[flash fiction] Ship Dreamer (10/9-10/13)

Adrien Elis René Quertis, who’s always been a bit of a strange duck. But at least his brother’s always understood.

When Adrien was ten his father brought him to the family’s dockyards to both show it off to him and to show him off to the workers. A whole new outfit had been commissioned for the occasion, with Adrien forced to hold still as his mother fussed over his hair, his clothes, the straightness of his bearing.

“They will be your responsibility, someday,” his father said. “You must start thinking like an adult. Look at them and remember this.”

Adrien looked past the ships and the workers, to the bright open waters of the sea, and he saw the future.

“But why would you want to be a sailor?” Francis asked. He was a year younger and was considered very clever by their parents and tutors. “It sounds dreadful. You’ll get scurvy and die.”

“I could get scurvy anytime,” Adrien said, because he rather disliked their cook’s early-spring nettle soup, and the threat was one the old man liked to brandish. “And all the rest of it is very exciting! Don’t you think?”

Francis gave him a sour look and went back to reading. Adrien put his chin on his hands, imagined the sky overhead was water below, and sighed.

The epiphany came to him one lovely summer evening, two days before the winter solstice and the seasonal Fete was in full swing. Adrien was seventeen and staring morosely down the road to looming adulthood.

“Suppose,” he said, peeling an orange, “and this is only just supposing, that I were to be a terrible son and brother and run away from home. Perhaps madness takes me and I run off to be, oh, a sailor or something. Just supposing.”

“You’d be utterly mad,” Francis said. “Mad and foolish. But if you did, I suppose I would take care of things.”

Adrien’s head snapped up. Francis did not look at him, apparently engrossed in his book. He made a very cross sound when Adrien snatched his hands.

“My good friend,” he said. “My dearest, most beloved, and utterly clever and sane brother–”

“You’re already establishing your front, I see,” Francis said dryly. He took his hands back and deliberately flipped through the pages to find his lost spot. “Do me a favor, though, if you would.”

“Of course! Anything, anything at all!”

“Do it before your birthday.” Francis peered up at him. “I’ve a wager I’d like very much to win.”

“Perhaps you could meet someone nice,” Adrien’s mother said to him one icy morning. It had been several weeks, and his plans were starting to take shape.

To say his mother had realized would be an exaggeration, but she had noticed, and in her way she was trying to help.

“I know that things have been terribly busy with the funeral,” she continued, “but if you’re craving companionship…”

“Holy Mother’s tits, no!” he exclaimed, then cringed when she looked at him dolefully. “Mother, no. I’m fine.”

Her expression didn’t waver. “You promise?”

He clasped her hands and smiled. “I promise.”

His father was both more and less astute. He clapped Adrien on the back after dinner one night and declared he was proud that Adrien was finally taking his future seriously, and to keep up the good work, then left for his evening walk with Adrien’s mother.

“He’s going to look back and have a fit,” Francis said. “An absolute fit. The first ten percent of your earnings is mine.”

“What?!” Adrien whipped around. He clutched his chest. “Dear brother, I have to be able to live–”

“So do I,” Francis said. “Unless you’d rather fifteen?”

“…Ten percent is fine.”

“I was thinking I’d tell Mother before my birthday, at least,” Adrien said. “It’ll give her some time to get used to the idea. Soothe her nerves a little.”

“Or, she’ll have guards around your room day and night,” Francis said. “Your exit is your choice to make, but you’ll have to own it.”

Adrien sighed and sank lower in his seat. “Maybe Father… no.”

“No,” Francis said. “Whatever it was, no.”

Adrien sighed again and louder. “A fat lot of help you’re being.”

“My part comes after,” Francis said. “But the leadup and the execution? That’s all on you.”

In the end, Adrien snuck out like a thief in the night.

He regretted the decision almost immediately: the road down to the docks was significantly longer and rougher on foot than by carriage, and he’d gotten too far to backtrack when he finally wondered why he had not simply taken a horse. The sky was paling by the time he finally reached his destination, his feet aching and legs sore, and he had to stop to watch as sunlight touched the ocean, spreading brilliantly out as far as the eye could see.

That’s right, he thought, and kept walking.

The envelope arrived with no sender’s name, but with a particular flourish to the final s in Quertis that was very familiar. Francis intercepted the servant with the daily mail as he had for weeks, and he took the letter and swept off before he could be questioned.

Inside was the script for a paltry sum of money and a handful of shell pieces. At one time, in one piece, it had probably been quite lovely. The pale creamy pink color was still nice.

The letter itself was surprisingly short, though that seemed mostly for lack of space on the page.

My dearest and noblest brother, I hope that this finds you and the rest of our family well. I am sure Mother still swoons and Father still fumes, and I do not blame them. Perhaps this will never reach you, but I have greater faith in your cleverness than I’ve ever had in my own. But I do think this may be the one right and proper thing I’ve done for myself in my life, and I hope you’ll convince them someday of the same. Give them my love, if they’ll have it.

Francis shook his head and smiled.

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