“Proditor, no!” I scream as he slices the rope attaching me to the mast with his curved sword. The storm winds blow through the air as if to rip reality to shreds. Without the rope I’m immediately blown twenty feet above the deck into the sky. My limbs are flailing in every direction and I have no control. Hail pelts my skin, tearing through my clothes. It’s the worst storm I’ve ever seen and to top it off I have been betrayed. From above the ship I can see my first mate, Proditor, who looks at me with a sadness in his deep brown eyes that doesn’t fit the smile on his weathered, aged face. He gives me a flicker of a wink before wrenching his eyes away from me and at that moment another gust of the hurricane catches me and I’m shoved through space towards the raging sea.
“Why the wink?” I have time to think before my body hits the water with a smash. My head is plunged under the waves and my lunges feel like they’re exploding. Luckily I’ve always been a strong swimmer and I manage to heave myself up above the wild surf. I look around and see a piece of driftwood careening towards me. I push myself back under the water and spin myself upside down just as the log rushes above me on the surface. Acting completely on instinct my limbs wrap themselves around the log in a vice grip. The logs flips and I’m above the water. I cough out the salty water in my lungs and look back towards my ship, The Singing Mermaid, and see a face looking out at me from the captains quarters. It’s her. She’s been there the entire time. Without another moment to think, darkness cascades around me and the world goes black.
“Squawk!” I jolt up, the sound of a bird waking me. My head shoots towards the sky. It feels like my brain has been replaced by a bag of rocks. My skin is on fire and my throat is so incredibly dry. I slowly look around me. I’m on a sandy beach littered with giant tan boulders that stretches in both directions before curving behind the dense tree line of palms and underbrush. The clear, aqua blue ocean waves come in and out washing over my feet and legs that are splayed out in front of me. I put my hand into the white, fine sand and lift some up watching it fall through my fingers. I look to my right and see a giant log lying on the beach. And then like a bolt of lightning it all comes back to me. I was betrayed and she was part of it. My stomach wraps itself in tight pretzels and my throat constricts making the pain of dryness even more intense. I can feel tears coming to my eyes and yet none fall. “I must be incredibly dehydrated. I wonder how long I was out at sea. I can’t believe I’m actually alive. How did I survive?”
I take a deep breath and begin to stand only to crumble back to the ground. My legs are too weak. “Figures. I make it this far and yet I can’t even stand.” I lie back and let out a deep sigh. The clouds sail across the blue sky as if taunting me. After everything that has happened I’ve woken up only to die. Then I remember the treasure. I sit up again and reach my fingers down into the leather pouch attached to my belt, hoping beyond belief, that it is still there. “Yes!”
The palm-sized vase is shaped intricately, rising from a flat bottom to curve outward into a bulge and then smaller and out again. Its rim splits into twelve petal-shaped lips that curve back under and connect to the side. Its curves entrance me and keep my gaze fixed and yet moving up and down. I can hardly believe that something so beautiful can exist. The vase has a deep green hue with gold specks just under the surface. It holds nothing and yet is all the hope that I have. I make the decision to take my chances and roll slowly onto my back. I hold the vase above me until the sun shines through and blankets my face in green and gold.
I start to speak and my voice cracks from not being used and from dehydration but I manage to say “Oh, Deae Pelagi, who holds the power to destroy and create life, gift me. I will do what I must, so please, please gift me.” Prayer is my only option. I must beg to the Goddess of Waves. I repeat the phrase over and over again until all that comes from my parched mouth is the croak of two words, “gift life.” When I can’t speak anymore I will her to help me, repeating my plea in my heart and mind. Nothing. My life flashes in front of me and I think of home, the beautiful hills for miles and miles that carry the burdens of the common folk. Farms all around and the ocean; that wonderful sea that has always been my destiny. My thoughts drift further away and I am taken back to the days of my youth.
