Captain Lafitte’s open and frank apology surprised Peino. He had not expected nor would have asked for any apology at all, and he certainly had not expected one from the man who had struck him as so arrogant and snide the night before. The simple, unpolished words brought Peino up short, and he turned to regard Lafitte carefully for a moment before he drew himself up to his full height – his head nearly touching the beams above – and lowered himself in a deep and respectful bow.
“Please never think of it again, Captain,” he said. “Or at the least, I hope that any offense you imagine you may have given will be canceled out by the insult of this sparse and underwhelming meal, which sadly is all I can offer under the circumstances.”
He joined Lafitte at the table, smiling as he pulled up a plain wooden chair to the cloth-draped chart table, already set with ship’s pewter and blue and white porcelain. It was true that Peino lived simply on board ship. Compared to others of his class, he lived simply at home in Plesz, too, and was generally known as a man of straightforward tastes who found most of his entertainment in his work and the most indulgent physical comforts on the ocean waves. A true “selkie’s selkie” was Peino Starhand, according the wags and gossips.
But for all that, he was no ascetic, and his caveat about the breakfast laid out for his guest was more manner than fact. As the captains sat facing each other in the wan morning light through the windows that lined the cabin on the aft and starboard sides, a steward-boy stepped out of the corner to lift the lids from the serving plates, revealing the colors and aromas of a selkie breakfast.
“I did not know if you prefer coffee or tea, Captain, so I called for both,” said Peino, waving towards the two, steaming pewter pots. As the boy poured rich, dark coffee into the porcelain cup at Peino’s place, the host introduced the meal to his guest.
“The local oranges are quite delicious, Captain, especially when roasted so, and if I may, please let me steer you towards my cook’s steamed plum buns. She likes to spoil me when we leave port, for I know it will be all fish broth and ship’s crackers once we’re away from land. The butter is made today, very sweet, and aah,” he took a deep breath over a particularly aromatic dish as the boy uncovered it. “I don’t know about you, sir, but there are few ways I like better to start my day than with a hearty kippered herring.”
Without another pause, Peino used the wooden serving forks to lift one of the smoke-dried fish onto his plate, while the steward placed a caramelized, roasted half of an orange beside it.
“Come, come, Captain Lafitte, don’t be shy. The tide, after all, calls. Help yourself, and when we’ve had our first tastes, you must tell me what’s on your mind, sir. Let’s be free with each other, yes?”