Nilson kicked a piece of wood the size of his fist with his right foot as he made his way along Main Street. It flew several feet forward and nearly hit a bulky man walking in front of him. When he reached the piece of wood, he kicked it again. This time it hit a tree by the side of the road.
“Watch it!” a voice behind him called out, but Nilson paid no attention. He kicked the wood again when he got to it and made it shoot forward like a galloping horse. This time it hit one of the buildings. It made a loud noise as it collided with the house and the man in front of him jumped. The man turned around and raised his hand. Nilson quickly stepped aside to avoid getting hit. He’d had enough problems this day; nothing had gone right since he debarked at the ferry dock this morning with his father.
His father had sent him to Foxmarten Square on an errand and given him enough coins to even pay for his lunch, because he had to make his way across town and then back. After leaving the shop, his purchase securely wrapped, he’d been accosted by four boys.
“Hand that over,” one of the boys demanded as he yanked him into a side alley near the shop. Nilson clutched the parcel tightly to his chest.
“That’s for my father. You can’t have it!”
“It’s for his father and you can’t have it,” the boy mocked and stepped on Nilson’s foot. “Give it here!” he demanded.
“No!” Nilson said firmly.
“We’ll just see about that,” the boy replied and his fist connected with Nilson’s lip. Nilson kicked the boy’s shin and made him stumble. The other three boys grabbed Nilson and started hitting him with their fists and feet. At some point, one of the fists connected with his eye and at the same time the back of his head hit the wall and the world went dark. When he awoke, he found the boys had taken the parcel for his father, his remaining coins, as well as his shoes and vest.
It had taken Nilson nearly a bell, before he felt able to stand up and get cleaned up. His head hurt, his nose had stopped bleeding, and one of his eyes was swollen shut. Every breath he took hurt. He hadn’t taken three steps when he rid himself of the remnants of his breakfast. Still feeling nauseated, Nilson made his way towards Commercial Street and the docks where he could find a place to clean up, avoiding eye contact with anyone on the street.
Nilson found a small beach just north of the dock and carefully stepped into the cold water.
“Ouch!” Nilson flinched as the salty water burned in an open wound in his face. Gingerly, he felt his swollen lip and found fresh blood on his fingers afterwards. He ripped a piece of cloth from his torn shirt and pressed it against his lip. When the bleeding stopped, he continued cleaning up. In the distant, he heard the fifth bell of day chime. Sighing, he decided he had a bit of time to rest and dry his wet clothes; he stretched out on the grass behind the beach. In the heat of the sun, Nilson fell quickly asleep.
A gust of cold air sweeping over his bruised and battered body woke Nilson. As he looked at the sun, he heard the seventh bell of day chime.
“Turdations!” he exclaimed and scrambled to put his now dry clothes back on. A wave of nausea hit him, but he had nothing left to throw up. His father had asked to meet him at the dock at seventh bell, so they could take the ferry across the Coldwell, back to the old part of Dargon where they lived. He was late, and his father had made it quite clear, that if he wasn’t at the ferry on Dock Street, by seventh bell, he’d have to find his own way across the Coldwell. Running was out of the question. His head and stomach wouldn’t be able to take it, but he was breathing without pain and could open both eyes. As he carefully touched his lip, he felt a scab. Angry about having to miss the ferry and dinner, Nilson made his way back to Dock Street, kicking a piece of wood he’d found on the beach ahead of him.
How he would talk his way onto the ferry, without a coin to his name, was still a mystery to Nilson when he finally arrived at the dock. As he approached the ferryman, he heard him arguing with one of the goat herders.
“The keep’s cook bought two goats, I can’t pay for thirty goats to go across just to drop off two and I can’t leave the others here. You know that as well as anyone else,” the goat herder shouted.
“I’m not taking two goats across alone. Who’s going to pick them up? We can’t land at Keep’s ferry point this time of day, the current is too strong. We’ll have to go to North Beach. I doubt the goat will find their way to the Keep’s cook on their own,” the ferryman retorted. “Either you go with the goats or the goats stay here!”
