Kadir was not thrilled with her drinking habits, she knew that. She also knew that if she kept it up, she would wake tomorrow long after dawn, and with a monstrous headache to boot. Still, hangovers were better than certain other things, especially on certain days of the year.
And especially especially when she was forced to spend certain days stranded in some stuffy, stuck-up city full of insufferable sticky snobs. A city like Aetara was no place for a self-respecting pirate, even if she was busy respecting herself from a horizontal position on a barroom floor, within view of the establishment's hissing, ill-tempered rat-catcher. The city, Anabele felt sure, disliked her just as much as she disliked it. Nothing good could possibly come of their docking in this port, she just knew it.
With some difficulty, Ana braced herself against the floor and pushed herself up to a sitting position. The floor resisted her efforts strenuously. Her head wasn't too thrilled about the change of position either. Nonetheless, she managed to leverage herself against a table or something similar and got back up into a more or less standing position. Now all she had to do was figure out walking, and she could make her way back to the ship to die in peace.
“How can such a small body hold so much liquor?”
Ana turned around in search of the voice's owner, and caught sight of the table she's been using as a ladder. Mugs and pitchers were stacked haphazardly, dipped in small pools of spilled ale which was fast soaking into the aged wood. A mostly-empty bottle of whiskey perched with injured pride among its inferiors. Ana eyed it critically, trying to calculate whether the remaining fluid was worth the trouble of trying to filch it back to the ship with her.
“I will have you know—” she started to say, but her mouth tasted like a damp cotton towel that hadn't been properly aired to dry. Her thick tongue mangled the words, which tumbled out of her mouth inelegantly.
The stranger laughed. The nerve of her.
Leaning back against the wall to prop herself up, Ana transferred her critical gaze from the sad remains of her drinking binge to the tall, grinning Lenian who had so rudely impugned her capacity for liquor. Insulting her honor was one thing, Ana was a pirate and she was used to aspersions being cast on her character. But if there was one thing she couldn't tolerate, it was getting lip from a hairless, ill-mannered cub who was probably stone cold sober.
“D'like t'see— oof!”
The wall had failed her. And now the Lenian was laughing again, amusing herself at the expense of Anabele's humiliation. From her position on the treacherous floor she poked an accusing finger at the stranger, growling under her breath. Her tail puffed up substantially.
“How dare you?” she said, aiming for a shout and just barely reaching a croak. “I am Captain Anabele Tessier!”
The Lenian reached out her hand, clasped it around her outstretched finger and shook it vigorously. “How do you do?” she said, her eyes shining with mirth. “My name is Pheia, Phe to my friends.”
“Why!” she sputtered. “How— you— Why, you impun— inpum— pert— insler— you brat! You wipe that smirk off your face!”
Pheia's face straightened to an earnest, even solemn expression. “Very well, Captain. I'd best get you to your ship, I suppose. Before the barkeep has us both thrown out.”
Anabele raised a sleepy head from the sticky table it was resting on. Her eyes focused gradually. “Well, what?”
Kadir sighed audibly. “Ana,” he said. “This needs to stop.”
She gurgled a non-committal response.
Flicking her tail out of the way, he plopped down on the bench beside her and waved a barmaid over.
He drank his rose wine and watched her quietly. Finally he said, “So. Pheia.”
Ana shook her cobwebbed head and stared up at him blearily. “Wha?”
“Pheia Maragos? Lenian girl with the long black hair? The one who followed you home last time we went to port?”
“Oh,” said Ana bleakly. “Her.”
“Yes, her,” he said. “Gods only know what possessed you to let a royal with no experience join the crew, and a khen's daughter no less. But she seems fond of you, and it's obvious you're smitten with her.”
“What?” Ana bolted straight up in her seat.
“You've been moping over her for a month, Ana,” said Kadir dryly. “Did you think I hadn't noticed? I'm still your father, you know. There's no question about that. The only question is, what are you going to do about it?”
Ana glared at him. “Why would I do anything about it?”
“She won't know how you feel unless you tell her,” he explained with eminent patience. “You're certainly drunk enough to blurt it out, don't you think?”
Anabele mumbled something.
“What's this?” said her father sharply.
“I said, 'Not quite drunk enough'.”
Kadir snorted. “Nonsense. If you poured all the brandy you've been drinking into a basin, you could bathe a lamb in it.”
