A Shortage of Watermelons

As promised, I kept the Heart in port for the next few days, but this wasn’t just so that Jash could follow his little head into trouble. I decided that the whole crew could do with a chance to spend some of our hard-won booty on … well I’m sure you get the idea. This was exactly the kind of place a pirate crew dreams of arriving at, especially if their pockets have been heavy and jingling for altogether too long. And, of course, now our business was complete, there was an acquaintance I was looking forward to renewing.
Unlike our chaotic and beautiful home, Aramine has no watermelons, which would be a terrible tragedy if they didn’t have lilies instead. And so it was that I found myself propping up the private bar at the Gilded Lily, where the rum is, legend has it, never, ever gone.
It didn’t take the news very long to reach her. Soon the rustle of silks and the scent of jasmine and sandalwood told me she had descended from her ivory tower.
“Oh my, look what the wind blew in,” said Andi, the owner and proprietor of this particular carefully crafted cliche.
“You always say that,” I said, taking another leisurely pull on the rum bottle in my hand.
“You want original lines, you gotta buy something,” she said, taking the stool next to mine and lifting an eyebrow at the bartender, who began the manufacture of some mysterious cocktail.
“I bought a bottle of rum and a plate full of oysters,” I said.
“You know what I mean, Karl.”
“I like things a little more … complicated. It’s more than a simple transaction for me, as you will remember.”
“So why come here? The drink and the food are not our speciality. Other places do them better.”
“As I tell you every time, I like the atmosphere.”
“Yes, you do say that every time. But, and I’m allowed to say this because I own the place and I did it on purpose, the atmosphere is cheap, tacky …”
“And discreet. Also you always do a bang-up job on my boots.”
“Ah, then you may be disappointed. The boy left a few weeks ago, took ship with one of your lot as it happens, and we’ve had some trouble training his replacement. I’d keep your boots to yourself and have that cute little urchin of yours clean them instead.”
“Roger has better things to do these days.”
“I’m sure he does. Quick boy that one. Now, much as I’d love to spend all evening sparring with you, old friend, you never come here unless you need something, atmosphere or no.”
“Well I did hope you could tell me something about a Lord and Lady Cadabera.”
“Not so much, I’m afraid.”
“Odd, from what I’d heard he likes things simple.”
“He came here once. He was … impolite.” I was wincing inwardly at all the connotations of that word, especially here among the Sisters and at the heart of their covert web of power, when her cocktail arrived. It was pink, and bubbling. Little wisps of steam blew around the surface, and it smelled of cherries.
“I’m not going to ask you what it’s called,” I said.
“Why not?” she said, with a chuckle.
“Because it’s one of those drinks. The kind people only order because they want to say the rude name.”
“Aw go on,” she said, nudging me with her elbow.
I chuckled myself. “No. So he’s a bit of a heel?”
“Nasty is how I’d put it. Lucky for everyone he never came back. You’d be surprised how many of them think they hold all the cards, but not him.”
“Which makes him clever as well.”
“Guess so.” She shrugged. “So what did he do to you?”
“Absolutely nothing.”
“Pull the other one. You’re working up to ruin his day, I can tell. You don’t do that for shits and giggles, Karl.”
“One of my lads has fallen for his lady.”
“How hard?”
“Like a concrete unicorn.”
“Ouch. OK, I’ll see what I can find out. You ok for the hard stuff?”
“Just tell the kid to keep it coming,” I said, setting the empty bottle on the bar. “And keep your eye out for a green and blue parrot.She seems to get lost every time we come here.”
“I remember. Don’t worry, you’re among friends here.”

