Annabel Skyblade peered through her spyglass as she stood at the prow of the Peregrine, scanning the horizon. Her eyes were sharper than most, so she could see that the faint outline in the distant northeastern sky was not a cloud or a lone star drake, but another airship. She spun and hurried along the deck, heading up the stairs to the helm. As she did, she glanced at the mainsail; on it was painted a skull and crossbones and, below that, the head of a falcon. She smiled.
She was a young woman, not very tall, with wavy red hair, dusky skin and green eyes that sparkled as she thought of the chase to come. She wore a blue waistcoat with gold trim over a white blouse, black trousers and boots that were well-worn but still serviceable. On the left side of her belt was a scabbard that held a rapier; on the right, a holster for her Svendaran pistolere.
The helm was set thirty feet above the main deck of the airship. An older man was at the ship's wheel, studying the sky ahead. He had a white beard and a scar across one cheek, and was wearing goggles. “Hardwicke!” Annabel said as she reached the top of the stairs. “Take us northeast.”
“Spotted something, Cap’n?” Hardwicke said as he spun the wheel, glancing at the large compass set into the railing to his right.
“Aye, but let’s close in to see what we’ve found.”
The helmsman nodded as he grabbed a lever to the left of the ship’s wheel. He pushed it all the way forward; the ship lurched briefly as the three sets of propellers, two mounted below the side-sails and one pair that flanked the rudder, reached their maximum rotating speed. At that pace, the crystals that fed them power would be quickly drained of their magical energy and need to be recharged, but until then, the Peregrine was the fastest airship of her class in the skies.
After a few minutes, Annabel took another glance through her spyglass. “It's a merchant airship,” she said. “Corsair class. Her colors are black, blue and gold.”
“Ruegal colors,” Hardwicke said.
Annabel smiled slightly. “They must think they're going to have a quiet journey.”
“I take it they're not.”
“Quiet journeys are staggeringly dull. Keep her steady, Hardwicke.” He nodded as Annabel crossed the helm, stopping by a speaking tube near the stairs. She softly cleared her throat as she knelt by the tube's opening. “All hands on deck,” she said. “Repeat, all hands on deck.”
Annabel straightened up and glanced at the inlays along the wooden railing. They were a silvery metal, and most of them glowed softly, but one did not. She laid a finger on the metal and chanted, smiling as the inlay started to glow.
The metal might have been known by other names elsewhere, but among the sky realms and mountain kingdoms of Aldarre, it was called argent. It had the unique ability of floating when properly enchanted, and when enough of it was bound to a ship, with additional lift from a hot air balloon, the airship could travel the skies, from sky realm to sky realm and back.
Though the ship’s mage, Pilfor, could keep the argent’s enchantment properly renewed, Annabel was able to help out with what little magic she knew. It was said that all good ship’s captains were part magician; Annabel liked to joke that in her case, it was literal.
“Captain Skyblade?” She looked down and saw the slender figure of Pilfor. He had pale skin, mussed-up hair and spectacles, all of which were hidden by his red and black hooded robe. “What sort of trouble might we be facing today?”
“The best kind,” Annabel said.
“Highly profitable, you mean?”
“Observant as always, Pilfor. Set the masque in place, and show the colors on my signal.”
“Same as always?” Pilfor asked.
“Aye.” Annabel turned and saw that her crew was starting to gather.
Most of the crewmen were glashtyn, small, winged humanoids with bulging noses and ears and gnarled limbs, wearing simple clothing and sharp-toothed smiles. It was said that they were difficult to train, and earning their respect was even harder. They chatted loudly as they waited, their bursts of crude laughter rolling across the deck. Annabel had recruited the glashtyn from another pirate ship shortly after she had taken the Peregrine, and as much trouble as they could be at times, they also worked hard and loved the pirate life.
Behind them stood a troll, his small horns jutting through his long white hair. He wore short black pants and a matching vest, and a mace dangled from his belt. He idly cracked his red knuckles as he nodded at his captain. Annabel spared a quick smile for Tomasund. The troll had been an indentured servant on the Peregrine before Annabel had seized the airship and granted him his freedom. Big Tom had chosen to stay, and he had become Annabel’s first mate and closest companion on board.
Annabel took several steps down the stairs. “Avast!” she shouted. The glashtyn all stopped talking as one and looked at their captain. “I know the pickings have been slim lately,” she said. “But we've got a juicy one in our sights! A merchant ship, ripe for the taking!”
