Skill, Luck, and Terrible Ideas (pt. 13)

The Bandit’s captive surgeon Dr. Fourier knocked politely at the study door out of habit, earning yet another disapproving growl from the bull-like sailor guarding the door.

The color drained from Fourier’s face. “Apologies,” he mumbled. He lowered his hazel-green eyes to the small cart of breakfast things intended for the prisoners being held in the study.

With a snort, the sailor hoisted his bulk out of the chair he’d been in all night and unlocked the door, glowered as the timid surgeon entered, and then locked the medical man inside.

Inside the room, three healthy faces looked up from various places in the cozy room.

“Fourier!” cried Naia happily, lounging sideways on the chair at the desk, legs draped over one arm rest, the other supporting her back as she clapped shut a massive atlas that had been open in her lap. As a navigator by profession, she enjoyed browsing other people’s collections of maps, especially when those collections weren’t as impressive as hers.

“It’s been so long!” she teased. “We missed you!”

“I didn’t,” said Ugo flatly, negative by nature. Of the three, Ugo was the most severely wounded on account for his being terrible at contests, utter lack of fighting skills, and horrendous luck. Presently, he was lying on a couch near a low table. He sported two broken arms which were rigid in casts and scabbing scrapes could be seen on his bare legs due to trousers cut off at the knees.

“Good morning, doctor,” said a third person merrily.

The third prisoner—a man named Baer—unfolded his tall, limber form from where he had been reclining on the floor in the corner against a mountain of throw pillows reading a novel to the glow of a small lamp. Baer possessed a voice like music, cheekbones that shouldn’t be humanly possible, medium length ebony wavy hair, and a hundred times as much benevolence and gentility as the entire Green crew had combined.

Fourier gratefully accepted Baer’s cheerful assistance unloading the meal cart and setting the breakfast trays and beverages on the table near Ugo’s couch. No forks or knives, only soup spoons. A tea pot and small metal pitcher of coffee.

“Smells like…” Naia inhaled deeply through her nose, and beamed. “PANCAKES!” She dropped the ponderous book on to the desk and hop-stumbled awkwardly out of the large chair.

Ugo kicked his feet like a toddler in a tantrum. “Why feed us if we’re gonna die anyway!” he wailed.

Naia sat on the floor at one of the place settings. “Oh no, you’re right,” she mocked mildly, removing the domed lid from over her plate that kept her food warm. “I’ll eat yours, too, then.”

“RAH NO! Get your hands off my pancakes and… and eggs.. and… is… is that sausage? A-And berry compote, mmm, that actually looks pretty good.”

Fourier sat on the edge of Ugo’s couch and helped him sit up. “You need to eat, Mr. Ugo, or your bones won’t mend.”

Ugo’s mouth was already watering. “I guess I could eat,” he murmured, as the surgeon sat beside him and prepared to feed his patient as he had for every meal since the three had been placed in his care.

At the third breakfast tray, Baer joined them, sweeping his coat tails behind him as he sat on a nearby ottoman. “What a spread. Thank you, doctor.”

With a rare smile, Fourier nodded to the tea pot. “I managed to get the house blend tea.”

Baer’s face lit up with delight despite the bandage over his right eye. “You are all kindness! I was hoping to taste it again before we depart.”

Naia doused her pancakes under a deluge of maple syrup. “Will we be here much longer?”

The prisoners looked to Fourier.

A shadow passed over his face. “We’ll probably leave soon but I don’t know how soon.” Realizing Ugo was asking for another bite, Fourier continued to feed the invalid. “No one tells me much of anything since I’m a prisoner, too.”

Through a bite, Naia said, “How about a best guess?”

“Well, not today, I can be certain of that. They haven’t even begun reloading the ship and Captain Greens likes to leave at first light which was hours ago.” Fourier paused to think. “Today is Wednesday and he won’t go near the water on Fridays, which means…”

Baer poured himself a cup of tea. “Meaning we will depart neither today nor the day after tomorrow, which leaves tomorrow—Thursday—being our earliest possible departure date.”

Fourier scooped another bite for Ugo. “I never understood the superstition about setting sail on a Friday.”

“Tomorrow then?” Naia sighed loudly, gazing forlornly at the pancakes—because her greatest momentary sorrow would be that she would miss the pancakes.

“Likely,” said Baer.

Fourier stared hard at his knees in a thought so deep that Baer called his name three times before he looked up with an expression verging on distraught.

“Have mercy on my heart, doctor.” Baer nursed hot tea. “You mustn’t make faces like that. Our predicament is no fault of yours. Please don’t feel bad.”

Fourier appreciated the kind words but it didn’t change reality. “Nobody lives long after being turned over to Hulreiker. We have to think of something. Some way to—”

“No, he’s right, don’t feel bad,” said Ugo, surprising everyone with an uncharacteristically positive statement. “You didn’t rope us into a series of stupid deadly contests and then try to straight out murder us and our friends. Totally wasn’t you.” He smiled with pancakes in his cheeks like a chipmunk. “So, yeah.”

“Aww, Ugo,” Naia cooed sardonically. “You’re so good at making people feel better that your feeder person is five seconds away from being a lump of depression on the floor and then you’ll have to eat with your face in the plate like a puppy dog because I won’t help you and neither will Baer.”

“I what?” Ugo looked to see Fourier staring off into space with a blank look of horror as he was starting to mentally check out. “Heyheyheyhey I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it! Are you okay? Hello? Can you hear me?”

Naia shook her head, chuckling grimly as she ate in silence.

Without further discussion, Baer quietly finished his meal and took a nearby tall backed chair, stretching his long legs on the ottoman. He began singing a song, one his shipmates had never heard. A happy tune in a heartening key. Fourier blinked out of his daze and continued to care for Ugo until the meal was finished.

Fourier returned all of the breakfast things to the meal cart, and sat for a moment. He looked around at the quiet prisoners. “Do you think anyone is coming to save you?”

Ugo grumped. “No.”

“The possibility always exists,” said Baer.

Naia leaned back on her arms. “Probably not in any traditional sense.”

The others looked at her.

Fourier said, “What does that mean?”

“Who’s gonna save us?” Ugo scoffed and challenged Naia with a pouting stare. “Pfft! Who’s even left? Last we saw, everybody was messed up. Even Zvonko went down. No one was moving. You saw it, too. What if they’re dead?!”

Baer and Naia ignored Ugo. Fourier tried to do the same, but his nerves were frayed from several hopeless years of being the sole prisoner aboard The Bandit that he found difficult to block out negative thoughts.

Elbows in the armrests of his chair, Baer steepled his fingers under his chin and narrowed his eyes. “What are you suggesting, Naia?”

Naia offered a devious smile. “The idea just crossed my mind and it’s stupid, which is probably why it didn’t occur to me before.” She tilted her head. “Think about it. Who do we know who loves Lally and also happens to be the annoying king of long shots?”

Fourier looked to Baer. “Who?”

After a dumbfounded pause, Baer’s face bloomed in a smile of realization followed by a musical laugh which took several minutes to subside. Wiping a tear from his eye, he looked to Fourier. “It is within the realm of extreme possibility that a rescue is on the horizon and, when the moment is upon us, Doctor, I hope you will come away with us.”

[to be continued…]

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