Harsh Mistress

Hobbes was dressed in black leather and velvet. He had been advised to dress down, but that wasn’t likely to happen. He wore polished riding boots to his knees, and the rest was perfectly tailored black with only the slightest hint of the blue of his eyes in the stitching that ran down the seams of his pants, and the form-fitting jacket that left his muscular arms bare. Hobbes had neglected to shave; giving his fine features a slightly more rugged appearance. He was armed with a rapier, whose hilt was remarkably plain, and hung from a belt that was not; it was tooled leather, with a wide polished ebony buckle, upon which was etched a maze in silvery-blue. Hobbes looked very much like any Voscian Nobleman, though one that was in far better shape and condition than most. Dressed in a burlap sack, he would have drawn glances for the intensity of his eyes and the fine lines of his face; why hide one’s light under a bushel? He was so flagrantly obvious, that very few would suspect that he was anything other than what he appeared to be; a young noble with a penchant for slumming and doubtless dueling.

“Well, of course, it’s not the best idea, but it is a simple one. Almost an axiom.” He opined to his constant and troublesome companion. “You’re just unhappy because any fight you pick only adds to my state of absolute correctness.” Hobbes snorted, “Don’t be immature. Ageless beings don’t get to pout.” He smirked as he moved down the street, head held high, oblivious to the sneers that followed him and the open looks of admiration that preceded and pursued him. Hobbes stopped at the necessary establishment, and cast his eyes to the painted sign. It depicted a Barmaid lifting her skirt to reveal an unsuitable amount of well drawn leg; The Bawdy Wench. Hobbes shook his head, “The things I brave for King and Country.”

Hobbes pushed the door open and entered the shadow, smoke-hazed tap room, and cast his eyes about. The patrons looked up, music stopped, and more than one salty sailor and wench looked upon him with curiosity, amusement, or hatred. Hobbes simply raised and eyebrow, and continued to look through the thick crowd of people for the woman he needed to see. A curious meeting place, but he had been in worse places. Hobbes nodded seemingly to no one, and muttered, “Please don’t remind me.”

From the back corner of the main room, a great cheer roared to life. It was underscored by more then a few moans of defeat and the beginnings of dark grumblings. Above it rose a woman's light laugh. "Now, no need ta be like that boys. One day you'll learn not ta bet against me!"

"Lady Luck can't keep smilin' on ye ferever, wench," came a good natured grumble.

"Until she finds one of ya dawgs prettier then me she will. Now, be a nice man an' just sent that booty o' fabrics ta The Lusty Wench. Mick'll be fair pleased ta see ya again, I don't doubt." That earned a round of snickers at the unseen loser.

The crowd of men parted and through them stepped the slim figure of a woman. The black sleeveless long coat sucked in the light. Dark gray couch work in vaguely Turkish designs drew the eye. She was retying the cuffs of the dark gray full sleeves of her shirt as she stopped to share a laugh with an old sea dog who looked as weathered as the planks outside. Black boots of soft looking leather were well worn, but well cared for. She was handed an equally black hat with a shockingly red plume - the sign he was looking for.

"I could not help but admire your hat, Mistress." His clear blue eyes met hers. "I once had one of my own, lost these long years to the grey sea. Only it's feather was as blue as the sky at first light." Hobbes disliked all this doublespeak and codes, but he had been asked not to perform any obvious trickery, this time out, and he would restrain himself for the moment. "Perhaps you would spare
me a moment to tell you the tale. The drinks are on me, of course."

The elder man snorted and gave the woman a nod before melting back into the crowd. The woman looked up at Hobbes while bouncing the hat lightly on curled fingers. "O' course yer buyin'; though there weren't no need fer the worse line I ever heard." She grinned and set the hat on her head at a jaunty angle. "Follow me. I got a table in the corner."

With that she turned and gave a swift kick in the pants to a wall of a man blocking her movement. "Move it, Seamus! Yer between me an' a drink!"

He turned, scowling at his attacker until he saw her grinning up at him, and then he merely laughed and moved out of the way.

Hobbes smirked slightly, "No need, perhaps, but I did get your attention at the very least." He inclined his head when she told him to follow her, "Gladly. The view is excellent from this perspective." He was glad that she had thought ahead. He could have made individuals abandon the choicest seats, but throwing his weight around that way could be memorable. Hobbes tilted his head when the woman kicked Seamus in the backside, and shook his head slightly when the burly fellow only laughed. He quietly commented, "A good sport, that one."

She smirked at Hobbes and pushed her way through to a table in a dimly lit corner. There was one bench against the wall facing the room. She slid into it and patted the empty space beside her with one hand while holding up two fingers to a tavern wench on the other side of the room.

He smiled in return, detached his rapier from his belt, and slid in beside her. Hobbes turned slightly, as casual as any of the regular patrons, but with all the appearance of a man interested in wooing the
slender woman beside him. One arm was on the table, the other on the uncomfortably straight back of the bench, and his body language said he was open to her and whatever she might have to say. "I am Hobbes, and you are by far the most unique woman I have encountered in some time."

