12. The Captain STILL Hates Mermaids

Chapter 12

The Captain STILL Hates Mermaids

            Once we were closer to Grand Zuan, I began slowing the ship’s travel speed and stopping in more small port towns for restocking and information. At this point, most of my intelligence came from both lesser and greater demons- mostly koukirks the mermaids have raised. Unlike their seagull cousins, koukirks understood some human language and could relay what they’ve heard to the mermaids. Then, the mermaids translate and tell me what they’ve learned.

It was the only way for me to learn anything happening on land without having to leave the ship, and since no one would suspect a stupid-looking bird to be a spy, I was able to obtain some pretty good information.

The last stop was on the closest deserted island to the target. We usually stay at such places for about a day to pull out anything that would weigh us down and hide it amongst the vegetation. Or, in some cases, we buried some of the treasure in the event that we didn’t expect to be back for a while.

This little ritual of ours was done so that we’d be sure there was room for our haul, and that we would be light enough for fast escapes in the worst case scenarios. The target port was roughly a full day away, so with magicks, we could easily come back to reclaim anything that could still be carried, and then continue on the planned course.

Since I wanted the attack to begin at sunset, I decided that departure time would be about noon- that should allow us to arrive at the time I want. Until then, everyone was allowed to get off the ship and stay the night on the beach around campfires if they wanted. They could drink themselves stupid, dance, and sing all they wanted- not that it was any different on land than on the ship.

The stop was also my last chance to retrieve information from the mermaids. Usually I had to anchor the ship and lower down on a rowboat to talk to them, but since we were already stationary, this was a good opportunity to get a full report without being rushed. As the sun god Harishul began lowering down to the horizon, and as the men were settled around the fires to tell stories to one another, I snuck off to a quieter and more secluded part of the shore.

The demons were gathered near a small cove of smooth stones, where they could lounge on them during the day. When they caught sight of me, they waved and giggled as they called out for ‘Lord Rutan’. No matter how many years went by, no matter how many times they’d seen me with my son, they still couldn’t tell us apart or agree that I was not a man.

But there was one thing they understood, and I had to announce it every time I saw them. “Ah’m the Rutan who’s spoken fer!” I called out to them, earning many disappointed – but playful – groans.

Oddly enough, they could remember that one of the ‘Rutans’ was mated and made sure not to flirt with me. Though perhaps half of them were mated themselves and didn’t seem to feel guilty playing around with me or their food, they respected the romantic bond between two people if they knew about it. I had no idea what that meant for their mates, or if they even had them for reasons other than to produce young. Mermaids were so backwards that I often couldn’t tell which direction their moral compass was pointing…

“Wot do ye need m’lord? We have nothin’ new ta report since this mornin’,” a blonde mermaid said as I sat down on one of the rocks.

My eyes widened as I remembered that I had already asked for a report. “Damn. Forgot ‘bout that…” I muttered under my breath.

So then why did I think I had a need to go see them? Outside of business, I usually tried to avoid them- it wasn’t because of their flirting, or even the knowledge that one day they’ll seduce Rutan. Damn things may have been backward, but they were still women– catty and all.

Though I didn’t really have trouble with women- only women like them. If I didn’t understand anything, they would act like I wasn’t there and pretend that I was too stupid to comprehend their version of common sense. And then there were those nonsensical things they would tell me- they always gave me such a headache, and they would laugh at me if I so much as appeared confused.

These days, the only good thing about mermaids was their pheromones. If they were going to throw some of their seduction magick on me, then Satel and I were going to have some fun later.

Surprisingly, I didn’t get up, or even try to move after discovering I had no reason to be there. I knew they were no threat to me, but I wasn’t in the mood for their lunacy- hell, I never was…

“Aww, there be somethin’ on Lord Rutan’s mind- it’s all o’er his face,” another one commented, her tone soothing and concerned before her face became playful, “Bet ah know wot’s wrong.”

Soon a red haired one raised her hand excitedly before shouting, “Ooh, ah know, too! It’s so obvious- he’s havin’ mate troubles!”

I couldn’t stop my incredulous look as my head shot up to stare at them. “Wot?” I called out in surprise.

