19. A ‘Business’ Meeting

Chapter 19

A ‘Business’ Meeting

When I explained the story to Satel, the first thing I did was stress how I was in no danger whatsoever. From the very beginning I was warned and didn’t let my guard down. Perhaps it was risky of me to play along with the Tau’s little trick, but it did get me a lot of information, and a look into how these probable fire people behaved. My immunity gave me an advantage- and it wasn’t as if I was defenseless. I had the mermaids, my gun, and my sword.

Besides, after that fight I had, I had reason to believe that they didn’t have much in weapons- they seemed to specialize more in powders to reduce their enemy’s number and be generally sneaky.

Satel was hugging me from behind as I told him all of this, and he only tightened his grip when I finished. “I have no doubts you had the situation under control, but some still escaped. If they were Delar’s agents, then he’ll know you’re here soon enough.”

“It just means ah can’t go anywhere near Rynrir, right? That ain’t a problem,” I replied before I gave a grin, “Wot will he do? Send more o’ them? Or try ta come here himself?”

“He might have something planned- why else would it be so important for him to know you’re in these waters? I’d understand why he would wait for your return in Elati, but Naia is nowhere near Bardam’s kingdom,” he said, trying hard to stifle his anger. He was getting better with his emotions, but Delar was still a sore spot to him.

Of course, this was all assuming it was Delar’s doing. It would be too convenient to blame him when supposedly all of the clan had access to the Tau. When I thought about it, they were expecting a man – not a woman – so there was a chance someone else was looking for me or Rutan. Or perhaps someone else had been offended by Satel’s words all those months ago and wanted to test his claim that the Lord of the Sea didn’t have to bow to them.

It was unlikely it was someone else, but I didn’t want to assume and have Satel hunt down an innocent asshole- even though he’d gladly do it anyway.

“Well, wot do ye want me ta do?” I asked, curbing my frustration, “Ah refuse ta be afraid o’ sailin’ in me home waters an’ here, an’ ah can’t avoid either place fore’er- if word gets out, then me reputation will be at stake.”

“I’m not suggesting you should run or hide. I’m saying I should stay here for a while, until the danger has passed- even if it takes half a year until you sail off to other waters. …I’ll sleep elsewhere on the ship during the nights we should be apart,” Satel told me, remembering the regimen he had to keep up.

I let out a sigh that was mixed relieved and tired. “Ah won’t lie- ah kinda wanted ta ask if ye could stay, but ah hate ta do that ta ye when ye should be relaxing,” I admitted before I inquired, “But wot ’bout Cegil? Will he be okay buildin’ his house on his own?”

“We’re not the only two who were there, ‘Tia-dear,” he replied in amusement, “I hired a group of builders, and they should be able to get the job done. I think Cegil will be fine without me.”

“Alright, but… try not ta get too involved in this. Help me protect the other pirates an’ any seafarers on our way- ye can destroy whoe’er comes ta attack us, but don’t go chasin’ leads that’ll help ye find the boss,” I said, trying hard not to make it sound like an order. I had no control over Satel, but I could at least plead with him.

Since Cegil taught me to distract Satel to prevent arguments, I had been leaving small, flirtatious kisses along his cheek and chin when I felt that he was treading over to his angry side. I was always ready to do so at the first sign- in fact I was already anticipating having to turn in his arms at any second, because he could view my request as my doubting his abilities.

But, thankfully, he seemed to acknowledge my concern for him and was able to stay calm. He was getting much better at reigning in his irritation.

“I’ve no intentions of leaving your side- not if at any given second you could be ambushed by crafty humans,” he replied with a little force behind his words, as if the thought of leaving me alone would be something horrible. I had to nip that thought in the bud.

I shook my head and responded with, “No- not that. If ah let ye do that, then ye’ll get it in yer head that ah can’t take care o’ meself at all. Ye can leave fer a short while- long enough ta check up on others an’ pass along some messages fer me. It’ll be safe as long as ye don’t take hours- ah can defend the ship fer a few minutes alone until ye get back.”

I didn’t want him to think that his leaving me for even a second would place me in danger. I was not that weak- and he didn’t need to teach himself to be paranoid. One would think he would learn from example, since I almost went down that path after the first Rutan’s death. But, I suppose his puberty and deep seated instincts were temporarily confusing him. He knew better, but he couldn’t stop his feelings of worry and anger.

“I know that,” he muttered defensively before revealing his guilt, “But if I had been here when they appeared-”

“Then ah wouldn’t have found out a thing,” I interrupted before glancing at him with a smile. “Sorry fer cuttin’ ye off, but had ye been there, ah doubt ye would’ve stayed still long ‘nough fer us ta learn anythin’.

“They didn’t believe ah was Lord o’ the Sea- they thought ah was some captive an’ planned ta take me away. Knowin’ ye, ye would’ve jumped up an’ fought them as soon as ye heard it. Ah didn’t act ’til the very last second- an’ ’cause o’ that, ah was able ta learn a lot,” I told him before I reminded him with his own words, “Ah know ye don’t want me ta get hurt or nothin’, but ah was in complete control o’ the situation- up ’til they got away, anyway.”

