Tethers of Hopes – Chapter 9


“Arms up, Master Hale.” said the old butler as he lassoed Hadrian’s bare chest with his measuring tape, and with surprising dexterity.

“Is that really necessary?” Asked Hadrian as he put his arms down.

Despite the eventful and rowdy night, after which he expected to wake up tired and slightly sore, he instead woke up full of energy. Energy he knew he’d be needing soon, as today was the day he’d help Reynard execute the closing act of his plan. And thankfully, both he and the girls had plenty of time to get bath and breakfast before someone else showed up. To much of his surprise, it hadn’t been Commodore Reynard, but his butler, Huxley, who had summoned him and him alone to come to the lighthouse’s shack.

“Of course, Master Hale.” Huxley replied, now standing on a nearby bench, “Wearing a badly-fitted uniform to such an important meeting undermines not just your appearance and credibility, but the importance Lord Reynard has placed upon your shoulders… your eighteen and three quarters of an inch shoulders.” he added, repeating the number a few more times under his breath before writing it down.

“No, I mean…” Hadrian let out a sigh, “Calling me “Master”… can’t say it sounds right to me.” he explained as Huxley opened a large briefcase he had brought with him and began shuffling its contents

Huxley’s behavior was the antithesis of Reynard’s behavior. Where the old mariner behaved in a strange blend of dignity and friendliness, his butler acted like a man born and raised a nobleman’s servant; with a cutting and overbearing diligence towards protocol. It was unnerving; like he was experiencing something his common birth had always assured him he couldn’t and shouldn’t have.

“Nonsense Master Hale—” said Huxley as he handed him a pristine white undershirt, “As much as Lord Reynard may not care about his bloodline, I am frankly happy that his daughters have chosen a man such as yourself.” added Huxley with a surprisingly expressive smile, “Since his rescue, Lord Reynard’s lack of heirs had always distressed me, as I worried about the future of the noble house I have served since birth. But now here they are, and so are you; my worries gone like morning fog. And if I were to voice my opinion, I would say that both Hale-Lombert and Lombert-Hale have a wonderful ring to them.”.

“That’s enough, Huxley.” protested Reynard as he raised his gaze from the book he was studying, ”Lad’s got enough worries swimming in his head for you to start piling more on him. Take it easy, will you?”

“Very well, m’lord.” replied Huxley with a nod as he handed Hadrian an officer’s jacket, which Hadrian put on somewhat begrudgingly.

The day he burned his old jacket in the lighthouse, he made an oath to himself to never allow others to make his choices for him. And as much as he knew that putting on the uniform again for one last time was necessary to maintain that new life he loved, he still wasn’t too happy about it.

“Mm, looking sharp, Hale—.” commented Reynard as he got up and walked towards him, “Just one last piece missing.” he added as he pulled a small wooden box from one of his pockets, producing two golden disks, which he attached to Hadrian’s collar, “There you go. Have a look at yourself.”

With those words, he took something that Huxley was handing him. It was a brass-framed, plate glass mirror roughly the size of a barrel’s lid. But just as Hadrian was about to make a sarcastic comment on his looks, he noticed that there was one big difference in this new uniform that went beyond some fancy spaulders; the insignias the Commodore had put on his neck were not those of a Midshipman.

“… Lieutenant…?” He asked with breathless disbelief.

“Acting Lieutenant.” stated Reynard, “I said I would not make you a full Lieutenant and I intend to keep my word. But if I am to play chess with only a quarter of the pieces against someone with a full board, I must choose those pieces carefully.” he added as he straightened the neck of his own uniform, which as usual, was that of a low-ranking officer, ”I have my Queen in Adelheid, my Bishop in Huxley, and my Rook- the surprise guest that’ll show up when the time comes, and if needed. So my last piece must be a Knight, not a Pawn.”

Hadrian let a deep sigh before replying, “I would complain about it, sir. But now I am more than certain that I’ll be one of many pieces in one of Mad Lombert’s signature gambits. So what do I even know?” he said with an amused yet uneasy smile.

“That’s the spirit, lad. But still, don’t believe the fairy tale that’s been built around me; I’m not an infallible god— I’ve failed many times before, I just hope this time it’ll be different.” replied Reynard as he clapped Hadrian in the shoulder, a muted sorrow visible in his eyes, “So, from now on, up until the moment we both step out of the Landchaser, and sink our toes in these beautiful sands again…” he made a small pause, taking a deep breath of his own, “All I’ll ask is that you trust me, no matter what.” The face he was sporting was that of a man of burning determination, but Hadrian could sense his worries leaking into his tone of voice.

~~~

“Yo! Hadrian!” saluted Higgins as he jumped off the roof of the steam launch, “You… got promoted again!?” his eyes immediately drew to Hadrian’s new insignias.

“It’s more embarrassing than you’d imagine.” replied Hadrian apologetically, “But I guess that’s what it is.”

“Sheesh, if past events repeat, I guess we’ll both be Captains before the year’s over.” replied Higgins with a chuckle, “Hopefully that means I get to bed the three daughters of a noble as well at some point.” he muttered this last sentence under his breath, but Hadrian still heard it.

Higgins clearly wanted to say something else, but the arrival of Commodore Reynard put him back in his old obedient persona. Curiously, he arrived alone, with neither Huxley nor Adelheid.

“Weren’t they also part of his plan?” Hadrian wondered, but did not think it was the right time to ask.

The launch’s boiler was already stoked, so as soon as Hadrian and Reynard was on board, Higgins steered it back towards the massive merchantman out in the bay; the Landchaser.

“If I may ask, where’s Lady Adelheid?” asked Hadrian as soon as they were safely sitting in the back of the launch.

“Oh, you didn’t see her? She said she wanted to go out with the girls and catch something special for lunch. She didn’t tell me what, but I get the feeling it’ll be shelled, and won’t be a crab.” replied Reynard as he combed his ever-voluminous mustache. However, Hadrian could tell a few subtleties in this answer that made him think it was a lie, but he chose to trust him.

“… So, about what comes now—” Asked Hadrian, but Reynard replied before he finished his question.

“Now comes my time in the limelight.” he stated, “Just answer any questions they may ask you, but don’t worry; it’s not you they’re after. It’s I who plays the fox that must outsmart the hounds.”

Even though he was doing his best to conceal it, Hadrian could tell just how nervous the Commodore was; his interlocked fingers tapping against the back of his hands, his eyes nailed solely on the Landchaser.

