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All the Heavens - Title

Chapter 17

Everyone clapped and cheered his pronouncement, toasting each other.

“Fine,” Aaren said. “Since we’re all decided, there’s something else that needs to be discussed.” When he saw he had their attention again, he continued. “Jon has already laid claim to the First Officer’s position, but we need a Captain. During any kind of emergency, there has to be one person who’s in charge, otherwise, everything goes to pieces.”

“What do you have in mind?” Jon asked.

“Well, Horace has the military training and background for taking over as sergeant of the guard,” the big fighter nodded eagerly, “so that leaves either me, Katrina, or Mira, and frankly, I just can’t see Katrina giving orders while strumming on a lute.”

Katrina smiled and struck a loud chord. “I’m the entertainment staff,” she agreed lightly.

Mira smiled at Aaren. “So it comes down to you and me?”

He nodded.

“You’ve been leading us so far,” she said. “Keep going.”

“Commanding a ship is different than leading a group of adventurers,” he said quietly. “Especially when we get into port. I don’t want to make any assumptions. Whoever is Captain will have the legal authority to do all kinds of things. This has to be an official decision by all of us.”

Jon cleared his throat. “And here I thought I was the only law-and-order type around here.” Faint laughter circled the room. “Alright, I officially nominate Aaren Valed as our Captain.”

“Second the motion.” Horace was prompt and official-sounding.

Aaren lifted an eyebrow. “Any other nominations?” No one said anything. He shrugged. “Alright then, all in favor?” Every hand went up, including Marak and Taanen. “Opposed?”

Katrina snickered.

He gave her a pained smile. “Alright then, by a unanimous vote, I’ve been elected as the Captain.”

Katrina did a rim shot on the edge of the table and everyone laughed.

Aaren grinned briefly then assumed a more serious tone. “Alright then, first thing in the morning I want Jon to take a complete inventory of everything on the ship. I want to know exactly what we have and how much. I’ll do what I can do for the wounded.” Marak nodded his appreciation. “Horace, you and Mira go over our weapons, defenses, things like that. I want to know what we have available if we have to go into combat. Katrina, you help out where ever you can. If anyone needs an extra pair of hands, you’re it. Elric, dig into those journals and books. Learn everything about starships that you can then teach the rest of us what you picked up. I want all of us to be able to run this thing.”

Mira noted there was suddenly a business-like air about the room. Everyone was paying strict attention and nodding agreement with Aaren’s off-the-cuff decisions. Even Elric had laid aside his book and was sitting forward attentively, something he hadn't done previously. Perhaps Aaren was right, electing a Captain did change things.

Aaren wasn’t done yet. “Marak,” the man started with surprise, “I want you to gather your men on the main deck tomorrow at noon. I’ll want to talk to them as a group and let them know what we're planning on doing and give each of them a chance to stay or leave. I know they’re your men but this wasn’t something they signed up for. We should give them an opportunity to leave if they want to.

Marak scowled but nodded.

“Also, bring me a list of their names and occupations; what skills they have, weapon proficiency, special abilities, that kind of thing. And, if any of them have any experience with sailing ships I’ll want to know that too.”

“That information is more along Taanen’s line,” Marak said. “He’s been my assistant for quite some time and I trust his judgment in hiring men for me.”

“Fine,” he nodded. “Do it however you want, just get me the list.”


He paused, thinking. “Is there anything I’ve missed? Comments? Questions? Objections? Now’s the time for it.”

They all shook their heads.

“In that case let’s hit the sack, tomorrow is going to be a long day,” he told them.

They stood up and started filing out, chattering among themselves brightly. He smiled to himself then suddenly snapped his fingers as a thought occurred to him. “Jon,” he called, “remember to set the watch tonight.”

He smiled reprovingly at him to let him know he hadn’t forgotten and ducked out with the others.

He turned away and started picking up the cups and saucers that had been left behind. He stacked them on one of the tables and made a mental note to start a rotating cleanup duty roster. He blew out several of the lamps and turned with an armload of dishes then halted in surprise when he saw Mira leaning against the doorjamb watching him, arms folded across her chest.

