Iliana was having a fantastic day.
The bangs and bruises she received while tumbling around in the cargo hold had put her in a surly mood from the start. When combined with the after effects of the storm, which could be considered as horrid as the thing itself, she was feeling far from favorable about the god of moon, sea, and storms. The only thing she felt like thanking Umae for was that the weather didn't last all day.
The waves calmed about mid-morning, the thunder and rain around an hour after. Rather than being allowed back to bed, however, Iliana had been tasked with clean-up. The sails needed to be checked for tears, the top-level cargo for water damage, and the deck for sea life. By the time she finished, Iliana wanted nothing more than to crawl into her bunk and pass out.
Unfortunately, it wasn't possible. The captain would give her one of those guilt inducing frowns if he heard she'd retired before nightfall. So, she sat herself on the deck with one of the many torn fishing nets she'd been handed the day before.
"Why the sour face, Ilias?" Saul called out. "Ya look like someone jus' pissed in yer tankard."
When Iliana glanced towards him, he grinned. The expression dimpled his weathered, olive face. She rolled her eyes. Iliana would never understand how Saul, a balding man in his forties, could wear such an energetic smile at times like this. Given that Iliana was eighteen, nearing nineteen, logically their positions should've been switched.
Keeping her thoughts to herself, she held the netting up. As the majority of it slid from her lap, she caught her fingers in a hole, lifting the strings so they could be seen.
"I'm thinking about this," Iliana said. "It's a bit too clean of a cut, don't you think?"
"Maybe we caught one of them merfolk," Ancus joked as he and Saul tugged on the rope bracers in an attempt to adjust the sails. "It'd explain why Umae got so pissed."
"I doubt it," Iliana retorted. "He'd have made sure we wrecked. The gods don't like it when we touch their monsters."
"More likely that wife of his done pissed him off," Kreon added from his place at the helm.
"They ain't monsters," Saul said, focusing on Iliana. "We been tellin' ya, lad, them merfolk's beautiful. Nothing that looks like 'em could be monsters."
Iliana scoffed. She'd believe the merfolk's fabled beauty when she saw it. Still, experience said arguing with Saul on the matter would go nowhere. They needed a new subject.
"And I've been telling you, your speech needs some work."
"He's got you there, Saul." Ancus laughed. "The lad speaks ten times better than you."
"Not my fault he's sum learned runaway," Saul argued. "I ain't got the time ta do all tha' studyin'. Better ta jus' speak how I always 'ave."
"I've offered to teach you," Iliana muttered, dropping her eyes back to the netting. "An hour every night is nothing."
"You'd get more girls willing to drink with you if you started talking like him," Ancus added.
"Jus' shut up, the both of ya," Saul said as that dimpled smile of his betrayed the faux annoyance in his voice. "I git the lassies just fine."
"Sisters don't count!" Kreon teased.
Iliana joined in on the laughter that echoed across the deck. Saul rolled his eyes, obviously not too bothered by being the butt of his crew-mates' jokes. Iliana might have pointed out that mothers didn't count either, but the door captain's door started to open. Everyone jumped back to their work.
She looked up from the netting. Artemios Costa, or more commonly, Art, stood with half his body tucked behind the door. His long, off-white shirt hung loosely around his visible body. The worn, dirty state of the cloth told her they wouldn't be nearing shore today.
"Artemios," she greeted.
"Would you mind joining me for a few minutes?"
She shook her head and dropped the fish netting on her seat. By the time she entered his cabin, Artemios had settled himself behind his desk. Iliana stopped three feet in front of it. She clasped her hands behind her back, cocking a questioning brow in his direction when he sighed.
"You're too formal," he explained.
"Would you rather I lay out on the floor?" she quipped. "I wouldn't be against it."
"No, no, this is fine," he chuckled. "I'm just wondering how you haven't lost such a thing. You've dropped my title, something even Kain can't manage, yet you still stand as stiff as a board."
She shrugged. "Three years aboard a merchant ship pales in comparison to a childhood ashore. And it isn't as if I've worked on breaking said habits to begin with."
"Almost three," he corrected.
"For all you know," she teased. "I could have been stowed away for weeks before you found me."
The captain sighed once again. "There's no winning here, is there?"
"None," Iliana agreed.
"Well, whichever it was, it brings me to what I wanted to talk about."
