’ve already had to send ships back.”

Paramis leaned forward. “You said almost? They control almost all the resources and supplies?”

“Ah, yes. There is an island off the north coast of the main island, called Koshael, populated only by a small fishing colony. We have managed to land a ship in a cove there. Under the cover of night, with enough precautions, we are sometimes able to get some supplies from them. They have also helped us figure out how to fish the oceans off the coast.” He nodded to Life. “Your steam machines have been vital in creating potable drinking water for our crews, but fish and water alone are not enough for a fleet to survive on.”

Life set his drink down, brow furrowing with thought. “Are they still admitting ships delivering coffee?”

“No. They aren’t permitting any ships to land.”

“How long has it been since the last shipment of coffee arrived?”

Aetim’s brow furrowed. “I’m not sure. I imagine it has been at least three months.”

“Then their supply should be significantly depleted. Perhaps we can negotiate with them on that somehow?”

Aetim raised an eyebrow. “Go on?”

Life felt himself warming to the idea. “Korvalstieniav started this whole war over the fact that they want Arisle’s coffee trade route, right? We’ve always used Arisle as a middle man because of the distance between our nations, but with our new steam ships, we can make it to Korvalstieniav in half the time it took before. That means we could trade directly with them. We can even cut them a deal, if it will get them to retreat from Arisle.”

Paramis nodded. “Or we can refuse to trade with them at all. Would they kill Arisleans if they knew doing so would mean we’d never trade in coffee with them again?”

“That might make them abandon Arisle just to attack Feor itself.”

“Hasn’t that always been the case?” Life asked. “Invading and occupying Arisle was only ever a means to get closer to Feor. Once the island was under their control, I’ve always assumed they intended to launch ships to Feor.”

“We do not know that for certain.” Aetim shook his head. “It is entirely possible that if they had managed a complete occupation of Arisle they would have been content to simply trade with Feor through the island.”

“It’s still worth considering.” Paramis got to her feet. “We should consider at least making the . . . offer to them. If they refuse, then we know we have to come up with an alternate plan.”

Aetim spread his hands out over the table. “Do we really want to make that deal with them? Do we really want to open trade with Korvalstieniav? We can hardly meet the supply and demand from Arisle as it is. How do you propose we produce enough coffee to satisfy them as well—especially as Feor is still suffering a severe drought?”

Life got to his feet as well. “That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a try. Korvalstieniavs can’t all be warmongers. Surely they would prefer a settlement of some kind that would get them what they want as opposed to open war. They’ve seen our steam ships now, haven’t they? They must know they have no chance against our fleet on the seas. Who would want to enter into a war that destined to fail? It isn’t unreasonable to assume they could be convinced that trading directly with Feor is the smartest option.”

“You may be right.” Aetim got to his feet as well. “It is, as you said, at least worth a try.” His gaze returned to Life, sweeping up and down his frame in an assessing sort of way. “I assume you want to be the one to present this scenario to the rest of the fleet?”

Life ran a hand through his hair. “In truth, I would rather not. I know that they made me a general of the fleet, but it is not a position I sought or earned and is not one I especially want, either. If you would rather take responsibility for that idea, by all means, I give it to you.”

Aetim’s face changed only slightly, but Life could tell he was reassessing his thoughts on Life—for the better. “What will you do?”

“Well, we can’t stay here, can’t we?” He looked to Paramis. “I think we have enough supplies to get back to Feor. If we can’t land on Arisle, it might be best if we returned home. I should like to see how the shipyard is growing without me.”

Paramis nodded. “I would like to get back to my ship, as well. I’m certain that the Lightning will be better served in this war than sitting in a dock back in Feor.”

“Yes. Once we return, we can send the Lightning back with supplies for the fleet.”

“I don’t suppose you have any you can spare now? The fleet is especially in need of fruits and vegetables.”

Paramis pressed her lips together. “I will look and see, but it is unlikely. Korvalv was in winter when we left, and the people we traded with did not have much.”

