DargonZine 32, Issue 1

A View From Above: The Ocean

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series A View From Above

  Simon awoke with a shock, then lay in his hammock for a long moment wondering what had awakened him. The warm island air smelled like smoke, sweat, and sea. Then it struck him … he was alone. Ever since he had been marooned on the island days and days ago, there had always been at least one of the village children hanging about, day and night. Now he was alone in his hammock in the poor section of the great house. No Danni, no Bighair, no … Bighair. Simon took a deep, sudden breath. That’s right … Bighair was dead.
     For days, nothing had been right in the village, not since the men had returned in the boats with his body. Bighair’s death was an oppressive cloy in the air, especially around the great fire. His mother’s weeping filled the air at odd bells, and the women of the village spent much of their time comforting her. For two days, only one boat launched, and the fishermen stayed home. Danni was nowhere to be seen. Simon took the net and caught fish, then hiked out to the ruins and explored. He slept alone that first night.
     On the second day after Bighair’s death, Simon again fished. He found himself weeping at unexpected times, unsure of exactly who he was mourning. There was no food that lunch, and Simon just went back to fishing. There was no food that supper either. Simon hiked up to the ruins on an empty stomach. He went first, as he had the previous day, to the place where the sharks were carved into the stones. He found himself thinking of this place as the temple. He found more stones in the brush nearby, tumbled and buried. On the surfaces that were visible he could see more carvings. These seemed to show battles happening between the animal people and the non-animal people. As he tried to dig around them, he found more broken weapons.
     After a while he wandered back to what he thought of as the graveyard. The body was still there, protruding from the sand. Simon just stood there, silent, for a while, emotions churning inside him. A flash of movement broke him from his reverie. It was a small black bug, scurrying along the edge of the wall. Simon thought it was similar to the one that had bitten him, and he tensed. Ever since that episode he was shy around insects. He had wondered how the villagers survived, until Danni pointed out that there were large mats just under the sand around all the huts, to prevent the bugs from biting. Simon had just had the bad luck to be sitting just beyond the mat when he got bit. He wondered now if there were mats in the ruins. He suspected there were, but old ones that were now untrustworthy.
     There was still sun left in the sky, and Simon stepped out of the foundation to explore more. He found the ruins of another foundation not far away. It seemed to be older than the other ruins, however. Beyond it was a sort of clearing, where the brush gave way to grasses. Simon wandered through it. All around there were bits of charred wood, many of which seemed to be bits of weapons. In the center of the clearing the grass thinned away, leaving bare sand. In the late afternoon light Simon could see that there were many bits of charcoal about, as well as shark’s teeth. A closer look revealed other white bits as well, which Simon finally recognized as human teeth. There were also many small mounds of sand. The red light of the sunset glittered off something metallic in that debris field, and Simon stepped toward it to investigate. He had only taken one step when he saw the foot.
     Just like in the graveyard, this foot had been dead a while. There were only a few scraps of dried skin on it. Not far away was a smooth round object that was probably a skull. Simon stopped, looking around. Now that he knew what to look for, he could see that the real graveyard lay all around him. Simon could see the object that was glinting in the sun. It was not metal, but some sort of glass. He stepped closer. It lay on a smooth mound of sand. Simon reached out to touch it, and snatched his hand back when up from the mound erupted a many-legged black creature the size of his hand. Simon leaped backward several steps with a gasp. The creature did not advance, but stayed on the mound, holding several wickedly pointed appendages up threateningly. As if on cue, several more of the bugs also emerged from nearby mounds. Simon turned and ran. He slowed when he reached the trail again, but did not stop until he was home.
     On the third day, there was a wake. The women started cooking before dawn, and the men of the village spent the morning combing the shallow waters for certain crustaceans and sea plants. Simon helped the men, his meager command of the language sufficient for the simple task. At noon, the feast began. Bighair’s family started a wail that swept across the village. From their hut, they brought out his body, wrapped in fronds and stinking of herbs and putrefaction. The men of the village all took his body, holding it high over their heads and running around the village. They were shouting something about boats, Simon thought, and Bighair, and leaving. Then they started running up the trail toward the hill. Bighair’s mother started screaming and chased them. Her husband and family restrained her. The men then carried the body up the hill. After a short while smoke arose into the sky from the top of the hill. The men returned, leaving the pyre to burn itself out. The old healer passed around some sort of intoxicant that smelled like feet and kicked like a crossbow. Danni’s father started a chant that the whole village took up, and Simon joined in. The eating started, and the day dissolved into a blur of food and singing and frenzied dancing.


