The trip back to the Guild was anything but uneventful. For this reason, Mariqah and Mary had little time to talk. Lord Grumm had sent two man-o’-wars after Captain Ethelbald’s fleeing brig, and both Captain and Mercenary had had their hands full – issuing orders for the firing of cannons and the throwing of mortar and loosing of flaming arrows. At one point, the brig had rammed itself starboard-side into one of the man-o’-wars, and the combatants had to engage the enemy hand-to-hand. It was a fresh experience for Mary, and Mariqah had given her the honour of climbing up the mast and cutting down the fluttering Brimonian flag at the top.
Captain Ethelbald was mighty pleased with having taken a Brimonian man-o’-war (seeing as they had some of the finest fighting-equipment anywhere in the Grey Havens), but Mariqah had offered to lead it back to the Guild under Ethelbald’s instruction.
It just so happened that Mariqah made a fine helmsman. More and more surprises rung about that woman, Mary noticed silently. To reach the Guild, however, the man-o’-war needed more sophisticated guiding, so Mariqah left it to Ethelbald’s quartermaster. She wouldn’t have made it, seeing as the second pursuing man-o’-war got caught and sunk by the jagged rocks that guarded the small island.
Mary was seated on the beach, watching as the pirates and escaped criminals clinked bottles of beer and rum, and celebrated up the bank. Her aunt was putting away some spare rope and communicating with Ethelbald – Mary couldn’t quite hear about what. Mariqah caught sight of her niece and waved at her with a smile.
Mary forced a smile back, then went on to idly draw lines in the sand with her fingers. She still didn’t know what to say to Mariqah.
Mary looked up as Mariqah set down a box next to her and sat on it, “Yeah, just… fine.”
Is that… light beer in your hand? asked Mariqah.
Before Mary could answer, the bottle was slapped out of her hand and skittering along the beach, splashing liquid everywhere.
“I paid for that!” said Mary, upset, “With money!”
Mariqah shrugged and lighted a cigarette.
“You…” Mary scoffed, not believing what she was seeing, “You’re going to be condescending like this? You’re going to teach me a lesson about alcohol awareness while you’re smoking?”
Mariqah took a long drag, before blowing out smoke, not saying anything.
“I know how your going to start. How it’s not the same. How ‘at least with smoking, you get to keep your mind’. But I’m not a little kid any more, Aunt Mariqah! I can take care of myself! God, haven’t I done enough to prove that? I mean, come on! It’s just one beer!” Mary stared as her aunt still didn’t say anything, “And then you’ll be all like, ‘you’re eighteen now, then next year, you’ll be nineteen. Then twenty. And older and older, and you’ll look back…’ and blah, blah, blah! I know, Aunt Mariqah, I know!”
There a was a pause, Mary?
Mariqah turned to her niece and blew smoke into the younger woman’s face. Mary doubled over in a fit of coughs. Mariqah laughed.
“Are you trying to choke me?” said Mary, scowling.
I didn’t say anything, Mariqah told her, I only asked if you were holding a light beer.
“Well I was!” sulked Mary, regaining her composure, “And I was going to drink it! Until you knocked the damn bottle out of my hand!”
Mariqah hugged Mary, laughing, It doesn’t matter how old you think you are – so long as I’m around: I will always knock a light beer out of your hands.
“Oh, God, what are you doing?” said Mary, smiling to herself.
I promised you a hug.
“See? You’re being patronising!”
God, there is just no winning with you! Mariqah pulled away and shook her head, Why are you so uptight? What happened while I wasn’t here? And… Mariqah paused, Why in Heaven’s name would you ever think I even remotely disliked you?
“Heh, heh…” Mary laughed uneasily, “we’re going to talk about that?”
If… you want to, yes.
Mary looked away and said, “It’s nothing, Aunt Mariqah.”
Mariqah looked as if she wanted to say something, but didn’t press. Instead she said:
Captain Elthelbald said he’s going to call his new ship The Mary.
Despite herself, Mary laughed, “What? Why?”
I don’t know. I think he’s got an eye for you.
Mary’s face slackened, “He what?”
He’s a funny man, Mary. Don’t worry about it though. He’ll get over you.
Oh, come on. There’s no need to be melodramatic about it.
“Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, dear, dear God!”
“He likes me?”
You’re beginning to freak me out…
“Aunt Mariqah: he likes me! He’s a pirate! A smelly, stinky, disgusting pirate!”
...Pirates have feelings too, you know.
He likes you. Yes. Calm down. The world didn’t just end. In fact, you should be flattered. Guys like Ethelbald typically have a good eye for pretty people.
“I should be flattered? Are you crazy!”
…Ah, Tostig. You’ve saved me, lad.
“You knew I was coming?” Tostig appeared from behind them and sat down in front of Mariqah. She leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees.
“You knew he was coming?” Mary repeated.
Call me creepy, but yes. This… power has its uses. I probably shouldn’t get used to it though. I have a fifteen-day spirit-guard on me – payment from Ethelbald – but they aren’t so easy to come by, so it’ll be back to scribbling in notebooks and avoiding injuries after that. I need to find myself a decent enchantress – one that can rid me of that damn regeneration spell and later this mind-speaking thing. I have no intention of becoming more a raving lunatic than I currently am, any time soon.
Tostig and Mary regarded each other and shook their heads.
What? Mariqah scoffed.
Tostig sighed and said, “I’ve… made a decision… regarding my.. disease.”
You have, have you? Mariqah raised a brow, growing a little more serious.
Tostig nodded slowly, “Yes. Do it. I want to be out of that Witch’s clutches as soon as possible.”
“What’s going on?” asked Mary, looking from her aunt to Tostig.
Mariqah raised a hand, And you understand the… implications of the cure?
“Yes,” said Tostig, his face becoming its usual stone-wall.
“Will someone please tell me what’s going on?” said Mary.
Then, Tostig, meet me here in a few hours time. I’ll’ve prepared everything by then. Mentally ready yourself – because after this is done, there’s no taking it back.
Tostig nodded and walked off.
You’ll find out soon enough, Mary, Mariqah stood, Can you find Ead for me? Bring him here. This is not going to be pretty.