Windless Sea

by llamajoy

author's note: if i could resist the pirate. (hope the piratical grammar isn't too much; at least it's toned down from the "anthologies" translation, sheesh.) spoilers for what you learn in the ship graveyard, not too far into the game. d'arr.

I must have been losin' me edge, to slip like that. Not as though I haven't kept me peace for a dozen years or more, ridin' the sea and tossin' me hair in the sea breeze.

Or maybe it's true what they say, some secrets can only be kept for so long. That truth will bore right through, like a worm through an apple, pokin' its blinking face into the sunshine.

Should've known things were headed for a change when the wind stopped. Something moved in my blood, then, something more'n just the tide.

Not that I were afeared. Nothing so easy as that, no worry I could drown in a pint of ale, no threat I could stare down from the crow's nest with a blade atween my teeth. It was quieter, like, those windless evenings and the way our careless voices seemed suddenly too loud.

Hydra had this sound to him then, too, that I'd never noticed afore, maybe not hearing it over the voice o' the wind. And blame me 'f I didn't wonder if he was talkin' to us, in that language of the sea that only the best of Cap'ns ever really learn. Or maybe he just knowed that he were the only thing keeping us afloat-- the only ship in all the seas what could sail without the wind. Hydra kept us alive then, that he did, and the men sang chanty counterpoint to his sea serpent songs.

And in the becalmed hush, with the men singin' or stompin' or swearin' at the riggings, I'd set with me back to the mast and dream.

Well, I never let meself drift to sleep, out there in the open. Not again, not after the time I were nearly found out, thanks to the jug of fire-whiskey and the bloody big hole some scurvy blighter tore in me waistcoat. He never saw another morning on me ship, and it's a damn good thing I can hold me liquor, that's all I have to say.

But there I'd stand, dreamin' with me eyes wide open, and wondering where the thoughts were comin' from, more like to the fantastical than the remembered. Little rooms, careful and neat. Soft clothes. Books too heavy to carry, books more full of words than pictures, books of magic.

No one, least of all me, had ever thought to wonder where I'd learned to read, though it were a sight uncommon. It's right hard to believe what a body can forget, 'f it tries, flyin' right in the face of the moon and the sun and the sea.

But not even me fairest spyglass might have spotted them a-headed for me, low on the horizon. Landlubbers all, o'course, and no sea man might've thought less of me 'f I'd've left 'em high and dry on the next island... but I didn't. 'D even go so far as t'say I couldn't. Lookin' in their eyes and knowing-- sure as knowin' the next low tide will leave a ship grounded-- that they'd tear the bottom from me boat and turn me fine plans square on their heads.

Not literally, perhaps, but real enough. Took me near on a day to realize the feeling in me belly, unfamiliar pain, like premonition. Always trust to me instincts, 't's what's kept me alive this long.

Soon as I had a moment with them, alone, and that little girl with her princess-eyes smiled at me, I knew. Knew it were only a matter of time till they saw clean through me, peelin' away me layers like the skin from an onion, and it wouldn't stop till I'd remembered everything.

But by then I knew their names, and knew their journey. And worse, I cared-- too far swept along to change much about anything. Just the way the tides change, they say, the beach that was deep underwater will one day be bleached bare under the sun, no secrets hid.

Just as well I left my ship, left my men behind me. Better that they might not have to know ev'rything about me; any sea dog'll tell you the truth ain't always what you need t'know. Besides, though I know they loved me, there's not a man among 'em that would've set foot in the Ship Graveyard. More sense 'n me, each one, to a man. I've always said so, though they'd never believe me, sea bless 'em.

So we fought our way through the Graveyard, and right tired I was, and drippy wet, and ready to fall over soon as I found a flat dry plank of wood sat still long enough. Then there were hands, at me shoulders, joking and warm. Get dry, Faris, they said, slapping me back, just one of the boys. Get out of these damn wet things!

Galuf's a man I'd want at me back in a fight, that's for certain. But it was Bartz especially, with that laughin' in his bright eyes, and me wonderin' always if he wasn't seein' right through me shirt. Not that I didn't trust him, not that I don' trust him now. I'd sooner that man at my side than nigh on any other. Somethin' in his eyes there is to make a man take right to him.

But right then, his hot fingers worming underneath the ties of me vest, I ought to have stopped him. Ought to have.

Easy enough it should have been, to stick me nose in the air as I always have done, too proud and pretty to take off me clothes with the rest of the lads. Ev'ry Captain has some secret what he holds dear to his heart, an' if I preferred to sleep alone, with me door good and locked, then ev'ry good sea hand knows when he ought not to ask impertinent questions.

But the four of us were sodden and damn weary, laughing with seawater in our eyes 'cause we was so exhausted. And then the three of us men, lettin' the lady have the room t'herself, naturally, were lightin' the fire and shucking off our coats, dumpin' the water from our boots and more'n grateful for the respite. Should've known then, I guess, that I'd let them get under me skin, lettin' them see me all tore up 'bout Hydra--

Swore no man'd ever see me cry. Wonder if Galuf knew it, pullin' on me arms and draggin' me back from going headfirst into the sea. He looked the other way, and if he guessed it was more'n saltwater on his shirtfront he never let on. I must've bruised his arms, too, hangin' on hard as I could. But he never said a word.

Wonder if I should've thanked him.

And, see, it's things like that that get to you, wiggling under your surface till you're wide open and not even knowing it. So soon as I blink in the new warm fire, there's Galuf on me one side and Bartz on the other, and the three of us like oldest friends we're giddy for the long hard battles we've fought through together. And Bartz is tuggin' on me vest laces and Galuf is pullin' the band from me hair, and all too late I remember that I'm s'posed to keep to m'self and not let them in.

Course they don't listen to me, what sort of brain fever must a man have to want to stay in salty, drippy togs? Sure I didn't, but only a couple'a layers of cloth're all that kept me from showing to the whole world. Them clothes meant a lot to me, them layers of armor keepin' me safe inside. But what good do they be if they're soaked through and reeking of ocean water?

So off comes the coat, and then Bartz-- sea bless his heart-- gets a hand in me shirt, good lad, just tryin' to help a stubborn friend... and then he goes real still like, with this look on his face what's not to be believed.

Galuf's jaw near hits the floor, and for a full heartbeat neither of 'em breathe.

What's a man to do?

Nothing, naturally, so we left it to the lady to say the obvious. Reina, comin' out of her room all dry and fluffed and contented like (well, as contented as any fine girl can be, deep in the bowels of a half-sunk ghost ship), with a little pout on her lips like sayin', "Boys, what's all the fuss?"

Bartz says it first. First man to know me in a dozen years, that Bartz. And bless him but he wasn't smooth as butter when the shock'd passed him by. Himself it was that assured the rest that it weren't no big deal, that I was still meself.

Maybe that's why, after all this time, I'd follow the man anywhere he'd want to go, further from my sea than I have ever known. Don' rightly know what I do it for. T'save the world? Can't hardly wrap my head around that.

More like, t'bring back the wind, so my men back home might sail again.


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