After that talk I had with Satel this morning that explained our latest behavior, I thought all my problems were solved. …At least it seemed that way at first- I felt a lot better about what’s been happening, but there was something implied that bothered me. I didn’t want to think they were anything worth fretting over, but…

“Aye, that’s got ta be it- ah feel the same way when there be some discord between me mate an’ ah,” a raven haired one announced, feeling proud to know what was going on.

I tried very hard to resist a snort of disbelief, but I couldn’t stop myself from muttering scathingly, “Ye have mates, an’ yet ye try ta fool ‘round wit’ others.”

Powers or no, a school of mermaids could easily beat me up before I could get to them with magicks. Of course, I could win in a battle against them, just not without significant injury. Because of that fact I really should hold my criticisms, but, thankfully, no matter how catty these girls were, they were pretty easygoing. No matter what insulting thing I might say to them, they gave back more and then some.

Though my words only served to confuse them, rather than make them defensive or angry. They tilted their heads and looked at me like I was stupid…again.

“Ah don’t understand- wot does our playin’ ‘round have ta do wit’ our mates? Ah personally have no clue wot ye humans think an’ feel ‘bout the act, but all it does fer us is make ye tastier,” the blonde told me, revealing a part of the mermaid culture that I’d had no idea of.

Well, to be fair, I was aware that most demons mated solely to conceive young, and that not all creatures felt pleasure from sex. It was just that they acted like they enjoyed it, so I thought they were as promiscuous as humans. I mean, they appeared half-human…

“Huh. So ye don’t feel anything at all?” I asked, curious. It never occurred to me that it was all an act just so they could enjoy their meal… though their propositions with me and Rutan just made it all the more unnerving. They couldn’t eat us, so what was with the special treatment if they didn’t care about us on an intimate level? …Or could they have been preparing us in case one day we might fall from grace and become part of the food chain again?

“We only feel somethin’ wit’ our mates,” the black haired one answered with a shrug, acting as though it was obvious. I hate them so much…

But, that reply did make it sound as though they had something in common with falucite. Hearing that made them sound less like unfaithful hussies and more like the hunters they were.

“So wot be the problem Lord Rutan? Mebbe we might be able ta help ye sort it out,” the red haired one offered kindly, making me pause.

Could they help me? As much as I didn’t want to think about it, it seemed I couldn’t get a straight answer from Satel. It was possible that he had no idea what was bothering him, let alone what was bothering me. And, unless Satel took me back to the homestead for a visit, the mermaids were the closest females I could confide in- provided that they had the ability to think like human women. For all I knew, they could have masculine mentalities like me.

Maybe I could give it a try… it’s not like I had anything to lose.

“Well… Satel an’ ah have been matin’ more than usual, an’ ah thought that was strange-”

I glared at the blonde as she snickered, interrupting me. She then said, “Ah don’t know much ‘bout two legged men ta give matin’ advice, but ye lot sure do like puttin’ yer horns between our breasts.”

Surprisingly, it didn’t take me too long to figure out what she was saying. Mermen didn’t have the same equipment as the men I knew did- as if the fact that the male fish-demons gave birth wasn’t enough. So the ‘horn’ she was referring to had to be…

“Ah ain’t askin’ fer advice on how ta mate!” I snarled, earning more grins from them. …Though I had to admit that it was an interesting idea- I actually had a fetish along that vein.

“We’re sorry m’lord, continue,” the red haired mermaid prodded, not sounding sorry at all.

“Ah don’t know if ye know anythin’ ‘bout falucite, but ah get the feelin’ that there’s somethin’ goin’ on that ah don’t know ‘bout. Lately we’ve been matin’ more, an’ ah’m not sure if it’s even his fault. Used ta, it would take more ta get him in the mood, but now it seems all ah have ta do is raise a pinky- an’ he seems ta be demandin’ more,” I began, feeling more like a woman now that I could safely bitch to another. Why was it I couldn’t say this to Satel?

“Ah ain’t really complainin’ ‘bout that much, but unless it’s somethin’ ah’m doin’, then he shouldn’t be actin’ like this. It has ta be me- ah don’t want ta think there’s somethin’ wrong wit’ him.” I had no idea if they could even answer me. It’s not like they knew me all that well outside of the Lord of the Sea business- and they knew even less of Satel, as far as I knew.

