SOME GOLDEN HARBOR – snippet 42:

Tovera remained outside with the gunners, exchanging nods with Adele. Krychek closed the door–the hatch–behind them and gestured graciously toward the chairs on the level below. “Please,” he said, “sit and make yourselves comfortable. Mundy, will you have another glass of wine? And Master Elemere–”

“Elemere,” the singer said sharply. “Just Elemere.”

“As I am Krychek!” said the captain with boisterous good humor, linking arms with Elemere and leading him down the stairs. “I fear your tastes may be too sophisticated for my poor cellar, but please–will you do me the honor of drinking a tot of Landholder Reserve cognac with me? The run was bottled at my birth.”

“Why, I…,” Elemere said, allowing himself to be guided to a short loveseat. Krychek opened the cabinet beneath the tantalus and brought out a slender green bottle with fluted sides. “Yes, a brandy would be… I would like a brandy.”

Krychek poured an ounce of pale yellow liquor into each of two snifters but left them on the cabinet until he’d served Adele another glass of white wine. He seated himself beside Elemere and only then offered him the snifter in his right hand.

After breathing deeply from his own glass, Krychek looked over the rim of it and said, “Now Mundy. I’m pleased by this visit, very pleased; I saw Elemere perform on Lompac only last year. But there is a story behind it, is there not?”

“Yes,” said Adele austerely, still standing. She watched the interaction of the two men. It was what she’d hoped, of course, but still it–

Never mind. “Landholder, you and your crew aren’t the only people on Bennaria who aren’t afraid of Councilor Waddell, but you may well be the only people besides us aboard the Princess Cecile. We’re about to lift for what I may well be combat. We can’t take Elemere with us.”

“So…,” Krychek said, tilting the snifter till the brandy touched–but only touched–his lips. He turned from Adele to look at the man beside him; his expression of cool appraisal gave way to a broad smile. “So, Elemere. Tell me why it is important that I am not afraid of Councilor Fat Pig Waddell?”

“He wanted me to go with him,” the singer said, meeting Krychek’s eyes. “He killed my friend when I wouldn’t.”

The glass in Elemere’s hand trembled. He took a convulsive drink, probably a terrible thing to do to a stellar brandy, but Krychek didn’t protest. He patted Elemere’s knee and looked at Adele again. His smile remained.

“So,” he repeated. “I understand much, but one thing I do not understand. You Cinnabars are here to help the government of Bennaria, and Waddell–for all that he is fat, and a pig, and utterly disgusting–is the government of Bennaria himself. I have no love for him–he is why I cannot get credit of any sort on this mudball–but it would seem your duty is to hand Elemere over and go on about your business. Not so?”

“Certainly not,” said Adele without emphasis. “Our chief of mission is a Leary of Bantry; he’s made this a matter of honor. I won’t say Commander Leary’s personal honor would take precedence over his duties to the RCN. Nonetheless, turning the matter over to brave and honorable men like yourselves makes it unnecessary for him to make such a decision.”

Krychek laughed harshly. He sipped his brandy again; Adele took a drink of her wine. Her lips and tongue were extremely dry.

“I should help the RCN, that is what you say?” Krychek said musingly. “An interesting thought. Because I am an exile, I must be a traitor, that is what you think, Mundy?”

Adele set her barely-tasted drink down on the display cabinet beside her. She realized she was standing very straight.

“Landholder Krychek,” she said. I sound like my mother, she thought. When she was very, very angry. “You pointed out correctly that my actions here and those of Commander Leary verge on being in conflict with our RCN duties.”

She made a peremptory gesture with her right index finger. “Master Elemere,” she said, “get up. I can’t leave you with a fool.”

“You can’t call me a fool!” Krychek shouted, lurching to his feet.

“I just did!” Adele said, her left hand in her pocket. “Elemere, get up now or on my oath as a Mundy I’ll shoot you dead! That’ll solve both Daniel’s problem and the RCN’s!”

The snifter shattered as Krychek’s big hand clenched; blood and brandy sprayed. Elemere keened wordlessly and cupped Krychek’s fist in both hands.

“Oh you’ve hurt yourself!” Elemere said. “Please, please, there’s been enough pain! Let me bandage that, please!”

Adele took her hand from her pocket and held it away from her as if it were hot. She felt sick to her stomach from embarrassment; her skin burned as though she’d been buried in hot sand.

“I apologize,” she said. She forced herself to meet Krychek’s eyes. She was dizzy and afraid she might faint. “This is your ship, your house, and I insulted you in it. If you wish satisfaction, I will of course–”

“Stop that,” said Elemere fiercely. He’d teased open Krychek’s fist and was picking bits of broken glass from the blood. “Stop that! You’ll not fight a duel, you’ll not do any more stupid things, either one of you. There’s been enough pain.”

The singer jerked the lace doily out from under the tantalus with a sudden, sharp pull; the stand and decanters rattled against the wood. He wadded it in Krychek’s palm, then poured the rest of his brandy into the lace.

“Now close your hand again,” he said to Krychek. “This’ll hold it till we get real medical help.”

“There’s a medicomp on C Deck,” Krychek said. He sounded stunned. “But this is nothing, nothing.”

“Elemere,” Adele said, “we need to leave while the assembly’s still going on. Landholder, I–”

“Wait,” said Krychek. “Lady Mundy, the fault was mine. You came to me, a lady to a gentleman, and I acted a spoiled child.”

He bowed at the waist to her, stepped back, and bowed even more deeply to Elemere. “Mistress,” he said. “You are a great artist, a great artist. It would be an honor to me and my men to shelter you from your enemies. It would be an honor to die if we can shelter you with our very bodies. To die!”

“I don’t think that will be necessary, gentlemen,” Adele said dryly. She felt a smile twitch the corners of her mouth; in relief, largely, she supposed. “Waddell should believe that Elemere is aboard the Princess Cecile when we lift, and I trust that will be very soon. Tovera is arranging for one of your men to take us back in the boat, wearing the costume she came aboard with; she has her ordinary clothes on under it. Ah, with your permission, that is.”

Neither of the men was listening to her. Elemere still held Krychek’s fist.

“Would you help me?” the singer said. “I’m so alone. Lonnie was… Lonnie took care of everything.”

“It is an honor,” Krychek repeated. He put his free hand on the dancer’s shoulder. “A very great honor.”

Adele stepped briskly up the staircase. She didn’t look around, but it wasn’t until she’d banged the hatch closed behind her that she let out the breath she’d been holding.