Tin Man: Pirates of the Nonestic

Chapter Thirty-eight

By the end of announcement day, DG had decided they could have used Malachite after the Battle of the Eclipse. He had a gift for making what should be an absurd explanation perfectly acceptable, starting with what happened to him and his daughter a year ago. They didn't need Sprite's talents as a Viewer to show the events in a mirror.

He outlined Slate's treachery before launching into his secret wife's quest. The whole slavery bit wasn't mentioned. He wrapped up his part with Roquat's reaction when DG had won his game and how the mountain had chose Kaliko.

The grudging crowd waited for the new Nome King to speak. Kaliko explained how he wanted to better the lives of both gnomes and Topsiders, with improving the harbor and letting gnomes travel as they pleased. Spencer, as King of Pingaree, announced he was continuing the alliance with the Nome King, and DG's announcement of a full treaty with the O.Z. shocked the audience. But Treasure meekly accepting a sapphire pendent and hugging Kaliko without prompting melted their hearts.

Betsy inhaled to keep from laughing out loud. "And they all think I'm the dangerous one in the family. Wait 'till Treasure comes of age," she whispered to DG while they sat on the stage. "That was all her idea because she said everyone was getting something pretty but her."

But DG's favorite moment was Cain's homage ceremony. He swore to protect the people under his care and to uphold the Nome King as long as he remained a just ruler. Kaliko named the Isle of Patrippaxy Lord Platinum's estate and set his new platinum chain of office around Cain's neck.

Cain's crystal blue eyes widened seeing his new family crest hanging as the insignia: a five-point star carved from a benitoite gemstone and suspended in a circle of platinum. DG bit her lip until he flashed his rare smile at her, and then pride and relief she had picked the right thing rushed through her.

Kaliko ended his speech with naming Betsy the Commandant of the Island Navy, chosen for her relentlessness under adverse conditions. Betsy quieted the crowd by explaining that the Island Navy's size would be reduced and all sailors wishing to leave the service would be allowed to do so honorably.

The audience still looked skeptical, and Malachite ended the ceremony by declaring a public holiday, with a reminder that anyone they could bring concerns to the Steward's House during business hours, starting tomorrow. That gave the audience something to laugh about as they left.

The crew of the You and What Navy? got their booty at the Steward's House, and no one complained about the amount. More surprising was how many of the pirates said they were sticking with Betsy, despite now enforcing the laws. The three who had sided with Hodges during the mutiny elected to retire along with Drake, who said he didn't need more grey hairs. Spencer would return to Pingaree to be king. Jenkins demanded that he would be the only first mate and quartermaster of the You and What Navy? as long as he breathed, and his pay scale better reflect two jobs. The event round down with the most riotous party the Steward's House had ever hosted-judging the servants' expressions-with a fabulous meal, various drinks, and singing. DG ended up the only one sober to explain Topsider behavior to Kaliko.

So she was surprised to find Malachite hard at work the next day when she was guided to the Steward's study after breakfast. Stacks of papers and books covered the massive desk, but he sat at the circular table surrounded by more papers. "Wyatt's still sleeping it off and you had more to drink than he did."

"The first magic spell I created was a cure for hangovers," he grinned. "Ready to see how our countries can help one another?"

"I have a few ideas of what the O.Z. needs, but no idea what we can offer in exchange." DG sat down with a view to the ocean outside the closest floor-to-ceiling window.

"You bargain like Betsy. No subtlety to it whatsoever."

DG propped up her chin. "Should I wear a sword too?"

Malachite shook his head. "She will duel. And she doesn't believe in practice fencing." He shuffled some papers. "I suppose we are in better shape considering what the Sorceress put the O.Z. through. But we lack clout."

"I understand that feeling."

"It's worse with the mainland realms. Having the O.Z. recognize us as a legitimate government will reduce the threat of war."

"That many people have issues with the Nome King?" DG made a notebook and pen.

Malachite's blue eyes crinkled. "Interesting method of binding with the metal loops. Ev has always considered the Archipelago part of their territory, and try to annex the closest islands. Unfortunately for them, they haven't figured out how to build a better navy. The pirates won't help them because they keep trying to shut down Mount Cove."

She squirmed. "I didn't intend for the Army to mess everything up there."

"They may not have. Betsy sent out a ship to investigate. Getting rid of the Market has always been on my agenda, and the O.Z. has an interest, considering how many of your citizens have been sold through it." He passed her a sheet of paper. "These are just estimates, provided by the Sorter a few annuals ago. I don't know if Betsy has been getting updates."

DG felt queasy at the amounts. "How can we find them all?"

"They keep records, if they haven't been destroyed. It may take magic. The search won't be finished quickly."

