With Miss Hunt hovering over him like a breaking tidal wave, Zvonko dropped his eyes to the bronze pint of ale on the table. The downward tilt of his face in the candlelight underscored his dark circles and bruised eye.
Calm down, girl. Hunt took a step back. She hated snapping at Zvonko. He meant well. He always did. That was his curse.
“Lally doesn’t know it,” he said at last, “but he could’ve pursued the Green crew on his own when he wanted and there was nothing I could’ve done to stop him. My injuries…” He placed an open hand on his chest where his shirt and coat concealed a collection of bandaged wounds that would’ve killed an ordinary person. “Your estimation of the situation is accurate. ‘Hopeless’ is an apt word.”
He looked up. “And I am extremely desperate. At first, it was all I could do to persuade my captain from rushing off to his death. After that, I sought validation.”
Hunt sank back into her chair. “You needed to know if things were as they seemed or if there was hope.”
Zvonko’s focus strayed as his mind turned over. “Mesa has a tactician’s brain. His ideas move faster than most, he sees what others can’t, and his disturbing objectivity forestalls any degree of optimism that might cloud judgement. If he says something can be done, then it can.”
Mesa doesn’t deserve for you to say these things about him. Hunt tried not to fleer. “You trust him that much?”
“While he gives ample reason to hate him, he’s never given me cause for distrust.” Zvonko nodded absently to himself. He seemed to be wrestling with something. “There’s a way. We can do it. And I came here… to ask you to join us.”
Hunt stared as though he suggested she bathe in oil and light a match. “What?”
“I know it’s a lot to ask—.”
“To go with you?”
Zvonko said nothing, appearing tired and ashamed.
Hunt laughed a laugh that felt and sounded strange. “You want me to voluntarily cooperate within striking distance of Mesa without bringing him bodily harm.” She considered him for a speechless moment. “How can you ask me that?”
“I-I’m truly sorry, Miss Hunt. I have no one else to ask.”
Amidst the tumultuous emotions, a single phrase extricated Hunt from a spiraling whirlpool of despair: ‘I have no one else to ask’. The grudge boiling in her chest bubbled down as her heart thumped loudly with her affection for him. It embarrassed her.
Seeing the effect of his request on Hunt, Zvonko paled. “You’re right.” He shoved to his feet, painful and unsteady. “I’m so sorry, you’re right.”
It was common knowledge that the legendary swordsman and genial first mate Raivo Zvonko pledged his life and blood to captain and crew. They were his family. He would die for his family.
“WAIT!” Hunt’s hand shot out over the table and grabbed his wrist. She hung her head. “Wait.”
He and Lally will try even with a small chance of getting their crewmen back. Hunt tugged on Zvonko’s wrist until he resumed his seat. Whatever their odds, the odds will be better if I’m there to make sure no one has to die for family.
She released his wrist. Sat back. Shut her eyes.
You’re lucky I’m still in love with you.
Hunt buried his face in her arms on the table and roared with pure exasperation, which brought to Zvonko’s face a surprised stare followed by a grateful and amused smile.
“Fine!” She sat up in a huff. “When do we leave?”
“At sunrise,” Zvonko said with immense relief. “On a ship called The Constellation.”
“I’ll find it.” Hunt grabbed her pint. “But I have one condition. Once we’re victorious, I’m going to serve Mesa his just desserts and no one is going to stop me.”
On the bench with my head resting back, I listened to the scuffing and tramping of boots coming and going. Counted them. Some I knew. Most I didn’t.
One pair approached me. Despite the hitch in his step from recent injuries, Zvonko’s footfalls remained unmistakable. I brought my eyes down from the stars.
“Well?” I said, “What did she–?” I rose quickly. The expression on Zvonko’s face unsettled me. “Did she decline?”
“She’ll meet us at The Constellation.”
I scowled. “Hmph.”
So did he. “What?”
“You’re more despondent than before you went in. If she agreed, then you’re like this because of something else.” My attention dropped to his body. “Has your health taken a turn?”
“Mesa, I swear I’ve done nothing strenuous enough to—.”
“It’s imperative that I know,” I stated. “You’re an important part of the plan.”
Zvonko recoiled. “I beg you, don’t mother me, Lunatic. It’s giving me chills.”
Me, too. I started walking leisurely in the direction of Zvonko’s lodgings, and he fell in step beside me. “Would you rather I throw a sword at you and demand a duel at the most dramatic location of whatever island we’re on?”
“That’s a poor way to gauge my health. I’d accept that challenge on my deathbed.”
True. “I’ll ask for future health updates in a less motherly way.”
Earlier when I first met Zvonko on the steps and also when we walked to The Maisey Bar, I had discretely appraised the status of his condition and recovery based on his movements. As we returned to the lodgings, I used the opportunity to once again assess his movements at the end of a day of nominal exertion. A day of walking and resting.
What I saw made me cringe. Badly.
This rescue can still work. I caught a glimpse of Zvonko’s profile in the moonlight. Even wounded, he’s still the most dangerous swordsman in this hemisphere.
Entering through the eastern breezeway into the courtyard, Zvonko unburied a key from a coat pocket. “Did you acquire a room here, too?” he said as he unlocked his room.
Lally nearly left you behind to chase Captain Green. I jabbed a thumb over my shoulder. “I’m sleeping in front of Lally’s door.” If he’d do that, then he isn’t in his right mind. He could try it again. “See you in the morning.”
[to be continued…]