The morning sun was concealed by the low-lying fog that rolled over the eastern ocean since before dawn. The only sound that could be heard on the streets of the glum town was the wash of the waves. The last time Halley sailed here, on a different ship, Osterhamn was a bustling port city. Now and trace of that bustle had long since trickled away. What with the War Between Wings, he figured that Vitrasbaen hardly had time to trade with other realms.
“You sure this is the place, Hal?” Tobey asked as he joined Halley on the deck of their run down sailboat. Generous transportation,
“Aye,” Halley nodded. “Don't look much though, does it?”
“I've seen pillaged villages with more life 'an this,” Tobey chuckled before turning back toward the cabin. “Oy, Salbert! Lacran! Katir! Shelbon! Flare! To the deck, you lazy cows!”
Halley laughed at Tobey's poor memory. Shelbon had passed a week prior to scurvy, the poor lad. He wasn't the first they had lost to it, though, but his absence was still felt by all on board.
Old man Tobey laughed vivaciously as the rest of the ship's crew stumbled to the deck. First up was Katir, a thin, small man with dark skin and wiry, black hair. Salbert lumbered up next. The beast of a man stood more than a head taller than Flare, the red-headed boy of only fifteen years who stumbled behind him clumsily.
The last one on deck was Lacran, sporting the usual baggy rags and a large cap. One would assume that Lacran was a young man, a couple years older than Flare and just a pinch younger than Halley. Lacran made sure to pull weight on the ship, and from the first week or so quickly became one of the hardest workers onboard. Halley had suspected that it was some sort of compensation.
And compensation it was, for Lacran had a very pretty secret. Shortly after coming aboard, the hard worker was found to be a year or so older than Halley after all. Though that wasn't Lacran's only secret, which Halley had made sure to fuck out of her once he found out.
“It's been a shitty voyage,” Tobey bellowed with a firmness most would envy, “an' three weeks too long, if ya ask me. But we're 'ere.”
Halley glanced at Lacran sheepishly, who paid him no heed. He took note of her shoes, or rather, the shoes she had pillaged from Shelbon's cold feet.
“Not quite in one piece, though,” Halley said thoughtfully.
“Aye,” Tobey replied gruffly. “In any case, we may be at Vitrasbaen, but our journey is far from over, lads. It's here we say goodbye to Cap'n Halley, who'll prob'ly be dead in a week without us keepin' 'im out of trouble, eh?”
The rest of the crew laughed in good nature at Tobey's jibe. Though not everyone was good-natured.
“Good riddance, I say,” Lacran grinned with a cold pettiness.
“You gonna miss my cock?” Halley struck back with a cruel grin dancing across her dirty horse face.
“I've had bigger,” she answered coolly. “On girls.”
The men on deck hooted as Halley quickly changed the subject.
“Well don't count me out that quickly,” Halley said with a confident smile. “I've got a job to do. You all got one too.”
“That we do,” Salbert responded from behind is scraggly brown beard.
“Freedom,” Halley said before turning to face the mainland. To be free, I really havta crawl through the Prison in chains, don't I?
Halley was glad to be on solid ground. Sure, he'd spent most of his life on ships or in chains or on ships in chains, but to him, the earth beneath his feet typically meant he was free to do as he pleased. Unless he was in chains, of course.
By now, Tobey and the others had raised anchor and departed with what few supplies they could manage. All of the shops were boarded up, so they had to make do with a little plundering. It was early afternoon when they finally disappeared beyond the offing on the northern horizon. They sailed ever closer to the distant fells that seemed a thousand miles away. Halley hoped he would never have to climb those.
He knew he could count on the others, though he feared for their safety. The water to the north were usually frozen over, but with summer approaching, a path would usually reveal itself. He knew this from the old days. He wondered how long it would take for his cohorts to meet up with him on the other side. Perhaps a couple months or maybe a couple years. He could not say.
Halley turned his attention to the quiet streets of Osterhamn. He hadn't sailed directly to the town before, so the fact that it was nothing but boarded up buildings and the occasional tumbleweed was quite the shock. Halley had heard tales from older sailors of how the town was a pivotal, bustling trade center between Moiterra and Vitrasbaen and beyond. Now it was naught but a dried-up husk of its former self.
Halley paced himself slowly, contemplating what to do next. The plan was for him to travel on foot, away from the others. Part of the reason was that by splitting up, the chances of completing the mission successfully were greater. The other reason was that Halley always traveled better when he was alone.