She frowned as she wrote down the details. Cain would have the best ideas for that. "It's not really a treaty detail," she said, remembering the treaties she had to study to see what could be fixed that the witch had broken.

"Making sure those who profited are punished on both sides of the desert is." Malachite smirked. "Still, we're crafting a historical document, we better put some poetry in it."

Hours later, DG was in the middle of telling him how the witch had turned nearly all the manufacturing centers into munitions factories when Cain joined them. "Are you two planning on eating the paperwork or do you want real food with the rest of us?"

"We need a clock in here." DG stretched.

Malachite's head swiveled. "I could've sworn we had one. Any how, you are a guest, you didn't need to come shoo us out."

Cain smirked. "I'm the only one left. Betsy got called to a meeting, Sprite is keeping Treasure entertained, and the servants are all miffed about the party."

"I thought I told them to loosen up and have fun."

"You did," DG confirmed, "but I don't think they took you seriously when Wyatt and Jenkins had to pull you off the chandelier."

Malachite grinned and rubbed his blond whiskers. "The next party ought to be one they can be proud of. That means a ball in your honor, DG." She cringed, and hated herself for the automatic reaction. Malachite didn't miss it or how Cain tightened his arm linked with hers. "We could say it's for the treaty but that won't fool anyone." He snapped his fingers. "I know! We'll make sure the King is there and they'll be too uncomfortable to make anyone else uncomfortable."

They reached the bottom of the staircase at the same time Betsy entered through the main door and Sprite chased Treasure into the main hall. Betsy swung her daughter into the air. "Hungry, Mommy!"

"You're hungry." Betsy set Treasure on her hip. "Daddy." They both looked at Malachite.

He raised his hands. "Working, lost track of time, and two witnesses." He led them into a dining room that already had a set table. He kissed Betsy's lips as he helped her into a seat. "How did the meeting go?"

Betsy wrinkled her nose. "They're all still breathing."

"That's good, right?" DG leaned away as a black-clad waiter served the salad.

"Navy's different from pirate leadership. You have to maim someone for some respect." She waved her fork. "Been told I shouldn't do that with Navy leaders. But this meeting was on the refugees."

"How are they taking it? Finding out what happened to them," DG added to clear Betsy's frown.

"No one needs medication for shock, which I think is positive. The Navy chappies are more pessimistic. But the problem is they're a bright bunch and have realized you can't go home again." She sighed at the confused expressions surrounding the table. "They don't want to return to their kingdoms of origin. They want to stay here."

Sprite cocked her head. "Won't fit. Kingsport close to full."

"And you get the cookie, Fuzzy."

Treasure stopped poking at her salad. "Me want cookie too."

"After real food."

Malachite swallowed. "We figured they'd want more familiar locations. I guess we'll have to give them to Lord Wyatt."

Cain choked on his salad. "Excuse me," he said with an unamused look, "give them to me?"

"Poor phrasing. The Isle of Patrippaxy is only inhabited when the Steward decided to vacation there, which is why we established it as your holding. They could move there and pay you rent."

Cain's face glowered less when he looked at DG. "We hadn't decided where to live yet."

"That's easy." Betsy set her salad plate into the waiter's hands. "Hire an estate manager. A couple of the guys I talked to might be good candidates. At the very least, they struck me as being practically pragmatic."

"Can the island support that many people?"

Malachite nodded and cut into his grilled fish. "It will be a colonizing effort, but doable."

"Supplying all of them won't put a dent in our treasure from the gnomes," DG said.

"Do you want to talk to them this afternoon and see if they agree to this plan?" Cain turned to Betsy.

She poked at her fish. "I'm free. And it'll make my new underlings stop worrying they'll be stuck with them."

"Don't call them underlings," Malachite said. "It hurts their feelings."

"Do you have cattle in the O.Z.?" Betsy looked across the table at DG.

"The Western Guild Territories have some ranches, why?"

"Put food trading in the treaty. I miss steak."

Food trading turned out to be a good suggestion, but it still took a week to finalize the details. In exchange for diplomatic recognition and trading opportunities, the O.Z. would get access to the Archipelago's markets and gnome expertise for mining and building projects. A building project DG hoped they would start first was a tunnel under the Deadly Desert and extending the Brick Route across the Grasslands to it.

She finished packing her treaty copy into a leather portfolio. The celebration ball for it was tonight. In the morning, they would sail to Mount Cove and meet the Royal Army. Malachite rifled through the drawers of the massive desk that he hated sitting behind. "I swear I will never understand my father's filing system. I need to make a clerk reorganize all this."

"What are you looking for?" DG paused in front of the desk.

"One minor detail that we forgot."

She opened her portfolio. "But everything's been signed! What did we miss?"

