Travelers Far From Home
Chapter 1: The Sea and the Port
Timeline: A Cold November Evening
The murmurs erupted as soon as the woman, the captain, left the tavern. The barman and the maid told the customers, who in turn told the patrons who had just walked in. And those who were on their way out let slip to the unfortunates hanging around outside on the pavement. Nicholai pondered the words that he heard relayed from multiple sets of lips. A ship looking for a crew. That could be good for him.
Nick slumped down against the brick wall against the cold, cupped his hands to his mouth and breathed out some warmth. He rubbed his fingers together and shoved them into the pockets of his thick coat. There was a hole in the right pocket; he could feel it with two fingers. Earlier, he had been playing harmonica for bits of change, gold or whatever people threw into his collecting tin. Beside him, there had been an old man playing the fiddle. But the cold got to be too much for his tired joints and he shuffled off to someplace warmer. Nick was envious.
But a ship, he thought. It wouldn't be the first time he took refuge aboard a vessel. He could work for his keep too; it was a splendid possibility. He would not have to steal or haggle. A paid service, that was a life he could deal with for a few months. Possibly a year? He decided not to get his hopes up.
His possessions fit in his pockets: the harmonica, a piece of crusty bread someone had given to him out of pity, and the coins he had collected during the previous day and a half. All of the clothes he owned he wore. He pushed the cap down over his left eye carefully, not wanting to disturb this captain-woman when he spoke to her. If she would speak to him. If she needed a crew so desperately she would speak to him.
The ship was called the Steamhawke; he read the letters written on the side. It was a beauty like many he had seen, a few he had boarded over the last year and a half. The still quiet bothered him a tad, like the calm before a storm.
He looked around the deck towards the captain's quarters. There was a light on in there; the glow shown through the thick glass window. He tilted his head, tried to hear for some sound. The faintest sound of a pen on paper, perhaps.
"Hello?" He called to the cabin, unwilling to take his chilled hands from his pockets to knock on the door.
The captain looked up from her notes and cleared her throat before saying "Yes, come in!" It wouldn't be McGinty, he never knocked, not even if she was in the bathroom.
A skinny, scruffy looking man stepped into the captain's quarters. He was hunched over against the cold and seemed reluctant to meet Daenelia's eyes. He was more interested in the interior of the room and the warmth it allowed him. 'That's a shame,' thought Daenelia. 'Unlikely that this man will want to job as a deckhand... Too scrawny.'
"I am captain Daenelia Bradley. What can I do for you? Are you looking for a job?" Captain Daenelia liked to come straight to the point.
"I heard you were looking for crew," he said. Nick glanced at her, "I can handle a gun. I can cook, too. Seems to be an uncommon trait on these... ships."
Pirate ships was his originally intended phrase.
"Well, we have someone on board who could..." Daenelia started to make more of McGinty's cooking than it was worth.
"I don't need much. Just a place to stay would be nice."
Daenelia looked at him a bit closer. He had a need. There was something about him. And she could not deny she needed a cook, and someone with a bit broader set of skills than McGinty or the girls. She had hired worse, she remembered.
"Alright, Mr. Cook. You got a job. You can go home and get your things. Report to me here in the morning," Daenelia turned her attention back to the map, feeling as if she should ask more, but really: she needed a full crew soon. She would deal with the problems if and when they came along.
It was a quicker meeting than he had anticipated but a bigger payoff. Nicholai stepped a little closer into the light, "Could I stay below decks tonight, ma'am? I have all my things with me already." He shrugged, "I don't have anywhere else to go."
The captain looked up once more and actually truly looked. And for once that map of hers wasn't her main focus. Nick looked back at her, discomfort bubbling just under the surface. She would see it sooner or later and to trick her into thinking he was a normal human wasn't something he would do.
Daenelia nodded to his face, "May I inquire-?"
"No," he said quickly, sternly. "Beg your pardon, ma'am. I don't talk about it."
Daenelia had a worried look on her face, but nodded nevertheless. "I see." She tore her eyes away from Nicholai's face, blinked very deliberately and nodded once more. "Fine. Fine, Mr. cook. There are plenty of empty hammocks below deck. Pick your spot. I'll expect a good hearty breakfast in the morning."
As Nicholai turned and reached to open the door, Daenelia quickly said: "There's just a few of us, so far. Two girls, master De Berg and old McGinty. McGinty will show you where everything is." Daenelia sighed. "Please forgive him if he seems... intimidated by your ... appearance."
Nicholai hesitated a moment, then left the cabin. Daenelia sat down immediately. Was she really this desperate? Having a tainted on board?
Below deck, Nick found the crew's quarters and a dozing old man who must have been this McGinty the captain spoke of. He took a few minutes to poke around the galley; the stock was not overly abundant but it was enough to last a while. Nick's stomach growled as he walked about in the dim light. Munching on the bit of bread in his pocket, he returned to the room full of hammocks, chose one closest to the back corner where he wouldn't be disturbed nor be a disturbance. He took off his boots and coat and laid down on the coarse hammock, sighing in relief. It had been a while since he'd had anything resembling a bed.
Daenelia was concerned about having a tainted on board, he could tell by her expression. Hopefully the crew would feel differently, and hopefully he could keep his eccentricities to himself. Pushing the thought out of his mind, he finished off his bread and closed his eyes to sleep.