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III. Swimmingly

The ship was a sleek sloop of dark wood. The crew was human, with a couple of questionables. The captain was a distinguished older man, tall and strong still, handsome still. He had been quite the lover in his youth: he had been Ryel’s lover in his youth, his adulthood and his early middle age. He looked like he would still readily be her lover. Oh, and he was newly married and his wife sailed with him.

Still, when the captain saw Ryel, he charged over and grabbed her in a hug. “My beautiful deadly elf maiden,” he enthused. “You haven’t changed a bit, though I fear I’ve grown about ten years older since I last saw you.”

“Oh, it’s only four, five tops,” said Ryel. “You look good, you do. Arkmar, this is Captain Alkwadir. Ali, this is Arkmar, he’s, uh, working with me, I guess.”

“At your service,” said Arkmar with a bow.

“At your service and your family’s,” said Ali, doffing his night-blue captain’s hat. He smiled at Ryel, then looked to his right, where his lovely wife had appeared. “And this is Elena. Elena, this is Ryel, an old friend of mine.” Ryel suppressed the eye rolling, even when he added, “Ryel, I would like you to meet the love of my life, Elena.”

Elena was indeed lovely. She was a human of perhaps thirty. She was tall, taller than Ryel by some inches, with bright red hair and plenty of muscle. She was dressed in sailor work clothes, but with a bit of fashionable dash: her plain vanilla shirt unbuttoned far enough that one could see her bright red brassiere, a completely unnecessary scarf in her hair that matched the bra, which was far from unnecessary. She wore nice leather boots that overlapped her tight leather pants. The boots were, however, scuffed and scraped by work, as were her hands, her shirt and her little leather hat.

“Oh, so you’re Ryel,” she said in a way that made “He’s told me so much about you” completely superfluous.

“Ferdinand,” called Ali, “show these two to the forward single rooms. You’ll eat at the captain’s table, of course. We’re carting a load of metals to Baharna, and picking up what they have to offer.”

“Lava,” said Arkmar.

“Always plenty of that,” said Ferdinand, coming up from below deck. He was big, tall, friendly, muscular and portly. He glanced at Ryel and did a double take. “By the Gods. Ryel! You aren’t dead yet!”

“You know her too?” said Elena. “Do you know the rest of the crew already?”

“No, I,” stared Ryel. She met Elena’s smile. “No,” she said, “and I don’t know Ferd that well, we merely defended an outpost together. From a ghast raid.”

“I thought then you were one of the Cats of Ulthar made woman,” said Ferd. “You used at least three of your nine lives. Come, I will show you your bunks and we can have a drink on me and talk of old times.”

“That sounds wonderful, let’s.” She looked at Ali.

“We’ll put off in a couple of hours,” Ali said. “Sunset in the captain’s galley. I believe we’re having fish.” He held her eyes one moment longer, and did not have to say out loud how much he wanted her. To come. To dinner.

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