     Simon awoke the next day with the sun shining directly in his eyes. This was unusual, because Simon was used to waking up inside the great house. Since the sun was in his eyes, it meant he must be outside, which was an odd thing, and he lay there for a while thinking about this. It was during this time that he realized that he had two heads. He must, since there was no way that one head could possibly feel that large. He tried to sit up, and discovered that he had enough of a headache for two heads. Looking around, Simon saw that he was lying just outside of the door of the great house, which was looking invitingly cool and dark. He crawled inside, lay down, and fell back asleep.
     Simon awoke the second time when Danni shook his hammock. She stood there a moment, looking at him, and asked if they were going fishing. Simon said yes. She nodded, and stood there waiting. With a groan, Simon got to his feet. He staggered outside and looked about. It was about the third bell. He saw two people down by the great fire, and one man out fishing. All the boats were still firmly beached. Danni was still at his side, looking at him with a forlorn, almost accusing look. Ignoring both social protocol and prudent custom, he relieved himself against a nearby tree, and headed down to the great fire, Danni in tow. There were at least four people still sleeping around the fire-pit. Simon snagged some leftover food and headed down to the beach, his head pounding with every step. He and Danni began casting, and rather quickly caught a few large fish and a handful of smaller ones. Rather than continuing, Simon took the fish up to the great fire and handed them over to one of the women there. He then returned to the shore with Danni and went back to fishing. After a while Danni’s father came down to the beach. He looked like he had a headache as well. He approached Simon directly and asked him a question that sounded all the world to Simon like “Do you want to go out on the boat?” Simon nodded, and Danni’s father nodded and walked away.
     The boats didn’t launch that day. Simon and Danni were joined by a number of the other villagers in gathering food from the shallow waters. That night they ate more sparingly than usual. After supper Simon and Danni walked up into the scrub. Simon led her down to the ruins. He showed her the additional carvings he had found.
     “Where is this place?” he asked her, repeating it in his best local. She looked around, and shrugged. She was not talking as much as she had before Bighair died. Simon continued on, exploring in the direction opposite the graveyard, keeping an eye out for the big black bugs. They came to where some trees stood. They were small and bent, like they had been damaged when young and had hardened like that. They bore scars from a fire as well, but they were proper trees, unlike the scrub that covered most the island. Danni looked at the trees curiously while Simon explored. There were interesting stones there — cylindrical ones. Danni tried climbing the trees while Simon examined the stones. She managed to get herself up into a larger one and sat there, deep in thought.
     “Where is Bighair?” she asked after a mene or so of silence.
     Simon looked at her, dumbfounded. He had no idea how to respond. He struggled with different ways to say it, and finally opted for the simplest.
     “He is gone.”
     Danni sat and thought. “Gone where?”
     More thinking. “I don’t know.”
     Danni sat and thought about this a long time, then began to weep. Simon went to her and reached up his arms. She held out her arms and fell into his, wrapping her legs and arms around him, sobbing. He cried too, their tears mingling and pasting their skin together. After a while his tears subsided, and he held her until she finished weeping. Once she was done crying, he still held her, and began to walk among the ruins.
     For days, an idea had been forming in Simon’s head. The ruins, the patterns of the fallen stones, the remains of support timbers, the layers of char and the complete lack of old trees almost anywhere all pointed to some large conflagration on the island some years before. He knew of the locals’ use of funeral pyres. Given the presence of actual bodies in the sand, he had to conclude that there were too many dead after the great fire, and not enough fuel, so that the dead had to be buried rather than burned, and probably buried in a great pit, for the most part. Somehow, not too long ago, there had been a larger city on the island, and a fire had occurred that wiped out the entire island and most of its inhabitants.
     Simon carried Danni until she was too heavy to hold, then lowered her down. She walked, holding his hand. He led her back to the village and down to the great fire. There were villagers there, and Simon found Danni’s father seated along on a bench.
     “Aku akan pergi dengan anda besok,” Simon said in his best approximation of the local accent. Danni’s father looked at him for a moment, shrugged, then stood and clapped him on the shoulders.
     “Kami meninggalkan dengan air pasang,” he responded. Simon understood this to mean, roughly, “We leave with the tide.” Simon nodded, and Danni’s father smiled again and walked away.
