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Harbourship: One

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At the age of nineteen, every Shohai youth is drafted for National Youth Citizenship Service. For some, like Mboa, this opportunity means finally being free of the small fishing village she has been confined to all her life. However, this also means the risk of exposing the secret she’s been harbouring just as long grows tenfold. In amongst the excitement, the training, and the unexpected friendships, a mystery, darker than any of the recruits can imagine, draws dangerously near.

Fantasy / Adventure
Age Rating:

Recruitment / 01

Book One; The Harbour


“We’re here for the girl.”

Grendel is chewing absentmindedly on a pick hanging from his teeth. The late-afternoon spring sun is so blindingly bright, he has to squint and lift an arm to shade his eyes before he can see who was addressing him.

The man who’d spoken is standing with his long legs slightly apart and his straight nose in the air, fisted hands on his hips. A large frown is pinned across a gaunt, rosy-cheeked face, which is slightly marred by a faded pink scar slithering across from the left side of his chin upwards. The burnt orange emblem on the top right pocket of his jacket marks him as an Official Youth Recruiter of the State of Shohai. What catches Grendel’s eyes however, like a hook to an unsuspecting fish, are the violet curls framing his face. He may not be able to see like he once used to, but the colour looks natural—the hue of the brows the same.

“Girl?” Grendel stalls, eyes glancing at the other four people in the party before him. One is a stocky woman in a similar uniform in addition to a full skirt and a bosom to suit, and the other three are all youths he recognises from in and around Garen’s Well. Sullen looking things. Jadi and Perret’s kid, a thin, fair-haired girl at the back of the group, averts her gaze quickly once his own reaches her.

“Girl,” the recruiter repeats. His foot taps upon the ground, calling up dust. “This shouldn’t be a surprise; letters were sent a month ahead of us.” Certainly. And Grendel can recall skimming through it right before using it to wrap a fish he then sent to his friend Ennisen. “We were all supposed to congregate by the Garen’s Well markets, but due to this diversion we are on a very tight schedule. If you would be so kind as to call her out here, we will be on our way.”

“Mm. Not sure I can help you there,” Grendel announces apologetically around a wet cough. “See, it’s just me and the fish, here-” and he points to the bag of fish beside the worn, wooden chair he is sat on. He had been enjoying a brief break before he set to prepping them for sale and soup. The recruiter’s eyes spot them and his nose wrinkles accordingly. Grendel fights a frown. The smell isn’t fantastic, sure, but the man wouldn’t be acting so superior if he tasted Gren’s recipe. It’s rather famed in Old Falls, so much so that his name had begun to reach the surrounding villages and towns in the Lowlands. Not that he would ever take up the offers to set up elsewhere; he’s fished by the waterfall for the last thirteen years, and cooked for the local tavern for a decade. He has planned to continue just so until he dies.

“I was told there is a girl of age living beneath this roof at the inn not a mile from here-”

“Ah,” Grendel interrupts, “If yer talkin’ about Ennisen, I’ll have to inform you that he drinks. He makes less sense than leaving your fishing boat untethered when you’re warned of a storm.” And then he promptly falls slack, pretending to slip into sleep. Not so unbelievable for an older fellow like himself.


A loud snore is the only reply, until the door to Grendel’s humble abode rattles for a moment before swinging free of the latch he’d never got around to fixing. Grendel cracks an eye open even as his heart sinks. “Oh, she’s back,” he mutters weakly. “How wonderful.”

“Going for a swim, Gren,” his adopted granddaughter calls as she emerges, attempting to hide a brown paper bag that, no doubt, contains a bottle of wine that she is always sure he won’t miss. She is always wrong, of course. It makes his lips twitch.

Aware that his ruse is up, Grendel straightens up with a wince, ignoring the smug expression suddenly commandeering the purple-haired recruiters face. “Not the best timing, dear,” he replies as he stretches out his left leg. He hears rather than feels something pop back into place and settles back into his seat with a sigh.

Mboa freezes where she stands. “Who…?”

The recruiters say nothing, squinting from one to the other in confusion as a short, white-haired youth behind him sneezes into his dirty tunic.

“You’re nineteen, miss,” the stocky lady in the full skirt speaks up. It isn’t exactly an answer; more of a statement than a question too, but Mboa nods regardless, lifting her chin contemptuously so that the wool-like waves of cobalt blue hair that only spring from half her head brush against her neck. “Then you’re legally required to be conscripted for citizenship service. If you’d hurry to gather a small bag of necessities, we’d be very grateful.”

Mboa turns to glance at her grandfather, but his lips only thin as he spits the well-worried pick from his mouth to the floor and deliberately lets his eyes drift down to his pale, deceptively frail-looking hands.

She faces the strangers again. “Where?”

“Qizhou, of course,” the man says, his answer dripping with disdain. “You can mail your… grandfather from the centre. We must get going; there’s still one more of you to pick up.”

“Alright,” Mboa replies stiffly, turning back around and heading inside the house. She hears Grendel’s shuffling footsteps following her in moments later, but he doesn’t say a word as they step over discarded fishing nets, broken pottery and unfinished furniture. He remains silent even as he follows her into her little box room and she plants herself heavily on her bed of burlap sacks and straw, then—


“They normally send a letter ahead,” she interrupts.

