Aboard the Pride of Darkwater

”With a long keel, shallow draft, and aggressive wedge shape, this river cutter slides through the water silently and swiftly. Sixty feet long, it has two mainmasts, fitted with broad fore-and-aft, triangular sails. More canvas is suspended between the bowsprit and forward mast.”
”The cutter sits low in the water, minimizing its profile. The sails can be taken down for further stealth, and the ship can instead be propelled with oars or poles from the two sunken aisles on either side of the masts. Narrow catwalks run the length of the ship between the masts and the polemens' pits, allowing access to the rigging drawn taut about the sails. Fore and aft of the pits, the ship's hull curves upward as it wraps around two cabins: the captain's cabin just behind the bow, and the crew's quarters in the rear. Between the pits and the crew's quarters sits the wheel, a worn circle of oak with brass-capped knobs which controls the rudder. The sturdy hull is hard oak reinforced with bronze. A violet banner flaps in the wind, trailing from the forward mast; it bears the sigil of Darkwater Keep, a raven perched on one of two crossed sabers. The ship's upper hull is painted with a strip of violet and one of midnight black; emblazoned on the stern is the ship's name, Pride of Darkwater.”

The Pride is moving down the river with a fair amount of speed as the steady cold breeze of the night tugs at its rigging. A larger than crew of Deepers is ensuring the Pride maintains her course as the boat is beginning to approach bends and some time in the future the Aegis. Wilesly sits on a crate among them, watching their work but mostly their progress up the river with some interest. The coldness of the breeze doesn't seem to bother him much.

The boat had not moved in some time. At least, it had not touched to a civilized shore in some time. The sounds of boisterous docks had been traded for sounds of water lapping against the Prides belly, of low, personable murmurs between crewmen, and the raw, unchallenged whispers of the darkness that enveloped them. Even in company of others could this overwhelming sense of oneness with nature make a person feel infinitesimally small.

It is with this quiet meekness that Rowena emerges from the quarters beneath the deck and creeps over the wooden panels with a mouse’s stealth to the starboard side. Her silhouette rests there, gazing into the distance beyond, accompanied by a soft halo of blue over her left hand. A beacon, but not one meant for river vessels.

Harper doesn't look nearly as sick as he did a day before, though he's still a bit pale around the edges. Or so he seems in the moonlight. The guardian is unsteadily making his way about the quiet ship, holding on tightly to the railing. The faint beacon of light barely catches Wilesly's eye from his perch on the provisions crate. One last glance is thrown towards the waters illuminated by the moonlight before he hops down onto the deck with a certain bit of nimbleness and heads towards the starboard railing himself. "Light Keep, Your Grace", Sly finally replies once he is fairly certain the source of the glow isn't belonging to someone else. His gaze is back out on the water while he holds his hand up against a bit of rigging that extends from the railing. "I was surprised to see your name amongst the roster of civillian specialists to be honest...though I doubt Her Grace would refuse the skills of the Royal Healer."

"Should it surprise you?", Rowena murmurs in a questioning reply, turning her stare slowly away from the rushing waters to rest over Master Sprigg with a slyly upturned brow. The left corner of her lip joins her brow in the witty twitch before falling into neutrality once more. Her eyes return to the darkness beyond. "Its my turn.", she says simply. There is finality in her voice that suggests she wont be elaborating any further. The breeze catches the chilled river spray on each occasional bump of the ship and frosts her cheeks with it. Rather than turning away, she leans into it.

And each bump of the ship causes Harper to have to pause to resteady himself. The boy is definitely more suited to the land, without the constant gentle rolling and pitching and such.

"Perhaps surprise is not the right word then.", Wilesly replies, watching Rowena enjoy herself with a curious smirk. "It seems that, lately, there is very little that can surprise me or at least very little that I'll admit to. Falling statues, assorted glowing objects, talk of impossible creatures, flashes of light..." He chuckles lightly to himself, his gaze back out on the water. "I used to pride myself I knowing the important goings on of Fastheld, but now it all seems a rather insignificant drop in the bucket. I'm confused as the next man yet I've been charged to make sure things go smoothly. One irony after the next..."

