What Slumbers Beneath

Sea Song

Eldithas removed the fish from it’s hook, quickly passing along the slippery creature to the hands of the cook.

“Nice catch,” Sally said, humming happily as she began to gut it.

“Is it?” Suspicious, Eldithas watched her face closely, ready to intercept the lie if there was to be one. The fish they had caught was no bigger than a pear. A rather pathetic reward for a day’s work.

“Of course it is! Don’t you know that gold-tips are lucky? Doesn’t matter if they’re the size of a giant’s brain! Hasn’t that wood witch mother of yours taught you a lick of any sense?”

“Mother doesn’t believe in superstitions,” they answered. “She’s says they’re just a fool’s wish.”

“Of course she’d say that. Doesn’t trust the waters. Can’t say I blame her. The sea can be a bastard, but even it must bow to the laws of the Altian Queen. Don’t ever forget that, Eldithas. Gold-tips are lucky. The stars are never wrong. And never bring aboard a fool with no left ear and a cut off foot-thumb.”

“If you say so,” Eldithas slipped off the stool, steadying it as a rolling wave sent the ship at a steep angle. Not at all deterred old Sally held her knife steady. “See you at dinner.”

“That you will, child.”

Leaving the kitchen, kicking aside an empty bottle of ale that was rolling about, Eldithas ascended to the upper deck, curious as to where their mother may be.

Iarna didn’t take kindly to the open waters, preferring to stay within the Captain’s Quarters during her visits. However, thanks to a bad shipment of jam that gone foul, some members of the crew were in their beds with rolling stomachs or pressed against the side of the ship, heaving all that they could. The elf woman was willing to pick up the slack and leave the comforts of her husband desk to wrestle with the sharp waters.

“Gods curse the bastard,” a deckhand moaned out now, pressing a wet kerchief to her forehead. Rowan’s face was a sickly green, wet with sweat and salt water. “Turn his ears to coral!”

“Not feeling any better?” Eldithas asked, making sure to keep a wide berth in case some of these poor souls had caught the spins as well.

“That’s the last time I trust a fellow without a pocket full of coin,” she moaned. “Take care to remember that anything freely given has strings attached. Damn bastard. Though it’d be funny to unload his soured wares upon unsuspecting fools.”

“You could have stopped after the first bite. You said it tasted a bit funny.”

“Don’t be sassy with me, kid. You don’t understand. One must never pass up the opportunity to have some Fair Lands Jam.”

“Except from those with a pocket full of coin?”

“I am going to murder that man. Don’t care if I’m put in the stocks. My stomach hasn’t felt this horrible in years.”

“What about the time you attended that feast in Wayever?” offered up another unfortunate crewmember. “Last year was it?”

“Oh… I had forgotten about that…” The undoubtedly horrid memory of the feast resurfaced another wave of nausea.

Quickly Eldithas bid them farewell, promising to throw a bite of copper into the sea for them; an offering of wellness to the Altian Queen, or the salt witch as their mother called her.

“I’d rather have that man struck with lightening!”

Eldithas hurried along, finding their mother upon the quarterdeck, sitting upon a crate and gazing out into the darkened waters with a distant expression. For a moment they just stared, watching her.

Loose locks of brown hair shifted in the wind, unruly and apart from the sweeping braid that fell to her waist, thicker than any rope. Dressed in simple trousers and a woolen shirt, so unlike her usual attire, it was odd seeing her here. She had no love for the sea, to be a city-elf as she put it for her husband’s boat spent most of it’s time docked or near the coast. However, out in the open waters, without a shred of land in sight, Iarna was at least content. Peaceful even.

“Dinner will be ready soon,” Eldithas said, taking a seat beside her.

“I imagine the jam will not be present,” she murmured so that her words would not carry.

“No!” Rowan called out, her pointed ears as sharp as Iarna’s. Not at all tapered like Eldithas’ were.

“Has your father said where we’re going tomorrow?”

They shook their head, feeling lithe fingers run through their hair, gentle in a way only a mother could be.

“He’s resting,” they said, in a whisper like one would mutter a prayer. Afraid to speak any louder, lest foul spirits lingered in the air. Looking to spread their misery. But the words must be said. How else would the Altian Queen hear them?

“Again?”

They nodded, chest growing tight.

“Perhaps I should bring to dinner to him. Today was a long one, with half the crew darkening their breeches. I told them the jam was foul, but no, don’t trust the land-legger. If my nose is clogged with pine cones than theirs are certainly clogged with salt water.”

Eldithas smiled, their mother’s tone, her soft hmph, very much light-hearted. She cared for the crew despite her distaste for the sea life. Oh, she had tried to dissuade them, but there was no stopping Rowan’s complete abandon when she claimed one of the famous jars for herself.

Iarna shifted in her seat, crossing her ankles as her hand wrapped around Eldithas’ waist, pulling them closer to her.

“Eldithas,” she began, voice oddly tight. “I’ve been meaning to tell you something. I know… I know you wished to return with me to Glennfare, but I think you should stay with your father this time around.”

“He’s just resting,” Eldithas said, surprised at how sharp their voice came out to be.

“Eldi-”

“There’s nothing wrong with him!”

Quickly they pulled out of her grasp, dashing away before she could call out to them. Very easily could she have caught them, but her shadow never chased after their’s and they quickly found themselves in a dark corner, hidden behind some barrels.

Knees folded, arms wrapped tightly around them. They tried to shrink into themselves, becoming as small as a mouse.

“He’s fine,” they murmured, eyes closed tightly. “He’s fine.”

They’d never known their father without silver in his hair. Without cares lining his face, weighing down his eyes. All the time their mother told stories about Virnan the Captain of the Sunspear, many many recollections mustered up from decades upon decades of adventures. They’d been together for many years before finally being able to conceive a child. His younger days were far behind him. A fine old stallion, as old Sally would put it. He’s done his marches. Time to graze upon the pasture and wait for dusk.

Eldithas knew about death. They knew about forever too. Iarna never grew older. Her dark hair never silvered. She was an elf and that meant she would never grow old. Never die of age.

The talk lingered between them, Eldithas and their mother. Hinted at sometimes, but never spoken about.

Until now, that is.

She had attempted to bring it up, but always they ran. Refusing to hear the truth, refusing to speak it. If they said it, it might happen. No amount of coppers thrown into the sea would be able to help them.

Their father was dying.

Already he was slowing down, keeping to his quarters and always Eldithas would hear the sound of scratching. A quill against parchment. If he wasn’t doing that he was shadowing his first mate, Calafina. Preparing her for the day in which he looked into the sun one last time, watching it slip beneath the horizon.

His last breath going with it.

Focusing upon the smell of dreary wood, of the snoring all around them, Eldithas tightened their grip, nails digging into their shins. They thought of other things, or tried to.

He’ll be fine, they thought, chanting over and over again.

He’ll be fine.

Tightly curled fingers loosed their grip as frightened thoughts turned into frightening dreams. Their parents voices, calling out… calling out…

Screaming out.

Eldithas snapped their eyes open, startled as the tendrils of sleep left them. There was shouting from all around them. Heavy steps, panicked voices.

And their parents, calling for them.

Interrupted by the shattering of wood, of terrible cries, and the distant sounds of cannons tearing apart the world.