“And they did.” Grendel ignores the irate glare she hurls at him and leans against the door jamb. “You understand just as well as I do why I don’t want you to go.”

“I can take care of myself,” Mboa retorts.

Her grandfather only crosses his arms and closes his grey eyes. After a moment he brings a wrinkled hand to his forehead and massages the ache that is beginning to brew. “It is not really you I’m worried about. It isn’t even me, though it won’t be the same around here. I’ll miss you—there’s no doubt about that.” To this, Mboa averts her gaze guiltily, reprimanding the inch of her that falters with the thought of leaving her grandfather behind. “But people don’t like different, Mboa.”

When Grendel opens his eyes, Mboa is holding a satchel in her hand, but her eyes, featuring one blue pupil and the other murky brown, join his. He hates that her usual defiance is missing from them. Her dark skin only turns a few heads in a small fishing village like Old Falls, but she still garners attention during trips to Garen’s Well, not helped by the blue hair that sprouts from the left side of her head, even though the shaving of the other side is her own doing. His granddaughter’s lips may have begun to tremble, but she turns away as though to hide it, and busies herself with neatening her hectic belongings. The gruffness of his voice when he speaks does not hide the sweetness of his words; “You are beautiful, but very different, Boa.”

“Out there, in the city, people aren’t like they are here.”

Grendel nods his head tiredly. “That’s true, my days on the seas taught me that, but what, then, of Mbam?” His granddaughter opens her mouth but, when no reply follows her breath, she closes it again. “It’s no matter. There’s nothing we can do about it now. Here,” he pushes away from the wall and disappears momentarily before returning with day old bread, a small lump of cheese wrapped in cloth and a silver flask with his name engraved across it. Mboa can smell the alcoholic nature of the contents as she takes it, and she grins pearly whites at him wickedly, up until he places his open palm in front of her and looks pointedly at the bagged wine she had hoped to appropriate.

Once she has handed it to him, Gren clasps her hand in his and pulls her up. His voice is choked when he speaks, saying, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I hope you can forgive me.”

“Forgive what?” she smirks. He grins at her, but the look in his eyes is serious as a shark bite.

“And this.” A letter, it seems, folded too many times. “I had a feeling they might turn up,” Gren mumbles. Mboa has to clear her throat and is grateful for the respite of his gaze as she takes the proffered paper and stuffs that in her bag also. “Read it when you’re ready, and write me, if you can. Be careful, out there.”

Less than five minutes later, the satchel of necessities only (a comb with most of its teeth still intact, plus the letter, the bread, the cheese, a full flask, two ceremonial candles, a knife, a purse of silver coins, a thin tunic and an extra pair of leggings) is packed, and Mboa, wearing a cape in case of cold further north, strides out of what has been her home for the last thirteen years, followed by her grandfather.

The group are clearly annoyed by the wait, but the female youth recruiter is the only one who does not express the emotion to any degree. She clasps her hands together instead and looks only to Mboa.

“Are you ready to go?”

“I am.” She is. Or, rather, she has been. From as early as she can remember, Mboa has wanted to leave the small fishing village she’s lived in and travel to one of the many cities Grendel has described to her through the years they’d sat side by side, fishing on the banks of Old Falls. They’d all sounded so foreign, full of such different sights and different wonders and, maybe because she is exactly that, but… Mboa loved the idea. Perhaps as a child she had only yearned for somewhere so diverse because, surely, she would therefore fit in. But the stories Grendel told her had been full of adventure too. Mboa may not know who her real parents are, but there is no doubt that adventure courses through her blood just as the secret of their identities do.

“Is that everything?” the scarred youth recruiter asks. The eyes glancing about her person seem to think not, but she nods her head; yes.

As the group she is to follow turns and begins up the dusty path that leads away from her home, Mboa looks back. The waterfall that doubles as her haven and the namesake of their little fishing village rises above the rotting roof of the shack of a home Grendel had built over a decade ago—for he and she to live. She’d always scrambled atop it to watch the sun rise or set alone, until she fell right through one evening in her early teens. Grendel had fussed and fussed and sworn to replace the whole thing, but rainwater still leaks into three of five rooms, and she hopes it still does when she returns.

When would she? Service is required to last one and a half to two years, but they are allowed leave. Every season? Every two? Old Falls, in her opinion, has always been boringly stagnant, but suddenly she wishes that for it until she can visit again.

Mboa takes a moment to look at her grandfather as he stands, defeated, by his old wooden chair. She knows Grendel as many things; an ex-pirate, hardy sailor, capable cook, enthusiastic drinker and a fisherman for always, but he has never been a crier. She is his in that way. But there is a glimmer to his bright, grey-blue eyes that betrays him.

Before she can say something—anything at all—Grendel raises a hand to her before abruptly turning to the bag of fish that has been settled by his feet, picking it up roughly, and disappearing into the house.

Perhaps that is for the best; her own throat feels oddly thick, her own eyes stinging strangely. She hasn’t even said goodbye.

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