Zain finished his business with the Port Registrat quickly. It was getting easier, checking into ports, convincing men to leave his name off the books for a few days while he and his crew sank their teeth into the new city. A few stops back, he had convinced the brass-buttoned man to leave them off record until they sailed back out. This time, he’d only bought them a week, but they’d argued it out so quickly, he suspected it wasn’t an unusual occurrence for the officer. It was comforting, knowing he hadn’t drawn an ounce of attention at the request. Also, disconcerting, not knowing what else was hiding in the harbor. And exciting.
He tried not to grin as he strode down the hall.
“You look happy.”
Zain had almost forgotten the Registrat’s assistant. Sitting behind the deck tucked into the corner, she looked like she expected to be overlooked, and she liked the ability it gave her to halt people in their tracks. She had her hair combed back in a business like horsetail. Her clothes were pressed, but effortless, one button undone at the collar, her sleeves rolled up just past the wrist.
Zain offered her a broader smile, ducked his head in a polite nod, and kept moving. “I like new places,” he said.
“You look like you like to stick your fingers into trouble,” she said. She spoke unhurriedly, unafraid that he would pass out of earshot before she finished.
Zain turned back slowly, curious.
She returned his former smile. He could almost read her mind through the expression: you didn’t think that I would work with this guy without being sharp enough to balance him out?
“And you look like you have advice for me,” Zain said quietly.
She considered that. “Well… Don’t think it’s easy to cover things up here. And beware anything named for soup.”
Zain raised his eyebrows. “Soup?”
She gave him one more serious look and returned to the papers on her desk. She knew how to issue a quiet dismissal.
Zain met Matteo outside on the street. His first mate was leaning against the side of the building, watching the passersby in that general way that sailors watched the wind and waves – like he respected the potential for them to whip each other into a threat, but he didn’t expect it any time soon. He had his head down against the sunlight, his arms crossed over his chest. He’d pulled collar of his jacket up against the wind, with the added bonus of shielding the bottom half of his face.
“How are we?” Zain asked, stopping beside him.
“Ship’s in good order,” Matteo said. He shifted so he could watch a different section of the street, moving his hands into his pockets. “Already have a few men digging their way into the city. We should have some gossip to laugh over by midnight.”
“So late?” Zain asked, feigning disappointment.
“Well…” Matteo shrugged. “We could start now.” He didn’t sound very serious. “Someone on the way over told me to beware of things named–”
“For soup,” Zain finished with him. He tried not to laugh at the surprise on Matteo’s face. “Oh,” Zain murmured. He took a deep breath. “This should be good.”
Today’s piece was inspired by the scribblings that A.K. Anderson left for herself, and the nonsense that fell into them over time. Check out some more of her “snippets” over at her blog.
Thanks for the inspiration, A!