Drunk didn’t look good on Connell. Red-faced under a mop of blonde hair, leaning heavily against the tables on his elbows, he looked like someone had hung him upside down to sleep and woken him in the rare hours of the morning demanding his conjugations. And Connell was doing his best to give them, while Galen sat on the other side of the table, certain he hadn’t been the one to ask for them.
“Mana, mane, manen,” Connell said, some syllables slipping away unheard and all the rest spoken too loud. A man striding past their table with his friends glanced down at Connell. Galen ducked his head.
“Manina, manis, maninten,” Connell said. “I don’t see what’s s’pposed to be so hard ’bout this.” He tilted his mug back and drained it.
“Hard about what?” Galen asked. He took his drink more slowly, one mouthful at a time. It burned on the way down, the memory of just how had it was fading faster and faster between each swallow. He had almost convinced himself that it was just a tickle, which made the next swallow the biggest shock of the night. By the time he’d put his cup back down, he’d forgotten again.
“Thinkin’ and drinkin’ at the same time,” Connell told him. “Mana, mane, manen, manis, manina, maninten! See? It’s easy.”
Galen braced himself for another mouthful, staring down at his cup. “You did it in a different order before.” He tilted the cup back. Burn, shock, and the cup was empty.
“What? Mana, manen, mane, masina, manis, maninten. Easy.”
Galen tried not to laugh, and that was harder than it should have been. He set his hand over his mouth. Connell saw him and laughed so hard he put his head down on the table. He banged his fist on the wood, hard enough to make both cups bounce. Galen jumped to keep them from falling over and Connell laughed harder.
“I think we need more,” Connell said when he could lift his head. He was grinning from ear to ear, tears running at the corners of his eyes, which didn’t make him look any better. He half turned his his seat, swung one leg over the bench and stood up. Reaching for the empty mugs, he fell against the table. “Whoa,” he said. “Maybe you’d better go. And I think I’ve just disproved our theory about excellent sea legs keeping us from walking drunk. We’re gonna have to watch Rebbs again and make a new theory.”
Galen blinked over Connell’s shoulder as the Mate walked in through the front door of the tavern. “We should go,” he said.
Connell shook his head, too far to each side. “You don’t need two people to get drinks.”
“No, I think we should go.” Galen stood, and immediately wished he hadn’t moved. The floor wasn’t where he’d expected it to be. Leaning against the table as well, he watched the floor to make sure it wouldn’t move again. He tried not to snicker at himself and pointed toward the Mate.
Connell followed the line of his arm. Then he laughed. “Oops,” he said. “Do you think he snuck off the ship too?”
“He’s the Mate,” Galen said. “Who is he sneaking around? Himself?”
“We should run,” Connell said.
“What?” Galen stared at him. “You can’t walk!”
Connell bolted for the back door. He ran into the door frame first, then tried to twist the handle. It was locked, and he had to slam his heel into before it opened. He almost fell through it, stumbled into the back alley and kept running through the dark street. Galen laughed behind him.
“Why are we running?” Galen asked. “He didn’t see us!”
“I am not getting caught today,” Connell said. “I got a tongue whip from him last week, and two weeks before that and the week before that. Not today!” He turned to the right, starting down a long, narrow alley no more than three feet across. Galen wasn’t sure it was even meant to be walked, but he followed. It was generally in the right direction.
“When we get back,” Connell said. “Anybody notices that we were missing, we say were in the hold, counting rope. If they ask why we’re walking like this…” Connell pointed to his feet, just in time to run his shoulder into the right hand wall. He snickered. “… We’ve had concussions.”
“Both of us?” Galen asked.
“Yeah. Fell and hit our heads while we were counting rope. It’s dangerous.” Connell faced forward again. “I think there’s something in here with us.”
“Like a ghost?” Galen laughed at his own joke.
“Like a dog,” Connell said. Then Connell heard the growl too, low in the back of an animal’s throat. Then there was a sharp bark, claws on the ground, something ripping and Connell shouted. He fell backward, scrambling to the far wall. He had one arm cradled in his lap. Even in the dark, Galen could see the wet shine on his sleeve. The dog was a tall, shaggy thing, thin enough that Galen knew he didn’t belong to anybody, heavy enough that he knew he was surviving well enough. Galen shifted to come closer to Connel and caught something else move against the wall, a bundle of cloth laying just behind the dog.
Connell was looking at his arm with a dim smile. He swore a little, quietly, like the hurt was too far away to feel it properly. “Do you think this’ll look like rope burn in the morning? Or am I gonna have to tell everyone we got into a knife fight?”
Galen glanced between him and the dog and the bundle. “Why would we get into a knife fight?”
Connell thought about that. “Because you said my count was wrong?”
“Let’s just get back to the ship. We can come up with our excuses later,” Galen told him. He put his shoulder under Connell’s arm, to lift him off the ground. The dog growled harder. Galen backed away slowly.
The bundle on the ground moved again. Something cried. The top of the bundle twisted and a small nose peeked out.
Galen stopped where it was. “That’s a baby.”
Connell looked down for a long second. “No, it’s not.”
“Yeah,” Galen told him. “It is.”
“No, because I’ve never heard of a baby sneaking into a cargo hold. They can’t. It’s not a baby.”
Galen glared at him. “We’re not in the cargo hold.”
“That’s what you say,” Connell replied.
“I’ve had a concussion,” Connell corrected.
“Fine,” Galen said. He let go of Connell’s arm. He slid one foot forward, seeing how close the dog would let him come. “You’ve had a concussion,” he said over his shoulder. “And I dragged you into town against your will and you’ve done nothing but tell me I’m stupid and wrong and that I should turn myself in. We got into a knife fight over it and I stabbed you. I’ll tell everyone you’ve been a very good boy. Now help me get the baby.”
Connell listened and shrugged. “Right-o, Captain. Hey! Pooch!”
My friend Kathryn is a thief! She stole the first line of this piece from me yesterday and used it to write a fiction of her own yesterday on her blog. Be sure to pop over there and read it, to see the many directions fiction can take from the same starting point.