V.O.C. of the People

A Reason to Stay

Avinnia’s cabin was not much to look at, particularly now as she had packed up all of her belongings. She was sitting with a few candles lit on a little table. Beyond the table there was no furniture in the room. Not a bed, nor a chair. There were blankets beneath her, likely where she would sleep and a pillow, that she had left out, not having room to take her bed with her.

There was the briefest knock on her door before Smeb entered. It was late into the night, the morning sun likely to rise soon. His eyes darted around, pausing on the many birds and their nests, before stopping on Avi. “Spymaster,” he greeted her.

Avi’s head lifted enough for her too look at him with red and swollen eyes. She pushed her golden and blue hair away, it longer than it had been when they had first met. Her belongings are still packed, tucked away in a bag pressed into her hip. She glanced at him, apprehensively.

Coughing briefly, to clear his throat, he lifted a dark glass bottle that is stained with dust and fingerprints. “I, uh… grog?” he asked, expectantly and with a look of hope in his eyes.

She answered his question with only the smallest nod. “I hope you do not mind sitting on the floor. I’ve never had much use for personal furniture.” Her eyes slipped over to her sleeping birds. “My father would disapprove greatly.”

He pulled two tin tankards from no apparent place and set them on the floor, in front of him, as he fell into a cross-legged position on the floor. He uncorked the bottle and poured two generous portions, before he picked one up and offered it to Avi.

“Your father? What was he like?

“He tried to have me executed,” she responded as she took the mug, her sullen expression was unchanged.

“Yes, fathers will do that.” He paused to take a hearty swig, then wipes his mouth with his sleeve. "In my case, it wasn’t my father, but hers, but execution was on the plate all the same.

“Her’s?” Avi’s gaze had lifted to look at him, a familiar spark of curiosity returned to her sad eyes..

“Sajida.” His eyes fell to his tankard for a moment. “She was my friend. She was of higher birth than I, and it was not my place to keep her company as I did. When he father learned of me, he was most displeased.”

She lifted her own tankard and finally took a small sip. “How did you survive?”

“I found a ship, and hid. When they found me, they were too far at sea to turn back, so they made me work.” His gaze drifted around the room with a glimmer of affection. “I have come a long way from that first job.”

There were a few scatterings of letters that she had written on the floor.

“You do a great job.”

He let a broad smile run across his face and the look in his eyes deepened, before he turned his gaze to Avi. “I do try.” He took another sip, much smaller this time. “I remember hearing you were from Iceland. Is it true that it is always winter up there?”

“It was colder than places we have seen.” Her lips grew tight at the memory. “It was cold in my room at least.”

His gaze narrowed and his eyes focused on her. “Do you miss it?”

“Miss it?” the words left her lips with a bitter laugh that she had not expected. She stared away from him and took another sip. “Miss the gilded cage? The weeks in isolation? The poking and prodding of my father’s doctors looking for a way to cure their mormel of a daughter?”

“So do you?”

“No. Even my sister thought I was a monster. Dashiell was the only one who still cared and he set me free. My father ordered him to kill me and he set me free.” The tears had returned to her, streaming down her cheeks.

He noticed the tears and pulled his head back a bit, but did not withdraw. “So someone did care for you. This makes you a lucky girl. There are many who are not born with your wings or your feathers, but who still do not have any to love them.” He breaks his gaze and notices a finch on Avi’s shoulder. “Even though my family had no love for me, and would do nothing to save me, I still felt pain when we saw Cairo that day.”

She lowered her tankard. “…Cairo…” her voice was only a whisper. “I sent Kharrakh home. I set him free.”

He studied her for a moment. “Kharrakh loved you too, I think, in his own way.” He took another heavy swig. “This evening got sad quickly.” He gestured to the finch. “Where did you find this one?”

She seemed confused by the change of subject but turns her attention to the finch. She stared at it for a long moment, silent and recalling. “They show up everywhere I go. I do not even need to offer to them anymore. This one was not here until after we arrived in port.”

He was quiet for a moment, drinking in Avi and the room, and all the space in between. “I do not wish for you to leave, Avinnia. You are kind, and you are sweet, and you remind me every day of all that is good in both this world and my life.” He breathed softly, for only a second. “And if you leave, I fear others will leave as well. One by one, I will lose everything I have ever wanted, and the best life I have known will slip away from me.”

“They believe I am a mormel, Smeb.” She looked at him with a soft but heartbroken expression. A few strands of her hair slipped into her face. “I thought I had found a family.”

“And what makes you think you have not? Alan is a walking piece of metal who can bring soldiers back from death. Farrah was betrothed to an actual demon. Mel has nam mae with the Ocean, by Allah. This is the greatest family in the world for you, fatat jamila, and they love you more than the sky loves the sea. So what if they think you are mormel. You are mormel, and that is what makes you so special. Like this ship and her outlandish crew, you are from beyond the horizon itself, and it is that very strangeness that makes you beautiful.”

He looked down, suddenly aware that he was standing and breathing heavy. He took a moment to look embarrassed before swallowing it.

“And besides, fighting and hating each other, this is what families do. You hear every story from every family, how they squabble over dinner, how they slam their doors. But you also hear the stories of how they pick up the pieces every time, and come to help when they are needed.” He took a big swig and finished his tankard. “You are needed Avinnia, just as much as I am.”

She watched him, in silence, but with all her attention. She did not know how to respond, or if she had ever been told that she was needed. If she had it had been lost to her. Smeb was not the only one that wanted her to stay, Charlie would too. But she was so sure that the Captain would want her gone after what had happened. And Farrah’s drunken words still pierced her heart.

“I do not want to go, Smeb. I never wanted too. I am so afraid.”

“Then stay, fatat jamila, stay here with your friends, your family. I swear on the ashes of Cairo that If the Captain wants you gone, that I will leave with you.” He paused, reading her. “But he will not.”

She lowered her gaze to her tankard which was only slightly empty. “You are so sure.”

“Sure that you have found a family? Yes, upon this I would stake my life. The Captain is a quiet man, and is slow to make his decisions, but he is not unkind. He-like you, like everyone on this ship-has suffered a great loss, and he is not so callous to send those who need him most away. You will stay. And if you will not stay here, then neither shall I.”

“I do not understand why you would give up your life on this ship over me.”

“I do not believe I will have to.”

Her face crinkled as she wanted to understand but found no answers in his words She sighed ever so softly before taking a larger swallow. “I will remain on the ship.”

He sat back down and refilled his tankard before offering it up for a toast. “I will drink to that.”

She looked at his tankard before lifting up her own. “Thank you, Smeb.”

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