The Prisoner

A short story by Brianna R. Shaffery available at

The Prisoner

By Brianna R. Shaffery

Copyright © 2020 by Brianna R. Shaffery. All rights reserved. This novel or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission or authorization of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review where citation or means of credit to the author or work is given. Published by BRS Writes L.L.C

Table of Contents

1. Kai ........................................................................................................................................... 1

2. Echoes of the Sea..................................................................................................................... 3

3. Living Nightmare .................................................................................................................... 6

4. Renegade Adventurer ............................................................................................................ 10

5. A New Sunrise....................................................................................................................... 13

6. The Ship with the Plum Colored Flag ................................................................................... 17

7. New Tides.............................................................................................................................. 20


1. Kai

Kai sat huddled against the damp, jagged rock wall of the cell and clutched the rough

blanket tighter around himself. The wall was like ice and mildew tickled his nose, a pleasant

scent compared to the odor of human filth that filled the rest of the prison. Grime and grit found

themselves welcomed here, but not by the prisoners. Some were here because they were

murderers or traitors to the crown.

Not this boy.

He was no murderer, would never betray his country, though he ended up here all the


Despite the deplorable conditions, he thought the universe was blessing him — if cruelly.

For once, food was guaranteed twice a day, and he didn ’ t need to worry about shelter from

howling winds or sheets of pelting rain.

True, some of the guards were arrogantly rude, but there were a few who pitied the boy.

They snuck him an extra blanket or piece of bread to help with the frailness they all saw. He was

sharp and small, his face hollow and gaunt. No one knew exactly what Kai had done to be

imprisoned, but one did not question the king.

Rather than dwell on his current circumstances, Kai turned his attention to the window

and the world beyond his cell. The window only showed a bleak world of gray. Kai shut his eyes

and pictured the open sea with rolling waves and bouncing ships. He remembered the way the

sun had glistened on the rippling water and the soft whisper of the wind caressing the fine sand.

He had only seen the coast a few times, though he found that each time, it was an escape.

Looking out at the endless water and distant horizon had given him hope, hope that one day he

would have everything he wanted, that he could be anything and make a life for himself. It gave

him hope that even the most significant of people were mere dots on life ’ s scale compared to the

vast sea.

A flash of light beyond the scene of his mind brought Kai back to the dim cell. The

rolling crash of thunder that filled his ears assured him that there was life outside these walls.

Besides that of a cough or boots scraping the stone floors, the prison was silent, almost as if you

were the only thing breathing the putrid air from which dirt hung. At night, sometimes the boy


heard muffled crying or even piercing screeches, followed by the sound of heavy boots clashing

against the stone, the guards rushing to investigate.

Again, Kai noticed that copper flooded his taste buds. He ’ d been chewing the inside of

his cheek where that sore had been. Lightning flashed, illuminating his tanned skin and the small

cell. He took to picking the dirt from his fingernails. His stomach clenched with hunger.

Supper should be coming soon , he thought.

Rain tapped repeatedly on the cobblestone footpath beyond the barred opening towards

the top of the wall opposite him, his only window to the outside world. He looked on as water

collected on the surface of the earth. Water droplets raced down the thick metal bars to the

ground below.

With each burst of light that penetrated the cell, he took inventory. The stale straw he had

piled in one corner to make a nest of sorts to sleep in, the pile that hid the spare blanket. By some

chance of fate, the corner in which he built his bed was not plagued by draft, though sometimes

the ceiling leaked. In the corner to the left of where he shielded himself from the chill and

dampness in the air was a small bucket and water for washing. Where he sat, he had a view of

the window, though he only saw rats scurrying by and people ’ s feet, and also a place where

water would not drip on his head or trail down his spine from whatever room was above him.

A single pair of boots echoed through the dungeon along with the squeaking of rusted

wheels, directing his attention back to the reality of living in a cell. Dinner was being served.

Each time that small tray slid under the gap of the cell ’ s wooden door, Kai smiled. It always had

water, some sort of broth, sometimes with meat or vegetables, and bread.

As his tray materialized on his side of the cell, Kai relished the sight of the bread. He

waited patiently for Arty to be farther down the hall before unfolding himself and slinking

towards his meal. He stared down at the tray and ran a hand through his brittle, tangled hair,

sweeping the dark strands from his face. Before the meal could disappear, though it never did,

Kai gripped the bread and tore into it, savoring the sweet softness in his mouth. He chuckled a

little, thinking again that if he had known how much food was given to criminals, he would have

done much worse than what he had. What Kai once had to steal, he now got regularly and at no

cost to him or his life.


1. Echoes of the Sea

The salt air stung his cheeks. The fishermen spoke about a nasty storm that was brewing

some miles off the coast. They didn ’ t even notice he was eavesdropping. Kai hadn ’ t intended to,

but he could see the fish flopping on the dock. His stomach twitched at the sight, his mind

conjuring images of a glowing fire, its smoke wafting up his nostrils, clinging to his skin, cooking

the fish. His mouth watered. Kai clenched his fists tight and set his jaw. As the four men began to

walk towards the dingy tavern for their nightly drink, he floated along the docks, passing scores

of people bundled up in coats and clutching their hats to save them from the howling wind. Kai

kept his head down, occasionally peering at the sea from beneath his lashes.