He was silent for a moment as I worried that I might’ve said something offensive. It wasn’t so much that I was doubting him, but that I knew him well enough to take his role of being my protector seriously. He wouldn’t have let some guy touch me whether I was playing dead or not- not in the state he was in.

But he then let out a sigh as he came to a conclusion in his head. “You’re right. I won’t be that clingy to you, but I do intend to stay around for as long as needed. Maybe you don’t fear the Tau, but we can’t really dismiss whomever they’re answering to.”

“Ah agree- an’ even though ah don’t fear them, ah’m concerned ’bout Savage an’ the others. Ah don’t know why, but they seem ta want Rosie- they could easily do ta them wot they did ta us an’ take her. Ah need ye ta warn him soon, an’-” I stopped as an idea struck me, “…On second thought, why don’t ye bring Savage an’ his daughter o’er here for a little visit? Not now while we’re recoverin’, but later.”

“What are you up to, ‘Tia-dear?” my mate asked curiously as he looked at me from over my shoulder.

“Dunno wot their deal is, or why they seem ta want ta ‘rescue’ women, but we can be sure they’ll attack the Catorrcie eventually ta get the lass. Mebbe wit’ Savage’s permission we can let Rosie join our crew temporarily, ’til the Tau make their move, or ’til we find a way ta counteract that sleeping smoke o’ theirs.”

I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of adding a young girl to my ranks, but if they did attempt to attack Savage’s ship before I got there, then at least they’d be unable to attain their goal. But if there was a way to get everyone else to stay awake for such an attack, then Savage could defend himself. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see a possibility in that- either one had to be immune, or hiding out in the lower decks.

I doubt anyone other than Hammer would have the foresight to go to the lower decks before an attack- and it’s not as if the mermaids would warn anyone other than me. …But something in me liked to believe that whatever caused sleepiness to occur, there must be something out there that either nullified or counteract it. If we could figure out the source, then we might have a chance in combating it.

“That’s an idea, but…” he trailed off, sounding hesitant to finish his thought, “Where will she stay? Surely not with the other men?”

“Well, that’s where it might become torture fer ye. Pick yer poison- either she stays wit’ me an’ ye stay in the spare cabin, or she stays in the spare cabin an’ ye suffer those hands off days wit’ me,” I told him wryly.

Though I didn’t want to say it out loud, some part of me preferred to have her stay with me simply because I couldn’t trust her. Sure, she’s Savage’s daughter, and had lived her whole life with men on a ship, but that didn’t mean she would behave herself around new faces. The harpy might just start flirting with my men and sneaking off to tempt them if left alone.

If I were to have a woman officially join my crew, I’d rather them be older and more jaded in terms of looking for relationships. That way, if said woman did fall in ‘love’, it would be limited to one or two men, instead of the whole ship. …Though I couldn’t place all the blame on women- while I liked to believe my men could behave themselves, they would go out of their way to flirt with any new girl that might join. It was a distraction I didn’t want.

“Naturally I’d rather stay with you, but what would be my punishment if I can’t behave? Should I stay with Rutan on those nights?” Satel asked, bring up a good idea. Knowing the boy, he’d probably think it an honor to have his pappy sleep over once or twice a week.

“Not a bad idea, but please do try ta control yerself- he might eventually grow tired o’ ye if ye spend too much time wit’ him,” I replied with a grin.

“…Hey,” he muttered in mock offense as he caught my jab. I was insinuating that he wouldn’t be able to resist me despite his efforts. Well, he used to say he couldn’t all the time!

“Jus’ do yer best, an’ ah’ll make sure ye don’t get out o’ line,” I told him teasingly as I leaned into him.

He hugged me tighter in response. “Oh alright, but don’t you dare tempt me, my sirsa. I can’t be blamed for what happens if you do.”

“Deal,” I said instantly, knowing that the only times I’ve ever tempted him were on the safe days.

I was glad my little teasing managed to calm him down somewhat, though he was still having trouble letting me go. At first I didn’t think this would be much of a shock, but I guess from his perspective I was in a life threatening situation- when he appeared, it looked as though everyone was dead, and I was the only survivor. But that was far from the truth, and he needed to get over his unnecessary guilt. He knew my past and what I went through to survive- he of all people should know it would take a lot to actually bring me down.

Though for all I knew, I was probably misreading his intentions- he could’ve been using this as an excuse to hold me longer than I would normally allow. It wouldn’t have been the first time he tried it.

With a plan in the works, I continued to watch over the recovery of my men and wait until we were able to set sail again.

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

It was probably about an hour when everyone – including the two watchmen who happened to be shot with sleeping darts – began to stir. It was just as those men had said, so I now knew they were telling the truth. After Doc gave everyone the once over, he was utterly fascinated with the used bombs and had to study them.

