Fallout

The stars hid behind thick clouds when Eris walked along the dock in search of a sign. Her boots click-clacked on the worn boardwalk and few others hung about near the worst of the wreckage in the fading light of the remaining day. But she had to see it. She had to touch to water to know for certain that her life was on the bottom of the bay.

Corsair ships, black and pointed, protruded from the shallows. The dark wood of the south mingled oddly with the lighter woods of Gondor; lighter by nature and by paintbrush, the Gondorian ships glowed beneath the waves lapping against the pontoons keeping the little wooden bridge afloat. They had died in the first fighting, those Gondorian ships. They boosted their southern sisters like a shelf.

Eris did not know how she knew which dock to go to any more than she knew which door handle to try when she was seeking a hood and cloak and a bit of food or which alley to turn down to avoid the patrols. Head down, eyes up, she navigated Pelargir well enough; she had found respite in its port before.

At the end of the plank bridge, she stepped onto the farthest wharf. The transition from wood to stone was always jarring for her. Stone did not hold water like wood did and the disconnect took a moment to shake off. Step, step, down to the very edge of the dock, as far from the solid slab of land that the city rested upon as she could get without diving in. Oh, how she wished to dive into the cool depths of the bay. How long would she have to stop breathing for her to be reunited with her hull? Would the mastheads still stand tall? How soon does the floor of the sea start to reclaim the magic of a worthy vessel with barnacle and weed?

Attached to the stone wharf bobbed a lower wooden platform. It nearly rested on the water itself and in rough weather, the waves wet the planks between the gaps leaving them treacherous. Today, the sea ebbed calmly against the higher jetty. Eris stepped down the rope and plank ladder with ease and then at the edge of the water, she knelt on one knee and touched her palm to the surface of the water.

Flashes from black powder and lightning. The splintering of hulls and shattering of stone. Eris felt herself wince as she felt the water lap over her fingers filtering it for its secrets and searching for her answer. Concussive battering against stone and metal. Shallows empty except for the broken hulls and skeletal masts of ships.

Deeper, farther than she had expected, rested The Golden Apple, or at least what remained of her. Remnants of blackened sails floated in the underwater current along the snapped and scorched ends of the ropes and pulleys. The fire had burned great holes in the hull. Its ironic crackling still echoed in the sea as the waters remembered the hiss and fizzle as the ship sank.

The urge to yank her hand from the pain of the memories nearly overwhelmed her, but she did not pull back. Eris grit her teeth, closed her eyes, and kept her hand in the water until she felt full of the loss of her friend, her love, her ship. The only thing constant on the ocean blue, the only thing controllable and contained was a ship, her ship, and now it was gone. She had to understand that it left this world without her and there was nothing she could do.

“Oi! Whotchoo doin’ da’n there, lassy?”

The voice shook her from her mediation and she stood quickly. The dockhand regarded her suspiciously.

“Rememb’ring that which I’ve lost,” she told him sincerely. “I’m sorry. I’ll go.”

The man’s stern expression softened with pity. “Yes, civilians ought nah be da’n here. ‘S dangerous ’til the builders c’n fix whot’s broke in the fightin’. Best be gahn.”

Without lifting her head, Eris nodded and climbed the ladder. The dockhand stared at her as she rushed past him. She paid him no mind.

~~~***~~~

Paying no mind to the dockhands loading a merchant ship, Halvel strode down the wharf of Dol Amroth. Her aunt made it clear that she was no longer welcome in Minas Tirith and her presence would only be a burden to her now that her uncle and cousin were gone. It seemed cruel somehow that her life had brought her full circle for Gelluines would only buy passage down the Anduin. “Only to a proper place with your own family,” she had said. Halvel did not have it in her to fight and if truth be told, she was more than ready to leave the walls of the White City.

“Hálchon!” she called when she spotted her brother on the deck of one of their remaining fishing vessels. “Hálchon, come down here!” She waved to catch his attention and tried to suppress her scowl when he glared down at her from the rail.

“What are you doing here?!” her brother exclaimed. He paused to give a few orders and then he waved her toward the gangplank.

Reluctantly, Halvel wove her way to the edge and only boarded when Hálchon beckoned her up the boarding ramp.

“What are you doing here?” Hálchon repeated when she joined his side. “I thought you were needed in the Houses of Healing?”

“I lived out my usefulness there,” Halvel said stiffly. “And Aunt Gelluines did not wish to continue paying my upkeep. I cannot say that I blame her with uncle and cousin Tondaer gone.”

Passing his writing tablet to another man, Hálchon held out his hand for her to walk in front of him. He herded her to the aftdeck. “Tondaer treated you well during your stay? He was a good man.”

Halvel nodded and rested a hand on the rail. “He did. It is a shame that he was lost, but as a first circle guard…it is a miracle that any survived at all.”

The severity, the solemnness that overshadowed her normally fiery spirit caught Hálchon’s attention, but he only studied his sister’s profile.

“You could go back to Bree, you know.”

When Halvel did not respond, Hálchon continued, “He wrote you. I must apologize for reading it on your behalf, but you can understand how surprised I was to receive a letter addressed to you from your husband. You really should have written me before, Halvel. You could have come home, could have avoided all the-”

“I didn’t want to come back here, Hálchon. Surely you know that. And I cannot return. You wouldn’t understand.” Halvel stared ahead. “Part of me wishes I had died, brother. At least I would have had a place to belong.”

Nodding, Hálchon turned to lean on the rail with both forearms. “You will always belong here, Halvel,” he assured her gruffly. “But you were never happy here.”

“Did you report the destruction of The Apple to the dockmaster?” she asked abruptly. A passing gull drew her eye briefly.

“No. But I will. I believe he marked it down as missing in action or stolen. I hadn’t bothered correcting the logs yet.”

“It was not necessarily stolen,” Halvel said elusively, “but it was off course. We left it in Pelargir. I heard the Corsairs attacked the harbor. Surely it is lost.”

Hálchon grunted softly and said, “I will have to write Gaelyn. Perhaps you should do it.”

“No,” Halvel answered quickly. “You. I-I cannot.”

“You should,” Hálchon urged gently. “You have been given a second chance, Halvel. Take it.”

“No. You. I will inform the master of the docks. We cannot have the ship on record as stolen.” She adds in a murmur, “Eshe has enough to worry about.”

“What?” Hálchon turned to lean on his elbow and face her and raised a brow when Halvel waved a hand dismissing his question. “I’ll just take it that the good captain is no longer in our employ?”

“She was arrested,” Halvel explained wearily. “I do not think she did anything wrong, but she disappeared during the evacuations. A guard turned up dead. At best she is at large.”

Hálchon shook his head and looked out across the sea. “She better leave this family alone now. If I find her, I will see to it that she does not meander on anyone ever again.”

