Casting Off

Nathaniel stacked the various crates and barrels of his supplies with the ease of one long practised and experienced in the matter of organising cargo. The crates he had most concern for were those containing his sustenance for the voyage.  These crates were of an odd design, but Borris had assured him that this was the way to keep the blood fresh for transport.  He did some rough calculations in his head, reassuring himself that he had more than sufficient for his journey. He levered the top off of one of them and removed the bottle, holding it up to the light that spilled through the hatchway.  The liquid inside sloshed slowly, in a reassuring way.  He pulled the cork and took a long swig, maybe almost half the bottle.  He raised the bottle in a salute, muttering thanks to Borris and then he slid it into his jacket pocket for later and fastened the lid of the crate down again with a length of rope.  He looked around the hold with a practised eye. Everything seemed to be in place and secured.

“This, at least,” he said to himself with a short laugh, “is something I know how to do; provisioning a ship for a voyage.” He laughed again. “Save for the almost complete lack of normal foodstuffs and only provisioning for a crew of one.”  He pulled a bottle of rum out of a crate and slid it into his other jacket pocket.  It had been an interesting couple of days; purchasing supplies, getting them delivered to the ship. Things had been very busy at Jackson Barnes’ warehouse, at the café, and the various other places he had stopped to stock up. Some things could not be had at any price; others were practically being given away.  Fortunately, his needs were simpler than most and he had money to spare, after a somewhat tense argument at the bank, what with everybody withdrawing funds.  Even so, the shopping had been an unnerving experience.  There had been strange rumblings and there had been a sense of unease in the air, and not just from the barely controlled panic that seemed to have gripped London. It had seemed as if everybody was trying to leave, one way or another, and there were dark murmurs of something happening to the Nexus. He mused that he had been in London all this time, and had never really found out what the Nexus was, or how it worked, only that it had something to do with why this London was where it was, away from the city he had known as a youth. All those experiences merely served to strengthen the conviction that he had made the right decision to leave. He clambered up on deck and battened down the hatches to the hold.  Above him, the sky seemed a strange and worrying colour. Even more disconcerting, in a way, was the absence of smoke from chimneys, or lights from the windows of the houses nearby.  There was a claustrophobic feel about the city and the more distant skyline seemed wrong, as though the further parts of the city were missing or obscured by fog.

He shuddered involuntarily and headed down into his cabin, where he poured himself a large measure of rum and then filled a silver hip-flask.  Sitting down for a moment, his spare hand briefly caressed the pad of writing paper on the desk.  There was nothing more he could do now. The farewell letters had been written and delivered to wherever he could think they might reach their destinations.  Perhaps it would be enough.  There could have been more, but a sense of urgency had compelled him to write only to those closest to him. He raised the glass in the direction of the city, toasting soon-to-be-absent friends. “To Giada, to Valene, to Helene and to all the friends I am leaving. May your journeys be safe ones and take you to where you need to be.”  He took a mouthful, and then raised the glass again. “And to those who have already gone, Brigitte, Justine, Greyson, Artur & Katarina, Catt, Winter, Valik, Elizabeth, and many more. Wherever you are, I wish you good cheer. Perhaps some day, I will find some of you again.”  He downed the last of the measure and set the glass carefully in its place on the desk.  Even without looking outside, he could tell it was time. Everything was prepared as best it could be, the tide was turning and it was time to cast off and leave.

Up on deck again, he hopped over the side onto the shore and untied the last of the mooring ropes that secured the ship in the cove, leaving just the two looped around the bollards that he could release from on deck.  He trotted up the short plank and hauled it on board, noting the flow of the water around the hull.  He untied the last two ropes and slowly let them slip, as the ebb of the tide and the slight breeze moved the ship gently away from the shore.  Satisfied at last, he pulled the ropes on board, coiling them properly in place.  He tugged on a couple more ropes he had previously set up to let out more sail, then jumped up to the ship’s wheel, watching carefully as the sails began to fill, taking the weight of the ship and moving her further off shore.  He spun the wheel to give the ship her head, aiming towards the mouth of the cove, out towards the estuary and the open sea beyond.  He turned one last time to look at the dwindling shore.

“Farewell London,” he said, calling out above the sound of the wind and the sails. “You may not have been the London I knew, but you had become my home.  Until I fetch up on these shores again, if ever, farewell.” He swallowed, an unexpected lump coming to his throat and wiped away a bloodshot tear from one eye. Turning his face forward again, he inhaled deeply, revelling in the scent of the sea.  He was a little apprehensive about this first part of the journey, knowing that out there, was the maelstrom, another aspect of the mysterious Nexus, which connected this world with the one he had known.  He consulted the notes in his pocket book.  It had taken some persuasion to get Barnes to reveal the secrets of navigating the maelstrom safely, but in the end, he had, and had assured him that there would be plain sailing once he was through. Beyond that lay the Thames Estuary, the North Sea, and then Bremerhaven.  Where his journey would take him after that, he did not know, but he knew it was a journey he had to take. Katharina was out there somewhere. “I’ll find you,” he called out to the open sea, “Somewhere, somehow.” He secured the wheel for a moment and let out more sail.  The ship responded, surging forward.  Checking the compass once more, he adjusted course and set his face towards the horizon.

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