A feathery acquaintance
Chapter 7: Going West
Location: In the messhall
Eight bells had rung and the watch was over. Most of the hungry crewmen were heading to the galley, bowl in hand, to take their meal, wondering if the cook had been more inspired today than that unidentifiable stew. But Chago had seen worse. In his Army days, he had crossed the Ocean twice, eating all these long three months’ as each expedition lasted, mainly hard tack and salted meat. A sailors’ duff was something to see only on holidays.
Anyway, here aboard the “Steamhawke” things were clearly better. The pirates knew better than the Navy or the merchants that hungry bellies might lead to heads full of mutiny thoughts, and they avoided it by being better supplied with food, even for this long ocean crossing endeavor. Still, the food was preserved, and only a wizard could magic good food from the salted meat, flour, peas, beans, sauerkraut, apples, oranges, lemons and too little other vegetables and fruits. Their supplies were still bountiful; his experience advised him to fear more the last days of the voyage. But even then, he could fish. He had done it before.
He was one of the last to head to the mess hall, looking for Myira. Lunch was only an opportunity more to spend a little time together.
“Do you like fish?” he asked her, as a continuation of his previous thoughts that he’d better spend some time fishing, in two or three weeks’ time.
She smiled. "I lived within sight of the docks my whole life. I wouldn't have survived without liking fish. My older cousins used to go fishing every Sunday while they stayed with us... Father, too, sometimes." It was a happy memory, back in the days when her father had not been selfish and when she had seen him every day at the evening meal. "I used to help cook it. We grew a lot of things ourselves - herbs, exotic fruits in the greenhouse. We could have imported them, but Mother insisted that we grew them ourselves. But then," She paused, remembering. "I suppose we never grew them at all. It was the gardeners that did that sort of business."
The image Myira evoked was quiet and idyllic in its own way. Chago tried remembering his own childhood and teen years, the quiet life at home. Was it a sign that, even in his subconscious, he started contemplating settling down?
“My mother used to have her own garden too. She taught my sister about gardening, she said it was a woman’s business in the tribe she belonged to. The town I grew in is located on the shore of a river, and a lake is also nearby. I was fishing, with my father and my younger brother too. Sometimes my sister would accompany us. I would like you to meet her some day.”
Suddenly a crash emanated from the direction of the galley, reminiscent of pots being knocked over, followed swiftly by a girlish shriek and the cook shouting expletives and demands that someone get out of the galley before they get put into a stew. Footsteps could be heard scampering on the floor until finally the door to mess hall burst open and the winged form of Harriet dashed inside.
Thankfully for her the mess hall was mostly empty by this point. After being chased out of the galley, she loathed to get into another confrontation with a group of sailors. She wasn’t even sure why the cook was so upset in the first place. She was told she could have one meal and figured she’d go to get it. So what if she knocked over a couple pots? It shouldn’t have been that big of a deal.
Harriet sucked in air when she realized she wasn’t actually alone in the mess hall. She was still somewhat nervous about being around everyone, and it didn’t help she’d just been threatened to be cooked. Still, maybe it would be so bad, she thought as she eyeballed Chago and Miyra gingerly.
The girl twiddled her bird-like thumbs against each other nervously before hesitantly speaking up. “Uhhh... Hi?”
Chago, barely entered in the mess hall, looked startled at the unbelievable apparition. He had been born in the Old West and he had heard about Icari. His father, in his travels, before marrying his mother, had stumbled upon an Icari village – or so he had called it. But having an Icari girl aboard “Steamhawke” was… a surprise.
“Hello! I hadn’t seen you before around here… don’t tell me you flew all the distance and landed here just today!” he said, puzzled. He hadn't considered the possibility of having stowaways in the hold.
Harriet shook her head in response. “No, I landed here yesterday. I was just told I could stay today.” she answered as she took a couple steps closer to the table. Chago’s casual small talk made her feel a little more at ease. It was certainly better than open hostility. Eventually she managed to take a seat at the table a moderate distance from the other two.
"Well, then." Miyra nudged Chago, friendly nature taking over. "Move up. No one should have to eat alone." She gestured to the space next to her, and got to her feet. "I'm Miyra. A pleasure to meet you." She seemed unfazed about meeting an Icari, as though she'd seen it all before.
It was at that moment Harriet had begun eyeing the meals in front of Chago and Miyra. A humongous growl burst out of the small girls gut, practically loud enough to shake the table, and a small spot of drool threatened to drip out of the corner of her mouth as it watered heavily, stopped only by a timely licking of her lips. Harriet began fidgeting again, before finally speaking up. “So how do I get one of those?” she asked, referring to the plates in front of the two.
