Salt And Souls

Hey everyone! Back again for another short story post. This time it’s another fantasy story and is in fact linked to the last one, Veil Of Lies, as it features a character from that story. It’s not really a sequel but more a sidequel (and about 14500 words). Anyway, see what you think.

Captain Ceres Erelen stands on the deck of her ship with her arms folded across her chest as Veli walks away. Once he is out of sight Ceres walks across the deck of the Good Grace to her first mate Kenner. The man is human and stands over two metres tall with a shaved head and brown eyes. He’s been with Ceres a good few years but in all that time he has never disclosed his name as being any longer than Kenner. She doesn’t know if he has a surname or whether that is his surname, but if he has he has never been willing to share it. From anyone else that would make Ceres suspicious but with Kenner it’s different. He has proven himself countless times and so if the man doesn’t wish to, or can’t, disclose anything else relating to his name then Ceres accepts it.

“Kenner.” Ceres calls as she nears the towering man who turns toward her in the moments after he has set down a chest that will need to be refilled at the markets of Baron before they set out on the next voyage. Ceres doesn’t know where or when that will be yet, but she knows she can count on Kenner.

“Capt’n.” Kenner returns with a nod as he looks upon Ceres with friendly eyes. It’s a look that Ceres never takes her granted. She knows how few people find good honest friends in this world and she is beyond pleased to have one, as she advises, “I’m going ashore. The Good Grace is in your hands until my return.”

Kenner is a little take aback by Ceres’ words. It is unlike her not to specify details but he knows better than to push or question his captain so simply replies, “Yes Capt’n. Thank you Capt’n. I hope wish you well on your business.”

Ceres hesitates for a moment. She contemplates whether to fill Kenner in on what she is doing, but she quickly concludes not to. If he knew he’d jump at the chance to help her and while she would appreciate his presence, she isn’t about to risk his life for a cause that is purely her own. So instead, she simply nods her head to express her gratitude. Then adds a smile to make sure her thanks is properly conveyed.

After that Ceres turns and heads across the deck of her ship for the dock. She doesn’t know how long her business is going to take to settle, or even if the information she was given back in Jonestown is true. She has to find out though. If she doesn’t she may not get another chance. Seeing as this is the first lead she has gotten in years.

Ceres steps off the Good Grace and onto the dark wood planks of the dock. She pays no mind to the hustle and bustle as the dock workers and sailors load and unload cargo from the myriad of ships in the harbour.

This is Ceres’ third visit to Baron. The first had been before she’d been a captain of her own ship. On that visit Baron had been lost under black clouds and driving rain. Much like the storm she had taken her crew and passengers through to get here today.

Veli comes to her mind but for what reason she cannot say as she strides down the middle of the wide avenues. On either side of her three storey terraced houses rise high enough to blot out the chunky wooden cranes and warehouse buildings she knows are beyond them. Ceres doesn’t know who lives in these houses but from the colourful facades she doubts they are owned by simple dock workers. Then a woman in a long floral dress appears from one of the doors confirming Ceres’ suspicion. It neither surprises nor concerns Ceres. Though, it is clear that the woman is trying to pretend she is of a higher station than she really holds within society. Ceres has never understood such attempts as she turns off the main street that runs right to the market square of Baron. Her destination isn’t found at the centre of the city. She assumes it shouldn’t be called a city but doesn’t know for sure.

This new road much like the main one is wide and occupied by a wide array of people. Some are dock workers, while others are clearly merchants, bankers and traders. There aren’t many women, which Ceres decides likely means that it is market day. When that comes around the women are always light on the ground as they go out shopping, or tag along to help their partners setup for the long day of hopefully fruitful trade.

Suddenly a loud neigh rings out as a horse tries to bring itself to a halt before it and the cart which the animal is towing runs right over an absentminded man who is clearly drunk as a spunk. The driver of the cart screams and bellows obscenities at the drunk about how he was nearly crushed and that he shouldn’t be out in the street. But the drunk says nothing back. Instead he simply groans some unintelligible nonsense while continuing to stagger and sway in a direction that can only just about he called forward.

Ceres shakes her head at the sight but carries on her way. The exchange is of no consequence to her. She’s more interested in getting to the pub that is nestled between two stores in this district. She has never been there before but she’s seen it and knows of its reputation, which is no better or worse than the majority of drinking establishments she has ever caught wind of. Still, she knows people sometimes like to turn a slightly shady reputation into something far worse.

