It was so quiet here. Cherry couldn’t begin to understand it. Back in Bledavik, even at this hour, there was always a drunken melody being sung, a barfight being contested, women’s happy shrieks and men’s braying laughter. Here, there was nothing but the sound of the crickets and the night-birds.
Even though the breeze in this season was far balmier than it would be in Bledavik, Cherry shivered. It just … didn’t seem right, walking down streets this dark and quiet. There was always light in Bledavik: light spilling from windows, being tossed from pubs with the patrons who had grown just too unruly, the great northern lights if all else failed. Here, people lit torches around their door, the pool of pale yellow light as much a welcome mat as whatever cloth they put before the door, and some of the posher, more well-traveled thoroughfares had lanterns. Other than that, the Sims around here just didn’t bother.
At least that meant she was going in the right direction.
After all, somebody had to go collect the Cap’n when it was getting a bit too late. Her grandfather could defend himself from any amount of brigands or ruffians, no matter how much grog or ale or rum he had in him, but finding his way home was another matter. At least, if he was on land it was another matter. Apparently he could navigate his way through the treacherous ice floes that surrounded Bledavik with rum as the only thing warming his stomach, but on land he was hopeless. And as the oldest grandchild, collecting the Cap’n fell to Cherry.
She stopped outside a house — a big one — one shedding light from all the windows, not just one or two.
This had to be the place.
But it was too quiet! There should have been women crying out, man laughing, moans of passion and pleasure … or what passed for both in this kind of house. There should have been the tinny piano singing its song with a lute wailing in time. A brothel this quiet, reserved, subdued, was …
Sacrilege, Cherry thought. It was probably blasphemy to even think it, but there were some things that ran deeper than what the Church might say.
Still, there was only one way to find out if this truly was the place. She mounted the steps, stood on tiptoe and gazed through the windows on the door. The curtains weren’t very helpful … but that was, she was fairly certain, a bar in the background, and even if this wasn’t the whorehouse, there were bound to be people whom she could ask for directions.
Cherry pushed open the door and slipped inside.
Once she was in, there was no doubting this was the place. That only left one difficulty: finding the Cap’n and getting him home.
The place, however, was awfully subdued. Patrons played quietly at card tables, entertained by one or more ladies. Somebody was playing a piano, but softly. There were no ribald jests that had half the tavern screaming in laughter, no fights that threatened to break out near the bar. Nobody even pinching a lady’s behind! What was the matter with these people?
Worse, however, there was no sign of the Cap’n. Cherry sighed under her breath. Now she’d have to send somebody to fetch him and get him to get his trews on already. She wish she had dragged Jack with her; she could have send him scampering up the stairs. He’d be just as scarred for life as she if he opened the wrong door, but what were little brothers for if not taking the mental scarring so you wouldn’t have to?
Still, even as Cherry was debating which of the ladies and the clients the Cap’n might have made the biggest impression on, one of the ladies — the blonde one, most scantily-clad of them all — looked up and glanced at her. Cherry expected her eyes to pass over her, or at most a lascivious look and an inquiry as to whether she might require their services.
She wasn’t expecting the lady’s eyes to go wide and for her to practically catapult out of her chair. Before Cherry knew it, the lady was standing before her with her hands on her hips. “Child, I will only tell you this once: you had best get out of here, quickly.”
Cherry blinked. “Sorry?”
“Go! Leave! Before –”
She kept talking, but a flash of white caught Cherry’s eye and held it. Vampire? She hadn’t heard that there was a vampire lady in Albion. She had thought the southlanders too staid, too boring for that. There were vampires in Bledavik — several of them — because, of course, the long dark nights of the winter made it very easy for them to get around, run a shop, have a life. Or an undeath, Cherry supposed. The long days of the summer weren’t quite as convenient, but most of the vampires Cherry had spoken to saw summer as a time to rest and recuperate after the long and exhausting winters.
“– are you even listening, girl? This is not a place for one such as you!”
“… And what, exactly, am I?”
“A girl. A child.” Cherry lifted an eyebrow at that, but the vampire lady continued doggedly on. “Innocent, and with a reputation to protect, no?”
