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Chapter 28 (part two)
Rock that Drowns
Marc frowned and adjusted his hat, pulling it low against the wind. The rise and fall of the boat, and the glances from the red nosed and red capped Mr. Andersen were more than enough to bring The Queasy to his innards. These glances were never cast his way when Finnol was where he might see them, but it was certainly enough to make him feel the part of the unwanted landlubber.
Marc wasn't even fully certain as to exactly why Finnol had wanted his help so much, or why he had confided earlier as to the veracity of the existence of Deities and mythological creatures. He was a researcher, and here he was now ‘researching’ in a far more immediate manner than digging through papers and speaking with men in the pub over a pint and nuts getting fish stories.
In short, Marc was convinced that the reason he was there was having gone temporarily mad. He blamed Finnol's gift of blarney. He blamed it all the way to Ulster and back, perhaps even further—from Greenland or maybe Antarctica.
Once again, the itching came, and it wasn't from his usual tweed suit, nor the wool sweater he was currently in. It definitely was not due to the blue fishing cap that the well trained horse that used to nanny little Kirsten provided for the Makay crafts through his herding of sheep.
He’d never known that horses could herd sheep, but old Byron was apparently good at it. If he ever saw that horse leap up and perform a jig though, he would be in trouble. He might have to take a long walk off a short pier during a high storm. Marcus was not keen on the idea by any stretch of the imagination, but the day that horses performed jigs? That would be the only recourse left.
“Get out o’ yer head landlubber. The poachers aren’t in there.” The bass drawl grated on his ears. “They’re out here somewheres.”
Marc glared his direction and resumed scanning the horizon. Inside, Finnol was likely scanning the screen, or doing the strange thing with the pendulum... Dowsing was what he’d called it, but he’d only ever seen it done with sticks, coat hangers, or hands, the way that little Kirsty favored.
“I’m looking, I’m looking.” Marc grumbled.
“Then look like you’re not! Here, help me with this.”
Marc tried not to snort, and did his best when turning his hands to untangling the nets he’d been given. It made him look more as if he belonged there, but at a price. The nets seemed to take umbridge with his hands and before long they bore rashes.
Finnol shook his head and sighed. So far they’d turned up no leads besides knowing which fishery to explore. There had been a few instances where it appeared that the radar equipment was jammed, but when they had gone in the direction the jamming signal seemed likely to be in all they turned up was open sea or ships that appeared to only be in peaceful transit. By the laws of the sea there was no way to board those vessels without due cause.
He pulled the necklace from under his robes again and watched it. The fossilized shark tooth dangled from its silver cap and cord, gleaming lightly in what light filtered in from the overcast surroundings. Carefully he held his hand steady and outward to give it room to swing and waited for it to still.
Once it stilled he let his mind still and focused on his quarry. He let the memory of what the selkie women had told him fill himself, and the desire to catch those that had done them so much harm. Where are they?
He felt the familiar falling sensation and the rushing outward. The tooth began to swing circularly at first, one edge of the circle farther away, far farther than would be normally possible. Slowly that leading edge grew farther away from his center point and the circle squished itself into a line. There continued to be one point of the swing further away from his hand than the other.
That was the direction that he turned them, once he was sure of the reading. With luck, they would catch up before his quarry changed tack again.
Finnol frowned as he wondered whether to pray for Mara’s blessing, or to direct his request to some being that specialized more in catching quarry, or one of the deities of justice.
The black edge of a tattered cloak flashed in his mind, and he shuddered. Though justice was indeed her realm, he’d not direct a prayer to the Cailleach in any of her aspects.
Finnol made certain that autopilot was engaged, then tapped the wheel simply to recheck their course would not be altered without his say. The Coisantir replied silently with an affirming pressure on his mind. Then he left the cabin to walk the decks.
His companions he knew would be taking turns watching, and making them look as if all was normal, but there was nothing better than using one’s own eyes.
Marc cast another look toward the horizon after getting the itching on his palms to calm enough to think. The clouds were billowing up from the sea unnaturally fast, and a strange green that matched the waters. The waters themselves chopped and danced in agitation, but at what he couldn’t hazard.
“Strange weather!” He called, honoring the request to call someone for anything odd he saw.
Mr. Andersen looked to where Marc pointed, squinting his eyes a bit. “Aye, that truly be something this time landlubber. Go have Merrow turn out. I’ll get the Cap’n.”
Marc gave Andersen a hard look, but did head below. If the clouds continued to build at that rate it wouldn’t matter who had spied it first.
It smelled of wood and metal below, and fish, but did not have the smell of unwashed bodies. Everything was scrupulously clean. White predominated here, broken by dark brown wood beams. Several narrow bunks lined the sleeping area, each provided with dark purple wool blankets shot here and there with streaks of blue.
Merrow had joked these blankets were fifty percent hyppocampus wool and that they were the warmest things ever for something so light. Marc grabbed the one that Merrow was catnapping under and yanked it away.
