"Don't go," she pleaded, her voice soft.
Alex appraised Marianne from where he stood near the door.
She was standing near an open window. The moon was vaguely visible outside, partly obscured by clouds, its soft luminescence teasing them with its light. The flickering effects of several sconces illuminated the room. They gave the thick, black robe that Marianne was wearing a hazy, golden sheen. Her long, sleek black hair flowed down past her shoulders in a messy array.
Alex knew she had probably been rudely woken and rushed towards the room they were in now. The loose, cream colored chemise she wore underneath looked almost the same color as her pale skin. She looked fragile.
Alex hated himself for making her feel like this. He crossed the room and gently placed his right hand on her face, caressing it, trying to comfort her. He stared into her brown eyes and sighed. "I have to... This is the only way."
“No, it’s not,” Marianne retorted.
“It is if I want their approval…”
"You don't need their approval," Marianne said.
Alex lowered his hand. "I do if I have any honor left within me."
"What does honor have to do with this?!" she blurted, and then in an undertone, "Doesn't my opinion count as well?"
"It's the only one that matters, you know that."
"Then don't go!" Marianne said, her voicing cracking. "Who cares about my parents? They never bother to ask me what I want!" She started to talk in a rush. "I'll go with you. We can just run away. Go wherever we want and -"
"Mary," Alex interrupted, taking her hand in his. "Your place is here, with your family. And I can't be a part of that before I prove myself to them."
"You don't have to prove yourself to them..."
A small smile appeared on his face. "I'm glad you think so." He sighed.
They stared at each other for a long moment, neither of them willing to leave.
"I will come back for you. You have my word. And when I do, this," he said, brushing a tear from her cheek, "Will be a part of the past."
Alex placed a gentle kiss on her forehead, and turned around, leaving her standing near the open window. He paced down the long hallway and headed for the tall doors. He didn’t like leaving her like that. But what other choice did he have?
This is the only way…
The guards opened the doors to let him pass.
I will not fail her, he vowed to himself and exited the mansion.
As Alex walked down the cobbled streets of the city of Capri, heading to the docks, he looked up. The sky was dark, with several stars barely visible behind clouds. The streets were far less crowded than during the day, a few people hurried to close shop or head home. As he turned down an alleyway, someone called out to him.
Turning around, Alex noticed a tall, dark figure pacing towards him. Even though it was dark and the light was fading, Alex recognized Mary’s elder brother.
“Going so soon?” he asked, all mock concern.
Xavier-Laurent Delacroix was a striking man. Narrow faced with dark curly hair, he exuded a feel of authority, or rather, the sense that he owned the place. True, his family was one of the most powerful and wealthiest families of the city, but still... Alex had disliked him the second they met.
Alex frowned. He wasn’t really in the mood for Laurent right now. “What is it?”
“You should watch your tone… I’m the last person you want to be angry at, especially considering-”
“Considering what?” Alex interjected.
“-how precarious your relation with my sister seems to be. Increasingly so, I should say.”
Alex gritted his teeth.
“I was just going to inform you that the dower has increased to forty pounds.”
“What?! We agreed to thirty!” Alex shouted. He didn’t believe he just heard that.
“We didn’t agree to anything. And don’t argue with me, I’m just the messenger.”
Alex cursed inwardly. How could he come up with that amount of money? He stared at Laurent. He had a feeling Laurent might have been the instigator of the increase in price.
Laurent was eyeing him closely. Expecting him to throw the first punch probably. “Well? You’d better hurry. Time is not your friend.” And with that Laurent turned around and walked briskly away, off to scorn someone else most likely.
Frustrated and angry, Alex continued the way he was headed.
When he eventually saw what he was looking for, an inn with a sign dubbing it Gaul's Crab, Alex moved towards it.
Raucous laughter and noise came out of the inn as he closed in. It seemed busy - several people tried to cram inside even as Alex walked in. Sailors, seamen, freebooters, farmers, peasants, all kinds of men and women were sitting and standing, pointing and shouting, cursing and crying at one another at their whim. It would go on like this for a while, Alex knew, before people were so tired or drunk that they either collapsed on the spot, or right outside the door.
