Part the One Hundred Forty Eighth: The Panicked Parley
When Hope finished informing the crew of the Gale what she had seen, there was a silence among the parley so heavy that the sound of breaking waves at the mouth of the inlet seemed muffled.
“Would that you had not made me stay behind, mon Capitaine,” Charity spoke first. “I would have been willing to risk it all to end our troubles there with a single blow.”
Abigail did not acknowledge Charity, though Hope wondered if she was eyeing her suspiciously, possibly realizing now who had killed Andrews…
“Not a chance, with that crowd around him,” Hope said, trying to distract Abigail’s thoughts. “Osei and I counted two score of the Casa’s compliment around him, and with the Guarda spread throughout the square, anyone betraying a hint of ill feeling would likely have been struck dead yards before they’d have come close enough.”
“Noted,” said Abigail. “And even if De Colera were the Casa’s actual captain, and not just master of the ship, we know not whether her crew would be able to hunt us down without him. Better they wonder about us than know for sure we’re about.”
Follard stood to address the parley. “We seem to be in a tight spot. From what Hope and Osei said, this De Colera seems every bit le Grand Homme de la Mer, the way the crowds worship him. And yet, many of the goods moving through these seas in a questionable manner that we have seized, they all have passed through his hands at some point.”
Hope fingered the charm Charity had given her, the Chinese symbol “愛” raised in relief on the bronze coin now feeling like the edge of a dagger.
“Aye,” said Sanders, “he be both hero and villain, loved by the viceroys as he robs them blind. And that’s a dangerous man to be up against.”
Murmurs conceding the point went through the crowd as Bosfelt noted, “It’s one thing if the crown is hunting you, but when the smuggler and the vrijheer are one and the same, where does that leave you?”
“He’s right,” said Kelly. “If he’s got dark deals going moving goods, then he’s probably got some of those men claiming to be Brethren of the Coast sympathetic to his interests who’d be willing to sink us if asked.”
“Or at least if the price was right,” added Owen. “And since he’s got a ship under him like the Casa, he could either see someone else blow us down or do it himself.”
“We should have slit the throats of the crew on that Spanish brig!” spat Herbert. “Allowing them to inform De Colera that we were responsible for befouling his plans brought us to his attention!”
“Need I remind you,” said Osei, “that the Casa has been after us for quite some time before that engagement. Whether or not we’d shown any restraint in order to convince others to strike colors once they met us would not have changed that.”
Hope wondered why Osei had to take so strong a tone with Herbert, as though he were being disciplined for some infraction, like trying to start a mutiny.
And Hope wondered if in that comment about the Spanish brig, Herbert might well have been…
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