I let him take them, hoping that he might figure out something- provided that they were weak enough for him so he wouldn’t pass out too. He suspected that some kind of drug had to be used in those smoke bombs, and if anyone could figure out what, then it had to be a doctor… Or a botanist. Either way, it wasn’t magicks, and any man made or natural drug had a counter drug somewhere.

At first everyone was shaken up, so I had to give a few speeches and reassure them that we didn’t lose. The fact that everyone was either asleep or in hiding was kind of an embarrassment, but the important fact was that we didn’t fall in battle. I would never let The Cruel Whore or her men taste defeat.

Unfortunately, this meant that we had to raid somewhere or plunder another ship before morale was up again. I was really starting to understand what the Naians had been feeling back during the meeting.

As we set sail once again, I had Rohje take the wheel as I made preparations for the upcoming meeting. Since I decided that it wasn’t going to be Savage’s choice to attend, I wanted it to at least treat him to a nice family-like dinner and make it somewhat pleasant for him and his daughter. I didn’t think he would refuse an invitation – dinner or otherwise – but I didn’t want to give him the option of refusing for any reason. I didn’t care if it were a bad time or he had something better do to- this was far more urgent.

But I was still giving him the option to say no to my offer in regards to Rosie. The most important part of the coming meeting would be that he’d be warned of what might be coming his way. Perhaps I could glean as much detail of his last encounter with them as well- I should’ve listened to him more back during the annual meeting, though there was probably not much more he could tell me now that so much time had passed. He might’ve forgotten a lot of it.

I wasn’t sure when we acquired one, but there was a nice dinner table sitting in storage that I had a few men dig up and assemble out on the quarterdeck. It was a sturdy old piece of furniture, and was probably some antique a Rutan of the past had stolen for whatever reason. It wasn’t easy finding a way to temporarily secure it, but after some work and cleaning up, it was ready for what I had planned.

Too bad it couldn’t be used on a permanent basis- it would’ve made a nice table for family dinners between Satel, Rutan, and I. Unfortunately, there was no room for it in the dining hall, and we couldn’t keep it out on the quarterdeck- it was going to have to go back to storage once I was done with it.

I was standing back as I examined the table and contemplated if we needed a table cloth to go with it. As the thought crossed my mind, I shook my head and turned to face the sea. Maybe I was going a little too far with this- this was mostly just a meeting, not a chance to show off my hosting skills.

“Not that you don’t look adorable fretting over such a trivial matter, but isn’t this table a little large for a dinner for three?” Satel inquired as he lazily sat in one of the chairs, watching me with his head perched in his hand.

I glanced over at him in mock confusion. I never explained my full plan to him- I had only asked him to retrieve a few choice morsels for Fishguts to cook for us. Since the incident earlier, it was hard to convince him to go anywhere, but I managed to explain to him that the likelihood of those men coming back today were very slim. No human could prepare for a second attack so quickly.

“Wot are ye talkin’ ’bout? Yer attendin’ too- an Rutan as well, ’cause someone needs ta entertain the girl,” I told him, hiding a smile. I wasn’t going to say it aloud, but I needed Satel to help me keep the waters around us steady. The table wasn’t perfectly secure for any big swells, and there was no way to secure anything that might be placed on top of the table, like plates and glasses. …Though I did have other, more important things for him to do, too.

“Rutan? Are you certain he would even like to attend?” he inquired in surprise, “He does have good table manners, but I don’t think he’s interested in keeping a girl company- if we’re going to be courteous to guests, we might as well trade the boy with Rohje.”

“Ah thought o’ that, but Rutan ain’t old enough ta take temporary command while ah’m busy. ‘Sides, this be a meetin’, not a date,” I said dryly, “Rutan jus’ needs ta offset Rosie so she won’t be feelin’ out o’ place.”

An eyebrow raised before my mate questioned his presence in the whole meeting. He didn’t think he belonged at the table for anything more than to either support me or be ready for some post meeting romance.

“Well ye are a seafarer, are ye not?” I asked with a cool grin, “An’ ye have been on the case fer a while, so yer more o’ an authority than ah am. Ah’m jus’ here ta make an offer based on recent events, but yer the one who has ta talk ta Savage ’bout the matter.”

Being a leader with power – or even catching a glimpse of a shared enemy – didn’t matter compared to the hours Satel had put in investigating the mess. He now knew Savage on a different level than I did, so his presence would bridge that new gap I had with the man. Though that wasn’t to say that I hadn’t been paying attention when Satel reported his findings to me in the past- I wasn’t ignorant of what’s been happening, but at the same time, Savage didn’t have to trust me on the matter.

For all I knew, he was probably bitter that I didn’t come down to Naia with him immediately after the annual meeting. True I did something by sending Satel, but that didn’t mean much when I was requested personally.

“I suppose that makes sense, though I don’t recall being asked to attend,” he pointed out slyly, a smirk appearing on his lips.

