1 Prologue

The morning had risen quietly, in its accustomed way, with the sun peeking over the horizon like a little child that was playing hide-and-go- seek with another. From there, it gradually rose into the clear heavens, which were presently rosy with the arrival of dawn; eventually, when the sun had finally struggled its way into the blue ether, it smiled beams down upon the denizens of its kingdom, the Day. The stars had tried to fight valiantly against its even greater light, but had failed; now, all that remained of the night sky was a tiny sliver of moon that barely showed against the clear blue sky.

It was a bright, crisp autumn morn, promising to be an even more beautiful day, and the peace that had come with the night was now leaving with the darkness. People had already been awake, though, before sunrise; one of them was Frau von Rükkar, who was bed-ridden after just having given birth to her sixth child and first son, Erik Gabriel.

The child's cries had rent the air before the sun had even begun to dare a peek over the far horizon, and were perhaps the reason why it had taken the monarch of the daytime sky so long to rise onto his throne. In any case, Erik Gabriel was silent now; so was his mother, who was content to stare lovingly at the child she held in her arms. He, in turn, gazed back up at her with innocent blue eyes, bright as the sky, and said nothing; his father had deemed him unusually silent, but his mother had told her husband that he would speak eventually.

The father accepted this piece of wisdom with a nod.

The sun had been risen for a full hour before the newborn's six sisters were let in, one at a time. The first was Elizabeth, nicknamed Ilse, who was the eldest among the lot and exceeded her new brother's age by eight years; following was little Maddalyn, seven years old, who greeted her new brother with a bright smile and a "Guten Tag, mein Bruder." After her came Emilie, six years old, blond-haired and eternally happy, whose only response to her brother's blue-eyed gaze was a pearly grin; and then entered, successively, Adele, four years old; Katharine, three years old; and Lotte. They all seemed delighted with the addition to their family, except perhaps Lotte, who was two and had obviously been the baby of the family up until that point. It is doubtful, though, that she fully comprehended Erik Gabriel's presence until much later.

When the last one was ushered out, the father turned to his wife and said, "You understand that he probably will not wish to be called Erik Gabriel."

She nodded in reply, before saying, "He may call himself what he wishes, but he is named for my father and an angel, and he will prove himself to be worthy of both names."

The father nodded once again, before walking out and shutting the door behind him, leaving the mother to her new child.

* * *

"I think that his eyes will be green . . ."

"No, blue! Did you not see them just then?"

"Oh, but they always change colors," the first- Ilse- said matter-of- factly. "Mutti told me so."

"But not always," countered the second, who happened to be little Maddalyn. "Mutti also told you that they sometimes stay the same. I heard her."

Ilse formed a small pout on her childish lips, directed towards her younger sister, and said, "I still think that his eyes will be green."

Maddalyn just smiled, and said, "You will see. With eyes that blue, how can they change? It would be a crime committed by nature. He has the most hübsch eyes. I would be very sad if they were to become a different color."

The pout on Ilse's face faded, before she finally replied, "I suppose so. They are a wonderful blue, after all . . . just like Vater's!"

"Ja, that is true," came the younger sister's answer; and then, the two of them fell silent. They remained this way for a few moments, until Emilie walked up behind them.

"Is not little Erik Gabriel so beautiful?" she gushed, giving her characteristic pearly smile. Her two elder siblings both nodded in reply, before the six-year-old continued with, "He is going to be so handsome whenever he grows! You know it, as well. He is already a wonderful child now, though Papa said that he was 'unusually silent.' I heard him through the door. Papa speaks very loudly, sometimes . . ."

Her voice gradually faded away, but her white grin did not. She looked at her two sisters for a moment, before eventually turning around and going to play with her dolls.

This left the elders of all the children in silence, and they could only gaze at each other in quiet understanding of something beyond them; and, thus completed with their spoken conversation, they went to join Emilie.

* * *

The six-year-old's prediction proved to true. But it went beyond that- Erik Gabriel became outgoing as soon as he learned to talk, which was rather early, and delighted in following his sisters around. He soon let it be known, though, that he wished to be called "Dryden," for reasons that he kept secret and puzzled everyone else when they gave thought to it. All of them were wrong, though, in predicting how he would act; he proved himself to be quite the daredevil, terrifying and amazing his sisters simultaneously with his constant stunts. It worried his mother, however, who didn't want her son to, say, fall and break his neck, or injure himself in some other way.

His age never bothered him. Ever since he had learned to walk, he had put himself in the most dangerous situations, if something happened to go awry. It proved entertaining to his sisters, if nothing else, and it was frequently their mother alone who stooped in for the rescue; the mentality of little Erik Gabriel's father was that his son would learn from his mistakes, if he hurt himself. But his Mutti wouldn't have it that way.

