Shrisaelte and Dani
by Christopher Edmund Nelson
Table of Contents|
parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
There came a day when Dani did not return from work.
Shrisa waited. She waited. She worried. The night grew late. He was not there. Well aware of the dangers, she went into the town and wandered its streets. She searched feverishly, casting her eyes about frantically yet blinded by panic. Still, she was afraid to speak in more than a whisper.
His name escaped her lips at last. It was scarcely more than a breath, but it was enough; as she heard her own trembling voice, the fear rushed in on her, and she ran. She screamed his name. She didn’t realize she was headed to the docks until she was there, and then, for a moment, her eyes cleared, and she saw them. The ships. They were familiar. Guards stood in front of them.
She remembered why they were familiar. The only other time she had seen a ship of that size was shortly after she met Dani, when he had told her they were searching for him. Could they have found him after this long, and on the other side of the land? No. Of course not. He was safe somewhere, perhaps looking for her, since she had left their home. She had no hope that he would be there, yet the fear of his wandering off in search of her gnawed at her belly. She was torn as she had never been, and for a time all she could do was stand and hold back the sobs.
She moved forward. She knew she did it, but it was as surreal as a nightmare. She glided through the air on a cushion of ice with her heartbeat in her ears. And she spoke to the guard in front of the boat. “Sir?”
He kept his gaze straight out, away from her. “Move along, wretch. I have no coins for you.”
It took her a moment to understand, and then she was too afraid to be angry.
“No...” she went on. “I just need to know, is there a man on that ship? As a prisoner, I mean? Was a man taken on today?”
Now he looked suspicious. “Why do you care about that?”
She was sure of it, now. “Please tell me. I’m looking for a man named Dani. Is he here?”
“Why should I tell you?”
“Please...” she said. She could not think. She began to choke on her sobs. “I just need to know where he is...”
“He is here,” the guard said; she never was sure why he answered her. “I did not expect anyone would care enough to come looking for him.”
“Why must he go?” she asked. “Release him, please.”
The guard did look at her then, and there was menace in his eyes.
“Go home. He belongs to the king.”
She stood still at first, not out of defiance but for lack of a will to move. He pointed his spear at her. She thought she might as well die as move away now. But then it was as though someone were speaking to her in soothing tones. A bit of hope came back to her.
She moved away. Somewhere within her, she was already struggling to form a plan.
She knew she would have to wait until morning to do anything, but she could not bring herself to go home. She sat against the edge of a building, shivering, kept warm only by the spark of hope left within her. At some point in the early hours of the morning, she slept.
* * *
She woke from uneasy dreams just past daybreak. People were already beginning to stir; this was the best time for loading cargo. She rose and walked about near the water. When she saw someone not immediately busy, she asked questions about the ships there.
By and by she learned where the ship carrying Dani was headed and what other ships were going there. She learned about the captains and the crews. By noon she thought she had found a boat that would take her.
She went back home and got the few coins they had managed to save. She went back to the docks and found the captain of the boat she had picked. He turned an irritated eye on her while she explained her need to sail on his ship, and when she showed him the money, he grunted a laugh and told her to go away. The next captain wouldn’t speak to her at all.
There were more ships she could try, but she was already beginning to panic again. The vessel carrying Dani was going to depart the following morning. She stood near it and gazed at it. She found herself running towards it. She felt a sudden rush of hope as she flung one leg over the side, but she was pulled back by the startled guards at the last moment. She struggled and kicked at them, but they were far stronger. In the process she dropped her few coins, which fell into the sea. She hurled herself at the water, but arms pulled her away. She flailed and was tossed aside. All her energy left her as she landed on the ground, and she cried.
There was a man standing above her when she looked up. He was looking at her.
“What’s aboard that ship for you, lass?” he asked.
At first she did not believe she would respond. “My husband,” she blurted out. It wasn’t really the truth. She was never sure why she said it.
The man raised his eyebrows. “Aye? And they’re taking him back where that ship comes from, no doubt. That’s why you were willing to risk death for a few coins hardly worth passage to the end of the harbor?”