By the time Ceres reaches her destination, The Golden Firepit, she has witnessed a number of almost scuffles, loud conversations in the middle of the street and a chase. They had all been events of middling interest to her, and did not delay her any great period of time. She had even considered taking part in the chase which had, from what she could gather, been the result of a thief claiming a pretty young woman’s handbag. But Ceres having seen four men take pursuit had decided better of it. Four was more than enough to have a high chance of catching the thief. Whether they did though, or are still in pursuit, Ceres cannot say as she pushes against the chipped white door of The Golden Firepit to reveal its interior.

The Golden Firepit isn’t impressive in the slightest. However, like most pubs it contains all that is necessary for it succeed in its purpose. The candles dimly light the single open space and dance as Ceres lets the door of the building swing closed. It does so faster than she would have considered it possible to achieve. Though, its swiftness does perhaps explain some of the chips in the fading white paint.

Ceres’ eyes cast over the patrons. None of them pay her any mind as she winds between a couple tables to the bar. It’s a single long straight box shape with a wider top that is made from pretty boring brown wood of a species she can’t discern.

The bar seems in a much better shape than the door she entered the pub through, but that is to be expected. After all, the bar is what is most necessary for trade to occur, besides the ale that is.

There are no seats at the bar. That doesn’t surprise Ceres who instead braces her elbows against the counter top and then puts her weight into the lean. The barkeep casts her a quick glance but continues cleaning the flagon in his hands. It takes only a few seconds for the man, a human, about her height with blue eyes and blond hair that resembles a mop to finish and then set the flagon down right in front of her.

“What can I get you?” The barkeep asks with a smirk.

“A pint to start.” Ceres orders while removing a couple coins from the purse Veli had offered her.

“Coming up.” The barkeep replies before quickly going into a clearly well rehearsed set of steps that prove the man has done this countless times before in his life. If the display is meant to impress than the barkeep has failed. Ceres pays no attention to it as she instead casts her gaze around the room without allowing her look to rest for too long on any one patron. If she does she might draw unwanted attention and that is the last thing she wants. In fact, it’s one of the reasons she refuses to wear a captain’s hat and right now she is thankful for her insistence. Such an item would draw curiosity that would be counterintuitive to her wish to fly under the radar, so to speak.

Suddenly the flagon is slammed down next to Ceres. She doesn’t jump and in fact saw it coming, but the lack of a response clearly surprises the barkeep.

Instead, Ceres simply slowly turns her attention back to him. His hand outstretched in anticipation of payment which Ceres drops into his open palm. The coins clang as they smack into each other, but the gap filled smile Ceres gets in response is what she had hoped for and why the barkeep quickly withdraws. There is no way for her to know if he really is the barkeep or just some opportunist patron serving and stealing the coin. It matters little to her either way as she wraps her right hand around the still damp wood of the flagon, ignoring the chunky handle. She lifts the flagon to her lips and takes a quick swig. She knows better than to simply gulp it down, especially as the liquid could be vile, or worse poisoned. To her relief however, the ale is sweet tasting and markedly better than she has had in a long time. So with her fear assuaged, she quickly takes a few gulps and then licks her lips. It’s good to be alone, Ceres thinks.

The barkeep returns and Ceres has to resist the urge to roll her eyes. She knows it isn’t the man’s fault. He doesn’t know that she’s been on a ship for weeks on end surrounded by people in close proximity and entertaining passengers. Not literally, but figuratively speaking.

Ceres lowers the flagon back to the bar ready for the keep to speak. It is clear that is what he plans and though Ceres would like some peace she is also here for a reason. That’s why she is being so patient and hasn’t simply blown the barkeep off and made her way to one of the empty circular tables that have clearly seen better days. They are dotted about the open space and only about half are occupied. That is of no surprise for this time of day. Though, Ceres would hate to think how crowded this pub gets at night. Just the thought makes her feel uncomfortable as she can well imagine that they will pack in like sardines in a jar.

“Looking for work?” The barkeep says without trying to keep his voice down, or leaning in to ensure their conversation is kept private.

