Shrisaelte and Dani
by Christopher Edmund Nelson
Table of Contents|
parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Shrisaelte runs away from home to escape a marriage arranged by her well-meaning father. Dani escapes from service in the army of a tyrannical king. Shrisaelte and Dani overcome hardship together and strive to resolve the conflicts between their origins and their destinies.
As Dani's ship drew near to shore, he made speed, pulling ahead of the other three ships; the other commanders assumed this to be eagerness and did not guess at his plan.
Once on shore, he pulled out those few he believed would place loyalty to the king above his orders, took their weapons, and gave them over to the locals to watch. He set a fire near the shore so that his actions could not be seen from out on the sea, and he armed the local populace. As he had hoped, his remaining soldiers carried out his orders.
The other ships arrived in quick succession. Luck was with him; the commander he believed would be sympathetic to his plan landed shortly before the others and nearer to him.
Dani had only minutes to explain his plan; he did this and hoped he had guessed right. He had. The second commander set about disarming the men of his that he believed would remain loyal to the king, and Dani marched his men to greet the third commander.
Before the third commander could fully realize how the situation had changed, Dani had surrounded and disarmed him, and Dani spoke to that company, openly declaring an end to the bloodshed and demanding the soldiers declare their loyalties.
Put unexpectedly on the spot, the soldiers made their choices, and those who wished to remain loyal to the king, at that moment outnumbered, were disarmed and isolated under watch.
This done, the fourth company found itself outnumbered before they realized a rebellion had occurred; Dani relieved that commander of his leadership as well. He had succeeded in stopping the invasion.
Once his blood cooled from the battle, Dani faced the fact that he hadn’t truly stopped anything. The king, ever cautious, had sent a few small vessels behind the main force to observe the battle and report on the outcome.
Quickly they sailed away to report that things had not gone as planned. Before long a second force, larger than the last, was sent to the island to finish the job. Long before the ships were spotted from afar, Dani knew more soldiers would surely be coming and that he and the others that had rebelled stood little chance if they stood their ground.
Dani could not bring himself to force his soldiers to face a larger number of their brothers in arms in open rebellion against the king. He called all of the soldiers together, those who had joined him and those held captive, and also the leaders of the locals, and explained to them that a larger force was on the way. He would allow himself to be captured and handed over in order that the soldiers under him might be treated more mercifully. Any who would flee, he said, must do so immediately, for there would be no stopping the next wave of soldiers when it arrived.
Many locals and soldiers who had sided with him did choose to flee and went inland or set sail on small vessels for whatever island they could reach. Those that remained he armed, and then he surrendered to them. The soldiers that had been captured were freed and armed as well.
When the expected force landed, it found a group of soldiers and Dani waiting on the shore. Unarmed, Dani presented himself to the commander of the fleet at the point of his soldiers’ arms. He declared that he had chosen to defy the orders of the king and had ordered his men not to engage the local force.
A few other soldiers, for reasons he would never fully know, admitted they had assisted Dani in rebelling against the king. What became of the rest of his force he did not know. He was bound and taken aboard one of the ships to be taken to the king for trial and execution.
While he was held as a prisoner in the ship on the way back to the king’s land, he nearly lost hope, but a small part of him would not give up. He knew the way, and each time the ship turned, he pictured where they must be. And slowly, carefully, he tested the limits of his bonds.
Of how he managed to escape, he was not entirely sure. He did at last manage to slip his bonds, though for that to have been possible was indeed sloppy of his captors. As it happened, there came a time that the guards were distracted, and he managed to make his way past them and, as he had hoped, the ship was passing near to a large land not within the realm of his king.
Perhaps the gods favored him that night. Perhaps some of his captors were secretly on his side. It did seem that something more than his own strength and skill were with him that night, that something awakened him when the time was just right and guided his actions. However it came to pass, he made it into the sea in the dark and swam for shore with all his might.
As he neared the shore, his strange luck began to fail him. He was not so near as he had hoped. It was sheer power of will that got him to the beach. By then he had swallowed enough seawater to drown, and all his energy was spent. He fainted and lay there until Shrisaelte found him, and had she not, he may very well have died right there.
