I was in bed before I knew what I was doing, and I was asleep before I hit the sheets. By the time the morning came, I was rubbing circles under my eyes and standing on top of the deck. The only thing left of the disaster under the waves was a scent of ash and a rusted knife that the Captain flicked between her fingers.
“You look awful,” The Captain said.
I raised an eyebrow at her. The sun tickled across the heavy robes she had me in, a warm balm to the deep ache that was settling into my bone.
“I feel awful,” I said.
“Good,” The Captain said. “I’m glad you got a taste for that on something easy.”
“Easy?!” I squeaked. “They tried to rip off my face!”
The Captain shrugged. “That was a new ghost ship. If we ever encounter an older one, maybe by the reef of wrecks or the graveyard, you’ll be able to tell the difference.”
I made a face at her.
“But you did decently enough,” The Captain said.
“I was almost instantly ensnared after tripping over a corpse,” I pointed out, dryly. I ran my fingers over the nick in my neck. It’d crusted over, but I could still feel the dried blood flaking off under my fingertips.
“You were aware enough to move when I gave you the signal,” The Captain said. “And considering you’ve not been on the sea for that long, that should be something to be proud of. Thyn, how did you handle your first ghost ship?”
Thyn made a face. “The Captain backhanded me so hard I shattered a tooth.”
I peered into his mouth. He wasn’t missing any teeth.
“They regrow,” Thyn said. “Constantly.”
“Rodents,” The Captain said. “Very handy to have. Wouldn’t you agree, Charm?”
I shrugged at the both of them. They were standing next to the prow of the ship, idly inspecting the Crew as they scurried around. There wasn’t too terribly much to do, not in the middle of semi placid water, high blue skies, and a gentle wind coaxing the sails on. “What’s this wind called?”
“I don’t think this one has a name. It’s not often someone makes this trip, after all, and certainly not from this direction,” The Captain said. “But you should be excited, this will be good for you.”
“Like the ghost ship was good for me?” I asked.
She laughed, tilting her head back and exposing her throat from the collar of her coat. “Mm, maybe not that traumatic.”
“Right,” I said, weakly. “I’m… just going to go help Sev again.”
“You do that,” The Captain said. “Thyn, meet me in my room?”
I scurried off, dodging past a member of the crew with a broom. I didn’t want to get caught up in the Captain’s business any longer than I had to, if it was all going to be like this.
Maybe Figyr had been right, and I should’ve figured out how to stay with her.
Sev was in the kitchen, rearranging pots and pans, and set me to work on washing dishes. I scrubbed, and he prepared seasonings.
“Heard you had an adventure last night,” Sev said. His great fluffy form was nimble, or rather, there was so much fluff that it made it hard to tell where his body ended and his fluff began, so when he came to a narrow gap he just slid smoothly through it instead of being halted.
“Yeah,” I said. “I guess I did. Nearly got my face torn off, I think.”
Sev clicked his beak. “Well… that happens, I guess.”
“How would you know?” I grouched. “The Captain seems to think this is normal, but has she ever dragged you out on those?”
“Not recently,” Sev said. “But she makes sure everyone knows what to do. Mainly back her up and let her handle things.” He sighed.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. The water was hot enough to make my skin ache, and the suds stung across scrapes I hadn’t even realized I’d had.
“Nothing,” Sev said.
“Oh, come on,” I pried. “I’m stuck here for at least another hour washing dishes.”
“Did you see how the other Sirens were treating the Captain?” Sev asked. “Didn’t say a word to any of us at all. Spooky.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t know what to make of it.”
“And then last night, that ship, that was a Siren vessel,” Sev continued. “Sunk really close to dragon territory. Went down without a captain and everything.”
“So?” I asked.
“Charm,” Sev said, turning to look at me. He balanced a cast iron pan in his other hand, and he was idly seasoning it and priming it while he talked. “We’re in dragon territory for another half day. A Siren vessel was sunk and nobody knows anything about it.”
The dots slid into focus. “Oh.”
“Oh,” Sev nodded. “I don’t like it, and I don’t know what the Captain will do. She might try something… brash. She and Figyr are already on awful terms, and seeing one of her sisters drowned in the sea like that.”
“Sisters?” I asked.
“They’re all sisters,” Sev said. “It’s a Siren thing.”
“That was a ship,” I said.
“Siren thing,” Sev said. “I’m not the best to explain it, but… oh, this is stupid. I don’t want to be on a war vessel.”
I lifted a knife out of the water and very gently scrubbed at the edge. “Would the Captain do that?”
“I don’t know,” Sev said. “I’ve been here for more than a year and I’ve never even see her so much as talk to another Siren for more than repairs. But the territory skirmishes were… Well, they were bloody back then.”
“What can we do?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Sev said, squinting down at the pan. “Make lunch, I guess, and try not to get on the Captain’s bad side.”
“Already on that,” I said. I dipped the knife back into the water, and Sev sat the pan down to heat.
