The food was delicious. Almost as good as being at home in the castle. Jace sat to the Captain’s left, his eyes barely leaving his plate as he ate slowly. The chaos around him was confusing.
These pirates were barbarians-he’d seen it with his own eyes. He’d seen the delight in their eyes as they ran their swords through those other men. He’d seen the sheer greed on their faces as they’d ransacked and pillaged the ship’s cargo. And he’d seen the sheer terror on the other crewman’s face as he’d hidden-knowing the end he’d meet if he was found.
And yet-they seemed like a perfectly nice group of people. Alec and Magnus were cuddled together, feeding each other morsels as they laughed and joked with Isabelle and Clary. Nobody bat an eyelash at the two men, which in itself was puzzling to Jace. He’d never heard of such relations and he wasn’t quite sure if he was okay with it or not.
Also surprising was the fact that the crew was an almost even ratio of women to men. The women also seemed to have just as much power as their male counterparts, something entirely foreign to the prince. His father’s navy was all men. Women in their kingdom were barely more than second class citizens.
He sighed as he speared another bit of potato on his fork, eyeing it carefully before placing it in his mouth. The herbs they’d used to season everything were unfamiliar to Jace, but the flavors burst on his tongue in a spectacular rush of bliss.
“Is everything to your liking, your highness?”
His eyes shot up, expecting a sarcastic jab from the ship’s Captain. But her eyes were guileless and completely sincere. “Uh-yes. Thank you. The meat is delicious and the potatoes are divine. These spices-I’ve never tasted anything like them.”
“Ah, that would be basil, sir. We came by that-” The blonde that spoke paused for a moment, glancing to the woman on her left. “-it was Italy, right?”
The other woman, who looked startlingly like Magnus, nodded. “Correct. That was quite the raid, huh Helen?”
Helen blushed, tipping her head down and snuggling into the other girl’s side.
“Aline, stop teasing her! Gods, you’re a horrible bitch!” Magnus laughed as he tossed a green vegetable Jace had never seen before.
Clary eyed him warily for a moment before she patted Isabelle’s arm gently and turned to face him, leaning her body over her arm and putting her modest bust on display quite nicely. Jace tried to avert his eyes, but a small black design inked onto her skin just above her neckline drew his eyes downward.
“Those are green beans.” She nodded toward Magnus and Aline’s small scale food fight, smiling to herself as she ignored Jace’s heated stare.
“Uh-green beans?” Jace sputtered slightly as he tried to switch gears. Clary nodded, lifting her fork to wave in front of his face. Her emerald eyes were so much greener than the vegetable she was nudging against his lips. Obediently he opened his mouth, biting down slowly as she placed the bean on his tongue. It slipped off the fork easily and he chewed carefully, averting his eyes pointedly as she watched him thoughtfully.
“That’s…uh-good.” His eyes darted down once again before he quickly drew them upwards, his face flushing a muted pink.
Magnus’ laugh drew his attention. “Clary, stop torturing the poor boy! You’d think he’d never seen a pair of breasts before!”
The crew whooped and hollered as his face flared red as a ruby. Clary’s eyes sparkled with happiness as she stood, a pewter tankard in her hand. She raised it slightly and the assembled masses fell silent immediately, raising their own cups and glasses towards her.
“To another well done raid! You all did a superb job.” A resounding holler echoed through the room. “Now, finish the food and drink to your heart’s content! It’s back to work in the morning!”
She threw her head back, gulping down the cool liquid as the crew did the same. Jace sat frozen in oddly fascinated horror, his hand gripping his own cup rigidly. Clary dropped back into her seat, her bare foot coming up to rest against the edge of the table as she pushed the chair back onto two legs. “It’s impolite to forgo drinking after a toast.”
Jace swallowed convulsively as he raised the cup to his lips, throwing his head back to sip at his previously untouched drink. A burning fire shot down his throat and back up through his nose as he choked. He sputtered clumsily as he grabbed the rough linen napkin, hacking and coughing into the fabric as he doubled over. He panted for breath, his ears burning with embarassed rage as the assembled masses laughed at his expense.
He felt a small patch of warmth at his back, though he fought the shiver that tried to rip through him at the touch. “It’s hard liquor. You should’ve seen my first drink of it.”
He raised his face slightly, his eyes lighting on Clary. He noted a slight flash of some foreign emotion cross her features before her fiery curls shook slightly and her face shone with a happy light once again. She discreetly pressed a different cup into his hand, relief spearing through him when he saw it was nothing but cool, clear water. He drank gratefully, slaking his thirst as he ate the last few bites on his plate.
One by one the crew stood to leave, all acknowledging their Captain in some show of respect. Eventually only the dark haired siblings, Magnus, Clary and Jace remained. The young prince was honestly a little afraid to move, not knowing what would come once the spell of dinner had broken.
Isabelle eyed him curiously as he sat silently, his head ducked low as he played with the mismatched cutlery. “So, princeling? If you were home, what would you be doing now? Out patronizing the brothels, no doubt.”
Magnus choked back a snicker as the siblings guffawed. Clary pursed her lips in annoyance as Jace sank back into his chair, his face flushing again.