It had become apparent from the very beginning that little black- haired "Dryden's" mother was very close to her only son, though she showered him with no more attention than she did the rest of her children. This fact could be proved, though, in that she was the only one who would rescue her son from the situations he put himself in. We have already described his father's mentality towards this; his elder siblings would just watch in a sort of terror-stricken awe, but were prepared to go running for their Mutti if anything went wrong, and Dryden managed to hurt himself.

Dryden also let it be known at an early age that he had intentions of being a whaler whenever he grew up. He proved this to be true by chasing after imaginary whales, and explaining to anyone who would listen that he was a harpooneer, just like his cousin, Siegfried, who had been out at sea whenever Erik Gabriel was born. But the black-haired child remembered once, when his tall, lanky relative had visited him, after having just arrived back in port; that one impression was enough, and now Dryden let everyone know that he was the best and most famous harpooneer in his unseen whaling fleet.

His Papa, however, was convinced that the little black-haired boy would eventually give up the hunting of imaginary whales, whether he liked it or not, and join him in the prestigious family law business. Every now and then, when he would catch the miniature harpooneer in pursuit of his invisible quarry, he would stop the boy and tell him just what his plans for him were. Little Dryden would squirm and wriggle, before saying in his own little devil-may-care manner, "Dryden grow up to be a whale hunter. You see."

And then, he would run off; and his Papa would just sigh.

The black-haired child's imaginary passion was a source of delight for his sisters, too, when he made great show of giving them a box of unseen spermaceti candles for the use of their dolls. They had accepted his gift with equal show, and much gratitude, except for little Lotte- she just gave her headstrong pout and told the heroic harpooneer that she couldn't see any candles. That was the point when her brother would laugh, and tell her that she could only see them if she chose to see them.

It was a foreshadowing of his future attitude.

But, all in all, the childhood of Erik Gabriel Ritter von Rükkar, self-named Dryden, was a happy one, until he reached age six.

* * *

Mutti had been in her room all day, with the door closed. He had seen adults walking in and out with his once-blue eyes, now metamorphosing into a darker color; a few times, he had seen Papa come out, before going back into the room and shutting the heavy oaken door behind him. Ilse seemed to understand, and so did Maddalyn and Emilie; the rest of his sisters were in a sort of ignorant bliss as to what was happening behind the closed door. He could've been that way, too, but his curious nature prevented him from being content with what little he knew.

And so he was impatient to know what was being kept from him for the whole day. Right now, he was too worried about his dear Mutti to go chasing after the unseen whales that plagued the invisible waters of his house, and so he sat himself in the parlor and watched the adults going into and coming out from his Mutti's room. They never said anything; they all looked grim, and silent, and they only thing he ever heard from them was the soft murmur of voices coming from the other side of the door, as they talked amongst themselves.

They were in there for hours, and for an equally long time did he watch them from his vantage point, never saying a word himself, but only staring at the heavy door that separated him from his Mutti. Even his sisters, who would occasionally come by and ask him why he wasn't hunting whales to-day, couldn't budge him from his position. He refused to move, a habit that he would maintain whenever he grew older; it was a sign of worry, and even a bit of childish consternation, at this age.

The sun was beginning to sink slowly into the western horizon whenever his Papa came out for the final time, shaking his head and obviously trying to hold back the tears that were pricking in his bright blue eyes. Little Dryden watched on silently as his father walked over to a place where he thought he could not be seen, laid his face in his hands, and began to convulse with silent sobs.

The black-haired child watched this for a few moments, before he went over to Papa and, standing on his tip-toes, tugged on the man's rolled-up shirt sleeve. "Vater," he said, still tugging, "Vater, what is wrong?"

His Papa gave one last sniff, wiped his eyes with his handkerchief, before turning to the little boy and saying, "Mama died giving birth to your new brother."

At first, the child didn't seem to understand; the darkening eyes held a confused look, full of worry, before it finally hit him when his father said, "Mama is gone, and she cannot come back."

The child began to sob, and threw himself into his father's arms; Papa held him closely to his breast, whispering, "It is all right, Dryden, Erik Gabriel; it is all right."

* * *

Friedrich Manfred proved to look more like his mother than anyone else, and this presented a constant sorrow to his Papa, who was still grieving over the loss of Frau von Rükkar. He was innocence made a child, and never did anything wrong; he proved to be quite the opposite of rambunctious Dryden, who sought solace from his mother's death in his imaginary whaling fleet. His heart wasn't the same, though, and never would be- for even when he grew old, he would still have nightmares about the death of his precious Mutti.

His younger brother seemed to grow fast; before anybody knew it, he himself was already six, the age that Dryden had been when his mother died. Erik Gabriel himself was now twelve, and his dream of one day being a whaler was swiftly becoming a reality.

