Legal Theft Flash Fiction: Fog Lift (498 words)

The basin of Aldret’s harbor was overflowing with fog, buried in the shifting weight of the seasons. Summer had faded. Heavy fall had stepped into its place, with all the threat and promise of heavier winter pressing in behind. The air was stiff even while the wind wasn’t bending bone, and the world seemed to have shrunk. The sharp tips of all three of the Catis‘ masts were cut off in a sky hung too low.

Tamra waited at the rail of the upper deck as the ship drifted into port. She had gone still, minutes or hours ago, hands relaxed, stance balanced against the roll of the deck. She measured a long breath in and a long breath out, dumb in an unreasoned belief that her steadiness mattered.

The water sighed.  Every echo hid in the damp air. The timbers creaked. The Catis‘ canvas was bound up in silence and the hull eased through the water, heavy and careful.

She tried not to listen to the creak of the other ship, drifting along their starboard side, taking advantage of the same fog lift to slip into port.

Tamra’s stomach twisted, just a little, at a creak that was almost a crack. Canvas clapped, uneven, the sound of it so obviously torn. Their own echo almost covered the shiver in the other ship’s rudder, but the fog wasn’t quite heavy enough to gloss over the scarring along her bow. The fore rail was broken. One mast was held together by a coil of rope, wound from deck to spar, dark and tar-slicked to hold it tight. But the ship sailed, slow and careful. And clumsy.

Tamra watched the distance between them. She traced every break in the line of the other ship. She steadied herself more firmly. Her feet. Shoulders. Breath.

“It’s hard to look at,” the Captain murmured beside her. Both elbows propped against the rail, Captain Mairin clasped her hands together, rubbing her thumbs smoothly over each other. Again. And again. Her shoulder blades stood out under her jacket, head sunk low.

Tamra took another breath, half turning toward the other woman. She blinked, realizing she hadn’t been looking at the ship – at anything – for a few minutes. She had only been listening. To the crack of the timbers. To the clapping. To the sigh and grumble in the water.

“It didn’t used to be, before I was a navigator,” Tamra replied, just as hushed.

Mairin’s mouth twisted at the corners. Her laugh was nearly silent. “Before it could be your fault?”

It wasn’t really a question. Tamra didn’t have to answer.

Mairin laughed a moment longer, and it sounded a little like a sigh at the end. “Don’t worry,” she said. She pushed herself up off the rail, mouth still twisted up at the corners. Rocking back a step, she prepared to move on. “Me too.”

My friends are thieves! Back in July, I challenged them to steal a navigator from me. It turns out, I can be robbed even before I have one myself. Clever, clever thieves.

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