     The next day Simon was awake before dawn. He left Danni sleeping in the hammock and wandered down to where the boats were, examining them in the pre-dawn light. After a while Danni joined him. He explained to Danni that he was going with the boats. She seemed upset, but he expected that. She ran off to the village and disappeared into the great hut, something he had not quite expected. He headed down after her to get some food, and found her father there. The big native explained to Simon, with much repetition and hand-waving, that the men would be gathering at the boats in about a bell, and that Simon should be at the boats then. Simon wondered what he would do for the intervening bell, and decided to go fishing. His mind wasn’t in it, however, and he mostly just stood and stared at the boats. As soon as one of the men from the village headed for the boats, Simon ran back to the village and stowed his net. A few more men were heading down to the boats, and he joined them. They looked at him as if unsure what to think about his presence, then nodded grimly and continued walking. He fell in behind them.
     The boats themselves were quite large and heavy, dugouts carved from some dense and hard wood. The outriggers lent them stability, a feature that their design otherwise did not afford. They were not rigged for sailing, although there were places to mount a mast if desired. Indeed, it appeared that an entire superstructure could be mounted in place of the simple platform they currently had affixed amidships. Simon wondered if the current occupants of the island were the descendants of those people buried at the ruins, or if they had arrived on these boats afterward to find an empty island. He wondered if he would ever find out.
     Danni’s father arrived and started directing the men to prepare for launch. He paired Simon up with a hale young man named Salasar. Together they would be set in the center of the boat, just ahead of the platform. The tide was rising, and already the bow of the great canoe was awash. Simon could feel the excitement rising in his gut. He hadn’t been on the water in sennights. Wouldn’t it be ironic if he somehow managed to get off the island that very day?
     The sound of a shrill, blatting voice caught his attention. He turned to see the old healer standing before Danni’s father, haranguing him. His heart sank when she pointed at him. He caught a few words like “boy to man” and “night alone” and recalled Danni’s statements about when he would be ready for sailing. Danni’s father replied with heat, dismissing the old woman. He turned back to the boat, and she grabbed him, squawking angrily. He brushed her off. She pointed at Simon, staring directly at him, and shouted something. Simon could almost understand it. She then turned around and stomped angrily away. Simon looked helplessly at Salasar, who shrugged and grinned as if to say “women — who can understand them?”, then turned back to work.
     It wasn’t long before all the other sailors were at the boats. Simon stood at his station in the knee-deep water, watching for a signal. The waves were lifting the bow, and the outrigger was walking across the sand. Danni’s father climbed up into the boat, his wet body glistening in the morning sun. The men took this as a signal and began to push the boat out. Simon threw in with them, and soon the dugout was moving. He climbed up in along with the other men, and with them laid into the water with a paddle. They pulled out into the surf and away from the shore.
     Simon was no stranger to oars and rowing. He was a bit out of practice, however. He did his best to keep up, but he could see that the other men were compensating for his inability. Fortunately, the boat was soon past the breakers and the work evened out. Simon was able to fall into a rhythm with the other men. This accomplished, his mind was now free to wander a bit. He began to wonder about the other islands.
     He had visited many ports of call on his voyage south, and had watched the culture change from temperate, feudal agrarian societies through the more educated, aristocratic commercial societies to the arid nomadic tribal societies and finally to the tropical, isolated, idyllic societies like the village presented. He expected that the other islands would be very similar to this one. The artifacts he had seen represented on the pillars all shared a common level of technology, and he anticipated that the language was probably also very similar.
     The boat Simon rode in was itself quite long. Beside it there were two other boats, one at each side. Each had a captain, seated on a platform amidship like Danni’s father, who was clearly in charge of this expedition. In one hand, he held a harpoon, and his gaze was fixed intently on the horizon. Simon wasn’t able to see much from his seat, but he could see that they had been following some sort of channel though the reefs. The village itself fell behind the curve of the island and out of sight.
     Once the channel opened up into deeper waters the men stopped rowing, and lifted two spars. They rigged a sail between the spars and caught the wind.  Salasar indicated that Simon should set down his paddle, although Salasar himself continued to row, along with a few other men. Simon watched. The smaller crew of oarsmen seemed to be more focused on steering. There were four or so men at the front of the boat that worked the sail, apparently at the command of Danni’s father. The rest of the men relaxed.
