The trapdoor Durnst told them about creaked open in the dining room some time later. Olivier, Squall, and Durnst were still seated around the crate, huddled in soft furs. They were warming from one of the lanterns, set on the table and opened to give the room their warmth, stolen in that creak, its flames taken by the squall’s wind. Water spilled through, giving chase after Ponitius, pouring from his coat onto the floor. Wind continued to give chase, making the lanterns flicker, but they, like the sodden Terrahn, held until Durnst pulled himself up onto deck.
Ponitius closed the trapdoor after, sighing as it uttered one last squeak, and turned towards the “table”, collapsing into the closest chair, where a bowl of stew was left, nice and ready. He wanted nothing more than to simply hold it, to feel its hot broth steam and wash over his face than eat it, but he wasn’t going to deny the spoon in it. He gulped down three, hearty mouthfuls of it before taking a breath, almost a moan. He grabbed one of the bottles on the table, filled with citrus juice, and uncorked it, pouring the orange-yellow concoction into a clay goblet. The would-be tailor, the supposed cobbler raised it to his lips, but stopped, realizing he was being watched.
“What?” He said.
“Y... you’re- were a... a p-” Olivier tried to ask if he was truly a pirate, but to even consider declaring him such. His ally. The man who saved him from jail- no, that would make even more sense.
Ponitius groaned as he set down his cup, and leaned against his knuckles.
“Durnst let that slip huh? No... He wouldn’t have said it specifically... Did you ask him about the Iron Scythes crew, then? Is that when he told you about my precious darling of an ex?” Squall and Olivier nodded, and he finally took a drink from his goblet, not stopping until it was completely empty. He filled it twice over before he put it down with a hard thump, giving them a cold look. A look that made Olivier want nothing more than to hold his sword. Preferably drawn. “Fine! Yes, as you two heard before, I used to be a privateer --NOT a pirate. Let us nip that in the bud right now. I was no swash-buckling, grog-guzzling, peg-leg stomping, Natalie-forsaken son of the sea. I was but a sailor with a small crew at the time that decided to take on odd jobs. Those odd jobs gave us a reputation, a reputation that slowly grew us a following and each a different faction. Now, there was a quicker-growing group that did not agree with the other’s ways, and so I decided to voice to my first mate that we should cull in said behavior. What happens, instead?”
He stood from the stool, turned his back to them, and peeled off his coat to the gray undershirt underneath, once more showing his skill in clothing. It was completely dry. He grumbled as he unbuttoned it, flipping each button away, the cloth growing every more lax until, at last, he pulled his arms free and let it fall.
On his back, across both shoulder blades, were two, blackened, jagged arcs. As he turned around, the light seemed to dim on those cruel cuts on his arms, on his gut, little more than a thornbush given flesh, and on his chest. The skin on his wrists and around his middle were raw, as if he was wound in rope for far, far too long.
“All of this? Mercy. Mercy from my dear first mate,” he said, fixing his shirt once more. “Once we docked in Lam Berel they cut me down from the mast of the Claymore and left me there. They left me on the docks to die... Thankfully, none of them paid any mind to a small bar on the dock.”
“The Stay Golden?” Olivier blurted, biting his tongue, but it was too late.
“Nah. It was another bar. The Change Leaded. Larger place, far better company than my lovely right-hand man now- I’m joking of course, lad. It was the Stay Golden... Ah, but Durnst was the only one to stay loyal to me. He had talked to its keeper before the rest of the crew left, and had her tend to my wounds.”
“She’s long gone now... Her name doesn’t matter. What does, though, is that she saved my life. For months she tended to my wounds until I was able to stand, putting her on the verge of poverty, but I swore I would make it up to her one day.” He adjusted the collar of his coat one last time, his shirt buttoned back up, and sat back down, looking at his goblet. “Alas, that day never came.”
“Why? What happened?”
“My first mate happened... Durnst returned with the fastest ship of our little fleet, the Falchion, the ship we started with, and met me in the bar. Sadly, a spy had followed after, and, well, they at least had the gumption to try and kill me than go back and report it. Terra knows how fate would have transpired if he didn’t.”
“Did they-” Ponitius nodded, and Olivier leaned a bit on the table. “Why? What did she do to them? It’s not like you or Durnst. She was innocent in the whole matter.”
“Didn’t matter. Even if he went back to tell my first mate, she would have been a target, anyways. At least, with both Durnst and I there, her death was avenged.”
“And your mate never sent another spy?” Squall said.
“Probably. Most likely. Maybe they were one of the Itchyoman. Perhaps that was why they were so quick to get on my trail.” He groaned, and took another drink, glowering at the cup. “Regardless, she was gone. She died saving me, so Durnst and I vowed to keep that bar running. I wasn’t much of one to serve drinks, though. Nor cook food. As you can expect, though, Durnst fit right in, but I needed to lie low somewhere, somehow, so I took on an apprenticeship in the lower district of town. Years later, I was met by another of my old crew, Strix, and she told me that ole Bethilius had gone off his rocker. That he was going to go and take on the Dread Pirate.”
“How long in between was this? I mean, you said years, but-”
“Close to forty-eight.”
“How old are you?” Olivier exclaimed. That made the tired, old Terrahn laugh, but Olivier finally noticed the lines under his eyes, the wrinkles on his forehead. They were so deep, seemingly carved deeper by the light, continuing to play illusions on his eyes as they seemed far foggier than they really were.
“Old enough, I assure you... In any case, when I heard the news, that’s when I decided to check on the Falchion, make that trap door, and now I’ve bored you with my whole life story. What’s important now is that we keep those fools from ever getting near the Scylla.”
“Agreed,” Squall said, and yawned. “How long must we endure this storm. Rain makes me sleepy.”
“We shouldn’t be in it more than a week, tops. Then we can figure out where we are and go from there --tactfully. We do not want to attract any more attention.”
Squall stood, yawned again, and lumbered towards the cots, but Olivier wasn’t satisfied yet.
“So,” he said, leaning more on the table. Green touched on his eyes, making them sparkle “Does this mean we are privateers now? Good pirates?”
Ponitius laughed harder than ever, making the ship shake with his boisterous guffaws. Olivier felt red filling his cheeks, pink in his eyes, but it was fleeting as he embraced the warmth and joviality it carried, gone during that little story. Ponitius shook his head, filling his goblet again.
“’Good pirates,’” he mumbled, still laughing, and took a drink. “You have one heck of an imagination, lad... but no. I gave up that life a long time ago. We are but voyagers, adventurers. Know this, however: the journey is often more thrilling than the destination. Don’t expect anything great once we do find it. Even if good ole Bethilius does make it.”
For me, it’s the same, Olivier thought, and found himself yawning as well. This is only the beginning of taking down the darkness... to saving Gwen.
“Guess you aren’t up to the exciting sea life yet, eh lad?” Ponitius said, laughing as he took another bite of his stew. “Go on to bed. Durnst and I shall be taking shifts watching over the boat, but we’ll make sure to wake you if anything life-threatening comes along.”
Olivier laughed with him, though a small knot of unease settled into his gut as he lumbered down the hallway after Squall, that he might not have been joking after all. He laid down in the cot beside Squall and simply looked up at the ceiling, watching the shadows that the lightning cast for him to watch before settling into an uneasy sleep.