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Malam Fortunam Horret
I peered through the torrent of rain, clinging to the rope ladder leading upwards to the crow’s nest.
The storm was severe. Our ship, the Fortuna, was listing sideways and taking on too much water than we could bail. I knew we were going down. I knew because I had seen it happen before.
I could hardly hear the captain, Myora, over the thunder and sounds of waves crashing against our brilliant ship, but her voice pierced a moment when the thunder calmed, and I glanced down. Naturally, I wasn’t afraid of heights, but a storm could strike the fear of God into you faster than you could say Nancy.
She stood with her captain’s hat and that brilliant scarlet scarf wrapped firmly around her wide hips. How she managed to look so calm in the face of death was anyone’s guess. “Hail any standing ships and watch those waves!”
I nodded, not that she could see me, and started climbing upwards once again. My hands were slick against the rain-soaked rungs, and I struggled against the salty spray and crash of waves that jolted me to the side.
“Come on!” I spat at myself, grasping the edge of the nest and pulling myself safely inside the bowl of wood. I panted, kneeling on the ground, and then forced myself to stand.
The storm was at its peak and throwing wave, after wave, after wave at us until we were practically under the thrashing mass. There was no way we were getting out of this.
But that was the point.
I wiped the rain from my eyes and pulled my cap lower over my forehead to keep my eyes clear. No ships bobbed above the dark sea, and a black swell was heading straight for us.
Without hesitation, I grasped the rope of the bell above me and rang it like crazy.
“Abandon ship!” I screamed to the crew below, “abandon ship! There’s a wave! She’s going to take us out!”
The captain started running to the rowboats once she heard me, shouting at everyone to stop bailing the water and head as far from the wave in the rowboats.
I stopped ringing the bell and cursed as I slid, trying to run for the edge. I had never joined a ship as a lookout. That meant I had never had to race down a ladder to make it to the boats.
But now I had to.
I scrabbled downward to the first rung and hung on for dear life as a smaller wave crested over me. The larger swell was coming fast, so I tripped down until I hit the deck.
“Jassie!” The captain gripped my arm and tugged me over to port, where the boats were being let down. “Quickly!” She shoved me into a boat with an older man and hurriedly began to lower us down using the pulley beside the boat.
“Captain! What about you?” I asked as lightning ripped the clouds overhead, “get on the boat with me!” I clutched the side of the ship and grabbed her wrist. We were one of the last boats being lowered down. What was she doing?
She shook me off, a determined glint in her eyes, “The captain always goes down with her ship.” She ripped free her sword and hacked at the ropes tethering us to the side.
“No!” I reached for her as the boat jolted downward, but only caught her scarf, ripping it from her waist.
And then we fell atop the sea and the scarf was blown away into the angry mass of black.
“Grab the paddles, girl!”
The man thrust them at me and I set to work paddling us away from the ship and the mountain-high wave headed straight for us. I was supposed to leave the captain. So why did I feel so awful?
“Faster!” He barked, using his own set to propel us further.
Behind us, I heard a sharp crack as the crow’s nest was ripped from the ship. Despite my attempts not to, I looked over my shoulder; the captain was staring after the rowboats as the wave crested over the Fortuna.
And then the ship was gone.
But the swell wasn’t.
I screamed as it crashed over us, and we were thrown from our boat. Under the waves, I was pulled this way and that like a rag-doll, crashing into other sailors who had been thrust under like me. Finally, after I felt as though my lungs were tightening in my ribs, the waves calmed enough for me to break the foaming surface. I coughed and spluttered, searching desperately for something to grab onto.
“Hello!” I cried, falling under and then bobbing upwards again, “help!”
No one answered.
I wasn’t supposed to die. I was supposed to get in, watch the ship crash into the waves, and then row to safety with most of the crew intact. But, from what I could see, no one was left alive. And I was about to die.
“Help!” I screamed again, battling the water to swim towards a small plank of driftwood. Jasp would be sorely disappointed when he found I had died from drowning. He liked me and my “malam fortunam horret” or “Bad Luck” quite a bit. I bit my lower lip and clutched the board tightly, wondering what kind of monsters were swimming below me at the moment. I had once seen a Kraken destroy another ship due to my curse. Of course, I had been safely out of the sea in a boat, headed for shore.
I brushed my fingers against the skull behind my right ear. It seemed like my very “gift” was going to kill me.
“Please,” I begged, to no one in particular, “it’s not my fault! He makes me do it!” I buried my head against the wood, feeling the rain pelt me in the back of my neck. “Don’t let me die!” I begged.
The water slapped against me, trying to tug me under, and I tightened my hold on the plank of wood, hands folded, pleading for my life.
Then, distantly, I heard someone scream my name, “Jass!”
I raised my head and studied the thrashing waves for whoever had called for me.
“Jassie! Hurry! Swim over here!”
I turned my head to look behind me and nearly sobbed in relief. A boat, full of live sailors, was bobbing behind me, about fifteen feet away.
“Come on!” They motioned for me to swim, and I gingerly released the board to struggle towards them.
But the sea does not so easily release her captives. Especially ones who caused her to be disturbed due to a curse inflicted upon them. She propelled a wave towards me, cackling as it engulfed me and whipped me around under the salty waters. I opened my mouth and screamed a mass of bubbles as she threw another wave overhead to make me spin even more. I wasn’t going to make it. Already I was scrabbling to breathe in the salty water and my lack of breath sent visions before me; a beaked mouth with large tentacles extending behind it was snapping towards me. I screamed more bubbles and tried to kick towards the surface.
