His enthusiastic grin progressively widened as the clink of each coin reached his ears. Slowly stroking his gray, stubby beard as the last few coins dropped into the pouch, he eyed the buyer with contentment. Finally, when the last coin settled into place, he drew the cords on the pouch tight and tied them into a secure knot. With one hand clutching the worn leather pouch, he reached the other into his vest pocket and withdrew the title of ownership to the _Dame Sarina_. Although he was pleased to finalize the sale of his ship, he was just as sad to be losing it. A look of absolute capitulation appeared across his face, then — just as quickly — it was gone.
“Lad, ’twas good doing business with you,” the old sea captain said trying to smile as he handed the buyer the title of ownership. “Take care of the old girl and she’ll always bring you back to port safely.” The buyer, with his newly acquired captain’s medallion hanging from the leather strap around his neck, took hold of the document and, quickly looking it over, beamed with the pride of a new father.
“Yes, of course Captain Sephlin. Thank you sir,” the buyer said as he offered his hand to formalize the closing of the deal. “I’ll make sure the _Dame Sarina_ continues its rich history and good service to all the ports she frequents.” The old captain’s smile gradually faded as he slowly accepted the other man’s hand.
“Aye. You do that, lad. You do that.” Turning sharply toward the rear of the ship, Captain Sephlin strode assuredly across the wooden deck of the _Dame Sarina_, recalling his first day aboard. It had been a sunny day, much like today. The wind had been gently invading the land from the sea. The sails had a soft luster that reflected the sunlight as they hung with dignity from their masts and the expertly strung rigging had looked strong and tight. He also recalled the briny smell of the sea and the groaning creak of the ship. All of these sensations, combined with the gentle swaying of the ship, suddenly caused Beck Sephlin to want to turn back and reclaim his beloved ship. But he knew that this was the final decision. He had thought long and hard about it for many months. After all, he was getting on in years and felt that he wasn’t able to carry out the position of captain to *his* satisfaction. He was beginning to second-guess his decisions, thought his judgements were less than mediocre, and considered his reactions to be much too slow.
Pausing by the starboard rail, Captain Sephlin turned to look once more at the familiar world he was leaving. The warm sea breeze swirled around him, taunting him with its uncaring caress. Across the horizon, dark storm clouds had begun to collect, threatening to swallow up the skies. He descended the rope ladder to the dory that was awaiting him. As the oar man slowly pushed the small boat away from the _Dame Sarina_ and began rowing toward the docks, Beck looked for the last time upon the heavy freighter.
The anchored ship looked weathered, but still seaworthy, in the hot midday summer sun. The hull had turned from a rich brown to a silvery-gray, and the sails had begun to display tattered edges, but only slightly. As the distance grew between the small boat and the _Dame Sarina_, Beck could feel his heartache grow with increasing melancholy and he gripped the coin-filled leather pouch even tighter for reassurance. He would certainly miss the old ship, love of his life, and the only valuable possession that he had ever owned.
“What is to become of me?” he said quietly to himself, shaking his head. The very same question he had been asking himself ever since the notion of ending his career crossed his mind. To sail the seas was all Beck had ever wanted. He had spent nearly his entire life on the water, hauling cargo from port to port on board the _Dame Sarina_ and had savored every moment. Now all he had were the treasures of those memories.
All too soon the small boat bumped into the dock, jarring Beck back into reality. Fastening the pouch to his braided leather belt, he turned and pulled himself up the steep ladder. Once reaching the top of the dock, he slowly made his way down its length, looking out at other anchored shipping vessels. Most of the ships he recognized as long-time competitors. There was one cargo ship that he had not seen before. Slowing his pace further, he began admiring the beautiful lines of the newcomer to Dargon harbor. The rugged canvas sails were being rolled and stowed until the next time she would set out to sea. The rigging was being secured and the decks were being cleared. There were no markings on the ship, so it must have been a newly built vessel, awaiting its captain and crew. With a deep, slow sigh, he continued onward down the dock and stepped onto the wide expanse that was Commercial Street.
