26 - Epilouge

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Her arms ached from rowing all night. The sound of seagulls screeching over her head was deafening and Nora thought she'd might go mad. Never had she needed or wanted sleep more, but fear drove her forward. If she stopped now, the risk of seeing the Gisela on the horizon would only become bigger. And she knew that she never wanted to see that blasted ship ever again. That James had let her go still felt like some sort of trick. Or perhaps a dream. Or a nightmare, depending on which way you chose to look at it. The fear that she might wake up at any minute, staring into the wooden roof of the cabin that had for too long been her prison, sent chills down her spine and kept her on her edge. For every stroke of the oars she got closer to land and to the harbor that would take her home. But there was no time for Nora to enjoy the relief of seeing land. There was no space for anything but fear, and she hated it. Nora had never been a scared child, nor a scared adolescent. No, rather the opposite. She'd always been the one to take the first step, to do the worst dares and never really thought of the consequences of it. But now, the slightest possibility of trouble made it hard for her to breathe. Still, she did not know what she'd be without the fear. It had been a steady companion for so long that she'd feel empty without it. And being the strong motivator that it was, the fear was welcomed to stay a bit longer.

As the sun spread its warm light over the horizon, coloring everything in tones of orange and pink, chasing away the cold blues of the night, the sound of a harbor full of life reached the tiny boat. Fishermen were casting away to get the best spots, merchants were getting out their merchandise and all over people started to wake up. It was a welcoming sight to see, but not so different from the ship. The chores at the harbor might be different, but they all followed the same pattern and Nora couldn't help but wonder if the picture of safety that the harbor painted was just a facade.

Facade or not, however, it was her ticket home. Docking the boat at a small, stony shore, she gathered the few things that James had sent her off with and headed for civilization. Keeping her head down as she walked through the crowds, she found herself the nearest inn, figuring someone in there ought to know how to get her home and with what ship. The inn was empty when she reached it. Only a young girl who was sweeping the floors and an older man washing the tables with a dirty cloth occupied it.

"Excuse me, miss?" Nora said, turning to the young girl. She couldn't be more than fifteen, with big doe eyes and dark brown hair in a long braid that fell down her back. The girl did not look up from her sweeping, keeping her gaze on the wooden floor, shoulders tight. "Hello, miss?" Nora asked again, taking a step forward.

"She won't talk to ya'", the older man grunted from his position by the tables. Nora frowned and studied the girl.

"Why?"

"Ain't allowed to talk to the costumers." The man's tone was short, clearly stating that he had no interest in talking to Nora either. But Nora wasn't one to back down, especially not when she'd gotten this far.

"Oh, I see. Well then, would you mind telling me what ship in the harbor passes by Smallport?" Hands at her sides, she tried to look as commanding as possible, her head held high.

"Not the slightest idea, puppet", the old man grunted, not even giving her a glance. Nora had to fight the chills that came rushing down her spine. The last man that had called her puppet was Belmore. The memories of the big, intimidating pirate weren't pleasant, and it took almost all her self restraint not to let her unease show.

"Could you point me in the direction of someone who does then?" She said, swallowing the nausea.

"No."

"You're not very helpful for a man working in service", Nora said, more annoyed than nauseous now.

"You're ain't paying me, so I ain't working." The audacity of the man surprised her. Back home, everyone had been nice and treated her with respect. Half a year ago, the man's intimidation might have worked on Nora, sending her on her way feeling defeated. But she had not spent the last six months on a bloody pirate ship and survived countless death threats to be stopped by a common innkeeper. With confident steps, she walked up to him, skirts flowing at her ankles and threw down a copper coin on the table he was cleaning.

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