She laughed, turning her upper body to face him. She tilted her hat to shadow her face from the room. "I am Juliana," she said, all traces of her rough accent and speech patterns gone. She raised a slender fingered hand to chest, toying with the neck of his vest and giving the appearance of a woman being wooed. "Captain of The Lusty Wench when needed, and The Wind Rose other times."

"Juliana, " Hobbes repeated carefully, assigning the name some significance with his tone and inflection, making it sound like the most pleasant of discoveries.

"You certainly stand out in a crowd yourself."

He inclined his head at her compliment, and leaned towards her, to whisper as a potential lover might. "I have found that the best disguise is no disguise at all." His breath his warm against her skin, and pleasant in scent, without a hint of ale or grog, though perhaps a touch of expensive tobacco. "My duties have been most onerous, indeed, to keep me from making your acquaintance."

He smiled the soft smile of a rake attempting to convince a lovely maid, and leaned almost imperceptibly towards her touch. His own hand rested upon her leg, on her outer thigh, just north of her knee; his fingers curling slightly against toned muscle. "Is the former named for her Captain, or the latter?"

She laughed as a woman charmed. "That ship is named for my mother, actually. I inherited both from my father." Her head tilted to one side, as if offering up her neck for his tender ministrations. "I am not often in Amber. I find it…." she leaned forward slightly and breathed near his ear: "Confining."

She pulled back enough so that he could clearly see the mischievousness in her eyes. "Your place or mine? My ship is in dock."

Hobbes met her eyes, his blue gaze as intense as lightning bolts. "If you have the manacles, lovely Juliana, I have the time." He smirked slightly, "Your place. It is closer." His lips brushed the lobe of her ear. "And we must maintain appearances, No?"

"Woe. The things I am forced to deal with for Crown and Country." She winked slyly and downed then downed the rum that had been set in front them while they had been occupied. From her corner, she gestured for him to exit the bench.

Hobbes slugged back his drink as well, eyed the glass for a moment, and then slid off the bench. He waited for her, and in the manner of a young gentleman, he offered her his arm and waited to be led out. Hobbes smiled warmly, and quietly replied, "Truly. We are patriots."

Chuckling, she tossed a couple of coins on the table before taking his arm. She leaned in close as they walked out. The weather beaten old man gave her a scant nod as she they passed him, and soon they were back out in the night walking towards the docks.

She pointed towards a tall, three masted frigate sitting proudly under the moonlight. It's position allowed it easy egress should they need to leave quickly, and he could see as they approached that at least half the gun ports were open. This was normally not done when a ship was in port, but there were also men hanging from ropes at the ports making repairs - or pretending to at any rate.

Hobbes walked easily with her, his cheeks somehow made a little pink, as if from inebriation or affection or some combination of the two. He smiled at the sight of the frigate, and whistled. "A fine looking vessel, though her Captain is finer still." Hobbes smirked slyly, and gave Juliana a long look out of the corner of his eye. "She seems to have long masts that go from here to there, and I'd love to get my
hands on her guns." He tilted his head to one side in thought, "She's ready to go, I see."

"The best are always ready," she smirked, and then laughed. The sound caused a handful of passing dock folk to leer at the pair, but she paid them no mind as they hit the wooden planks of the pier.

The Lusty Wench gleamed darkly in the moonlight. The scrolling gold script that named her seemed to glow in the dim light. The figurehead depicted a particularly saucy looking busty wench with tumbling curls and cleavage to drive a priest to confession.

"Granizo do baralho!" called the woman at his side.

"Granizo o Capitão!" came the rather cheeky sounding response.

Juliana snorted and dropped Hobbes' arm to lead him up the gangplank.

Hobbes ran his eyes over the figurehead and smiled in amusement. He looked up at the hail, and tilted his head slightly at the language in user. Then he turned to Juliana as she moved along the gangplank. He took a glance around and followed her briskly. He boots dropped to the deck with only a slight sound, and his eyes turned to Juliana, almost glowing in their intensity. "When do I get to see what she can do?"

She accepted the swept hilt rapier being offered to her by one of the crew, and turned to Hobbs as she strapped it back on. "That depends on how much time you have tonight. Most of the crew is onboard, since we only put into port for our meeting."

Hobbes looked around, and there was a subtle feeling of him filling more space than physically possible. He was standing near to Juliana, the knuckles of his hand brushing hers, still the interested lover, but it was as if he doubled and tripled in size for a moment, and then was simply Hobbes again. Very quietly, he said, "Let us go inside then. The night has eyes that don't always belong to men." Then Hobbes smiled slyly, "Manhandle me as you would, and I'll play along."

Juliana nodded and gestured for him to follow as she headed for the forecastle and the entrance to the Captain's quarters.

"Modesto!" she calls to a swarthy man just dropping from the rigging. "Take us out for a short cruise. Keep the coast in view, and mind the time. I want to be back in time to collect those on shore and sail again before dawn."

"Aye!"