Alex looked around the large room and it wasn’t long before he noticed a tall, dark-skinned man sitting at the end of the room, near a window. He edged his way to the table and sat down in the chair opposite the man.
The man looked at him with interest. "How did she take it?" he asked, peering at an empty tankard in front of him.
"How do you think?" Alex said, a frown on his face, while he ordered a beer from a passing barmaid.
"That good, huh?" the man suggested.
Alex appraised the man in front of him. His dark skin looked like charcoal in the light of the tavern. His bald head seemed to shine all over, but for the long scar running from behind his left ear, down to his collarbone.
He was smiling. He was always smiling.
Alex squared his jaw.
"Ahh. Never mind," the man said and paused for a moment, looking at Alex. Then, “There something else?”
“I ran into Laurent.”
“Ah, our favorite member of her family. What did he want?”
“They want forty pounds now. Forty fucking pounds, Stanley! You know I can’t make that kind of money anytime soon. Damn it.”
The barmaid came back and Alex accepted the beer. He took a long swig, trying to unwind.
“That is unfortunate indeed,” Stanley said.
Stanley was silent for a moment, then: “So you still want to go forward with all this?"
Alex looked him back in the eye. "Yes, damn it. The sooner she’s gone from that place the better.”
"And me telling you that you are an idiot will not stop you?"
Alex shrugged. "When has that ever stopped me before?"
Stanley laughed. "Indeed. I wish it did, though… I'm not saying this ain't fun and all. It is… mostly. But you really ought to be patient –”
"Please, don't start with me. I just went through this with Mary. I'd rather not do it again." Alex took a swig of his mug and swallowed. "Besides, now comes the hard part. I need money. We both need it. And no paltry amount either. Did you find anything?"
Stanley sighed. "Not much. It seems the whole harbor is out of work. All the ships that come here either have no room to spare, or they do, but then they won’t be departing for a week or so. We might have to wait a while…."
Alex looked at his mug. "No. That's too long. We need something sooner."
"Well there might be a ship or too arriving tomorrow.... If they do, let me do the talking or we'll never get a job."
Alex laughed. "You’re kidding, right? Remember Adanas?"
"What?!” Stanley asked, affronted. “I could not help myself. How was I supposed to know that was a convent and not a brothel? The way they dress themselves..."
The follow day was maddening.
Alex wanted to find work as soon as possible, but Stanley had been right - there was nothing, no givers. Inquiring all along the docks, at the market and even the barracks, Alex found nothing. After he spent the better part of the day searching for something, Alex grudgingly made his way back to the tavern he and Stanley were staying at. Halfway there he spotted Stanley walking out of a building, shouting at someone inside, and headed over to him.
As he got closer, Alex hailed him and Stanley joined him. "What was that about?" Alex wondered.
Stanley waved his hand at the building in a grand gesture. "I think I just found our way out of this place...”
“How do you mean?”
“Well you didn’t find anything, did you?” When Alex said nothing Stanley continued, “Exactly. We have to go someplace else. If there’s nothing here, other cities are our next best option. Apparently there is a ship departing from this fine city tomorrow. It leaves at dawn."
"Where's it going?" Alex asked, eager.
"Anastor," Stanley replied, and turning quiet.
"But?" Alex asked, wondering why he hadn't found about it sooner.
"It's a whaler..."
Alex stopped. He flexed his jaw and continued walking slightly faster than before.
"Wait! I know what you’re thinking but... mate, this is the only way," Stanley urged.
"There has to be something else. We're just not looking hard enough."
"Alex, there's nothing else..."
Alex ignored him and kept on walking.
Stanley rushed in front of him and put a hand on his shoulder, stopping him. They looked at each other for a while, Alex's breath coming faster than it had a few minutes ago.
"If you want to get that dower, this is the only way.”
The image of Marianne standing in front of the window flashed through Alex’s mind. He sighed. "Fine. Let's see this ship of yours."
