"I told you he'd never fly." Vincent had spied the blackbird. He nudged his brother so that Isaac would help check the nets. "He's pathetic, really."
"No, he's not!"
By now they were past the fog that always clung to shore at this time of year, and the night was clear. There were so many stars in the sky, and the vast expanse of dark and light was frightening. The water was rougher than Isaac had ever seen it in their bay, and they were still not even halfway to the Middle Banks. The sloop seemed small out here, far too breakable.
"Is this the way it always is?" Isaac asked his brother. He felt sick to his stomach; there was a lurching in his bones and blood. He thought about the oak tree and the meadow and the frogs and the way his mother looked at him when he came in through the door.
"It's the way it is tonight," Vincent said.
Used to the sea, Vincent fell asleep easily, but Isaac couldn't close his eyes. John Hadley understood; he came to sit beside the boy. It was so dark that every star in the sky hung suspended above the mast, as though only inches above them. Isaac recognized the big square of Pegasus that he'd seen in his book. The night looked like spilled milk, and John Hadley pointed out Leo, the harbinger of spring, then the North Star, constant as always. John could hear the chattering of the blackbird in his son's waistcoat. He could taste his wife's farewell kiss.
"What happens if a storm comes up?" Isaac said, free to be frightened now that his brother was asleep, free to be the boy he still was. "What happens if I'm thrown overboard? Or if a whale comes along? What happens then?"
"Then I'll save you." When the wind changed John Hadley smelled turnips, he really did, and he laughed at the scent of it, how it had followed him all this way to the Middle Banks, to remind him of everything he had to lose.
Excerpted from Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman Copyright© 2004 by Alice Hoffman. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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