He raised his satchel from his side and fingered around inside of it. He had no Moiterran money, which would not have done him a lick of good in this place anyway, but he did have a few daggers and a single sword his client
enough to provide. It certainly was not enough to get him anywhere on money alone. Perhaps when he was done, he'd pay his client back for their generosity
with a steel kiss.
But Halley never got by on money alone. Though money was perhaps the most quintessential instrument to survival a man could carry, it was far from the only one. Some men survived on steel, others on books. Others still kept themselves alive with sheer willpower.
Any good survival instrument could not only keep a man alive, but also put food in his belly. A good instrument was capable of creating great things just as quickly as it could destroy them. With money, intellect, or strength, a man could even bestow upon himself unrivaled pleasure, an eternal happiness borne of the endeavors of his chosen instrument.
Halley, of course, had none of those instruments. He had been a poor sot his entire life, miserable with a sword, dumber than the average stone, and quite frankly, a highly unmotivated man. That's not to say his instrument of choice was any less potent of a survival tool, though. It just required a good woman to buy into it.
Up the road ahead of Halley, a run-down building caught his eye. Unlike the other shanties near the shore, this particular establishment was not board up. In fact, despite looking in dire need of repair, Halley was relieved. Sure it was a sty, but it was the only flicker of life in the empty ghost town.
As he approached, he could hear inaudible conversation taking place within. Upon closer inspection, the building appeared to be a tavern. At least here he supposed he could find a drink before continuing his journey.
He walked inside the building, which was dark and dusty with only one or two candles lit on distant tables and the natural sunlight peering through a couple of small panes in the corners. Despite the sounds of conversation outside, the huge bar still felt as empty as the town itself. He could count the patrons within on both hands. At least he knew people still lived here, but it wasn't changing his impression of the ruinous town.
“Can I help you?” a young girl asked sternly. Halley turned to see a dark-haired beauty reveal herself to him, carrying a pitch of ale. She could not have been older than sixteen or seventeen. Her blue eyes glistened in the few rays of light, but her face had a bit of a scowl to it. He smelled trouble coming off of her like a bitch in heat.
“Yeah,” Halley cleared his throat. “I was looking for a drink to wet my throat, but I seem to have lost my thirst.”
“Then the door is behind you,” she answered bluntly before resuming her service.
“Wait a minute!” he called back to her. “I'm only joking.”
She turned around as her eyes flickered with interest, betraying her stern frown. “Then, how can I help you?”
Halley chuckled a bit and let her serve the ale before continuing the conversation. “I'm passing through, and I was hoping you could point me in the direction of an inn that's not boarded up.”
“You're standing in it,” she replied as she cleared an empty table of dishes. “Fifty swords a night.”
“You're joking, right?” he scowled.
“Not at all. This is my father's inn. Business is bad and people need to sleep and we need to eat.”
“Such a shame. What's the deal here anyway? I was under the impression that this was a bustling port.”
” she answered as she balanced a stack of dishes and carried them to the washbasin. “Then the wars came.”
“Oh. Right.” He knew all about the war between Vitrasbaen and Moiterra a few years back. Something to do with tariffs or some nonsense that forced the two countries to end their already shaky trade agreements. Of course it didn't help that Vitrasbaen was in the middle of another war with Arcanzia. That gave Vitrasbaen even less incentive to re-establish trade agreements.
And that's what set Halley off the most about war. The kings and lords went about getting greedy and flaunting strength, spending barely any time attending to the people like those in Osterhamn who were dying of starvation or malady. Halley was hardly surprised though. Killing it or setting it aflame was a powerful man's natural response to handling something with which he could not come to an agreement.
“So, fifty swords,” she repeated. “And not one less. Unless of course you'd rather sleep outside.”
“I'd much rather sleep indoors,” Halley replied sheepishly as he stepped closer and grabbed her wrist gingerly. “With company.”
“That'd be two hundred swords,” she cracked a devious smile.
“I've got little use for swords,” he laughed. “Except for one.”
“That's a hundred and ninety-nine short,” she pulled her wrist away and stepped back, waving the air in front of her. And the smell would cost another hundred.”
“That's why I could use a bed and a bath,” he egged on, making scrubbing motions. “You could even join me. I don't bite, you know.” Well, not that hard.
“And what would father think?” she laughed as she wiped her bangs from her brow. “Surely, he would not approve me taking the hand of a curmudgeon.”
“Who said anything about betrothal?”
“You can't just crack the egg without staying in the nest,” she turned away momentarily as she scrubbed at the soiled dishes in the basin.
