Altman favored him with a disarming smile. “My dear Captain, I but gave voice to the truth of the universe. If these men should have difficulty with such words, whose fault is that? If I say the stars are bright and some lad takes offense, am I to blame?” He gazed imploringly around the saloon with the smooth manner of polished barrister holding forth in a court of law. “Did I level an accusing finger at anyone in here, denouncing them as criminals or knaves? Did I?”
Horace shook his head, followed by Katrina and Elric. Mira glared daggers at them, but Altman pounced quickly on their support.
“Of course I didn’t! I merely enlightened you about the nature of mutinies. In fact, it was one of you that asked for my opinion.”
“Marak asked for your opinion,” Aaren growled menacingly. The mood in the room changed abruptly at the priest’s words. Horace turned and favored the caravan leader with a scowl, rubbing his neck where Taanen’s sword had pricked it. Jon echoed Horace’s expression, jabbing his dagger at the prisoners.
Altman saw the tide shifting away from him and hurried to recapture it. “Ah, but you were quick to take my advice,” he said, aiming his words at Horace. The navigator had correctly deduced that the big fighter was the weak link in the room; gain his support and he would be safe. “The moment we knew our location, you were eager to begin stamping out the mutiny.”
“But there wasn’t any mutiny,” Mira crowed triumphantly.
A crafty expression crossed his face. “Wasn’t there?“
“No,” she said uneasily.
“Then why are they tied up?” he thundered, pointing at the three prisoners.
Mira felt like she’d been caught with her trousers down. “Huh?”
“If there wasn’t a mutiny, then why are those men tied up? Why does Horace have blood on his throat? Why did you,” he aimed his words directly at Mira, “have your sword at Marak’s throat?“
She floundered, trying to fend off the barrage of questions. Aaren saw her predicament and came to her rescue. “They wouldn’t have mutinied if you hadn’t provoked them. That’s what we were discussing in the first place,” he reminded the group in the room.
He saw several of them shake their heads as if to rid themselves of a heavy fog. He wondered briefly if he should have had his Sight turned on to check for magic. There were spells that could make a man’s words seem calm and reasonable even if they were bloodthirsty war cries. He activated his Sight but a quick glance around the saloon convinced him that if Altman had used a spell, it was gone now. However, he did see numerous magical items secreted about Altman’s person and made a mental note to keep an eye open for any unusual abilities or unexplained events around the navigator.
Mira had recovered her poise thanks to Aaren’s intercession. Like him, she suspected magic was at play. “We’ve spent close to two weeks together without any trouble. Then, as soon as you come along we have a fight on our hands.”
Aaren waved her to silence. “Enough,” he said firmly. “This isn’t getting us anywhere. What’s done is done; let’s just take it from there. Marak, will you apologize and never again take up arms against us?“
The beefy caravan leader was irritated. “Apologize for what?”
“Apologize for threatening us at sword point.”
He gave Aaren a thoughtful look. “And if I don’t?”
“Then we try you for mutiny, convict you, and throw you overboard,” the priest told him in ice-cold tones. Mira and Katrina suppressed a gasp, each for different reasons. “On the other hand,” his voice softened, “if you apologize then we’ll let bygones be bygones and forget it ever happened.”
Marak stared at him for a minute before concluding he would do just what he said. He slumped and nodded wearily. “We apologize for bearing arms against you,” he said slowly, eyes on the floor.
He hesitated, not sure if his sincerity was real or false. There was no outward reason to suspect treachery but his priestly intuition was kicking into high gear and he suddenly found himself reluctant to trust the man. He resolved to keep a close eye on him. “Release them.”
(A very close eye.)
Jon reluctantly obeyed, untying the ropes slowly as if to give him time to come to his senses. The three men massaged their arms and legs to restore the feeling then stood up, wobbling slightly.
Aaren turned and eyed the colorfully dressed navigator. Where he’d acquired his vast wardrobe was a mystery. He certainly hadn’t brought any trunks onboard. It was yet more evidence that Altman was using a great deal of magic. “As for you, I suggest you take care of how you choose your words. This is my ship and I won’t tolerate anyone stirring up trouble. Understand?”
“A dull and tiresome journey lies ahead, I fear,” he sighed.
“Cut the comedy! I don’t want any trouble. Do you understand?” He glared fiercely at him.
“I understand. You don’t have to bite my head off.” He lapsed into a dark study, muttering to himself.
“Good. And to keep you busy you’ll be teaching each of us in turn how to navigate, starting with Katrina.”
Altman started to protest but saw the set of his jaw and decided not to risk incurring his wrath. “Sure, no problem.”
“Captain,” he added dangerously.