Didn’t you need to know somebody in order to have a reputation? And if anybody around here knew Cherry, they’d know she was no innocent. Innocent! Ha! “Um … not really?”
“Then if you are not innocent, this is even less the place for you. We do not … host your type here. Especially not …” The vampire lady jerked her head back. Cherry stood on tiptoe and glanced over her shoulder, but couldn’t see anything other than a door to the men’s privies, a sofa, and a man in a guard’s uniform hovering. “You understand?” asked the vampire lady.
“Er … no?”
The lady narrowed her eyes, blue with a touch of red to the pupils. “Child. Just go, before you get into trouble, yes?”
The lady had an odd, singsong, purling accent, but now was not the time to ponder that. “But I can’t leave without the Cap’n.”
“The captain?” The guard leaned over the lady’s shoulder and leered at Cherry. The lady’s incisors seemed to grow a bit sharper as she glanced between the guard and Cherry. “I tell you, sweetie, he ain’t here! But he’ll be right interested ter know ye was axin’ after ‘im!”
Not here? But — wait, it couldn’t be the same Cap’n. The guard said captain, first of all, and second of all, this wasn’t Bledavik. In Bledavik, everyone knew that if a young girl with pale red hair came asking for the Cap’n — or a young boy with a blonde mop top, or, most recently, a blonde little girl who only answered to Banana — you went and found Jessiah Andavri. They didn’t know that here in Albion. Yet.
“Wrong captain,” Cherry replied to the guard, then turned back to the lady. “I’m lookin’ for Cap’n Andavri. Average height, curly gray hair goin’ down to about here,” she gestured to her chest, “mustache, swears to make a sailor blush. Is he here?”
The lady blinked, the firelight winking in her bloodstained pupils. “He …”
“So that’s yer john, eh?” asked the guard, eyebrows going up in the manner of a man making a mental note.
“My john? He’s my grandfather!”
“If that’s what they’re callin’ it nowadays …”
The vampire lady looked at Cherry, then wheeled on the guard and hissed. “You will leave,” she snarled, “this child alone. She tells the truth. Now go play your cards.”
“Now, now, Madam Mirelle, ye know that child whorin’ ain’t legal in these parts –”
“She speaks the truth. Her blood smells as his does.”
The guard shuddered. “Ye — ye smelled his blood?”
“Aye. As I am smelling yours now. And I can track it, like a bloodhound, if this child is further harassed. Understood?”
The guard narrowed his eyes. “Ye’re lyin’.”
“Care to test that?” the vampire lady — Mirelle — asked. Cherry would bet her last copper that the candlelight glinted off her canines as she did so. The guard gulped loudly enough for Cherry to hear it, so she probably would have won that bet. He backed off.
Mirelle turned back to Cherry. “I will go find your grandfather. You, child, had best wait outside.” She didn’t give Cherry time to argue or protest before she glided to the stairs and up them.
Wait outside? Why would she want to do that — at least now that the obnoxious guard was sorted out? And what on earth made them think she was a lady — well, the night kind, anyway? She didn’t swish her skirts, she didn’t wink, she didn’t advertise. She just walked in and asked for her grandfather.
Maybe if she’d called him her grandfather, there would have been less misunderstanding …
Still, now that she was in here, she might as well look around. It really didn’t have much on the brothels of Bledavik. Those were bright, colorful, gaudy, really — but warm. Well, every building in Bledavik was built to be warm; the homeowners didn’t survive the first winter otherwise. But it was more than that. They were warm in an emotional sense, not just a physical one. This place … old, gray wood, grotty plaster, tattered wall hangings … it was cold, devoid of personality, tired and poor. It was holding chamber, not the front room of a house of pleasure. It was —
“Well, well. Didn’t know they wash hirin’ young’uns these daysh,” slurred a voice behind her.
“She ain’t one o’ ours, Finley. Leave her alone,” called the dark-skinned lady playing cards with the merchant man and the Servo.
