Another set of dry heaves had decided to assail Harp during his first successful attempt to sleep during the night. This was upsetting, since it had taken him so long to actually get himself down to sleep through periods at the railing that ran down either side of the deck. Still feeling the rocking of the wood beneath him, the world seemed discontent with the idea of giving him a break. He awoke, sat bolt upright, found a gruesome sound coming out of his throat and then charged straight out of the door to the side of the ship right outside their cabin. Thankfully, or unfortunately as Harp considered it, nothing came up. He hadn't eaten much more than stale bread over the last couple of days, since his stomach hadn't been able to handle much more. Sadly, this had left him with little more than dry heaves for the last couple of hours.
Once they had passed, and the flush of heat had settled down, Harp forced his grip on the rail to ease and walked slowly back into the cabin that he shared with Bell and Lute. Upon walking in however, it became obvious that there was something of a small problem with his companions: neither of them were there. Bell's bed was flat against the side of the wall rather than down, though even so it looked as meticulously tidy as Bell made it every morning.
Ever the opposing force, Lute had left his bed as it were every morning since their voyage began, and tonight was no exception. It was impossible to work out whether he had been disturbed in his sleep, summoned out of his bed, or had simply got up and gone for a walk in the night. For all Harp knew, he, like Bell, might not have come back at all after their shift had finished. Harp, ill, exhausted and feeling wretched, had come back to his bed as soon as he could once he had been allowed to come down from the main sail. Up there, the lack of safety offered by the floor beneath them became more and more obvious. Though he had been in the high floors of quite a few rickety old towers, ships were now his least favourite creation in all lands near and far.
Knowing that sleep would be nowhere to be found, and worried, as ever, about his friends, Harp decided to head back outside, where his left hand immediately sought the relatively safe feeling of gripping the railing. He avoiding looking overboard. Water was no help to his condition.
He heard voices, above and all around him. The usual skeleton crew that worked at night had been bolstered, and there were footsteps travelling all around. These did not sound like the scattered speeding of the deckhands; it was in a military rhythm. In the last few hours, while Harp had been sleeping, something had gone very wrong. He knew about wrong. It followed Lute around.
After taking no more than four steps along the walkway that led around the servant cabins, Harp found himself accosted from behind by a stranger.
"Halt," he called in a commanding tone. Harp, after years of servitude, did exactly as instructed. "At this time, servants who are not trained in military procedures are being instructed to remain in their cabins until further notice for their own safety."
This did not sound like the kind of trouble that Lute would be getting himself into. He had made a lot of nobles angry, but the true extent of his actions with their nubile daughters had never quite reached public knowledge. Harp turned slowly on the spot, his free hand raised in the air to show submission. The soldier was a mature one, bearing a lithe scar across his chin and a mark on his blade-bearing glove that placed him as a member of Truth's royal guard. Harp had not seen these come onboard, but he had been in his cabin for the majority of the voyage so far.
In addition to the soldier's shout, his hand was on the handle of the rapier at his side. This was an aggressive motion, which meant that these people had reason to attack at will. Investigation became a requirement. "I have some military training," Harp lied, trying his hardest to remember the H's in his words. The lie would be much more difficult if he sounded as common as he was. "I protected Lord Stable during the battle of Halfmat House, but I have no weapon at this point in time."
All of this was made up on the spot. There was no Lord Stable, or at least Harp had never met him. Halfmat House could well have been real.
The reaction that Harp received from the soldier was not only surprisingly, but annoyingly to plan. Releasing his hand from the cold steel grip, the soldier took a step forward and visibly relaxed. "Then our Lord-In-Waiting has need of you, servant. What should I name you?"
Harp took a deep breath first, knowing that his name had always tripped him up in pronunciation. "Harp," he said carefully. "I will gladly join the Lord-In-Waiting's forces if there are pirates coming to our bow."
"This is not the case, Harp," the soldier explained, as Harp had hoped. "There is word of a mutiny aboard this ship, brought on by both servants and crew. The former Captain of this ship has been seized by our soldiers and is being questioned now. You will be armed and put to work securing the cargo in case crew members have hidden weaponry there."
"And I need to be armed for this?"
"It is for your own protection, servant," the soldier answered.
Something very strange was going on. Martial law on a civilian craft was reckless, and unheard of. There had been no sign of mutiny at all, and the constant unimportance of the servants meant that they typically knew if somewhere was going to change ownership. Arming servants, who were generally loyal to whoever was in power at the time, was a desperate move in order to keep control. Arming them was even more insane.
"I share my cabin with two friends, but they both seem to be missing," Harp began to explain. Regardless of where Lute and Bell were, it was undoubtedly increasingly dangerous. Knowing Lute, he would be at the centre of it somehow. "They vanished while I was sleeping. I'm worried that they could be in a dangerous position with all of this going on. Have you seen two servants by the name of Lute and Bell?"
"Where were they seen last?" the soldier asked quickly.
Concerning Lute, Harp was left with the realisation that he had no idea where his friend was. For Bell however, he knew exactly where she had been. "I couldn't tell you about Lute, but Bell was acting as a personal servant for Lord-In-Waiting Truth. Knowing Lute, he might have been drawn in by Dress to serve Sincerity."
"Then we have a problem with your friends," the soldier said with a frown. In a moment, his hand had found its way back to his weapon. "You will have to come with me to the chambers of the Lord-In-Waiting to ensure your continuing loyalty to the correct chain of command. The Lady Sincerity's attempt to gain control of this vessel will be neutralised by the righteous hand of the Lord Avatar's heir. You will come with me."
Something very strange was going on, but Harp lifted his hands in submission quickly and accepted that he could not stop whatever was happening. By the sounds of it, they had found themselves on opposing sides of a war that had been confined to a tiny craft that, with the crew incarcerated, was more than likely just drifting out to sea.