Life found himself studying the large map on the back of the wall in the cabin. It was nothing he hadn’t seen before, but this one showed the trade route and had pin markers where each of the Feorean fleet approximately was. “Have any Arisleans been evacuated from the island at all? It may be best if we took any refugees with us.”

“I have been busy with other issues and haven’t kept abreast of that sort of thing,” Aetim admitted. “I will get you in contact with one of the captains who would know, but we are trying to discourage that sort of thing. There have been refugees that have not made it to a Feorean ship in time—as well as those who set out for a ship only to discover it is was Korvalstieniav.”

Life winced. “That is unfortunate.” He didn’t look forward to relaying this information back to Denny— or the fact that he had no word on Carelle nor any way to get information on or to her. He reached out to shake Aetim’s hand. “I’m sorry we couldn’t bring you better news.”

“And I am sorry the situation here is so unfortunate—though I am hardly the one to blame for it. It is good to hear your subject was rescued, at least. I look forward to hearing the information you have on your reconnaissance of Tykovalt later. It may be especially useful should we decide on a counterattack.”

Life clenched his teeth, displeased with Aetim’s focus. “I see now that rescuing the rest of the captured Arisleans will have to wait until after the situation here is better resolved.”

“Yes, unfortunately. Still, there may be a way to negotiate their release. I do look forward to hearing what information you have to share on that subject as well. Every bit is vitally important right now. When should I schedule that meeting for?”

Life shook his head, feeling far more tired than he had anticipated. “Any time that is convenient for you and the officers you deem should be there. We don’t have a difficult schedule to adhere to.”

Paramis said, “We would appreciate if you could have one of the fleet surgeons come over when there is time.”

“Oh? You have an injury? You should have mentioned sooner.”

“It was a wound that happened in Korvalstieniav and it is largely healed now. I would just feel better knowing it had been looked over once by a professional before we head home.”

“Of course. I will have one sent over tonight.”

“Thank you.” Paramis tilted her head. “It may be of interest to note that we also liberated a Korvalstieniav woman from the same facility Oden Ironforge was being held.”

“Oh?”

“According to her, her family was killed to insure she would not try to escape. She was being held by the General Ral Visnek, the same man that took Ironforge.”

“That is fascinating to know, indeed. Does the woman speak Feorean?”

“No, but she has spent the last three months of our journey learning Arislean.”

“I would be interested in interviewing her, if that is at all possible.”

“I will ask her if she is willing. I suspect she has interest in seeing Korvalstieniav pay for some of its treatment of the common citizen. There is considerable discontent among the lower classes.”

“At least those in the outer lying villages,” Life said. “The people in Tykovalt itself adore their Tyria.”

Aetim nodded thoughtfully. “Having insider information could certainly help our cause. I trust you’ll include how you infiltrated Tykovalt in your debriefing tonight?”

Paramis inclined her head. “Of course.”

“I shall eagerly wait until then.” He gestured back to the sideboard containing the decanter of dark liqueur. “Can I interest you in another drink?”

“No, I think not, thank you.”

“Captain Jarae?”

Life breathed a chuckle at the absurdity of it. “No, thank you. We should get back to our ship.”

“Very well. Thank you for seeing me so quickly. I will send word to your ship when we have arranged the debriefing meeting for tonight.” He crossed the cabin and opened the door for them.

When Life and Paramis were alone again, he turned to her and shook his head. “I hate politics.”

“As do I, my friend. As do I. This will all be over soon enough and we will be on our way. Just be grateful they aren’t trying to court martial you for leaving your post.”

It was too likely to have happened for Life to genuinely find it funny, but he did chuckle as they made their way back to the Lightning. “You’re right, of course. I cannot wait until this is all behind us.”

“I will be eager to get back to the Phoenix myself.”

“Strangely enough, so will I. Steam is good for making up time, but there’s just nothing quite like traveling by just power of the wind in our sails.”

Paramis laughed. “I am sure the heat of summer coupled with the boiler run off and all the sex you’ve been having has nothing to do with it.”

Life looked at her and found the grin he’d been missing.

Chapter sixteen
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