Chapter 1: Lure
The old woman, the one who’d only seemed frail at first sight, stood on the rocks above the shoulders of a younger woman, partially hidden by the young woman’s billowing dress as the wind put their hair in back of them, silver strands and raven tresses dancing together in the brine scented breeze, like a thin spirit with a large shadow.
The sky threatened rain, but neither seemed concerned.
Both looked out at the calm, gray horizon framing the restless waves of a dark gray ocean as they pulled their robes tighter around them for warmth.
A rising tide roared into the stones, and hissed in foamy frustration as it receded to gather its strength for another surge.
“Close your eyes,” the old woman said, “and be sure this is what you want to do.”
The young woman obeyed as her elder began to softly chant in a quavering singsong.
The gods of water, shell, and fish,
And sunken treasure grant your wish
The singing sirens long ago
Now meet along the currents flow
So let the weed wrapped hook we place
Bring these young lovers here apace
And let the rusted anchor’s weight
Bind both their hearts in happy fate
So the young maiden and the crone
Do now release this chanted drone
What we have asked, please let it be,
Fulfilled for us by spell of sea.
As the seaspell faded into the wind, the young girl saw the face of the man she loved.
It was time.
In one hand she held a kelp-wrapped hook, and in the other, an old anchor speckled with rust.
Trembling, she knelt and tied one of the ends of the kelp around the anchor, and placed the whole between two gapped stones so it couldn’t be displaced by the water or sliding mud.
“Good,” said the old woman.
“Do you know how long it will take, Nan?”
The old woman gave a knowing smile at the impatient longing of a young woman in love.
“Not knowing where he is, or if he’s still alive, there’s no way to tell. Unfocused seaspells, given a purpose but not a location, take longer to work.
“Trust me, even now, the wind and waves carry your call.
“Let the charm do its work, dear. You’ve placed it well, and it will not move until he answers.”
The next wave sprayed them, the tide coming in a bit faster than they’d realized.
Nan gave a soft laugh. “Come, child. I’ve managed many crafts, but flying isn’t one of them.”
It warmed the old woman’s heart to see her granddaughter smile as they linked arms to help each other make their way back up the rocks.
Chapter 2: Catch
At first, the journey hadn’t gone well.
Both men and supplies had been lost, as they had to defend their royal cargo more than once.
Now, the wind had stalled for days
Hunger and thirst had taken more of them, and the sharks visited daily to reap the harvest.
The ones that remained would see the fins coming at dawn, silent as the sun itself, but a lot swifter in their killing.
Surprised he’d survived this long, mostly using the memory of their parting kiss and how soft her lips had been, he’d given the memory over when he could no longer afford to be distracted by foolish thoughts of her form wrapped around his, her passion tearing through him as he released his own.
But now the sails were full, the currents kind, the night sky suitable for navigating, and the day one deceptively genial.
They’d made what repairs they could, and hoped the sea gods wouldn’t sink the ship in amusement at their feeble efforts.
For now they’d been spared, so the captain told them the next port they made would be the last. Resigned to the end of his sailing career, he’d send the remaining cargo on the vessel of a trusted friend, the king be damned, and take the full brunt of his wrath for the losses.
As they made their way, her memory came back to him. It was so seemingly random, and so stark in its clarity that he gasped in surprise. For an instant, it had been as if she were standing beside him.
When the image faded, he rubbed the left side of his chest. It felt as if his heart was tingling, with just a pinprick of pain.
The captain saw him leaning across the rail, dry heaving.
“Are you all right, Mattias?”
“I will be, Captain.” He didn’t remember feeling like he had to dry heave, but there it was.
“Go lay down. All’s well up here at the moment. I’ll send a mate down if we need you.”
“And Mattias, if you need to help yourself to some leaking rum, I’ll not throw you in the brig for it.”
“Aye sir, and thank you.”
The pain in his heart eased, but didn’t go away; it felt more like light pressure, like a small item held between two fingers.