Pushing the door open as activity increased around them, she stepped aside to allow Hobbes to enter the cabin.

Paneled with the rich gold of eucalyptus wood, the room was spacious as the ship allowed. It was dominated by a large desk of golden oak, carved with roses and birds. The chair behind and the bench in front were covered in red leather. To one side he could see the red velvet curtained bed, gold tassled ties hanging from the canopy posts. It was not a large bed, and would only have slept two if they were very fond of each other. Brass lanterns gleamed in the light casts from them. Juliana moved about the room, turning up a few of the lamps before stopping in front of one of the built in cabinets and drawing out a decanter of crystal and two glasses.

"Have a seat."

Hobbes entered behind her and stood by the door. The rolling of the deck seemed not to affect him, though he did not quite have his 'sea legs' again yet, it was clear he was no stranger to deep water sailing. His eyes moved around the room, and then settled on Juliana as she moved around the room lighting the lamps. When invited to sit, Hobbes moved to do so, settling onto the bench in front of the desk. He eyed the decanter with a smile, and then closed his eyes for a moment, tilting his head slightly, before he opened them again.

"I had no idea whom I would find in that tavern. I must say you are a pleasant surprise."

She chuckled while pouring the amber liquid into the brandy snifters carved to look like rosebuds. "Not many people say that. But then, they're usually on the other side of my gun ports."

"Even then, still more interesting." Hobbes declared, "I'd rather be killed by a woman. A romantic notion, perhaps, but with a woman, all manner of tales can be concocted. People rather expect men to kill each other." He shrugged elegantly, and for a moment seemed very much like a great cat in repose; relaxed, but still somehow dynamic. "I believe it is safe enough to speak plainly, though when I leave the ship, I'll be sure to do so with a large smile in order to protect your reputation."

Laughing, she took her seat in the large padded chair on the other side of the desk. The windows behind her framed her in moonlight. Juliana unbuttoned the top two buttons of her jacket, leaned back in her seat and took a drink of the exceptional brandy. She closed her eyes, appreciating the distinct flavors of the drink. Then she got down to business.

"What does he want done?"

Hobbes took up the other glass, and reached into his vest. He pulled out a black leather wallet, opened it with one hand, and let a folded piece of parchment slide onto the desk. It was sealed by wax and
Oberon's signet ring. Hobbes then shook his hand, and the black leather disappeared. "Wait." He said before she could reach it, and then held out his hand. "You'll need the counter-spell before you open it. Take my hand, please."

Assuming she does, she would feel e brief tingle as Hobbes whispered a few words, and then sat back. He nodded at the message. "I have no idea what he wants done. I am but the messenger."

Juliana eyed the packet a moment, then swept it into her desk drawer. "I shall look at it later," she decided. "It cannot be too urgent. He would have said something more than 'meet them sometime this evening'."

"To be quite honest, Juliana, it could be desperately urgent. The time was left loose in case I encountered interference. I didn't, nothing that slowed me down anyway." Hobbes sipped the fine liquor and sighed softly. "I was asked not to waste any time in delivery, and to make sure you received the orders by any means necessary. That turned out to be braving that tavern accoutered far better than the dress code required."

"Doubtless it has something to do with one of the wars."

"Bah," she grumbled, but pulled it out of the desk and opened it without breaking the seal. She hummed curiously and then got up to find a map from her collection in the cubbyholes on the other side of the room.

After consulting the map that she didn't show him and her water clock, she returned to her desk. "It will cut the night sailing short, but it isn't something I need to do right this hour. It gives me time to gather provisions, but since I already had people doing that since we docked, I don't have to waste time now."

"Excellent then." Hobbes replied sipping the fine liquor, and sighing. "So, where have you been hiding yourself? Your ship is rarely in Amber's port, from what I understand. When I was dispatched, I was warned that it might take a little bit of effort to uncover." He smiled, and gestured at his lack of sleeves. "So I rolled up my sleeves, and went to work."

She smirked and leaned back to put her feet on the desk. "The best things are those you have to work for." Juliana took a sip from the glass and then rolled the crystal between her palms. "I can do more for him away from Amber. He has plenty of others he can call on for tasks nearer to home. Not everyone can bull their way through a blockade."

Hobbes smiled, "Indeed so. Anything worth having, is worth the effort of acquisition." He drank from his own glass, closing his eyes, savoring the liquor. "Indeed not. Blockades are cumbersome, and I like to travel light. Penetrating such is best left to you and this fine vessel, while I see to the less public tasks." Hobbes opened his brilliantly blue eyes and smiled, "At least this one turned out to be shockingly pleasant." He drank a bit more, and casually asked, "What make you of things in Amber? Have you looked upon the Grand Design?"

"I am really not in Amber enough to have an opinion," she shrugged before taking another drink. "I have seen the great squiggle, but I have not had the time to dance it. As I said, I am not in Amber often." Juliana smiled then and stood. "Come. Let us sit up on deck and enjoy the air. There's a perfectly comfortable bench on the stern deck not getting any use at the moment."

[Game called before completion]


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