Who: Brandy, Zaire, various NPCs
When: January, 871 RoK
Where: A small village in the North
Zaire hated the North. Well, maybe not the North as a whole, since the culture did have its pleasing qualities, like the mead and the hearty meals, the warm fires and the warmer women, but Zaire hated the cold. He hated the way his skin prickled with it and the way his nose ran non-stop, and how it made his eyes and lungs burn, and most of all, he hated snow.
And unreliable fairy circles that dumped he and his ship's accountant into the middle of the bloody forest, in the middle of a bloody snowstorm.
While the two had dressed warmly, they were hardly expecting near-blizzard conditions and by the time they reached the nearest village mid-morning, both were shivering and miserable. Some chatter with the locals at the inn had the pair each buying a horse and then traveling a days ride north to their actual destination.
The entire ordeal was an exhausting run around and, more than once, Zaire had threatened his accountant, promising the man that his lead had better be worth it if he wanted to live to see the sea again. Not that he would actually murder a member of his crew, of course . . .
But the temptation had been growing hard to ignore - right up until an accord was reached, the deal struck, and the poor accountant was able to breath again.
"Yer lucky," Zaire warned, shoving open the door to the inn with one fur covered shoulder. "If that had gone poorly, Mr. Abadi, I woulda left ya here."
"Well aware, cap'n," the Southern born scholar replied with a resigned sigh.
"Rooms and food," Zaire said, pausing to pass off a few coins to his companion, trusting the accountant to be able to do that much at least. "We'll 'ead home tomorrow." Providing they could find a fairy circle, of course.
Settling in front of the merrily roaring fire across the room, Zaire was halfway through a bowl of stew and a heavy flagon of ale before he finally began warming up - both in temperature and demeanor. Yes, he'd had to leave the warm comfort of the West to make this hellish trek North, but the payoff would certainly be worth the excursion if Mr. Abadi's figures were correct and woe to the man who would insinuate they weren't. The simple fact of the matter was that Zaire wouldn't truly be happy again until he was back aboard the listing deck of the Siren's Song and smelling the salt air . . .
Cooking in the winter in the North was a unique challenge, and it reminded Brandy of her "bottom of the fridge" posts on her blog. You have dwindling supplies in general because it is so hard to transport goods through the blizzards and ice, and what you have are the leftover quantities from other meals and shelf-stable staples. It was a puzzle to put together a meal, like a Chopped basket with meager ingredients, but it presented a fun challenge! Salted beef and bacon were her only proteins, and a challenge together as the salinity would be overwhelming. But if you slow-cooked the beef in lots of water with plenty of herbs, added potatoes an hour near the end, and topped with fried-crisp bacon, chopped, sprinkled on top with blanched carrot greens for garnish… it was a win. Brandy, who only lamented that she couldn't put the stew on her Insta!
Washing her hands in buckets of snow-melt was unpleasant but necessary, but the chill in her skin as she wiped sweat from her brow was nice. Now, she planned to get off her feet, have a drink…
Brandy looked up in surprise when she felt a gentle tug on her apron. It was the orphan boy who had helped clean up after her all day. He was a simple kid, but she adored him - he had lost both his parents to werewolves, and he was terrified of Creatures. Brandy had heard the stories, but since they were just stories on Earth, she hadn't really thought it was literal until now. Even though he was just a kid, she couldn't deny that he had seen what he saw…
"A strange man is here," the boy told her, his voice urgent but hushed, as if he didn't trust anyone else with his worry. "He's two different colors. Do you think he could be a…" He stopped, and Brandy could see his mind going haywire as he worried over the possibilities.
Brandy leaned down and kissed him on the top of the head, smoothing one hand over his curly strawberry blonde hair. "I'll go see, okay? You stay here and… watch the bread rise." He needed a task to keep his anxiety under control. The boy nodded, but he didn't let go of her apron until she moved out of his arm's reach, and his eyes were saying goodbye in the most heartbreaking way.
Not knowing what she was getting into, Brandy had to stifle a laugh when she spotted a familiar dual-colored face. When the boy said two colors, she thought he meant purple or green! Out of his line of sight, Brandy snuck up behind Zaire's chair and cupped her hands over the pirate captain's eyes.
"Guess who?" Brandy whispered, playfully dropping her voice an octave to disguise it.
Zaire's crew were family, brothers, and they took the business of watching each other's backs seriously, so when Mr. Abadi's dark eyes drifted over his shoulder, Zaire straightened just a bit in preparation for turning around to see what was going on - and then someone was covering his eyes and his accountant's chair was scraping loudly across the floor.
The female voice tempered Zaire's reaction just a bit and rather than driving an elbow back toward his assailant, he reached up instead and pulled the hands away from his eyes, turning in the same motion to find himself staring at one of the last people he'd ever expected to see again. "Brandy?" He let out a laugh, giving her a once over and finding that it was, indeed, the red headed wench he'd met last year. "Love, you nearly gott'cherself skewered! Jahid, put that away."
"You sure, Cap'n?"
Zaire waved away Abadi's worries, gesturing again to the sword in his crew mate's hand, "Ye don't need that, mate. This is Brandy."
"Aye," Zaire confirmed. "Like the drink." One speckled hand reached for the barmaid, inviting her to come and join them even as Jahid sheathed his sword again and settled into his chair with a wary eye. "Wasn't expectin' to ever see you again," the captain continued, taking a long pull from his tankard. "But your lovely face cheers this dismal place up right good!"
With a hearty laugh, Brandy accepted Zaire's hand and drew in to wrap her arm around him in a quick greeting hug as she joked back saucily, "Get me wet first and you can skewer me all night long."
"Like the drink," Brandy echoed with a nod. The threat of danger didn't seem to register because Brandy offered her hand to shake Zaire's partner as soon as it was clear of a weapon. His name stuck because it reminded her of ISIS and their jihad, but backwards. "Jahid, nice to meet you!"
Accepting the invitation, Brandy sank into one of the two empty chairs beside them. She loved these seats because they looked like antiques… wide, sturdy, comfortable, even though they were probably just old. The cushion under her was no longer soft, but it had a curved wooden arm that she sling one leg over, and the other over that, because her feet needed no more pressure on the floor. Blogging was so cushy that she enjoyed doing time in a real kitchen just to remember what it felt like, but at the end of the day, she couldn't regret where she'd ended up.
"You two are a couple of fish out of water."
As Brandy reached out to shake Abadi's hand, not even the slightest bit put off by the fact that he'd been quite willing to murder her only seconds before, Zaire allowed himself the amusement of her play of words and wondered if, perhaps, he'd get the chance to skewer her again before the night was done.
Honestly though, he hardly remembered that night they'd met. The . . . broad strokes were clear but the details, well, he'd had a lot to drink that night and those finer points had gotten a bit muddled in his brain. Zaire watched her as she settled into the offered seat, those bits of fleeting memories tickling at the back of his head like the wisps of a dream and darkening his eyes with sudden desire.
