"E-excuse me, but-" he began, but the other man waved him into silence.
"There'll be a time fer questions, young lad," he said good-naturedly. "Though I might ask ye why ye were attemptin' to pilfer the purse of a smuggler."
"Sm'ggler?" Oliver croaked, rubbing at his throat with his free hand. "But-"
Again the man interrupted Oliver, seeming to predict what questions he was about to ask. "The dust, lad, t'damn dust! Not to mention the way t'cocky bugger carried himself. He's been through the smugglin' tunnels all morn, I'll wager, shifting their latest haul. Stronger than the merchant families, are the smugglers. Ah, we're here."
A length of hemp swung in the ocean breeze, twisted into the all-too-familiar hangman's knot. It was the Gibbet, a tavern with an infamy as great as its namesake in Cand�ria. Oliver's mysterious rescuer straightened his hat and gestured towards the thick, heavy door. Oliver gulped nervously, as there were some places his type just didn't go, and the known den of the ocean's fiercest pirates was one of them. Thieves that were caught were left to the designs of their victims, a punishment all the worse when the victim was a sadistic pirate captain used to keeping the strictest order.
"In there?" Oliver managed to say, but his exclamation of surprise dwindled into a dry cough. The man nodded and dragged him inside, his grip too strong for Oliver to even consider pulling away without hurting his wrist greatly. Nervously, he trailed along inside.
The air inside the inn was smokey with the fumes of dozens of pipes and cigarettes. It hung like storm clouds boiling, wrapping itself around people and rolling away as the opening door sent a burst of fresh air into the room. The strange man marched straight over to a small table in the corner, practically flung Oliver into a seat and then sat down himself, his hand finally off Oliver's wrist. He held up three fingers at the barmaid, who smiled at him, and winked at Oliver.
"So, me lad, let's start by names. I don't believe I've ever caught yours, Oliver."
"It's-" began Oliver, before running what the stranger had said through his ears again. The man laughed uproariously, making the silver loops in his ears and lip jangle about.
"Oh yes, Oliver, I ken well about ye. I've had ye followed fer many a day now," the man said, and nodded at the barmaid as she set down two mugs of lukewarm ale and a small bowl of the same stuff. "My name, in full, is Captain Andreas Seribro. A privateer and gen'lman of fortune."
"A pirate," said Oliver, taking a small tentative sip at his ale. It wasn't the best ale he'd ever tasted, but it was the strongest. He kept darting his glance down to the small bowl by Seribro's mug.
"Aye, I'd guess ye'd wonder about that," said Seribro, not taking his gaze from Oliver. He put his fingers in his mouth and whistled sharply, a harsh and shrill note that hurt Oliver's ears. Before he knew it, a dark shape cut overhead and settled on Sebiro's left shoulder.
It wasn't a parrot, or a raven, or even a falcon, but seemed to fall somewhere between. It was black, like a raven, but had a head like some bastard cross of parrot and falcon. In short, he didn't know exactly what it was but it eyed him with a glassy stare.
"Aha! This 'ere is my trusted compatriot, Bosun," chuckled Seribro. He ran a finger down the strange bird's back. "Drink up, ye daft sod, I ain't buyin' ye a drink agin if ye squander this one."
The bird gave a funny little caw and fluttered down from Seribro's shoulder to settle at the bowl. While it drank Seribro stroked its neck.
"So this is how ye knew of the pockets? Ye've had a mongrel bird spy on me?" Oliver asked, bitter that he hadn't spotted the scruffy creature before.
"Amongst other things, aye," said Seribro quietly, "An' Bosun's a purebred, ye'll ken."
"A purebred what?"
"Not sure, but he's surely a purebred of whatever he is. Now," he slipped a hand inside a voluminous pocket and drew out a long, shiny ingot. He set it down on the table with a light thud. "Can ye tell mewhat ye think this be?"
"I know what it surely can't be," Oliver said, the shake in his voice returning even though the ale had soothed it a time ago, "because you'd have to be long dead to carry this with you." He ran a finger across the silver ingot, lingering at the royal seal of King Philipe.
"Merely a small sample from t'treasure of Captain Resage, plundered frae the pocket a' the fat-arsed king," spoke Seribro quietly. "From whence this beauty came from lies riches that made every man aboar' Resage's ship rich beyond their dreams."
Seribro laid a hand across the ingot and drew it closer. "A'course, riches ain't no good fer a dead man. Like all know, Resage and his crew are long gone and all t'riches lies at the bottom of the sea." He tapped the ingot with a ragged fingernail. "Where nae man can reach them, a'though many may have tried."
"Why tell me all this?"Oliver asked. This short, cryptic tale had piqued his interest, as both of them knew well. "I'm no cabin boy."
"Yet," said Seribro, grinning. He slipped the ingot back into his pocket and took a long draught on his ale. "Ye've got a sharp wit, boy," he said, "and I need someone wit' yer light fingers. What do ye say?"