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The sun slid low on the horizon, burning clouds and sea with colors vivid enough to make an artist weep for his palette’s limitations. On the Silverite Maiden, a few crewmen were lighting lanterns before all light slipped out of the sky, but the majority of the crew were gathered in a loose circle on deck, clapping their hands or singing to the strains of pipe and accordion.

Up aloft amid the rigging
Blows the loud exulting gale

Two men moved together in the center of the circle - one tall, ruddy, and fair-haired, clad in a shabby coat half-held together with bandages, feathers, and hope; the other smaller, darker despite the shock of white hair made all the more stark by his black leather armor and aggressively spiked black pauldrons. They danced bound at the wrists by a length of blue cloth generously (and laughingly) donated to them by a friend.

Like a bird’s wide outstretched pinions
Spreads on high each swelling sail

Their friend stood at the edge of the circle, clapping and singing along with the sailors, smiling and apparently at ease. She leaned against a taller, bearded man, who clapped and smiled, holding her under his coat to protect her from the bitter cold ocean breeze she seemed not to notice despite the large expanses of skin left bare between the tops of her boots and the bottom of her short shift dress.

Some people, she had said, provided their own warmth on cold days and colder nights.

And the wild waves cleft behind us
Seem to murmur as they flow

The dancing men moved as one through a dance the sailors might never have danced themselves, but recognized instinctively - the stalk, the chase, the turning away only to be drawn back by a sharp tug on the cloth that bound them.

The moments when eyes met and lips were close enough to share breath before another pulling away, in fear or contempt or simply as demanded by the motion of the ship and the call of the sea.

Until the last few words of the song fell into the silence left when the accordion went still, the clapping stopped, and the piper took the pipe from his lips.

There are loving hearts that wait you
In the land to which you go

The two men stopped, chest to chest, eye to eye, and stayed there until a familiar laugh finally broke the spell.

“Just kiss him already!”

But first, the beginning…