Emilia felt her heart race as they all turned their gaze to the coast. A ship could mean the hunters were arriving already. What if the Mayor had sent the telegram to Par’fost when the militia had returned yesterday morning, with no sign of the creature? Or if they had overheard her telling Ludivine she had possibly seen a dragon? It was quite possible the Inquisition needed less than a day to prepare a hunt, and at the moment the weather was still well enough for a journey by ship between here and Par’fost to take little more than half a day. If they had set sail in the morning it was quite possible they would arrive right about now.
There was fog over the ocean, fog that had not cleared all day but was not the threatening kind of fog to make sea travel dangerous. And even through that, they could see the four-master approaching the harbour. A massive ship, several decks above the surface, smoke rising from high chimneys. Forge fires. A dwarven ship!
Excitement replaced the fear on Emilia’s face. It had been months since a dwarven ship had made port here to trade and resupply!
While the shortears had begun working on their airships and zeppelins in recent years, the dwarves would always be the kings and queens of the high seas. They had mapped the world, they had opened trade routes, they fuelled commerce across the nations. They had done so for the past 800 years and no one even for a second believed that would change anytime soon. This world had passed through the age of elvar, the age of dragons, and the age of adarre. Now was the age of the dwarves.
“We should go see what they brought in!” Emilia declared.
“Well, we’ve done all our work for this afternoon, so we might as well,” Andrew said with a nod.
“I’ll just take my books back to the dorm, I’ll find you there!” Fran said, rushed down the steps ahead of them and made her way towards the dorm. Andrew turned to Emilia with a smile.
“Shall we?” he asked. Emilia nodded, and the two of them made their way off the premises. As they walked down the steps in a slight drizzle, Andrew glanced over at her.
“So what did you see last night?” he asked. Emilia sighed, rolled her eyes.
“I will never hear the end of that, am I…” she mumbled. He grinned.
“Well, you spoke up during the town gathering, so you kind of set yourself up for it.”
She sighed again and shook her head.
“I still don’t really know what I saw, Andrew. Sorry.”
“That’s okay. It’s over now, another something for the books.”
Now it was Emilia who glanced over at him with a frown.
“You’re strange today. Did something happen at your parents’ yesterday?”
At that, Andrew fell silent. Hands dug into the pockets of his trousers, he stared dead ahead as they walked. They reached the foot of the hill in silence and followed the road south towards the gates to the harbour and only there did he, very slowly shake his head.
“I don’t want to talk about it. Yet. Maybe later.”
“Fair enough,” Emilia accepted with a nod.
From the gates, they could look over the harbour.
Par’bains harbour was a settlement all of its own. The homes of dwarves were built into the cliffs along the southern coast. Compared to the grey, coal-centred shortear town, the dwarven settlement was colourful, breathtakingly lively and loud. The constant clanking of hammers on anvils, the songs from the harbour tavern, the whisper of waves between the stone piers, and the cries of seagulls produced a symphony of travel, adventure, and the wide open sea. The air smelled of forge fires, dried seaweed and old fish, of dwarven ale and pipesmoke, a smell Emilia always felt conflicted about. The smells of the sea were those of a freedom she was unfamiliar with. She had never left Par’bain in her life, but seeing the grey sea, smelling this air, always sparked this… longing in her. And at the same time, the homely smells of the harbour made her feel at peace and made her want to sit down with a book, curled in a blanket as she watched the rain fall.
The way to the harbour led down slippery stone steps, cut in a steep path into the cliffs. In bad weather conditions, this path was deadly. It had let quite a many inattentive wanderer fall to an unfortunate death. Emilia and Andrew did not rush down, made deliberate steps downwards, holding onto the simple wooden rail set up for traveller until they had reached the foot of the cliffs.
