Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Chapter 28 (At last!) (As said by SW)

A/N: Sorry it's been so long since I updated, but I've been away taking classes at a college for a week. It was super fun. Anyway, this was an amusing chapter to write. The first part was originally going to be a drabble, but it fit too perfectly with the chapter. And I DID do my research to see if it actually tasted good (It does…)

Luckily for them, the townsfolk were used to drunken sailors acting crazy, so barely any of them were staring. The problem was, though, that Singe wasn't drunk.

"This stuff is amazing!" he shouted, shaking his spoon at Deryn. "I can't believe you don't like it, Dylan!"

She merely raised an eyebrow at him, and Alek tried not to laugh. Both the way Singe shoveled down the yogurt and how Deryn carefully avoided looking at him doing so were terribly amusing.

"That's disgusting," she moaned, swatting half-heartedly in the midshipman's direction. "Would you barking cut that out?"

Her hand fell to the table with a clatter, a bare centimeter from Alek's, stirring up the steam coming off of their mugs. It was deathly cold, being this far north, let alone the fact that it was still winter. The three of them were bundled in a second layer of clothes and still shivering, their breath fogging the moment it left their mouths.

And yet, this was one of the best days of Alek's life.

They'd wandered through town already, and stopped at a quaint little foreign foods café on the square when it had begun to drizzle. It had lasted a mere minute, but Alek was glad for the respite from Singe's crazy fascination with window shopping and Deryn's utter lack of attention to it. She'd been busy watching all the men, eagerly taking in their mannerisms and copying them almost flawlessly.

Alek had been busy watching her.

"Mmm…" Singe waggled his eyebrows at Deryn, enjoying taunting her. She bit her lip and swiped the bowl of yogurt from his hand, dumping it in his coffee.

"Is it so delicious now?" She challenged him. Singe's eyes bugged out, and he stared pitifully at the dissolving mound in his cup.

"Now why'd you go and do that?" he pouted.

"For fun," Deryn said, one eyebrow arched. "Go on. See if you like it now."

Alek bit his tongue laughing, and he stopped paying attention to the midshipman just long enough for him to take a big gulp of the contaminated drink.

Now a few passersby were beginning to take interest, but at least they did it discreetly. They watched over top of their newspapers or ate their food absently, waiting to witness what would happen next. Maybe some expected a fight to break out.

Disappointed in having not seen the boy's initial reaction, Alek kept his eyes riveted on the pair. Singe pursed his lips, contemplating, and then broke out into a huge grin. "Blisters, that's sodding brilliant," he gasped, and then took what was left of his yogurt and slopped it into Alek's coffee, slogging down the rest of his own. "Go on, try it!"

Alek watched the slowly melting, light purple lump in the middle of his mug with distaste, sure that there would be blueberries waiting for him at the bottom. He picked up his spoon and stalled by swirling it around until his coffee had become a creamy brown. Avoiding Deryn's acid gaze, he brought the cup to his lip and sipped.

Black coffee was not something Alek usually liked, but he didn't want to spare even the extra farthing on cream. So when the strong bitterness filled his mouth, he wasn't surprised. But the light taste of blueberry juice took the worst of the tart flavor away, and that was what lingered on his tongue, like the candies his mother used to give him for behaving the few times he'd been in public when his parents were still alive.

It felt like the eyes of the entire square were on him, collectively holding their breath for his verdict.

Careful to keep his tone neutral and his face blank, he said, "It's not bad." It was cowardly of him, he knew, but he couldn't humiliate Deryn in front of so many people, and he couldn't outright lie. So he chose a safe middle ground. "Why don't you try it, Dylan?"
She glared at him, hard, and shuddered. "You couldn't pay me five pounds to do that," she growled.

"Oh, come now, I think we could come to an agreement," Alek coaxed her, holding out the glass. "It's really just the same as putting cream in, and a few blueberries."
The girl must have seen the message in his eyes, because she grudgingly took the coffee and gulped down a small bit. She leaped straight into the air, shouting, "Blisters, that's sodding brilliant!"

It took Alek a moment to realize just how sarcastic she was being, giving her just enough time to lean behind a bush and fake gag.

"Barking terrible, really," she said once the laughter from their audience had died down.
He could see how only the count and Bovril had seen through her disguise. They were so distracted by her boyish charm that the thought would ever occur to them, and no one would want to believe that someone so purely entertaining could possibly be anyone other than who he said he was.

Alek sighed.

"Well, then," he concluded, fishing through his pocket and pulling out a few small coins. "We'd better be off."

"Aye," Singe agreed, and Deryn nodded. They both slapped a coin or two on the table, standing up at nearly the same time. Singe burrowed more deeply in his pocket to find enough for a tub of yogurt to bring back to the Leviathan.

