Ventus – Day 59 of 135


I awoke to a fine morning. I was above the tide, half buried in the sand. As I sat up and looked out at the sad wreckage of the ship, I wept. I did not pause to think why now, with no human audience, I did this. The ship was submerged save for its masts, which tilted each in a different direction. No one clung to them; I was certain my maids had perished in the storm.

As I sat up I left an indentation of my own shape in the wet sand. My hair tugged, refusing to be freed from its entanglement in the earth. It was woven with seaweed and knotted terribly. I took the knife and cut it short then stood gingerly. I was not hurt; I had swum strongly and quickly to shore, but could find no way to climb from this sandy reach up to the land above. I now looked closely for such a way and finally spying it, dragged myself up to a grassy area fronting deep forest.

It soon became evident I was not to be alone with the wrack.

Sallow men emerged from the forest, and I, backed to the edge of the low cliff, had no escape. They had been attracted by the sight of the wreck and proceeded to loot it, while I, tied to a log and guarded by an old man, watched.

These men were dressed in an odd parody of my homeland’s style. They wore breeches, but they were put together with many small skins; evidently there were no cattle on this island. Their shirts were of similar make, with a kind of armor made with cane woven through them. They seemed to lack metal. They certainly lacked refinement.

After enthusiastically diving and swimming about the wreck, and fighting on the shore over what they found, they pulled me to my feet and marched off along a slight path that led through the woods. They were comparing their prizes: one had a fish gaff, another a belaying pin, while a third had somehow prised loose the ship’s wheel and lugged it over his shoulder. They had puzzled over my instruments and finally kept them only because they were metal and light enough to carry. They spoke this language, albeit roughly and with a truly criminal accent. I took them to be shipwrecked pirates or the descendants of same, while they took me to be a boy.

I might have thought my virtue, if not my life, to be safe in this misapprehension, but some leered at me despite. I endeavored to be dumb so they should not hear my voice, and also so that, if they took me to be foreign and unlearned of their tongue, they might speak more freely among themselves.

In the event I doubt they would have thought of caution. They argued happily over their prizes and discussed how they should hide the best part from the priests who apparently ruled over them. My strategy set, I could not inquire further about these priests, but my curiosity was aroused. These people were apparently indulging in the sort of idolatry outlawed in lands such as my own, albeit it thrives under the ban. In short, they worshipped the desals.

What they knew of the desals in such a backwards spot I could not guess, although I was soon to learn and to wonder at my own ignorance. They took me to a slapshod village where they pulled my hair a great deal and showed me about, the more injudicious boasting of the great treasures in the wreck so that most of the population of the town immediately ran to claim their share. I was then taken to a finer house where their priests lived.

The priests emerged–muddy tattered men with gaunt faces. I was paraded again before the six of them and they discussed my fate, I meanwhile striving to learn as much as possible by looking about myself and listening. I spied in the darkened door of their house a woman, much cleaner, haughty of appearance and finely dressed in beads and what seemed jewelry. She was in turn appraising me. I could not fathom what was in her eyes, but her gaze was piercing.

It was decided to imprison me until my origin and possible use could be learned. I was steered away to a tumbled-down shack at the edge of the village. This had but one entrance and was built into a hillside. Thrown into the claustrophobic darkness, I watched the crude wooden door shut with mingled despair and bemusement at my suddenly fallen state. I dithered over whether to reveal myself as a woman and claim my frailty required kinder treatment, but abstained as I discovered I had a companion in this prison.

He was an old man, as eccentric as myself, whom the others had gotten tired of and disposed of here. His first words to me, and I shall never forget them, were, “Do you like the forks with the long tines, or the forks with the short tines?”

I considered that question carefully before I answered. After all, our friendship might rest on my answer. At length I said, “I do prefer a fork with long tines, as one can be more delicate with it.”

He was delighted. He pumped my hand and introduced himself, then in uninterrupted monologue spent the rest of the day describing himself, this place, and his situation. I had no need to interrupt him, as he anticipated all my questions or spoke in such encyclopedic detail that I had no need to speak.

This place was indeed a settlement of abandoned pirates. This crowd had no shipbuilding skills–in fact, no skills at all aside from scavenging. They had a few women and after nearly thirty years here were making themselves a community.

When they arrived they had found the island already inhabited, by a very small group who it seemed were descended from a previous lot of castaways. This first group was dying out, apparently because they were persecuted by a Wind.

This astonished me. There was in fact a desal on the island. I was later to learn there were even desals on the ocean floor and it seems under the perpetual glaciers in the northern and southern poles. Their actions are always mysterious. This one had taken it upon itself to kill people at random since before living memory. When it did not kill, it would render men and women sterile.

With the arrival of these new castaways, it seems to have changed its behavior slightly. It ceased killing, but now it would permit no women near itself, save one at a time of its choosing. This the arrivals and the indigenes together took as a sign of religious importance. The arrival of the new people was taken as a blessing and they were welcomed with open arms. A new order was established whereby a woman was chosen to be the medium for the desal. No person could approach it save under her protection.

My curiosity about the desal’s method of killing was satisfied when the old man told me of the miasmic clouds and strange diseases that spread out from its location. Desals do not move as such, as you may know, although some have agents to fulfil their will. This one had no such agents but relied on a preternatural sensitivity to wind and other currents. It poisoned from afar.

The people had learned to interpret it through their medium. It was chiefly interested in domestic matters, marriage and inheritance. This struck me as extremely odd, but I attributed it to the desal actually being silent, and the priestess relying on her own judgement to rule local affairs.

Desals, like all Winds, are not mute. They have been known to act spontaneously, even to speak, but usually what they say is incoherent, or totally irrelevant to human interests. I believed these people to be ruled by their superstitions regarding the thing, more than by its real actions.

The next day I was let out of my prison and told I was the property of one of the men who had first come upon me. I was to help him with his farming–gardening, rather, as he had not the skill to grow more than a few roots and berry bushes. I acquiesced.

This could not go on, however. I had no intention of being a slave here. If I could in no ways escape, I resolved to rule and to turn these savages into people more amenable to civilization. There was a great deal I could teach them. I began with my gardener, showing him the benefits of planting two kinds of crops together so they should fortify one another, keeping pests away and enriching one another’s roots. While I did this I wondered how I might come to control the community.

They still took me for a young man. I spoke little, and contrived to remain at least somewhat grimy–not that this was hard due to the gardening–to hide the softness of my skin. As I was so mistaken, I began to notice the young women of the community casting glances in my direction. This gave me an idea.

I remembered the look their priestess had sent me and now realized what it had meant. Although she was little seen I would contrive to be seen by her. Too I knew it was approaching the day appointed by the desal to explode its nuclear charge underneath the mainland. I was not sure, but hoped there would be some effect felt here.

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