Buy you a drink?

A Christmas teaser, because…reasons…

 

‘Buy you a drink?’

The voice startled Violet, she hadn’t expected anyone to actually talk to her. The streets were filled with rioters, angry mobs smashing and looting. She wasn’t sure what had set them off or why it was still going on. What was interesting to her was that while she’d seen a lot of opportunistic looting on the street all the taverns and watering holes seemed off limits. At least this one was. She’d snuck in rather than go straight back to the Tantamount. Too dangerous until she knew if she was being followed, didn’t want to lead Onyx straight back there. Who knows what would happen. The golem didn’t have its master around anymore, maybe it would just stay in the warehouse. Or maybe it would never stop. Maybe it would chase her for the rest of her life.

What am I thinking? Building collapsed on it. Caught fire and collapsed. A whole damned building dropped on it. Take it days to dig itself out, if that were even possible. My head…

Her head was pounding. Everything else had settled into a dull ache but her head felt like it had an angry badger trying to claw its way out.

That was what happened, right? Or maybe Onyx just hadn’t found her because it was still chasing Bandit. She’d lost sight of him back in the crowds.

‘Look,’ the stranger said, slumping down on the bench opposite her, ‘it’s a mess out there. It’s cold, I’m lonely and if you don’t share this with me I’ll drink it all me self.’

‘Lots to drink,’ Violet nudged the foaming pitcher with one finger. ‘Would get awful drunk on yourself.’ She noticed her hands were still tingling.

‘Aye,’ he said, pouring the first of two tankards he’d brought. ‘So you’ll help me then?’

‘Don’t drink,’ Violet made a face.

‘Then this promises to be an unhappy ending for me,’ he sighed. ‘At least promise you’ll put me back on me barstool when I fall off.’

Violet uncurled from where she sat, back against the wall in the darkest corner with the best view. She didn’t feel cornered, her new drinking companion wasn’t much older than her, or bigger. Thin, wiry, with mousy hair and crooked teeth. He didn’t look like a bad sort. If she were any judge.

‘Alright,’ she conceded.

‘That’s something,’ he said. He reached across the table between them, offering his hand. ‘I’m Gravel.’

‘Really?’ Violet was amused.

He shrugged. ‘Grew up in a mining camp. Got another name, just don’t recall what.’

‘Fall off your barstool?’

He grinned at her, it was a nice smile, despite the crooked teeth.

‘I’m Vi,’ she allowed.

‘Just Vi? Sounds short.’

‘You calling me short, sailor?’

‘Guilty, Miss Vi,’ he held up his hand, showing the braided rope tattoo on his right palm. ‘Saw yours too. Figured you weren’t a local.’

‘Don’t care for the locals?’

‘Not for what they’re doing out there. You been in town long, Miss Vi?’

‘Too long,’ Violet nodded.

‘I hear work is scarce for folks,’ Gravel nodded.

‘Not for you though?’ Violet asked.

‘Naw, steady employer, is mine. Hard captain but never had to worry about the next job.’

Gravel leaned forward, hands on the table in front of him. ‘I hear it’s cause of them Draugr.’

‘What about them?’

‘Taking all the jobs, all the work.’

‘That’s stupid.’ Violet rolled her eyes.

‘Is it?’

‘Yeah,’ Violet insisted. ‘Draugr can’t sail or trade. Can’t bake bread or lay bricks. You ever seen one farm or fish or do a hundred other things?’

Gravel leaned further in, conspiratorially. ‘But there is stuff they can do. And then regular folk get used to not doing that, only now there aren’t enough Draugr to do all those jobs people don’t do no more and folk won’t do them. So there’s no jobs. And people say it’s all cause of the Draugr.’

Violet stared. ‘You talk too much.’

And she was regretting not taking that drink now.

‘Ah, well, you could share the burden with me perhaps. Tell me what a nice girl like you is doing in a mudhole like this?’ Gravel asked.

‘Really?’ Violet asked him. ‘That’s the best you can do?’

‘Alas, it is. Never had no schooling to learn the fancy ways of talking.’

Violet sighed. ‘And what makes you think I’m a nice girl?’

‘Always been a believer in the inherent niceness of girls, love.’

