Ralph watched the sun go down on the horizon, the slightly rippling sea firmly embracing the changing hues of the sky, making it difficult to distinguish where the two met.
He thought it was always too short-lived, that the moment to leave was resolved in the blink of an eye. A sad exit compared to the brightness of the day.
He collected himself with a shiver and pulled his boots back on, the sand was already cool.
Pensively he walked back toward the dock, occasionally casting a worried glance at the sailboats moored in the harbor.
He had never seen so many boats, all at once.
Even the Invincible had arrived, obliterating the other ships nearby - including the small frigate he was on - as she towered above them with her five decks.
For weeks now, they’d talked of nothing but that expedition, to a top-secret destination.
He felt like going for a drink but then, lingering in the doorway of the White Cliff he decided against it; inside were some heated voices that he recognized straight away.
Usually he spent the last night alone, always had.
He arrived at Annie's tavern thinking that with any luck he would find an empty table at that hour.
He greeted the woman cordially and went to take a seat in the half-light, after having ordered some gin and a piece of pie.
Sitting around a table in the center of the room were four sailors, with uniforms unbuttoned and dead drunk. They were sleeping soundly. Suddenly one of them seemed to wake up and realize that Ralph was there; he stretched out an arm as if to call his attention, but it immediately fell down to his side. He had fallen back asleep.
Good, Ralph thought as he turned his glass in his hands, as if to warm himself.
He didn't have time to bite into his pie when a croaky voice made him jump.
"Hey sailor, buy your old colleague a drink!"
He looked around in disbelief to see a figure that seemed to have materialized at the table next to him. It was a man, aged by the years and dressed in rags, who was sitting hunched over. He held his glass outstretched in his direction, looking at him in an amused way; his few teeth sneering at him mockingly.
Ralph unwillingly ordered two drinks, doubles.
The old man took a long gulp, belched sonorously, and ran his gaze over Ralph’s jacket, greedily.
"You know, I used to have a nice jacket, just like yours. Women were crazy about it. I used to be a snappy dresser, you know..."
Ralph remained silent, instantly regretting the doubles.
"And then like all things, all things...come to an end..." he concluded, as his head drooped down.
The tavern fell into a deep silence, punctuated by heavy breathing and the sound of dishes being washed.
Ralph finished eating and lit his pipe, glanced over Annie's form and, for a moment he felt good. He stretched out on his chair.
He glanced out of the small window, it was pitch dark and there seemed to be a fair amount of wind.
"ALARM!" cried the old man suddenly, waking up like one possessed, "It's him, I can see him, he's coming!"
"What the fuck are you gibbering about, you old cockroach..." muttered the sailor from before, making as if to get up.
"Yes, yes, it's him! It's really him! He’s immense, and rising up from the sea!" continued the old man with spirited eyes, writhing around.
"I’ll teach you a lesson or two about saying that shit!" yelled the sailor, moving threateningly towards him.
Ralph stood in front of him and planted two fingers under his chin, taking care to show off the gold buttons of his uniform.
"Annie! A round of drinks for these fine folks, my treat."
The sailor went back to his table muttering, spat in the old man's direction, and swilled his glass without a word.