Both the cold and the noise had focused upon the dockside. A fine haze encompassed everything as Grace and Gustav, one tightly wrapped in a cloak and the other’s hands pushed deeply into their pockets, made their way towards the nominated meeting place.
The dull rumble she had noticed as they stepped from the town’s houses onto the pier had steadily increased to a rolling thunder. As they reached the entryway onto the docks, the cause of the revealed as the sound of at least a hundred men’s feet running across the wooden fingers reaching into the lake. The deep thuds were joined by the shouting of boat captains urging their men to make haste, as well as sailors cursing as they tried to weave their way past others upon the piers.
Grace surveyed the scene. The mist thickened across the lake, gradually becoming a silver curtain that let no observer see past it. A handful of vessels had unmoored and were moving off in search of their catch, their captain’s booming voices fading with their boats as they slowly as they pressed into the dense fog.
“Can the sailors even see through fog that thick?”
Gustav nodded. “Once the sun comes out, the mist will thin out quickly on most portions of the lake.”
“How large is this lake? It’s hard to tell when you haven’t seen it in daylight.”
“It stretches far off into the north. If we could keep on until midday, we would see another fishing town on the western shore named Drefos. The lake branches north-east and north-west, and the town is fortunate that the western portion is the largest of the two directions. They have four times as much fishing ground as Trinaze does, as are their catches.”
“If you could?”
A booming voice carried across the dock. “You didn’t beat me, you stinking Witsrezländer. They called it a draw at midnight.”
“And you accepted the call to stand down! That’s accepting defeat, you Melbiguan dog!”
Grace looked around to follow the voices, and saw the pair who had been fighting in the pit the night before. The two men were both dressed in thick woollen trousers, leather boots and jackets, both lined with animal furs. They stood nose to nose, fingers pointed accusingly at each other as they bickered over the outcome of their battle. The grey-eyed stare and smug grin of the Witsrezländer battled the Melbiguan’s dark brown eyes and sneer of outrage.
A louder voice, one Grace recognised from last night, bellowed above theirs. “I hear another word from you two about that damned fight last night, I will have you both thrown out of town.” Someone pushed their way between them, Grace seeing that it was Sebas. “I have had more than enough interest in this expedition, and I will not have your wool-headed antics causing problems. I need a balanced team for this. So, get along, or get out!”
The pair tried to stare the other down, but with one final push from Sebas moved to opposite ends of the dock. With an exasperated roll of his eyes, the expedition organiser moved amongst a handful of other warmly wrapped figures, shaking hands and exchanging brief pleasantries. His eyes fell upon Grace, and his eyes lit up as he hurried over.
“Young lady, I have been waiting for you. How do you fare after Will’s appalling behaviour last night?”
Grace’s eyes crinkled as she smiled. “Very well, thank you. I have fought much worse in the past. But, lodging and a warm fire was heavenly.” She looked to Gustav and gave a brief nod of gratitude.
Sebas’ gaze turned to her companion. “Thank you for bringing her here. I will send you word once we arrive back.”
Gustav gave a small huff. “No need. I shall also come on this boat trip.”
“Don’t be a fool! You’ve already been on one expedition.”
“This isn’t a negotiation, Sebas.”
The group coordinator leaned closer to Gustav, turning his body away from Grace. “You’d risk your life for a pretty face? Your mother has no one else.”
Gustav folded his arms, standing up straight and looking down on the slightly shorter Sebas.
Sebas looked to Grace. “Your pig-friended suitor here has likely not told you of the risk he’s taking. I will not either, as you will see soon enough.” Looking past her and Gustav, he moved off
She turned her green eyes to Gustav. “First your mother, now Sebas. What is going on with this expedition, and the ones before it? What fool risk are you taking to impress me?”
He waved away her query. “The expeditions have become something of a tradition in the town, and earned a wayward reputation. As with many long-held practices and beliefs, the truth can be lost to superstition and plain old fear mongering.”
Her gaze turned icy. “So you’re calling your mother a liar?”
“Hardly. These expeditions have been going on since before her time, so she will have grown up with the legend.”
“Sebas loves telling the story, and will likely regale everyone with it when we reach our destination.”
“The far north-east of Trinaze’s fishing grounds.”
She looked around at the bustle on other docks, the last handful of fishing boats finishing their provisioning and boarding. “Isn’t there something we should be loading? Weapons, supplies?”
“Not today,” Sebas said as he walked past her, alongside the well-dressed man who had briefly fought in the pit next to the one the two strongmen had. “As I was telling Francois here, this is merely a sightseeing voyage to help explain the purpose of our expedition. A meal will be provided, as we will likely return mid-afternoon.”
Putting his thumb and middle finger to his mouth, he let out a shrill whistle to draw everyone’s attention. “Good morning everyone. My thanks for your attendance, as such an early departure may battle with your hangovers. We shall return in time for some beer and a substantial meal at the Doxie this afternoon, but some food will be procured during the trip.”
He gestured towards the nearest boat, a well-maintained vessel of better quality than many of the others Grace had briefly observed departing for the lake’s fishing grounds.
“If you would all be so kind, please climb aboard, and our trip shall begin.”