By Chris Garson
Copyright 2016 Chris Garson
Huge, rolling waves rocked the deck, knocking Sawyer Brandywine to his knees. Umbar, Lord of Sea and Storm, had thrown the mother of all monsoons at Seacrest on this, Sawyer’s first voyage at sea. Thunder roared, making it nearly impossible to hear and lightning flashed like fireworks on Legionnaire’s Day. Esel, the sky, was so dark he couldn’t even see Edda, Imma and Olla and it was still near the top of Imma’s Watch. Usually the three suns shone so bright in mid-afternoon he had to shield his eyes from the light reflecting off the water.
If Sawyer had known it would be this bad, he’d have listened to that inner voice telling him not sign on with the captain. Erlik’s Eye, he should have never left his job at the inn. Right now, he’d have given anything to be shoveling manure in Signor Tessari’s stable. He staggered to his feet, leaned his head over the railing and let go of lunch.
He wasn’t cut out for life at sea and this small cutter wasn’t built to withstand such a heavy storm. Another wave sent the craft tilting downhill. It raced like a sled, picking up steam until hitting the bottom of the sea trough. By the Luck of Sudnar, Sawyer kept from falling overboard, but the rest of the crew didn’t share his fortune. A familiar man-shape, dark in the heavy wind and rain, hurtled past Sawyer, over the rail and into the brink.
The young deckhand shivered, freezing in the torrential downpour, and shouted over the raging storm. “Captain! We just lost Jakari.” Jakari made four men lost to the storm.
“Throw him a line, boy. Hurry up, blast it.” Captain Valkor, a mountain of a man, had strapped himself to the wheel with a length of rope. He was losing his battle to keep Seacrest from turning broadside to the waves.
Looking out onto the roiling sea, lightning illuminated the first mate, arms thrashing in the waves like an Ulgarja’s tentacles. Sawyer stumbled to the prow and grabbed a hunk of cork attached to a thick rope tied to a deck cleat. He whirled the cork round and round his head like a bolo, releasing it just as the waters swallowed Jakari. It bounced against the rough seas like freshly popped corn. The first mate’s black, three cornered hat bobbed in the water like a barrel apple at the harvest games. No Jakari, just his hat.
Sawyer swallowed in sorrow. He met the first mate a tenday ago, when he signed on to sail with Captain Valkor aboard the Seacrest. The captain had no time to show him the ropes and the other crew members would rather laugh at his awkward sea legs than lend a helping hand. Jakari though, showed kindness, teaching Sawyer to swab the decks, hoist the sails and batten down the hatches. If only Sawyer had paid more attention to that last part. The hatches certainly needed battening today. Umbar’s wrath was in rare form. With the loss of Jakari, only he and the Captain remained.
Sawyer’s worst fear was about to come true. He’d been terrified of drowning ever since the foretelling at his tenth birthday. No one lightly ignored the Seeress’s priestess. ‘Water will end life as you know it,’ she said that creepy, quavering voice of doom, for which the fortune tellers were so famous.
Erlik’s Eye, that’s why he’d signed on to the blasted ship in the first place. Tired of dodging fate, he went to sea to meet his destiny head-on. Right now, Sawyer wasn’t feeling so brave.
“Look out, boy!” The captain shouted. The biggest wave yet was headed directly for the ship.
Sawyer frantically wrapped a rope around his waist. His clumsy fingers stumbled over the knot and he wished he’d paid more attention to Jakari’s lessons. The wave would smother them any second now. Erlik’s Eye, he wasn’t going to make it.
The wave crashed into the ship just as Sawyer secured the rope. It was a case of too little, too late. The tiny cutter stood as much chance of withstanding the wave as a Halfling did of surviving a giant. The mast snapped like a twig. The sails shredded like paper. The gale force stripped the railing from the deck one post as a time, like buttons popping off a vest that’s too tight. The end of Sawyer’s safety line whipped in the wind like a snake.
The winds howled and shrieked, deafening him. The cutter rocked. Sawyer fell and slid down the tilted deck towards the angry sea. He grabbed a cleat and hung on for dear life, legs dangling over the side. The maelstrom ripped the helm, with the captain still lashed to it, from the deck and tossed into storm.
Sawyer was alone on the angry sea, just him against the Lord of Sea and Storm’s fury. He had no time to feel the horror of being alone. The wave rolled what remained of cutter onto its side. The crest of another wave crashed down, and another, and another, battering the remnants of the Seacrest into bits of flotsam and flinging Sawyer high into an angry Esel, still clinging to the deck plank.
Below, Sawyer saw only the angry sea and pieces of wreckage. No Captain Valkor, no Jakari, no other crew members. He was terrified. He hugged the plank with all his might, praying to Umbar for a quick end. He couldn’t swim. He couldn’t survive. He cursed the priestess for laying this destiny upon him. Any ending … an arrow through the heart, even a criminal’s beheading, would be a better than this.
He landed hard on the rough seas. Sharp pain exploded from his back and his hands opened reflexively. The roaring storm carried the plank away. His legs pumped furiously. His arms dug at the water like a burrowing groundhog, but he was fighting a losing battle with the angry sea.
Sawyer choked on a mouthful of water and coughed. He couldn’t keep this up much longer. He was tiring already and could feel himself sinking. The end was nigh. He resigned himself to a watery end. He was just a man. He could not fight his destiny. The gods’ will was too strong. “Take me Umbar. Take me Lord of Sea and Storm. I am yours, just as the Seeress foretold.”
Staring into the darkened Esel, he drew what he feared was his last breath. Then, the most amazing thing happened. Sawyer wasn’t sure if it was real or an illusion of mercy the gods conjured to ease his last moments. The clouds seemed to part. A single ray of light shone through the clouds, bathing him in light. Even in the cold clutches of the sea, its warmth enveloped him.
A rainbow appeared, bright against the storm, hovering at the edges like a hungry wolf. Sawyer had never seen anything so beautiful. He wished he could swim, if only to watch the rainbow a while longer.
His body began to change. His feet stretched into fins, propelling him through the water at terrific speed. Webbing grew between his fingers. Scales covered his skin. Gills appeared on his neck. He flicked his tail, arced out of the water and dove into Umbar’s depths. Praise the Seeress!