~~~***~~~

“What do you mean, he is not here?”

The man wore robes of deep scarlet and midnight black and his long hair was tied in two inch sections down to the middle of his back. Though they were mud-splattered and his face was travel-worn, he had a regal command about him that made even Lichen pause.

The conversation with the head of house at the guild hall of that blasted adventuring crew was short and frank. In a delightfully dramatic twirl of his worn cloak, the man turned from her desk and stormed out of Ravenhold in a huff. Only when he reached the cobbled road that led back down to the market square did he pause and rest a hand on his lower back as he turned to look up at the beautiful hall.

“Blast,” he muttered to himself and he looked out over the little village of Durrow-on-Dunwash with a sigh. No use complaining more, he decided. Straightening his robes with a tug on his lapels, the man set off for the Broken Cask, the tavern and inn that blasted woman mentioned as a place he could look for a room and a meal. He could only hope it had a hot bath and a library, though he doubted it. Such plebeian establishments rarely had such touches of civilization.

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Over the Edge

The guard lay dead at her feet. The beautiful man, for he was beautiful beneath his mop of black hair, had brought her food in the gaol and sometimes stayed to ask how the straw mat was at night, but he never came into her cell. Only his smile warmed her, that sad, confused little smile he gave her before he moved on to deliver the next meal.

His name was Idhrenor, but that did not matter much anymore. She was certain that he had asked that she be placed with him during the trek through the tunnels and on toward the tiniest glimmer of hope. “I will ensure you are taken to safety, Eshe,” he had said. “No man or woman deserves to die in a cage. And when the enemy is driven back, you’ll have your hearing and surely you will go free. Do not lose hope.”

But what is hope? Nothing but vain fantasy, a thought that the mungu gave a last shit about their trials any more.

Behind them, the smoke rose and she longed to immerse her naked feet in a pond or stream. She needed to know who controlled the tide of the battlefield.

Her father never bothered with sides. Enzi chose the path to protect his family and warned to stay away from the power struggles of the “great ones.” One side always had to lose and the losers were always the villains. “Every army marches with hope, Eshe,” Enzi said. “Even an army of slaves hopes that it will survive, little may that false hope serve them. To be real, to have power, men must fight for more than just their own lives. So they fight for land. For boundaries drawn with binding ink on pieces of parchment. Your grandmother’s powers were not meant to serve those fighting over land. Only on the sea can a man truly be free.”

She wondered how many of her brothers sailed with her people. They needed land and power to protect their families back home. They chose sides and if Mosi had chosen to sail with their people, she knew Chane would have, too. Joshi probably marched with the army. She could only hope Kito sailed free and it was not his black powder that ignited her ship and sent it to the bottom of the bay. Would they recognize the Gondorian ship as hers? Did they knew what they were destroying, or did they even care? Orders came. They would obey. Something she could never do.

“Take off those pants! No man wishes a wife that wears britches better than he!”

“Women cannot be sailors. They are to serve their masters in the home, for who will keep the house when the women chase a man’s position?”

“Cover yourself despite the sweltering heat! Do not tempt a man with your skin!”

“Serve the chieftain in your proper role and do not make waves!”

She bent over Idhrenor’s body and was sorry. “I cannot help but make waves,” she told his corpse as she turned him over. “I try not to, but people insist.” In a scold that masked regret, she continued, “I merely wished to make you sleep and you had to draw your sword. You lost hope in me. And now see where it has gotten you?”

With Idhrenor’s key, she unlocked the irons around her wrists. She stripped her bottom half naked and replaced the dirty skirts with his breeches.Too bad his feet were far too large and she had to abandon his boots. But the hole in his shirt could be mended; the blood washed out. She tucked it into his backpack and gave him her thanks.

Quick work she made of it. The others would come looking. Maybe if she moved through the trees as though they were her ship’s rigging, she could escape a hunt. Would they bother to hunt? It did not matter what they would choose–only that they could choose. She would not make it easy.

Out of the mountains. That was all that mattered now. Away from Gondorian and Orc, Rohirrim and Haradrim. But she did not know where she could go now that The Apple slept tucked safely in bed at the bottom of the bay. So she did not think on it as she took up Idhrenor’s sword and tucked it into his belt around her waist. She kissed his forehead and smoothed his hair. And then she walked away.

~~~***~~~

Upon the highest roof of the Ivory Tower, she blended in with the dark shingles. Her arms were wrapped around her knees so tightly, she halved her already diminutive size. She could have been a great sea bird perched on the roof and not a lonely young woman in tears.

Miss Cirieldis probably did not know she was there, but the woman also did not really care if the Headmistress did know. She did not want to be home alone with no letters to send to Minas Tirith and a stomach full of regret. She knew it was silly, but from the height of the tower, she swore she could see the smoke rising in the east and it helped her come to terms with the breaking of her heart. This feeling in her spirit that knew her people were dying and most likely her father and her husband would never come home.

She hadn’t written Pengail since that first brief letter. He had not written at all. She could only imagine that meant he no longer loved her and everyone around her was right: they had been too young and the courtship had been too quick and he regretted tying himself to something like her. After all, she was only the daughter of a drunk and a prostitute and was only good for lies and death. Black Roses were not meant for romance and love.

Had he thought of her at all, or had he found someone worthy of his heart and status? Did he live? And if he did, did he want her still?

Every time the questions rose, Arameril’s throat tightened and the pain that shot through her chest was akin to a dagger in her heart. Her guilt only rose when hope came in the measure of relief she felt if he did die in battle. Should he die and her father die, she could serve her purpose without fear or guilt. She could serve her city without pain.

It was terrible to think about. The inhumanity of the thought horrified her and she did not let it linger long, but the truth was still there, at least until she remember Cólel and the “aunt” and “grandmother” she promised to visit. More guilt. She had not yet for she feared the condescending aura that surrounded the old woman. She was not Hathlafel’s. She had no right to Hathlafel, and if he should die, she had no right to their attention at all.

As if love and attention was a reward for being worthy.

She should not be concerned with such things. She had the mystery of the missing apprentices to worry about. She had to assist Duvain and discover what threatened Dol Amroth in the dark. The city’s stability relied on the stability of the Illumin much like it relied on the stability of the Mormerili and she knew what could go wrong if that strength was threatened.

Still, she cried. The smoke rose in the east, and she was tired. So tired. No sleep could refresh her. No drink rouse her spirits. She cried silently for her sorrow could find no voice, and at last, as the cool ocean breeze passed through the sleeping city, Arameril passed into an uneasy sleep on the highest roof of the Ivory Tower School for Girls.

No one saw the body fall from the roof and sink down, down behind the high walls of the Tower.

 

 

 

The Light at the End

Once the men started to trickle in, the flow of blood did not stop. Despite her duties, Halvel tried to not look. But it was hard not to feel like her head was swimming when she held together the flesh of a man’s chest in an attempt to staunch the flooding tide. When the tiles of the bathhouse grew crimson and treacherous. When they brought in her uncle with part of the axle of a catapult sticking through his ribs.

His left leg was crushed, too, but it was easier to pretend that was something else once the blanket covered the mangled limb. Out of sight, out of mind. But the thick piece of hardwood protruding from his torso could not so easily be ignored. The surgeon spoke words to her (condolences? instructions?) and her uncle tried to speak, but even as Halvel strained to hear him, the sound did not penetrate the high pitch screeching in her ears. No one else seemed to hear it and the surgeon barked his orders again and a strong page hurried around to drag Halvel out of the way to let the man pass.

“He is too badly injured!” she finally heard and realized the page was shouting in her face. “Nothing can be done!”

Halvel realized that the young man spoke in response to a babbling voice begging to help the bloody mess that stared at her even now with disdain. After a few moments more, she realized the voice was her own and it stopped.

“My lady, we must help those with a chance!”

Numbly, Halvel nodded. She stepped forward to fix the blanket covering her uncle, but before she could turn away, cold fingers caught her wrist.

“Traitor,” she thought he said, but it could have been, “Water.” It did not matter, though, for his grip relaxed and as he died, she pulled herself free.