“Sure, no problem, Captain,” he repeated smoothly.
Aaren nodded shortly. “This incident is over and will never be discussed again. Understood?”
Slow nods answered him from around the room. “Good. Now, I believe we were discussing the condition of the ship. Jon, you have the floor.” He sat down and waited resolutely for Jon to begin. Reluctantly he got up and began where he had left off, listing the damages the Sky Hawk had sustained along with possible methods of repair. The conversation began taking on a more normal air and Aaren sat back to watch and consider their position.
He was under no illusions about Marak. The longer he was around the beefy man, the stronger his aversion toward him became. There was a darkness in Marak’s heart that couldn’t be ignored. He knew Mira’s intuition was nearly as strong as his. He could see in her eyes she didn’t think the incident was over for Marak anymore than he did. Which meant it wasn’t over for Taanen either; his only desires were what Marak desired. The two of them would bear watching.
Garrick was more of a question mark. He’d spent most of his time working with the Knights since coming on board and had only been with Marak a couple of months before that. He hadn’t had a position of importance in Marak’s caravan, just an ordinary guard position. His loyalty to the caravan master was an open question despite his coming to his defense.
He’d have Jon start training with him just in case though, and anyway, it never hurt to have a backup.
Altman was the real problem though, and later that night he discussed the incident at length with Mira, especially the flamboyant navigator’s part in instigating it.
Mira had already made up her mind. “I don’t trust him at all. There’s something about him that doesn’t feel right. He’s missing something inside.”
Aaren smiled. “Your feelings do you credit. Any priest would be proud to have such wisdom.”
She was startled. “But it’s just a hunch.”
He laughed kindly. “Hunches aren’t always.”
“Aren’t always what?”
“Aren’t always hunches of course.”
She slapped at him. “Talk sense you!”
He ducked and grabbed her wrist, pulling her against him. “I am talking sense, you just have to know something about priests to understand it.”
She bit his ear sharply.
She squirmed out of his arms and sat up, flipping her raven tresses out the way. “So tell me about priests then.”
Aaren probed at his tender ear gently. “Goodness, woman! What were you trying to do, tear it off my head?”
“Tell me about priests.”
He finally concluded his ear would recover and sat down. She joined him, listening intently. “Priests, especially those of the Lord of Light, are renowned for their wisdom; this much is common knowledge. What most people don’t know is that much of their wisdom is given by the gods. Hunches, intuition, bad feelings, and things like that form the basis for our wisdom or insight.”
She looked interested. “Really?”
He nodded. “Except, where most people’s hunches are occasional, undependable things, for us hunches are a working part of our life just like our arms or legs. But part of becoming a priest is already having a great deal of innate insight in your own right, being able to look into people’s eyes, and know whether or not they can be trusted.”
“Like Altman?” she asked, the light atmosphere vanishing like a dream.
He nodded grimly, “Like Altman.” He frowned at the thought. “I’m not sure what it is about him, but I don’t trust him either. And I really don't like the way he almost convinced Horace to go along with him.”
Mira shifted position. “I’ll talk to him in the morning, tell him not to be so gullible.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
She looked the question at him. “Then what do you mean?”
“It’s not Horace, it’s Altman.” He hesitated.
“Go on,” she urged.
“Well, I’m not sure, but I think he used some kind of magic to make himself more persuasive.”
Mira was instantly alert to the implications of that. “What makes you think he used magic?”
For an instant, she thought he was joking and was about to upbraid him for his lack of timing. Then she saw his expression and cursed under her breath. “Damn.”
“Yeah.” His jaw was set. “A vague feeling that he might be using magic and can’t be trusted, but about what? and what kind of magic?”
“I thought you said priests could use hunches the way I can use my fingers. Why don't you know more?”
“Stick your hand into a dark hole and tell me the color of an object in there,” he said reprovingly. “Can you do it?”
She shook her head silently.
“Same kind of thing,” he said more kindly. “As time goes on we get better at using it, but there are limits just like with anything else.”
“So what do we do now?”
“Hey,” she said sharply. “You’re the Captain, you better come up with something.”
He glanced at her. “What do you want me to do? Slap him in irons and throw him in the brig? What about tomorrow?”
“He’s supposed to lay us a course for Heraup, for repairs at that space station he mentioned, Black Beorn’s,” he reminded her. “Are we supposed to slap him in irons before he lays the course? What if he refuses until we let him go? Or do we wait until he’s done then reward him by putting him under arrest? Either way, it’s not going to look good.”
Her shoulders slumped. “No, we can’t do that. Either one,” she added. She shook her head. “It looks like we’re at his mercy until we get to Heraup.” She shook her head again in dismay and gloomy silence filled the room.