The victory celebrations went on until well into the night - sailors drinking far beyond a safe measure of rum and singing drunken songs as the El Tívu cut through the ocean. Midnight was steering the ship, ignoring the chaotic cacophony around her and trying to keep the vessel on course by commanding the few sailors that weren't drunk. She had a bandage wrapped tightly around one shoulder and there were dark bruises on her cheek nd forehead.
It was surprising, to see her steering a ship when she'd had us all believe she had no love for sailors or for sailing.
It was annoying - how there was always more and more to her.
I watched Thomas climb up the steps to the wheel (or the quarter-deck, as everyone here called it) and kissed Midnight with far too much passion.
She said something and he replied, “Only a little.”
I rolled my eyes.
Typical Uncle Tom.
I went up to her and she nodded a greeting at me.
“Can you explain to me why you look so freakishly not-old-anymore now?” I said.
She smirked, “Hey, I'm fine thanks, how are you?”
I shook my head, “Come on. We're closer than that, right?”
“Close enough to bail on your house, on me before I get back from Italy?”
“You're not still mad about that, are you?”
“I haven't seen you in, what? How long has it been? Fifteen years?” Midnight said, bending with effort to turn the wheel, “You came to see Kenny and left home before I could even catch you for a cup of tea. How much anger and morbidity do you think I can hoard in that amount of time?”
“In my defence, you bailed on your house too at my age. You left dad and grandma.”
She didn't even flinch, “While that's all true, how does that work in your defence?”
I swore under my breath when I couldn't think up a response, “I hate you, Aunt Midnight, really I do.”
She scoffed, “I already knew that.”
“Why? Why do you have to be so fussy?”
“Fussy people get farther than a whole bunch of others would,” Midnight said, “But my being fussy doesn't change the fact that I haven't seen my favourite niece in forever and the first thing she comments about is why I look younger than I used to.”
“What was I supposed to say?”
“What any normal person would say, or do. Big hug, laughter, 'I haven't seen you in forever!'.”
“I didn't see you doing any of that.”
“In my defence, I was getting hacked and slashed by Spanish sailors. That's a defence that actually works, by the way.”
I growled, “Can you please answer my question now?”
“I can, but that doesn't mean I will.”
“You know what I mean!”
“How would you know if I know what you mean? You can think you know that I know what you mean, but that doesn't mean I do know what you think I know about what you mean.”
I threw my head back, “You're not going to answer my question, are you?”
“I might try it after I'm done annoying you for the next fifteen years.”
“Look, I'm sorry, Aunt Midnight. I had a calling and I went. I was sick of being cooped up in the Manor and not doing anything but wait for you and Kenny. And, sure, maybe I could've written a letter or two, or actually come home for the quiet holidays - but I didn't and I can't change that. I'm sorry.”
Midnight looked at me for a long time, before she murmured, “Maybe I was wrong about you...”
She smiled slowly, “Apology accepted, Queenie. To answer your question, we found the Fountain of Youth.”
“The what of what?”
“It is what is says it is. A pool of water that can make you young again. Thomas proposed we look for it, find it and bring back some of the water go wake Kenny. As a bonus, we both consumed some of the water.”
“You found a mythological fountain?”
“Thomas did. I just followed him around and complained about the ridiculousness of it all.”
“A mythological fountain?”
“Queenie: catch up.”
“This is some joke, isn't it?”
“You're the one looking at me, you tell me.”
“Do you know what this could mean? Midnight? Thomas is a... He could be...”
“I'm well-aware,” she interrupted. Midnight paused as if something was disturbing her, and then shook her head, “So explain to me why you were locked up in the El Tívu's holding area? Why are you hanging around with the Spanish?”
“I'm a responsible adult, I can hang around with whoever I want,” I said defensively.
Midnight snorted, “A responsible adult?”
“I'm better than Thomas!” I retorted.
“He's a damn sight better than you, Queenie, from what I've heard. Drunken fights, misjudged attacks, drugs, rehabilitation, a forced miscarriage? Any of this ringing a bell or two?”
“How do you know all of that?”
“I have friends in high places, sweetpea,” she laughed at the sour look I gave her, “You might not have written to me, but I liked to keep my ear out for you, whichever way I could. So go on: Why the Spanish?”
I rubbed the back of my neck uncomfortably, “It's a long story.”
“And we have a few weeks to kill.”
“It started with some uprisings in Spain. Navarre wants to separate from the rest of Isabella's kingdom,” I explained, “So the people of Navarre hired some of us Polish mercenaries to fight for them. 'Course, they would have tried Normandy, but you weren't there so... Yeah.”
“So they hired you and what?”
“The first battle was a complete flop.”
“What was the strategy?”
“Beat each other to death with stones? I don't know.”
“You didn't discuss strategy with the Navarrian leaders?”
“Was I meant to?”
“How many mercenaries did you lose?”
“A whole bloody lot.”
“Then, yes, you were meant to,” Midnight said, her face set in an impassive mold, “Then what happened?”
“Well, we decided to cut our losses and go home. We all voted on taking a ship there. Then we got into a fight with Cortés and he took some of us prisoner.”
Midnight shut her eyes and laughed.
“I'm sorry, Queenie. I just can't imagine you caged-up.”
“I'm taking that as a compliment.”
“Whatever suits you.”
“There's our gardener!” Thomas said, coming back to the quarter-deck with a big stupid grin on his face, “My niece, the gardener!”
“Thomas,” Midnight said, shaking her head.
“What had to go BOOM in your head to convince you to marry that man?” I asked her.
“The part of my head that makes hormones, presumably,” Midnight laughed, “Maybe he's not the fanciest man to look at, but your uncle is good-looking, sweet and intelligent when he wants to be. Besides, a head of blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes, taller than any of the other men in our family and twice as strong - that's kind of my type, Queenie.”
“Yeah. You keep telling yourself that.”
Midnight laughed, “You're just mad because he called you a gardener.”
Thomas put an arm around Midnight's shoulder and they kissed.
“Thomas, you reek of booze,” Midnight said.
“I haven't had much, honest,” he chuckled, “Not nearly as much as I'd've had before, if we'd stolen a bleedin' man-o'-war!”
“You need to sit down.”
“I will. If you'll join me,” Thomas said, suggestively.
Typical. Typical Uncle Tom.
“We need to talk. About the map.”
I saw him pause, “What, now?”
“Now would be ideal.”
“Map? What, is that like code for something?” I asked, “A euphemism? A double-entendre? I am an adult, you know.”
They didn't respond, and the silence between them became eerie and weird. Like some sort of fight was coming.
“Mr Smith,” Thomas called, “take the wheel.”
“Aye, capt'n,” said the helmsman.
“What are you two doing?” I said, following them down to the captain's cabin, “Are you guys...?”
“Talk,” Thomas said, “We're goin' to talk, Queenie, in private.”
“Oh... Are you guys going to fight? Because I want to see that.”
Midnight and Thomas regarded each other.
“I have half the mind to flash her,” Midnight said.
Thomas grabbed my arm and pushed me out, shutting the door behind me.