Across the broad open area stood taverns, brothels, and merchants of every variety placed between the huge dry storage warehouses where the cargoes from all the ships were kept. The area was teeming with activity. Mobs of dock workers bustled back and forth loading and unloading cargo from the ships. Most of the innumerable cargo was being loaded onto wide, flat ox-drawn carts to be moved into the warehouses while other carts were being loaded for transport to local businesses. Still other carts were delivering freight to the docks for export. And all over the area, laborers swarmed like flies, packing and unpacking the carts. Then there were the street vendors in their ramshackle booths, selling everything from common spices to rare textiles to mystic artifacts. Virtually anything could be had on Commercial Street, for the right price. People from every walk of life could be found here, from innocent children and curious clergymen to seedy low-brows and indifferent harlots. < a href=”/bin/gl.pl?2333″>Beck had always considered the activity on Commercial Street to be pandemonium at best, but there was a certain unidentifiable rhythm to it that touched his soul.
Just a stone’s throw from there was the Harbormaster’s Building. Beck seriously considered for a moment not going in to see the harbormaster, but figured that his last honored duty as a well-respected captain should be done with dignity and pride. Beck Sephlin stepped boldly into the throng and deftly wove his way through the masses to the other side of the wide avenue.
He found himself standing in front of an older building that was well maintained and had an air of dignity about it. A brass bell hung over a ship’s wheel that was mounted on the wall. Under the wheel was a polished brass plate on which was inscribed, “Harbormaster — Port of Dargon.” Beck reluctantly ascended the stairs and placed his hand on the door handle to the Harbormaster’s Building and gave it a shove. The door seemed to weigh as much as an anchor, although it never had before. Stepping through the doorway, he paused to admire the varnished wooden floor in the hallway. It was obvious that great pride was taken to keep this building in top condition. Beck continued down the hall until he came to the entrance of the harbormaster’s office. Opening the door, his senses immediately became aware of the aroma of pipe tobacco. Across the room was Jocco Kehlar, the Port of Dargon’s harbormaster. Jocco lifted his gaze from the logbook he was writing in and slowly straightened.
“Good day to you, Beck,” the harbormaster said, his pipe still clenched between his teeth.
“Kehlar,” he replied with a nod of his head. The old captain crossed the room and dug into his pocket. Taking out a small disk, he gently placed it onto the counter. “I’m officially turning in my captain’s medallion, as required by Baranur maritime code. I don’t suppose I’ll be needing it anymore.”
“Aye, you old sea shark. And you’ll be missed along the trade routes,” Jocco returned, removing the pipe from his mouth, a ring of smoke undulating above his head.
“I hardly think so,” Beck said with a chuckle. “Those rat-packing sea pigeons couldn’t wait to gobble up my accounts. Why, they practically trampled over themselves scrambling to get to those pitiful floating tubs of theirs when word of my withdrawal from service went out.”
“Well, I will surely miss you,” Jocco stated as he offered his hand. Beck clenched his jaw and squinted at him.
“Aye, lad. And I’ll be turning to dust in the near future I would assume,” he groaned as he took the harbormaster’s hand in friendship — and farewell.
“Beck, surely it’s not all that bad,” Jocco retorted, taking a draw on his pipe. Beck just stared back at him, silently whispering to himself that it wasn’t Jocco that was ending his career.
“Nevertheless, time has already taken its toll on my weary hide.” The old captain looked down at the shiny brass medallion and then back up at Jocco. With a sigh of resignation, Beck spun around and walked briskly across the harbormaster’s office, turning back to Jocco at the doorway.
“Take care, my friend. One day, you’ll be in these boots,” he said. With a wink and a nod, Beck Sephlin departed.
When he emerged onto the street, Beck stopped abruptly. With a shrug, he let out a deep sigh of disheartenment.
“For Cirrangill’s sake, I’m a damnable landlubber,” he grumbled to himself. “I don’t have anyplace to go. I don’t own any land, not even a house. All I ever really had was the _Dame Sarina_. And now, she’s gone forever.” Then he simply grunted to himself and shook his head, realizing just how silly he was being. Beck looked out over the harbor and noticed the approaching storm. In the distance, jagged ribbons of lightning pierced the brooding sky. He took a deep breath and lifted his head. “Bah,” was all he said before marching off down the street.