“Ugh,” Sev said. “Well… whatever. I’ll teach you a bit of cooking stuff. Get over there, and ditch that knife.”
I set it carefully to the side so the water didn’t go pink with blood the next time someone did the dishes, and slid over to him.
“You see this pan?” Sev said, gesturing at the iron. It smelt like spices and old meat.”
“Yeah,” I said.
Sev plucked a slice of pork off of the side and settled it down on the oil and let it sizzle and hiss. He stared down at it for a long time.
“So when do we move it?” I asked. The kitchen smelled like soap and cooking meat now, and the meat was winning.
“You gotta let it stay there for a while,” Sev said. “Pay attention, because if I’m ever busy, you’ll be doing this.”
“Got it,” I said. I listened to the hiss and crackle of the oil and the sear of the meat on the stove. It went on and on until I was staring down at it as well.
Then Sev flipped it and revealed the underside, streaks of brown. “That’s what you want to see,” He explained. “Now go to the Captain and see if you can get a bit of cooking wine. I’m feeling fancy for lunch today.”
I blinked at him. “Really?”
“Yes,” Sev said, and shooed me off. I scampered off.
Most of the crew, as normal, were holed up in the hold, cards, various other games, carved dice and tattered salt stained books keeping them company while they waited for more orders. I passed by the open door, ignoring the shout for me to join in, and slipped past, into the depths of the ship, down the winding hallway until I passed into the Captain’s hallway.
I heard voices, dim voices, but voices nonetheless, from the other side of the door.
I couldn’t make out the individual words, but Thyn seemed incensed, and the Captain stubborn. Their voices raised to a fevered pitch as I slid forward, and my palms went a bit sweaty.
My mother had hammered in exactly what I ought to do if I found myself having to talk to a high statured lord who was angry. Find someone else to do it. I peeked back to where the crew were, but they were down the hallway and well out of sight.
Nothing for it.
I crossed the distance and rapped on the door. The noises inside stopped instantly, choked off mid-word. There were scuffling and moving noises, and then Thyn poked his head out. “Yes- Oh, Charm. What do you need?”
“A bottle of cooking wine,” I said.
“…Red or white?” He asked.
“Red,” I said. Red paired with pork. Thyn looked back inside. “Sev wants a bit of wine for lunch.”
“Tell him he’s not going to get much more, I don’t feel like eating through our profits the entire time we’re out at sea.”
“Ignore her,” Thyn advised. “She likes good food almost as she likes being stubborn.”
“Hey!” The Captain squawked. “That’s not true!”
“You’re right,” Thyn said, passing the bottle through the crack in the door. “You like being stubborn way more.”
“See, this is why I’m going to beat you with a brick one of these days.”
“You’ll have to catch me,” Thyn laughed, and shut the door. The bottle was heavy in my hands, and I drifted away from the door. After a few yards, the argument was on again. I scampered off before I could get implicated in it.
Sev was halfway through the pork chops when I return, bottle cradled in my hands. “What took you?”
“I forgot which one to get,” I lied, smoothly.
“Red for pork and beef, white for chicken and fish,” He said. “It’s not that hard to keep in mind, but I guess… Take a look at the pot.”
I looked down as he pried off the last bit of pork, sending it sizzling over onto a platter. The oven churned off smoke out the open window, and inside, pork sat in a low oven, cooking. The bottom of the cast iron was covered in thick brown. Sev snatched up the bottle of red wine, popped off the cork with a single claw, and let it flow over top of the pan. It hissed and boiled, and he stirred, rapidly with a wooden spoon. I watched, cocking my head to the side.
“That brown stuff? That’s Fond. That’s the best part of any sauce; the stuff that clings on after cooking and just stays there.” Sev laughed. “Give me some of that butter.”
I slid the plate over to him, and Sev got to work, melting it into the sauce. Then with a spoon, after the sauce had boiled down and stopped smelling quite so alcoholic, he pulled the pork out of the oven with a mitt and ladled the mess over top of it. It clung to the meat like a thick red spray of old blood.
It smelled far better.
“But you have to scrape it off and mix it with the right stuff, or it just bakes on and becomes a pain to clean off,” Sev said. “Neat, right?”
“Where’d you learn that?”
“The old chef,” Sev said. He paused, setting the pan off of the heat, and turned off the contraption. “He deserved to go better than the way he went.”
“No no,” Sev said. “He just got sick,” the fluffy monster clarified. “And he was already old. By the time we got back to port, the doctors couldn’t do anything.”
He smiled slightly. “That’s why we have Folna now, just in case we need to operate.”
“Oh,” I said, in a tinier voice.
“Now help me get these dishes out to the rest of the crew. I can bet you’re not the only one shaken up after last night!”
Between the two of us, we managed to get the plates to everyone, then sat in the back room and tucked into the last of the sauce, a bit of the wine ourselves, and lunch.
It wasn’t so bad on the ship after all. At least I had a friend or two.
I hoped we were friends.