"Fish out of water?" the imagery the words conjured up only added to Zaire's blossoming good mood and even Abadi cracked a smile. It wasn't a phrase Zaire had ever heard and he assumed that it was one Brandy had made up; he did remember her saying some rather odd things before he'd become too drunk and horny to care. Still, it was easy enough to catch her meaning and with a glance toward the accountant, Zaire ventured into a vague explanation, "Our business doesn't often take us this far North." A quirk of lips and a wink of gold in the firelight and Zaire continued, "I fuckin' hate the cold but this trip is lookin' up, love."
Brandy caught that shine in Zaire's eyes and felt a smirk pull at her lips as she thought back, as well, to their night together. She freely admitted to tokenizing him - it was hot as fuck to find a storybook villain that she could actually touch and get it on on the beach, under the stars. The only detail she remembered about him aside from the obvious was that he apparently had a bunch of kids, which had prompted her to be more proactive about finding birth control on this side. She hadn't worried about it because, frankly, she didn't feel much ownership of this body… but maybe it was time to.
"But it's so cozy. The cold makes you want to cuddle up by the fire with mulled wine and…" Her eyes flicked to Jahid and she seemed to temper the heavy suggestion in her voice and intent as she concluded, "a great story." It was like a ski lodge! Just without the elitist skiing. They had food, even if it wasn't exactly diverse or interesting fare, but more importantly, they were stocked with booze like the apocalypse was coming.
Jahid Abadi had been with Zaire and the crew of the Siren's Song for almost three years, after the merchant ship he'd been working on had been boarded and taken as a prize. Captain Visser offered a place on his crew to any man who defected and Abadi hadn't regretted his choice for even a second since. In that time though, he'd come to know his Captain well and he easily recognized the look in Zaire's eyes.
With another resigned sigh, Jahid rose to his feet and collected his food and drink, making his way toward the bar while silently lamenting his luck. One whore in the entire damn town and she sets her sights on the Captain.
Barely sparing a glance for his accountant, Zaire turned his full attention back to Brandy, sliding his chair a little closer so he could more easily trace knuckles lightly over her cheekbone. "When ye put it like that, Brandy, love, the cold does sound much more appealing . . ." And made finishing his dinner far less so, when faced with such intriguing prospects for warming up. "I 'ave a room for the night." He held her gaze as he gave a playful smirk, "If ye join me, I'll even tell ya a great story."
Brandy felt a little bad when her coy insinuations led to Jahid's exit… but not too much. He had been ready to kill her a couple minutes ago!
The touch to her cheek and the sweet words of invitation piqued her interest… but, also struck her as a line that would work on a whore. There was no reason he couldn't tell her stories here, over mead. So the challenge in her eyes clearly said both I see you and step it up. "I also have a room..." she said, as if to make her point, when her mind turned back to the orphan boy in the kitchen, who had been worried about Zaire staying the night.
Suddenly, Brandy sat up and put her feet back on the floor. "I need you to do me a favor," she said, her voice oddly platonic, likely the first sentence she'd uttered that didn't include a double-entendre. For a second, she struggled to articulate what it was she wanted to ask, and then she concluded, "Just be cool?"
She rose to her feet and disappeared into the kitchen, returning with a boy - perhaps seven or eight years old - who held her hand like he needed it to breathe. She returned to her chair and pulled the child into her lap. "Gunther," she said, hugging an arm loosely around him for comfort. "I want you to meet my friend! His name is…" she paused, "Zee. He's a... sailor."
Gunther hesitated. He turned and tucked his head into her shoulder as he asked, "Your friend?"
"Yes," Brandy said, smoothing her hand over the traumatized boy's head, and glancing to the pirate captain. She knew she needed to simplify for the child, but she pulled his face away from her shoulder and met the boy's eyes. "Friends love us and protect us and make us happy. Zee is a friend. Will you say hello?"
The boy finally unwound, a tiny bit, and regarded the pirate captain as a normal man. He still kept a handful of Brandy's apron, but he did look Zaire's way… "Hello, sir."
"Be what--?" Zaire had started to ask before Brandy walked away from him and disappeared into the kitchens. A glance around the tavern had him locking eyes with Jahid, returning the Southerner's curious glance with a quick shake of his head and a twitch of one shoulder.
And then she returned with a reddish haired boy whom Zaire immediately took to be her son. He was a timid little thing, climbing into her lap without hesitation, and the pirate was left wondering if he'd somehow stumbled into the middle of . . . fuck, but he hadn't the foggiest!
When they'd met in that beachside brothel last year, Zaire had entertained himself by taking the clues Brandy had given him about herself and fabricating a history. One of those thoughts had been that she was soon to be married and needed to burn off a bit of piss and vinegar before settling down. The apparent reality didn't seem too far off. Did she have a husband here in town as well? If her son was working in the kitchen, then did she own the place? Was her husband here?
The questions rattled quickly through Zaire's brain as he turned curious eyes from the boy, to Brandy, and back again. "Hello, Gunther," he returned after a moment, head tipping slightly as he regarded the child. Children often reacted better to his appearance than adults did, Zaire had noticed. Yes, they all stared, but a child stared out of curiosity rather than malice. "Yer mother's right; I ain't about t'hurt you, boy." He paused, "I 'ave a son near your age."
Mother? Brandy's eyes widened in surprise and looked back down at the boy. He did look like he could be related to her, and maybe that was part of why she'd taken such a liking to him. There was nothing she could say, though, because the boy absolutely lit up, a grin spreading across his face like she hadn't seen all day. Oh no, Brandy lamented to herself. If he started seeing her as a mother, he'd be devastated when she went back to New York, and he didn't need to lose another parent.
"Where is he?" Gunther chirped, as if perhaps there was a potential friend in store. He was the only child who lived at the inn, taken in by an older couple whose offspring were grown who ran the place, and this time of year, he didn't get out to play much. Brandy had plans to build a snowman with him tomorrow, but it wasn't the same as having another kid around.
Zaire's eyes lifted to Brandy as a look of surprised crossed her face and he could only attribute it to his comment about his son, though he couldn't understand why that would come as a surprise. Or maybe she was surprised that he, a salty pirate, was comfortable interacting with children?
"He lives in the West," Zaire answered, purposely vague. He smiled, leaning in a little closer, and gestured to his own face, "You see this? These marks? They say--"
Suddenly, the heavy wooden door to the dining room opened and a gust of freezing air and a dusting of snow rushed in. A man - moving at what could only be described as a determined stumble - made it only one step inside before he fell. He was holding his neck, and he was covered in blood. Everywhere. It was smeared all over his face, down his shoulder, and smeared even on his trousers. His skin was almost blue - from blood loss or the cold, or both.
"Holy shit," Brandy cursed, surging to her feet and setting Gunther back on her seat. "Stay right here, baby."
But before Brandy could make even one step toward the stranger, a dark figure appeared in the door, just behind the threshold. It grabbed the man's leg, still outside in the snow, and pulled. With a miserable shout of despair, he clawed at the floor, desperate to get inside...