My eyes widened as I realized he was right. He wasn’t one of my men, so he didn’t have to follow my orders, but… Even though I couldn’t expect him to do as I wanted, I didn’t think he would refuse to help me. He always had time for me before- of course, I couldn’t really take that – or him – for granted.

“Ah’m sorry- ah didn’t mean ta drag ye into this wit’out yer consent,” I muttered sincerely. He didn’t seem upset, though, leaving me to wonder why he chose to call me out on it. “Would ye mind helpin’ me out by attendin’ dinner tonight an’ negotiate wit’ Savage fer me?”

Satel didn’t give much of a verbal response, instead he pushed back his seat enough so that his entire body was facing me. He then patted his leg as a gesture for me to come sit in his lap. I didn’t take the bait, though I wasn’t sure why he was asking for it.

“I miss being close to you,” he eventually admitted after I refused to budge, “Ever since we found out about my puberty, you made sure to keep a certain distance from me no matter what day it was.”

“Ah thought that was the point?” I commented, confused with the direction this conversation was taking.

My mate shook his head, his expression wistful as he explained, “There’s nothing wrong with holding hands, innocent kissing, or even just holding you for a while. We just can’t mate as often as we used to. Earlier was the first time you’d let me hold you outside of our cabin in a long while.”

I wasn’t quite sure what this had to do with dinner, but I assumed that it was his hormones making his mind wander. Or, perhaps my including him was sending him some kind of message about that ‘distance’ he mentioned. I suppose we weren’t as romantically close as we were before- any interactions we had were in bed nowadays. But it wasn’t like I wanted to keep him at bay- I just didn’t want to ruin the progress he’d been making.

“Yer not tryin’ ta trick me into mating are ye?” I asked to make sure. We could get away with the simple romance without getting intimate, but with the way I had to stay on my toes around him, I couldn’t be too careful.

He gave me a sly smirk for that. “‘Tia-dear, when I seduce you, you’ll know it and you can stop me there.”

“Good point,” I replied before I walked over to him and moved his legs so I could carefully sit between them. He wasted no time in wrapping his arms around me and burying his nose in my hair.

Truth be told, I missed cuddling with him- so much so that I didn’t care that I was initiating it out on the quarterdeck where anyone could walk up and see us. Even though I wasn’t embarrassed with pubic displays of affection, I didn’t want to make my men uncomfortable by watching us act cute.

“And,” he continued, whispering in my ear, “I would love to attend dinner this evening and aid you with Savage.”

“Wot? Would ye have not consented if ah didn’t come o’er ta sit in yer lap?” I inquired, curious to know if he was planning to use my request as some kind of ransom.

“I would’ve attended anyway, but as a broken hearted man,” he answered, almost causing me to roll my eyes.

“Yer lucky ah know yer a man, otherwise ah’d tell ye ta man up,” I told him teasingly as I let him kiss along the side of my neck. With falucite being very affectionate, it was easy for me to dismiss what would be considered girly behavior among seafaring men.

After all, just because Satel was loving and affectionate didn’t mean he couldn’t beat up a man if he wanted to. Not that beating anyone up made one a ‘man’- I suppose the real description I was looking for would be ‘tough’ and able to care for himself and those around him. My mate could do all of those things on top of being a considerate lover.

“I know it must seem silly to you, but I do have moments where I worry that we’re growing apart. Being separated from you for long periods of time just doesn’t seem right,” he admitted after a sigh.

I had to think over his words carefully, making sure that he wasn’t trying to set me up for an argument. I thought it was odd he was feeling that way at all- our prolonged periods of separation had only started recently, though it wasn’t as if this was the first time we had to act in such a way. Over the course of the year we found ourselves sleeping alone for whatever reason, and we had that massive argument that sent him away from me for several days.

I could dismiss this as his hormones making him feel depressed for no reason, but it wasn’t a good idea to make light of his statements. He wouldn’t be saying this to me if he didn’t have some kind of doubt lingering in his mind about the strength of our relationship. Maybe there was more to it than his having to sleep elsewhere for a while.

“But it’s only temporary, right?” I inquired carefully, unsure of how I was going to figure out his problem. “Once yer in control of yerself, we can be together as much as we want. Ye don’t have ta leave me side e’er again if that’s wot ye want- an’ if ye do find somethin’ ta occupy yer time wit’, then ah’ll be here waitin’ fer yer return.”

“I know, but… is that what you want, too? You’ve been handling matters of the sea on your own and without me for so long, that I might end up just getting in your way. I get worried that maybe you don’t need me at all,” he confessed as his arms tightened around me, like he was afraid I was going to get up and leave.

I think I was starting to understand the problem- the sudden distance between us must’ve given him the impression that I didn’t want him around anymore. Or perhaps the recent events allowed him to notice my behavior for the past year. I did act as though he was cutting into my work at times, but that didn’t mean that I thought he was in the way.