“Hasn't stopped me before,” he challenged.
She rose from the dishes and walked past him. “Then you'll get no quarter from me.” She disappeared into the kitchens, leaving him alone.
So much for that,
he sighed inwardly. What a crazy broad.
He didn't always succeed when it came to using his instrument, but sometimes he was thankful for that. Nothing annoyed him more than the clingy ones that wanted to settle down.
“You there, lad,” a ragged voice resonated from behind. “Come here for a moment, would you?”
Halley turned his gaze to the source of the voice, a table in the dark corner of the room. From this distance, he could not make out to whom the voice belonged. Out of equal parts amusement and curiosity, Halley approached the far side of the room. Upon closer inspection, the owner of the voice revealed himself to be equally ragged.
The man's balding head was his first distinguishing characteristic, which was littered with dark blemishes and the occasional wisp of white hair. The older gentleman wore rather plain clothing, much like Halley's, but far dirtier. Once Halley got close enough, the man smiled, revealing that the few teeth he had left were stained yellow and rotted black. The sight of them did little to stymie the smell of the man's putrid breath, either.
“Yes?” Halley asked, unsure of what to make of the man's interest.
“What is your name?” The man's tone was polite, though Halley hinted a touch of scrutiny.
“The name's Halley,” Halley responded with cautious joviality.
“Halley,” the man repeated. “Quite an elegant name for a lad like you.”
Halley scowled inwardly. “Yeah, Mim was always one for fancy names.”
“I see,” the geezer sighed gauntly. “So, what's a fancy, upstanding
youth like you got shady business here for?”
Halley liked the jest in that.
“Never said I was upstanding.
I'm just passing through is all. Nothin' shady about it.”
“Nothing shady about crossing seas with miscreants?”
“A man doesn't choose his shipmates, old man,” Halley shot back, his amicable facade beginning to waver.
“Such a tearful goodbye for perfect strangers.” The old man's words spat like venom as his eyes glazed over with piercing ice. This one would cause Halley some trouble. “Let's stop playing now, boy. Who are you and what business do you have with this village?” The man's voice rose, which Halley could tell alerted the other patrons. The situation was bound to get nastier by the second. Halley wanted nothing less than to put Dirt-for-Brains in his place. Though with this many ears around, however few they may be, it didn't seem like a viable prospect.
“I told you, old man,” Halley lowered his voice and gritted his teeth. “I'm only passing through. I'm looking for something that does not concern you, nor anybody else in this damn village.”
A couple of men rose from their seats. Damn, not good.
“I doubt your intentions are noble, pirate,
” the old man scowled. Now there was a word Halley had not heard in awhile. “Pirates are pirates, after all. A ship does not drop off one passenger unless he's up to no good. Now be a good criminal and stand down. Miss Paricia might not have a room for you, but I'm sure there's a good cell for you at the Village Hall, yes.”
Halley loved how everyone had a mind to imprison him. What did he ever do to offend people? Besides sleep with their wives or daughters. Or pick their pockets or rob their homes. Or sink their ships and burn their fields. Okay, maybe he did
do a few things
to offend people.
“I'll pass,” Halley regained his composure and turned to leave, but the men who rose from their seats had barred his passage. “Excuse me, sirs,
I have to go.”
“He's the one who was with those plunderers,” one of the men accused. “Those bastards cleared out most of the supplies at the wharf. Saw 'em with my own eyes, I did.”
Halley deduced that these men had watched him come ashore from the shadows rather than make their presence known. Cowards,
he groaned. Ghost town,
“Are you done with your assumptions?” he asked coolly. “If so, I'd like you to move.”
“You're not going anywhere, pirate,
” the second man growled.
Halley shoved one of the men into a nearby table, which collapsed under his weight. He punched toward the second man, who narrowly dodged before punching Halley square in the gut, knocking the breath from him. The first man, regaining his footing, slammed a piece of wood against the back of his head, dazing him further. The innkeeper's daughter's scream was the last thing he heard when a fist to his nose rendered him unconscious.
A stinging sensation brought him back to his senses rather violently. When he came to, his thrashing arms nearly struck the innkeeper's daughter, who was cleaning his injuries with a hot wash.
“Sorry,” he gulped as he winced. All of the pain came whirling back from the altercation moments before... No wait, he was in a bedchamber. Someone had to take the time to carry him here.
“How long was I out?”
“The better part of an hour,” she responded as she gingerly wiped his brow. “You'll have to excuse Azer and his sons. They're an accusatory sort.”