The water rolled in white, foaming waves, pounding the shoreline and the docks.

Eventually he came to the end of the pier and stared out across the choppy sea, for the second

time since coming to this town, thinking about what he wouldn ’ t do for even the tiniest bit of

stale bread. Even stormy, Kai found solace in the wide depths before him.

He imagined working the riggings; the wind whipping his hair as he followed orders

from his captain, sheets of rain pelting his face, as waves crashed on the decks, knocking other

crew members over. For a moment, he was completely lost in his fantasy. Kai enjoyed the

thought of adventure, of doing his part to reach a new place — the next discovery. They ’ d find

treasure and trade routes, something he was beginning to understand the importance of and — his

stomach growled angrily. Unable to do anything other than play with wistful thoughts, he started

back the way he had come. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his fraying jacket. Every

uneven board and pebble upset his feet, the soles of his boots worn to a thin line that barely

protected his feet from the harsh brambles and pine needles of the forest beyond the edge of the

port town.

He passed the tavern, which was the only thing still open in the depressing town. All the

shops and houses along the main path were dark. Shutters had been drawn over the windows. In

the distance, a single candle ’ s glow caught his attention. He counted the homes down the line

from where he stood under his usual eave.

It ’ s the pastor ’ s! Maybe he ’ ll let me in! Kai hoped feverishly.

He broke out into a desperate sprint. Mud splattered his pant legs. As he drew nearer, the

candle was blown out, and the shutters clacked shut. Abruptly coming to a stop, he cursed his

luck and spun around, deciding to head for the ally. The storm descended upon the town,


unleashing a hellish fury above his head. With no hood or hat, Kai threw his arms above his

head and decided it was worth bothering the pastor after all. Thunder cracked and echoed in

rolling vibrations that rattled his teeth. His body shook like a leaf. Kai knocked twice on the

wooden door, bruising his knuckles in order to be heard over the ferocious thunder and gale

force winds.

“ Kai? Come in, come in. What are you doing out there, boy? ” The pastor ’ s drawn face

was filled with shock and mild agitation, having been illuminated by a flash of forked lightning

as it struck the water far behind them.

“ I don ’ t mean to burden you, sir, but it ’ s some awful weather out here. Is there any

chance I could ride the storm out in here? I ’ ll be gone as soon as the wind lets up. ” Kai ’ s hollow

eyes gleamed with desperation.

“ Of course. Stay as long as you like, but, Kai, why were you out in the storm? ”

Another clap of booming thunder punctuated the pastor ’ s question, causing Kai to flinch.

The pastor sighed and showed the boy to the plush chaise lounge that the woodcarver had

crafted and his wife had bolstered. Kai was handed a rough quilt and, almost as if it were an

afterthought, a piece of bread.

Rattling thunder shook Kai awake. He rolled over and pulled the scratchy burlap blanket

up to his chin. It was another pitch-black night. The storm hadn ’ t exhausted itself, continuing its

assault right up until it had woken Kai up again. He shivered, remembering the night of the storm

before he lived here, the one in his nightmares. Calming his beating heart, he tried to drive off

the echoes of what had led him to be on that dock, amidst a tropical storm, on the pastor ’ s

doorstep, in the first place. In the end, the clinking of a glass bottle shattering against the floor

was the last thing he heard of the memory before the static-plagued air and exaggerated

dampness of the dungeon made goosebumps appear on his skin.

Kai huddled in his spot, trying to stop his chattering teeth and chase off the other

hauntings. Every few seconds, a plump droplet of water splashed across his right shoulder.

The rhythm became a pulse. He focused on it like one hones in on their own heartbeat.

The constant tap, tap, tap against his skin lulled him to sleep once more. He grew to ignore the

wet stickiness of the water sliding down between his shoulder blades and onto the floor beside

him. At least he didn ’ t sleep under a bone-chilling draft. Kai brought his knees closer to his

chest, tucking his elbows in as tight as he could.


The sea he saw now glistened. An arch of sunlight rippled over the water, giving the

ocean the appearance that it smiled at him. Kai always smiled back because of hope. In his

dreams, he had his own ship, his own crew, and a soft bed. It looked exactly like the first and

only ship he had ever been on, but it was enough for him. The plum-colored flag raised high,

waving at its onlookers.

It was a magnificent ship. Maybe one day it would belong to him — or he ’ d earn the

privilege of becoming part of its crew. He held tight to the thought and was rocked to sleep by

the swaying of the waves, the gentle bounce of a ship while docked, and the trailing of a water

droplet on his skin, which his subconscious replaced with the spray of the salty breeze of the sea.

If the guards had been asked, they would ’ ve said that the youngest prisoner slept with the ghost

of a smile on his face, though no one ever asked. No one knew why, but Kai.

His reams, like his daydreams, were filled with the sight of a calm, wide open sea.