They walked in silence for a bit.
“What of your parents?” she asked.
“I do not know how they fare,” he said, and they spoke no more for the time.
* * *
They entered hill country. The hills turned them north a bit, and the coast turned west, so by evening they were actually closer to the beach than they had been that afternoon. Dani suggested they camp on the top of a tall hill from which they could see the ocean. Sea breeze hit their faces there and cooled them. Together they found some food. They built a fire and ate.
Afterward, they sat and looked at the ocean. The air grew chilly, and she shivered. He saw this and moved nearer to her. She realized that she ought to move away, but she would not, for his warmth felt good to her, and she felt strangely safe. He whistled a tune she did not know; it sounded as one that a mother would hum to her babe. She fell asleep that way, and he soon after, by the fire.
She awoke in the middle of the night. Something tugged at her mind; it seemed as though a voice had stirred her from slumber. She stared at the calm ocean. She gasped.
“Dani! Dani, wake up!” she shouted in a whisper. Dani stirred. She pointed at the sea. “Look!”
“What?” he asked. At her direction, he gazed the way she had. At last he saw what she had seen and stood up. There, near the beach, seeming close enough to scrape its bottom on the sand, was a great ship, the likes of which Shrisaelte had never seen.
“What is it?” she asked.
“It is a boat from my country,” he said. “They should have been gone from here. I think they are looking for me.”
“They can’t find you now, though, can they?” Shrisa asked.
He was silent for a moment. “No,” he replied at last, “they won’t find me. Go back to sleep. We’re safe here.”
She eventually drifted off to sleep again. When she awoke hours later, the sun was coming up, and Dani was still watching the ocean.
They went inland, and valleys opened up before them. Farms sprawled there. Out of hunger they picked some of the crops, and Shrisa felt guilty.
Dani consoled her. “It is only what we need,” he said. “No more. Soon we can find work and pay our own way.”
They came to a large farm, where Dani was sure the owner was well-to-do. They found the owner out in the fields; he saw them before they were one hundred yards away.
“Can I help you?” he inquired with guarded amicability.
Dani spoke for them. “It is a pleasure to meet you, sir, a pleasure. We’re poor and forced to travel and saw your farm as we passed, and well, sir, it appears you have quite a bit to pick now before the harvest time ends. If you would be willing to lodge us and feed us for a time, we would work for you until the end of the season.”
The man eyed them very suspiciously. “And after the season?”
“Then we’ll be on our way, unless you have more work for us.”
The farmer stood in thought. “I have some help already,” he said, half to himself. “Let’s see you work. There are baskets near the house. Grab some and start picking, and we’ll see how you do. I’ll let you know when to stop.” He promptly turned back to his work and ignored them.
Shrisaelte and Dani took baskets and began to pick. They had no experience between the two of them, but they did as well as they could. When they grew thirsty, they drank from the flask; when they began to tire, they slowed but did not stop.
The sun began to set. Finally, when they had filled several baskets and worried that the farmer would never approach them, they saw him waiting at the spot where they had been setting their harvest. He looked pleased.
“Well, you got a few under-ripe ones in there, and it’s not the greatest yield. I suspect you’re green, no harm in that. But clearly you work hard. And you work together, I notice. Tell me, are you married?”
Dani looked at Shrisa, who looked flustered for a moment. She looked at Dani and felt suddenly calm.
“Yes,” she said.
“Good,” said the farmer. “To tell you the truth, I was still a might uncomfortable. You’ll be sleeping together in the barn, if that’s all right, and I won’t have men and women sleep together who are neither kin nor husband and wife. This is a respectable farm. Well, do you have other belongings?”
“No,” Dani said. “Just ourselves.”
“All right. Supper is at sundown.”
As the farmer moved off, Dani whispered to Shrisaelte. “How did you know to lie?”
“I didn’t know. It just came to me,” she replied. Her hand crept into his and squeezed it; then she walked away.
