Chapter 4: Doldrums.
"Don't know where you come from, and I don't care. Just play the damned song, already."
June 23, 1715.
The air was hot. That was all Edward could think about at the moment as he leaned heavily against the Jackdaw's wheel. They were a day and a half out from Havana, but it was just long enough to make the wait seem an eternity. And why were they not already in Havana, enjoying all the wine and women they could stand?
Because, frankly put, they had hit the doldrums.
Edward abhorred doldrums. He hated them even more than he hated needles. Hell, he hated doldrums almost as much as he hated being hungry, and that was truly saying something. Having grown up in poverty, without shoes and never knowing when his next meal would be, Edward hated feeling hungry more than anything in the world. For the doldrums to come in a close second was a true measure of his distaste.
He abhorred doldrums just as much as he abhorred boredom, Edward decided as he huffed absently, observing the men. Down below, most of the crew were lounging on the weather deck, fishing off the side, or drinking. Those who had not yet finished their chores were working to do so, most of which involved sanding and swabbing the deck. The low hum of conversation was a constant against the backdrop of the gentle rolling of the sea. Even the waves were quiet, today.
Edward, himself, had long since stripped out of his armor and robes, preferring to linger in his breeches and shirt rather than swelter in the heavier fabrics; at the current moment, he was also debating the potential benefits of simply removing his shirt, as well. He had even donned a hat instead of his usual hood. The tricorne felt almost strange after so long without it, but he was slowly getting used to it again. Sighing, he idly blew a stray strand of blond hair out of his eyes.
Holy Mother of God, he was bored out of his skull.
Maybe things would liven up, or a least cool off a bit, if he took off his shirt and scaled the mainmast... If nothing else, the crew might have a good laugh if he did a little acting. Or maybe they could start a mock-trial... No, no, that might not be good. The last time they had staged a trial, it had seemed so real that the poor bloke on the stand had gotten so fearful that he had drawn his sword and cut off the prosecutor's arm. That had been an interesting explanation to hear from those involved. At least they got a cook out of the deal...
Edward's attention wandered to the deck as a tricorne-crowned head poked itself out of the hole that led belowdecks. The person's hair was a deep, wavy auburn, their skin tanned from the sun. It was the girl who called herself Drystan. Edward frowned as she clambered up onto the deck, and then he realized that she was carrying the violin she had absconded with the other day. His lips curled despite himself. It seemed they were about to get some entertainment, finally.
Sure enough, the girl seated herself on a barrel beside one of the cannons, and, with a sharp whistle, she got the attention of everyone who was lounging on the deck.
Intrigued, Edward leaned a little harder against the helm. What was she doing?
"I hear tell you lubbers are all but dying from boredom!" she shouted, her voice in its rough, lower-than-natural register. A few of them perked up, and she grinned. "Now, I have a game to play, for anyone who's interested!"
That got everyone's attention as the whistle had not. Slowly, the crew gathered around her where she sat with the violin on her knee, curious. Grinning, Drystan held up the violin.
"I am going to play a song," she explained. "I am going to pick four of you, and you're each going to pair off and dance. Whichever pair dances the best gets to pick the next song, but afterwards, they have to sit down again. The losers have to sing for us, and I get to choose the song!"
Edward watched as grins spread across the crew's faces. But one man spoke up.
"An' what about when we get too hot or tired?" he asked. Edward thought his name might have been David. "What about when the game ends?"
"Why, then I'll play you a song I've been working on," Drystan replied with a small smile, "and you all can tell me if I should keep working on it or throw it out."
"And what if we don't like it?"
Drystan thought about it for a moment. Edward hoped the girl would not promise to do anything terribly physical, considering her state. There may be distrust between them, but he had no desire for her to kill herself in the process of entertaining the crew.
"Well, I suppose I'll just have to start teaching you how to swear at me in Spanish." Drystan grinned toothily. "Gibbs has ordered me not to do anything too strenuous, but I suppose some cussing lessons wouldn't hurt."
The sailors who had asked barked a pair of laughs and clapped each other on the backs. Drystan chuckled.
"Now, shall we?"
Edward watched, smiling, as the men backed away from her, forming a rough semi-circle around the spot. Drystan then pointed the tip of her bow at four men chosen seemingly at random from the crowd. They stood up and paired off, and then Drystan shouldered her instrument and began to play.
