A night to be tipsy...
Chapter 7: Going West
Location: Deck of Steamhawke
Timeline: Chapter 7
It was the dead of night, and Miyra stood on the deck, staring out into the water.
She hiccuped. She'd been sure what she'd been drinking was just water, but now that her head was spinning she wasn't too sure. When she'd been told about being drunk, it was nothing like this. She hiccuped again. It was strange how the deck seemed to tilt sideways of its own accord, and when she looked around to see if anyone had noticed, no one stirred.
Chago felt that he needed a quiet time and place for thinking, even if he wasn't sure what to think about, from the many contradictory things assaulting his mind. There was, first of all, a matter of conscience since he had learnt from Mei-Xiu that he had been lied and she was not aboard the ship against her will. Therefore, he couldn't comply with his mission. Then, the fact that he was working for the pirates, now not exactly anymore "undercover for his mission", since the said mission... didn't exist anymore. And, returning and returning in his mind, the fact that he had taken money from his mysterious employer for a job he wouldn't do. He needed some fresh air to clear his head... The work of the day and the two fencing lessons, one in the morning and one in the evening, had succeeded to divert his thoughts for a while. Now, that the others had left him alone with his musings... he felt like suffocating and he got to the deck.
A figure in the shadows startled her. "Chago?" She braced herself against the side of the deck to keep her balance, a definate slurr in her voice. "Is that you?" As she dragged herself closer, she saw it was only a few sacks slumped against the deck, and she laughed, then hiccuped.
The darkness was enveloping him like a thick cloak - he was El Moreno and night was his good friend in so many actions. When he heard his name called, he went towards Myira and found her laughing at some sacks thrown against the deck.
"I heard my lovely student was needing me, and here I am", he whispered, intrigued.
But the mystery got partially solved when hearing her hiccuping. He had seen, in his Army years, young cadets or flag-bearers, or fresh recruits, drunk for the first time. He had mothered some. Was it Myira's turn now? It seemed so, as she giggled, only half conscious of her surroundings.
"Those sacks were put strategically here, so that we can sit on them," he told her, taking a seat and inviting her to sit by his side.
Miyra giggled. "I thought-I thought the sacks were you-" She hiccuped and then giggled more. "I was talking to sacks."
"Tell me, what have you drunk and who had given it to you?" he asked on a friendly, curious but not moralising tone.
She focused in on him, peering at him in the darkness. After a long moment of being still, she giggled again and shrugged. "I don't know. I think his name was Bob. Or Fred. Or Matthew." She flung her arms out in wild gestures. "Who knows, and who cares? I'm bored of being miss goodey two shoes."
At least, it was good that she was, now, here with him, on the deck, not wherever the others were drinking, so that they could take advantage of her. He would only protect her. He understood well that it was no way to make her understand the others' intentions when they got her drunk. He would have tried to reason with an ...emptied bottle, not with her now. The lecture would come tomorrow morning, for sure, when he wouldn't excuse her from the fencing lesson for feeling sick from the hangover. Now, he had just to be with her, the friend she surely needed.
"You are my favourite student" (easy to say when having only one) "no matter if drunk or sober. And I like you exactly how you are - be it goodey two shoes or not. You are fun, graceful, imprevisible, smart..."
Perhaps he wouldn't have told her anything like this if she wasn't drunk, if he knew she would remember it tomorrow.
"You don't know me." A happy drunk Miyra turned into a deflated one. She sank down onto the sacks again. "No one knows me. No one except my own family. Ha. Not that I'll go running back to Mummy and Daddy any time soon." The way she said it made it sound bitter in her mouth. She spat on the deck. "Next time they see me they won't be all happy then. Not when they know how ruined their daughter really is."
The truth was always at the bottom of the bottle; this was exactly the reason why Chago always knew how much he can hold and he never exaggerated as to get drunk. He feared what he might say and to whom. As far as Myira's words, they were safe with him, and nothing would be brought back to her memory the next day.
"I know you enough, my little mermaid princess," he said with soothing tenderness in his voice. "Maybe more than your family does. Even if we had spent much less time together than you had spent with your family, I'd say your family might know better the one you used to be before joining this crew. Life at sea, life without your loved ones, changes everyone, helps you growing. You and anyone else. As for my statement that I know you, the one here, enough - yes, I do. I saw you saving bravely the ship when all of us were too scared to think straight anymore. I saw you doing your duty, interacting with the crew, making friends, learning to fight. And fencing is an art complex enough to allow me know you better - how logically your thoughts get aligned, one by one, and how they get braided with mine, in order to counter my moves; how you react to each stroke, how you choose what answer to give... all of them show a little of your personality. And if I didn't like it, don't you think that I might have found a reason not to continue our lessons anymore? But I like what I have seen so far, and I am proud of my quick-learning, bold and graceful student. You can make all your dreams come true, nothing should hold you back, Myira. And if your parents aren't going to be proud of you when seeing your achievements, it won't be because you aren't good at what you are doing", he continued, thinking that he might have understood the reason of her bitterness.
