22. Short stories from the harbour I

- 12:01 am

The harbour of Venguard 

By Gregox 

The sun shone through the window and made him blink. Before he recognised it, he was already wide awake, moved his tired old bones to a sitting position and took a look around. His cottage at the pier was quite small. A double bed, a sturdy chest and a closet. But it was still better then what most people had, as he still had a roof over his head. And that was worth quite a bit these days. 

His eyes wandered to the other side of the bed which was empty. Since this side had been empty, he only had one hope left in his life: Dying a good death and being reunited with his wife. 

He sighed, got out of bed and put on his gear. His dagger and some gold in his pouch from the chest dangled from his belt.  

He left the house and went to the booth on the other side of the road to do his daily shopping routine.  

“Hi there, Ruprecht.”, the young woman smiled at him.  
“Hello, Lena.“, he only gave her a grim nod. 
She sighed: „It could’ve been such a nice day, if only …” 
Ruprecht growled: „Stop it. We are already no longer allowed to leave the city. That will help us a great deal when the Orcs will come and overrun the city soon.” 
Lena looked at him with shock. “Don’t say such things. The paladins and the guards will take care of everything.” 
Ruprecht laughed out loud while taking his usuals: his beloved cheese, a loaf of bread and some water. He gave her some gold and said: “The paladins? The guards? Those guys have become way to fat from all the gold they’ve been taking. Only those few with some self-respect will stay but they’ll die rapidly.” 
Lena looked left and right, before whispering in a worried way: „Please, stop that talk. Somebody will hear you and report you to the authorities. Then you’ll go to the dungeon for treason, and shortly after you’ll be hanged.”  
But Ruprecht didn’t lower his voice as he said: “Pah, I’ve lived my life and just because the king has become paranoid and is planting fake hope…” 
Lena looked at him angrily and disrupted him: “It’s enough! Maybe you don’t treasure your life, but I do treasure mine, so go somewhere else with your talk.” 
Ruprecht waved aside her fear, shook his head and took his provisions for the day before walking towards the pier. There, besides one of the fisheries, he put down the bought stuff, dug out his fishing rod and started his daily work as a fisherman. 

After some time, as the sun began to set, he heard a familiar voice: 

“Hey…”, said Lena. 
“Hrmpf“, answered Ruprecht. 

“Listen,” she said, sitting down next to him “I’m really sorry for my reactions. But you really must be a little bit more careful.” 
“You repeat yourself”, he replied. 
“I know that you still mourne your deceased wife. But you can’t throw away your life so easily!”, she smiled. “Who else will shop at my booth so regularly?“ 
„You have no idea who and why I’m mourning!” growled Ruprecht. He still looked at the sea, and he didn’t even glance at the young girl with the brown hair, which was like a daughter for him, since she had started taking care of him.  
“But what are you mourning, then?”, Lena asked as she was a little bit confused. 
“Everything. Did you know that I used to be a blacksmith? No? Well, how could you. Nowadays my arms are skinnier than those of a toddler. Originally my only child, my son, was supposed to inherit my family business. And then, they came….” 
“The royalists.”, he answered snidely. “They came and they confiscated the smithy and all the weapons which paid for our daily bread. I was already retired and the smithy belonged to my son.” 
“And? What happened then?” 
“My son was forced to work for those bastards like a slave. Every day he was supposed to give away everything to the troops for a ridiculous price. He wasn’t allowed to sell anything. The justification was that the blades were ‘strategic materials for the war and the kingdom’. Pah, don’t make me laugh. Half of them weren’t even able to wield a sword in the right way.” 
“What happened then?” 
“At some point, Gunther had enough. He protested…. And they send him to the army. To the front. Where he died.” 
Lena remained silent, but Ruprecht continued right away: 
“As we were depending on him, shortly after we weren’t able to pay the interest for our house. And then we were sent to the harbour because we had brought a ‘traitor’ to the world. Not long after that my wife became ill, and you know the rest of the story.” he said quite unemotionally. It seemed that he had put up with his fate and was only waiting for the day of his death.  
“And now I live in this shithole. Full of thieves and scoundrels either going to the tavern for drinking and fighting or to the brothel to deprive all of this stinky neighbourhood of sleep. Even worse are the beggars who either bring diseases or demand gold that you yourself don’t have…. All because of this damned war. Against this damned Orcs. At first, it was a danger in the distance, now they’re sitting outside the city trying to starve us out. We aren’t allowed outside anymore, because we have to wait for our big heroes from Khorinis. Hrmph.” he snorted. 