“Oh,” he said, “I didn’t see you.”

“I saw you,” she said in a warm voice, Aaren had never heard before. A tingle ran down his back and he shifted nervously in the now dimly lit room. His long-standing attraction to Mira surged to the fore and he suddenly became aware of the Captain’s bed behind him. “Did,” he stopped to clear his throat. “Did you want something?”

Mira ran her eyes slowly over his tall chiseled form before answering. “Yes. As a matter of fact, I did. And do.” She blushed furiously at her own words and the pounding of her heart but kept her eyes on his. “We don’t know what’s going to happen out there and I wanted to know, wanted you to know how I felt.”

He set down the dishes and came over to stand directly in front of her. He looked down at her seriously. “I hope it’s the same way I feel.”

She bit her lip, feeling her confidence building even as she became more nervous. The Captain’s bed was looming large in her mind but she was still young enough to be untouched. She wanted his arms around her but wasn’t ready to open her body to him just yet.

Her trembling was obvious as his strong fingers came up to rest on her shoulders, massaging them gently. “Now is not the time, my lady,” he whispered, “but, as a token of my feelings–” He leaned over and kissed her long and deep. Her eyes closed and she swayed under his touch. Then, abruptly he was gone, taking the dishes with him.

She opened her eyes to the empty room then sagged against the wall, her knees wobbly and her heart pounding as she stared at the Captain’s bed. She felt flushed and hot. She wasn’t sure whether to be glad he hadn’t pressed the issue or not. The future wasn’t guaranteed, and now that their feelings for each other were finally out in the open, she found she ached for him to a degree she hadn’t anticipated.

She pushed herself away from the wall and blew out all the lamps but one. She had to get out of here before he returned, otherwise she’d succumb to the temptation he presented and the whole ship would hear their passion. She hesitated at the door, fighting her own conflicting needs and desires, then left quickly before she could change her mind.

*     *     *     *     *

Over the next few days, the captured bandits proved to be a gold mine of information, once the Knights persuaded them to talk. Torture was a little more than they felt comfortable with, but threatening to turn the luckless bandits over to the irate villagers had worked faster and better than any amount of torture ever could have. Through a combination of threats, cajoling, wheedling, and flattery they dug out of them the reasons behind Illene’s capture, then let them go, much to Jon’s obvious disgust.

It seemed that one of the Pebbles was heavily populated (Elric went into raptures over the very idea) and was under the nominal control of a certain, Prince Urdan Harpel. A military brotherhood called The Sword had discovered a little-known spell that could give them instant control of Harpel (the asteroid was named after the ruling family) without having to fight a single battle. The difficulty was that the spell had to be cast on the day of the Prince’s birthday and required the sacrifice of a special kind of virgin.

The Sword had hired Blanrus to conduct the spell since their membership was limited to fighters, not wizards. Blanrus in turn had contracted with an unknown priest to find the particular kind of virgin the spell required. The priest had directed him to Illene and so a raiding party was put together to abduct her before she took a lover and spoiled her usefulness.

Marak’s relief at this information was profound. “Then she’s in no danger for more than two months,” he breathed. “We’ve got a fighting chance after all!” Prince Urdan’s birthday was two and a half months away according to the captives.

“Looks like it,” Mira agreed.

“There’s still the difficulty of getting to Harpel,” Jon reminded them. “Navigating this ship isn’t as easy as we thought. The journals Aaren and Elric had been looking through didn’t have much information on that aspect of flying a starship.

“That doesn’t bother me as much as the idea of a military brotherhood being behind this, Horace told them seriously. “We’re talking about professional warriors here. Rescuing Illene from a group like that could get us all killed in a big hurry.”

“Scared?” Katrina teased him.

“Yes!” he replied emphatically. “Bandits are one thing, but professionals are in a whole different league.”

“But you must rescue my daughter,” Marak exclaimed in alarm. “You can’t leave her there!”

“Calm down,” Jon placated him. “Nobody said anything about leaving her, did they, Horace?” He shot a quick glance at the big fighter, warning him with his eyes.

