01 Going Home

The winds were light as a small crew prepared to lower a longboat from the side of the Molly Red. A tall, massive cog ship made of oak, the Molly Red had several masts, with the mainsail at the center. It had fore and stern castles for crew and guest quarters. The mainsail, when pushed out to catch the wind, displayed a large red whale breaching the water.

Casting a cargo net over the side, the crew secured it to large hooks along the main deck railing. Its braided yarns of hemp and fibers stretched down to the water. There, a freshly painted black-on-white longboat bobbed up and down with each wave.

There wasn’t a place to tie down near the shore as other ships occupied all available docks at the pier. So the Molly Red anchored outside the harbor while maintaining a visual of the port city. Few ships could withstand the strong currents and pounding waves in this part of the sea.

Gulls floated on the breeze, squawking approval as they spied ships unloading cargo. On occasion, the eyes of workers on the pier ventured to the Molly Red in the distance. Her sheer size, with golden oak sides trimmed in dark cherry, commanded attention. But it was the red-stained boards around the quarterdeck that kept them staring.

Back on the Molly Red, three young men crossed the main deck toward the crew. They watched the boys approach, whispering something between them. But before the boys could start their descent down the cargo net and to the longboat, they heard a shout, “Wait!”

Another crew member ran toward the group. He tapped his finger on the chest of the dark-haired boy. “Josah,” he huffed, “Captain wants to see you before you go.”

Josah looked at Conall Evermore, the oldest of the two brothers who were to board the longboat. He was as tall as Josah but with long, light-colored hair. Caleb, the younger brother, lifted and dropped his shoulder, saying, “Better go see what he wants.”

Josah dropped a leather bag, and his Mandolin wrapped in a sack next to Caleb. Walking back to the Captain’s quarters, he took deep breaths, not sure what to expect. Two ornate oak doors displayed a carving of the Molly Red sailing toward a setting sun. Josah knocked on the door and entered once invited.

Behind a clean and organized desk sat Captain Munro, somewhat hidden by the back of his chair. He gazed outside the window, waiting for guidance for what he had to say. He casually turned his chair around and faced the young man who looked as nervous as he felt.

“Yes, Captain. You’ve requested to see me?” Josah stood still, letting his long hair hide his face.

The Captain wore a burgundy jacket with gold trimming, a black vest, and a white shirt. He, too, wore his dark hair long, pulled back around his ears. His beard had streaks of gray, betraying his appearance of being a younger man.

“Josah, I know we have spoken little about that night you first came to the Molly Red…”

“There is no need, sir,” Josah interrupted.

“No, this can’t wait any longer.”

He shifted his large frame in his chair and gestured for Josah to sit down. “I first saw you eight years ago. It was early morning when a young man, about your age today, dragged you into a warehouse. His name was Luka Dey Robion.”

Josah acknowledged the facts with a nod but allowed the Captain to continue. “He had two other youths with him, who accused you of killing a Noble in Cornor Square. Luka produced the knife, fresh with blood, which he pointed out was also on your clothes.”

Josah lifted his eyes and looked right into Captain Munro’s face. “I told you then, and I am telling you now, Luka Dey killed my brother with the help of the other two men.”

Rubbing his left eye, he felt the scar, a reminder of what happened next. “When I ran to defend my brother, Luka hit me with the hilt of his sword. I remembered nothing until I woke up in the warehouse.”

“Precisely,” nodded the Captain as he stood up and walked around his desk. He sat down and placed a hand on Josah’s shoulder. “I have heard stories of this Luka Dey. Your brother is not the only victim.”

Captain Monroe took a deep breath. “Yes, I believe your story. But what you need to understand is that these men wanted you dead. You were only ten years old. I knew if I didn’t take you on as an indentured servant, they would have killed you and tossed your body into the woods. Luka bringing you to me was pure providence.”

The Captain stood up again and started pacing. “I made a snap decision to protect you. I had to make you an indentured servant right then. I was trying to save your life, boy. Can’t you see?”

