In which a cabin boy decides to be brave.
Somewhere in the Atlantean Ocean
1492 E. A. (Ever After)
The ship was hungry.
As he strode along the main deck of the Silvamortis, his cloven hooves clattering on the wood, Gus sensed what was to come in every eerie creak of the ship's boards and petulant twitch of its sails. So few sailors left on this miserable, ill-fated voyage, and Gus was certain yet another would die before the evening sun sank below the horizon. He prayed he would not be chosen.
As the only faun on board, Gus sensed the evil in the ship more keenly than any of his crew-mates. He was naturally accustomed to communing with the entities which inhabited the natural world, particularly those that dwelt in trees. In fact, his own mother was a wood-nymph. But while such creatures could be capricious, even dangerous at times, he had never felt this degree of cruelty from one of them. The thing animating the ship was not a natural being; it had been manufactured by some magical means. His father, who had helped to build the vessel, had said as much—though it had not discouraged Gus from stowing away on the voyage and getting himself conscripted as a cabin boy for his pains.
He had wanted adventure—but not like this.
"That enchanter who made this creature must either have been a madman or a fool." Gus felt a surge of panic—had he spoken out loud? Shuddering despite the oppressive heat, he reached down to adjust the cuffs of the breeches extending halfway down his shaggy goat legs. As he did, he cast a quick glance in both directions. No one was looking at him, so he assumed he had not yet been driven mad enough to talk to himself. The sun seared into his back through the many holes in his tattered shirt. When the Silvamortis first left port in Quixota, the sailors' chief worry had been the fierce storms which were known to plague the Atlantean Ocean—not to mention sailing off the edge of the world. Now, two months later, these fears were little more than distant memories. It was no longer the storms that struck terror in their hearts, but the great, never-ending silence in the absence of wind to fill the sails, and the merciless sun beating down upon them from a cloudless sky. And as far as the edge of the world was concerned, many of the sailors would have been glad to see it now. Happy to plunge into oblivion, taking comfort in the knowledge that this evil boat would share their fate.
As Gus straightened and took in the gaunt, haggard faces of his shipmates once more, he felt a mixture of regret and resignation. Regret that he would be willing for another to die in his place, and resignation that such things as bravery and selflessness had long ago died in his heart.
"Don't lose yourself, son," his mother had cautioned when he confided in her that he was planning to go to sea. She tried to dissuade him, but it was no use. "You're a kind man, Gus. A good man. And the sea is a harsh and unforgiving realm." The gray-haired woman had touched his face as tears streamed down her own. "Hold on to your soul. Don't become someone else."
Gus's eyes fell on Nora the Minotaur, who was checking some rigging at the other end of the deck—a pointless task, given that there was no wind to challenge the ropes. At the start of the voyage, Gus and Nora had struck up a friendship, thanks to the faun's loneliness and the bull-woman's jovial demeanor. Now, they barely spoke to each other, just sharing uneasy glances from time to time. You couldn't have friends in a place like this, where life was so fragile, and compassion was a luxury.
I'm sorry, Mother, he thought.
The timid cough turned no heads at first, but when it echoed with a bit more urgency, Gus and a few other sailors turned to see what was the matter. The first mate was standing in the middle of the deck, fidgeting nervously. Ephraim Price had not begun the voyage as a cowardly man – his sharp tongue and brawny frame had quelled any attempts at rebellion in the early days. It had taken only a week of the horrors visited upon the crew by the Silvamortis to reduce him to a quivering husk of his former self. "The...Captain..." he quavered, stumbling over the word, "wishes to address the crew."
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