“Oh, we’ll get her,” Horace conceded grudgingly, “but it’s not going to be easy.” He turned away and went to see to the testing of the aft catapults with Mira on his heels. “Not even close,” he muttered to himself. Mira heard him but wisely kept her opinion to herself.

Aaren, the rest of the Knights, and Marak gathered the caravan guards together on the main deck the first thing that morning to inform them what kind of ship they were on and what the Knights planned on doing with it. After an initial wave of alarm, the men had calmed down when Taanen reminded them the pay box had been salvaged. One of them finally relented and agreed to stay. Another agreed to stay as well and that triggered an avalanche of acceptance. Soon all of them had agreed to remain. One of them, Garrick, had some previous experience with regular sailing ships and was appointed as boatswain, also known as the bosun. Aaren ordered him to drill the men on using the rigging to raise and lower the ship’s sails.

After that, he and Elric spent most of each morning closeted in the Captain’s quarters with Blanrus’ captured books trying to discern as much as they could about the operations of a starship. Alternately, they spent time poring over the navigational charts.

Jon corralled Katrina to help him inventory the ship and write down everything they had, how much, where it was stored, and what condition it was in. It was slow going and they had only just finished with the steerage deck and were moving on to the cargo deck.

After lunch the fourth day, Taanen needed all the men below decks so he could finish arranging the men in their permanent quarters. The short little man had already proven his worth several times, and the Knights could see why Marak placed so much trust in him. Even though he was somewhat cold and distant, he was slow to anger, and what few words he spoke always made sense.

“Today is payday for the men,” Marak told them. “So I’d better get the pay box down to the crew’s galley to pay them unless anyone needs me for something else?” His tone made it obvious he hoped no one would.

Aaren spoke for all of them and waved him on. “Go ahead,” he said. “We’re all busy with our own affairs. We’ll manage.” He turned on his heel and followed Elric forward to the port cabin under the forecastle deck. It was the navigator’s cabin and Elric had immediately appropriated it for his own. The two of them hoped to find more information on the actual mechanics of navigating a starship hidden among all the charts.

Marak bobbed his head at the rest of them and strode away briskly. The news about Illene’s fate had cheered him immensely and he was a different man than the one the Knights had first encountered. He was quick, decisive, alert, and business-like. He also left Mira with a deep feeling of coiled menace. There was something way down inside him that was frighteningly dangerous. She watched him disappear aft with the heavy, iron-bound box under his arm, his men following close behind. She resolved to speak to Aaren about it as soon as possible.

Jon and Katrina also headed down to the cargo deck to resume their slow, methodical survey of the ship’s equipment and inventory. They waved cheerfully to Mira and disappeared below. The sails overhead, still open the way Garrick and the men had left them during their practice sessions, flapped idly in the soft breeze.

Horace joined her on the aft castle where she was playfully spinning the ship’s wheel back and forth. “The men all deserted me when they saw Marak come out with the pay box,” he complained cheerfully. “Left me without so much as a ‘please’ or ‘thank you’.” He didn’t sound particularly upset about it.

Mira briefly considered asking him if he felt the same sense of danger around Marak she did. What stopped her was that she had nothing to go on, just a vague feeling that the man could be a deadly foe, but then, the same thing could be said about all of them. She decided to wait until she could talk to Aaren. This was the kind of thing priests were supposed to be good at.

“Just as well,” she said outwardly, forcing her disquiet aside. “We can finish writing down what we’ve learned about the ship’s armaments and what she’s capable of in combat. Now’s as good a time as any. Besides,” she cast a jaundiced eye through the flapping sails at the threatening clouds overhead, “I think we’re due for some rain and I’d just as soon be inside.”

“There’s not much to cover but sure, why not?” he nodded. “You think Aaren will mind if we use that table in his quarters?”

“If he does, that’s just too bad,” she grinned, waving him on.

He grinned back and led her down the companionway into the Captain’s quarters, leaving all the upper decks totally deserted. Neither of them noticed when the hilt of her sword bumped the pink sapphire in the middle of the ship’s wheel as they left the aft castle. It lit up quietly.

As they disappeared below, all the upper decks were left completely deserted.

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