“I must say, you seem to be doing well for yourself, Merrill. Does piracy pay so well?” If the chair weren’t bolted to the deck, Carson Drale would no doubt have leaned back and dumped his boots on the table. He was that type of man, Feruzi decided. Now that his rage had run its course Drale’s natural personality seemed to be reasserting itself and Feruzi could not find it in herself to like the man. To be fair, she acknowledged that she hadn’t liked Merrill at first, either. Perhaps Drale’s swagger also was a front for a decent, loyal heart. Ukele had settled in one of the other chairs. Maybe Drale would have some such effect on Ukele as Merrill had on Feruzi. She could not decide whether the idea pleased her or not, but it did amuse her.
“It has its ups and downs,” Pegsworthy was saying. “Much like anything, I suppose. One good haul might set a man up for life, but a bit of bad luck might mean total ruin, with your former fellows eager to speed you on your way. I try to avoid either extreme.” He glanced at Feruzi thoughtfully, his expression unreadable.
“What’s that face supposed to mean?” Drale asked, chuckling.
“Oh, nothing. I still just can’t get over what an enormous coincidence this is, finding you out here. I don’t like to play the superstitious man, but . . .”
“It’s no coincidence, old man. I asked for this assignment, so, really it was only a matter of time before we encountered each other again.”
Drale smirked. “That’s between the Admiralty and myself, I’m afraid. It seems they do recognize talent when it’s shoved down their throats hard enough.”
Feruzi didn’t imagine anyone else would have noticed the faint contraction of pain in Pegsworthy’s face, but from the sudden intensity of Drale’s stare and the equally faint rise of his eyebrows he noticed and was enjoying it. Feruzi’s stomach clenched and she felt a powerful urge to see Drale off the Bonaventure at the first opportunity, land nearby or no. The sight of Ukele watching in rapt fascination was abruptly no longer a source of any amusement.
“Is the manner of your survival also a matter of national security?” Merrill asked. “I would think so, given how you’ve danced around the issue.”
“Not at all. It’s not a bad story, in fact—good gods, what is that?!” Drale launched himself halfway out of his chair as Pinch appeared bearing the breakfast tray.
“Ah,” Pegsworthy said, briefly at a loss. His good manners came to his rescue. “May I present Mr. Pinch, quartermaster of the Bonaventure.”
“It’s a bloody devil-spawn, is what it is!”
“Be nice, Carson,” Pegsworthy chided, in Feruzi’s opinion far too mildly.
“Your pardon, Captain,” Pinch said, setting the tray down with all the precision of a superior house servant. “I did not mean to offend your guest.” The quartermaster’s tone was polite but it only served to make his antipathy for Drale more plain.
“How dare you speak like that, misbegotten wretch . . .”
“Mr. Drale!” Pegsworthy’s voice cracked like a whip. Even Ukele flinched. “Mr. Pinch is a valued member of my crew. If you find yourself unable to be civil then I request you confine yourself to silence!” The two men locked gazes for a moment, then Drale shrugged, trying to make his offhand gesture a casual denial of the contest that had just taken place.
“Sorry, Merrill, the surprise, you know . . .”
Pegsworthy kept his silent gaze on Drale for some seconds longer, then released him pointedly. “Thank you, Markuss, that will be all.”
“Yes, Captain,” Pinch said, giving a respectful half-bow and withdrawing.
“Where in the world did you get that thing?” Carson grumbled when Pinch was out of earshot.
“Where do you think, Carson?” Pegsworthy shot back with some asperity.
“Well, you didn’t have to bring it with you when you left.”
“That is a matter between Mr. Pinch and myself. So, you were about to tell me how you survived being dragged underwater and abandoned?”
“Oh, yes.” Drale seemed to be having difficulty in reasserting his swagger. “There really isn’t that much to tell. I was rescued at the last moment by a, well, a woman.”
“An underwater woman?” Feruzi demanded, dubious. Carson glanced at her and straightened primly.
“Yes. I thought I was a dead man, tangled in the wreckage, my last breath trailing away, then I woke in some sort of underwater grotto with a beautiful maiden standing over me. She was some kind of sorceress,” Drale added, smirking faintly. “At first, she didn’t want to let me go, but I was so charming she was soon just putty in my hands. She had these flying eyeball creatures that she used to watch for passing ships in her cauldron. When she saw one close by she had her pet sea-troll carry me to the surface.”
“Eyeballs,” Feruzi said.
“Yes, I agree it sounds rather queer . . .”
“It’s not queer if you are a Sea Hag.”
Drale’s face turned an interesting shade of purple. “She was no hag!”
“They can disguise themselves with magic. A fact that plainly did not occur to you.”
Pegsworthy cleared his throat loudly before Drale could respond to that. “Dear, could I speak to you privately, please.”
Feruzi blinked. “Er, of course.” She followed him into their shared bedroom. Pegsworthy carefully shut the door on Carson and Ukele.
“Really a Sea Hag?” Pegsworthy said, finally.
“It sure sounded like it.”
“I see. Well . . . let’s just keep this between us, hmm?”
“If you say so.”
“I do, if only to keep the peace on my ship. Go have some breakfast, love. Just try to stick with . . . less inflammatory topics. If there are any.”
Feruzi scowled. “And what are you going to do?”
“Oh, I have some . . . things I wanted to do,” Pegsworthy said, waving his hands around airily. Feruzi didn’t seem to buy it, but she let him put her out of the cabin. Pegsworthy then buried his face in the pillows and laughed himself sick.