Homecoming, part six

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There was one last surprise as Harbend learned that they were heading directly for Hasselden rather than straight across the Narrow Sea. A battle had been waged along the northern coast of the Narrow Sea, a battle the western raiders lost, and shipwrecks made the harbors unsafe. Apart from the change of destination the voyage was uneventful, with the possible exception of Arthur's relief when he learned about how things had turned out in Belgera. Half a year together and Harbend had never known Arthur believed himself a hunted man.

Less than an eightday later Harbend recognized the coastline they were hugging. He balanced his way to the starboard side. Only a few days on a ship, but he was already becoming used to the constant movement under his feet as the wood heaved and sank rhythmically with the waves.

He longed for some luxuries, like a hot bath. Now that was something to look forward to. A wonderful bath with scented oils, and massage afterwards. To be able to sleep in a wide bed of his own at the time he chose, feeling as relaxed as only a good massage could make him feel.

Harbend stared longingly at the coast. The first sign of Hasselden would be pillars of smoke from the shipyard where they repaired ships that got caught when their crews dared going sea hunting despite the risk the raiders posed. Well, some never came back, but most did as they never ventured far from the town. A few new ships were built as well, but not as many as when he'd first come there.

The smoke pillars would have different colors dependent on if the craftsmen were boiling wood or oil.

There! He could see the smoke now. Home! They were close enough to see it. Harbend stood on his toes as if that extra height would make him come closer to Hasselden. If only it could, but he'd have to accept over half a day of waiting before his impatience could finally be curbed. Something about the smoke caught his interest. At first Harbend thought the wharfs must be especially busy, but as they slowly came closer his curiosity was replaced by despair.

Smoke was everywhere, smoke and soot. He fervently wished they'd taken a coach instead. Hasselden was a ghost, still burning in places and the entire harbor a maze of shipwrecks that would take a long time to clear up. It would be cleared up, eventually. Keen was too practical to abandon their southern port to a disaster, but Harbend knew, without doubt, the wounds would take years to heal, and for those still living who had lost most they would never heal.

Arthur came up behind him. "The captain says we can't make landfall here. He wants to go further north." Harbend hardly noticed the hand Arthur placed on his shoulder.

"I know," Harbend said. He rubbed a hand over his eyes as if that would banish the sight. "I can see the wrecks in the harbor. What happened here?"

"I don't know. I'm sorry. You said you used to live here," There was silent respect in the voice, and fingers gripped harder in unvoiced support.

"I did. I wonder what has happened to my people," Harbend whispered, no longer able to keep emotions away. Tears crept to his eyes, and he had to wipe them again.

"Family?"

"No, employees. You remember I sent money with a courier when we were in Verd?"

Harbend could see Arthur searching his mind but finding nothing. "Not really."

"The day you asked about the farwriter," Harbend explained, knowing he was rambling. Talking was better than watching.

"Ah, yes, the telegraph."

"I have a storefront here. It is not close enough to the harbor for us to see from here, so I would fail to know if it is still there. I hope so, and I hope both my men are safe."

Harbend looked across the water again, but there was nothing he could do. It would have to wait. Gods! He'd made the voyage here without being seasick, but now the sight of his first home in Keen forced bile to his throat, and he heaved and heaved. This, at least, was not of his doing, he thought when his stomach was empty.

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