As per Mirise's prediction, Gondol came into view early the following morning. With the size of the island, though, simply coming into view meant there still was a little while before they'd actually reach it. The island itself seemed fairly flat, with no great natural elevations and no tall buildings that could be seen from far away. At least parts of the island were covered in trees, but the majority appeared to be quite open.
"So here we are," Rink said with a sigh as she looked out over the ship's bow. "Green Gondol, Gaia's gracious gift, generously given..."
"What's that?" Mirise asked. She, Rink, Charon and Muse were the ones who had woken up so far, while the other three were still sleeping soundly in the cabin.
"It's part of a poem that someone wrote about Gondol like a hundred years ago. Or more. It's mostly about how good the island is."
"Is it accurate?"
"Mostly. If exaggerated."
"And what's 'Gaia'?"
"The earth mother," Rink replied. "She who created the land, breathed life into it... gave birth to the rain, the wind and the sun. Or so the story goes, anyway."
"Are the people of Gondol a religious sort?" Charon asked.
"Not too much, these days. It used to be much more important in daily life, is what we learned... but there's still a lot of traditions based in the religious customs. Traditionalists rather than religious, I'd say, but there are still many situations where it's customary to give thanks to Gaia, sometimes with an offering."
"Anyway... we're approaching from the south right now, where would be best to land?" Mirise asked.
"The only docks of Gondol are to the northeast," Rink replied. "That's where the town is. Beyond that, it's a whole lot of farms and some forests, with houses scattered about. You can tell there wasn't much planning involved, people mostly claimed some land for themselves and built houses where they felt like..."
"So we're going like that, then..." Mirise mumbled as she looked down on her map. "We're out of wind, though, so we're going to have to do some rowing."
"I will assist however much I can," Charon stated.
"I'll go wake up the boys so they can help," Rink said. "And make some coffee."
"What about breakfast?" Mirise asked.
"Can't be bothered, we'll eat when we reach the island." So Rink entered the cabin, listening to the snores for a few moments before clapping her hands twice and shouted, "up!"
Allen quickly sprung to his feet - all four of them, as he was sleeping in his hyena form as usual. He looked around, then at Rink.
"Have to be with this kind of life," Allen chuckled before assuming human form and putting on his shorts. James and Markus had figured out what was going on as well, and Markus had already started getting out of the hammock.
"Good morning," he said as he stood up.
"Is everything alright?"
"Yeah, we just need to get some rowing done," Rink replied and opened a cupboard, grabbing a coffee pot before getting a fire going in the stove. "So we'll need some help with that."
"You making breakfast?" Allen asked Rink as Markus got himself dressed.
"Just coffee, we'll have some actual breakfast when we actually get to Gondol."
"We're close, then?"
"See for yourself," Rink said as she left the cabin, Allen and Markus soon following after. James remained lying down on the mattress, having decided that there was no real point in him getting involved at the moment.
"And what do you think you are doing?" Markus asked when he saw Charon sitting down with an oar in hand.
"I will assist with the rowing," was the reply.
"You'll be doing no such thing, not with your wounds! That kind of physical exercise can easily open them up again. Let me do that."
"I believe I possess more physical strength than you."
"That may be, but you're not in any shape to be doing something like that. You're a doctor too, you should know... let me and Allen take care of it."
"Very well..." Charon said and let the oar go, letting Markus take his place. It was clear that he was a bit frustrated that he wasn't allowed to help, but accepted it.
"Where to?" Markus asked Mirise, who was looking out over the ship's bow, still with the map in hand. Muse had been given the task of handling the sail, for when/if the wind started blowing their way again.
"Northeast," Mirise replied and pointed in the direction that she figured would bring them to where Rink had informed them they needed to go. Rink herself had gone back into the cabin after filling the coffee pot with water and taking another look at Gondol, which had been followed by a sigh that nobody felt they wanted to comment on.
Under Mirise's guidance, Cassandra slowly but surely approached Gondol, heading for the northeastern part of the island. Allen and Markus steered the ship as best they could, taking pauses only to breathe and partake of the coffee that Rink eventually came out with. She kept looking at the island, not saying anything to anyone else. Nearly half an hour later, the wind started blowing their way again, making the final leg of the approach go much smoother. Rink pointed out their goal as soon as it became visible - Gondol's only port, a flat stretch of cobblestone with a concrete edge, supplanted by a short wooden pier at the southern end and a wooden building extending into the water at the northern end. It wasn't exactly crowded - save for a couple of tiny rowboats, there were a total of three boats there, which Rink could point out were all fishing boats used by Gondol's fishermen. They got a few looks as they approached, but they just seemed to be out of curiosity. They carefully steered the ship up to the island, with Rink being the first to disembark and tie the mooring rope to an iron ring embedded in the concrete. She looked around, and got a few looks herself, but nobody seemed to actually recognize her - which didn't surprise her. She wasn't exactly the sixteen year old girl that had left Gondol all those years ago any more... and last time she had seen this place, it had been with two eyes.