The song was a popular one, a jig that was often heard in the various pubs and taverns in port towns across the British territories, and one that most of the crew was familiar with. As the men laughed and danced, and their fellows jeered and clapped along with the music, Edward found himself chuckling, enjoying the familiar tune of "Drowsy Maggie." It was a lilting reel that lightened the hearts of everyone who heard it. Especially suitable for a day like today, when there was not so much as a cloud in the sky or a breeze on the sea, and when everyone was worried, to some extent, about whether or not these doldrums would last any length of time.
There came a familiar footstep from behind Edward, and he knew without looking that it was Gregson, come to report on their supplies.
"Well?" Edward asked quietly. He knew that they had been running low when they had captured the schooner several days ago; the fact that it had been a very successful raid would mean little if they began to starve before they could make it to port.
"We have three days, if we begin rationing immediately," Gregson reported softly. "Rum rations are holding steady, of course, but half the food is either stone-hard or rotted through."
"Right," Edward murmured, displeased but not overly worried just yet. "I will speak with the men about it as soon as possible, but let them have their fun, for now. There's hope yet that the wind may pick up."
As a round of cheers sounded from the deck, Edward turned his attention back to the crew. Drystan was grinning broadly. Edward was struck by how pretty she looked when she actually smiled; too bad she was such a brat, or he might consider working his way into her hammock some night. Frankly, he would prefer a whore in Havana to the harpy down on the deck, despite her skills with the violin. Hmm, a violinist... Edward absently wondered what else she could do with those dexterous fingers. Then he rolled his eyes, realizing what path his thoughts had taken him on, yet again. He needed some shore leave, desperately, and a whore or two along with it. He was getting a little randy.
And now, she was playing "Brian Boru's March." Wonderful.
"Oi, play something Welsh!" he shouted down to her over the sound of the crew's clapping and stomping. Drystan simply played a little louder, and a little faster, until finally, she finished with a flourish and the winning dancers bowed and grinned, breathless. Drystan, herself, was looking a little winded as she turned to face the captain.
"If the captain wishes the fiddler to play something to his liking, the captain must play the fiddler's game!" she called, raising her bow again. As she smirked and began to play the next requested song, Edward scowled down at her.
Insufferable, he thought.
"'E's a spitfire," Gregson observed, chuckling. Edward turned to the quartermaster to find that the man was smiling. "Better watch that 'un, or 'e'll put you in a bind, if ya know what I mean."
And he had the gall to wink at Edward when he said so.
"I'm not interested," Edward grumped, frowning as he turned back to his observations. "Not my type."
"Oh? Well, what type does the captain like?"
Edward snorted, lips quirking. "The female type."
Gregson burst out laughing, and walked away, heading down belowdecks as Connor finally emerged. Edward nodded to the dark man as they made eye contact. Connor briefly scanned the deck before he came over to Edward; his gaze lingered upon the merry gathering of pirates and musician, and Edward glimpsed a minuscule smile that twitched the other Assassin's lips for an instant before it vanished.
"What is this?" he asked as he reached Edward. Edward snorted and shook his head.
"Drystan came up a little bit ago to entertain the men," he replied quietly. He gave Connor a sidelong glance, raising an eyebrow. "Said a little birdie said the crew was bored."
Connor snorted, lips quirking slightly. "It was not me."
Edward gave the other man a knowing look. Connor, he had come to find, was the type of man who placed the needs of others far above his own. Edward was torn between admiring and scorning the trait. As a pirate, he thought it foolish to put the needs of everyone else above one's own needs. However, as an Assassin, he found it to be a worthy quality, and deserving of all the respect in the world.
It had been only too easy to figure out the more obvious facets of Connor's personality during the past two weeks, especially as the ship's close quarters forced them to be in each other's company near-constantly. The other man was friendly enough, if reserved, and tended to speak in a very blunt manner. He was honest almost to a fault. And he seemed to view the world around him in a very dark sort of way. His trust was difficult to earn. Edward occasionally wondered what had happened to the taller Assassin to make him the way he was; then, usually, he shrugged the thought off in favor of going about his business.
"What does this... game entail?" Connor's voice brought Edward back to the present, and the captain shook himself slightly, realizing that he had become lost in thought. Edward shrugged, and leaned on the Jackdaw's helm once again.
"Deal is, Drystan chooses two pairs of dancers, plays a song, and whomever dances better gets to sit down and choose the next song," Edward explained, talking quickly. He managed to get the entire thing out in one breath. "Losers have to sing a song of Drystan's choice. Once they get too bored or tired to continue, Drystan has offered to... exhibit an original composition for their enjoyment. They are to tell whether to keep hacking at it, or throw it out, and if they don't like it, Drystan has promised to teach them how to swear. In Spanish."
