DargonZine 34, Issue 1

A View From Above: The Pier

Naia 4, 1002 - Naia 4, 1002

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

Summer 1002: The Far South


[Editorial Note: This story takes place years before the story “The Sea Hag’s Daughter” by Jim Owens.]


The morning sun had barely appeared above the trees across the lagoon but the air was already thick with heat. The water of the lagoon lazily lapped at the sand and there was no wind. Skreegulls soared overhead, small black marks against the blue, but none of their calls reached the village. Small sounds of everyday life came from the nearest houses. The fishing boats had all left for the day, taking most of the village men with them, and whichever women had the energy to work were working under shade of tree or hut. The village was alive, but not bustling.

Kami stood at the end of the pier, his hands working at mending a torn fishing net. This was not his usual labor, but his father and the chief were sequestered with the other elders deep in the forest, planning the rituals for the summer festival, and Kami had already completed most of the easier chores for the day. He needed a place to stretch out the net, to show him where all the tears were, and the pier was unused once the boats left.

As his hands worked to weave the new fiber into the net, Kami’s mind was free to wander. He reviewed in his mind the scene from several days before of the foreign ship being rowed out of the harbor by the strange men from the north. Kami had been working on fixing a broken paddle and had a good opportunity to watch the scene. He had marveled at the variety of colors of hair and shapes of bodies in the crew of the foreign ship as they lowered their strange boat with the narrow paddles and towed the larger ship out of the harbor. Earlier he had overheard a conversation about how the crew had picked up a few new sailors in local ports, and he wondered which of the light-skinned men manning the oars were new.

Kami had occasionally wondered what it would be like to sail away, to leave the island behind and explore the world. As the son of the scribe he knew all the stories and heard all the news that came to the island, and he knew there was more to life than fishing and nets and carving fetishes. He also knew, all too well now, the dangers that the world held. There was something to be said for staying in familiar waters.

The sun was almost at zenith when Kami finished the net. He carefully gathered it up and started rolling it so it could be stowed. He had almost finished when he heard fast footfalls and looked up to see two of the village monks running toward him. In their hands were spears, their metal points glistening in the sunlight. Kami stood, paralyzed, too shocked to even call out and ask what he had done to attract such unwanted attention. The two other men were almost upon him before he realized they were not running at him, but were instead running toward the pier. Kami turned to watch them run past and leap up on the pier, and as he did so he caught sight for the first time of the boat coming into the harbor. He dropped the net and ran up the pier after the monks.

Almost immediately Kami knew the boat was not one of their own. It was not a dugout, but a reed boat, made of many floating stems bound together. As the boat drew closer, propelled both by the wind and by the paddling of the crew, Kami also realized this was not a warship, but just a fishing vessel. A warship would not be carrying the fishing gear and baskets. This seemed to be an unusual fishing expedition, however, for Kami could see that the crew of this ship seemed to include women and children. The monks could also see that this ship was not a threat worthy of spears, and as the boat drew near the pier they lay the weapons aside and helped the overburdened ship dock.

The first strangers off the ship were fishermen and sailors, who brought the ship in closer to the pier and lashed it in place. They then helped the women and children off the boat. One of the monks, Bolan by name, approached one of the sailors as they worked.
“Where are you from?” Bolan asked.

“We are from Klaggit,” the man said. Kami recognized that as an island on the far side of Sanduha, a neighboring island. “But these,” he indicated the women and children, “are from the mainland.”

Kami looked the strangers over critically. Several times a year, traders from the mainland would visit his father, and these people looked nothing like those traders. Their hair was styled differently, cut short in a crude fashion, and their tattoos were different. Most of them were naked, just like himself and the fishermen. He could see now that a couple of the men he had assumed were sailors were actually mainlanders, because they were now standing with the women and children in a huddle in the middle of the pier, looking down at the gathering villagers with some apprehension. Kami hearkened back to his adventure fishing with Lorma, and his stomach tightened at the thought that he had not needed to venture from his own home to come face to face with the mysteries of the world.

“How did you come to find mainlanders, and why did you bring them here?” asked Bolan.

“We found them at sea, in a small vessel. It was breaking up, and sinking, and they could no longer steer it.” The sailor threw a quick glance at one of his crewmates. “Some of us wanted to help them. Some of us wanted …” He looked down. “We agreed to rescue them.” He looked up again, his expression tired. “By the time we got them all on board we found that we could no longer sail against the currents back to our own island. Your island was the first we could reach.”

Kami looked over the strangers. They looked thin, as if they had not been eating well of late. He approached them, and the tallest of the mainlander men turned to face him.

“How long were you at sea?” Kami asked. The tall man looked at Kami, his expression puzzled. After a long pause he spoke.

“We were at sea long time,” he said, his accent very pronounced and his grammar abbreviated. At his side stood an old woman dressed in a grass shawl. The old woman beckoned to a naked little girl who stood nearby.

“Danni,” the old woman called, and the girl came to her and clutched her tightly. Kami had heard the name used before, but the woman’s accent drew the girl’s name out, making it sound more like “Danaaee”. The girl stared at Kami with a steady but wary gaze.

Another monk approached them. “It is clear that you found these people for a reason,” he said to the sailors. The monk was named Hared, and he was the servant of the priest. “You were meant to bring them here. How else would you have found them in the vastness of the ocean?”

“This must be true,” Bolan said, nodding. He turned to the strangers. “Are you hungry?”

The tall man looked reluctantly at his people, who looked back expectantly at him. Kami could see hesitation in his posture, as if his pride would not allow him to ask for help, but the young girl did not hesitate. She nodded vigorously.

“Yes,” echoed the old woman, also in a thick accent. The tall man threw her a sour look, but then his expression softened and he nodded as well.

“Come,” Hared said, gesturing toward the village and walking past the clustered mainlanders. “We will feed you.” He turned back to the fishermen. “Thank you for bringing our new friends here. We will feed you, too.” The fishermen looked at each other, shrugged, and nodded as well. Everyone started walking toward the village, although the mainlanders seemed to lag, some almost stumbling as they walked.

Kami walked ahead of the group with the monks. At the end of the pier he jumped down, then stopped. He looked back at the pier, where the little girl stood. She stopped at the end of the pier, looking uncertainly at the step down and at the village beyond.

“Do you need help?” Kami asked.

The girl frowned, crossing her thin arms over her bare, brown chest and wobbling slightly as she stood. Finally she nodded, and reached out both hands. Kami reached out his hands, and she fell into his arms. Her body was too light, and bony, and in the heat of the day her skin seemed too dry, but she felt otherwise normal, much like any other girl would. Kami eased her to the ground, and she quickly shuffled a few steps away, then turned and looked back at the pier. There stood the old woman. Kami could see that her wrinkled skin was decorated with myriad fish scales, drawn all over her legs and belly. Kami reached up his hands, offering to help her down. She accepted his offer, and took his hands. When she did, Kami felt a shock, almost like an insect sting, and his knees quivered. He almost dropped her hands, but she kept her grip, and did not seem to notice. She hopped off the pier, and Kami had to choose between easing her fall and having her land on him. He chose the former. Once she was down he dropped her hands and backed up a step, his eyes wide. He stared at her as she motioned to the girl.

“Danae, come,” she said, and the girl took her hand. The duo turned toward the village. Kami just stood, too shocked to move, the nerves in his hands twanging and his fingers twitching. For a horrible moment he was back at sea, on a desert island with a creature he had never seen before. He could do nothing but stare as the foreigners invaded his village.


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