Grimm Tidings

Chapter 23

Every city has its town character. The old man who lives a strange, anti-social lifestyle; the old woman who talks to herself as she walks down the street; the hermit who glowers at anyone who comes within a stone’s throw of his hovel.

Seatorn’s town character was named Dre'Veis. She lived in a shack made of driftwood on one of the barren rock islands in the Necklace, the archipelago of islands that protected Seatorn’s harbor. She had lived there as long as anyone in the city could remember. Some claimed she was an elf and over 500 years old. Others said that she was a large halfling who had taken a life-lengthening potion that had prolonged her years but made her mad. Whatever the truth, she looked fabulously old. Her unkempt, unshorn grey hair hung below her waist. It was fantastically adorned with coloured string, carved sticks, and bleached fish bones. The local children claimed it housed living animals. One of her eyes was permanently shut, the other preternaturally bright and piercing. Her face was complicated by wrinkles so deep and skin so weathered that it seemed to be made of stressed leather. She was bent over at the waist and walked with the aid of an elaborately carved and decorated stick made of whalebone.

Dre’Veis’s shack was one of only two buildings on the Necklace. No one else lived on the islands because they were open to the winds that blew from the east and they had no source of fresh water. The other building was the great Seatorn lighthouse that was located on the last of the islands in the archipelago, the one farthest out in the harbor, called the Clasp. The lighthouse was unmanned. It worked on an ingenious system of mirrors that funneled daylight into a huge round tank of seawater at the top of the building. The tank contained local plankton that was highly phosphorescent. All day the plankton stored the sunlight in their microscopic bodies. All night they threw the light back out, creating a bright green beacon.

Some people claimed Dre’Veis had trained herself to drink seawater many years ago and that her only sustenance was the shellfish that grew on her small island. Others speculated that she was in league with strange underwater races of creatures that provided her with unnatural sustenance. But it was generally conceded that she was harmless, and certain sailors even claimed that it was good luck if she looked on your ship as it sailed out of harbor. Over the years she had become less an object of morbid speculation than a source of civic pride. She was often the first person that a newcomer to Seatorn saw if he arrived by ship, and she would be the last when he left.

If Dre’Veis knew or cared about the citizens of Seatorn’s interest in her it did not show on her face this morning. She rose from her pallet of dried seaweed before dawn to find Chatter, her pet crab, swaying on its legs in the corner of her shack as though it were dancing. She had never seen it act that way and wondered if it was sick. When she stepped outside onto the bare rock of the island, however, she understood that the crab was reacting to something much more profound than illness. For as she stood at the edge of the calm sea, beneath stars that were fading at dawn’s approach, she felt a sense of dread sweep over her that took her breath away. It came from the sea, she thought. No, through the air. Or perhaps from the lighthouse on the last island on the Necklace. There had been strange goings-on there over the past few days.

Whatever its source, it was evil, and it was coming to Seatorn.

Jelly scrubbed the deck of the ship with a boar-hair brush and lye soap. It was brain-numbing, back-breaking work, but Jelly didn’t mind. It was a job he knew how to do well. Back and forth with the brush, then crawl forward to the next piece of deck and do the same until the whole deck was clean. Sure, it took a long time, and his knees became sore and his back sunburned, but no one else on the crew of the Flying Fish could scrub the deck as clean as Jelly no matter how hard they tried.

He knew. He had competed with them only last month to see who was best at cleaning the deck and no other crew member had come close. They had all agreed that he, Jelly, was the best deck scrubber on the ship and should be given the privilege of being sole deck scrubber for the rest of his days on the ship. That had been a proud day, and Captain Lauren had presented him with his own brush and bucket to celebrate his victory. Yes sir, no one could clean the deck like old Jelly.

He hadn’t always held such a position of prestige on the ship. Although he found it hard to remember, Jelly was aware that there had been a time in his life when he hadn’t been so fortunate. He thought he remembered being kicked out of a poor home in some mountain range as a child by a single mother who spent more time talking with a bottle than nursing him. And he recalled shivering in a gutter in Seatorn, begging for scraps of food throughout the town until he had made his way to the docks to stand, open mouthed and amazed, and stare at the sailing ships that slid into the harbor like wooden trestles topped with clouds. He spent weeks after that hiding on the docks, studying the ships and marveling at the goods they carried and passengers they discharged. Then, half-starved, he snuck aboard a ship, this ship, the Flying Fish, and stole a piece of biscuit. A sailor had caught him and whipped him, then tied him to the mast until the Captain was fetched.