Even when I was very young I would spend my days and nights sitting by the water, swimming with the otters, learning my way around the rocks. I lived for the ocean, for the power and freedom of the waves, and as far as I knew the ocean was there for me, too. Life was mesmerizing. How many things live in the sea that we can’t see in front of us, what has fallen to the depths beyond. I always wanted to be on the sea and on my fourteenth birthday I was finally given a chance. My uncle invited me to join his fishing crew as a crew-boy.
I was a natural immediately, the boat felt like an extension of my body. Ropes would tie in my hands without me knowing how. The wheel in my hands was like an extension of my body. My thoughts become the ship’s thoughts; we were one. And the people: the people around me were family. Every time you’re on a boat only the life around you matters. That’s how I learned to trust my crew like my family. Every person was there for me and I was there for them.
Suddenly reality snaps back and I am once again lying on the beach. “Trust. What a fickle thing. Trust got me here and nothing else.” Bitterness floods through my veins and takes over my heart as I think again of the woman who I loved more than life itself in the window.
Out of the corner of my eye I see a ship on the horizon in the distance. “Maybe they will find me,” I think, knowing that the chances are slim. I close my eyes and let the darkness of sleep envelope me.
“Roll.” A stern voice trails down to my ears from above as my eyes flicker open.
“Roll.” The voice is getting louder.
“Roll.” I hear the clatter of dice landing on stone, then nothing. A few seconds go by and an agonized scream splits the silence before dying down and becoming a gurgle. My stomach feels sick, flipping over and over, not from the rocking of the boat but from the thought that later that scream could be mine. I have heard of this ship and once again I curse myself for my horrible luck. “It would have been better to die on that island than to be here.” It is dark around me but I know where I am. I’m in the brig, the cell below deck. I recognize the horrible stench of human excitement and blood caked on the walls from my years at sea in the emperor’s army.
I feel my way around, touching the slime of mold and rot with my fingers and pulling them back. The smell is horrible, I can hardly breathe. I roll over and my hand slams into metal object in front of me. I curiously feel around in the dark and identify it as a canteen. “Ah, water. Thank Pelagi.” I pull the cup to my mouth and greedily drink the water. I reach down again towards where I found the water and find a rusty tray with a small bit of bread and salted beef. I stuff the food down and curl into a ball on the ground as I wait for my fate. The lulling slosh of the water against the outside of the ship continues monotonously, drowning out my thoughts and calming me down. Before I know it I slip into a light sleep.
I wake up before long to the rocking and the familiar stench of this atrocity called a boat. I still hear the sounds of dice from above me. “How is it that I ended up on this ship of all ships. Why must I roll for my fate like so many who have come before?” I sit up and stare out of the cell at the flicker of the torch that hangs at the end of the corridor. The torch is new. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not. The torch seems to know that it is needed and shines its glow, bringing a needed respite from the murky darkness. Beyond the torch I can just make out the shape of stairs leading up to the deck. Barrels seem to take up most of the space down here and yet a mysterious feeling of an immeasurable void nearby still lingers in my gut. I hear footsteps making their way towards me and I continue to stare at the light, my only hope.
The door hinges squeak and a scratchy voice comes from above. “Oy, get up.” I slowly stand and lean against the grate in front of me, which I find to be unlocked. “Come with me,” the voice continues. I make my way to the door that now stands open as the man reaches the bottom the stairs. He has scraggly brown hair and the body of a lean bear, hardly concealed beneath classic sailor’s garb of dark pants, a dirty collared shirt, and a leather jerkin. He grabs my arm and tugs me up the stairs. The food did a good job restoring a bit of my strength but I still feel immeasurably weak. As we reach the top of the stairs and open the trapdoor above, the light of the sun blinds me and I squint. We step onto the deck and I look around to see the ocean surrounding me. A light of hope flickers in my heart as I feel the familiar breeze of the sea.
