Aphelion Issue 244, Volume 23
October 2019
 
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The Tale of the Sea Upon the Thief's Path

by S.J. Budd




The crowd watched in glee at the small woman who stood before them with her hands bound and a noose hanging loose around her thin, swan-like neck. A brute of a gentleman hidden behind a black leather mask stepped forward. "Do you have any parting words?"

Any sane person at this point, who had found themselves in her position would not have hesitated to offer their utmost apologies to the Great Mother for taking away a life she had brought into the world, to the Maiden for slaying her lover and for the Crone for taking a life back into the void without her permission.

Daphne had no need of repentance or ask for forgiveness as she had honored her side of the bargain as promised.

"Would you marry me if I become a free woman once again?"

"I will, my love, I will."

She had barely been in the ocean city of Torrpoint for six months and already she had been sentenced to death. She was not yet 19; it was quite an achievement. People had flocked to her execution to take a peak of the young woman who famously had the face of a beautiful mermaid but the mind of a brutal cold-hearted killer. She had killed her husband of six months with poison. It took him a long week to die. After all, it was her first time but unfortunately it was easy for the doctors and marshals to see what had happened him and the trial had therefore been a swift affair.

No one knew what had driven her to do it; her husband had been a kind man even if he was twice her age. She had refused to say anything at all and people were most confused.

Daphne would take a secret to the grave and beyond, for she had made the ultimate sacrifice. A few months back a young pirate called Jack had walked into her husband's waterfront inn, and she, lonely and homesick from being away from home for the first time had found a friend in him, and a passion inside herself. She loved him fiercely which at times even she felt scared by the intensity of her passions, but each time she pleaded with the smuggler to take her away with him onto the sea, he refused because she was already married and therefore did not belong to him.

"Would you marry me if I become a free woman once again?"

"I will, my love, I will."

Daphne cleared her throat and took a step closer to the drop floor, quietly she whispered, "You will, my love, you will."

It had been three years since Jack had last set foot on the shores of Torrpoint and it was still in his eyes a raving degenerate hellhole. The place was infamous throughout both Eastern and Western Gyunaylia. People said that the madness of the isle of Torr had leaked out and over time, it corrupted every inhabitant of its neighboring city – Torrpoint. As a smuggler, he would often have to port here but he avoided it as best as he could. After all, it was a place where even the most vigilant and strictest sea marshal charged with wiping the land of pirates would fear to tread.

Despite all this he was happy to be back in his old stomping ground he spent many a drunken night here getting up to no good, he never remembered what he had gotten up to which only served as testimony to the fact that he'd had a bloody good time here.

He checked his pockets. He had been on the open seas for nearly four months and so had very little in the way of earthly possessions that granted value on the certainty of solid ground. Out on the open sea it wasn't a heavy purse laden with silver that kept you afloat. For the sea didn't care if you were honest, she didn't take into account where you had come from, why you were running or where it was you intended to go. It also didn't matter to the sea what unsavory business you were planning on once you reached your destination courtesy of the mistress of the open sea. That's why pirates and smugglers alike worshipped their sea goddess. She knew that only people outside the law traveled by the sea and welcomed them to her bosom. All the sea demanded as payment of passage was loyalty and devotion, to worship her infinite blue waves and the mysteries that lay below in her depths. It did not do to command the sea like you could with the land for she could be unforgiving and cruel.

His purse was empty but his throat was dry and no doubt, there was plenty of coin to be found in such a place as this. He walked through the crowds with his pocket knife flicked out hidden in his palms. Each time he came near to an unsuspecting fellow he checked their purses and if there were coins inside he would slit their purses empty their bounty and move on. He wasn't callous, he took only what he needed and when he was done he found his way to the first inn he could find and spent his takings there. To him, technically it wasn't theft, he was merely re-distributing the wealth of Torrpoint. Half the people here were so drunk they would never realize they had been robbed and would simply wake up the next day cursing themselves for having spent all their hard earned, ill-gotten pennies in one night. Half of Torrpoint were operating criminals and so it all rough justice amongst thieves who were like kin to one another.

"A pint of your finest, dear gentleman," Jack whipped off his hat and bowed ceremoniously to the landlord who silently snarled, unimpressed.

"Ye get what yer given here." He opened his palm, "Coin first, I know your sort."

"But of course!" He emptied his purse onto the counter and the landlord swept away the coins with his big meaty hands.

"That'll do." He grumbled as he loudly placed down a tankard of strong ale, so dark you could not see your hand on the other side of the glass.