A particularly forceful jarring of a wave sends Rowena bouncing on her heels away from the railed edge. She grasps it firmly, mouth opening into a laugh. She may as well have been bounced back into childhood. "What is important to one man may be insignificant to the next. This much I have learned." Shares the healer, casting a curious squint to the rest of the deck behind her.

Harper groans softly, before opening a cabin door and descending into the hold below, where the crew and passengers are quartering.

Wilesly steadies himself, his hand still gripping the rigging as the ship bounces across that particular wave. He gives Rowena his signature roguish grin as she lets out a laugh. A few of the Deepers look over in Rowena's direction, perhaps unaccustomed to such a laugh from a lady or just caught off guard by it. Either way they shortly return to their work of getting the boat further upstream. Meanwhile, Wilesly is also casting a curious glance at the fast retreating groan and form of the Dagger. "Must be Harper.", Wilesly comments to Rowena. "He hasn't the legs for it and has been quite busy putting out whatever he tries to put down."

"I've a little remedy left that can easily soothe an infant's fickle belly. Perhaps it would help tp calm the gut of a discontented man?" Rowena offers with a sobering expression as she watches the form stumble from view. "I had the fortune of being exposed to this sort of travel as a child..." After a moment's thought, she adds "I don't like it, I'll have you know," She says with a meaningful dip of her brow, contesting her previous episode of glee, "Not one bit." And just to prove that disdain for the water, she returns to the side of the rail to catch more spray.

"Of course, Your Grace. It just wouldn't be proper.", Wilesly agrees with a rather serious expression. It breaks into a full smile as the woman again takes pleasure in the water and wind. "I'm sure Harper would appreciate that."

"How long must we follow the waters before we reach Crown's Refuge?" Rowena inquires softly after a time of silent contemplation from Wilesly's last remark. She finally shrinks away from the cold wind and stoops to huddle against the side of the ship as though it might offer warmth.

Whether out of some want to follow rules of precedence or just to engage her in conversation Wilesly stoops aswell. "I don't know, Your Grace. I've not had a chance to speak with His Lordship and I suspect that perhaps even His Lordship does not know. I suppose we sail this river until we happen upon the Aegis and a path out. The Refuge is supposed to be along a bit of water." His gray eyes seek to find Rowena's. "Why?", he finally asks at a near whisper but not necessarily in regards to the question she has just asked. Perhaps he wishes to know of something else...

Rowena retracts her hands inside the cloak, extinguishing the ring's glow. Not having expected her questions to be questioned, she takes a long moment to consider her motive. "I'm simply curious to wonder if horseback would not have been faster, after all," Is the best she can come up with. Choosing to take interest in the wooden planks at her feet, Rowena rests her elbows on her bent knees and hunches forward.

"That is not what I meant, Your Grace.", Wilesly is quick to respond. His gray eyes still lie on Rowena despite her new found interest in the deck. "There are other healers so I doubt that is it. There are even fewer logistical reasons to send a Duchess along. It is my presumption that Your Grace must have a very good reason for giving up her duties to embark on this little venture." He offers a weak smile after he finishes sitting down against the deck, and ensuring his scabbard lay with him.

"Because one man's insignificance is another woman's interest." Rowena wittily murmurs in reply, playing upon her previously spoken spout of wisdom to the man. As coy as the remark's delivery may seem, her chin is firmed with resolute sobriety. "I am a seeker of truth, Master Sprigg. One cannot always find such truths in the midst of politics and social agendas. My heart fears that my head can no longer distinguish lie from vow, or perhaps it is the reverse." Mulling over that intriguing thought, she removes a small waterskin from her belt and lifts it to her lips.

