The Happy Couple

It took me a quite a while to locate the Cadabera estate. In fact, a few hours into my search some helpful young men in Cadabera livery turned up to escort me there. I was given to understand that my continued well being was dependent on my going with them.
They led me to a quite charming rose-quartz villa, set in a formal water-garden made from a series of interconnecting fountains and pools, broken up with flower beds and tropical shrubs. my escort marched me past all the splendour and into the house and then demanded that I hand over my sabre and pistols. I didn’t see that I had much choice, at least if I wanted to sort out Jash’s situation, so I unbuckled my belt and handed them over.
“You look after those,” I said with a wink and a grin “we’ve travelled a long way together.”
“Of course, sir. Please go through that door.”
I was shown into a well tended courtyard, where Lord Cadabera was drinking something gold and sparkly from a crystal glass. He was a large, athletic man, handsome, in a severe kind of way. He was dressed in a suit of sky blue silk with detail in yellow, his dark hair tied back in a tight braid. As I approached, his bodyguard withdrew to a discreet distance, but I had no illusions. This man was in no danger from me, at least here and now.
“You are Captain Karl Stormcrow of the Broken Heart, which is incidentally quite safe at the south dock and neither sunk or in flames. My people tell me you were looking for my house. What do you want?” He spoke without any obvious anger, or any emotion at all. I thought this extremely odd, given the passion evident in the damage to Jash’s face.
“I am responsible for Jash, the young man you beat up and dropped in the river this afternoon.”
“In what way are you responsible?”
“I’m his captain.”
“Ah. And you came here because…”
“Jash is concerned for the safety of the Lady Abra,” I said.
“And what business is that of yours?”
“When one’s people fear for their loved ones, one is compelled to act,” I said, trying and failing to find any flicker of recognition in the Lord’s face.
“Really. Forgive me if I am sceptical. What do pirates know of love? Of loyalty? You are cut-throats and thieves, nothing more. What is the scam?”
“There is no scam, sir. If I can simply speak to the lady, so I can convince my crewman she is safe and well, I can be out of your way.”
“Oh you can be gone much quicker than that if I wish it.” He hesitated, making an exaggerated performance of coming to a decision. “No, I don’t think I’ll let you talk to her. She is confined to her rooms and will have no visitors today. You can talk to her tomorrow, when she is placed in the stocks in the town square.”
I was momentarily speechless.
“You mean to do what?”
“That is the prescribed punishment for her crime. It is my right to demand it.”
“When one’s people break their sacred promises, one is compelled to act.” His smile reminded me of a cobra I’d seen in the market the day we first saw Lady Abra. “There is one more thing. Jash escaped before I was finished with him. Tell him I will have satisfaction.”
“A duel? No, I will not allow it.”
“Tomorrow at sunset, Jash will come here and we will fight to the death, or I will take your ship. My ships and my soldiers are already in place, believe me you cannot escape. Your crew will be hanged as pirates, and you, Captain, will burn.” For the first time I heard some passion under the practiced control. This was a man who hated to be crossed, and enjoyed killing. He waved me away. “Sunset tomorrow, after he has seen what his antics have earned his lover. Now get out of my house.”

I returned to the Lily and gave Yoko instructions to prepare the Heart to sail, and as darkness fell I returned to the Cadabera villa. I gained entry with judicious use of a blackjack, some silk gags and some lightweight rope. Once all the night-guards were safely out of the way I retrieved my sword and pistols from a cabinet in the study, and began the search for Abra. Two of the guards had been posted outside one particular door, and I’d taken a key from one of them, so I thought it likely that the lady was behind it.
I turned the key and knocked softly before easing the door open. Predictably, she was hiding behind the door, holding something heavy over her head.
“Who are you,” she said in an urgent whisper as I darted out of danger and held up my hands.
“I’m Karl Stormcrow, Jash’s captain,” I said. Even in the darkness, her smile lit up her face.
“Captain Karl, yes, he speaks of you often. I’m sorry I let him get hurt. How is he?”
“He’ll live. You should know you’re not responsible, though.”
“I know,” she closed the door and showed me to a chair. She lit a lamp, turned it down low, and took the seat next to mine. “My Lord’s men?” she asked.
“Unharmed. For the moment they’re tied up in the study.”
Her eyes widened, and her smile returned. “You are a dangerous man, Captain Karl. Why did you come?”
“To offer you a way out.”
“No, sir, I have to stay.”
“I have met your lord, and I know what you and Jash were doing on your barge. You can’t possibly love this man.”
“If I leave he will kill Jash, and all of you as well. I will stay here until you have escaped. Then I will follow you.”
“Actually he’s challenged Jash to a duel.”
“No! Tell Jash he must not!”
“Don’t worry, I will not let him come to harm. Now, I have an important question.”
“How would you feel about sailing with us?”
“Oh, Captain Karl, I would love to!” she said, almost clapping her hands like a giddy schoolgirl.
“It will be hard work, and dangerous. Life aboard ship is not easy.”
“Do you imagine it is harder than living here?”
“Well, now you put it like that, probably not. The hardships will be different, though. Are you sure you want to do this, for a man you have only known for a few days?”
“I am,” she said, nodding her head and beaming.
“Then we will see you tomorrow. Hang in there, Lady Abra. You’re one of us now.”

