Sharing a meal
Chapter 9: Steam City
Location: Kanesville, in the dormitory
Timeline: Day 4
Leftheris was hungry. Bad news or not, he still needed to digest them. And not only the news… he needed some concrete food. Only that the newspaper had made him lose the desire to go to a tavern and eat among lots of people. So he descended to the shops nearby and he returned with a big round loaf of bread, cheese, olives, tomatoes – a meal which didn’t need preparing, could be eaten quickly and was filling. When he went to the dormitory, nobody else was around except a new girl. A young one, reminding him somehow of his sister Marianthi in her early teens. She didn’t seem she had eaten too much or too often lately.
“Hello! Care to accompany me to a meal?” he invited her casually, spreading the goods on the only table there. “It’s plenty for both of us!”
Every dropped McGinty’s fifth favorite mop -- the old man still refused to let her anywhere near his third -- and wandered over, seizing the opportunity to take a break. And food! Every never said no to food; she was probably the only person in the dormitory who actually enjoyed Blazingtail’s cooking. But Leftheris’ spread was recognizable as actual food. On the streets of Kanesville -- and even in some of the houses, or so she’d heard -- actual food was hard to come by.
“That’s real food,” Every said, unable to contain her awe.
Leftheris laughed how only the childlike naivety of the remark could make him to, despite the present worries:
”Of course it is real! What did you expect me to eat instead? And I never like eating alone when there is somebody else to share a meal with.”
But the joy of the exclamation made him understand how hungry the child was. He had known wars and sieges. He knew about hungry children.
“Well, please pour me some water here in the basin to wash my hands before eating, then I’ll pour you some too. And while we are at it, let’s get acquainted with each other. My name is Leftheris Vunos and I am the master gunner. What about you?"
He couldn't think about himself otherwise than with the position aboard the ship. It was what he had been for many years. Now, on land, he was just a gunslinger in a group of adventurers, not even the rebel warrior he had been once in his natal Hanya, but he couldn't admit it even to himself.
“Oh!” Every exclaimed, tearing her eyes away from the bread and fetching some water for the basin. “I’m Every Saint Claire, I’m a cabin girl...well, I will be when we get back to the ship, that’s what they told me. But I’ve not seen the ship, so I’m really not sure what I am for now. Mostly I clean things,” she prattled on as she poured the water in the basin. “Have you seen the ship?” Every was keen to find out all she could about this ship before she boarded it.
"Glad to meet you, Every," Leftheris answered politely, without extending his hand for a handshake only because said hands were busy getting washed.
He took the pitcher to pour her some water too, while telling her about Steamhawke:
"I have been serving aboard Steamhawke for several months, and before I have been on another ship. Well, a ship girl will have some cleaning to do there too. And bringing gunpowder to the cannons during the battles, and learning how to be a good sailor from the most experienced ones."
Taking a towel, he wiped his hands and gestured to her to take a seat at the table. He took two plates, starting to cut the tomatoes on one, while he gave her a knife too, to slice the bread. In the meantime, he was telling her about the ship he was already missing:
"Steamhawke is a beautiful sky frigate. It can fly in the sky or float on sea, it depends on what our captain wants to do. It has three masts, beautiful sails and two propellers at the back. And an engine room where Master Brem, Akito and Erm are working."
Once the tomatoes were cut, he sent, with a knife movement, half of the slices on Every's plate, and he cut the cheese in two halves, with the same destination. The olives came next, and so the table was ready.
"Good appetite!" he said.
Every seemed content with Leftheris’s explanation as she dug into the food on her plate. The work didn’t seem much harder than what she’d already been accustomed to doing here. And if there was one thing that Every was most interested in, it was becoming the best sailor she could possibly be.
“I been on a skyship once,” she said through a mouthful of bread. She swallowed and continued on. “When I came here. Well, not here here -- to the West here. Don’t remember the ship all that much, it was storming the whole time and all the others were scared they were gonna die, so I didn’t learn anything at all. ‘Course, I wasn’t thinking about learning anyway, so…what does a master gunner do? Are you the boss of all the guns? Or does that mean that you’re the best with all the guns?”
Leftheris smiled. It was something he had heard before from young powdermonkeys.
"Yes, one might say I am the boss of all the guns - which is how the big cannons are called aboard the ship. I do supervise their cleaning, their repairs, I teach the men to use them properly, and in the battle I give the order to fire and what kind of ammunition to use. But the lesson about ammunition will come when we'll get aboard the ship, so that you'll learn how to differentiate it by sight and by place of storage."
