They sat on the gently sloping roof of a cottage, one of the many little dwellings that clung to the sides of the valley. A valley currently occupied – dominated, rather, by the massive skysail.
The vessel's wooden hull blotted out the sun for many of the more rickety homes at the valley's bottom, and though its sails were folded along its sides like the wings of a bird, the sound of the wind riffling through sailcloth was inescapable. The smoke from the furnace that kept its envelope heated was just as pervasive.
“It's a beautiful ship,” the woman said. Dark-haired and dark-eyed, she sat girlishly, with her wineglass in one dainty hand. “But you've yet to set foot on deck?”
The man wore the uniform of a Royal Navy lieutenant. His perfect features were not so much young, as untouched by life, swathed in a halo of short golden curls. “I felt like taking in the village first. All work and no play, as they say.”
She giggled and raised her glass. “To play! May you find escape from your worries, however long it lasts.”
He laughed and raised his own glass. As he swigged back the wine, he didn't notice that the woman drank none of her own.
“What was your name again?” the woman said. “Nicholas Weatherly?”
He set down his glass and leaned back on the roof tiles. “That's me.”
“And you're the new second mate of the HMS Cockatrice?”
He nodded and yawned. “Exciting, isn't it? I feel perfectly exhausted.”
She leant across to kiss his temple. “Close your eyes and sleep a while. The night is still young.”
The Cockatrice would soon be underway, and the captain oversaw the loading of the last of her passengers and cargo from the quarterdeck. A stocky man, his left cheek proudly bore the scar of some freebooter's cutlass.
“Cutting it a bit fine, lieutenant,” he quipped, as a young man of uncommon delicacy approached and snapped a perfect salute.
“Sorry sir,” the officer replied, removing his bicorne. His long black hair was tied into a neat ponytail. “Lieutenant Weatherly, reporting for duty.”
The captain was about to rebuke the man further when a sailor blundered past, shooting the lieutenant a strange look that was returned with a frown.
“We seem to have picked up a lot of new crewmen at this stop,” the captain sighed. “So many unfamiliar faces.”
The lieutenant suppressed a smile. “Don't worry, sir. I have absolute confidence in their loyalty.”