"You know, we've picked up a stray?"
Jode's ears perked up.
The group of men at the table behind him were huddled, whispering of small things. Normally this meant the weather, politics, occasional downright whining about wages, tax rises and silly unfounded gossip.
He dismissed it as the last.
"What? When did this happen?" another man— one who obviously had a voice more suited to shouting over heavy rain or thunder than whispering news at a small table— asked, eager for a story.
"Where've you been, Eric? The middle of the sea?" this made all the men chuckle. It was a joke as worn as themselves.
"Well? Come. Don't begrudge us the news, man." Eric's weather worn voice attempted to whisper.
"I will. I will. But I'll do it in my own time! And I wont have any interruptions from you lot!" the man paused, looking to each of the men that had crowded around the table, daring them to do just that.
"So. You see, just this very morning. I was minding my own, washing the deck an' tyin down all that stock that done got thrown about by the sea the other day." all the men nodded, recalling the storm that had passed their way.
"And, then them gulls. They flew down on us. Pecking an' tugging. The noise the things make ought to get the attention of every living soul, some dead un's too, mind you."
"They flew off soon enough, leaving their droppings all over. That got me right mad. Had to clean it up or hear about it later."
"But, anyways. Them gulls, they caught our eyes for sure. Then flew back to that rock island of theirs."
"And there, right on the top of the cliff, was some girl." isn't there always.
"I had to squint to see but she was definitely there. That girl raised her arms like she was some power-filled god come to earth. An' she fell."
"Slipped into the sea without so much a ripple, she did. Just the sight made me hold my breath. Then, up she bobbed, to the surface, an' I breathed again."
"If you could just see her. Didn't think she would make it. With her bony arms. I tell you, she almost didn't. Near got thrown up against those rocks by the head of a wave."
"But she screamed something. It made my blood go cold hearing it. Some curse in her witch-speak."
"Nashi!" he made an imitation of it. Trying to shout quietly.
Some men made a ward against evil on their hearts, others mouthed it silently to themselves, entranced.
"From that, she got the power to make it to the ship. I was watching the entire time, but even I lost her a time or two."
"You see, one moment she was here, then there. An' almost before you could blink she was right in front of me. Bobbing in the waves like a buoy, she was. Shoutin' somethin' or another. I was the first to come to my senses, I threw a rope over the side an' I fished her up. Got no help from any of them other goggle eyed men."
Jode, hearing this, unsuccessfully tried to stifle his laughter, drawing the attention of the men.
"Ho there, sailor. What's the jest?" the man who was telling the story asked.
"Nothin' that concerns you, I'm sure. Just a joke that's come to mind." The storyteller, seeing the other man's smile, hesitantly turned back to his companions and continued.
Jode, having long finished his meal, left his table and walked out the door of the dining room, which was an extravagant name for a room with four tables and no chairs.
Jode had work to do, and no mysterious girl could change that.