The ship they had seen from the library had already made port here, and up close – Gods, up close it was even more impressive than from afar. The enormous belly of the ship resembled a monstrous beast of the high seas, painted in vibrant colours. The large, amber sails were being hauled in now, fastened securely to the masts by the many dwarves climbing the rigging. Their light feet were impressive, given their muscular, stunted physique. Between the masts, thick chimneys puffed up black smoke into the air. There had to be at least three forges in the belly of that beast of a ship, it was the most impressive forge ship Emilia had ever seen. Aside from being used for forging, the fires fuelled the engines of that ship, so it need not rely on wind in its large sails, but could move with steampower as well, turning the two enormous paddlewheels on either side of the ship. The flag flying above the highest mast was a deep shade of blue and embroidered with a golden coat of arms – a serpent eating its own tail, wrapped around a hammer and anvil. Was that possible?!
Emilia’s gaze shot to the side of the ship, where – in bold, dark blue letters – the name of the mighty vessel had been branded. She gasped, and reached over to grab Andrew’s arm. He had seen the name as well.
“It can’t be…” Andrew mumbled, and Emilia found herself jumping excitedly on her feet, pulling his sleeve.
“It’s the Leviathan! It’s the bloody Leviathan!!”
“What’s a ship like that doing in a place like this?” Andrew asked in disbelief.
“It’s the bloody Leviathan, Andrew! I don’t care what she’s doing here, as long as she’s here! Come on, I want to get a closer look!”
She did not wait for him to mull it over, but gathered her skirts and in long strides made her way across the harbour, closer to the imposing vessel floating in their very own harbour. She did not even fit into any of the piers, but had thrown anker outside in the bay, and the dwarves moved back and forth with small, paddled ship’s boats. Emilia slowed when she was close enough to see more of the ship. The windows were almost all lit and she could see the crew move around. There had to be dozens, maybe hundreds of dwarves working on that beast!
The Leviathan was a legendary ship, the greatest mobile forge of the dwarven Empire, her home port in the subterranean metropolis of Unterhafen. The wood panelling of this ship was a remnant of an ancient warship the dwarves had commanded during the Great War of a thousand years ago, when Gaius the Mad King had threatened to invade their empire and steal their forges and weapons for his own army. Back then, the dragons had held the sky, and the dwarves had held the sea, while the Mad King conquered the lands. The original Leviathan had been blown to smithereens, but her remains had been gathered and incorporated into this new ship, giving it that threatening look, like painted scales and horns. She was no longer a warship now, but she remained the flagship and crown jewel of the dwarven navy. And seeing her up close, no one could question why that was the case. Every other ship was quite literally dwarved next to the Leviathan. Sometimes shortears joked dwarves had a lot to overcompensate for their physical size, and that was why they built everything with such grandeur. But Gods, the result was breath taking.
Emilia had to be wandering with her mouth agape between the many people working the docks now. The arrival of the beast of the high seas had stirred up more life in the harbour than she had ever seen before. Every dwarf that lived in these cliffs was out and about to welcome the sailors and blacksmiths from the home port. She stumbled past a group of colourfully dressed dwarves, unlike any she had ever seen here. The men had intricately woven beards, decorated with jewels and charms, braided and knotted, some seemed so heavy they had to be dragged along in contraptions on their walking sticks. They wore long, fine coats with golden decorations, twisted cords, elegant shoulder pads and big hats atop their heads. There were a hand full of women with them too, and instead of wearing busty floral dresses like their counterparts shore-side, these women wore uniforms as well – trousers and boots and military coats , decorated just as finely as the men. Instead of intricate beards, they had long, braided hair, hanging thick and heavy down their backs or over their shoulders. All of them held themselves proudly, easily the tallest dwarves she had ever seen only thanks to the way they squared their shoulders. Like most dwarves living underground, they had skin in earthly tones, some almost like a layer of mud covered their skin, and the older ones had strands of silver in their hair that almost looked like metal. There was something otherworldly about the dwarves of the ancient home port, clearly their relation to the original dwarves still strong in their blood. The first dwarves had been servants, created by the elvar. They had been moulded out of clay and infused with magic, turned into servants to do the hard, manual labour the elvar considered themselves to fine for. Then, long before even the Adarre arrived on Arcaria, the dwarves had turned on their masters. Led by seven leaders, whose descendants were now the Seven Kings of Unterhafen, they had risen up and earned their freedom in a bloody struggle. While dwarves like the ones living here in Par’bain had mingled with shortears for generations, diffusing their heritage, the dwarves of Unterhafen still resembled the first dwarves, still seemed moulded from clay rather than born from flesh. And they were proud of their legacy, as they should be.
