Helga rolled Harry out of the hospital room as Rink and James looked at each other.
"James, I... um... I have to tell you someth–"
"Save it," James said and held his hand up. "I already know. Mirise told me everything."
"I'm so sorry! I didn't know what I was doing... if there's anything I can ever do to make it up to you..."
"Honestly, you already have."
"...what do you mean?"
"You survived. If you and Cassandra had both gone under... I won't claim I'm not upset, that would be lying. But I'm more relieved that you're not on the bottom of the ocean than I'm upset that she is."
"Plus, I heard about Aniara... to be mad about you over a boat, after what you went through... there's no comparing it. I can't even say I wouldn't have done the same if I were in your position. I know all too well how you felt."
Rink sighed. "Why won't anyone be mad at me?"
"Harry won't be mad that I kissed his wife... you won't be mad I sunk your boat... the only one who was mad was Muse, and I didn't even do anything to her personally!"
"She got mad?"
"She slapped me for almost dying."
"I didn't know she had that much emotion in her."
"She has feelings, she just won't show them to you."
"That girl's got a lot more depth than you think, James."
"I'll believe it when I see it," James replied with a slight smirk. "If it'll make you feel any better, I can hold you responsible for Cassandra once you've healed up."
"...it does a little."
"I just... don't think I should be let off that easily when I do dumb things. And that might be the dumbest thing I've ever done."
"You've still got time."
Rink put her hand over her mouth to stifle a chuckle. "Then you'll have to get mad at me again."
"Just concentrate on getting back on your feet," James said. "Right now, we all need to."
"Yeah... I guess so."
"By the way, we spoke with Wilhelm... he said we could stay at the inn for as long as we need, without having to pay anything."
"He's really too kind..." Rink said and looked away from James. "But even with that, what are we gonna do? How are we–"
"Rink." James put his hand on Rink's shoulder, interrupting her. "Rink, look... after the things we've already been through together... I know we're going to get through this too. But let's take one thing at a time... and I know, more than anything, that you won't be able to get through this thing before you've even said your proper goodbyes."
"With the grace of Gaia... be at peace."
"Be at peace."
The funeral came to a close as Aniara's body, dressed in a white silk robe, was covered with soil. Nearly the entire population of Gondol had come to pay their respects to the deceased. The crowd started dispersing, eventually leaving behind only Rink and her friends, who had elected to stay in the back during the service. She walked up to the grave, looking down at the gravestone.
"No casket?" Markus asked.
"This way... they're returned to Gaia," Rink replied. "The body becomes one with the earth..."
Five days had passed after the night of the fire. Gondol had, by necessity, mostly returned to normal—albeit with a notable atmosphere of grief lying over the whole island. Nothing like the attack had occured on Gondol in living memory, and it was clear that the citizens didn't entirely know how to deal with it. Harry did what he could to keep the island running, though he spent most of his time at the clinic.
"For so many years... my life revolved around her. Even after I left, not a day went by when I didn't think of her... even before we became a couple, I didn't have any future plans that didn't include Anni. A life with her was the only thing I wanted... and look how that turned out," Rink said with tears falling from her eye. Without saying anything, Muse put a hand on her shoulder. "We were gonna get married, and have a cottage by the coast, and a daughter, and be a happy family..."
"How exactly were you planning on having a kid?" James asked.
"James!" Muse exclaimed with irritation in her voice.
"My idealized romantic fantasy didn't concern itself with all the details, okay?" Rink sighed. "Everything would work out... as long as the two of us were together. I was sure of it."
"I know how you feel," Muse whispered.
"She would have wanted me to smile... she always wanted me to smile. At least..." Rink paused. "At least that's what I always thought, until... she..."
"She loved you."
Rink sighed again and turned around. "I was wondering why you were still here." She looked over at Harry, who had stayed behind when everybody else had left. He was gently stroking the back of Miss Moa, who was lying in his lap. "You knew what I'd be talking about..."
"She loved you, Rink," he said as he rolled the wheelchair closer. "Probably more than she ever loved me."
"Then why did she marry you?" Rink asked as Miss Moa jumped down from Harry's lap, walked up to Mirise and started rubbing up against her legs.
"To be honest, I've wondered the same. If only you hadn't left... she missed you so badly, she'd cry about it at times... I don't know if she would have agreed to it, but... if it had made her happier, I would have wanted you to remain a part of her life."
Rink chuckled. "The mayor's wife having a female lover on the side? Yeah, that would have gone over well."
"For her sake... I would have dealt with it."
"I just... hope you made her happy."
