West Arm, Late Evening

In the still air belowdecks, in the close and musty space that had been his cell for the past six months, he was the first to notice the smell of burning pitch. The fire started slow, and with a chill night wind howling down the river the sailors above making ready to dock had no advance warning. Through the sturdy wooden door he could hear the commotion as the cry went up to abandon ship, could hear the bodies splashing into the water as people leapt to safety, could hear the screams of those few the flames would not suffer escaping.

Beneath what was left of his shirt he was all ribs, and the looseness of the chains around his wrists left no doubt as to the fact that he was a weakened man, but for all these months it had been the sea that had been his true captor, not this cell nor even the crew. He wearily climbed to his feet and steadied himself against the rocking as the ship began to take on water. With a swift flick and a tug he tore his chains from their anchor in the floor, stretching the life back into his limbs as he did so. A solid kick was all the impetus the door needed to join its fellow timbers burning in the hallway outside. There was no path to the decks save through the flames, and so through the flames he went. By the time he reached open air his clothes burned and his flesh bubbled. The deck was listing to one side – down towards the sailors flailing and calling to each other in the darkness – he ran upwards instead and dove over the side, away from the sailors and away from the rescuers just now setting out from the docks, down and down he dove into the freezing black water. There was no sign of him for one minute, then two, until he broke the surface near the far bank and hauled himself out of the water and onto his back on the cold rocks.

He didn’t have to look to know She was there, watching from somewhere in the shadows piled under crates and nets along the dockside. She had been there, too, half a world away, when they had bound him in chains and heaved him bodily into the hold of the ship. And just as surely, She would be gone when he woke.

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