~~~

The sway of a vessel, the salty breeze, the everyday sounds of the sailors at work— He’d be lying to himself if Hadrian didn’t admit to a certain nostalgia. This was his life for three years, and like the home of an old relative, it felt distant, yet cozy.

“Officer on deck!” barked a nearby Boatswain almost as soon as their boots touched the deck. All nearby sailors stopped their work to stand and salute the passing officer. But, it wasn’t Reynard they were looking at.

Men and boys standing firm, old and young, all in salute, looking squarely at Hadrian. Whose eyes remained focused on the back of the ship; the place they were heading.

To be gazed at and saluted by so many seamen, many old and clearly far more experienced than him, it was almost terrifying. However, that part of his mind that had once made him join the Imperial Navy, with its tales of recognition and glory, was now basking in that feeling.

Making way through the throngs of deck crewmen, they made it to the entrance of the ship’s cabins, and the officer’s lounge which was most certainly beyond.

“Ah, you’re here at last. Welcome aboard the Landchaser, gentlemen.” a strong yet serene voice called them out before they even crossed the entrance, “Lieutenant Hale, I presume?”

A chestnut-haired officer politely greeted them as they reached for the door, the insignia of Captain upon his sleeves. Again, he was focused almost exclusively on Hadrian; the storied Commodore Reynard Lombert, Hero of the Empire, may well have been a ghost for what everyone in this ship seemed to notice.

“Indeed. The pleasure is mine, Captain.” replied Hadrian pretty much automatically; his mind still more than capable of reverting to his sailor persona.

“I see you too have found yourself caught in the tangled rope that follows Mad Commodore Lombert almost every place he sets foot on.” added the Captain as he finally acknowledged Reynard’s presence.

“Speak for yourself, Norton; the Admiralty may have roped you into this, but it’s Hadrian here who holds the capstan that will roll this mess out of the waters of stupidity once and for all.” retorted Reynard, the face of Captain Norton now changing into an annoyed smirk.

“If I may, Lieutenant, may I know a little more about you? I wanted to ask your Captain, but I’m afraid he’s locked himself in his quarters for a while now and asked not to be disturbed.” asked Captain Norton as he led them into the decks, ignoring Reynard’s quip.

“Passed-out drunk, more like. Just my brother being my brother.” remarked Reynard before Hadrian said his piece.

“There’s not much to say, really.” replied Hadrian, “I joined an ordinary seaman three years ago, was made Midshipman then Lieutenant. My superiors seem to see something in me, and I am more than glad to meet their expectations.” it was the blandest, most generic answer he could think of.

The Captain continued to ask more and more inane questions as they crossed the officer’s lounge and descended through an oddly-placed stairway at the end of it, leading deeper into the ship. Every time Captain Norton asked something that Hadrian couldn’t quite answer, Reynard would just quip in with some pointed barb, usually giving him some clue about what to respond with. Still, if this man’s duty was to probe Hadrian for information, he was doing a worse job than a deaf musician.

After a surprisingly long descent, the stairway came to an end in front of a short corridor. What in a traditional Merchantman would’ve been the quartermaster’s access to the hold, was now a carved double-door with an exquisite embossing; of the kind one would find in a palace or manor. Flanking it were a pair of armed men clad not in sailor’s attire, but in the uniforms of Naval Regulators; the Admiralty internal police force.

“From here you go on your own, gentlemen.” said Captain Norton, with Hadrian silently thanking that what came out his mouth wasn’t another asinine question, “And Hale—” he called him out as Reynard went in first, “Watch out who you put your trust on.”

“It will most certainly not be you.” replied Hadrian, finally speaking his mind, before he followed after Reynard. The bewildered face Captain Norton made would not be forgotten any time soon.

The moment they crossed that door, Hadrian’s mind was assaulted with a sudden feeling of out-of-place-ness; his common sense struggling to comprehend the information his eyes were conveying.

The room ahead was wide enough that he was certain it touched both sides of the ship, with three large candelabras illuminating the massive, massive mahogany table that covered at least two thirds of it. Its top littered with maps, charts, inkwells, and all and any navigational or cartographical tool one could possibly conceive, as well as clay pipes, wine glasses and many other objects of a more recreational nature. It look more like a palatial war room than something to be found on a ship.

