“She is called Leviathan, and the name matches the size,” Marnie said gravely, spreading out her parchment across the table. The Lords were gathered around it, those who could read taking in the details Marnie had drawn and relaying them to those who could not. “My sources found contracts for nearly a thousand crew members, and the ship itself has over a hundred and twenty cannons.”
A low, fervent murmur spread throughout the crowd gathered before them. No ship of this caliber had ever existed before, the sheer power in a war vessel of that magnitude nearly unfathomable.
Piers wrapped his arm more firmly around his sister when she pressed closer to his side. It had been a long time since he had last seen her this shaken, and it made him nervous.
“Leviathan,” Raihan muttered incredulously. “The nerve of naming some human-made ship after an actual creature of the deep…”
“What’s more, Leviathan has a fleet with her as we’d feared. The King has unleashed the full might of his Navy. His people are all well-trained, but there is another Captain besides Leon we will need to be wary of. Her name is Oleana, though I was unable to find out much beyond that. Combin’ through the Wyndon archives proved fruitless on further information about her, but it’s apparently accepted in their circles that while she isn’t as effective a leader in combat as Captain Leon, she is twice as ruthless.”
“And she is an unknown entity,” Kabu said gravely as they all sat down. “I never heard of her during my time in the King’s service, which means we will need to proceed with caution when we encounter her in battle. The King doesn’t suffer fools or incompetent leaders lightly. She will be a force to be reckoned with.”
“There’s not yet a price on our heads beyond what already exists, but the command will come soon enough. I imagine he’ll be testin’ us first, to see where we stand and if he can manage to pick us off bit by bit rather than all at once. He’s been fashionin’ his initial tactics after old fae strategies, though I’ve not seen ship configurations quite like those before.”
“Which, speaking of, what news from the Court, Captain?” Melony asked, and the murmurs grew louder. If the fae chose to be involved…
Marnie’s hands balled into fists at her sides.
“We’ll not be findin’ help in those quarters,” she hissed angrily. “I spent nearly a month tryin’ to convince them otherwise, that the threat was large enough to start gatherin’ their forces now. I was no closer to success by the end of it than I was at the beginning.”
The room was silent for a long while.
“In better news, your sister sends her love,” Marnie said quietly to Piers, a small smile on her face. “She is well.”
The ache in his heart was a bittersweet one, and he grinned down at her. “Aye, I know it, since she’s right here next to me.”
Marnie turned her face into his chest, and Piers hoped the meeting would not be so drawn out today. Her time at Court always left her uncertain of her welcome here, and it never failed to break his heart to think that she had spent even a moment worrying that he would ever see her as something less than the most precious person in his world.
“You did what you could,” Bea said softly, and Marnie nodded. “It will be alright. Let’s not think of what we are missing and think instead of what we have. Guzma, your territories are the furthest out. They won’t consider venturing that far unless they have already decimated the rest of us first. What say you to making Shadeland a haven port? I would feel better if the settlements could flee there should anything happen to them.”
“Aye,” Guzma said eagerly. “Not nearly enough room for everyone to stay much past a few months without resources startin’ to get too thin, but I’ll not deny anyone their refuge or passage to the other islands. How will they get there, though? Dividin’ our ships just in case of a land attack seems like cursin’ our own chances ahead of time.”
“I agree,” Raihan said. “We will need to be at full force in order to stand a chance at countering that many ships. We’re already too heavily outnumbered to not have every vessel at our disposal. Opal, your skills in deep magiks are second to none. Is it possible to keep the fight to the waters?”
Opal hummed thoughtfully. “If the King’s son has the powers that Marnie suspects, then it is unlikely. But we might erect barriers to the settlements to buy us some time. They will be focusing on our fleet first and foremost. If Morelull is lost to the fight and I yet live, I will turn my attentions to fortifying our lands.”
