Mariner: Chapter 5 [Final]
The push of the wind was suddenly no match for the pull of the current, but to where, it was unclear. “It’s like the water has a mind of its own here,” Magnus complained under his breath from the helm. Captain Fredrik had his arms crossed over his chest, looking out at the water before us.
The men on deck were scrambling to get control of the ship and force the sails to carry us in a predictable manner. As I scrambled up the rigging to help out, many continued to eye the eerily red sky. “I don’t trust it. Is it morning or night? It’s been so long…” “This journey was foolish… letting some woman guide us…” “The Call… after all this time, nothing but nonsense…”
But the men’s voices were soon lost to the splashing of the waves and the fluttering of the sails. I focused on the rope beneath my hands and feet, but I soon found myself the only one who was remaining in control. The sky had become lighter, burning our pupils long accustomed to the endless night. I forced my way back down to the deck before I dared look out at the horizon.
Just within our reach- there it was. The Greater Call was nothing as it looked from far beyond the storms and currents and blankets of fog. The water itself shimmered, bouncing around multi-colored rays of light like a million fragments of a broken mirror.
“The audience is imminent.” Lady Julia spoke her words from beside me, leaning over the edge of the side railing.
I shook off her strange words and ran up to the helm. The first mate’s eyes were locked to the Call. He barely reacted as I pushed at his arm. I dared a look at the phenomenon once again. The currents met at a swirling vortex at the center of the intense show of light. Magnus was still at the wheel, staring just as Andreas was. The Captain took little time in joining us as the pull became inescapable.
“Turn the wheel, fool!” Fredrik directed, shoving the quartermaster out of the way. “The current has either snapped or taken away the oars from down below. Nothing escapes this hold.”
The waters all about us were now shimmering with their violent reflections of light. In the blink of an eye, I caught sight of a pair of legs disappearing off the high riggings in a swan dive to the waters below. “Who was that?” Came the call, but nobody could answer. Then another man jumped, following the first. “What has gotten into them?!” Fredrik shouted, but there were much bigger worries to come.
The wheel jumped violently, tearing the handles out of the Captain’s hands. “Damn it,” he growled, jumping back and holding his wrists. The wheel spun until its limit, clacking loudly. The ship began to drift sideways into the current, and I felt myself being pulled in the opposite direction as the speed picked up. Fredrik took up the pegs and attempted to force the ship back straight. I joined and forced my weight in the same direction, but no force would budge it.
Fredrik backed off and kicked at the wheel, “This is it,” he said serenely, despite the growing roar of the water. “We just ride out the sea from here on out. The mistress has the correct idea.”
And there she was, standing strong at the bow, long hair lost to the storm, with arms braced on the railing. More men began to jump- there was no stopping them in their state of entrancement. Even Magnus began to take even steps down from the helm and to the railing of the lower deck, and-
The center of the shimmering vortex caught the Luna, yanking her down and releasing upward once again as she struggled to float herself upon the water. Those on their feet were thrown down, and any still on the riggings were tossed to the deck or off into the water. The salty sea washed over the deck, and the wind caught the sails, rolling us back and forth, and eventually snapping the thick mast like a twig. It crashed over the railing and yanked the ropes and tore tie-downs off the ship. Somewhere deep in the hull, I heard a crack and a shattering and the sound of yells. Men were pouring up from below deck, drenched. I knew we were going down.
I caught sight of Ms. Julie again through the mist and light, still at the bow, holding tight, despite being soaked through. Something told me to go after her. The aft was headed down first, and the wooden planks beneath my feet were slick, and the massive splinters left behind from the shattered mast blocked all the easy paths. She continued to look out at the shimmering water.
“Ms. Julie, you can’t!” I shouted, hoping to reach her.
She turned back, one hand still on the rail, and smiled. “Can’t what?”
“If we… if we stay aboard… we might be able to get out of this, once it clears-”
“Is that truly possible for us, young mariner?”
I shook my head and wiped the hair and salty water from my face. “I… we…”
The ship wracked itself back and forth. More men were jumping from the deck as the aft of the Luna began to sink, casting up violent bubbles as air escaped the lower compartments. I clung to the railing not a few feet from the woman. She pulled herself up straight. “Do not fear the Call!” She called over the sound of the waves. “Do not bemoan these men who have chosen to take refuge in the vortex, for they do so believing that it will lead them home.”
I held on with all my strength as the deck of the Luna began to tip vertically. Ms. Julie found her footing and placed herself just above the swirling, shimmering water. “Young mariner, where would wish to be, at this moment, if not here?”
I pondered, looking back to the swirling water, to the last of the men entering the shimmering glow, and my heart beat fast. “On the sea, the very same as always.”
“I see.” She said. “With your father, I presume? Me, it would be betwixt my husband’s arms, for all his riches have never enough to replace his touch. Farewell, young mariner.”
And so she let go, disappearing as the scintillating glow took her. All the others had reached the same conclusion, whether by the wiles of the Call or not. If I did not make the choice of when to accept the same fate, the sinking remains of the Luna would do so for me. And so I let go next.
The water met with my body. It was warm, like the summers when the fishing was the best. And just as the last breath was about the leave me, I was caught. By my collar I was brought up. The familiar, nostalgic voice came to my ears. “Boy, we almost lost you to the water. Be more careful tossing the nets out.”