But, they all had knowing looks and snorted derisively. “It ain’t yer fault- it’s all him,” the blonde replied, shocking me.

“Aye, we’ve seen that dumb twat recently- he’s got a new stink on him,” the red head added as she waved a hand before her nose like she was smelling the offending odor right then.

I wanted to ask what in five hells that meant, but I held my tongue. This wasn’t the first time they said strange things, and if I tried to get them to translate, they’d only make fun of me rather than answer.

Instead, I chose to defend my mate, “Hey, that ‘twat’ be me mate- only ah can call him names.”

…Not that I really cared what they called him- it was just that Satel always defended me when others picked on me, so I should return the favor.

“Wote’er ye say m’lord,” the blonde responded in a chortle before continuing their observations on Satel and myself, “One o’ ye should be the alpha in the relationship, an’ it should be ye- if yer slippin’ in yer authority, he’ll step up an’ challenge it. That’s prob’ly why he’s tryin’ ta take charge. Jus’ put him in his place, an’ he’ll settle down.”

I opened my mouth, then thought better of replying and closed it. I had a feeling that their assessment wasn’t quite accurate- it might’ve been true of other merfolk, but I didn’t think Satel and I were established dominant or submissive lovers. We kind of switched around as it suited us- and, I’m pretty sure our romps had nothing to do with challenging authority.

“O’ course yer kind o’ a strange case- ye ne’er had a mate before. An’ it’s not like ye can have children, so ah’m surprised anyone would have ye- no offense,” the red head said, hiding a smirk for the little jab.

“…Wait… ah can’t have children?” I muttered as her words came to me. At first I thought she was dismissing Satel and I as a same-sex couple, but then why mention that no one would have me for such a thing?

The mermaids gave a short laugh and rolled their eyes at me.

“Aye, haven’t ye wondered why ye ne’er impregnated the lasses ye’d used ta seduce by the shores? It wasn’t luck,” the black haired one replied with a saucy grin.

I once heard the saying of feeling one’s world come crashing down, and now I knew how it felt. That just couldn’t be true! Some part of me thought that the mermaids were also around to hold Rutan’s attention and take care of his needs so that he wouldn’t need to see other women- I didn’t think we were both ‘fixed’.

“B-but ah’m functionin’ like a normal human! How can that be true?” I inquired frantically, not yet ready or willing to accept the idea of being barren. Before I had been mated to Satel, I went into heat and bled in a regular cycle. I had something down there- there was just no way I was unable to reproduce.

I felt a headache beginning to form – which was nothing new when dealing with them – as their smiles grew and they found my horror hilarious. How could they even think this was funny? I bet if they found themselves unable to get their mates pregnant, they would be devastated.

“Ah guess he hasn’t regained his memories yet,” the red head whispered to the blonde before they snickered some more.

But the black haired one decided to have mercy on me. “Lord Rutan, ye still function as a human- Elati didn’t want ta emasculate ye. She jus’ modified yer seed is all.”

I sat up straight, wide eyed and bewildered. “Modified!? Why in the five hells would she do such a thing?” I asked frantically. Not that being completely infertile was any better, but I wanted a good reason why the goddess saw it reasonable to keep Rutan and I fully functional and yet inept. Maybe it didn’t bother Rutan so much, but having periods for no reason was a cruel joke.

Even after all this time, I still had trouble accepting that my life was in her hands.

“Well think ‘bout it- takin’ that part o’ yerself away would also take away the stuff that gives ye the drive ta live,” the blonde began, referring to what most other creatures called ‘hormones’, “but wit’ ye bein’ immortal, Elati can’t jus’ let ye procreate left an’ right- ye could repopulate the human race, or even over populate. Ye don’t want that, do ye?”

“…No,” I responded slowly, casting my eyes down to stare at the gentle waves.

I guess that was a good point- one that I didn’t really think about. It was a reasonable cost for this ‘immortality’, though highly depressing. Had Rutan and I created children in our other lives, we could potentially end up fighting them later on as our enemies. …Well there were other reasons, perhaps some medical ones that would interest Didra, but thinking that alone was enough to help me accept that cold truth.

“Elati did wot she thought was best fer ye- by makin’ yer seed dragon-like, ye can’t impregnate other creatures, an’ since humans an’ dragons are already incompatible, there’s no risk procreatin’ wit’ them either,” the blonde added, falling flat of the ‘motherly’ tone she was attempting for my sake.