Maybe he hadn't, in reality, however she was worth an attempt. And the part which worried him the most was the "ruined" one - his feverish mind could have built one hundred scenarios to explain it. But in this state, it seemed he might be finding out - whether he wanted to know or not. Perhaps there were some things best left a secret.
But then, if it was the worst he could imagine and she told not him but another, what would that mean? What rumors would circulate the ship? And when she was sober, then she would regret it. Better it be safe with him, if truth be told.
"It would be simply because you are thinking differently than them, and their achievements don't have the same measurement than yours. Some people measure achievements only in money, power and fame. Others are focused on their own development as human beings, and I think this matters more. There comes a moment when money, power and fame might not mean anything, anymore, if there is no inner peace to match them."
He knew this better than anyone. A mercenary had money and fame; he could have got power if he really wanted it, in a way or another, only that he didn't care. And he had reached a certain peace of mind by choosing his own missions and rejecting the ones which didn't fit his idea of justice. At least until recently, when he had been deceived into choosing a job he couldn't do...
"I'm clueless. Ignorant. Naive. Stupid. Passive. " She laughed, and it wasn't a happy laugh. "Hardly the sort of girl anyone would have thought about marrying before- this. An airhead. Father always said I should have been born blond. And now? Well, I'm truly ruined." She turned her gaze on him. "Only a fool would ever want me."
Chago's arm went around her shoulders, holding her protectively.
"No, you are nothing like this. If you were passive and stupid, you couldn't have managed aboard this ship. You wouldn't have got the initiative which has saved us all, turning you into my cherished heroine. Not only mine, the whole crew's, as you saw from the triumph they had carried you in," he added, closer to the truth, but without wondering why his first impulse had been to say "mine", not "ours".
"Ignorance is not a shame. Everybody is ignorant at a certain moment, but people do learn. And you are learning quicker than others, so you are definitely not stupid. I think you will be a beautiful bride and a beloved wife when the time comes," he tried his best to comfort her.
Only that he understood he couldn't find the right words to reach her until he understood what had happened with her.
And yes, now that she was drunk, it was the only possibility he would learn the truth. He hoped that tomorrow she wouldn't remember she had confessed it to him, though. Drinking usually got this effect.
"Tell me what has happened, why do you think you are ruined? I am not asking for mere curiosity, but because I want to help you. And if I know the problem, I might find a solution, or at least... an idea," he said, still holding her close to him.
She hiccuped. "I'm in love with a pirate. A pirate who my parents would not approve of, and I'm drinking too much without having a care in the world. Because I should have been married to a stuck up snob, but I ran away on the wedding night without him. Because I hate him even now, and if anyone on the mainland found out, I'd be taken to my homeland and be such a disgrace." She let out a sob. "What have I done?"
Well, it was a sort of a blow to him... but was it really anything unexpected? Not all the young ladies were like Luisa, and this was the revelation which struck him the most. Yes, Myira was a lady - he had understood it from her manners, from her education; now he got his confirmation. And if she expected him to be shocked and disapprove her... no way! His respect for her grew stronger, exactly because she did what his long-lost love hadn't the courage to do.
"You might have been drinking too much tonight, indeed, but I hope it isn't something happening usually," he told her. "Which liquor do you like?" he asked, with the hidden reason to know if this had been the first time she got drunk or it had happened in the previous nights too.
He didn't think it had, though, because it would have been shown in her morning look, especially that they were training early in the morning. Nevertheless, this was the issue which worried him the most. Would her lover know that she had been drinking? Or who of the men had encouraged her to drink and with what intentions? Well, the last part wasn't difficult to fathom...
"Doubtless I'd be handling it better..." She nursed her head, fighting to not throw up in front of him. "...if I drank again."
So it might have been her first time getting drunk!
"And... are you sick? Or just light-headed?" he asked, concerned for her.
He wouldn't have been the type to get squeamish or angry if she got sick. He would have remained by her side, cursing the fact that at night the galley had the fires put out, so he couldn't make her a revigorating tea until early morning.
"Maybe it would be a reason for you to take care and not drink again... at least not more than you can hold," he told her on a friendly tone.
When she confessed that she had run away to be with a pirate, he answered sincerely:
"In my opinion, you did a good thing not to accept to sacrifice your love for an arranged marriage. And it shows your courage, because most girls in your situation would have dreamt about it, but they would have ended marrying the man their parents had chosen and have the pirate as a secret lover," he continued, remembering a particular conversation eight years ago. "And that pirate is damn lucky to have your love. If he ever treats you less well than you deserve, or if he breaks your heart, tell me, please, and I'll have a discussion ...man to man with him!"
