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Dawnshard
Author: Brandon Sanderson

 


Prologue

 

 

Nothing could compete with the experience of dangling from the rigging tens of feet in the air—fresh sea air in your face—while looking across an infinite plane of shimmering blue water. The vast ocean was an open roadway. An individual invitation to explore.

People feared the sea, but Yalb had never understood that. The sea was so open, so welcoming. Pay her a little respect, and she would carry you anywhere you wished to go. She’d even feed you along the way and lull you to sleep with her songs at night.

He took a deep, full breath—tasting the salt, watching windspren dance past—and grinned ear to ear. Yes, nothing could compare to these moments. But the chance to win a few spheres off the new guy . . . well, that did come close.

Dok clung to the rigging with the tight grip of a man who didn’t want to fall—rather than the loose control of one who knew he wouldn’t. The fellow was competent, for an Alethi. Most of them never set foot on ships except to cross particularly wide ponds. This guy, however, not only knew his port from his starboard, he could legitimately haul on a bowline and reef a sail without hanging himself.

But he held on too tightly. And he grabbed the rail when the ship swayed. And he had fallen seasick on the third day. So while Dok was close to being a real sailor, he wasn’t quite there. And since Yalb made a point of keeping an eye on new sailors these days, it fell to him to help Dok via a good pranking. If the Alethi queen wanted more of her people trained in Thaylen sailing traditions, they’d need to learn this part too. It was educational.

“There!” Yalb said, leaning out and pointing with one hand as he swayed in the breeze. “You see it?”

“Where?” Dok climbed higher, scanning the horizon.

“Right there!” Yalb pointed again. “Big spren, emerging from the waters near where the sunlight reflects.”

“No,” Dok said.

“Huh. It’s right there, Dok. Enormous sailorspren. Guess you ain’t—”

“Wait!” Dok shaded his eyes. “I see it!”

“Really?” Yalb said. “What does it look like?”

“A vast yellow spren?” Dok said. “Rising out of the water? It has big tentacles, waving in the air. And . . . and a bright red stripe on its back.”

“Well toss me overboard and call me a fish,” Yalb said. “If you can see it, I guess you are a real sailor! You win the bet, then.”

Of course, they’d made certain Dok could hear them whispering when they’d discussed these supposed “sailorspren,” so he knew what description to give. Yalb fished a few chips from his pocket and handed them to Dok. Easy early winnings to facilitate Dok’s playing along more and more. He’d see manifestations of the “sailorspren” everywhere until—after putting a huge bet on the table that he could catch one—it was revealed that there was no such thing as a sailorspren, and everyone would have a big laugh.

Way Yalb saw it, if a fellow was naive enough to get pranked, then he’d lose all his spheres eventually. Why not lose them to mates? Besides, they’d keep the spheres to buy everyone—Dok included—rounds on shore leave. After all, once you got your mates drunk, that was when you became a real sailor. Plus, once they were sloshed enough, maybe they would all see a bunch of bright yellow spren with tentacles.

Dok settled into the rigging. “Is it true you sank once, Yalb?”

“The ship sank,” Yalb said. “I merely happened to be a resident thereon.”

“Not what I heard,” Dok said, his voice lightly spiced with an Alethi accent. “Didn’t you tell people the whole storming ship vanished underneath you?”

“Yeah, well, I swallowed half the ocean before someone fished me out,” Yalb said. “I wasn’t exactly a reliable witness at that point, was I?”

And he’d find the sailor who was repeating that story, then sew his hammock shut. They knew Yalb didn’t like talking about the night the Wind’s Pleasure had gone down. It had been a good ship, with a better crew. Of them, only three had survived.

The other two told the same terrible story, same as Yalb remembered it. Assassins in the dark—something worse than a mutiny. And then . . . the whole ship just gone. For months he’d thought himself insane. But then the whole storming world had gone insane, with Voidbringers returning, a new storm blowing in, and everyone at war.

So now he had Alethi on his ship. And he’d keep an eye on anyone new, to be safe. Dok seemed a good sort though, so Yalb was going to treat him right—by treating him wrong.

Yalb leaned out farther, trying to recover his mood. “Now that you’ve seen the sailorspren, you can . . .” He frowned. What was that? Marring the infinite blue beauty?

“What?” Dok asked, eager. “I can what, Yalb?”

“Hush,” Yalb said, climbing up to the eel’s nest to wave at Brekv, who was on duty. “Three points off the port bow!”

Brekv spun and searched that direction, raising his spyglass. Then he swore softly.

“What?” Yalb said.

“Ship. Wait a minute. It’s coming up over the curve. . . . Yeah, it’s a ship, sails in tatters. Listing to port. How’d you ever spot it?”

“What banner does it fly?”

“None,” Brekv said, handing down the spyglass.

A bad sign. Why was it out here alone, during a war? Yalb’s own vessel was a quick scouting vessel, so it made sense for them to sail alone. But a merchant ship would want an escort these days.

Yalb focused on the ship. No crew on deck. Storms. He handed the spyglass back.

“You want to report it?” Brekv asked.

Yalb nodded, then went sliding down the line past Dok, who looked on with surprise. Yalb leaped off the rope and hit the deck running, then was up to the captain’s post in three jumps, skipping half the steps.

“What?” Captain Smta said. She was a tall woman, with her eyebrows in curls to match her hair.

“Ship,” Yalb said. “No crew on deck. Three points off the port bow.”

The captain glanced toward the helmswoman, then nodded. Orders went out to the men in the rigging. The ship turned toward the newly sighted vessel.

“You take a boarding party, Yalb,” the captain said. “In case your special experience is needed.”

Special experience. The rumors weren’t true, but everyone believed them, whispering that Yalb had sailed on a ghost ship for years—which was why it had eventually vanished. There was a reason nobody would hire all three of the survivors together, and they’d had to go their own ways.

He didn’t complain at the treatment. The captain had been good to take him. So if she ordered him, he’d do it. Indeed, though he was a mere seaman with no authority, even the first mate looked to him for orders as they finally pulled up beside the strange ship. Sails all torn to shreds. Listing in the water with a deck empty of even ghosts.

It didn’t vanish beneath their feet as they explored it. An hour of searching later, they returned empty-handed. No sign of any ship’s log, and no sign of any crew—living or dead. Only a name. First Dreams, a private ship the first mate remembered hearing about. It had vanished five months prior during some kind of mysterious voyage.

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