"Hmm, I do believe I've been here before," He mused trying to catch at a memory floating near. Yes, he thought, I had the landlord's wife right over this bar. A bonny young lass who had just been plucked from maiden hood. His thoughts were interrupted with the sudden sounds of alarm bells and quickly moved to the front door. He was a pirate he recognized the call of a ship in distress anywhere. Whose ship was it; he hoped to god it wasn't his! Had they been washed up on the rocks along the craggy shore?

"Sit yourself down, sonny Jim!" The landlord bellowed in a loud voice that carried well, "There's no ship out there." No one else in the pub had stirred from their drinking and trying hard to not attract attention to his miscalculation he strode back confidently to the bar and reclaimed his pint.

"I could have sworn I heard a ship in distress." He gestured outside, the landlord shook his head.

"You ignore them after a while, they always come and go."

An attractive brunette sidled up to his and placed her gloved hand upon his tattooed forearm, "Some say the bells are from a haunted ship that sank."

"Some say there the bells of the sea marshals closing in."

"Some say it's the voices of the dead stuck on Torr Island."

"Whatever they are," The landlord concluded, "They never bloody shut up!"

"I think it's a haunted ship trying to dock."

"Or a phantom sea marshal."

"Or the sound of demons trying to reach our side of the world?"

Jack raised a pint and drank to the bells, whatever they were, they sounded beautiful, and it had been some time since he had last heard music. He eyed the landlord who was serving two old boys.

"How's your wife these days," The landlord drew a blank look, "You know the one with long red hair and green eyes like a cat. She had massive..." He raised his hands to his chest and quickly dropped them, "Hands?" The landlord dropped his rag and came over to him leaning in close.

"I believe you mean Daphne," The landlord said in a quiet voice. Jack clapped his hands and cried out.

"Yes! Daphne! How could I forget?"

"She is with us no longer," The landlord crouched down and rested his weary self upon the bar as if settling down to rip a good yarn, "She was the wife of the previous landlord. Killed him in cold blood she did, no one knew why." He shook his head, collected Jack's tankard, and refilled it.

"Oh dear! How bloody awful, and what a shame. Did he knock her about?"

"No, he treated her very well."

"What a waste," Jack cursed, "She couldn't have been much older than 18, what a fine buxom beauty she was." He took a long sip, "Well this has most definitely ruined my evening."

He drank in silence to mark her passing and devoted his time to reliving what he could remember of her memory. It was incredibly blurry, he'd met her after a very fruitful trip, and so his exceedingly drunken state had reflected that. He hoped he hadn't done something terrible like vomit over her. Oh dear, he thought guiltily, I do seem to remember something about promising to marry her, but then shook his head. It was preposterous to think she had killed her husband on the off chance his drunken promise had been a sober man's intention.

"What a damn waste," He pounded a fist on the bar and held out his empty tankard. He winked at the landlord, "Well, women are wild creatures, not like you and me eh? She was just like the mistress of the sea, untamed and temperamental, just like a woman should be. I have no time for plain Janes! No, there's nothing like a woman who refuses to accept no into her vocabulary."

The landlord shook his head. "They're trouble all right."

Under the intense scrutiny brought on by the dark ale, he had decided that after eight pints that she was the perfect woman for him, but alas, she was dead.

He'd always dreamed of having a woman like her in his life, built like a ship she was; fierce, headstrong, and very forceful. She'd wanted her husband out of the way and rather than just put up with him and wait for him to die, she just killed him; a simple act from a complicated creature.

"They're starting up again," A voice behind him groaned as once more the bells rang out.

"They've been louder than usual tonight."

"Some say they the call of the mermaids trying to lure a pirate to his death."

"Some say it's the sound of a soul being reborn."

"Some say..."

"Give it a rest!" Jack bellowed out, "A woman has just died!" He held out his empty tankard for the landlord to refill but he shook his head and signaled to the door.

"No more for you, sonny Jim."

"I was leaving anyway. I wish to find a finer establishment than this!"

"Good luck with that."

He swung the doors, fell out of the inn, and dragged himself to the beach where the bells could be heard more clearly. He faced the waves and threw up his hands in a drunken rage.

"Daphne! I love you! You're the only woman I ever loved!"

He held out his hands, the bells got louder, and louder under they were deafening and began to draw out the people from the inn. Now there was no doubt to him as to what they were; the wedding bells of a persistent bride.

"Yes, Daphne! I will!" He proclaimed madly, "My love! I will!"

He threw himself to the cold mercy of the sea.


THE END


2016 S.J. Budd

Bio: Ms. Budd lives in London and works for www.findahood.com, where she writes numerous articles. She has been published in Sanitarium Magazine, Siren’s Call Publications, Deadman’s Tome, Innersins, and Bewildering Stories. A blog about her literary pursuits can be found at  www.sjbudd.co.uk.

E-mail: S.J. Budd

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