At the end of Commercial Street, Beck turned the corner and found himself in front of Sandmond’s, recalling the many nights spent there spinning tales, downing beers, and groping after the wenches. Sandmond’s was one of the few remnants of his old life that he still had left. His ship had been his home, and that was now gone. A shiver of melancholy coursed through him as he began to wonder how his old shipmates were faring and where they were. He wondered if their paths would ever cross again. His captain’s medallion had confirmed his standing in the world, and that was now gone too.
At once he became aware that he was beginning to feel quite empty inside. He reasoned to himself that since he was standing in front of his favorite tavern he might as well stop in for a platter of food and a tankard of ale to lift his frame of mind. Beck headed for the entrance, smiling at the familiar sign over the door that carried the simple symbol everyone knew was Sandmond’s. He ambled past the massive wooden doors that were open to let the stale air out and the fresh air in. As he entered the dimly lit common room, Beck scanned for his favorite spot in the corner and found that it was empty. He took occupancy of the heavy bench behind the thick wood slab table and settled down with a groaning sigh. As the barmaid approached, he pulled out a rag from his vest pocket and daubed at the trickle of sweat that dribbled down his wrinkled forehead.
“Care for a bite to eat, sailor?” she asked, smiling sweetly. Beck looked up at her with a blank expression on his face and slowly nodded.
“Tonight we have spiced beef and steamed vegetables.”
“That agrees with me, lass,” he finally responded, stuffing the rag back into his vest pocket.
“Spiced beef and steamed vegetables it is, then,” she repeated. “Care for a drink with that, love?” Beck thought for a moment.
“A tankard of ale would be fine,” he answered.
“My pleasure. I’ll be back in a mene,” she answered. The woman was not particularly attractive, Beck thought, but he had seen worse. He studied her as she walked away, her long dark hair flowing behind her, seemingly in rhythm with her long, frayed skirt. He thought that he had known her in the years that had passed, but dismissed the idea with a snort and a grin.
He examined the room, looking for someone recognizable, but it was mostly empty. There were only a couple of patrons finishing a meal and two men drinking ale at the bar. He reminded himself of the crowds that packed into this place during the spring festival. The room would be filled with the smells of smoke and stale ale as the echoes of laughter and revelry reverberated from the rafters. The woman who had taken his order returned with a mug of ale and set it down in front of him.
“I’ll be back with your meal, dear,” she said with a wink and headed back to the kitchen. Beck eyed the mug and lifted it to his parched lips, taking a long, satisfying draught. Setting it back onto the table, half emptied, he began to reminisce about the days spent in various ports with his shipmates, drinking and singing and laughing and generally carrying on.
He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to visualize the endearing moments in his life that were now only memories. When he opened his eyes, the slight smile that had crept to his lips began to fade slowly away. He looked around, recognizing nary a soul and watched as two of the patrons exited the tavern. The bartender quietly hummed a tuneless song as he busied himself moving an empty barrel of ale from its stand. Outside, a crack of thunder had boomed and rolled overhead. Beck sighed deeply, floundering in self-pity with a modicum of distress.
“What is to become of me?” he thought to himself. Beck began to think of the perpetual creaking of the ship and the slapping of the water against the hull, almost burned into his ears after so many years at sea. He had dreaded the day that he would end his career, although he knew that one day, it would come. Now, here it was, right on top of him. Of all his shipmates that had signed on to other carriers, only a few had chosen to remain with the _Dame Sarina_. His friends had since moved on, or were killed in the war.
The rest of his family had passed on years ago. He still recollected the fight he’d had with his parents when he was only sixteen. His father, Kettering Sephlin, had wanted Beck to follow in his footsteps, as most fathers do. Kettering had been one of the region’s most respected farmers, although owning only a small wheat field in Dargon. Sarina, Beck’s mother, had wanted whatever her husband wanted, and so had been no help to Beck’s cause. But as the years progressed, time eventually had healed the wounds opened by that fight and all had been forgiven.
From then on, Beck would always visit the family homestead whenever he was in port and for many years his family would sit together around the table and talk about the comings and goings-on in Dargon between the months that he was at sea. In turn, Beck would recount his adventures from port to port, always adding in a bit of embellishment for good measure.
Just then the kitchen door banged open and the waitress appeared, carrying a tray in his direction. Beck sat up straight and sniffed back his darkening mood.