That confirms to Ceres that he really must be the owner of this establishment. No one else would be so brazen, or suffer from such a lack of fear from repercussions. That quiets some of the muttering fears that had been rolling through her mind. Now they’re gone and Ceres simply answers, “Always.”

“Good. Good. Thought as much. You look like the type, and there is plenty work going.” The Barkeep blurts still as loud as ever, but then seems to randomly pause. It seems he expects a response from Ceres as to what sort of work she is angling for, but she isn’t about to answer. She needs him to tell her what’s available so she can pick something that she hopes will guide her toward being able to fulfil business that has needed resolving since she was a young girl.

Finally the barkeep that the hint and concludes an answer to his non-question isn’t going to be forthcoming. So instead he begins to list off available opportunities. “We got dock work, labouring, skilled stuff like ship repairs, bounty hunting, privateering…”

None of the work opportunities that the barkeep reels off are of any interest to Ceres. Though, she does have to admit that the options do seem near endless. However, she isn’t surprised to hear some less than savoury options listed among good honest work. As much is to be expected no matter what port located pub is visited.

She’s heard it a thousand times before. However, she can’t say if it’s the same outside of port pubs as she has never frequented them, but she imagines that it is. Just swap privateering for mercenary work, or more likely highwaymen.

Then the barkeep mentions something that makes Ceres’ ears prick up.

“…Albin Torkester is looking for souls.”

The barkeep says it matter-of-factly. As though the mention of someone’s name is of no consequence, but it is to Ceres and so she inquires, “Souls for what?”

She hopes the query is as vague and matter-of-fact as the barkeeps own statement, but she isn’t sure it is.

It also crosses her mind that the dropping of the name might have been part of some attempt to illicit a response from her beyond a simple question. If that had been the intent then it had failed, or at least Ceres hopes she gave no physical sign of interest. She can’t know and now is too late to consider pulling out as it seems the rumours she had heard were true and that Albin Torkester really is in Baron. That surprises her more than she thinks it should, but after having spent so many years chasing the name and only coming up on dead ends, it perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise that she was shocked to hear that one of these threads actually leads somewhere for once.

“Can’t say. I just know he’s looking for folks. A few have taken his offer. But if you want details he’ll be in later. He comes here most nights.” The barkeeps words set an alarm bell off in Ceres who had already been suspicious of the ease in which he mentioned Albin. But now he’s so willingly advised that the man will be in later, those alarms are in full force. Still, she feels she can’t let this go, even though she knows that this might be some form of trap. Not for her specifically as there is no way Albin knows she is in Baron. If he did she would almost certainly have already come face-to-face with him. Likely on her ship with a group of armed thugs. It wouldn’t have been enough but she doubts Albin would have considered the chances of him losing to her, because of his arrogance.

“I’ll keep you supplied ‘til then.” The barkeep soon adds while motioning toward the flagon still in Ceres’ hands. She smiles and nods at that as there is no way she is going to pass up a steady stream of ale. Even if she is sure beyond a doubt that this is a trap and that the barkeep is in on whatever Albin is really doing with these people he’s recruiting.

Ceres can imagine them being not so voluntary crew for his mammoth galleon, but quickly pushes those images aside. They’re images from her own less than perfect childhood. She isn’t about to reveal that and so she replies, “Now you’re talking my language.”

That doesn’t mean Ceres is going to stay leaning against the bar however. Her arms are starting to grow tired as are her already exhausted legs, which she is trying to keep most of her weight off.

She needs a proper rest after hours upon hours of being on her feet. So, Ceres turns and wanders to an empty table on the opposite side of the pub. The patrons continue to pay her little mind as they drink and chat while she winds between the tables and basic looking wooden chairs. The table she has chosen is near the door but will force her barkeep to have her drinks sent over. She has no idea how or who will do it, but that’s a problem for him to resolve, not her.

As she drops into the unpadded chair she swirls the half empty flagon in her hand while keeping one eye on the door of the pub. Feelings of hatred begin to well up from deep within her as she thinks about how long she has waited for a chance to get back at the man that butchered her family and put the scar on her right cheek. Her only solace is that she escaped the slaver before he could turn her life into an endless string of pain and suffering.

Nevertheless, she intends to repay his cruelty and put an end to his disgusting oppressive operations once and for all.

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