“I propose Circhester turn its industry to weapons and ship repair as much as possible, and if the Admiral agrees, Motostoke ought to be our place to gather until it’s safe to be this close to Wyndon again,” Gordon said, to which Kabu nodded.
“I was about to request the same. Raihan?”
“Agreed. Piers, will you allow Gordon to carry what’s left of Spikemuth’s archives to Circhester? They will need it in order to create weapons that can counter the non-human threats we might face.”
Piers sucked in a sharp breath. It would be necessary, but the thought of what remained of his home being moved across open waters, where anything could happen to them…
“I’ll allow it,” he said haltingly. The understanding on his lover’s face helped. “I trust Gordon and Melony’s abilities to wield that knowledge well.”
His friend smiled at him in thanks, a hand over his heart. “Aye, and it’s our privilege and honor to carry on the legacy of our lost sister-city. We’ll guard her wisdom to the last.”
“You have my thanks,” Piers said quietly, Marnie echoing his words. “For provisions, I suggest we work our way back settlement to settlement. If one should fall, we take what we can to the next port and go from there. Make them work for everythin’ and bring them further and further from the capitol until they can’t justify the fight. We can’t hope to match them directly, but if we can drain them enough to make his people take notice they’ll start makin’ noise. And if we make the investors of war unwillin’ to spend anythin’ else, we might yet live.”
“Aye, but how do we plan on dealing with Leon then? There’s no way we’ll be able to go up against a ship like that without all of us at once, never mind that he’ll have other vessels around him. Lest he gets himself lost from the pack,” Bea snickered.
“Not so far fetched to hope for that outcome,” Gordon agreed with a smirk. “But Raihan, what do you think? You’re the only one of us without a sunken ship or more after facin’ off against him.”
Raihan glanced at Piers, and the pirate nodded. They were in agreement that Leon’s life might take priority among some things if they could manage to spare it, but should it come to it, his life was forfeit before any of the ones present in this Hall. This was no longer a game of catch and run.
This would be war.
“I think our focus should not be on defeating him in battle. Instead, we need to sabotage his leadership. A ship is no stronger than her crew and her Captain. If we can make the Navy doubt Leon’s ability to lead them, there is a chance he will no longer have possession of Leviathan. If we cannot accomplish that, then I wish to propose a capture effort. Let the record show this. I am willing to dig deep into the treasures of Hammerlocke for whoever manages to bring him in alive,” Raihan said, and the room immediately buzzed with interest and excitement.
Piers reached out to take the dragon’s hand beneath the table.
“All in favor?” Kabu asked, and Piers was grateful there were no further questions on the matter.
With the vote in their favor, the Lords moved on to other matters. Only time would tell if this new threat was one they would need to make further decisions on, and their own disputes and questions would need to take precedent now.
Piers sighed and settled in. Just one day at a time, he reminded himself. You have enough of them.
Sometimes it was easier to say than to live by.
“She misses you,” Marnie said abruptly as they walked arm in arm down the halls. As the fortress cleared and readied itself for their last night together in Hammerlocke, Raihan had gently kissed his forehead and told him he’d be staying to help answer questions left over from the day.
“She needs her brother right now. Come find me when you’re ready, I’ll be around.”
It didn’t often take this long, but he had enjoyed her enthusiastic—for her generally serious demeanor, anyways—storytelling while it had lasted.
“She doesn’t know me,” Piers replied, laughing when she frowned at him. “Well, it’s true.”
“She knows you because I do,” Marnie disagreed, and Piers felt like he might burst from how much he’d missed being able to see her whenever they pleased. He was proud of her, of the tales he would hear of her adventures and the way people respected her as a Captain.
It didn’t change that he missed her presence on his ship like a phantom limb.
“Aye, but you’ve always seen me as more than I am.”
“No, you’ve just never been able to see yourself as you are,” she countered with a smirk. “And you’re one to talk. Everywhere I go it’s ‘oh darlin’ Captain Marnie, but your brother was here not a fortnight past and told us all about you!’” Her smile was…brittle. Ah, the storm was already here, then.
