I drew in a deep lungful of salty air, and then let it go, allowing the whoosh of escaping energy to blow my brilliant red forelock out of my face. That annoying forelock, the one thing that made being a Kyrii intolerable. I would have liked my form, but for that stray clump of hair. I rubbed my eyes, tired from staring into the endless blue of my world. Everything was blue: the ocean, the sky, some days I even fancied the sun had turned blue. Frowning, I turned my back on my ship’s side, only to be faced with more blue across from me. I let out another exasperated sigh. How could I have thought I could escape the blue? I closed my eyes, attempting to shut it out, but to my horror, I saw blue stars. I clutched ridiculously at the hilt of the sword at my hip, as though it could stabilize me.
My eyes snapped open, and I answered my First Mate, Bernard, far more sharply than I meant to. He recoiled slightly, looking alarmed. A rather comical sight, Bernard being a majestic gold Eyrie.
“Something wrong, Captain?”
“Just a small personal matter,” I told him, struggling to make my voice light and easy. Just the small personal matter that my little fore-and-aft rigged schooner, the Lady Blue, had been seeing the same colour for weeks now; the same endless expanse of ocean. Just the small personal matter that we were lost, and, even worse, I knew it this time. This time? you say, shocked. Yes, of course: I get lost quite frequently, as my little blue Kyrii sister Lily likes to remind me every time I return from my adventures. Did I use a compass? You ask in concern, perhaps for my mental health. Yes, of course. But, did anyone stop to consider that magic oceans make compasses stop working? I didn’t. Nor did I think that the blasted sun would stay straight overhead, never setting, never moving, and that the eternal daylight would slowly drive me mad. Yes, I had said, time and time again, that I wished I could stay forever on my ship. Yes, I had thought about sailing eternally, no longer coming back to land. But the thought of leaving my family forever tore at my heart, eating me away from the inside out.
“Erm, Captain, I just thought you should know... the crew thinks, they think...” the First Mate trailed off, looking as if he really didn’t want to repeat what the crew, consisting of Edward, the green Shoyru cabin boy, Magdus, the ship’s carpenter, Bernard himself, Gerry, the yellow Skeith cook, and of course the navigator, thought. I didn’t want to hear it, either, but I said anyway,
“Yes, what do they think?”
“They think we’re lost, sir,” Bernard told me miserably. I sighed again. It was getting to be quite a habit.
“Yes, Bernard, we’re lost.”
I turned back to the rail and resumed gazing into the placid waters, hoping Bernard would go away. He didn’t.
“They also think somethin’s wrong with ye, Cap’n.”
“Do they?” I turned to face him, annoyed. “Well, fine then; that’s their problem.”
I meant to stalk huffily away, but there was really no where to go, on a ship. I settled for marching into my cabin and slamming the door, but once inside I felt suffocated by the walls. At least on the deck there was fresh air, even if it was all blue. My cabin was decorated in an attempt to off-set the hideous blue: all in reds and browns. It was rather dreary, combined with the fact that I caught a glimpse of the map I had pinned up on the wall with the hope that if I stared at it enough, I would eventually realize where we were. Wrong.
Someone knocked timidly on my door. I wished I didn’t have to answer it, I would probably just shriek at them, and give my terrified crew yet another excuse to maroon me on some remote island. Not that there was one within sight, but still.
“Come in!” I called eventually. The door opened, and I was surprised to see, not Bernard, as I had expected, by my navigator, Evangeline. She didn’t look very happy, though, and when faced with a choice between Evangeline’s wrath and Bernard’s, I would have picked the latter.
“Amelius,” Evangeline started, in her no-nonsense tone. “What ever has gotten into you?”
I stared moodily at the strikingly beautiful Aisha navigator, wondering whether she was just toying with me. After a moment, I decided not.
“We’re lost, haven’t you heard?”
“We’re not lost,” Evangeline answered.
“How would you know?” I retorted, my temper flaring.
“Excuse me, but I believe I’m the navigator,” Evangeline said coldly. I immediately felt awful.
“You’re right,” I muttered.
“Yes, of course I’m right,” Evangeline said, very calmly. I looked at her for a moment. I took a deep breath.
“What you need,” she said, “is some sleep.”
A sharp retort was on the tip of my tongue, but I decided I had had enough of verbal sparring for the day. I nodded wearily. Evangeline rewarded me with a smile before sweeping out of the cabin. I stared after her. for some reason, the Aisha reminded me unaccountably of my family, whom I suddenly realized I missed with a terrible, ongoing ache. Oh why had I ever chosen to sail away from home? A great weariness overtook me suddenly, and I buried my face in my hands, trying to hide my tears.