Even if she found my reaction funny, she could sense that I was upset and wanted to help me feel a little better. That was unusually nice of her, despite her failing at it. But, more importantly, she did mention something that struck in my mind – something that gave me hope – and I just had to ask, “Wot do ye mean ‘dragon-like’? How does that even work?”

She said my – or rather Rutan’s seed, as my case would be eggs – was dragon-like, and yet apparently it was still human enough not to mix with actual dragons. The entire concept was very hard to grasp- and it seemed to be difficult for even the ‘all-knowing’ smart asses known as mermaids.

“We’re talkin’ ‘bout the powers o’ a goddess- even we can’t say fer sure wot miracles she can bring ‘bout. Jus’ know that yer still a fully functionin’ human, an’ ye can’t get others pregnant. Best ta accept that much an’ keep yer mind out o’ the rest o’ it,” the red haired mermaid suggested dismissively while shaking her head.

Confusing as it was, there was actually some hope in it- if all of that were true, then wasn’t it still possible for me to have a baby? After all, falucite can impregnate almost anybody- at least any creature that possessed a human-like form. I’m sure animals and lesser demons didn’t count- or the gods for that matter. But surely Elati would’ve seen the possibility, right?

I could see how she wouldn’t expect Rutan to find a female falucite to end up with- because of their low count, they stay strictly within their race. But as for me and the males… well I suppose even that would be a one tenth percent of a chance. Satel’s kind usually avoided the water dwelling seafarers because they were land creatures. Disregarding Satel being born in Elit’s domain, it still took an accident that forced me on land to meet him.

How high were the odds of this happening again? But even if my being with a falucite was a total fluke, would Elati allow me to have a child? It’s not as if the opportunity would happen often in future lives, so I couldn’t bring about the problems the mermaids mentioned.

“So then wot ‘bout me? Satel’s a falucite, an’ he could get a dragon pregnant if he wanted,” I pointed out before wondering exactly how much ‘dragon’ my eggs had. Could I also have a low fertility rate like one, too?

There was a long and almost eerie pause as the mermaids stared at me dumbly. Even the ones not part of the conversation stopped what they were doing in order to witness my words. Then, one by one, the girls began snickering, gradually turning into full blown laughter. When they all laughed like that, it became so loud that it hurt my ears- not good for this growing headache.

I was about to fear the worse- that there was actually no hope in having falcie with Satel. At least until the raven haired one managed to get enough air in her lungs to say, “Yer so silly Lord Rutan! Two men can’t make babies together!”

Then the laughing grew louder still as a frown appeared on my face. The relief that they were only dismissing me because they thought I was a man didn’t compare to the massive headache I now had.

“Ah’m leavin’!” I snarled as I pushed myself up and stormed away on the boulders.

“Bye Lord Rutan!” they all called after me, still having a hard time controlling their giggles. Damn them all!

As I made my way back to the camp, I realized that the information the sea-bitches gladly provided me actually made my inner worries calm down. Though I wasn’t sure if what I knew now was any better. At least this whole ‘dragon-like’ thing explained a lot when it came to Rutan, but it also opened up a whole lot of problems for me.

I still had no idea what this meant for me- or if it even meant anything to me. I couldn’t exactly ask them if this even affected me at all. For all I knew, Elati could’ve only modified Rutan and trusted that I would remain single for the rest of my life- unlikely, but it was a possibility. In the end, this knowledge might’ve been useless if Satel and I didn’t have any complications.

…Wait- knowledge! The mermaids mentioned that I ‘didn’t remember yet’, thinking that I hadn’t taken the Blessing of Knowledge. But I had, and what was there were memories and experiences from the Pappy’s of the past, and nothing came to me about this… Which meant Pappy and Rutan didn’t know about this either. That also meant that there was no proof that the mermaids were even telling me the truth.

Damn it, they could’ve been playing a prank on me the whole time. It wasn’t easy to tell, since it was commonplace for them to laugh maliciously at me. …But the reasons they gave as to why Elati would do something like this made a lot of sense. Who knew what the truth was?

Assuming that it was all true, I had a lot of research to do- I wanted – no, needed – to make sure that I could provide children to the man I loved. …And if not, then I needed to prepare for it, and break the news to Satel.