To be continued...!
In the sort of places pirates frequented, fights - and even deaths - weren't uncommon. Men got drunk, tempers got short, vendettas born or settled, so leaping to arms at every disturbance quickly became a thing of the past. That said, a pirate-filled tavern was significantly more rowdy than a sleepy Northern inn with minimal patrons, so when the door was flung open and the man stumbled inside, bleeding from the neck, Zaire was on his feet and moving in front of both Brandy and her son with sword drawn.
"Vampire!" Jahid announced from his spot near the bar. The accountant was also on his feet with his weapon in hand and a quick glance toward his Captain had him moving forward on sure feet.
"Away from the windows!" Zaire ordered, darting forward to meet the other pirate. He'd just have to trust that Brandy could keep herself and her son safe while he and Jahid got the door secured.
The man clinging to the door frame let out a scream, his fingernails cracking as they bit into the heavy wood. He wouldn't survive this night, that much Zaire knew for a fact, but giving him to the vampires meant allowing them to feed and potentially turn the man, making an already dangerous situation even moreso.
Jahid did as he was told, hooking his hands under the stranger's arms and bracing a booted foot against the jamb to pull . . .
Brandy froze. She had never heard a noise as painful, desperate, or afraid as the man's screaming, and as soon as Zaire's partner announced what the problem was, Brandy understood. The poor man wasn't just fighting for his life - he was fighting to keep himself from becoming that which had murdered him. His life was likely over, and that meant that he was fighting more for her safety, and Gunther's, and Zaire's, and Jahid's…
Outside, the vampire had a death grip on the man's legs and it was stupid - potentially suicidal - for Zaire to cross the threshold of the inn but he needed the angle in order to thrust the sword into the vampire's eye. The creature screamed and hissed, relinquishing the grip on his meal and sending both Jahid and the bleeding man tumbling into the tavern.
Clearly no stranger to action, the two pirates jumped to the rescue, trying to pull the man inside. Brandy took two steps, not closer to the door but at an angle she could see it better. With two clearly fit men and the cooperating victim, Brandy couldn't believe how much effort it took. That vampire couldn't possibly be that strong, could it? A shout caught in her throat when Zaire broke rank to try a different tactic that took him outside the inn. Brandy had seen enough vampire movies to know that you were safe inside, but outside you were meat.
The vampire he'd stabbed retreated and Zaire took half a step backward, to retreat into the inn, but a second vampire quite literally appeared from the right and grabbed his sword arm, wrapping a skeletal arm around the captain's shoulders and wrenching his neck to expose the speckled skin there . . .
Even when the poor, bloody man came tumbling inside, Brandy stayed put. She held her breath - Zaire knew what he was doing, she told herself. When she saw a pale arm grab him, though, she moved. She didn't know why. It wasn't like she cared about a one-night stand a year ago. She wasn't more afraid of Zaire becoming a vampire than she was of tangling with the ones right there in front of her. But some instinct deep inside that Brandy didn't understand pushed her forward.
"Noo!" Gunther wailed, jumping from his seat to grab at her skirt as if he could hold her back. He didn't follow more than a step or two, though, but cried in horror as he watched on.
Up close, the vampires were the strangest thing Brandy had ever seen. They were thin and so pale that she could see blue veins through their skin… but somehow they were still beautiful. Snarling and faces smeared with blood, but there was no denying their appeal. Brandy didn't know how lucky she was that she didn't meet one's eyes. All she did was grab Zaire's arm and throw all of her weight back into the warmth of the inn.
Zaire was being tugged backwards, the movement causing the vampire to miss its frantically pulsing target, tearing instead into the skin and muscle just behind the artery. Those savage teeth left deep bloody furrows in Zaire's flesh as he was ripped free, pulled back into the tavern by Jahid and Brandy.
It worked, and the three of them fell to the floor inside the inn in a heap. Brandy sat up quickly and saw the red of blood all over Zaire's neck and shoulder. Hoping Jahid was handling the door, she gave the captain's shoulder a gentle push to encourage him to lay flat so she could see the wound. She was no medic, but she had, once upon a time, had to teach CPR/first aid classes to her staff (because no way in hell was she paying out of pocket for that shit). It was bleeding, but it wasn't spurting. That was good. She pressed a hand firmly over Zaire's wound - she had just washed up, after all, and he needed pressure now. "Get me clean cloth," Brandy shouted. "STAT!"
The sudden adrenaline rush had Zaire's ears ringing, drowning out the sound of Jahid slamming the door and barring it closed, of Gunther's crying and the panicked shouts of the handful of other people in the bar and he pushed Brandy's hands away in the single-minded need to get back to his feet and fortify the building. "Stop," he snarled, trying to sit up again but Jahid was there too, shoving him back to the floor with a hand on his chest.
"Lie still, Cap'n!" the accountant snapped, his words crackling with sudden authority. He hadn't gotten a good look at the wound and the sudden fear that he'd managed to get his Captain killed with this journey had the Southerner's stomach flip-flopping. He'd been the one who brought the lead to the crew to begin with . . .
Zaire's only answer to that was another growl and a glare at his crew mate, his hand coming up to try and probe at the wound but only finding Brandy's hand there.
With his Captain behaving for the moment, Jahid pulled open his jacket, tearing a strip of fabric from the hem of the shirt underneath and handing over to Brandy. He didn't try to take over, but he did loosen the collar of Zaire's shirt, giving them both a little room to work. "Is it spurting?" he asked, unsure of how much experience this whore, or barmaid, or whatever she was, had with potentially mortal wounds.
"It's fine!" Zaire insisted, but truly he wasn't sure. He didn't feel like he was dying . . .
Brandy shook her head, and her voice was firm. She was apologetic and acknowledged Jahid's obvious care for his captain, but she couldn't compromise. "It needs to be clean cloth. Otherwise he'll get an infection." Usually, Brandy didn't worry much about code-switching to Eventyrian, but this time, she caught herself. It mattered. This was first-aid 101. "I mean, he'll catch a fever. Get a clean sheet from the closet down the hall," she gestured with a tip of her head.
"It's not spurting. He's going to live," she assured, not just Zaire and his partner, but the whole room that stood around, at a distance, tense. Brandy could feel her hand getting wet and slick, and so she pressed down harder. She looked up at the man tending bar that night and shouted, "What's your strongest alcohol? Give me a bottle."
After shouting her orders around, Brandy looked down and actually met Zaire's eyes. She could see fear there, uncertainty. She was afraid, too. All she knew to do, waiting for alcohol to clean the wound and bandages to bind it, was to force a smile and try to joke. "Gotta keep your blood in you if I want to get it pumping later, right?"
Zaire met Brandy's eyes and, somehow, her joke brought a weak laugh to his lips. This wasn't the time to be exchanging flirty jokes, not really, but it did an admirable job of allowing him to focus on making it to later so that promise could be fulfilled. His eyes swept around the common room, taking in as much as he could from his rather poor vantage point. They were at a serious disadvantage - but only until sunrise; it was a waiting game and all they needed to do was survive.
