The ocean sighs and Gerald sighs with it. The last time he was out at sea was so long ago he had forgotten the unease it set off in his stomach, the way his head seemed to move in tandem with the boat as it rocked on the unsteady waters, and the fear and respect that the vast blue ignited within him, hell, demanded from him.
He’s not on this trip alone; no man would dare set out to sea by himself unless he were either very brave or very stupid. With him are the crew members of an old pirate vessel, their days of plundering long behind them as the world has moved on from those times. New pirates still crop up from time to time but most are quickly stormed by the lawmen of the great states and vanish without ever making a name for themselves.
The men on this crew were once great, powerful, terrifying forces that were known across the waters as the Emerald Thugs, their leader ole Emerald Eye Pete and his wife Ruby Pistol. When Emerald was taken in by the authorities –willingly some say—his crew scattered and found lives outside of their once lawless world. No one knows what happened to Ruby but most say she was pardoned and simply settled down on an island somewhere unknown.
Gerald doesn’t fear the men here. To the lawmen they were thugs, but to him and his family they were saviors and saints. His island home was a terrible place once upon a time, long before he was born it had become a cesspool of drunkards and prostitutes, disease and death plagued the streets of their little village and threatened to destroy it beyond repair.
His mother had given much of her life to make sure he survived, his father an absent idea that was never named by her but much scorned and sneered about. The Emerald Thugs landed on their island when he was only still a small child. They did more for his home than the lawmen ever even attempted to do; they saw to the reformation of the little town, the clearing away of outlaws and wrongdoers, the reintroduction of money and goods, and in general the cleaning up of things that had long since been abandoned for rot and dilapidation.
They were the protectors, the patrons, the suppliers of new hope and dreams. He saw them as better than the lawmen who only did the deeds they did from a misplaced sense of power and obligation. They did what they did out of sheer want; they had no reason other than simply to reform that place. At least that’s how he saw it. Maybe those were simply thoughts of a hopeful, naïve child, but those are the thoughts and memories he is stuck with.
He’s lived a good life since leaving home. He’s met people and been places and slept with his share of women, but there’s never been anything quite like the sea to him. Something about it just makes him feel good inside; maybe it’s the way the sea rocks him like his mother used to rock him in her arms, or the salty air that smells strangely like his mother after a long day in the garden, or maybe it’s the soft sound that the waves makes as they push against the ship, whispering gently like his mother used to whisper to him when he couldn’t sleep as a child.
He misses his mother. Her ashes were scattered into this very ocean a few years ago. Maybe that’s why he sees her in every wave, hears her in every movement of the currents and even smells her in the misty air. She’s all around him now but he’s lost without her to return to. He supposes that’s why he’s decided to make the sea his new home with these men who were once called monsters and now make their lives honestly by selling the seas creatures to rich old aristocrats and the lawmen that took their captain (or more likely were just witness to his resignation). With them he’ll be at peace.
The ship creaks and groans as the waters become more agitated, pushing against them as if it wishes for them to get off it and stop cutting through its waves, to just return to land where they are naturally more capable of living. Gerald heaves another heavy sigh before turning away from the railing and returning to his work below deck.
The port of Lawrence is a small set of mooring lines on the east side of the island of Lawrence Highs, a mountainous place with deep valleys and uneven houses containing mostly rich retired folks who no longer wish to live in the quickly crowding islands closer to the inland.
Gerald is the last one off the ship once they’re docked. He stretches his legs; it’s going to take him a few minutes to adjust to the steady land and hard gravel ground. Lawrence Highs is the last place he really wishes to be, the smell of old sea bearing skin wafting through the air makes his stomach turn; he can practically taste the old folks who live here, their grooming habits forgone in this isolated little mound of land in the ocean. He breathes through his mouth and it helps, but just barely.
He’s not exactly the picture of cleanliness himself; he’s been on that ship for nearly a week and in that time he’s managed to brush his teeth with an old bristled brush and some water, and scrub his underarms and inner thighs with a blackened rag all of two times. Maybe some of that awful smell in the air is coming from him as well, a smell he was too busy to recognize earlier.
He reaches into his pocket and jingles the handful of coins there. There’s at least two gold pieces mixed among some bronze, which should be enough to allow him board for the night at an inn plus some food. The captain approaches him; a block of a man, short and sturdy with a limp and a foggy left eye, but one of the gentlest men Gerald has ever met.
“Where ya headed, boi?” he lays a large hard hand on Gerald’s shoulder and gives him a smile full of darkly stained teeth.
“Tah the inn, cap.”
“We’ll be leavin’ early, don’t go an’ sleep in now!” he laughs heartily and repeatedly slams his hand down on Gerald’s shoulder.
“Aye, I’ll be at the ship before any of ya.”
Another hearty laugh before he nods his head and returns to the ship.
Gerald can see the inn sign from here; a mossy wooden board hanging from the rusted latch of a door in the decrepit face of a large building only a few feet from where he is. It’s smaller than any he’s seen before, the windows along its upper floor only giving away the appearance of five rooms. Most in Lawrence have no need for an inn, nor do they have a need for a place for the shippers who come by, most only staying a night at most with their small crews.