     Simon wondered what sort of technique they used for the actual fishing. He saw no nets or lines. There were plenty of harpoons and crude gaffing hooks. It would seem that they were going to be spearing the fish … although Simon wasn’t quite sure how they would lure the fish close enough.
     Simon wondered about the people on the other islands. The island people seemed to live simple lives compared to the lives of the people in the lands just to the north. Those folk were highly religious, with frequent prayers, many temples, and an entire religious class. The villagers on the island had only the shark altar. The people to the north had a caste system, and different castes dressed differently. On the island, except for the old healer, everyone was simply naked save for a belt. The most complicated item of dress he had seen was when Danni made herself a girdle of twine that circled her waist and passed between her legs, disappearing into the cleft in front and re-emerging from the cleft in back. That item of clothing didn’t even last the day.
     Despite the constant language lessons, Simon hadn’t been able to talk to the adults much. In fact, what with his poor command of the language, even most of the children found him boring and wandered off. Danni had explained what she could, but her knowledge was understandably limited. As a result, Simon knew little of the history of the island. He had deduced the part about the fire, but he could still be wrong about that. He did not know if they had been on the island long, or if they were newcomers. He hoped that he would either soon learn more of the tongue, or get off the island.
     Simon saw the man ahead of him stiffen, then point. Simon followed his outstretched arm with his gaze, and saw a fleck of white above the waves. Simon’s heart thudded in his chest. He couldn’t believe his luck! His first trip out, and they see another boat! He quickly quieted his excitement. This was a fishing trip, after all, not a trading expedition; they two boats might not even meet. Still, it was exciting!
     To Simon’s delight, Danni’s father grunted some orders, and the boat turned towards the other sail. Down came the sail and spars. The men that had been relaxing picked up their paddles and lay to it again. Salasar tapped Simon on the shoulder, and Simon happily took up his paddle and joined in. In moments, all three boats were making excellent headway, their bows sending up spray as they cut into the chop. Simon was struck by the silence the men kept. On the longboats and galleys Simon had been on the oarsmen always had a cadence they chanted to keep time. Usually it was rough and rowdy, unless the galley was chartered, in which case the chant was censored for more delicate ears. In any case, Simon found the silence almost unnerving, and yet the men stayed in step.
     Simon ran through a few phrases in his head. He knew the traditional greeting the villagers used: “perdamaian, saudara”. Simon was fairly sure from his lessons from Danni that it meant “Hello, brother”. He mimed it silently to himself a few times. He replayed in his own head the phrase for “my name is”, which sounded like “aku dipanggil”. Danni and most of the villagers had trouble with “Simon”, and so he had gotten good use from that phrase.
     They were closing on the other boat from the rear and to the port. It was a smaller boat, more of a raft than a canoe. Simon could see the sailors on that ship now. They were working some sort of lines off the gunwales, either nets or fishing lines. The sail was down, but the spars — two like their own boat — were up. Simon caught glances of them between strokes of the paddle. They were just as brown and naked as he and his fellow crewmen. He took that as a good sign that their language would also be similar. He thought one of those sailors might have been a woman but he was not sure.
     A swell blocked Simon’s view of the other boat. He put his head down and paddled hard to keep up with the brutal pace the other oarsmen were making. He wondered if they were making such speed on his behalf. It occurred to him that he might not be going back to the island. He felt a sudden pang of regret for not bidding Danni farewell. Perhaps it was just as well — Simon was not one for long goodbyes. He shook his head to clear it of foolish expectations — it was unlikely that he would be going with the other boat today.
     When Simon looked up he was surprised to see how much progress they had made. They had reached the top of the swell, and the other boat was now in the trough, below them. The other boat was not underway, and they were coming up on it fast. Simon heard one of the sailors from that boat call out, and he saw them look up from their lines. To Simon’s surprise, the men of the other boat abandoned their nets, took up their own paddles with a shout and started rowing. It was then that Simon realized that his own boat was not slowing, and that they were on a collision course.
     The men on Simon’s boat, who until then had worked in silence, suddenly broke out in a shrieking yell. Simon froze, his paddle in mid-air. He looked back at Danni’s father, and saw that he also was yelling. Simon looked back forward. The other boat was a scene of chaos, with some sailors standing and pointing and some wielding paddles and one just frozen in fear. Simon looked back at Danni’s father again.
