The Sea Man’s Ballad

by Amanda

Disclaimer: I wrote this years ago as a section to a book I only have pieces left of. I’ll never finish this book, so I might as well share this!

***

She closed her eyes to the winds that threatened to dry what was already dry. If she had the tears to spill she would cry. If she had the strength to cry she would tilt her head back and scream for the entire world to hear, to feel her pain.

Her stomach clenched, she bent forward and gagged, clasping to her belly as if it were a lifeboat, and she were strewn in the middle of the ocean, given to the gods mercy.
Time left her with fewer choices, and within a few minutes she’d have to decide. Say goodbye to life, or love.

She opened her eyes to the angry heavens, wishing she had the tears to cry, because then maybe she could feel something, maybe then she could know she was still human, or at least a part of her was. Rain trickled from the sky, a drop splattering on her cheek and rolling down, mocking her inability to produce the water herself.

She lay down, staring at the sky that towered above her, the angry clouds that gathered. She looked to the west, where the tide was coming in, where water started to lap at her hand as if it were an obedient dog, shyly but insistently telling her it was time to get up and go inside before the storm hurled itself at them.

“Pray for me,
For I shall pass into
The waiting sea.
Sweet, sweet lass
please wait for me,
The sea shall not keep me.”

The song tasted bitter on her lips, always one of her favorites, now mocking her like the rain. She sobbed, but nothing came out. She sucked in air, but all that filled her lungs was water. She choked and coughed, spewing the water from her lungs as the tide crept from her, and sucked in more water as it covered her again. The sand clung to her, with every wave it buried her deeper and deeper within itself. It was like a warm embrace. The sand, the sand wanted her. The ocean wanted her. The rain wanted her. The next breath of air was her last, the next wave carried her away.

***

The night wrapped about his body like a cold blanket. Wide eyes stared skyward, but saw nothing. Arms hung lifeless at his sides, and he leaned back so far he nearly toppled over. Whispers touched his ears and sank into his thoughts, replacing them with visions, and for the briefest of moments, when he had a single thought to himself, he wondered what real sight was like. He wondered at the possibility of sight beyond visions. What was it about the blind man that brought spirits reeling towards him?

A song echoed in his ears, and for a moment he thought it was all in his head, one of the visions tugging at his attention. But it was a voice, a real voice, a woman’s voice. His head twisted around, shaking invading visions to pieces as he tried to discern the words from the roar of the waves. The waves! He turned towards the voice and ran, listening to his footfalls and judging distance and his surroundings by sound and smell. He tripped several times, but never fell.

He only stopped when he felt water rush over his ankles and grimaced as sand sucked at his boots. The voice was gone now, replaced with gurgling water filling a hole that once contained a human body. He rushed forward, listening, staring blindly, and waiting for a vision to wrack his body so he could figure out where that voice had gone. Nothing came, and he screamed, angry at those visions for abandoning him at such a time. He scrambled onward until his waist was surrounded and he felt like the waves would pull him away as well.

Something scraped against his legs. He paused, ears straining to hear anything other than water. When that failed him he dove, arms searching for what had brushed against him. Something that felt like silk brushed past probing fingers, hair, and then an arm, which he grabbed so he could haul the being upward while lurching backward in desperation. Waves sucked at the body he tried to pull away, wanting claim on it. He thought he heard them scream at him. “We had her first, she sings for us. Give her back. She is ours.”

He shook his head, sometimes it was hard to discern delusions from visions. A wave plunged him over, and along with him that body in his arms, and only then did he realize that he needed to pull that body’s head out of the water so the voice could breathe. He hooked arms under the woman’s arm pits and tugged her from the waves. He couldn’t see that she was blue, he couldn’t see the water pour from her mouth and nose. He heard nothing from her and realized how cold her skin was.

This made him struggle faster, and once he’d had her from the waves demanding touch, he let her fall to the ground and shook her. Water was in her lungs, he didn’t know how to get it out. So he started to push, first at her belly, then her chest. A voice whispered at his ear, telling him it was too late. He screamed, furious that a spirit would so willingly give up on him when he gave them so much of himself. He wasn’t thinking when fists clenched and pounded on the woman’s chest.

A voice yelled for him. He paused, head lifted, ears straining.

“Orin!”

“This one thing I cannot do.” He murmured, a vision wracking him.

The woman, he saw her, fit and well, air in her lungs instead of water. And the man who now applied the means appropriate to expel what wasn’t necessary, a man younger than Orin, but better versed in all things human.

He heard gurgling, coughing.

“There, she’s breathing, you got her just in time. Come to my cabin Orin, you’re soaked.”

“Uistean.”

“Aye, come on Orin, you remember the way? Good, put your hand on me shoulder if you’ve any trouble.”

***

“Pray for me,
For I shall pass into
The waiting sea.
Sweet, sweet lass
please wait for me,
The sea shall not keep me.”

The song made her stir. Death thoughts clouded reason, eyes opened, burning as she stared at the fire built just for her. She opened her mouth to speak, but all that came out was a series of coughs. Her throat clenched, burning worse than her eyes, she rolled to her belly and heaved.

A hand was on her head, pulling tangled hair from her face and settling a bowl beneath her. Once she was done expelling the contents of her stomach into the bowl, it was taken away, and she collapsed, glad for that bowl. She didn’t want to have to fall into her own mess.

Confused. She was confused. Was she dead? No. Being dead wouldn’t hurt this much. The pain of life seeped into her pours and mocked her inability to sustain her own life. She shivered; a fresh blanket was set over her. It took her a few minutes to realize she was nude under the blankets that covered her. She tried to feel embarrassed, but was more sullen by the fact that she hadn’t died as she’d intended.

“M’name’s Uistean, you’re in me cabin, it’s safe here.”

“Song.” She croaked, wincing at her voice. She’d meant to say her name, but all she could think about was that song.

“Oh? The Sea Man’s Ballad? Aye, ‘tis one of me favorites. I didn’t know you were awake to hear it.”

She wanted to open her mouth, say it was her favorite too. But then she’d be lying. Oh, it used to be a favorite of hers, but now it distressed her, new meanings were etched into the words and she couldn’t shake them loose.

“Rest, lass, no talking, I’ll take care of you, just rest.”

Something about his voice was soothing. The way his accent curved syllables, and the way he sang that song. She closed her eyes, doubting she’d be able to sleep because everything burned, everything ached, and there was hollowness in the pit of her stomach. She was still alive and she didn’t want to be. Part of her felt thankful, but her failed suicide tore at her vulnerability and sunk her like she’d meant the water to do. She drifted, too exhausted from her ordeal to do any more.

Just before she fell asleep she heard the man who she thought fished her from the sea sing The Sea Man’s Ballad, and she was glad for sleep. She didn’t want to hear that loathsome song.