The sun had set by the time I got this far. I was on deck, but I couldn't sleep. I have too much to say, too much to think about, and I'm not ready to go back to the cabin yet. In spite of the demand that there be no open fires or lights on the ship, there are lanterns, well confined and actually ringed with jugs of water, at the bow and rear of the ship. I'm at the back of the boat now, pressed close to one to catch the light. I can just make out the ship's wake in the black water below. It feels appropriate, like there are shadows all around me. I feel so far from home. And now, for the first time, I really feel alone. I am forced to admit that some of the things Gloria said to me this afternoon were right. I'm not as strong as I should be. I lack the willpower to be a proper lady. But I have will enough to see this through, to find out what is wrong with me, with or without her watching over my shoulder. She was wrong, too. I'm not a monster, and neither is her brother. I'll prove it to her, one of these days. There is a Halfling expression that all things can be set to right by wearing the hat of your enemy. (Halflings don't wear shoes, and thus can't walk a mile in them.) I don't believe it's true anymore. I understand Gloria better than I ever have before, and she understands me, but we haven't gained anything. We've only fallen apart.
I managed to find Gloria on the docks. She was surprised to see me back so soon. At first, I didn't quite know what to say. I was angry, irrationally angry. I realize that, after the fact, but then, I was too focused on my rage, over everything she had done in the last week. I felt so, I don't know, powerless over my whole situation. I'm 16, but I've never had anything like freedom. I've always been watched over by someone, someone's always made my decisions for me. It wasn't even my idea to study there, it was the only alternative I had 'for my own safety.' And to top it all off, once I'm finally here on my own, Gloria picks up Mother and Grandmother's slack, telling me what to do and when. No one even told me what was REALLY going on, just treating me like a child! I told her exactly how I felt about her, and she acted surprised, hurt. She became angry that I didn't appreciate what she had done. I told her that I already had a big sister, that I wanted a friend. The boat arrived, and we boarded. The argument continued back to our cabin. It got worse, if anything once we were away from her friends. Then, we both said a few things we'll never get back. I'm not repeating them here. I had my book in my satchel, and my extra cloak, so I went out on deck, "to get some air."
It was out on deck that I unavoidably ran into Gloria's friends Corrina and Hilda. They asked me what was wrong, and I just cracked. I broke down crying in Corrina's stiff, surprised arms, and she reassured me awkwardly. Hilda punched me in the face. Not slapped, punched. I think it was a Dwarven thing. Dwarves have a very egalitarian society. They don't draw very many gender distinctions, and the women are just as physically capable as the men, in every capacity. Even the language only differentiates between the two in very formal situations. I think the consequence of it is that Hilda doesn't get much of a chance to be feminine. It must be strange for her to be in human society. Or maybe not. At least she doesn't have the expectation of being a 'good girl' weighing her down. And she had just punched me.
"Are you done?" She asked through her thin beard. Her thick accent brought her voice lower than it should sound, I think, and now I wonder if she doesn't have expectations on her after all. Maybe she's free to be a girl here, now that she is in a place with gender roles. I had stopped crying. "Now, what's this all about, then?"
We sat down on some crates of supplies, and I told them both the whole story, minus the specifics of what happened in the hill, of course. They don't need to know about, well, my condition. I made sure they understood though. Hilda spoke first.
"You are right," she said. "But so is she." I started to protest, but she raised her hand. "Let me finish, lass. I don't know much about human customs, and less about halfling ones. that's one of the reason's I've been sent here. To learn about the surface-folk. But your grandparents were, battle-brothers, if not in ceremony than surely in spirit. And that is a sacred bond, deeper still than I think either of you realize." I could do little but nod. But Corrine did interrupt.
"They aren't Dwarves. Don't push your beliefs on them." The two of them fell to, well, not arguing, but debating between themselves.
"This is not a Dwarf matter. This is a matter of family."
"Family..." Corrine tasted the word. "Forgive me if I don't share your romantic notions, since mine tried to sell me to a brothel."
"You can't forgive your parents, can you?" the Dwarf asked.
"Of course I can't. I'd rather die than be used like that."
"So it would have been better to starve, then?"
"Don't think like they did it for my sake. They were only thinking of their own bellies. And Gloria's just happy because she needs to be praised."
"Do not go too far, Corrine."
"Oh, I'm sick of her power trips, and it's time somebody said something. Gloria's such a genius, Gloria's so pretty, Gloria's such a caring older sister. Listen, Lizzeth." She took me by the shoulder. "The only person you can be really sure of is yourself. Don't forget it."
"I won't," I said. Hilda looked at the two of us very sternly.
"That aside, you should make up with Gloria. I agree that she needs to give you more credit than she has, but the two of you have been friends for too long to let a petty difference such as this come between you."
"Petty?" I asked, but she cut me off.
"I am quite certain that she considers you family, and is motivated primarily out of concern. It will not be impossible to address her on your own terms. But for now, I would give her time, and space. Think clearly, and a solution will present itself by morning. I am sure of it." I nodded, and thanked, her. It was good advice.
I bid them good night, and headed to the other side of the ship. A few of the other passengers were already stretched out, but it had been well circulated that we were with the mages, and they gave me a wide berth. No one wanted to wake up as a frog, I guess. In the morning, I'll go talk to her again, and apologize. I'm sure this will work itself out, and if it doesn't, there will be a whole city between us, I'm sure.
In any case, I'm not going back into the cabin tonight. Not while she's there. We should reach the city tomorrow. Actually, it might be today by now. I, for one, will be glad to finally be someplace. The traffic on the river is starting to pick up some more, and there are lots of lights in the distance. Ahead of us is the city, I guess. The lights behind are getting closer, too. We must be reaching the harbor. The boats are getting closer, and I can see their lights. They aren't little lanterns like this ship, either. Most of them have actual bonfires on board. I wonder how (page ends)