Large clouds of vapor blasted from his freeze-stung nose. Wood creaked and the incessant clanging of a large chain being reeled up a few decks below him shook the whole ship, its hull vibrating through his shins, his knees. Muscles straining, he and his fellows forced their burlap-clad, pink feet against the frost-slicked planks, raising the anchor of the Coghanese crayer. An iron mechanism slammed then, deep in the hull, locking the anchor in place, and the men groaned and resumed their prior postures.
He blew into his hands, trying his best to warm his numb fingers but on the whole merely slicking them again with a cloudy, ephemeral warmth that crackled into cold rime.
The world was silent as the crayer began to make sail. The canvas sail swelled silently, a ghostly lung that filled with cursed, cold air. The waves were nonexistent, the crayer slipping through the water like a knife through tender flesh. The only sounds were those of his hammering heart and shiver-ragged breathing, loud enough to be heard miles away, loud enough to be heard where the sun actually shines on warm sands.
But that is not his life. He slammed himself into a bench, his iced nerves sending back no sense of impact. And there he sat. He tried to keep his mind of the incessant cold, and instead bode his time thinking of a better life, a life that wasn’t his. One of politics, one of war, of fantasy, and not the stark stone reality of a rock-bottom disgraced man left to freeze to death on a Coghanese port hopper. He dreamt of a home with a fireplace that never went out. He dreamt of a warm wife, a lovely sniffling daughter. He dreamt of what he’d lost.
The lantern lights of Ighodia began to peek over the slate horizon, then, the crayer making fast headway on the return. He swore he could smell the copper coins he’d be paid with, then and there, stinking like acid in the boatswain's stingy, sweaty, beefy palm. For the first time the whole trip he chanced a smile. It may all be gone, but booze would still warm him up just like it used to.
The crayer began to pass other port traffic. A picard, it’s draft half-sunken with the raw red and white bounty of four whales tied and drug alongside the hull. An anchored, snow-covered vessel, its crew silent and somber, hulled-out like the Wraiths from the wastes south of the city.
The heady scent of fish greeted him, oily and rotten but mercilessly tantalizing to a wastrel’s stomach. The crayer passed through the channel, and made way for the docks at Lomare Bay. Pleasantly close to a dingy, cheap bar.
He and his fellow men leapt off the vessel and moored it speedily, anticipating their pay with the fervor of starved, slavering dogs. The sweat-slick coins that changed hands and found their way into his were only three in number.
He’d have made more begging.
“This is ‘nuff for only a drink or two,” one of the men complained.
“This is a ship, not the goddamned coffers,” the boatswain replied with a snarl.
He was expecting at least twice this. His feet needed boots. His shoulders needed a coat. His hair needed trimming and his face needed washed. He needed a home. A meal, water.
The inside of the dingy tavern was cold and barren. He had his drink. And then, unusually, he left.
He went to the bridge, the one nearby between the Lomare District and the Turret District. The one whose sweet river beneath hardly ever melted enough. The river that the kids would always play on, always glide around with the boots balanced on tiny swords.
He sat on that bridge, then, on the edge, to allow traffic. No point being a disruptive vagrant. He looked to the ice, forty, fifty feet below, and turned back to blow more cold air into his dirty, raw digits.
He dreamt of a warm wife. A lovely, sniffling daughter. He dreamt of all that he had lost.
And then he lay back, resting on the open air.