Connor was nodding, a sly grin curling the corners of his mouth.
"A smart game," he chuckled. "I can see how it will keep the men entertained without overexerting anybody."
Edward cast a sidelong glance at the other Assassin. "Astute."
"Creative." Connor returned the glance, one eyebrow raised. He lowered his voice. "Did I hear her shouting at you just a moment ago?"
"Indeed," he replied, rolling his eyes. "I said to play some Welsh music, and the response was that I had to join the game if I wanted any say in the choice."
Connor chuckled. "It seems almost as though the two of you do not like each other."
Edward raised both eyebrows, that time, when he turned to regard the darker man.
"Are you buggered insane?" he demanded. "That boy is insufferable!"
Connor just chuckled again.
"Are you certain that your first impressions have not colored your opinion of her?" he asked. Edward opened his mouth to refute that, but then closed it again, frowning thoughtfully as he stared down at the group on the weather deck. Connor studied Edward for a moment. "Maybe you should take her challenge."
Edward scowled and rolled his eyes before he turned a glare on Connor.
"You think I should bow to Drystan's wishes?" he demanded.
Connor placed his hand on the Jackdaw's helm, and his tawny gaze was calm.
"I think that you should go attempt to enjoy yourself," he replied evenly. "The Jackdaw will go nowhere without a good wind or tide, and so now is the best time for you to go relax." He smiled slightly. "And, should you dance well enough, perhaps you can convince her to play some music that is more to your liking."
Edward could not deny that.
Sighing as he heard the losers of the latest round begin to sing a jolly verse of "Spanish Ladies," Edward rounded the gunwale, headed down the steps to the weather deck, and approached the party of merry-makers. Drystan, who had just begun to put bow to string for a round of "The Ballad of Captain Kidd," paused as she caught sight of him. For a second, she looked uncertain. Then an unholy grin spread across her face.
"Well, look who's come to join us!" she exclaimed. "Captain Edward Kenway, have you come to show us your dancing skills?"
Edward snorted, and crossed his arms. "I've come to dance so's you'll actually play something worth listening to."
Drystan's lip curled for a brief second. Then she waved her bow towards the center of the circle.
"You'll be dancing with Steven, then," she said in her rough, falsely-low voice. "An' don't think I'll be going easy on you just 'cause you're the captain. Get ready to dance your mercenary heart out."
As Edward stepped into the ring, he tried to ignore the whispers and chuckles of the crew around him, and tried to forget how long it had really been since he had actually danced with someone. Steven came over to Edward, and Edward tried to ignore the snickers that erupted when the crew observed the height difference between the two of them. At about six years younger than Edward was, Steven also stood about six inches or so shorter than Edward, and probably weighed about thirty pounds less. It was obvious who would be leading in this dance, and it would not be Steven.
Drystan set bow to string, and the pairs took their places. Edward took a deep breath, feeling the tug of his stitches in his side.
Two measures of a familiar tune later, they sprang into motion as the crew took up the song, clapping and hooting with glee and amusement as they watched their captain whirl around and around, arm in arm with his partner, feet flying, stomping when required, clapping when required. It soon came back to him, and to Edward, it felt almost as though he was back home in Bristol, dancing with the girls at the occasional social gathering. For a moment, his mind flashed back to Caroline's smiling face, and he remembered how happy she had been back then. Then he brought himself back to the present, and the moment passed.
"I was sick and nigh to death, as I sailed, as I sailed! I was sick and nigh to death, as I sailed. I was sick and nigh to death, and I vowed with every breath, To follow wisdom's ways, when I sailed!"
Edward would never admit it, but not only was his side beginning to hurt, but he was also beginning to have fun, against all odds. Maybe there was something to this game, after all.
Only too soon, the dance ended, and Edward stomped to a halt, chest heaving for just a moment before he regained his breath. He was feeling a little light-headed. The joy in his heart, however, had more than made up for the exertion and the pain that came with it. As the sound of his heart pounding in his ears died down, he became aware of the crew around him clapping and cheering, and he grinned, glancing around as they chanted his surname. Chuckling, he dipped a bow, and then winced a bit as he realized that his side was hurting worse than he had thought it was. Smirking to hide his pain, he straightened and looked over to Drystan, who was observing with one eyebrow raised.
"So?" Edward asked, and pulled a chuckling Steven under his arm, ruffling the boy's hair. "How'd we do?"
Drystan glanced wryly around at the crew. "Well, boys? How'd they do?"
