Silas was rarely awake in time to see the sun come up, let alone up, dressed, and walking outside in the crisp last moments of darkness. The air was chillier than he thought it should be, but it had been less than half an hour since he had been asleep under a stack of warm blankets as thick as his arm. It could have been the comparison that made him tuck his chin into the collar of his coat, not the actual bite in the fall air.
It was quieter than he expected too. He had never been so aware of the pattern of the pavement on the main streets, but without a crowd, or even a single passerby, the rectangular, cross-hatched bricks were the most interesting thing in sight. All the doors they passed were closed, as were the windows, except for the few that had swung half open in a forgotten way, like they had bounced when someone slammed them shut. The seller’s carts that took up space on certain street corners were now only boarded up boxes, and while the breeze touched his hair idly, there was nothing hanging out for it to toy with. He expected an echo of his heels at least, but even that noise seemed to be missing, dulled into nothing in the city still asleep.
Silas’ mother walked on his left, while his older brother, Zain lazily strode a few paces to his right. Neither of them had spoken since they left the house, though they would usually have kept up a steady stream of idle conversation. Silas looked up at them, then decided that if the silence had sunk that deep in them, there was no need for him to break it.
He shifted his bag to a more comfortable spot on his shoulder and followed them through the straight streets that cut uninterrupted through the city.
After a few minutes, the silence felt comfortable. Silas stretched his legs and enjoyed their simple, unhurried pace while the sky slowly grayed into morning. Either the chill faded, or he got used to it, and he appreciated the lack of heat as he carried his packed bag a little farther, and the light exercise shook him fully awake.
When they approached the docks, Silas’ mother slowed, then a dozen paces later, stopped. Zain came to a halt when she did. Silas took two steps past them, then turned, questioning.
The quiet held, but they met his eye, and his mother smiled. Silas glanced between the two of them, and wrapped both his hands around the strap of his bag. The sky was turning yellow behind the city, the low clouds the last thing to cling to their shadows.
“This is as far as we go,” his mother murmured.
Silas hesitated before he replied. His pulled on his bag. “Really?” he asked. “You can’t even see the docks yet.”
“Ten more steps and you will,” his mother said gently.
Silas glanced over his shoulder. It just looked like more street to him, but there was a corner to turn. He couldn’t remember what the turn opened onto, but he was sure she was right.
“It’s a tradition in my family,” she told him. “To say good-bye the first time you take to the water where no one from your ship can see. You board it on your own. You meet it on your own. Because it’s yours, not ours.”
Zain shoved his hands into his pockets and shrugged a little when Silas looked to him. At any other time of day, he would have said something equal parts ridiculous and unnecessary, but now, he said nothing.
Silas blinked. “I think it’s actually Captain Britomartis’s ship,” he muttered. He flicked a quick look at his mother. She was smiling broadly.
“Yes,” she agreed immediately. “I won’t tell you not to forget it, because I’ve heard how she runs that ship, and there won’t be a moment when you can forget. She owns it, every timber, nail, and line.” She paused and the quickness fell out of her tone. “But it’s also yours, at least for a little while.”
“And if you see it, it won’t be mine anymore?” Silas asked doubtfully.
Zain shook his head. “Nope,” he murmured. “We’ll just think it’s so darn fine, we’ll pick it up between the two of us and take it back home for a new centerpiece on the dining room table.”
“I think it would make a better hat,” Silas told him.
“If Momma gets tired of it on her table, I’ll wear it,” Zain assured him. His voice was so calm. He usually made his jokes and waggled his eyebrows or flashed a grin, waiting for the whole world to laugh with him, but today he seemed content to let the world hold onto its silence and he simply smiled to himself.
Silas smiled lightly too, but glanced between them hesitantly. “You can come with me,” he told them, uncertain. “I don’t mind.”
“We could, and I would like to,” his mother told him. “But I’m not going to take this from you, the chance to start something this new without having things that know you – too well – staring directly over your shoulder.”
Silas blinked at her.
“Maybe you’ll take advantage of that freedom, and maybe you won’t, but this is the only time you can count on walking onto a ship without a reputation trailing you,” she continued evenly. “If you ever wanted the chance to tell the world what you want for yourself, and have it listen, have it change for you, this is your best bet. And, I think, if you take that from yourself, you’ll wish you hadn’t later. Whenever you realize that you can’t take home with you out on the water, you can only make it.”
Slowly, Silas examined her expression. She was almost smiling, and otherwise relaxed, while her eyes met his. As quietly as she stood, he didn’t even feel the intensity of that until he had held her gaze for a longer moment than usual. She was entreating him to believe her, and even that was so subtle that he could feel the weight of it and carry it without a thought that it was too much. He took a breath, and shifted his hands on his bag, then shrugged helplessly.
“All right,” he said. But he stepped back toward her, and wrapped her in a tight, one-armed hug before she could tell him what else might be traditional. She hugged him back, just as fiercely, and didn’t let go until he did. She kissed him on top of his head.
Turning to Zain, Silas waved awkwardly, eyebrows high.
Zain grinned at his joke, and waved back.
“Good luck,” he said.
“Thanks,” Silas said.
He turned his back to them, still looking over his shoulder until he had to move one foot in front of the other to continue on his way. The sky ahead of him was turning blue now in its palest shades. The air was still crisp, but the breeze kicked up to meet him, dragging his hair back from his face. He wasn’t entirely sure what sort of world was waking.
My friends are thieves! A whole gang of them has stolen the first line of this piece to write fiction of their own. Be sure to check them out to see what they’re doing in the early hours of the morning.