“Are we having lamb for dinner? I didn't think they raised sheep here.”
Ana had slumped back down in her seat to rest her forehead on her arms, which was why she hadn't noticed that a third party had elected to join their conversation. She looked up from her rumpled shirt-sleeves and straight into Pheia's smiling eyes.
“Ah,” said Kadir with smug satisfaction. “There you are. I just remembered I have urgent business elsewhere. Why don't you keep Anabele company while I'm gone? Have a drink or two.”
Pheia grinned and waved goodbye at his retreating form. She peered into the half-filled cups on the table. “What are you drinking? Maybe I'll have that.”
“Uh,” said Ana. “Pheia. Hi.”
She smiled again, a smile that Ana had come to learn meant she was up to no good. “Hello, Ana,” she said sweetly. She was definitely plotting mischief.
Anabele raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Well. Here you are.”
“Here I am,” Pheia agreed. “Did you need something?” She glanced again at the half-empty cups.
“Now that you mention it,” said Ana, “I think we should talk.”
“Well,” said Pheia, with her falsely innocent smile, “I would be delighted to listen to anything you have to tell me, Anabele. Please, go on.” She gestured magnanimously.
Ana almost grumbled. She was far too canny at this game. “Pheia,” she said.
“Anabele,” said Pheia, and her eyes positively glowed.
“Since you're here,” said Ana, and stopped. “Are you hungry? Would you like to get some dinner?”
“Now that you mention it,” said Phe, “I think I am hungry. But they don't serve food at this shop at all. There's a tavern down the road that smells a lot like clam chowder, though. Do you like clam chowder?”
“Yes,” said Ana heavily. “Let's go get some chowder, before I sober up.”
As though it were the most natural thing in the world, Phe got up and offered Ana her arm, which Ana put hers through a little reluctantly. She really was far too good at this.
Her flask was empty. Why did things like this only happen to her under the direst circumstances? This was an emergency, damn it all. There were some things one could not possibly be expected to face sober: criminal trials (when one was the defendant), salary negotiations (when one was the employer), naval raids (when one was the pursued), and attendance of any place of worship, large or small. All of these Anabele had ample experience with, being a pirate captain. Especially the third. And even if she'd never been in a situation quite like this before, her criminal instinct told her it belonged on the list. Which brought her back to the problem of the empty flask.
Kadir, she knew, would be of no use. Despite his infinite fatherly love, his habit of interfering with the volume of her alcohol intake was starting to become an irritation. Drinking was almost as important to a pirate's reputation as fighting and, well, pirating; if he kept it up, he could seriously damage her good name. But that was an argument for another time. Right now, all that was important was figuring out where the crew had stowed the cask of wine that Pheia had bought specially for this occasion. True, she had been intending to open it herself later, with much fuss and function, but she wouldn't mind if Anabele cracked out just a cup or two. To make sure the wine-seller hadn't tried to scam them by selling them a cask of vinegar. Yeah, that was it.
Pheia wouldn't get mad. She knew her too well to think she could load a cask of forbidden wine on-board without Anabele getting into it, and sooner rather than later. Sooner was starting to sound pretty good. She hadn't had a thing to drink since breakfast, and it was closing on noon. Sobriety was starting to fray her nerves. If she could find that wine, and maybe a bottle of brandy to wash it down with, yes, that would be the perfect cure for what ails her. All she had to do to keep Pheia happy was get back to her cabin in time and make sure she didn't get wine stains on her best coat.
The wine was a lost cause. Pheia had locked it down tight, and there was always someone from the crew within sight of it. Brandy could be had, but the flagging bottle left her cup just short of full. She downed it with practiced efficiency and stole into the galley on soft, silent paws. She scorned both the cider and the cooking sherry. Cider was perfectly acceptable to be drunk with meals, but it would not make a dent in her current state of lucidity. And a pirate captain had too much dignity to stoop to drinking cooking wines. At last she found a jug of rum still mostly full, and breathed a sigh of relief.
With a few of those in her, Ana could kick back and relax. She had almost an hour before she needed to be dressed and she could hardly be late when she was right there on deck. Everything was smooth sailing from here on in, if she could permit such a stale stereotypical idiom. And she could, because she was just too tipsy to think of anything better. All her cares were dulled, along with any last-minute jitters. No need to worry that she would ruin the wedding by diving into the water in the middle of the ceremony and swimming for the shore.