Captain Lauren took pity on the boy. He had untied him and given him a crust of bread. And then the Captain had asked him if he’d like to go to sea. He warned him that the work would be hard but that if he persevered and didn’t make trouble he would get a free place to sleep and all the food he could eat three times (!) a day. And so he had booked passage on his first voyage, a short run from Seatorn to Tzanasport, then up the coast and back to Seatorn.

The first two days had been hard. Jelly was so sick that he spent a day and a half vomiting over the rail while the rest of the crew slapped him on the back and told him to think about greasy pork chops and blood pudding. They were just trying to help him but it didn’t work. If anything, it made his sickness worst. Finally, on the second day out, the Captain came forward with what he said was the cure for sea sickness. He gave Jelly a small piece of salt pork tied to a string and told him to swallow it. He did, and when it was down his gullet the Captain pulled it back up again on the string. It had hurt worse than anything he could remember, except maybe the blows of his mother, but after that he was never seasick again.

And now he had friends and a place to sleep. The Captain and the other guys on ship respected him because he was so good at scrubbing the deck. True, the others often went ashore and left him alone to do the work, but that was only because they trusted him so much.

Yes sir, it was nice to have such an important position on the ship.

He just wished it wasn’t so hot. With the sails furled there was no shade on the deck and sun beat hard on his back. And it was still only morning! He couldn't understand why that crazy old witch on the Necklace was standing in the sun. She wasn’t in charge of a ship’s deck! But she had been standing on her island, looking at the harbor, ever since the sun had come up.


Still, the hot sun did dry the decks quickly. The Captain wouldn’t be complaining about damp spots today.

But now there was some water dripping on the deck ahead of him. It wasn’t rain. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. And it couldn’t be from the sails. The ship was derigged.

More water fell onto the deck, this time drenching Jelly. And with the water came a shadow and the smell of something fishy, fishier than any bucket of herring Jelly had ever been asked to scale. Confused, Jelly looked up to see something vast and coiling stretching over his head. It rose from the sea, over the ship, over Jelly, and hovered there, dripping water and some other, thicker liquid. Jelly stared, wide-mouthed at the thing and dimly realized that it was vaguely familiar, an infinitely larger version of something that he had seen before. Where was it? Oh yes, on a type of strange fish that the crewmembers sometimes ate. What was it called again? Not an octopus, but something like that.

The word was just coming to Jelly’s mind when the great form towering above him began to move downward, directly towards him, with a speed that did not seem possible for something of its size.

Squid, thought Jelly.

Oh, how Seaguard First Class Alain Kendrik hated mid-day sentry duty. Walking back and forth along a fifty-foot stretch of stone wall, high above the city, for four hours in the blazing sun. You would think there would be a breeze at this height, but there was nothing, not a breath. And not an inch of shade. The lucky stiff who pulled duty on the east wall at least had half of his beat in the shade of the tower, but Seaguard Kendrik had no place to hide from the sun.

Of course it didn’t help that he was hung over. He shouldn’t have stayed for that final pint at the Ragged Sail Alehouse last night, but they had been having such a good time. The songs had been funny, the jokes funnier, and he had flirted with the new barmaid. But he was paying for it now.

In his misery Kendrik compiled a list of things he hated about the Seaguards. He hated how the uniforms chaffed under the arms. He hated the smell of the bunkhouse. He hated the fish mash they served in the refectory every Thursday night. He hated Lieutenant Gornaeau, that pompous button-polishing martinet. And most of all he hated the boredom of mid-day sentry duty above the most boring city in the realm, Seatorn. What a sleepy backwater. Nothing ever happened here. There was no action at all, nothing for the Seaguards to do except polish buttons, eat fish-mash, and walk mid-day sentry duty.

He idly thought of putting in for a transfer to one of the southern ports where the Seaguards worked. He had heard stories about some of those posting. There you got to chase pirates, raid the camps of thieves, and sail to exotic islands populated with strange animals and curious women. That was the life! Even a transfer to the Landguards would be better. At least you got to ride horses and patrol the entire Finger.

Seaguard First Class Alain Kendrik looked out at the hated city, baking in the noonday sun. There were the boring temples, the boring market streets, the boring apartments. There were the same old law courts, the tedious fountains, the mind-numbing public square, that stifling cemetery. There were the stupid warehouses, docks, and ships. And there was a massive tentacle crashing down on one of those docked ships, exploding them into splinters.

Kendrik stopped in his tracks. He blinked. Had he just seen what he had seen? Impossible. But there was the wreckage of the ship in the water. And now two more tentacles, impossibly large, were rising from the water and closing in on ships. And the sounds of the city had changed. Kendrik could hear screams. Alarm bells were ringing. Seatorn was under attack.

Seaguard First Class Alain Kendrik’s hangover disappeared as fast as his boredom.

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