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Brenzel left her two Omeyan guns on her cot as she gathered her coffee things from her open trunk. The ship’s cook had graciously provided a tray and promised to have a small fire in a mobile pit set up for her. A small bag of roasted mokha beans, copper coffee maker, stirring stick, water glasses, and raw sugar cubes were aligned on the tray. I will have to get some cinnamon sticks, she thought, wishing she had some.

Tipping her trunk away, she backed her way through her cabin door as she carried the tray, pushing it closed again with her behind. For some reason, she felt to be official in her Seraph Hunter uniform – minus the guns – perhaps for dramatic effect.

Coming up to the main deck, Brenzel stepped carefully to avoid tripping on the last rung of the stairs. Yesterday, she had taken the steps too fast and was about to sprawl on the deck when one of the crew members caught her.

She glanced up, noticing all the sails were down, and the crew, silent and expecting, parted as she brought her tray and set it down on the table prepared. Before her, Captain Nui and Damian sat upright and solemn. Bowing slightly to both, Brenzel said, “Welcome to a time-honored tradition from Eden. Today, you will taste mokha and share the sacred bond of coffee. I, my realm, and those who taste this magical drink together, form a bond of trust and friendship stronger than iron.”

Other than the humming of the levitron engines, the silence hung so think a pin falling on the wooden deck would have startled everyone.

Looking at both men, Brenzel said, “Prepare your hearts.”

Red coals glowed in the cast iron fire pit, which sat on short legs resting on rags. Brenzel set three small glasses on the table and filled them with water to the brim. Then shen set a bright white piece of paper in front of her. Next she took her Turkish coffer grinder out of it’s small bag, assembled it, then adjusted it to the finest setting. From another small pouch, she poured a small amount of coffee beans into a measuring cup, then transferred them into the hopper on top of her grinder, pressing the cap which held the grinding handle.

She moved the grinder up to the right, then left, then towards the two men, bowing her head as she ground furiously. From long practice, she knew just how many turns would grind the bean into a fine powder. When she felt no more resistance, she put the grinder down on the table with a thud, feigning exhaustion. After a moment she opened the bottom and fine ground coffee fell onto the piece of very white paper.

The on-looking men murmured, turning to one another, but kept the volume low.

She poured the coffee grounds into her copper coffee maker, added water, then placed it on the fire pit.

People began nodding and speaking to one another.

Brenzel sharply put up her hand, “Silence! This is the most important part.”

In the small coffee maker, brown foam began to appear. Brenzel removed the copper pot from the fire for a moment, then returned it, not letting the bottom touch the coals. The coffee maker’s long handle helped to keep her hands from the fire, and her uniform’s gloves did the rest. In about a minute, the foam began to appear again, rising slowly to the top. Before it crested, she spread a small cloth on the table, then removed the brew from the fire, setting it on the cloth to cool.

“Now, gentlemen,” she said earnestly, “as the coffee cools, let me show you how to best drink it. First, take a sip of water from the glasses before you to cleanse yourself of unwanted negative emotions. Then, when I hand you your coffee cups, look at each other and touch them together. Then bring them to your lips, but” she said, raising her finger, “smell the brew first, then drink just a little. Do not drink everything, the grounds are in the bottom. It will still be hot, so go slowly, letting the magic fill you. Afterwards, take a sugar cube,” she picked up a square cube between her fingers, holding it up, “and let it melt in your mouth.” She set the cube down and stood up straight.

Both men nodded, fully entranced in the demonstration.

Brenzel had two small coffee cups that she carried always in her trunk. Small and white, having been picked up sometime back in Paris, they were magnificent in their simplicity and form.

Pouring the now drinkable brew into each of them, she handed one to the marauder captain and one to Damian, spreading her hands and bowing.

Dutifully, the men each drank a swallow of water, then lifted the coffee cups, touched them to each other, and brought them to their lips, smelling it first, as Brenzel had instructed.

The big Captain Nui drank first, eyes growing wide and leg stamping hard on the ground. “By Hades!” escaped from his lips, utter surprise on his face.

Damian shuddered visibly, eyes shut, sipping his heavenly brew.

Brenzel could see the envy on the crew members’ faces as they licked their lips, leaning in as far as possible to catch the spectacle, as well as the heavenly aroma.

“I’ve never tasted the like!” Captain Nui said, eyes wide as he looked at Brenzel. “If this is a drink of Eden, all the prophecies have failed to say the half of it!”

Damian opened his eyes and nodded, “This is marvelous! Bitter, yet sweet at the same time. I’ve never tasted the like before, either. “

Smiling, Brenzel said, “You are now brothers in coffee. The sacred bond cannot be broken. Congratulations!”