Josah looked down at his boots. Wanting to avoid the conversation, he tried to focus on his scuffed leather boots. He would make time to polish them again. His eyes moved on to the gleaming floors in a desperate attempt to push away his memories.

“Josah,” the Captain spoke with a softer tone. Josah looked up. “That mark you bear on your right arm, a circle with a number in the center, is more than the mark of an indentured servant. It was your protection. Once I branded you with that mark, Luka and his band left.”

“Sir, am I supposed to thank you for that?”

“No, no, no,” said the Captain, shaking his head and walking towards Josah. “No, that’s my guilt to shoulder. I should have fought for you. But Luka was the only noble in the room that morning, and he had two witnesses. There was nothing I could do.”

The Captain walked back to his chair and sat down. He allowed himself to smile a bit and said. “You were the most cooperative and industrious boy I ever met, working hard at every task I gave you.”

He cleared his throat and finally told Josah what he wanted to say all along. “My proudest moment was when you refused to give me your name, but you took my father’s name when I offered. Remember what I told you after some time?”

Josah nodded with a grin. “Yes, you said ‘You took my father’s first name, so you might as well take his last.'”

The Captain slammed his hand on the table, smiling, and said, “Yes, that’s what I told you.”

Josah added, “And I will honor that name, sir.”

“Yes, I know you will. When I finally learned your real name, I went to look for your father. That’s when I heard he had passed, which is why you are leaving us and going to Bon Abbi to pay your respects. “

“But, Josah,” he said, leaning forward. “I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you that Luka is now the ruler of Casselberry. Murder has become a hobby for this man. For you to get to Bon Abbi, you must go through his city. Luka handing you over to me when you were ten was as good as a death sentence, or at least what he thought.”

The Captain reached into a drawer beside him, pulled out a leather pouch, then tossed it to Josah. “When you make land on Southport, go to the Pouring Rain Pub and get a room. Leave early in the morning and walk fast but without drawing attention. Don’t stop until you pass Neardore and make it to the next city. Understand, you aren’t safe until you get to Midland. Then Bon Abbi is one day’s travel away.”

Josah shook the pouch and could hear the clinking of coins. “Thank you, sir. I will follow your instructions.”

He stood up and offered his hand to the Captain. With a few swift moves around the table, Captain Munro grabbed Josah with his left arm and drew him into a hug. “Be careful as you make your way home.”

Josah pushed away once the Captain released his grip. “Thank you, sir, but being on Rona Island with your family feels more like home. My visit to Bon Abbi will be brief, so I should be back in Southport within a fortnight. Will you be there?”

“Aye, you can count on it.”

With that promise, Josah raised his hand to his chest and bowed his head. That was the Evermore way of saying thank you. He turned and made his way out of the room, closing the door behind him.

Josah dropped his head down, took a deep breath, then walked back to the crew. The brothers were already in the longboat. Two crew members, holding onto the oars, waited for Josah. Seeing his belongings in the boat, Josah climbed down the cargo net and sat down at the stern.

The youngest Evermore watched Josah holding on to the edge of the longboat, his back to the Molly Red. From his vantage point, Caleb could see his father standing at the bow with some crew. They watched as the small craft made its way into the harbor.

“The waters are calm,” said Conall. Two “Remies,” or rowers, powered the boat as the three boys sat waiting for the inevitable. Josah couldn’t see Captain Munro, but he could feel his stare. He took deep, slow breaths of salty air, an unexpected comfort.

The Molly Red carried cargo from the Mainlands, but today, it wasn’t business as usual. The ship was empty, as its real load was the boys, now heading for shore. It was to sail west to Mercil, once the stop on the island of Rylie Glen was over.

Josah released his grip on the sides of the boat. He had spent most of his last eight years on the water, so he had no fear of the sea. Yet, he was afraid he would lose what he gained, his new family. Josah felt every bit a brother to Caleb and Conall, as he was to them.

