Thanks for all the lovely thoughts and kind wishes for us. I just dropped my man off at the airport and am feeling a little low, so I'm posting an excerpt from my enormous fantasy WIP. This way you're not totally bereft until Thursday. I'm trying to finish my rough draft of this story this month, so hopefully soon it'll coalesce into something worth reading all the way through:)
Twelve days later Colm finally met Jaime Windlove, fresh off the ship after three months at sea with his uncle. He burst through the front door of the Cove that evening like a sudden typhoon, calling raucously for food and drink with and appropriating the window table with an ease of expectation that surprised Colm.
Even more surprising was the fact that the two men sitting there gave the table up without a word, just nodding to the young man and his entourage as they got up, one of the tipping his hat and murmuring, “Welcome back, Master Windlove.” The young man inclined his head briefly before ignoring the other man altogether, yelling for Nichol.
“I know you’re here somewhere, you bonny bastard,” he laughed, and his laugh was glorious, the same sort of bright, infectious sound that Nichol had, only deeper, more grown. Nichol was eighteen, two years younger than Colm, and his youth still clung to him with tenacity, softening the lines of his face and the cut of his muscles. Jaime Windlove was either older or taking great pains to appear that way, because his strawberry blond hair was slicked back and tied in a queue at the nape of his neck, and he wore a fine woolen half-cloak around his shoulders, draped to accentuate their broadness. He looked like a military officer, a figure of authority, and obviously his authority wasn’t all imagined.
Colm, who was helping at the bar that evening, turned to Vernon and asked softly, “That’s Jaime Windlove?” just to confirm. Vernon knocked once, then began filling tankards for them. None of the small beer for this group; Vernon poured from the cask of dark brown ale, the finest beer in the inn, and to each added a shot of the vile peppery spirits that Colm disliked so much.
A moment later Nichol burst out of the kitchen, heading straight for Jaime with a shout of glee. Jaime stood to meet him and they embraced, laughing and clapping each other on the back. “When did you get in?” Nichol demanded. “I’ve been looking for you every day, I thought you must have fallen over the side!”
“What kind of clumsy oaf do you take me for, then?” Jaime replied with a grin. “No, I persuaded my uncle to send me back on the last of them, the Peregrine, so I could spend as much time as possible with the fleet. I got to know the captain rather well, and if all goes well I’ll have a berth with his crew by the end of the summer.”
“Will you?” Nichol breathed. “That’s fantastic. Jaime…Jaime, who…”
“As though you even need to ask,” Jaime teased. “Now sit, tell me all the things I’ve missed since I’ve been gone. These boys didn’t have much of interest to report,” he gestured to the other two young men, dressed nicely but not with quite the sense of style that Jaime displayed. Neither of the men looked particularly pleased to be there, but they put on a decent face for Nichol.
“Aye, we’ve not seen each other outside changing shifts for the Sea Guard,” Nichol said. “Although there’s almost as little to report dockside as there is in Blake and Ollie’s posh side of town,” he added with a little smile. “The seas have been sadly calm, not a thing amiss, nothing big breaking the water apart from a pod of whales. Oh! I do have a new friend to introduce. Colm!” he called toward the bar. “Come and meet Jaime and the lads!”
Vernon tapped tray that the four full tankards rested on meaningfully, and Colm brought it with him as he made his way through the press to Jaime’s table. Tonight the taproom was packed, and Colm was grateful that his height allowed him to avoid any bumps and jostles against the tray he carried.
“What?” Jaime said as Colm drew close. “Your friend is the new barman?”
“This is my cousin, Colm Weathercliff,” Nichol explained, taking the tankards from the tray and distributing them around the table.
“Of the Caresfall Weathercliffs?”
“No,” Colm said. He was getting tired of that meaningless comparison.
“He just arrived from the mountains, and he’s already getting a reputation as the best fisherman on these docks,” Nichol boasted, bumping Colm’s hip with his.
“Wait,” Blake said, squinting for a moment as he looked at Colm. “Are you the one who’s been bringing in catches of diving dancers for the past few weeks?” Colm nodded, a bit uneasy at the sudden scrutiny. “My father mentioned you. He says Gullfoot’s lucky to have you; that old drunk’s been living high since you started with him.”
“A fisherman,” Jaime said, a little smile playing around his lips. “Well, that is a fine thing to be. Welcome to Caithmor, Colm Weathercliff.” He said it with a certain gravitas, as though he were speaking for all the city when he welcomed Colm in. Perhaps he felt he was.
“Thank you,” Colm said politely, shaking Jaime’s hand. His palm bore few signs of extensive rope work or ship handling, but perhaps his uncle hadn’t wanted to put him to work when he was there in an unofficial capacity. “I’ve heard much about you.”
“Have you, then?” Jaime smirked at Nichol. “Don’t believe a word this one tells you, it’s all lies.”