She stared at him. He offered his hand. “Come with me.”
She looked at the hand and then took it. He walked. She followed.
“I can give you passage,” he said. She could scarcely believe her ears. “I’m passing close by that place, and I could weigh anchor. Of course, nothing’s for free.”
“I have no more money.”
“Oh, aye, but you can scrub a deck, can ye not?”
She nodded. Pleased, he continued.
“And you can serve out the ale and the other stores, and do other odd tasks. You’ll be plenty useful. When does yon ship make sail, by the by?”
“Tomorrow at dawn.”
“I’ll be sailing at the same time. Their ship looks the faster, but the journey is not long. Do you see the wider craft yonder with the tall sails and red paint?”
“Yes. I see it.”
“Meet me by that ship before first light. And do not dawdle. Understood?”
He walked away. Hope lingered under the surface of her mind, but she was too exhausted to feel it. She stayed near the ships for a while, at last forcing herself to find water to drink. Night fell. She slept by the ship she would be embarking on.
* * *
That next dawn, she was invited aboard, and the ship headed out. Her journey, she was told, was a short one, only to last two weeks. During her trip she did as was promised, serving the food and ale and helping as she could.
More than a week into the journey, she began feeling nervous. She tried to listen for the voice of the Watcher, but this merely made her restless. She began to notice things. The crew grew distant, and when she saw their eyes on her, their faces bore the strangest expression. She began to listen for things. Two nights before they were to reach port, she caught a phrase that chilled her heart.
“...much will she fetch?”
It was a crewman. He and another were talking, and neither knew of her presence nearby.
“Captain says it’s enough to be worth the stop,” whispered a second. “We’ll want some goods from there anyhow, like as not. He’s been awfully quiet about it, probably so as not to scare her before it’s time.”
“What’s the worry? She isn’t going anywhere.”
“Anything could happen. I’ve heard stories of people drowning themselves rather than go through that. In any case, she’s surely worth something. There was a warrant of sorts on her husband.”
“Where? Where we’re sending her?”
“Right. Whatever he was doing in our country, they saw fit to bring him back.”
Shrisa had heard enough. She didn’t want to believe it. The conversation had been quiet; she tried to convince herself that she had misheard. It did no good. Time was running out.
The next night she crept to one of the lifeboats. As the daughter of a fisherman, she knew a bit about knots. She untied it and, not knowing how to lower it properly, fell with it to the water below.
She began rowing immediately. Those on watch had already heard an object falling and were raising the alarm, but it was dark and, therefore, unlikely that she would be found. She kept on in the direction the ship had been headed and rowed until her eyes tired and she could row no more. She slept.
* * *
The following day, she sighted land. She rowed with renewed energy until she neared the beach. As she drew close, a wave caught her boat and tossed her forward, and the water carried her onto the beach. Her strength gave out, and she lay there. She feared she would end as Dani almost had. Soon, however, she was able to summon the strength to sit and, then, to stand. She looked around.
She swayed a bit on her feet. She was starving and greatly in need of water. By the sand were some trees and bushes. She walked away from the water and into the shade.
Almost immediately she saw a house. No one appeared to be there. She walked to the door and peered inside. The house was vacant. Fear of the owner’s return welled in her. She was about to scurry away when her eyes fell upon the jugs lined up against the far wall. Her swollen tongue licked her dry lips. She opened the door and went in. In the jugs was water. She drank her fill. She wished then that she had her flask to fill and was tempted to search for one, but she felt bad enough about having broken in; she headed back out instead.
Beyond the house was a dusty road. In one direction the road led inland gradually, and the other way stayed near the coast. As she gazed along the road in this second direction, she noticed that more buildings lay that way. She walked toward these other buildings on the road.
On the inland side she spotted some farms. She saw a couple of fishermen’s dwellings and their boats. She knew she must be near something, a village, perhaps. The road climbed. She climbed with it. Halfway up she felt faint and thought of turning, but her better sense won out. She rested and climbed.
Proceed to part 5...
Copyright © 2014 by Christopher Edmund Nelson