2. Living Nightmare

Sleep never came easily. It wasn ’ t long before Kai ’ s dreams of the ship with the plum-

colored flag were interrupted by the shrill shriek of a man echoing down the corridor. Kai woke

with a start. He panted, springing into a sitting position, his heart pounding heavily against his

chest. He ran a hand through his tangled, brittle hair and laid back down. After several moments,

he recognized the sound of boots grating against the stone floors, retreating back the way they

had come. He stared at the wooden door to his cell. It had a slot big enough for the small tray of

food to wiggle under and a barred opening to look out of near the top.

No matter how hard he had tried, he simply couldn ’ t make himself tall enough to see out

into the hall. He ’ d tried standing on the washing bucket for leverage and standing on the tips of

his toes. He tried jumping and pulling himself up and glancing between the bars before his arms

gave out. None of that had worked. His only company were his own thoughts, memories, and the

roughly rectangular window in which he saw people ’ s feet.

With that grim realization, Kai ’ s mind returned to the handful of times he had seen the

sea. The first time was during the storm after moving to the port city. The last time was right

before he ’ d been brought here. But he remembered it as if it were yesterday.

The sky had been blushing brilliantly. The water sparkled and rippled, reflecting the rosy

painting that was the sky. He ’ d sat at the end of the dock, his feet dangled, barely able to skim

the water with the tips of his toes. His hands had gripped the edge of the worn wood.

If only they could ’ ve seen this, he ’ d thought. Kai wallowed in both his abandonment and

homelessness. Seagulls squawked as they chased fish in the water. The waves hummed and

lapped at the pilings of the aged dock. They rolled gently. Foam formed at the tips before they

collapsed on the beach and crawled back towards the rest of the ocean ’ s body. He finally

understood how something could be merciless and beautiful at the same time. He ’ d heard the

stories told around town, of the ones who didn ’ t come home, of the ones who almost didn ’ t

return, and of the ones who kept looking for that familiar sign, a flag or a sail or something.

Some people never gave up. And some did. The physicians had tried, but they still failed.

As he remembered that day at the dock, fresh tears silently trailed down his cheeks. It

was the first time Kai had truly understood the sickness and that his parents, and all the family

and home he had ever known, were gone.


The physicians had failed so many people. They failed so many families. There was

coughing and blood and death. He didn ’ t understand what it was, only that the physician couldn ’ t

help. Their neighbors, other people from their town. It seemed that everyone was sick — and


Then, they were gone.

It wiped out more than a third of their rural village, including his parents, uncle, and three

cousins. Out of all his family, his aunt and he were the only ones who managed to avoid the

dreaded illness. He finally understood that he would never return to that village. After his parents

and relatives had been collected and buried, his surviving aunt had taken some of his things and

packed them away. And then they were here, knocking on the door of a woman with severe

features, gray hair, and a crow ’ s voice — a family friend, he ’ d been told.

His aunt had died three days later, the night of the storm. This brought him back to the

memory of the breaking glass. The woman said he was cursed and cast him out.

She was right, he ’ d supposed. Everyone he knew was no longer alive. He ’ d wandered

around the village for a few days, trying to find food and shelter. He wished now that he had

spent more time at the docks. Perhaps he could have worked with the fishermen, but instead, he

had chosen to try living with just himself.

Maybe I am cursed, he ’ d thought as he sat by the water about a week after his aunt ’ s

death, watching the burning sun descend lower and lower in the sky until it seemed to dip under

the water. In the last light of day, he saw what looked like a magnificent ship on the distant

horizon coming nearer. It had three billowing white sails and a purple flag that waved in the

wind. Kai studied it for a while before turning his eyes upward, examining the sky. He watched

the bluish-green hues replace the warm pinks and oranges and purples of the sky until an onyx

curtain covered it. One by one, the stars gleamed in the moonless sky. Not even a sliver of a

smile could be seen where he thought the moon would have appeared if it had chosen to that

night. There wasn ’ t a single cloud. He quickly found each of the constellations that his father had

taught him. He ’ d say it was important to learn, in case you ever got lost.

“ They can lead you to where ever you want to be. They can lead you right back here, to

us, to home. Understand, Kai? ”

“ Yes, papa. ”


He followed the Big Dipper to the edge of its ladle and drew a line up from it with his

eyes, finding Polaris, the north star. He assumed that he ’ d have to go north to find his parents

again, but he didn ’ t know how far it would be until he reached salvation.

Of course, now, sitting in his cell, he was older, but by how much? Kai couldn ’ t say. He

understood now that Heaven couldn ’ t be reached by foot. By ship, maybe, but definitely not by

walking. No matter what had happened, he ’ d see his parents again, despite what the lady had

said. Another memory played behind his shut eyes.

Again, he found himself reliving the night of the storm before he had wound his way

down to the docks.

Kai stood in the fire ’ s glow of the single candle lit in the one-room house. The shutters

had been clamped shut over the windows, blotting out the moonlight. It was then, while facing

the hysterical woman who had somehow become his caretaker, Kai had watched her raise the

glass bottle over her head.