Behind the table, however, stood six uniformed figures. Their attire was that of high-ranking officers, but none had any specific ranking marks. Their chests, however, were studded with enough medals that they probably deflected bullets. Their faces all bearing similar scowls. They must be the aides Hadrian had heard about before.

“Ah, and so, the greatest clown enters the stage, followed by his unwitting assistant.” said one of the men as his scowl turned into a smirk. Perhaps trying to distract them from the fact that the two Regulators had followed them into the room, now standing behind them.

“What can I say?” retorted Reynard with a shrug, “I see the Big Top being hoisted, I see the lesser clowns gathering, thinking their jokes are finest. It’s up to the greatest of them to step in and show them rookies how it’s done.” he walked forward as he spoke, stopping just before a small stool on the edge of the table and planting his foot on it, like a hunter standing over his prey.

“Silence!” one of the aides bellowed, “Don’t think you will walk away with impunity out of this mess you have made; your madness this time may have cost the Imperial Navy more than its honor or image! If you don’t get hanged for this you’ll at least rot in a cell for the rest of your life.”

“Mhm, I’m sure the Exalted and the Morris’ Ruling Council would love to see that.” replied Reynard as he took one of the clay pipes and took a long draw from it before exhaling a sizable puff of smoke that slowly floated towards the aides. 

“Be serious about this, Lombert.” said another of the aides, this one with some visible sympathy, “Even an Admiral would be court-martialed after what you’ve done. And you’re—”

“I’m what? Not an Admiral? Is that what you’re going to say?” stated Reynard as his usual smirk vanished, “You more than anyone should know I care little for titles, and neither do my men, who are the only people in uniform whose opinion matters to me.”

“You’ve put the entire Empire at risk with your wild claims; we even have had to put every last ship on the city of Balenmouth to dock just because of you!” said the formerly-sympathetic aide as he slammed both hands against the table, “Not to say of all ordinary people who’ll die or get lost in the sea because of some fantasy you told them about some route across the Azure Expanse! How could you do that!?” the aide blared.

Hadrian, who so far had remained as quiet and still as the guards behind them, sneaked a glance at Reynard; almost as if expecting some answer. The implication of the aide’s words hitting him like a cannonball.

The civilian ships that he had been ordered to move right after his promotion, the reason his own ship had been moored for so long, the endless papers he had to sign, even his promotion to Midshipman— all those things have been because of something Commodore Reynard caused? He could hardly believe it.

“Just what kind of scheme am I playing a role in?” he wondered, feeling some undeniable amount of fear as the revelation dawned on him. However, the request Reynard had made to him still remained in his head; “All I ask is that you trust me.” the words echoed.

“Because I can-.” replied Reynard after taking another puff from the pipe, “Just like you’ve turned these last twelve years of my life into a grueling agony. You can only keep a guard dog tied for so long.” a burning yet contained rage bleeding from his words. Quite a few of the aides looked like they wanted to snap back, but Reynard’s glare must’ve frozen their words in their throats.

“W-Whatever your reasons may have been, you’ve left the whole country in turmoil.” shouted one of the aides, screaming loudly as if to cast out the fear he had just felt, “Every single city in the west coast— the ones that had been seen as a safe haven for centuries, are demanding the Navy sends ships to protect them! Ship the Navy NEEDS to safeguard the realm, just because you spread a rumor that there’s a passage across the Azure Expanse that apparently is only known to far-eastern savages.”

“Like your pet—” another aide squealed in, “The biggest mistake we made was underestimating that… thing! Whose lies and deceit have clawed so deep into your feeble mind you would rather pay heed to its muzzle than to-” The aide didn’t get to finish his sentence.

In a movement so fast it reminded Hadrian of Adelyn, the Commodore flung the clay pipe in his hand at the aide. It didn’t hit him; it went past his head by less of an inch, knocking the aide’s monocle from his eye socket before shattering against the wooden wall.

“Be very mindful of your tongue, worm. For my wife has more dignity on the tip of her tail than the entirety of your bloodline combined, in whatever crypts the maggots may feast on their corpses. And I will not tolerate any of you mimsies throwing sneer at her in my presence.” said Reynard in a low, rumbling tone; like a beast of prey growling.

“Stop!” a different aide shouted at the guard behind Reynard, who was already steadying his bayoneted rifle, “You will not act unless directly ordered so.” he added, almost breathlessly. The guard just gave a sharp nod and returned to his position behind Reynard.

“There is your greatest problem; you’re used to pawns—” he pointed to the guard, “Obedient pawns who’ll do as you tell them without as much as blinking. You can’t handle the charge of a rook or the deathly glare of a queen.” replied Reynard as he stuck his hand in his pockets, the aides showing a moment of fear until they saw he had just pulled out his pocket watch, looking at the time before putting it back.

None of the men replied, but a long, almost whinny sigh echoed from somewhere in the back of the room.

“It seems like I will have to be the one to handle this after all. You fools may as well be training dummies by what you have managed to accomplish.” And with those words, the door at the back of the room opened, and forth surged a strange contraption. 

It looked as if someone had put a small pair of carriage wheels on the side of a sizable armchair, which was now being pushed forward by a tall man in a Naval Regulator’s uniform.

Sitting on the chair was a man whose name Hadrian had known since even before enlisting, but never seen in the flesh; Lord High Admiral Cornelius Guildford. The supreme head of the Imperial Navy, and one of the current Emperor’s brothers.

