It was dark, maybe passed midnight, but I could see the bright torches of the Fortress of Normandy from the docks at Port de Vernon. I listened to Aunt Midnight part words with Mr Reilly.
“Madam, if I may?” he said.
Aunt Midnight was wrapping Eomer up in a blanket as the wind howled in our direction, “Of course, Mr Reilly. What is it?”
“My condolences in terms of your loss.”
“But... you understand that we no longer have a captain?”
Aunt Midnight paused, “You no longer wish to serve me.”
“I wouldn't say-”
“It's fine, Mr Reilly. I relieve you of such a service. But I would request, if you would be so kind, that you return El Tívu to my son. I have little love for sailing, but he would receive such a vessel with grace,” Aunt Midnight said, removing a small pouch from her belt, “This should be enough to compensate you. It should be enough to buy you a new vessel or, if you prefer, to build a new one. A schooner or a frigate, perhaps. I dare say, man-of-wars aren't common amongst you pirates.”
“Thank you kindly, Mrs Rogue,” said Mr Reilly, smiling and taking the money, “This is more than I could even dream of asking for. I'll do as you ask.”
“In the short time that you have served my husband, you served him well. You have my thanks, Mr Reilly,” she shook his hand.
“Should you ever need assistance by sea, never fear to call on me.”
“I will keep that in mind. Farewell.”
We didn't stick around to see the El Tívu leave port. As with most docks, it was a place rife with degenerative behaviour and poor atmosphere.
“My land has been ignored for a while,” Aunt Midnight mumbled, “It will take a while to restore.”
“You mean, the docks weren't always like this?” I asked her.
“I never paid much attention to the docks, but... no. They were never this full of life,” she gestured to scantily-dressed women who stood in the shadow of buildings, shivering in the cold, “If this can be called living.”
Aunt Midnight hired a coach and the driver took us to the Fortress at a steady pace. My aunt held her child close to her and kept stroking Eomer's face to see if he was hungry or not.
“Won't we make it if we walk?” I asked her.
“We would. But I fear this cold for Clay's sake. It would be best to get there as soon as possible.”
“Well, these horses aren't exactly going at top speed.”
“I would like to keep my son's brains from shaking apart, thank you.”
I laughed, “Did you always have to have things just so? With all of your children?”
“A baby always needs things just so. I am not going to deny him it.”
“Annabeth is on her own then? Where do you think Mr Kenobi could have got to?”
“I think nothing just yet. Mr Kenobi is more cunning than I've given him credit for. I cannot assume anything until I've at least spoken to Khadir.”
When we arrived at our destination, Aunt Midnight left the coach without paying the man, but she reassured him that she would give him the coin he was due as soon as she entered the Fortress.
“Halt! Who goes there?” called a guard on watch.
Aunt Midnight laughed, “Well, I'm glad to see caution is still in place where care and attention has left you all.”
“I'm sorry, ma'am, I don't-”
“You're new here,” Aunt Midnight said, “That explains things. Send someone to fetch Khadir and tell him his sister has arrived. Oh, and ask him to bring some money with him as well.”
We waited a few minutes for Khadir to come. He walked with a brisk step and embraced Aunt Midnight.
“I heard the news,” he said, not letting her go, “How are you?”
“I thought you didn't like him,” Aunt Midnight mumbled.
“I didn't. But you did, and that is enough for me,” Khadir said. He went to pay the coach driver and led us both inside.
“This place is a pig-sty, Khadir,” Aunt Midnight said looking around.
“Yes. I'm afraid after you left, the older recruits took cleanliness seriously, but the newer ones couldn't be as bothered. With your return, hopefully you can break something on their ears to make them clean,” Khadir commented and then noticed the baby in Aunt Midnight's arms, “Is that my nephew?”
Aunt Midnight passed Eomer to Khadir, “His name is Clay.”
“Harîth,” Khadir said, adoringly, “a beautiful name. He looks like his father.”
“I thought you named him Eomer,” I protested.
“I did,” Aunt Midnight said, “But I've changed my mind.”
“Rest your voice for tonight, Midnight,” Khadir said, “I'll take you to your room, it has been left untouched since you left all those years ago. There is someone there who has been eager to meet you.”
Aunt Midnight took Eomer back in her arms, “Lead on.”
“Can't wait to see you at work tomorrow,” I said.
“Well, tomorrow will be all cleaning, I think. Sprucing up the place and the like. Living in this condition can cause disease to the soldiers and livestock, and damage to the building. But you should get some rest, we'll rise early tomorrow all the same. You can sleep in my room for tonight, but you will be assigned your own quarters soon.”
I saw ageing faces light up when they saw Aunt Midnight hurry through the Fortress, giving little time to chat and catch up. We climbed up a fleet of steps that never seemed to have an end and Khadir opened a door and let us in.
A man stood inside with his back to us, a hood covering his head. Aunt Midnight gestured for me to go to an adjoining room and I did.
I shut the door and stood by it for a moment.
“Good evening,” I heard the man say.
“Oh my... I didn't expect to see... any of your kind for a while. I heard you were at war,” Aunt Midnight said, “Please, have a seat, mister...?”
“Romulus. Cecil son of Romulus.”