Mariner: Chapter 3
The men paddled through the night. In a number of short breaks below deck to hide from the elements and warm myself, I heard Thomas’s voice. It had gone hoarse, but the calls to STROKE, STROKE, came with the same frequency, even if the force behind the push of the oars against water had lost some of its vigor. But the storm and winds subsided, and the ship seemed to be intact.
With the exhaustion and lack of sleep, there was a silent acknowledgment that both the ship and crew had made it through the storm, and had likely come closer to the enigmatic entity than anybody else had before. What every sailor hoped to see after the clouds cleared was the sun, and perhaps even the mysterious shimmering of The Call. Hopes of seeing the simple glare of the morning sun were dashed as the ship was consumed by the sudden fog.
The gloom encompassed the water and hugged the ship. Barely a single draft of wind was present to tickle the sails or blow away the choking gray clouds from about us. The only movement was the Luna and its residual drifting from the last of the tired strokes of the oarsmen below. Under the Captain’s allowance, we all rested and ate up, regaining our strength for what may lay ahead of us.
Some spoke under their breaths of what they assumed was awaiting us, whether it was worth it, and if it were, if and how it would be split up between Ms. Julie and the rest of us. Others worried about having to return in the same way we came in. The oarsmen rubbed their tired muscles, tended to the raw skin upon their palms and fingers pricked with wooden splinters. Some worried audibly if the worst was yet to come.
And when many of us slept that day, so awoke the next obstacle. Adrift and creeping upon the placid water, I found myself once again at the helm. The sudden jolt of the ship under my body and uncontrolled shifting of the wheel nearly knocked me from my feet. I feared the worst, and not moments later, many- including the captain- were on deck to determine what sort of mistake the young, inexperienced seaman had taken place.
Andreas, the first mate, was the first to reach me from the navigation deck. He shoved me aside and attempted fruitlessly to turn the wheel. “What have you done, boy?” He said, eyes shooting daggers back at me. Some of the crew had gathered at the railing to look at what we had encountered.
“It isn’t the boy’s fault, Andreas,” Fredrik called up to us. “It’s shallow here. Nothing but rock below, impossible to see in this fog. How, damn it? Get below and make sure we haven’t busted anything,” he changed his focus, ordering the second mate.
I ran to the captain to look upon the formation we had run across. The submerged crags were barely visible beneath the surface- in all honesty, I hadn’t been paying attention, but even if I were, I wouldn’t have noticed it until it was too late. What was it, though? I never would have made such a mistake in the past.
The news of the lower decks still being water-tight brought a sigh of relief to my chest, and Captain Fredrik took the chance to direct all who were present. “We aren’t going any further tonight. Let’s hope the fog clears by morning. Rest well for tomorrow and we can hopefully push off from here.”
I anticipated the rest of my duty off, especially after my resolve had been shaken, but the night was not so easy to release me from its grasp. While others breathed softly, sleeping propped up against the moist walls of the lower decks, I watched with strained eyes as a line of light grew, sneaking through the low porthole, etching its way across the floor.
I led myself to the deck to search for the source of the glow, but it was Ms. Julie who I encountered first. She turned back to me, dropping her eyes from the sky above. “Can’t sleep, young mariner?”
“We’re stranded… if you hadn’t caught on… yet. I apologize for delaying our arrival.”
“Your voice, it shakes.” She said, smiling dryly. “It’s not your very own fault, of course? Besides, the Call is not going anywhere. Look, the moon- so unseemly, bright. Not a sight you would see on land.”
And when I looked up at it, so it was, piercing the gloom of the late night, to the point where one may have guessed it was day. Even the water gleamed in its aura. The fog was receding as the Captain had predicted. I looked out at the dull horizon in hopes of making eyes with our destination, but the retreat of the gloom revealed something else to the view- a ship, stranded, the same as we were on the far side of the rocks.
“The S.S. Needle,” Magnus read off to us as he peered through the spyglass at the wreck. The wooden vessel was decidedly not intact, with no mast or sails, nor any sign of a person.
“That ship disappeared years ago.” Fredrik contemplated.
“As it looks, captain.”
“Did they come out here in search of The Call? Or was it some sort of accident they got trapped here?”
Kristian shrugged. “Can’t remember anything about it.”
“Whatever happened…” Fredrik bit his lip. “They got here but were never able to leave. Johannes, get below and tell Thomas for them oarsmen to start pushing from the port. We can’t risk being on this rock if the storm starts up again.”
And so the regular STROKE, STROKE, was replaced with a long PUSH as the men shoved their long wooden paddles against the rock outside, forcing us back into deeper water. With the sails catching what little air they could, and a return to paddling against the water, we were off.
As we were on our way again to follow the original heading, I caught some of the men’s words among each other. “They may have been stranded and starved… or they reached The Call themselves, and abandoned the ship in exchange for whatever was there.”