Emilia had never seen the royal navy of Unterhafen in person, but she assumed that was what she was looking at, seeing their fine uniforms. And only when one of the men looked right back at her did she realise she had to be staring like a starstruck fool.
The dwarf looked up at her and ran a hand over his enormous, ginger beared, streaked with silvery hairs and decorated with golden coins like medals. He was wrapped in the finest, royal blue coat, with large, padded shoulders, a heavy golden metal collar dangled over his chest, decorated with blue and red jewels the size of baby fists, and on each and every one of his meaty fingers, he wore a thick, heavy ring. His face was marked by scars, one eye hidden under an equally jewel encrusted eyepatch that looked like something that had lain at the bottom of the ocean too long, covered in fossilised barnacles, and had then been submerged in gold.
Gods… could that be… the Admiral?
“Take a picture, litti. It’ll last longer,” the decorated dwarf said, flashing a white grin out of his beard at her.
“You… you’re… the Admiral, aren’t you?”
The decorated dwarf took off his abnormally large hat, held it over his chest and bowed.
“Admiral Dimdel Huckpack, at your service, mein Fraulein,” he introduced himself with a charming wink from his working eye. Emilia chuckled, more flustered than she should be.
“I’ve heard all the stories of your journeys! The wrestle with the wringer, or the maelstrom war where you led the entire dwarven armada, or that time you were beached in the Southern Islands and had to bargain with the Trickster Queen for your life, the ride through the Sylvestri storm front…” Emilia babbled, barely catching a breath in her excitement.
The Admiral laughed an echoing laugh.
“You flatter me, litti. Wouldn’t’ have been able to do it without my crew.”
Emilia nodded, awestruck still, when the Admiral had already returned his attention to the men and women he no doubt commanded. She stepped away a little, still swooning quite a bit when Andrew finally caught up with her.
“Is that who I think it is?” he asked. Emilia nodded. He shook his head. “Wow… the Admiral of the dwarven royal navy… That’s one of the most influential men in the world, Em.”
“I know,” Emilia found her voice a little too squeaky.
“And he just talked to you? Just like that?”
“He did…” she sighed. Andrew laughed.
“That is… kind of amazing!”
She nodded slowly as they watched the dwarven navy disappear in the tavern, where they were joined by Mayor Erkinnen and his family, as well as some of the town’s foremen.
Finally, the two of them turned towards the docks. Between cargo crates filled with ores, supplies, material that would be both used by and traded with the mighty vessel, a number of makeshift market stalls had been set up. Trays filled with crafted trinkets and baubels, fine tools and exquisitely made weapons – both for use and for ceremony – piles of fob watches each with intricate designs on them, the display of fine dwarven craftsmanship knew no bounds. People were already strolling past the stalls. Emilia spotted the Timbatou family up ahead, recognizable by their fashion. Lotte waved at them from far and Emilia waved back with a smile.
“Should we take a look at what they have for sale?” Andrew asked.
“Sounds good,” Emilia nodded. The two of them began their stroll, slowly moving through the masses towards Lotte and her fathers. The stands were the main reason why shortears made their way down here when a ship arrived. To get their hands on something exotic, or to just take a peek at these treasures they could never afford (an apprentice’s pocket money was laughable…).
