What takes too long?
“Are you sure about this, Captain?” Lucas warily scanned the crowded tavern full of Vikings. He had been on edge ever since they made port on the strange island kingdom.
Leo pushed his way to an empty table at the back. “Aye. This is the seediest watering hole on the wharf.”
His young first mate frowned at his back. “Isn’t that a good reason to avoid it?”
Leo grinned as he flagged down a waitress and settled into the corner seat of their table. “To the contrary. The information we seek is bound to be here. The dirtier the bar, the richer the rumors.”
Lucas shook his head as he took his seat across from his Captain. “Then shouldn’t we at least have brought a couple more guys?”
“What’s the matter,” Leo turned his grin onto the boy, “worried we’ll get in a brawl?”
“Worried I won’t see it coming before it’s too late,” he sighed, rubbing the skin under the patch on his right eye. Then he met the Captain’s eyes with a smirk.
Leo stared disbelievingly at him. “Did you just make a joke?”
“Captain, I assure you I take my job very seriously. I would never make light of it in light of my new disability.”
“Can I get you fellas somethin’ ta drink?” The barmaid had finally weaved her way through the crowd to them. Her arrival halted the captain’s finely crafted insult.
“A pint of your finest ale, if you please,” Lucas ordered.
“You got it! I’ll be back in a tick,” she said with a wink.
Leo watched her saunter lithely back through the crowd to the bar, her long, blonde braid swaying on her back. These northern islanders were carved from stone, all hard edges and blocky frames. Their women were just as hardy, but slender and fair, and he was certain they could all hold their own in a fight just as well as any of the men.
Lucas cleared his throat, breaking the Captain from his reverie. “So, what are we listening for?”
Leo leaned back in his chair and set his boots on the empty seat next to him. “Undercurrents.”
Leo nodded. “Where there is unrest in a nation, there are undercurrents to be followed, for profit if you’re good.” Lucas maintained a skeptical expression but Leo went on. “There is a very lucrative business deal awaiting us if we can find what was lost.”
“Shouldn’t the local guards be looking?” Lucas frowned. “Why would he hire outsiders?”
“Because we’re outsiders. And pirates. We’re good at finding lost things and we weren’t here when the jewel went missing.”
“You boys are hunting treasure?” The barmaid returned with their drinks and shared a smile with both. “I can’t imagine there is much to be found way out here,” she laughed.
“You’d be surprised,” Leo grinned at her over the edge of his mug. “There’s more than one kind of treasure. It isn’t all priceless jewels and heirlooms.”
She gave him a discerning glance. “But you did say “jewel,” didn’t you?”
“Aye.” He took a swig of ale. “I’ve herd it describe that way, but it doesn’t mean it’s really a jewel.” He looked her up and down. “You’re quite the jewel, yourself.”
Lucas rolled his eye as she flushed and giggled. He kept his ears open to the conversations around him. The Captain was being deliberate with his words. He knew others would be listening closely to whatever the outsider discussed, especially if word had gotten back about their audience with the king.
“What’s a beautiful girl like you doing serving ale to pirates in a fishery slum? Are you sure you aren’t a princess in disguise?”
The conversations stalled and every eye in the place turned to their corner table. So much for subtlety. A short, stocky fellow at the next table leaned over and glared at the pirates. “What business do pirates have askin’ after a missing princess?”
Leo blinked. To any who didn’t know him, he looked astonished, but Lucas knew it was all an act. “Missing princess? Who said anything about a missing princess? Why, did you lose one?”
“Captain,” Lucas said warningly.
“You best not stick your nose in where it’s not wanted,” the man continued.
Leo raised his arms in a placating gesture. “Didn’t mean nothing by it. A man gets curious is all.”
His table shot glares at both men. “You’d best finish your drinks and leave.”
Lucas happily downed his ale while the Captain took his time with his. They left their coin on the table and made for the exit. “Undercurrents,” Leo said under his breath.
They made their way along the docks back to the ship. Kita was waiting for them, perched on the bow. She leapt gracefully to the deck and greeted them as they boarded. “I have a lead,” she announced.
Leo scowled at the ninja. “I thought I told you to let us handle the information gathering.”
She shrugged. “You were taking too long. Let’s go.”
Lucas hid his grin from them. Leo couldn’t make her follow orders on land. And Lucas was pretty sure Kita still hadn’t forgiven them for taking her across the ocean.
Notes: I struggled to come up with an idea for this one. Other contenders were “princess getting dressed for a ball,” “child waiting impatiently for a parent to finish packing for an exciting family trip,” and “hungry person cooking an elaborate dinner.” In the end I thought of the dialogue exchange “I said I’d handle it/You were taking too long” and figured out which of my characters it could pertain to. After some consideration, I felt it had a very Leo/Kita vibe. It was also taking too long to get to that bit of dialogue and didn’t come out quite as exciting as I wanted. Ah well. It’s late and I need sleep. See you tomorrow!