“Auntie Aila!” Essenin launched themself into their auntie’s arms. “How are the ishai? And the offspring?”
It was the minimal polite greeting, but family was different especially when one hadn’t seen an auntie in so long. Unlike Essenin’s mother, who only had two spouses, Auntie Aila’s ishai had grown to four, with an additional meste, a fifth who was still deciding. His mother’s second sister’s first spouse’s sister, Aila was close family and a welcome sight.
“There’s our beautiful one!” She hugged them hard before stepping back to give them a once over. “You look well and strong. The ishai are well and your cousins…” She flicked her fingers at the sea. “All grown and scattered to the waves. We’re lucky they remember they have a parent group sometimes.”
“It’s a surprise to see you here. I thought you were working as a harbor pilot in Cissa?”
Auntie Aila raised and lowered her fin-edged ears in a selak shrug. “I was, but this is more fun. And more lucrative. Just a voyage or two to get the wandering itch out of my bones again. And have you left your Davitts behind?”
“Never!” Essenin laughed and waved back at the ship. “My brave love’s in this mess somewhere.”
“Ess. Tssa, for shame. Isn’t he your ishai yet?”
“We. ah, haven’t gotten quite that far.” Essenin grabbed her hand, careful of the webbing, to distract her from her scolding and dragged her through the crowd until he spotted Davs. “There he is. With our new meste, Zie.”
Essenin nearly stopped in shock when the words tumbled out of their mouth. Zie was just a bed partner, wasn’t he? One who would leave them eventually? Meste, one who was deciding on a permanent relationship, seemed awfully optimistic. But he is deciding, to some extent, anyway. I call it close enough. Davs stayed, didn’t he?
Entirely different, of course. They’d known each other since they were teenagers, had fought together, visited each other’s mothers. They’d been friends for years before they’d decided they had additional feelings for each other. But different circumstances created different sorts of bedfellows, so to speak.
Davs had spotted them and painted on a nervous smile. “Ah, hello.”
While it would’ve been fun to let Davs stew for a bit, trying to figure out which relative stood in front of him, Essenin took pity. “Auntie Aila, you remember my Davitts. And this is Zie.”
She raised an eyebrow at Essenin, but played along. “Of course, I do. We met at your mother’s once.” Both ear fins flicked as she turned to Zie, though. Her tone was gentle and careful as she asked, “Hello, young sylvas. Are you from the Cau Senis mountains?”
“I…” Something in Zie’s rigid stance suggested to Essenin that he was about to lie. Then his shoulders drooped. “No, ma’am.”
That eyebrow pointed Essenin’s way again, clearly asking, what have you gotten yourself into? “I see. You’ve found safe harbor with these two, at least. So, what news from Pellienport?”
Essenin dutifully relayed all the news of relationships, births and major family arguments, while Davs supplied a bit of gossip from the town merchants and the guilds. Auntie Aila reciprocated with stories from her branch of the family, from the ships going in and out of Cissa, and bits of gossip from the pirate ship’s voyage.
“The last bit is something I’ve wondered if it’s right to tell you…”
“Auntie.” Essenin let out an exaggerated sigh. “You can’t start with that and not tell us.”
“Fair.” She nodded, obviously coming to a decision. “There are evil rumors, and that’s why I hesitate. They are, as far as we have seen, only rumors.”
“But?” Davs prompted, rolling a hand for her to go on.
“But there are rumors of a haunted ship. No one is certain if it set out from Cissa or Pellienport. They say the sails are askew and that sailors walk the decks as if they were long dead. Others say the crew is dead, strewn about in pieces and the ship sails itself.”
“Surely those are just ghost stories, Auntie,” Essenin frowned up at her. “Sailors always tell those.”
“There’s something different about this, nibling. Those who’ve seen the ship have a hollow look to them when they speak of it. For them it’s not a story. The fear is real.” She shook her head. “I don’t know the truth of it, but I am sure there’s something evil out on the waves these days. I’m saying to be careful, Ess.”
“I hear you, Auntie. Has anyone been attacked by this strange ship? Threatened by it?”
“None of the stories mention an attack or any ills done other than terrorizing the crews. But they talk of strangely hissed words. Of something evil calling to them. Some have even heard their names called on the wind.”
A heavy thud came from Essenin’s right. Zie had fainted.
Angel writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.