He once was to become Emperor himself, but having lost both legs in battle before his crowning, he instead passed the title onto one of his younger brothers, concerning himself only with running the Imperial Navy. He looks old, wrinkled, and borderline skeletal, but even still, he radiates an aura of command and leadership that none of his medal-studded aides can even hold a candle to.

The Naval Regulator pushed the strange wheeled chair until he was by the edge of the table. His aides crowding around him like beggars around a priest. Rumor has always abounded about him being but a fancy figurehead while other Admirals ran the show as they pleased behind his back, but as Hadrian saw the man in person before him, and the reaction of those around him, he could clearly see who was the shepherd, who was the sheep, and who was the snarling old wolf on the other side of the table, about to sink his fangs in both.

“Reynard, I have always commended your victories and turned a blind eye at your misconduct, but this time, I think you may have gone too far.” Unlike the sneering voices of his aides, the High Admiral seemed genuinely concerned, even if his tone betrayed a great amount of anger, “Still… You, the boy with him. Who are you?” he asked Hadrian as he adjusted his glasses.

“Just some lowborn Midshipman; his glittery costume may fool the unaware, but anyone with a working mind can see he’s not even worth the air he wastes.” replied one of the aides.

“I could say the same thing about you; and your costume certainly out-glitters mine.” retorted Hadrian, taking a cue from Reynard’s previous answers, the aide turning red with anger, but a quick hand gesture from the High Admiral held his words back.

“I asked him the question, not you.” said the High Admiral with what could’ve passed for an amused expression. And with a subtle yet deep breath, Hadrian began.

“I am Acting Lieutenant Hadrian Winslow Hale, formerly a Midshipman under Captain Rhaul Lombert, under whom I served for three years since enlisting.” replied Hadrian, trying his best to sound as confident as possible.

“Ah, yes, from the other Lombert; the one I could do without.” the High Admiral made a curious distinction in that one word before looking back at Reynard, “I thought I said “No Servants, No Family Members, No Men under your Command” or am I mistaken?” asked the High Admiral accusatoringly.

“Indeed, but you said nothing of men serving under my family members, or am I mistaken?” replied Reynard. 

“Enough with this nonsense, Commodore!” The amused expression fell from the face of the High Admiral, “You will either give solution to this mess you have created, or face the consequence of your actions.”

As the High Admiral said that, the sound someone’s rushing steps could be heard from the ceiling, to which the aides paid a curious amount of attention.

“You have unleashed panic upon our Empire, and claimed that this little island you love so much holds the key to solve this mess of yours. So you better start explaining yourself, or regardless of my opinion of you, you will hang from a noose.” stated the High Admiral; the wrinkles of his frowned brow extending all the way to the top of his forehead.

“Say, High Admiral-” began Reynard, as calm as ever, as he approached a map atop of the table, “Do you know the tales that surround this island in front of us?”

“Dead Mariner’s Key— old shipwrecks, underwater currents, cliffs, lighthouse, tales of ghosts and curses, you and your ever-present madness. What else is there to know you haven’t told us already?” replied the High Admiral with some amount of exasperation.

“What if I told you that the currents that surround the island are the result of it being the proverbial mooring at the end of the sea current that crosses the Azure Expanse? asked Reynard as he lifted an eyebrow.

“I would call you mad, but at this point, that’s practically a redundancy.” jested one of the aides, and the others were about to join in laughing, but a glare from the High Admiral silenced them.

“How can such a thing be?” asked the High Admiral, leaning his head.

“Do I look like a god to you?” now it was Reynard who joked, “If I knew the secrets of that current, I would have long sailed with it and returned from the far east with a fortune in exotic spices.” he added sarcastically, “All I know is that ships from the other end of the map wind up here after getting lost, like leaves carried down a stream.”

“Then… how did you figure that out?” asked one of the aides, for once without mockery.

“The ship in which my wife arrived— an eastern junk, beached itself on the key’s northwestern rocks after a storm. Another time, a slave trafficker’s ship ran aground in the southwestern beach after a new moon tide; its log showing they had been preying upon fishermen and traders from the Principality down southeast. I compared their logs and found out both captains have described the exact same stars in their charts, even if both had gotten lost in the expanse on different areas and during different circumstances.” replied Reynard, the aide nodding at his response.

Suddenly, another loud stomping from the ceiling. This one for a lot longer and much louder.

“Are they clog dancing up there?” muttered another aide with indignation.

“You have shown me those logs, Reynard; I’m no stranger to them, and while I do not deny the evidence on them. I need more than the scribbles of pirate navigators to believe you.” said the High Admiral as he rubbed his chin.

“Then go see the shipwrecks yourself, High Admiral.” it was Hadrian who spoke this time, “I can confirm I have seen both wrecks, the pirate carrack and the eastern junk.” he added without giving anyone in the room the chance to stop him.

“With all due respect, lad— You’re too young. I highly doubt you have been deployed to the continent, let alone the far east. It’s simply not possible that you have seen a eastern junk before to be able to recognize one now.” replied the High Admiral as he adjusted his eyeglasses.

“True sir, I have not.” replied Hadrian, noticing how Reynard was looking at him with interest on what he would say, “However, I have been to the Grand Gallery, on the Imperial Capital; there’s this painting there, The Tea Traders, which depicts ships just like the one on the northern beach. Those fully battened sails are simply unmistakeable.” continued Hadrian as even the aides were paying him attention now.