"So here we are," she half-whispered. "Looks the same as ever..."
"It looks like a nice island," Mirise added.
"It is, but..."
"So what's the plan?" Markus asked. "We need the boat fixed..."
"Well, we'll have to unload the ship, I suppose, and we need a place to stay... hmm. Okay, Markus, you come with me."
"Because I really don't want to have to do this on my own and because James can't walk."
"Why not Mirise, or Muse?"
"For a wide variety of very good reasons. Come on."
"Well... okay," Markus replied and turned to Muse. "Make sure Charon doesn't do any heavy lifting."
"Can do," Muse replied as Markus disembarked and followed Rink towards the rest of Gondol. According to Rink, this was the town of the island, which probably said more about the rest of the island than it did this place. There were stores and other establishments along with some buildings that Markus guessed was residences, but it wasn't exactly a tightly packed place - most buildings had a healthy amount of space between them.
"So... where are we going?"
"The Painted Dove," Rink replied as they made their way through the town. "An inn that's been around for forever, like everything else around here. I honestly can't see any buildings that weren't already here when I left."
"So is there any hospital or such around here?"
"Doctor Glass's clinic," Rink stated. "We already passed it, it's next to the docks. It's not much of a hospital, and those who want medical care usually have the doctor visit them, rather than visit the doctor."
"Oh, I see. Well, still need to bring James and Charon there... and I wouldn't mind if I could buy some more supplies..."
"One thing at a time."
As they got further away from the docks, the empty space between the houses increased. Markus wasn't sure if they were still in the actual town when he saw what seemed to be the last building before the open fields of Gondol. It was quite large, two stories high, light blue exterior with a large white dove painted on the wall facing the town.
"So I'm guessing that's the place," Markus chuckled.
"What tipped you off?" Rink replied with a smile as they walked up to the door and entered, the door striking a bell as it opened to announce their arrival. Markus took a quick glance around, and it was about what could be expected from an inn. As Rink walked up to the counter in front of them, a man, presumably the innkeeper, came through a door behind it. He looked to be in his early thirties, with dark gray hair ending slightly above his shoulders, thin, round glasses, and wearing a green shirt with a light brown vest on top of it. Rink raised her eyebrow as she saw him.
"Yes, how can I help you?" he asked and looked at his two new customers.
"You run this joint now? I should have guessed," Rink said with a smirk.
"I'm sorry, do I know you?"
"Did you ever write that book... silly Willy?"
"...silly Willy? Nobody's called me that since... wait a minute," the innkeeper replied and pointed at her after taking an extra look. "Rink? Rink Kazai?"
"How you've been, Wil?"
"I absolutely cannot believe it," he said and shook his head. "Of all the people I thought I'd never see again... what brings you back to Gondol?"
"It wasn't by choice, let me tell you that," Rink answered. "But now that I'm here... might as well do the best of the situation."
"What have you been doing?"
"A lot of things," Rink replied. "Most recently, was a famous singer for a while... before getting into, let's say, a bit of trouble."
"Like that time you 'borrowed' the ox cart?"
"Something like that," Rink chuckled before hearing Markus clear his throat. "Oh... right."
"So I suppose this is an old friend of yours," Markus said.
"Quite so," Rink replied.
"Wilhelm Mober," the innkeeper continued.
"We're like... third cousins on my father's side, or something like that. And this is one of my new friends..."
"Markus Flint. Nice to meet you."
"Either way, we need some place to stay, so..."
"So you obviously came here since you knew this is the best inn on Gondol."
"Last I checked, which admittedly was over ten years ago, this is the only inn on Gondol."
"Still is," Wilhelm replied.
"So... you have rooms?"
"Have we ever not had rooms?"
"Do you not get a lot of customers?" Markus asked.
"Oh, the restaurant has always been the primary business, and that's got a regular clientèle," Wilhelm replied. "But the rooms do see regular enough use as well, mostly from people who stayed in town too late, or got too drunk, or if the weather got too bad to safely get back to their homes."
"Speaking of which... is Albert still around?"
"Not only is he still alive, he actually quit drinking entirely."
"Really? That's the last thing I would have expected."
"He ended up in a ditch and almost died about three years ago, and he hasn't had a drop of alcohol since. Guess he realized he had to do something if he didn't want to die like that..."
"Good for him, I suppose."