“Bah, don’t tell me no liesh! Sho shick o’ bein’ lied ter. How are ye, me pretty?” asked the old man, lurching up to Cherry. Cherry raised an eyebrow and tried to avoid the breath.
“Well?” asked the drunk again, a little more loudly.
“Fine, until you started polluting my air. Mind … breathing elsewhere?” Cherry asked.
“Well! Ye’re a shaucy one, ain’t ye?” Finley laughed. “I likesh the shaucy onesh, though. Ye’re in luck, lash!”
“What part of breathe elsewhere don’t you understand?” Cherry snapped.
“Lass,” said the dark-skinned whore, “lass, ye’d best be leavin’ ‘im alone, else givin’ ‘im what he wants. He ain’t –”
“Aye, lash! What I want, jest a little kish!” He lurched toward her again.
“Get away!” Cherry snapped, jumping back, and before she thought better of it, “Unless you want a yard of Reman steel stickin’ out your spine!”
“Well!” the drunk chuckled. “Reman shteel! An’ where’s a tashty lil’ dish like ye gonna get yer mitsh on that, eh?”
“You’d be surprised,” Cherry muttered, although at the moment she was wishing the chest at the foot of her parents’ bed — the one with the cutlasses — was, say, right at her feet, and not halfway across town. “Get away.”
“Only if ye’ll come with me,” the old man leered.
“That would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?”
“Finley!” the dark-skinned one called out. “Finley, leave the girl alone! I’m tellin’ ye, she ain’t one o’ ours!”
“Shut yer hole, Tambu, or else ye’ll shee who can shut it fer ye!” the drunk snapped. “Wright! I didn’t take none o’ that from me wife, ye’ll think I’ll listen ter a whore?”
“Hey!” Cherry protested, before she could think better of it. In Bledavik, anyone who called one of the ladies a whore would end up with a few short, sharp inches of Reman steel pressed to a rather sensitive area — if he was lucky. If he wasn’t, or if the lady was in an exceptionally bad mood, he might be sporting a second smile, an inability to ever need the services of a lady again, or perhaps a bit of a hole right where his heart used to be. “Don’t call her that!”
Oddly enough, in Bledavik, there probably would have been a hush sweeping over the bottom floor of the brothel — if not at Finley’s comment, then surely at Cherry’s protest. After all, the ladies could and did take care of themselves, and what they couldn’t handle, their ivory-handled Reman daggers could. But sometimes protesting could give the lady a moment to calm down, and usually people forgave Cherry when she did. She meant well, after all … and the Cap’n would be having a rather sharp word with anybody who didn’t agree.
However, this wasn’t Bledavik.
“Don’t call her that? What would ye have me call ‘er, then, love?” Finley chuckled.
Well, that was a question. Saying “lady” would probably only get her trouble, since the other type of lady was somewhat abundant in these parts. Cherry took a step back.
The old drunk followed. “Ye didn’t ansher me question, lash.”
“Well, she has a name, for starters,” Cherry hedged.
“Ash ye do, I’m shertain,” Finley grinned. “What might it be?”
“As if I’d tell you.” Her father would hardly appreciate having to kick this louse off their property — with or without that yard of Reman steel sticking out the back of him — when they were so new to Albion. Worse, of course, would be if the Cap’n decided to deal with it himself.
“Aww, come on — be nishe ter a shick ol’ man, all alone in the worl’, jesht wantsh shomeone ter talk to …” He leaned closer to her, his alcohol breath washing over her face. Cherry eyed the ample stomach and wondered what the odds were of her being able to punch it without him spewing all over her.
Luckily, she didn’t have to wonder for long.
“Hey! What the hell d’you think you’re doin’?”
Uh oh. “Cap’n –” Cherry started.
“You sit tight, Cherry,” Jessiah replied, “the Cap’n’s comin’.”
Yes, I see that —
“Cherry,” the drunk savored. “What a shweet name –”
“You stay away from her!” Jessiah interposed himself between them by pushing Finley back to make room. “Lord, what kind of sick bastard are you? That’s a child!”
“Hey!” Cherry protested.
“At least to a grandsire like you, she is!” Jessiah corrected.