The captain of the whaling ship was a grumpy old man called Rudy. He must have seen his sixtieth name day gone by, for his hair was turning white, but still seemed to retain some vigor to command a ship. He had been captain of the ship, Grey's Joy, for over twenty years. That the ship had been in business that long, was evident from the worn wood and rusty parts of the hold, bow and stern. There were reinforced spots all over the ship, making the ship look like some kind of weird patchwork of colors. Surprisingly it didn't take long for Stanley to convince the captain for the both of them to join the crew. Rudy seemed to be eager to depart for Anastor and didn’t mind if they joined - if they did didn’t mind scrubbing that is.
Alex didn't like being on a whaler. It reminded him of the loss of his father, not two years past, on a whaling ship like this. The smell of oil, the stains of blood, the pieces of giant bones that added a grim decoration to some parts of the ship. At least this way they would get to Anastor within a couple days.
And hopefully some money... Alex mused as he looked over the bow of the ship.
The sky slowly got darker, the sun setting. The waters around him were dyed vermillion, the cliffs casting long shadows. The whole world seemed bathed in orange light. At the cry of gulls far behind him, Alex turned around and regarded the city of Capri in front of him, with its sprawling towers and buildings made of brick and stone.
The city where he had spent the last two weeks trying to find a way to win the favor of one of its many families... A wealthy family at that. But whatever he said or did, it didn't seem to make any difference. They didn't think he was worth their daughter. He did not remotely have anything like a dower for Marianne and this was a must according to her parents. How could she live without the security that she has had for her entire life?
He was frustrated by the family's stubbornness to say the least. Stanley argued that her parents were probably only trying to do what was best for Marianne. Alex had suggested to Marianne several times that they just run away. She had told him that her parents never truly listened to her, so he thought: Why start now? When he brought it up, she’d argued that her family wouldn’t allow them to leave. She told him he didn’t know her parents, which was true, but still.
Despite his wish to just elope with her, a part of himself knew that a life without security, his life, wasn’t something that everyone would want. He’d never wanted it, but he did. He never knew for sure if his father would return from the sea. Although he didn’t show it, he was concerned when his father went out, and counted the days till he returned. So he understood why Marianne’s family were loath to give her up to some stranger from the sea. But that didn’t mean he had to like it.
If a dower was what it would take for them to trust him, that was what he would get. But for that Alex needed money. And to get money he needed work. And work was not to be found in Capri, at least not since he had been here. So to Anastor he would go.
On a whaler... Alex hoped their journey would be swift.
Alex sighed and looked in the direction of the citadel, where he knew Marianne would be watching, peering out of one of the many windows. Wait for me…
He noticed Stanley walk up to him a moment later.
"Well, we're off," he said as he clapped Alex on the shoulder and stood next to him, staring at the city as well. He regarded Alex and said, “You’re doing the right thing.”
A minute filled with lots of shouts and cries between the crew and the captain later, the vessel started to move away from the deck. Slowly but surely they edged away from Capri, and headed north, towards orange skies and the prospect of employment.
"Did you find anything?" Alex asked as he and Stanley were scrubbing the greasy deck. It wasn't a pretty sight - blood from catches past still clung to the deck, unwilling to let go, which made it hard to clean away. The water and soap they used wasn’t as effective as one would like it to be, and it was more to elbow grease that they managed to clear the deck.
Stanley had been on a search of his own while they had been in Capri. He hadn’t known his parents, no one really, before he met Alex years ago. His dark skin suggested he was from the south, but where exactly he did not know. Somewhere far to the south, people suggested, since the only people they knew that had skin as dark as his came from there. But the south they were talking about lay far away, hundreds of miles away from Capri or the surrounding lands. Stanley wanted to know why his parents had left him. And why, of all places, he ended up in Linwick, so far from his supposed birthplace, which Alex also called home. Stanley had been looking for answers all his life. Alex did not pity him, he understood, for he felt the same way about his mother. They shared a certain degree of restlessness and a determined attitude that had made them good friends ever since they met years ago.
Stanley shook his head. "Alas, I did not." He sighed and waited a few moments before continuing. "I should just give up... I’m never going to find them…"
Alex tilted his head and regarded Stanley. "Don't say that. Just... be patient."
"Patient?! Hah! You're kidding me right? I've been looking for years. And still nothing..." Stanley exclaimed. He sighed and continued in a lower voice, "That's my line you know..."