There were weapons made from the finest steel, blades unlike any Emilia had ever seen, and guns – oh these guns were pieces of art! Shaped like fantastical creatures, like they would come to live any moment, springing into motion and dancing across the tables. She passed shields engraved with masterpieces that would make classical painters weep at their beauty, live-like faces, animals that looked like they would start prancing off the surface any moment, all hammered finely out of hot metals. Then some more abstract shapes that were so typical for the dwarves: sharp angles, intricate knots forming patterns that repeated ad infinitum. They all were a wonder to behold.
They caught up with Lotte about here, the blonde hugging the both of them, additionally pressing a kiss on Emilia’s cheek.
“Hello you two. Great to see you out for once,” she said. Today, Lotte was dressed in darker blue, with bright pink flowers embroidered on the hem of her skirt. It was puffed out and ruffled in the back, and her top was made from stiff material, clearly accommodating for a very firm corset worn under her clothes. She had a knitted cape draped over her shoulders and wrapped around her neck to keep the cold away, hand in silk gloves and an umbrella in one hand.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world. The Leviathan!” Emilia declared. Lotte jumped excited.
“I know! Admiral Huckpack is going to have a banquet, and Henrik was invited and he asked me to accompany him! It’s going to be so exciting!” she called out.
“I guess my parents will be invited to it too. A chance to see all of the Leviathan. Did the invitation say when it would be?” Andrew inquired. Lotte shrugged.
“I don’t know, Henrik has it. The Leviathan will be here for a while,” she explained.
“I hope you guys have lots of fun,” Emilia said with a smirk. Lotte gasped.
“Oh… oh, I’m so sorry! But I am sure we can get you an invitation too!”
“No, it’s alright. You know I don’t like these kind of parties. The dressing up and all that…”
“But you could help me pick a dress? You could come over, have tea and pastries, and-”
“Of course I’ll come over and help you pick,” she confirmed. Lotte grinned brightly.
“Great! I’ll tell Claudine to make tea. And I think she was making meringue today!”
“Delicious!” the two girls chimed, then burst into giggles. Andrew raised his hands.
“I will pass on that, although I would like a meringue…”
“I’ll bring you some when I get back later,” Emilia promised. She then hooked Lotte’s arm into her own and the three of them continued their stroll.
At the next stand, a massive, heavy grandfather clock had just been taken out of its transport crate, the clockmaker was dusting off its beautifully polished wood casing to present it to potential buyers. Through a glass window in the clock’s belly, they could see a magnificent pendulum swing, and they could watch the ticking gears, some slow and majestic, others spinning fast and frenzied. If ever there was a mechanical construct that worked ‘like clockwork’ this one was it. The clockmaker was a white haired, clay skinned, elderly dwarf, wearing a set of glasses that could be adjusted to magnifying glasses of variable strengths, similar to the ones the librarians’ used when repairing books, just much, much finer. He had Emilia caught by the arm when she was inspecting the fob watches on display and had almost pulled her over the counter.
“Look, Fraulein! Look! One hundred and eighty eight gears in this! All hand crafted! Some small as ye pinky nail! Some big as ye head! You’ve never seen anything like it!” he said and practically pressed her face into the grandfather clock’s belly. He stood next to her, his eyes sparkling as he stared up at the face of his masterpiece clock with adoration. He pulled a number of sample gears from a pouch and presented them to her. The pieces were art on their own, each gear decorated with intricate carvings, some floral, some bearded faces, some animals, all branded with his seal of quality. There were entire worlds carved into the copper of these gears. “This clock will never fail. It’ll still tell the time when time no longer exists! This is the clock to end all clocks.”
He unlocked the long case to let her see the large, heavy pendulum up close. It was decorated with a massive, black stone that shimmered as it moved. Likely a bloodstone, haematite in scientific terms, wrapped in angular, golden claws. “It’ll run without winding up! All on its own! It’s a masterpiece of a clock, a masterpiece, there is not a clock like it in Arcaria!” he insisted.
