Monday, February 4, 2013


Rocks and Birds

The first of the bodies washed up after Tidalus had left the beach, in pursuit of his eternal love Elune as he had always been.  Wanderers understood Tidalus’ devotion to the moon goddess; they worshiped her too and spent their lives searching for her.  Zurak understood that the sea god had no love for creatures with legs, that Tidalus was an impetuous god who took what he wanted, when he wanted.  Traveling by sea was always a risk, but most Wanderers had little choice if they were to find the Well of Provenance.

Zurak could tell even from a distance that the first body in the rocks no longer had breath.  It was her uncle with his bright yellow tunic and his wife’s body was just a short distance further.  Zurak had to fight off the greedy gulls that were ripping away the chunks of flesh on the corpses and exhausted herself covering them with rocks until a proper pyre could be built.  She spent days gathering up the shattered timbers of their ship and all the remnants of their lives as the ocean spit them back out.

Every minute that passed told Zurak that she was on her own now, that no one else had survived the storm, and every passing day made her surer that the others weren't coming back for her.  There had only been three ships making their way down the coast of the Golden Land, but they had been separated in the first storm.  Two more storms had come rapidly after the first, each of them more furious than its predecessor and the last one had sent a wave of such terrifying height that it completely swallowed Zurak’s ship.

Zurak’s mother had been holding Taeyo, Zurak remembered with ugly clarity the look of horror on Maymay’s face and how her mother had reached out towards her.  Zurak had tried to run to Maymay, but the wave engulfed their boat and everything after was blackness.  All the bodies of Zurak’s family had washed up now except her mother and Taeyo, feeding Zurak’s irrational hope that they had survived.

Zurak found a small cave near the beach, Wanderers always found caves, and she had already painted a small rune of Elune on the wall using her own blood mixed with gull dung.  She had even put up a crude altar with some offerings of shells, round white rocks and eggs so that the moon goddess would hear her prayers.

Every day when the tide went out, Zurak would venture up and down the beach gathering up the small pieces of her old life and calling for Maymay.  No one ever answered as her small pile of salvage became larger and larger, but Zurak still did what she could to make the cave more of a home for when she did find them.

There were many pieces of clothing, all damaged but still usable, two cooking pots and even a small blade.  The ivory comb that Maymay had used every night on Zurak’s long white hair had still been in the small leather bag with the sharp needles for sewing and Zurak carefully combed out the snarls every night so her mother would be proud.

Another small storm hit the beach on the fifth day; it was just an angry squall although it kept Zurak in her cave the whole day.  The sixth day was clear when Zurak awoke and the Peaceful Ocean was calm as she set out on her searching ritual.  There had been no salvage since the fourth day, but food needed to be gathered in any case and Zurak worked very hard at silencing the small voice inside her that said her mother was lost forever.

Zurak went south from her cave towards the nests and their bountiful eggs; she dug in the damp sand for mollusks and gathered whatever plants seemed edible.  All the while, Zurak clambered up every rock for a good view; she yelled her mother’s and brother’s names as loudly as possible and searched every cranny between every boulder.  It was getting late and Zurak needed to start back soon before the sea cut off her route back to the cave, but she went just a bit further south for one last look.

Zurak scaled the boulder on a bluff that commanded a good view; she saw that the beaches further down were sandy and not strewn with rocks like her own.  There were several of the jagged teeth rocks scattered in bunches just off shore, but only one of them was crowded with birds.  There must have been a hundred birds, all cawing angrily as they dived and swarmed around the jagged rock.

Zurak leapt off her boulder and ran across the wet sand as fast as she could, waving her arms and screaming in fury at the gulls who barely even noticed.  She picked up whatever rocks she could find, hurling them at the mass of gulls and cursing them all with the most hateful and spiteful magic that she could summon.  Maymay had been wearing her red tunic the night of the storm, the one she had spent a year embroidering with the symbol of Elune on the back, and Zurak recognized that familiar shade of crimson clinging to the rock.

Maymay’s body had been trapped in the jagged teeth for days; her skin was swollen and white with sea water where it had not already been stolen away by the birds.  The gulls had plucked out her mother’s eyes and ripped the red tunic to shreds in their zeal to desecrate the person that Zurak loved most.  Pain ripped through Zurak’s belly, sickening hot and cold anguish that pushed bile up into her mouth even as salty hot tears burst from her eyes.

Zurak beat off the birds as she screamed Maymay’s name and tried to pull the mangled body from the rocks.  The tide was coming in fast, the water already surrounded the clutch of rocks below her and the birds were relentlessly picking at the body before the sea swallowed it up again.  Zurak could not see anything but blurs past her tears and could only hear an anguished roar in her ears, but she knew that she could not save both Maymay’s body and her own.

Maymay would want Zurak to live, perhaps Zurak really was the only one left now, and she let the next strong wave that crashed against the rock wash her off.  Numbly, Zurak swam and staggered back to the beach and up past the tide line; she found a small crevasse against the bluff and stuffed her small body inside, watching with horror filled eyes as Tidalus and his minion sea birds gleefully feasted on Maymay’s bones.

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