Several gaunt looking men were stacking wooden boxes into hand wagons on the dock as Charlotte and Rone walked up the plank. They stepped back as a young man staggered down the plank with another box.
“Who’s this?” A young shirt-less man wearing faded pantaloons walked up to the pair from behind a stack of boxes on the dock.
“How do you do? My name is Phillip, and this is my wife, Halbara.”
“Melanie, of the wetland Melanies,” Charlotte said. She felt Rone nudge her softly in the ribs, as if annoyed. The young man stared at them and spat into the water.
“You two don’t look like our usual business.” His jaw moved widely back and forth, working at a piece of chewing tobacco. His gaunt cheeks seemed to accentuate the motion, hiding no detail behind his thin beard.
“Are you the captain?” Charlotte asked.
“Naw. I’m Danny. First mate. Johnny’s up in his quarters. What’s all this about?”
“We need passage to the Northmarch. Post haste.” Charlotte grimaced and grit her teeth as Rone was stretching to sound like a rich merchant.
“This ain’t your kind of ship, mate. Better off waiting for a state liner or something under a corporate banner.”
“Normally we would, but I’m afraid time is a bit short for us.” Charlotte replied.
“Suit yourselves, but don’t say I didn’t warn ya.”
The inside of the Captain’s quarters were dusty and dim. When Rone and Charlotte stepped inside they saw a large spectacled man sitting at a small table writing in a small book with a very ragged black pen. Even though he was sitting down his great height was easily discerned from the way he towered above the back of his small chair. His barrel chest was pushed up against the table, leaving a fatty bulge pushing against the bottom of his tome. His jacket was hanging off the back of his chair, and his shirt was a faded grey, though Charlotte thought that it might have at one point been white. His stroked his long, black beard as he wrote. When they closed the door he looked up at them and took off his glasses.
“What are you doing on my ship?” Rone saw him reach down and touch a pistol in his belt. Rone felt his fingers reached for the familiar wooden stock of his own, hidden away in the back of his pants.
“We’re interested in booking passage. We understand that you are going to the Northmarch,” Rone said politely.
“Golice, yeah,” the man said, relaxing and putting his pen back into its stand, the end covered in viscous black ink. “But we don’t carry people, unless you’re part of the crew.”
“We know there won’t be much in the way of accommodations, and we’re fine with that,” Rone said. “We’re travelers and we just need to get home quickly.”
“Sorry, but I’m not in the business of travelers. Find a corporate liner, or a fleet ship.” The big man put his glasses back on. Rone tossed a heavy leather sack on the table in front of him. He stopped writing once again and picked up the bag, weighing it. He looked cautiously at Rone and turned the bag out on the table. Silver and gold coins came out clinking into a small pile.
“That, and as much again,” Rone said.
“So, you want to buy the ship?”
“No, we just need to get to the Northmarch.” Rone said.
The captain held up one of the gold coins and looked at it closely with his spectacles, his mouth twitching as he seemed to consider it. “I still wouldn’t advise it. When I say we’re not in the business of hauling people, I mean it. It’s really not something we should do.”
“So you’re a pirate then?” Rone said.
“Privateer,” The large man said, touching his nose. “Business is not exactly safe for ourselves. There’s no way I could guarantee the safety of a gentleman or a lady.”
“I make my own safety, captain,” Rone said.
The captain sighed and put the coin back on the stack. “Well the sea may take ya, but I’ll be damned if I don’t understand risk and reward. We’re leaving at dawn tomorrow, provided we can get stock for our next shipment.” He stood up, standing almost a half a head above Rone, and extended his hand.
“Phillip.” They shook hands. The man’s hand matched his stature: an immense paw that seemed to suffocate Rone’s in its grip.
“The call me Big Johnny, for obvious reasons. I’m captain and majority shareholder in the good ship Parkitees.” He looked to Charlotte.
“Sha-Halbara.” She said, quickly correcting herself. She extended her hand. Johnny looked at her for a moment puzzled then shook her hand, taking the tips of her fingers between his own great thumb and index in an awkwardly dainty exchange.
He looked back to Rone. “Beggin’ your pardon, Mister, uh…”
“Melanie, of the wetland Ravens,” Charlotte cut in robotically. This time Rone softly groaned. Johnny’s glasses slid down his nose as he stared at her.
“I meant his name.” Johnny said flatly. He nodded at Rone.
“We’re married,” she replied. She hugged Rone’s arm.
“You can’t bullshit a man like me. You ain’t married; least not yet. If you’re eloping or whatever…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I guess it ain’t none of my business, but you can’t fool an old liar like me. But don’t worry. I can keep a secret.” His half-frown turned into a wide smile, showing several gold-capped teeth.
“Thanks, we’ll see to the other half of payment once we arrive,” Rone said politely, dropping his air. He quickly scooped the coins into the leather satchel and turned to walk out.
“Dawn,” He said. His face relaxed into a flat stare. “We’re not the kind to wait around. Tell Danny to set up a few bunks for ya in the high room.” He smiled suddenly again, a strange glint in his eye.
“Alright,” Rone said hesitantly, then opened the door for Charlotte. He raised his eyebrows at her as they exited. “Interesting fellow,” he said after they stepped back out onto deck and closed the door.
The main deck, which ran over twenty paces between the captain’s quarters at the rear and forecastle near the bow with a large central mast, was vacant save for a few deckhands busying themselves with loading supplies. Rone looked about for a few moments. The slim young man they had spoken to on the way up seemed missing on the deck and the dock.
“Excuse me,” Charlotte said to a nearby sailor, busy coiling sets of ropes as he pulled them down off the naked cross-beams. He was a tall man with messy blonde hair, wearing a shirt and pants of a faded grey, stiff and wrinkled from days at sea. “Have you seen Danny?”
The deckhand looked up from what he was doing, panting slightly from the work with the heavy rope. Though he was dirty and wet with sweat, his face was shaved and revealed a youthful handsomeness. “He sauntered off to somewhere or another in town.”
“Oh-” Charlotte said.
“Just like him, too,” the sailor went on, “to leave before even half the work is done. I’ll probably have to do that poor sod’s job, too. Be lucky to fetch myself half a pint before the night is through.”
“Well, the captain wished for him to set us up a few bunks for us in the,” Charlotte thought to herself a moment, “um, high room?”
The sailor chuckled. “Danny’s not going to be too pleased with that task.”
“Why is that?”
“That’s the first mate’s quarters.” The sailor nodded toward the forecastle, which had a small door set a few steps down sunken into it. “The funny thing is, he hasn’t ever slept in them since Johnny gave him the title. He’s starting to think it’s some kind of joke.” He looked away for a moment in thought. “We had to use it as extra cargo space, then haul some kind of navy fellow from Golice, then we had this shipment of rare plants that had to receive exactly eight hours of sunlight a day then be put away. I think he was particularly perturbed about those.”
“I suppose we could always bump elbows with the crew,” Rone said. He coughed as Charlotte elbowed him in the ribs, smiling widely the whole time. “I mean… give him our sincere apologies.”
The sailor laughed again. “I will. My name’s Pierce, by the way.” He put his hand out casually, and Rone shook it.