“Am I not allowed to be proud of my wee bairn of a sister for growin’ into a bonnie fierce Captain?”
“Course you are, but I’m just as free to say the same of you. And she’s allowed to feel that as well! Why do you always insist on denyin’ that you miss her too?”
Her tears were starting to well over and Piers couldn’t stand it. He bloody hated when she went to Court. He pulled her into his arms and held her tight, wishing he could be better at words when she needed him to be. Her arms were stronger than his own, the strength of a place beyond the here and now always running through her.
“I don’t deny it,” he said, cursing the unsteadiness of his voice. “I miss her constantly. I’ll never get to see who she’s become, never get to hold her like this and tell her I love her without it bein’ from someone else’s mouth.” He leaned back and took her face up in his hands, brushing her tears away. “But why is it you think my heart isn’t big enough to hold you both?”
“Sometimes I don’t even know how you can stand to look at me!” She yelled, and Piers stepped back with a sharp breath.
“Look at me, Piers! I’m livin’ in the skin of someone you love. I get to come and go and do as I please while you’re both trapped, never to see each other again! I could vanish tomorrow and go back to the Court if I wanted, and then what? What would you have givin’ up everythin’ for, hm? Your parents, your sister, your home, your freedom to choose someone other than Raihan, hell practically your whole life—what would be the point? All I’ve ever done is stolen from you, and I couldn’t even secure the help we would need to stand a chance at survivin’ whatever that bastard is about to throw at us! I—I—”
Her tears were anathema to everything in him, and Piers stumbled forward to gather her close again, unwilling to listen to a second more.
“Marnie, Marnie, stop!” He begged, and it only made her sob harder. “Mo phiuthar, you are the point. Held your tiny little self in my arms and there hasn’t been a moment since I’ve regretted when it came to protectin’ you. It was the most selfish choice I ever made, choosin’ her livin’ over her freedom and the course your life would take. You stole nothin’ from me, it’s exactly the opposite. If things were different, I’d have never seen her again anyways. But instead, I get to go through my days knowin’ that she’s alive and happy, even if I can’t see her. That would have been enough, but then I got to have you in my life and I wouldn’t trade you for anythin’. Do you hear me? Not one single thing.”
“Marnie,” Piers said, looking her in the eyes, needing her to understand. “Not one. Single. Thing. You are my sister, my family. I would let Spikemuth burn a thousand times over if it meant savin’ you. We don’t need the rest of the fae if they’re not willin’ to see reason. The most important one is already here. The King can try and hurt you over my and Raihan’s cold, dead bodies.”
Her tears were starting to slow, and he leaned their foreheads together. He waited until she closed her eyes before he did the same.
“Without hesitation,” he said firmly. “Don’t think of her and worry that she could ever take your place, because she can’t. I love you both, wholly and separately. You are not her, and she is not you. If you can, remember that she is your sister as well. Someone who loves you and is beyond delighted when you go to visit her.” A sudden vision of her smile filled his mind and he bit his lip against his own tears. “See? You already know it. Look how happy you made her. That’s how I feel when I see you, too, and when I see her through you. How can you think you are anythin’ less than perfect to me?”
“M’not,” she mumbled. “Couldn’t even get my own people to—”
“What the fae choose to do is not on your head.”
“But if he has a dragon, we’ll need them!”
Piers smiled. “Spikemuth’s knowledge remains with those of us who still live. I think the Court will join us sooner than they expect, but even if they don’t, we still have a fightin’ chance. And don’t forget, we have a dragon of our own, and one who shares my feelings on makin’ sure you make it out of this alive.”
“And who will ensure you do the same? Do you think I could ever accept an outcome that sees me havin’ to mourn you?”
“Good thing I have a particularly cunning and resourceful sister to keep an eye on me, hm?”
She frowned at him and he snickered, glad to see the stubborn set of her jaw rather than the defeat that had emanated from her.
