Where I am is where I’ve always been,
but what I see has changed.
They cut us free somewhere near the Gulf of Caines. The water dark, the moon nothing but a sliver and the stars clouded as the ship’s canvas swelled with an easterly that took it far into the distance within precious little time. Left me rocking in a skiff, alone, but for the limp form of my companion—a man weathered by the sun and salt with a still-seeping gash under his left eye.
I calculated I had three days. If I were lucky. Though, luck had never been on my side, especially not recently.
That first long night, shivering in the unfettered ocean wind and my hunger for revenge keeping the pangs in my stomach at bay, I resisted the urge to dump that man overboard. I wasn’t sure why. Could just be I was so preoccupied by that fading black smudge on the horizon. Plus, I’ve never been one to handle loneliness well. And even a man condemned by his brothers for a traitorous nature was better company than the tang of salt spraying into my face whenever the skiff smacked on the downside. The fact he was also attractive despite the cut didn’t hurt either and I admit to dreaming of wringing a few good moments out of life with him before we succumbed.
Besides, I figured a dead man in the water brought sharks faster.
Dawn found me hunched in the stern, tired because I’d kept jerking awake, sore, since finding comfort in the wooden edges of the skiff was impossible. I gingerly raised myself high enough so I could scan the horizon. Nothing but morning color on one side and the violet haze of a relenting night on the other.
The boat pitched then, slamming my head into the side. I cursed like the sailors I’d been traveling with, calling out to that living, breathing leviathan believed to be responsible for every death upon the waves. My voice cracked, loud enough I must have woken the other man.
He groaned and twisted, his knee rising and his hand moving for his head. I settled within the stern once more and observed him as he fumbled his way to a sitting position, his hand missing the edge of the skiff once before he focused. As intelligence sparked in his eyes, the fog of unconsciousness slow to release him, he narrowed his gaze at me.
“Yer the cartographer? The grunt who made the star charts that led us astray?”
I shrugged, striving for a carelessness, but my heart hammered behind my rib cage like a fleet-footed deer and I reminded myself that not every sailor took up with men simply because their prospects were slim.
His stare turned more intense, as if he could see right past my feeble attempts to project some form of unconcern. “I’m curious,” he said, in a tone that said he wasn’t truly curious, but wanted an excuse to mock me. “Was ya purposefully leadin’ us wrong or are ya simply that inept?”
Affronted, I said, “My charts were fine. And considering they’re left in the care of the sailing master instead of dumped in here with us, I presume he knows that.”
The man cracked a sliver of a smile. “Ya’d argue ta the death over their accuracy despite sendin’ us so far from the Giant’s Belt. So tell me, where are we?”
“Given you likely know the ocean currents better than I, I was hoping you’d be able to answer that.”
“The stars did nah speak ta ya all night?”
“It was cloudy.”
He laughed bitterly. “Of course it were.”
“It was,” I protested, though I sounded like a petulant child, insisting on an excuse to free myself from punishment. I quickly staunched my whining and pressed my lips together in a thin, insincere smile.
The man hefted himself onto the thwart at the bow end of the skiff, the position putting him at an angle so I was forced to look up at him. At least with the sun at my back he was mostly within the light, which gave me a full view of the tattoos running along his shaved head. On one side the black markings were of a wicked looking sea serpent, crudely done, and low on the other curled smoke-like lines that I assumed represented the misty maidens who populated the sea between the continents.
He had a number of small scars across the side of his neck, as if shrapnel from a shattered bulkhead had embedded there once. His pale eyes were hooded from too much squinting in the sunlight, but had a piercing quality to them that only added to his intensity. His hands, rough and weathered like the rest of him, gripped the sides of the skiff as if he were prepared to launch at me at a second’s notice.
We were opposites, him and I.
Me with my hands soft and stained with ink rather than callused from rope burn. Me with none of the hardness he possessed. None of the decades’ worth of experience of facing down the fickle nature of the sea and its deadly inhabitants.
“What’s yer name?” he demanded. Continue reading →