“O’ course ah want ye ’round!” I replied with certainty, “There are things ye can do that ah can’t, so ah appreciate the help ye give- an’, more importantly, ah love ye an’ yer company, so ah ain’t forcing meself ta be wit’ ye. If ye want ta work on me ship or help out wit’ me cause, then yer more than welcome ta join me. Yer pretty good fer a land raised seafarer, so there’s no question o’ ye fittin’ in.”

Apparently my words were exactly what he needed to hear as he relaxed his arms and rested his body against me. I guess he wanted to hear that he was needed from time to time, and that despite what we were going through right then, I would always love him. Had I ever been this vulnerable when I first reached puberty? Probably- the only trouble was that I couldn’t remember that far back.

“As long as you’re okay with it, I would like to stay by your side and help all seafarers- not just pirates. I was thinking of liberating seafarers from any unfair treatment of my kind, and to provide safe havens for those who turn against the Fates- which would be predominately pirates anyway,” he told me, sounding a little eager to share his new ideas with me. But I still heard an undertone of worry, as if he didn’t think I would like it.

“Sounds like a nice goal ta aim fer. Somethin’ we can work together on if ye’d like,” I responded, wanting to show my support. We were kind of already heading in that direction anyway in that we were going to provide said haven for pirates soon in our future settlement.

“Thanks ‘Tia-dear. I would like that,” he muttered gently against my jaw. “And thanks for reminding me that you’re always there for me.”

“Yer always there fer me, so why shouldn’t ah return the favor? ‘Sides, it’s not like yer plan interferes wit’ me original work- in fact it might jus’ help me further in some way,” I told him, leaning into him more.

Though I didn’t let my guard down completely, I decided to enjoy the contact while it lasted. We had several loving moments like this before, only to have it end abruptly with some kind of explosive problem. I placed my hands on his knees to stroke them as I waited for any other words to be said. He might’ve sounded satisfied, but anything could still happen at this point.

But, thankfully, I ended up being wrong, and we stayed that way until I had to get up and resume my preparations. I asked Satel to stay by me just to reinforce my declarations that I enjoyed his company, and to discuss what I planned for the dinner tonight. He held my hand for most of the day, smiling – or trying to hide one in front of the others – the entire time.

That sentimental fool… that’s why I love him so much.

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

I think what made the dinner successful so far was the fact that Savage wasn’t that upset with me and he considered supping with the Lord of the Sea an honor. He hadn’t changed much since I had last seen him- his black beard was the same length to his mid chin, and his skin was still an even dark tan. Still gruff around the edges, but when sitting beside his daughter, he had a fatherly presence about him that reminded me of my own pappy.

Rosie, however, seemed to have gone through a slight growth spurt- and I could detect a ‘blossoming’ of her chest that wasn’t there when I had last seen her. She was what? Thirteen years old now? She was almost an adult. The girl seemed to favor short hair and kept her ebony locks no longer than chin length. Because of her feminine features, she still looked like a pretty lass- she was probably one of the few who could get away with it.

For the most part, she sat there demurely and quietly, every once in a while I’d catch her shooting interested glances at Rohje’s back as he steered the ship several feet away. And while I had nothing against her being ‘interested’ in my quartermaster, it only served to worry me further about suggesting that she join my crew.

Rutan behaved himself for the most part, though he confused his role of ‘entertaining’ the girl for annoying her. He didn’t seem to like the thought of a girl at the table and sought to flick pieces of food at her until she delivered a sharp, but justified kick to his shins under the table. After that, the boy glared venomously at her until his favorite dish was served. Then he just ignored her presence for the rest of the evening.

Though I had informed Savage early on that this was business, we still engaged in pleasantries before Fishguts served the food. But even catching up on rumors and such still inevitably led to the subject of the Tau. By that time, the sun had set, leaving Elit and a few gas lanterns hung nearby as our light source. We could see each other’s faces clearly enough, but our eyes were easily cast into shadows by our hair when we tilt our heads just right. Not good if someone was hoping to hide something.

Satel mostly led the conversation, helping both Savage and I come to a full understanding of the events from both point of views from the meeting to when we reached Naia’s waters. Then it was my turn to speak.

“Heh, so ye were attacked, too? Ain’t a great feelin’, huh?” the bearded man asked after I was done relaying my tale. His was a bitter laugh, since he wasn’t any better off.

What happened with Savage was that the men managed to sneak on board during one raid and hid on the ship without them ever knowing about it. Then, when the time was right, the Tau made their move, grabbing the cannons and knocking out whoever was in their way with sleep gas. But if all of that were true, then that would imply they were around long enough to not only know of Rosie’s presence, but figure out her role on the ship.

I couldn’t even begin to understand them, but it astounded me as to how they could act so concerned and yet not kidnap her the first chance they got. It was a good thing they didn’t though, because I was going to make sure they never got the chance to again. The only thing I could figure was that their mission was more important than their own personal problems. They probably had to leave Rosie alone because their master had no interest in her.