The High Admiral remained silent; reaching for one of the wine glasses on the table, which the Naval Regulator behind his chair filled without even a request.

“… Let us say for a moment that I fully believe you—” he took a sip from his glass, “That there is indeed a passage of currents through the Azure Expanse that at least precisely to this meager island. An island too small for even the most modest of forts and too dangerous to keep a naval patrol around. How does acknowledging that will quell the panic you have caused, Reynard? Because I just don’t see how.”

The Commodore looked yet again at his pocket watch before addressing the High Admiral, “All we need is the lighthouse.” he replied with confidence, “Balenmouth’s Naval Yard always has a standing fleet, and the Lombert’s Watch light can always be seen from the city. All we need is the lighthouse, and someone to take care of it to let the city know.” Reynard pointed at Hadrian as he said this last part.

“Seriously, Lieutenant?” the High Admiral asked Hadrian, his surprise seemingly genuine, “Are you willing to give up on your nautical career to basically become a maritime link-boy?”

“With all of my heart.” replied Hadrian, a confident smile upon his face. The High Admiral just shrugged slightly, looking confused more than anything.

“So, do you believe me?” asked Reynard, “All you’d need after that is an Imperial Proclamation saying that the way across the Azure Expanse was found, and blockaded by the Navy. No one will even bat an eye at such a thing; the ones we have north and south have remained impregnable for centuries.” he added with his usual confident smirk.

“… This is all too convenient, Lord Guildford.” said one of the aides as he looked at the High Admiral, “Even if I cannot deny his proposal will work, that would still have both of them basically serving as the Empire’s gatekeepers in the West, and it’s more than clear that Reynard and Hale are working in tandem. There’s no way to know what else they may have planned.”

“Besides, just because he’s got a way to fix the situation he created doesn’t exempt him from the fact he created it in the first place. And such a behavior cannot be left unpunished; it’ll create a bad example for all other officers of the Navy.” another aide added.

“Hahh… I am afraid they are still correct, Reynard.” said the High Admiral with a sigh.

Now Hadrian could see from where did the rumors of the High Admiral being a puppet came from; he was either too quick to accept the ideas of others, or he and the aide had rehearsed that earlier.

“Even if I agree to your plan, I am afraid I cannot put you in charge of it; you have honored your nickname with this madness, and regardless of all else, you must answer for that.” added the High Admiral as he made a hand gesture.

Without a word, the two Naval Regulators behind Hadrian and Reynard approached them, restraining their hands.

“Take them both to the brig. We shall bring them to the capital to follow up with a trial.” stated the High Admiral as he looked at them.

“You, Commodore, have a long list of transgressions that must finally be answered for. And you, Lieutenant Hale, while I am still not fully certain of your involvement in this whole scheme, I cannot take any risks with you, for of Reynard here may have you serve as his contingency plan.” The way the High Admiral was speaking was almost apologetic.

However, even though he was retaining his mask of calm, Hadrian was internally screaming at what was happening.

This wasn’t supposed to happen!” thought Hadrian as he looked at Reynard, expecting him to pull some secret move, but he looked oddly ambivalent.

“Lord Guildford!” suddenly, a shout, followed by a hard knock on the door. Even if the door was muffling the sound, Hadrian could tell it was the voice of Captain Norton.

The door almost flew open, startling all those inside as Captain Norton, looking downright terrified, made his way in along with another officer.

“We… we are under attack, my Lord!” cried out Captain Norton almost out of breath.

“What!?” screamed the High Admiral as he slammed the armrests of his chair.

“Two… two ships came from behind the island’s cliffs; we couldn’t see them until they were upon us, and… in our current position we cannot move without using the paddle wheel in reverse, and if we do that now, our aft would be fully vulnerable… to cannonfire from either of them.” he looked like he had spent an hour running non-stop.

“What ship could possibly be out here!? Are they pirates?” asked one of the aides, but Captain Norton shook his head.

“No sir, they’re the Bitterspring and the Attrition.” replied Captain Norton with a frown “It’s him, again!” he added while pointing at Reynard, whose smile couldn’t get any wider as he let out a hearty laugh.

“Did you really think I wouldn’t have Plan B and C, High Admiral? Wasn’t it you who taught me to never rely on a single plan?” said Reynard without losing his grin. The High Admiral looked considerably perturbed.

“How’s this even possible!?” one of the aides bellowed, “They were both anchored on the north coast! Weeks from here!”

“Those are the Hollegren and the Waltham; my reserve ships, but made look like the Attrition and Bitterspring, as I knew you’d be looking for them.” replied Reynard as he stood defiant.

“Hmph! You think yourself too clever by half, Commodore. Did you forget your daughters and wife are still on the island? You may have the High Admiral as hostage, but we have the ones you love the most.” The smile on one of the aides’ face could only be described as evil.

“Mm mm, that’d be a big problem.” nodded Reynard nonchalantly, “But, haven’t you noticed yet? Isn’t there something missing? Namely, my beloved flagship, the Serendipity.” he asked as the faces of some of the aides went white with realization, “Or, a better question even: What color is the lighthouse’s fire burning?”

“Color?” the High Admiral asked, taken by surprise by this question. Even Hadrian looked at Reynard with confusion on his face.

“G-Green!” said the officer who had showed up with Captain Norton, “The lighthouse’s fire has been burning green-bluish for over an hour now. We… thought it was the doing of ghosts.” the officer added.