“I’m really sorry. I didn’t…” 
“Know? Of course not. Nevertheless, you had to play the know-it-all, didn’t you?” 
Both of them sat there for a while, as the harsh breeze blew the seawater over there faces. 
“Go away. I don’t want to see you any longer today.”, Ruprecht said firmly. 
Lena opened her mouth to say something, but then closed it again, stood up sadly and strolled away.  

The day was over just as quickly as it had begun, or so it seemed for Ruprecht. And just as quickly he went back to his house, his meal already eaten. He took off his clothes and went to bed hoping he would wake up in a better world. No more Orcs, no more war. Maybe a just king, who didn’t imprison all people who couldn’t pay their taxes?. 
On the other hand, it didn’t matter much to him. After his wife’s death, he had resigned to the world as many of the citizens of Venguard had done, too. The king might talk as much as he wanted about hope and a ship on the horizon bringing rescue. That was only propaganda, nothing more so that the commoners wouldn’t get insecure. 

Those thoughts kept him awake for some time until his eyelids closed slowly and he drifted in the dream world. 

A loud crack! Ruprecht jolted out of bed. He could hear screaming and impacts that caused earthquakes. It felt like a second flood of Adanos, as it was described by the priests. 

Ruprecht put on his gear and hurried out of the house, but he was knocked down to the ground immediately. The people trampled over him and the only things he could hear were screeching and swords clashing. A few moments later this crowd was gone, but the next one was on its way. Seconds before they reached him, he was pulled from the ground onto his feet. He touched his aching head and felt that some blood was dribbling down his forehead. He looked to the man who had saved him and saw a guardsman.  

“RUN TO THE BOATS, OLD MAN! QUICKLY!” he yelled at Ruprecht. 
“What’s happening here?!” Ruprecht’s voice was a little bit shaky as he had a sense what had happened.  
“Orcs! They’ve…broken through! And it seems that an orcish battleship has been seen approaching the harbour. Your only hope lies within the boats on the piers. Quickly, HURRY UP!” the guardsman yelled a last time before he drew his sword and returned to battle with a “FOR THE KING!” on his lips. 
Ruprecht began to run as quickly as his old bones would let him. He took a quick glance to Lena’s booth which had been knocked over already. Then he took a look at the other buildings while he ran for the boats: The tavern, the brothel, the other cottages… most of them were already burning or at least heavily damaged. From the inner city neighbourhoods smoke rose and over all of this echoed the sound of battle.  

There are the boats already, thought Ruprecht. But then he realised that most of the boats were already gone. Just one last boat could be seen, with Lena on board. It didn’t take long for her to recognise him. “RUN! THEY’RE RIGHT BEHIND YOU!“, she screamed. 
Ruprecht ran as fast as his legs would let him. He already felt an orcish axe being swung behind him and missing him by just a few inches. And the next one, even closer. He was so close, just a little bit …  

“NO!!“ screamed Lena, as her boat departed. Ruprecht had stopped and could only feel the orcish axe in his back before he tipped. Ruprecht was wheezing on the floor. The Orcs produced their scary screams which Lena heard too. But for both of them, they became quieter and quieter, for her as her boat built some distance and for him as he lay on the floor broken.  

Ruprecht felt the blood spilling out of his mouth and mostly out of his back. So this should be the end? Everything destroyed by the Orcs, all humans chased away and murdered… Beliar had won. The world would perish in darkness and the evil would be triumphant. 

A last glance at the sea, where he’d spent half of his life. At least this remained…. 

But there, a ship at the horizon, which he recognized with his last breath.  

Ruprecht passed away with a smile. Because he knew, that this ship would bring back hope. A hope he had lost long ago.  

Hope for the end of the war and the end for all this suffering.  

Everything will be fine.