A Story of Uncertain Depths
I feel trapped. And I am certain I have been drifting for seven nights since fleeing Ernos. Sullen brown eyes on a sun-baked chestnut face peered upwards towards a wind torn sail. How much longer will I last? The food supply could be rationed a day more but fresh water is dangerously low. There was still not the slightest sign of land or a water tribe for miles around. For the last day and night the only sounds had been the slow lapping of the sea against the sides of the boat being carried back and forth by the waves. Those sullen eyes gently closed, too weak to stay opened.
Shrill screaming from overhead awoke her. Looking up and westward she could make out the circling feathered bodies of Whiffles. Scouting birds. Rising to her feet, she stumbled over the sacks and rope to lean against the starboard side rail and peer into the distance. She could make out what looked to be a black shadow growing from the sea. What is it? What is that? Dazed, she rummaged around for her spyglass – which had never left its place hanging at her side. After some moments, she paused, realizing this fact. I am an idiot.
Expanding the gadget, she peered into the distance again at the growing black smudge. She could now make out what was clearly a large black vessel. But whose? For the first three days and nights since taking this boat, she knew she’d headed southwest, going with the water but then a storm turned her around and without any compass or actual training she couldn’t be sure which direction she’d been floating. She was certain by the lack of gold and blue flag colors she was not heading back whence she came. Although the black, red, and white colors she could see were unfamiliar to her.
She slumped down, tired and slightly panicked. There was no way to distance herself from whatever awaited her and she did not have the energy to try. The mass of the ship would take some time to reach her, so she ate and drank the last of the food and water before gathering some things into a small burlap bag. Long moments passed before she realized she had been staring into the fine lines of the wood grain in silence. No more screeching bird calls.
“You there! Speak your name and purpose for entering the neutral seas of Istantine-Bouth.” A haughty voice called down to her, twisting the sounds of the words in a way that made his speech almost unrecognizable as a language.
She turned halfway to make eye contact with the owner of the voice. Her eyes instead took in the sheer size of the ship before her. It was as though darkness itself had come to swallow her. She managed to hide her fear and find the man who had spoken. A tall, uniformed figure stood stiffly, awaiting. For a moment, having gone so long without actually speaking aloud, words were lost on her.
“I ask you again to speak!” his voice boomed but his face remained expressionless. Apart from the repulsive accent, his face was amazing: sand colored hair, sea green eyes, sculpted features, and smooth, cream colored skin. It was a little surprising to see an absence of sunburn from the open seas; his skin appeared flawless. She had never seen people like this. From where she sat, she could see the white of his uniform with two black horizontal stripes across the chest.
“I am…I am lost. My ship, my sail is damaged as you can see. Can you tell me which way is West Polmay? I’m just trying to get home.” Can he tell I’m lying?
A few other uniformed men appeared, looking curiously down at the small figure in the wrecked boat.
“How did you acquire that boat and end up here?”
“My family, we were...together and then…” Think, what? Then what? She looked away, trying her best to look pained. “Please I’m lost can you help me?” She looked back up, still straining to wear a mask of sadness and confusion. Can he tell?
“We will help you, young lady. Don’t worry.” Turning towards the nearby guardsmen, he gave out quiet orders to capture the pirate with caution and bring aboard any contraband found in the boat. Turning back to the girl, he said, “Some of my men will assist you off that boat. By the looks of it, you will need food and water.” He added a curt smile and walked away.
He knows I’m lying.
Once the girl was brought aboard, her bag was taken and she was escorted to a room down below deck. She was told she would be fed in due time and to use the facilities to get washed up. The guardsman also said he would be right outside if she needed anything, and he locked the door from the outside.
Why is it that I feel more trapped now than before? Looking around the room, there was not much to see: a small wardrobe, a bed bigger than any she’d slept in, gold and glass lamps coming out of the walls near the door and in the facilities, and a little table with a chair. In the facilities, the water ran hot and poured like rain from a metal spout much taller than she. She drank the water as stood rinsing her skin under the water. Muddied waters swirled into the drain. There’s even soap! As she ran the little white bar across her skin, a sense of giddiness rose inside and she giggled. For a small moment, she was lost in the feeling of being clean, caked layers of dirt and grime and animal scat removed with water she didn’t have to share. Then she felt small and sad, remembering how it was she came to be here and reminding herself that she was not yet safe.
Images of her friends’ dirtied and sunken eyed faces appeared in her mind. She suddenly felt angry at herself. They are all still suffering while you get to bathe here in clean water. She quickly rinsed off and turned off the water. You left them to die Polla.
Once dried off, she was conflicted. Seeing the soiled clothes from Ernos reminded her of the faces she wanted to put out of her mind. The clothes in the wardrobe were fine silk woven threads, material she had only ever seen from a distance but never touched. She picked one with violet bangles. Encircling her neck was a violet wooden bangle from which the gown flowed effortlessly to her knees and fit the form of her body only slightly. The loose sleeves left her shoulders exposed and flowed down to the bangles around her wrists. Her hair, almost dry, rubbed against her cheeks and where it was longer in the back, brushed against her neck.
Just as her stomach groaned, a knocking came to the door. “Now entering, be decent.” The locks clicked and the guardsman stood, his figure almost filling in the entryway. “Follow me.” He too had sandy hair and green eyes. As she was being escorted to yet another unknown destination, she realized all the guardsmen had those eyes. Eyes she had never seen before. All speaking strangely and leering as she walked past.
The smell of food introduced itself before she could see it. They entered a small dining area meant for the servants on the ship. Such strange people, she thought, as she peered around the kitchen and seating area. Most of the servants looked to be older, with skin colored similar to her own and dark eyes. She couldn’t help but stare at the fiery, thick hair they all shared. She was reminded of the grey-haired wrinkled faces of the Ernosian priests, always with eyes blank and stern faces. Yet these fiery haired people had a different kind of blank look. To her, they appeared purposely removed as not to be noticed or out of place. A particularly old one placed a large platter down on the table and walked away. She began eating with her hands without a second thought.