The other boys didn’t seem to be up for replying to the shipmaster’s question so I stepped forward, “I worked with steam pipes and valves back at my parent’s workshop.”
Vantor nodded and crooked his finger at me, beckoning. I took another step forward and he started at me for a good twenty seconds before yelling over his shoulder, “EARLS!”
I jumped at the sound, but quickly straightened my back for fear of looking weak to the other shipmates. I knew that on this ship, being a pansy about little things would not go down too well. A younger man came hobbling out of the ship’s hold and caught sight of Vantor waving. He looked to be about thirty and had a bald head which was adorned with intricate tattoos of the sea, he was slim with whipcord muscles and had a friendly face which was a startling contrast to his fierce ink.
“Allerton, was it?” Vantor asked, looking back at me as Earls approached us.
“Yes, sir.” I replied, smiling. Smiling seemed to help ease his stony attitude a little, and he returned mine with a tight-lipped one of his own which, thankfully, reached his eyes.
“This is Benjamin Earls,” he introduced the man once he’d reached us. I heard some of the younger boys’ breath whoosh out of them in surprise and wonder, no doubt after they saw his fearsome head. “He is the engineer of this ship, and carpenter. Earls, this is Alleron and he says he knows about pipes.”
Earls turned to me and grinned, it was lopsided and as friendly as his face. I stuck out my hand, daring to be as familiar as I could given the circumstances, “pleasure to meet you.”
“An’ you too,” he rumbled, shaking my hand in a tight grip enthusiastically.
“Allerton, you’re going to work under Earls. You’ll take over the valve and pipe maintenance so he can get on with fixing that bloody great chip in the mainmast.” I could tell the last part was a jibe directed at Earls, but it wasn’t venomous, although there was a small amount of steel in his voice which suggested it was soon going to be an order.
“Oh, thank God!” Earls huffed out, “I tell ye, I been waitin’ for some’n like you,” I waved goodbye to the boys as Earls led me away from them. “See, Pete expects every’n to do jus’ as he asks and thinks tha’ I can do everythin' engineerin’ related. I tell ‘im ev’ry day, I’m no good with the pipes, like. But, he jus’ ignores me.”
I tilted my head towards the man, listening very carefully so I didn’t miss a thing through his thick accent. “Well, I’ve been working with pipes and valves and the like for years now. So you’re saved,” I joked and he laughed heartily.
“Righ’ you are,” he chuckled and then stopped once we’d reached the engine room. The air was heavy with soot and it was stifling. I glanced around, impressed.
“I don’t think I’ll be of much use here, through,” I shouted over the whooshing of the air through the pipes and the roar of the fire, he looked at me in horror so I quickly added, “these pipes are looking great! When was the last maintenance check on them?”
“Jus’ over a month ago, now!” He yelled back and I nodded.
“Do you want me to check them over again?”
“If ye don’ mind, that’d be grand!”
“Okay!” I coughed. The smoky air was starting to get to me a little so I reached down, tearing a chunk of fabric from the bottom of my shirt. I wrapped it around my face and instantly felt the difference.
After a few minutes of hunting around for some leather pipe-work gloves, I got to work.