“You can’t possibly mean to have me sail with you again. Not after you’ve finally convinced Raihan to do the same.”
“Not necessarily on Stormbreaker, but The Whisper is exactly the type of ship we’ll need for reconnaissance, if you were so inclined as to join our venture,” he said, watching her eyes soften and a tiny smile quirk her lips. “Raihan and I already discussed the possibility.”
“Wouldn’t offer if I wasn’t hopin’ you’d say ‘yes’. I’m always in favor of any plan that has us workin’ together. And I know a certain Quartermaster who’ll be keen on havin’ you within quick reach,” he said nonchalantly, unable to keep a stoic face when she blushed to the roots of her hair.
“One kiss does not a hearth make,” she quoted firmly, and he laughed.
“Aye, though it’s certainly more to go on than a retribution bond.”
Marnie swiped the last of her tears away and took his arm once more. “I suppose. But you’re happy now? I’ve been waitin’ for you two to finally understand each other for so long. It was hell watchin’ you both dance around each other.”
He hesitated, and she looked up at him, concerned.
“I’m happier than I’ve ever been,” he admitted quietly. “I’m just…not very good at not waitin’ for the sword to fall. It’s often when I start thinkin’ that I might have somethin’ forever that it gets ripped away. Life putting me in my place, I suppose.”
“What are you most afraid of with him?”
He let out a startled burst of laughter. “Bit like invitin’ the worst, isn’t it?”
She hummed thoughtfully. “Not necessarily. Gives it less power, like…like when I need to hear you say that you still love me even though I should already know it. And do already know it. It’s just easy to forget sometimes if I let myself keep it in my head for too long.”
He rested his head on top of hers. “Too wise for your own damn good, I say.”
“Is it that you think he’ll get killed?”
He shook his head, suddenly realizing they had started to wander back around towards the Hall unconsciously. His North was always Raihan.
“I do worry about that, but I also trust his ability to protect himself, and in my ability to protect him as well. It’s…” He ran a hand through his hair. “What if while we’re out there together, he grows bored of me? Or worse, if the things he likes about me begin to annoy him?”
“You could just as easily turn that around. Do you think it’s somethin’ he worries about, too?”
“I…” They stepped back into the Hall and he watched as Raihan laughed at something Victor was saying. The dragon suddenly looked up and caught his eye, a bright, toothy smile stealing his breath when the other waved at him and sent him an inquisitive look to see if it was alright to wander over. Fuck, but his smile never failed to make Piers weak.
“He’s so in love with you,” Marnie murmured. “Chances are you’re both worryin’ about the same thing. Talk to him about it. At least then he’ll be able to do for you what you did for me. Don’t think I can stand another bout of you passin’ each other like ships in the night.”
“And you’ll be takin’ your own advice with Gloria?” He asked slyly, and to his surprise, she giggled and shrugged.
“I will if you will.”
“A deal then, let the record show it and all,” he agreed, and she wrapped her arms around him for another embrace as Raihan came over to stand beside them.
“Captain,” he said jovially to Marnie, and she smiled.
“How are my two favorite people?”
“We saw you hardly an hour past,” Piers said incredulously.
“Lot can change in that time,” Raihan said seriously, catching Marnie’s eye and holding his arms out in offer. She stepped into them and Piers thought his heat might beat its way out of his chest when she gave a contented sigh and leaned against the dragon. “You two alright?”
“Aye,” they both said in unison, making him grin.
“Good. Will The Whisper raise anchor with us when we set sail tomorrow?”
Marnie looked at them both for a while, before nodding. “Barring the absolute distaste for the idea from my crew, she will. I’ve missed you both.”
Raihan let out a shout of victory and she swatted his arm. “Don’t let it go to your head. I have to see about a lass.”
“Wouldn’t happen to be a certain Quartermaster would it?”
Marnie shot a withering look at her brother. “Does everyone know my business?”