"So, anyway, is it just the two of you?"
"No, there's seven of us. The others are unloading the boat, since it needs repairs..."
"Seven in total..." Wilhelm said and turned around, grabbing a bunch of keys and placing them on the counter in front of Rink and Markus. "You can take rooms five and six, then. They're our largest rooms, four beds each, and luckily for you, they're empty right now."
"Sounds good to me," Rink replied and scooped up one of the piles of four keys, without really caring which one it was. "You take the other one."
"Oh, okay," Markus said and picked up the other keys, noting that each one had a small wooden tag with the number 5 tied to it. "So... how do we split up?"
"Do you even have to ask?"
"Men and women?"
"That was the idea, yes. Anything against it?"
"No... just that I'm so used to rooming with Muse, and she might be more comfortable with that. But she's been getting along so well with especially you, so it'll probably be fine?"
"It's not like you'll be far away, and we won't be staying in the rooms all the time anyway."
"True," he replied as Rink turned back to Wilhelm.
"So, we'll bring our things from the ship, then we are going to need a hearty breakfast."
"I'll let the head chef know."
"So who's the chef here these days? Someone I know?"
"Oh, very much so. It's my wife."
"Your wife, huh? Christina? You always had eyes for her..."
"Oh... no. I eventually did tell Christina how I felt, and we actually did get together for a while. But we realized that we weren't really meant for each other, and we parted on good terms."
"So who, then?"
"I'll let that be a surprise, and I'm sure she'll be surprised to see you too."
"How about you? Any new girl in your life?"
"Just, well... let's say, temporary connections."
"And... is Jack with you?"
Rink sighed, closed her eye and looked down. "No... Jack is..." She swallowed. "Jack is..."
"I'm sorry," Wilhelm said. "I shouldn't have asked."
"No, it's fine... you're not going to be the only one to ask about him..."
"Are you going to... visit your parents?"
"They deserve it, I think..." Rink sighed. "Coming back here is going to be the hardest thing I've done in my entire life," she continued and shook her head.
"If I can be of any help, just let me know," Wilhelm said. "I'm sure the others would be happy to see you, too."
"Thanks, Wil," Rink replied and smiled. "You always were a real friend. But, I guess we'll go get the others and all our stuff, and then we'll come down for breakfast."
"Shouldn't we pay something?" Markus asked as Rink started leaving.
"We'll take care of that when you leave," Wilhelm replied.
"Oh, sure," Markus said and followed Rink, who was walking towards the docks at a faster, more decisive pace than before. Markus kept up with her, but stayed about two steps behind as they made their way back. Most of the return trip occurred in slightly strained silence, until they could almost see Cassandra again, when Rink slowed down a little and looked at Markus.
"I know you want to ask, so go ahead."
"Are you sure?"
"It's going to be far from the last time I'm asked about it, so..."
"Well, I think I can guess already... but alright," Markus said. "So... who's Jack?"
"My big brother," Rink replied. "He was the best brother and friend I could have ever asked for... I'm pretty sure he could tell I was in love with Aniara before I had even figured out how being in love works."
"I don't think anyone's ever really figured that out."
"Well, aside from that." Without stopping, Rink pointed at a red building to the right of them. "There's the clinic, by the way."
Markus took a quick look at it, seeing that there was indeed a sign identifying it as the Doctor Glass Clinic. "Got it."
"So anyway, we need to get the stuff to the inn... I guess we'll... you head to the others, I'll be right back," Rink said and walked over to another building close by. Markus didn't have the time to say anything and just did as she said, reaching the docks where the others were standing around what seemed to be everything on Cassandra that wasn't stuck to the boat.
"Welcome back," Muse said. "Where's Rink?"
"I think she went to get assistance with hauling our things to the inn... it's not especially close," Markus replied.
"With the time you took, that much was clear," Allen noted.
"So... I guess we'll just wait," Markus stated. It didn't take long until they saw a cart being pulled by a horse coming towards them, a cart that was empty save for one Rink.
"Alright, I got us some transport," she said as she descended. "Let's load up."
With the cart loaded up, and with James and (begrudgingly) Charon riding on it while the others walked alongside it, they all made their way to the inn. Rink paid the coachman (who hadn't said a word) before they started moving their things into their rooms, with most of the non-personal items ending up in Rink, Mirise and Muse's room on account of them being three in a four-person room. The rooms weren't overly fancy but still nice, with one bed in each corner, a closet, a table, a writing desk and a few chairs. They also had a small bathroom with a toilet and a shower each. After getting everything in, they headed down to the restaurant, which had a couple of patrons eating breakfast already. Wilhelm showed them to an empty table and disappeared into the kitchen, and soon after two waitresses came out, filling up their table with assorted breakfast items. Just as they had started eating, Wilhelm came back out of the kitchen - this time bringing someone else with him. The woman by his side was about a head taller than him, with a somewhat stern look on her face. She had brown hair that was just barely visible under the white kerchief she was wearing on her head, and otherwise was wearing a simple light blue dress with a white apron on top. She stayed at the table, looking down at Rink, while Wilhelm went back to the front room.