“Here ya go, love. Spiced beef and steamed vegetables. How’re you doing on that ale?” She lifted her brows in anticipation of an answer, but none ever came. Beck looked at her and tried to say something, but found that he couldn’t utter a sound. He simply nodded at the mug, trying to indicate that he wanted another. She cocked her head and feigned a charming smile as she grabbed the mug and began to walk away. All Beck could do was watch her as she walked back to the bar.
“What is it about her that ties my tongue so?” Beck thought to himself. He had never found himself at a loss for words before. He stared at her behind the bar, refilling his mug. He pondered for a long while about whom she reminded him of. He first thought of a woman he met in a small seaport in eastern Baranur. Then he had the notion that she reminded him of a woman who stole his heart at the Melrin festival once.
“Perhaps she reminds me of my mother?” he thought to himself. “No. Ma had blonde hair. Ma was a hand taller too. Ma would have told me to get off my sorry rump and fetch the ale myself,” he answered himself with a snort and dismissed the thought.
The bartender reached over and slapped the wench on the behind with a bawdy laugh. She gave a yelp and slapped at him playfully before grabbing the mug and heading back to Beck. She set the mug down and before taking her leave said, “Let me know if you need anything else, love.”
He finished his meal in silence and drained the mug of its contents. With a meal in his belly, he felt a mite better, but his mind began collecting dark and dismal thoughts.
The rain had begun to fall outside, pelting the old tavern with its cold wetness. The bartender lumbered over to the doors and pulled them closed to keep the rain out. Setting the empty mug down, he stared into it, recalling his years as a youth. Ever since he could remember Beck had loved the sea. The relaxing sound of waves crashing onto the beaches and the mesmerizing sparkles of sunlight that were sprinkled across the water. Even the smell of the ocean was heaven to Beck. He recalled the ships with their fluffy white sails that had billowed in the wind that drove the ships across the waters. Those were the glorious sailing vessels that had traveled to all corners of the world — carrying exotic merchandise from port to port.
He recalled when his Uncle Richard used to visit the family. The stories he had told of sailing and ship’s camaraderie had held Beck’s attention like a clamp. Beck had been totally spellbound and realized that sailing was his destiny.
At every chance, Beck had spent as much time on the docks in Dargon as he could, watching the ships dock and unload. He’d learned all the shipping lanes and travel routes of the waterways around Cherisk. He had even gotten Joor, his older brother, interested for a while.
His younger brother, Corin, had steadfastly taken root as a farmer and never strayed from that path. Beck’s mother had been killed when she was repeatedly raped by a band of brigands when Kettering was away fighting in the war, where he was killed. Joor had been long since gone when died suddenly.
Beck paused for a moment, ruminating about Corin’s funeral. He had been standing in the rain, wishing Corin could come back — now he wished they could all come back. He didn’t want to be alone. Almost everyone he had ever known was gone. Beck was the sole survivor, a wealthy and successful ship’s captain, to be sure, but nevertheless — alone. All he’d had was his only love, his only mate, the heavy freighter _Dame Sarina_.
“Perhaps I’ll feel better after another wee bit of ale,” he mumbled to no one in particular. He looked around and found the place was empty now, except for the bartender; not even the barmaid was to be found. The bartender — a burly bear of a man — was busy wrestling a full barrel of ale into place and humming quietly to himself. Beck pushed himself from the table and stood slowly.
He was just about to walk to the bar to acquire another tankard of ale when the front door creaked open. A tall man stood in the doorway, dripping from the rain. He was wearing sailor’s rain gear with the hood drawn up, causing a shadow to fill in his face.
“And how was your meal, sir? I hope everything was to your liking,” the big man behind the bar said in a deep, booming voice. Beck, turning his attention to the bartender, advanced closer toward the bar.
“Aye, it was an agreeable meal, lad. Quite agreeable indeed.” He glanced at the stranger again. “However, I’ll be needing another tankard of that ale. Perchance you have a trifle more in that barrel?” The bartender coaxed the barrel into its final position and smiled broadly.
“Methinks there be enough to brim over another for you,” the bartender thundered, proceeding to tap the barrel. The stranger crept closer to the bar. Beck cocked his head and eyed the man cautiously. Where there had once been a leg now protruded a stump of wood tapering down from his knee to the floor.
The stranger took another step closer to the bar, the wooden leg making a dull scraping sound on the floor.