“Tell me about it,” he groaned as he went to touch his throbbing nose.
“No, don't touch it,” she cried quickly. “It may be broken. Leave it be until I have a look at it.”
She turned her attention to his nose. He couldn't see it, but it did hurt like a bitch.
“It looks fine, thank the Goddess,” she sighed in relief. “Those men really are barbaric. But who can blame them? Azer lost his wife and daughter to a pirate raid. He swears a man came ashore and mingled with the villagers before his crew raided in the night.”
“That explains the bloody nose,” Halley tried to laugh. “Paricia, was it? How'd you get 'em off of me?”
She nodded with a smile. “I just told them you were a friend of my father's. I was unaware of your arrival, so when I came to apologize for my initial behavior, I found that mess and explained the situation.”
“A convincing lie, that one.” This time he did manage a laugh. Big mistake. He flailed his arms toward his face as he screamed. “Son of a bitch!”
“Easy now,” Paricia pulled his hands back, gently but firmly. “Though it's not broken, it's still tender. It'll probably be sore for a couple of days.”
“Thanks, Paricia.” His appreciation was genuine.
She smiled silently and left the room, leaving Halley to himself. He glanced around at the chamber, which was small and neatly furnished. It was certainly more ravishing than the run-of-the-mill innchamber. However, he also noticed several keepsakes and belongings dotting the room, not to mention a trunk of clothing. He deduced that this was Paricia's personal bedroom. He wanted to laugh at his fortune, but his nose would not take too kindly to that.
Paricia's absence was short, as she returned with a fresh pail of water and set it beside her bed.
“Nice room you have here,” Halley remarked, trying to make small talk.
you come here?” she asked. “You mentioned to Azer that you were looking for something. What is it?”
Halley sat silent, contemplating his next move. “It's pretty embarrassing,” he replied.
Paricia smiled sheepishly. “More embarrassing than a pathetic excuse for a bar fight?”
He snorted. Or tried to. “Fuck!”
Paricia burst into hysterical laughter as he groaned. It took him a minute to regain his composure after that one.
“Well?” Paricia asked as the dust settled, not letting him dodge the question.
“Okay, don't laugh,” he began, getting progressively more solemn. “But... I came here because I want to settle down for once. I've got a bad rap in Moiterra for being a bit of a playboy. Who can blame me though?”
Paricia hooted as she joined him in the bed. “Really now?”
“If you've got it, use it,” he grinned. “Anyway, what I'm really looking for is love. A good girl to take care of me. Someone who I can grow old with, you know?”
“Says Mr. Who-Said-Anything-About-Betrothal,” she giggled as she ran her hand through his sandy brown hair.
“I was honestly taken aback,” he replied. “I didn't expect to find somebody so quickly, you know? But I see it now.” He sat up in the bed and turned to Paricia, putting his hand to her cheek. “You're just the woman I'm looking for.”
“You expect me to believe that?” she scowled playfully. “Mr. Pretty just happens to fall in love with me, does he?”
Halley put a finger to her lips and shushed her as he brought his face to her ear. “Does this answer your question?” he whispered before kissing her neck.
She responded with a shallow gasp before ripping away at his tunic. He did the same with hers, though he did not have to be as gentle getting it over her head as she was his. They let go of each other and removed their leggings before embracing once more. Their mouths, arms, and sexes locked together simultaneously as they fell back to the bed.
Halley returned his lips to her neck as he cradled the back of it with his rough hands. With each thrust, she moaned, louder and louder, as their hips moved faster and faster. Halley's nose and skull erupted with fire, but no flame burnt as passionately as the one that spewed itself into Paricia. The two of them gasped in tandem as the ecstasy reached its climax, washing them with absolute pleasure.
Halley had needed a good fuck after such a long voyage, and Paricia was more than adequate. As they separated and lay silent in the bed, Halley grew content with his plight. Maybe, just maybe, this wouldn't be such a bad thing after all. He drifted into much needed slumber with a well-deserved smile.
It was still a couple hours before sunrise when he woke again. Paricia lay with her arms stretched across his chest, silently dreaming, of what Halley could not say. He brushed her arm aside as he sat up in the bed. His nose and skull still throbbed and last night's romp helped contribute to the soreness. He slipped his trousers and tunic back on and rose to his feet, sending a passing glance to Paricia. It'd been a good year or so since he had one as good as she was. He felt no shame as he left the room to rummage through the rest of the house for anything he could use on his journey before departing.
He had a job to do, after all.