“ You ’ ll never see them again, you cursed boy! ” She hurled the glass she had been

sipping from. It shattered at Kai ’ s feet. “ Don ’ t you get it, they ’ re gone — never coming back!

None of it ’ s real, they ’ re just gone. They ’ re gone, ” she kept repeating the words, choking on sobs

between her delusional rage.

Kai ran. He didn ’ t look back, only where his feet were going, quickly finding himself

standing near the edge of the docks, being pelted by wind and rain, tears drenching his face.

He remembered that it was the day he watched the sunset on the ocean that he had plotted

to run away. The tranquility had allowed him to clear his head and gather his thoughts. He

realized now that there could have been something there for him if only he had looked harder.

Maybe instead of crouching in a cell, he could be sitting on the docks, dangling his feet over the


Instead, Kai had calmly boarded an empty vessel and stowed away.

The fishing boats were coming in, and a small crowd had started to wind its way down

the docks. Having nothing but the clothes on his back, Kai found his way into the ship ’ s hull. He

twisted this way and that, contorting himself to climb over wooden crates until he reached the

very back. There, a crate ’ s lid had been displaced and was tilted on an angle. He shoved it to the

side some more and was delighted to see a great pile of blankets. After taking some in his arms,


he scrambled in through the narrow opening, sucking in his stomach to fit, and shifted until he

thought he was completely covered by blankets.

It was cramped. He could barely breathe and maneuvered just so until he found a

position that allowed better airflow from a quarter-sized gap in the blankets.

It ’ s only hide and seek, he told himself, quickly falling asleep, lulled by the gentle rocking

of the ship. Kai didn ’ t notice when the crew had returned and conducted a final inventory check,

neither when his crate was jostled, nor when the orders were given to start their departure, their

shouts muffled by the time they reached his cozy crate.


3. Renegade Adventurer

It was a star-studded night when Kai had boarded the ship. He hadn ’ t even noticed the

rolling sea or the stars winking at him from above. He still didn ’ t know how many days he was

on the ship, though dates never proved to be of much importance to him. The only way to tell

time was by the growling of his stomach, a measurement he stilled used.

When he thought it was safe and that he had time to snoop around, he ’ d hold his breath

and strain his ears to listen intently. If he heard nothing, not a cough or the creak of a floor plank,

Kai would poke his head over the top of the crate and glance around, squinting into the darkness.

If, and only if, he thought the room was completely empty, and he believed no one would be

down for a while, he ’ d quietly clamor out of the crate. It took a while at first to suppress the

buzzing nerves that flew like bees in his stomach, but soon, he no longer worried. It became

second nature.

He never took from the same crate twice. Luckily for him, many of the crates seemed to

hold different essentials. In the ones closer to the door, he found what he had heard the crew call

“ perishables ” , which consisted of fresh fruits that he couldn ’ t identify and bread. In one crate,

closer to his, he found flour and sugar and some black, gritty powder that had a delicious aroma

but tasted terrible.

In another, Kai had found crackers and jams. He had plenty to eat, and had a small meal

once a day, hoping no one would notice the missing rations. As hours passed — and days, he

assumed — he had begun to hope that their journey wouldn ’ t last any longer. He spent his days

between the thick layers of blankets, picturing what the sea must look like from the deck of the

ship until the day they had docked.

He ’ d just fallen asleep again when the hull burst to life. Kai heard multiple pairs of

footsteps coming in and out, sometimes louder and other times softer. The sound of wood

groaning and grown men grunting could be heard through the layers of wool until his crate was

upset and he was swaying, his elbows coming close to knocking on the wood.

Seagulls and people bustling about what he assumed to be a dock could be heard fading

in the distance as his crate was set down. A whip cracked, and a horse neighed. Kai ’ s crate was

jostled. He couldn ’ t hear any other voices and risked peeking out of the crate through the lid,

which still lay askew on its top.


He shimmied out and looked toward the single driver. Fate was on Kai ’ s side, and he

quickly steadied himself, righting the blankets and gripping the edge of the cart. He flung himself

over the side and rolled toward the grass that lined the cleared pathway, glancing at the cart

before he melted into the woods. He ran and ran until he couldn ’ t run any longer. He flopped

down on a bed of moss and slept, forgetting his problems for a few brief hours.

When he had woken up, his stomach protested loudly. He glanced around, hoping for

any sign of life, but finding none. He got up and began walking. Birds chirped happily from their

nests. Once or twice, he followed the trail of a bird as it flew through the air, temporarily

distracted. It was in doing so that he was led to a stream of water as pure as diamonds. He drank

greedily. As he began to explore the area, looking for a cave or crevice to lie in, twigs cracked.

He dove behind a tree, crouching to make himself smaller.

Voices had approached him then, though he neither understood what they said nor cared

to remember as the thunder roared, breaking his concentration on the invading memory. He

screwed his eyes shut tighter and forced himself to become part of the memory again, right down

to believing he smelled the crisp scent of pine trees and the rough bark beneath his fingers.

