17th of Wealsun, 383ONT, 3:16pm, Champions Fist, Theringrad Island Chain, Harbor of Ohura island, 59 nautical miles east east south of Honactice
Douglas Hornhaw stood at the bow of the Champions Fist gazing out over the ocean. His heavy muscled arms leaned easily on the rail as he searched the edges of the harbor for any signs of an enemy or intruder. Guard Captain Maddax had been very clear before leaving, the ship was at its most vulnerable, now was the time for increased vigilance. As with the past few days he was station with his watch partner Callwen. He liked her, she was diligent in her duties and had a nice voice; she tended to do most of the talking for both of them, which Douglas was fine with. She perched against the rail, bow in hand as she continued to tell of her times on the Gale Savy.
“… Digger was the goofiest dog you ever saw, I can’t believe he was third in charge on that ship… but I guess our 2nd Mate is a kitten so maybe I am trading down instead of up…” she broke into laughter at the end. Douglas didn’t get it, but he laughed anyway, he liked hearing her laugh. As their mirth fell away he discovered they had again come to one of those points where he would need to ask a question of some kind to continue the conversation. He ran a calloused hand across his sweaty bald head, the humidity in the area was incredibly heavy, and searched out across the sea wondering what he should say
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“So… um… er…. Uh… Why… ah… why did you leave the Savy?” he stumbled through the sentence like a drunkard into the street after a night of carousing. He was surprised that this did not spur the conversation. He found that she instead began to stare off into the distance, staring at a pod of dolphins at the edge of the cove. He cursed himself, he had screwed up the talking thing again, and had driven away what he had hoped to be his first real friend. He thought maybe he should clear his throat or do something to dispel the terrible awkwardness that had settled upon them, but at long least she spoke, though all the mirth and happiness was gone.
“He found me” the three words were dropped with the weight of sacks of flour on the mess table; she said the words like he should know what they meant; part of him just wanted to nod and go back to looking at the dolphins, but he knew he couldn’t, he had opened up this can, now he had to look at what was inside.
“He… who?” Douglas asked, again the terrible silence before
“Aled… my husband” Douglas’s world turned upside down as he tried to sort the influx of feelings, she had a husband, was married; had he been to forward… she plunged into her tail unbidden now, the floodgates had been opened “About 10 years ago, I met a very, very, charming, sophisticated, sexy man, and I really fell for him hook, line and sinker.” A bit of a smile came to her face as she spoke, as she was transported back to that time and place. Douglass watched her rapt as shared a part of her life with him “…Part of why I fell for him so heavily and so quickly was because I was just turning 25, and I was really, really eager to have a child. When we spoke about that, he promised me that we’d have a family together and he built up this great fairy tale, we’d live in the magical city of Eiradun, we would have a great house and kids and it just seemed too good to be true; in fact it was. Very, very quickly he got his hooks into my life and very, very quickly it turned from absolutely amazing, a whirlwind of joy, and then cracks started to appear and he became very emotionally abusive and very critical and more and more frightening.” She looked back at Douglas, her smile gone, he face now masked by a stoic mask
“It’s a kind of classic scenario.” She continued “Of course at the time, you don’t realize it. You’re in love, it’s a new relationship, and your heart is going crazy. We were whirling and twirling, he was very, very charming, and it turns out he’s got a grandiose personality and is a narcissist. He’s an alchemist, loves to be in control, likes to craft everything in his own image, I should have seen the problems.” She turned back towards the sea again the story coming unbidden now, as if she had no choice but to continue “You know, the tension would change in the air when he walked in, and people would gravitate towards him. He had this personal power that was incredible and everyone was fooled, nobles, wizards, artisans, everyone was fooled. I was a bit like a bunny cast onto the bards stage. He was so dynamic that one minute, you’re on top of the world but then next minute, there’d be a flash and he’d become very angry with me and all of a sudden, I’d have done something wrong. “It was the little things at first, the things I was unsure of, the house keys or my shoe would go missing and just little things like that, so I started to feel quite unsteady and unstable and always blaming myself. He became very jealous and obsessive and accusatory if a visitor came to call, he was critical of my friends, my family, and in the end he didn’t want me to see any of them. Very quickly I was isolated. He made life at work very difficult, I had been working in a bakery then, and he would come by maybe 7 or 8 times a day and in the end, I lost my job. I didn’t know if I was coming or going. I thought I was going mad. I kept thinking right up until the point where he actually tried to strangle me in our house that I could fix it. I was bewildered by what was happening and I was ashamed to talk to any of my old friends about it. Even then I didn’t leave, he had made me feel like it had been my fault, if I just hadn’t made him so mad, if he could just crack this formula at work, if Eiradun was less restrictive of men and magic, then… then we could have our fairy-tale life together. I stayed with him…” She turned and looked Douglas right in the eye, he held her gaze as he bore witness to her tale “I stayed with for