The Unorthodox Expedition: Part Two
Lilith drank in a deep breath of the still, humid air.
"Perseus, on days like these, it feels wonderful to be alive." All the residents of Krawk Island spoke of rain in hopeful tones, desperately wishing for a break in the grey weather. Some had even rashly grabbed umbrellas as they left their houses. Lilith was carrying a large canvas, which she had rashly wrapped in a waterproof cloth.
Perseus trotted along like a prince, occasionally glancing up at the clouds in annoyance for not obeying his wishes. The two of them were wrapping up their business on Krawk Island, as Professor Cornelius Winthrop, who had visited them three days prior, had hinted at a long voyage.
"Well, sure, the air is suffocating and the shopkeepers are rude and I think that little urchin wants to pick my pockets clean, but I'm sure there are some good points about Krawk Island. None come to mind just now, though," Lilith mused, more to herself than anyone else. She had some money, which she was using to buy supplies. Lilith was also doing some last-minute jobs to rake in some cash before she left, because she would probably need some for wherever she was going. "Is there anything you've had your eye on, Perseus? We might as well buy it before we leave." Perseus said nothing, which Lilith decided to take as a "no".
The two of them walked on in silence until they reached the Swashbuckling Academy. Cap'n Threelegs was loitering out in the green lawn. When he saw both of them coming down the lane, he spat on the grass, leaving a brown patch of dead vegetation, and went over to greet them.
"Good mornin', lass!" he cried. " 'Ow can I be of service teh yeh?"
"Good morning, Captain. I came to return your painting. It's finished." She handed over the canvas, which was nearly larger than herself. Cap'n Threelegs eagerly grabbed and unwrapped it. It depicted the Swashbuckling Academy, in all its glory, with the Cap'n standing near the door and beckoning the viewer inside.
"Much obliged, Miss Ferrars, much obliged! Toppin' swank, this is!" he exclaimed. The praise sent a warm rush through Lilith.
"It would look very nice in your parlor, don't you think?" she suggested.
"Pah, the parlor! I'll put it right across from the front door, fer all the world to see! But do come in, lass, I'll just put on a pot of tea. No trainees today; I'm takin' the day off. An' let's see if we can't find a bone fer yer Seti."
Lilith and Perseus followed Cap'n Threelegs into The Academy, which also served as a home for the old Captain. "Excuse the mess, Miss Ferrars, this old sea-dog en't much used to company," Threelegs apologized. There were dust motes and cobwebs covering nearly every surface. Spyders scuttled in dark corners to avoid detection.
The trio went to Cap'n Threelegs's underused kitchen. He pulled a rusty teakettle out of a cupboard, upsetting a dinner plate and three forks while he did so. "Sit, sit!" he said. Lilith carefully seated herself on a round stool. The Cap’n pulled a bone out of his pantry and tossed it to Perseus. He then made tea, quite unhindered by his wooden foreleg. Lilith said nothing while he worked. She knew from past experience that the Captain did things one at a time.
He then put two mismatched teacups on the table, one grey with blue stripes and the other white with faded pink roses. Cap'n Threelegs poured the dark concoction in the cups, and then poured a bit of grog in his own. They then settled down to talk.
"Well, lass, what's on your mind?" asked the captain.
Lilith smoothed her red skirt over her knees. "Tell me, Captain, what shade of red is this skirt? Ruth said it reminded her of an old scab."
Cap'n Threelegs squinted at it, and put his peg under his chin contemplatively. "Looks more'n cranberry-like to me. It goes mighty well wiff yer colorin', I'll tell you that. Got it from Johnson's place, now did ye? Ye can tell from the way the hem has a double row of stitchin'." Cap'n Threelegs loved fine clothing. Johnson's Fine Raiment was one of his favorite places to waste time in on weekends.
"Yes, that's the one," she said distractedly.
Cap'n Threelegs peered at her face. "What's botherin' ye, lass? Ye can tell me. Let's see if we can't fix what's troublin' Miss Ferrars, aye?" He smiled kindly.
Lilith returned the smile. "Aye," she said. She paused for a second before saying, "I'll be leaving soon, Captain. A Professor from Brightvale hired me for a sailing job." She told Cap'n Threelegs the whole story, and then waited for his reaction.
Threelegs took a long drag of his laced tea, then slowly set down his cup. "I knew ye couldn't resist the allure of the sea for long," he said, his voice a bit sad, "but the crew from Brightvale.... surely they can't be just wanderin' about until they find a ship to take 'em home."
"I don't know. It seemed a bit off to me, too."
Cap'n Threelegs looked at her sadly. "I'm goin' teh miss you somethin' fierce, Miss Ferrars. It'll be mighty lonely wiffout you en yer pet to come a-callin' now and again."
Lilith reached across the table and put her white paw on his good hand. "Oh, come now, Captain, it isn't as if I'll be gone forever."