“I had Huxley burn a bag of old copper coins on it. That’s how my trusty captains knew the time was right; they had been hiding behind the cliffs since last night.” said Reynard as he beamed with pride, “As for my wife, daughters and butler, they’ve all been aboard the Serendipity for a while now, so good luck finding them. Also, I instructed both captains on the Bitterspring and Attrition to fire upon the Landchaser if you don’t strike down your colors before noon… and it’s already past eleven.”

“Do you realize this is treason?” squealed one of the aides; he tried to sound brave, but his fear was getting the best of him.

“It’s no different from promising me my freedom and my island, then taking it back.” replied Reynard, “And just as you are about to say our deal was all a backroom agreement, you are currently anchored at the Empire’s very own backroom. If this whole ship disappeared and I claimed I could never find you when I went to meet you, you all would go up in smoke just as our agreement just now. So make your choice.”

Commodore Reynard and High Admiral Guildford looked at each other. Reynard’s expression was of utter confidence; of a man that after many setbacks, had finally gotten the pieces in his board arranged just in the way he wanted, while the High Admiral’s was one of unreadable ponder. And yet, all Hadrian was concerned with was being able to go back to the island, his concern starting to show.

“… You remind me of a saying I often hear my brother use; poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.” stated the HIgh Admiral with what could only be described as a loser’s dignity, “I guess that, in my haste to give you a lesson, I wound up forgetting some of my own.”.

“High Admiral, you couldn’t possibly be—” one of the aides was saying until a gesture of the High Admiral’s hand quieted him.

“It’s not worth it; I’m sure he has a plan for even if this one fails. And as much as I hate it, we need him and his ships on the eastern strait.” said the High Admiral as he motioned the Regulators to let go of both Hadrian and Reynard.

“Commodore, with all due respect,” interjected Hadrian, “The High Admiral here could have the Naval Regulators arrest you the moment you set foot on the port. How do you know he’ll keep his word?” asked Hadrian with a serious expression.

“That is a pretty bold accusation, Lieutenant Hale.” replied the High Admiral, emptying his glass of wine, “But I am both a man of honor… and a man who knows our enemies will waste no time in attacking us the moment the spies in our midst tell them that Mad Lombert has been put behind bars.” his last sentence was made to sound in jest, but even Hadrian could tell the seriousness behind those words.

“I still plan on honoring my side of the deal; five more years I shall serve, and drill my techniques upon my officers.” stated Reynard, “I will not cheat out of that, but come that fifth year, I will be gone.”

“What about you, Hale? Have you changed your mind? The pay of a Lieutenant is better than what most sailors make, let alone any lighthouse keepers.” said the High Admiral, now addressing Hadrian.

“I am no Lieutenant, sir; I am but a Midshipman. And soon, I’ll be no more than a lighthouse keeper.” replied Hadrian with a smile of his own, the High Admiral’s reply was simply a shrug.

“Hm, not the choice I would have made…” replied the High Admiral as his glass was refilled, “But again, my choices put me in this chair.” the double meaning of his words not lost on Hadrian.

With those last words, he and Reynard headed towards the open door, which closed behind them as they left.

There was nothing but silence between them as they climbed the stairwell. It was only upon arrival at the top; at the still-deserted officers’ lounge, that Reynard let out a deflating sigh.

“That took years off my life.” he said following his sigh.

“I could say the same; I feel I got a few gray hairs.” replied Hadrian with an uneasy smile, “So, what now?”

“Now, the new story begins.” he said with his usual smile, “But first, let us meet back with the girls and Adelheid onboard my ship. I’m sure they’re worried about you.”

