Zadari's brow furrowed at the question Ruby had posed for him, and touched a finger to his chin.
"Because I'm not a friend, love." He replied, watching as the other Aos Goetha left and taking her seat. The air she had occupied stank to the sky of herbs and potpourri, but that was neither here nor there. "I may be an associate, yes-- even an acquaintance-- but our relationship begins and ends with our arrangement. I give you food and a place to extort idiots, and you bring in potential customers and keep your prices managable to make sure they have money left over to spend on food." He steepled his hands, at that, and leaned his elbows onto the "Most importantly, I'm not nice about it. I could be, if you really wanted to be coddled, but I believe we're both mature enough to understand when a deal is too good to be true." There was an implicit ending to that statement: like Emer's.
After a moment, though, Zadari gave a sigh and leaned back, pressing a hand to his forehead and letting his posture languish a moment. "But you have that... look in your eye. So. What do you want to know? Yes, I was a pirate. For some time, at least. Ten years ago." He fluttered his eyelashes, and gave the bird an innocent glance. "Plenty of time for someone to change their ways, don't you think?"
Ruby took up the spoon and began to push food around in the bowl while it cooled. Zadari was right, of course. He tolerated her because she drew in crowds. She worked with him because he tolerated her. Overall, it was a good relationship for her. No attachments meant she could simply not come to The Last Meal one day, and he would neither take offense nor even care. It was a good place to be when she decided to cut and run.
And he was also right that she’d be worried if he started to play nice about it. Zadari was not a nice person. She didn’t really need him to be. He wasn’t even an honest person. But her quarrel wasn’t with liars, and Zadari had been accommodating, if not nice. She knew, she knew, that nice people did not make it long. People who had faith in nice people usually fell with them.
Ten years, though. Zadari had known Emer when they were both with the pirates. Somehow, Emer had survived for ten years, which gave credence to Zadari’s warnings. Ten years ago…
She wouldn’t think about that now.
If Emer had been lying, she had not known she’d been lying. The difference was important, but it struck her as odd that that kind of person would be mixed up with pirates. While she took anything Zadari had a strong opinion of with just a grain of salt, knowing to filter through his ego, he still knew more than she did. She’d concede to that, at least.
“What is your quarrel with Emer? She is a healer, and as you said, she deals with her Folk as we are expected to deal with Folk.” Not to that extreme, but the people claimed as Folk, even if they weren’t also children of the Sky, were more than family. To live and die and sometimes, yes, kill for them was expected. It was how Ruby knew how to use her talon.
She really hoped it wasn’t over something too petty. She’d hate to have to ignore the voice that seemed to be agreeing with her own rational mind over the sound of her heart, yearn as it did, stupid thing, for the Sky.
"My quarrel with Emer..." Zadari repeated, pinching the bridge of his nose a moment as if remembering his time aboard the Hard Nox came with a migraine in tow. There was the slightest shake of his head, as if dismissing the headache outright, and his eyes opened for a moment if not solely to roll within their sockets. "... saints, where to begin. Enjoy your soup; this is going to take a while." He'd spare Ruby the theatrics, though, and sat up a bit straighter in his chair, no longer anguishing in his chair like the portrait of a poisoned emperor. There was a solemnity in his gaze as Zadari focused upon the bird, and it wasn't the least bit disingenuous, unlike the shades of sardonic deceit that crept into most of his day-to-day musings.
"She and I were close, once."
How could they not be? Their shared knowledge of botany; their refined taste in tea. Their unifying desire for secrets, however dissimilar their intentions. Emer and Zadari hadn't just gotten along-- they had been friends. Julian wasn't in the business of making those; in all his years cooking for demented nobility in Goswick, there was only one incontrovertible truth he had learned: never trust soundly in the judgement of anyone, except your own. People were bastards at heart; naturally inclined towards self-preservation. Julian by no means counted himself out of that group.
And yet... his conversation with Ruby didn't earn him much, really, but there would always be exceptions to prove the rule.
"I was the ship's cook-- far from the coldhearted killer you might be apt to picture me as. Still just as handsome, though. And a cleaner face." His beard lent him a maturity, he found, that led to him being taken far more seriously since he found himself in Leimor. "One of the first additions to the crew of the Hard Nox-- which, at that point, was still under the command of its old captain, Sinéad Oiche." He pursed his lips, at that. "The... judiciously-named 'Whore of the Horizon'." The distaste conveyed in the delivery of her title was, perhaps, exactly what would have pleased her-- though, wherever she was, it certainly wasn't in Leimor. If Caleb O'Cain truly was captain-- and had Emer with him-- it meant she was either dead, retired, captured, or finally ran off with whatever lay-of-the-week she'd gone to bed with at a warm-water port. Whatever the case, he was sure Emer was positively crushed.
