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Safe from the raider airship, the crew and Marines aboard the Pauline watch the Tartegian warship take on the raider.
We stood by for the next two hours, while the Tartegian warship Draconian Princess subdued the raiders. The warship was obviously named in honor of Her Highness, Princess Heidi, and her planet of birth, Draconis, in the Terran Federation. I found myself wondering what life must be like for her, having access to so much advanced technology that the citizens simply take it for granted. What could drive such a beautiful woman to leave all that behind and come to Aashla?
Without conscious thought, my eyes sought out Chris, and I realized that I already knew the answer to that question. I’ve met Princess Heidi and she looks at her husband, Prince Rupor, the same way I was looking at Chris, now. He was back among his men and holding a signal flag conversation with the Princess. His eyes were locked to his binoculars, and his binoculars were riveted to the flashing flags on the other ship’s deck.
Both signalmen’s arms moved too fast for me to catch everything, but I picked up the gist of it. Chris was offering medical aid and, should they need it, the services of his Marines—with him leading, of course.
“Please, God,” I whispered, “ensure the Tartegians can handle the raiders without our help.”
I wasn’t worried that Chris would be overmatched if he led his men into battle. He’s a damned fine officer and more than capable of taking care of himself, and that wasn’t just love blinding me. Everyone who knew Chris said the same thing. Yes, even Dad. I knew he wouldn’t do anything foolhardy in a fight, but I’ve fought in a couple of battles, myself. Surviving in that chaos requires a combination of skill and luck—and if your luck runs out, no amount of skill will save you. Today, I thought Chris had already pushed his luck about as far as it would go.
“Relax, men,” Chris called. “The Tartegians say they have the situation well under control. Dr. Agrilla? They have gratefully accepted your offer of medical assistance. They report light casualties, but their Lord Captain would rather his men suffer from too much medical care than too little.”
The doctor nodded his head in approval. “He sounds like a wise man. A wise man, indeed!”
The Supercilious Six, who emerged from the safety of the cabin only after the other ships stopped exchanging crossbow and ballista shots, stood straighter and preened themselves when Chris announced a ‘Lord Captain’ commanded the Tartegian ship.
Without a hint of shame, Lord Moron called, “We six are ready and willing to join in your mission of mercy, Doctor. Have you any idea how long we must wait before the fighting ends and we’re allowed to heal those unfortunate men?”
Dr. Agrilla glowered at the SS, who were standing aloof from everyone else. He opened his mouth, no doubt to snarl something particularly cutting, but Chris interrupted him.
“Jade, please bring the Pauline to the Draconian Princess’s starboard beam. Doctor, if you and your charges could quickly gather emergency surgical supplies, the Lord Captain will welcome you aboard at your earliest convenience.”
I engaged the Pauline’s propellers, gauged the wind, and began calculating a course in my head. “Chris, tell the Princess we’ll be alongside in three minutes.”
“Aye aye, ma’am!” he replied.
“You heard the lass!” Dr. Agrilla set off for the medical storage area below deck. “Come along, ladies and gentlemen. We have blood to staunch, pain to relieve, and suffering to assuage! Let us gather the accoutrements of our art and sally forth to save lives!”
Dr. Agrilla really does talk like that. Most of us, including the students who stayed on deck during our own run-in with the raiders, think it’s an endearing eccentricity. To no one’s surprise, the Supercilious Six don’t approve of it. I glanced at them, expecting to find sneers marring their faces. Instead, they all looked pale and more than a bit afraid.
“What, we’re going aboard now?” Lord Moron demanded.
“Most definitely!” the Doctor replied.
“Before the fighting is over?” This came from one of the other men—ah, let me change that to ‘male students’—among the SS.
“Indeed, lad! Our brave Marines do not get to claim all of the glory, today!”
“But, they’re still fighting!” one of the two girls—I couldn’t bring myself to call someone who whined like that a ‘woman’—in the group cried.
“We’ve already covered that subject, Miss Shast. Please do try to keep up!” Dr. Agrilla threw open the door to the storage area and ducked in. His voice emerged, “Now, come along, children!”
Reluctantly, the Supercilious Six joined the line of students entering the storage compartment. Shortly, students emerged carrying armfuls of supplies. The first one out took a quick look at my approach course and hurried to the port rail. The others followed suit, each running back to the compartment. There was a long delay between the last of the useful students and Lord Moron’s appearance. Instead of looking for the rest of the supplies, he turned his sneer on me.
