Your gods are dead./ See the blood drenched heavens./ The Crimson Rain falls.
Tristan clutched the railing. He couldn’t decide which had betrayed him more—his shaking legs or his churning stomach. He didn’t want to go on deck just yet. He’d much rather go back to his bunk. But the captain had ordered everyone on deck to see what happened to anyone who defied orders. If Tristan defied this order, would he be punished too? He was only a passenger after all.
The sun flickered through the clouds. Not enough light to be day, not enough dark to be night. Tristan breathed the damp air deeply and gazed over the blood-red sea.
“If you decide to puke, make sure you hold on tight to the rail,” said a dark-haired sailor. “Passengers offing themselves in the water isn’t good for business.” He grinned.
Tristan managed a weak smile. “I can’t very well die now. My adventures have just started. This is just to show how weak I am so that when I reach the heights described in the prologue, it will be even more amazing.”
The young sailor stared at him blankly. “Prologue? Did you hit your head on the way up? It sometimes takes people a while to get used to a ship’s motion.”
“No. I was just thinking what it would be like years from now when someone is telling my story. There’d be a prologue before because all good adventures start with a prologue. My name is Tristan. Maybe some day you’ll hear of me.”
“And everyone calls me Kay.” The sailor’s grin returned. “Not that it matters since no one will remember it for long after I’m gone.”
“Of course they will!” Tristan protested. “You’re the first person to introduce yourself to me on my journey so you must be destined to become my best friend and comrade in arms. Every hero needs a lieutenant to back him up.”
Kay laughed. “I can’t be your lieutenant or comrade. I’m a sailor—either on this ship or another, it doesn’t matter. You can go be a hero if you like but I have to make sure all passengers stay here for the execution. So stand there, like a good boy, and keep your heroics to yourself.”
The ship’s gong sounded, drawing everyone’s attention to the side of the ship where the captain stood next to the condemned sailor. “Shiel, you know what did as does every man aboard.” The captain’s voice carried over the deck. “You endangered the lives of every person aboard and for that you must die. You might’ve had a different sentence in a Fae court, but this is my ship and here I am your god.”
“The gods are dead just like you will be,” spat Shiel.
The captain nodded to the two sailors on either side of the bound man. The lifted him to the rail.
“I will haunt you for the rest of your life,” Shiel screamed. And then he fell.
There was a splash and a shriek as the red waters closed over his head. The waves hissed, dissolving the sailor into nothingness. Tristan gagged on the stench.
“May the dead gods keep you in their embrace,” intoned the captain.
“And may you sleep with them forever,” replied the sailors.
The captain signaled for everyone to disperse. Tristan found himself alone next to the railing and looking down into the crimson depths. He shuddered. Swimming was useless in such waters.
“Why isn’t the ship destroyed?” he asked, but Kay was gone. Tristan looked around the deck for him. Not seeing him, he went on a hunt until he found Kay straightening some ropes and repeated his question.
“Deadwood,” said Kay.
“I’ve heard of it but didn’t actually believe it existed,” said Tristan. “You can’t believe everything you hear, you know. And when I couldn’t find it in any books, I assumed it to be a myth.”
“You must not have the right books then,” said Kay, not looking up from his work.
“M—my father had the best library before most of it was burned along with the house...and him...and my mother.”
Kay finally looked up. “An orphan?”
Tristan shrugged. “It’s the fate of most heroes like being a farmer or shepherd, I guess. I didn’t know my father was important until about a year ago when the farmer who took me in told me.”
Kay rolled his eyes and went back to coiling his ropes. “I don’t know if you’re just not right in the head or what, but I don’t see any reason for you to be telling anyone so much of your business.”
“But I can tell you, since we’re best friends.”
“Well, we will be after I save your life and then you save mine.”
“You are an idiot or maybe just insane.”
“Aren’t we all?”
“Look, Tristan or whatever your name is. I know a man at the port. I can introduce you to him and he can help you.”
“Thank you,” said Tristan. “But I wouldn’t want to impose on anyone in case my enemies slaughter them all because they let me stay with them.”
Kay blinked slowly a few times at this. Muttering under his breath, he picked up his ropes and walked quickly away.
Tristan watched him go. He sighed, partly from relief and partly from annoyance. Was his lie so obvious he sounded insane? He had tried to make it sound plausible. But being considered insane was better than anyone finding out the truth. He shrugged and grinned to himself. At least he had made a friend. Kay would be helpful for whatever lay ahead on the path to becoming a hero.
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