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.”
“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.”