He pulled his long dark hair out of his face, revealing the scar under his left eye. Summer was ending, but he could still feel the sun on his tanned skin. The fresh sea breeze brought instant relief from its heat. It wouldn’t be too long before the sun would slip behind the Filgore Mountain range.

The Remis navigated around the larger ships but couldn’t avoid the disdain cast their way. Those aboard other vessels stared as the longboat glided passed them. They wondered who these three boys were and why weren’t they working.

The longboat finally made it to the shore, beyond the pier. The small, steady waves pushed the longboat onto the narrow sandy beach. In one fluid moment, the three boys jumped into the water and then onto dry land. To their right were the docks and the beginning of King’s Road.

Conall pointed to the Remies, saying, “It won’t take us long, so wait for our return.”

The three boys walked onto the road, then stomped their feet to remove the sand clinging to their wet boots. They paused long enough to survey their surroundings. Southport was busy with merchants and travelers coming to and leaving Rylie Glen. Josah didn’t remember the island being this active, but it had been years since he was here.

New buildings and streets expanded the harbor square, almost unrecognizable to Josah. Cobblestone roads welcomed people to various storefronts. Merchants displayed their wares under striped canopies, enticing people to browse. Men from ships unloaded their cargo into wagons, transporting them to nearby warehouses.

For a moment, Josah stared at the two oldest structures in Southport. The buildings framed in wood had strips of waddle interwoven between posts like a basket. Covered by a blend of soil, clay, sand, straw, and dung, the mixture dried hard. The buildings had fresh thatch attached to the roof.

And between the buildings was the alley Josah saw in his nightmares. It was here where his life had changed eight years ago. He looked away as an act of defiance, refusing to remember what had happened.

He dreaded his walk to the next burg called Cornor. There he would find the Pouring Rain Pub, food to eat, drink, and a place to sleep. He would do what the Captain suggested before heading through Casselberry. But he knew every step would make him relive what he tried to forget years ago.

Josah stepped onto King’s Road, then turned to Caleb and Conall. “Go no further. You need to get back to the ship.”

They could still see Captain Munro aboard the Molly Red. He held up an open hand and waited for the boys to respond. Conall and Josah held their open right hand in the air, but Caleb made a fist with his left.

Josah held his hand high in the air long after Captain Munro pulled his down. The Captain walked away. Turning to Caleb, who still held his fist in the air, Josah asked, “What are you doing? The left hand in a fist means you need help.”

“Well,” said Caleb as he looked down. “You know why.”

“We’ve been through this before. I must go back home. My father passed away in spring, and I need to go.” Josah stumbled at the word ‘father.’ The man who passed away was a stranger to him. Captain Munro brought the news back after a recent visit to the island. He insisted on Josah making the trip.

“But, we’re your family now. I’m afraid you won’t come back.” Caleb kicked at a stone.

Conall pushed the younger boy, wanting him to stop. “Come on, you know better. If Josah says he’s coming back, then he will.”

Caleb mumbled something not meant for hearing. “Don’t worry about him,” Conall told Josah. “How much time do you need?”

“I told your father that I would be back by a fortnight. I’ll leave word at the Pouring Rain Pub, down King’s Road, if something changes. It should be the first pub in Cornor if things haven’t changed.”

An awkward moment passed as the three boys stared at each other. Conall laughed. “Well, you won’t have me ordering you around for a while.” He stood up straight, standing a little taller than Josah.

“Or me correcting you,” said Josah with a smile. He clasped right forearms with Conall, gripping tight. He whispered, “Your father told me the man who killed my brother is now the ruler of Casselberry.”

He looked at Josah, understanding that he didn’t want Caleb to know. Conall nodded his head and said, “Be safe.”

Josah turned to the younger boy and extended his arm. Caleb clasped his forearm and pulled him close. Making every word count, Caleb said, “You’re one of us now. You are an Evermore.”

Nodding his head, he looked at the two boys. Conall, the same age as Josah, donned a beret that held his long hair in place. He wore a tan tunic and vest, a wide belt carrying a ship’s knife in its sheath, and baggy trousers tucked into his boots.

