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?”