~~~***~~~

When the giant ram broke through the Great Gate, Tondaer of House Belegorn fell to his knee. Beside him, the solider turned to flee, but the bodies frozen with fear blocked him and soon he cowered with the others. Things happened in the courtyard beyond, but Tondaer could not tell what. The fell cries of the Black Captain did not chill him; they rent his spirit from his body and he felt as though he were nothing but pain. Agony.

The terror that had nearly ripped him apart hardly melted from the First Circle guard when the doors pushed open to spew the servant of the enemy.

Roars and screams.  Shadows and light. Tondaer gripped his sword and tried to gain his feet. Then, as though the morning rose like any other, a cock crowed. Then horns. Horns sounded in the distance and the terror lessened enough to allow him to raise his head.

The Witch-king was gone. The world seemed light again and Tondaer rose to his feet with renewed hope. Rohan had not forsaken them.

He joined in battle those who awoke from their nightmare to fight. He slew one, two, ten. It did not matter. He did not count.  Then he turned toward the gate.

They have trolls, he thought and somewhere inside him, he laughed. He raised his sword and stood to face the brute bearing down on him. Pain, sharp and penetrating, radiated from his back and as he fell, the servant of Mordor had already moved on to be slain by a knight in bloodied starsilver armour.

~~~***~~~

She knew. She was gone, laid to rest at the bottom of Argillond and she would never see her again.

maj16
From learntarot.com

Always, the cards can only reveal so much, and though the tower fell behind her making way for the new world to be built upon the remaining foundations of Men, she could not have known that her own fortress would crumble around her as well. She had worried and wondered, but she could not have known.

And now, walking as a prisoner of men that live in stone, Erislos Thanat looked back at the smoke of Minas Tirith’s burning and she was glad that they would suffer, both houses of power and greed. And she longed for the sea beyond the bloodied fields of war and knew that nothing would ever be the same.

 

No Light in the Coming Dawn

When Eris stepped inside the back door to the kitchens of the Belegorn, she did not expect to find Halvel sitting at the counter on a tall stool better befitting a tavern than the lower estate. The woman looked prim and defiant as always and Eris lifted her hand to greet her, intent on keeping it at that as she walked by.

“I have your ring,” Halvel said and pushed the thick gold band sitting on the smooth counter. “Thamben did not flee. He said to give it back.”

Eris stopped. Turning slowly, she looked hard at the ring. The silence stretched between them until Halvel cleared her throat.

“You do not look pleased.”

Halvel flinched back as Eris strode forward and picked up the ring. Gathering herself again, she smoothed her skirts over her thighs and spoke again.

“Well?”

Eris turned the band over and over, staring down at it with a deeply furrowed brow.

“My lady, do you know what this is?” she finally said as an answer. She held the ring up to the light of the trio of candles burning beside Halvel. The ring was ribbed as if it were a band of rope instead of precious metal, braided strong to withstand the tug of the gales at sea. On its smooth face where the signet of a house would be, the relief of a woman with a fish’s tail instead of legs surrounded a spiraling trumpet shell.

“It is your family’s seal,” Halvel replied. “He did not wish to leave his family behind-” she started to explain, but Eris held up her hand.

“I am glad that he did not run. He would have regretted it later, and not just because of honour. War makes demons of us all.” Eris clasped the ring in her fist and turned to go to the room she would have shared with the kitchen maid if it had not been for that war.

“Eris.”

“My lady?” Her voice was tired and resigned.

“Why do you stay?”

“They have the Apple. A pirate without her ship is just a rat.”

“Your family-”

“They sail for Gondor. I will be here to greet them, won’t I?”

“You don’t have to stay.”

Eris found Halvel’s eyes in the heavy darkness of the kitchen. The woman’s shadow stretched across the floor and covered the toes of her boots.

“There is someone I wish to stay for. If I leave, I betray this person’s trust. And things are not as dark as they seem, my lady Halvel.” She walked into the shadow and held up a card.rws_tarot_16_tower

“When foundations crumble, new things can be rebuilt. Minas Tirith is sinking in its own despair, but the old must die before the new can be born.” The band of light from the candles beside Halvel fell upon Eris’ lips and she smiled. “Even if we cannot see the light, it is always there waiting for the clouds to part.”

~~~***~~~

Weather passes. The clouds that hung over Durrow? Not a portent or a sign of her failure. Just the snow that would warm the earth and prepare it for spring.