     “What are you doing!?!” Simon shouted at him, but in an instant he knew what the man was doing. Simon had not signed up for a fishing trip — he had enlisted in a war party. Simon looked forward just in time to see the other boat almost directly ahead, and almost exactly broadside. He threw down his paddle and seized the side of the great canoe tight as the two boats slammed together.
     Simon was thrown forward into the man ahead of him, and Salasar was thrown into Simon. All around were shouts and screams. The villager in the seat ahead rolled aside, and Simon fell to the bottom of the canoe. He found himself wedged down between two seats, his arms and legs flailing above him. The man he had landed on straddled Simon, towering above and brandishing a harpoon. He was bellowing out a keening cry, and as Simon watched he threw the harpoon, put his foot on the gunwale and leaped off the boat. Simon watched as harpoons and clubs flew above him, and he realized the danger of his own vulnerable position. He struggled to right himself, watching all the while for any attack. All around the screams and shouts continued. Simon finally got a grip on the gunwale and pulled himself up.
     Simon’s boat had cut across the other boat almost exactly amidships, and had slid almost halfway across. The two hulls formed a rough cross now. The sides of the other ship, which seemed to be woven of some sort of reeds, had shattered, and that boat had tipped. Its outrigger had lifted the rear of Simon’s boat, and the other vessel was listing and taking water. The village crew were almost all on the other boat now. Men and bodies were floating in the water and draped across the broken hull of the other ship. The other two boats from the island had pulled up alongside and their crews were busy throwing harpoons at the hapless wights of the stricken boat.
     As Simon watched, horror-stricken, one of the bodies draped over the side of the other boat stirred and arose not two arm-lengths away. The man was not dead, but merely wounded, a gash on his head. He looked about at his own boat, broken and invaded. He lifted a heavy wooden club edged with shark teeth, just like the ones Simon had seen in the ruins. Simon could see indecision on the man’s desperate face, and could imagine the calculus running through his head; his boat was overrun by invaders and taking on water, all around were enemy craft, and they were far from land. The wounded man made a quick survey of Simon’s boat. Simon realized how empty his own boat now was, and reached the same conclusion the other man did at the same moment he did.
     The wounded man leaped up on the side of his tipping boat, his eyes on Simon. Simon didn’t even have time to look, just seizing a paddle he knew was nearby. Simon raised the paddle just in time to block the blow from the man’s war-club. The shark’s teeth embedded themselves in the shaft of the oar, and the man landed one foot on the side of Simon’s boat. He stood there, straddling the two ships, heaving and wrenching at the club in an effort to free it. Simon clung to the oar, trying to keep it from being wrenched from his grasp. The man shouted at Simon in an almost recognizable tongue. His weight pressing down on both boats was forcing them apart. The waves rolled the two craft a bit, and the wounded man lost his footing and fell into the water. He kept his grip on the club, though.
     When Simon felt the man fall, his first instinct was to push the man away, but the paddle twisted in his hands and one end slipped down inside the canoe and wedged there. At that same moment, the club broke free. The wounded man caught the side of the canoe with one hand as he fell, and now he was suspended half in, half out of the water at the canoe’s side with the club free. He swung it. It was an awkward swing that Simon was able to block by simply catching the club. He caught it at the edge, however, and felt the bite of the shark’s teeth as they embedded themselves in his palm. Then it was Simon’s turn to scream.
     The two struggled over the club. Simon’s injured hand convulsed and failed, and he caught the club with his other hand when the fisherman tried to raise it up for another blow. All the while, the man was still shouting what Simon felt were probably obscenities at him. Simon could not wrench the club away from the other man, and the other man could not overcome Simon enough to climb on-board. They both were trapped. Simon stared down at the wounded man, wanting to shout back that the whole fight was as much a surprise to Simon as to the fishermen, and that he wasn’t really their enemy, and that his involvement was just one big mistake. Then a wall of gray arose from the ocean depths below them both. A crack in that wall opened revealing red jaws studded with massive teeth. A dead black eye blinked white, and the jaws closed around the wounded man’s waist. His mouth popped open, and his eyes bulged in shock for a moment before the shark pulled him under effortlessly, leaving just a swirl of black water.