A heavy thud made him jump in his skin. He ’ d eyed it, the nerves clenching tighter when

he saw one of their bags placed close to him. Another, much larger bag was placed next to that,

and the voices retreated a little.

Curiosity had gotten the better of him and he crept over to the smaller bag, swallowing a

squeak when he saw its contents. One shining apple sat in the bag amongst other, less

remarkable things — namely scraps of paper and a compass. His mouth watered as he held the

apple up to his face. Tucking it into his inner jacket pocket, he backed away from his spot and

snuck away, not noticing the golden crest on the bag ’ s flap.

That was the first time he had truly stolen food from someone directly. Kai liked to think,

and still thought, that stealing from food stores wasn ’ t as much of an offense as the kind of theft

he ’ d committed that day.

It was that kind of stealing that had gotten him caught, though he ’ d become so brazen

that one day, he stole into the bakery while the baker was speaking with a customer. He took a

loaf of golden bread from the domed clay hearth, the fire licking at the paddle he used to take it

from the flames. Kai had successfully gotten it onto the table and located a cloth to wrap it in

when the baker began shouting at him. Without another thought, he scooped up the bread and


fled. He hadn ’ t made it very far when the baker, who had gained the attention of the guards that

had been patrolling outside the blacksmith ’ s, gripped his shoulder and yanked him back. He fell,

landing on his rear before he was roughly picked up by the guards and taken here. From what the

baker had yelled, that bread had been meant for the castle, though Kai doubted that, knowing that

kings could afford to have their own kitchens and cooks and dough makers.

Kai shook his head. Opening his eyes, he was greeted with the present: the same stale

odor of unkempt people, the occasional whimper of those who found sleep, and the storm ’ s

eternal tantrum. He hoped the rain would stop soon, though another part prayed it went on for a

little while longer. He liked the surprise of guessing when the lightning would strike and the

trumpet of thunder. It became a game for him, something to keep his mind occupied, besides

reliving the past. It broke up the time and keep him from screaming in the night like the man

across the way from him.

Kai continued to count the breaths between the flashing lights and the low rumbling of

the thunder until his eyes drooped and the sky brightened with the rise of the sun behind the

gloomy clouds.


4. A New Sunrise

When his eyes closed again and he had wrapped the blanket tighter around himself, Kai

fell asleep to the recollection of the first few days in the prison. Each time that tray had slid

through the bottom of the door, he expected it to be some cruel joke and for the bowls to contain

only air. It took a while for him to expect the opposite, that he was being fed. That was the only

way to keep track of time. Like clockwork, food was provided a few hours after the sun had risen

and again at dusk.

Presently, the familiar scraping filled his ears, gently nudging Kai from his shallow sleep.

He swept his hair back and rolled onto his other side. He smiled faintly when his eyes landed on

the tray.

Like every other meal, he treated it as if it were the last. Kai steadied himself, reminding

himself to savor it, to appreciate it. He slurped the soup, which had some chopped vegetables in

it, and soaked his bread in the broth. He hoped he never got sick of bread. It tasted fresher than

usual. Or maybe he couldn ’ t remember what fresh bread tasted like anymore.

The rain outside slowed. The thunder became more distant as he finished eating, though

the wind still howled, causing the clouds to part. Stray sunbeams pierced through the thinning

cloud coverage. One landed directly in his window, giving him a slanted light to see by instead

of the faded flickering from the torches in the corridor. This was as bright as his cell had ever

gotten. He sat in his corner — the one without the leak — and sucked on the last piece of bread,

watching the outside world brighten with the sunrise. Eventually, he chewed it and relished in

the temporary fullness of his stomach. One of his hands rested there, patting it softly. It was still

sharp, though Kai thought he seemed fuller than he was previously.

His mind wandered again, preparing for a long day. The sunny days were always the

hardest because he couldn ’ t smell the crispness of the fresh air or feel the sun warm his skin.

Instead, he tried to focus on time, how long he ’ d been in one place before he ’ d had to leave. How

long had he lived with that woman? How long did the sickness take to spread, to take his

parents? How much time had passed between now and then? He wasn ’ t sure, just as he wasn ’ t

sure how long he had been here.

It must have been long a time , he thought, I ’ ve seen snow, lots and lots of rain, and tons

of rats . He scrunched his nose, thinking of the few times that the rats had invaded his cell instead


of his view from the window. At least they had left when he shooed them. Kai settled against the

wall, preparing to count the pairs of feet that passed by his ground-level window.

He had counted seven pairs when the squealing of a key in its lock brought his attention

to his door. Arty stood in the doorway with a smile on his wrinkled face. Kai sprang up, tempted

to move forward, but he restrained himself, unsure of what to do. Arty nodded and motioned him

forward, his smile growing wider. Kai noticed the flicker of sadness in his aged eyes, but didn ’ t

know what it meant.

“ It seems you ’ ve served your time, Kai. Get on now, come on, ” Arty urged him gently.

Together, they walked down the corridor, Arty ’ s hand on Kai ’ s shoulder. They passed cells,

some with faces pressed against the barred window, and some cast in complete shadow, as they

wound through the maze of halls and torches. Guards stood at attention at intervals and made no

movement as the boy and his guide passed.

