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A Price the Sea Demands

Nina Kriszio

Decorative Green Leaf with pink stem

The sun is warm on my skin, so warm I have to roll up my sleeves. The wind in the sails is keeping The Ocean Curse in a good and steady pace. We are lucky today, the weather goddess seems to be in a good mood for once. I hope that we will be able to make up some distance that we didn’t the last few days because of the doldrums that hit us. My crew around me are working hard, as they are supposed to. They are as eager as I am to finally reach the port after weeks on the sea. We all love sailing, but also have needs that can’t be met on board my beautiful Ocean Curse. A good meal for example. My cook does a fine job with the resources he has, but a good meal with fresh ingredients isn’t something he can do after weeks on board. And I’m slowly becoming sick of potato stew. There are other needs my men have that they need to take care of on land, ones that I don’t care about. But most importantly of all, our rum stock is slowly coming to an end and that’s simply not acceptable. You can’t keep a crew of pirates around without rum if you want them in a good mood. So we are all looking forward to drinking more rum than we should in a dirty, filthy pub with people who are always looking for trouble.

The creaking of wood behind me announced the presence of my Quartermaster. I don’t have to turn around to know it is him; he has been my second in command for several years now and I know his footsteps. He puts his arms on the railing next to mine looking out onto the wide sea. The wind tousles his bright blonde hair, bleached by seasalt and weeks in the sun.

“We're making good distance today,” he says.

A spray of water hits my face when a wave crashes against the hull. I don’t care to wipe it away. It’s not the first and it won't be the last. Life on the sea means getting wet every day, among other things. The wind starts to tear more on my shirt and pants when it flares up and I reach up to hold onto my hat. I’m not going to lose this one. My Quartermaster turns around and shouts commands at the crew handling the stronger winds. I keep my eyes on the sea and the waves, rising and falling, taking us with them in their own flow as we work our way through them. In the distance, I notice some light mist and soon enough the hull of the Ocean Curse is parting it. More icy water splashes my arms leading to goosebumps. I have to roll down my sleeves. I walk to the helm and take it from the sailing master, my Quartermaster following me in suit. The waves are growing, the wind becoming stronger and with every mile we travel the light mist is turning into thicker and thicker fog.

A small, tight knot starts to build in my stomach.

“What is this?” I mutter under my breath as another wave crashes against the ship, trying to rip the helm out of my hands. My crew adjusts the sails as the winds keep growing. Yes, I had asked the goddess for more wind to get us out of the doldrums, but I hadn’t asked for a storm. There is just no relying on deities, not on land nor sea. Maybe one of my men did something to displease her and now we all have to pay the price.

The fog is thick now. I’m just able to make out the helm even though it’s only an arm’s length away. I can’t see any of my crew and the only reason I know I’m not alone is because I can still hear their shouts — the thumps of their footsteps, the sounds of their work.

The harsh gust of wind stops suddenly. Without it the sails are useless and the ship is losing speed. Soon enough, we’re standing still. Again. I’m shaking my head. What is this? In all my years at sea, I have never seen this kind of weather. I let go of the helm and turn around, almost bumping into my Quartermaster who came up to the quarterdeck again, but he was invisible to me thanks to the fog. He runs his hands up and down his arms to get rid of the chill. I can feel it too, creeping through my clothes and settling deep somewhere in my bones. Something is wrong.

“Captain, we’re stuck. What now?” The Quartermaster asks.

“Get them ready to row, we’re not waiting this out here.”

He nods and leaves. I go to the railing and look out into the sea, but all there is to see is fog. I frown. There is a shape… a figure in the mist hovering several feet over where the sea has to be. I’m squinting at the shape, but then I blink and it’s gone. Must have been a trick of the eye. A shiver runs down my spine and I turn around to call out to my crew to ask them if they’ve seen something too.

That’s when I hear a bloodcurdling scream. Never has my crew sounded like this before, not during battles when fighting for their lives, or afterwards when we had to take care of the inflicted wounds. This scream makes the hair on my neck rise and the blood in my arteries freeze. It’s filled with mortal agony.

I go to the stairs leading to the main deck, holding tight onto the handrail. I still can’t see my crew and, even more concerning, I can’t hear them anymore. No commands are yelled, no one is working at the oars. There aren’t even any whispers. Even the sound of the waves hitting the hull is gone.

A soft, melodic song waves over the sea towards me. I don't recognize it but it sounds like a lullaby. Slowly, I go down the last of the steps, the sound pulling me closer like an invisible string that’s tied around my waist. I’m walking to the end of my ship, the splashing sounds of something hitting the water accompanying me with every step closer. I get up on the plank. Here the voice is the loudest. I’m so close to finding her. Just two more steps. One. My foot is hovering over the open air with nothing but the sea beneath me, and, too late, I finally realize what the sound is: the Siren’s Song.

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