A round of cheers met their ears. "Kenway! Kenway! Kenway!"
She turned wryly back to Edward, eyebrow raised.
"It seems, Captain, as though you've won," she quipped. "Which song do you choose for me to play next?"
Edward chuckled and went over to take a seat beside her. "Not sure, yet. Something Welsh."
"Of course." Drystan rolled her eyes, and pointed the bow at the losing pair. "You two? I wanna hear a nice, loud round of Whiskey in the Jar!"
As the pair of them laughed and set to song, Drystan turned to Edward, who was trying to think of a Welsh song to which the crew could dance.
"Why the sudden interest in the game?" she asked quietly over the sound of the men clapping and cheering along. Edward shrugged.
"Like I said, I wanted to hear something Welsh," he replied simply, and sent her a sidelong glance. "Thought you might appreciate where I'm coming from, being a fellow Welshman."
Drystan's lips quirked wryly.
"I love my country," she informed him softly. "Not necessarily the people in it."
"Oh?" He frowned slightly. "Why's that?"
Drystan was silent for a moment. Then she snorted and started plucking impatiently at the strings of her violin.
"Just choose your song, Kenway," she muttered.
He was quiet a second. Then he chuckled, a little bitterly, and gave her a wry smile.
"Funny thing," he returned, "I can't think of any dances. Just shanties, and one more, which is my favorite of them all."
"Then I'll play that one," she offered, but Edward shook his head.
"No," he said, distantly. Even Caroline had never sung that song to his liking. "No, that one's a special one. It can only be sung, and by a good singer, at that."
They were silent a moment, Edward lost in memory, and Drystan watching him.
"Morfa Rhuddlan, then?" Drystan asked. Edward smiled slightly before he even realized that it was a concession.
"That sounds nice," he said. Drystan nodded slowly as the crewmembers finished singing "Whiskey in the Jar," and placed her bow to the string. Then she paused, and lowered it again, turning to face Edward fully.
"Will you sing?"
The question took Edward by surprise, and he looked over at her to find that she was looking uncertain.
"Me?" he countered, incredulous. Drystan shrugged.
"Why not?" she asked, her voice rough with its falsely-low tone. Edward fleetingly entertained the thought of what her voice might sound like were she to sing in her natural register, and then he brushed it off. "This is a song best done with a singer, and a bard to accompany him. As I can't sing and play at the same time, I need someone to sing for me... and I hear tell you have a nice voice."
Edward barked a surprised laugh.
"Whoever told you that must've been piss-drunk," he stated, to the crew's amusement, "but I see your point." He tossed up his hands and leaned back against the mainmast. "Fine! I'll sing for ye, but don't you go blamin' me when your ears start to bleed!"
Drystan's smile was small, but strangely, worth seeing. The cheers that the crew gave also made it worth the hassle. As Drystan set bow to string again, Edward glanced up to the helm, finding that Connor was smiling down at them, his dark face looking far less careworn than Edward had ever seen it.
It was nice, to see everyone enjoying themselves so much.
"Du ac arswydus yw'r hanes am heddiw, Trechodd Caethiwed fyddinoedd y Rhydd..."
June 26, 1715.
Havana was as busy as always. Rhian Yates, or Drystan, as she was known to the rest of the crew, leaned lazily against the gunwale at the bow of the ship as the warm breeze coasted them into the harbor under the surprisingly adept hands of Connor "Ratohnhaké:ton" Kenway, whom was known to the rest of the crew as simply "Connor." Strange, she mused, that they should both seem to have so much in common: both wanting to hide their true names and selves from those around them, both wanting to go back to where they belonged, and both longing to simply be themselves even though it was an impossibility.
Rhian sighed gustily, realizing that she was beginning to wax poetic in her own mind. She needed a drink. Desperately.
She glanced idly over to Connor. Hmm, maybe she would invite him to join her. Rhian had earned a few pennies' worth of gold during the past couple of days by keeping the men from getting bored while they were stuck in the doldrums, so she could pay his way if needed. Even the Mighty and Exalted Captain Edward Kenway had been impressed by her skills with inventing games to play and her mental library of songs to which they could sing and dance. Still, her slightly-sore fingers and aching neck were worth the money, if nothing else.
Rhian scowled absently at the thought of the Jackdaw's captain. The man was an insufferable, arrogant ass at the best of times, and downright intolerable whenever he was in his cups. Still, she owed him her life. And however convoluted and complicated the situation may be, Rhian never reneged on a debt, or a deal, of any kind. She had been raised to be a businesswoman, after all, and it would be bad business for that businesswoman to gyp her clients. Her scowl deepened at the thought of her upbringing. Really, the only valuable things her father had ever taught her were how to invest and create a successful business, and that languages opened doors.
