Instantly, the princess materialized beside the men, startling them, and with the glow of the lantern casting eerie shadows on her apoplectic, sooty face, she spoke in a foreboding tone, “It's getting dark out, gentlemen, you should be returning home to your families.” She stared at them broodingly until they each uneasily packed up their cards and skulked away with their winnings. Waiting till the last one vanished into the shadows of the evening, she returned to the cart, hugging herself tightly.
Levi stared at her, perplexed, “What was that about? They were just playing a game.”
“Gambling is not a game,” she spat, indignantly looking straight ahead, “It’s a disease. A disease that tears families apart.”
The captain waited.
“I don't want to talk about it.”
“Sometimes talking about it helps.”
“It's just... my father, my real father... my mother died because he…” her voice broke, “I just can't.” Her eyes grew glossy with salty tears, and she refused to say anything more as they walked down the starlit road, hearing only the crunching of gravel beneath their feet in the silence of the night.
By the time the pair reached the edge of the village, only one wooden crate remained on the cart. The princess, still feeling morose, was ready to drop it on someone’s doorstep and hightail it back to Jupiter's Return where she could crash into the downy pillows she had become quite fond of over the past few days, but Captain Levi, apparently, had other plans.
Approaching a small hovel, the lights still on inside, he knocked on the door and called in a tawdry voice, “Special delivery!” While they waited, the pirate glanced at the princess, and as an afterthought he rushed, “Oh! I should warn you, this recipient is, how do I say it… different from the rest. Sometimes she spouts nonsense, so don’t, ah, believe everything you hear. Actually, she’s my─”
“Oh, my little Levi has returned!” a blur of white hurdled from the open doorway and attacked the pirate with furious hugs and pecks on the cheek.
“I told you I’d be back, Grandmama.” he chuckled, his cheeks reddening.
The stout, old woman released him from her bear hug and smiled up at him with golden eyes of sparkling pride, “Yes, you did. Are you hungry? I’ve got some supper prepared─oh!” Energy coursed through her body when she noticed Hataru. “Oh, my dear. Good evening! Levi, why didn’t you tell me you were finally bringing a girl home? My dear, please, come in. Come in!” the woman ushered them inside.
“Oh, I’m so happy to meet you, my dear,” Levi’s grandmother rattled away, hooking arms with the young woman and leading her to the most comfortable chair in the one-room house, “He’s never brought a girl home before.”
“I’d almost lost hope for him! I─”
“SIBYL GUINEVERE SPRY!” Both women turned to see a tomato red captain. Taking a deep breath, he introduced, “Grandmama, this is Hataru. She is a passenger on my ship and will only be staying with us temporarily. You can’t go jumping to conclusions like that…”