Jahid reappeared a moment later, having done as he was told and bringing back a fresh flannel sheet to hand over, but it was Gunther who brought the bottle of booze from the bar, his eyes wide at the sight of all the blood.
"Mr. Abadi, check the body," Zaire ordered, holding still so Brandy could tend his wound.
Okay, one less thing to worry about. "Everyone else, stay far from the windows--" The words weren't even out of Zaire's mouth before the sound of breaking glass interrupted, bringing with it tantalizing whispers drifting in on the freezing air . . .
The shattering of glass made Brandy wince, hard enough that it seemed she almost expected to be pelted with broken glass. She was just that tense. This was a vacation for her - a long weekend away at a faux ski lounge in the Alps - and now it was a horror movie. And it was always the black guys and the sluts that died first!
Even if the crash hadn't injured her, Brandy immediately felt the rush of cool air competing against the roaring fire. Another window shattered, outside her line of vision. It was going to be very cold, very soon. She accepted the bottle of liquor from Gunther and tried to give him a reassuring smile. "Can you show Mr. Jahid where to find blankets for everyone?" She looked at the accountant imploringly - please look after the boy.
Jahid read Brandy's look correctly and truly had no issue with keeping an eye on the boy but, still, his eyes went to his captain to be sure Zaire didn't have a conflicting order for him. Doing as his Captain said would take precedence - even over protecting a child.
"Go," Zaire said with a nod that Jahid immediately returned.
"Come," the accountant said, herding the boy away from the blood. "Let's see that everyone stays warm."
Brandy spared a glance back at the victim's body, and her stomach turned. Her lips pressed together thinly, and Brandy tried to refocus on her task. She had never done this before… but deep down, there was some instinct to help that reassured her that she knew what to do. "This is probably going to fucking suck balls," Brandy warned, as she finally drew her hand away and poured a generous amount of liquor on the wound. Her mind flashed back to that first night they met, and how she'd known, instinctively, to pour heavy for him. Sick irony, now. As soon as his neck was clean, Brandy began tearing through the sheets, making makeshift bandages. Although it was clear she was no expert, Brandy did an adequate job of bandaging the injury. The only way she knew to deal with the stress was to force a smirk, "You can feel me up if it'll make you feel better."
The owner of the inn was a man in his fifties. When the cold began to become unbearable, he ventured toward the fire to put another log or two on. It was a harmless action - beneficial, even. But as he stepped forward, he neared a window, and his steps soon veered from his path. There was a pale face outside, almost invisible against the snow if not for her striking, but dark, beauty. Her lips moved, although no one could hear her words, there was no doubt he heard every one…
Suck balls. Again, Brandy's turn of phrase gave Zaire pause and he spared half a second to wonder exactly how sucking balls could be a bad thing - though he supposed maybe if he were the one doing the sucking . . .
"Fuck!" the pirate growled, automatically recoiling as the liquor splashed over the wound, soaking his shirt and coat with booze and blood. No matter how often he received that treatment, it never seemed to get any easier, causing his stomach to turn and his temper to rise. He'd punched the ship's doctor once, broken the poor man's nose simply for doing his job, but he could hardly gift Brandy with the same treatment, especially when she was offering up a grope in exchange.
"How 'bout this, Brandy-love," he started, once he had breath in his lungs again to speak, "We get outta this alive and I'll lettcha sit on my face 'til yer squealing my name." There was a quick flash of a gold tooth and Zaire pushed himself up to his feet, retrieving his fallen spadroon in the same movement, and his eyes on the innkeep making his way toward the fire.
Where his rather sweet suggestion earlier hadn't triggered her in the right way, this one hit the fucking mark. She knew he was likely using it just as defensively as she was - it was easier to make a dirty joke than to talk about the crisis at hand - but damn if the imagery didn't wake her up. A laugh escaped that actually didn't sound strained, finally, "That's a deal, Z."
Goosebumps prickled Zaire's damp skin as another gust of cold air rushed through the tavern and as he started across the common room at a casual saunter, he began to sing loudly in a rich baritone: "The King and his men, stole the Queen from her bed and bound her in her bones . . ." He picked up a heavy tankard as he passed a table. ". . . the seas be ours and by the powers, where we will we'll roam . . ." There was a pale figure just outside the window but Zaire was careful not to make eye contact as he came up behind the innkeep. ". . . Yo ho, all hands. Hoist the colors high . . ." Still singing, he hurled the tankard straight at the vampire's head, sending it sailing out into the night and forcing her to duck away and break her spell over the man. ". . . Heave ho, thieves and beggars . . ." Then, Zaire turned to the innkeep and brought the pommel of his sword down hard just behind the man's ear and knocking him out cold. ". . . Never shall we die."
When Zaire rose up and began singing, Brandy sank down exactly where she was, taking pressure off her knees and onto her well-padded ass. She watched him move so purposefully, and while she'd never heard anything as traumatic as that man's screaming, she had never heard anything as confident and commanding as Zaire's song. Not only was it beautiful, it was… inspiring, reassuring. The song hit her soul, telling her somehow that she was in good hands. Brandy let out the breath she didn't know she'd been holding, her bloodied hands resting on her thighs, and just watched the pirate captain take control back over the situation. The creature outside the window disappeared, and the enchanted man fell like a ragdoll. He hadn't even seen Zaire coming; that was trippy as fuck, Brandy thought.
When Gunther returned with an armful of blankets, he was pulling Jahid along as if the fully-grown pirate were the child who had needed watching. Brandy didn't know what happened, but she welcomed the orphan back with a smile. He dropped most of the blankets, but he kept just one, and Brandy wrapped him up in it, pulling him into her lap, kissed his forehead, and ran her fingers through this soft ginger hair.
"Stay brave, baby," she whispered to him. She felt like a stupid fortune cookie, but something deep inside her made her keep talking. "You will keep facing challenges in your life. It's not going to get easier." That was damn clear. "Know who you are. And what you want. You can be happy - I promise."
She had no idea where that mini-Oscar speech had come from. Brandy wasn't a philosopher or an intellectual. An instinct she didn't understand told her to reach into the purse at her hip… her fingers landed on… a small vial of oil. Whether it had medicinal qualities or it was just scented, Brandy had no idea. She just knew that she needed to give it to Gunther. "Keep this, baby. You'll need it someday." Small fingers took up the gift.
Raising her eyes, Brandy found Zaire again. "There's a cellar, in the kitchen, in the back."
Zaire nodded in response, making his way back across the room. "That'll do," he agreed, coming to a stop. He looked to Jahid, taking in the slightly spooked look in the accountant's eyes. Vampires were typically found in the West but Zaire had never personally encountered them and he doubted that Jahid, who had only been in on the coast for a few years, had either. Still, the tales were heard all throughout the Western duchy and there were certain points that they all had in common.
"Mr. Abadi, what do we know 'bout vampires?"
