Drenchport was, for once, not living up to its name. The occasional flare of sunlight peeping through the clouds even lent the place a festival air, like fireworks. Nonetheless, Feruzi was not entirely certain how she wound up agreeing to take Ukele out shopping. The original plan, as far as she could recall, was simply to roust her sister out of her cabin and make her get some exercise before she figuratively (and maybe even literally) exploded from boredom. Ukele was strangely resistant to the idea and only grudgingly agreed to go ashore with Feruzi as escort.
“What is with you today?” Feruzi asked as Ukele sulked her way past yet another market stall. “Are you sick?”
“I’m fine! What’s it to you, anyway?”
“You’re the one who dragged me along. I don’t see why I should have to put up with your mood as well.”
“Oh, well, don’t feel like you need to bother yourself on my account! I can take care of myself!”
Feruzi bit back a response, settling for an indifferent shrug. “Suit yourself. Just don’t wander too far, we’re leaving on the evening tide.”
“Mmph,” was the sour response. “I have half a mind to be late on purpose,” Ukele muttered as Feruzi walked away, leaving her to her own devices. “I hate that rotten tub, anyway.” Not that Drenchport appealed, either. The streets, if such they could be called, were ankle-deep muck. Ukele’s feet were already soaked and starting to blister. She spotted an open doorway to what looked like a tavern and stepped inside gratefully.
“Well, here’s a nice surprise,” a male voice called from inside. “Were you looking for me?” It was Drale. Ukele shrank back and collided with another patron who was trying to walk in behind her. The man didn’t seem displeased at this development in the slightest.
“Hey, Jenner, the quality o’ yer girls is improvin’, I’d say. Give us a kiss, sweetheart!”
“Get away from me!” Ukele shrieked.
“Oh, don’t be that way . . .”
“The lady said no, you cur,” Drale snarled, interposing himself. The rough eyed the Andoran Captain for a moment, then held up his hands in a soothing gesture.
“Didn’t mean nothin’ by it, yer honor. Just a mistake, is all.”
“See that you don’t make another.” Drale took Ukele’s arm and ushered her out of the common room, into the back of the tavern where the private rooms were standing empty. “Are you all right?” he asked, easing her into a chair and closing the door. “You shouldn’t go wandering around by yourself.”
“I’m . . . fine. I should go . . .”
“You just got here. Surely after that you could use a drink, at least. Wait here.” He was gone before she could protest. Ukele couldn’t guess what to think of his behavior. He seemed almost nice, when yesterday was so ugly.
“Here we go,” Drale said, returning with a bottle and two tumblers. He filled both glasses nearly to the rim and pressed one on Ukele. The potent liquor stung her nose before she even got it near her face. This wasn’t what you drank when you needed a shot of artificial courage. This was what you drank when you wanted to forget how to walk, stand, speak, and possibly even breathe. Drale was watching her intently. Ukele mimed taking a sip then burst into a completely feigned coughing fit.
“Good stuff, eh?” Drale said dryly. “Actually, I’m glad I got a moment to talk with you, see, I wanted to ask if you told anyone . . . about last night.”
Here came the panic again. “N-no . . .” that seemed like a safe bet. Maybe. Drale looked relieved.
“Good, good. Merrill can be a bit of a prig at times, no telling what he might think of me swiving his wife’s sister. Probably believes you’re some blushing virgin although we know that isn’t the case, don’t we . . .”
Ukele listened to this little speech, feeling her panic replaced drop by drop with fulminating rage. She grabbed the neck of the bottle and hurled the contents into Drale’s face, covering them both in liquor. “How DARE you speak to me like I’m some dockside whore!” She drew in a breath to continue and was shocked when Drale struck her a blow across the side of her face. That wasn’t supposed to happen. He was supposed to be horrified and apologetic. Her vision went briefly dark and her brain felt scrambled.
“No,” Drale gritted out. “Whores get paid. You’re just a bitch in heat.”
“I’ll tell my sister!”
“If you were going to, you would have already. I don’t know what I was thinking, you’ve probably had every man on that ship. Well I don’t like used goods, so, bye.” He poured the rest of the liquor over her and banged the door open. When Ukele managed to pick herself up, she found that Drale had left without paying for the expensive bottle. The tavernkeeper was ill-pleased by the contents of Ukele’s purse or by her tears and ejected her forcefully into the street.
“Don’t try turning your tricks in my establishment again! Stupid bitch!”
“I’M NOT A WHORE!!” she shrieked and fell down weeping in the mud of the street. Dimly, she heard running feet an several of the Bonaventure’s crew gathered around her.
“Quick, go find Feruzi,” an authoritative voice ordered. It was Scrimshaw Jack, the man they were in Drenchport to pick up.