Myira deserved the best. If that man was not worth her love, then he'd teach the scoundrel a lesson.
She hiccuped again. "It's not someone you can have a talk with. Unless you want to be thought of as a madman." She wanted to say it straight out, but in her drunk and disorderly way she couldn't figure whether she should or not. But then, she wasn't in full control of her actions, she realized.
Chago was not born yesterday. Her last words made him understand that HE was the one she was talking about. And ...what about him? He obviously cared for her; how much and how? Difficult to say now. Could he imagine himself loving again, a young woman who was so different from Luisa? Probably yes, exactly because she was different. She refused an arranged marriage. SHe was learning to stand for herself... and she had chosen him, worrying that "only a fool might want her", when she had so many qualities a man would appreciate! This, beyond the beauty every eye could see...
"In this case, I have to take care that he doesn't break your heart and that he treats you well... and it is easier than making sure he is worth your love!" he answered on a more serious tone.
He was still confused... but he would figure it up. The deeper discussions were not meant to happen while she was still drunk. And would she remember tomorrow what she said tonight? Was this drinking something she intended in order to get the courage to tell him? Or was it only, as she had said initially, because a man or several, that he had to watch for, had attempted to get her drunk? He would watch over her like a hawk, nobody to harm her. And he would do his best not to break her precious, little, loveable heart.
She couldn't hold back the waves of nausea any longer and dashed to the side, retching with both hands gripping the side of the ship. For one so naive, she wasn't capiable of intaking much alcohol. Her system simply refused.
Chago found his answer to one of the questions immediately. He came by her side, getting a firm, but still soft-handed grip on one of her arms, while with the other hand he was holding her forehead.
"Don't fight your body! Let it get rid of the liquor! I promise you some fresh water now, and a good tea in the morning, at first light. You will feel better then."
"Why would you do that?" She mumbled. "I don't deserve it."
"Yes, you do deserve everything good!" he answered, not leaving her.
She would have deserved a scolding for having got drunk, too... but she wouldn't receive it from him. Not this time, at least. If it ever happened again...
"Don't say that." She wiped her mouth and turned around to look at him. "I'm not... who you think I am."
As if he was the one people thought he was! And if there was anything to happen between them, she had to know the truth about him - at least the basics of it. This was exactly why he was thinking that the next day, when sober, they had to discuss heart to heart.
He gave her his flask with water, to rinse her mouth, then he asked her:
"What else are you hiding, except the fact that you are a runaway bride to be married against her will, one of the many to fall prey to their parents' choice, but one of the few to do something about it?"
She shook her head, turned around to look back over the side. A tear escaped her eye. "I can't..." She hiccuped, and then turned back to face him. "I can't."
Chago wondered what it might have been about, however, given her state now, he didn't insist. Ultimately, didn't he have a past too, one that she might not accept either?
When she turned to him, his hands found the way to her nape, keeping her close to him, in an embrace which still left her room to breathe and they could look into each other's eyes, to see only love and concern. It was not suffocatingly close, but rather like in a dance where one had to give the partner room to do her own steps too.
"What you can't say tonight, you might be able to say another day, when you'll be sure that you can trust me and that I am not so easily scared. That other day you will surely listen to my story as well."
He was thinking that if they would sit on a coil of ropes, on the deck, she might fall asleep, warmed by his coat, next to him, and he would watch her sleep and clear his thoughts. Maybe in the silence of the night, having her head in his lap, he would understand how much he cared for him, if it was love or what exactly. Surely it was not the mere attraction and lust he had felt for enough women he had met in the ports. Those were no mystery at all - the local beauties with roving eyes that cherished the present holding no promises for the future, liking a handsome sailor (as he used to introduce himself) always ready to dedicate them a serenade, a gallant one with some manners, as they got tired of drunken and rowdy lovers. They all understood what the life of a sailor meant, and didn’t expect more than an attempt from him to look for them again when he arrived into the same port after a while. That was, if no other woman of the same sort caught his eye before.
But Myira was different. She was not of easy morals, and he respected her first and foremost. He wanted to protect her, to help her... to be by her side... wasn't this a different kind of love? Would he have wanted to get her permission to court her properly? For this, he was now sure that the answer was yes, despite the claims of his conscience that she deserved a man better than him.
"Come on, let's sit on this coil of ropes here. It is comfortable, and we can talk further about anything you want," he told her.
Actually, he was also trying to find a way to keep her from going below the deck, to her berth. Besides the possibility that she might be sick again, something else was bothering him: the very reason why she was drunk now, the one or the ones who encouraged her to drink and why. It was them he wanted to keep her away from now.