They reached the end of a narrow hall where the guards had set up a table before the final

gate at the dungeon ’ s entrance. One of the guards who sat at the round wooden table stood and

unlocked the gate, allowing the pair to pass before closing it again. After traveling down a few

more winding corridors, Arty came to a halt before another solid door. Kai stepped toward it

hesitantly. Arty put a hand to Kai ’ s arm and held his other hand out.

“ It isn ’ t much, but I think you ’ ll find it helpful, ” he paused, passing a few coins to Kai.

“ One more thing: I hear the kitchens need some help. I also think there ’ s a need for errand boys,

but that could be hogwash. ” He winked and walked off the way they had come.

Kai stood, staring at the door, his hand limply gripping the few coins, the most he had

ever held at one time, and breathed heavily. Light poked through the edges of the ill-fitted door.

The handle was cool under his fingers. He grasped it tightly and twisted.

The sun blinded his eyes. He tried to shield them, but not even squeezing them tightly

and clamping his hand over them could protect them from the brightness. He blinked rapidly and

kept his head down, following whatever path his feet had decided on. Mud and wetness crept

into his worn shoes as he shuffled through the field and made his way towards what he hoped

would be the town. He rounded a corner, his eyes having fully adjusted, and looked up. It was a

high, spiraling tower. Kai wondered what was in there, and if sneaking inside could get him

thrown into the dungeon again.


He shoved his hands in his pockets after putting the money inside his coat pocket, over

his left breast. He continued walking aimlessly, leaving the stone castle behind him with every

step. He glanced over his shoulder. It was impressive, he had to admit. Looking out over the hill,

he could see the town below and the houses nestled along the pathway. He was halfway to the

palace gates and somehow found himself to be stuck in place. As he stood, a pair of guards

walked up the path, halting behind him.

“ Lost, are ya, boy? ” asked the taller one.

“ Where are the kitchens? ” Kai asked in return, squinting against the sun.

“ Why? ”

“ I heard they were looking for help. ”

After grumbling between themselves, the guards gave him directions to the back entrance

of the kitchen. Quickly, Kai strolled back down the path, following what the guards had said, and

found himself being pulled into the boiling kitchen. He had barely enough time to register the

scores of people coming in and out, some with trays of food and others with pitchers of foul-

smelling drinks, while others had empty hands and flushed cheeks. A woman came over to him,

her hair in a tight bun. Stray wisps floated in front of her face, which she promptly tucked behind

her ear with a huff.

“ And who are you? ” Her lips thinned as she peered down at him, her chest heaving as she

wiped her hands on the stained and flour-covered apron around her waist.

“ Someone told me you needed help here in the kitchens and I was hoping I could help, ”

Kai said, attempting to sound calm despite his raging nerves and uncertainty. He needed this,

needed to work.

The woman stared at him for what seemed to be an eternity in the midst of the fluttering

chaos of the kitchens before she nodded slowly. “ I see. You ’ re that boy Arty was talking about.

Can you carry flour? Those sacks needed to be unloaded yesterday. ”

As she said this, she motioned to a small cart haphazardly stowed in a corner of the

kitchens before the rain of last night could ruin the flour. Kai nodded eagerly, not willing to

admit that he didn ’ t know if he could lift those sacks or not. He grabbed an apron and got to


He groaned, the sacks being heavier than he thought. They slipped in his arms, but he

only tightened his grip on them, holding them close to his stomach. He stacked them in a room


adjacent to the main kitchen, weaving in and out of the bustling crowd as he paced back and

forth between the cart and the storage room.

When he finally finished, his arms and stomach burned from the effort. He was quickly

reassigned to stoking the fires for the four large clay ovens. Ashes settled in his hair, the heat and

smoke burning his lungs. He didn ’ t mind because he was occupied with the thought of the coins

in his discarded jacket. He heard them faintly tinkling with his movements as the jacket swayed

from its place around his waist.

Eventually, the kitchen emptied, leaving only Kai, the cooks, and the woman whose

name was Miss Trea. They all seemed to sigh in relief as the near-vacancy settled around them.

All too soon, the kitchen was thrust back into the thick of the action again. Dishes had to

be washed and dried and desserts placed on platters. Kai had never seen so much food and hassle

in his life, though he kept his head down and focused on what he was told to do. In this case, he

hoped he didn ’ t drop any dishes. They were all fragile and expensive, and incredibly slippery

when wet.

Kai settled into the kitchen ’ s routine within the first week of working there. He found that

he enjoyed the busy hours, learning that the rush was the royal ’ s mealtime. They often had guests

and even hosted a lavish party the first week he had worked. At the end of every week, he

received payment: two coins, enough to buy himself some extra food or save for a new pair of

shoes. Miss Trea had been kind enough to allow him to stay with her for a time, though he

declined, preferring to wander. She was rather adamant, though, and so he stayed with her for a

few weeks until he had assured her that he could manage.

