Lord Leonard Aster stood on the docks in the chill of the early London morning. It was hours before he truly needed to be there, however, he preferred to be early rather than late. To any passerby, he looked quite the sight. An impeccably dressed high born was rarely seen around the docks at this time of day. His bright red outer coat only made him stand out among the sailors and chain-gang members even more. However, Aster barely noticed the looks being thrown his way – he was much too busy staring wistfully at the rising sun.
The red and gold hues of the sky reminded him of the color of his late wife’s hair, the way it would flash gold and copper when the sun hit in just the right way. He would always tease her, saying that God gave her hair to match her temper – a temper that their daughter seemed to have inherited. It still pained him, on occasion, to watch his daughter grow. She was so much like her mother – the same eyes, temper. When his wife had passed in childbirth, he had been tempted to name their daughter after her; but in the end, he chose to honor her wish to name their baby girl Molly. In a way, he was glad he had not named her Wendy – it would be a much too painful reminder with how much like her mother she grown to become. In some ways, it was painful enough just to watch her grow without her mother there for her. He had been forced to hire a nanny for her when she reached schooling age. He had been reluctant to leave her with another, yet she needed a woman’s influence in her life whether he liked it or not.
Aster gave one last, lingering look toward the horizon and turned back toward the carriage where Molly and her nanny slept. Once Aster opened the doors to the carriage, he small, sad smile broke out on his face. Molly was curled up in a little ball, sleeping snugly next to Mrs. Bumbrake on one of the benches. In sleep, she looked like the little girl he still imagined her to be. He sighed and smoothed back her hair; he would have to accept the fact that she was growing up – and soon, as she was to be on this mission with him. If he would have had it his way, Molly would still be at home, safe and snug in her bed with Mrs. Bumbrake to look after her – safe and secure in London instead of out on the sea. He kissed her on the forehead before heading back out onto the docks – he wasn’t going to be getting anymore sleep today, it seemed, so he’d best be getting things in order for the journey to come.
The Wasp, the ship he was to be journeying on, was nearly three-quarters of a kilometer down the harbor-side. Aster didn’t mind; it was still early morning and the walk gave him a chance to stretch his legs and be alone with his thoughts once more.
The mission he was about to embark on was one of great importance – and great danger – which was why he was so hesitant to bring Molly along. In his eyes, she was still much too young to be going out on Starcatcher missions, yet – as Molly was fond of pointing out – she was an apprentice. She had a right to help with his missions, a need even, if she were to learn how to be a real Starcatcher. This did not serve to dampen his fear, however. He had already lost her mother and he would not lose her too. Perhaps he could devise a way to keep her safe. Some sort of way he could keep her out of harm’s way – and out of trouble. Though, knowing Molly, she would find, or make, some sort of trouble to get into. That was just her way.
Aster wracked his brain trying to find a way to keep his daughter safe from harm while still letting her help on a mission. He couldn’t let her stay with him, no that was much too dangerous. He couldn’t just leave her here in London, she would never forgive him for that. It was out of the question to leave her with the trunk of starstuff that would be… The trunk… The decoy trunk! That was it! He could send Molly to the Neverland with the decoy trunk! It was the perfect plan; it would keep Molly safe and she could still –
“Lord Aster, sir.” Aster snapped from his thoughts and found himself nearly nose to nose with Captain Robert Falcon Scott, his old friend.
“Captain Scott! Forgive me, I was lost in my thoughts for the moment.”
“Of course, sir. What brings you to the docks so early? We don’t set sail for another hour at least.”
“I had hoped to arrive early in order to get everything settled. I had also hoped to discuss the plans with you, as they have changed recently.”
“Of course, sir.”
* * *
It had only taken about half an hour to fill Scott in on his new plan. The Captain seemed to agree with him on Molly being sent on the Neverland to keep her safe, but Aster couldn’t tell if Scott agreed for Molly’s sake or his own. Nevertheless, his Molly would be safe, and the mission would be completed.
Aster went back to the carriage accompanied by several of Scott’s men as well as men from the Neverland. They would begin carrying their luggage to their respective ships while Aster spoke to his daughter. When they arrived, Molly was already awake.
“Father! You’re back!” She launched herself into his arms, hugging him tightly. “Mrs. Bumbrake and I didn’t know where you had gone. We were worried.”
“Of course, Molly. I’m sorry for not leaving a note, but we need to talk for a moment, all right, dear?” Molly looked a bit crestfallen, as if she already knew what he was going to say.
“Of course, Father.” Aster led her over where he knew the sailors wouldn’t be able to hear them.
“The plans for the mission have changed. Instead of yo-“
“What happened? Did the trunk leak? Did the ship sink? Did something break? Did someone die? Did –”
“Molly! I need you to listen right now, do you hear me?”
“Yes, Father. I’m sorry for interrupting you…” Aster sighed. He hated to see his little girl sad.
“As I said, Molly, the plans have changed. You are now going to be traveling with the decoy trunk on the Neverland.”
“The Neverland? Why? Why can’t I go with you?”
“I know, Molly, I hate to make you go off on your own, but it will be much safer for you on the Neverland.”
“But, Father! I want to help you on your mission! I’m an apprentice Starcatcher! I want to learn!”
“I know, I know, my dear. Right now I need you to stay safe.”
“No, Molly. You will –”
“I want to help you!”