So now that they’re probably free of their obligations for the time being, they probably had the time to enact their plan before heading home. Though I had no idea what they would do to the lass or why they needed her so badly. If anything, they should be ashamed for even considering separating a daughter from her father. It didn’t matter that said father was a pirate- the girl was clearly not abused in any way. The way she looked and conducted herself was proof of that!

I was silent for a while, taking a long drink of my wine to save face. Though no one else could’ve done better, I was still a little embarrassed to find most of my men taken down by a cheap trick. I was putting a lot of trust in Savage to keep his mouth shut later, but hearing that sympathetic laugh kind of stung. I should be a cut above the rest, and the one everyone could trust to protect them- if everyone knew that my ship could be brought down a few pegs like everyone else, then how could they trust me to protect them?

But Satel came to my defense, confused as to why I was being so quiet. “Ah don’t understand wot yer so embarrassed ’bout. A ship is as strong as her capt’n, an’ ye were still able ta chase them off. They didn’t get a victory over ye.”

“Aye- ah knew they were comin’ an’ ah let them on me ship, but had they used poison instead o’ sleepin’ gas, then ah’d have lost a lot o’ good men. Ah was lucky in that respect,” I admitted, revealing something I didn’t think about until I had time to reflect later. On the outside, letting them in to figure out what they wanted was a sly move, but I didn’t really think about the risk it placed on the others until after they started throwing the bombs.

Though to be fair, I wouldn’t have known how the Tau worked until I got to see them in action for myself. If they really had the intent to kill anyone, then Savage and the others would’ve been long dead.

“No, he’s right, Granny- ye were surprised by them jus’ like the rest o’ us, but unlike us, ye were able ta fight back an’ win. Yer probably the only one o’ us who can fight them an’ restore our honor,” Savage said with conviction. Huh, I thought for sure he’d make fun of me a little.

A common trait among all pirate captains was that we took a little humiliation and rubbed it in others faces for fun. But, another trait was that if we saw a chance to succeed, then we’d run away with it and cling to it until it’s not working anymore. Savage must’ve seen hope in me- but I was pretty sure he was going to poke fun at me someday when it was all over. I wish I didn’t have to tell him the story, but if I wanted to get him to cooperate, then he needed to trust me- being honest was the only way to get it.

“Well, ah ain’t lettin’ them on me ship again- information or no. If ah hear the warnin’ ah’m puttin’ up a barrier. ‘Sides, ah doubt they’ll be dumb enough to take me lightly again,” I muttered, not completely pacified with the compliments that were being thrown my way.

Even if Satel and Savage believed that I had done good, I still felt that I failed somehow. For one, letting them get away was sure to bite me in the ass later, and, though I wasn’t the one who struck the blow, a man killed himself so that I wouldn’t learn anything. That bothered me a lot.

“An’ speakin’ o’ that information, Lord Satel mentioned that ye learned somethin’ that involved me. Mind endin’ the suspense an’ share it?” He prodded, curious to know why he was here.

I nodded before telling him that part of the story. I told him how his ship’s name was mentioned and the clear intent they had with Rosie. I could see his expression sour and grow angrier the more I said.

“Ah have no clue why, but they’re interested in pirate women, an’ they have their sights on yer daughter. Ah’m sure once they give their report ta their master, we can be sure they’ll be stoppin’ by ta take yer daughter before goin’ home,” I concluded solemnly.

“O’er me dead body!” Savage roared as he slammed a fist on the table, shaking the silverware and nearly toppling the glasses. I expected no less of a response- his daughter was his most precious treasure… just like how I was Pappy’s treasure.

I took a second to glance over at Rosie to see how she was taking this. The girl seemed to go into shock over the news- she just stared at the table with her hands placed in her lap, her short hair casting a shadow over her face so I couldn’t see her expression. I suppose that wasn’t an unreasonable reaction, though I thought a brat of Savage’s would express more fury like he was doing.

“Let’s hope it don’t come ta that,” Satel muttered before adding, “Currently ye have no way ta fight them- only ‘Tia has the ability ta resist their tricks. Ah do as well, but ah can’t be expected ta be there fer ye all day.”

“…Then ah’ll sail wit’ ye! We can fight ’em together if ye can keep them from usin’ their tricks,” the captain suggested, hoping that I could help him protect his daughter. I was glad he wanted my help, but I was a little disheartened that he didn’t think of what I was planning to do. That meant he wasn’t very keen on being separated from her.

Satel shook his head and answered solemnly, “Ah’m ‘fraid that won’t work. Yer ship is currently too far from us- they’d probably reach ye long before we can meet up wit’ ye.”

When Satel had retrieved him, I was told that the Catorrcie was almost to the Sea of Elati. Even if I used my magicks and met up with him halfway, we could assume that the Tau were between us and would surely get to Savage before I could.

