Trad’s grandfather had owned and captained a dozen ships. When Trad was thirteen years old, he took him aboard one, showed him deck and cargo, canvas and lines, wheel and rudder and the dance of the waves which really only earned a tempo once they left somber port behind. The port gates was the midnight line: All respectable folk stayed tucked on the proper side of it, while the rest of them made a revel of the open night on the other side.
The crew had laughed at him as he swayed on his feet, and his cheeks had burned. Clinging to the rail and the lines, he made sure it was the last day they had the opportunity to take their fun at his expense. He walked up and down the deck until dark, until he found the sweet balance of his feet. He learned every lesson his grandfather had to teach.
A decade later, it still wasn’t enough to keep him from gaping as he woke for his watch and found the horizon flattened to a perfect line of blue-green water touching blue-white sky.
He had never left land behind before.
He had never met waves this reckless.
He had never had to trust stars so thoroughly.
The strange new crew did not laugh outright as they worked around him, each with their leather wristbands and bodies trained to the wind and water since they were children. He was grudgingly grateful until he realized that they were shooting him looks that were otherwise reserved for the baby ferrets that gamboled around the ship. Quick glances, or watchful gazes that both said they found him adorable and likely to get caught in a small space with his feet over his head at any moment.
Trad grit his teeth. Silently, he put up with it until the panic of a flat horizon slowly bled out of his bones. He learned every lesson they had to teach. When the island finally came into view after three months on an ocean that knew war dances, he almost managed not to stare.
But Keala – daughter or granddaughter to some important woman on the crew who he hadn’t managed to point out – caught him just the same, and actually paused beside him to watch the narrow strip of earth widen under the misted clouds.
The dim shape of the island came first, stone and dirt steady in the middle of the lapping water. Then the height of it, building itself humbly toward the sky as they approached. The arms of the harbor reached toward them, man-made, piled boulders that had been there too long to be be bothered by the prattling current. The port itself stretched along the face of the land, measured and even as the water beneath it. Behind it, a curtain of wright houses hid the city from view until red and white stair-stepped roofs climbed the hills. The birds free-wheeled where they pleased, over the water and over the city, as if they saw no difference.
Keala smiled at it all, leaning lightly against the rail. “Nothing’s quite as beautiful as home,” she murmured.
Trad nodded without really agreeing. It was beautiful. More beautiful than any home he had ever kept, not that he felt any need to compare the two.
“You remember the deal?” Keala asked. She had barely lowered her tone, but he felt the sudden air of privacy, the quiet understanding that she had just tapped something serious.
“I’m here because my grandfather was a good man to you and yours,” he murmured.
She nodded without looking at him. “Used to let me ride his dog…”
Trad glanced at her. It wasn’t a story that he had heard before.
“And…” she said, still watching the island like she could coax it closer with a warm thought.
“And the trouble I’m running from doesn’t come with me,” Trad said, voice lower still. “It stays exactly where I left it.”
She pushed herself off the rail, pleased. “Good,” she said. She turned the smile on him, though it seemed built for something else. “Welcome to Adreyva.”