********************

It wasn’t even an hour after getting that news when I decided to get back on the ship and seek out a man that I barely interacted with. I ignored all calls for my attention and headed straight for the hold, where Doc, our ship’s doctor, resided.

The man was rarely seen out of his makeshift room- in fact, I was certain he was avoiding the light of day to keep his pale landlubber skin. Then again, he wasn’t a pirate, so I suppose I couldn’t blame him for wanting to avoid the casualties of being one. Doc didn’t fight- he was too fragile for that, and he didn’t like seeing mass violence.

His purpose was to patch up my men and keep them healthy- and he did that well. He also studied a lot with the books I’ve either stolen for him or borrowed from Didra. The man was damn lucky to have access to such knowledge, so surely he should be able to answer a few questions about how human organs worked and clear up a few things for me.

I took a few deep breaths to calm myself before I knocked on the door. Doc’s room was actually a mid-sized cubicle within the storage area. Hammer built and put up the walls and door himself- though there was no actual roof, so some sunlight reached through the cracks of the deck.

“For the last time Beremy, I will not invent a potion that will make you immune to hangovers!” a cultured voice shouted from within. I raised an eyebrow and wondered how that came about. Apparently one of my corsairs had an imagination- or Doc didn’t know when to keep his musings to himself.

I wordlessly opened the door, assuming that the man was decent, and that he wasn’t going to let me in while he believed I was someone else.

While Doc was taller than the average man, at least one from Eruda, he was thin and delicate looking. He had what those on land called fari-blond hair, after the red color of fari berries. The shade of hair was actually a reddish-yellow mix, and he possessed deep blue eyes that appeared gigantic behind those thick glasses. His short hair was once neatly trimmed when he had first come on board, but now it was a little ragged- perhaps from self cutting with whatever knives he could find.

It was hard to say how old he was, but I didn’t particularly care- he was old enough to have an education and experience as a doctor, and that was enough for me. The man was sitting at his desk, which was chained close to the back of the room, and his face soon shot up from the thick, hardbound book he was reading from.

His large eyes grew wider upon realizing the intruder was not one of his usual visitors. “Er-Miss Tia! I apologize, I didn’t know it was you.” He stumbled with his words as he quickly stood up.

“I don’t like ‘Miss’- address me as captain, please,” I countered, before I gestured him to relax and sit back down.

“Uh…I’m sorry,” he muttered as he seated himself. I remained by the door and leaned against the wall with my arms crossed. I didn’t want to get comfortable- I just wanted some answers and to get out as soon as possible.

“No need to apologize- I’m in something of a bad mood, due to some news I picked up a little while ago, so please forgive my bitchiness. It’s not your fault,” I told him curtly, inwardly surprised with how closed off I was being just then. Sure I was worried, but even then I’d treat the others a little better than this.

Maybe I was feeling uneasy because he was a doctor like Didra- or maybe Satel’s little theory that subjects of Elit naturally clashed against those of Kajros and Harishul had some substance.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” he muttered, casting his eyes down for a brief moment. I suppressed a tiny smile as I wondered if the man said anything other than apologies. Or maybe I was just making him too nervous for normal conversation.

“What do you wish to know of me?” Doc inquired, glancing back up at me.

“What do you know of female dragon fertility cycles?” I queried in place of an answer.

“Nothing at all, I’m afraid,” he replied, shaking his head and appearing confused.

I wasn’t that deterred, since I didn’t think he had any material outside of his race. “Then how about a human’s?”

“I did study a bit on the female ovulation cycle, if that’s what you mean,” he offered, with a tilt of his head. Those medical terms went over my head, but I had a feeling we were on the same page.

“Alright,” I said with a nod before beginning my interrogation, “Then tell me what makes a woman fertile or not- if one had a regular bleeding cycle, does that mean they should be able to conceive?”

While Doc had no idea why I was asking such things, he was more than delighted to explain it all to me. Like all bibliophiles, they loved to teach what they’d learned. There was a happy glint in his eyes and the corners of his lips were upturned as he animatedly began speaking gibberish with both his mouth and hands.