“Don’t you take anything from this pile of seagull droppings for payment, good sir,” the stranger spoke to the bartender. “I’ll take accountability for this sorry excuse for a wharf rat’s expenses.”
Beck stiffened and glared at the man, his hand reactively clenching to a fist.
“Who is this person hurling insults at me,” Beck thought to himself. The stranger reached up to his face and carefully pulled the hood down from his head. His hair was cut short and was mostly gray, except for a sparse peppering of black. He was sporting a long, ugly scar that ran up his cheek and under an eye patch to his forehead. The scar on the newcomer’s face gave him a particularly menacing look. The other eye was open only partially, making the man appear to squint ominously.
Beck suddenly burst with laughter and quickly stepped up to the stranger.
“Hatchet, you old jack tar. What in Cirrangill’s name are you doing here?” The man with the scar moved up to the bar, holding out two fingers to the bartender indicating an order of two ales while tossing two coins onto the counter. The kitchen door swung open and a barmaid appeared, carrying a full tray of mugs.
“Cap’n Beck Sephlin, in the flesh no less,” Hatch said. “I just bought passage from down the coast. Heard of your withdrawal from service and had to come to Dargon to see it with me very own eye, else I would never have believed it.”
“If only the trade winds blew with the ferocity of prattle and jaw gas such as that,” Beck replied shaking his head. The bartender placed the two mugs onto the bar as the barmaid grabbed a rag and made her way to the common room to wipe down the tables. Beck snatched the two mugs and led Hatch to his table.
“Hatchet,” Beck said as he took his seat at the table, “The last time I saw you was Melrin, two years ago.”
“Aye, I was chasing a fair lass into my arms as I recall,” Hatch said with a smirk.
“Sounds like the same old Hatchet,” Beck returned, shaking his head with a wry smile. Trevor Hatch was several years Beck’s junior and also the best first mate the _Dame Sarina_ ever had, according to Beck Sephlin.
“Hatchet”, as Beck affectionately called him, had obtained his scar and lost his right leg in the same accident onboard the _Dame Sarina_ six years prior.
During a sudden storm that swept in from the north, Trevor had been securing one of the mainsail riggings amidship. The waves had reared angrily out of the sea and slammed into the hapless ship. The winds had roared with rage and the driving rain had stung as it swept across the deck. Beck had a death-grip on the rudder wheel as he had tried to guide the craft into less seething waters. Trevor had been making one last sweep of the deck to make sure everyone had been accounted for, when a bolt of lightning struck the main mast of the _Dame Sarina_, severing it in half. Beck remembered looking up to see the heavy, splintered timber falling upon him. Trevor had rushed over, diving at the last moment, and had knocked Beck out of Death’s grasp.
However, in his attempt to spare Beck, the splintered mast had slashed across his face and impaled his leg, shattering the bones. Beck had tried everything he knew to help save Trevor’s leg, but the doctor’s best and only choice was to remove the leg below the knee, effectively ending Trevor’s maritime career. Beck had silently placed the blame on himself for the loss of Trevor’s leg and career. Four years later, the pair had met up again during the Melrin festival in Dargon.
As the evening progressed, the two ex-sailors quaffed ales, made passes at the bar wench, and traded insults back and forth. But then there was an awkward, prolonged silence. Trevor looked across the table at Beck, staring at him and not saying anything. Beck returned the stare and, with his brow furrowed only asked, “What?”
“What are you going to do with yourself now you crusty old sea pigeon?” Trevor inquired. Beck’s expression faded to a blank stare as he slowly sat up straight, and let a sigh escape between his pursed lips as he looked down at the ale-stained table.
“I don’t know, Hatchet.” Beck just blinked. And he blinked again. “It’s like I’m starting all over again.” He thought for a moment. “I could go anywhere, do anything, be anybody I suppose. I don’t know.” He lifted his gaze to meet Trevor’s. “I just don’t know.”
“Oh come now, Cap’n, I’ve never known anything that could ever stop you from doing whatever you set your mind to,” Trevor offered. “In fact, you’re the one that taught me that nothing could stop a determined person from doing anything.” Beck paused a moment. He was right.
“Well, you don’t look like you’ve done too badly for yourself, Hatchet, Beck said. “As matter of fact, I don’t think anything short of an army of miffed termites could stop the likes of you.” Trevor gave him a look of feigned indignation.