“NO-O-O!” Ukele screamed, her voice coming in jerks like a two-year-old having an utterly incontinent tantrum. Someone tried to put a cloak around her shoulders and she slapped them away.
“Ye can’t jist stay here in the street making a spectacle of yerself,” Jack said.
“GO AWA-AY-AY!! I HA-A-ATE Y-YOU-U-U!”
“Besmara, did ye ever see somethin’ so pathetic.”
Ukele grabbed handfuls of mud and threw them at him, but Jack dodged aside, shaking his head. He put his foot on her rump and pushed her over—not hard, just enough to prevent any more attempts at retaliation. “Here’s yer sister. Maybe she kin do summat with ye.”
“Kele, Kele, what happened?” Feruzi asked, running up and squatting down. “What happened?” she demanded of Jack when Ukele proved incoherent. He shrugged.
“Sod me if I know. She just started screaming.”
“She smells like a distillery. Has she been drinking?”
“I’M NOT DRUNK!!”
“Hey, you lot, quit blocking the damn street!”
Feruzi shot to her feet and whirled around. “You. are. speaking. to. a. Pirate. Lord.”
“Er . . .”
“Did you have something you wanted to say to me?”
“Uh . . . no. Carry on.”
“I thought so.” Feruzi turned her back on the man and squatted next to Ukele again. “Let’s get you out of the street, at least. There’s a tavern right over here!”
“NO-O-O!!!” Ukele began to struggle madly.
Feruzi released a long-suffering sigh. “She’s hysterical.” She gestured at an item next to one of the nearby stalls and Jack caught her meaning and went to grab it.
“I’M NOT HYSTE—” the rest of the word was abruptly cut off as a bucket of rainwater hit Ukele full in the face, a substantial amount going straight into her open mouth. She choked and spluttered helplessly while Jack looked on, grinning.
“That seems to have done the trick,” he said.
“You’re not half bad at this,” Feruzi told him.
“I gots three spoiled little sisters at home, don’t I? ’S why I went to sea inna first place.”
“I hate you!” Ukele repeated in a somewhat more moderate tone.
“Hate him later and tell me what happened,” Feruzi ordered.
“Oh, Zizi, it was awful! He hit me!”
“Who?” Feruzi glanced up at Jack, who flapped his hands defensively.
“Weren’t me, Ma’am!”
“It was that . . . that Drale! Last night he . . .” Ukele also glanced at Jack, then yanked Feruzi’s shoulder over and whispered in her sister’s ear. At length. Feruzi covered her eyes with her hand.
“You brought this on yourself, you know.”
“I knew you’d say that! How can you take his side?! He raped me!”
“Hey, now . . .” Jack started. Feruzi waved him to silence.
“I am not taking his side,” she said. “It’s just, gods, Kele, when are you going to learn some sense?! No, don’t answer that. Come on, we need to go tell Merrill.”
“Do we have to?” Ukele whined as Feruzi dragged her to her feet.
“Do you want to share Drale’s company for the rest of the voyage?”
“No . . .”
“Then come on.”
They found Pegsworthy on the quarterdeck chatting amiably with Drale, Labella and several other crew in attendance. Feruzi stormed up the stairs, finger outthrust at Drale’s face like a prophet about to smite the unrighteous. The crew parted in front of her. “That man raped my sister!” she announced. Pegsworthy’s face went white and his eyes bugged out.
“Er . . . excuse me, dear?” he said faintly.
Drale threw up his hands in an appeal to the heavens. “Oh, please. Is that what she’s been telling you?! I did no such thing. She came on to me. She was practically panting for it!”
“That’s not true!” Ukele shrieked as Feruzi rounded on her. “He hit me!”
“Oh, I admit, I gave her a little slap after she threw a bottle of Diron in my face, but that stuff is expensive! She’s just trying to get even, now.”
“Zizi, you have to believe me!” Ukele pleaded with Feruzi’s stony expression.
“I believe her,” Pegsworthy said. Ukele nearly fainted.
“Gods, Merrill . . .” Drale began. Pegsworthy scowled at him.
“There might have been a day when I would have taken you at your word, Mr. Drale, but no longer. Ms. Loor!”
Labella stepped forward eagerly. “Yes, Cap’n?”
“Remove Mr. Drale from my ship.”
“With pleasure, Cap’n.”
Drale’s face twisted. “Fine, I’ll go. But you haven’t heard the last of me. Mark my words!”
“Yes, yes, go or I’ll have you thrown overboard.”
“Not without my men!”
“So? Fetch them, then. But be quick about it.”
The still somewhat ill and injured Andoran sailors were swiftly assembled on the deck and given a brief summary by Labella. They held a conference, then one of them approached the quarterdeck, hat in hand.