Anxiety twisted her stomach into knots. It didn't take a genius to follow his thoughts. Gods, she'd been hoping he would somehow forget the date, or just ignore it.
"As you know, when we land in Eol your contract will have finished. I'm not one of those captains who cheat their men, nor will I make up some excuse to force you to stay. But... there will be a big gap left when you leave, and fates know we'll miss you here. Kain especially."
"Kain'll be fine," Iliana protested.
"You and I both know that's a lie," Artemios said. "He might love everyone here, but there's something different about having a friend your own age. He won't take your departure well. And...well, neither will I, to be honest. You're like a son to me."
A smile tugged on Iliana's lips. If only he knew how her amusement at his words far outweighed how flattered she was by the sentiment. Well, she mused, perhaps it was a good thing he'd never deciphered her expressions. It'd be a bit difficult to explain why the title of son was so funny.
"Something I continue to find myself amazed by," she said, rather than share her thoughts.
"Yes, well... my point is, if you want to stay you're welcome to," he said. A hand went up when Iliana instantly opened her mouth. "No, you're not allowed to decide right now. I don't want your decision to be influenced by the moment. Wait until we've docked and you've felt the ground beneath your feet again. Decide whether you want to stay ashore, or spend an undecided amount of your life at sea. You're young, and you've too many years ahead of you to make such a decision on a whim.
"You know what I think about it. A sailor is a sailor for life. Something about the sea gets into your blood. It's why no matter what god we were raised under, we all end up with Umae as our patron in the end. We all hope he'll let us travel the waters until the day we're lost."
Anything Iliana might have responded with died on her tongue. If Artemios's eyes hadn't been settled on her, she might have teared up.
He was too much.
Weren't men in his position supposed to be harsh? She'd heard the stories. Yet, since the day he'd taken her in--a dirty stowaway with more guts than brains--he'd treated her with more respect than she'd ever gotten back home. As if reading her thoughts, Artemios smiled.
"Of course, I hope you'll choose to stay. And no matter what your decision is, I won't leave you wanting. When we reach Eol there's a number of gold pieces with your name on them. I'd intended to leave you with just enough to get started, but the rest of the crew insisted on adding to the pot. There's enough to survive for a few months without proper work if you wanted.
"Choose to stay, it's your first salary. Choose to go... well, it'll keep you alive for awhile. Ain't a soul out there gonna say I'm cheap."
"I wouldn't dream of it," Iliana agreed.
He chuckled once again. "Good. Glad we agree. Now... for other matters."
Artemios dropped his eyes to his desk. Before that moment, Iliana hadn't bothered to glance at the papers laid out on it. It was habit, really. The crew might tease and poke-fun at her, but she doubted many of them had put much thought into her really being an upper class runaway. Which was why she did her best not to show off what she knew. The fact that Iliana could read a map without hesitation would definitely make them reconsider their thoughts on her. Most poor orphans--what she'd claimed to be--weren't given the time and resources needed to learn navigation.
Which was funny, given it'd been the only part of her lessons that stuck easily.
"I won't be certain until nightfall, but that storm probably blew us pretty far off course. We were supposed to hit Eol by the end of the week, but now... I'm guessing we're probably around here," Artemios said, dropping his finger on one of the dozen maps before him.
From where she stood, Iliana could make out a handful of islands within a day's sail of the spot. Unlike their previous course, the position placed Eol only about three to four days' away. Artemios interrupted her thoughts by folding up the map and settling it next to an old looking glass and compass.
"Before you go back to your mending, I want you to take these up to Kain. He's too much of a stubborn ass to let me give him his own set. Make sure to let him know I want him looking out for anything that can tell us where we are. Hopefully we'll get a few more clues before I reference the stars tonight."
Iliana nodded, plucking the items from the desk. Once they were settled securely in her arms, she turned to go.
"Oh, and Ilias?"
She glanced back. "Yes?"
"Hit him hard for me if he's asleep again."
Iliana grinned. She'd thought the deck was a little too silent earlier. Usually Kain would be adding his own two thoughts on the conversation--especially given they'd been talking about the gods. For some reason, her friend had strong opinions on anything magical.
"I'll make sure to give him a lump," she agreed.
"Good. Now, get going."
Iliana gave a half-joking salute, then left as requested.