"I wouldn't count on it, lass. Once one's adventures start, they don't let up until they're all over and done. I should know."
Lilith and Perseus wove their way through some stalls in the courtyard located directly in the center of the marketplace. Merchants and traders advertised their wares using only their voices: "Rolls! Rolls for sale!", "Get everything for all your medical needs right here! Imported straight from Shenkuu!", "Genuine maractite! Hurry, now, they're going fast!". The maractite man was the one she was looking for. Not because Lilith wanted to buy some of the maractite; it was all fake, of course, but she had other business to take care of.
Lilith elbowed past some gullible buyers to reach the stall. "Ben! Can I talk to you?" she asked over the clamour.
"Yes ma'am, we got it all from Maraqua... Oh? Could that be Lilith Ferrars?" Ben said, interrupting one of his customers. Ben was a blue Gelert, and he was blind. He got along just fine, though, thanks to Sam, the small green Ogrin sitting beside him. Sam was mute. His throat bore the scars of the accident that cost him his voice. So, with Sam as Ben's eyes and Ben as Sam's mouth, they had a pretty good deal.
Using a signal from a code known only to the two of them, Sam confirmed that the speaker was, in fact, Lilith Ferrars. "Give me twenty minutes, Miss Ferrars. I just need to sell off this last batch of maractite." Then, addressing the crowd: "Last batch of maractite, folks! Get it while you can!" A part of the crowd broke off to haggle with the old Gelert. Lilith stepped away and leaned on a stone fountain, which had an unfortunate layer of mold over the once-praiseworthy granite.
Finally, the last of the shoppers dispersed and Sam beckoned Lilith and Perseus over. Ben opened the little door at the back of his stall so they could enter.
It was surprisingly spacious inside Ben's stall. There were two bedrolls pushed against the wall, and a stool that Ben was seated on. Lilith and Perseus crouched awkwardly on the ground. "To business, then, Miss Ferrars," Ben said.
"Right," said Lilith. "Perseus and I are going on a sailing trip four days from now. We don't know when we'll be back, and I wanted you to know that you are relieved of your services. There's no need to advertise for me anymore."
When he heard this, Sam looked terribly downcast. He hugged Perseus, whom he had been stroking affectionately until then, to his scrawny chest. Ben didn't notice Sam's expression, of course, and continued. "I see. Well, looks like we can't expect you to aid us in our business then. That's too bad." But then, brightening, he added, "Though I suppose you've taught Sam enough so he can handle them on his own."
Lilith was watching Sam. Tears were coming to his eyes, tears he tried to hold back. Ignoring Ben, she said, "Sam? Perseus and I are going to miss you and Ben a lot. Perseus especially. That's why he wanted me to give you this." She pulled a wrapped parcel carefully out of her bag. Sam, curious, released the Seti and peered at it. Nestled in the blanket was a sleeping Warf.
Sam's brown eyes turned as round as saucers. He tenderly took the sleeping petpet from Lilith. His mouth opened and emitted a sort of strangled expression of ecstasy, which his damaged vocal cords could not articulate. Ben, hearing the noise, asked, "Well, what is it, then? It's not like I can see what's going on."
Sam used his odd little language to communicate with Ben. Then he took the Gelert's gnarled old hand and guided it over the sleeping warf. "Well, that's one more mouth to feed," said Ben gruffly, though his expression softened and there was a queer light in his cloudy eyes. Sam went back to Lilith and threw his thin arms around her neck. He hugged her fiercely. Lilith was tearing up, and Perseus nuzzled the boy lovingly.
She had bought the warf on impulse from a corner store on her way to their place, much to Perseus's disapproval. Lilith decided to give it to her mute little friend, as he probably longed for something more than a blind man's company. "Now, you take good care of him, Sam. I'll write to you and ask how he is doing. You can ask Molly or Ruth to help you write back." They heard the old clock tower chime seven times. "It's getting late, we need to leave now. Be good to Ben, Sam."
With that, she left.
Late that night, Lilith turned to the last page of a book she was reading, in her bed at the Siren's Wail.
She fanned her hand at the blue smoke it disappeared into. Lilith made as if to blow her candle out, but then withdrew, distracted by a full moon peering through her small window. Her artistic sense reveled in the beauty of it. The moon triggered an unwanted memory, too.
"Perseus?" she called into the darkness beyond the candle's light. "Are you awake?"
A whine answered her.
She got out of bed and went to her pack. From its depths, she pulled out a folded piece of paper. Lilith opened it slowly, reverently. It depicted a large, white Neovian-style mansion, surrounded by a stone fence and set against a blue sky. The landscape, to a knowledgeable observer, suggested some place other than Neovia, though. It was drawn in a wobbly, inexperienced hand, while the details were carefully formed and the colors carefully blended, as if by a child with unformed artistic potential.
"It's been five years, Perseus," Lilith said, gazing at the drawing, which, as you might have guessed, was her own. "Five years since we left."
To be continued...