Her gaze swept the crew as her voice grew louder. “Aye, they could put up a fight. But I know you skydogs are tougher and meaner than anything those pampered salesmen could even dream of hiring to guard them! Let's show those landlubbers and layabouts a thing or two!”
Captain Skyblade drew her sword and pointed it towards the heavens. “We'll feast like kings and drink like devils tonight!” she shouted. The crew cheered, and she smiled broadly at the sound.
* * *
“Quite a sight,” Vandensloop murmured as he stood on the deck of the corsair class airship Gold's Lure.
“What is, sir?” the helmsman shouted. He pulled a rag from his pocket and wiped his brow.
“That.” Vandensloop pointed towards the southeast. “The star drake.”
The helmsman glanced over and saw the winged reptile, flapping its night-black wings as it drifted towards them. “Odd, that,” he said.
“Star drakes usually travel in pairs. Why is this one alone?”
“I won't question our luck if you won't.” Vandensloop rubbed his hands. “Take us towards the beast. If we can capture it, I know alchemists who would pay dearly for star drake blood and scales.”
“Your ship,” the helmsman said to himself as he turned the ship's wheel.
* * *
The glashtyn chatted eagerly as they grabbed the sides of the net. “Haul!” Big Tom yelled. “Haul, you lazy sons of sows! Quiet as sleeping babies!” Wings flapping, the glashtyn lifted off the deck, heading for the merchant ship that drew ever closer.
Annabel gazed intently through her spyglass. “That merchant never held a sword in his life,” she muttered. “More fool him.”
“There are bodyguards,” Hardwicke said. “Goblins, at least three.”
“Let them try to stop us.” Annabel watched as the glashtyn stopped just a foot short of the merchant airship. Three of them held large hooks tied firmly to one end of the net. “Steady as she goes, Hardwicke.”
The helmsman nodded as Annabel dashed down the stairs. She ran along the deck until she reached the net, which had been secured to the rail. She set one foot on the rail and drew her weapons, her sword in her right hand, her pistolere in her left.
The pistolere was a weapon crafted by Svendaran gadgeteers. Two crystals were set in the handgrip; the magic power they held could push enchanted iron pellets out the barrel faster than lightning when the wielder pulled the trigger. Only trained soldiers and guards, and the nobility, were supposed to have these, which had annoyed Annabel no end. She was just as good as any of them in their gilded towers and their overwrought airships, and she had been all too happy to claim two pistoleres for her own from an uppity Svendaran noble.
She aimed her pistolere towards the sky, pointing away from the Peregrine, and pulled the trigger. Her weapon went off with a loud crack, the fiery pellet streaking from the barrel.
* * *
“That's a funny thing,” the helmsman said as Gold's Lure neared the star drake.
“What would be?” Vandensloop said as he eyed the drake.
“The beast. It's holding its ground. Like it's...waiting for us.”
The merchant chuckled. “Star drakes are known for their curiosity. A fatal trait in this one's case. Take us closer—”
A crack rang out through the sky. The drake wavered and vanished. In its place was a cruiser class airship, with masts fore and aft. On the mainsail was painted a skull and crossbones and, overlapping it from below, the head of a falcon.
Vandensloop jerked his head when he heard the laughter. Three glashtyn were holding one end of a net, eighty feet long, that stretched back to the pirate airship. They hooked the net onto the rail of Gold's Lure.
At the far end of the net, Annabel pointed her sword at Vandensloop. “Merchant!” she shouted. “I am Captain Skyblade of the free ship Peregrine! Hand over your valuables, your precious cargo, and swiftly, so that no one has to be hurt!” She smiled sharply. “And hand over your ale and brandy while you're at it. Our throats are dry.” Vandensloop stared at Annabel, his mouth agape, his breathing shallow.
“Be damned if we'll give in to filthy pirates!” The helmsman grabbed a spear. “I'll teach you—”
Before he could take a step, he was swarmed by half a dozen glashtyn. They brought him down to the deck, kicking and punching him, laughing at his misfortune. “Give in, lapdog!” one shouted shrilly.
“Guards!” the helmsman managed to shout. “We've been boarded! We've—” He fell silent as one glashtyn took the rag from his pocket and stuffed it in his mouth.