So they worked for the rest of the season. By day they picked various crops side by side, and each evening they sat together, telling stories. On one of these evenings, he surprised her with a question.
“Why don’t you go home?” he asked.
“I’ve told you my story,” was her answer.
“Your father is determined to marry you off.”
He was thoughtful. “If the right man were to ask for your hand, would that be so bad?”
She looked at him. “And who would that be?”
“That...” he began, and he stopped. “I have no other place to be. I have no one, and I’m no one. I... all I have got is you, anyway. It wouldn’t be so bad. You could return home...”
“Father would never accept you,” she said. Her face was red. “I doubt he would accept me back now that I’ve run away, and you’re a stranger. It would be an insult to him.”
“Oh. Well, it was just a thought. A thought of a nice future for you, at least... Just a thought. Nothing. It doesn’t matter. Forget it.”
Neither of them said anything for the rest of the evening, but she moved closer to him, and they stayed that way until dawn.
* * *
At the end of the season, they were forced to move on. Winter was near. Try as they might, they could find no more work among the farms. Shrisa suggested they look for work along the coast; perhaps in a town, where people were always busy, someone would hire them.
Shrisa only knew vaguely where a sizeable town was, so they headed down the coast. On the way they came to a river, which Dani said they should follow, and after a few days’ journey they came to a town at the mouth.
Dani was nervous when they walked into town, and after much questioning he explained that it was because of the merchant boats from his country resting in the harbor. He assured Shrisaelte that the merchants always visited the various ports in the area and that there was nothing to worry about.
Dani found work as a laborer, simple work but brutal and low-paying. For this he was paid daily in coin. Shrisa, who had some knowledge of weaving, went to work making baskets and other goods for a merchant. Together they made enough to eat, but they could not find a place to stay at first, so they slept on the outskirts of town.
“Will it be like this from now on?” Shrisa asked Dani.
“No. This is just the beginning,” Dani assured her. “Just wait and see.”
She saw less of him after that, and he grew more tired. He announced one night that he had found a place for them to stay. She went with him to see it, and he took her to a tiny shack on the edge of town. It was only big enough for two beds and a fire, it had no proper floor, and the walls had several small holes, but he assured her that only they would be there. There was one small bed in the shack. Despite her protests, he slept on the floor that night while she took the bed.
So they lived. They were not well off at all, but they survived with a pittance left over to store under the mattress. And though they both worked late, they took a few minutes each night to talk and sing, and neither one felt lonely.
After a time, however, Dani began to feel uneasy. One night, when she could see that he was in a serious mood, Shrisaelte asked him what was wrong. He said nothing at first but asked for something sharp. She asked his intent, and he said he had something sewn into his pants that he wished her to see, so she handed him a knife.
He cut the stitches closing what she immediately realized was a pocket. From it he pulled a small object of smooth stone hanging on a thread.
“This is my family pendant,” he said. “Here. Take it.” He handed it to her. “In my country, many would recognize this pattern of stones as my family’s. We are poor now, but once we were important. I hope my parents were allowed to stay on their land.”
“It is lovely,” Shrisa said, and she tried to hand it back. Dani would not take it.
“Keep it,” he told her. “I wish for you to have it.”
She studied it. “Thank you... I wish to ask you something then.”
“What is it?”
“What are your intentions for me? I see how you look at me, and we have slept near each other, and I know about the passions of men, yet you have not taken advantage. Why?”
Dani was struck by the question. His reply came slowly.
“Shrisa, I don’t know... I didn’t think that you... I... I don’t know. We’ve been with each other for a season, now, even slept near each other, as you say, but, well, since you trusted me-and especially since you saved my life, how could I possibly... I don’t know. I feel bound to you now, like our fates are tied together, but I hadn’t even thought I could take such advantage. Why even ask? I have repaid your trust. What would you have done if I had tried to... take advantage?”
“I don’t know,” Shrisa replied, and they spoke no more of it for a while.
Copyright © 2014 by Christopher Edmund Nelson