Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sirens

The last one was just a child.

People had been disappearing from the coastal town for generations. Centuries, perhaps, ever since the reign of King Mateu as one legend went; maybe even millennia, when the Shoiy civilization whose ruins still dotted the headland was flourishing in the trade of apples, malachite, and stories. Why else would the silent old temples be carved with images of people being dragged into the ocean by long arms?

But it was usually an adolescent. About once every eight years, someone disappeared. Perhaps the oldest daughter went out to haul water from the stream and didn’t come back; perhaps the middle son decided to go fishing and was never heard from again. A fisherman would see his second daughter, recently returned from the Island of the weather wizards, standing on the shore, but she wouldn’t be home in the evening when he got back. Or a mother would see her soldier son home, eyes shadowed by what he had seen, and in the morning she’d shoo him out to get some fresh air, and in the evening he’d still be gone.

Runaways, they said in other towns.

Sirens, they said in this one.

-

It was impossible to keep your children away from the ocean. You could send them to the Island, but they’d have to come home sometime. You could send them inland, to the armies of the Metallic Citadel, but if you did that you might as well kill your child yourself.

-

She was eight years old and her name was Marcella. Her father was a weather wizard, and her mother was an herb woman.

Her neck was draped with amulets – a bronze falcon wing, a silver circle with the sacred words of Luna, a scarab, a crow feather to symbolize the oath of black Morgael. She had to stay inside an hour after eating fish because otherwise the sirens would, her mother said, think she was one of them and call out to her. Every morning her father sprinkled purified water on her forehead and spoke a prayer to the Wise One.

It was all useless.

All the gods they invoked had their own powers, their own jurisdictions. The Wise One, most powerful deity in existence, creator of all magic, was not helpful; Morgael, two-sided life and death goddess, had no effect. Caught up in their grand, but human, magics, Marcella’s parents could not see what was immediately apparent to anyone who chose to see.

No one can rule the ocean.

-

It was a beautiful day. The sky was overcast, the ocean a vast wrinkled span melting away into the distance.

Marcella was exploring. She scrambled over the seaside rocks, the wind whipping her hair into her eyes and making the amulets clink together softly. Above wheeled a seagull, white against white clouds, a drop of cream in milk. Behind her the village women were calling out to one another as they did their work. The other children, the ones who weren’t working anyway, shouted in their games.

But she wasn’t looking at them, she was looking at the ocean. It didn’t usually draw her in like this, but today the rhythm of the waves coming in on the shore seemed to have replaced the beating of her heart.

If Marcella could talk to any of the others who had been taken, they’d have told her that this was the first warning.

All sound faded away except the murmuring of the ocean. A friend called her name – “Marcella, Marcella, do you want to play tag with us?” – and she didn’t hear it because a deeper, slower, irresistible voice was calling from the depths.

That was the second warning.

She found she needed to be at the shore, needed to get as close to the water as possible. Ignoring her friends, Marcella scrambled down the cliff face, scraping her hands on the rocks and sliding on the lichens to bang her knees against the limpets. She didn’t care. She dropped onto the shell-and-stone beach and ran to the water’s edge, not even noticing how the debris cut her feet. Third warning, given with no heed.

For a moment she stood there, breathing hard, arms spread wide out to catch the spray. Her pupils were dilated, the brown of her irises just a faint ring.

(They thought it was only blue-eyed people whom the ocean took. False. Utterly false.)

There were no sirens on the water that day. Marcella, if any of the village people ever saw her again, could give witness to the sirens’ innocence. It wasn’t them, oh no, it was not the cold sea-maids with their streaming hair and webbed hands. It was a thing at once simpler and older and less trivial, more powerful more beautiful more necessary.

The ocean.

The ocean.

The ocean.

How could she ever have thought she could live without it? How could she ever have thought a life outside of it could be bearable?

Marcella took a step out and her legs were washed up to the calves by the incoming tide. She took another step and it was up to her waist. And other step – her neck. Another.

-

Her mother wept and wailed when she did not come home that night. Her father sank down to his chair with a grief no less large for all his reservation. But they needn’t have bothered.

She was smiling as the water closed above her head.

My, how beautiful it was!

--

Written November 5 2011 for English class. Set in the GW world, though a couple centuries before the main storyline. Thoughts?

2 comments:

  1. Just one word: magical.

    I sure hope you got a damn good grade on this, girl!

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you used that particular word "magical" because I believe (though I wasn't thinking it consciously when I wrote this) that the world is full of powerful forces that are too subtle to be called magic even though that's what they are.

      Yes, I did get a good grade on this. :)

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