Most of the journey home had been spent with Bell crying in his arms. Inconsolable, she wept, sometimes silently and sometimes so loudly that she would hurt her throat. There was nothing that Lute could do to help - no way that he could stem the endless flow of her pained tears. Lute wanted to break down himself. He wanted to cry his eyes out and scream that everything had gone wrong. Instead, he wept silently into her hair.
Truth's body had been moved somewhere out of sight. With no soldiers of her own to command, Sincerity had set Dress to the task unaided, feeling confident that no danger was left to present itself. The crew of the ship, without a captain, had not asked for her instruction or her aid. They had set to their work as soon as the battle was over, not even pausing for a small drink. They turned the ship around remarkably quickly, losing Truth's vessel in the process. Bursts of speed that seemingly appeared from nowhere gave Lute no cause for questioning. The amount of secrets that this ship had divulged in the night were enough evidence that nobody quite knew everything.
Sincerity, alone by the mast with no specific task, had immediately gone to fetch the ship's doctor to attend to Harp. Lute had not forgotten about his friend at all, but in the rush of the battle, Bell had been in more danger and, at that point, she had been in need of more help. Sincerity had ensured that Harp was tended to.
It had taken a while to convince Bell to move, and even then she hadn't been able to move far. Sincerity had clambered up the ladder gracefully and ushered them both into Truth's now unoccupied room. There were dead bodies in there, and the time passed and heat of the day was starting to create the lightest of smells from the wounds which had stolen their lives. Once again, Sincerity moved to remedy this, but without Dress available and with no soldiers there to help, she was left with the only option being to shift the corpses herself. She did not do this, loudly pondering some other task instead before striding back out of the door.
Lute waited until Sincerity had definitely cleared the room before leaning a little closer to Bell's ear: "Don't worry," he whispered as calmly as his rapidly beating heart would allow, "I'm going to look after you. I'm going to make sure that nothing bad happens to you, like I used to. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry all of this had to happen. I promise I didn't want it to. That doesn't matter now though. None of it matters now. As soon as we get back to the manor it'll all be over - we can put it all behind us and try to forget about everything. You'll see."
His words made no difference. Bell's sobbing remained, only becoming louder and louder as time progressed.
Their entourage of nobility had abandoned them some way back. Sincerity's intended meeting with the man under consideration to become her husband was completely forgotten about. The crew had made their point, and Sincerity made no effort to change their minds. She wanted to go home. Lute didn't blame her. He also wanted to go home.
Dress came as the sun was setting and, without a word, began to shift the leftover remnants of the people that she had killed through the room and down the trapdoor she had entered through. The sound of each of them being dragged across the floor was horrifying, but it was nothing compared to the dull thud that each one made as it slipped down, out of sight, into the darkness. Dress didn't stay afterwards. Undoubtedly with many more tasks ahead of her, she slipped out of the cabin as stealthily as she had entered.
Lute held Bell for a while longer in the gathering darkness of the now empty room. No candles were lit, but this was a good thing. Exhaustion weighed heavily on Bell's shoulders and, eventually, her adrenaline depleted, she fell into a deep sleep. She had given away too much during the day, and likely in the days before as well. So deeply unconscious was she that she did not stir in the slightest when he lifted her up and carried her over to Truth's bed. Crawling through the holds and the tunnels beneath the ship had tired Lute, but he had been the lucky one of his collection of musicians. Harp carried scars now that would stay with him even after death, and Bell's own scars, though not as visible, would now hide behind her eyes for the rest of her life. Laid down before him, her face still wet from her tears, Bell still looked staggeringly beautiful. Lute had done many things wrong in his life. This entire journey had been the biggest.
He left Bell safely stowed there and left the cabin. Harp was where he had been left, although he had now been elevated neatly onto a couple of blankets. He wasn't awake, but the fact that he was being so carefully tended to by the ship's doctor was evidence enough that he was still alive. Lute breathed a sigh of relief, both for himself and for Bell. Their friend would live to see another day. Whether or not he would be able to pick up his namesake and play anything worthwhile ever again was a question worth asking, but certainly not one that he would ask Harp any time soon. It was unlikely that any of them were going to be playing music again any time soon.
The smart decision in Lute's eyes was to focus on the simplest fact. They were alive. They were going home, though even that would be very different now. Whatever had caused Truth to do all of this, the Lord Avatar had most certainly not agreed to it. Did this mean that Sincerity was now their sole owner, or did the Lord Avatar intend to recognise a bastard child as heir to his legacy? There were too many questions, and no answers available. Nevertheless, they were alive and they were going home. That counted in so many good columns.
Looking out over the deck under the cover of night, Lute didn't see or hear Sincerity coming towards him until she slipped in beside him at the railing, making him jump a little.
This earned him the first smile that he had seen grace her face in far too long. "Even after all of this, I still scare you a little then?"
Lute let his head droop a little. Suddenly, it felt intensely heavy. "You don't scare me," he told her, "I just...I don't know. So much has happened, and there's nothing I can do about it. None of us are ever going to be the same after this, and who knows what we're sailing towards now. You know, I really miss Wax. He's the one who runs around making sure every room in the manor has fresh candles in it. I don't know why, but it's suddenly very important to me that I see him."
"Well, if nothing else, you can at least say that you've learned a lot from this," offered the Lady Sincerity. "You'll probably never be the same either, and they'll have noticed it. What do you say, Lute? Has this made you a better person or a worse one?"
As he watched Harp sleeping, Lute considered this question. Could he really say that any of them would be worse people for this? No. Unfortunately, they likely would be. Nothing good had happened on this trip, and they would carry the weight of it with them.
Quietly, Sincerity leaned in so closely to Lute's ear that he could feel the tiniest flick of her tongue as she spoke. "You think too much," she whispered. "What is, is. What will be, will be. You don't need to worry about each and every moment."
She turned away from him, marching smoothly back towards her currently vacant cabin. He watched her as she went, waving the fabrics of her dress after her. As she reached her door and opened it, she turned back to regard Lute with a teasing expression.
"I know, for a fact, that I am now in complete control of your life," she informed. "So that means you can have even less guilt than before when I tell you to get in here. I've had a hard day and I need to work off some steam."
Strangely, Lute felt no guilt at all when he followed Sincerity into her cabin. Some things never changed.