I am walking through what feels like wet sand. Each step I take sinks farther into the sand.
I keep walking.
I’m not sure where I am going or where I am coming from. I hear water but it’s not the lapping of waves against the shore. It sounds like the rivers toward the center of the island. I must be walking toward the sound because it’s getting louder.
I keep walking.
I look down at my feet and see they are clothed in thick boots. I scan up my legs and they too are clothed in padded leggings. My arms are covered in sleeves made from animal hide and my hands are in mittens. My face feels the bite of bitter cold while the rest of my body is warm. I notice the sand I am standing on is powder white. It crunches beneath my steps. The landscape around me begins to take shape and I see mountains in the distance. They are green at the base shifting into stone grey and then dusted with white.
I am still walking.
To my left I see the white powder stretching far out of sight in the shapes of mounds varying in sizes.
I must be close now to the river, the babbling sound is louder.
I see a child
playing by the water. The child is covered in a thick cloak made of some type
of animal fur. I call out, but they don’t hear me. I walk toward the child and
as I near they run off. I call to them again, but they don’t stop. I approach
the water and see it’s a wide river. There are smooth stones slick with water
at the edge. There are pieces of ice larger than my fist framing parts of the
White covers almost everything. There are a few blades of grass trying to poke through. I remove my mitten and reach down to touch the white powder. It feels like ice and melts in my hand when I pick it up.
It doesn’t snow in Sarachori.
Where am I?
I look toward where the child ran off to and see they are looking at me now. It’s a little girls face I see peeking out from under the hood of the cloak. She can’t be older than four. She’s smiling at me, playfully. She waves me over. I walk toward her. She starts running toward me. As we get closer to one another, I see something familiar in her face. Right before she reaches me I kneel down, and she throws her arms around my neck.
“Mohr!” She’s speaking in a tongue I don’t know. She pulls away to look me in the eyes and says,
“Mohr, leika meh mig!” She’s smiling. The words dance in my head and then slowly they reform themselves I understand them.
“Mama, play with me!”
How do I understand? Before I can process I respond in the same foreign tongue,
“Ja, mín liten räv.” The words came out so effortlessly. And I know exactly what I said. “Yes, my little fox.” The child giggles mischievously and runs back toward the water again. I get up and follow her. She’s found some stones and is tossing them into the river. I watch from over her tiny shoulder.
“Mama?” She’s still speaking in the strange language that I somehow understand with no difficulty.
“Yes, little fox?” I reply. She is throwing pebbles into the steady stream.
“When will Papa be back?” Her small voice has a sadness in it.
“Soon Elskede.” I’m not sure how, but I know that’s the child’s name.
“Alright.” She says.
“Mama, come and look in the water.” Her tone has taken on a happier note. I take a step closer and peer into the water. I see her reflection as she makes comical faces at herself, winking her eyes, sticking out her tongue, puffing out her cheeks. She’s giggling again. What a sweet little sound.
“Mama, you do it!” She points to my reflection in the water. I look at the face staring back at me. I am wearing a large hood, like hers. The water is moving making the image blurry. Then the water calms slightly and the face comes into view. My reflection in the water is a face I recognize but do not know. I see crimson colored braids adorned with grey beads peeking out from under the hood. Then I notice the only imperfection the otherwise flawless face has, a brutal scar stretching from above the right eyebrow and cutting through it. The scar skips over the eye and continues to just above the cheek bone. It looks like I have narrowly escaped losing my eye to a lethal blade. It’s not a fresh wound and I feel no pain. The little girl, Elskede, didn’t shy away from me so I suppose it’s something she’s used to. Perhaps I’ve had it for quite some time. Even with the scar’s savage appearance, it adds to the mesmerizing beauty I see looking back at me.
“Mama?” I can’t tear my gaze away from the face in the water.
“Mama, what is that?” I am still studying the face. I feel like I am in a trance.
“Mama, is that Neri?” Someone is speaking in the common tongue and they said my name.
“Don’t get too close!” I hear someone say. Where are these other voices coming from?
I look around and the snow is starting to melt.
The little girl runs off.
I reach for her,
“Don’t go!” I yell.
I look back to the water. The river is rushing again and I can’t make out my reflection anymore. I lean in closer to the water to see better when my foot slips on the slick rocks and I plunge into the river. What seemed like a shallow river is now a deep body of water, and it’s freezing. I am instantly in a state of shock. I feel as if I‘m being stabbed all over by sharp daggers. My muscles have seized from the pain and the cold and I don’t think I can move. Especially not dressed in those heavy animal furs. I look down and see I am no longer in the animal furs and cloak but am in my underclothes what I wear when I’m fishing. The water is no longer a frozen tomb but the tropical cool waters of summer in Sarochori. Like when I was on my boat and the Wannapaign attacked.
The Wannapaign. What happened to it? I remember it destroying my boat. And it dragging me through the water. And me stabbing it with my knife. These flashes of memory whirl through my mind as I will my limbs to move, my legs to kick, my arms to pull myself up to the surface. I feel so heavy.
