The docks were always bustling; in times of strife, all the more so, whether it be from soldiers going about their business or common people seeking safer refuge – or some few enterprising souls moving into the niche the latter group left. In any case, there was more demand for ships than there were ships to meet that demand, and the mates of many a vessel were going frustrated.

So it might be excused that Second Mate Alek Cooper of the Bounding Stag looked on the ferret he found across from him, wearing the usual flowing robes of the desert clans and bearing a scimitar at his hip, and immediately said, “We’ve no room for passengers or cargo, I’m sorry,” and began to look to the next in line.

“I’m not here for passage,” the ferret replied, pushing back his hood. “I understand you need hands.” His accent was fresh from the dunes, too, polished by wind and sand to something smoother than silk.

“Eh?” Alek refocused his attention on the ferret, blinking at him. “You’re an unlikely sort of sailor, sand-rat. But the Captain would have me strung up on the foremast if I didn’t at least look into it. What useful skills do you have?”

Sebastien reflected on the human’s words. He’d not said “sand-rat” with any particular venom, as some did; harried as he was, any offer of help might well have the man’s full attention. Now he just needed to focus on what skills he’d picked up that might actually be useful aboard ship. “I’m good with ropes and knots,” he offered. “I can cook, and do well making limited preserves palatable and stretching them out. I’m fair with a needle.”

“Hm?” Alek leaned forward a little. “Cloth, leather, or wounds?”

“Mostly cloth, thick or thin,” said Sebastien. “I’ve done some work in leather, and I’ve stitched a few wounds in my time, though I’m no surgeon.”

“And that thing?” A finger sought out the ferret’s scimitar.

“I’m a fair hand with it, if need be.” An understatement, that; Sebastien had bested men twice his age. He’d made a fair life with that blade, and with others like it before he’d earned the right to carry this one; but that wasn’t the sort of work he was seeking, not if he could find something else.

“Hmm.” The human leaned back against his chair again, eyes narrowing slightly. “So what’s the hurry? And,” before Sebastien could protest, “to get ahead of that many people, there had to be some hurrying involved.” There was a nod toward the massive press of people around the docks.

“I don’t want to miss out on a berth,” the ferret responded. “I’m not in any great rush to get out of port, so long as I’ve got a place.”

“Mm. Nobody after your head?”

“Not that I know of.” Sebastien shrugged. “Not the law of anyplace, if that’s what you mean. I’ve probably crossed a few people, but I don’t think badly enough that they’d pursue me even this far, much less out to sea. Certainly nothing that would make anyone want to cut through an entire crew to get to me.” It would probably not be the most delicate thing he could do to say that the few people he’d known who might be crazy enough to do just that were already dead by his hand.

“Okay,” was Alek’s guarded response. “So why are you heading for the sea?”

“I need to… move on,” said the ferret, and shrugged. It wasn’t the easiest thing to articulate. “I’ve shaken sand out of my boots a few times too often for my tastes.”

The mate’s eyes narrowed a bit more. “This is no life for someone out to look at a few new things,” he warned.

“I know,” Sebastien assured him, even as he mentally cursed his tongue. “I’m expecting to work for my berth and pay, sir, not to have them handed to me for breathing. I know how to earn my place – that’s not what I’m trying to leave behind.”

A frown touched the human’s face – more curious than disapproving, or at least Sebastien hoped he was right to read it thus. “Can you swim?”

Drat. That was one question he’d hoped might not be raised. “Only a little,” the ferret admitted.

“That’s not as important as you might think,” Alek assured him. “So long as you can keep your head above water long enough to grab a line – and except in a storm, that’s easier in the ocean than in a lake. If it takes longer than a few minutes… well.” He shrugged. “Our wizard’s good, but she’s no miracle-worker. Anyone but an otter had best make damned sure to get out of the water right quick if they fall in, and your kind,” one finger straightened toward Sebastien’s chest, “far as I know, are even worse off than most.”

“Understood.” Here Sebastien nodded, trying to appear decisive and informed. “I’m told the sea’s as harsh in its own way as the sands, sir, and I can believe it. I’m not expecting the work to be easy, or without some risks. Some of those risks I might be able to help with,” here he patted the pommel of his scimitar, “while others I’m sure I’ll need to take more care to avoid. But I’ve walked these dunes for years, and been carried among them before that. Enough. I’m tired of the same shapeless blur all around me. At least aboard ship,” he gestured out to the ship and the sea beyond, “I’ll probably see at least two different places worth the name.”

The mate laughed, searching among his papers. “All right, you’re in luck. We happen to need another hand in the galley, helping to keep this lot fed. And it sounds like you’ve got enough skills here and there that if you do want to move up, it shouldn’t be hard to find another posting to build those other skills. I’ll send you on up to the first mate to go over the official terms of your hire.” His quill paused in its scratching, holding poised over the inkwell. “Name?”

The ferret relaxed. “Sebastien Mercier.”