AN: Just a fairly silly little story that occurred to me a while ago. I may some day write a bit more to it (With pirates! And purple hair dye!), but not until I finish all my other stories. Just a note: this story is totally gen, but if I expanded it it would no doubt turn into slash.
I hope people enjoy, please be a lovely person and REVIEW if you did. All constructive criticism greatly welcomed.
Captain Arran Rickard weighed down the edges of the chart with his compass and a dagger, and ignored the way the wind still tugged at it as he worked out the most efficient course. He could have been doing this in his cabin, of course, and avoided the weather, but Arran was relishing too much the feeling of sea breezes and freedom to go below just yet – however superfluous he was with his first mate at the wheel and his second mate roaring at the sailors in the rigging, making the sails snap. The joy of being Captain, anyway, was that no one could make him leave the deck unless he wabted to – and after the long, stuffy landbound 'holiday' he'd just had, that wouldn't be a desire coming soon.
But a noise from below that didn't quite match the usual bangs and rumblings of cargo being re-stowed reminded Arran that there was more to being Captain than fussing with his charts, and he turned with a raised eyebrow to look at the sailor hurrying up the ladder.
"We've found a stowaway, Cap'n," the man reported, and Arran's other eyebrow rose to meet the first. That was not a problem he'd encountered before; normally any would-be adventurers were caught long before the ship left port.
Still, he'd manage something. "Bring him up here," he ordered, and with a nod the sailor disappeared again.
Arran could hear their guest long before he was pulled into view, and as he heard the youthful, cultured voice good-naturedly objecting to the sailor's rough handling, a scowl grew on his face – fully formed by the time he clapped eyes on his passenger, firmly pinioned between his third mate and another burly man.
"Hello, Captain!" the boy – for he was no more than a teenager – greeted him cheerfully. "Lovely day for a sail, isn't it?"
Arran's scowl deepened. "Do you know what we do to stowaways on the free ships?" he demanded.
"I'm guessing that the answer isn't to invite them to partake of tea and crumpets in the foredeck?" he asked brightly. "No? So, ritual cannibalism? Do you stop at an exotic island to do it? Are scantily clad native dancing girls involved? That would be interesting…"
"We throw them overboard, brat," Arran said. "Go ahead, Mister Lemark."
"But Cap'n –" the mate protested, startled.
"At your leisure," Arran said pointedly, and after a doubtful moment the man and his helper drew their prisoner to the railing.
"Oh, come on now, you can't be serious," the boy protested. "Really, a joke's a joke, but –"
But the sailors were obedient, and Arran had the immense satisfaction of hearing his stowaway's surprised cry cut off by a very loud splash. "Throw the boy a line, Mister Lemark," he ordered, amusement lightening his face a little as all over the ship sailors paused in their work to peer over at the little drama. "We can't have him drowning, I suppose."
With a grin and a headshake for his captain's perversity, the mate hurried to it, and before long they were hauling over the side a dripping, sputtering, and totally unrepentant youth.
"Arran, you bastard," he said in disgust, though he couldn't help laughing all the same, pushing his hair from his eyes and impatiently shaking drops of water from his finger tips. "How could you? I could have drowned, and how would you ever have explained it to my parents?"
"They'd be well rid of you, brat," Arran told him. "Do they even know where you are?"
"I left them a note," he said airily.
By this time the crew had abandoned any task they could to gather around and watch curiously, ever alert to the chance to mock the ship's captain. "You know each other?" Lemark asked incredulously.
The boy grinned at him, and Arran sighed. "This," he said in tones of deepest resignation, "Is my scapegrace cousin, Aelric."
"We're closer than brothers, truly," Aelric said earnestly. Absently, Arran cuffed him round the back of the head.
"Not much in the way of a family resemblance," Lemark said, studying the boy. "Or I might have handled him a mite more gently."
"No hard feelings," Aelric said easily, spattering more drips across the deck as he waved his hand. "I'm well aware that my distinguished features bear little resemblance to my cousin's uncouth looks."