Hadrian couldn’t disagree with that.

~~~

The filtered noise of water enveloping his ears, the lightweight feeling of his drifting body. Even as a child, Hadrian had always enjoyed being in the water, and this had not changed at all with age. There was something almost… purifying, about the feeling of floating around, free of burden; as if the ebb and flow of the waves washed the worries off his mind and body.

“How does Hadi do that?” asked Addie as she gazed at his buoyant form.

“By breathing,” he said, breaking his buoyancy, “You fill your lungs with air, and thrust your body up while extending your arms and legs. Letting the waves carry you like a leaf.” the way he phrased it felt almost poetic.

Without further comment, Addie did as instructed; splaying her limbs as she took a deep breath. Her tail fully straight as it floated.

“Ohhh, it sure feel ni-ggurblnmg!?” but a small wave hit her head as she spoke, filling her mouth and making her lose her flotation.

“That can happen sometimes.” he said, helping the coughing Addie to regain her bearings.

“Okay! One more time.” declared Addie with a vigorous nod, filling her lungs and spreading her body yet again. But even if no stray wave hit her this time, she still failed to remain buoyant.

“Muuu, Hadi makes it look so easy.” Addie groaned, getting her hair off her eyes.

“Well, I’ve been doing it since I was little; you don’t need to rush up,” explained Hadrian as he took a step forward, holding his hands forward, “Let me give you a hand; I’ll hold you up so you can get used to the feeling.”

With her back resting on Hadrian’s hands, Addie floated in place; her eyes closed as she smiled blissfully. Hadrian, however, was feeling a tinge of unease.

Hadrian had long since gotten used to seeing her exposed body, but it was one thing to see her topless walking next to him or on the other side of the dinner table, and another to be holding her body before him like a dinner about to be eaten. 

He could see every curve in her body; from the perky shape of her breasts, to the subtle musculature of her belly. Water droplets sliding all over it. Her visible fur matted and smooth.

Some parts of his body started to react to it all, but he quickly dispelled any worries as there was no chance of her noticing.

“… Sometimes, Addie gets thinking,” she said following a sigh, “When Addie found Hadi’s float-thing at beach, Addie did not think of what was gonna happen.” the expression in her face turning rather serious.

“Addie just saw new thing, and wanted to know what was there. Addie had no idea of what would happen. Of so many things in just a season.” her pidgin speech was making it a bit hard to tell what she was trying to say, but Hadrian still got the gist of it.

“Such is life,” he replied with a smirk, “Not even the wisest of men can tell how choices are tethered to each other, or what their outcomes will be.” he did his best to sound philosophical, although his reassuring expression came with some amount of regret.

Knowing that for the past few years before meeting the girls, his life had been a sausage string of bad decisions, and subsequent bad outcomes. Yet again, that same voice in his mind told him that if it wasn’t for all those missteps, he wouldn’t be in the place he currently was; in a worry-free beach, holding the girl he loved. So he didn’t have to convince himself that there was a silver lining; he was holding said lining in his hands.

“Hey Addie… do you… want to fool around?” those words slipped off his tongue with surprising ease, despite his rather paused speech.

“Tee hee, so rare for Hadi to take first step, but okay.” she replied with a giggle.

With that phrase, Addie stopped floating. Her feet nimbly landing on the sea floor as she looked back at Hadrian. Even though she was smiling as she often did, there was something different in her expression; something that made her look oddly mature and captivating. However, he had no further chance to ponder on it.

Without waiting for further comment, Addie leaped into his embrace; their lips locking as he hugged her sodden body. The force of her jump and the weight of her hug caused Hadrian to lose his balance, falling backwards, and plummeting them both underwater.

Even when submerged, neither broke away from the kiss. They just remained in each other’s embrace, their tongues waltzing together while their bodies floated below the waves. Breaking their kiss only to resurface for air.

Parting slightly with their embrace, but still within each other’s arms, Addie’s eyes met Hadrian’s before staring downwards and quickly meeting his gaze again. No words were needed.

Taking a deep breath, Hadrian descended back into the water. His mouth questing for her puffy mound, and his tongue for the soft crevice below it. He could feel the temperature of her body, so even with limited air, he knew exactly where to go as he mouthed at the entrance of her womanhood from. 

She could feel his intruding tongue; probing, licking, sliding along her folds. Her instinct drove her to push his head further in as she felt the strong caress of his hand taking fistfuls of her buttocks. Deep inside, she could feel it; her climax building up, wanting to burst forth like a wave crashing against a rocky shore. All she needed was the right trigger, and said trigger couldn’t have come more suddenly.

Feeling her tighten around his tongue, Hadrian retreated his tongue from her entrance completely, instead going for the fleshy hood that concealed this perky nub, digging it out and giving it a subtle nibble.

Letting out a feral moan; she tightened all around him; her crevice, her legs, her embrace. All of it tightened so hard for a moment that he feared for the safety of his neck. But was over as quickly as it started, and just in time, as he was feeling the need to breathe.

As he surged up, Addie collapsed on his chest; her breathing ragged and warm, and her body still shaking from her violent climax.

“… Feel so good…” Addie whispered between breaths, panting into his chest.

Hadrian didn’t reply, he just embraced her, feeling the warmth emanating from her body, and how it contrasted with the coolness of her soaked fur, and that of the waves hitting them.

“Hadi,” she said, looking up to face him, “Can Addie try one fun idea?” the expression in her face could only be described as mischievous, but Hadrian wasn’t about to stop her.

He just gave her a smiling nod, and without further comment (or losing her playful grin), she disappeared into the chest-high water. Hadrian’s fully-erect manhood twitching in anticipation for the lips that were surely coming.

But instead, a pair of legs and the accompanying waist came up. Addie’s puffy womanhood up in the air as her legs propelled it forward. It took him a moment to realize what she was trying to do, but now that he did, he went fully along with it.

Reaching for her upside-down waist and bringing it close, Hadrian began to mouth her moist nethers once again. Just below, he felt the warm embrace of her mouth upon his length, sliding in all the way to the base.

