Man of the Sea
Silt, the Innkeeper’s daughter, stole herself out of her father’s large low-roofed house and stepped lightly with bare feet down the oldest path,
first carved out by seafaring ancestors from the rocky beach below. It was slick with wind blown spray, and made smooth by the generations that had
lived on this island.
No one went down there at night during the high-tide that obliterated the crescent beach and hammered the cliffs. Down below, she could hear the crash
of nighttime waves as they thundered against the high cliff walls, while the moon’s half opened eye, as detached and remote as a god, watched her
descend to the sea and foam.
She left everything; the smell of stale beer, the stench of unwashed men mingled with smoke from moss stove and pipe, the fish stew and wild onions,
the sweet edge of brown bread and the burning fat of the lamps, the back handed blow when she did not move quickly enough, the broom, the buckets of
water and bales of dried moss and kelp, the heavy loads of filthy laundry and burning lye, the waste of the Inn that was hers to empty and wash into
the midden heap, the dead eyes of fishermen waiting for storms to pass, and the pinching, groping hands that had grown increasingly persistent as she
gained height and curve.
She fled the young men, who had begun arriving in the evenings to watch her bend and work, like foxes hunting a lamb, they watched, restless and
impatient, with cunning words that said she was sweetest honey and eyes that said they would spit her from their lips like the Silt she was. They
gathered gold to tempt her father, and it was only a matter of time before his debts were due; he would relent, and they would pounce.
As she struggled her way down, slipping and clinging, she remembered how she had met Him, the flitting form in the water where she worked, hauling in
a trap full of crabs. She saw his curious face watching her under the waves, and before she could run in terror, she felt his mind speak to hers,
sending her the serenity of whales and the playfulness of seals.
She had frozen, and he had risen from the waters to show his face, then he flipped like a dolphin, spinning and rippling into the water and she
watched in astonishment until his pale form disappeared into the dark sea. She had wished to follow him even then. That was the beginning.
He came to the same place each time, letting her see him. They spoke a language that was heart-filled and she opened the oyster shell she’d wrapped
herself in, and showed him the pearl born of her pain.
She found herself smiling more, singing as she worked, and finding or making him small gifts from the land, tempting him to reach out to her and take
them with his odd hands; a white flower, a bracelet made of spring grasses, a bit of driftwood she’d carved into a fish. And he kept coming back, a
tease, a splash, a fin and ripple, until she told him of the young men and what gold could buy, and he had grown serious, and angry, and sent her a
In her hands she held nothing but hope. She wore her torn homespun shift that she had pounded into softness over several years washing, that now
showed the middle of her calves. Wind from the surf and from the incoming storm pushed against the cloth, whipping it around her knees in a tangle as
Down with speed, she went, grasping wet rock and handfuls of the determined brush that sprouted on small ledges, clinging to the occasional knotted
rope wrapped around a metal spike for a handhold, down the thousand-times walk with an urgency that burned her thighs and bloodied her knuckles.
The sea was rich in her mouth; salt and brine and moon-tinged drops made liquid light on her tongue. Her long, amber hair was lit with fire and gold,
and she fought it from her cloud grey eyes as she stumbled half-blindly down the treacherous path.
Tonight, he said, he would come for her. Tonight, nothing would stop her from meeting him, with his strange eyes and hands, with his pearl-smooth skin
that shone like the inside of the shell her mother had given her before she died, and his long, dark green hair, which tinged to black until the sun
revealed its color.
Silt worked her way, terrified that she would hear her father’s shout against the wind, and see a torch above her on the cliff, but the herb she had
put in his beer had turned him into a snoring stone, which she had gingerly stepped over to make her escape.
At last she was on Founder’s Rock, which jutted out beside the low curve of now-covered beach. It was slippery with sea moss and the waves beat
dangerously down beside her, urged on by the threatening sky. The moon’s light winked in and out as the ragged clouds began to chase nearer to the
Was she too late? She could not see him, and how could he come near to find her with the raging waters beating the rocks? Was this really a cruel
joke to play on her, to make her come down to shiver in the dark, her heart open and bleeding for him while he laughed from the deep. Was she a fool,
and to be a fool’s harlot in the beds of her father’s Inn, sold and tied like a lamb?
No. He would come, said her heart. And if he did not, then the waves could swallow her whole. She waited, watching and worrying as white bright
lightening began to play in the sky and thunder crackled and boomed closer and closer. Spray and tears; her salt added to the night, to the rising
Still she watched, when the moon went dark and the night became impossible to see in, and she could only feel its liquid menace, the blood rushing in
her neck, and the terror of knowing she could not go back.
It was then that she saw, when a sharp crackle of lightening spread violently across the black, that a bit of something shiny was very near to her,
floating on the waves. Another flash burst out as if to rend the sky in two, vibrating thunder so close, so very close to where she sat clawing
fingers and toes into slime and rough rock. It was closer, and she could see it was round.
What was it? Her heart, already beating fast, was jumping inside her chest like her fists against the locked cupboard when her father had seen fit to
put her there. She tried to ignore the misery of water streaming down her hair and into her eyes, that she could not wipe away lest she lose her
purchase on the edge, so she endured and clung like a crab as waves began to reach up and splash over her toes; the sea was rising, more with the
whipped up waves brought by the storm.
edit on 21-8-2013 by AboveBoard because: (no reason given)