The next few days were mildly better, if you don’t count the fact that I spent most of my time, not being a useful captain, but hanging over the railing, shaking my compass until I was dizzy. It never worked: the compass never stopped swinging wildly as though it no longer had a clue where north was.
“Blast this compass!” I shrieked finally. I raised it over my head, prepared to throw it into the endless blue below us, but someone caught my arm.
“How very immature, Amelius,” Evangeline said tartly. I wrenched my arm free and turned to look at her. Somehow, despite being stuck on a ship for two months, she managed to look care-free and calm. Her silky blue dress was unmarred, and even her long black curls had not been damaged by the endless salt. My hair, on the other hand, stuck up all over like some sort of spiky cactus.
“I am not immature,” I grumbled, trying to smooth down my hair. Evangeline’s lips twitched.
“This is a magic ocean,” the Aisha said after a moment, turning away from me to stare into space. I ground my teeth in frustration. I was irritable from weeks of this; I missed my family with a terrible ache, like none I had ever felt before, and often I dreamt of them. The dreams disturbed me as much as reality; always in them, I was standing on the edge of the shore, being forced to choose between my beloved Lady Blue, and my own family. The longing for both tore at my heart during the still-bright night hours, preventing me from sleeping with a pain that was almost physical. Never had I thought this closely about the matter; usually I was occupied. But with a lack of things to keep me busy, it appeared my heart and mind were free to dwell on my deepest thoughts.
“I know that. What I don’t know is how it works,” I spat.
“Oh, yes you do,” Evangeline told me. I opened my mouth to answer, but Bernard came running.
“Captain, Captain,” he panted, doubled over. I started forward in alarm. “Wind’s picking up; we might get out o’ here if we let out all the sails.”
Get out of here? The words sparked new determination in my beaten-down soul and I forgot Evangeline and her words. The pain in my heart seemed to lessen slightly.
“I’ll take the wheel,” I said in mounting excitement. I strode hastily away, leaving Evangeline watching me and Bernard trotting after.
“All hands on deck!” I yelled as soon as I was at the helm, with the wheel safely in my paws. “Let out the sails, men! Snap to! Let ‘er run free!”
Bernard repeated my orders in his booming voice, causing a scurrying of my sleepy crew.
“Land ho?” a small green Shoyru asked hopefully, tugging on his boots.
“Not dern likely,” the ship’s carpenter, Magdus, grumbled. The dusky-violet Mynci wiped his forehead with a handkerchief, squinting into the sun.
“Wind’s picking up,” Bernard said shortly. “Captain?” He turned to me. “Orders?”
“Let the sails out, drive her hard and fast,” I answered.
I flicked open my compass, foolishly hoping that it would work this time. The needle swung lazily around, refusing to focus. I shook it. The needle rattled around for a moment, then resumed its slow circuit. I let out a curse.
“Any way, Bernard; it doesn’t matter.”
Bernard nodded, but he seemed troubled. I didn’t really blame him, when a compass doesn’t work, sailors are in trouble. I turned back to the wheel, watching the crew in the rigging let the mainsail, the gaff sail, drop. For a second, I lost myself in admiration for my ship. The Lady Blue was truly beautiful; and she was mine.
We sailed hard for hours, the sails full with wind, the Lady Blue making a good pace of about twenty knots. I remained at the tiller, a faithful captain urging my crew on. But by the time my pocket watch informed me that it was midnight, we had made no seeable progress. The same endless blue surrounded us, and the sun stolidly refused to set.
I jumped, causing the wheel to spin wildly. The Lady Blue, built for quickness, turned in the water; barrels slid down the length of the deck, and I had to cling to the helm for support. Evangeline stood in back of me, staring at me with large almond-coloured eyes. She slowly smoothed her electric blue fur, her gaze shifting to sweep the ship. She took in the exhausted crew, stumbling around, trying to batten things down, the green Shoyru who had affixed himself on the maintop, peering through a spyglass. Then her almond eyes returned to me.
“You’re not getting anywhere, Amelius,” she said softly. “The Lady Blue is sailing as fast as she goes, am I not right? You’ve got her all out.”
I sighed, too tired to be irritable. I slowly smoothed my hair out of my face and straightened my coat.
“As I was trying to tell you, when you refused to listen to me, this ocean is magic,” Evangeline said.
