The pirate stood on the ship's deck, his long hair, now freed from his bun, caught in the wind. The horizon was a blur of red and gold. Behind him, in the distance, the mainland was growing smaller and smaller, turning into nothing more but a pinprick. If he had looked, he might have felt wistful, but pirates never looked back. They always looked onward, towards new horizons, and new adventures, and…
"Traskel," the echo of his name, spoken a little bit too loudly as a sign it wasn't the first time that his boss had tried to grab his attention, made him wince. He bumped his knee into his desk, cursed, and an already precariously balanced stack of papers started to slide away, so he had to lunge and catch them before they all ended up scattered on the floor.
"Ah, back to the land of the living?"
Henry Traskel, who preferred to be called Harry, looked up to find his boss, Charles Amberdish, gazing down upon him from the door opening of his office. His gaze slid curiously through the room, from the half-shut blinds to the enormous mess on Harry's desk, and then finally on the pen in his hands.
"You were quite out of it."
"It has been a long day."
"It would seem so, it is getting dark out," Amberdish said, flatly, pointing his thumb at the window. Being the owner of Amberdish Antiquarians and Appraisals, one might have expected Charles to be a stuffy old man with round glasses and a top hat that seemed glued to, well, the top of his head, but he was nothing of the sorts. He was in his early thirties, looked like a greek statue and had flowing dark locks that would put a maiden to shame, although a more respectable gentleman might try to tame them a little more than he did. Of course his father, Charles Amberdish Senior, had been a boring old man with round glasses and a top hat, but he had died three years ago.
"Is that why you came?"
Harry wouldn't go as far to say that he and Amberdish were friends, but they were more than boss and employee, for sure. Although society might argue they spent time together, or were acquainted through the fact that Amberdish was married to Harry's younger sister, he had always argued that he knew Charles before her, and if it hadn't been for him, the two wouldn't have met in the first place.
Okay, perhaps they were somewhat like friends.
"I wished I did," he rolled his eyes, it made him look younger, and even less like a gentleman and more like a rake. If Harry hadn't known he was happily married, he would have been inclined to believe the gossip that fled about London clubs, "I ought to have thrown you out ages ago, but alas, I received an urgent request for appraisal."
"Urgent as in, tonight?"
"No, even I am not so hungry for money as to accept that," Charles seemed a little upset that his friend thought so little of him, "we are requested to arrive by Sunday. And when I say we, I mean one of us, and by one of us, I mean I hope you will agree to go."
Harry narrowed his eyes.
"Where is it?"
Charles rarely sent him out into the field, not trusting Harry's dreamy nature - and with good reason, he had the tendency to drift off, even if his calculations and notes were always flawless - to be charming enough to new customers. He much rather kept him for the work that required delicacy and hours of peering at the same page. That he had come to him now could mean only one thing.
"Oh, just about…" Charles started.
"It's Scotland, isn't it?" Harry bit back.
"No!" Charles shook his head a little triumphant, "no, no, it is not Scotland, most certainly not."
"You know as well as I do that you would only send me somewhere if it would keep you away from my sister for more than a week, because you are as lovelorn a puppy as you were the first time you saw her and you miss her too much if you ought to stay away."
"Will be fine, it is you that won't be fine when parted for a fortnight."
Charles looked guilty, and Harry looked content, but he actually thought it was one of Charles' finer qualities that he loved Harry's sister so much he hated the idea of being away from her for too long. Harry, who was as confirmed a bachelor as any could be, and often said he was married to statues and old books rather than a living person, had no one to miss in London. At least, that was Charles' assumption.
And although Harry wished that was not true, Charles' assumption was right.
"It's only a day's ride by train," Charles promised in a soothing tone that had Harry roll his eyes, "enough to get back and forth on the weekends, at least, but the client did say he thought it might be a few weeks worth of work, and…"
And Harry's sister, Cecily, was due in a few weeks. Charles would be damned if he missed it, and Harry could hardly blame him for it.
"I'll go," he said, "sure, I'll go. What's the job?"
He asked more out of politeness than out of interest, because he had worked for the Amberdish family ever since he was fourteen years old, and every job had been about the same. Sure, his own role in the process had changed. When he had been younger, he'd be tasked with joining the leading antiquarian and jotting down everything that was said about a particular work of art, so that his notes might be used at the appraisal, later. When he was older, he had gone on to assist in some of the more difficult aspects of the job, such as determining age or originality, and now, at 32 years old, Harry Traskel was one of the most sought after appraisers of London.
He only very rarely left the building, because as good as he was with statues, he really was that terrible with people.
"Some Lord, I forgot his name," Charles waved that important detail, which most business owners would have taken pride in, aside. Harry loved him for it, "apparently has a mansion full of art collected by his late wife, and he wants it gone."
"So he intends to sell?"
"Appraise, safekeep, sell, yes," Charles nodded. He had come into the office now and sat on the edge of the other desk, that was never occupied because no one particularly enjoyed sharing an office with Harry due to his tendency to clutter every service with notes and citations. "And it is a whole damned house full, too. I think he might intend to sell that, as well. One can only wonder what the woman did to the poor man."
She died, Harry imagined, and some men could even turn that into a woman's fault. He had seen the proof of that, and was glad for his sister's match to overly doting Charles every other day. He didn't say as such, though, and kept quiet.
"Sounds easy enough," he said instead.
Charles smiled content.
"Yes, so, the man assumes it will be four weeks worth of work, but we know clients, they either over or underestimate themselves and their collection, so I imagine it will take you anywhere between two and seven weeks, really."
"I am looking absolutely forward to spending seven weeks on the countryside with a stuffy Lord," Harry said, but he had already grabbed his briefcase from under his chair to file away the appropriate documents, "and I had not at all planned a holiday three weeks from now, which you undoubtedly forgot."
Charles winced. Harry sighed.
"It is okay," he assured him, "I'll take the holiday after the job, might even add some countryside time to it, if I please."
"You are the best."
"Arguably," Harry said, with a smile that he knew dimpled his cheeks. He leant his freckled cheek against the palm of his equally freckled hand, "and even if I wasn't, or perhaps am not, you couldn't do without me."
The word lacked any fire and sounded more like something like brother than like a curse. He lifted himself from the desk and gestured at the office.
"Collect your things, I'll make sure to arrange everything so you can leave coming Monday."
Harry smiled, appreciative that Charles understood that while one could easily trust him to appraise an entire estate, arranging a train trip might prove a bit of an obstacle. He supposed he ought to be lucky with a boss like that.
"Yes, sir," he chimed back, already going over the clutter of what he needed in his head. He would require some serious list-making, he thought, if he wanted to arrive at the estate and not forget anything he sorely needed.
"And don't forget dinner on Saturday night, or Cecily will be cross," he warned his brother-in-law-slash-employee, who tended to forget such appointments. Harry nodded, but knew Harry would remind him again, anyway.
"Yes, sir," he repeated.
"And stop calling me sir."
A broad grin split Harry's face in two.
Charles rolled his eyes and closed the door of the office behind him. Harry leant back, taking a deep breath. A job like this didn't come by very often, and he would be lying if he said he didn't think it quite the honour that Charles trusted him with it, even if it was only because he didn't want to go himself.
From under the stack of paper, he pulled the page he had been writing on before being so crudely pulled into Charles' world of work. A few jotted words and a ragged sketch of a pirate on a ship were all there was to his newest story, but in his head, the world was already itching to come alive again. He folded the paper and put it in his briefcase.
"You'll have to wait a bit, I fear," he told the pirate, "but don't worry, I'll make it worth your while. That treasure will be mountain high by the time I get to sit down to write your story."