“You, girl!” he drawled. “Where do I put this stuff?”
“We’ve been on this ship for nearly a month and you still don’t know my name?” Calling up my sweetest smile, I added, “It speaks well of Dr. Agrilla’s patience that he takes on such slow students as you.”
Apparently, Lord Moron wasn’t used to people calling him ‘stupid,’ even using my barely-veiled insult. He halted, blocking the storage room door. “It is not for the likes of you to question my pace.”
I shrugged in response and turned my attention back to piloting.
When he realized I wasn’t going to answer his question, his face darkened. “Girl! Answer my question now, or you shall pay for your insolence!”
“It’s not for the likes of me to do what your own eyes can do for you.” I paused, summoned that sweet smile again, and added, “Lord Moron.”
My parents always told me I had a hard time figuring out just how far I could push someone before they snapped. They were certainly right in this case.
Morren’s face turned red, he dropped the supplies he held, and stomped across the deck toward me. “I’ve had enough of your lip, you little merchant whore! It’s past time someone taught you how to address your betters!”
I won’t say I was quaking in my boots, but Morren is at least four inches taller than me and twice my weight. If he hit me, I was going to feel it for at least a week. Nor could I run from him without leaving the Pauline without a pilot. But, I also grew up on airships and knew just how much of the equipment could double as a weapon—like the belaying pins stored in a small rack next to my station. Grabbing one of the pins, I swore I wouldn’t hit the man first, but, by God, he would definitely feel my response!
Morren pulled his right hand—open, at least, rather than balled into a fist—back. His hand barely moved when he tried delivering the slap. Eyes widening in greater anger, Morren spun about. That’s when I spotted two hands gripping the man’s wrist.
“I did not think my opinion of you could be any lower,” Chris snarled. “Obviously, I have sorely misjudged the depths to which you can sink.”
“Release. Me. Boy,” Morren growled.
“Not. A. Chance.”
I barely saw Morren’s left hand move, but I heard the slap loud and clear. Chris’s right cheek turned bright red from the blow.
Chris’s expression went completely calm. “I accept.”
The rage drained from Morren’s face. “You…what?”
“I accept your challenge. That was your intention, was it not?”
“But…you’re a commoner.”
“And a gentleman. One who would never dream of striking a woman and one who understands the protocols of the duel. As the challenged party, the selection of weapons falls to me. Once I’ve finished conferring with my second, send your second to him.”
“Sergeant Timms, I think.” Chris turned toward the older man. “Sergeant, would you be willing to act as my second?”
“With pleasure, sir!”
Chris turned back to Morren. “There’s no rush, Lord Morren. You may select your second after you’ve finished patching up the wounded on the Princess.”
Something in that made Morren perk up. His eyes sought out his teacher. “Dr. Agrilla! I think there’s been-”
“Don’t worry, boy, I’ll fix you up, good as new, after the duel!” the doctor boomed. “Now, come pick up these supplies. We’ve work to do!”
After I brought the Pauline alongside the vast bulk of the Draconian Princess, I stopped the engines and went to Chris. He was speaking quietly with Sergeant Timms as the two headed toward the warship.
“Chris!” I called and hurried to him. “I’m sorry, Chris. I didn’t think I would push Lord Morren-”
“Lord Moron,” Chris corrected, with a gentle smile.
Waving that off, I continued, “I didn’t think he’d do anything like that.”
“Now, lass,” Sergeant Timms said, his tone kindly, “don’t you be frettin’ none. I’m purt near certain he’d a lit into someone today. It just be bad luck ‘twas you.”
“The Sergeant is right, Jade,” Chris added. “I’d already called him a coward, and then Dr. Agrilla treated him like a child.”
“But he is a coward and was acting like a child!” I insisted.
“Makes it all the worse, miss,” Timms said. “You can bet he knows it be true, too. That sorta thing ruffles up a man—‘specially a poor ‘scuse a one like Lord Moron.”
Chris took my free hand in his. “He may have snapped when you needled him, but only because he thought he could thrash you without danger to himself.”
I held up the belaying pin. “That wouldn’t have worked out so well for him.”
Sergeant Timms grinned down at Chris. “Bless me, Lieutenant, but she’s a right feisty one! You sure you can handle her, sir?”
“I seriously doubt it, Sergeant,” Chris said, slipping an arm around my waist. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Will the duel take place? Find out in Chapter 9, coming Friday.