“How?” I asked impatiently.
“You must want to get somewhere to leave this place,” Evangeline answered, smiling wryly.
“I do want to get somewhere, haven’t you noticed?” I interrupted angrily. I brought my eyes up to the Lady Blue’s square sails on her mizzen mast, glaring at them.
“You need a destination in mind,” Evangeline continued patiently, as though I hadn’t spoken. “You, Amelius, do not want to go anywhere. Yes, you wish to leave this place,” she added, catching my look of outrage. “But you really don’t know where you want to be. You have no clue what you want anymore, Amelius. You don’t know if you wish to keep sailing forever, or if you wish to find somewhere to settle down, if you want to go home, or if you wish to go exploring.”
I had opened my mouth to say something, but I closed it again hastily. Evangeline was right: I didn’t really have a destination in mind, I just wanted to escape here.
“You’re the sort of person who isn’t happy unless he’s accomplishing something,” Evangeline said. Her eyes locked with mine. “Perhaps, Amelius, you simply need time to discover where it is you really want to go. What you want to do.”
I realized it then, with a shock like a punch to the stomach. “You’re the one making this happen!” I accused, my tone full of hurt and shock.
“Perhaps,” Evangeline acknowledged calmly. “And perhaps not. Either way it is the same: you must choose what you want. Simply put, Amelius, you must stop sailing aimlessly. There comes a time when one must choose what one wishes to do with one’s life. Your time has come, Amelius, it is time to choose.”
I turned my back on her and strode away and fast as I could go. When I reached my cabin, I slammed the door and sank into a chair, my face in my hands. I was not angry, exactly, nor even upset. I was, however, extremely unhappy and confused. Evangeline had brought up something I had been avoiding for years; my whole life, practically: the terrible truth that had haunted me incessantly these past few weeks, when my mind was not occupied. I simply could not choose what I wanted. I yearned for the feeling of being at the tiller, hand on my sword, ready to conquer the ocean. Conquer it on my terms, that is. Sail forever and ever, feeling the wind on my face and the salt spray dust me. I did not want to go home. Yet what sailor can sail forever? There is no ship that will take it, no food supply that will last. And what of my family? Could I really live without them? What did those horrible dreams mean, where I was choosing between the two? What about the constant ache in my heart where I missed them?
I slowly drifted off to sleep, lulled by the movement of the ship, my thoughts running round in circles.
When I woke, my pocket watch said nine o’clock. I sat up, in a state of utter calm. I knew.
I dressed carefully in my utmost best: britches, linen shirt, leather greatcoat. I belted my sword at my hip and hung my compass from its loop. Then I went up onto deck.
The crew was asleep. Bernard lay dozing against the side of my cabin, Edward had strung up a hammock against the mainsail, Magdus and Gerry appeared to be below deck. Evangeline leaned easily against the wheel, watching me approach. She was outlined dark against the brilliance of the sun, a slight smile playing on her lips.
“I’ve decided,” I said, without preamble. I stood straighter, one hand on my sword hilt.
“Yes, I suppose you have,” Evangeline said thoughtfully, cocking her dark head at me. “This is what you really want, then? To sail forever?”
“It’s in my blood,” I answered, turning to frown at the horizon. “I always knew that.”
And I had, as much as I’d tried to push the truth away. It was simply to hard to bear; never being able to return to my family, my parents, my sister Lily, my annoying twin brother, Arman.
“Well then, I give you this ocean, Amelius Aurelius.” Evangeline made a sweeping motion with her arms, a smile on her lips. Then, with a slight sparkle, my navigator of four years was gone. Disappeared into the air, as if she’d never been.
She’s served her purpose, I thought as I turned back to the wheel. I felt immensely peaceful and calm, and to my sudden surprise, I realized that the ache in my heart had, while not disappeared, suddenly become bearable. It was no longer a sharp, piercing pain, but a dull weight, a burden I would bear for my choices. I really did want this.
With that, I turned the Lady Blue’s prow to face the sun, which, oddly enough, was now setting, and stood watching the hues of pink and purple, so long in coming, wash over the ocean. And I learned something in that moment: the ocean was not just blue; it was green and white and gold, too.
And that is the story of Amelius Aurelius, the captain of the phantom ship, the Lady Blue, who, some sailors claim, can sometimes be seen at sunset, sailing straight into the sinking sun.
Author’s Note: This story evolved in a very strange way. I got the first words down on the page, intending it to be comedic. It took on a life of its own, and this is the result. I hope you enjoyed it.