Lady in the Storm
Ben seemed to see the coming of every blast, turning the tiller to meet them, he avoided being washed away and to the side. He wore his gear away from his head, water running off his broken nose and mingling with the blood. His short blonde hair nothing more than a stubble on his otherwise clean shaven features. Ben was silent and expressionless, impossible to read in this gloom. He could not tell from one moment to the next if Ben was sure of himself or about to jump overboard.
Aaron sat beside him at the bow, clinging to the rope that fastened to the prow. His face was a mask of twisted expressions as his aging eyes strained to make out the landscape ahead of them. Aaron was silent and stern but his face revealed more of their plight than Ben. His teeth were gritted as he leaned up, occasionally standing to look over the bow, spitting rainwater and ocean when he returned.
In the distance, the bells of St. Marks rang across the sea, faint and inconstant. No lights in the town could be seen and the headland was an imperceptible line between sky and water. For all he knew they could be about to crash into cliffs, or run aground on the low rocks east of town. He had no head for the sea. Both the other men knew this and he assumed their silence spoke their opinion clearly. He had heard the rumours around the tables, during cigars and brandy, in the asides at market. How could a man live so close and yet so far from the water? Strange that they should choose to help him perhaps. No. He had heard all the past stories that men had often sent out to rescue murderers and thieves. There was no room for judgement on the water, here you were only as far from your peers as the boat allowed you to sit.
A wall of wind drove rain into his eyes, blinding him for a brief moment. At the same time the boat lurched upwards in a sharp swell. As he reached for his eyes, he felt his body leave the boat, stomach slamming into his diaphragm and rotating him like a leaf into the air. Aaron made a grab for his coat tails, pulling him face first into the deck and slamming his cheekbone against the wood. His head span as he rolled onto his back to look up at Aaron. A glance down briefly to make sure he was moving and the old man went back to his watch peering at a point far away from the boat. He couldn’t see if he had seen something or was just concentrating hard.
Suddenly the grim figure above him turned to shout something. He couldn’t hear. It was lost in crashing waves. Ben did not appear to hear him either but as Aaron waved his arm to the port, the boat wheeled in that direction all too quickly listing to the starboard as waves pressed against its sides. He felt sick and his ears were ringing from the impact of the wooden deck but he raised himself up onto his knees to peer out at what Aaron was waving at. Two black mountains loomed out of the sea in front of them. white foam cascading over them to show their shapes. Smaller rocks could be seen dotted here and their but he assumed Ben had seen them and would take them around. What had Aaron seen there? He couldn’t see it. He took the old man’s shoulder and gave him a questioning look. Aaron signaled to the rope which he held tight this time and then holding his arm out for his eyes to follow gestured to the base of the rock to the east of them.
He peered out into the growing gloom, only seeing imagined shapes everywhere. All things were moving, nothing would stay still. His frustration grew and he was about to turn to Aaron once more and ask when he saw it, a frail figure in white standing motionless in chaos of the storm. As he fixed his glare, rubbing water and salt out of his eyes, Aaron turned beside him to shout the manoeuvrings and warnings of the rocks beneath. They rose and fell, moving forwards with agonisingly slow progress to come close enough to speak. The figure on the rocks made no indication of seeing them approach, standing motionless looking out into the ocean beyond. It was a woman, her floating white linen robe billowing around her, revealing the shape of her body in the wind. Her hair was a flame of red, drifting around her face like Wireweed making it impossible to see her eyes.
Aaron dropped the anchor finally, signalling that they could get no closer. If he wanted to speak with her, he would have to shout. He suddenly felt a doubt. What if she would not hear him? There were many tales of those who had tried and failed, found washed along the shore next morning in the aftermath of her powers. Aaron touched his shoulder again without speaking he could see the urgency in his face. They would not have much time here. He gripped the rope and drew himself forwards once more now half leaning over the bow of the ship. Fear paralysed him in place as he saw the full power of this constantly thrashing landscape. He had thought of the words he would call setting out from home two days ago. Bellowing into the wind as hard as he could.
“Let them go!”
She did not respond, instead the wind rose around them dragging more waters over the sides and rocking them like a washing line in a gale. Again he called to her.
“You must release them!”
Aaron was more agitated than ever, checking around them as the boat strained in the swells at the anchor. She would not hear them. They had failed. He felt his heart sink, the loss he would feel and the futility of returning home. Once more with everything he had, he bellowed at her as with all his grief.
“I need them more than life itself! Return them and take me instead!”
At first he didn’t see, burying his head in his arms to wipe the tears that now mingled with the wind and rain and sea. When he looked up, Aaron was staring at the rock. The figure had turned and was now staring back. A calm lull broke around her as her hair fell, laying down behind her pale white shoulders. She was looking directly at them, no expression or hint that she had understood but now they all felt her eyes. Even Ben glanced down and spat an oath to the sea. Looking back, straining to see beyond the two figures in front. Her eyes held no kindness. She considered the three men in front of her clinging to the boat. He felt small, inconceivably so. Tiny in her terrible beauty. As she looked directly into his eyes the wind struck them from above and around and the sea beneath rose without warning. Aaron yelled fumbling with the already heavy anchor but could not release it. As they rose, timbers splintered and rope frayed and snapped. The boat sprung back away from the rocks, the bow flipped out of the water and turned about to land behind them.
He flew through the air this time knowing Aaron’s strong hands would not catch him. His body tumbled and crashed into the water. As he surfaced the boat was already moving away from the rocks, spurred onwards by the onslaught of the waves around them. Ben was straining on the tiller to turn and Aaron was nowhere to be seen. Waves engulfed him once more and as he surfaced, they had doubled the distance between them. The freezing waters made him feel sluggish and numb. He tried to turn his head to see the rocks, they were not far away and he could make it but his body didn’t want to move. Aaron was shouting from somewhere. Something he couldn’t understand. As he finally turned his body towards the rocks, he saw her once more standing perfectly still in the chaos of the storm. The wind carved her elegant figure in the clean white linens she wore. They seemed to him to glow as the salt stung his eyes. She gazed at him, hair flailing in the wind like a terrible midnight sun. She was smiling.
As he slipped beneath the waves, his final thoughts turned to them. Had he done enough? Would this suffice? Eyes closing and thoughts becoming calm and distant as the shore, he wondered at the movement of the rocking sea. How calm beneath the waves and turbulent above. How serene, dark and gentle. His final visions were filled with lights from deep. Creatures; floating beings moved upwards and towards him. He somehow knew that they would be safe now. His work was done.