“Have you ever been in here before?” Halvel asked. Her soft voice broke through the monotony of the creaking hull and Eris could barely see her in the dark of the hold.
“Once. Twice. Mutiny, you know. Judd did me a favor when he did not simply toss me overboard.”
“And now, you are here again.” The skirts of her dress rustled as she adjusted her position to tap on the bars of the holding cell. “Is it difficult?”
“Being trapped by that which you love?”
Eris took so long to answer, Halvel wondered if she ever would. The Southern men that made up Eris’ crew sat in a similar cell across the water in an escorting ship, sundered from their captain. The Gondorians, long ago it seemed, had found peace beneath the rhythmic waves.
“No. Better to go down in the belly of The Apple than the belly of a shark.”
“Really? Without seeing those you love once more? Without telling them goodbye or that you are sorry for any transgressions?”
Eris’ smooth chuckle filled the hold.
“Every journey starts with an end. Each time a son or a daughter sets sail, it may be until the next beginning. We know this and say farewell accordingly.”
“So your family?”
“That includes friends?”
“Friends…” Eris hesitated. “Friends from home understand as well.”
“And the friends you have made in your travels?”
“Friends in my travels.” Only the creaking of the hull spoke for minute. Eris smiled to the dark. “They are few and far between. And if they are truly friends, I believe they, too, understand.” She chuckled again. “But they are few and far between.”
Halvel sniffed, though Eris surmised it was probably from the damp and not from any feeling of superiority. “It sounds lonely.” A statement hung in the air unspoken: I understand.
The women sat listening to the waves against the outside of the hull.
“It’s not that bad,” Eris said finally. “You learn the ones that stick with you; those are the ones worth remembering. But they don’t need remembering, you see. Because they are always there.” She tapped her temple. “In your thoughts.” She pressed her hand over her chest. “In your heart. Who’s in your heart, Lady Remlor? If I may ask.”
“My mother and my brother,” she answered quickly. Not quite so quickly followed, “My father.”
“Aye? Not that new husband, though? I suppose that’d be why you’re here and he’s there.”
Eris could picture Halvel stiffening, adjusting her skirts around her ankles on the coarse straw, and then taking the deep breath that preceded her huffing reply.
“I do not see how that is any of your business.”
“You know, had I known you sought freedom from the city, I would have taken you wherever you wished.”
“I did not know you at the time. I still do not know you.”
“True. Sir Flappy Knight found The Apple for me after you had left. If your brother had not made the arrangement to ship north, I doubt I would be here right now. He would not have wished to keep me on.”
“Really, you call a Swan-knight Sir Flappy Knight? Hardly to his face.”
“I like the look he gives me. It’s amusing the way he pouts.”
“Someone you call friend, then.” Eris smiled to hear one on Halvel’s lips. “One of the few?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps. Does Sir Hathlafel keep friends?”
“Sir Hathlafel helped you recover your ship?” The incredulity in her voice made Eris smile.
“He did. It’s much easier when a man has access to manifests and the power of the Keep behind him, it seems. Was under my nose the whole time. Folks just didn’t use her name…bad luck, if you ask me. She didn’t deserve to be hid all that time.”
“Why in all the deep blue sea did he help you?”
Eris tilted her head to the side even though Halvel probably could not see.
“You would have to ask him. Do you know him well?”
A rustle told her the lady shook her head. “No. Only of him. Who does not know of him?”
A smile crept upon her face. “Few, I’d wager. He does make a name for himself, doesn’t he? Nature of the cards.”
Eris just smiled wider, but it quickly faded as several sets of footsteps thudded over their heads. “One’s fortunes, my lady. The stars that shine brightly may blink out one day.”
Halvel probably did not hear her. The woman’s profile stood out as a black shadow against smoke. “Did you hear that? Are they coming for us?” she whispered thinly.
Eris closed her eyes. She listened to the waves. The tread of the feet above her.
“Yes,” she answered calmly. She stood up and brushed the straw and dust from her breeches. “Prepare yourselves. The captain is coming with an offer.” Her lips curled and in the darkness, her teeth flashed.
“We may see through this yet, my lady. Just stay by me and we will see.”