Alex grinned. "I thought it appropriate."
They continued in silence.
Hours later they were sitting in the hold, drinking some rum, one of a few items that the ship had gained since stopping at Capri, whilst having a conversation with another sailor.
The sailor, an old fart of a man, seemed somewhat grim about events in the north, and was only too happy to share them with anyone who happened to walk by. Apparently there was stuff going up north. Raids or something. But, as the sailor pointed out, Anastor seemed not to be giving it much thought.
"Have there been a lot of raids recently?" Stanley asked.
"Aye," the sailor replied. "Don't know why though. Not that it matters. How much more cause do those northerners need? If it was my farm they were raiding I wouldn't stand by and wait for those idiot politicians to do something. The waiting alone would kill me."
"Why isn't the city taking action?" Stanley asked.
"They are, but it's not enough! They're too busy with their politics... They don't care what happens on their outer borders unless it's interfering with their elections and they're forced to confront it,” the sailor replied.
Alex smiled a grim smile. The senate of Anastor was notorious for its conservatism.
"They should just go there and put an end to 'em, if you ask me. Bloody annoyance," the sailor said and took a drought of his ale.
"Why does this concern you?" Stanley asked.
”Well raidin’ ain’t something you’d want to happen to people you know, right?” The man was silent for a moment. "My brother lives there, you see. Never liked him much, but don't want him to be killed either." He took another swig of his beverage. "Enough about me and my worries. What business do the two of ya have in Anastor? You're a long way from home be the looks of ya," He mentioned Stanley.
"Work, hopefully," Alex said, before Stanley could come up with some snide remark. "Capri wasn't as fruitful as we had hoped..."
The man nodded. “Well good luck finding some honest work in Anastor. I warn ya though, don't get mixed up with them politicians. Nasty lot. Don't trust them, or you'll be in for a surprise." He paused. "If you can't find nothing, there's always room on this ship here, I reckon."
"Good to know," Stanley said, and smiled. "The next ale's on us, my friend."
Several days later Alex woke to the sound of people shouting. Rising out of his bunk, he made his way out of the berth and onto deck to find the men of the Grey's Joy busy preparing to dock. In the distance, underneath an orange and purple sunrise, sitting high above on a headland, he saw several towers with red tops. Lighthouses, lining the cliffs up to the city of Anastor, warning ships of the jagged rocks that jotted the surrounding waters, and guided them to the safe harbor near the base of the cliffs.
As he gazed upwards at the cliff above the harbor, he caught sight of the city. High above the sea, on top of the biggest bluff for miles around, lay the red-white, walled city of Anastor. Even from the sea, the High Keep was visible, towering over the rest of the buildings that made up the main part of the city. Situated the top like that, it commanded a certain presence and could be seen from miles around. From atop the cliffs, Alex knew, one could also see the island of Arnen, a mile or two off shore to the west. The sight of the city looked pleasant enough. Alex wondered if the weather would stay like that. His mind drifted to Marianne.
The day he had met her the weather could not have been more different. He remembered the sun covered by a gray sky. The wind was picking up pace and he remembered the sound of thunder off in the distance. The ship he had sailed with had just docked, and he was busy unloading the cargo, when he saw her. On the rocky shoreline, her hair fluttering in the wind, stood this lonely figure. She was staring out at sea. When he was done unloading the ship and said goodbye to several of his shipmates, she was still there, and he went over to her. The wind had turned into a gale, and he was concerned why she was still there. When he eventually neared her and called out to her, she turned around and looked at him for a moment, tears falling from her pale face, before running off. It wasn’t until a week more had passed that he saw her again.
"Been a while, hasn't it?" Stanley said, breaking Alex from his reverie.
Alex nodded as Stanley joined him.
"Worry not mate, we'll find something here. I'm sure of it,” Stanley said after a moment of silence.
"Always full of optimism, aren't we?"
"Of course, I couldn't live any other way," Stanley retorted and slapped Alex on his shoulder. "I think we might be in luck after all. Look at all those ships."
As they made their way to the farther reaches of the docks, Alex saw the ships that Stanley was talking about. Dozens of schooners, galleys and other ships were situated all over the place. People were calling and shouting stuff, supplies were thrown up and down a ship and gulls and terns were crying in the air. Alex noted several war galleys, situated near the center.