"Uh," Jahid cleared his throat. "Don't look'em in the eyes."
Zaire nodded again, "And they'll bewitch ya. Like the merfolk, with their voices." His eyes went to Brandy, "We need t'get all of these people into that cellar and we need'ta keep 'em talking." He smirked, "Or singin'. If they're listenin' to each other, they won't be listenin' to them." Another chill breeze drifted through the windows, bringing with it a shiver down the pirate's spine. Fuck, but he hated the cold. "They ain't normally found up 'ere. They're starving, which makes 'em unpredictable."
"They sure aren't Edward Cullenning it up out there," Brandy joked wryly as she prompted Gunther to his feet and followed suit. He kept the blanket wrapped tight around his shoulders.
"I'm guessing they can't come in unless we invite them, too?" Brandy said, with a distinct question to her tone. Brandy had grown up on Buffy and knew enough about vampire lore to know that the stories varied widely - from shapeshifting to sparkling, for god's sake. Her eyes, curious, drifted toward a broken window… until she saw movement outside, and forced her head to turn. Maybe she didn't have the guts to be curious, after all.
"What songs do you know, Gunther?" Brandy said, as upbeat as she could, as the group began shuffling into the kitchen. Letting Zaire handle the herding, she broke rank to look, quickly, for any food they could take down. There wasn't much - stew, bread, a few apples. That was fine. The point wasn't to feed them so much as to lift their spirits. On that note, Brandy added a bottle of cider to the basket and passed it to Jahid, the last one of them to go down... except Zaire and Brandy, who somehow, without speaking, knew that they were staying above ground to guard the cellar's entrance. "We'll hold down the fort," she said. "Take care of them down there."
Again, Jahid's eyes went to his Captain but Zaire only stepped forward, leaning in to clasp his crew mate's hand. "Keep 'em safe, brother," was all he needed to say. Any pirate asked would say that he didn't fear death, whether it came at the end of a noose or the end of a sword or in the cold embrace of their merciless mistress, but a hero's death could be quite the way to go. Killed by vampires while protecting innocents. There was a certain amount of charm to the idea, Zaire had to silently admit. Unfortunately, he didn't plan on dying tonight.
Without another word, he closed the hatch and walked back to the doorway that lead to the common room. Everything was quiet for the moment and he turned to Brandy, breath steaming in the chilled air as he drew the knife at his waist and held it out in silent offer, hilt first. "Yer boy'll be just fine," he assured her as the faint sound of singing drifted up from beneath the floorboards. "They say vampires don't kill children."
Brandy turned and gave Zaire's arm a smack. Damn did he ever have some solid-ass arms, she thought, before she returned to comfortable pissiness. It was an easier emotion than fear. "That's good to know," a little confusing - kids did have blood, and she had seen child vamps in Interview with a Vampire, "but he's not my son!"
Brandy went straight to the bar, found a bottle of mead, and drank straight from it, propping herself up on a barstool. "I met him two days ago, and I'll say goodbye in two more." She had to get back because she needed to pick her parents up from the airport on Friday… that sounded so mundane now, with a vampire standing squarely in the middle of a broken window, staring at her. He said something, but she couldn't make out the words. Don't make eye contact. That was hard - a magnetism pulled at her, but she refocused on Zaire instead. For a moment, she was utterly distracted by wondering how she would avoid hurting his neck if they had sex there against that wall…
Shaking her head quickly, she remembered what he'd said about talking. The vampire's voice was hypnotic. "Gunther's an orphan. Werewolves, he told me." She took another drink, and then offered Zaire the bottle. With a sigh, Brandy lamented, "He's jumpy and clingy…" Clearly, PTSD. "It would be good for him to get away from his memories, you know?"
Zaire blinked, surprised by her words, and followed her out into the common room to take a seat beside her at the bar. "Werewolves're nasty business," he agreed, accepting the offered bottle and enjoying the way the warmth spread through his chest when he took a long pull. He'd never had the personal misfortune to cross a werewolf but he had worked alongside them when he acted as consort to Marcus the Vile in a raid that saw his men walking away with sizeable shares.
"If yer worried 'bout him, I could take the boy with me," Zaire offered, handing the bottle back. "Ain't an easy life," he continued, "but he'd be fed and taken care of." And if little Gunther didn't make an adequate cabin boy, there was always the possibility of leaving him with Eloise and his own children. Providing his wife agreed, of course.
Zaire let his eyes drift beyond Brandy's shoulder, to where a vampire's pale skin glowed in the firelight that spilled through the broken windows, and he felt that familiar stirring low in his belly that had no place in this moment. Pulling his eyes away, he found his gaze on Brandy's lips, soft and shining wetly with mead . . .
Brandy shrugged - she wasn't the boy's mother, and she didn't know what was best for him. Her guesses weren't worth much. So Brandy shrugged it off: "In the morning, we can ask him." He was being fed and taken care of here, but he wasn't happy. He had no way to move forward in this environment. Gunther wanted to be with other kids, other boys, and maybe a ship wasn't the worst place for that.
Taking the bottle back, she tipped it up for another hefty gulp and then placed it halfway between them. As her hand freed, she reached it out to Zaire, inviting him closer. She wouldn't mind feeling the muscles her eyes were straining to see under his clothes, and doubted he would mind. "Do you run a good ship?" Brandy asked. "I know you run a successful ship, but is it good?" This was her two-day son, after all!
Zaire gave the redhead a sidelong look, moving closer at her silent prompting and bringing his hand to rest at her lower back. Good had no place on a pirate ship, he wanted to say, but that wasn't the question Brandy was asking. She was asking if his men were monsters. Possibly, with another crew, another captain, they could be but there was a limit to what sort of behavior Zaire would accept on his ship and he afforded them plenty of opportunity to blow off steam. "They're men," he answered honestly. "With good traits and bad."
Mr. Larsen had a gambling problem, Mr. Okeke fell in love with every whore he fucked, and Jimmy used to sell himself to support his younger brother, but all of them softened like butter left in the sun when Wench wound her way about their ankles.
Again, his eyes drifted toward the window and the vampire still waiting beyond. "T'was expected my oldest boy would join me at sea. Stand at my side and learn to sail, to hunt, t'see all of Eventyr." Zaire reached for the bottle on the bar between them, "Brandy-love, I'd trust those men with mine own children and I'd trust 'em with that boy down in the root cellar too." He wouldn't trust them to not teach the boy every explicit curse they could think of, but he did trust them to keep their hands to themselves, to protect, if it was expected of them . . .
"I hear you," Brandy nodded in return, choosing to assume the best although his literal words sounded a lot like boys will be boys. Zaire's hand on her back, such a simple gesture, turned her on in the strangest way, as did the way he added 'love' to her name. It shouldn't have - not with that creepy-ass vampire staring at them. She grabbed the bottle for another drink and wrapped her arm around Zaire's waist, her fingers venturing up under his clothing. She could see her breath now; she needed all the warmth she could get. "A twitchy orphan boy wouldn't exactly be the captain's son, though, let's be real." Which was true, but in saying so she clearly hoped that if the door was open, Brandy hoped Zaire would own the boy enough to help compensate for his quirks.
