“Chea, I need a moment with you please.”
The huge cargo mistress looked up from her position watching the red-haired prisoner in the ship’s hold with a surprised expression at the sudden appearance of the Pelican’s first mate.
“Hey Olna, I’m kinda stuck watch-…” Chea trailed off as Kristina appeared behind the first mate, offered a long-suffering look and a wave, and moved to take her usual ‘guarding’ spot. “Okay, I guess that’s covered then.”
Chea stood from her stool and moved to follow the much smaller blonde out of the cargo hold.
“Did, I do something wrong, Olna?” The uncertainty in Chea’s tone seemed distinctly out of place with the huge woman’s appearance.
“No, nothing like that.” Olna was a little too quick to respond, and Chea didn’t miss the undercurrent of nervousness also present in the smaller woman’s voice. “Just, how are you holding up this trip? I know that ‘jailer’ is a little bit outside your normal duties.”
The pair of women arrived at Olna’s quarters and the smaller woman opened the door and beckoned her crewmate inside. Chea strode past and dropped heavily onto a crate that doubled as miscellaneous furniture in the small room.
“I’m holding up a lot better than little red is. What’s the real deal, Olna?”
“I’m just a little concerned about you, Chea. That’s normal, right?”
“From you? Not really, no.” Chea had to suppress the urge to laugh at the offended look that flashed across the first mate’s face. “Not in a bad way, Olna. You don’t waffle around with emotional junk the way the captain does sometimes. You’re all business, keep the boat running, and let us deal with our own stuff.” A pause, and a contemplative expression from the large woman. “Which means this must be something serious if you’ve got me in your quarters to talk about it… or it’s about the princess.”
The small blonde started at the final statement, and an irritated expression replaced her earlier offended one. “Why would you bring the princess up?” Olna made an effort to keep her tone calm, but fell a little short of her goal.
“Because that girl has been pushing buttons of yours that none of us ever knew existed since the day she came on board. I don’t think anyone has seen you without an angry look in your eyes for more than five minutes at a stretch since we picked up our royal passenger.”
Olna sighed, and slumped into a seat of her own. “I wasn’t aware it was QUITE that obvious to the regular crew. I take it from your tone that you disapprove of MY disapproval?”
Chea blinked a few times, before grinning ruefully to herself. “Thought I managed to keep my emotions a little better out of my voice. Guess neither of us is really good at the indirect way.
“I think you’re giving her too hard a time considering she’s NEVER been outside the capital before, barely been outside the castle, and her first trip was precipitated when her whole family started trying to kill her!”
“All true, but I won’t pretend to be happy that the girl dismantled MY equipment, wanders the ship barely supervised like she owns the place, and…”
“And she’s already popular with the whole crew, except you and Frederich?” Chea laughed out loud at the murderous glare her flippant statement drew from the first mate. “Calm down, Olna. Princess Lena is almost like… having a little kid on board. The rest of us haven’t gotten mad at her because we don’t really have stuff for her to get into and ruin the way you and Frederich do, and… it’s kind of nice to hear about all the book things she knows. That girl has a SERIOUS love for books.”
“So… what ‘book things’ did she tell you about that had you acting so odd for the first three weeks of our voyage?” Olna had lost her angry expression as soon as the cargomistress started laughing, and her expression had reverted to her usual serious look.
Chea flashed a guilty look for the first time during the conversation. “You noticed that too?”
“Everyone noticed. You’re a big woman with a big personality. When that changes, it’s pretty obvious.”
“But no one wanted to mention it until I was back to normal?”
“You’re a big woman, and the only person on board has that has actually thrown someone overboard.”
“That was one time, and that bastard was trying to steal our ship!” Chea sighed again, then giggled softly. “I guess I can see your point though.”
“So, what did the princess tell you about?”
“Remember how I ended up joining the crew?” Chea’s expression darkened as her question dredged up some unpleasant memories.
“We ran across an adrift skyship on a run out to Shardina. Slavers. Most of their crew was dead, and you were the only surviving… ‘cargo.'” Olna spoke matter-of-factly as she answered, but her hand gripped at the pistol in her belt as she relived a few memories of her own.
“The ship didn’t keep any logs, none of the crew ended up surviving, and no one knew where I came from. No one we’ve run across in the ten years SINCE then has ever seen someone as big as me, with skin like me. No one knows where I’m from. Until now.”
“Wait, the PRINCESS?”
“She has a book; it describes an island, L’pael, way off to the southeast where the people were much larger than those from the mainland, and have nearly black skin.”
“Chea, I wouldn’t get your hopes up too high… You said it yourself, the princess isn’t exactly the worldly type.”
“She has the book with her, Olna. A bunch of maps and stuff, and diary entries from some famous dead explorer. After we finish playing passenger boat, with the amount we’re making? I’ll have enough saved up for a ship of my own. I’m going to go see if I can finally find my home.”
The two women sat silently for a long moment before Olna stood and offered a hand to the cargomistress. “Well, it’s been an honor having you aboard, Chea K’rst.” The large woman grinned at the, rare, correct pronunciation of her full name, and shook the offered hand. “If we live through this insanity the captain has landed us in, I was actually thinking of something similar. Maybe we’ll make a convoy of it?”
“I’d like that, Olna.”
“Now, head back and relieve Kristina before that woman starts plotting to kill me in my sleep. She’s supposed to have the morning off.”
Chea shook her head, laughing, as she stood. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Feeling more conversational yet, miss?”
Jannis looked up from her position on the rough wooden floor, shifting carefully to avoid further aggravating cramped, sore muscles. “What do you want, captain?” The chained woman’s voice was little more than a hoarse whisper.
“Still feeling theatrical I see. Up to telling me your real name yet?”
“Jannis.” The redhead spoke with a much stronger voice than a few seconds ago, and lifted her head to glare at her captor.
“Excellent! You’ve either become a much better liar over the past few weeks, or that was finally the truth?”
“Jannis Ruby, spotter for Prince Gregor’s First Talon, serving under Captain Fiero. None of it matters anymore, we must be within a few days of Jiungli by now. I’ll never be going back to Cheles no matter what happens at this point.”
“How many ships are pursuing us?” Edward ignored the brief laughter that his direct question drew, and waited patiently until it subsided. “You said it yourself, you aren’t going back.”
“Most of the Talons were pursuing you when we thought the princess was just fleeing within the kingdom, maybe a short run north or south. None of the larger ships were launched, so I honestly doubt that ANYONE is chasing you at this point. None that would be particularly close.”
“I find that a little hard to believe.”
“I find it hard to believe that this ancient boat evaded a half-dozen Kestrels for as long as it did. Where the hell were you hiding?”
“Trade secret.” Edward smirked at the glare his answer drew from the woman. “I’m not asking you for YOUR ship’s tactics, if you’d like to ask me another question for some kind of quid pro quo I might be more agreeable.”
“How did the princess end up on your ship?”
“I was the only skyship captain at the first bar she walked into.” This time the captain laughed at the disbelieving expression his response drew. “Don’t believe me if you like, but it was sheer fortune, or misfortune depending on your point of view, that put that girl on my ship.”
“So… just let me off on the docks when you depart then?” Edward actually felt a twinge of remorse at the hopeful tone in the woman’s voice.
“Close to the docks, I promise. Won’t be more than a minute or two of swimming involved.”
Edward actually wore a smile as he headed out of the cargo bay, followed by a torrent of loud, and rather inventive, profanity. Such a considerate young lady, making sure I don’t feel nearly as much guilt about having Chea toss her overboard in a few days.