"What do you make of them?" Alex wondered aloud, indicating the galleys up ahead.
"Capers being a nuisance? I don’t know."
Alex frowned. The prospect of capers or freebooters wouldn't make it easier to find work at sea, at least not official stuff. "I guess we'll find out soon enough."
Stanley cursed as he walked away from the custom officers and headed over to Alex standing at the end of the dock. "Just because I'm a different color makes me suspicious?! Idiots…"
"What?!" Stanley asked, vexed.
"You are a threat..."
"Yeah... well, women don't count."
"Did they tell you why they wanted to talk to you?"
"No, not a word..."
"Hmm. Let's find an inn then."
"Good idea. I think I know just the place."
The Club and Barrel. Alex looked at the sign swaying slightly in the wind above the door to the inn. The building looked like it had stood there for ages. Gulls were crying their call above them, squabbling about a piece of fish on the edges of the roof of the building. Alex heard loud voices and raucous laughter coming from inside. As Alex peeked through the windows inside, someone bumped him while coming out of the inn.
"Watch 'ere you be going!" came the slurry voice of the man as he bumbled by.
"Speak for yourself!" Stanley retorted.
As they stared at the man stumble across the street, Stanley beckoned towards the inn and Alex followed.
Inside, they headed for the bar and asked for some ale.
Men of all shapes and sizes were busy talking, yelling and throwing stuff at each other, whilst others kept to themselves, playing cards or whatnot. Alex noticed several men in a group near a hearth, talking animatedly about something. Curious, he indicated the group to Stanley after getting their ales and they edged closer.
"I'm telling you, we've not heard the last of them. If those politicians don't do something soon, I'm going to crack some heads in myself!" a man with a big tankard in his hands was saying. He seemed to be the center of attention as most eyes were on him, and looked more farmer than seaman.
"I'll join you," an older man said, his gray hair falling to his shoulders.
"Aye," several others agreed fervently.
"If I may be so bold..." Stanley said and walked closer so they could see him. "What, my fellow men, would make you want to crack the heads of statesmen?"
The group grew silent as they appraised Stanley.
Alex had to agree he made quite a sight. Tall and broad shouldered as he was, with his ink-black hue and odd combination of raiment. Alex smiled as he noted the confused looks on the men looking at them.
"What's it to you?" the older man said.
"I was just being curious," Stanley replied.
Silence again. The man looked around for confirmation. When no one moved, he swallowed and turned back to Stanley. "Well we want payback for our destroyed crops, that is," the man said.
"And our buildings!"
“Don’t forget about our horses!”
"Aye," others agreed.
"And you're not allowed to?" Alex asked.
The group stared at him for a moment, and then the man with the tankard went on.
"The Senate," he spat," has consented to look into these matters...”
"Much good that will do!" the old man shouted.
Tankard went on. "What my friend here is saying is that we’ve seen parties of officials being sent off to deal with the raids, but nothing’s changed. The raids keep happening, heck it’s even increased. And the Senate just keeps on saying not to worry.”
“Do they really think we’ll just sit tight and wait for them to save us?” the old man said.
“Not if we have something to say about it!” someone else shouted, pumping his fist in the air.
Loud cheers went up.
Alex hadn't thought much of the raids really. Most of the time he was at sea. The times he did go ashore, were mostly spent, well, near the shores. Of course that had changed somewhat when he had come to Capri and met Marianne, but the city lay hundreds of miles away from the lands the men were talking about. Alex and Stanley exchanged a glance and moved away.
As they walked over to a window bench, the group of seamen started at it again.
Several people were leaving the inn and the room became quieter, besides the group of men near the hearth.
Alex noticed it had started raining outside. He frowned.
"Well? What do you think?" Stanley asked.
“What do I think of what?” Alex asked, his mind elsewhere.
“All that talk back there...”
“Oh, that. Ignore it. What does it have to do with us? We’re miles away and miles more when we find something to do, I reckon.”