That was true and Gunther was hardly at all like Zaire's litter of offspring, each fierce in their own ways, but the Captain wouldn't put it past half his crew to take the boy under their wings. His carpenter, Mr. Larsen, was especially soft when it came to orphan boys who needed a father figure, gambling addiction or not.
To be continued...!
Brandy's hand traveled upward, fingertips and the hint of nails up the curve of his spine. "Tell me about your son, the eldest," she prompted. The way he spoke about the boy made her assume the reason he couldn't join the ship was because he was dead, but she sure as hell wasn't going to assume.
Brandy's wandering hand was distracting - and cold - and Zaire couldn't stop the little squirm as it made it's exploring way up his lower back. The attention had his body responding far more eagerly than it should have, considering their particular circumstances, and he leaned in a little closer to nuzzle into the curve of her neck . . .
But her question had him hesitating, pulling back just enough to study her face. His initial disappointment in his son's choice had been expressed loudly and explosively but Eloise had broken him down, slowly, until Zaire had found himself footing the bill for Killick's tuition to the Queen's College and grudgingly wishing his son well. It could hardly be said that their relationship was anything but strained though.
"He's brilliant," the pirate said, reaching up to twist a lock of vibrant red hair between his own pale fingers. "Far smarter than he has any right t'be. This ain't the life he wanted." He paused, idly considering the contrast between his skin and the red of Brandy's hair. The beach had been too dark that night for him to notice such things but he found the detail rather pleasing. "And it ain't the life for 'im, if I'm bein' honest."
His breath was warm against her cool skin, and she let out a small, pleased noise, but then he was withdrawing and her brows raised. For a moment, she wondered if she had indeed overstepped with her question, but she'd found that, in Eventyr, people tended to be pretty open. At least with her. Her hand was rapidly warming against his back, and that little squirm pulled a mischievous smile across her lips as their earlier deal rose to the top of her mind...
That softened into a smile when Zaire decided to open up. It reflected well on Zaire as a parent that his kids grew up self-possessed enough to choose their own path, and one decidedly less violent. That was the dream, right? Brandy recalled hearing an old joke about how immigrants worked their asses off so their kids could go to college, and then their kids could go to improv classes. "It's pretty big of you to see that."
The cold was getting worse, and a gust of wind carried snow through the window and two of the torches lighting the room blew clean out. Although Brandy had snagged a blanket from Gunther before he went into the cellar and it was draped across her lap, that wasn't going to cut it very soon. Her eyes turned to the fire as the obvious solution for where to cuddle up with her mead and her companion, but… there was still that man, lying in the middle of the floor in his own blood. "I've only seen a dead body once before," Brandy confided, quietly. "When my mother died."
Zaire glanced around the room as the torches blew out, eyes lingering on the fading fire in the hearth, but Brandy's quiet confession had him giving her a perplexed look. He followed her gaze to the rapidly cooling body in its little sea of blood. How did one live as long as she had and not see their fair share of death? It led to him wondering yet again if she were, indeed, the daughter of a minor noble, running from a soft life that shielded her from things such as death.
"I'm sorry t'hear it, Brandy-love," he said, sincerely. He'd never met his mother and wouldn't have minded in the least to see his father's dead body just once - just so he could piss on it. He reluctantly pulled away from her, missing the warmth of her body pressed against him as soon as it was gone, and crossed the room to pick up the flannel blanket that had been torn up to bandage his neck. "Was she anything like ye are?" he asked, shaking out the blanket and draping it over the body. It wasn't much, but it may make her feel a bit better.
Brandy couldn't watch, and compensated for the loss of Zaire's warmth with another long drink of mead. She appreciated the gesture and while the lumps under the blanket weren't hiding much, at least she didn't have to worry about seeing dead eyes staring. So, Brandy tried not to dismiss his question. She hedged at first, "I don't know. I was ten when she died, so I didn't know her too well." But that didn't mean Brielle hadn't crafted her life's path in her late mother's footsteps - pouring over her hand-written recipes, attended the same culinary school, naming her restaurant after Roxane. All of those good intentions to honor her mother made the failure sting even worse. "I wanted to be like her, fill her shoes," the opposite of what Zaire's son wanted. With a shrug, she concluded, "but I don't know what she'd say if she saw me now."
Brandy stood up, hugging her blanket tight around her shoulders, grabbed the bottle, and took a few steps toward the Zaire and fireplace. It was closer to the windows, but there were extra logs for the fire and with some body heat to supplement…
"That ye shouldn't be fuckin' a pirate, most like," Zaire smirked. Mothers rarely approved of such a thing, especially the high-born ones like he was assuming Brandy's was.
"Fucking shit!" Brandy shrieked, when the dead lumps at Zaire's feet suddenly moved.
The sudden exclamation was far too much of an overreaction to be due to his joke and Zaire found himself responding to it without conscious thought. He began to draw his spadroon, whirling to face what he assumed was a vampire climbing through a window--only to have his feet yanked right out from underneath him.
Zaire hit the floorboards hard, his elbow cracking against the aged wood, but the pain was a distant worry as he found himself pinned under the the heavy body of the victim he'd just covered with the blanket. He twisted, batting away the frantic hands tearing at the neck of his shirt and coat but even with his own hands locked around the wrists of the newly turned vampire, there was no stopping the icy fingers that caught the edge of the bandage there and pulled it free. Fresh blood welled from the wound, bringing on another wave of fear-fueled adrenaline and, without intending to, Zaire met the vampire's eyes--
And, cell by cell, his body began to relax. The vampire's lips moved without making a sound but somehow Zaire heard the creature loud and clear as it filled his ears with wanton words, dredging up desire from the rapidly fading fear. Desire that he couldn't deny, that he would do anything to fulfill . . .
The vampire's voice was like music - like the slow jazz, Brandy thought, in the background of an old porno. It immediately caused a needy ache low in her belly, and for a moment she paused to watch like a curious voyeur who had never seen two men go at it before…
It wasn't until the magnetic pull forward had her almost tripping over Zaire's sword that she snapped out of it. Keep 'em talking, he'd said, earlier. She couldn't think of words, but Brandy raised her voice in a shout that at least cut through the worst of the vampire's influence as she swooped down to grab the sword and take a savage swing at the vampire's neck. She hit his back - no surprise, her first time handling a sword and her aim wasn't great - but it barely cut through the blanket still over him. It was more of a stabbing sword, she realized, not a hacking one like a machete. So she quickly turned it over and pushed it down into the once-dead flesh. It recoiled away from the pirate only when the blade actually pieced its skin, turning around with an inhuman speed that caused Brandy to lose her grip and, without enough presence of mind to remember not to, looked directly into the vampire's eyes and felt herself fall into that enchanting gaze.
