A letter home was due.
But there was no nice way of saying that Kenny had decided that she wanted to play in the games. It would be a bloodbath, a massacre, twenty-three people would die in an entertainment spectacle each year for the next seven years. How were you suppose to write that to the mother of a kidnapped child-gladiator, and expect to a cheery good-luck wish in return?
I’d written seven letters in seven different ways and they ended screwed-up in seven different waste-baskets. I’d been sitting at a table in the bar below our lodging space, muttering to myself and cursing my lack in writing skills. I hardly noticed that Thomas had eased himself into a seat opposite me, a glass bottle of beer in his hand.
“You look upset,” he said.
I looked up at him, rolled my eyes and didn’t say anything. I leaned back in my seat as a waitress passed me a mug of coffee. I said my thanks and drank, screwing my face up in distaste.
“Ye’re havin’ coffee? In a pub?” Thomas looked amused by the notion.
“Oh, don’t worry,” I said, looking down at a fresh page I was about to destroy with a badly written letter, “I’m sure there’s some alcohol in it. I can smell it. Taste it, too,” I looked at Thomas, “William and John’re gone then?”
Thomas nodded, “I sent them away wi’ my crew. Told ‘em t’sail back t’the Manor. They can stay there a while, until we get back at the least,” he pointed at himself and drank, “Our family home ain’t the warmest o’ places, ye know. Where me and William grew up, I mean,” he looked at his bottle, then at my mug of coffee, “You know… ye’ve ne’er told me why you begrudge the Devil’s drink so much.”
“You didn’t assume a name as quaint as the ‘Devil’s drink’ was enough to hinder me?”
Thomas scoffed, “Ye married the Devil’s brother, love. I doubt any kind o’ Devil would hinder ye.”
“That’s not a good way of describing yourself, Thomas.”
Thomas shook his head, “Come on. Why’ve you ne’er told me why ye hate drink?”
“Well, presumably because every time we get on the subject, we usually tangent off course. Or you get befuddled by my extensive verbiage.”
Thomas made a face, “My English is better than’t sounds, Midnight.”
“I distract you a lot too, when we talk about alcohol.”
“Aye, you’re very good at doin’ that,” he smiled, “So tell me then.”
“Because I am in no mood to disclose my feelingless nature towards a drink I despise.”
“How can ye be feelingless t’someth’un ye despise?”
I shrugged, “I’m special.”
He furrowed his brows, “Aye, special indeed,” he muttered, and sat back in his seat.
There was silence for a while, as I get back to writing the letter. It would just have to be short and frank. I could let Asa deal with the hysteria that followed. Ah, the benefits of talking to someone without having to see them…
“Tell ye what,” said Thomas, straightening up, “You ask me someth’un that ye reckon I wouldn’t like t’answer, I’ll answer’t and you tell me what your problem is wi’ drink.”
“And why would I do that?” I asked.
Thomas shrugged, “I’m curious.”
“And that’s… every reason to invade my privacy?”
“I think I, o’ all people, would know how t’ ‘invade your privacy’,” smirked Thomas, suggestively, “This’s just mere curiosity, I swear’t.”
I considered the offer and said, “Fine. A secret for a secret – why do you hate William?”
Thomas’s face changed, “Oh, you know me too well…” he muttered.
“You’re not going to answer?”
“I think I already ‘ave, Midnight. He killed the woman I love. I told ye that.”
“Oh, my darling Rogue – you know that’s not a sufficient answer.”
Thomas paused, “Ye don’t know what ye’re askin’ for.”
“We had a deal,” I shrugged, “If you don’t want to answer, that’s fine by me.”
“He’s my ha’-brother,” said Thomas, after a pause, “After my mother got married, her husband weren’t too fond o’ me. They had their fancy ‘Scarlette’ name, while I was labelled a bastard, taking my mother’s name – Rogue – because she didn’t know who my father was. She assumed it was a sailor. She said she liked a few o’ ‘em.”
“Your mother told you that?”
“Oh, aye. My mother and I were very close. Not half as close as her and William, but close still. William and me… we ne’er got along. We didn’t consider each other brothers and I hated his guts. I was a whinin’, snivellin’ little pansy who got everyone’s attention because he was a Scarlette.”
“And you were…?”
“The one that always got into trouble.”
“But… there was a, uh, a girl I liked,” Thomas looked uncomfortable.
“Don’t look like that. We all have our randoms.”
“She was no random, Midnight. Maybe if she were still around…” he looked away, “I told you, ye didn’t know what you were askin’ for.”
“I’m not jealous of someone who was killed by your brother. If anything, I’m grieving for her.”
Thomas looked at me, to see if I was telling the truth or if I was being sarcastic. He must have decided on the former, “Her name was Emma. For your benefit, I’ll not describe her. But I was tall and handsome and–”
“You don’t need to describe yourself either.”