After spending most of the morning near the docks futilely looking for work, Alex and Stanley were greatly relieved to hear word of a trade-ship that needed crew members. The sun was still high in the sky when they found the ship near the edge of the port. A large carrack with reddish brown sails, dozens of men were walking up and down, loading cargo and supplies. Near the ship, leaning against a couple of large crate, stood a young lad with a cap, looking over some notes.
"Hello there," Stanley ventured as they approached them.
The boy jumped, surprised. After appraising Stanley and Alex for a moment he asked, “Yeah? What do you want?"
"We've heard she’s in need of some more crew members,” Stanley replied, mentioning the ship. "Where have you heard this?" the boy asked, surprised still.
"From some sailors in a bar," Stanley said.
"Okay," the boy paused. He seemed unsure of what to do next. "Yes. Of course. The captain is indeed looking for more men. Ya wanna meet him then?”
"That’s why we’re here," Alex said.
“Okay, follow me,” the boy said and led them onto the ship, and into the hold. Alex noted lots of crates and barrels, labeled with goods from the south on them.
“Wait here,” the boy said and walked away, leaving the two of them in the hold.
“Look at this!” Stanley said, walking over to one of the many barrels. He positioned it so Alex could see the label on it. “Wine from the Red Hills! Perhaps it’s a sign?”
Alex smiled slightly. The Red Hills lay just northwest of Capri and was known for its many vineyards and excellent wine.
Mary’s favorite wine...
Presently the boy returned smiling, followed by a big bear of a man. He looked at Alex and Stanley and then slapped the boy.
"Run along now boy. Make sure those idiots outside do their job.”
“Yes, cap’n!” The boy said and hurried outside.
"The boy tells me the two of you were looking for work on my ship? Is that so?" The man asked, short gray hair and quite a bit of beard.
“Aye, it is. If you still need the men of course,” Stanley replied.
“I do. Walk with me,” the captain said.
They followed him up the stairs and out of the hold. As they walked around the ship, the three of them recalled several of their previous journeys at sea. Apparently the captain, who called himself Miles, was heading to Haypool, a small city near the northern coast of Wyedon. When asked if he expected any trouble, for Wyedon was one of the areas supposed to be harassed by plunderers, Miles said he wasn’t concerned. The city was well sheltered where it had been built, and they wouldn’t be in the city long. Besides, he said, he had some official business with the mayor which had to be dealt with as soon as possible.
The cries of birds, men shouting and the general creak and shuffle of things being brought on board was ever-present. The sun was shining brightly on them, glinting off Stanley’s head and, Alex noticed, the captain’s as well. He smiled.
As they were walking on the bow of the ship, Alex noticed a man looking at them, several yards away.
"Ever had a run-in with freebooters before?" the captain was asking them.
Alex turned to him. "Aye, countless times. But for some reason we’re still alive."
This seemed to please the captain. "I can see that. Good." He paused. "Well, as far as etiquette goes, you seem up for the job alright."
Right then the man who had been looking at them strode over. He was the same height as Stanley, though not nearly the same color, with long, ash-blonde hair. His green eyes bored into Miles as he stood in front of him.
"Miles, are you sure that these men," he said, waving at Alex and Stanley, "Are capable of carrying out orders?"
"That's what we have you for isn't it?" Miles retorted. He glowered back at him, unfazed.
"Need I remind you the importance of this mission? We cannot afford to have unruly men at sea."
"Mate, we're standing right here…" Stanley said, annoyed.
The man ignored him.
"I'm sure they'll do. They've certainly had more experience than yourself. So, why don't you go back to that gal of yours and bid her farewell? You won't be seeing her for a while I’d venture…" Miles said.
The man clenched his teeth. Smiling grimly he said, "Be sure these two do their jobs, or I'll make it so you won't need to worry about yours…"
The man stared at them for another moment, and then promptly strode away.
"Friendly fellow, ain't he?" Stanley said.
"Quite," Alex replied.
"Don't worry about him. He's just pissed he's been assigned to guard duty onboard this ship... Anyhow, back to business. If you two hold up your end of this bargain, I’ll do so too. We leave tomorrow at noon. Try not to be late."
"We'll be there," Alex said and they shook hands.
As Miles walked away, Stanley and Alex headed back in the direction of the Club and Barrel.