And if there was one truth in this world, Rhian mused, it was that languages opened doors. Her linguistic abilities had certainly saved her life more than once. Her father had done something right when he had had her tutored in various languages of the major world powers.
Che una buon'idea.
"Take in all sail!" Connor hollered, bringing Rhian out of her thoughts. She looked up, finding that they had nearly reached Havana. In fact, Connor was just guiding the Jackdaw in to dock as she realized this. A minute or two later, Connor called for "drop anchor," and the ship drifted slowly to a stop, a solid five feet from the dock for which he had been aiming.
Rhian slung her violin, safely ensconced in its case and held in a canvas sack, over her shoulder, and made her way up to the helm, where Connor was conversing quietly with Gregson, the quartermaster and second-in-command of the Jackdaw. She only spared half a thought for where the captain was; then she shook that half-thought away, and sidled up to Connor.
"So, what now?" she asked him quietly once Gregson had walked away. Connor turned to her at the sound of her voice.
"What do you mean?" he inquired. Rhian gestured to the dock.
"Gregson will most likely take care of purchasing supplies and trading the schooner," she replied. "I don't frankly care what Edward is planning on doing, as long as it doesn't get the rest of us into trouble, and most of the crew will probably just be visiting taverns and brothels, tonight. I, myself, am planning on having a pint or two. What about you?"
Connor was quiet for a moment. He looked uncertain.
"Actually, I had not thought about it," he admitted at last. "I cannot leave, since Edward is still keeping my... my item. And I do not feel that it would be wise to go about Havana with this injury as it is."
Rhian considered that statement for a moment. Then she nodded.
"I understand," she admitted, "and I, myself, am obviously not in the best of form." She paused, and lowered her voice. "Honestly, I'm having trouble keeping my feet beneath me, the pain is so bad. But I can't afford to be seen as weak before the crew and captain."
"You will do no one any good if you get sick on top of being wounded," Connor reminded her quietly. Rhian's lips quirked in a smile.
"Well, isn't that the pot calling the kettle black?" Her riposte was received with a slightly confused stare, and she chuckled. "It means that you're being a little hypocritical, Master Connor. You, I believe, were stabbed in the stomach, yourself, and have been up and about for several days, already."
He had the grace to look somewhat embarrassed.
She smiled at him. "Come on, have a drink with me. If nothing else, it'll dull the worst of the pain."
Connor shifted uncomfortably, glancing down to the weather deck as the door to the captain's cabin opened, admitting Edward to the afternoon sunlight.
"I do not drink." Connor leaned heavily against the helm, and his face was wan despite the orange quality given it by the sun sinking into the sea at the horizon. "I never have."
Rhian followed his gaze, and then shook her head.
"Come," she recommended quietly. "If nothing else, you can keep me company and make sure I don't give myself away to anyone." She nodded to Edward. "I know that lump won't do me that courtesy, and he's the only one, other than you, who knows what I am." The sidelong glance that Rhian sent Connor was wry, and full of amusement. "If you accidentally grab a breast while catching me if I fall, I won't slit your throat in your sleep, I promise."
That got a chuckle out of her stoic companion, and they fell silent for a moment. Rhian could tell that Connor was actually considering her offer, now, if only because she had subtly asked him to watch her back. She figured that she could try to get him to drink something once she actually got him off the ship. The boy was even more uptight than she was, not that that was truly saying much. Rhian had to be uptight, if her gender was to remain the carefully-guarded secret that she had successfully kept for five long years already.
Not for the first time, she wondered what Connor's secrets were.
Glancing sidelong at him once more, Rhian shifted her canvas sack on her back, readjusting the weight distribution to something a bit more comfortable. Her violin and its bow, while light, were just heavy enough when combined with the solid wooden case to put strain on her healing stomach wound. It was time, Rhian decided, for her and Connor to have a good chat, so long as she could do some performing in one of the taverns and make some coin at the same time.
Yes, that might be good.
"Well?" she asked as Connor leaned a little more heavily on the helm. He glanced over at her, raising an eyebrow. "Supper in a tavern, let me play a few songs and earn some coin, and then come back to the ship for the night?"
His lips quirked briefly.
"Fine," he agreed at last, sighing almost silently. "If only to keep you out of trouble."