"Selma!" Rink exclaimed. "So Wil ended up marrying you, huh?"
"...you're kidding," she said. "Wil did say there was a surprise, but... I didn't expect this. Rink."
"The prodigal daughter returns," Rink told her with a grin. "Reluctantly."
Selma observed the group of people accompanying her old friend. "Let me guess... the fair one."
"Wha- oh! No, no, just... just friends."
"The dark one, then?"
"Also just a friend! I don't have a girlfriend right now."
"Hm. Well, I have to get back to the kitchen. Maybe we can talk more later."
"Yeah. Nice to see you again, Selma," Rink said before Selma went into the kitchen again. There was silence around the table for a bit.
"Was she assuming..." Muse eventually started.
"...that I was in a relationship with one of you, yes."
"That's... quite the thing to just throw out there."
"Well, it was always straight to the point with her... she doesn't seem to have changed much in that respect. I can see why she'd be good at being the boss of a kitchen! And probably the boss of this place in general."
"She recognized you, at least," Markus said.
"She would, though I guess Wil tipped her off... and if she knew it was someone she used to know, there wouldn't be that many possibilities. People don't... leave here much."
"I can see why," James said as he continued eating. As they were all quite hungry, they prioritized eating over making small talk, so nothing of real value was spoken until the table had been cleaned. "So... now what?"
"I'm taking you two to the clinic," Markus stated, nodding towards James and Charon. "And that's non-negotiable."
"I guess I can look at getting Cassandra repaired," Muse stated, "though I'd rather not go alone..."
"I'll go with you," Mirise said.
"That would be appreciated."
"Well, I need to get me some clothes... and some cigarettes," Allen chuckled. "So I was hoping someone would lend me some cash."
"You can borrow from me," Rink replied. "I need to head up to the room to get some... things first anyway..."
"So... what are you doing?" James asked.
"As you might expect, I have some very... personal business to attend to."
"I guess, yeah. Well, see you all later then," he said as Markus helped him get up, the two of them and Charon being the first to leave. The others got up from the table as well, with Muse and Mirise heading out to go back to the docks, while Rink and Allen went up to the girls' room.
"So, how much do you need?" Rink asked as she located her wallet.
"Some smokes and some stuff to wear... you should know what things cost around here."
"Well, I guess you wouldn't go for anything fancy, if there were any fancy things around here... so this should do," Rink said and handed Allen two ฿5000 bills. "No rush to pay me back..."
"Well, thanks," Allen said and pocketed the money. "And good luck with... whatever you're going to do."
"I'll need it," Rink replied with a sigh as Allen left, before sitting down at the desk in the room. There were some sheets of paper already on it, along with a pencil. She started writing, crumpled up the paper and threw it on the floor, started over, and did this a few times until she had two letters she was reasonably satisfied with in front of her. None of them were very long, but they were important to her. She folded each sheet twice, wrote Aniara on one and Mom and dad on the other before grabbing them and heading out.
As Rink started strolling through the town, she noted that some people were looking at her, pointing at her and whispering about something. It seemed like word that she had come back had already started spreading, she just hoped it hadn't reached a certain person just yet. As she was looking around, she spotted someone who definitely wouldn't know who she was - a boy, probably around ten years old, running around in the street with a black and white dog playfully following him.
"Hey, you!" Rink said as she approached him.
"What?" the boy replied as he stopped to look over at Rink, the dog stopping as well.
"Cute dog you got there," Rink said with a smile.
"He's my best friend!"
"What's his name?"
"Oscar. We do everything together!"
"But aren't you supposed to be in school now?"
"We didn't have any teachers today."
"Guess that's still the same..." Rink mumbled to herself. "Alright, listen... you know the mayor's house?"
"Can you do me a favour and deliver this there?" Rink asked and held up the note labeled Aniara.
"If you do it, I'll give you 500 beli now," Rink said and held up a coin, "and another 500 later."
"Come to the inn this afternoon and ask for a Rink. Just... don't mention my name to anyone else, okay?"
"Alright, I'll do it," the boy said, grabbing both the note and the ฿500 coin from Rink before heading off towards the mayor's residence.
"That's that, at least..." Rink said to herself. "So I guess it's time to pay mom and dad a visit..."