“I didn’t say anythin’, you are obvious. Kissin’ a bonnie lass in front of four ships worth of crews will, in fact, set tongues waggin’.”
Marnie snorted inelegantly and glanced over to where Gloria was hurriedly looking away, a pretty flush on her dark skin, a matching one on Marnie’s cheeks. “Well, that’s encouragin’ at least. Thought I might have been a passin’ fancy.”
Raihan nudged her shoulder. “No sense standing here talking to us when you could be in fairer company. We’ll see you when the dancing starts. Ten crowns says we’re the better dancers by far.”
Marnie’s eyes gleamed with mirth. “Did you forget what I am?”
“Not at all. Fae or not, there’s a reason I keep getting invited back to Court,” Raihan said smugly.
“I can almost guarantee it’s because you’re among the only species who can appreciate our food, not for your skills in dance.”
Raihan mock staggered to his knees, clutching his chest and Marnie laughed as she strode off towards Gloria, the Quartermaster looking beyond pleased at the attention.
“Your sister is merciless,” Raihan chuckled, leaning into Piers’ hand when he pushed them through his locs.
“She is,” Piers said proudly, bending down to kiss his lover on the forehead. “Up with you, your wounds aren’t so grave that you can’t come sit with me awhile for a drink before tonight’s festivities.”
Raihan beamed at him and got to his feet, tangling their fingers together. “I know a place.”
“Lead on, love.”
Piers sighed softly when Raihan pulled him into another alley to kiss him senseless, the rum making his head swim pleasantly. “We’ll never make it back if you keep distractin’ us,” he chided without any real force.
Raihan leaned in to kiss his neck, a hum of acknowledgement tickling against his skin.
“Can’t get enough of you,” Raihan murmured, raising the pirate’s hand to his lips and kissing the back of it. “Tonight is going to be torture, holding you close when we dance and not being able to be skin to skin with you when we’re done.”
“Tell me what you’ll do when you have me aboard Stormbreaker,” Piers whispered, resting his head back against the wall, closing his eyes when Raihan came back up to kiss the side of his face. “When the night falls tomorrow and I come to your bed.”
Raihan took in a sharp breath and shook his head. “Not unless you’re planning on not making it back to the Hall tonight.”
Raihan laughed breathlessly and captured his mouth in another kiss, this one gentle and slow. When they parted, Piers let his fingers wrap around Raihan’s necklaces as he leaned against the dragon’s chest.
“Then tell me somethin’ else,” he said quietly. “When we misunderstand each other, or disagree, what will you do?”
“Do?” Raihan asked, the confusion apparent in his voice.
“If I give a command you don’t like, or say somethin’ that angers you, what will happen afterwards?”
Raihan was silent for a long while, thinking the question over and swaying them side to side.
“Well, I suppose if it’s in the middle of a battle, we’ll have to be quick on our feet and do our best to get out alive. After though, we’d talk, wouldn’t we? Try to figure out what went wrong and apologize and try to avoid saying or doing those things in the future? That’s the human way, isn’t it? Am I missing something? What else is there to do?”
“What would the dragon way be?”
Raihan snorted. “Dragons hardly speak to each other enough to get angry at each other, and if it’s over gold then it usually ends with blood, but that’s different. If a dragon gravely insults another, they’ll likely never speak to each other again. The world is large enough, they can avoid each other if they feel so strongly about whatever was said. Or the feud might die off in a few centuries, you never know.”
Piers’ stomach roiled to think of it.
“So they just…leave.”
Raihan’s hands framed his face and tilted it to look him in the eyes. “Ah, I see. You asked what dragons do, not what you and I do.”
“Are they different?”
“Did you think about leaving when I said those careless things on the first night?”
Piers shook his head.
“Because I love you,” Piers said immediately. “Knew you’d apologize and mean it if I let you. And I know your heart holds nothin’ malicious in the first place, even if you don’t always think before speakin.”
“And are you exempt from that?”