“I am coming,” I hear coming from my own mouth. “How does he know my name,” I think to myself. We make our way to the upper cabin and the man pushed me through a great pair of double doors. Inside the room is a big marble table that dominates the space and a rickety wooden chair right in front of me.
Before I can think about anything or take anything else in a coaxing voice says “Sit.” I do so.
“Ferrara, we meet again.” A voice full of confidence and as smooth as soft butter sneaks its way into my ears. Only now do I see a man with messy blond hair and a smile that most would think to be genuine standing to the side of the room. I remember this man all too well from years ago. His head cocks at me and his familiar knowing half-smile takes over his face
“Curio, it’s been a while. I never thought it would be you commanding this rotting log,” I say. A deep chortle comes from his bearded throat and takes over the room.
“I am indeed the captain here, Ferrara. With the new role come new opportunities.” A fleck of rage shows on his face for a moment and then is gone. “It’s been what, five years since your little stunt at the Battle of Whale Point?”
I think back to that day when everything changed and shove the memory out of my mind–I can’t stand to think of her after all. “I hear we’re to roll some dice,” I manage to force out, changing the subject. Worry begins to creep through my bones again.
“Right to the point, then? Aye, Ferrara, that we are. Well, not me that is, only you will be rolling today.” He takes out a crimson velvet pouch and opens it. Six dice fall from the bag and clatter onto the stone table. One, two, three, four, five, six. Every side represented.
“Only the king of dice could roll like that,” I say to him in my most mocking voice. “I still remember the day like it was yesterday. The last king escaped his fate after only twelve years of service. How long have the Gods been forcing you to roll these dice now, Curio? Horribly unlucky for you to roll something so dreadful as to be cursed for eternity. How does it feel to watch the world pass by day after day, only being able to play this one game?”
He looks back at me, his eyes darkening into daggers. I pushed him too far. I hear the one accursed word, “roll.” With his word comes a deep release and I feel my hand reaching forward to grab the dice. I can’t stop my body from moving. The terror spreads through my whole body and I realize that I am shivering. I look down to the dice in front of me and let out a deep breath.
I pick them up with a sweep of my hand, shake them in my hands, and then let them go. The dice jump and bounce across the table. A two on the first die. And then another one on the second. The others become still and before me are six dice: Two, two, two, two, two, two. I look at my future and wonder what the dice mean.
Curio lies a massive, old, tattered book in front of me with a crisp thud: “Open it. Find your roll. Then read.” I scour the pages until I see my roll. I look up and meet Curio’s stark, piercing, gray-gold eyes. He’s shocked, frustrated, and perhaps grateful.
I look back down at the book and read out loud: “Theoi: the roll of all twos, totaling twelve. There are twelve months in the year and there are twelve Gods. The Gods have blessed you with one year. This year is your one chance. In the next twelve months you must find what your heart most desires. Learn to conquer your fears and you will be free but let it overwhelm you and you will die. You are blessed and cursed.” I’m shuddering as I read. It’s as if every word I speak sets in stone my destiny. Waves of energy flow through my body, warming me and returning my strength. I continue to read “If you have courage and you persist, The Gods will grace you with your power, unlike all others. They will walk with you on this journey and await you on the other side. Theoi is one of the most powerful rolls: you have been graced by The Gods above.”
I look up again and my gaze meets his. He is smiling in amazement now, all previous vehemence gone from his eyes. “You’re still one of the luckiest bastards I know.” He lets out a sigh, and says “you’re free of us now, do as you wish. Go outside and follow the desire of the Gods.” I make my way out of the big wooden doors, still in shock that I am alive. The wind has picked up and it whips my hair across my face. Towering waves are swarming the sea. I look out across the gray skies towards the land in the distance. As the truth settles in, a shock wave explodes from the boat, rippling in every direction. The sea is suddenly calm. The clouds clear and the sun peeks out from behind the clouds. I turn to the sky and know that I have been saved.
“Thank you, Goddess of the Sea. Thank you, Pelagi.”
… To be continued