“Molly! You –”
“I want to help, you have to let me learn sometime”
“Young lady, you are –”
“You can’t keep me from going on missions! I’m going to be a Starcatcher! I want to go with you on the Wasp! I –”
“Molly Aster, you are going on the Neverland and that is Final!” The second the words left his lip, Aster regretted them. Molly’s lower lip began to tremble and tears formed in her eyes.
“Molly…” but before he could say anymore, she ran off towards the carriage, shutting herself in. Aster mentally slapped himself before chasing after her. He knocked on the carriage doors softly.
“Molly…?” no answer. “Molly? Would you open the door? Please?” It took a moment, but Molly cracked the door open before sitting on the opposite side of the carriage with her back to him. Aster sighed before moving to sit next to her.
“Molly, please. I’m so sorry, my dear. I never meant to yell, I’m so sorry… I hate seeing you so upset darling…” Molly slowly turned around and Aster felt like he’d been punched in the chest when he saw her tear stained face.
“I just want to help...” She sniffed and rubbed the tears from her cheeks.
“I know, my dear, I know…” He scooped her up and pulled her into his lap. “It’s just… this mission is exceedingly dangerous; you know what the king of Rundoon does to children.” Molly shivered in his arms and he pulled her closer, tucking her head under his chin.
“I just need to keep you safe, Molly. I can’t lose you too…” Aster felt his voice crack as he spoke those words. He buried his face in Molly’s hair for a moment, willing the tears away. When he pulled his face away, he felt Molly turn around in his arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly.
“I love you, Father.” Aster tightened his grip on her, pulling her close, once again willing away tears.
“I love you too, my sweet girl. I love you so much.” Molly pulled away, sniffing again. Aster smiled sadly and wiped away the leftover tears from her face.
“Tell you what, you can help on the next mission, no matter how anxious it makes me.”
“Promise.” Molly giggles, smiling for the first time. Aster knew he would regret that promise in the future, but right now his little girl was happy and that was all that mattered.
“Come now, Molly. We should be making our way toward the ships.” Molly wiped at her face once again, sniffing a few times.
“Okay, Father.” Aster took her hand and helped her out of the carriage. He went to let go, but Molly held on. Aster smiled to himself. Molly hadn’t held his hand in public in quite some time, now it gave him a small comfort.
Along the way, they made idle chit chat. Talking about anything from the weather to what Molly was learning that week. Aster had quite begun to enjoy himself when they practically ran some poor gentleman over. Aster was still collecting his thoughts when Molly spoke.
“Oh, sir! I am so sorry, we didn’t – Oh that is the most hideous, horrific eyesore of a shirt that I have ever seen!” Aster practically had an aneurism hearing his daughter be so rude.
“Molly! I am so sorry sir, my daughter normally isn’t this rude – though, I actually… have to agree with her. Where in the world did you get such a horrendous shirt?” The man in question was wearing a ruffled, fuchsia, bedazzled monstrosity of a shirt. The man himself was… rather handsome if Aster was being honest to himself. He was tall, his eyes were absolutely beautiful, like the sea of a stormy day, and he was sporting a rather impressive handlebar mustache. Other than his apparent fashion sense, he was an incredibly attractive man – an incredibly attractive man who looked rather put off by their comments.
“Well, I happen to think this shirt is rather nice! It has a lot of… what’s the word? Pinnacle? Pineapple? Panda?”
“Yes! That’s the word! Panache!”
“Well I suppose that fashion is an… individual choice. Again, I apologize, sir, but we must be on our way.” Aster made to leave but was stopped by the man.
“What’s the hurry? It’s such a fine day and we’ve barely gotten to know each other?” Aster once again attempted to get away.
“Really sir, we are in quite a rush…”
“Oh, come on! The ships don’t leave for another hour or so, there’s plenty of time to convention! Convert? Content? What’s the word?”
“Yes! That’s it!” Aster was beginning to see that there was no way out of this conversation himself, however, he hoped he could spare Molly.
“Mrs. Bumbrake why don’t you and Molly run ahead to the ship? I’ll meet you there in a moment.”
“It’s quite all right Molly, I’ll see you before you board.”
“Promise.” With that, Molly and Mrs. Bumbrake were heading off toward the Neverland.
“Alright good sir, why don’t we give this conversation a proper start by exchanging names?”
“The name’s, uh… Christian.”
“Lovely to meet you Christian, my name is Leonard Aster.” He held his hand out for Christian to shake, but was ignored as Christian passed him to begin walking down the docks.
“Lovely weather today, don’t you think?”
“I wouldn’t exactly call fog lovely.”
“It’s a pity the sun already rose, the stars are beautiful this time of year, you can see some lovely constellations.” Aster was taken aback.
“You know the word constellation but can’t remember the word converse?”
“Orion is especially prevalent this time of year, Canus Major and Minor are also incredibly bright.”
“You know… about astronomy?”
“Of course! A sea faring fellow like me always needs to know where they are! We use the stars at night for navigation!”
“Oh, of course, I never thought of that.”
“What constellation is your favorite?”
“I’m partial to Cygnus myself, swans are beautiful both in the heavens and on earth.”
Aster soon found himself drawn into the conversation – and to the man he was speaking with. They had lost all sense of time, enraptured with each other. They most likely would have gone on for hours had it not been for the call of all aboard.
“Unfortunately, time seems to have gotten away from us. I have to go, but it was wonderful speaking with you, Christian.”
“You as well, Leonard. I wish you safe journeys.” With that, Leonard turned back toward the ships, leaving the strange man behind – but not for long.