“Beggin’ yer pardon, Cap’n Pegsworthy, might we have a word?”
“Of course,” Pegsworthy said.
“We’re to be put ashore here, the lady said?”
“Yes. I’m afraid I cannot extend my hospitality to your Captain any longer.”
“I see. Well, if you’ve nothin’ against us, we’d like to stay aboard, sir. We’ll join yer crew if ye want.”
“You do understand this is a pirate vessel.”
“Pirate or privateer don’t make no difference to men like us, Cap’n sir, but I can see ye treats yer crew well. We’d be glad ter stay if ye’ll have us.”
“Then I accept your offer. Sorry, Mr. Drale, I guess you go ashore alone. I’ll have Pinch swear you men in, as I think Ms. Loor is occupied at the moment.” Labella seized Drale’s arm and frog-marched him to the gangplank. The Andorans flinched when Pinch appeared, but his calm, cultured speech eased their fears and shortly afterward Pegsworthy was alone on the quarterdeck with Feruzi and Ukele.
“Why didn’t you believe me, Zizi?” Ukele mourned. She really was a pathetic sight, her face swollen, her hair and clothes tangled and caked with mud and booze. Feruzi shook her head.
“Because I know how you act. And you lie all the time.”
“Not with words. With your face and hands and your whole body. Drale probably did think you wanted it.”
“How was I supposed to know what he thought?!”
“By using your brains, Kele! For once!”
“I knew you’d be like this! You think you’re so smart and so perfect and you’ve never made a mistake, no, not Feruzi! You’re such a bitch. This is all your fault!”
“If you weren’t such a bitch, I would have just screamed for help, but I KNEW you’d believe him! So it’s your fault!”
Pegsworthy saw Feruzi’s nostrils flare and the cords in her neck draw tight. Moving as quickly as he could, he insinuated himself between the sisters and tentatively put his hands on Feruzi’s shoulders. “Um, I love you, dear, why don’t you just . . . take a little break. We’re all a little emotional at the moment, saying things we don’t mean . . . I’ll have a little talk with her . . .”
Slowly, Feruzi exhaled.
“Um, I love you . . .”
She snorted. “You said that.”
“Well, it’s true.”
Feruzi patted his cheek. “Maybe you can talk some sense into her. I certainly can’t.”
“See you later?”
“Yes dear.” Shooting Ukele one final black look, Feruzi left.
Pegsworthy threw himself down on the nearest piece of equipment in abject relief. He had no idea why that just worked. Some sort of husbandly grovel instinct just took over. He pointed an unsteady finger in Ukele’s direction. “You owe me. Again.” Ukele sniffed.
“Gods,” Pegsworthy said, thinking back over the past few days. “Was I ever that much of an ass?”
“If you ask me, you still are,” Ukele said primly. He chuckled.
“Have a seat,” he said, gesturing to another trunk full of hardware.
“If it’s all the same to you, I’ll skip the lecture. I think I know it by heart.”
“That was not a request, young lady. I am the Captain on this ship and I WILL be obeyed.” Ukele sat, somewhat awkwardly. “That’s better. Look, I know you’re not stupid. How do you keep doing this to yourself?”
“Guess I’m just unlucky.”
“No. Losing your rum money at cards is unlucky. Losing your entire livelihood, that’s something else. your problem is that you keep thinking that you’re going to win. So you keep placing the wrong bets.”
“What, so I should just stay in my room and do as I’m told?”
“No, but you could try betting on the people who love you instead of random strangers.”
“No one loves me.”
“Horseshit. Do you think Feruzi would have stuck by you all this time if she didn’t love you?”
“Then why does she keep trying to smother me? That’s all people ever do.”
“They want you to be safe.”
“I don’t want to be treated like a child!”
“Then show them that you’re an adult. That you can stand up for yourself instead of going along with stupid things because you think somebody might scowl at you. Don’t just run and hide when you make a mistake or try to get some stranger to fix it for you. You’ve seen how that turns out.”
Ukele started to cry.
“Hey,” Pegsworthy said, as gently as he could manage, “You’ve done some dumb things, but it doesn’t have to be the last word on you. What matters is what you do going forward.”
“You’re so n-nice to me.”
He snorted. “You’re upset and you’ve had a long day. Go and get cleaned up. And apologize to your sister.”
“Do I have to?”
“No, but it’s the right thing to do. But by all means, ignore everything I just said. See what it gets you. Again.”
“Fine, I’ll go apologize.”
“Good girl.” Pegsworthy watched her go and sighed. He looked down at the tattered old greatcoat he wore, same as the one every Andoran Eagle Knight wore. Like Drale. In sudden decision he tore the coat off and hurled it overboard. Feeling much lighter for some reason, he set off to see to his ship.