This the preteen told to his father one morning, with the old devil- may-care attitude present in his voice. His father was opposed to it; but, deciding that if he didn't want Erik Gabriel to go on further voyages, he should let him on this one just to see how truly horrid a business it was that Dryden wanted to go into.

How wrong that proved to be.

Dryden returned after three years at sea a changed boy; he was now fifteen, tall and broad-shouldered, though still slender for his rather sturdy build. And what he had done would have made his mother cry her eyes out- he now displayed proudly, on the back of his right a hand, a powder- blue tattoo of an Eizernes Kreuz, an Iron Cross.

He had told his father, not bothering to hide his freshly-tattooed hand behind his back, that he had intents of shipping for another voyage, this time as a harpooneer; and his Papa seemed aghast at his first son joining in such a business, not to mention just the thought of Dryden handling such a weapon. Erik Gabriel, now even more of a daredevil, told him with an inflated devil-may-care attitude that he had made a friend on board, almost ten years older than him, who had taught him how to pitch a harpoon with deadly accuracy.

That powder-blue Iron Cross seemed to mock his father cruelly as the son told him that he couldn't stay on shore long, he was going out to sea again soon; but he had to wait for the ship he had already signed on to finish being fitted out for sea. Now, though, his dream of being a harpooneer like Siegfried had come true; that was what he was shipping as.

So it was the Erik Gabriel Ritter von Rükkar, called Dryden, stopped chasing after imaginary whales and began hunting real ones.

Every night that he was home, which amounted to be not very many, his Papa worried about his safety when he would be out at sea; Dryden himself didn't do much to assure him, especially not by proving how much more of a daredevil he had become by shimmying up the chimney one morning, in the process scaring the life out of Friedrich Manfred and the sisters that remained at home.

For, just before Dryden's return, Ilse had married; and, right now, she and her new husband had just gotten back from their honeymoon, and were very briefly staying at the home of the von Rükkar family. Dryden could only smile in what his new brother-in-law would think of a tattooed fifteen- year-old who was signing on for his second whaling voyage as a harpooneer.

He didn't stay at home very long; he managed to be there just enough to get to talk to the rest of his sisters again, as well as little Friedrich Manfred. But, before any of them could really say what had happened, Dryden was out on the sea again, fulfilling his dream of one day hunting whales.

* * *

"I am sure that you will like him . . . although, you must keep in mind that he has just come back from being out at sea for three years; he might be a bit different than he normally is . . . but I do doubt that. Dryden always manages to stay the same, no matter what happens to him."

Ilse's quick explanation to her husband, Karl, to whom she had been married for three years now, was accompanied by a look of happiness, if not mixed with a bit of worry. The eldest sister of the von Rükkar family smiled up at her taller spouse, and said, almost to reassure herself more than Karl, "I am more than only sure that you will like Dryden . . ."

"So am I, Ilse."

She looked abruptly away as the sound of the heavy iron knocker on her family's door rang out over the stillness. "He is here!" Ilse exclaimed excitedly, before taking Karl by the hand and running to the front door; she was too happy about seeing her long-gone brother to allow one of the servants to answer it.

As soon as the door opened, her hand flew up to her mouth; how little daredevil Dryden had changed!

He was extremely tall now, probably a couple of inches over six feet; this caused his shoulders to slope downwards more than a bit, making them look not nearly so broad. His was dressed in a large black coat, which only opened a bit at the throat to show the white shirt he wore underneath; and sticking up above that was the equally pale collar, wrapped about in- of course- black. He was, as usual, hatless, allowing his thick coal-colored bangs to fall freely over his eyes, although they naturally swept off to one side and gave him a chance to see. Her eighteen-year-old brother also seemed a bit darker, though he had always been that way; maybe it was just because he was standing a bit in shadow, she didn't know. But the thing that seemed to really throw her off was the fact that he held, in his right hand- the tattooed one- a harpoon that was only a few inches shorter than he. Drawn loosely around its barbs was a little leathern pouch which had been there through all of his land journey homeward. All of his worldly possessions were in a little carpet-bag that he had slung over his shoulder.

Dryden set this down in the doorway, and leaned his harpoon up against the side of his house, before he bounded forward and embraced his much shorter sister; he actually lifted her into the air for a moment, before saying, "It has been long, Ilse. Did you get into any trouble while I was away?"

This was accompanied with a devilish smile; herself smiling broadly, Ilse replied, "Oh, I have only married and raised a child. How was your voyage?"

He laughed, and said, "Wonderful. We sailed home with a hold full to the bursting point. I suppose I am a better harpooneer than I initially thought."

There was a split second where silence reigned, before Ilse turned to her spouse and said, "I would like to introduce you to Karl, who I married while you were only fifteen. Do you remember him, at all? You two met very briefly, before you were out at sea again, Dryden."