Merrow yowled like a cat, his red nose going even redder, and bolted up, smashing his head loudly against the bunk above his own. He snatched the blanket back and glared at Marc. “What’cha goin’ aboot doing that to a man fer, Wolcott?”
“Andersen said to wake you because I saw green clouds on the horizon, whatever those mean. He wasn’t pleased.”
“Should say not. Don’t douse yer panties.” Merrow grumbled as he rolled out.
“So what’s it mean?”
“A storm.” Merrow replied glibly, setting his red cap back on his head and getting his storm gear on.
“A storm...so why’d he look at me like it was my fault?”
“Mebbe it be yer fault. You are a landlubber. The sea’s goddesses don’t take too kindly to landfolks what don’t belongs taking a stroll over their homes now, does they?” Merrow waggled his fingers and eyebrows at Marc. “Haven’t spurned the advances of any shark women lately have ye?”
With that he was out, and Marc toddled along behind attempting to make sense of the odd comment. “’Spurned advances’? What woman has been here to spurn?”
“Ye’d be surprised.” Merrow sighed. “Not all dreams on the sea are just dreams. If you dream of women, better just to let ‘em has their way unless ye’ve got a wife’s ring upon yer finger. In that case, better to drown on the sea than walks into the fryin’ pan.”
“That doesn’t help.” Marc grumbled.
“Ye’d be surprised...” Merrow mumbled over his shoulder, then drew himself up when in hearing range of Finnol. “Reportin’ for duty, Finny-boy. What kine of storm have we got?”
Finnol removed the spyglass from his eye and looked at them. “It’s not one of Mara’s, the color’s off.”
Both Andersen and Merrow sighed. Marc’s brow furrowed as he processed the momentary slump and looked between the three hoping for some cues for...anything.
“So what’s the plan then Cap’n? Are we skirting or staying the course?”
Finnol scowled. “I want to stay the course as we’d catch them faster. Not very keen on what might go on in the storm though. What’s the sense in going in when we might wind up anywhere or anywhen.”
“Aye...Not fancying another brush with lost pirates are we?” Merrow grinned a bit and tossed his head toward Marc. “I don’t think your friend would either. Not till he’s made a few more trips anyway.”
Finnol shook his head and looked back to the storm, blushing. “That’s another good reason to avoid anything I know isn’t from Mara... Just be ready.”
Merrow and Andersen nodded, then went on one last patrol of the decks to be certain that everything that could be battened down, was. Marc went with them, observing and helping where possible. He could feel as Finnol changed their tack a bit more so as to hopefully stay out of the storm.
It took less time than it felt like, and soon enough they were below again, near enough to the door up into the navigational cabin that they could be of assistance if needed.
“So...what was that blushing about pirates?” Marc leaned forward over a mug of black coffee.
“Oh, that.” Andersen’s lips twitched a bit under his red beard. “A few years ago we were out on a mission...”
“And this storm came up, bluish clouds instead of that green hue. The winds blew and blew, I swear it nearly pulled up one of the planks.” Merrow burst in, his white, vaguely pointed teeth flashing with each word.
Marc took a deep swig of his coffee trying not to visualize this.
“Don’t exaggerate too much or ye’ll scare him off. We can use a few more Cowans on our side knowingly.” Andersen leaned back with his own mug. “Mid storm we ‘found’ ourselves boarded.” He took a long pull despite the liquid’s heat.
“And?” Marcus leaned forward.
“And what?” Anderson replied after wiping his mouth.
“Well...you all seem to have magic, so... ‘found?’” Marc tried to keep from moving to the edge of his seat, but it was hard to refrain from craning forward.
“They had magic too.” Merrow’s eyes twinkled as he watched over the rim of his own mug. “The Cap’n took a bit of a shine to Finny-boy and looked enough like his wife that her glamoury almost succeeded in getting him to break some rather important vows.”
“Etain doesn’t know this one, so don’t you be breathin’ it to her with yer fishtails.” Andersen growled. “It’s one thing to tease him about it so it won’t happen again. It’s another to be inciting the frying pan on the lad.”
“Of course.” Marc nodded, then drained the rest of his mug thoughtfully.
They continued in silence for an hour, but by the way the boat pitched and rolled, and the wails outside, it was clear that Finnol had not been able to fully avoid the storm.
Marc’s hair stood on end. Some of those sounds sounded like a woman keening, while others sounded almost like speech.
They left abandoned empty mugs behind them.
By the time they were up in the cabin from down below the green light that had broken out from phantom rocks and crackled up from the sea and across the sky was fading. The air smelled of sulfur and baking seaweed. Finnol had an arm flung across his eyes, which were screwed tight shut. The dials spun and whirred, some with broken glass.
The clouds parted, and the water calmed before their eyes as if the storm had never been. When their eyes adjusted flotsam and jetsam bobbed morbidly.
“Look for survivors boys.” Finnol removed his arm from his eyes and blinked. “The readouts said no one was near enough to show...”
“Dunnae forget the eyedrops before you search Finnol.” Anderson tossed as he made his way out, followed by the others.
