Selkies' SkinsInstallment 53Chapter 28 (part one)
Rock that Drowns
Rock that Drowns
The lantern hissed where it hung from the cabin beam, spraying its soft white light indiscriminately and rocking gently with each movement of the Sea Witch. The soft creaks and groans almost sounded like a gentle lullaby. Etain drew a long breath, filling her lungs and bringing in the scent of the blanket that was finally beginning to lose the last traces of Finnol’s scent.
Etain had more than lost track of how much time had passed on this voyage. In truth, she wasn’t sure how much time had passed in the human world. A day in Faerie or any of the other realms might span one hundred years in her own, or even the reverse was true.
It was dark, despite her lantern, and it was cold. These things crouched eagerly outside the light’s reach and waited to sneak in to claim her again. Once it claimed her she knew the cold would crouch in her bones and chip its way through. Etain was only distantly aware of this. More pressing was the state of her belly, where it twisted on itself, and that of her mouth. That remained dry and parched no matter how much liquid she managed to drink. Her fresh water stores were gone, and she was left with trusting the purifying equipment to process seawater into foul tasting artifical freshwater—or to use her magic.
The use of her magic had waxed more difficult with each passing day. Overuse was something that she’d never experienced before. Or maybe it was simply weakness from not having enough to safely drink.
Etain smacked her lips and curled around her guts where she lay on her side in her bunk. She flicked her eyes toward the galley door—there would always be more of the boat on the inside than on the outside so long as she floated. Did she have the energy to drag herself that far? She burned for a sweet, long, cool draught of water from the homewell.
She was about to fall back into a fitful slumber with memories of drinking the Lady’s water when she was woken by insistent and measured thumping on the hull near her head. Etain rolled out of bed and gained shaking legs with effort, then lurched her way up on deck. Each step seemed more difficult than the last and spots flitted and danced before her eyes as she used arms and legs to navigate.
At last, she leaned over the railing to look down at Mimir. “What is it?”
He pointed to the horizon, which was graced by what appeared to be a green sunrise. Perhaps it was sunset by now and not sunrise. A rock jutted out of the sea, slicing this light with black knives of spires threatening the very stars.
Etain pressed her eyes closed and gripped the railing with what strength she could, to at least delay her legs giving out on her. By the time she opened them again, once her body’s threats of flailing passed, the rock was even larger in the sea and sky.
“That can only be it.” Mimir grumbled. “Some gate.”
“We’ll make it somehow Mimir. We have to. We’ve got Her plants she wanted repopulated, that gives us her blessing for now. There has to be a way around that still takes us through the passage.” Etain’s breath came much less shallowly than she would have liked...no matter how deeply she breathed, her head kept spinning.
“I’d trust Her blessing much more if it were at least our goddess giving it. The only way that I feel out is through the rock... The mist around the base though...”
“Implies that if we try going through the rock we’ll be dashed to fishsticks. Yes, yes.” Etain finished for him, far more breezily than she felt.
If only she could think through the muzzy fuzzy brain fog. Etain focused as well as she could on the looming rock. The green light of the horizon grew brighter, flickering and wavering like a banshee keen as it spread ever higher. The wash of breakers as they dashed themselves to death began to bleed into the air.
Mimir watched the woman cautiously. She was pale as sunbleached bone in moonlight, with a pale green tint due to the infernal light. No light reflected anymore from her eyes, which had gone all to black pupils, giving her gaze an even more seal-like look than before. The dark circles under them only made these eyes look larger, and her hair had lost the luster it had when he’d met her.
Mimir pondered yet again whether it was the selkie being sucked out of the woman, or the woman being sucked from the selkie.
“Nothing for it, it seems.” Those empty eyes looked back at him, after she wrested them away from the rock, the sea, and the sky. “From here it looks like that one rock is actually two. If we try to go around I’ll bet we’re dashed into things that we don’t see on this level.”
“So, through after all?”
She nodded, expressionless, and pointed. “It’s no White Whale, but the gate will be hard enough to get through even though the currents will go right through.”
“Sticking close then, and doing what I can to keep you off the rocks.” Mimir frowned, trying not to imagine what would happen if she were forced to swim should the craft go down.
“We appreciate it.” Etain patted the railing, then wobbled back to the wheel.
Mimir shook his head and readied himself. The closer they drew, the more the winds rose. He could almost feel a storm forming, as if their mere presence awoke it. Looking again in the direction they were going he finally saw what Etain had been gazing at.
A dark light bobbed within a cleft between two of the pillar claws. As he watched, the path of the currents dimly came visible to his eyes, ghostly ribbons swirling inward. The current carried them closer, he could feel it wrapping him in warm fingers with iced claws. The hairs on his arms prickled.
A keening cry went up from the rocks, as if a whole clan had gathered at the edge of the sea to launch one of the ships of the dead. Clouds billowed up from the sea, obscuring the beacon.
The Sea Witch lurched as the current sucked it, nearly running over him. He hurriedly moved further away.
The ship itself fought the current, moaning loudly and attempting to slip out without success. Etain had to fight the wheel to keep her in the current. She opened her senses as much as she was able, searching for the right line and painfully battled her way to it, bending the waters to her will as much as she could. All the while the rocks drew closer and the winds fiercer. Soon those too were behind them and speeding her for the rocks. By this time the storm had gotten into full force.
