It wasn’t unusual for an officer’s briefing to be interrupted by ferrets’ chittering. The furry things were sly and slight enough to work their way into any space they liked, and as a general rule, they had the run of every cabin aboard ship. If the sailors felt it absolutely necessary, they could clear the ferrets out for a few minutes, but it never took for much longer than that. The ferrets liked to be chased.
They scampered through the crew decks unchallenged. They wove between the cargo stacks and the ballast and stole loose treasures for their hidey-holes. They slept halfway off the officer’s bunks as if they had forgotten they had spines and shook themselves awake shamelessly. They hunted and they played and they leapt through their wild circles and they chattered through briefings, and sailors learned to ignore them with a smile.
But they didn’t usually sit so still beneath the officer’s table, two or three or four of them chittering from a particular officer’s chair.
Terius wished he could be surprised. The most he could manage was a dull look in his cousin’s direction.
Kashel, Brex, Denald, and Lainan stood shoulder to shoulder in line, each of them eying the floor tile in front of them as if they were analyzing it for weaknesses. Standing in front of them, Cade thought the boys had done a fair job of pulling themselves back together.
They stood easy, firm, but not tensed or angry. They’d walked through the front fall with a congenial wave and skip, then come immediately when called and taken their place in line before they fell into silence. Their collars were straight as their shoulders. Their ash blonde hair lay in its usual finger-combed glory. They’d put their jackets back on. The buttons were even. The cloth was smooth.
But Brex was using his jacket to keep one shirtsleeve on. The entire left side of Denald’s trousers was lighter than the right where he couldn’t beat the dirt off himself. Kashel’s knees were covered in dust and everyone but Brex was sporting a fresh, dark shiner around their left eye. Brex had a bruise on the left side of his jaw that was digging dark fingers into his skin.
(Part I of this piece was posted yesterday and can be read here. Please enjoy Part II:)
Terius waited a moment before he put the spoon down. Leaning back, he watched Zain pick up his next bite. Zain watched him too, holding a guilty, cheerful smile. Terius took a drink and glanced around the room.
Brance and his men had moved away from the door, winding their way to the bar. The other customers seemed unaware of them, handing out the kind of passing greeting that happy people could accidentally deliver to a wall support if it got in their way. A few of them were surprised into a laugh at Brance’s responses, and he watched the taproom like he’d just discovered a new game court to roll dice in. Terius shifted his mug in his hands. It wasn’t a look he liked.
Over the crowd, Terius caught Jaera looking at the back of Brance’s dark head curiously. She turned toward Terius after too long, tilted her head in a silent question.
“How long has it been since we had a good bar fight?” Zain asked.
Terius put his mug down on the table immediately to give Zain his attention. Zain’s brother, Lainan, flicked a glance over his shoulder at him, then decided to ignore Zain and turned back to the rest of the room. The taproom was comfortably crowded, with small knots of people gathered around almost every table, and the owner doing easy business from the corner. The servers hadn’t rested on their heels since Terius and his men came in an hour ago. Jaera and Galen were seated across the room, along with half of Galen’s watch squad. They were almost done with their dinner plates, even though they’d been laughing and joking and gambling their way through. One of the men on the end was ordering up the first round of real drinks, and the rest of the men around the room were rounding the same idea. The room’s regular buzz of conversation continued, as if Zain had not just suggested a wild interruption to the room’s amiable evening hours.