A warm sea breeze wafted off the ocean and stirred Ada Corrigan’s hair. Gulls called to each other, sailors shouted orders, and ships creaked with the burdens of voyage preparations. The docks were teeming with life, despite the fact that famine had struck the southern plains of Borrham. It was as if the people of this great nation stood defiant of nature’s adversity, declaring to the world that they would not be cowed. Ada herself was the epitome of such strength. Tall and regal, so beautiful already three sailors had halted in their steps to gape unashamedly at the brunette with almost luminescent blue eyes and flawless skin. Her pale green dress only seemed to accentuate her grace and natural curves, and the baby bump stretching her abdomen somehow made her that much more attractive. She stood gazing south over the docks.
Meralis Corrigan stared at his wife. He’d just set down her first trunk and returned to the wagon to pull out her second one—his left hand gripped the brass handle, his right rested on the side of the wagon itself—but the breeze had rippled through her locks distractingly, which caught his attention. He was speechless with joy. He still could not understand how fortunate he’d been to win her heart. He, a lowly street magician who barely made enough to live off of his varied performances, was married to such a divine woman as Ada—it blew his mind. A smile tugged at his lips.
Ada looked over her shoulder, caught his stare, and smiled self-consciously. “What?” she asked, halfway turning back to see him without craning her neck. Absently, her left hand rubbed her belly.
“Nothing,” Corrigan replied. “I’m just admiring the view.”
“It’s Silner’s Bay. Docks, wharfs, ships, sailors, the pervading smell of fish and salt, gulls, and off down that way—” she gestured to her right, his left “—just peeking out around that large tavern that’s bursting with business, is what I think is a pleasure house. This isn’t exactly the loveliest place on Serepa.”
Corrigan chuckled. “You cannot appreciate what I see.” He heaved the last trunk from the wagon and lugged it over to its companion. He set it down and waved to a porter who came and began to carry them toward Ada’s waiting barge, the dwarf-made Balabenno.
“And what do you see, husband of mine?”
Corrigan turned his attention to her. For a moment, he neither moved nor replied. He just stared. That moment stretched into near awkwardness. Ada raised her eyebrow, waiting. She refused to be the first to move, a character trait that often frustrated Corrigan. Her stubbornness was almost legendary.
He did not disappoint: “You.”
She scowled, but the light in her eyes didn’t fade. “Me.”
He finally stepped forward and encircled her bulging waist with his arms, delicate but strong. He never moved his eyes from hers, lips parting in a massive grin as he did so. She let him draw her to his chest, but pushed back to keep him in her gaze.
“Corrigan, the world is full of beauty, mystery, and joy. Your eyes may be better entertained somewhere else.”
“I don’t need the world to fill my eyes.”
“Oh? What do they need?”
“You said that.”
Corrigan laughed. “I need to take my fill now. You’re leaving me for three whole days!”
“Whatever will you do?”
Corrigan kissed her forehead. “I will live each morning in longing, each afternoon in emptiness, and each evening in sorrow. My nights will be living nightmares without the light of my life to banish the pain.”
“I hate when you try poetry. It’s painful.”
He laughed again. “But it’s no less heartfelt.”
Ada smiled and turned in his arms, her back now to his chest. She nodded toward the ship that would carry her overseas. Zurkhalahan awaited her; a new life free of these dry shores. Corrigan would perform one final time at Lemor Omak’s wedding tonight, and then he would catch the next ship leaving for the Southern Archipelago. Together, the two of them would establish a new home in another nation that wasn’t in famine. Perhaps someday they’d return but for now, as expensive as the passage was, Zurkhalahan would be home.
“See the name of the ship?” Ada asked softly.
“Balaben-no,” Ada corrected patiently. “It comes from a Zurkhalanite saying. Do you know what it means?”
“I only speak Borrhamic,” he reminded her. “And that I can barely read.”
“Ballaben norek is a saying that means either ‘Travel in peace’ or ‘Go in joy,’ I can never remember which. But that is unimportant. What matters is what it means. I travel in peace.” She turned around and touched his cheek. All playfulness was gone. She was sincere. “We—” she took his right hand and pressed it to their unborn child “—travel in peace. So you must go in joy. What is three days when we have a lifetime to look forward to?”
“You were the daughter of a merchant, rich and sought after. How many suitors wanted you? How many other dowries were offered? You could have had anyone you wanted—”
“I got the one I wanted.”
Corrigan bit his lip, cut off his next words. Her father had been less than pleased and had disowned her because she had chosen for love instead of financial and political security. Corrigan was a step down for Ada. He was anathema. She was a pariah.
“Ada—” he tried, but she put her hand to his lips.
“Meralis.” No one ever called him by that (he hated his first name), but whenever she did, it carried the weight of deep love and unending passion for him. When she called him by his first name, he always listened. “I love you so much. I regret nothing.”
His eyes stung with the threat of tears but he gulped hard against them. She kissed him gently on the lips. “Ballaben norek,” she whispered. “I’ll see you in three days. Do your best performance tonight.”
With that, she pulled away from his arms. His hands slid down her limbs and clasped hers. They stood like that for several seconds that seemed to last for an eternity. Silner’s Bay moved around them. Bells on ships’ masts rang; the gulls swooped to and fro seeking food; fish continued to reek; sailors bellowed and cursed; choking smoke from taverns filled the air. The docks were a far cry from the most romantic place for such a personal goodbye, but somehow none of that mattered anymore. Corrigan gazed lovingly at his wife as she released him with a smile. Then her blue eyes turned away and she walked up the gangplank and onto the Balabenno, bound now for North Haven in Zurkhalahan.
