The smell of salt hung heavy in the air, and the wooden deck pitched sharply beneath my feet. This was it, I thought. This was how it would end. In the sky the clouds were heavy and dark. They seemed almost to sag under the burden of the coming rain, and the sea was rising to meet them, as if the two collections of water could sense each other and longed to be reunited. A raindrop hit my face. Their reunion would come soon enough.
The ship lurched beneath me again, in a different direction this time, and nearly sent me tumbling. I grabbed a handrail and swallowed the bile, which was reaching up from my throat. The grain of the wood against my hand was harsh, but it still provided a sort of comfort. It was the sole reminder of Earth here in the Sea.
“Damnit, Rosek,” A voice called, “if I had known you’d be this useless, I would’ve left you in that trash heap I found you in.”
I flinched a little. In the fear of this moment, I had almost forgotten the fear of the last moment. Cities like Galgol did not suffer orphans, especially not orphans like me. I turned to face the captain, and wondered what he thought of me, but only for a moment. The Sea did not care about race, which suited me fine, but it did not suffer fools, and neither would Captain Luca the Grey. It was said that Captain Luca had journeyed with Prince Maronir long ago; in the days before the Aetherstorm.
Once I had arrived at the mast, I wrapped my hands around the hanging ropes and began to climb. I did not yet have the callouses of the old sailors, and soon felt the familiar soreness of the hemp under my raw hands as I hauled myself through the rain higher and higher skyward. Soon the soreness was replaced by slickness as my hands began to bleed. I could not stop though. If I stopped I would be thrown into the sea, and by the time the creatures there were through with me no one would realize what I was. Whatever was left of me might even get a decent burial once it washed up.
“Hurry up, boy, get that sail pulled around or we’ll be sharing this ship for a coffin!” Luca’s voice cried. I wondered why Luca had bothered to save me from the thugs in the city. I decided I would ask him after the storm, if we survived it. I finally reached the nest at the top of the mast, and grabbed what I hoped was the right rope with my bloody hands and began to pull it toward me.
“That’s it, lad, PULL, PULL, you’ve almost got it,” the voice called louder now, but somehow more softly, as though trying to signal in the midst of command that my efforts were not unappreciated. Beneath me the mass of white fabric swung out and pulled taut, and even in the midst of the ships crashing from the waves, I could tell that it was now moving hastily to the East.
I tied the rope off and descended the mast gingerly. In the time it took me to reach the deck, we had very nearly made it through the storm. In the horizon before us, there was sunlight breaking through some of the clouds.
When I lowered myself, Luca was waiting. He had that peculiar sort of white hair that only occurs in men who were once blonde, and a thick beard, which was blonde still, as if to spite the rest of him. He had bandages out for my hands.
“Captain,” I murmured, “is it true that you won the Aetherstorm?” Luca looked at me wearily as he worked to bind up the wounds in my hands without depriving me of their use.
“Nobody won,” the old man said, “least of all me.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Someday, you will understand, boy,” Luca grumbled through his beard. He looked me up and down. “You could be him,” he murmured at last, “the resemblance is uncanny.”
“Who?” I said involuntarily.
“Your father,” he whispered, and then he began to walk away.
“You knew my father?” I demanded.
“Aye,” he said, his face was wet, and I wasn’t sure if it was from the rain or from weeping. “Get below deck and rest, boy.”
I obeyed him, but didn’t sleep. Before the Sun had risen in the East, I was already back up on the deck, and Luca was already waiting.
“I suppose you’d like to know about him,” Luca said. It was not a question.
“I don’t know,” I murmured, “why would I want to know a man who left my mother to defend me herself, and left me cursed to live as a mongrel.”
Luca turned to me, and now that the sky was clear, there was no doubt where the droplets on his face had come from. “First of all,” he said sternly, “your being a hybrid does not make you a mongrel. Learn that now, and learn it well, for my next lesson on the subject will not be so kind. Second, your father died to protect you and your mother, and me for that matter, so lose the attitude.”
I gulped and nodded. I had never seen Luca so angry. I swear he would have thrown me overboard.
“Who was he?” I asked.
“His name was Garron, and he was with me then; at the Aetherstorm. He saved me many other times before and after, but it is that one that made us famous.”
“Garron?” I wondered aloud, “Garron the Wise? Senator Garron, leader of the first human delegation? Impossible. HE would never have wed a woman who was half elf and half dwarf.”
“You know of him only what the bards sing,” Luca laughed, “Garron loved your mother. She was with us then, too, but history does not remember her so kindly as it remembers us. It’s funny how those things happen. An accident of fate, I suppose.”
“My mother fought in the Aetherstorm?” I wondered.
“Fought?” Luca smiled, “She killed more demons than I did, but being a woman and a hybrid at that… There was only so much anyone was willing to accept in those days. She withdrew and led a private life, while I became a general and your father became a Senator, but she was a good wife to him, and practically a sister to me. Sit down boy, let me tell you the story of your parents.”
I sat, and he did, and for the first time in my life, I knew what it might’ve felt like to have a father.
Inspired by a prompt on Reedsy.com – https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/