Chago smiled approvingly at Miyra. Her friendliness was commendable, especially aboard a ship. He didn't realize it was an inborn thing: if you grew up at the height of society you grew up to have certain... motherly qualities. It was the best trait to have to get a good bridal price.
Once seated, he couldn't avoid noticing how hungry the Icari girl was. As he hadn't started eating yet, he gave his bowl with stew to the Icari girl, together with the biscuits to soak in it.
"Take mine! After the noise I heard, I doubt the cook is willing to give you any. And after you eat in peace, we would like hearing your story. I haven't heard of Icari to fly such a long distance overseas."
"You can hardly blame him, cooking for a load of ungrateful men." Miyra was glad she didn't have any cutlery apart from a spoon, or eating the stale bread she'd been given on the side would have proved difficult, mainly because she would have been forced to choose between her instincts of eating with a knife and fork or not. As it was, she just had her hands, and smacked it against the table several times until chunks began to break off.
Chago didn't think they were really ungrateful for McGinty's hard work... but he didn't answer. Well, the old cook's attitude of wanting to get the Icari girl into the stew was nothing commendable either. He should fish instead, or put nets for edible birds, if he wanted something fresh in the stew.
Almost as soon as Harriet had been passed the bowl was it emptied by the hungry girl. With a hearty smile she snatched up the bowl and poured into her waiting mouth, more akin to someone emptying it into a sink than someone attempting to eat. The girl sighed happily as the last of the stew drained into her gullet before promptly popping the rolls into her mouth and effortlessly swallowing them whole.
Harriet’s eyes sparkled as she finished the meager meal as she clapped her wings happily. “Yummy! That was good!” she exclaimed, thought she was likely the only person nearby who would call such a meal “good”. Considering how fast she’d eaten it one would be forgiven for wondering if the girl had even been able to taste it at all.
The Icari girl rubbed her belly happily, content at least for the moment with the food. It likely wouldn’t be long, though, before she headed out to find something else. Still, she was afforded some time to socialize. “I don’t know any other Icari that have come out this far.” Harriet said, answering Chago’s previous question. “But I ran out of places to see back home so I decided to head out this way!” The girl smiled. “I’m just glad I found a place to land before my wings got tired!” she finished with a laugh.
Chago forgot to go for another serving for himself, when he saw how hungry the Icari girl was. He was glad when she appreciated the food and showed the happiness of somebody who hadn't had a decent meal for a long time. He knew this feeling from his days on the prowl, stalking a mark. If he thought better, also from the Army. There were enough evenings when one had to go to sleep with a loudly protesting stomach.
"I am Chago Moreno, deckhand, and she is Miyra Blackbird, our lookout," he remembered that the polite way was to introduce themselves. "And I guess running out of places to see is a good reason for traveling!"
Miyra smiled at her. "I'm new on the ship, too. Well," She corrected herself. "Not that new, but sometimes I think I'll never get used to being on board. It's so... different."
Harriet hadn’t even realized they hadn’t introduced each other yet, it simply having completely slipped her mind. But better late than never, she supposed. The bird girl extended her wing across the table at the two of them with a smile. Thought she lacked the proper appendages for such, she was clearly offering a handshake. “Harriet Brooks! Nice to meet’cha’!”
Chago took her wing, Miyra too, both shaking it delicately:
"Glad to meet you, Ms. Brooks. Are you just leaving the Old West or coming back after seeing the world? Because this ship is heading to the Old West."
Miyra nodded, echoing what Chago had said. Harriet put her thumb to her chin and tilted her head in response, thinking. It occurred to her that she’d set out with the intent of going across the sea, but it was certainly true that this ship was going in the opposite direction. She’d gotten so caught up in the excitement of this new experience she’d forgotten why she’d left in the first place!
“Neither, I guess...” she finally replied. “I was planning on seeing what’s over there...” she said, pointing in what she figured was the direction opposite of the Old West. “But this is much more exciting!” Harriet smiled and laughed. “I’ve never been on a flying thingy before!”
"That makes two of us." Miyra smiled.
"Well, you are here now, and it is everything which matters," Chago smiled. "Only bear it in mind that, if you want to cross the sea, each mile this ship is making brings you closer back home and farther from your destination," he added.
A painful knot in his stomach reminded him that he needed, though, something to eat. He took a deep breath, then smiled, both to his beloved and to their feathery new acquaintance.
"I'll have to persuade McGinty to give me another bowl of stew... and if he has anything more left on the bottom of the pot, Myira, you should come with me... I am sure Harriet would love a second serving, and it's better that YOU take it for her!"
Of course it was better, given that he had intended to put her in the stew...