The air froze his every breath, but the clouds formed were beautiful. The white plain stretched out before him, untouched by wood, and he realized he wasn’t on a ship. He wanted to float, but the ground-was it ground?-remained hard under his feet. He stood above a freezing, foreign world, and yet he was entombed in it. It was too quiet, too still, and strangest of all, there was water everywhere and yet none….
Tom heard his door creaking, and then a flurry of knocking. He rolled over in bed, trying to ignore it. It was warm in bed…
“Tom, get up, damnit! It’s already noon! ” Tom groaned and snuggled further into his blankets. The person pounding his door outside was obviously Nathan, and Tom didn’t want to deal with him right now. It was rest day; what was Nathan bothering him for? Usually the older boy slept longer than he did. Tom almost fell back to sleep until the banging started again.
“TOM!” You’d better not be sick again!” Nathan’s voice rose in volume. Tom rolled over, facing the door.
“I’m not…g’way!” He buried his head under his pillow.
“Fine…I guess I’ll have to explore Auros’s ship by myself.”
Tom shot out of bed at that, running to the door and wrenching it open. “What?!”
Nathan laughed, his eyes roaming over Tom’s frame. The younger boy realized he was still in his pajamas, and blushed, but that didn’t matter now. “What about Auros’s ship!?”
Nathan paused. “Well, the festivities start tomorrow…but the ship came today, in preparation, I suppose. They just started letting us explore it, after the captains met.” He raised his eyebrows.
“Let’s go!” Tom raced back into his room, not bothering to anchor the door or wait for Nathan’s response, and quickly changed into clothes. When he turned back to his door, Nathan was leaning in the frame, having caught the door. Tom raced past Nathan into the hall, looking for any signs that festivities had begun. He could see none until he got to the deck.
Instead of the typical endless blue of the sky on the ocean, a gigantic ship filled the skyline. Tom stopped dead and stared, trying to take it all in.
The ship was about as large as Ruthen’s, but it had ribbed hulls, and the back was narrower. The lining of the sails was also a different color, a much darker orange versus the bright red that adorned all of Ruthen’s ships. The wind blew, and the foreign flag danced in the mast. It was an orange leaf on white, whereas the one that flew on Tom’s home ship was a fiery tree. They rarely flew the flag, only on holidays and when meeting other ships, though this was the first time in Tom’s memory that the latter had occurred. A narrow wooden bridge spanned the two ships, though there was a rope ladder on the side of Auros’s for those who opted to swim rather than risk crossing it. Tom figured that their ship probably had one too, though he couldn’t see it now.
“Nice, huh?” Nathan had walked up behind him, Tom being too absorbed in the view of the ship to bother turning around. His annoyance with Nathan the night before was temporarily forgotten.
“How do we get onto it? That bridge?” Tom could see a person on each side of the bridge, probably making sure that traffic was kept under control. The bridge looked flimsy, basically only a plank of wood, and Tom could see why their presence was necessary. It didn’t stop him from wanting to cross immediately, though.
“Well, obviously…You have to ask, though. They’re monitoring the crossings.” Tom moved toward the area of the ship where the bridge was anchored. He heard Nathan greet someone, and wondered briefly who it was while he walked closer to the bridge, before being intercepted by the woman who was monitoring it. She held a sheaf of palm paper in her hand.
“Where are you going?” Tom couldn’t remember seeing her anywhere, and he wondered if she was an official from Auros’s ship.
“I was going to see the…Auros’s ship. We’re allowed, right?” Tom hoped it wouldn’t be a problem.
“I don’t see why not. You’re awfully young, though.” Tom frowned at that. He was 13, not that young. “Where are your parents?”
“You need parents?” Tom’s face fell. If he needed some kind of guardian to get on the ship, he couldn’t visit it! He would miss another opportunity, like seeing Ruthen’s island.
The official frowned. “Don’t you have foster parents, at least?”
“No…I live alone. I can still see it, though, right? I won’t cause any trouble.”
The woman muttered to herself about “strange foreign customs” and made a mark on her papers before turning back to him. “I don’t see an official problem with it. Be careful, though. And cross slowly, or you’ll be swimming.” She waved him on.
Tom grinned and hopped up on the bridge. It was rather thin, but it seemed solid enough. He began to run across, and then stopped dead when a gust of wind hit him. For a moment he stood paralyzed. It wasn’t that he was afraid of the water, but it was a long fall. He turned back to the side he had come from, the wind whistling in his ears.
He saw Nathan then, who was waving to him. He was probably yelling at him to hurry up. Tom swallowed hard, and looked ahead to Auros’s ship. It wasn’t that far…
Suddenly, the whistling stopped as the wind seemed to die. Tom looked around, taking his chance and racing ahead to the end of the bridge. He jumped off onto Auros’s deck and felt stupid once he looked back. The bridge wasn’t that long at all, and it wasn’t that high. He shook off his fear. He wouldn’t let himself freeze up on the way back, wind or no wind.