The three got into one of the lifeboats after untying it, lowering it over the side with the pulleys. It touched down with a splash and together they manuevered through the wreckage. Both Andersen and Merrow created bright orbs of blue seafire to bob over the scene, giving the entire thing an ethereal air. Movies wouldn’t capture this, Marc knew.
Merrow growled. “It’ll go too slow this way. We can move faster if one of us swims under and brings attention to anyone still here.”
“An’ I suppose yer thinkin’ it’ll be you, now. Go on then laddie, Wolcott ‘n I will man the raft.”
Merrow pulled a pendant from his shirt and kissed it. The brief glimpse Marc got of it looked like a coil of carved bone of some sort, on a dark brown braid of some kind...possibly hair. He kicked off his shoes and pulled his clothes off before slipping backwards over the side, changing form as he went.
The man’s legs fused together and gained silver-green scales, ending in great spreading fins, horizontal like a mammal, not vertical like a fish. Those scales blended upward into skin that took on an avacodo leather appearance, and his hands became elongated and webbed. All that remained the same was the man’s facial features and shocking red hair...the red cap clinging to it stubbornly.
Marc blinked hard and rubbed his eyes after Merrow slipped below the water. “He just. He’s a..”
“Yep, Merrow’s a merrow. Come on now, even if this was a poacher ship we cannae leave ‘em to drown in the cold. T’aint humane, is it now?”
Even with Merrow swimming through the wreckage faster than they could maneuver, and with him diving down in case anyone had already succumbed and was sinking, they found no one. Plenty of equipment, but not even busted open food stores.
“Not even a keg of ale.” Merrow hauled himself back up. “Like the wreck of a ghost ship it is. I did find this though... I think Finnol ought to see...this too.” He handed Andersen a longish plank with lettering, and something smooth that looked almost like it was intended to be a hidden figurehead.
Andersen conjured another blue mer-orb to float above them as the previous one dimmed too far to read, then set it down carefully. “Aye...That he will. I hope he’s got the whiskey out already. We’re all goin’ ta need a bracing.”
“Oh no... That’s not-?” Marc couldn’t help the coughing fit that overtook him when the plank turned enough for him to see the letters.
Merrow took up the oars and rowed them back to the boat silently, his red cap no longer quite as red as it had been.
Finnol was already pacing the deck again when they got back, and looking into the boat as soon as he heard Andersen’s, “Ahoy!” As always fell to the last on ship, he’d already gotten everything in order for an unknown number of rescuees. His face fell when seeing no one more than had gone out.
“No joy?” He called as they hauled themselves and the rescue craft back up.
“Worse than none, Finnol...” Andersen handed him the plank and the faux figurehead.
“Oh no...no, nonono...” He didn’t even need to read what was on the plank, but did so anyway. The energy from the figurehead had already been enough to tell him what craft it had been. But he did so anyway, several times, knowing the hand too well to do otherwise. “And you didn’t find her.”
“No sir. Wherever she is, she’s not there.” Merrow answered, sitting on the nearest available surface with a dull thud. I dove down further than any bodies could be expected to have made it.”
“Maybe we’ve got some hope.” Andersen interjected, seeing Finnol’s knees give way and send him to the deck as loudly as Merrow. She’s a selkiewife after all, near as hard to drown as us merrows.”
Finnol didn’t answer at first, only stared at the sea as if he was about to hurl himself into it.
Marc went over, just in case that was exactly what was on his friend’s mind. Gingerly he laid his hand on his shoulder. Marc wanted to be able to be as soothing as Andersen was attempting to be, but what could he say to comfort a man whose wife had probably drowned in the storm? He’d seen some odd things, and knew Etain had a way of getting hurt but coming through...but this?
Finnol looked up at him, then back out. “I don’t know whether to wish I still had my Da's skin or not...”
“I know boy..I know. But she’s not here laddie. Ya heard Merrow. What would it do to go in yerself?” Andersen answered.
Marc tried to say something, any words of comfort, but they still were stuck under the lead in his heart. Finnol continued clutching the artifacts to his chest, beginning to shake. His breath shuddered like Halloween bones on a child’s bracelet.
Merrow got up with effort. “Beggin’ yer pardon Finnol... I... could use a warmer. Will I be bringin’ you one, or will ye be a’followin’?”
Finnol continued to not answer, though he did begin rocking a bit. It was the cry that caught them all by surprise. As if from the depths of his soul it welled up in a geyser of grief. The three of them fell back to the deck with their hands over their ears. They were too deafened to hear his wild summons after that, and he ran to the side expectantly, glaring through the night as if he would rip it for taking his wife from him. His hand extended and hooked back toward himself.
When her body was not pulled from the depths he howled again. Unheeding of the other men with him he hung his head over the side and allowed the tears to come. Finnol concentrated on her, counting as each fell from his face, then pulled away before more than the magic seven could fall.
“Seven tears for my selkie love
Seven tears to call you home
Even if the nine waves us part
If ye live, return ye to this heart.”
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Edited to fix the dates...because those buggers like to flip around on me when I am ill.