Etain mumbled chants under her breath, preparing for the crossover. Her teeth bared and she winced as each word stabbed through the marrow of her bones. The last syllable came, a prayer to Mara for the strength to get through, and she felt the long bones of her forearms crack.
The witch-fire began to lick the boat and dance along the edges, intentionally called up this time.
The waters threw the Triton skyward. The rocks continued to grow and stretched out for them, sprouting like spring shoots in the sod. Her friend nearly landed on a spine as it grew from the waters.
“It’s alive!” Mimir bellowed once his head broke water again, directing some of the water with his trident to push the Sea Witch further away from that hazard.
The currents shifted. The drain on her energy grew. She could feel some fur falling out from her sealskin where it lay tied around her waist. Together they worked their way through the straits that materialized.
The darkness was beginning to fall in curtains for Etain. After what seemed to be an eternity they were close enough that she could see the beacon of the joins between reality...a strange lighthouse to navigate by indeed. The edge was mere meters away!
The rocks began to sing.
Softly at first, she almost missed the sound for the wailing of the winds that tore the foam from the waves. Then louder, a mournful sweet dirge that leached the will from her bones and the heat from her blood.
Rest weary Maiden
And Wander no more.
Lie still in the waters
Before yon glome’d door.
What good the fur
Dead at your waist,
Once silken and flashing
Now drained to waste?
Come lie in our arms
Of undying stone
Where mariners and mermen
Molder back unto bone.
Etain’s head drooped momentarily. The rocks projected images of peace and nothingness, finally freedom from pain and duty. It would be so easy to pass here. The current would easily dash her craft to bits. If she did not drown, or become cut to ribbons and somehow scramble on one of the rocks then she would die of exposure, or starvation.
But who would teach Kirsten how to midwife for someone in need? Or how to birth a stuck spring? Those weren’t something she could learn at the Castle, even though it was an excellent school—not unless one of the loch selkies was expecting. Would she really be able to be at peace if her last child survived to marry and have a family of her own, and she wasn’t there at the ceremony? What would happen to Finnol? Would he be able to carry on, or would Byron be stuck tending her family for her?
The more she tried to think of her family and to focus on her goal of getting back to them the louder the rock’s voice grew.
Etain was not the only one hearing voices. Mimir closed his earflaps beneath his snowy mane of hair, yet still he heard the rocks’ siren songs. He could hear as they sang to Etain, and he hoped that she remembered the tales of Calypso and of the Sirens. Ancient though they were, perhaps there was something they could use.
More enticing for him was what they sang for him, gracing his closed flaps with tales of kingship, riches, and more powers of his own.
He could wait for the boat to be dashed to pieces, and for her to be cut by the rocks, then collect her blood. The rocks sang louder of ways he could use that ruby fluid and of how sweet her flesh would taste to lengthen his life.
Mimir could almost taste its firm sweetness, and the way blubber melted on his tongue. A little nudge was all that was needed.
A little nudge was what he gave before he even realized it.
The unexpected voice broke into the spell the rocks had woven. He very nearly was claimed by a rock due to his unwariness when the voice distracted him.
“Mum! Da?!” A little silver-white seal bobbed her way through the torrent as fast her her tiny body would carry her through.
She disappeared for a moment, and then bobbed back to the surface, slamming into the hull when the unfriendly current tried to prevent her.
As clearly as she stood out, Mimir noticed that at the same time he could see through her, as if she were only a mirage of the seafoam.
“Ark! ARK!” It was a very definite command from the little female. The Sea Witch accordingly hauled her up.
“Just what was that?” He thought, as he regained his own thoughts. In horror, he tried to push the boat back away from the rocks, at least a bit. “What was I going to do? I swore I’d never eat merflesh of any kind again.”
The boat swept ever closer though, and it was harder and harder to have the rocks avoided as he swam about the craft.
They were mere feet away from the dark light, the portal vortex. Suddenly they were swirling, being sucked down by a secondary current that was hidden until they were within the crossing.
Even his powerful body could not keep him far enough away from the rocks. They tore through his scales and his skin, slicing muscle, nicking bone in some places.
A great groan and crash went up as the rocks rent the Sea Witch.
Then they were through the divide. The rocks continued scraping by, the boat breaking. Etain had left the helm, scrambling over the deck and using whichever spell presented itself first to keep the hull mended and watertight.
The boat itself screamed with each new assault by the rocks and the waves as they gnashed, infuriated that something was fighting back.
All too soon the craft and its mistress could no longer fight. Etain clung. She had lost track of where her companion was. A final cry rose up from the Sea Witch and Etain screamed as the timbers disintegrated.
Finally the waters calmed, leaving Etain to cling to what she was fairly sure was a door. Things had been so turbulent at the last that when she had struck her head she’d not noticed that her world was reduced to sound, scent, and touch. She did the only thing then that she could do.
Etain wailed for her faithful boat that Mara had gifted and a foreign sea’s rocks had taken so cruelly. Never mind that passing through had been the only way to return to where she belonged. Her beautiful boat was now only flotsam and jetsam, its equipment falling inexorably to the seafloor to the fate that all equipment would one day fall. Worse yet...
How could she bring its spirit home with her?
If she could find it, bring the spirit home, then perhaps it would be possible to rebuild and give a new body. But...where was the spirit? And where had she been cast out?
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