“It is beautiful,” Emilia confirmed. Saying it was anything else would be insulting, because this clock was truly magnificent. She meant it in earnest. The clockmaker was so busy marvelling the steady movement of gears inside the clock, the girl could wiggle free from his grasp. With a small chuckle, she moved on past the stalls and when she looked back she saw the clockmaker had pulled the next best passer-by in to join him in admiring the clockwork.
Somewhere behind, swords were being crossed to test their balance; people were cheering and applauding at the display of perfectly made blades. She passed stalls with baked fish and potatoes, the smell of fried onions, frying fat, fish and lemon surrounding everyone near it like a cloud and before she knew it, she had a pack of beer-battered and fried fish nuggets in her hands (and was two silver knuckles lighter in her pocket). At all times, Andrew was a few steps ahead of her.
As they progressed, they moved from the martial metalwork to the delicate jewellery. Everything from dwarven hands was famously angular, they used clear lines, no ornate curls and flowery shapes like the elvar did. Everything was somehow martial, swords featuring in their art, and raw stones worked into the decorations. The gold- and silversmith’s helped the passing women try their jewellery, pulled out mirrors they had no doubt forged themselves as well. Everything was polished to brilliant lustre and reflected the dusty sunlight of the day.
Emilia barely noticed someone was right behind her until she looked back and jumped because the dwarf had gotten so close. It took her a heartbeat to realise that the dwarf who had caught up to her so completely unnoticed was none other than the Admiral himself.
He had a pipe filled with exotic smelling herbs in hand, the smoke with an aroma she had never smelled before, from some far off land he must have recently visited. She bowed a little, still awestruck by the mere presence of a man like him in their little town. Having the Admiral of the dwarven fleet in Par’bain was about the closest to having a dwarven King walk their streets they would ever come. And he was standing right here, right next to her, inspecting the jewellery she had just been looking at.
“Seen anything ya like, litti?” he asked, after puffing out smoke through his nostrils like… well, like a dragon. Emilia stumbled over her words.
“It’s all beautifully crafted,” she said, then added a ‘Menheer’ with flushed cheeks. Her studies of the dwarven language left much to be desired (given that her main source of language studies were her two dwarven friends Tjorven Erkinnen the Mayor’s daughter, and Valek Eisenschmied the apprentice blacksmith, and both of them considered ‘appropriate language training’ to teach her as many filthy sea shanties as they could come up with), but she did know how to formally address a high ranking military officer.
The Admiral raised his bushy brows and glanced up at her.
“You speak our tongue?” he asked.
“Not very well, I am afraid. Unless you consider dirty jokes.”
“That is just about what our tongue comes down to!” he said, his voice thundering with amusement. He then put his pipe between his teeth and started picking at the pieces of jewellery. There were pendants, brooches, kilt needles, hair ornaments, bracelets. He inspected them all but kept shaking his head until he reached a brooch that seemed to get his approval. Emilia watched him pick it up and turn it in hands. It was a small piece, simple in design and execution: softly curved silver forming the petals of cherry blossom, with pink mother of pearl laid in and two small dew silver dewdrops. A Ring was wrapped around the flower and a miniature sword pierced through it. But even that miniature was made with the same fine craft as the full-sized ones.
“You know, I have travelled to a great many places in my life. But I have never seen anything like the cherry trees of Deist in spring. Stunning sight. White and pink rivers in the valley’s and towers of glass in the distance, sharp like blades reaching into the sky, while there is still frost turning green grass blue, and snow still covering the peaks of the mountains. Everytime I see cherry blossoms, I am reminded of it. Like this one.” he recounted, raising the brooch, waving it in front of her nose.
“It’s very lovely,” she admitted. Cherry blossoms brought back memories to all the springs she had snuck onto the Fahren estates as a child. Andrew’s family had a large, walled garden secluded from outside views, but the large, old cherry tree glimpsed over the wall and had always fascinated her so she had started to climb over it in secrecy.
