ome years later I returned to the city, now just one port of call among many on the coastal route to Caladon. Praetor had humbled Black Root, broken her to his will; I could not help but hate him a little for it, as I hate any man who must break, and tame, and humble a thing which was better left wild. Twenty years gone was the sea wall which once encircled this harbor, shattered by the catapults and rams the king brought with him to war; gone too are the city's sleek swift warships, ships that once danced on the water like living things, their bright pennants snapping in the wind. They all burned, the doomed men aboard screaming like the very damned, on that terrible night when Praetor's dragon ships sacked the town.
The last memory of the old days is the charred and broken timber which once supported the docks; at low tide the spars still break the surface of the water, dark and rotten, a cruel reminder of the magickal oil that they call Cumbrian Fire. Looking down at them as our ship passed, I could not help but remember my last agonizing vision of Black Root, years before: the harbor an unbroken sheet of evil green flame, and Praetor's demonic oil climbing out of the fire to devour every wooden surface it touched like a savage disease; the once-proud fleet of Black Root all alight and helpless in that burning sea, sails billowing in the hot wind of their own destruction; the sailors climbing higher and higher up the rigging, trying to escape the relentless flames, and finally leaping to their deaths in the hungry waves below; the one gallant captain who still held the helm of her ruined frigate and turned it into the wind, bringing the vessel about to leap like a dying wolf for the throat of the king's flagship; and behind it all the city's waterfront slowly surrendering to the conflagration, the witch-fire clawing higher and higher into the night sky until it seemed that all the world would burn.
And yet, it must be said, Black Root has recovered herself well for all that. Upon my return I found the new docks already weathered by several hard winters, the warehouses rebuilt, and the tavern they call the Sour Barnacle not much worse for wear. The shipwrights of Black Root, although they no longer build those legendary privateers of old, have not forgotten all they knew of their art; they still have the skill to make and repair a good sound ship, when they have occasion. And although by treaty they are forbidden to build a navy of their own, Cumbria's king still allows the odd trade ship to launch from their shipyards…