“There’s actually more to it than just bleeding. The mid-point of the menstrual cycle is considered the ‘fertile’ part because that’s when a man’s seed is able to reach a woman’s egg, but that alone does not determine fertility. A woman’s uterus must have a lining thick enough for a fertilized egg to attach to- but that shouldn’t be a problem as long as the female is well nourished and healthy.”

I raised a hand to my face and squeezed the bridge of my nose to try and alleviate the headache I still had. I should’ve known better than to ask and expect it in plain language that I could understand.

“Are you alright… captain?” Doc asked, noting my actions.

“Aye, just a mermaid-induced headache,” I muttered, “but anyway, you’re basically saying that there are other factors that determine fertility. Is there any way to test for that?”

“I fear not- what I do know of the subject actually came from one of the books you said you’d acquired from a terrifying donor. I do not know from where that book hailed, but the contents therein contains medical science far more advanced than what I or any my colleagues could dream of,” Doc admitted before his expression showed some remorse, “Though the knowledge seemed to have come at a gruesome cost- the only way the author discovered all of this was through sacrificing many lives through experimentations.”

Considering that we’re talking about a book that Didra owned, I wasn’t surprised to hear that. Falucite viewed most of humanity in the same league as animals, so they wouldn’t have any misgivings about cutting us open in the name of science. On one hand, that meant that I should be asking Didra, but on the other…

She might want to cut me open just to answer those questions. Just thinking of the delighted look on her face over such a suggestion gave me chills.

“I do not mean to pry, but are you trying to conceive?” the mousy man inquired curiously, “Because if you are, then you have nothing to worry about. You seem to be a healthy woman as far as I’ve witnessed, and the odds of having infertility through natural causes are quite low. So long as you do not engage in risky behavior such as excess consumption of alcohol or smoking, then you should still have a healthy womb.”

“I’m not trying to get pregnant yet- I just want to know if I can-” I jumped away from the wall and faced the door when I heard a loud crash outside. Since I had left it open I was able to see a blur of dark red streaking across the hold before a small body began climbing up the ladder to the main deck.

“Was that Rutan? You don’t suppose he overheard us?” Doc inquired, stopping beside me to watch the intruder escape.

“Even if he did, I doubt he understood anything. It’s fine,” I reassured him, believing it to be true. If I had a hard time understanding the man, then the big words he was using definitely went over Rutan’s head. Thank Elit I didn’t say anything incriminating that would scar him for life.

“Well thanks anyway, Doc. I guess I’ll have to look up my other source,” I said before clapping him on the shoulder once. I either forgot my own strength or he was just that weak as he jolted forward from the light blow, his frames fell askew over his nose.

He attempted a weak smile as he readjusted his glasses with one hand. “For what it’s worth, even if you had a low chance for conception, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have children. It only means you have to try harder- don’t give up.”

His attempt to cheer me up was surprisingly effective- and it was right. I was worried of having the fertility of a dragon, but dragons still had their draklings eventually- with their long lifespan, it was probably a natural safeguard to prevent overpopulation of dragons. So there was definitely hope- I might not be able to have many, but Satel and I could certainly get one or two someday.

…And it wasn’t like we didn’t have fun with the ‘trying’ part.

*********************

For the rest of that day and the next morning, I had to suffer through Satel’s knowing grins. He wouldn’t say a word to me, let alone taunt about what he knew that I didn’t- as I was sure that was the reason for his posturing. He did touch me a lot though- and, for some reason, sniff me a lot. I wasn’t sure what he was smelling for, but he made sure to always lean down to my neck whenever we were close.

When we set sail, he was quick to start yelling at my men, masking his voice from me so I couldn’t hear what he was telling them. By then I was getting annoyed with his behavior and sent Rohje down to summon him up here for a scolding. I didn’t need my men to get ruffled up long before we reached our destination- I wanted them energized and battle-ready for the raid.

But as the teen reached my mate, Satel smirked again as he raised his head to lock eyes with me. He then said something to my quartermaster that made him stutter a reply, then salute. Before I could even begin to wonder about that, the blond bastard blinked out of sight, and the next thing I knew, his arms were tight around me.

He hugged me from behind and, once again for the tenth time that day, pressed his nose to the back of my neck. I didn’t have any new perfumes on, nor did I think I picked up anything from the mermaids, since they kept their hands off me. There couldn’t have been anything new or unusual for him to pick up.

