Better late than never, right? =S
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After several hours of travelling with the fishing fleet through the obscuring and chilling mists, Sebas directed the helmsman to push their boat through the flotsam of vessels. Many an insult was flung by the fishermen, both for the expedition leader’s pushiness and his fool’s errand.
Standing with Gustav at the boat’s siderail, Grace observed with amusement from beneath her cowl as Sebas returned fire with his own verbal tirade, berating his berater for fighting and holding their liquor like a girl.
“Sebas, that is insulting to those females among us who can do both.”
He turned to her, the angry glint in his eyes barely subdued. “My apologies to you, dear lady.”. He pointed a finger to his abuser, raising his voice to ensure he was heard. “That fool over there has a jaw of fine dishware, and is a drunken reveller by the end of his first tankard.”
The indignant reply skipped across the glassy, faintly listing waters. “Your mother had fleas, Sebas.”
“Get in a pit at the Doxie and tell me that, you coward. I’ll foot your bar tab for the week if your fists can back up your yapper.”
The fisherman laughed as he moved off to help prepare the nets for the first catch of the morning. Grace’s eyes glittered with mirth as the mere mention of the tavern’s fighting pits set Hercule and Liert to arguing over who was the superior combatant in a fistfight. The pair could have more decorum, she thought to herself, but what she saw of their fighting abilities told her that they would be profitable additions to any venture.
Gustav turned to her, with a bemused look on his face. “Those two are like squabbling siblings.”
“That’s true, and the town fisherfolk are not far behind them. Sebas seems popular with them.”
“Well, Sebas is a man of many plans, and is an artist in selling an expedition like this. However, this one is his elusive prize.”
“What is so special about it?”
Gustav shuffled his feet. “There is a local legend that he believes is truth, and he has dedicated his life to proving it.” He gestured ahead of the boat’s path. “When you see it, you will begin to understand. Sebas relishes telling the story, so I shan’t deny him.”
Grace considered his words. “Does he pay well?”
“For this expedition, absolutely. Many of the fisherfolk have been on a previous attempt, hence their hostility to him. Riches likely to make Mergyan nobility envious has been promised many a time, but not so much as a gold has ever been found. Nearly everyone in Trinaze thinks him a fool leading us all on.”
“Nearly everyone? You believe him?”
Gustav shrugged. “Well, some parts of his story. Aspects of previous attempts have likely been exaggerated for dramatic effect.”
The fishing fleet was now far behind them, and Grace appreciated the feel of the wide open sea. After weeks of sheltering in forests, with dangers lurking under the canopy, anywhere it was possible to easily identify threats was preferred. The morning sun had begun to brighten the sky, and the mists were starting to thin. The calls of many birds began to skip across the water’s faint rippling. Almost a match to them was the excited chattering of someone on the boat Grace had not previously noticed.
Tipping her head in the person’s direction, she spoke conspiratorially. “Gustav, do you know that man over there?”
He turned to look. “The young ginger-haired fellow with the strong jaw? That’s Ferresto, our town’s bird enthusiast. He has a keen ear, and can identify the call of any bird that lives on the lake, whether it’s all year round or for a season only. ”
“Such a gift would make him an enviable tracker.”
Gustav nodded with approval. “An astute observation. He longs to see the world, but his folks, as he is their only son, are fiercely protective of him. That he wishes to go on this expedition will cause them no end of grief, warranted or not.”
“You make it sound as if the townsfolk do not know whether to be afraid or not.”
“Some believe, some don’t. The newer generations in town think the legend is a wild story, while the elder ones treat it with wariness. In every story, they say there’s a seed of truth.”
Sebas’ voice rose above the conversational din. “We approach our destination. Any who have come on a previous job, follow me to the back of the boat. ”
The group leader began his walk to the vessel’s aft, none followed. He halted his steps beside Gustav, giving him a scolding look. “I shan’t take responsibility for your fool behaviour. Walk with me.”
The younger man stood taller and jutted out his chin. “It is one part of the story that is designed to add some drama. That none have tested it on three generations speaks ill of their courage.”
Sebas sighed, giving Grace a mournful look. “I’m sorry.”
Pairing Gustav’s mother’s words with Sebas’, a sense of dread washed over her. “Gustav, just humour the man. Whatever is supposed to happen may be a story, but why risk it if there are dire consequences?”
Gustav laughed. “Because it’s just a fabrication.”
Sebas’ voice carried across the deck. “There it is.”
Grace looked forward to see what approached. The last of the mist faded, revealing a looming cliff face. Tilting her head to see what perched upon it, the sight of crumbling crenelations and toppling towers revealed that a dilapidated castle stood at the cliff’s plateau.
“Ladies and gentlemen, that castle is the focus of our venture. Helmsman, drop anchor; this is close enough.” A bellow to the bow of the boat was answered with metal chain clinking as it fell over the side.
So entranced with what she saw, the hood slid to her shoulders without notice. She walked to the front of the boat, a haughty Gustav in tow.
Her trance was broken by the sound of something falling upon the deck. Turning, she saw Gustav, limbs twisted in awkward angles as he had slumped to the beams. Eyes widened in shock, she put her hand to his neck. Those already at the bow of the boat had moved forward to observe. She looked to Sebas, who had not moved from the vessel’s stern.
His mournful look was joined by a shrug of the shoulders.
“He was warned, but boys will be boys.”
– ♥ –