The Pier

John sat muttering, little noticing the silent tread of the youth wandering among the fishing vessels. In his hands he wrung a well-worn net: it was frayed in places, dark and heavy with the damp salty water, and completely empty, all of which could equally be said of John. He was, a fisherman, well suited to the vocation. That is his suit, rags as spotted with holes as his net, was of a quality not found outside the poorer ports, such as the one in which our characters were about to meet. Clasping his sword to his side, the youth jumped into John’s boat.

“I must be out to sea,” said John, “or else the waves have come to visit me so long absent.”

The youth stared at the fisherman, who in turn wrestled on with his net, not sparing a glance up at his visitor. A rope tethered them to the pier, and drawing his sword, the youth swung its curved length against this anchoring cord. Slashing through the line, the swordsman slid his blade back into its sheath. Sitting down on a splintery plank, the youth wrapped his hands around the two oars. Without a word, he pushed off, rowing them out into the bay.

John, up to this point having made no observation regarding the affair, at least none he cared to remark upon, asked, “Oarsman, where are we going?”

“To sea,” the stranger replied.

“Do you often to sea?”

“As a child I went out to sea . . . ” the swordsman trailed off, his wandering eye searching the fog before them.

Forgetting the net, John, laying down upon his back, flattened his body against the bottom of his boat. Supporting his neck with one hand, he stared upward, studying the stranger. A smirk danced upon the fisherman’s face as he replied, “A child, eh? and did you lose that boy upon those waves? Are we to find him?”

“I killed a man,” the youth said by way of explanation. “A dandy of some sort. This fog looks a nice enough place . . . ” he let the words out quietly, barely whispering the last phrase.

“Strange thing about fog,” rejoined John, “Can’t see much of where you’re going, and after going someways, can’t see much of where you’ve been. Though, if you don’t much care about where you’re going, or getting back, I’ll grant you the fog’s a pretty place.”

“Tell me,” said the swordsman, picking the oars up out of the water, “are we likely to be pursued by anyone out here?”

With an exaggerated frown, John shook his head.

“Good,” replied the youth.

“Not the way I see it.”

The young man let the remark slide, and satisfied they were well out of sight from land, quit all activity, sinking into a morass. The two said nothing to each other for some time, but in the gentle rise and fall of the waves, the soft and steady splashing of the bow, and after time lost all presence in that featureless cloud resting over them, John started:

“That dandy, you called him,” the youth showed no signs of stirring. “He wouldn’t happen to have been one of the military men?” John found no answer. “Dressed like a cock, blustered like a cock, he was a cock. You know the one?” A solitary glance was allotted the fisherman. “He was no friend of mine.” Whether this would have warranted any response from his guest, john never learned, for following the punctuation of his thought, a cannon bellowed.

“It seems we’ve wandered into the blockade,” John observed. They were showered by the splash of a nearby cannonball. “Their aim’s improved.”

The swordsman’s wild eyes darted along the grey wall of fog before them. Shadows which had been craggy rocks, the silhouettes of small islands peaking up out of the water, he soon discerned by their regular placement, and their offensive temperament, to be warships.

“Why the devil are they shooting at us?” shouted the startled swordsman. Another cannonball fell, somewhat further from them. Its splash was heard, but not felt.

“I think the first shot was just luck,” John said distractedly.

As when a hunted animal sees the predators closing in, and in great activity of body leaps about without any true direction, only sinking hope, so the swordsman’s lean frame moved within the confines of the boat. Disturbed by the increased rocking, John quit his retired posture, and taking his net in hand, cast it over the distracted youth. That was enough to focus the energies of the swordsman, who in bitter reaction put his hand to his blade. Yet drawing the weapon presented a problem: the well-practiced motion was neutered by the entrapments about him, and struggling only seemed to further ingrain himself within this web.

John was not inactive at this point, and quickly worked, ensuring his catch. The fisherman amiably traded position with his visitor, laying the less amiable passenger—though he was made more so by the cords—down upon the boat’s deck. Sitting upon the same splintered plank the youth had occupied, he began rowing away from the barrage. The wind was picking up, scattering the fog. Clear patches were emerging, allowing brief glimpses of the blockade to the secured youth.

He quieted, and asked, “Whose flag is that?”

It was red, a strange golden emblem centered upon it. There were laurels about the image, surrounding a hawk, the claws put forward as if to ensnare prey. It fluttered in the wind, suddenly changing direction. Thus the clouds returned, growing even thicker. One last cannon shot was heard, but only heard. It splashed somewhere out of sight.

“It’s a strange town,” John said, little minding the youth. “You can’t just run from it. Until you solve the problem, you just keep coming back.”

The rest of the trip was passed in silence, the sloshing oars, the wailing wind, the splashing waves all melding into a meaningless din. The swordsman hardly knew they had returned, only realizing this as John leaned over him. The fisherman lifted the youth onto his feet, and in quick succession, made three quick tugs at his net. This then fell from its victim, and the swordsman was free.

“If you’re of a mind to hide,” said John, “from the reach of the law, you may present yourself to the sisters, nurses you see, who harbor a little ways from here, their steeple marking them out. They’ll admit you, but not while that hangs upon your side.” Here he pointed to the curved blade, keeping his eyes upon the stranger’s. “I’ve a mind to go there myself. My net’s caught only a lean creature today, and though at some danger I’ve dragged ‘em to shore, he looks far too bony a specimen for dinner.”

So saying, the fisherman walked down the pier, the wispy tails of fog curling in his wake.



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