But still, she couldn’t help but blame herself for finding solace in Rheb’s arms when her husband fought for his life in Angmar. For the life of his men, as well. What sort of woman was she that could forget to worry about one for the warmth of another so easily? What sort of wife?

In her heart, she had faith that Oendir would return, but her guilt turned her thoughts astray. Made her think that if she were a better wife, his burden would be less. That if she didn’t dally with youth, there would be more strength for him to pull from.

But it isn’t dallying, she protested in the dark as she lay alone in bed. My feelings are real. I am real. The trust we have for one another is real. 

She missed the rich voice carrying the melody as she harmonized to sing the children to sleep. She missed the debate over the necessity of venison in Solstan’s diet at the dinner table. She missed the laughter filling their home when Neilia stood on his feet to dance. She missed the reassuring smile across the room that they would share to remind one another that everything would be all right.

She was not used to sleeping alone, so she curled around his pillow and breathed in the scent of the woods and waited for him to come home.

~~~***~~~

Exhaustion allowed Anyatka to sleep. In her dreams she saw the body emerge, heard the laughter that wasn’t his laughter echo off the walls of the tomb. She saw Bree burning as the bodies rose even as their neighbors fell around them to join with the gaunt lord’s army of wights. Over and over again she saw her family fall.

ScreenShot00470Sleep. She wanted to sleep forever. She wanted to join Morty’s spirit wherever it was, however she could. It didn’t matter. As one of his great hounds sitting at his heel, as a serving girl bringing him his wine, as a gardener tending to his blossoms. She would stay out of the way, she wouldn’t interfere. She just didn’t want to be there in Bree-land, in the Barrows anymore. She could feel herself stretching between those who wanted her to be something there, those who asked her to stay. Eirikr and Abiorn, Eruviel, Anders… They pulled on her every which way and she felt herself tearing in the wind that wanted to rip her to pieces…

Give up your body, a voice said in the dream. Join him, find him again and find peace. You don’t belong here.

Somewhere in her mind, separate from the dream, she remembered his wish for her happiness. She remembered how he blessed her love for Anders. Suddenly, a sharp pain caused her to wince in her sleep and she whimpered quietly.

Lies, so many lies. To make himself free of guilt for leaving you, for abandoning you and all who loved him…so selfish, selfish those lies.

Anyatka whimpered again but could not wake up from the voice whispering in her dreams.

Go to him. Prove your love and bring him back lest the darkness spread. 

I can show you the way.

 

Letters of Marque: Confidence

Clouds gathered darkly over the White City. Fewer and fewer folk went about daily business, yet the city still lived, somber and watchful. Eshe Thanat stood on the wall of the Player’s Tier and gazed down at the levels below.

“You are keeping something from them,” Halvel said sternly as she stepped up behind her. “What is it?”

Eris did not turn to look at the lady. “I told them everything they asked for,” she replied.

Behind her, Halvel surely pressed her lips together in a disapproving frown. Eris smiled despite herself.

Halvel broke the silence first. “You need to be frank with me! Anything you can tell them may save lives.”

Turning, Eris stepped down from the wall and leaned back against it. “Whose lives? The men and women who claim freedom in these lands? Or my people, who, to them, are only murderers, rapists, and thieves?”

Flushing indignantly, Halvel held her ground.

“They did not realize the impact of their words on you. Surely they did not realize that you are-”

“My lady, I am not stupid, and neither are they. So what excuse do they have for labeling my brothers and sisters as such even as they wait for me to deliver the fruits of my spy work for them?”

Halvel turned her head away. For the moment she was silenced.

“They’ll find a way if they really want to kill those men and women.” Eris nodded, quiet serious. “Folk like that…they always do. Perhaps we should leave before you make a choice you will sleep with for the rest of your life, my lady.”

“N, no. They said-” Halvel paled and shook her dark hair. “We cannot leave.”

Eris looked up at the dark sky. How she missed the stars.

“You are right in that, my lady. We cannot.”

~~~***~~~

The thick night wrapped Eris in a cloak of concealment as she made her way to the spring that she knew went deep into the rock of the mountain to find its source. That source forked and fed an underground stream that fed an underground river that joined the Anduin someways south of Osgiliath. From the second spring, its waters flowed down, down to the great sea.

Eris cupped a shell in her hand, smooth and spiraled and willing to hold the secrets she whispered into its opening. It glowed in the dark, just a swell of light that vanished before it could be noticed as anything other than a distant candle or a flash of lightning. Down, down the shell sank until it struck the bottom of the spring and the message flowed into the lifestream of the land and down, down on its journey to Pelagrir.

Eris turned from the spring and looked up at the sky. For some time she stared at the shadows passing overhead, and then she hurried away from the spring with the seashell resting in its waters.

Letters of Marque: The Brutal Truth

Eris clenched her fist as Halvel spat blood onto the carpet from Rhun covering the polished wooden decking of the Captain’s cabin. The woman winced and thought of the bright red blotch on the delicately interweaving vines and blossoms as the corsair captain chuckled dully from across the room.

The darkly tanned corsair kneeling next to the Gondorian woman raised his fist again, but paused when the captain raised his hand.

“My dear lady,” the captain addressed Eris. “Surely you can provide us something better than fish.” The man’s dark walnut eyes absorbed light instead of reflecting it and it gave him a flat, lifeless look that made Eris uneasy. His thick heavy brows drew the eye to them and it took effort to look away.

“All I have in the world is this ship,” Eris answered raising her arms in a half-shrug. “You’ve that already. What else can I provide for so great a man as Sefu of Umbar?”

“True!” Sefu raised his arms as Eris did and looked around him as if examining the ship for the first time. “And what a beautiful vessel she is. Perhaps she can sail where we cannot. See things that otherwise we would not see.”

As he dropped his hands, Sefu nodded subtly to the tan man. With a grunt, his brute leaned over and backhanded Halvel who had just righted herself. The weak cry that escaped the woman cut at Eris, but she did not let herself flinch or even look at the blow. Halvel swayed as she leaned forward on her hands, dripping blood from her mouth and one nostril.

“She has seen much,” Eris said calmly. “And I believe you wish to benefit from her speed and northern make. Am I right, captain?”

Sefu regarded Eris with a smile. “Yes. Though I am afraid that I misjudged your crew’s usefulness when we first boarded…at least your northern friends.”

