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.