Rutan glanced up at us in confusion as he heard the problem and asked, “But if Ma can fight them, then doesn’t that make The Cruel Whore the safest place ta be? If they’re really after her, then they can’t get her if she’s here.” He made sure to make a disgruntled face when referring to Rosie.

Satel and I just stared at our boy, stunned that not only he came up with that without my having to tell him, but that he suggested it knowing full well that it might bring a person he didn’t seem to like on board with us. There was definitely a genius hidden in this one- maybe the accidents where he’d fall on his head were actually doing some good for him…

“Actually, that was wot ah was ’bout ta suggest,” I replied, still stunned, and a tad proud of Rutan.

I was waiting for Savage to give his opinion, but instead I got one from Rosie. She finally acted like I was expecting and copied her father by slamming both fists on the table.

“No! Ah refuse ta leave me pappy!” she shouted, furiously. I couldn’t tell if the idea of being away from her father was the real issue or if she had actually had a grievance with me… or Rutan. Her defiant eyes darted over to her father as she tried to reassure him that she would be fine. “Even if they come fer me, ah’ll jus’ escape an’ come home by meself- ah’ll kill ’em if ah have ta!”

Oh the naiveté of youth. She mistakenly thought she could do anything, and that killing someone would be an easy task. I had no doubt with the way she was being so feisty that she could probably fight a little, but I couldn’t see how she would be able to ‘escape and come home’- not if they planned to knock her out first.

And even then, trying to find a moving ship on the high seas was next to impossible unless one had knowledge of where it would go, and had the transportation to get there. We were talking about resources no mere child could obtain on her own- if it were that easy, I’d have been able to leave Port Sibest on my own.

“…Ah don’t like the idea o’ leavin’ me lass on a ship full o’ men ah do not know, but… ah do trust ye. Ye have a child o’ yer own, an’ ye know wot it’s like ta be a young pirate lass growin’ up on an all male ship,” Savage reasoned with himself before he mumbled, “…Mebbe it’s fer the best.”

Huh… he was giving in easier than I thought he would. Though I guess I did have the advantage by being female and a mother- any other captain who might suggest the same offer would’ve probably received an earful of curses and threats.

“But Pappy- why should ah run an’ hide like a coward? It ain’t right fer me ta leave ye ta get attacked ’cause o’ me,” she said with passion as she stood from her seat.

“This is beyond ye, lass- they want ye, an’ we can’t do nothin’ ta stop them. The best we can do is take away their vict’ry by sendin’ ye somewhere they can’t get ta ye,” Savage responded before a grim smile appeared under the long facial hair, “It ain’t cowardly ta make sure they don’t get an easy win.”

“Ah also don’t think they’d try anythin’ harmful- they haven’t so far,” I pointed out, “Though once they see Rosie ain’t wit’ ye, who knows wot they might do. They might wake ye up an’ demand that ye tell them where she is- if so go ahead an’ tell ’em. Ah’d like ta see ’em get past me mermaids again- they already figured out a way ta avoid their tricks fer them.”

It seemed that ‘powder’ they used was only good in the air- if the mermaids were underwater, it had no effect. This was good to keep the demons from getting on their vessel and attacking, but they could still be tracked underwater. All I needed was for the girls to have a visual on them and warn me before they got too close.

But Rosie wasn’t pleased with that. “So that’s it? Ah jus’ stay here an’ mebbe ne’er see me Pappy or home again?” she asked incredulously, being as unreasonable as a young person could get. I wasn’t completely unsympathetic though- had I been in her shoes, I’d feel the same way. It wasn’t easy leaving one’s life behind to start a new one- and of course she was going to miss her father.

“It won’t be permanent- yer jus’ joinin’ me crew fer a short time,” I told her, hoping to make her feel a little better. I then turned back to Savage, “Let’s wait an’ see if the enemy attacks before we get ta ye. Mebbe they won’t bother ye again if they think Rosie’s gone fer good. If nothin’ else, ah can hold on ta her ’til we figure out a way ta counteract their sleep smoke an’ be able ta fight them.”

Savage glanced away for a second as he scoffed at the thought. “Ye think that’s possible? Fer all o’ us ta find a way ta fight ’em?” He clarified.

I shrugged. “Why not? No matter who they work fer, an’ wot abilities they might have, they’re still humans. They have the same limitations and weaknesses as ye all do. All we need ta figure out is how they’re using their tricks an’ wot ta do ta stop them- after all, they must have some way ta avoid getting hit by their own attacks.”

Some part of me suspected that the masks they wore filtered their air, or had some kind of counter drug hidden in the materials. Even though the sea wind cleared the air before, I was sure that they had less than ideal weather before and probably had to walk through their own sleep shrouds. If we could have that same advantage, then their tricks won’t work and they would be as good as dead men.

At this point, Satel and Rutan seemed content to stay quiet and eat their food. Satel apparently felt as though I had the conversation under control at that point, and he didn’t want to disturb Savage’s final thoughts on the matter. The other captain sat back in his seat with his arms folded as he worked out what he wanted to say. Rosie soon grew tired of standing and sat back down, but made sure to maintain her angry features.