The eighteen-year-old stepped forward and offered his tattooed right hand to Karl, who accepted it with a handshake and a "Guten Tag, mein Herr."

"I vaguely remember you," the black-haired teen said, still smiling. "We did not get to speak much, but I do not believe you very much liked the idea of a tattooed fifteen-year-old. But that is my problem, not yours. Many people think that I should not have done that." He laughed. "In any case, I believe I have spoken enough. I hope you are joyful in your marriage?"

"Ja, mein Herr," Karl replied; "I could not be any happier with Ilse. We have a son, now, who is two years old; Ilse insisted on naming him Erik, although he received Karl as a middle name. So, he is named after his uncle, both of his grandfathers, and his father, all in one. Very clever, hmm?" Ilse's husband smiled.

Dryden replied by giving his brother-in-law's hand one last, firm shake, before turning and picking up his things; Ilse paled visibly at the thought of him bringing his weapon into the house. Noticing this, the eighteen-year-old glanced at it, before asking of his sibling, "Must I part with it? I managed to save this from the bodies of three dead whales. It has become my favorite iron. Do not worry, I will not let anyone other than myself touch it."

Ilse finally nodded a bit, but she was still pale; she watched Dryden shoot up the steps to his room, which had been preserved for him while he was gone. When he came back down, he was empty-handed, and had removed the large black coat to reveal that he had rolled the sleeves of his white shirt up to his elbows.

Arriving at the foot of the stairs, he asked, "Where is everyone else?", to which Ilse replied, "They are waiting for you outside, in the garden."

"If I had known that," Dryden mused, smiling devilishly once again, "I would have simply hopped the gate to reach them all. It is not nearly so difficult as trying to stay awake at the mast-head on your first watch."

So saying, the eighteen-year-old led his sister and his brother-in- law out to where everyone else was.

He seemed to be mobbed simultaneously by his five other sisters, two of whom- Maddalyn and Emilie- were also married, and the other three being courted. They all clung happily to their brother, who was doing all he could do stand up under their combined weight. After they had removed themselves from him, he noticed Friedrich- now himself a preteen- standing off to one side. His older brother began to extend his arms for a moment, but then stopped, corrected himself, and offered the tattooed right hand instead. Friedrich beamed with pride as he shook his sibling's hand, while Dryden told him, "You have grown so much since I left . . . are you sure that you are my little Bruder Friedrich, and not some man who has taken his place while I was away?"

The devilish grin was still present as he glided away to meet his other two brothers-in-law, who each greeted him with a warm "Guten Tag." Then, that being done, the black-haired harpooneer turned to his father, and embraced him.

It was quite the happy reunion, all in all, and they stayed talking in the garden until sundown.

* * *

The next morning, Dryden was the first one stirring in the house; it was empty and silent, so, after wandering around for a few moments, he locked himself in his room, got dressed, and then went out into the garden. Almost unknowingly, he hefted his harpoon in one hand and took that with him, too.

By the time he was outside, he realized what he had done; but, reasoning that he didn't particularly want to go back to his room just to put his favorite iron back up, he kept it with him. For a few moments, he only stood still, enjoying the fresh morning air and watching the same great sun that had arrived with his birth so long ago, rise into the morning sky, its throne over the Kingdom of the Day. He let the silence reign for a moment; then, in search of something to do, he took his harpoon and began to perfect his aim on the knot-hole of a giant old oak.

The morning air was rent with the sounds of his iron imbedding itself into the tree bark numerous times, being hauled back in quickly each time; the harpooneer himself was silent, content only to perfect his art.

This was how Friedrich found him when he ventured outside, fully dressed, an hour later. His older brother had just nailed the knothole for what seemed to be the hundredth time, and was in the process of hauling his weapon back in when the eighteen-year-old noticed his sibling standing a few steps behind him. He turned, and somewhat laughingly said, "So you finally decided to awake, Friedrich? I have been in such a state since before the sun rose."

His twelve-year-old brother nodded in reply, his gaze fastened to the barbs on the weapon his tattooed sibling held in his hands, before lifting his eyes to ask his brother, "May I see it?"

Dryden looked down to the weapon he clutched, then back towards Friedrich; the smile faded a bit, and he said, "I am afraid that I cannot allow this. Ilse would faint if she even knew that this was not safely locked in my room; and I promised to her that I alone would handle it. If you are so fascinated, however," he continued, noticing the downcast look in his brother's eyes, "I can demonstrate to you how to pitch it, though I have been doing that all morning, and it might bore you."

Instantly, Friedrich brightened, and he replied, "I would be quite happy! I have always wanted to see how my older Bruder threw his iron, ever since I heard that you had become a harpooneer."

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