another year, and the beatings came more often, I was kept trapped in his home, beaten when I tried to leave, I couldn’t go to the guard, to the Dentoni, he was too well liked, what would they say? What would he do to me if he found out? In the end, I actually had a ticket to go to Rehume to visit family, my uncle, unknowing of what was happening had sent the ticket as a gift after he had been accepted into the church; He needed the support of the church for his research, but couldn’t afford to leave his work to go with me so at first he permitted me to go. Soon however he thought better of it and he did everything he could to stop me from going because he knew that I’d get away from him and have some clarity and that other people would have influence over me. He stole my clothes and shoes, he threatened to burn me, he added something to my food and drink that made me sluggish of mind and apathetic to go…But I did go, somehow I found a way to go. I saw my Uncle in Rehume and I finally confessed things were going badly and I was in danger and that I couldn’t go back. I was also pregnant to him by this stage, I was completely turned upside down. My Uncle grabbed me by the shoulders and said: “We can solve this, there is a way, you will move here, start a new life, get a new job.” The light bulb went off in my head, and I felt: “I have to do this or I’m going to die” I nodded and for a few month things were good, I lived with my Uncle, I cooked and made his meals in turn for a room in his home, I felt my old self coming back again. But then he showed up, I was about seven month pregnant at the time; I had been down at the fish market buying dinner and when I returned I saw the scene. The kitchen was a mess, my Uncle had been a priest of Kelezandri, he was no slouch, but still, there he was on the floor bubbling and burning from some concoction that my husband had thrown at him. I remember screaming and trying to run but he grabbed me and threw me against the table back into the house. I remember him slapping me over and over again, claiming I had tried to steal his son from him… I was sure I was going to die… I had been saved by the scream of one of the neighbor’s children, the backdoor had been left open and she’d seen the gruesome scene, in that moment when he was distracted I reached aside and grabbed the skillet, I smacked him in the head and ran. I only had one shoe, I was holding a bloody skillet and crying so hard I could barely see. I am amazed that no one stopped me, but somehow I made it to the docks. To this day I don’t know what I said to Captain Cushings that convinced him to take me on board, I was still crying, still in a panic, but he allowed me to work as an able bodied sailor, I had never sailed before, but non the less, I was given a bunk and a position, and we caste off within the hour.”
She held Douglas’s gaze, but couldn’t see him, she was thousands of leagues away in another time and place, tears streaming down her face, still her story continued “I lost the baby, I think being slammed into the table did it… but I found myself out there, I learned my craft and I worked hard, I thought I would turn a new page in my story. But that winter he ported in Don-Ton, I had come back to my ship on fire; my crew and friends desperately trying to put out the fire… the Captain’s quarters had been glued shut with some kind of mixture, we could not get him out, and water only made the fire grow hotter and spread faster… he and six other crew members died that night. I knew it had been Aled; he had found me again. I did not say any goodbye to the crew… I found a ship leaving port and took it, and then switched ships at the next port, and then switched again… I had hoped I had lost him… but no, almost two years later he showed up in Chistles Point, sixteen crew members had died and two ships had been sunk. I saw him that time, he was with the onlookers, waiting for me to run to try and grab me; I had slunk into the water and swam down the pier to escape… Now… I change ships often, I can’t stay long… he has caught up with me a few times, whenever I stay longer than a few ports; then, people die because of me… I’m not sure why I am telling you this… I guess it is only fair, I am putting your life in danger just by being here…. I am sorry Douglas… I am sorry”. She began to sob, Never in his long life of homelessness and bar fighting had Douglas been so uncomfortable; he didn’t know what to do, what did one say to a story like this… he reached out and did the only thing he could think of, he put his big arms around her and gave her a hug, letting her cry into his chest.
“Get a room ya slackers!” the call came from Cobb as walked by on deck carrying a load of timber for the Master Carpenter. Douglas fixed him with a glare that could melt stone, but the moment was broken, Callwen wiped her eyes and straightened up, offering the fakest smile he had ever seen. Douglas fixed her a look and for the first time knew what to say
“You’re safe here, you don’t need to run anymore Callwen” she smiled had him but shook her head
“He is a powerful alchemist, and these are really good people, I can’t stay here long Douglas, he will come…”
“Then let him” The big man growled. All his life he had been trained to be an instrument for killing, had had to wrestle with the morality of killing to stay alive, if he was in the right or in the wrong… Killing and fighting had been the only thing he had ever been good at, and before the First Mate had hired him, he had thought those skills made him a bad person… but now he saw, and truly believed, that there were people out there that needed to be killed, needed to die… and he could be the one that could do that killing, he could kill and be a good guy “Let him come Cal… it’ll will be his last mistake” she looked up at him to argue, but found she couldn’t there was a fire that had been ignited in his eyes… something was going to happen.