Flash Fiction: How to Break Rules (744 words)

Silas opened his door sleepily, one hand on his head to keep his hair out of his eyes, though they were barely open. It was past midnight, and the whole house had been dark for hours.

“Zain?” he said.

Zain smiled down at him, hands resting in the pockets of his jacket, shoes still a little wet from the streets outside. “Hey,” he said.

“Why aren’t you asleep?” Silas asked.

“Oh, I don’t sleep,” Zain said. “Haven’t since I was six. Waste of time, really.”

Silas opened one eye wider to examine his face, but that was all he would spare. He squinted up at him for a moment, and then shut both eyes again and rubbed over them. “You’re lying.”

Zain nodded. “You’re sharp, you are.”

“Why are you here?” Silas asked.

“Well, I’ve got a question for you,” Zain told him.

“At midnight?” Silas looked at him again, inspired by incredulity to open his eyes a little wider.

“Yeah,” Zain said. “It couldn’t wait. Father says he’s been trying to get you a place on a ship.”

“Trying,” Silas repeated. He let the door fall open a little farther so he could lean his narrow shoulders against the frame. He rubbed his hand across his face again, hung his head like it was a little to heavy to be carrying around.

“For two years now,” Zain said.

Silas just nodded.

“And you want it?” Zain asked.

Silas looked up again him again, apparently judging that that was worth another wide-eyed look. “Of course,” he said.

Zain smiled. “Don’t say of course. I only met you a week and a half ago. But if I was a magical dolphin father and I could cast a spell that had you shipping out at the end of the week, what would you say?”

“Where are your fins?” Silas said, doubtful.

Zain snickered, rocked back and grinned at his little brother. “Believe or not, that was actually serious.”

“The end of the week?” Silas repeated. Quickly, he started to look more awake. He took a breath and straightened. He picked his shoulder up off the door frame. His eyes sharpened on Zain’s face, but still held their doubtful edge. “On something other than a fish hooker?”

“On a hauler,” Zain promised him. “High end. They have a contract with a weaver’s house on Lesser, and on Tempen, and a winery, I think. And any year the weavers or vintners have a good year, they go landside.”

Silas brightened further. “Who’s the Captain?”

“Britomartis. She’s tough, but that will make a real sailor out of you,” Zain said. He leaned forward, held Silas’ eye with the most sober look he’d mustered so far. “And tough Captains make for good ships. Take my word for it. Better a few hard rules you can depend on than the thousand shifting ones that get made when no one holds them at all.”

Silas blinked at him again. For a moment, he looked sleepy again, eyes dropping lazily, and then Zain realized he’d seen that look before from his mother when she started to smell one of his jokes coming. “It’s easier to break them that way, isn’t it?” Silas asked.

Zain swallowed his next sentence, and paused. Silas knew him too well already. “It’s easier to know the consequences and know whether I actually want to,” he allowed.

“What’s she called?” Silas asked.

“The Winter Woman,” Zain said.

Silas looked suddenly away, head turned over his shoulder as if to look out the window. “That’s in harbor right now.”

“That’s why you’d be on it by the end of the week,” Zain said pleasantly. “Rumor is that Britomartis’ is picking up another contract so she could build another ship knowing that she’d be able to fill its docket, too.”

“Are you going to give me advice about ambitious captains now?” Silas asked.

Zain shook his head. “I haven’t a shred of experience with them. My Captain has always owned half the world I walked on.”

“But you can really get me aboard?” Silas asked.

Zain nodded.

“Without stowing away?”

Zain chuckled again. He pulled his hand out of his pocket, and held the deck of cards between them. “Have you ever played Capture?”

Silas eyed the cards, then him, then shook his head. “No,” he said, and sounded a little sorry.

“Then yes,” Zain told him. He held his grin back as much as he could. “I can get you aboard.”

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