Zaire's breath left his body in a shudder as the vampire turned and broke that hypnotic gaze. For a second all he could do was watch through the haze as the creature, sword still jutting from it's back, coiled to leap toward Brandy. And then, as if he'd been plunged into the icy ocean, his brain cleared and Zaire scrambled backwards and out from underneath the crouching vampire. He drew the dagger from his boot in the same motion, stumbling to his feet just as the creature leapt -- and Zaire followed after, reaching for the man's hood and feeling his fingers close around the fur.
Even strength from a lifetime spent at sea was no match for the vampire, and Zaire found himself jerked forward, helplessly along for the ride as the creature tackled Brandy . . .
Desire burned through Brandy's whole body, and she found that she didn't mind being dragged down to the ground or the strong form settling over her. She found one thigh easily lifting against the recently-deceased corpse's hip, her eyes drifting shut…
Horny and heady from the vampire's influence, Brandy's eyes darted open intently when Zaire's face appeared over the corpse's shoulder. The contrast was stark - the vampire was only magically attractive insofar as he didn't have any competition. Alongside the pirate captain, pulsing with vitality, the vampire was undeniably a starved, struggling, barely-animated corpse. And so Brandy shoved all her energy past the creature - she used the knee pressed to the vampire's side to push him aside, while her hand reached up to grab at Zaire's shoulder, pulling, pulling, pulling until her lips met his and the satisfaction of his lips broke the spell for a moment. Her hands groped at his chest, his shoulders, his biceps hungrily, until she finally broke the kiss to inquire, "How do we kill it?"
As Zaire landed clumsily atop the vampire's back, he found himself distracted again by the creature's wordless whispers and then thoroughly consumed by Brandy. Pinned as she was beneath both of them, she was anything but unhappy to be there and he watched, enraptured, as her lips parted in desire and her eyes opened--
And then she was drawing him in, quite willingly, their kiss deep and hungry and the dagger falling from a hand that now only seemed capable of groping that supple body beneath him . . .
"Kill it?" Zaire repeated against her lips, eyes fluttering open. Yes, that was what they needed to do. Kill it.
Seeing it's chance, the vampire struck again, mouth closing over the seeping wound on Zaire's neck and sending an intense wave of pleasure through his body. It was the sort of sensation that chased away murderous thoughts of separating a head from a body; the sort that was impossible to resist - that a man would do anything to experience - and without conscious thought, the pirate pressed closer to Brandy, hands idly skimming over her waist, her thighs, as he sought the softness of her skin . . .
Seeing the look of pure bliss on Zaire's face, Brandy's hand dipped as low as she could reach, helping negotiate the layers of skirt and apron upward. The desperate need to be touched didn't stop goosebumps from spreading across her pale skin as it was exposed to the freezing air. As badly as she wanted this, Brandy's mind rationalized the discomfort she felt as residual hang-ups about a threesome… society didn't exactly sanction them, and Brielle'd had a less-than-satisfactory experience in culinary school. But, this was everything that hadn't been!
At her waist, though, Brandy's hand found the small leather bag tied securely there. She'd become a raging klepto since arriving in Eventyr, and everything she stole went in this little bag. As her hand gripped the pouch, the sexy, dreamy veneer slipped, and for a terrifying moment, she saw Zaire with fangs in his throat. The pirate captain was powerful in every sense of the word, but submitting to his own death willingly. And he wasn't just the coolest person she'd met in real life, nor just a hook-up - he'd started, that night, to feel like a friend. The vampire was slowly turning, with every gulp of blood down his throat, younger, healthier. A flush now touched his cheeks.
"Zaire," Brandy said aloud, hoping to disrupt the vampire's spell, but damn if she didn't feel its effects herself. Her hips pressed up against his, and her eyes focused on his lips as she tried, desperately, not just to fantasize about where she wanted to feel them. Her hand pried the drawstring open and plunged wrist-deep into the bag, searching for… something. Her other reached up - she intended to try to pull the vampire's head back by his hair, but she didn't have the strength. Instead, her fingers found Zaire's full beard and travelled back up to his smooth head, and… refocusing, Brandy forced her hand to find and plug his ear. In the same moment, her fingers found a stray lump of cotton, and an instinct she didn't understand guided her to stuff in his other.
Brandy's skin was warm under his hands and oh-so satisfying to his senses and, for the span of a heartbeat, made so much more potent as his hearing dimmed--
And then his eyes blinked open and, as he locked his gaze with Brandy's, the suckling at his neck was no longer pleasurable but intensely painful, and with that sensation came fear. A panicked sound, nearly a whimper, escaped Zaire's throat as that icy cold fear grabbed his heart and squeezed, sending a wave of adrenaline through his body and causing him to act on instinct alone. His hand found the hilt of the dagger he'd dropped and he reared back, stabbing blindly at the creature attached to him. The blade found skin and sank deep and Zaire yanked it out again with a hot waterfall of blood that both soaked him and spurted across poor Brandy trapped beneath the two of them. By some stroke of luck, he'd hit the creature's neck and severed the artery there, he realized.
The vampire screamed, releasing his grip on Zaire but the pirate whirled to face the creature and managed to grab a handful of sticky, bloodsoaked shirt. The pirate had been rendered powerless against this thing and desperation and ego and a hearty taste for revenge meant that he sure as hell wasn't going to let it fall back and regroup. He slashed with the dagger, catching the vampire across the neck again, cutting through tendon and muscle and sending another spray of blood across the floor . . .
Brandy shrieked as blood sprayed across her face and chest, closing her eyes and pressing her lips tight and raising a hand to her nose as her mind skipped immediately to AIDS and Ebola, horrible diseases transmitted through blood and assuming vampire blood was just as dangerous. As Zaire continued to fight it, she backed off, scooting, crawling, scrambling across the floor to a safer distance.
The newly-turned vampire, unable to even finish his first meal, quickly lost strength when the precious little blood he did have spilled away from him. His mouth opened and closed, but the knife had made quick work of his vocal cords, and his power over them was done.
Brandy didn't want to watch Zaire behead that awful, disgusting creature, but she couldn't force her eyes away, sitting as frozen as the snow outside…
"Let me in," a whisper licked at Brandy's ear and the sound made her jump, and she realized that she had escaped within an arm's reach of the broken window. Frantic eyes managed to miss the vampire's enchanted gaze, but even those three words awoke fresh lust, and Brandy covered her ears as quickly as she could.
It was messy work and his blade not designed for the heavy-handed chopping needed to cut through bone and cartilage but with a bit of slicing, a bit of prying, the vampire's head finally separating from its body and Zaire let it fall away to roll morbidly across the blood-soaked floorboards.
Out of breath and bleeding, the pirate slid the dagger back into his boot, pulled the sword from the vampire's back and then turned to find Brandy just out of reach of the window, her hands covering her ears and her eyes a bit too wide. In the window behind her was the pale face of a vampire and that now-familiar longing washed over him, beckoning him closer, and Zaire quickly clapped a bloody hand over his other ear. He needed to drown out the vampire's voice and the first thing to pop into his head was a nursery rhyme that his children sang: "Ding, dong, bell, werewolf's in the well. Who put him in? Little Johnny Flynn . . ." He recited the words loudly, with a sing-song cadence as he went to her, dropping into a crouch and seeking her eyes. "Come, Brandy-love," he prompted. "Away from the window."