“And they best be pretty big termites at that,” he replied with a nod of his head.
“Just what have you been doing with yourself the past few years anyway?” Beck asked. Trevor leaned back and scratched the side of his nose.
“I’ve been doing ship repairs, nothing significant of course. Splicing rigging, mending sailcloth, patching small leaks with pine pitch, you know, roustabout work,” he answered. “Thing is, I’ve been getting very busy as of late. I’m finding it difficult to keep up with all the work. If I had two good legs and both my eyes, I could get some very substantial work. Critical repairs, mast work, rudder fabrication, and deck reconstruction. Total outfitting.” Beck’s eyes suddenly had a faraway look in them. “I’d even consider going into shipbuilding, if I could,” he added.
“But I’m just not capable, not with this peg-leg and empty eye hole. What I could use is someone who knows ships inside and out.”
Beck arched an eyebrow and scratched his chin for a moment. Trevor took a long pull from his mug and set it on the table, wiping his lips with his sleeve.
“What I could use,” Trevor continued, “is someone who has many years experience and a thick hide. Someone who is used to giving orders and making sure that schedules are met. A person who knows the wordcraft of contracts and can avoid the hazards involved with deal-making.”
“Someone who can put up with an old goat like you,” Beck grumbled with a grin. Trevor grinned as he guzzled his ale. Beck’s heart began to pound at the idea.
“Just what are you saying, Trevor?” Beck asked in a low, even voice. Hatch looked across the table at Beck, who seemed mildly amused. Trevor slowly reached his hands out to grasp the edges of the table.
“What I am saying to you, barnacle butt, is that I’d like you to team up with me. Be my partner.” Trevor stood up, his enthusiasm overtaking him. “No one in the entire duchy knows ships the way you do. Think of it, Beck. We could become the foremost shipbuilders of Dargon Duchy.”
Beck’s mind reeled. Was it possible that his life really didn’t end here? Could there actually be more to life than just the sea? Did a direction exist for him after his years at sea? Was there really a need for him? He surely knew more about ships than any other sailor in Dargon. A need that would keep him in touch with what Beck loved best. His first mate, Trevor Hatch — the same man who had saved his very life years ago, right by his side.
Yes, it could be a great new adventure for him. Yes, this could be a new career for him, one that could very well be Beck’s next.
Beck stood up and moved toward Trevor, reaching out and grasping him by the shoulders. Beck looked him straight in the eye and smiled from ear to ear.
“Trevor, my old friend, it would be both my honor and pleasure to become your partner,” Beck announced. Trevor smiled broadly and grasped Beck’s shoulders, shaking him in agreement. “Come on Beck, let’s get a room at the inn and have a fresh start in the morning.”
“I’m for that, my friend,” Beck said. The two men began to move toward the door. Beck nodded his head and held up his hand to the bartender. “Good eve to you, sir.” The stocky man behind the bar grinned and held his hand up in return.
The two men stepped out of the bar and into the street looking up into the sky. The rain had slowed to a slight mist, just enough to dampen the cool night air.
“You know, Trevor, this is the second time you’ve saved my life,” Beck said.
“Aye, Cap’n, but it’s only the same you’d do for me,” Trevor responded.
“Aye, my friend, that I most assuredly would,” the old, gray-bearded captain said.
The street was quiet now, nearly shrouded in shadows. All of the carts were stored in their respective areas; all the ships were anchored in the harbor. A few lanterns burned along the street, providing the only light by which to see. A dog barked in the distance at some unknown annoyance. The sound of the waves slapping endlessly against the land painted a background of sound in the darkness. A gentle breeze eased its way in from the sleepy bay.
Trevor paused a moment and looked out over the harbor. He thought he could almost see the outline of the _Dame Sarina_ drifting out of the harbor.
“You know, Beck, as all things come, all things go,” Trevor stated.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Beck questioned. Trevor stopped for a moment.
“I’m not sure, but it sounded pretty good,” he replied. Beck turned to look at Trevor a moment and back again to the harbor. The _Dame Sarina_ was nowhere to be seen. And then he smiled.
“Come on, let’s go get some shut-eye, peg-leg.” And with that, the two men rambled off, arm-in-arm, in search of an inn for a good night’s rest.