As the anchors dropped and Hitori came to a stop in the Raanian docks, Isaac surveyed his crew with a sharp look. Only Catherine seemed immune to his glower. Choosing to ignore her in lieu of telling the others their plans, he spoke and his voice carried easily over the deck.
“Hanad and Jack, you drew the short straws and are staying to keep Hitori company. The rest, you know what to do. We need supplies and we need to make sure our little sister here doesn’t get into trouble. Gered and Blake, I’m leaving the two of you in charge of refilling our stores. Gered, if you find us a couple of jobs, make sure they know we don’t have a departing date set. You might as well put off the shipping jobs until we do know when we’re leaving. Emris and Eatn, you’re on your own and I expect you to find a doctor to sort out your headaches. Tsu, that means you’re with Catherine and myself. Try not look too excited, you lot,” he said as he caught sight of the many hungry grins. Port time was always a little festival for the crew. Isaac couldn’t really blame them, though. He was just as happy to take a break from sailing. “I expect all of us that land to be back aboard sunset. Then we’ll sort ourselves out for the evening and see what we found. As always, keep your eyes wide and your ears open. Nothing like a little information to give us an edge. Dismissed.”
Blake was the first off the ship, an unconcerned Gered stooped to give his blushing Tsuzaka a kiss before sauntering off. Isaac nodded at Emris and Eatn as they drank down some pain easing tea. Undoubtedly, they would be putting on the bulky Viroti sun goggles before heading off. As long as they sorted themselves out, Isac didn’t see why they had to rush. Emris, at least would get them to where they needed to go. In the big cities, their linguist came in especially handy. Apart from Catherine and Emris, none of the Hitori crew knew how to speak the Raanian language, but the boys at the port would make do with the generalized traders’ language. It wasn’t ideal, but it did the job. After all, most of them spoke Trade on Hitori anyway. Unless, of course, if Emris was involved. That man had such a grasp of languages that he could dance from one to the next without hesitation or mistake. Isac had been picking up some Domokan from Tsu, but that was simply for the best and most inventive curses. The sharp sounding Domokan was extremely satisfying to curse in. They never went to port in that country unless they couldn’t help it. For good reason, Isac recalled, keeping an eye on Tsuzaka as the man adjusted his skirts while Catherine directed him with a critical eye.
The two had made fast friends, if a little odd at times. The second Tsu had figured out Catherine knew more about fashion than he did, he’d made a point of spending time with the strange woman. Though their little sister hardly seemed to mind. In fact she had been helping Tsu wade through the markets for the fashion that would best suit his thin and wiry frame. Most of the time, it was hard to remember Tsu was a man wearing skirts, instead of a beautiful maiden who happened to have an adam’s apple. Rueful, Isaac trotted down the ramp and set foot on Raanan for the first time. They didn’t avoid this country on purpose, it was just so small that they had never gone out of their way to even pillage some poor town or something for supplies. Mostly the pillaging was best left to Adalgisa or Paxton. Those two countries were rich enough that they could take a hit from pirates once in a while.
Catherine was next to him when he paused to let a towering dock worker maneuver some crates past. He hadn’t heard her join him, except that was nothing new. The damn woman was always sneaking around like she didn’t know how to make noise when she moved. At least he didn’t jump anymore. Most of the time.
“Where should we go?” Isaac asked.
She peered around them curiously, faintly frowning. “To the castle,” she said after a moment. “Something is not right here.”
Isaac saw nothing wrong with the docks and was more than a little stunned that she wanted to go to the castle of all places. She was a pirate, so how could she expect to be seen by the rulers? He’d heard stories of them, the King and Queen who had commanded a rebellion. They sounded terribly intimidating to say the least.
Nevertheless, once Tsuzaka caught up with them with a breathless giggle, they set off for the imposing structure high on Noble Summit.
The walk was tiring and dusty. Uphill most of the way had Isaac sweating through his best shirt. Catherine didn’t even pause when they reached the outer gates of the Noble Summit. The mansions of nobles ranged from ornate to spartan, but all were large enough to house a small village. The gate-keeper made a glance at Catherine, gestured something, then when she signed back, he smiled and let them pass. No words spoken or needed.
The castle was just behind another wall with an expansive gate. The guard there was a little more wary. He was about to say something to the three of them about their rag-tag state, when Catherine rolled her eyes and pulled the man aside.
“Do you think this is odd?” Tsu asked. “I think this is odd. Little sister has many mysteries still.”
“Indeed.” Isaac kept his eyes trained on Catherine and the guard. After a couple of minutes the two fools were laughing and the guard was thumping Catherine’s back like an old friend. “What the devil is going on?”
When Catherine and the guard were done chatting, she trotted back to her companions, lifting her skirts a bit to keep from tripping. “Let’s go.”
Isaac waited for an explanation, but none came. By the time he was going to ask, they were being admitted to the castle proper into a impressive foyer. A stout man tottered up to them, a little breathless. “Is it true my lady? You’ve returned?”
Catherine smiled. “Afraid so. I apologize for the delay. These are my friends, Captain Isaac Poisson and his engineer, Master Tsuzaka Narikaru.”
The man ogled them a moment, lingering his shrewd gaze on Tsu’s skirts. “Can I have the honor of announcing you to the great hall? There is a function, and I dare say this will be very pleasing to the assembly.”
Catherine hesitated. “We don’t want to disturb, Master Oswald.”
“Nonsense! Come this way and, yes there, through the door and stand still while I announce you.”
“Catherine, is this necessary?” Tsu squeaked. “I’m hardly dressed to be meeting royalty…” he was flushed with embarrassment.
“Tsu, darling, if you want to have the royal seamstress to make you a gown, now’s the time to commission it.”
Tsu’s whisper was pained and sharp, as they passed the doors. “I thought you were kidding! I never believed you!”
“Surprise,” was Catherine’s returned murmur.
A hush fell on the hall as Master Oswald ushered them forward on a raised platform with stairs extending down to either side into the main gathering area.
“Presenting Captain Isaac Poisson, Lady Catherine Thomson, and Sir Tsuzaka Narikaru,” bellowed the short man after he lowered the trumpet from his thin lips. There was a breath before the man ushered them through the giant oak doors to the throne room.
Isaac held himself as tall as he could, praying they wouldn’t end up getting thrown into a dungeon. Walking stiffly as he entered, the young man wasn’t prepared for the flurry of bodies and fabric that all but smothered Catherine.
Astounded beyond thought, Isaac simply stared as the whole royal family converged and Catherine was laughing happily. It was one of the first real proper laughs he’d ever heard from his friend.