“Ballaben norek,” he breathed. He spotted her on the deck, pushing her way to the port gunwale alongside several other passengers waving to their loved ones. He waved and she waved back. Several minutes went by before the captain called out an order and the porters grabbed the gangplank. Ropes were cast off, sails were dropped halfway, oars were dropped into the water, and the ship began to pull from the dock. Corrigan watched in silence as his wife’s form receded with the ship; soon he lost sight of her entirely. He continued to watch.
When the Balabenno was safely out of the port, the sails dropped to full. The flag above the crow’s nest fluttered as a wind filled the sails and the ship surged ahead. The oars were retracted, and the ship moved further into open ocean.
A few loved ones of some of the ship’s passengers turned and strolled away. Corrigan stayed. He watched as the ship grew smaller and smaller. Soon it was no larger than his hand held at arm’s length. That’s when he saw a surge in the ocean off to the distant right. A spray of water blasted into the air. Momentarily, his eyes found the source: a massive pale snake-like appendage whipped violently through the air. Two more rose around the first, then a grey form breached the surface of the water before everything sank beneath the waves again.
Corrigan’s heart nearly exploded. “No!” he shouted. He took one step forward.
Suddenly, the Balabenno lurched to port. Five, six, seven tentacles rocketed from the water and wrapped around the wooden bulk. The grey form of the kraken rose along the starboard side; sails furled and waved in the onslaught. The main mast snapped and toppled. Screams echoed off the water, all of them from the docks. All work ceased; prayers and curses and wordless shrieks of terror filled Corrigan’s ears. His voice was chief among them.
Helpless, the populace of Silner’s Bay watched as the kraken squeezed with its dozens of tentacles and shattered the gunwales of the ship. Splinters of wood—huge boards and possibly people—flew into the air and plummeted back to the violently boiling water. A loud whale-like song filtered through the chaos as the kraken pulled itself onto the ship. The stern broke away and bobbed before it capsized and quickly filled with water. It sank with almost lightning speed. The kraken turned its full attention to the bow of the Balabenno. The image burned into Corrigan’s mind: Tentacles snaked their way around the entire bow, the kraken’s bulk a giant grey lump clinging to the deck of the ship. Debris from the ship continued to explode from the sea giant’s embrace and drop into the water. The bowsprit speared the heavens, a hand raised from the surface reaching for help that would never come. A sharp wooden snap coincided with the bow caving in under the pressure of the kraken’s squeezing tentacles.
And then it was over. Just like that. The kraken surged through the wreckage, its tentacles snaking and whipping here and there, retrieving survivors. It dunked itself and resurfaced a few times, scattering the remains of the ship, then went under and vanished. It never resurfaced.
Corrigan was not the only one to run down to the beaches. He was not the only one screaming and wailing. Nor was he the only one to plunge into the waves in a desperate attempt to swim out to the wreckage. But when strong arms grabbed him from behind, wrapped around his chest and heaved him backward, he was the only one to strike his assailant.
He slammed his head back into the nose of the man behind. Yelling incoherently, he ripped his arms free and whirled around. He delivered one punch to the jaw, another to the stomach. The man got the hint and either leaped away or fell into the waves. He half swam, half slogged through the water back to shore to escape Corrigan’s wrath.
Corrigan spun back to the sea. “Ada!” he roared. His voice broke.
Another man snatched his flailing right arm. “Stop!” the stranger hollered, but Corrigan would not. He swung with his left arm. The stranger was expecting that and easily caught it mid-swing, effectively trapping Corrigan. “You can’t do anything about them now!” the man said. Corrigan screamed, leaped straight up. He bunched his legs to his chest and thrust them out to the stranger. The connection was violent; the men exploded away from each other in a splash of water that swallowed them both. Surging to the surface, Corrigan sobbed or coughed (maybe both) and fought against the drowning grasp of the ocean. Regaining his feet, he pressed on. He was now to his waist.
A net came from nowhere and fell upon him with sticky resistance. He plunged beneath the waves and struggled with the netting. He only succeeded in tangling himself up more. Then the malleable sand scraped along his right side. Sea water flooded his nose; he screamed and lost half his air supply. Rocks dug into his flesh and the sand washed into his clothes, sliding against skin. Was he being dragged back to shore?
Hands reached down and grabbed his writhing form, hauled him from the water. Coughing profusely, he gasped as three sailors yanked and pulled him back onto the beach. He was vaguely aware of dozens of other people sobbing and holding each other on the sand or in the water, but it was apparent he was the only one fighting to get out to the wreckage.
The second man who’d tried to detain him shoved his dripping face into Corrigan’s. His breath was foul, tinged with bad ale and broiled fish and onions, but his voice was strong enough to cut through Corrigan’s madness. “Stop it! You can’t do anything! It’s too late! They’re gone. They’re all gone.”
He snapped back to reality. People were wailing. Prayers and curses still rose, but not as frantic as during the attack. No one was moving besides him and the man yelling in his face. Gulls continued their indifferent calls and flying, uncaring of the loss that had just occurred. Then an anonymous new voice spoke. “Set up the altars.”
The weeping masses began to exit the water now and move down the beach toward several large rock formations standing incongruously in the sand far enough inland that they wouldn’t be touched by the tides. Various food items, fine silks, and expensive jewelry lay scattered along the stones, wedged in cracks between them, across the tops. In the center of each was a kiln. These were swiftly lit. Gathering around each one, groups of people slowly sank to their knees to weep and pray. All business on the docks had ground to a complete standstill. The dead would be remembered, the gods would be honored.
Corrigan couldn’t tear his eyes from the man before him. “The gods,” the man said, “demanded a sacrifice. Who are we to fight them?”
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