“What’s the rank above captain, ‘Tia-dear?” he suddenly asked before I could rip him a new one for his rampage on my men.

The question caught me off guard, enough to curb my annoyance with him for the time being. “There is no rank above capt’n,” I told him gruffly, wondering where the idea came from.

“The naval fleets have a rank, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was- it was for the man who commanded several ships at once…” he trailed off, either waiting for me to answer him or trying to think of it on his own.

“In case ye have forgotten, we’re not a naval fleet- royal or otherwise. The position o’ adm’ral was intended ta give overall authority o’er all capt’ns that sailed in a group, but most pirates sail alone. If anyone should fit the role, it’d be me, but ah don’t want ta add new order to an already perfect system,” I said, not realizing that my words went unheard once he had his answer.

“Admiral! That’s it.” He then snuggled closer to croon in my ear, “For today only, I’m the admiral and I’m taking command of the ship. I will lead the raid by destroying the defenses and ensuring the safety of the men- everything you usually do.”

“Wot!?” I yelled shrilly before pushed him back and whirled around to face him. “Wot gives ye the right, ye rat bastard!?”

No matter what the idiot says, he can’t be admiral because pirates didn’t recognize one. Even then, he can’t just ‘declare’ himself one- he had to earn the right, either by a group of men declaring him one, or fighting someone for the title. Though I didn’t care if he wanted to be in charge of something- I was upset at the insinuation that he was going to relieve me of duty, of which he had no right.

But then I started to wonder how serious he was when he recovered from my shove and started laughing. Was that another one of his pranks to get under my skin?

“Don’t worry my sirsa, this isn’t a mutiny,” he reassured me as he teasingly pressed the tip of his finger against the top of my nose. “You’ll still have all of your authority as captain- I just want to give you a break for the day.”

“A break?” I echoed incredulously.

“You’ve been stressed and worrying about insignificant things lately, so I just wanted to take your mind off the frustrating part of raids. I’ll do all of the attacks and protect everyone- and I’ll make sure they get on the ship and out to safety when it’s over. You just concentrate on looting to your heart’s content today,” the blond bastard told me soothingly as he closed the short distance between us.

Just loot, huh? I hadn’t done that in a very long time. Well, that’s not to say I didn’t steal at all anymore, I just didn’t have as much time because I had to focus on other things. The last time I ever gone out into a city just to take things was back when my Pappy was the captain and I was just the ‘Tiny Corsair’.

I shook my head and turned back to the helm. “It ain’t as easy as ye think it is. Mebbe the crew might listen ta ye, but good luck wit’ the lad. If someone ain’t watchin’ Rutan constantly, he’ll go off on his own an’ make it difficult ta find him. An’ contrary ta yer beliefs, ah ain’t that much o’ a worry wart- once ah destroy the main defenses, ah let the others take care o’ themselves. If yer gonna take on the task, then let those dunderheads make their own mistakes.”

“That just makes my job even easier, but why can’t Rutan make mistakes? I’m simply curious,” Satel added belatedly, realizing I might be insulted. After that little argument we’d had, he better watch it- but, at least he wasn’t trying to make me mad this time.

“He can make mistakes, too- ah jus’ want someone ta get him out if they’re too much fer him ta handle. Ah used ta have ta be supervised back when ah was a wee lass, too, ye know,” I pointed out. I was mostly emulating what Pappy did for me, though I was on my own past the age of ten.

Frankly, I should’ve raised the last Rutan like this- I’d given his last incarnation far too much leniency when I should’ve instilled a little discipline. Sometimes I didn’t like the ‘stern’ Pappy, but his methods were right. Though I could see why Satel was picking up on the parenting differences. I suppose it would be easy to misinterpret my old regrets for overprotection. Yes, I feared an early death for Rutan, but I knew I couldn’t stop him from growing or becoming a feared pirate. Preparing him for life correctly was all I could do for him.

But another thought came to me, and I amended a previous statement. “That bein’ said, please do help me crew if they happen ta get into a mess they can’t handle. Ah don’t think they’re that stupid, but ye ne’er can be too sure.”

He chuckled over that, but didn’t exactly promise anything. However, he said he would take care of everyone, so I believed him. He could probably do a better job than I.