Love Hurts

I spent most of the afternoon relaxing in the Gilded Lily. I thought it a good choice for a number of reasons, the interesting view being quite low down on the list. Higher up was the fact that no-one I saw here would want to share that information with anyone, as doing so would place them here as well. Aramine has always been a relatively safe port for us, but one never knows when a pirate ship will have her welcome withdrawn. Being difficult to find is often useful.
This did not extend to my crew, though, who were all aware of exactly where I would be. This ensured that they did not turn up themselves unless they had urgent business that required my attention, and as evening approached and the rum began to arrive more slowly, one such item arrived at the Lily’s discreet entrance.
Yoko half carried Jash into the room, set him down at a table and looked around until his eyes rested on mine. He mimed the need for a drink and I passed the order to the bar-tender.
“Lots of rum and some food, that table over there,” I said, before making my way carefully across the room. Long before I arrived, Jash was surrounded by the inevitable crowd of sympathetic young ladies. I had to make my way through a cloud of perfume and well-filled lace before I could see what had happened.
Young Jash had apparently been used as a punchbag, and a number of powerful chaps had completed quite a tough workout by the look of him. When Yoko told me the beating had been administered by Lord Cadabera himself, with no help from any of his many minions, my stomach turned over.
“Something of a fighter then, this lord.”
“So it would seem, Captain,” said Yoko.
“Something of a psycho too,” I said, taking another look at Jash’s swollen face. “How did he escape?”
“Fell inna water,” said Yoko. “The lady has a pleasure barge on the river, and Jash was helping her put it to it’s stated purpose, Sir. Lord Cadabera … interrupted them.”
“That would explain why he has no pants on,” I said. “I’m sure the ladies could find him some, though?” This received an enthusiastic response and after much debate one of the girls was sent upstairs in search of appropriate clothing. Despite the gravity of the situation I smiled to myself at the thought of the potential results.
Yoko stepped aside to let the bar-tender set a tray down on the table. The conversation was interrupted while Yoko poured everyone a drink, and then persuaded Jash to take his. He swallowed painfully, then turned his puffy gaze to me.
“Sorry, Captain. We was certain he didn’t know.”
“Quiet, lad. You can rest up here for a few days, then we’ll sail and put it all behi-“
“We gotta take her with us, Cap’n,” he said. “Life with that swine will be unbearable after today.”
“It is not an easy thing, to leave one’s home on a pirate ship.”
He ran a hand through his sodden red mane and muscled his body into a more upright position.
“I know, Sir. Will you at least let me give her the choice?”
“And what use will she be to us, Jash? The Heart is not a pleasure barge.”
“If you are not satisfied by her contribution, Captain, I will pay for her passage out of my share.”
“We’re a pirate ship, Jash…”
“Please, Captain. I love her,” he said, as if that should be reason enough.
All eyes were on me for a several minutes while I considered. The ladies here had hard lives, and few romantic illusions, but from the look of them my continued welcome at the Lily was dependant on my giving the right answer. In the end I decided that if a love story was powerful enough to get through to these women, then it was almost certainly real.
“I will ask her what she wants to do. She may come with us, if she makes an informed choice to do so.” I dropped some gold coins on the table. “Yoko, stay here with Jash until I return. Look after Jash and Yoko, please ladies.” I thought for a second and added some more coins to the pile. “I may be some time.”