“I can easily get new sailors in Pelargir,” she said, though she wondered how much truth was in the statement after her run-in with the last ship they encountered at sea.

“Necessary, yes. Though I will have a compliment to…assist you. Mifupa, here, say. And your Broul.”

Eris could not help but sneer at the name. “Yes, Broul. He will be eager to assist your cause.”

Chuckling, Sefu nodded. “Yes…already he has proven to be useful. Do you request any others of your remaining crew? Those who will serve our purpose well?”

Eris looked down at Halvel who had slipped into a merciful sleep at the feet of Mifupa. “Tendaji is my first mate. He is loyal to me. He will be useful.”

“He is dark. He will raise suspicions.”

“He is familiar with northern cities and customs. He will raise no more than one of your men. Less, I daresay.”

Sefu stared at Eris for a long time. Finally, he leaned back and nodded. “Your first mate. My first sword.” He nodded toward Mifupa. “You know why I offer you this.”

Folding her arms over her chest, Eris nodded. “You know who I am.”

“I do. And you will be of use to us. Or Mifupa will have more fun than he has had in a long time with your pretty little friend.” His dark eyes fell on Halvel’s wilted form.

“Come now,” he said gesturing to a cushioned chair. “Let us discuss exactly how much use you will be.”

Letters of Marque: Sure Thing

“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?”

“What?”

“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?”

“Will understand.”

“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.”

“Sir…Flappy Knight?”

“Mhmm.”

“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.”

“What’s that?”

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.”

Letters of Marque: Intention

“He gave you command and this is how you use it?”

Halvel sat across from Eris with her arms folded across her chest and an angry scowl marring her pretty features. She had not resisted the men when they grabbed her and roughly manhandled her onto The Golden Apple. They plunked her into the hot seat in front of Eris’ desk and, on Eris’ orders, freed her wrists. Eris let her stew for a while as they pulled away from the Gondorian ship and only when the distance between them felt safe did Eris step inside her cabin and settle down in her chair.

“I took back the command that was rightfully mine, my lady.” Eris offered Halvel a smile and spoke in her even, velvety voice. “Your father had hired a thief when he hired Jelani–Judd–and it was your brother’s choice to lose my ship or gain a captain. I have the papers to prove The Apple is mine.”

“That is not what I am protesting and you know it!” Halvel snapped briskly.

Eris regarded Halvel quietly. The woman’s golden brown eyes flashed with indignation and her olive cheeks glowed with her outrage.

“My lady. Would you that your brother’s crew starve in their work for him? The sea is an unpredictable mistress; sometimes she is bountiful and others she is demanding and only those willing to make sacrifices will survive her wrath.”

“You speak in riddles!” Halvel exclaimed, the anger rising in her voice. “I will not have you-”

The lookout’s shout of alarm cut her off. Though the door was thick, his words were clear:

“Ship off starboard bow! Black sails, black sails on the horizon!”

Eris cursed fluidly in her native tongue as she stood to rush on deck. The men leaned against the starboard rail straining to see the dark blotch of a ship far out at sea. Taking her position on the upper deck, Eris drew out her spyglass to study the approaching ship.

“What do you see, Cap’n?”  Eris turned to look at Tendaji and flashed him the look of concern.

“Black sails, southern make. Hoist my family’s flag…”

“Another ship, Captain! Several by the look of it!” called the lookout.

As one, Tendaji and Eris turned to stare at the second ship popping up as if from beneath the waves themselves.

“A fleet? From Umbar,” Tendaji murmured beside her and she could only nod.

“Shall we fly, Captain?”

Eris turned and gave him a soft smile. Her eyes fell on Halvel who had followed her out of the cabin. The woman stood like a marble statue as the ship grew larger.

“Hoist the flag,” Eris ordered Tenadji evenly. The men around them strained to hear her soft voice.”If they be our brothers, they will sail on. If they be not…”

Captain and first mate shared a look of understanding and then as one, the sailors took their positions to wait for the black storm on the sea to overtake them.

Letters of Marque: Authorized to Board

 

“Cap’n. Stores’re more’n low. Cookie says soon we’ll be eatin’ dry biscuits and tha’s about all fer here on out.”

Captain Erislos Thanat looked up from the map spread out on her desk and stared at the crewman who came to deliver the news. Beside her, her first mate Tendaji remained stoic.

“How soon until we make port?” she asked in a carefully calm tone.

“Not soon ‘nough. Bellies will go hungry a’fore then says Cook.”

Nodding, Eris lifted the top card of the stack sitting near a small lockbox on the corner of her desk. She studied it for a moment and then nodded.

“Next ship, no matter the sail, we fly the black flag.”

The sailor, a sturdy man by the name of Broul, flashed a look at Tendaji, but the first mate did not meet his eye.

“Yessir,” Broul said as he turned to relay the message. “We’ll get ready, sir.”

Once the man left, Tendaji stepped behind Eris and put both hands on her shoulders. His confident fingers worked the tension in her muscles and she leaned back against his torso.

“We are ready,” he said simply. “We will not let you down.”