“So does that mean you’re okay with it?” he asked to confirm.

“Yer askin’ now?” I muttered incredulously. “Ye already made the preparations wit’out me consent. Finish wot ye started- ah’m sure this will be a learnin’ experience fer ye anyway, so do yer best an’ try ta have fun wit’ it.”

“I’ll admit that this is yet another endeavor to try out the seafaring life, but I am serious about helping you relax a little,” Satel insisted, moving to press against my side so I could see some of his face. That knowing grin was back. “No need to go back to Doc for more questions about fertility and conception.”

Ugh, I should’ve known Rutan would blab… but I would have thought he’d go to Rohje for questions. Then again, he did favor his pappy over the quartermaster. But while Satel was treating this like some kind of joke – or rather that’s what it appeared to be with that grin of his – I wanted to make sure there were no misunderstandings or anything that might result in something weird.

“Wot did the brat tell ye?” I inquired in a defeated tone. Before I didn’t want to tell Satel any of what I’ve learned in fear that it would make him sad or disappointed, but after what Doc said about simply having to try harder, I didn’t think my possible predicament was that bad. Satel agreed that he would be happy with just one falcie, and surely we could make at least one regardless of the difficulty.

“He only asked what it meant to conceive, and what a ‘dragon’s fertility’ is- he thought it was something to steal!” the blond replied, laughing at the end. “Is there something you need to tell me, ‘Tia-dear?”

“Not particularly,” I muttered as I turned my head away from him. Though I felt it safe to tell him, I wasn’t going to look forward to his quips about me worrying over nothing- which is exactly what I’ve done. “The stupid mermaids gave me a scare ‘bout me fertility, an’ ah wanted ta make sure it wasn’t true. Unfortunately there’s no way ta tell until we try- an’ even if ah have a low rate like a dragon, we jus’ have ta try harder.”

Maybe I could’ve gone into more detail than that, but I didn’t want to bring up the possibility that even he couldn’t get me pregnant- I didn’t want to believe it at all.

“Well, that explains the ‘dragon’ bit, I suppose,” he mumbled to himself. Without telling him the whole story, he wasn’t going to get the reference, but I wanted to cross that bridge once we got there. Hell, I hadn’t even restarted my cycles yet anyway, so there was no point in wondering now.

“It was a premature worry anyway- there’s prob’bly nothin’ wrong wit’ me. Ah think hearin’ the stories they told me jus’ shocked me. That’s all,” I added to justify my visit to Doc. After all, hearing that Rutan and I were modified in that manner was something surprising, so could I really be blamed for panicking about it until I had time to calm down and really process it?

Though nothing was going to change the fact that Satel was absolutely right about me- all my fretting wasn’t helping anyone. But I still couldn’t find it in myself to agree that this was merely brought on by stress- it seemed more like it was the other way around. I waited stoically for his remarks, but was stunned to find that none came. When I glanced back at him, I found that he had a faraway look in his eyes.

“Satel? Are ye still wit’ me?” I asked, trying to shake him a little. I wasn’t sure why he was doing that, but he didn’t appear as though he was concerned over anything. Actually, I couldn’t tell what he was expressing- his features were blank. It was very eerie.

“You’re talking about falcie a lot lately,” he eventually responded, sounding a little stunned. My brows furrowed as I wondered why he thought that and why it was making him do that. He was the one who started these talks, but I won’t deny that I contributed.

But as if his behavior wasn’t frightening enough, his expression finally changed, a smirk coming to his thin lips. That strange gleam in his eyes was back, too. This wasn’t the first time he’d look at me like that, and when he did, that nervous feeling in my belly came back in full force. It was that feeling that something wasn’t right.

“Well I better get back to my preparations,” Satel announced as he backed away from me. He grabbed my free hand and kissed the back of it was a devious look before he added, “And do feel free to take as long as you desire when you go looting- in fact I insist on it. I’ll come back for you once the ship is back in open waters.”

I wanted to comment on his behavior, or at least let him know how much he was creeping me out, but I didn’t get the chance. He quickly bounded off with a spring to his step. What in five hells was that about? Whatever just happened, it was the first time he’d ever zoned out like that.

I seriously hope that wasn’t a sign that something was wrong with him.

To the Next Chapter

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