"Then I dare say we are kindred spirits in more ways than one, Your Grace.", Wilesly replies with a satisfied nod. "Though only different in that Your Grace appears to seek the truth outwardly while this poor sod knows much that goes on seeks the truth within. Either of those requires the absence of Fastheld with both its virtues and vices." He pauses a moment, "So it shall remain to see if it is the brigand or a good man that is to be left standing after all is done. In the case of the former I sincerely hope he is not standing long at fact I intend quite the opposite." Master Sprigg seems quite taken with the Duchess's peculiar, if not cryptic, speech and obviously decides t

"It is my intention to see to it that many good men are left standing, Master Sprigg." Rowenna smiles to him gently before looking to the stars and adding, "As for the brigand within, I suspect that he will be staved off by the steel that lies in one's heart before he meets his end at the steel that lies at another's hip."

Or hips, in Rowena's case. Putting the waterskin away, the healer procures the parrying knife and cradles it cautiously in one hand while the other traces the ornate designs that scroll from hilt to silvery tip. "Let us hope that all fiends shall take a separate path from ours this journey. For what wickked hour would see a hand of life wield a kiss of death in the name of the peace she seeks?" It was irony indeed. Runing her fingertip delicately over the virgin edge of the blade, Rowena faintly smiles. "A peace who's urge to be found is spawned from the love for a master of death. Death is therefore, perhaps, a promise of life." She stares in silence now at the glinting object she now twirls between her palms, tip pointed towards the deck.

Wilesly and Rowena sit along the starboard edge of the boat, engaged in quiet conversation. The ship continues to travel its way along the river.

"You are a friend of my beloved, Your Grace. I should surely fall myself before I allow, Your Grace, into such a situation as to need it.", Wilesly remarks from the starboard railing of the ship against which Rowena and he are sitting. His own hand reaches to tap the elegant gold pommel of his own sword. The moonlight catches on it most spectacularly tonight, almost providing its own luminance glow to the area. "Diplomacy has had its own story of misdeeds. Elegant, deadly, and I fear, evil. Mistress Whicker believed it was not a sword especially suited to me and I can only hope by the Light she is right. Though perhaps it blade, like its current owner's masks, is just a tool. Possessing the capability of both good /and/ evil. Better I be the custodian of it than leave it about for idle hands. If it should come to your defense Your Grace, then I may at least feel a bit better about possessing such an object." One of the Deepers gives a shout in a nearly indecipherable tongue which earns him similar shouts from his compatriots, and they begin to go to work on altering the course and speed of the ship.

"Your words of bravery are of some comfort, Master Sprigg," Rowena nods to him with a somewhat wistful expression, "If all men did as they so bravely spoke, Fastheld should have nothing to fear...or perhaps she would. Diplomacy, faith...all things seem to have acquired a doubled edge. And so let us not lose sight of that line which does so divide the just from the wicked, the merciful from the pompous." The blade comes to rest in her hands, then vanishes again beneath the depths of her cloak. As she breathes, the resulting fog veils her features thinly. "Not all that was once considered good is....and not all that is good is lost. That is my reason here. To find it."

Finally bowing in submission to the frigid cold, Rowena ducks her head in farewell and rises to her feet. "I bid thee goodnight. Pray that sunrise will see us to new horizons." Then, like the diminishing mist they breathe forth, she is gone quietly to the cabins.

The retreating Duchess does not catch glimpse of what the Deeper on watch gave notice to. Poking out from the darkness, a monolithic structure, its height made more impressive as time passes and the Pride and its occupants drift closer. Its massive bleak face is exposed to the full intensity of moonlight.

Wilesly himself is caught unaware of the approaching Aegis, his attention diverted to wishing Rowena a good night's rest. When he eventually does turn about to regard the sight he simply smiles. "It appears as if our prayers have been answered.", Wilesly whispers quietly. "Let us hope our own convictions weather the tests of time better than the Aegis has."

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