     Simon bolted upright and scrambled away down the length of the canoe. His breath came in sobs, his heart pounding. He looked around wildly. The fight was dying out along with the crew of the fishing boat. The villagers had been ruthlessly efficient, killing with practiced ease. They were now ransacking the other boat of its gear and catch, shoving the dead overboard when they got in the way. More than once Simon saw the villagers hacking at the dead with knives, taking grisly trophies. Further away the other two boats were busy finishing off the survivors in the water with clubs and harpoons. Grey fins cut through the water here and there. No word of this attack would get back to warn the next fishing crew of the pirates.
      Pirates. There could be no other word for it. Simon sat in the canoe, hunched over and watching as the villagers transferred their booty back to their own boat. Having brought no fishing gear or bait, they would now be going home with food and goods just as they had so many times before. Pirates! Every sailor frowned and clenched a fist at that word, whatever tongue it was spoken in, and now Simon found himself living with them.
     Once the target boat was emptied of its wealth, there remained the matter of disentangling the two. Two villagers hacked and chopped at the bindings that held the reeds together to form the other vessel until it started to just come apart. Once the attacked boat lost enough integrity they scrambled back to the safety of their own ship. One of them came forward and shooed Simon from his seat. Simon went back to where Salasar sat, but could not look at him. Within a mene or two the other boat was low enough in the water that the pirates could row free of the wreckage and head for home.
     There was no ceremony when they returned. It was just like any other day, with the boats returning with their catch of fish and the women of the village coming out to greet them. Simon wondered if the women knew how their menfolk got their catch, or if they even cared. Among the faces waiting was Danni. She was smiling and hopping up and down with joy to see him. When he climbed out she hugged him and chattered about how happy she was to see him. His stomach churned and he had to resist the urge to push her away. By this time his hand was swollen, and Danni took him to see the old healer. She rolled her eyes when she saw the wound and took him to her hut. She plunged his hand into a heady-smelling pot of cold liquid that immediately made the hand numb. After a few menes of that she bandaged the hand and sent him away.
     Supper held no allure for him. He kissed Danni and told her to go eat, that he wanted to be alone. She nodded and ran off. He struck off for the bush. He wandered the familiar paths, numb in his heart and head. He had seen dismemberment and death before, with men swept overboard during storms and with limbs being crushed in the tackle or sheets. He had seen fights aboard and in port, and had even had a few altercations himself. None of that mattered. He felt sick to his soul. After a time of wandering he found himself at the graveyard. Looking at the body with the spear in its chest, it all made sense. Pillage and plunder, raid and counter-raid, retaliation and revenge: the people who built the city had been slaughtered, their bodies heaped into a pile and the whole island burned to the ground. It didn’t matter if it was Danni’s grandparents that had been slaughtered, or who were doing the slaughtering; the violence had lived on.
     Simon was at a loss for what to do. His entire hope had been pinned on getting to one of the other islands, in the expectation of eventually catching a ride to the mainland. Now it was evident that the villagers would have no interest in taking him anywhere. Even if Simon could get to another island, he was likely to be killed as a pirate. His heart sank. He eventually just sat on a stone and wept. He stayed there until his tears dried, then continued wandering. He hiked back up the hill to the plaza. Atop the hill, he found the remains of Bighair’s funeral pyre, on the other side of the path from the plaza. Simon wondered how Bighair had died. He shook with fury at the villagers for allowing a boy to go sailing out to battle. He could imagine many ways the boy could have met his fate. Simon then recalled the look on the wounded man’s face as the shark grabbed him, and he huddled down and wept again. Getting up, he wandered tear-streaked into the plaza. Staring at the pillar with the shark-toothed club he realized what the leathery patches were. Lying there with the old, blackened tokens were now some fresh items, recently harvested from the slaughtered fishermen: hands and genitals and ears and scalps laid out in the sun to dry. Simon stared at them for a few moments, then found himself seasoning them with his own vomit.
     It was dark when Simon returned to the great hut. Danni was already there. She awoke and reached out to him. He stared at her for a long moment before laying himself down beside her and allowing her to wrap herself in his arms. He listened to her breathing slow as she fell back asleep. He knew that there was no way she was complicit in the crimes of her fathers, but her still felt tainted by her touch, and he felt dirty for feeling that way. It was a long time before he could sleep.


     Simon awoke the next day to the sound of his own name being shouted. He opened his eyes and saw that the sun was just warming the sky. Danni was still at his side. He lay there, still, listening for his name again. He wondered if he had imagined it. Then footsteps approached. Danni’s father appeared at the side of his hammock, rage in his eyes and a club in his hand. With an angry yell, he reached down and grabbed Simon by his foot and dragged him out of his hammock and then out of the great hut.