But I was so tired.
A last stream escaped my lips as I stopped fighting the tumult and let it drag me to and fro. My eyesight dimmed and my fingers twitched.
Then the tentacles circled my waist and dragged me toward the surface. I broke through the waves with a thick gasp and tried to kick against the slimy snakes.
“Jass!” The creature protested, “it’s me, Darius!”
I blinked and looked down at a pair of sunburnt arms. Not tentacles. Arms.
“Kick!” Darius, a fellow sailor, commanded.
I complied, kicking my legs beneath the salty waters.
“Come on!” The sailors in the boat were yelling, “come on, Darius! Jassie!”
Darius started to swim with one arm towards the boat, “Kick, Jass!” He continued to urge, struggling to keep us both above the water. “We’re almost there!”
Before I knew it, a clamour of hands were lifting me into the boat.
“There ‘ya are, lass!” A red-headed man pulled me to the stern, “take it⎯” He stopped short.
He had brushed my curly brown hair out of my face to see the mark that I had been so careful to hide. The mark that branded me as “Bad Luck.” My tribe had done it before thrusting me into the hands of a merchant. It was a warning not to let me board a boat. I would sink it before daylight if I did.
He was silent, and I feared he would throw me back to the sea, but he tucked my hair in front of it and laid me against the bottom of the boat, “Just rest, lass.” He whispered.
“Is she all right, Fargus?”
I blinked against the rain, panting, to see Darius.
“Thank you,” I gasped.
“Let’s get to rowin’ men!” Fargus tossed a pair of paddles to a female sailor and our boat started to move against the waves. I was too exhausted to stay awake, and soon all was dark.
I awoke to the sun and sand cushioning my body. Slowly, I sat up to see the remaining sailors pull the boat ashore.
Fargus clapped me on the back, “Welcome to the world of the living, lass!”
I coughed and rubbed my hip, which felt disjointed and ached, “Where are we?”
Darius, a boy of no more than thirteen, young for having saved a seventeen-year-old girl, squinted against the sun, “I don’t know.”
Fargus helped me to stand shakily and the two other sailors that pulled the boat on the sand, a man and a woman, joined us.
“We must be in Bravia,” the woman decided, “must be.”
I turned toward the thick foliage of the jungle and shuddered, “Bravia is dangerous, right?”
I knew because I used to live in Bravia with my tribe. Before they were rid of me and my curse from the Gods.
“Yes,” Fargus huffed, “but we need the ‘elp.”
I nodded mutely and glanced back at the gentle waves lapping against the sparkling sand. Then I realized something.
Margo was gone. She wasn’t there.
Margo was my keeper, a cronie of Captain Jasp’s. She made sure I always found my way back to him, whether I wanted to run or not.
But she was gone. To be sure, I counted again; there were five of us. And no Margo.
I shuddered again, this time from excitement, and wondered if I was finally free. Free of Jasp, maybe. But never of the curse that I thrust onto sailors and captains alike. No. I could never be free of that. And if I still had it till the day I died; then I would never truly be free ever again.
“What now?” The woman asked, wringing out her bleached blonde hair.
“I figured you’d have the ideas, Nolan.”
Nolan scoffed and gave the unknown man, who resembled her quite closely with green eyes and blonde hair a smidge lighter than hers, a condescending smile, “Well, Knightly.” She said sweetly, “I figured you’d be on the ground crying like a baby at this point.”
Knightly, who I later learned was Nolan’s brother, scowled and started picking the sunburnt skin off his nose next to me.
I took a deep breath and rubbed the mark behind my ear, “I can navigate us to a village.” I piped up, voice raspy from the salt water.
Fargus started next to me and looked down at my shaking form, red brows cocking upwards, “Ye’ do, lass?”
I nodded hesitantly, “I do.”
“And where is it?” Knightly pressed, nudging me, “well?”
I glanced over at his thick, tattooed arm and started towards the jungle before us, “I’m not sure it’s still there… but I think I can take us to it.” I pushed aside a heavy, green leaf and edged past a tropical tree, “Come on.” I looked back at them; they were hesitantly watching me.
Darius looked back at everyone and sighed, “You heard her! Come on!”
I smiled appreciatively at Darius as they filed after me.
The jungle was dense and smelled heavy of sweat and something syrupy. I hardly recognized it. I recalled the thick blue leaves with pink veins that caused the sweat smell, but everything else was foreign.
I didn’t belong there.
I swallowed and glanced back at the line following me. Knightly glared from directly behind me, and I hurriedly looked away.
“Ye’ sure you know where you’re goin’, lass?”
I shook my head, “Not a lick, Fargus.”
“So why are we⎯?”
Nolan’s words were cut short by a sharp cry and the sound of a trumpet being played. I instantly tensed, recognizing the sound. But, before I could react, someone dressed in blue silks dropped down in front of me, a spear pointed at my nose.
“We’re only passing through!” I cried, “we were shipwrecked!”
The person, a pretty woman who had my almond skin and wavy hair, seemed to still at my voice. She pulled her spear aside and stared at my face, “Nohola?”
I took a deep breath, recognizing her as well, “Yes, Mama, it’s me. I’m back.”