Shaking, tense, with fear and cold, Brandy startled when Zaire approached - he was a sight, covered in blood, but the sweetest damn sight in the world right them. The movement of his lips told her it was okay to let her ears go, and she moved in close, one hand clearing the skirt out from under her and the other grabbing the pirate's arm for support as she got back to her feet. With the echoes of the vampire's echoing voice and the adrenaline coursing through her veins, it took nothing more than the steady sound of his breath, deep and calming like waves of the sea, and the warm press of his body to stoke her already simmering arousal. She opened her mouth with every single intention to voice the dirtiest thoughts her rather creative mind could dream up, but her brain tripped over the absurdity and instead she sighed, "You're bleeding."
Unable to see the wound in the dark, Brandy moved toward the fire - the only spot in the inn they would survive the night anyway - and knelt down as close as she could to the flames without risking catching her clothes on fire. There was a bearskin rug spread in front of the fireplace, and the fur under her was pleasantly warm. Not knowing what she needed but sure all the same that she would find it, Brandy dug into the pouch at her waist.
She pulled out a… root vegetable that she clearly snatched because it looked exactly like the eggplant emoji, but a little brown-er. "What even is this?" She vaguely remembered grabbing it off a cart while the driver was distracted bartering…. Usually her bag didn't fail her, but what if her horniness had influenced her pick? If her lay died, then she was going to be pissed as fuck!
With one last glance over his shoulder at the vampire in the window, Zaire followed Brandy toward the fire, absently sheathing his sword even as he stooped to collect the bottle of mead that had somehow landed on the floor. Miracuously, not much of it had spilled out and he took a long swallow. Another quick stop to pick up the oiled canvas bag he'd left on the table next to his abandoned dinner and drink and then he was settling down on the rug, as well.
Without the vampire's influence, the severity of Zaire's wounds were quickly becoming apparent. His elbow ached profusely and the wound on his neck throbbed with every movement he made, and the pirate knew that the pain would be double tomorrow as the bruising spread through damaged muscles. But in this moment, he was alive and he intended to stay that way.
As Brandy searched through the pouch at her waist, Zaire did the same through his bag, digging through extra clothes until he found a linen handkerchief. "It's a rabokhol root," he answered, surprised that she didn't recognize the vegetable. "Found in the Eastern forests an' used t'slow bleedin'."
"Well, good, that's… on point," Brandy said, relieved. They needed something for bleeding because Zaire's neck was a mess - not spurting, though, and so he would probably be okay as long as it didn't get infected, which wasn't unlikely given that the human mouth was a cesspool of germs. Brandy turned the vegetable over in her hand as her culinary mind went to work: it had the firmness of a potato but the smooth skin of a cucumber - she gave it a sniff and detected a spiciness, like maybe a radish? "Do you eat it? Should I cook it?"
Ignoring her questions for a moment, Zaire leaned a bit closer and touched her chin lightly with one tacky fingertip. "C'mere, love." Gently, he turned her face toward him so he could wipe away the blood with the handkerchief.
The touch to her face, the softness of the handkerchief to what wasn't even a wound but just an unsanitary mess, was such a display of gentleness Brandy never expected to see from a man who'd just beheaded a man. A creature, yeah, but it had been a someone once upon a time. Brandy's emotional barriers broke under the tidal wave of emotions - most of all, fear but also gratitude. Totally out of control, Brandy found herself shaking, unable to decide if she wanted to scream or laugh or sob. Listless eyes darted about, and her line of vision caught the disembodied head…
"Pirates really are tough as hell," Brandy said. Her eyes settled much more comfortably on her companion again - he was a fucking mess but he was just bleeding, drinking, and trying to make her marginally more comfortable. Rising to her knees, Brandy moved in closer, inspecting the wound on his neck with a frown as she tried to figure out how to bandage it. "Where I come from, we don't have real pirates. Just…" what was the Eventyrian word for 'movie stars'? "players who tell old stories."
Zaire's face softened as he watched the emotions play across Brandy's pretty face, and he noticed the fine tremor of her hands. She'd never been through something like tonight - though he still wasn't sure how she'd avoided some of life's harsher lessons - and it reminded him a bit of the first time a crew mate boarded a prize. The fear, the struggle, the surety that you weren't going to make it out alive, the profound relief when you did . . .
As she moved in closer to turn her attention to his neck, Zaire watched her from the corner of his eye. That she brushed aside her emotions to tend to him instead meant that she wasn't ready to face them yet and she needed a task. "Boil 'em," he finally answered, thankful for the fire as he began shrugging out of his coat with a wince. "Then make a poultice." He began rolling up the sleeve of his shirt, twisting his arm to see his multi-hued elbow, swollen and bruised.
"Where do ya come from, Brandy-love?" he asked directly, lifting his eyes to her face. Wasn't much he could do for his elbow, anyway. "Yer a mystery I can't seem to figure out."
Boil 'em. Brandy turned and chucked the vegetable into the fire. "That'll break down the proteins the same, faster." Way faster than trying to fire up a stove in the back, heat snow melt, and boil a hard-ass vegetable. The flames would eat away the skin and leave a soft, pliable center they could use. And she needed results, fast.
She smirked a bit at Zaire's question… but there was no satisfaction in her secret anymore. Before, New York had been this exclusive club she belonged to. Now, it was just a destination that had done nothing for her. "You wouldn't know it if I told you," Brandy answered, attention turning to tending his wounds, making sure he would survive this...
Zaire continued to watch Brandy's face as she worked, but he wasn't about to press her any further. He'd dropped hints at his interest in her history and when that hadn't worked, he'd asked directly, only to be rebuffed again. It was clear that wherever she hailed from, she was eager to leave it behind and he could accept that; her past had no bearing on how much he enjoyed her company, after all.
Movement had his eyes drifting to the nearest window but aside from the vague humanoid shape in the darkness there was little to see. How many were out there? And how close was it to sunrise? Zaire would be lying if he said that he wasn't eager to find the nearest fairy circle and get the hell home. The West had its dangers - vampires were even amongst them - but at least the weather was nice.
"This 'as been, by far, the worst trip North I've ever 'ad," he said, shying away from her touch. "You really are a terrible hostess, Brandy-love." The words were delivered with the utmost seriousness but softened by the wink and smirk that followed.
Brandy laughed. Once upon a time like six hours ago, that joke would have made her bristle as she remembered her failed restaurant and the inexhaustible list of ways she supposed she could have been a better hostess... but at least nothing this bad had ever happened! Nope, there'd never been a severed head at Roxane Cucina. "It's a new low, gotta admit," Brandy joked. "Don't spread that around, though. I'll never get hired again!"