She sank down on the coil of rope. She was sobering up, the cold night and talking making her more aware of her surroundings. It would be worse for her in the morning when she was completely sober, but the dull headache was beginning to be more noticeable and the slurr of her words had gone.
The air felt heavy with what she couldn't say. It wasn't that she didn't trust him; it was that she was scared he would be horrified and anything he might have felt for her would be replaced by horror. She wouldn't blame him. But another part of her wanted to make him see why she was the way she was. A part of her wanted him to know so that he was truly her friend, and more...
"What do you want to talk about?"
"I have no preference," he answered with a smile, taking out his coat and putting it around her shoulders when he felt her slight shiver. "Anything you like, I'd be interested to learn."
"I like poached eggs." She mumbled, feeling sleepy. "I used to sneak out of the house when I was little to see how the town was when it was quiet. I showed the Mayors son how to horse ride and make a mud pie." She sighed, and put her head on his shoulder.
Chago listened to her telling childhood memories and culinary preferences.
“I like poached eggs too. In the rare occasions that I succeed to go home, my sister always makes me poached eggs for breakfast,” he answered with a smile, half meant for Myira and half for the memory of poached eggs.
The warmth of the raven-haired girl, the soft silk of her hair mixing with his, were feeling so good… He needed no liquor to get inebriated – her mere presence was enough.
“Well, I guess you are a lot like my sister Pepita. I would like you to meet her some day,” he said without thinking.
If somebody knew him, that person would have understood this was a deeper declaration of love than anything else. As it was, Miyra didn't know him enough to understand what he meant, so she said nothing.
Suddenly, Myira moved away for a few seconds. She felt a pain in her pocket that was nothing to do with the drink, and she realized there was no better moment. She searched her pockets and found it, a ring on a chain. It was beautiful… But, again, she was too close to him for Chago to be able to think properly.
"Here." She showed it to him, close up. It was thick and silver with tiny red gems. "I want you to have it."
“I can’t take it! Why would I receive an engagement ring meant for you from the man you had run from?” he asked. “I should be able to offer you another, instead, in the next port!”
"It isn't an engagement ring, stupid." She murmered, and settled down on his shoulder once again. "It belonged to my mother. She was supposed to give it to my father, but he called it a stupid token. But before then, all the women of my family gave it to the man they-" She realized what she was saying... The man they loved. "-Ah." She sighed. "Then I suppose you are right. But not about it being intended for my...intended. He was not the man I cared for. Why waste a token like that? All of it's history and purpose would have been wasted on some boy - and believe me, he was little more than a boy."
He had said nothing about loving her… he hadn’t admitted it to himself yet, but somewhere deep beyond his heart was beating, making him lose reason and forget the right way to think about it. Remembering that, nevertheless, he still had something to offer her in exchange, he searched his pockets to find a little brooch in the shape of a delicate hummingbird, which had been bought from Seaport as a present to his sister.
“Yes, as long as I give you something too, I can have it. And this hummingbird matches you better than my sister… who would have further given it to her eldest daughter anyway.”
She stared at it. Beautiful, yet... She couldn't take it. It brought tears to her eyes, but not for the reason he might expect. "I can't.. I'll loose it, Chago, and that would be worse than- anything. All I do is wear boys clothes. It would be wasted on me." She sat up, the ring on the chain still in her hands. "It's why I wanted you to have it." Not the only reason, of course, but she had already explained the other reason. "A woman wearing it is strange, let alone a lookout. It would only get caught in my clothing, or get damaged." She was no longer sure whether she was talking about the ring or the brooch.
He looked at her without understanding anything.
"But, Myira, you can keep it somewhere in your luggage and wear it only when on shore leave. This hummingbird is frail, gracious and beautiful like you. It suits you... and I hadn't said that you should wear it while working. I know you could get hurt if wearing it in the kitling's nest..."
She looked at him again. "Can we do this tomorrow, when I'm sober and thinking straight? Somewhere quiet tomorrow night. It'll be a full moon by then."
This was a better idea. Exactly how he had thought too. It would be a long discussion, and who could say if she would accept him as he was...
"Yes, the full moon is said to help in matters of heart," he answered. "Tonight, though, please remain with me. This coil of ropes can be comfortable and if you want I can sing you softly to sleep."
"I'd like that. I'd really like that."
For him, it was a night to think about her - well, the angelic look of the sleeping beauty made thinking slightly difficult - but until early morning, when the fire got lit in the galley, his decision to confess her at least the basic lines of his past was made.
After a night to be tipsy, for Myira was to follow a morning to sober up. And this could be done with one of Chago's mix of herbs in a bitter, but invigorating tea. She wouldn't have a hangover, equally how he had none when he partied in the "Armoury" before leaving for a new mission. But wasn't he drunk enough of her beauty?