Lemark was correct in saying that the pair were not similar – though Aelric's glib appraisal was rather an exaggeration. Even discounting the age difference, which had to be ten years at the least, Arran's years of sailing – long before he made captain – had left him almost as muscled as his mates, with weathered skin, hair that was roughened and bleached by the sun to a light, dusty brown, and hands tgar were callused and crossed with scars. Aelric, by contrast, didn't look to be outgrowing the skinny stage of adolescence any time soon, had pale skin and dark brown hair, and looked – aside from the liberal amount of salt water and the damage done to his clothing from hours in the hold – well kempt enough that it was doubtful he'd done a hard day's work in his life.
Arran, like his crew, was giving his cousin a critical look. "Weed," he said succinctly. "My cabin boy has more bulk than you."
Aelric looked stung. "Not all of us were allowed to run away to sea when we were twelve, you know!" he protested.
"You did try, as I recall," Arran reminisced. "Didn't they catch you before you even reached the harbour?"
"The folly of youth," Aelric dismissed. "I'm here now, and that's all that matters."
Arran's scowl came back full force, much to the amusement of the crew; they were far more used to their captain being efficient and amiable than seeing him getting exasperated at young relatives. "What matters is how I'm to go about getting you back to your parents before they send half the Royal Fleet out after you," he retorted.
"Aw, c'mon, Cap'n," Lemark objected. "No matter how piecing the boy's mother is, she can't rouse the Fleet." There was a long, awkward pause, and the first mate pinned his gaze back on the wheel and tried to pretend that holding a straight course in fair weather took all his concentration, while the second mate quickly looked away from the spectacle and shouted at a sailor in the rigging to tighten that line and stop gawping. And the Captain – the Captain actually looked embarrassed. "Can she?" he added uncertainly.
"My aunt can't," Arran said reluctantly, "But her husband can. My cousin is a Thorne."
There was a long, incredulous silence from the watching crew. The scrawny youth who'd been harassing the Captain didn't look spoiled enough to be a noble, and certainly not the offspring of one of the most powerful families in Demaria. But it seemed that it was true nonetheless.
"We knew your family was rich, Cap'n, but we thought they were just merchants, not nobles!" one sailor remarked, sounding quite impressed.
"They are merchants, and I'm only related to nobles by marriage," Arran said quickly. "And only reluctantly at that."
"Reluctantly is right," Aelric agreed, not looking a whit self-conscious of his birth. "I think I'm the only one in the family he still talks to regularly. And when he last came to visit me, the butler tried to make him use the servant's entrance, too. Can you imagine? They treat the merchant relatives better than that, and Arran a captain in the free ships, too."
"Quiet, brat," Arran said testily. "I'd give a lot of money to be estranged from you to, if this is what happens. And Thorne or not, I'll still toss you overboard again if you annoy me any more."
Aelric tossed him a bad salute. "Yes, Cap'n," he said with exaggerated meekness.
"Why didn't you tell me, Cap'n?" Lemark sounded rather injured that out of the three mates, he alone had appently been uninformed.
"Oh, Lady of the seas. Because my whole family are nothing but trouble. My parents are always telling me to settle down and oversee the family's ships instead of sailing my own, and when my uncle isn't ignoring my very existence he wants me to carry his missives to foreign embassies all over the world and be his own pet diplomat. But that's not what I – the Lady's Own is my ship, and I'm her captain, and the rest just – isn't important."
Aelric smirked, and led the crew in a polite round of applause. Arran glared. "Oh, to the hells with you. Get back to work."
"It's not like we deliberately kept it from you, Lem," the second mate told Lemark apologetically. "Ben and I just caught a footman giving the Cap'n a letter with a real fancy seal on it this one time, and he bought us each a bottle of brandy if we'd stop laughing at him about it."
"So have you ever seen the King?" the cabin boy asked Aelric eagerly, the common ground of youth more influential than the disparate rank.
"Not only that, I have kissed the princess," Aelric said gravely.
"You never!" was the admiring response.