It seemed like a lot of time passed before Savage finally said, “Ah don’t want ta see me daughter go, but ah’d rather her be a member o’ yer crew than some captive o’ filthy barnacles.” He then turned to his daughter, “Rosie, it won’t be forever, but this is actually a golden opportunity fer ye- ye’ll be a member o’ the most famous ship o’ the five seas, an’ ye’ll have the chance ta learn under Granny on how ta lead a ship. There ain’t no better mentor than the Lord o’ the Sea herself.”

I held back my wince as I realized what exactly I had set myself up for. I wasn’t aiming to be anyone’s teacher or role model- I already had a specific type of student to train, and he was the only one who could make use of what I had to offer. Rosie didn’t have the potential to lead a ship as free as mine, and I never experienced what ordinary pirates had to live through, though I was well aware of their servitude to dragons. I feared my guidance might give her the wrong idea.

But I kept quiet, if only because I wanted both parties to agree to this. I was just going to have to be careful about what the lass picked up from me- the most important part was to undermine the Tau and regain some of our honor.

With Savage on my side and agreeing with me, all that was left was Rosie’s consent. Even though she was not yet an adult, this did involve her life, and she was entitled to speak out and try to offer her view. Even her father wanted to allow her the chance to decide her path, even though he could order her to accept. I waited patently as she thought through what was being placed at her feet.

“Ah don’t like this,” she announced, before her tone softened some, “But ah will agree ta it if ye promise me two things.”

“Ah’ll hear ye out, but ah can’t guarantee ah’ll promise anythin’,” I warned her, unsure if she was going to have reasonable requests. A kid like her might ask to be a high ranking officer on my ship or something.

“Ah want ye ta teach me how ta fight them firesquatters, an’ ah want ye ta promise me that ah’ll see me pappy again,” she demanded, giving an interesting name to our new foes.

It was the first time I ever heard the word ‘firesquatter’, and I had a feeling she was the first to ever use such slang. But, I kind of liked it- we did have a derogatory name for land dwellers – that being ‘landlubbers’ – so why not give one to those who reside in or near hell? It was only fair, and they already had nasty things to say about pirates anyway.

I copied Savage’s pose and nodded my head. “A tall order,” I muttered, “The first ah can’t promise ’til ah learn how ta fight ’em meself, and the second ah have no control o’er. Ye ne’er know wot happens in the future- not even those blasted Fates can predict it.”

I then looked her straight in the eyes as a gentle smile played on my lips. “But, ah can promise ta try an’ make both happen. Ah want ta bring ye back ta yer pappy stronger an’ wiser- an’ perhaps ready ta teach them a thing or two ’bout kickin’ ‘firesquatter’ ass,” I replied teasingly, testing the new term on my tongue. That name had the potential to spread and become popular among us.

“Ah can accept that,” Rosie said grimly before she stood from her seat again and bowed to me. She seemed to swallow her pride as she humbly added, “Ah ask that ye take me on as a member o’ yer crew. Ah swear on me pirate blood ta follow yer orders ta the best o’ me abilities an’ fight by yer side wit’ all me strength.”

“Yer recitin’ the Oath? Damn Savage- ye really did wonders on this brat,” I commented, while Savage spared her a proud look. The Oath was what new members of the crew recited to their captain and quartermaster as a show of loyalty. In a way, children of captains and quartermasters were considered the ‘blue bloods’ of pirates and destined to follow in their footsteps, so to have a seafaring noble recite the Oath to another captain was unheard of.

Not only was she showing respect for authority, but I had to admire the courage she was showing right then. She knew she was going to be leaving her father, and yet she was willing to endure it in the hopes of becoming stronger for him. This young lass was something- maybe someday she will be a famous captain, recognized with honor at the captain’s table in the annual meetings.

I couldn’t believe I was thinking this, but damn was I feeling inspired by her! Maybe having her around wouldn’t be so bad…

I gestured for her to sit back down. “There’s no need fer that, lass. Ah ain’t takin’ ye in as a corsair- consider yerself a temporary apprentice. Ye’ll get yer own cabin, an’ ah expect ye ta do some chores ’round here, but yer mostly gonna observe an’ learn,” I told her, wanting her to relax a little. Sure, her willingness to jump head first into a plan she didn’t like was very telling of her character, but there was no need to let her humble herself.

“Alright then, Granny, ah’ll leave me daughter in yer capable hands. Jus’ please…” Savage trailed off, but I knew what he was about to request.

“Ah’ll keep her safe,” I promised. It was probably the only thing I could promise with certainty at this point. As long as she didn’t rush off into danger like Rutan, I shouldn’t have any trouble keeping her from harm.

And so marked the day when The Cruel Whore obtained her first foreign female crewmember. I could only hope that Rosie’s presence would prove beneficial, and not problematic. But I really should’ve known better…

To the Next Chapter

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