Outside the galley she heard a muffled voice calling out orders. Phe was rounding up the crew, making sure everything was in place. Luckily she knew a lot more about weddings than Ana did. With a contented sigh she bid the rum jug farewell and headed back to her cabin to get cleaned up.
On the way to Axura, trouble reared its ugly head. The ship was provisioned and more than prepared to deal with any storm or attacking ship. Lost gods, on the other hand, were a class of threat all unto their own. Phe was injured and Leon had been knocked out cold when he went flying and his head hit the mast. Kadir was busy cleaning and stitching wounds in order of importance. When he saw how deep the cut on Pheia's face was, he swore virulently.
“Get down here,” he said, pointing to the overturned crate before him.
Pheia sat down obediently and waited while he inspected the wound more closely.
He released a deep sigh and said, “I can't promise this won't scar.”
“I'll finally start looking like a proper pirate,” said Phe, but her lip wobbled and her smile was strained and full of teeth.
“Get the brandy,” said Kadir.
Ana hated gods. She hated their glowing pretension and their throngs of adoring worshippers. She hated chapels and temples and sacred groves and wellsprings of purity, and any other place they greedily claimed for their rites and ceremonies. And she hated rites and ceremonies. But most of all, she hated gods because they made a mess of everything. Wherever they went, trouble followed swiftly and persistently, and not the good kind of trouble. God trouble could only be solved by another god. That was the worst of it.
She stripped off her coat and searched every pocket. One or two of them were bound to have a flask of something bracing. When she turned up empty she bundled the coat up into a kind of pillow and held it out to Pheia for her to sit on, but Kadir already had a threaded needle to her face and neither of them noticed her. Ana looked around, searching for a crew member who was free to fetch a bottle from the cabin, but everyone was busy and paid her no mind. With an annoyed grunt she went to get the job done her damn self.
When she came back with the liquor, Kadir was just finishing up with Phe. She poured out a shot and held it out just within her line of sight.
Pheia didn't move to take it.
“Just drink the brandy, Pheia,” she snapped. “You don't need to prove how tough you are.”
“Ana!” said Pheia. “When did you get here?”
Just then Kadir turned his head and finally caught sight of her. “Oh, excellent! I should have thought to ask you if you had a flask.”
“What are you talking about?” demanded Ana. “You just sent me to get it!”
Kadir and Pheia both looked puzzled, and Ana was getting more and more annoyed. She set out three glasses and filled them to the brim, grabbing the first to down it with one gulp.
“Is something wrong?” asked Phe, looking queasy. “We only just got out of the last trouble.”
“Well, troubles do come in threes, as the saying goes,” said Kadir, “and I think I might have an idea what might have caused our current one. Anabele, look down. What do you see?”
“Nothing,” said Ana with a shrug. “The deck. Am I supposed to see something?”
“Look,” said Kadir.
She followed his pointing finger. The low afternoon sun made their shadows spread out long and dark on the deck, which was otherwise completely—oh. Oh, no.
“The lost god must have done something to your shadow,” said Kadir. “I can't think of who—or what—else could do such a thing.”
She refilled her glass and then set it down and took a long swig straight from the bottle. Kadir was holding one of the full glasses up for Pheia to drink. Ana swore and then swore again and kicked an empty crate. She hated gods.
All of which led her up to the current moment, a pause for breath in the whirlwind of the past few days, with just enough air to think fondly back over her many episodes of intoxication. Troubles always came in threes, Kadir had said, and didn't know how right he would be. Murtells, a lost god, and Pheia's pompous judgmental family were excellent reasons to get drunk, each on its own. To face all three at the same time was nauseating, and to do so with increasing clarity would probably be the death of her.
“Phe,” she said, not whining, “why do I have to do this sober? You were the one who said your mother was a headache in the shape of a woman.”
Pheia laughed. “Oh, don't worry,” she said. “I'm taking you to meet my cousin! She's my favorite relative. I think you'll probably like her, and she'll adore you. You're going to get on like a house on fire.”
Ana sniffed doubtfully. “Your cousin the khen?”
“Yes,” said Phe, “but she's the nicest khen you'll even meet, and she's a lot of fun.”
“We're not going to meet your mother?”
She snorted. “Not for as long as I can avoid it. Trust me, Ana. When we meet my mother, you'll be the one trying to keep me from getting too drunk.”