Blood Bay

(For you, Dad)

Tolk vomited over the topside railing.

“Why didn’t you stay with the shore battalion? You knew this was going to happen.” Orthal crossed the deck toward the bow with long, poised strides, keeping a few paces from his comrade. The Leviathan was beating windward. While he welcomed salt spray, vomit spray was another matter.

Tolk continued heaving.

“Move stern, Tolk, or we’ll spend the afternoon swabbing the deck.”

Tolk spat and sputtered and slung juices out of his beard but shuffled sideways down the deck as he was told. By the time he reached the stern, the episode had finished, and he was wiping the corners of his mouth on his shirtsleeve.

“You ungrateful water walker, you,” the stocky, muscle knotted Drordian grumbled.

“As much as I appreciate the gesture, Friend,” Orthal retorted, “I’m being practical. You are no archer, and any pendwi1 can load and release a trebuchet. You would be of much better service on the beach cracking skulls with that staff of yours.”

“I’m also twice as strong as any soldier on this boat. I can move one of those flippity, flyin’, fire rocks on my own, and faster than three.”

“That doesn’t mean the ship can carry more trebuchets or projectiles, and if we end up in the water, you will sink like one of those stones, and you know it.”

A bright blue and green sea serpent, the Kelanaga
A bright blue and green sea serpent, the Kelanaga

The look Tolk shot was murderous. The following silence and stare made Orthal almost regret his words. He knew Tolk had come because no one else from their pendwi squad had been assigned to the ships – with good reason too. Though an Eldinn, Orthal was born in Osan, and unlike the Eldinn of the Woodlands, his people were seafaring. Orthal had been sailing and swimming the ocean before he could walk and had worked on a fishing boat prior to leaving home to become a warrior. His people could walk over waves for short distances and even breathe seawater for a time. Orthal was most at home on the ocean and the most fearless of the crew, striding white-capped waves like a sentinel when deck duties lulled. The small Mykarian navy was dominated by those from Osan, and no one else in Tolk and Orthal’s squad hailed from the region. To them, the sea was alien. They were a little more useful than children aboard the ships. Yet, Tolk was so fiercely loyal he did not want Orthal to be separated from the comrades with whom he had lived and trained since beginning of their journey, especially with such a crucial battle at hand. So after the assignments were made, Tolk had requested a transfer. Had he been of higher rank or experience, such a request would likely have been denied, but as it stood, the War Counsel allowed it. He was only a pendwi and could load a trebuchet, and once the warriors landed on the beach, he would be one of the more formidable in the fleet.

However, with all foreseeable nobility and logic taken into account, Orthal was still right. The sea was not Tolk’s element.

Striding over to the stern stowage, Orthal collected a bucket and swab and returned to the rails. Lowering the pail into the waves, he collected water to clean. There was little to do actually, and in moments, the deck was vomit free. Tolk continued to glare at his friend, though at this point he looked as if he only wanted to punch Orthal in the mouth rather than murder him.

Orthal emptied the bucket. As he passed Tolk to stow the tools, he muttered in concession while avoiding eye contact, “I know why you chose the navy.”

“Then stop plaguing me about it!” Tolk thundered.

Orthal scowled and stomped onward. While both had been acutely aware of their plight since they stepped onto the boat, plaguing him was a bit of an overstatement, as Orthal had not mentioned it until this round of vomiting – a full five days after setting sail – and Tolk had carried out the ritual each of those days. Orthal flung the tools, clattering, back into storage locker. The wooden lid thudded closed, and he secured the ties.

“Land Ho!”

The cry came from the crow’s nest, by which the Mykarian flag and the flag of Osan – emblazoned with a bright blue and green sea serpent, the Kelanaga – snapped with the wind. The deck sprung alive, as a conch horn blasted the news to the rest of the fleet. The helmsman steered to port, the sails began to luff, and the Leviathan slowed. Held to port, the momentum of the ship carried them in a wide circle. Behind, the fleet slowed to drop anchor. Those crewmembers not hauling sails crowded the railings, straining their eyes.

To Orthal’s surprise, Tolk was the first to raise a pointing finger and declare, “Erat.”

Southwest, leagues in the distance, the top of a mountain range could just be seen at the horizon – indigo, chopped waves without motion.

Something slashed the air behind his head, and Orthal ducked, though the evasive maneuver was unnecessary. The messenger bird would have missed him anyway, as she flew south by southeast toward the forest and the Mykarian battalion, carrying the code that declared the navy’s position, which would be delivered, cryptically answered with a time and tactic, and then borne back to the waiting seafarers on the strength of her light gray wings.

“And now we wait,” Orthal sighed.

section break The Artillery Master bellows, “Release!”

