The man in black stood in the bow of the ship, hands resting upon the railing, looking out toward the dark sea that surrounded him. The moon above shed its soft light upon the world around him, stealing all things of color, so that the snapping flag atop the mast - traditionally a white shark upon a green background, the symbol of Carlin de Amegos, Kingdom of Friends - was hardly discernable. The sea crashed upon the ship's hull, causing the ship to sway softly from side to side, the world around slanted at first to the left, then the right, and again.
He was dying. He was not an old man, but neither was he young. Touches of gray marred his sandy blond hair at the temples, and his face was lined and wrinkled by hard years at sea. Time had caught up to him, a life of heavy drinking in port and hard work at sea had beaten the once-strong man down into this querelous shell. This would be his last voyage, and he was glad of that. It took him entirely too long to get his sea legs these days, and each morning it was harder and harder to rise from the inviting darkness of sleep.
A quiet cry broke the man from his contemplations, and he went at once to the source - a babe barely a few days old, taken from his mother after his birth, lay within the makeshift cradle secured to the mast. As the man looked down into the child's face, he recalled his Lord's instructions to take the child to the farthest ends of the world and dispose of him. Looking upon the beautiful face of the boy, the man in black knew he could not simply dump the child into the ocean, as had been his Lord's intent. Those golden eyes caught at his very soul, and the heavy years upon his shoulders seemed to fade away.
"Land, ho!" came the cry from the sentry within the crow's nest far above. The man in black was forced to turn away from the child at those words, and the weight of his years crashed down upon him once more, bowing his shoulders and making his steps heavy. With reluctance, he took his place within the prow once more, trying to make out the shape of the land the sentry had spotted.
In the distance, growing out of the dark sea, he could barely make out the shape of a small island. The sails above creaked, filled with wind, seeming to strain out toward the speck of land, seeming as eager to end this journey as the man who had come aboard at their last port. Footsteps upon the deck alerted the man to someone approaching, and he turned, his eyes falling upon the grey face of the Captain.
"I hope this is far enough," the captain said with disgust. "When we get within reach of the island, we'll drop a longboat and send you ashore, and be back to civilization."
"Very good, Captain," the man said in a wheezy voice. The Captain snorted and turned away, stomping back to the wheel. He had not wanted to take this journey - it was far away from any trade routes, isolated as it could be, for no ships ever left the island. There would be no profit on the return trip, for the island had no goods to export. The grizzled Captain had been deep in his cups when the man in black had approached him, though, and the amount of gold had been great. After three weeks at sea, however, the amount of gold no longer seemed so grand.
As they neared the shallows of the island, the longboat was dropped from its housing, carrying the man in black with the babe in his arms, and three of the captain's stoutest rowers. The shallows of this island had a dreadfully strong current, bringing everything into its shores, and stout men would be required to haul the boat back to the ship.
On the inward journey, the rowers were still, merely guiding the narrow boat toward the gently sloped shores and letting the current carry them. Not far away from them, barely visible beneath the silver moonlight, was a goodly-sized village, though none stirred within. With some effort, they managed to slow the longboat's approach to the shore, allowing it to coast gently up onto the sands.
"This is where we leave you, old man," one of the rowers said as the man in black stepped onto the sands. Wracked by a sudden, painful cough, he nodded and the sailors shoved the boat back into the current, fighting mightily against it but gradually gaining their way through it. The man in black watched them for a goodly amount of time, then sighed and turned toward the village.
He knew this village - knew it very well, in fact. He had grown up here, but had left at a young age to seek his fortune, taking passage on one of those few ships that drifted past it on the horizon. A smile lit the old man's face, making him seem years younger, as he recalled his youth in this village - and knowing that where he had begun, he would also end.
Making his way through the village, calling upon his memories, he went straight to a house set slightly apart from the others. It was by no means the largest in the village, but it was large - mainly due to the fact that the family that had always lived there was the most proliferous, each generation producing large hordes of children. The man in black glanced toward the horizon, where the sun was just barely cresting it, restoring only a muted color to the world. One hand came up to knock upon the door, loud enough to rouse those that lived within.
"Hold your seahorses, I'm coming," grumped a male voice from within, a voice that the man in black remembered from childhood. The door swung open to reveal a man stripped to the waist, with wild braids in his crimson hair and long beard. No touch of grey was upon this man, who looked to be within the vitality of his youth, though he was at least as old as the man who stood upon his doorstep.
"Seturn," the man in black greeted him - cordially, if not warmly. A smile lit his face again. "So good to see you after all these years; you're looking well."
An expression of curiosity and confusion flickered across the red-haired man's face, slowly replaced by a look of recognition. "Zaphis? Is that you?"
"Aye, Seturn, it is," the man in black replied, covering his mouth as a wicked cough wracked his body.
"Ho, Zaphis! It's been ages! We all thought you were lost at sea! Come in out of the chill wind, my friend! How many years has it been?" Seturn stepped back to allow Zaphis entry into his home, closing it quietly behind the man in black as he entered.
"An age, Seturn, an age," Zaphis replied warmly. Seturn led him into the kitchen, where they sat around a large, oblong table. Zaphis settled the sleeping babe upon the table before him. Seturn looked curiously at the bundle, but returned his attention to his long-lost childhood friend.
"You've come back with a purpose, I gather," Seturn said.
"Aye, my old friend, I have." Zaphis took a moment to gather his thoughts. "My Lord bade me to take this child away - a result of my Lady's indiscretions - and I could not bear to consign it to the depths. My time is short, Seturn," he said to the curious look of the red-haired man. "My years of duty and service have robbed all vitality from my body. I have carried the child across the length and breadth of the world, upon several ships, to reach the place of my birth, for I remember it a happy place, far from the political wrangling that threatens to set the world aflame. So I have come to ask a boon of you, my oldest and dearest friend."
"Anything, Zaphis," Seturn said, a look of sadness upon his face as the realization of his friend's words sank in.
"Take care of the child, friend Seturn, and raise him as your own. He deserves more than the quick end his father would have for him, and more consideration than the world would give a bastard."
"It will be as you wish, my friend," Seturn said, rising from his chair and crossing over to his friend, placing a warm hand upon the robed man's frail shoulder.
"My final task is done then," Zaphis said, a smile upon his face. He took a deep, shuddering breath and surrendered to the illness that ravaged his body. "Thank you," were the last words Zaphis ever spoke as he quietly slumped down in the chair and died.