Pilfor pointed at the net and gestured, speaking under his breath. The spaces between the strands in the net started to glow. Annabel nodded and started to run down the net, Big Tom right behind. She stepped on the glowing spaces, the net firm and holding in place as she ran. “'Ware goblins, Tom!” she said as they neared the ship.
Tom sneered as he hoisted his mace. “Let them come,” he said. “After dealing with glashtyn, I could use a change of pace.”
Annabel grinned as she jumped off the net and onto the deck of the merchant ship. She saw the four goblins charging towards her, pushing the fear-frozen merchant aside. She lifted her rapier and waited.
One goblin, taller and broader than the others, pulled ahead and hoisted his weapon, a sword that a human would have trouble lifting. “Such a little pirate,” he said with a sneer. “And a toothpick for a sword. No match for us!”
He ran towards Annabel. She held her guard until the goblin was almost upon her. As the greatsword came down, she spun out of its way and behind the goblin. She slashed her sword, and the blade tore through the goblin's leg.
The pirate whirled around to face another goblin. He was wielding a halberd, and with a growl, he swung it at Annabel. She ducked back to avoid the blade; as she did, she pulled her pistolere from her belt and fired.
The shot tore through the goblin's arm. He winced and pulled the halberd back. Annabel leaped and swung; her rapier sliced into the goblin's arm, cutting deeper into the pellet wound. The goblin dropped to his knees, clutching his bloody arm.
Annabel glanced behind her. Tom was grappling with a goblin, but the last one was sneaking up behind the troll, his spear ready. She hurried softly down the deck, sword raised.
The goblin grinned as he lifted his spear, ready to skewer the troll. Before he could strike, Annabel brought the hilt of her sword down, hitting him in the temple. His grin faded as his eyes rolled up in his head.
As Annabel's foe toppled over, Tom threw the last goblin to the deck. “Only four?” he snarled. “Hardly worth the fight.”
Annabel nodded as she looked back at the Peregrine. Pilfor was pointing at the goblins; she could see the faint aura of the detention spells the mage had cast that would hold the hired guards in place. “Keep watch on things up here just in case,” she said to the troll. “Lickfoot? Sourtongue? Let's see what our friend might be hauling with him.” Two of the glashtyn flew away from the helm, joining Annabel as she headed below decks.
* * *
The door flew open with one good kick, and Annabel strode in to the merchant's cabin, the glashtyn following. She glanced disdainfully at the elegant furniture, the hand-painted privacy screen, the art that hung on the cabin walls. “Foppery,” she muttered as she walked around a table covered in scrolls and workbooks. “Waste of good money.”
Annabel stepped behind the screen and saw the bed there, with silk sheets and a thick comforter. She dropped to her knees and slid her cutlass under the bed, stopping when she felt the blade touch something hard. She reached down and pulled out a wooden chest. “Ah, that'll do,” she said.
“Cap'n!” She turned to see the two glashtyn jumping down from
a shelf, both holding all the bottles they could carry. “Look what we found!”
“Farrasper whisky.” Annabel smiled, hoisting the chest as she walked towards the door. “So our merchant has some taste...”
She paused as she glanced at the table. One of the notebooks had been left open, and as she read down the page, her eyes narrowed. “Our merchant also has a reputation,” she said. “I will have a word with him.”
* * *
The merchant was still frozen by fear and shock as Annabel stepped back on the deck. She handed the chest to Big Tom. “Get this on board the Peregrine,” she said.
“Even if Lickfoot tries to trade me a bottle of Farrasper whisky for it?” the troll said.
“Especially if he does.” Annabel turned towards the merchant. “Vandensloop. I've heard of you.”
“You—” Vandensloop swallowed. “You won't get away with this.”
“Oh, I will,” Annabel said, and the anger in her voice made the merchant cringe. “Much like you've gotten away with your crimes. Cheating the poor, exploiting the needy, lining your pockets with other people's tears. You deserve this, and more.”
“Bold words from a damned pirate,” Vandensloop said.
Annabel strode away and boarded the net, the glashtyn joining her. She turned back to face Vandensloop. “Damned I may be,” the pirate captain said, “but you're damned as well. And I'm far more honest and fair in my dealings than you.” She walked up the net back to the Peregrine, ignoring the merchant's loud and vicious curses.