“I know,” she answered with a quiet confidence she did not fully feel. “We must do what we must do.”

~~~***~~~

The ship was small and fast. It flew over the waves on its way south, but it could not outrun The Golden Apple. In fact, it did not try to; the unsuspecting Gondorian vessel slowed its speed to allow Eris to catch up.

When they hoisted the black flag, they could see the shouts of the men on board the other vessel and Eris had to laugh at the deception. They were too close to be outran now and their line bit into the deck and rails like fishhooks. Heave! Ho! Lure them in. Board and plunder.

It was carrying mainly passengers from the northern ports to the south. Pelargir waited for its cargo and crew, but two less would make it to port after they unsuccessfully fought to defend their ship. Tendaji did not lie when he said that they would be ready. Within minutes, the survivors knelt along the deck, hands at the backs of their heads, eyes cast down. All but one.

“Now, here’s a pretty dress for this lot,” Broul said as he tipped a woman’s chin up with the flat of his sword. “Pretty lass, too. No sailor are ye, I’d reckon.”

The woman leaned away with an angry glare in her eye. She remained silent in her fine traveling cloak and fancy black leather traveling boots. Eris noted how she refused to look at the man, but also refused to lower her eyes and she couldn’t help but smile.

“Leave her be,” Eris commanded. “We’re not here for that.”

Leering, Broul lowered his sword and continued walking down the deck in front of the other prisoners.

“Now, thank ye kindly, good folk of Gondor,” Eris said as she leaped onto the rail and snagged the rope she used to swing onto the victim ship. “Yer goods will be well taken care’ve in the practiced hands of me crew.” She touched the broad rim of her feathered hat and coiled to swing back to the Apple when the pretty woman in the pretty dress spoke in a clear voice.

“I know who you are. I know your ship.”

Eris paused and looked over her shoulder at the woman whose shoulders bent back cruelly her bindings were so tight.

“It is The Golden Apple and you are Captain Erislos Thanat. You have to be.”

Eris’ blood ran cold. Every inch of skin tingled with alarm.

“Who are you?” she asked against her better judgement. “From whence you came?”

“You won’t get away with this,” the woman said, her sable hair gleaming in the sun. “My brother won’t let you do this to our name.”

Realization dawned on her. Eris smiled with the recognition and then, within a heartbeat of the thought, frowned.

“Why are you here and not with your new husband in Eriador? Did he send you back?” She did not feel nor acknowledge all the eyes on her.

“No. I chose to return.”

“But not to the City of Love and Delirium. Why go back where you are a black scar on such perfect stone?”

Halvel’s cheeks flushed. “No, not to Dol Amroth. But I will send notice. He will not let you continue to tarnish our family’s–“

Eris laughed. The force of it resonating on the open sea caused the noblewoman to stop mid-sentence and gape at her.

“Broul, take her aboard,” she ordered, still smiling. “It looks like we have ourselves a guest.”

Premonitions

The docks of Dol Amroth lifted her spirits more than those shoddy, dreary wooden ramshackles up the coast. Perhaps it was because those small, rarely used docks reminded her of the treachery that deprived her of her heart for so long. Perhaps it was the smell of the sea here; it was different, here in the City of Love, and Lust, and Corruption. The balance felt more stable here. The sun and the shadows more balanced somehow.

Eris liked things that way. Balanced. In order. And humans made things difficult to balance with their wants and their needs and their desires. If only they could remain satisfied in their proper places, she thought as she stared up at the intricate stonework that formed the dock. Then first mates would be satisfied with being first mates, and men would not worry about her breasts but her orders, and she would not have to be concerned about a lack of shiny armour to blind her on the way to the Siren’s Call.

“They’ve marched,” she learned as she sat quietly in her corner with one hand raising an ale and the other shuffling her deck as if it were a part of her. “City’s near empty of the lot. Streets are quieter now.”

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up, but otherwise nothing indicated that she even heard.

~~~***~~~

She sailed out of Dol Amroth with a cargo full of pickled fish and a small bundle of letters to send up the river toward Bree-land. So few would risk it these days, though the waters north and west were far safer than the shores east and south. Folks could call her brave if they wanted to; she wouldn’t argue, but neither would she agree.

She did break the seal of Halchon’s letter to his sister, after all. That probably wasn’t a brave thing to do, but she was Southern if not “Southron” and if it was going to be in her best interest to take her ship and leave, she was more than willing to do so.

My dear sister,

It is my intention to write more in your absence than we ever spoke in your presence. Mother misses you dreadfully as do the servants and all those I speak with. Surely some of them speak out of courtesy, but most genuinely miss your tenacious drive and unfailing kindness despite it all.

Even if I could summon you home to help with the books, I would not, however. The Swan-knights have left the city, summoned to Minas Tirith in its defense. It is no secret when any fool would miss them traipsing through the streets. The city is not left defenseless, we are told, and we must trust in our Prince’s words…

She skipped through to ensure he had no intentions of “letting her go” in any way and then used the seal she had made to close it again. As she scratched at a bit of stray wax, she looked out of her captain’s window to watch the last tips of the city’s highest towers disappear over the horizon and for some reason that she could not put her finger on, she felt the scales tip and teeter and she was uneasy.

~~~***~~~

“Lower me! Now!”

There were murmurs that perhaps she’d gone crazy, and one day, maybe they’ll understand, but that really was not her concern. She commanded them to drop anchor, lower her in the lifeboat, and wait. She paddled toward the shore of the small inlet that was her goal. She could see the bottom through the crystal clear water and before the bottom of her boat could brush the sand, she pulled in the oar and stepped out.

From the ship, they presumed she stood in the shallows. They could not see that she only skimmed across the water until she found a pearly pink shell lying on the bottom. They saw her stoop and plunge her hand in to grab it to hold up to the sun.

After a moment, for no particular reason, she threw it back to the water. It plunked and splashed and she walked on.

A black shell, rippled and broken was pulled and tossed aside again.

Finally, she turned back to the boat and climbed in to return to the ship. Her crew stared silently as she attached the pulley ropes to the sides so they could hoist her up; only their “Heave! Ho!” broke the quiet until she was aboard.

“Captain?” her first mate, a friendly, large, and imposing fellow asked as she strode past him on her way to her cabin. “Is everyt’ing a’right?”

Eris stopped and looked at him stonily. “The boss’s sister. Had there been any word on her before we launched from the City?”

“No, sir,” Tendaji said. She had picked him up one night in The Siren’s Call and found him capable and mutually sharing her interest in survival. “No messages dough th’ bossman said he ‘spected somet’ing soon. Why do you ask?”

Eris looked over the crew and then back to Tendaji.

“Be on the lookout for a ship on the horizon. Let me know immediately,” she said instead of answering.

“Of course, sir.” Tendaji nodded. “Right away.”

Nodding, Eris closed her cabin door behind her.

~~~***~~~

“Ship off the port bow! Corsair!”

A day passed before the ship appeared.

Eris took the spyglass from Tendaji and scanned the horizon. “What did you see?” she asked quietly.

“Light blue flag. Fish tail.”

Smirking to herself, Eris corrected him. “Mermaid tail. It is my brother.”

Tendaji’s thick brows rose. “Indeeed.”

“Maintain course and speed. I would speak with him.”

“Of course, sir.”

Tendaji called out the orders and Eris went into her cabin to open the footlocker at the foot of her bed. She pulled out a cloth the same colour as the sail in the distance and ordered it raised. Closer, the men could see the severed tail with the fisherman’s net tangled on its bloody dorsal fin. They murmured quietly among themselves, but Eris did not budge from the deck as she watched the ship gain on them.

As it pulled astern, the men saw the dark crew staring back at them. On the quarterdeck stood a man nearly a head taller than all those around him. His broad captain’s hat sat low on his brow and he grinned.