She felt so lightweight as she held her, even with her legs crossed behind his head. His mind wondered how she came up with this kind of idea, just as he felt a sudden shiver as she took his manhood so deep he could feel the back of her throat. A swallowing motion stimulating him further.

Suddenly, there was a wave; one big enough to upset his rather precarious balance in the sand. And yet, rather than letting go of her sumptuous peach, he took a deep breath and let the waters take him down, drifting in the depths.

No sounds but that of their tongues and heartbeats, no sensations but those of the water around them and each other’s bodies. Then the climax— the one he felt welling up, and releasing without hesitation as he felt the twitches of her own. Her mouth greedily sucking him in.

Alas, came the need to breathe, and breaking their lock, they ascended.

“Pah! That was… something else…” said Hadrian with a pleased smile.

“Hehe, Addie is glad!” Addie replied, her soaked hair covering her face in a manner that made her look like a sheepdog.

Placing his hand below her chin, her parted away her wet bangs. He wanted to see what kind of face she was making.

As she met his eyes, she wordlessly pursed out her lips, which Hadrian kissed without thinking it twice. It wasn’t a deep, tongue-in-mouth kiss, but a simple kiss, like that shared between lovers.

“Hadi likes kisses, hm?” Addie asked with bedroom eyes.

“Oiii! Ya two!” But this loud hail cut Hadrian’s reply short.

Looking back at the sandy beach, they saw Adelyn. Her expression was a bit miffed.

“Ya ain’t gonna ‘ave lunch or what? Been waitin’ ‘ere for awhile now; Big Sis ain’t gonna wait to test out those new spices!” she added, beckoning them to approach.

“We’re going, one moment!” Hadrian replied. Adelyn in the distance just gave a sharp nod and left.

“Well… guess that’s all for now.” he said as he looked at Addie, “Time to get out.” 

His left hand reached for her right hand, their fingers interlocking as he felt her tail wrap itself around his waist like a giant, furry snake.

“Mm, Mm! And Addie hungry too.” she replied with an energetic nod, walking towards the beach in tandem, letting go only when they arrived.

On the beach, nothing had changed; same white sands and tiny red crabs. But as they headed up the cliff, came the scenery that hadn’t been there two summers ago.

Gone were the tiny shack and the dinky toolshed, and occupying their place was a finely built home; walls of limestone and tiled roof, to resist the fiercest of storms, an open porch to watch the best sunsets, and a simple herb garden to satisfy a certain girl’s love of cooking.

Next to it was a small shed, or at least, it would be as soon as it had a roof. The wood for that yet to arrive.

Looking northwards, the hull-house was still visible, although now mostly vacated save for some bathing supplies; its proximity to the hot spring making it a convenient dressing room, as well as impromptu love making spot if someone felt in the mood, but not felt like walking back to bed.

Even further north, a long wooden mooring stretched from the beach into the water, most of it floating past a storied metal shipwreck. The oddly long and floating wharf served as a curious bypass to the island’s erratic currents, and could be reeled back to avoid unwanted visitors; an invention of Adelheid, no less. Which so far had proven effective.

There was no ship there at the moment, but a few times every month, a ferry would bring supplies, and sometimes a welcome visitor. Reynard would show up whenever he wasn’t deployed, and Adelheid almost always with him. Sometimes, she’d come alone, or with Huxley. Reynard would be retiring in a few years, and building a second house somewhere on the island. But in the meantime, his visits were regular. His familiarity long since grown on Hadrian, who was starting to see him as a father figure better than his own.

“‘Bout time ya came back; bit more an’ I would’ve eaten yer part.” said Adelyn with a faux angry face as she set a boiling pot of nice-smelling broth on the porch table. The rest of the dishes were already there.

“It’s okay Hadrian, I would not have allowed that.” commented Adelaide as she sat on her usual chair, facing the lighthouse, whose beacon’s glow could be seen even during the day.

The life of a lighthouse keeper was not exactly eventful; as the island wasn’t exactly on a well-travelled route, Hadrian’s daily routine was just making sure the beacon had enough fuel to burn, and monitoring the nearby rocks and currents for signs of any ship in trouble. It was the kind of predictable routine he enjoyed the most.

In the girls, very little had changed, besides their attires now looking less scraped together, Adelyn’s belts now having more and better pouches, Adelaide’s apron being made of sturdy wool, and with a myriad of little pockets, and the cutlery at the table was all ceramic and silver. Change was all but superficial, but not in any way unwelcome.

“Looks like we’ll be needing some more supplies soon.” said Adelaide as she moved a sizzling fish fillet onto her dish.

“Is the lumber running short? We can always skim some from the lighthouse fuel.” replied Hadrian as he filled his plate. Clam chow, fish fillet, and the new yet already-favorite treat that was bacon.

“Not quite.” chuckled Adelaide, “Didn’t Addie tell you?” she asked, looking happy yet puzzled. Hadrian just shook his head, his mouth full. She and Addie exchanged stares.

“Addie wanted it to be a surprise for Hadi, especially as it is not just Addie.” replied Addie as she swallowed.

“Surprise?” Hadrian asked, looking at Addie as he reached for some tea.

“Mm, mm. Addie has baby on the way.” she said with her usual merriment, causing Hadrian to almost choke on his drink, “And Big Sis too.” she added as Hadrian coughed.

“Not me, though. Or at least not as far as Imma aware.” commented Adelyn as she ate, remaining unusually calm.

Hadrian took a few deep breaths before speaking. Still not fully recovered from his shock.

“S-Since when?” he asked, equal parts happy and shocked.

“Couple weeks now,” Adelaide replied, “Both Addie and I felt dizzy as we woke up, and Mother once told us that’s a sign of it.” She seemed almost as happy as Addie.

“So, the supplies are…?” Hadrian asked, a wide smile upon his face.

“A crib; a big one if possible.” replied Adelaide with a motherly smile.

“Hadi is Papa now, or will be in around Spring.” said Addie as she met his eyes, their smiles just as wide.

“Thank you… everyone. Thank you.” It had been a long time since he had last teared up, except this time, he was happy about it.

THE END

4 votes, average: 5.00 out of 54 votes, average: 5.00 out of 54 votes, average: 5.00 out of 54 votes, average: 5.00 out of 54 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5 (4 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.
Loading...
520 Views

One thought on “Tethers of Hopes – Chapter 9

Leave a Reply