"I have. It was at the Midsummer masked ball."
"He's lying," Arran absently informed his cousin's small audience, from where he was again consulting his charts. "They don't invite sixteen year olds to the palace balls."
"Lord of the skies be my witness," Aelric said faithfully, though the smile tugging at his lips was at odds with the sincerity in his eyes.
"So what are you doing running off to sea, then?" the cabin boy asked, convincingly feigning deafness when the other sailor's, reluctantly slipping back to work, called for him to join them.
"Oh, just looking for adventure," Aelric said easily, looking out over the railing as if the clear expanse of sea and sky was far more enthralling than palaces and masked balls and princesses could ever be. "You know, pirates, smugglers. And exotic island maidens, for preference."
"Well, you won't be getting any of that," Arran informed him. "I can't take you straight back into port with the wind like this, but damned if you're staying on board after the next stop."
Aelric looked downcast, if not particularly surprised. "How far away is that, then?" he asked, resigned.
"Four weeks with favourable winds," Arran said, as if he was speaking of facing eternity in the hells. His cousin, however, looked thrilled, not even daunted when Arran asked, "I don't suppose you brought anything with you like clothes or money?"
Aelric shrugged. "The world will provide," he said blithely.
Arran groaned. "The world might, but I don't particularly want to!"
The cabin boy shifted awkwardly. "Cap'n… he looks about my size. I've got nothing fit for a noble, but…"
The captain looked at his anxious young face and actually grinned. "I think that would be perfect, Tam, if you don't object. In fact, I think I'm going to make Aelric my new honorary cabin boy, so you can show him the ropes. And tell the crew that they have my permission to beat him if he doesn't do his job."
"Arran, you're a bully," Aelric told him.
Tam grinned a bit. "Aw, Cap'n, they can't hit a noble."
"He's not a noble, he's a stowaway," Arran informed him. "Now, take him away and give him something to do before I hit him."
Aelric made a rude gesture, and willingly followed Tam away to learn the duties of a sailor.
The food served in the Captain's cabin was no different to that allotted the crew – Arran despised the custom of a captain saving the luxuries for himself and his favourites while his crew dined on biscuit and little else – but he offered wine as well, and Aelric reached for it gratefully. Arran raised his eyebrows a little, but waited until his cousin had poured a very generous helping and took the glass himself, settling it beside his plate and serving Aelric a much more moderate amount.
"You have no manners, brat," he chided, and Aelric shrugged.
"The noble education fosters rudeness," he replied easily.
"But have your weeks here taught you nothing?" Arran asked. "Apart from to wear a hat, I hope."
Aelric grimaced, and rubbed his peeling nose. "If you'd let me wear your captain's hat I wouldn't get sunburnt."
Arran sighed. "I told you, brat, I'm not in the Fleet. I don't have a Captain's hat. I have my hat, and that stays with me."
"Oh, alright then," Aelric conceded, and cast his mind back to the previous question. "Uh… I learned that when you tell your crew it's alright to hit a noble, they take your word for it?"
Arran unbent enough from the cares and responsibilities of being captain to grin at his cousin. "Who did it?" he asked curiously.
"Benly. And then Lemark." Aelric rubbed the back of his head ruefully.
"Huh. I'll have to have a word with them. If you needed to be hit twice, they're obviously not doing it hard enough."
Aelric had been eating with the same appetite as any well-worked teenager, but now he laid down his knife and fork. "Arran, do I really have to go home when we reach port tomorrow?" he asked very quietly.
Arran stopped eating as well and looked his cousin in the eye as he said, very seriously, "Yes."
"But I can be a sailor!" Aelric pleaded. "I could be a cabin boy like Tam. I could help! And the crew wouldn't mind, they like me…"
"Aelric, you are the worst sailor I've ever seen," his cousin said frankly. "You're not very strong, you're not used to obedience, you tangle every line you wind and I fear for your life every time you're in the rigging. You're alright at navigation, but unless you grow enough patience to check your sums you'll end up steering us into a reef. The crew do like you, I admit, but that's just because you tell them rude stories about me and it's not enough to base a choice on."
