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The battered airship creaked in feeble protest as the mooring lines were winched tighter, tethering it to the landing dock. As the ship was forced lower, the grumbling of the overworked engines sent a faint shudder rippling through the entire structure, too mild for most people to feel. Ophelia Winter, however, was not most people. Her grasp on the brass handrail that circled the passenger lounge tightened imperceptibly as an answering vibration rattled the steel in her bones. She wished she'd had the funds necessary to travel aboard a newer ship, or at least one that had been better maintained, but she'd already stretched her meager finances as far as they would go. If things did not work out as she hoped, she wasn't sure what her next step should be. She prayed she need never find out.
Metal scraped wood and the ship lurched slightly as it finally touched down upon the planks, this time with enough force to jostle the passengers gathered in the lounge. A rumble of displeasure circulated through the room but Ophelia paid it no mind. Such discomfort was to be expected when traveling, especially when one's circumstances were so greatly reduced.
While a few of her fellow passengers were travelers from the still-wealthy Louisiana territories, Ophelia knew most of those on board were not. The majority were emigrants from the newly defeated Union. People who'd lost their homes or their livelihood in the chaos that had followed hard on the heels of the Confederate victory and who were now hoping for a fresh start in this burgeoning new country.
People who, in that respect at least, were not so different from herself.
She stared out one of the ship's round portholes at the surrounding countryside. The pale earth was dusted with snow, but was otherwise rocky and bare except for the few twisted trees that clung to the craggy hills. Unlike many of the others, Ophelia knew this place well. She knew how hard and unyielding, how frustratingly difficult, it could be at times. Quite like many of its inhabitants, in fact. Still, as she also remembered, and all too well, it was surprisingly easy to overlook its flaws in moments such as these, when the light of the setting sun had spread itself like a blanket over the harsh winter landscape, warming it, softening the sharp edges, turning everything a gentle shade of pink.
All things considered, it appeared this part of New Texacali had changed very little in the years since she was here last. Ophelia wasn't quite sure how she felt about the lack of progresseither comforted, or desperately and depressingly nostalgic.
"What sort of trees are those, Mama?" a small voice piped at her side. "I don't believe I recognize them."
Ophelia smiled fondly down at her son. "There's no earthly reason you should, Arthur, since they're a kind of tree you've never seen before. Those are piñon. They do not grow back East."
"Piñon," Arthur repeated thoughtfully.
Just hearing the word spoken aloud, for the first time in years, called up sense memories. Ophelia remembered the soft sigh of the wind rustling in the branches, the bright crackle of fire on a cold winter's night, the spicy fragrance of resin, so different from the pine trees she knew back home in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania.
"Will Papa be here on the dock to meet us?" Arthur asked hopefully, bringing Ophelia's thoughts back to the present.
"No, love. Your father is unaware of our arrival, as yet. I decided not to write ahead of time to let him know we'd be coming."