"Found it." He slammed the paper on the desktop and signed it quickly. "You know, you have trusted me with a lot about yourself."

"I don't think you will take advantage of it."

"True and Betsy would hurt me if I tried. But I'd like to offer you some advice, if it's not too presumptuous."

Malachite looked so serious, DG's curiosity was piqued. "Everybody has advice, I've given up trying to stop getting it."

"I know how hard it is dealing with a parent who is convinced their way is the only way." His gaze drifted to the wall between them and his father's quarters. "It's worse when they manipulate the pieces of your life like moving pieces on a chessboard." DG pressed her lips together as he looked at her. "There's only one way to be happy. Don't play chess when it's not your strength; play dodge ball instead."

She burst out laughing at his earnest expression, and Malachite chuckled too. "Dodge ball?"

"I know it's not a metaphor most would use. But at some point you have to throw a ball in their face while they're playing chess. That's what I did when I introduced Treasure as my heir."

"How did your father take it?"

"Ranted insanely and loud enough to shake the plaster off the walls until Treasure gave her grandfather a hug and a kiss. My child knows how to wrap people around her finger. The dodge ball doesn't have to be violent. But don't tell Betsy that." DG nodded, and he continued. "See, she doesn't understand that the weapon of court politics is paperwork, and I think she enjoys watching people she doesn't like bleed."

"Even better if she causes it." DG smiled as she took the paper Malachite handed to her. Her blue eyes widened. "A marriage certificate?" It was dated and signed by Malachite Granite with Betsy and Jenkins' signatures as witnesses. All it lacked was her and Cain's signatures as the wedded couple.

"It's hard to undo what has already been done. Most people leave it alone. You two are as man and wife as two people can possibly be." Malachite smiled. "And I'm a secret romantic that doesn't want to see anyone unhappy."

"Thank you." She cradled it next to her heart with the leather portfolio keeping it flat. "We better get ready for the party." She hummed all the way to her and Cain's suite, and avoided the boxes and trunks of their belongings. "Wyatt?"

"In here," he yelled from the bathroom.

She followed the trail of wet footprints across the rug and watched the man she loved peel off his soaking wet shirt. "And me without any platinums." She giggled at his glare. "What happened? I thought you were going to sit on the beach with Betsy and the kids."

"I waded out to prove a point, and Sprite and Spencer knocked me into the water." He yanked a towel to him more forcibly than he needed and mopped the water clinging to his chest.

"Do you need any help?"

He raised his scarred eyebrow. "I was expecting an attempt to get out of the ball, but I didn't think you would suggest that."

DG lifted her nose into the air. "The only ulterior motive I had is needing you to look at some paperwork and not drip on it." She flounced to the desk in the sitting room and set down the marriage certificate.

"By the gods, what is left? You two got everyone's opinions on everything already." Cain knotted a bathrobe around his waist as he joined her.

She gestured at the desk. "How do you feel about making this official, my Tin Man?"

He picked up the certificate, looked at her with wide eyes, and then looked back at it again. "I think," he said as he set the piece of paper back on the desk, "I'm old-fashioned and would like a ceremony along with this. Why don't you want one?"

"I'm not against a ceremony," she answered, touched that he wanted the romantic gesture. "But I like having something to keep my mother from killing you and marrying me off to Aedan because a baby is on the way."

"And you think a piece of paper will stop that."

"Hopefully, it'll befuddle her enough to make our escape. Malachite has a point with the weapon of politics is paperwork."

Cain shook his head. "I think you'd have better luck with attaching it to a stick."

DG felt her insides clench. That stupid piece of paper had made her feel better over what they faced, which must be a totally irrational fear, judging by Cain's reaction to the idea. "Okay, fine, bad idea. Sorry for loving you and wanting to live the rest of my life with you. Forget it." She stalked through the bedroom door, blinking back sudden tears.

"You're serious?" He caught the door before it slammed shut. He found the answer to that question in her fallen expression and followed her into the bedroom. "Why bring up your mother?"

"Rest of our lives sort of means you don't die. That's why I brought her up."

"I thought you were worried about how she wants you to appear." He stopped in front of her, not masking his confusion as anything else.

"The last thing she wants is for you to be my husband, Wyatt Cain." DG stopped gesturing and closed the space between them. "But you're the man I want." She pressed her hands against his chest. "I love you, Husband."

He smiled as he cupped her face. "I'm sorry, Wife." His arms wrapped around her and drew her into his gentle kiss. "I'm worried about this court crap and hiding it from myself too."

"That's not good. We can't both freak out at the same time."

"We'll get a routine down by the time we reach Central City." He tugged her toward the sitting room. "Better sign and pack it so we don't forget it here."

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