7. Scarlet Secret

35 2 1

In the white, morning hour, thin mist populated with odd specters hovered over the vast forest. A hunter moved along the river, tracking a bear that headed to the mountains. Although the river's airy emptiness shined between the trees, the hunter didn't approach it.

A sudden sound raced among the trees like a distress call—a clarinet raising a song. A musician on deck played a melody fragment, full of sad, slow repetition. Quavering like a grieving voice, the sound deepened, then smiled with a pensive trill, and dropped off. A faint faraway echo repeated the same tune.

The hunter, noting a broken branch, made his way to the water. The mist hadn't dissipated yet, not quite concealing a silhouette of a huge ship, lumbering slowly towards the river mouth. Voices and footsteps sounded on deck alongside the rolled-up sails that had suddenly come alive, festooning and blanketing the deck with their helpless, giant folds. The coastal breeze lazily worried the sails. Finally, in the warmth of the rising sun, the blow strengthened, dispersed the mist, and spilled over wooden yards in a scarlet stream full of roses. Pink shadows glided across the whiteness of masts and riggings. Everything was white except the open, taut sails that were the color of deep joy.

The hunter rubbed his eyes to be sure he wasn't imagining things. Long after the ship vanished behind a bend, he still stood there, staring. Then he shrugged and went back to his bear.

While Secret sailed along the riverbed, Gray held the helm himself, to prevent the ship from hitting a shoal. Panten sat nearby, dressed in a new suite, new, shining cap, shaved, and humbly glum. He still couldn't see any connection between the scarlet finery and Gray's goal.

"Now," Gray said, "when my sails glow scarlet, the wind is good, and my heart holds more happiness than an elephant seeing a sweet bun, I'll try to explain myself, as I promised you in Liss. I consider you an exemplary sailor, Panten, which means a lot. Unfortunately you, like too many others, listen to the voices of life through thick lenses. The voices scream, but you don't hear. What I'm doing has been considered since the ancient times as something wonderful but impossible to accomplish, whereas it is actually as easy as a picnic. Soon, you'll see a girl who shouldn't meet her fiancé in any other way but the one I'm enacting in front of your eyes."

Then, he told his mate everything he knew about Assol.

"Do you see how tight everything is interwoven: people, destinies, characters? I'm going to the one who is waiting only for me; and I don't want anyone but her. Because of her, I've realized one simple truth: you should make miracles by your own hands. When a man wants a dime, it's easy to give him a dime. But when the seed of a blazing blossom, a miracle, lurks in a man's soul, make that miracle happen for him, if you can.

"Then he will have a new soul, and so will you. When a prison warden frees his prisoner; when a millionaire presents his clerk with a villa, and an opera singer, and a safe box; when a jockey lets another horse win, then everyone will understand how nice it is, how unspeakably marvelous. But there are other miracles as well: a smile, a cheer, forgiveness, and the right word in the right time. When you have them—you have everything.

"As for me: our beginning—Assol's and mine—will remain with us forever in the scarlet flash of the sails created by a loving heart. Do you understand?"

"Yes, captain." Panten grunted, wiping his mustache with a clean, neatly folded handkerchief. "I understand. You've moved me. I'll go down and ask Nicks for forgiveness. I yelled at him yesterday about a drowned bucket. And I'll give him some tobacco—he gambled away his own."

Before Gray, surprised by such a practical result of his words, could utter anything else, Panten stomped down the ladder, sighing deeply somewhere below. Gray looked around, then up. Over his head, the scarlet sails burst silently, the sun glittering in their seams with purple smoke. Heading out into the open sea, Secret was leaving the coast behind.

Scarlet SailsWhere stories live. Discover now