"Finally," Stanley exclaimed.
Alex couldn't agree more.
The next morning, Alex and Stanley made their way downstairs to break their fast. As they sat down, Alex noticed a couple of men staring at them. They seemed to be annoyed by something, but what he wasn't quite sure.
"I wonder what Miles meant by official business," Stanley said, scratching his chin.
"Probably something very important. Notes, a picture, who knows? Does it really matter?" Alex said.
"I guess not, though if it's worth something, that would attract unwanted attention."
The room was getting more crowded as they ate. The group of men that Alex noticed were now openly pointing in their direction, their voices animated.
"Speaking of unwanted attention, we might have some trouble,” Alex said, calmly placing his hand over the knife on the table.
"How so?" Stanley wondered, airily toying with his spoon.
"It seems you’ve acquired quite a crowd. They’re pointing at you."
"You sure they're pointing at me? Not you?" Stanley teased.
“Yeah, I'm sure. Here they come.”
One of the men had stood up and was slowly walking towards them.
"What do you think you're doing?" he demanded as he reached their booth.
"What does it look like?" Alex asked, annoyed.
"Shut it funny man, I wasn't talking you. I was talking to him," the man said, stabbing his finger at Stanley.
Alex noticed that the innkeeper abruptly exited through a door.
Stanley stood up and turned around to face the man. The man was shorter than Stanley, but had a stocky build and big arms. “We were having breakfast."
"What makes you think the likes of you can have breakfast here, hmm?"
"The likes of me?" Stanley said, affronted.
"Aye! You have no place here, mate. You should go back to where you came from. We have no room for people like you." He paused and waited for Stanley to continue. When Stanley did no such thing, the man went on, "Best be leaving now, mate."
"Or, what, mate?" Alex asked, standing up as well. He really didn't want to get into another fight over nothing, not again…
Several of the other men were walking over to them, surrounding them. "We'll make you leave, of course," the man said, grinning somewhat.
"Just let us eat, and we'll leave afterwards," Alex said.
The man was silent for a moment. A slow smile crept up his face. "Nah, I think we'll just throw you out."
The next moment everything seemed to blur into each other as the men took swings at them. People bulled into each other, faces were hit, teeth were broken, and groins were kicked in. It started off as two against four, but soon more men thought it would be fun to join in and a brawl commenced with dozens of people. A lot of them didn't really care who they were punching, as long as they punched someone.
An hour or so later Alex and Stanley found themselves running as fast as they could towards to docks. Bruised and frustrated, they had realized that they were about to miss the ship sailing for Haypool.
"Man, I think I broke something," Stanley said as they made their way down the cobbled streets.
"What, your ego?"
"Why did you have to pick a fight on this day? We're going to miss the damned boat!"
"Come on! I didn't start it! Those idiots were going to have a go at us no matter if we left or not…"
The sun was already high and shining bright.
Fuck, please let the boats still be there, Alex thought as they made their way onto the wharves that were situated along the coastline. His inner thighs and groin made it painful to run fast.
"Why did you have to kick me in the groin?" Alex grunted.
"I was aiming for the man behind you! Not my fault that that other bloke pushed you in the way," Stanley retorted, vexed.
Alex stopped and cursed. "Where's are the ships? Did we miss them?"
Stanley paused to breathe and then pointed out towards the sea, "Are those them?"
"Damn it! They've left without us! I told you this would happen…"
After a few haggard breaths Stanley shouted," Look, over there at the quay! That's one of the boats!"
"Why is it still here?" Alex wondered.
"Who cares, let's go!"
They rushed towards the ship and saw that it was still loading some goods. The ship looked beaten up and old, with patches all over the place and pieces of metal sticking out at odd angles. Ironically the ship seemed to be called The Lady White, the words engraved below the stern, still visible after all these years.
Someone hailed them as they closed in.
"The captain said we might have two stragglers," the man said, smiling. "Come on then, hurry up."
Exhausted, Alex and Stanley made their way onto the ship and stood against the rail. As the ship was untied and departed, they exchanged a glance and smiled as The Lady White finally set off from the city of Anastor, in pursuit of the two ships ahead of her.