‘My da wouldn’t have agreed with you,’ Violet told him, putting her elbows on the table and leaning forward. ‘Sold me off, he did, soon as I was old enough to walk and talk back to him. Couldn’t have none of that so I had to go.’

Gravel blinked at her. ‘Go where?’

Violet traced a circle with her finger in front of him. ‘Where all bad little girls whose families don’t want them end up. A High Lanes workhouse. Spent my childhood sweeping floors and collecting cinders for the rag-and-bone man. At night they’d send us down to the river to look for drowned bodies and search their pockets for coins.’

‘When I got older I started hiding some of those coins, keeping them for myself. Snuck out early one morning and paid my way onto a trader bound for I didn’t know where. Didn’t care, neither. Had some trouble with another passenger. Didn’t go well.

Gravel stared at her over the rim of his tankard. ‘Man trouble?’

‘What?’ Violet frowned, that wasn’t it at all. ‘No, women trouble. Primrose thought I stole her purse, slit the bottom and emptied it all out.’

‘And did you?’

‘Of course I did, but she didn’t know that. Just being spiteful. Captain wanted to throw me off at the next port, if not there into the black, except one of the other passengers spoke up for me. Never knew him before then but probably wouldn’t have known anyone else after if he hadn’t.’

‘Why he’d do that?’

‘He was a Guildsman,’ Violet told him, warming to her story. ‘And you know the thing about them, what everyone says?’

‘No,’ her audience shrugged. ‘Never heard nothing about them, have to say.’

‘No?’ Violet sat back down. ‘What do you mean no?’

‘Little fish like me don’t swim in your big ponds, Miss Vi. Just keep to ourselves and keep our heads down. Can’t say I heard much if any about this Guild of yours.’

‘Well…life was hard. Ain’t no nice girl.’ It sounded petulant even to her.

Sod him though, who doesn’t know about the Guild?

‘Aye, I hear you. Grew up in a mine family. Had an uncle who was a miner, anyways. Then one day everyone went on strike. Next day there weren’t no mine. Just a big hole in the ground.’

‘Sounds like they should have gotten some of those Draugr to do the mining,’ Violet suggested, not caring that she was being petty. ‘Might still have a mine.’

‘Maybe so,’ Gravel raised his drink, ‘but that’s why them out there are painting this town pitchfork red.’

‘And speaking of red,’ he leaned back on the bench, waving his drink expansively, ‘Kaspar, my friend, come have a drink with us.’

Violet couldn’t help but flinch at Gravel’s ‘friend.’ They were dressed in an Alliance uniform. Starched white and trims, if a little stained by smoke and sweat. The reference to red was clear, a shock of neatly clipped red hair, vivid like blood against the pale uniform. The uniform made him look older too than his young years.

‘Think you scared her,’ Gravel nodded his head. Violet glared, realised she’d pulled her feet up onto the bench in fright. She’d literally backed herself into the corner.

‘It’s the uniform, isn’t it?’ Gravel bobbed his head knowingly. ‘Told you, you ought not to wear it if you want to impress the womenfolk.’

Kaspar gave the other such a long suffering look of contempt Violet actually felt reassured. He sat down next to Gravel.

‘You’re supposed to be on duty,’ he said, looking uncomfortably at Violet. ‘Not…impressing the womenfolk.’

‘Ah, but I am on duty, on watch. Cleverly disguised, I am. Blending in,’ Gravel confided. ‘Sadly there’s not much impressing going on. Allow me to introduce my sober drinking companion. This lovely young lass is Miss Vi, sir.’

‘Sir?’ Violet gave the new arrival a questioning look. He coughed, embarrassed.

‘And, Miss Vi, this esteemed gentleman is the eminent Ensign Niko Kaspar of our good ship. Or sir, as I have to call him.’

‘That’s enough, landsman,’ Kaspar said firmly.

‘Aye, sir.’

‘Are you drunk, sailor?’

‘No, sir, just stupid. But I can fix that if you like, the not being drunk. Don’t know no cure for stupid though, sir.’

‘Landsman?’ Violet chuckled. Not yet a seaman, he’d spent less time on the decks than she had. Less than a year.

‘Aye, that would be me, Miss.’

‘Sounds like you should be calling her sir, too, landsman,’ Kaspar suggested.

‘Aye, sir,’ Gravel bobbed his head. ‘Landsman Gravel reporting for duty, Miss. Sir. Miss Sir.’