* * *
The net had been cut and the Peregrine had soared away; the Gold's Lure wouldn't be following, as the holding spells on its passengers and crew wouldn't wear off until after the pirate airship was well out of sight. The bottles had been stowed away for later celebrating, and the treasure chest had been brought to the helm. Annabel, Big Tom, and Hardwicke were kneeling near the chest, with Pilfor off to the side. Several glashtyn perched on the rail, watching the chest like greedy gargoyles.
Annabel rubbed her hands. “Pilfor?” she said. “If you would do the honors?”
The mage nodded and pointed at the chest. It started to glow, the light getting brighter as Pilfor grimaced. The locks popped open, and the glow vanished.
Annabel reached over with her cutlass and pushed the lid up. Her eyes widened as she saw the gold inside the chest. The glashtyn cheered as Big Tom chuckled. “Pilfor?” Annabel said. “Any traps?”
“Not a one,” Pilfor said. “Our merchant was likely too fond of his gold to pay for them.”
“More for us.” Annabel grinned as she moved over to the chest. “There should be enough to pay for supplies, and bonuses for all.”
“It's not all gold.” Hardwicke pointed at a corner. There was a ring there, with a sapphire set in a silver band.
“Soooo pretty!” Sourtongue said. “Soooo shiny!”
Annabel picked up the ring and examined it. “A lovely thing, this.”
“Mine?” the glashtyn said hopefully.
“We'll find you something else shiny later. This one's mine. Captain's claim.” Annabel slipped the ring into a pocket as Sourtongue sighed.
* * *
The sun was setting as the Peregrine approached Cerindel. It was the largest of the sky realms, stretching over 500 miles across, home to hundreds of thousands. Under the rulership of King Archibald IV, Cerindel was a land of peace and, for at least some of the populace, prosperity.
The towers nearest Cerindel's rim glowed like beacons, the light of dusk reflecting off the glass and the filigree trim. Annabel watched from the helm as Hardwicke guided the airship in towards land. She couldn't care a whit for those who worked and lived in those towers, the powerful and wealthy, but she still had to admit, if only to herself, that it was a beautiful sight.
Pilfor had cast one of his masque spells on the Peregrine as it had neared Cerindel's skydock. To those who were not on board, the pirate airship appeared to be just another airship, docking for supplies and shore leave for the crew. Each crewman also had a personal masque spell, and even though the troop of dwarves led by the young woman in the white and blue dress and her companions attracted some attention as they disembarked from their airship, it was nowhere near as much as a pirate captain and a swarm of glashtyn would have.
Annabel and her crew stayed away from the inner city, sticking to the neighborhoods that ringed it, where Cerindel's poor and working class residents toiled and dreamed of bigger and better things. They walked past farmers and crafters, bakers and brewers, before they reached the Barrows, the Cerindel neighborhood where deals could be made without questions. Supplies were bought, to be delivered to the Peregrine the next morning, and the crew split up, heading for their favorite pubs and taverns.
Annabel's destination was the Blackrock Castle Tavern. The original builders of the tavern had claimed that they had used leftover stones from the construction of the Cerindel royal palace; no one believed them, but it was as good a name as any. It was crowded and raucous, but it was a safe tavern by the standards of the Barrows, meaning that though there were arguments and fistfights aplenty, there were no stabbings or shootings allowed. After all, dead patrons couldn't pay their tabs.
Annabel and Big Tom, their masque spells removed, found a table in a dark corner of Blackrock Castle and hurriedly polished off a large meat pie and three tankards of ale between them. “Another fine day's work,” Tom said with a rumbling sigh. “Even though you said we'd feast like kings.”
“I'll bet even Archie on his golden throne wishes he had a meat pie from time to time.” Annabel half-smiled.
“And some ale instead of that watered down wine they drink in court!” The troll grinned as he reached for a tray loaded with cheese and crackers, shoveling half the contents into his mouth.
“Aye,” Annabel said, staring at the tabletop. “I suppose.”
Tom raised an eyebrow. “Too much ale already, Cap'n?” the troll said as he chewed.
“What makes you say that?”
“You usually complain about me eating all the cheese.”
Annabel nodded. “It was almost...too easy, wasn't it?”
“Easy? Those goblins actually knew what they were doing.” Tom scooped up more cheese and crackers.
“Not that. There's something missing.” Annabel rested her chin in her hand and stared wistfully into the distance. “I can't quite explain it, Tom, but I know it's there, deep inside.”
“More ale will take care of that.” The troll raised his hand to wave down a barmaid.