Both men nodded, smiling at each other.

My work here is finished, she thought, gathering up her things.

***

“What you ask is impossible. Butcher territory is inviolate. If we’re caught, it’s the spit for all of us. If it weren’t for the bond of coffee, I’d toss the lot of you off the ship for even suggesting it.”

“But, Captain,” Damian said, struggling to stay calm, “Micron has worked with the Tech Wizard before, he is a very valuable commodity. I know from personal experience, people would pay a high price for him in Tech Clan territory. A lot of the things we find we can’t repair, especially power sources. A man who can do that is practically priceless. You would make more in one trade than in ten years of piracy,” he finished, his last bit of hope fading on the wind. **will they retrieve Micron later?

“Hrumph,” the big man said, “all the money in the world ain’t worth anything lest you can spend it. I hear stories of how the Butchers take their time roasting you alive, slowly turning you round and round until you expire. Ain’t something I want to ever get near. No, not possible. The furthest we will take you is over the salt flats and drop you on the border.”

“You could go round the north rim,” Damian said.

“You’re daft, man! There be a dragon there!” Captain Nui exclaimed.

“I think I can guarantee that won’t be any trouble.”

“No man can do that, those reptiles are pure evil! They’ll attack anything they find within a hundred miles!”

Damian proceeded to tell the captain and his crew about their last experience with the dragon and how it wouldn’t attack Brenzel.

The big man looked at Brenzel who was sitting over against the wall, listening intently. Then looking back at Damian, he said, “No deal. I don’t believe you.”

Putting his hands down on the table, Damian shook his head. “Let’s take a short break, then come back later and talk a little more.”

Captain Nui arose and walked into the ring of his crewmen behind him, who immediately peppered him with questions about his experience of the Edenic drink.

Approaching Brenzel, Damian said, “I don’t think he’ll go for it. They’re very afraid of the Butcher Clan, and I can’t blame them. I don’t want to get eaten, either, that’s why I want them to fly us over that territory. The furthest they’ll take us is the other side of the salt flats.”

“Komme could probably make the captain do what we want, if you ask her,” Brenzel offered.

“Ha!” Damian replied, “I wouldn’t let that pointy-eared devil into my worst enemy’s mind! No, no one’s going to do that.”

“Okay, it was just a suggestion,” Brenzel said shrugging.

***

“No, I will not put my crew in that type of danger. There’s no percentage in it.” Captain Nui declared.

Damian knew he’d hit an impasse. The big, rotund man had turned into a brick wall of obstinance and the more he pushed, the more stubborn he became. If I push any more, he’ll drop us in Hammer clan and call it a wash, he concluded.

Suddenly, a collective gasp ran through the back of the group of men who were still hanging around, listening to their heated negotiation. Damian looked up and saw the men bowing and parting as the acolyte moved forward through them. Her hair, piled high on her head, showed her delicate neck and smooth shoulders upon which straps holding a blue shining dress set. The dress flowed down and over her breasts, revealing plenty of cleavage, and her midriff was bare, exposing her belly button, pierced with a large red jewel. The bottom of her gown parted around her hips, letting her long, shapely legs show through. Her makeup was perfect. She was beautiful and alluring.

Captain Nui, eyes wide as saucers, stuttered, “M’lady, gree…..greetings.”

She bowed, her feminine charms almost falling out of her top.

“Good Captain,” she said in her sultry voice, “how long has it been since you and your men last visited the temple?”

Captain Nui’s face flushed red, “I am sorry to say, M’lady. . it has been years. Out here, we don’t get a chance to worship much.”

“I see,” the tall woman responded. “Then, perhaps you have found grace in her Majesty’s sight today, for I am an acolyte of the High Priestess of the Steam Clan. If you and your crew would like to renew your vows to Her Majesty, I am sure something can be worked out to our mutual benefit.”

Jaw dropping, Captain Nui said, “All of us?”

“All who desire to please Her Majesty are welcome at her altar,” she said, bowing her head slightly.

The crowd around the two men, visibly moved, were nodding, murmuring, and looking intently at their captain.

“It’s been so long since I’ve. . . . .worshiped. . .properly,” Captain Nui said softly.

Damian looked at the woman, admiring her cunning.

The acolyte walked toward Nui, leaned over, fingers touching his face. She said, “Would that not be fair trade, on my friends’ behalf?”

Without saying a word, he nodded, obviously spellbound.

She stood, looked around at the men who were enraptured by her presence, “Would this not be fair trade for the journey over the Butcher clan?” she asked, opening her arms wide.

“Yes! Yes!” the chorus rang out, as they all nodded vigorously.

Damian raised his eyebrows and shook his head as he looked at her. What a woman.

SEOIB.