She would climb into the branches from the wall, find a comfortable spot and sit there and watch the beautiful, soft pink blossoms. Sometimes she would bring a book – she had started reading when she was about seven years old and had to do so in secrecy, because her father was not amused by it, had only come to accept it much later when she was becoming an apprentice in the library. It was the only tree of its kind in Par’bain, imported from Par’fost when the family had moved here generations prior, and it was always cause for awestruck proclamations when people visited the Fahren estates in spring. A beautiful tree, and something about it made her feel right at home. Emilia would secretly sit in that tree almost all spring, for at least a little while each day, until the bloom had faded and was replaced by leaves that were nowhere near as interesting. In a way, she had sat up there for the same reasons she now sat on the watchtower.
She did not know the place the Admiral had mentioned, or of the cherry trees there. But she understood the feeling he described when seeing such beauty.
That the Admiral had picked this piece of all the choices he had was astounding, but he just nodded knowingly.
“Thought so,” he said and extended the hand to her. “It’s yours, if you want it.”
“What? N-no I… I can’t afford something like that. I am just an apprentice, I don’t have the money…”
“A gift then,” the Admiral offered again.
“A gift? For what?”
The dwarf frowned, his brow spilling over his golden eyepatch and something fierce glinting in his sharp eye.
“They stole something from you. Something no one should ever be deprived of. This is just a small trinket in comparison, but perhaps one day you will get back what has been lost. You can pay me back then.”
“I… don’t understand,” she admitted.
“You don’t have to understand just yet,” he said and without allowing another argument, he took her hand, placed the brooch inside and closed her fingers around it. “All you need to know is that you’re not alone. They are still out there, looking for you. You know, one day you might want to find them. When you do, find any captain out there and tell them old Huckpack sent you, they will take you where you need to go.”
With these words, he bowed his head a little and turned away to leave. She saw him nod towards the silversmith and then watched the crowd part to let the Admiral pass through. Emilia stayed behind, the brooch still in her hand. She glanced over to the silversmith and he shrugged, waved her over. She handed him the trinket and he wrapped it in a soft piece of silk for her.
“Admiral says it’s yours, so it’s yours,” the man said without looking up, just shrugging a little before he handed the small bundle back to her. Emilia stood, still perplexed, before she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up startled to find Andrew and Lotte had joined her.
“What happened? One minute you were right behind us, then we didn’t see you anymore,” Andrew asked.
“I was probably hidden behind the Admiral’s enormous hat,” Emilia admitted, voice still flat as she stared down at the bundle in her hand, now wrapped in navy blue silk.
“What’s that?” Lotte asked.
“It’s… a gift. The Admiral gave it to me.”
“Admiral Huckpack just gave you a gift?” Andrew asked perplexed. Emilia nodded.
“Is it a ring?! Did he propose?!” Lotte gasped and snatched the gift from her, unwrapped it quickly, then sighed disappointed. “Oh… it’s just a brooch.”
“Still…” Andrew mumbled. And the disappointed look on Lottes face made way for a bright smile.
“It is very pretty. And you do love cherry blossoms,” she said.
“I do.” Emilia confirmed. Lotte stuffed the silk piece into Emilia’s pocket and held the brooch to the collar of her uniform blouse.
“I think you could even use that as a hair ornament…” the blonde contemplated, holding the brooch up next to Emilia’s face. She then stepped closer and pinned the trinket through Emilia’s wrapped up braid. She did not see the result, only Lotte’s approving nod. “There. Instant fashion.”“Thanks. Hot mead?” Emilia asked, nodding towards the tavern. The two nodded, and they turned to leave the market stalls behind. Lotte squeezed between Emilia and Andrew, wrapped an arm around Emilia’s waist to pull her close, rest her head on the other girl’s shoulder. With her other hand she took Andrew’s arm, and like that, the three of them made their way to the tavern.