Annabel glanced over at the tall, heavyset man in the shabby clothes who was waddling over to her table. Half-Pint Harry had earned his nickname not for his size, but for the amount of ale he could down in one gulp, preferably from someone else's mug. “Harry!” Annabel said, forcing a smile. “How the devil are you?”
Tom sniffed. “And why do you smell more like ale than usual?”
“One of the local girls,” Harry said as he sat down. “She didn't take too kindly to me telling her how pretty she was.”
“Some women don't want that kind of attention,” Annabel murmured.
“She wasted a perfectly good beer, if you ask me.” Harry grinned. “But it's odd that you should be here. There's a rumor going around that seems up your alley.”
“For a price.”
“As always. I need the money to get these clothes properly cleaned.”
“Usual deal, Harry.” Annabel stared down the rumor trafficker. “You give me the story, and I pay you what it's worth to me. If it's nothing, it won't leave this table.”
“It's a hard bargain you drive,” Harry said with a sigh. “Now, you know tomorrow is the Midsummer's Festival?”
“Another excuse for pampered noble louts to eat and drink to excess.”
“Well...I've heard there'll be a surprise there.” Harry leaned forward, his voice dropping to a whisper. “They'll be putting the Amulet of Glena on display.”
Annabel's eyes widened. “The Amulet of Glena?” she said softly.
“Aye. They've already moved it into the Cathedral of Glory, in the lobby.” Harry grinned.
“Without telling anyone?”
“There are dignitaries from all the island realms here. The Council wants to surprise them and show off its power.”
“And rub some salt into the wounds of the Mezaran emissaries,” Tom said as he took a fresh cheese tray from the barmaid.
“It hasn't been displayed in centuries,” Annabel said thoughtfully. “It's a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, from everything I've heard. And...they wouldn't be guarding it well tonight, since no one's supposed to know it's there.”
“Cap'n...” Tom said.
Annabel stood up. “Such a pretty bauble,” the pirate said with a grin. “It'll go well with the ring I just acquired.”
“And they just brought out the goat cheese.” Tom started to stand.
“Nay.” The troll froze as Annabel continued, “I'll be doing this on my own.”
“Cap'n!” Tom scowled. “Don't be a fool.”
“Do you take me for one?” Annabel folded her arms. “Tom, this job will take stealth and silence. You'd be bad at that even without a belly full of ale and crackers.”
“But the Cathedral Guard—”
“Won't know I'm there until after I'm long gone.” Annabel handed two gold pieces to Harry. “Find yourself some new clothes, and someone more welcoming of your attention.”
Tom sighed. “If you don't return—”
“I'll be back before first light,” Annabel said as she walked away.
The troll shook his head as Annabel left the tavern. “It's the ale talking,” he muttered.
“That went well,” Harry said with a jovial smile. He glanced at the cheese tray. “Are you going to—”
Tom picked up the tray, glared at Harry, and poured a good portion of the cheese and crackers into his mouth. “You could have just said 'yes',” Harry grumbled.
* * *
Sergeant Fosdick stuck his head out of the door. “Major Brassfeld?” the aide said. “The admiral will see you now.”
Victorie Brassfeld nodded at Fosdick as she turned away from the picture window in the lobby. Admiral Stenholt's office was on one of the highest levels of the Admiralty, the headquarters of Cerindel's Navy. It was one of Cerindel's tallest towers, and the view it provided was spectacular, looking down on the city below, the royal palace to the east, the farmlands beyond, and the distant horizon, with stars scattered as far as the eye could see.
The major was slender, with braided blond hair that went past her shoulder blades. Her eyes were gray and seemed to have the faintest twinkle, as if deep down, she found things endlessly amusing. She wore the Cerindel naval uniform, a red tailcoat over a white blouse and black trousers; the coat had gold trim, and there were two stripes on each shoulder. She wore two overlapping belts, one for her rapier and one for her pistolere.
Victorie walked into the office, stopping short of the desk that dominated the room as the aide stepped outside and closed the door behind them. She silently saluted the admiral.
Stenholt returned her salute. “At ease,” he said. “Major Brassfeld, I wanted to review the plan that you and Admiral Stamford have made for tonight.”
“Of course, sir,” Victorie said. “Captain Skyblade has been a scourge to airship traffic for the last three years. Just two months ago, Duchess Cantille was relieved of all her jewelry and several bottles of fine wine by Skyblade and her crew.”
“The noble families of all the sky realms want her brought down.”
