Is it a good sign or a bad one that Kerdak Bonefist looks more than a little hung over this morning? Pegsworthy thought as the Master of the Gales escorted him into the audience chamber. From the sound of the celebrations last night--audible even in the brig of the Kraken--there wouldn't be many pirates eager to face the day. The Council table seemed to bear that out; only Tessa Fairwind and Avimar Sorrinash were arrayed beside Bonefist. Tessa gave Pegsworthy a faint, restrained nod, which he returned. Sorrinash merely sneered. The audience chamber was otherwise nearly empty, only a few random hangers-on occupied the benches. Harrigan was nowhere in sight.
"Whass this about, then?" Bonefist demanded.
"The Master requests us to sit in judgment of Free Captain Merrill Pegsworthy, who stands accused of breaking the Truce of the Free Captains' Regatta by attacking three of Free Captain Barnabus Harrigan's men, Lord." Tessa's voice was firm and to the point, betraying no touch of personal consideration.
"Izzat so? Never liked that Harrigan. I take it 'e were provoked?"
Sorrinash grunted. "Like Harrigan er not, yer Majesty, the evidence can nay be refuted. Pegsworthy here attacked Harrigan's men an' killed two of them, the Truce then being in effect. I'd say that calls for a hangin', it does. Don't want ter go settin' a bad example, like." He grinned wolfishly.
"Hanging is hardly indicated," Tessa shot back. "He stands accused of attacking Harrigan's men, not Harrigan himself. Nor did he interfere with the race. The accounts of witnesses indicate that the killings were not at Pegsworthy's hands, but at the hands of one of his crew in an effort to save his life after he was already down and unable to defend himself. Pegsworthy may have initiated the fight, but Harrigan's men escalated it."
"Ye sound like a godsdammed lawyer this mornin', fair Tess," Bonefist said.
Tessa shot him a prim look. "I'm sorry, Lord, but this is no small matter. The Truce has always been difficult to enforce."
"Harrigan an' Pegsworthy bin at each other's throats fer many a year. Why ain't Harrigan here ter gloat? He got somethin' ter hide?" Bonefist asked.
"I couldn't say, Lord."
"Hmm. What about yer, Mister Captain Pegsworthy? What have yer ter say?"
"I have little enough to add, Lord. Yes, Harrigan and I are . . . not fond of each other. Yes, I knowingly led an attack on three of his men who were . . . accompanying a young lady who was placed in my charge."
"So yer were provoked?" Bonefist was beginning to sound annoyed. Pegsworthy heard the door open behind him and the sound of footsteps approaching the benches. He caught sight of Chopper out of the corner of his eye and felt a powerful sense of relief. Chopper had some lady with him . . . no, that was Feruzi. In a dress. Oh wow--"Are yer payin' attention, man?!"
"I . . . sorry, Lord. They did not threaten me, if that's what you're asking." Pegsworthy forced his eyes back in Bonefist's direction, but they kept wanting to crawl over in Feruzi's direction.
"Did they threaten yer 'young lady'?"
"Not . . . precisely, Lord. Not in so many words."
"The impulse to defend one's mate from even the suggestion of danger is a powerful strong one," The Master spoke up suddenly. "In the throes of lust, a man may find himself construing threat where none exists." Everyone stared at him in horror, even Sorrinash. Pegsworthy could feel his face turning red and found himself wishing that Chopper and Feruzi had not come, after all.
"Ahem," Tessa said, breaking the deadlock. "Thank you for that . . . useful observation, Master."
"It doesn't seem ter me that hangin' be the solution ter this problem," Bonefist rumbled.
"Exile, then?" Sorrinash tossed off. Pegsworthy heard Feruzi gasp.
"Nah, doesn't suit."
"At the very least ye should strip him of his Letters of Marque. Otherwise there'll be brawls in the streets when the news gets out," Sorrinash growled.
"Then they'll learn their mistake right quick," Bonefist snapped. "Do yer think I canna handle a few brawls? Think I'm gettin' soft, do yer?"
"See yer remember that."
"I . . . think stripping Pegsworthy of his Marque might be a bit harsh," Tessa said. "I would vote against such a measure."
"Yer would, eh? Well I don't intend ter call fer a vote. This ain't a matter for the Council. I'll decide it meself with no bickering from you lot."
"Lord . . ." Tessa started.
"BE SILENT. I've had enough o' yer lawyerin' fer one day. An' yer too, Sorrinash, ye bloodthirsty mutinous dog. Pegsworthy!"
"Ye're hearby ordered ter pay a tribute of ten thousand gold sails ter Captain Harrigan by the end o' this month, else I will exile yer stupid self from the Shackles. An' yer banned from the Regatta from this day on. Are we clear?"
"I don't envy yer the fun you'll have when the likes o' Harrigan find out they don't ever have ter worry about yer sittin' in judgment o' them. Now clear the damn court. Audience is over." Without waiting to see if his orders were carried out, Bonefist heaved himself out of his chair and left. The Master scowled deep in his beard while Sorrinash sneered even more than before at Bonefist's retreating back. Tessa frowned and shook her head.
Pegsworthy grimaced, knowing the truth of Bonefist's prophecy. The Free Captains generally avoided preying on each other, but this was mostly because anyone might win the Regatta and wind up with a seat on the Council. This ban was equivalent to the declaration that if anyone set their sights on the Bonaventure, the Council intended to remain coldly indifferent. To some men, that would sound the same as tacit approval. And ten thousand gold sails . . . it wasn't an impossible sum, far from it, but Pegsworthy hated to hand that kind of gelt over to Harrigan. He'd have to strip the Bonaventure down to bare essentials and probably sell quite a few things for far less than they were worth to raise the money before the deadline. Pinch would be unbearable for weeks. He was so lost in thought that he nearly jumped out of his skin when Chopper clapped a hand on his shoulder.