"She was-- and, perhaps, still is-- the ship's doctor, for lack of a better term. And, overall, a general wisewoman and trustworthy figure for the ship's crew. Emer marketed herself as a kindly older woman who had only your best interests at heart-- and closely guarded her 'folk', as the term goes." Julian leaned back in his chair, again, and crossed one leg over the other as he adjusted his shawl with a scrupulous glint in his eye. "I, unfortunately, gobbled up whatever incessant bit of cloying kindness she afforded me." His lip twinged, at that. "God, I was pathetic." The self-loathing faded from his expression, however, as his eyes found Ruby once more, a bit of rigidty returning to his posture as if struck with rigor mortis-- body straightening, hands curling into fists as he leaned one elbow upon the table. "She was 'close' with you, yes, but nothing ever got between her and her little prized girl Sinead. Wouldn't be surprised if those two ever rubbed more than elbows."
Beyond the petty jab, however, there was an underlying malaise in Julian's overall temperament that suggested he still had a point to make, beneath his usual angst-- so it was with a bit of a surprising amount of candor that he delivered the crux of the issue.
"They killed children, Ruby. Innocents."
He ran a tongue over his teeth beneath his shut lips, staring off past the Aos Goetha as he gave, once more, the slightest shake of his head.
"I've done horrible things. As I'm sure you have-- or, perhaps, you haven't. Whatever the case... I may be cruel, but I have limits. And those limits, by the saints, were tested day by day by day aboard that fucking ship. There was much I didn't see-- I hardly went off-ship during raids, and would stay to tend to the wounded-- but there was much I heard. The mess hall is a fetid miasma of rumors and gossip, and you'd be surprised what putrid shit her men would brag about. For Sinead, it was never about the glory, though-- or it never seemed to be, at least. Some sort of fucking message. A burning vendetta." He leaned forward a bit further, at that, and tapped a finger upon the table. "That tart would have sooner killed her entire crew to get what she wanted than compromise. On some level, I have to respect staking her entire ship-- but unfortunately, I was one of the fucking idiots who lived on it."
Julian shrugged, at that, then relaxed his posture once more. The tension ebbed and flowed, seamlessly flowing from shoulder to hand as he brought a finger to his chin. Once more, he stared off into the distance-- but he eyed the fortune teller in his peripheral, gaze side-eyeing her.
"So I voiced my concerns to Emer, thinking a kind soul like her would share in my grief-- only to find excuse... after excuse... after excuse provided for that vile fucking woman every time I probed. We'd get into arguments. Arguments that became frequent. I spread rumors about them fucking, because-- well." He gestured to himself, and let his hand be the justification. "And finally, I got brave-- or stupid-- enough to bring up poisoning the bitch. With how much time the pair spent together in that little fucking clinic, it'd be a perfect crime. An accidental dosage; a swapped vial. Emer could feign ignorance-- nobody would ever suspect her, after all. Not the kindly wisewoman. She'd be completely safe, and the Whore of the Horizon would be no more. A scourge--" He gave a slice through the air with his hand, lazily. "-- wiped. Better conditions for the crew. No longer jailing her fucking recruits in cages beneath the ship to hang for a day as a test of loyalty. And how did old, kind Emer respond to my pleas? She guarded her 'folk', of course. More excuses. Telling me that she wasn't a horrible person, as if I hadn't heard the stories from the raids. As if I hadn't seen them with my own two eyes from the fucking deck."
Anger lingered in his voice, or perhaps it was sheer incredulity. "Perhaps the thought of my supposed betrayal shook her. Two nights thereafter, she accused me of poisoning her tea, stating that I'd... tried to set her up." A quaver in his voice-- a hint of hurt-- and he scoffed, smiling in a bit of apparent disbelief. "Have to hand it to the bitch-- very tricky. Nearly mixed her dosages up, apparently, and blamed me for it." A shrug. "My time aboard the ship came to an abrupt end, after that. Lucky to be alive; I defended myself, then fled while we were in port before they could presumably kill me in my sleep. Or worse. Made my way to Leimor, and... here we are now."
With his story finished, he looked to Ruby, stroking his beard a moment before leaning one arm upon the back of his chair. "So. That is my quarrel with her. She is a lying and scheming hag whose supposed kindness is a wonderful little veil to obscure the atrocities she permits. I got out at the right time, too-- they'd brought on a fucking vampire, by then. Little Caleb O'Cain was nothing more than a cabin boy, then." Another scoff. "If history is any indicator, he'll follow in her footsteps."