"But I could learn!" Aelric said, almost desperately. "I could get better if you'd just give me a chance. And I like it so much, Arran! The sea and the weather and the people who don't care who my parents are and even sleeping in the damn hold with all the snoring. You love this like too much to give it up, I know the rows you had with your family about it, so why won't you help me?"
"I'm sorry," Arran said quietly. "I really am, but I can't just keep you, that's abduction, and of a noble, no less. When you're grown, when you have your own income, you can go on ships as a passenger…"
"As a passenger?" Aelric repeated disgustedly. "I don't want to go on cruises, I want adventures! Excitement! Life, Arran! I don't want to sit in a room with a damn tutor who wants to take all the blood out of the world until everything's as dust dry as him, while my parents plot their entertainments and their politics and forget that they have a living son instead of a puppet."
"They're your parents," Arran said. "They do love you."
"They don't show it," Aelric said softly, and for a long moment he was silent. "I know I should be grateful," he said mutinously. "I have money, privilege, education, everything people want. But I'm not!"
"Oh, Aelric," Arran said with a sigh and a smile tugging at his mouth. "That's because you're a brat." His voice softened. "It's not all bad there. You can't fool me into thinking that you don't enjoy being the terror of your tutors. And you can have another stab at kissing the princess."
Aelric shrugged jerkily. "They won't even let me into the balls until I'm eighteen," he said. "I'd rather take my chances with the exotic island maidens."
"Oh, Lady, not this again. There are no exotic island maidens. Absolutely none. And if there were, do you really think they'd be interested in a skinny Northern boy with an overly large opinion of himself?"
"You may be right," Aelric said, and a touch of his normal grin returned as he assumed a lofty tone. "Perhaps I'm better off in the North, where they appreciate my refinement."
"Hah!" Arran snorted, resuming his meal at last. "Just for that I ought to dump you on the Northern Wastes, with the seals and bears. Let's see how the ice-hunters appreciate your so-called refinement."
"They would worship me as a god," Aelric declared.
Arran shook his head. "They may not be civilized, but they have more sense than that. Come on, finish your meal. I'll tell the people at the embassy to stick you on a sealing ship for the Wastes, and maybe that will dull your taste for travel."
Aelric had looked consistently unnatural in the rough borrowed clothes he'd worn on board ship, but somehow he looked even less himself in the more costly tunic and trousers – recovered from its salty bath and general misuse to a tolerable shadow of its former quality – that he'd come on board with. It wasn't that he'd put on muscle – however much he might claim that the weeks of sailing had strengthened him; perhaps it was simply that he lost some of his freer movement, and the reckless grin that he'd worn so consistently on the journey had dimmed when they reached sight of land.
Arran guided the Lady's Own into the harbour, and after they docked he quickly checked below to make sure all was in its usual perfect order before returning to the deck in time to catch the tail end of his cousin's farewell speech.
"- and if any of you find yourself at a loose end while in Demaria, I beg of you to look me up. My father's house may be the lesser of the two Thorne estates, but it is still well worth a visit and you would be very welcome houseguests. Bring wine. Bring loose women. Bring exotic island maidens, if at all possible. Bring your creditors, and I will endeavor to buy them off for you. But please, I beg and beseech you, do not let what has been a beautiful friendship languish away in the fated mists of memory and time. Do not be strangers!"
The crew laughed and shook their heads with the usual tolerant affection they reserved for the crazy noble, and returned to their duties as Arran took his cousin's shoulder and steered him towards the gangplank. "Come on, brat," he said gently. "You and I have business at the embassy."
Aelric nodded, and followed him from the ship with only slightly dragging feet. On the dock he paused for one last yearning glance at the sea and the Lady's Own sitting so proudly upon it, and his chin came up.
"You'll see me again!" he called to the ship. Tam waved at him from his perch in the rigging. "My parents can't keep me shut up forever, and Arran won't be rid of me for long! I will be back!"