Chapter 3 - Alex

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A gentle yet persistent breeze wafted up from the sea and coursed through the narrow streets of The Port of Diligence, its salty scent engulfing her, mesmerising her, and blowing her hair right into her open mouth. Spitting out her curls, she continued trotting behind Lord Simon, the last of the steps of the journey on Greenlander soil as heavy for her as for Billy limping on his right front leg.

She tugged at his reins as a veiled woman with skin so pale she could hardly be a southerner crossed the road between her and the Lord. "Watch where you are going!" she gesticulated.

Billy had come to a standstill for no reason; the woman was already bargaining with the tanned man with bare torso and baggy reddish trousers who stood behind a rolling cart topped with linen in lavish colours. 

His Jade Islandic list rolled off his tongue. "Three pieces of gold? Greed lives in you, M'dam! You won't find better silk in this town. 'T is eight pieces, and then I'm letting Charity control my tongue."

Alex's heart sunk as she beckoned Billy to go. She would give all the gold in the world to keep on pretending Father had been a merchant too. Even a penny-pinching one would have been better than a pirate; thief and murderer combined. They were worse than the magicians for they were ordinary men who preferred a sinful life over a virtuous one.

Oh, how she wished King Thomas was lying and Father had always spoken the truth about his past. She had been about the size of his legs when she had realised that he was unlike any of the other Lanebyers. His skin tone was darker, and he spoke differently than Master Harold, Lord Brandon, and the other men in town. She could almost feel the ghost of his embrace as she remembered him picking her up and showing the painting of the ship with large black sails that hung in their living room. Through storm and wind, he had brought goods across the Jade Sea.

Stolen goods, no doubt.

Lord Simon turned a sharp corner, to a cobblestone street that had ochre-coloured houses with flat roofs on one end and ships larger than those houses on the other. Everywhere she looked, men with booming voices were shouting at each other while they loaded on unloaded large crates. Above her head seagulls batted their wings and squawked their song of Greed.

At the end of the pier laid a ship so tall it cast a shadow on the ship bobbing next to it. Lord Simon turned his head and wiggled his eyebrows. "There she is, Missy. The Acedia's Revenge, the fastest ship in the five kingdoms."

Alex raised her head as she approached the large wooden construction. To call it a ship would be an insult to whoever built it. It was art grander than the ceiling of Sunstone Castle's dining hall. On the stern danced figurines of luscious women with bare-chested men; a sharp contrast to the battle of the God of Diligence with his sinful siblings that was depicted in between the gun ports. Three masts-taller than trees were needed to carry the layered dark green sails, the largest bearing the sigil of the Port of Diligence: four seagulls flying around the Greenlander sycamore.

"How do they even make this?" Alex wondered out loud as they halted. She jumped off Billy to study the ship up close.

"One bit at a time." Lord Simon guffawed. "Cedar trees were used for both the keel and the frames. The artwork is made out of northern pine wood, hardened by Ician winters for extra strength. The Jade Islanders I paid to carve and paint cost me half a fortune, so the sails were made from closer to home. The flax comes from Whiskerhall's field, but hand-sewn by women of the Port."

"Hey, Simon, you're stealing my thunder." A greying man with apparent lisp stood on the deck, thirty feet above her, a grin covering his olive-toned face all the way to his almond brown eyes. A Jade Islander. "Now how do I have to impress your little lady?"

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