Rhian grinned. "Thank'ee kindly, Master Connor." She turned away. "Shall we?"
He shook his head.
"We should make sure there is nothing for us to do, first," he replied. Rhian pursed her lips at the statement, and then looked over to where Gregson was overseeing the belaying of some of the lines.
"Oi, Gregson!" Rhian called, and the man in question looked inquisitively over to her. "You need us to do anything before we head to shore for the night?"
Gregson stared at the pair of them for a long moment, eyes calculating. Then he chuckled and shook his head.
"Nah," he called back. "I'll see ye in the tavern, laddie. Save a march or two fer me."
"I will," Rhian replied, smiling. Then she grabbed Connor by the elbow and tugged him in the direction of the boarding plank. The man in question sighed heavily, and yanked his arm away from her after a step or two. When Rhian looked back at him, she realized that he looked distinctly uncomfortable.
She frowned for a second. Then she realized that he had grown incredibly tense for the time that her hand had been in contact with his arm. So, he did not like touch. Rhian could deal with that.
"Come on!" she exclaimed, leading the way. "I want to get to a tavern before some other arse takes my spot. Bards are in strong competition, you know!"
Connor nodded and followed her.
Havana was as bustling a city as Rhian remembered her to be. All around them, sailors swore and cursed; Rhian added to the mix with her own oaths and shouts as she shoved people roughly out of her way, driving through the dock crowd with all the finesse of a rampaging rhinoceros. Connor trailed along behind her, keeping quiet. She presumed that he knew that she knew what she was doing, and so left the task to her. That, she was fine with. She knew how to get on with sailors and pirates and privateers of all types, knew the back-and-forth, knew all the right phrases to ease a wounded ego or soothe a bruised arm. These were what she used as they passed through the dockside crowd.
Within 10 minutes, they had made it to Havana proper. The city herself was nearly as busy as her docks, with merchants hawking their wares left and right, people haggling, drunks staggering through the streets, piss and shit and vomit flowing in turgid rivers down the gutters to the shore. The stench was awful, and the heat worse, after so long at sea. However, Rhian forged ahead, striking for the nearest tavern.
"By the way," she commented to Connor as they neared the place. "Taverns are excellent places to gather information. Keep your ears open for anything that sounds even slightly interesting."
He nodded his assent. Then Rhian pushed open the tavern door and entered, eyes questing for the barkeep. She found him and crossed the mostly-empty room with quick, purposeful strides. The man leaned against the counter as she approached, raising an eyebrow at the fresh-faced, diminutive young "man" he saw approaching him.
"Need some entertainment for the night?" Rhian asked, lowering the register of her voice as she leaned against the counter opposite the man.
But he was already shaking his head. "This ain't a dancin' establishment."
"Faugh!" Rhian exclaimed, frowning. "Every good tavern needs music. It'll attract more customers."
"And ye'll be gone come tomorrow," the barkeep replied with a scowl. "Doubtless to ship off God knows where. Yer probably a pirate, anyway."
"Privateer, actually," she replied with a grin, hoping that he did not realize that she was officially lying through her teeth. She lowered her voice again. "Listen. I'm a fair hand at the fiddle and know a broad range of songs. Tuppence for five go to you if you give me a rum and two ales to last me to midnight."
She watched as the barkeep pondered the offer for a moment. It was a generous one, really: a rum and two ales, and he would get to keep two fifths of her earnings. Of course, it would all depend on how well the crowd liked her. She was confident in her entertaining abilities, but she knew that the barkeep was not so sure. Rhian could almost see the gears turning in his head.
At length, Connor sidled up slightly behind her, his warmth a tangible thing at her back, and Rhian saw the barkeep's eyes dart to her companion. Then the man sighed and went back to scrubbing down the bar.
"Fine," he conceded at length. "But ya can't start playin' 'til we get more folks in. I won't 'ave you foulin' up the quiet with yer fiddlin' 'til there's a reason fer it. An' until then, ye're payin' fer yer ale yerself."
Rhian sighed slightly, but nodded. "Fair enough. I'll be back in a couple hours, then."
And with that, she pushed away from the bar and headed for the door. Connor trailed behind her, curious as to what she was doing.
"Where are we going?" he inquired as Rhian shouldered open the door with some effort and led the way back out to the humid Havana streets. She glanced at him as he joined her.