"I hope so too," Harry replied. "It's not that I think that she wasn't happy to be married to me... she always said she loved me... and you should know better than anyone that she wasn't one to suppress her feelings. But I just can't help but think you would have done a better job at it..."
"I think you did a better job than you give yourself credit for."
"There were the little things, though... on the day of our wedding... she was wearing this hair decoration, that... it was nice, but it just didn't go all that well in her blonde hair."
"In your darker hair, it would've fit a lot better. I've always suspected that it was meant to be her gem gift to you..."
"Yeah. But most of all, what always made me wonder... there's the locket."
"The locket she always wore," Harry said and pulled out a round silver locket with a small keyhole on the side from his pocket, that Rink vaguely recalled having seen Aniara wearing both during their earlier meeting and when she had found her in the burning house. "She almost never took it off... so it was something she wanted to keep close all the time. If anyone asked, she'd only say it held what she loved most, so most people just assumed it was a picture of me or the children... but the first time I ever saw her wearing it was on our wedding day, and she told me that she had thrown the key into the sea that very morning. I never tried digging any deeper, it was clear it was important to her, and that she didn't want to reveal what was inside. But I've always suspected that it's you in there."
"I think it's time to open it," Harry said and held it out in Rink's direction. "Learn the truth, once and for all, whatever it might be."
"Oh..." Rink said as she grabbed it, holding it up in front of her eye. "Alright." She lowered it to her mouth, and with a quick, piercing high-pitched sound, broke the flimsy lock open. She took a deep breath before opening it up, looking inside. "This... this is... oh, Anni..."
"It's you, isn't it?" Harry asked.
"Yes..." Rink said before closing the locket and tossing it over to Harry. "...and no. It's us."
"What do you..." Harry started before looking into the locket himself. On the left side was indeed a picture of Rink, a pencil drawing looking like her at the time and Aniara had started dating. On the right side was a drawing looking to be from the same period... depicting Harry in his late teens. "...I don't... I didn't think that..."
"She loved us both, Harry," Rink said. "You said you hadn't fully realized how close she and I were... but I never noticed that she liked you, either. She must have been really torn over that... the one feeling she tried to keep down, but... always carried close to her heart." Rink and Harry both fell silent, looking down at Aniara's grave while processing the posthumous revelation.
"At least now, she'll sleep peacefully..." Harry said after a few minutes.
"...did she still snore?" Rink asked.
"Oh, absolutely! It actually got worse while she was pregnant."
"You're pulling my leg."
"No, for real. I can't tell you how often I slept in the kids' room."
"I can imagine," Rink said with a chuckle. "Are they... still holding up? Your kids, I mean. Do they... understand what happened?"
"Yes, don't worry... while I haven't told them that someone... murdered her, they know that their mother isn't coming back. Robe was old enough to understand when my father passed, and Isagel... well, we used to have another cat, Daisi, who was bitten by a snake last year and never recovered. It was sad for all of us, but an important experience, I think..."
"I wouldn't be surprised if they took it better than me," Rink said. "I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to understand that she's just... gone. It's taking everything I have to not... just..."
"I'm the same," Harry replied. "So... if you'll pardon the question... what are you going to do now?"
"Isn't it obvious? I'm going to search for her killer. I'm not letting them get away with this," Rink said and turned around to face her travel companions. "I hope the rest of you can forgive me, if we ever meet again..."
"...what do you mean?" Mirise asked, holding Miss Moa in her arms.
"I've had a good time traveling with you," Rink said. "But... I've thought about it a lot since... it happened... and this has to be where we part ways, right? I've got my own goal now–"
"Blah, blah, blah, are you done?" James asked to interrupt her.
"I said, are you done?"
"I'm trying to explain why–"
"You can't really believe that yourself, can you?"
"This has nothing to do with you–"
"You can stop talking nonsense. There's no way you're going after them on your own... captain."
Rink fell silent. "...what did you say?"
"You have us," James replied. "Your crew."
"I'm... I'm not your captain."
"We might have set sail as just companions, and Cassandra might have been my boat, but it's always been you, hasn't it?" James asked. "Everyone has rallied around you. You're the reason we're all together here. I don't feel like I'm lying when I call you my captain."
"I can't ask you to follow me in this," Rink said. "It's my–"
"You're not the only one with a bone to pick, captain," James said. "Cassandra was destroyed because of them."
"I agree with James," Markus said. "I would be honoured to have you as my captain. Besides, I'm already wanted by the Marines, so I might as well actually be a pirate!"
"I'm in as well," Muse said. "I'd much rather follow a captain motivated by love than greed or anything like that, anyway."