I am still trying to kick and pull my way up when I see the monstrous Wannapaign come out of nowhere. It is racing toward me so fast I almost can’t make out the individual sword shaped fangs.
“Don’t touch it!”
There is no sound under the water. Where did that voice come from? I am now kicking violently and clawing my way to the surface. Where did my knife go?
“What is that?” Another voice says. The Wannapaign opens its mouth and I throw my hands in front of my face in an attempt to shield myself.
I open my eyes, but the light is so bright and it almost blinds me. I blink a few times trying to adjust. I am lying down and my cheek is resting on something solid. I can feel the sun beaming down on my skin. My head is pounding. Was that all a dream? Was any of it real? Where am I? I begin to flex my hands preparing to push myself up, still not able to fully open my eyes and I feel my arm is being constricted by something. There’s something tight and rough around my wrist. A rope. I am still trying to adjust my eyes to the sudden brightness. My vision is blurry and I am having trouble focusing. I notice my other hand is holding on to something, it’s the hilt of my knife. I try to release it, but my hand is stuck. The muscles in my arms are so weak and my hand is buried deep in something that feels like a bucket of goo? I use the arm wrapped in rope to lift myself up. Because of how bright it is and the sounds I thought maybe I had been laying on the beach, but I see I am more than a few feet above the sand. I think I remember that my boat broke into so many pieces that most of it sunk. I must not be laying on the wreckage. That’s when I realize I’m lying on the Wannapaign.
Anxiety rises in my throat like bile as I become aware of my situation. I cannot get away fast enough except my hand is still stuck. I look toward my trapped hand to see what is holding on to it. My focus comes back and to my horror, it’s no bucket but the eye socket of the Wannapaign that’s holding on to my hand. I try to look past what was obviously now a dream of the snow and the child and recall my last waking memory of thrusting my knife one final time into the beast’s eye. Wasn’t the sun setting when I began to grapple with the monster? With the sun shining now it feels like the late morning. I look around and see that I am surrounded by a large crowd of people. They are all gaping at me as I’m trying to wrench my hand free from the beast. It would appear I’ve washed ashore with the creature’s body. I see now the gaff is still wedged in the Wannapaign’s mouth and the rope attached to my arm and waist is still tied to the gaff. The Wannapaign hasn’t moved once, not even a flinch. Chances are that if the crowd is close enough for me to see the worn holes of their tattered clothes, it’s dead.
“I told you Darius!” I hear a voice from the crowd say. “That’s a Wannapaign right there it is! That’s why we haven’t had any fish!” One of the mariners sounds victorious to have been proved right. After a few calming breaths I try to wriggle my wedged hand from the beast’s eye. The feeling is almost as grotesque as the sound my hand makes as I try to pry it from the eyehole. I’m still so weak from the struggle but after a few good pulls my arm practically flies out of the socket along with what I can only imagine is the fluid from the eye. My fist clutches my knife and it is covered in clear slime. I put the knife down, wipe my hand on the front of my under shirt and begin to untangle my other arm from the rope and remove it from my waist. I do not care to be this close to the Wannapaign dead or alive.
I grab my knife and the people begin to draw closer as I climb down. My feet touch the sand and I spin around to see the nearing crowd staring at me, as if they hadn’t seen something like this before… What am I saying, no one has seen something like this before! I am feeling uncomfortable and not because I smell like rotting fish and my hand is covered in eye slime. I don’t like the attention. Being an orphan has only ever gotten me the wrong type of attention and I have a rough day, I think I’ve had my fill. I need to get out of here. How long have I been on this beach? I make to run for it when the crowd closes in on me.
“Did you hunt it down?”
“How did you kill it?” were only some of the questions I could make out. I’m still reeling from the attack and now that strange dream. Where was I? I have never seen snow and I’ve only ever spoken the common tongue.
“Please,” a commanding and foreign male voice cuts through the crowd. “The poor girl has been through enough. Give her some space.” This is not someone from the village, his dialect is very foreign. I try to see where the voice is coming from. The crowd parts and I see a tall figure emerge from the center. He is dressed in a long linen robe that drags across the ground as he advances. His arms are folded into the large sleeves concealing his hands. His face is hidden beneath his drawn hood. If his accent wasn’t enough, his appearance proved he was not someone from the village. As he walked toward me, I could feel his gaze which made me uneasy since I couldn’t see his face beneath the hood.
The people were whispering to one another.
“Who is that?”
“He’s not from here.” And the whisper that everyone shared was “Symvoulos”.
Symvoulos were in technical terms the royal advisors to the Sea Princes. Except, to the common folk they were known as unseen executioners using their unnatural powers to carry out the less than regal duties their Prince couldn’t be seen handling. It was doubtful that anyone in this village had ever witnessed one in person to know whether or not that’s who this was. However, his dress and presence seemed to indicate that’s exactly who he was.
