The smell of the lake air reminds him that he’s home, sprawled out on the rough feather bed he knew years before. Benedict rubs the bridge of his nose between his eyes and yawns the sleep out of his body. Home is not where he wants to be—home is far from wherever that bastard Lukas might be—but as he is without coin he decides a free bed is better than no bed.
His mother makes it clear that the bed is not a free bed, and that if he wants to stay any longer he will have to work for it. She intimates that they still have his father’s fishing boat and it remains in decent condition.
“Assuming you haven’t forgotten how to fish,” she adds, her face ever serious.
“I haven’t,” Benedict says. He questions his own claim. His hands do not feel like the hands of a laborer. He earned his calluses when he was younger, but taking up the life of a scholar made his palms soft and fleshy, unlike his parents’ chitinous laborer hands.
The walk from their small cottage to the rickety dock is not far, but he hasn’t walked it in years so it feels much longer. He reacquaints himself with the small fishing village that some insist is named “Angler’s Wharf,” though most of the residents know that the atrophying hamlet never deserved the title. His tattered clothes, though not much nicer than the wardrobe of the Wharf’s residents, make him stick out like a foreigner.
Left-hand Poul, hacking away at a log with his one good hand, looks up to see Benedict. His hair was gray-peppered-black when Benedict left four years prior, but now the hair looks more like a snowy white. For a moment his eyes betray some recognition, but almost immediately he looks back down and returns to work, wiping his own memory. He’s only been gone for four years, but those who leave the Wharf for a prolonged amount of time are immediately forgotten. Benedict tries to not take it personally, as he forgot the names of others at the Wharf, but Poul was a friend of his father’s. When Benedict did work with his father, Poul was a permanent fixture, helping to repair the boat that he built with Burn years before. Poul was like family, and the closest thing to family Benedict has to family in the Wharf aside from his mother.
Benedict gets to the dock and cautiously steps out, careful to mind the increased number of gaps in the dock. His attention moves to the boat itself, a small fishing craft with a single sail. Best manned with two, the boat was piloted by just Burn towards the end of his life. He refused to let Risa join him, claiming that the boat was no place for his wife. Risa and even Benedict knew that was horseshit.
He loses his footing and feels his body fall through a large gap between the boards towards the end of the dock. From his waist down, he is submerged in the cold water of the Lake of Mists and Veils. He claws at boards further from him but some are rotted away. In an instant, Benedict feels his body lift into the air, hovering above the gap as drops of the Lake fall off his body and return home.
“You’re not planning on taking that out, are you, Benny?” the gruff voice of Left-hand Poul says behind him. Looking over his shoulder, Benedict sees that he is indeed gripped by Poul’s great left hand. Without grace, Poul drops him onto stronger boards.
“The thought had crossed my mind,” Benedict says.
“You’ve been away too long.” As Poul speaks, Benedict can smell the hint of pesh on his breath. He’s been getting it for years from the trade ships that sometimes stop by the Wharf. “Your body has forgotten this life.” Poul grabs Benedict’s hand and rubs his thumb on the palm. “Perhaps useful, but not here.”
“I could have told you that,” Benedict says, pulling his hand away.
“Do you know who the last person was to leave this village, only to return later to try to start all over again?”
Benedict shakes his head.
“Your father. I don’t think this is a village for rebirth. We live here, we die here, simple as that. You’re better off making your own elsewhere.”
Benedict scowls. “I expected this,” he says. “I’ll just pack up and leave.”
“You misunderstand me,” Poul says, reach for Benedict before he can leave. “Your mother told me about what you were away doing the last few years. She says you’re done with your schooling?”
Benedict nods, though he knows “done” isn’t quite the word for it.
“Talk to the boatmen who just tied in. They came talking about a charter. One of them said, ‘Opportunities abound in the Stolen Lands!’” Poul raises his hands in mock celebration.
The words “charter” and “opportunities” sail over Benedict’s head. All that occupies his mind is “Stolen Lands” and the name he woke up thinking about.