"My motivation is revenge," Rink replied.
"Details. Besides, clearly someone needs to keep you from just rushing into doing stupid things... and what kind of a sister would I be if I didn't stick with you at a time like this?"
"I am indebted to you for saving my life," Charon said. "Due to my species, there are not many that would welcome me... if you will have me, I would gladly offer my loyalty."
"I have my own goals," Allen said. "Buuuuut I guess I still owe you for breaking me out of that jail... and there's always strength in numbers. Let's keep rolling together."
"And I know now that I must go further," Mirise said as she put Miss Moa back into Harry's lap. "Allow me to continue guiding you."
"You guys..." Rink said with a trembling voice, almost on the verge of tears again. She buried her head in her hands, before looking up at them again. "If you're all sure... then that's what we'll do! I can't promise I'll be the best leader, but I do know that I'll have the best crew I could ever ask for. And Muse is right... I'll need you to keep me in check, too!"
"You'll do a good job," Harry said as he started slowly rolling himself away. "As long as those who expect you to lead them have faith in you... that counts for more than you'd think."
"Yeah... I guess it really is like you told me, James. We'll make it work, as long as we go together," Rink stated before looking down and sighing. "That said... right now, we're not going anywhere at all, with no ship... I guess that once we've all healed up, we can catch a ride with a trading ship to somewhere we can get one of our own..."
"A suggestion?" James said.
"I did promise Mirise's dad I'd bring her back, and if we'll be heading out on an even longer journey now, with no idea how long it'll be... could we perhaps go to Avasine first?"
"Sounds good to me," Rink replied. "Avasine will probably be the best place to prepare either way, and with all the people passing through there... maybe someone there will know anything about that black ship."
"I'm sure dad will help us too," Mirise added.
"So, captain Kazai..." Muse said with a small chuckle.
"My first order is for you to not call me that."
"What are we gonna be? The Kazai Pirates?"
"No," Rink said and traced the edge of her eyepatch with a finger. "All I know about being a captain is what I picked up from the only person who's ever been my captain. Aaron Ducler, captain of the Harmony Pirates... a crew of musicians, that me and Jack joined up with after leaving Gondol."
"I hope you don't expect all of us to play music, too," Allen said.
"No, no... I didn't think any of you knew how to anyway."
"I can play the piano," James interjected.
"Really?" Muse asked before Rink spoke up again.
"Well, whatever ship we end up getting, I'm pretty sure we're not putting a piano on it. But what I mean is, I want to carry on captain Aaron's spirit. He understood what it meant to be a leader, and I really looked up to him... and I wasn't the only one on the crew. We all knew that he always had what was best for us all in his heart." Rink put a hand on her chest. "And that's what I want to do for you too... as the captain of the New Harmony Pirates."
Another week passed. The newly formed crew had started planning how they would be moving forwards, but had decided on taking it slow to allow everyone to fully recover—both physically and mentally—before finding a way off Gondol. Rink had been dismissed from the clinic, but still spent most of her time inside, save for a daily visit on her own to Aniara's grave. She had just returned to the inn from one such visit to see Mirise standing outside.
"Rink!" she exclaimed. "There you are!"
"Hey, Mirise. What's the–"
"You've gotta come with me!" Mirise said and grabbed Rink's hand.
"Wh-what's the hurry?"
"Trust me, you really have to see this!"
"O...kay," Rink replied and let herself be led away. Mirise was normally energetic, but this was the most excited Rink had ever seen her. Mirise quickly made her way towards the docks, and Rink could tell already from a distance that there was something there—a large ship lay anchored close to the island, with a gangway in place to board it. Upon spotting it, Rink slowed down slightly. "That's what you were excited about?"
"But we're not even ready to..." Rink trailed off and fell silent as they came even closer to the docks. Rink noted that a lot of people had gathered there, not only her crew. As they reached the docks proper, Mirise stopped and let go of Rink's hand. "...wait... that doesn't look like a trading ship."
"It's not," came the voice of Harry from behind Rink. He was in his wheelchair with a blanket on his lap, with Miss Moa awake but resting on top of it. "It's your new ship."
"Huh... wait, what?"
"You did say you needed a ship, no?" Harry asked, while Miss Moa took a leap off of him, again heading for Mirise.
"Yes, but... why is this...?"
"You and I... I don't think we're ever going to be friends. Even with what happened... I don't expect you to like me. But... we do have one important thing in common."
"...we both loved her."