Caleb, two years younger, wasn’t as tall as Conall, his blonde hair trimmed around his ears. He wore a loose-fitting linen shirt, vest, and leather trousers midway down his leg. Josah smiled, realizing he dressed the same way. “You two look like high sea bandits. Go on, get out of here. I’ll see you in a fortnight.”

Before Josah turned to leave, he told Caleb, “Yes. I am an Evermore. To the end.” Seeing Caleb’s grin was all he needed to start his journey to Cornor.

The three held open right hands in the air with broad smiles. Josah turned and adjusted his leather pouch, and the Mandolin stuffed inside a cloth sack. His smile faded with each step he took down King’s Road, realizing he was alone.

Conall turned to the sea and placed his right hand on Caleb’s shoulder. His brother watched Josah walk down the cobblestone road. “Come. Father’s waiting for us.”

The walk back to the shore seemed to take longer for the boys. Caleb couldn’t help but stare at the faces of the people walking by him. Those leaving the docks did so at a slow pace. But those departing the island rushed for fear their ships would leave without them.

A woman crying at the pier drew Caleb’s attention. She turned to a man carrying leather bags, several steps behind her. The man dropped his bags and tried to console the woman.

His brother, already on the beach, waded into the water to board the longboat. The two Remis steadied the vessel as the waves kept rolling to the shore. Observing Caleb near the pier, he shouted, “Come! We have to be on our way!”

The young Evermore ignored him. He walked closer to the man until he could hear their conversation. Caleb then turned to his brother, motioning him to come back. Reluctantly, Conall splashed his way out of the water.

When Conall made it back to the road, Caleb grabbed his arm. “Conall, talk to these people. Something happened to their son last night in Cornor. That’s where Josah is going.”

Caleb didn’t wait. “Excuse, excuse me,” he stammered.

The man had picked up his bags and was ready to leave, but he turned toward Caleb. The boy wasn’t sure how to start the conversation. “I couldn’t help but hear you say something happened to your son in Cornor. We have a-a brother…”

Caleb paused. He always wanted to call Josah a brother out loud. The man dropped the bags again and walked to the young boy. “Well, he’s not safe if he is in Cornor. Casselberry is recruiting young men for their army.”

“Stealing them, you mean!” shouted the women. “While we were eating, a group of soldiers dragged our son out of the pub. Told us we’ll see him again in a few years.”

The woman sobbed into her sleeve. “We went to Casselberry and asked to speak to the council, but they refused. Said it was a protection matter and up to their commander.”

“If you have a brother there, get him out before it’s too late!” said the man. He turned to his bags and yelled back to the woman to follow.

Caleb ran his hands through his hair. “What do we do?”

“You know what we have to do.” Conall ran to the longboat, told the crew they would stay on the Island with Josah. “Tell the Captain we’ll see him in a fortnight.”

“He will not like the news,” said one of the crew as he spat into the water.

“It’s okay. Tell my father we ran before you could catch us. Josah is in trouble, but don’t tell the Captain.”

“Don’t you need our help?” one of the Remis asked.

“No,” said Conall. “It’s not that kind of trouble.”

The two men expressed their concern as they jumped into the longboat. Conall pushed the vessel away from the shore, then walked back to Caleb. They quickened their pace down the cobblestone road and headed toward Cornor.

Shadows appeared as the sun started its descent behind the mountain range. A steady pace of visitors made their way out of Southport. “How long will it take to get to Cornor?” asked Caleb.

“Don’t know. Never been there,” huffed Conall as he outpaced his brother.

“How are you going to find the Pouring Rain Pub?”

“Should be the first pub,” shouted Conall.

Caleb started to ask another question when Conall stopped. “Caleb, I don’t know anything about this place, so ask no more questions. All I know is we need to get to Josah before the soldiers do.”

“Okay. What do you want me to do?”

“Keep up with me,” Conall shouted back as he started walking again. “Stay behind me when we get to Cornor. If they are going after Josah, they may go after us too!”

Written by Mike Arroyo

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