He couldn’t help but wonder why her memory came back to him just before that happened.
She’d told them something of their lineage, but it seemed fanciful to him that such a thing as sea witches actually existed. He’d indulged her, wondering if she was daft, but not enough to call off dallying with her if it proved true.
It would be nice to wake up to news that they’d made land so that the repairs they did so haphazardly weren’t just to delay the inevitable.
Chapter 3: Release
He never remembered when or how he got in one of the remaining lifeboats, or why he’d even leave the ship to do so. His last memory had been of falling asleep as the ship made its way to the nearest port.
He woke to find himself shirtless, rowing in the growing heat of a climbing sun.
He tried to stop and get his bearings, see what he’d taken and take stock of what he’d need, but when he went to bring the oars out of the water, it was almost as if they were stuck.
When he simply tried to stop rowing, he found that he couldn’t.
His mind racing, through the force of a rapidly shredding will he forced down the panic.
He wasn’t in pain, and the curious pressure that had been around his heart had eased even more, but was still present, as if the fingers were taking their time releasing him, caressing him with slow, tender strokes, almost in a beckoning way. It felt pleasant, and oddly warm..
She’d laughingly told him that if he were gone too long, there was a ritual to call him home.
He laughed too, not believing for an instant that she had any power at all.
It was then he knew, without knowing, that he’d been enchanted, and sea witches were real.
Chapter 4: Haul
Standing on the rocks, alone now, next to the hook and anchor she placed, she saw the lifeboat, but not him. She thought it was the sun at first, but as her eyes adjusted, he was nowhere to be seen.
Her heart skipped.
Reeling in her panic, she clambered down the rocks to the beach proper, lifting the hem of her dress as she ran across the sand to pull him in over the shallows.
Time was of the essence if he was hurt, unconscious, or both.
The worst case passed through her mind as well, like a storm cloud covering the sun, but she dared not stop to look at it.
In desperation, she waded out as far as she dared, at first thinking she might be able to swim, but the long dress grew heavy as the water soaked into it and stopped her.
The boat drew inexorably closer, and the emptiness of it began to become more real to her the closer it came.
What have I done?
Nan’s quavering singsong played once more in her mind, and the ocean blurred as tears welled.
Have I brought him home, only to lose him?
She found she was trembling, but not from the cool of the surf.
The boat was now close enough for her to grab hold and pull.
Grabbing it just behind the bow, she cried out as she saw him lying there shirtless, sunburned, and shriveled from dehydration.
Frantic, she splashed her way to the back even as the dress grew heavier, and pushed with all her might as fast as she could go, not caring what the water did.
Her hands, sore from pushing the boat, placing it on its side, and pulling Mattias’ body onto the sand, now touched his chest with tender fingers as they searched for a heartbeat.
Murmured words of encouragement for both of them was the only sound other than the susurrating waves. She hoped he could hear them, and that he’d fight for his life, and in so doing, hers too.
In a small stream she poured fresh water she’d brought from the well at home over his parched lips, waiting for him to cough, blink, open his eyes…
The first gull flew overhead, and called a long, plaintive note that echoed across the beach.
She panicked then; if enough of them came they’d not leave her in peace until they ran her off so they could have him.
Forcing herself to calm down, she placed her hands flat on his chest.
His flesh was cold, but something happened; a beat that seemed more of a light tap than a healthy pulse pushed against her palms.
He’s alive, barely. She fought the urge to weep.
There was more to be done; she needed to be certain.
At the beginning, the surge of power was hesitant since his flesh was cold, the magic driving the search for life in him uncertain of what needed to be done.
She longed now for the gift of second sight, for something that would proclaim him living beyond her doubts.
Pressing once, twice, she cried out as with the third push a flash of white light surrounded the both of them and singed the circling gulls to ashes in mid flight.
When her vision cleared, her arms tingled from the power of what she’d done, and her swollen fingers had punctured his chest, the nails not quite embedded in his heart.
She looked up at his face.