“Nguva!” he boomed in a congenial, deep voice. “You are here.”

“And you are there,” Eris replied with the same grin. “Good to see you, brother. What news from Uziwa? What do the currents say?”

“Perhaps you had best come aboard, sister mine,” Eris’ brother said. He looked over the Gondorian faces pointed in his direction. “I am not sure I would be welcome on your deck.”

“Mosi? What-”

“Come aboard, Eshe. We have much to discuss.”

~~~***~~~

They tied the ships together and Eris placed Tendaji in charge with Malemen, the ship’s second mate and a Gondorian of a “live and let live” nature, at  his side. The captain disappeared for an hour and when she reemerged, her usual casual expression was stony and intense.

“There is nothing that can be done?” she quietly asked her brother who shook his head and held up a hand.

“No, Eshe. Again, nothing can stop them. We scout and will report truth and soon only black sails will fly across these waters.” Mosi put his hat back on as he followed her to the plank balanced precariously between the ships. The feathers caught a breeze and blew into his eyes. “Fly our colours. Our flag is known to our people. It may save you.”

“Would you like a barrel of fish?”

Mosi’s expression went blank. Then he laughed.

“If you wish to provide, I will not deny free provisions,” he said.

As the men made the transfer, he set a hand on his older sister’s shoulder.

“Keep an eye on the edges of the sea, Eshe,” he advised sincerely. “Warships sail. The northern lands will fall.”

Eris looked up at her brother, eldest son of Enzi the Strong Arm of the Sea.

“Maybe,” she said as she stepped onto the plank. Two steps and she was across and her men lifted the board away. “Then again, maybe not. There is strength left in these lands. There are great men still living among those who have fallen into decline.”

Laughing, Mosi shook his head. “Be careful, Eshe! You cannot walk the rail and expect to remain balanced forever. Eventually, the wave will hit that will rock your ship and you will fall.”

As the ships began to drift apart, Eris smiled. She lifted her hand to wave good-bye.

“Then I will just have to grow a tail, Mosi. The water will stop my fall.”

Letters of Marque: A Ship Sails In

Mood Music: 

Ships sail in and out of the harbor every day. For a sailor without a ship, it is torture to see their sails drop once they have cleared the bay. I watch them from the distance of my window at the Siren’s Call. I do not wipe the grime from the glass; I do not want to miss the wind on my back that much.

I cannot just keep watching, though. Not with the manifest in my pocket. Not with the knowledge that my ship might be sailing in today.

The dock trips me. Stones smoothed down from use catch on my boots as I weave among the people. The docks have been my shelter in my storm; their warehouses loom around me now. The windows watch me as I search for the correct pier. Maybe I don’t want to find it. Maybe I don’t want to see her. Maybe I don’t want to see him.

Why? Why did that Flappy-knight decide to bring me this manifest? What on the high seas possessed him to stick his nose into my business? I was perfectly content to sit in the Siren day in and day out, brooding. No one asked him to come shining in, blinding us with that shiny armour, being all shiny. No one asked him to go out of his way to deliver me the news.

The Apple is due in. Today. And after a week of sitting on that manifest, I know I cannot remain in the dark.

It is only meant to dock long enough to restock. In a day’s time, my baby’s belly will be filled with fish. Desecration of my beautiful, golden ship. It should swallow chests of gold and silk. Stores of spices and wine.

Not fish.

I would probably have never heard about it in time had he not brought me the information. But he had and now I know and I cannot let it leave without seeing if it is really my Golden Apple sitting at dock three waiting for the stink of industry.

As I approach the turn around the high wall, I see her. Not her, not my Apple, but his daughter. Or, his not-daughter. She leans over the edge of the crow’s nest of The Chipper Kipper, and I just look up at her as my feet slow. She smiles now as she calls down to the crew below. Beneath her cheer, beneath the exuberance only the wind in a sail can bring, though, I see it. That evasive expression in unguarded moments that made his brow draw down as he watched her hurry away. Blood or not, he cannot not deny she is his daughter in his heart.

Family is messy.

It creates heavy chains that anchor you to unwelcome shores. It pushes when it should pull and runs when it should advance. It tiptoes around the important things and then steals your heart.

I try not to get swept up in the tide of people boarding the Kipper as I push my way through to the end of the dock.

And there she is. The Golden Apple looking a little worn around the edges, but just as magnificent as I left her. At least Judd is taking care of her.

And there he is. At the helm with a cloth holding his thick braids back from his face. My coat does not fit him right, but it marks him captain. It needs to be cleaned.

My fingers clench into a tight fist and rest on the hilt of my weapon. A knife thrown could not possibly reach him from where I stood. Dockhands, sailors, and Swan-knights traipsed about between us.

Hathlafel said there are ways to get the ship back. I look up at the gulls circling overhead, looking for handouts in discarded guts and fish. Constantly, they cry for more.

I lower my gaze to Judd. He barks orders and swaggers across the deck gesturing to the boom. Men, my men and others I did not know, hustle to carry out his orders.

Somehow, I will manage it. I will get her back.

And then this ache in me might subside.

~~~***~~~

Lyrics to Saints Out of Sailors by Flannel Graph (as heard by me)

Here in the silence I stand like a stone
The face in the mirror don’t look like my own
And the cards that been dealt make me just want to fold
But I won’t give you up
No, I won’t give you up
No, I won’t give you up
‘Cause you’re anchor still holds

The wind it’s been trying to blast us to bits
And the water’s been trying to swallow this ship
And my heart has been throwing the gold overboard
But I won’t give you up
No, I won’t give you up
No, I won’t give you up
Because you are my reward

The one that makes saints out of sailors
Carries my frame on his shoulders
He makes me lie down on green pastures
And leads me beside quiet waters

And he’s coming for me

Here in the darkness I see in the night
The mists and the wastes try to fill me with fright
And my weary soul waits as the morning, it dawns
But I won’t give you up
No, I won’t give you up
No, I won’t give you up
‘Cause your light leads us on

Leads us on

The one that makes saints out of sailors
Carries my frame on his shoulders
He makes me lie down on green pastures
And leads me beside quiet waters
And he’s coming for me
Oh he’s coming me
Yeah, he’s coming for me
Oh he’s coming for me
Yeah he’s coming for me
Oh he’s coming for me
Yeah he’s coming for me
Oh he’s coming for me
Yeah he’s coming for me
Yeah he’s coming for me
Yeah he’s coming for me
Oh he’s coming for me
Yeah he’s coming for me
Yeah he’s coming for me
Yeah he’s coming for me
Oh he’s coming for me

Won’t give me up
Won’t give me up
No, he won’t give me up

‘Cause he’s loved me from old

Emergence

Most Men find the air beneath the Mountain stifling at best. It hangs upon you like a damp cloth and if you breathe too deeply, it is easy to forget that eventually you have to breathe out again; your lungs will never be full.