"And we both want to see her murderer get what they deserve," Harry added. "But I have no chance of seeing to that. I doubt I'll ever get off this island, now... but you, you've got the determination, the ability, and the crew... what you didn't have was a ship. So this is my gift to you. My contribution to your quest."
"I don't know what to... wait a minute. Even if you commissioned this at the day of the funeral, when you heard us... a ship this size can't be built that fast. Did you just... buy a ship for us? Or... is this... your ship?"
"It was already under construction. I had commissioned it in secret... it was meant to commemorate the birth of our third child. You know how much Aniara was reading, and making sure new books were coming with the trade ships, learning about the world beyond Gondol... but she wanted to see that world, too. So I wanted to give her the opportunity. But now... it's yours. I asked them to just get her seaworthy as fast as possible... so it's quite empty on the inside."
Her crew had gathered around them as Rink studied the vessel in front of her. A three-masted Carrack, which Rink estimated to be about twenty meters long. Furled white sails hung on the masts, each mast also being topped with a crow's nest. The main deck had raised cabins at the bow and aft, one level in the front and two in the back. The hull was unpainted, and the ship was entirely unadorned—with one exception.
A painted figurehead was situated at the prow of the ship. A beautifully carved figure of a mermaid with a blue-green tail, naked from the waist up, with facial features and yellow hair clearly modeled after those of Aniara. Her eyes glinted in the sunlight, as the irises of her eyes were pearl inserts.
"Three large cabins including kitchen above deck, four cabins below decks. Cargo hold at the bottom. The kitchen is the only room that's got any interior fixed in place already... it's the lower one at the back of the deck," Harry said as Hans and Tag walked up next to Rink.
"Any modifications you need, just let us know and we'll do what we can," Tag said.
"I think James and Muse will have to look at that," Rink replied.
"So, going to go pick out a room for yourself?" Markus asked.
"No... you are."
"What do you mean?"
"Markus, Charon... you two have got to make the first choice. Before anything else, you pick whichever room is the best suited to be our sick bay," Rink replied. "It's the most important one."
"We shall see to it," Charon said before he and Markus started walking up the gangway.
"Besides, I don't think I'll want a cabin just to myself... I prefer having people close by," Rink said and looked over towards Muse and Mirise, who was holding Miss Moa in her arms.
"She seems to have taken a liking to you," Harry said, looking at Mirise.
"Ah, yes... I guess she might recognize that I saved her that night?" Mirise said.
"It's not just that... you remind her of Anni. I should know."
"Oh, I could see that," Harry replied with a chuckle. "Hey... why don't you bring her with you?"
"What do you mean?" Rink asked.
"Miss Moa, of course. Why don't you take her with you on your journey?"
"...wait, what? She's yours, you and your kids..."
"Well, in all honesty, she was mostly Aniara's," Harry replied and stroked Miss Moa's head. "And right now, we don't really have the means to take care of her. Aniara's mother doesn't want a cat in her house, and I'm stuck at the clinic for now, which isn't a great place for her either. We could find someone else to take care of her, but... I think it's only fitting that she goes with you. Besides, isn't it good luck to have a cat on your ship or something?"
"She could take care of rats, at least," Rink said and put her hand on the cat, looking at Mirise. "And I can empathize with having taken a liking to Mirise."
"Oh, you!" Mirise said with a giggle before turning to Harry. "Even so, don't you think your children would miss her?"
"They understand that we can't keep her as things are now," Harry replied. "We already talked about giving her away, and once we can live together again, perhaps getting another pet."
"In that case, I don't think we have any reason to decline," Rink replied and leaned down to put her face in front of Miss Moa's. "Welcome to the crew, Miss Moa."
"We'll need... whatever a cat needs," Mirise said as Markus and Charon returned from the ship.
"We've made our choice," Markus said. "The cabin in the front, above deck. Large enough to keep everything we need, and easily accessible."
"Great," Rink said and looked up towards the ship, then at Harry. "Guess it's time for the rest of us to take a look around. Again, I don't know how to thank you... but I might think of something before we leave."
"Just one more thing before I have to go back," Harry said.
"So, while I understand it will still be some time until you leave..." Harry said and reached in under his blanket, grabbing a bottle of wine and handing it towards Rink.
"I was going to name her Venus," Harry said as Rink grabbed the bottle, "but you probably have a better name in mind..."
Rink looked at the bottle, then back to the ship. She walked up to the edge of the dock, looking at the figurehead, then back towards Harry and her crew with a smile. She took a few steps back, then faced the ship again.
"Carry us..." Rink said and threw the bottle with force, breaking it against the hull of the ship. "Aniara."
To be continued in Volume 06: The New Harmony Pirates