“Aye, especially the parts about you being dashing and heroic,” Nichol retorted, and the four of them laughed. Colm picked up the tray and turned to go.
“No, wait!” Nichol caught him by the arm. “Stay a moment, you’ve barely been introduced.”
“Clearly he’s got work to do,” Ollie drawled.
“Aye, picking up your slack,” Jaime said. Nichol looked momentarily stricken.
“Oh, I left Gran in the kitchen—”
“I’ll take care of it,” Colm told him. “Stay. Vernon doesn’t really need me at the bar, I can work in the back. I’ll have food brought out presently.”
“Thank you,” Nichol said sincerely, and that made it worth it for Colm.
As he headed back into the kitchen, Colm heard Jaime remark, “He’s a strange, sallow creature, isn’t he Nicky? Be honest, how do you get on with him?” Colm was thankfully out of earshot before he could hear Nichol’s reply.
“Jaime’s back, then,” Megg said as soon as she caught sight of Colm. He nodded. “Well, Nichol will be happy. Are they eating?”
“Yes. There are three of them,” Colm added, and he was surprised when Megg snorted suddenly.
“Of course there are. Jaime was a good child—his mama grew up just down the way from here, a truly beautiful lass she was—but he’s not had to work for much in his life, I’m afraid. Those other boys who tag along behind them, they’re the sons of merchants, from fairly well-off families. They didn’t bother to set foot in here all spring, didn’t give a whit for how Nichol was faring beyond getting him to cover their shifts in the Sea Guard, and now that Jaime’s back they’re back in my inn, expecting to eat my food and drink my ale for free.”
“They don’t pay to eat here?” Colm asked with a frown.
“Oh, Jaime’s father settles up the tab at the end of every month. Karlson Windlove is a magistrate, and he’s a fair man, I’ll give him that.” Megg pressed her lips tightly shut, as though actively keeping herself from saying any more, and Colm didn’t press. He just took over Nichol’s carving station, laying slices of roast duck on the rows of plates spread out before him. Idra and the other servers grabbed them up almost faster than Colm could prepare them, and the next few hours were blurs of activity, too busy to allow much time to think.
That night Colm went to sleep alone, which didn’t surprise him, but he was surprised to be woken up by Nichol for the first time when the younger man ran into Colm’s feet as he staggered into the room in the dark hours of the morning.
“Sorry!” he apologized, his voice to loud to be called a whisper but obviously trying for that. “I’m sorry, shit, did I break your foot?”
“Not even close,” Colm said, sitting up so he could get a better look at Nichol. He was leaning against the door and swaying forward, looking just moments from falling down altogether. “Don’t move,” Colm cautioned him, pushing off his blanket and getting to his feet. “Let me help you.”
“You don’ need to,” Nichol informed him, the slur of his words belying their meaning. “I’m fine.”
“You’re drunk,” Colm said, bending so that he could get an arm beneath Nichol’s shoulders and help him to his cot. He sat him down and Nichol looked at Colm blearily, then laughed.
“You look pretty in this light.”
Colm chuckled as he bent and got to work untying Nichol’s boots. “You mean I look best in darkness?”
“There’s light here,” Nichol informed him. “’S moonlight, it’s…’s romantic, right? Blake and Ollie say the girls think it’s romantic. They talk to them about moonlight and starlight and, and…what…oh, candlelight! That’s romantic too.”
“And what kind of light does Jaime favor?” Colm asked as he put the boots beneath the cot. Gods, they were filthy. Nichol would have to clean them tomorrow.
Nichol grinned. “Daylight shining on white sails and blue seas, he says. The girls don’t find that as…as romantic. But he doesn’t care.”
“I suppose he doesn’t have to work hard to impress girls,” Colm said, pushing Nichol back onto the thin mattress. He lay down easily enough but forgot to lift up his legs, and leaving them dangling over the side was a knot waiting to happen, so Colm picked them up for him, resettling them with ease.
“Doesn’t work at it at all,” Nichol said, his voice breaking at the end as he yawned widely. “He thinks ships are more beautiful than girls…” He yawned again.
“Rest,” Colm told him, settling back down on his pallet.
“I can’t, I have to ask you something,” Nichol said seriously, rolling onto his side so that he could look at Colm. “It’s important.”
“Ask me, then.”
“Did you like him?”
There was no need to specify who Nichol was referring to. “He seems to be a good friend to you,” Colm said, almost honestly. “I like that about him.”
Nichol frowned. “But you don’t like him?”
“I don’t really know him yet.”
“But you will,” Nichol said confidently. “And when you do, you’ll like him. Just as he’ll like you.” Which meant that Jaime didn’t like Colm yet, but that was no surprise. If Nichol was waiting for that day, Colm had a feeling he’d be disappointed.