The rush that lifts you when you finally see the stars again is weighty and light at the same time. The air fills your head all at once and your shoulders relax as if the weight of the dark is finally lifted, but then the great expanse of sky floats there to remind you that all the troubles you forgot in the long dark are still waiting patiently for you.

We grow nearer every day. The river separates us from the trees and then we will arrive at their house and there can be no turning back from that moment. I can only move forward from here.

So I put one foot in front of the next. I follow her shadow on the ground before us. The sun will set on another day and we will wait for its light to lead us come morning.

~~~***~~~

There is nothing wrong with me. So I cannot hear the spirits as easily any more. So?

I am happy and I am choosing to be happy and I will not let things get me down. I will visit him this Thursday, I think. My dagger will protect me from any wights. Sadron will be glad to have someone to talk to.

He is not gone. He is only sleeping.

I will take care of him still.

~~~***~~~

I am used to being alone. How could I have expected anything different here in Bree? It was too much for him and far too fast. I should have known better than to hope things would be easy.

Regardless, I will not let this set me back. I am strong and I am intelligent. I can find a way to make a life for myself here.

I don’t need anyone. Only myself.

Good morning, Bree. Here I come. What have you to offer me?

~~~***~~~

It was only a kiss.

And a manifest.

And a card or two.

Men aren’t worth the time, really.

Neither are women.

It was only a kiss.

Nothing’ll come of it.

It’s just news.

And a ship.

My ship.

Just a kiss.

Letters of Marque: Tall Tales

Many generations ago, deep below the borders of the sea and the sky, a young mermaid grew bored with her life of treading water. She ate the anemone and raced through the reef, but each movement felt heavier, as if a great sea turtle were tied to her tail and insisted on swimming the other way. She grew tired and moody and her father grew concerned.

One day, a spirit found this mermaid lurking about a field of sea stars. Despite their varying shapes and colours, the mermaid could not see beauty in the field, and the spirit grew concerned.

“Little mermaid,” the spirit said, “why can’t the stars make you smile? They twinkle in the fading light just for you.”

“I long to see different stars,” the mermaid replied. “I do not feel as though I belong here in the ocean. I long to see the surface and the mystery we call land.”

The spirit swirled about the mermaid; her dark red hair floated around her like twilight clouds as she turned to watch it move through the water.

“There is more. There is something else that troubles you, child.” The spirit’s gentle voice washed over her and wrapped her in warmth.

“I…” She hesitated and only the patient silence of the spirit encouraged her to continue. “I saw a man. He was handsome with ebony hair and he was on this thing that swam across the place where the sea meets the sky.” Her voice lowered conspiratorially. “He saw me above the water. He smiled.”

The spirit observed her for a moment before speaking again. “You wish to find him,” it stated plainly. “You long to go to him.”

The mermaid hesitated. “Y-yes. But I wish to explore the space between water and air. I want to know what I can find there.”

The spirit smiled. “Swim to the surface and then find the shore. Drag yourself upon the white sand and your tail will split into legs and you will find your Man and he will take you upon his ship and you will sail for the far horizon until your heart is content. But go now, Dúial, for if you fail to reach his shores by the time the sun sets, your tail will split before you are safe on dry land and you will drown.”

The mermaid was sad, for she had no time to say farewell to her mother and father and all her sisters that lived in the coral palace. She was sad because she would not be able to talk to her friends, the dolphin and the fish. But she swam as quickly as she could, and just as the sun began to sink behind the far horizon, she pulled herself up onto dry land, dragging her heavy legs behind her.

Exhausted, she stared up at the sky as the stars began to twinkle to life. Smiling, she closed her eyes and fell asleep until the bright sun and the sound of a man shouting pulled her awake…

“Horseshit,” a sailor guffawed at the man telling the story. “There ain’t no such thing as mermaids, an’ you know it, Deck. Who tol’ you that lot of crap?”

Deck grinned despite being interrupted and pointed a thumb over his shoulder back toward the aft of the ship. “Cap’n likes to tell it when he’s fallen head firs’ inna his drink. Ye ain’t never heard him speak o’the mermaid that wont ‘come a Woman? Gave up everythin’ she did, and married a prince ‘mong the Southron tribes, it goes.”

The doubtful sailor snorted and continued to carve a piece of whale bone into a harpoon head. “Rubbish, the lot. Too much Southron influence, you ask me, has taken hold’a your rotten head.”

“Don’t let Cap’n Judd hear ye say such things!” Deck warned.”He’s right superstitious, he is. Was relieved to take the Apple up the shore on these new routes, I hear say. Get ‘im outta the sights of some o’the dark folk’s cannons.”

“House Remlor’ll sink if this new idea don’t work,” the sailor said. “Dol Amroth’ll sink sooner’n it’ll realize. Cap’n got a plan, then, eh? Think he’ll take to piratin’ again?”

Deck grunted and tipped a canteen of liquor to his lips. “Cap’n Judd’ll figure it out. Since Cap’n Thanat disappeared, he’s been doin’ right.” The old first mate looked up at the sky as the caravel tore through the sea toward Eraidor. “Yep, he’s doin’ right.”

Letters of Marque: Shed This Skin

The sea speaks to me.

Hear the rush of the waves slapping
shore for being stubborn. Hard.

The cadence
The pulse of the world beating
Against its veiny banks;
Each river, each artery
Feeds the flesh of the earth,
Spills back into its source,
Rises renewed and cycles back again.

The sea feeds us. It speaks to us.

If we would listen, we would hear.

The spray cleanses my skin.
The sand burns my feet.
Would I shed my skin and return to the water,
To my mothers, my brothers and sisters of the sea:

I hear their song. Dancing on the waves,
I will sing. I will ride into the vast horizon
With nothing but the wind on my side.

Take me home.
I am done here
in this foreign land.
I have done.
Let me sail into the sea.
Take me home

or all shall fade.