Off the market

It was, as I remember, a beautiful summer evening in Aramine market. The air was alive with exotic music and the scent of spices, it had been weeks since we’d seen any sign of the Scorpion and I was enjoying myself immensely. The same could not be said for Gordo, the cloth trader, whose beard appeared to be trying to strangle him whenever I named a price.
“Karl, please, I have wives and children to feed.”
“I’m asking a fair price and you know it, Gordo,” I said, “And I’ll take my business elsewhere if you don’t stop wasting my time.”
At the entrance to the merchant’s tent, Jash clicked his tongue, indicating that something was happening. Jash was one of the more accomplished and adventurous of the Broken Heart’s crew, and he was here because he had the right balance of level-head and ready-blade. He ducked his head inside the tent, his hair a shock of red, like flames against the sun-bleached canvas.
“Guardsmen, Cap’n. Comin’ this way, all purposeful like.”
“Anything you want to tell me, Gordo?” I asked, dropping my hand casually so it rested close to my pistols and my cutlass.
“It’s just a lady’s escort,” he said, feigning impatience, though I could see the panic in his eyes. “Lady Cadabera is to collect an order this afternoon. She’s a little early, that’s all. However, it would not do for her to find me in conversation with pirates. Her husband is an important man.”
Reluctantly, I left my silks in Gordo’s dubious care and ducked under the back of his tent, so as to avoid embarrassing him in front of the lady. I trusted that Jash would have the good sense to make himself equally scarce, but as I made my way back to the street I discovered that something terrible had happened. Jash had moved away from the guardsmen, like any sensible criminal would, but he had remained close enough to get a look at the lady in question, and now he stood on the other side of the street, a stunned smile plastered onto his young, windburned features.
“Did you see her, Cap’n?” he breathed as I approached.
“I didn’t as it happens,” I said, somewhat concerned.
“All the better for me then, sir.”
“You do understand she’s a married woman?”
“You mean she belongs to someone else, like? Like those silks did?” There was something hard and unreasonable, almost accusatory, in his voice.
“Actually I meant that she’s made promises to another man, presumably on purpose. I don’t expect she’s free to dally with pirates, even if she were inclined.” I watched Jash mentally dismount his high horse and settle down a bit, but I was not reassured. When usually sensible young men started talking like that it was a sign of more nonsense to come. I resolved to get Jash back onboard the Heart as soon as possible, once our business here was concluded.
There was a coffee house a short distance down the crowded lane and we claimed a spot on the benches outside it while we waited for the lady to be on her way. The coffee was a welcome change, spiced with cinnamon and chocolate to counterpoint it’s bite and I was once again in a chipper mood when the Lady Cadabera floated past, surrounded once again by a squad of grimly determined and heavily armed guards. My first impression was that she was a pretty little thing, olive-skinned and dark haired like her countrymen, her painted face and flowing white dress accentuating her birdlike fragility. As she passed close to us I fancied her expression was more thoughtful that I expected, but it was only a fleeting glimpse and I may have been wrong.
Once again, Jash was struck as if by lighting and he stared after her in a most obscene display of romantic frustration. I flatter myself that I can recognise the signs in others, having been struck myself with such predictable regularity.
“Come on, sailor, we have business to conclude.”
“Please, Cap’n,” he said, falling into step with me, “she looks so sad.”
“You can’t possibly know she’s unhappy. You haven’t even spoken to her.”
“Just let me take a closer look. If she’s happily married I’ll walk away without a word. I’ll be happy to, if she’s happy.”
“Ok, Jash, we’ll stay in port for a few days while you poke around. But when you discover, as you inevitably will, that she’s desperately bored and unfulfilled and a virtual prisoner of her wealthy tyrant husband, what do you think you can do about it?”
“I don’t know, sir,” he said, “I’ll just have to think of something.”
And because I had some idea what the kid was going through, I left it at that. It took very little time to finish up with Gordo, who had sold our silks to the lady for roughly double what we’d been asking for them and was in no mood to argue for longer than necessary. I gave him back a little of his gold in return for information about the lady.
“Her name is Abra,” he said, “And she’s a lovely young thing, clever too. I know you, Karl, and she’s a married woman and one of my best customers. I’m telling you now, don’t you go making trouble for her now.”
“Abra?” I said, “Lady Abra Cadabera? Really?”
“Is she happy?” blurted Jash, and Gordo caught up. His wrinkled face softened in sympathy under his shaggy beard.
“Ah, I see. I’d like to tell you she is, kid. I’d like to see you sail away an’ leave her be, but it isn’t my place to make that choice. I can’t see how she could be, since her husband is so terribly bad at serving the drinks, if you know what I mean.”
“Of course he is” I said with a sigh. “And what else can you tell us about this rotten bar-steward?”