He had left her home and shoved his hands in his pockets and quickly found his way to

the docks, following the salty tang on the air. He smiled, watching the water lap at the pilings,

and looked out over the fleet of docked ships. Several had purple flags, and each was as majestic

as the one he had watched on the horizon eons ago. From here, he could see that the flags bore a

gold crest, the symbol of the royal family he ’ d learned. Kai stared at the ships wistfully,

wondering how many kitchen servants one ship needed and the other ways he could be part of

their crew. Begrudgingly, Kai trekked back to the castle, to a little hidden crevice he had found

one afternoon near the kitchens and called his own.


5. The Ship with the Plum-Colored Flag

It was on a day in the middle of autumn when Kai received a rare day off, the royals

having already left for their winter castle, when he found his way down to the docks again.

He couldn ’ t believe that almost a year and a half had passed since he ’ d come here on that

ship, most of which he had spent in a dingy cell. His eyes scanned over the ships there, counting

seven of the crown ’ s ships.

“ Stunning, isn ’ t it? I never get tired of looking at it. ”

Kai jumped, swinging around to see who had spoken. Vague recognition flitted across his

mind. He bowed deeply, as he ’ d been taught, and addressed the finely dressed man, “ Captain

Ellsworth. ”

For a moment, they stood in silence, watching the ships gently bounce on the waves. Kai

shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. He wasn ’ t certain if he should leave or remain as he

was. Instead, he refocused on the sturdy ships and their plum-colored flags waving in the sea

breeze. The docks were alive with people, though from his spot on the hill, he was given the

impression of watching a mass of squirming ants carry off bits of a picnic. He assumed the crew

was loading crates and things onto the ship in preparation for wherever they were sailing to.

“ Have you ever been on a ship before? ” Captain Ellsworth asked absently.

“ No, sir, never, ” Kai breathed, swallowing hard.

He cast a sideways glance at the sailor standing beside him. Captain Ellsworth had a soft

smile on his face as he continued to study the distant horizon, looking past the ships and people

at the utter peacefulness of the open sea. Neither of them spoke for a long time, the sun cresting

higher in the sky. Eventually, Kai began to think that he was utterly alone and that he ’ d only

imagined Captain Ellsworth.

“ Well, I best be going — can ’ t keep those ships waiting, ” the captain sighed, beginning to

make his way down to the docks.

Kai didn ’ t know what to say and waved goodbye, knowing that the captain couldn ’ t see

him. The wind stirred the autumn leaves. Some were plucked from their branches and fluttered to

the ground. The ships began to set sail. He watched with rapt interest as each began to drift off

with the wind toward the shining horizon. He sat on the hill beneath a tree with his knees to his

chest and watched until he couldn ’ t make out the line of ships any longer. Like a dream, they


disappeared into the bright sun. Kai stayed there for some time until his stomach growled with


He stood and stretched his arms and shook out his legs. He decided to visit Miss Trea.

She usually had some sort of stew simmering in the hearth for herself and the rest of the staff. As

he walked through the village to the castle kitchens, he stopped at his favorite bakery, the one he

hadn ’ t attempted to steal from, and bought two pastries.

They had a delightful lunch, discussing the inner workings of the castle and the rumors

that had circulated while he had spent the day at the docks. Kai ended up drying dishes, not quite

ready to leave yet.

And so, this pattern of work and a rare morning off continued for some time.

By the middle of winter, Captain Ellsworth and his crew had returned. The captain took

an interest in Kai and began seeking him out, discovering his place in the kitchen. One day, right

after supper, the captain appeared in the kitchens for the second time that week. Miss Trea

greeted him. They spoke quietly for a minute or two before she called Kai over. Captain

Ellsworth was making him his attendant, if he accepted, of course. Kai eagerly accepted the new

position with the captain and began his new work.

With the money he had saved from working in the kitchens, he purchased a new coat and

pair of boots, grateful for both as he roamed the drafty castle corridors, running errands for the

captain and delivering messages. Every now and then, he slipped into the kitchens and conversed

with Miss Trea and the cooks. He passed along the rumors that were whispered in the main part

of the castle and was told all about the scandals overheard by the kitchen and serving staff.

Kai now had his own room in the castle barracks. He was given a bed, nightstand, and a

small table and chair, which was meant as a desk. Miss Trea ’ s sister, Miss Agnes, made a thick

quilt for him, which kept him warm on the bitter winter nights. He also bought a few plates and a

set or two of cutlery and more food than he thought he could possibly eat. But he did. Every last

bite of food was savored and consumed. He often went into town to the bakery or the butchers

and stocked his personal store, cooking his own suppers in his room at the end of a long day.

He relished in the softness of his own bed against his back and letting his aching feet

dangle over the side before he curled up and drew the covers up to his chin. He often slept

soundly until the castle ’ s roosters began to crow at the rising sun.