“Course not, I say dumb shite all the time!”
Raihan grinned and flicked his nose. “Then what’s the conclusion you draw from all that?”
Piers looked over the dragon’s expression for a moment before he sighed and tilted his head up for a kiss, letting the relief spread through him.
“That you’ll do the same for me,” he answered when Raihan’s tongue slipped from his mouth. “And we’ll talk about it.”
Raihan brushed their noses together. “Won’t always be perfect at it, but I like the human way for this.”
“Begs the question, what’s somethin’ you prefer your way?” Piers asked, tugging on one of Raihan’s locs.
Raihan leered at him and Piers rolled his eyes. “Besides that, you beastie!”
He loved to hear his dragon laugh so freely, his voice joining the general din of the streets as people went about their lives, uncaring of the two of them hidden away here, laying out fears and assurances between a tavern and a haberdashery. It was ridiculous of them and everything he’d needed before they set out on this journey together.
“Well, the one I just thought of is related to that, but I’m sure you’re not interested.”
Piers groaned. “M’fraid I’m almost always interested when it comes to you, that’s the bloody problem. Let’s have it, then.”
Raihan suddenly seemed oddly hesitant, his eyes darting away to look out towards the street.
“It’s…when you and I were bonded, it wasn’t exactly…a romantic situation, but usually dragons make a rather big to-do of a first mating. There’s gifts and all the usual fare, but we also bring each other foods from distant places to show how far we will go to provide for our mates. We dance and sing and read to each other to show off our ability to entertain through the endless years. We fly, run, or swim together to display our inherent freedom and unwillingness to be kept from our movement, knowing that we will be apart more often than we are together because of it.”
Raihan’s eyes were hypnotic as they bored into his own, and Piers released a shuddering breath that felt loud compared to the quiet intimacy between them. He parted his legs enough to let Raihan push up close to him, though they both knew they couldn’t linger here much longer. It didn’t matter, the need simmering under his skin went far beyond the physical, into a place where he craved nothing but Raihan’s presence and his eyes on him.
He closed his eyes when Raihan leaned down to run his lips over the pirate’s jaw before crooning in his ear.
“And when it’s water dragons like me, we’ll go to the shallows and lie with each other on the shoals. We change the tides for a time, to suit our moods. We only stop when we can no longer control the waters safely.”
Piers let his eyes ask the question for him, and he shivered when Raihan grinned that beautiful smile at him.
The pirate moaned softly and rubbed his aching cock along Raihan’s leg before he got himself back under control.
“Fuck, we need to leave before I take you here against the wall. Neither of us are in any state to be seen by our companions like this.”
“Aye, but let me ask one thing more.”
Raihan tilted his head and nodded, eyes traveling over Piers’ body when he finally managed to step away from the pirate’s warmth.
“Could we…do all that anyways? I know it isn’t our first, nor can we do everythin’ at once when we’re on the ship, but…” He trailed off at the sheer awe and joy on his lover’s face. “Raihan?”
“You would want to share that with me? Even though it won’t be nearly as perfect or complete as you deserve?”
Piers kissed his palm. “Of course I would. This is our last night here for a while yet. There will be food gathered with lots of dancin’, and singin’. Let’s start there. I have many a song I can give to you if you’ll have them.”
“My clever mate,” Raihan said softly. “I love you.”
“Tha gaol agam ort,” Piers returned, laughing when they took in the state of the other. “Perhaps we should walk a bit first. And no more dark, hidden places for the two of us tonight.”
“You are absolutely no fun,” Raihan said with a pout, and Piers entwined their fingers as they slipped back out onto the street unnoticed.
“Hm, you’ve put it in my head that I’m owed a bit of wooing. And that I might do the same for you. I promise I can make it entirely worth our while tomorrow night.”
Raihan growled and pinched his side, darting ahead when Piers squawked indignantly and gave chase back to where the music was just beginning to ring out over the city.
The lights of Hammerlocke guided their way.