“And were we to be the ones to capture her, it would be a prestigious moment for Cerindel and her navy.” Victorie smiled.
Stenholt nodded. “Feathers in all our caps. And a nice little bounty for whoever brings that damned pirate in alive.”
“Our sources tell us that Skyblade has come to Cerindel, most likely to take on supplies,” Victorie said. “This ties in nicely with the palace's plans to put the Amulet of Glena on display for the Midsummer's Festival tomorrow.”
“How?” the admiral asked.
“We have paid people to pay certain underworld contacts to spread the word of those plans. Once that word gets to Skyblade, she'll be tempted to try to steal the amulet.”
“She's done this sort of thing before, I've heard.”
Victorie nodded. “Last year, on the estate of Baron Von Hoffener of Ristadt. She still wears the bracelet she stole that night.”
Stenholt idly drummed his fingers on the desk. “Are you certain this will work?”
“It will,” Victorie said with a confident smile. “Captain Skyblade seems just as motivated by a challenge as she is by her ill-gotten gains.”
“And who will be at the cathedral besides their guard?”
“I will be there myself to take Skyblade into custody.”
“And collect the bounty?” Stenholt raised an eyebrow.
“To be shared with those who have helped prepare this plan,” Victorie said. “There will be backup in place if needed.”
The admiral leaned forward, his eyes fixed on Victorie. “Capturing Skyblade would be a proud moment for all of us, Major Brassfeld. If this plan is a success, it could lead to further opportunities. I expect the best from you.”
“As do I,” Victorie said.
“Of course.” Stenholt paused. “And perhaps other considerations will come into play. Sergeant Fosdick will have a little something for you when you leave.”
Victorie froze, fighting to keep from blushing or saying something she would regret later. “Of course, sir,” she said softly.
“Dismissed,” the admiral said with a salute. “Good luck, Victorie.”
“Thank you, sir.” Victorie saluted, then turned and calmly walked out of the office.
* * *
Victorie had managed to hold her temper in check and thank Fosdick as the aide handed her a small pouch. As she strolled through the tower, on her way to the airship dock and the Navy shuttles, she felt her anger rise. That old lech! she thought. How dare he!
The major had worked long and hard to earn her rank and position in the Cerindel Navy, which handled defense, policing and other security functions for the sky realm. She had graduated at the top of her academy class, been recruited for the intelligence corps, and had already earned one royal commendation for her work.
And yet, Victorie thought with a quiet sigh, Stenholt still undresses me with his eyes every time we meet. The other admirals respect me, but he just wants to bed me. She had no interest in being courted, let alone by a superior.
“Brassfeld?” Victorie snapped out of her thoughts as two men walked up to her. “What the devil are you up so late for?” the older one, with a fierce mustache and corporal's stripes, said.
“Stamford's plan, Greaves,” Victorie answered. “It's happening tonight.”
Greaves chuckled sharply. “The bait's in place?”
“It will be by the time I get to the cathedral.”
“You know—” Greaves pointed a thumb at the tall, bespectacled man next to him. “Castleton here has been studying up on the amulet. Fascinating stuff.”
“Really?” Victorie said.
Castleton nodded nervously. “The historians all agree that Queen Glena the First was wearing the amulet when she and the 206th Legion faced down the Mezaran invasion force in front of the royal palace. After that, the accounts differ.”
“Well...some say that it was just a coincidence that the lightning struck when it did, decimating the Mezaran forces and letting the Legion have the victory that day. Others claim divine intervention. But there were healing mages who tried to save the lives of those who were badly burned that day.” Castleton swallowed. “The burn victims claimed that the lighting came from Queen Glena's amulet.”
“Poppycock!” Greaves snorted.
“Possibly. Their stories were dismissed as delirious visions caused by pain.”
“One should keep an open mind,” Victorie said. “There were always rumors that Glena had learned great sorceries from her mother.”
“Those were never proven,” Castleton said quickly.
“Does it matter?” Greaves said. “The end result was the same. Damn shame about the queen, though.”
“But the pursuit of historical truth is always important.”
“Castleton, it's late. The only things I wish to pursue are sausage rolls and a pint of dark. Come along.” Greaves took Castleton's arm and pulled him away. “Good luck, Brassfeld,” he said over his shoulder.
“Thank you, Greaves,” Victorie said as she started back down the hall.
Text © 2016 by the author. All rights reserved.