Knives

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Captain Praetus Holst set her life against a single measure: timeliness. If her ship departed and arrived on time each day, she considered it a day worth living. To be delayed - to keep Baron Lief from his work - was to court such dishonour, at least in her own assessment, that it didn't bear countenance. It had happened only once since she had captained the Black Scree, on an occasion when she had foolishly left important duties to a new crew member, assuming him to be competent. His career in the fleet did not outlast the day.

Her schedule was her bond.

The Black Scree hung in the air at the edge of the mesa, anchored to the primitive mooring favoured by the dock hands in Treydolain. It was serviceable and functional but lacked the finesse and precision of northern designs. Holst always grimaced as the ship came in to dock, its hull bumping up against the device with a physical thud. It was nothing like the gentle, automated embrace and caress of a Bruckin mooring station. Treydolain had barely moved beyond slinging a rope around a wooden bollard, as if they hadn't noticed that technology had progressed past the simple navigation of water surfaces. To Holst, there was no greater grandeur than riding the air, free from the bounds of Evinden.

One day, she knew, she would captain the Mountain Breaker beyond the mountain ring. She had wanted to be the first to make the crossing, a victory snatched away by the outsider. But still, she could be the first to make the return journey, and certainly the first to do so in an airship.

The ship had been checked and re-checked, ready for Baron Lief's imminent departure. The original plan had been to remain in Treydolain for several days following the carnival procession, as festivities continued through the week, but that had been swiftly abandoned with the attack on the royal convoy. Word had reached her from Lief's party at the Verase residence that they were to leave immediately, as soon as Lief had concluded essential business at the elder statesman's estate. Holst did not desire to know more about her employer's activities; she wholly trusted that he had the north's best interests at the forefront of all his decisions, so it was unnecessary for her to know the minutiae. Her role was to ensure he got where he was going, on time and without hassle.

"Status report," she barked to the first mate as he emerged from the hold.

"Locked down and ready to go, captain," he said.

"Very good."

She climbed up to the quarter deck and looked out over the mesa, shielding her eyes against the afternoon sun. Across the bridge she could see a cavalcade of vehicles moving across the other mesa. With any luck the Baron would be among them.

The docks were busy, as they always were at Treydolain. Cranes pulled cargo from the bellies of ships and deposited them on the wharf, where they were unpacked and loaded onto carts - some horse drawn, others machine-driven. There was a larger presence of city guard, as would be expected after the previous evening's incident. The mesa was largely impregnable and all ships in and out were carefully screened and checked but a display of force and control was needed. She understood that, and respected it. It's what she would do, were it her decision to make.

On the far side of the mesa the vehicles were crossing the bridge, slowly trundling their way above the gulf between the mesas. Another movement caught her eye, to her left, towards the palace. She'd never much liked the Treydolain palace's soft, soap-like stone; polished and sparkling, it was a facade that could only exist this far south. Northern buildings had to be built stronger. What looked to be a military vehicle was making its way rapidly towards the docks, flanked by city guards on horseback. As they drew nearer, Holst realised that they were not city guard but King's Eyes in full armour - an unusual sight.

Momentarily distracted, she failed to see the procession of vehicles come to a halt on the near side of the bridge. From one emerged Baron Lief and his small entourage, who immediately started walking at a brisk pace towards the Black Scree's berth.

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