Chapter Five - Riddles, Poems, and Ten-Penny Prose

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The medical bay on the Eagle's Arrow was by no means small, but it did seem a bit tight when every single member of the crew was crowded inside, watching quietly as Jameson removed glass from Annemarie's skin.

"Hold still," he muttered, leaning forward once again with the tweezers.

Annemarie eyed the silver pincers nervously and clutched the medical bed's starched white sheets. "It's difficult when everyone's watching to see if I squirm."

"We're watching because we're happy you're alive, captain," Kwale said in her soothing voice.

Behind her, Rogers gave a solemn nod. He hadn't said much since she and Laurent had returned to the ship, but when he had seen them alive and relatively unscathed, he'd walked up, clapped Laurent on the shoulder, and pulled Annemarie into a tight, silent hug. Only then did her tears really begin to flow, and only then did she realize just how close she and Laurent had come to not making it.

Wouldn't that have been lovely? something inside her whispered.

She'd closed her eyes and hugged Rogers back as hard as she could.

"There; I think that's the last of the glass," Jameson said, dropping the latest piece into the metal bowl on the small table beside him. "How's your breathing?"

"Fine. May I have my corset back now?" she asked. Jameson had made her remove it to help her recover, and even though she wore it outside of her clothes, she felt naked without it. The comforting compression of the corset on her ribs seemed the only thing holding her together some days.

Jameson frowned. "Why women insist on those torture devices, I'll never know. It distorts your organs, did you know that? If you could see inside your abdomen--"

"What if I lace it very loosely?" she asked.

He sighed. "As long as you don't crush your ribs and give yourself even more breathing problems, I suppose you could wear it."

Annemarie gratefully wrapped and retied her underbust around her, loosely as she had promised. It felt like she was putting on armor, even though it was nothing more than cotton coutil, striped silk, and whalebone. She sat up a bit straighter and turned to her waiting crew. "Well," she said. "That was a mess."

"A mess you're lucky you survived," Kwale scolded. "You had my heart so sick with worry. Be more careful, I beg of you!"

"It's not like we wanted to get caught in a fire," Laurent said, rolling his eyes. "It's not as if we said, 'Oh, this looks like a lovely place to wander around,' and walked right in."

"Watch your tone," she said, holding out a stern finger.

Laurent shirked. "Sorry."

Adalé's eyes widened, pointing from Laurent to Kwale as if she had just connected something. "Are you his mother?" she gasped.

They both burst out laughing. "No, no," Kwale said through her laughter. "Unfortunately, I don't have children."

"Though she treats me like a child more often than not," Laurent said, winking and smiling at Kwale.

"Can you blame me, when you act like one?" She smiled, but her face soon turned to worry and confusion. "What happened down there, anyway? What started the fire?"

"I was wondering that too," said Adalé. "One moment, everything seemed normal, and then next airships were on fire." She looked down. "I can see why everyone is so concerned about fire and sparks here. That was... that was horrible." Adalé's normally cheerful and curious expression had fled, leaving one of hollow sadness and shock in its place. "Even from so far away, I could hear people screaming."

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