The blacksmith’s apprentice, a young boy not much older than twelve, stares back at her with a dirty face and an impish grin. His hammer, which he had been using to bang out an unwanted bend in a wrought iron pole, has ceased its racket. It hangs suspended in the air between them.
“Hope you got your money’s worth, miss,” he says. He pats his coat pocket with three grimy fingers. Seranai grimaces as though the boy has delivered her a sharp slap to the face. She thinks of the copper coins she gave him in exchange for borrowing his donkey—of the cold, diminishing weight of them as they trickled through her fingers and into his outstretched palm. She has not come close to getting her money’s worth, in fact.
She stalks towards the door without another word to the rotten boy.
“Don’t be too sorely put out, love,” leaks a voice from the shadows. Seranai pauses. Her grey eyes travel curiously towards the far side of the room. The silhouette of a lanky man perches lazily against a dust-ridden table. His fingers tap idly against his thigh in a fervid rat-tat-tat.
“Excuse me?” she asks, taking a cautious step in his direction. The muddied hem of her gown disturbs the sawdust that litters the floor and she is suddenly haloed in a ruddy cloud of dust. The man lets out a throaty laugh. From beneath the shadow cast by his tricorn cap she can see the glistening sheen of a golden tooth or two.
“I’m only saying, you aren’t the cap’n’s type anyhow. You shouldn’t waste time being bitter at him.” His fingers fall still against his leg and she notices that the beds of his nails are yellowed from tobacco.
An affected sigh draws her gaze back to his face. A crooked grin teases at one corner of his lips. “Now me, I would have paid good mind to you if you walked my way.”
He hops off of the table, flicking his hat upwards upon his head with one dirty finger. The dusty afternoon light that pours in through the soiled windowpanes falls across his features. A full-blown grin cuts across his jaw, shaded with unkempt scruff. A pair of shockingly golden eyes stare her shamelessly up and down from beneath wild, black hair. She fidgets uncomfortably beneath his gaze, becoming suddenly aware of the silence that grips the room. With mild agitation, she realizes that the young apprentice is hanging on to their every word.
Nosy brat. She raises her chin, glancing down at the gangling man from the tip of her upturned nose.
“I don’t consort with pirates,” she remarks.
“I’d reckon you don’t,” he agrees. He takes a step closer to her, those golden eyes studying her with far too much familiarity for her liking. “I don’t know what your game is, love, but I think I’d like to find out.”
“I’m not playing a game,” she retorts, feeling uncomfortable.
The crooked grin on his face widens. “We’ll see, won’t we?” His hand encloses about her elbow, his slender fingers becoming lost in the fragile white lace that borders the hem of her sleeve. His grip is too tight as he draws her in close. Leaning down, he places his lips by her ear.
She can smell the pungent reek of ale on his breath as he whispers, “I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty. Remember that, if you ever need something done right.”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind,” she snaps with insincerity, wrenching her arm from his grasp. Before her, his lingering gaze is making her skin crawl.
“Who are you, anyway?” she demands.
He sweeps his tricorn hat from his head in a grand gesture, bowing low. His tangled black hair falls into his face, momentarily obscuring those strange, golden eyes.
“Evander the Hawk,” he says. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”