In moments, they were strolling through town again, the gravel of the street grinding under their boots. Alek noticed the difference between his and the other two's. He still wore the boots of his Hapsburg Guard uniform, now repaired several times with the soles almost worn through, and suddenly an idea popped into his mind. Putting his hand back into his pocket, he counted out how much money he had left.

"Dylan, do you mind if we take one more stop before returning?" Alek asked experimentally.

She shrugged.

"We've got until sundown," Singe reminded them. Much to the disappointment of the crew, the captain had announced their curfew as such, which meant the ever-popular nights of drinking and dancing were just out of reach of the weary sky sailors.

"Of course," Alek agreed. "I'm in need of new attire, if I remember correctly." He shot Deryn a glare, making sure she remembered the Society's New Year's party when he'd lost an arm wrestling competition and ended up wearing a dress, and the only reason Deryn had given as to her motives was that she'd wanted to see him in something other than his usual uniform.

"It's about barking time," was all she said.

"I saw a nice little shop on the way here, about a block down," Singe said, pointing to their left. "The prices looked good on their jackets and trousers. The boots were a little pricy, though."

Alek sighed, following the midshipman. Singe's ability to remember things was like Deryn's to track down food—uncanny, amusing, and the slightest bit unsettling.

They stopped in front of a door tucked in between a sweet shop and a hotel, so small that it seemed like an afterthought. Letters painted above the window read, "Paul's Fine Apparel". The small, faded awning was barely as wide as Alek was tall and spanned half the length of the storefront, a thick layer of snow nestled firmly on the top.

Alek would never have looked twice at a place like this in his old life—that's how he thought of it now—, let alone shopped in it.

A bell above the door dinged as he pushed it open, and a heavy-set old man lumbered out from the back. "Hello, and welcome to Paul's. How may I help you?" he said a bit tiredly, but the look on his face said he was happy to have customers.

"I'd like to find a new set of clothes, please," Alek said. "If you could just adjust some ready made things, it would be much appreciated. I haven't enough money for newly tailored clothes," he admitted.

The man looked him up and down, and nodded. "That'll be simple enough. A bit scrawny, aren't ya?"

Alek blinked, looking down at himself. Indeed, he had lost a few pounds since he'd lived in a castle, but he hadn't thought it to be so apparent. He just looked more like Deryn or Singe now instead of a prince, and that didn't bother him in the slightest.

"Can I do anything for the two of you?" he asked, turning to the others. Deryn shook her head, and Singe shrugged, stepping back. "Well, then, it'll be about fifteen minutes. I'll have this lad back to you soon."

He shooed Deryn and Singe off, pulling out some light brown trousers and a tunic of dark blue.

"If we just take this in a little, it should do ya fine." He instructed Alek to don the shirt, and the moment Alek had his off, the coldness hit his chest with a fury. Shivering, he pulled the other on quickly. It was soft against his skin.

Alek stood awkwardly under the seamster's scrutiny. The man saw his discomfort, pursed his lips, and began to make conversation.

"So what's a lad like you doin' up here? You ain't a midshipman, I can tell that."

He frowned, pondering on whether to tell the man his position. "I work for the Zoological
Society of London, Sir, and am here on a diplomatic mission."

"Hmm," the man—Paul, Alek guessed—said. "I know why you're here."

Alek jerked, narrowly avoiding a needle prick. "Pardon me?"

"Everyone's heard the rumors, Lad. Hold still." He pulled a needle through the under arm of the shirt, and instantly that side seemed to fit better. Alek gulped uncertainly.

"About the Sultan," the man told him, "A boy like you's certainly heard about what happened to him in their revolution?"

"He was kidnapped by the Kizlar Agha," Alek offered, and Paul nodded.

"And taken to somewhere mysterious for his own safety. No one's supposed to know where he is, but 'round here, we think he's in the hills on the British Mainland, hiding out, plotting his own comeback with the Clankers."

"I see," Alek said, realizing this was the wild gossip of bored villagers, "And you think we're here to put a stop to him."

"Sharp as a tack you are," Paul mumbled, rolling his eyes. There was a pause as he had Alek pull on the trousers next. Then he asked, "So, are ye'?"

Alek sighed, his nerves now settled, and decided to let the man have something to tell his mates at the bar tonight. "Well, I can neither confirm nor deny that," he said elusively, which made it blatantly obvious what the man would assume the true answer to be.

"Ah, yes." He pulled the needle through swiftly a few more times and bit the end of the thread, tying it. Nodding appreciatively at his work, he held out his hand for payment, and Alek dropped the coins into his hand.

He waved goodbye as he left, clothes in hand, and met up with Singe and Deryn at the end of the street.

As they passed back through the square on their way back to the ship, Alek smiled, seeing that the café's advertizing blackboard had a new item chalked on:

Yogurt in coffee.

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