     Simon was so surprised by the drop to the ground that at first he did not even resist. Then his indignation arose and he kicked and twisted and clawed at the hand gripping his foot. To his surprise and embarrassment, it did no good. He was helpless to avoid being hauled out onto the beach before the startled villagers. Danni’s father was shouting at him, and when Simon tried to rise he swiped at Simon with the club. Simon deflected the blow with his injured hand and was rewarded with a whole world of pain. Danni’s father stomped around in front of the villagers, shouting and pointing at Simon, seemingly accusing him of things he couldn’t understand. The old healer confronted the man as Simon tried to get up, but Danni’s father lunged at Simon, knocking him to the ground again. The healer intervened again, and the two villagers argued. Danni’s father strode off to the shark altar and grabbed some colored fabrics. He returned with them and threw them at Simon. It was a long moment before he realized that they were his old clothes. Simon looked at them, shocked, as curses and accusations rained down on him. Where had they been? How had Danni’s father gotten them? Why had they not been returned to him? The tirade stopped. Simon looked up. The circle of villagers parted, and there stood Danni’s mother. She slowly took in the whole scene, then turned to Danni’s father.
     “What are you doing?” she asked in the local tongue. Simon could understand her words quite well. It occurred to him that Danni resembled her mother more than her father in many ways. Her father stood now and glared at her mother. He pointed at Simon and the clothes and asked something in a deadly tone. Simon didn’t need to parse the grammar to know that he was asking her how she had come to possess Simon’s clothes. Danni’s mother did not answer. She just turned and stared walking away. Danni’s father followed, continuing his questions in that same angry tone. She finally turned on him. Simon could not understand every word she said, but he understood enough, and the woman’s posture, tone, and expression were as clear as a ship’s bell. It was obvious that, in her eyes, Danni’s father was lacking in many categories. She continued her stroll up the beach, Danni’s father two steps behind. The whole village followed, with Simon in the rear cradling his outraged hand.
     Simon was fortunate that the natives tended toward the expressive side when aroused, since his own command of the language was still tentative. The wild gestures and expressions from Danni’s mother made it easier to parse the words she was now spitting at her cuckolded mate. She admitted freely that she was not faithful to him. Simon could gather that from her words, and her expressions, and the parts of her own body she was touching. She seemed to feel no need to deny it, or even to own up to a responsibility for it. He was outraged, but she was dismissive of his demand of faithfulness. It was obvious she felt that he was not the lord of her. Their angry tones carried over the beach. The old healer, having heard enough or fearing worse, picked up Danni and carried the protesting girl back to her own hut. Danni’s mother continued her stroll up the beach until she came to the rocks, then waded down into the water. Danni’s father waded in after her, his tone shifting from accusation to ultimatum. She responded with a haughty look, and turned away, towards the sea. With a growl, he stepped towards her, club raised.
     Danni’s mother threw one backwards look at her husband and reached down and touched the fine pattern of scales on her flanks. She said something in a tongue and accent that Simon had never heard. She dropped down, plunging herself under the water. When she stood back up again, Danni’s mother was gone. In her place was the blue nightmare from the ocean pool, her skin now covered in scales, her fingers tipped with black talons. The whole village gasped. Danni’s father stepped back, his arm lowering the club. Then he raised it again and swung it. Effortlessly the creature swatted the club away with one hand, and seized the man with the other, grappling his arm and tossing him into the water. The villagers all stood, frozen in shock and fear. When the creature spoke, it was a harsh, hissing sound that barely carried any human meaning. Nonetheless, even Simon could understand the gist of what she said. She was leaving them, and she was leaving him. She turned her scaled flank, her wet black hair flipping a spray of drops across the sand. With the grace of a fish she dove into the water, vanishing and re-emerging many body lengths away. The blue face stared back dispassionately for a moment, then vanished again under the waves.
     The whole village stood there, silent. Danni’s father stood up, standing in the shallows, motionless. Then, his face a mask, he said something in a stern, detached voice. It was simple, and Simon felt he understood it. Danni’s mother was dead. There was nothing anyone could do. Everyone should just go back to their lives. After a few moments, the villagers turned and walked away. Simon walked away with the villagers. He kept glancing back, for fear of pursuit, but Danni’s father just stood at the rocks, alone, staring out to sea.

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