Cooke turned to Father Vega. “Well now,” he said. “We do have quite a bit to discuss, don’t we?”

“First, I should thank you,” said Vega. “You returned our Mercedes to us, at great risk to your men and your ship. I’m told you lost nine men in your journey.”

“We did, and while I appreciate your appreciation, a good pirating voyage would likely have incurred similar losses,” Cooke said. “Resisting a navy ship and pirating two prizes are very much in our usual line of work.”

“I can’t say I approve of the latter, but you did what I’m sure you thought you had to. It was a great torment to me personally to see Mercedes leave, as we all worry about her so. But she was so adamant.”

“I’m sure she was,” Cooke said. “Adamant is perhaps the word I would use to describe her. And as to our reward?”

“Oh yes, of course,” said Father Vega. “We have some stores of currency for…mundane transactions, and for proselytizing. We don’t often recieve officials from Ravenna, so we are not as rich as we might perhaps be, but I will be happy to personally reward you with ten thousand reals in addition to repairs to your ship and repairs to your crew.”

“That is most equitable,” said Cooke. “Thank you. Now, what do you say we dispense with the charade?”

“Charade?” said Father Vega, looking flustered. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“Come now, Father,” Cooke said. “I have just finished returning your Mercedes to you, and every man and every woman on my crew can swear to her transfiguration in salt water.”

“Well, miracles are strange things,” said Father Vega. “We’ve always known Mercedes to be a special one, and-”

“Every man and every woman aboard the Fancy Rat can also swear to me being borne forth from the water, wounded, by a brilliant serpent-woman with iridescent wings, who we all once knew as Sally Coxswain.”

“Well, courtesans and harlots are hardly-” Vega began.

“Father,” said Cooke. “I never said she was a courtesan or a harlot. And I’m quite sure I never told you my first name, and none of my crew could have known it to do so. And Ravenna? It hasn’t been the seat of the Church for centuries. I may not look it, Father Vega, but I was raised by a Catholic mother with a library. St. Veronica was the result of a mistranslation and never existed. I’d also love–love!–to know how a book on the depredations of pirates entered your library, as Mercedes claims, so soon after its publication.”

Vega didn’t say anything; his fatherly expression was now one of guarded neutrality.

“I think people should be honest with one another, generally,” said Cooke. “I hate to do mischief to anyone when it’s not to my advantage. I think it’s best if you put your cards on the table, Father. Because my men will start telling tales soon enough, after what they’ve seen. Shall we let them? Whatever secret you mean to keep guarded here is already at risk.”

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