"To find something to occupy ourselves with until suppertime," she replied. She glanced over to the harbor, seeing that the Jackdaw had been successfully tied up, and the schooner beside her. She could see Gregson and Edward standing on the dock near by it; Edward had his arms crossed over his chest, and his posture screamed annoyance as Gregson conversed angrily with a swarthy fellow. Rhian pursed her lips, resisting the urge to go intervene. Instead, she glanced around, searching for something else to do.
"What are Gregson and Edward so annoyed about?" It seemed that Connor had noticed the same thing she had. Rhian groaned, and finally resigned herself to getting involved as she turned back toward the docks and began slowly walking in that direction.
"A bad price for the schooner, in all likelihood," she sighed. "He'll probably try to offer them less than what it's worth, so that he can sell it back for a nice profit. Gregson knows that, but he's not skilled enough to convince the buyer otherwise, and knowing Edward, even for as short a time as I have, I know that he doesn't have a head for business. He probably only has a vague idea of what's going on, and only because Gregson's gettin' so worked up." She cast Connor a sidelong glance, and then gasped as she stumbled over a cobblestone, pulling her wound painfully.
Connor reached out and steadied her until she could breathe again. Once Rhian straightened up again, she thanked him with a grateful smile. Connor nodded. They moved on.
"Anyway," Rhian continued, "Edward's probably more annoyed that he can't just go ahead and cut loose. Probably thinking more about the Havana whores than he is about the business transaction."
Connor's features pinched with distaste, but he did not reply. Rhian's boots clunked onto wood as they reached the docks.
"Which is why I'm stepping in, despite my better judgement," she muttered, to Connor's surprise. Then she led the way over to the small gathering, straightening up, squaring her shoulders, and plastering a disarming grin onto her face.
"Afternoon, gentlemen!" she called as she neared the trio. Three pairs of eyes landed on her simultaneously. "I couldn't help but notice that there seem to be some tensions running high over here. What seems to be the problem?"
The trader with whom Gregson had been arguing sniffed disdainfully, and gestured rudely to the schooner behind him.
"He is trying to sell me a scuttled ship," the man replied. He was dark in face and hair, and his accent told her that he was of Spanish descent, or from the Spanish colonies. Rhian pursed her lips and nodded.
"Gregson?" she asked, turning to the other man. Rhian was vaguely aware of Edward's gaze lingering upon her, but she paid him no mind. If he wanted to picture her with her clothing off, it was no skin off her back. If he tried anything, however...
Rhian had no qualms about making sure he would never be able to have children.
"You know as well as I do that she's seaworthy," Gregson growled. Rhian nodded slowly.
"Well, I haven't seen her since you lot blew holes in her," she reminded him, and then turned to the businessman as Gregson sneered at her. "I think that señor...?"
"Escobar," the man replied.
"Señor Escobar," Rhian repeated, turning to Edward and Gregson, "should be allowed to come aboard and see just what it is he is looking to purchase." She coughed, the false register of her voice beginning to irritate her throat. Then she turned back to Escobar. "I have sailed on this schooner for the past two years, and can vouch that, when she is fully repaired, she is one of the best vessels to sail the Main. She's fast, reliable, easy to careen, and has a surprisingly large hold. Perfect for anything from trading, to rum-running, to privateering."
Rhian gestured to the gangplank. "Shall we?"
Escobar sniffed, and turned to the ship.
"Sí," he replied, and Rhian nodded and led the way.
As the duo disappeared up the gangplank and onto the ship's deck, Connor frowned and turned to Edward and Gregson.
"What was the real problem?" the dark-skinned man asked. Edward shrugged, looking nonchalant, while Gregson shot a dark glare at the Jackdaw's captain.
"Captain Kenway decided he wanted to insult the man by trying to rush things along," Gregson snarled. "Thinkin' with his cock and not his head."
Connor frowned, and turned to Edward.
"Is this true?" Connor asked slowly, not sure what to think of the information. While he was not unfamiliar with the mechanics of sex, that did not mean that he wanted to picture his grandfather doing it with any of the whores in Havana.
Edward shot Connor an irritable look.
"It's been a month since I've had a good fuck," the blond man griped, crossing his arms defensively, "or even seen a woman. And don't you dare reference Drystan. I'm not randy enough to chase that... that. No matter how much some of us might like to make insinuations about their captain's appetites."
The glare he shot Gregson made it clear to whom he was referring. Gregson glared right back.
"Well, maybe if you'd gone ahead and buggered the whelp, you'd be thinkin' wit' the 'ead on yer shoulders an' not the one between yer legs!" the quartermaster griped. "An' then we wouldn't need said whelp ta try ta smooth over yer bungling!"