“An’ who are ye, that worriesh sho much about ‘er?” Finley slurred.
Finley chuckled. “Ish that what they’re callin’ it, nowadaysh?”
Cherry rolled her eyes. What was it with these men, making that joke and then actually thinking was funny? Maybe it was something in the grog. She’d probably have to drag the Cap’n to a healer to get him checked out for alcohol poisoning.
Then again … if there was any kind of noxious substance in the alcohol, the Cap’n had probably built up an immunity to it before she was even born, through repeated survived exposure if nothing else.
Slam! Cherry jumped as the drunk went hurtling into the wall, and winced when she heard the plaster crack and saw the dartboard rock dangerously. At least the plaster hadn’t been particularly nice to begin with. The time the Cap’n had shoved some scallywag into Madam Cecelia’s new wallpaper had cost a mint to fix. This probably wouldn’t cost more than a copper or so.
“Listen,” Jessiah snarled, “you’re lucky I didn’t have me cutlass with me, else you’d’ve been pinned to the wall neat as the dartboard.”
“Cutlass? What are ye, some pirate?” Finley laughed.
“You wish,” Jessiah snarled. “Pirates kill clean. Grandsires make the bastards that went after their granddaughters suffer.”
“D’ye hear this?” Finley called, glaring at the guard. “D’ye hear what he’s sayin’?”
The guard shrugged. “Off-duty.”
“Off-duty? Ye’re in yer uniform!”
“Everythin’ else is at the laundress’s.”
Jessiah grinned. “Cherry?”
“If I ever speak against the good ol’ forces of law and order again … remind me of tonight, will you?”
“Sure thing, Cap’n.”
Jessiah turned back to Finley with that grin still in place. “Now, you ready to apologize to the lass, or do I have to beat it out of you?”
Finley, however, had his eyes narrowed. “Ye’re a grandsire. Well, I’m somethin’ worse.”
Jessiah let his eyebrow go up.
“A man with nothin’ ter lose!” Finley shoved out, and in his surprise Jessiah stumbled back.
“Cap’n!” Cherry yelped before she could stop herself.
But it was silly — the Cap’n had stumbled, but he had survived worse swells. He rolled his eyes and stood straight and tall as the foremast, except foremasts generally didn’t look quite so disgusted with the drunks in front of them.
“Look, pal,” Jessiah sighed. “I don’t have a problem poundin’ you six feet under the dirt outside, savvy? I’d just rather not, in front of the kiddies, even if it’s nothing they haven’t seen before. Now, you say you’ve got nothin’ to lose — but believe, if there’s ever a Sim who knew how to take, it’d be Cap’n Jessiah Andavri.”
“Jessiah Andavri,” the man repeated.
“Cap’n Jessiah Andavri, to you. And don’t you forget it.”
“Oh, I won’t,” Finley chuckled.
“And don’t even think,” Jessiah snarled, leaning closer to Finley’s face, “about going after my Cherry again, you hear? Because let me tell you somethin’. I’ve sailed every sea on this earth, I’ve fought for love and gold and the sheer hell of it, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about shits like you …”
Jessiah leaned, if that was possible, even closer. Cherry was now convinced that her grandfather must have lost all sense of smell. Either that, or he had a superhuman lack of gag reflex.
“The louder you squeal,” he whispered, “the quicker you go down. And if you mess with my granddaughter again, you’ll go down so far, they’ll have to dig clear down to hell to find you again. Cherry, come on.”
Cherry didn’t need to be told twice. She fell into step with Jessiah, who put an arm around her shoulders as they escaped.
“Bastard,” Jessiah spat as soon as they were into the cool and open air.
“Aye. Thanks for chasin’ him off, Cap’n.”
“I’ll remind you of that when I go chasin’ off some young devil who’s a hell of a lot younger and handsomer than that old sot was.”
“You won’t do that.”
“Says me. You’d rather watch Dad try and Mum succeed.”
“Damn,” Jessiah chuckled. “Where’d you get such smarts, lass?”
Cherry smiled and half turned on her step. “Maybe it runs in the family, Cap’n.”