Thomas laughed, “Sorry, anyway, I loved her. But when I asked for her hand, her old man turned me down. She was sorry, I was angry and William was an idiot. He went and asked for her. ‘Oh, ye’re a Scarlette! O’ course ye can ‘ave my daughter!’” Thomas mimicked bitterly.
“That was a little sly…”
“Sly? William? Nah. William probably didn’t know she was mine. But they got married, fair and fine. I went out t’sea. Didn’t want t’see them wed. And I didn’t come back until years later.”
“You became a pirate, because of that?”
“No… um…” Thomas paused, “The Navy needed marines so I signed up as a conscript. My long list o’ troubles gave me a good place, and decent reputation as someone who could easily disembowel a man wi’ a can-opener.”
“I’m sure your mother was so proud. So you started off as a marine? Why didn’t I know this? We’ve been married for just over ten years.”
“Because ye have no respect for any type o’ sailor?”
“Oh, right, yeah, that,” I laughed, “what happened next?”
“Well, the Navy discarded three-quarters o’ its sailors after the wars were over. A lot o’ us turned t’piracy because of’t, revenge and honour and such motives as–”
“Not that ‘next’. The other ‘next’.”
“That didn’t make any sense.”
“Again, I’m special. It didn’t need to,” I said, dismissively, “What happened with Emma? And William?”
“Well, they were happily married. I wouldn’t know the length o’ details, because I was away for about twenty years, but I came back t’see my Mam. She’d died, and I was in no good mood about’t when I found out. Nobody had written t’me about it – and I always wrote home.”
“Mainly threats t’William, but still.”
I shook my head, “Was William there when you got back?”
“No…” Thomas hesitated again, “But Emma was. William had gone on a tradin’ journey, he wouldn’t be back for about a month. We… erm… we cheated.”
I stared at Thomas, “I don’t like the way this story’s going.”
“It’s possible that John might be my son… I don’t know. But after he was born, I was still around. I saw him… kill her. Straight after the delivery.”
I didn’t say anything.
“There was huge raccous about ‘the Scarlette that killed his wife’. He got exiled from his town and such – but that’s not important. I can’t believe he killed her, t’this day, I can’t believe’t. If he should’ve been angry at anyone, it should’ve been me. But no. He’d ne’er face me, he was too much o’ a wuss – so he did the cowardly thing instead and robbed a boy o’ his mother,” Thomas looked away, “It’s why I… I was worried, when I saw him wi’ you.”
“I could never go off with a man that stupid. You have nothing to worry about.”
“You call me stupid all the time.”
“You’re a different type, Thomas.”
Thomas laughed, the story slipping away from him, “We’ve types now, do we?”
“Oh, yes. Whole brands, categories, types and factions – maybe even a whole subculture of stupid people.”
“Right,” Thomas scoffed, taking another drink from his bottle, “You’re turn.”
I sat back, staring at the letter I was writing for a moment. I looked at my cup of coffee, “My grandmother was a pirate,” I said.
Thomas raised his brows, as if this was news.
“My father,” I continued, “was a sailor,” I sat forward again, “I didn’t know him very well and I didn’t see much of him. I missed him when he was gone, but…” I frowned, “I hated him when he was around.”
“What’s this got t’do with…?”
“He used to drink by the bloody gallon.”
“He used to beat my mother and beat me and beat Asa – when he was drunk. But he was a coy fellow when sober. He’d stop a while when he was at home, but then he’d go out to sea and return drunk as a lord all over again. I hated that. He died when I was eighteen,” I looked up, “the quarter-master wrote to us. Our father passed out drunk and never woke up again. Suffocated by no ocean and swallowed by no shark – but drowned in two kegs o’ rum and a barrel o’ whiskey. That’s exactly what the letter said.”
Thomas regarded me for the longest time and put his bottle of beer on the table, “How… How do ye e’er put up wi’ me?”
I took his hand, “I lived, I learned. At least you’re trying to give up.”
“It all makes sense now,” he nodded, “why ye detested me the first time we met.”
“And you didn’t get that signal when I tried to kill you?”
“Well, aye. But I didn’t know why. I mean, who could resist me?”
I went forward and touch the scar on his face. That ugly, ugly scar, “I’m sorry.”
“Nah, don’t ye start!” he said, laughing, “Bygones are bygones, Midnight. All is forgiven, if there e’er was anyth’un t’be begrudged,” he stood up, “Come on. Let’s get you a proper cup o’ coffee.”
“We can’t leave. The girls are–”
“The girls’re asleep and the door’s locked. What’ve we t’worry about?”
“It’s Italy, Midnight!”
“You love Italy.”
“And Italian coffee’s really good.”
Thomas pulled me up and kissed me, “We’re goin’t’be here for the next seven years, watchin’ o’er Kenny. We might as well live a little.”