Of course he couldn't run a drill there, on land, with no guns and ammunition.
"I know about storms too. I was scared sometimes too. It is normal to want to live... but not all storms end bad. I can't count how many I have been through in my almost seven years at sea."
Every nodded sagely, munching happily. That made sense. After all, if all storms ended badly, she wouldn’t be sitting here eating actual food. And if she was going to be spending a lot more of her time on a ship, she might as well get used to the the idea of lots of storms. Not that she was afraid of storms herself, of course...
“So why are we not on the ship anyway? I mean, I’m glad that we’re not on the ship, because I wouldn’t have met Mr. Naji if you had been, but it’s odd to see a bunch of sea-people inland without a ship.”
Leftheris laughed. That girl was smart... and he mostly agreed with her. A sailor's place was on deep seas... and skies.
"You are right, only that sometimes people need to find on land things they need at sea. Instruments, maps... and something else our captain is searching. So we are following her and helping when needed."
She would hear some time that the "something else" was a treasure, but not now and not from him.
The contents spread on the table disappeared quickly between them two.
"And you, Every? Why do you like seas and ships?"
“Well...my daddy was a pi--” Every started, but caught herself before it was too late. Maybe it didn’t matter; she had already given Leftheris her last name, so there was a chance he could still put two and two together...or maybe not. Every didn’t know how many Saint Claires existed, but she had never met any others.”
“ -- my daddy was a sea-person too, and he always told the best stories about what he did while he was gone. I always wanted to go too, but he always said no, ‘cos it was too dangerous. I guess he was right, ‘cos he’s dead now.” She shrugged. “So I figure, if I become the best...sea-person...I can be, maybe he’d be proud or something, I dunno. Of course, I didn’t know when Mr. Naji said I could come that you were sea-people too. What’s that word for when you find something you’re looking for when you’re not looking for it? Like that.”
In Leftheris' country it was a saying that children and drunkards said the deepest truths, It had to be like this in their case too. The slip-off was clear enough, and the master gunner smiled. He hadn't kept in memory the girl's family name. It sounded Merovingian enough and he knew there were Merovingians among the crew. It was enough for him. But he could add quickly what "pi... sea person" could come from.
"I might call it the hand of destiny, Every," he said on a serious tone, looking in the girl's eyes. "We are exactly that kind of sea persons your father would have liked to keep company to. And you are that kind of girl who reminds me of one of my sisters," he finally told her.
He said her father might have liked to be in their company, but it didn't necessarily mean that a father might wish this for his child, though. Especially for a girl.
“The hand of destiny? That sure is a fancy way of putting it,” Every replied honestly. Still, she liked the sound of it. She was a pirate. Everything was working itself out.
But Leftheris had said that she reminded him of his sister. “That’s a compliment, right?” she asked, rising to start clearing the table.
"If you want to take it as a compliment, you may. Have you ever had any siblings?"
Of course it could have been a sort of a compliment, because he was missing his sisters, the only ones of his family who survived the retaliatory measures against rebels... exactly because they were already married and not showing any ties with his family anymore.
"Well, in that case, I'll just assume that your sister is the most beautiful and amazing person who ever existed," Every declared.
Leftheris' smile, a little sad, got wider.
"Yes, she is. And she is far away, across seas and lands, but you are here. For the beginning, I can't teach you too many things about sea, since we are on land, however there might be stories to listen to and things to learn from them on our journey out of Kanesville."
Yes, she could be a little sister to take care of and to teach... While he was thinking both about Every and his own sister Marianthi, the girl continued:
"And I had a little brother, but he died as soon as he was born, and my momma died too. so it's pretty much just me."
So she couldn't know how it was to have and miss a sibling.
"Well, from now on it won't be just you anymore. You've got yourself an elder brother now."
She was young enough to be his daughter, actually, but he hadn't thought this way, as he found in her similarities with Marianthi.
The task of cleaning almost wrapped up, Every sighed and grudgingly picked up the fallen mop from the floor. It sure had been nice to take a break.
She sighed. "Ugh. I guess I should get this back before McGinty notices. I didn't exactly tell him that I took it. Thank you for the actual food, Mr. Vunos. It was really kind of you."
"You are welcome. I will make sure I'll always have something good to eat for you."
Next time, he'd get her something sweet too, he decided.