“Leave him alone Izzy. He’s not used to…our heathen ways.” Clary smirked, though he saw a kindness peeking through her stern facade as she faced her crew. “Alright, your highness. You’ve met quite a few of us today, but these are the most important people for you to know. Magnus is the Quartermaster and Alec is my First Mate, though they tend to share the duties between them. Isabelle is the Second Mate.” She noticed Jace’s wrinkled nose when he didn’t recognize the position. “You’re on a pirate ship, mate. Things are different than on your fancy navy boats.” She snorted inelegantly.
Jace’s spine straightened instinctually, anger surging through him at the insult to his father’s kingdom. “I will have you know that we do not have boats in our Navy! They are ships that cannot be rivaled by any nation! And we have the most skilled sailors in our armada!”
Clary reared back, biting back a smile as she held her hands up in surrender. “Alright, alright! Understood. May I continue?”
The energy suddenly leached out of him, as if an invisible puppeteer had snipped all his strings. He flopped backwards, wincing as his back connected with rough wood. His blonde hair flopped in front of his eyes, a sigh escaping his lips as he hung his head.
A short silence followed. The sounds of chairs scraping drew his attention and he watched as Clary’s lieutenants filed out, Isabelle nudging Alec’s hip slightly as Magnus grabbed his ass. Jace’s face colored again, this time a sharp pang of something unfamiliar shooting through him.
“Come on you highness. You need a good night’s sleep. And I need to figure out what exactly we’re going to do with you.”
Jace followed, his feet dragging down the hallway as Clary stopped to greet any crew member she passed. She doused lanterns and snuffed candles as they made their way to the room at the end of the hall. His brow furrowed when she led him inside and shut the door behind him, plunging them into darkness for a moment. A soft swish preceded the small light of a match , the small glow stealing over her dainty features as she bent to light a candle.
“Is this where you show me to the brig, then?”
He fought gallantly to be nonchalant, though he recognized a slight tremor in his voice. Clary turned to face him, her brilliant tresses fanning dangerously close to the flames as she spun quickly. There was a small furrow between her eyebrows as she frowned. “What would ever give you that idea? I’m giving you my quarters. I just needed to gather a few things before I go bunk with the crew.”
“What?! Why are you giving me your quarters?!”
Sighing, Clary sank into one of the chairs around the small table in the corner. She eyed him warily before bending to retrieve a small flask from behind a large volume on the bottom shelf. “Don’t tell Alec. He tried to hide the rum from me, but he doesn’t know I have a stash.” A small smile pulled the corner of her mouth up as she threw her head back to take a measured sip.
Jace crossed the room, cautiously pulling the other chair from under the table and he sank into it heavily. He leaned back, his arms crossed over his chest as his bare foot tapped.
“Oh, I think I have some boots around here that would probably fit you. I’m sorry, I should have thought of that before.” She waved her hand lazily as she took another swig of the strong smelling liquor. Jace narrowed his eyes at this confounding girl.
“How did you get to be the Captain of such a notorious ship? You can’t be more than 18, but I’ve heard stories about The Institute since I was a boy.” He held back the sarcastic sneer he desperately wanted to unleash, somehow recognizing an odd vulnerability in the slouch of the girl’s shoulders.
Clary raised her emerald eyes to his amber ones, regret pulling her features down into a mockery of the lighthearted girl he’d seen before. Gone was the carefree pirate Captain and in her place was…he wasn’t entirely sure who she was. He shook the thought out of his head immediately. Of course he wasn’t sure who she was. He’d only just met her. Plus, she’d kidnapped him and was holding him hostage. No-he didn’t know her at all and he was quite sure he wanted to either.
“I’m 22, same age as you, your majesty.” She leaned back, kicking her feet up onto the table as she took another pull on the flask. “And the story of how I became Captain will need to wait for another night.” She slapped her leg lightly, swinging her legs down and springing up. She swayed slightly and shook her head as she took deep breaths to steady herself. Her spine straightened resolutely and she bent to stash her rum in it’s hiding spot. “Touch that and you’ll wake up a few parts lighter.”
He heard the laughter in her voice, though it sounded slightly forced. “I think I’ve had more than enough liquor for the night, thank you.”
She smirked, this time the expression genuine. “Then give me a moment and I’ll leave you to your rest.”
He watched from his seat as she flitted to the wardrobe to shove some clothing into a small rucksack, then to the desk where she grabbed a pad of paper from under his elbow. She snatched a few pieces of charcoal off the shelf above the desk, tossing them into a small tin before throwing that into the rucksack as well. Her eyes scanned the cabin and she nodded once she’d surveyed the entire room.
“The chest at the end of the bed has clothes that should fit you relatively well, as well as boots and some soap. When you’d like a bath, just summon one of the crew. They know to attend to anything you may want or need.” She bowed slightly, her hand on the doorknob as she shouldered her bag. “Sleep well, your highness. And may the Gods smile down upon you in your dreams.”
“Why do you address me formally? I’m your prisoner.”
Jace watched her shoulders rise as she sucked in a sharp breath. “You’re no prisoner of mine. You’re simply in my care until we have occasion to return you to your proper place. Sleep well, your majesty.”
The sharp click of the door as it latched behind her sounded abnormally loud. Jace stared at the door, waiting for her to change her mind and escort him below. The moonlight shone in through the small porthole, mocking his absolute conviction that this was all some hoax they’d cooked up to embarrass him further. His head tilted forward as sleep stole over him, the soft rocking of the ship soothing his fears and anxieties, if only for the night.