On some nights, Kai was kept awake by his memories. Sometimes he relieved the

sickness that had descended upon his village. Other times, the shattering of a glass bottle echoed

and rattled around in his head until he was swept into a restless sleep. His favorite nights were

the ones where he was sailing on a grand ship, wind whipping his hair as he scurried around the

deck, adjusting rigs and pulleys as needed at his captain ’ s command. And in the morning, when

he ’ d wake up, he ’ d sigh and drag himself out of bed, still hoping that Captain Ellsworth would

need to set sail again. Then, and only then, would he have a chance of getting on one of those


For now, Kai was content with being patient and grateful for the life he ’ d built for

himself, with the help of a few friends.

Now and then, he saw Arty. They spoke as if they were old friends. Once Kai told him of

his dreams, Arty got this gleam in his eyes and began teaching him how to sail and tie knots. He

told stories of all the places he had sailed to before settling down here. Arty never mentioned

what he did in his past, but his stories sparked tales of pirates and naval battles in Kai ’ s mind.

Each time the pair met, Kai was left with a sense of inspiration and an even stronger sense of

determination to live his dream, and continue Arty ’ s.

“ It is one of my deepest regrets that I quit sailing. ” Arty had said one evening as the pair

sat on the docks. “ Once you start, don ’ t ever stop, Kai. You ’ ll regret it bitterly. ”

The only problem was that Kai hadn ’ t been able to start and his chances were getting

slimmer as he grew older into young adulthood. Captain Ellsworth had sailed many times for a

few days at a time or a week or two, leaving Kai behind for some reason or another.

Kai began to think it was hopeless and slowly, his fire faded and, with it, his dreams. The

sea still gave him hope, though he didn ’ t soar with it any longer. It became a symbol of all that

could be out there, waiting to be discovered, while he was tethered to the castle and his new



6. New Tides

“ Stunning, isn ’ t, Kai? ” Captain Ellsworth asked. He and Kai stood at the helm, staring

out at the open sea before them, waiting to embark on their journey.

“ Yes, Captain. It ’ s much more exciting than gazing at it from the docks, ” he replied,

turning so his back was to the setting sun.

The rest of the crew bustled about the dock and ship, loading their provisions. They were

set to travel for many days, stopping at numerous ports along the way until they reached the

northern shores of the country, where they would resupply a fort there. When the last of the

cargo had been loaded, the crew began to prepare for their departure. Captain Ellsworth

disappeared below deck to finalize their course, leaving Kai in command. He took to the helm

and began shouting orders over the roaring ocean.

Wind whipped at their faces, distorting the first mate ’ s orders. The crew didn ’ t seem to

have any issues hearing him, as they worked swiftly to follow the instructions shouted from the

helm. The sun glared brightly down at the water, making it shimmer. Before long, Kai was

navigating the channel.

He kept the wheel steady, his hands naturally adjusting and working with the sway of the

water and the push of the wind. He stood firm, his feet even with the width of his shoulders. His

muscles were tensed. Kai grew conscious of the soreness and adjusted to relax his body,

allowing it to move with the smoothness of the ship, becoming part of the ship, an extension of

the helm.

Fluffy pearl clouds dotted the bright sky, obstructing the sun ’ s rays. It created a sort of

heavenly view, making the day all the more perfect. He grinned, watching the waves crest and

even out on the surface of the water, only a minor bump in the smooth sea. The clouds glided

smoothly across the azure sky. The sea breeze caught in the sails and made them puff out like a

proud man ’ s chest. The plum-colored flag with the golden crest waved and snapped happily in

the wind. The spray of the ocean misted his face.

If this is what salvation is like, Kai mused, I no longer need to die to reach it.

Even on the days when it stormed, when there was no land in sight, and the thunder was

louder than it was on land, it was still salvation to him. Stormy days were a treacherous time to

be at sea. But they managed, and they survived.

Kai survived.


He survived life, survived hunger and loss, sickness and imprisonment. But more

importantly, his hope had survived, even when he thought he had lost it.

The day stretched on, with Kai attending to either the helm or other tasks until his duties

were fulfilled and he could retire for the night. Staring up at the night sky, he was once again

reminded of Heaven and of hope.

Hope. A funny thing, really. You can ’ t ever truly lose it. Kai grinned, stretching his arms

wide. The stars winked to life above his head. There was nothing like the night sky over the open

water. It was endless and bright. Each little speck lighting up the darkness, no matter how far

away they were or how small, they made a difference and cast their light without a care.

That ’ s hope.

Hope isn ’ t just a dream, it ’ s a promise to fate, to yourself, that things will change and no

matter how dark, there will always be a light. No matter what, there is light, no matter how


With the crew beginning to settle in for the night, Kai headed below deck to his bunk. He

laid in bed, staring at the wooden ceiling above him. His eyes twinkled in the darkness before

sleep overtook him, the gentle sway of the ship lulling Kai into his dreams. There, he stood at the

helm on a clear day. A soft breeze blew across the deck. He sailed endlessly, with nowhere in

particular to go, only straight on until he wanted to reach land and dock once more.

And Kai was awakened the next day by the shouting above deck. The seas were getting

rough. The signs of a storm painted in the sky. Today was going to be challenging. He didn ’ t

mind. There was nothing like witnessing the lightning strike between clouds. A little ray of light












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