They were known to be cold and heartless only seeing things in black and white and taking their noble position very seriously. They had little concern for life other than their own and answered to no one other than their Prince. They were terrifying and loathsome in the stories, even inflicting their orders on young children. As a child Kyria told me that if a Symvoulos came for you, your death came next. How anyone knew for sure that Symvoulos’ were responsible for the abhorrent deeds surrounding their reputation is beyond my understanding. But as I said before, I have only the stories I was told to lean upon and I believe them in order to survive this wretched life I have lived so far.
He came to stand within a few feet from me. He bows his head, “Mistress.” He was addressing me I realize.
“I am Kaius, the Symvoulos of the North Atlantikos.” The hooded man said. I suppose the whispers were right. He continued, “I have heard of what has happened here with the Wannapaign.” He gestures toward the mighty carcass. I realize now that my mouth is hanging open. A Symvoulos is here in my small village, talking to me about what happened with the Wannapaign, confirming that’s really what it was. How did he even know about it? I barely knew about it. He must read the confusion and terror on my face.
“You have been through a great deal and no doubt you are exhausted. I hate to add to your distressing day however I have pressing matters that need to be discussed with you. In private, Neri.” He bows his head to me again. I can barely process what’s happening and he appears to be waiting for me to speak. If he knows my name, has he come for me? My throat is raw from all the salt water I must have swallowed in the struggle with the beast, or from the fear of what’s to come.
The sound that leaves my mouth is more of a croak than words, I swallow my dread and try again.
“I beg your pardon Master Symvoulos,” I do my best not to stammer, I am not even sure if this is the proper way to address him. I can feel every eye in the crowd on me.
“I don’t understand what’s going on.” I pick at my finger nails trying to stay the anxiety as it rolls like waves through my body. My mind is trying to run through the possibilities of why the Symvoulos would need to speak with me, about the Wannapaign. Is the Wannapaign some type of sacred creature to the North Atlantikos Prince? Have I committed a crime? Will I meet the same fate as the those in the stories I heard from Kyria? I come back to the present and see the Symvoulos is still staring at me, well I assume he is, he hasn’t removed his eerie hood.
“I do apologize, I understand you must be confused. As I said, I really must speak with you and I feel that this is a conversation better had in private. There’s no need to be frightened. My men and I will escort you back to the small vessel I have waiting in the pass and there I can fully explain why I have come.” I didn’t realize until now that he had been trailed by two equally menacing men in blue-dyed leather armor that was covered with bronze plating. Although it wasn’t their uniforms that caught my attention but the strange looking weapons that hung from their belts. They were not like the swords carried by the local law keepers, which were short and easy to conceal. These blades were long and in a curved scabbard made of the same blue-dyed leather as their under armor. I could only imagine the pain they must inflict when used against an enemy. The soldiers’ faces looked like they were etched in stone under their bronze cone shaped helms that had protective plates hanging beside each cheek. How I didn’t notice them before is bizarre with their threatening appearance. If they had come to bring me harm, why hadn’t they used those blades on me already? The Symvoulos then walked closer to where I stood. I resisted the urge to back away. As he approached, I noticed he was taller than I thought. This makes him even more intimidating.
He holds out his elbow to me. I assume he wants me to hold onto it while we walk. I don’t know that I am very comfortable leaving with him.
“Ah where are my manners. I do apologize, in all this excitement I almost forgot about your, condition.” He clears his throat before he said “condition” and I see his head below the hood lowers as if he’s glancing at something on me. I follow what I assume is his gaze toward my body and I remember now what my condition is, I’m half naked.
When I spend all day on the water and the sun beats down with its nearly unbearable heat, I strip down to my underthings. Then I throw the rags I’ve come to know as clothes back on before I head back for the docks. In my swift retreat from the beast, being properly dressed was the last thing on my mind.
I instinctively wrap my arms around my chest and stomach trying to forget I am surrounded by most of the village.
The Symvoulos walked toward one of the guards and after telling him something the guard removed the long blue cloak that had been fastened to his broad shoulders and handed it to his master. The Symvoulos then walked back to me and draped it around my shoulders.
“There, now you might not feel so exposed.” His voice takes on more of an embarrassed tone and I wonder if he’s blushing under that hood. I can’t decide if I should still be terrified or flattered that I make someone blush. I tug the material around me to cover my bare stomach, arms and legs. The gesture was kind however I am still uneasy. The Symvoulos puts his elbow out toward me again. He must sense my hesitance. He seems very good at reading people.
“Please, don’t be frightened. I know that’s easier said than done, the last few hours of your life have been incredibly fearsome I am sure. You will be safe with me.” His voice took on that commanding manner again but the last comment, You’ll be safe with me, had gentle tone that seemed to suit his voice better than the authoritative one. Although I feel so full of terror, he had this way of making me believe him when he said I’d be safe. No one ever told me that before and truth be told, I have never felt safe. I take his elbow with my stained hand and walk with him toward the port.
Read the next chapter here!