Thursday, September 11, 2014

Seeds Of Darkness, Part One

Sitting over the edge of the pier, Joshua and his three friends all laughed and chatted as bobbers floated in the water around them, occasionally sinking a little and causing the boys to fall silent as the lucky one with a nibble took his rod and reel and slowly, ever so slowly, reeled in the line to try and snare the fish. They came from a poor village, where their fathers spent the days breaking their backs in the sugar cane fields while their mothers and sisters kept to the animals. Their older brothers helped with the gathering of lumber for the village woodsman so they would all have firewood come the cold winter nights in the next few months.

But for them, they got the duty of fishing for the village, and fishing up whatever they could. So far they’d caught seven heavy Bass, as well as a Barracuda that they thought would be a prize. One of the older men had come out, his brow sweaty from work in the fields, and offered the boys his rowboat to go out in the deeper waters to catch the bigger fish. They’d been bickering on and off about it for the last ten minutes before it had finally come to a heading.
“I say we use the boat,” Jake declared, looking from Joshua to Jason to Kevin. “We all know how to paddle, we have four oars, and we can bring in larger meals so our families don’t have to work as hard. Plus if we get good at this they can allow us to do this when we get older, save us from working the fields!”
“I’m not arguing that,” Kevin said, ever the rational one. “All I’m saying is that none of us are very good swimmers, and we don’t have anything to reel someone in should they fall out of the boat.”
“How are we going to fall out of the boat? Are you not strong enough to stay atop your reel and pull in a large fish, or do we linger on the docks because you’re too much of a coward to even try the boat?”
Jason’s well placed question caught Kevin off-guard, who merely shrugged and remained silent. Joshua smiled, thanking Jason for voicing his own opinion; Joshua didn’t want to upset Kevin any, as his father was the village Chieftain, a proud man that wore the skin of a bear he had slain using only a machete and half a spear. He bore scars from the encounter, but over those scars was a tight fitting long sleeved vest and sash made from the hide of a mother bear. The cubs had been slain to make his leggings. Nobody wanted to cross the Chieftain, who ruled over the tribe with an iron will, and an even harsher fist.
“Fine,” Kevin huffed, standing up to move to the shed at the beginning of the pier, opening the flimsy wooden building and rooting for something. Pulling out three harpoons and a coiled up section of rope, he kicked the door closed and waddled over to the other boys. “If we go to deeper waters than we bring weapons. You know the legends of what lurks out in the waves.”
Joshua did indeed know. Tales of great grey and white fish five adults long, with mouths full of endless rows of teeth and saltwater, were told around the campfires late at night, when the children were nodding off to sleep. The tales that excited Joshua the most were the tales of magical fish that could be brought up from the briny deep, fish that granted wishes or gave trinkets for their freedom. While Joshua didn’t really believe in them, he accepted the heavy wooden handled harpoon with grim solitude as Kevin passed them out.
“Now the boat is just big enough for four adults, so we should be able to manage so long as we don’t let the tide pull us out.” Kevin said, holding a hand over his eyes to stare out at the roiling waves. “We need to stick near the reefs, where there are plenty of fish.”
“How do you know all of this?” Jake challenged, puffing out his bare chest, his bronzed skin not quite muscular enough to look intimidating.
Kevin thrust a harpoon towards Jake, handle first. “My father is the Chieftain, a title I will one day claim. On that day I will focus our efforts back onto the sea. So I read, and I learn.”
“You would have us turn away from the farmlands?” Jason gasped, his father owning three times as much land as anyone else in the village, thus granting him a more powerful say whenever the Elders of the village met.
Kevin nodded. “The ocean can provide everything we need for food, while we go to the forests for timber and the river for fresh water. The farmlands and animals are barely letting us get through the winters as is, but we could fish during the winters if we were properly dressed, bring in fresh food instead of stale rations and dried meat.”
“And what does your father say about all of this?” Joshua asked carefully.
Kevin winced. “The first time it was brought up he caned me, telling me not to criticize the elders that they knew best. But he’s been listening as of late, and this spring we’ll have five new boats built to humor my idea.”
“So the harpoons are for what, big fish?” Jake asked, running his fingers along the hammered copper edge of the harpoon, idly playing with the sharpened point.
“For mermaids, if we encounter any.” Kevin said, his face as serious as possible.
All three boys burst out laughing, and to his credit Kevin kept his temper in check while he waited for them to calm down. Finally, as Jakes snorts of laughter subsided, Kevin cleared his throat and pointed out towards the darkened waters. “They swim out in the shallows by the reefs, their villages deep beneath the waves. They come out during moonless nights and bask in starlight. Don’t think of them as human though, as they are far from it. Should you see one, kill it. Not only is it dangerous, it makes for a good meal.”
“Mermaids? Are you serious?” Jason asked, looking at Kevin as if he were crazy.
“My great-grandfathers books speak of them and how the tribe retreated from the oceans during his reign. He made a deal with the merfolk, and we stopped going out on the water from that day forward.”
“What kind of deal?” Joshua asked, looking at Kevin carefully. Joshua was raised by his grandfather, one of the Elders of the council, and often played games of chance with his grandfather. He could tell when a man was lying or hiding something.
“A deal of no importance really,” Kevin said, looking out over the water somewhat wistfully. Joshua nodded his head, as what Kevin said rang true on his face.
“So we go out to the reef and fish for mermaids?” Joshua asked, looking at his harpoon, the dull luster to the harpoon head glinting in the mid-morning sun.
“No, we bring the harpoons in case we encounter mermaids,” Kevin said, moving towards the boat tied off at the end of the pier. “If we kill any mermaids, we drag them aboard and bring them back to be cooked.”
“Well alright,” Jake said, standing up, pulling his line in quickly. “Let’s go!”
The boys spent some time gathering their rods and reels, along with their gathered line of fish, before boarding the large keel boat, their minute frames allowing them plenty of space to store their equipment and, hopefully, a great deal of fish. Kevin, the only boy without a harpoon, spent a few moments tying lengths of rope through the slits at the end of the weapons shafts, allowing for the tools to be thrown and then pulled back in. The wicked hook on the blade assured the boys that whatever they speared, they would be able to reel them in.
“Alright,” Kevin said as he tied the last knot, “are we ready?”
“Yeah, I think we are. Let’s get going, hopefully catch up enough fish for a big dinner tonight.” Joshua replied, thinking of how lean the meals had been as of late. The Chieftain had said it was because they were saving for the winter, hoarding what foodstuffs that they could. The women had already taken to sewing and working the hides from sheep into warmer clothes for the villagers to wear during the harsh winter to come.
Hopefully I’ll get some, Joshua thought. He picked up an oar and began paddling with the other boys, getting in sync after a few minutes of splashing wildly. Once they had their rhythm, the boat was able to sluice atop the gentle water easily, the clear blue ocean allowing Joshua to see the sandy ocean floor, along with all the small, and not so small, fishes swimming about beneath them in the colorful field of strange underwater plants.
“Why don’t we stop and fish here?” Jason asked, seeing that same thing Joshua had. “Plenty of fish here.”
“Plenty of small fish,” Kevin said, shaking his head. He pulled the oar back, pushing them forward. “No, the reef will have larger fish for us.”
“And mermaids?” Jake said, sniggering.
“You better hope not,” Kevin muttered, just low enough for Joshua to hear. Joshua looked back at Kevin, who was focused on the task of rowing.

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