The heavy oaken door to Seaworth Hall creaked open, scraping slightly on the wooden floor as it did so. Lindal could hear the pitter patter of feet from further in the house as he heaved the chest over the threshold.
“Dad! Dad! Dad’s home!”
Screeching round the corner, the children careened into him, and he stumbled with the impact. He struggled to make out anything from the din of seven chattering voices.
“Calm down, calm down!” he chuckled, “I’m soaked, let me hang up all these wet clothes and I’ll be through in a minute. Where’s your mother? Go find her for me, go on!”
The children dashed off again, shouting for their mother, and the pirate sat down on the floor, removing his sodden boots. He eased himself out of the heavy sea jacket, then moved to hang it on a peg on the wall. His eyes fell upon the chest, a long trunk of black stone, suspended on four legs formed like skeletal hands. Whispers echoed in the corners of his mind as he beheld it, and for a moment he was lulled into a reverie, before snapping out of it. He draped the heavy coat over the chest, obscuring it from view.
“You’re late,” came a voice from behind him. Lindal turned to see Portia standing with her hands on her hips. He smiled.
“I’m sorry, things were more complicated than I expected.”
“You said you’d be home a week ago — I’ve been worried sick!” she said. “What’s that?” she asked, raising one eyebrow and flicking her head in the direction of the chest. Her auburn hair rustled as she did so.
“It’s nothing,” Lindal said as he crossed the distance between them.
“It doesn’t look like nothing.”
“It’s...look, like I said, things were more complicated than I realised.”
“You promised me you wouldn’t bring your work home.”
“I know, it’s just—”
“You promised me.”
“It won’t be for long.”
“A week. Less than, probably. The handoff didn’t go as intended, I’m just waiting for the word,” he said. He smiled. A practiced, charming smile, “I would have waited, but I couldn’t bear to be apart from you any longer.”
Portia stared him down, trying hard not to reciprocate, but it played at the corners of her mouth.
“I’ll put it in the attic, it’ll be fine,” he said, still grinning. “Distract the kids for a moment, will you? Don’t want them knowing we’ve got a treasure chest up there,” he chuckled.
“They’re with their grandad right now. He’s telling stories again,” Portia said with a smile, turning her head over her shoulder and listening to the murmurs from further inside the house. The smile faded. “What’s in it?” she asked.
Lindal shrugged. “I have no idea.”
Portia narrowed her eyes. “You should know better than to lie to me, sailor.” Her tone was playful, but still serious.
Lindal took a breath as if he was about to speak, then stopped and began again. “It’s better if you don’t know. Come on, help me get it up there and it’ll be as if it was never here.” He smiled again.
Portia stared at him, not speaking for a moment. “You’re a scoundrel and a rogue, and my mother warned me about men like you,” she said with a smile, crossing to where her husband’s jacket lay. She hung it up on the wall, and the two hoisted the chest between them and hurried further inside the house with it. Voices wafted out from the front room.
“...silver fish the size of my boat! A great beast — it could have gobbled me and all of you up whole and still had room for dessert!”
“Don’t be silly, grandad! Fish don’t get that big!”
“Are you calling me a liar, young Cora? Hmm? You shouldn’t speak to your grandfather that way!”
Portia eased the ladder down from the trap door, and the two of them slowly clambered up, maneuvering the trunk into the attic, Lindal going first. When the chest had made its ascent, Portia left for the front room.
Lindal maneuvered some of the boxes in the attic until there was an appropriate spot at the far end of the attic. He draped a thin sheet of fabric over it, disguising it from view. Now to hope it was forgotten.
He clambered back down the hatch, stopping momentarily as a voice came from behind him.
Lindal pushed the ladder back into the attic, turning to face the man.
“I know, I’m sorry. It became more complicated.”
Ferdibrand Seaworth stared him down, wild grey eyebrows furrowed. “Complicated, hmm? How exactly does a simple merchant, on a regular trade run, get a week’s worth of complications?”
“I...There was...paperwork in Meriden, you know, a storm, it all adds up...”
“You listen to me, boy, and you listen well. Don’t you ever try and pull the wool over my eyes, alright? I know what you do. I know what you really do, so don’t lie to my face, hmm? Your business would be your own, were it not for the fact that it is my daughter, and my grandchildren who are on the line here,” Ferdibrand said, a glint in his eyes. He stalked forward, backing Lindal into a corner. “You might fool my daughter with your handsome smile and your roguish tricks, but you will not fool me. A week! She’s been a mess, nevermind the children!” he hissed, “every day, ‘when is Dad coming home? When is Dad coming home?’”
“I know, I’m sorr—”
“No. No! You’re not going to fob this off with a half-arsed apology! You’re not just looking out for yourself, Mr. Blackbottle, not anymore,” the old man said, “you have a wife, and you have children, and they depend on you. They depend on being able to trust you. You have more at stake than just yourself, now. That is my daughter. My daughter!” His eyes were welling up. “My daughter. And my grandchildren. And they are all that I have left in this world, and until you start treating them with the respect that they deserve, you will have no place under this roof. Do I make myself clear?”
Lindal’s head dropped a little. “Yes, I understand. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry is not enough. Sorry doesn’t always cut it! Sorry does not bring someone back after they—” Ferdibrand stopped, taking a deep breath, and composed himself. His eyes were red. “What is that in my attic?”
“It’s just a—”
Grandpa Seaworth glared.
“It’s a...it’s a chest. I’m holding onto it for a week. Two weeks maximum. Then I’ll be delivering it where it needs to go, and we’ll have enough gold for the year. Maybe longer.”
Portia’s father narrowed his eyes, staring the young halfling down for an uncomfortably long time, then strode off. Lindal took a deep breath, and followed.
He took a seat at the table, as the children chattered excitedly.
“Where’ve you been, Dad? We thought you might have been eaten by a whale! Or the Kraken!”
“Oh, no such luck, I’m afraid. You’re stuck with me a while longer.” He looked to his right, where his eldest was bent over a page. “Hey, scamp. What you doing?”
Lidda looked up, sliding a piece of parchment towards him. “I’m drawing.”
Lindal picked it up, regarding the page. “Oh, very good. What’s it a drawing of?” He put it back down on the heavy table.
She rested her head on his shoulder as she gestured to the paper. “That’s me, and I’m a really good wizard, that’s why I have a hat on, and I can do loads of magic, and this is a big house that I magicked up for us to stay in, and that’s you and Mum and Nedda and Paela and Cora and Verna and Shaena and Finnan, and Grandpa, and we all live in this big magic house together.” She smiled, a big wide grin with a prominent gap where one of her front teeth was now missing.
Lindal smiled back. “A wizard, eh?”
“Yeah! I’m gonna be the best wizard ever, and then you won’t have to go off anymore and we can all stay together and if anything bad happens I’ll protect us! Doesn’t that sound good?”
Lindal looked up, making eye contact with his wife over the top of the children’s head. She smiled, and he smiled back.
“That sounds perfect.”