Edward's blue eyes flashed as he uncrossed his arms and turned to face his second, fists clenched at his sides. He had just opened his mouth to say something that would, no doubt, start the fight they were on the verge of, but then, in stepped Connor. The tall, dark man got between the two pirates, a stern glare leveled first at Gregson, and then at Edward.
"I cannot believe this," Connor stated, briefly clenching his fists. "The both of you will calm down immediately and act the part of the men you are." He glanced to Gregson. "You will stop making a scene before you attract unwanted attention." As Gregson growled furiously and turned away, Connor looked back over at Edward, disappointment flashing in tawny eyes. "When Drystan returns with Escobar, you will apologize to Escobar for insulting him. Then, once he has paid you, you will thank him, give the money to Gregson, and go about your business. Understood?"
Edward's eyes flashed murder as he clenched his fists at his sides again. His face was flushed with anger as he stared up at the taller man; lank strands of blond hair tickled his cheeks as he opened his mouth to tell Connor where he could shove his command. Connor, however, was not in the mood. His own tawny gaze turned icy-cold and sharpened dangerously. He almost seemed to grow as he squared his shoulders and straightened his back, glaring down into Edward's furious stare. Edward clenched his teeth in response, gathering himself as he straightened to his full height, hand twitching dangerously, ready to trigger his hidden blade at any second.
The contest stood, and for several long moments, it was uncertain whether one of them would capitulate, or whether a fight would break out.
Then they heard a strained laugh from the schooner, and Connor's gaze drifted past Edward as Drystan reemerged with Escobar, the trader looking much calmer than before. As Escobar descended the gangplank to the dock again, a laugh on his lips, Drystan leaned against the gunwale, a strained grin on his lips. Drystan said something in Spanish, and Escobar responded with another laugh before he strode right up to Gregson and shook the quartermaster's hand.
"You are lucky your musician is such a good man!" Escobar exclaimed, and then patted Gregson on the shoulder. "Come, I shall collect my money, and you shall be paid in full."
The stress melted from Gregson's features.
"Thank ye, my good man," Gregson replied, grinning. "An' yes, we're lucky, indeed. Drystan's a good lad."
Connor was eyeing Drystan with concern as the boy leaned more heavily on the gunwale, looking pale, but directed his glare back on Edward regardless. Edward met it defiantly for a second. Then he grudgingly capitulated, and turned to Escobar, plastering a grin on his face.
"My apologies, Master Escobar," Edward stated. "If I was short earlier, and I know I was, it's only because we've been two months at sea without a good meal. You shouldn't have borne the brunt of my frustration."
It was a bald-faced lie to those who knew him, but Escobar accepted the apology with good grace. As he and Gregson walked off down the pier, Connor turned back to Edward, tawny gaze still steely.
"I would say that you should thank Drystan, as well," Connor began, voice a low growl, "but I think that you have done enough damage for one night." He snorted disgustedly and stepped around Edward to go assist Drystan. "Enjoy your carousing, Captain."
Edward held back for just a moment after Connor passed him, and then he spun around, furious.
"Oi!" he exclaimed, and then stopped short.
If Connor was looking somewhat pale beneath the flush of his anger, Drystan was looking like death warmed over. The girl's face had gone grey, and now that Escobar and Gregson were out of sight, she had slumped to the deck of the schooner, curled around her stomach while she weakly gripped the gunwale with her left hand and her right clutched Connor's forearm where the dark man was steadying her. Edward could see the girl's shoulders heaving. Connor's lips were moving, the low murmur of his voice indistinct at this distance, but Drystan nodded every so often. As Edward realized what must have happened, a strange twinge of guilt curled in the pit of his stomach.
Drystan must have overexerted herself trying to soothe Escobar's ego, and all so that they could get a good price for the schooner on which she had spent two years sailing. And Connor looked little better. Edward realized that the other Assassin must still be feeling the effects of his wound, also, though he hid it remarkably well.
Yet the two of them had worked in tandem to better the Jackdaw's crew and captain, and had succeeded despite Edward's own stubbornness and the pride that had been wounded on all sides. It was... a little humbling, actually.
The shame that washed suddenly over Edward was shocking in its intensity. He gritted his teeth against it, frustration and anger rearing their ugly heads in retaliation to the guilt. Once again, he was furious.
As Connor and Drystan both looked up and met Edward's gaze, the captain glowered and spun away, stalking away into town in search of a whore, a hot meal, a bath, and a tankard of ale, not necessarily in that order. All he wanted to do was banish the memory of their burning disappointment from his mind.