‘Landsman Bradley Gravel,’ Kaspar added, folding his arms smugly.

‘Bradley?’ Violet chortled.

‘Aye,’ Gravel hiccupped, wiping his mouth with the back of one hand. ‘Well, we all must start somewhere.’

‘And finish in a tavern?’ Kaspar said pointedly.

Gravel shrugged. ‘This is where you left me and in my defence I was left alone. Seemed as good a place as any to wait out these riots. Speaking of such, you’ve mussed your uniform, Niko.’

Kaspar looked down at himself. Gravel reached out and ruffled his red hair, messing it up.

‘Almost makes you look like a real sailor, all we need is some tar to finish off the look.’ He looked at his hand and started patting down the ensign’s hair. Kaspar grimaced but for some reason tolerated it.

‘You must feel this, Miss Vi,’ Gravel encouraged her. ‘It’s all soft and fluffy, like a puppy.’

‘Bradley,’ Kaspar growled at him. Violet noticed when he got mad his face turned red like the skipper’s did. It made her laugh.

‘What, did I say something stupid? Is that offensive Miss?’ Gravel asked.

‘I’m not offended,’ Violet said.

‘See,’ Gravel said quickly. ‘She’s not offended, why would she be offended, sir. There now, hair’s all done, pretty as a picture, sir.’

Violet bit her lip to keep from laughing at the picture. Kaspar’s hair was far from down, loose strands of it were waving around and standing straight up, giving him the look of a freshly awoken scarecrow. She suspected he knew so.

‘We should go,’ Kaspar said. ‘Captain wants us back before dark.’

‘Us? He said that? He mentioned us by name?’

‘All hands, Bradley,’ Kaspar sighed.

‘One drink, Niko,’ Gravel insisted, reaching out to snag an empty tankard off a passing server. With that and the two he already had he finished pouring the last of the beer from his pitcher. ‘One drink, one toast, then we can go.’

Kaspar sighed heavily. ‘Fine,’ he conceded defeat. ‘One toast.’

‘That’s the spirit, and so is this,’ Gravel grinned broadly, pushing a tankard in Violet’s direction. ‘One drink, Miss Vi. You can do that.’

Violet shook her head. ‘Fine,’ she agreed. It seemed easier than arguing. Kaspar it seemed, despite being the superior officer, had long since given such up.

‘What’s today’s toast, sir?’ Gravel raised his tankard halfway.

‘Today’s Thursday. That would be ourselves. Ourselves alone.’

‘Because no one else is like to care about us,’ Violet finished. The two boys turned to stare at her. Violet shrugged. It was an Alliance naval toast. She’d heard the skipper make it plenty of times.

‘And that’s why you call her sir, landsman,’ Kaspar said.

‘Aye, but I call you that, sir, and you make boring toasts. I’ve a better one if you both please.’

He waited until both Violet and Kaspar waved him on.

‘Here’s to lying, cheating, stealing and drinking,’ he winked at Violet. Beside him Kaspar winced as Gravel raised his tankard high. But he wasn’t done.

‘If you’re going to lie, lie to save a friend,’ he nudged Kaspar until the other reluctantly raised his vessel too.

‘If you’re going to cheat, cheat death.’ He tapped his tankard against Kaspar’s.

‘If you’re going to steal, steal the heart of the one you love.’

He did the same to Violet’s. Before he could finish she leaned over and clinked with Kaspar.

‘And if you’re going to drink, drink with friends both old and new,’ she finished Piper’s favourite toast with a wide grin. ‘And see you at the bottom, landsman.’

The three of them raised there tankards until the bottoms showed. Tradition demanded they could only be put down empty.

Gravel finished first and turned to Kaspar. ‘Permission to desert ship and abscond with this woman, sir. I believe I’m in love.’

‘Denied, landsman,’ Kaspar paused his own efforts long enough to respond.

‘Sorry, Miss,’ Gravel apologised. ‘I fear ours is a doomed love.’

Violet couldn’t help the grin that threatened to split her face apart. She was at a risk of choking she was smiling so damned hard. Even the maudlin Kaspar was holding back a smirk. She was starting to feel better about the whole day. Until she saw who was standing behind the boys.

Oh, hells.

It was Quill.



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