“How am I to make a living with the causeway broken? I can’t just make the goats swim across and the next bridge is leagues upstream.”
“Not my problem,” the ferryman said and pushed the goat herder aside. “Let the paying customers get aboard so I can set across the Coldwell.”
Nilson made his way to the goat herder and tapped him lightly on the arm. “I can help you get the two goats across. If you pay for my passage, I’ll make sure the cook gets the goats.”
“Who are you?” the goat herder asked and looked Nilson over from head to toe. “You’ve no shoes or vest, and you look like you were in a fight, one that you lost. How do I know you’re not taking off with my goats?”
“I’m Nilson Fletcher, my father is a guard at the Keep and my mother works at the Keep. I missed my father at seventh bell, and now I need make my way across, except I’ve been robbed and have no more coin.”
“You’re related to Anselm Fletcher?”
“And your father is a guard?”
“Straight, that he is. Jared Fletcher is my father.” Nilson looked at the man hopefully. Maybe he could get passage on the ferry after all. The goat herder seemed to think things over.
“Very well then, I’ll pay the passage for you and the two goats, and you will take the goats to the Keep’s cook. Do we have a deal?”
“Deal!” said Nilson and shook the man’s hand. He watched as the ferryman was paid and then took hold of the rope attached to the two goats and walked aboard. A sigh of relief escaped him as the ferry departed. He would get home, at least in time to sleep in his own bed.
As the ferry made its way toward the North Beach dock, mostly drifting with the outgoing current, Nilson made himself comfortable leaning against the railing. The ferry bobbed up and down and swayed left to right. The further the ferry progressed the more it was affected by the incoming tide. As the movement of the ferry increased, water started splashing over the railing, soaking the passengers. The rocking and swaying of the ferry made Nilson rather nauseated.
“If you’re going to throw up, make sure you do it over the side of the boat!” the ferryman shouted. Within moments, not only Nilson followed the advice of the ferryman.
“Hold on tight everyone, it’s going to …” Those were the last words Nilson heard before the ferry was lifted high up and then dumped, upside down, back into the river. He fell into the cold water of the Coldwell, the rope that held the two goats wrapped around his arm. He went underwater, swallowing a large mouthful of brackish water. Nilson panicked and in his struggle for air, managed to surface and take a deep breath. Next to him, both goats bobbed up and down, bleating their displeasure. Other people, too, were coming up for air.
“Swim ashore,” they started yelling, “Swim ashore!” Another wave crashed over them and Nilson swallowed more water. Coughing and sputtering, he began kicking with his legs, the way his father had shown him, this at least kept him afloat. He struggled to unwrap the rope on his arm, when he noticed the goats didn’t seem to have any trouble swimming. He let the rope be and fought hard to swim between the two animals and place one arm on each goat’s back. It was then, that Nilson heard the voices. They were sweet and alluring and seemed to be coming from beneath him. He looked into the water and saw several faces surrounded by long black hair that seemed to be drifting in all directions. The hands that reached for him seemed to have tissue between the fingers. And then he felt a drag on his legs, pulling him underwater.
“Come, play with us,” the voices said. “We’ll have fun in the sea.”
“I can’t breathe underwater,” he attempted to say, but only bubbles left his mouth. His hands tried to find hold in the goat’s fur, but he didn’t succeed. Only the rope connected him to the animals as he continued to slip underwater. He struggled to reach the surface, but to no avail. “Please let me go,” Nilson attempted to say as the last of his air left his lungs and he passed out.
The sun rose over Mermaid’s Lair and colored the sky orange and red. Amidst the seaweed that had washed ashore were two goats nibbling on the fronds, and tied to the rope connecting the goats, was the body of a boy in torn clothing. Small waves washed over his body. Sputtering and coughing he pushed himself in onto his hands and knees and vomited a large amount of sea water. When he felt better, he lay on his back and let the sun warm him for a few menes before he struggled to stand up.
“I’m alive,” he thought, “I’m alive.” Then Nilson turned to the ocean and shouted, “Thank you for my life!”
Unnoticed by Nilson, four figures nodded and started diving.