They arrived at the docks after four hours of walking, it had been a broiling hot afternoon and sweat trickled down Idira's back, coating her torso and making the material of her dress stick to her skin in a most unpleasant way.
She had longed to shed the thing and walk in her underwear and camisole, but she knew she was too old for that now she had started to become a woman. She glanced at Vanessa with envy for the hundredth time, at least she was allowed to run in her bare feet and underwear, free of the constraints of a laced-up dress. Idira's feet hurt too. She was sure a blister had begun to form on the top her of big toe.
They reached the edge of the cliffs and took the long, zig-zagging road down to the shore. Apart from a solitary rowboat tied to one of the dock's iron cleats, the dockyard lay completely deserted, just like the town. VanCleef led them to the boat and helped Myra into it. She sank, trembling with fatigue onto the bench, pale as a sheet despite the blazing warmth of the sun.
'There's food on the ship, my love,' VanCleef murmured as he hefted the bags he had been carrying for her into the boat. 'Just hold on a little longer. I promise you will be well taken care of from now on.'
Myra didn't respond, she just stared out at the ocean, her expression blank, seeing nothing. VanCleef lifted Vanessa into the boat. Oblivious to the state of her mother, Vanessa chattered excitedly, peppering her father with questions about what was going to happen next and why couldn't she see the boat. He answered her questions as he loaded the rest of the bags, helped by Unambi. We're going to go through those huge gates there against the cliff walls. You can't see the boat because it's inside the mountain.
'In there!?' Vanessa squealed, laughing. 'Nobody puts a boat inside a mountain!'
'Nobody sane,' Myra said in a voice colder than ice, the last sparks of her spirit igniting as she turned to look at the oppressive gates, taller even than the big house's four stories and wider than one whole side of Moonbrook's square.
VanCleef said nothing, though his jaw tightened and his back stiffened a little. The air grew thick with unsaid words. Idira sensed there would be a fight tonight, the first of many. Even Vanessa quieted, sensing the tension between her parents.
Idira shifted her weight, trying to ease the pressure on her blistered toe. She longed to take her shoes and stockings off and lower her feet into the cool, salty waters of the sea. It had been so long since she had been by the sea, she wished they could dally just for a while, but she sensed VanCleef was in a hurry. He kept looking over his shoulder as he hauled the bags into the boat, his gaze straying back up to the top of the cliff, as though he feared someone had followed them.
A warm gust of wind blew in over the sea, carrying the metallic, pungent scent of rich seaweed, reminding Idira of the warm, salty smell of the seashell her murloc friend had once left for her. The breeze washed over them, much richer than any she ever remembered coming from the cold, dark briny sea by the farm, far to the north.
Unambi paused in his work. 'Dat be da smell o' da warm waters o' home,' he said, inhaling, deep. 'Ah it be good ta be tastin' dat sweet scent again.'
VanCleef threw the last of the bags into the boat and turned to Idira. 'Let's go,' he said, sharp, waggling his hand at her, impatient.
She limped over to him and let him hand her into the boat, holding out her hands to take Blackie's basket from Unambi. Blackie peered out between the basket's weave, panting with fear, her eyes wide. Unambi came next and sat beside Idira, murmuring to Blackie about all the nice rats she would find on a pirate ship.
Myra blanched and pressed her hand to her mouth, her fingers trembling. VanCleef ignored her, his gaze once more straying to the top of the cliffs as he cast off. He pushed the boat out and jumped into it, light, the months he'd spent on the water obvious from his agility as he moved over the bags to the bench in the middle. He picked up the paddles and began rowing with strong, swift strokes. As they neared the solid wall of wood, buttressed by metal studs, he pulled up the paddles and reached down into his shirt, lifting a slim metal whistle attached to a leather cord around his neck. He blew on the whistle three times; short, quick bursts. He waited to the count of ten, then did it again.
They drifted for several minutes, the water slapping against the sides of the boat, soft. No one said anything. A deep groan came from within the gate's structure. The doors creaked and split in the middle, opening outwards, sending a wake of water rushing towards them. The sound of a winch being cranked drifted out from within the cavern accompanied by faint shouts, Heave! Ho! Heave! Ho!, each shout matching the crunch of the winch's spikes connecting with the gate's chain. The doors groaned, opening little by little, their massive weight pushing the water out in billowing waves. Their rowboat bobbed up and down, caught in the peaks and troughs of the water, at times tilting precariously. Unambi's arm came around Idira's shoulder, holding her steady. Several more minutes passed before an opening stood wide enough for their little craft to pass through. VanCleef blew on his whistle again, three long blasts. The men inside stopped shouting, and the winch fell silent. Without saying a word, VanCleef picked up the oars once more and rowed them toward the gate's great, dark maw.
Idira turned to look at the vanishing sky as the looming gates and the claustrophobic darkness lured their little boat into its jaws. Panic closed in on her. She couldn't do it, for one wild moment, she thought about jumping off the boat and swimming to the shore. She could run away to Stormwind and stay with Nin until this was over. She felt Unambi's hand tighten on her shoulder. He shook his head and mimed for her to take a deep breath. She realised she was panting, just like Blackie. She kept her eyes on Unambi as they went through the gates, taking deep breaths with him, her heart pounding. Blackie began to wail, terrified, scratching at her basket, desperate to escape.
Darkness surrounded them. They slid through the black waters of a vast cavern, into the bowels of a mountain, the cavern's roof lost to the deep shadows. Ahead, within a little pool of light, lit by blazing torches, an enormous ship rode at anchor near a shelf of rock that led into a tunnel, also barred by a gate. Scaffolding and walkways built up against the ship's side connected the boat to the tunnel.
The men were shouting Heave! Ho! again, working the massive winch. The doors began to close. Idira half-turned on her seat, keeping her eyes on the blue strip of sky, on the vanishing light of the day, as it thinned into a beam, then a sliver, then a crack, then disappeared, swallowed up by the darkness. The doors came to with a boom which echoed dully through the cavern. Silence fell.
Myra screamed. She clawed at her clothes, tearing at them, making the boat rock. Vanessa began to cry.
'Daddy!' she called out, 'I don't like it here. Mommy doesn't like it either. I want to go home. Please take us home.'
VanCleef said nothing, neither did he turn to look at them, he just kept rowing slow and steady, determined, his eyes as hard as iron as he brought the boat into the ship's dock. Idira shrank against Unambi, understanding. This was what VanCleef had always truly desired, to possess them and decide their fates, controlling their lives just like the dolls Idira used to play with in her dollhouse. She caught his brief smile as they bumped against the dock, his sigh of relief.
He jumped out of the boat and yanked Myra, wailing and quaking onto the dock. He slapped her hard across the face, twice. When she didn't stop panicking, he shook her so violently Unambi jumped out and took hold of VanCleef. VanCleef cursed and let her go, stalking away to the other side of the dock, muttering about everyone being ingrates.
One of VanCleef's men came forward and offered him a silver flask, VanCleef took it and drank deep, his hands shaking. A little spilled out the corner of his mouth. He wiped the back of his hand across it as he stared at Myra, weeping in a crumpled heap on the dock, his eyes cold. He finished the flask and came back, his mood changed, remorseful.
He took Myra into his arms and kissed her, reassuring her how wonderful the ship was inside. He gestured towards it. If only she would come with him and see. He helped her to her feet, supporting her as he made his way up the scaffolding, murmuring over and over how they were finally safe and could be a family again.