The sun was rising in the distance, beyond the depths of water that covered the horizon. Bell was already awake. One of Harp's sleeping groans had awoken her, and the lack of Lute in his bed had been more than enough to keep her eyes open. Whatever he was doing; it was very, very bad for all of them.
She wanted to get out of her bedding, into her clothes and onto the deck. Hopefully, Lute would be there, having gone for a stroll or just hoping for a chance to clear his head. Perhaps he was stretching his back, and pouring a little fresh water on the injuries to soothe the burn. Nevertheless, if any of these were the case, he would be back by now. There had been no footsteps going past their cabin, nor had anybody put their head through the doorway to see if anybody was missing. It became obvious to Bell in the first few moments that she knew exactly where Lute was; she was just trying to ignore it in the hope that she was wrong.
He returned not long after the sun had finally cleared the water, limping a little and carrying the stink of some exotic perfume with him. Sincerity's stench enveloped him, filling the room and tickling the tip of Bell's nose. She fought back the urge to sneeze until Lute had settled back into his bedding with a huff and a cough.
"I'm guessing you're awake, and ready to judge me," he said into the room, though it was very clear that he was talking to her. "You're usually awake when I get back, even if I've been gone all night. Don't worry anyway; I can judge myself this time. I know what I've done, and I know how easily she manipulated me into doing it."
Bell thought about staying, laying there in silence. Her eyes were shut tightly, and she was purposefully keeping her breathing patient, but she trusted that he knew her well enough to know when he was right. "Is it intentional?" she asked of him.
"Completely ruining out chances of happiness," she answered swiftly. "How many times now have we been able to settle into something good, before you attract the attentions of the next noble with an attractive daughter, or make mockery of our current owners so that they want to sell us. Why is it that you can't just accept your place on the bottom rung of the ladder of life? We get sold back and forth because all that we're worth is money to these people. Our lives are currency, and we can be traded for everything from coin to gambling accidents. We're musicians. All you ever have to do is play your instrument and sing whatever stupid lyrics you can put together - why can't you do that?"
Briefly, silence consumed the room, a match for the horrible mix of perfume and a new musky scent that gave Bell far more information than she had wanted. It made her feel sick, and furious.
Eventually, Lute managed to string some words together. "This is all my fault, isn't it?"
"Well, you don't see me or Harp getting into trouble with everybody we meet, do you?"
"No, you're good people," Lute returned. He sounded a lot more down about this than Bell had expected, but she found it quite difficult to care as much as she knew that she should. "I don't have any excuses on hand, and I don't even think there are any reasons. I just want to be happy. I want to be an achiever. I want to do something with my life beyond just playing my music and hoping I'm worth enough money to move on to a higher bidder. I want to be able to protect my friends from the evils of the world. Is there anything wrong with that?"
"No, but you can't change the world," Bell told him. It was a truth that she lamented, but a truth regardless. Now she sat up, leaning her back against the wall and letting her feet dangle off of the edge of her bed until they were touching Lute's. Closer to her friend, she could see something that she'd never seen before. His eyes were damp and everything on his face spoke of complete defeat. Wherever he had been, something had changed forever. "What happened to you today, Lute? You look like you've lost a part of yourself you'll never be able to get back."
"It's been a long week. And, I hate this ship. Since I stepped foot on the thing I haven't even had a single good day. I've been in pain, and my back stings, or it did sting. It feels terrible now," he said. He lifted his hands up to his face and rubbed his eyes, though whether that was because he was tired or for another reason, Bell wasn't sure. "I'm not sure how things could get much worse from here really. She can do whatever she wants to me, and I have no choice but to shut up and do as I'm told."
"Like a servant then."
Somewhere, far from their untidy little cabin, the sound of a hunting horn resounded in the distance. Confused, Bell and Lute both turned to the door, at the same time that Harp was pulled out of his sleep by the noise outside. He came to with a groan and a small complaint that neither of his friends really heard.
"Please tell me that's not more noble families arriving," exclaimed Lute.
"Come on, we'd best head outside and find out what's going on."
"Bloody nobles always turnin' up when you don't wan' 'em," Harp announced, still laid flat on his back as he did so. "Which one's this then? Lord 'arlequin and Lady Charletan? Lord Testicles and 'is French maid Percy? They're at it like Rabbits, I tell you. 'Umpin away, day after day to give someone else another fancy bloody name like Mystery or Trenchcoat. Why do they 'ave to wake us up too?"
"It's all because they don't like you, Harp," Lute responded. He patted Harp on his forehead as Harp got up from his bed and joined them both in heading out of their cramped confines.
The beam of the sun outside temporarily blinded them all, with Harp actually throwing his arms up to cover his eyes. Such a bright shine, reflecting off of every single droplet of water before them, was quite the dazzling display. As their eyes adapted, and Harp began to clutch his stomach again, Bell stepped up to the edge of the deck, where the railing held fast to keep her from falling in.
In the distance, there was another ship. This one was much more ornate than their own, bathed in different colours and carved to perfection. It looked enormous, undoubtedly designed to carry large amounts of cargo instead of just people. The figurehead, situated at the very tip of the vessel, had been painstakingly formed through the work of tiny chisels to take on the image of a beautiful siren: the maiden of the seas with a song so entrancing that it drew many sailors to their deaths.
Standing on the forward deck, surrounded by a vast collection of nobility, deckhands and fishermen, was somebody that Bell did not want to see. Bearing down, seemingly aiming to come alongside their own ship, was Truth. His curly hair had been tightly oiled, his clothes were made of almost embarrassingly fine silk and his smile was so sardonic that he must have had something to gloat about. Not far up the railing from where the three musicians themselves were situated, Sincerity was standing with Dress, looking over at her brother. She waved, almost welcomingly, but the look of disgust at his arrival was plain on her face. This was quite likely to be the source of the sardonic repose.
"I can't believe I said that it couldn't get any worse," announced Lute. "What is this thing I have with deliberately tempting fate?"
"He's going to rip your skin right off of your muscles and stuff it down your throat," Bell told him. Memories of her last meeting with Truth were bounding around her head.
Standing beside Truth, his personal servant lifted the hunting horn back to his lips, and blew out a single, clear note to signify his arrival.