“Clear!” Orthal yanks the trigger rope, the counter weight drops with creaks and groans, and the sling snaps, hurling the fiery, stone projectile toward the beach and the invading army. As soon as the throwing arm’s rocking stills, warriors spring to the wheels to reset the apparatus. Tolk lugs the next projectile to the sling and loads. The torchbearer ignites it.

“Release!”

“Clear!”

This time the hurled rock finds its mark, exploding onto the mountainside, triggering a rockslide, which blocks the invaders’ route back into the caves. They are now pinned between the closed mountain, the sea, and the advancing Mykarian battalion.

Ships carrying archers glide into position, and a storm of arrows flies into the invaders’ ranks. Officers and captains bark orders, while the soldiers move as if through a choreographed dance and the Admiral surveys from the Leviathan’s quarterdeck.

Then, fire explodes in the mainsail and across the deck of the nearby Maelstrom. Disorder rolls through its crew. Momentarily forgetting his own orders, Orthal scans the horizon and, with widened eyes, spots strange ships crafted from dark materials and under black sails. The quarterdeck erupts in furor, and in moments, all ships in the fleet maneuver to engage the new threat.

“How did they get through?” Tolk rages, as he grips a projectile and braces against the sudden lurch of the craft and rocking waves.

“I don’t know,” Orthal murmurs. And he does not know. No one in the War Council expected Moleck’s fleet to make it to the bay. A small crew, that included dear friends, had sailed out and blown up the Cataracts, sacrificing their lives to prevent these ships from making it to Mykarian shores. But here they are, or at lest some of them are, so the warriors reposition and train their trebuchets and arrows to engage the enemy’s fleet.

Though the enemy on land is caught, they now beat back Mykarian warriors as their ships absorb the pressure they had felt from the water. Six Mykarian vessels sink, including the Maelstrom. The Leviathan sustains significant damage. There are men and debris in the water, and blood spirals out following the currents as the tide of battle turns.

Then a roar, that shakes the soul of every living being on the beach and water, rumbles and builds. It comes from the deep, erupting forth so the water to the north boils. A creature bursts from the rolling waves. Shining cobalt and turquoise, it towers, a living pillar, three times the height of the ships themselves before it crashes back into the water. Spined, translucent fins cut the waves like hot, blue blades. The beast slices through the enemy’s flagship, splitting it in half. Leaping from the water, it falls across a second ship and sinks a third with a swat of its finned tail.

The desperate cries of the enemy crews underscore the roar of the monster, and the victorious shouts of the Mykarian navy fall atop.

Bounding out onto the bowsprit, Orthal cries, “The Kelanaga! The Kelanaga has come!”

The Leviathan’s crew cheers the arrival of their salvation, and the tide of battle turns once again. On the end of the bowsprit Orthal’s hand raises in gratitude and admiration as the sea dragon turns to face the Leviathan. Her yellow eyes flash, her whiskers snap, and her head weaves back and forth all while keeping her eyes always fixed on the ship.

With a roar, she dives toward the Leviathan, open mouthed, pearl white teeth gleaming in the sunlight.

section break Splintered wood is flying, as the water is rushing up around Orthal. Plunged into the sea, muffled sounds are reverberating like the skins of beaten drums. He is inhaling seawater, his chest jerking for a few moments before accepting the liquid. Twain, the Leviathan is sinking into the blue-green depths. Trebuchets, ropes, sails, planks, and bodies are floating downward, suspended and timeless.

Tolk is struggling against the sea and his own solid form, and Orthal is beating the water back to reach his drowning friend. But the currents are sweeping Orthal further from the wreck, and the Kelanaga’s jaws, snapping, separate Orthal from Tolk and Tolk from life, as bubbles, tones, and reverberations explode into the water from Orthal’s open mouth.

The serpent is turning, slicing his face open with her tailfin, then slamming the full force of her lower body through his left side. The azure sea is fading into darkness, as Orthal’s blood is swirling out into the bay in expanding eddies.

section break Orthal will drag himself from the depths onto the beach, vomiting and coughing up water and blood. Healers from the victorious Mykarian army will lift him from the sand and tend his wounds. He will lay in agony for weeks in the tents of an infirmary as his shattered bones fuse and the flesh and skin of his face knit together again. He will travel on horseback to Osan, where his family and community will welcome him open-armed, their hero. He will live with his sister and spend more days in his hammock regaining his strength, but his blood will turn from salt water to fire, from lightness to weight.

He will stalk the shoreline in silence while the earth trembles under the pressure of his feet. He will glare at the red sun setting over the bay, while his kinsmen celebrate and sing of the tides, the sea, and the Kelanaga, who comes and goes as the seasons and currents, renewing life, then he will mutter, “Fools! Praise, hail, worship her if you will, but she bears you no love and will eat you whole.”

Note

  1. A pendwi is the lowest ranked warrior in the Mykarian army.

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