Chapter 19 - Alex

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Walking into Captain Ilona's quarters was like walking into Sebastian's chamber the hour after Lady Viviane's weekly deep-cleaning routine.

In the air hung the strong smell of freshly sliced fruit, an unexpected delicacy at sea. The front of the room was furnished with three leather chairs surrounding a round mahogany table, on top a long golden tankard accompanying two crystal glasses—one filled with a pinkish liquid, the other empty. From the roof hung a make-shift chandelier made out of an old, battered helm. The short candles weren't lit and would have to be replaced if they required more than the dim light that shone through the dark-tinted porthole in the door.

"Take a seat," Captain Ilona offered as she sat down, gesticulating at the chair in front of her.

Alex couldn't get over it. She was an actual Captain—a female Captain. Women on the Jade Islands did have the same opportunities as men.

"Want a drink?" her white-haired son asked. The chains around the closet rattled as he opened the lock with a small key from the golden bracelet on his left wrist.

"Yes." Alex winced as he looked up to her, his eyes seemingly translucent, like he was a ghost instead of a man—Len's ghost. Her lips tingled as they recalled his kiss of death.

How close was she to her own sea-grave?

"Yeah, yeah," Captain Ilona said, scowling. "You're still alive. Panu's real, flesh and blood. Not a magician. Take a seat, Greeny."

"I didn't think he was..." Alex trailed off. She clutched her hand to her aching ribs as she took a seat. "I'd like a drink, yes."

Panu placed the crystal glass in front of her and grabbed the tankard, pouring the pinkish liquid into her glass, then his. Her nostrils filled with the strong fruity scent.

She waited for him to drink before taking a hesitant sip. Bitter yet sweeter than Palm Tears, it tasted of more, but she refrained from taking it all in at once.

Panu grinned, his face screwed up in a taunting grimace. "As if we would poison you."

"I just don't want to get drunk," Alex said.

"Afraid you won't remember your made-up backstory anymore?" Captain Ilona neither smiled nor blinked. "Tell me. Why would a young Greenlander woman be floating in the middle of the Jade Sea, and why would said castaway be so eager to get to Mora?"

"My father..." Alex began the same tale she had told Kaisa.

Captain Ilona made a waving gesture with her hand. "I'm not interested in dear old dead daddy—why are you here?"

Alex's breath hitched, the muscles around her ribs cramping up, shooting sharp pains up. "I'm..." She settled for the truth that would hopefully gain the most sympathy from his female Captain. "... running away from marriage. I hate The Greenlands. I hate the way they treat their women, as if we can't do anything but be pretty, clean the house, and bear children. I can do so much more—I can fight."

"I saw you," Captain Ilona said. "You're decent." Before Alex could recover from that statement, she added, "Why the Morians?"

"I heard tales about them..."

"What tales?" Panu asked eagerly.

"Of them attacking the harbours in the south. Both men and women. It seems a better life than getting married to some sleazy officer."

"They always steal our thunder, mum," Panu said.

Captain Ilona hummed. "But you don't necessarily wish to join the Morians?"

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