THE DEATH CALL
It was a particularly dull stint of the voyage. With the calm weather and smooth seas, very little effort was needed to keep their course. They were headed northeast, and had been for nearly two days now. The winds were calm and amiable, the sea had but the slightest ripples, and the sun hung high. It was perfect napping weather for the crew and everyone took full advantage. He couldn't understand what could possibly have McBain up in arms.
“Captain says we’re in for some troublesome...” Jonathan called as he reached Knox at the wheel.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Knox growled, keeping a wary eye on the horizon.
“May I ask what it is? The trouble, I mean.”
“You’ll see soon enough. Just do as you’re told and you should come out fine.”
“Yes, Sir,” Jonathan had grown accustomed to these vague responses. Though whether they were intended for keeping the crew from panicking or the sick joy of watching them squirm with curiosity, he could never be sure.
The captain had warned them of difficulties on their horizon but no one aside from Knox seemed anxious. Other than showing her face for morning announcements and holding a brief meeting or two, McBane had stayed in her quarters. Jonathan thought it a shame she refused to join them on deck for some sun. It wasn’t in her nature, though, to loll about with the crew. He desperately longed to speak with her about things past—but in these long months, there never seemed to be a moment alone with her, and he dared not speak of such things in front of the crew.
Once Jonathan had his fill of sun, he decided to join Knox at the helm. Since their encounter with Lido, Knox had been sure to keep Jonathan included in the plotting and navigation of their trip. Though neither he nor the captain gave Jonathan much clue as to why they were traveling to any specific destination—just the tide tables, maps, and a general heading.
Jonathan headed to the aft cabin to double check their route when something in the distance caught his eye. It wasn’t anything spectacular; it might have gone unnoticed if not for the fact that there had been nothing for days. A thin, dark ribbon sat on the horizon and stretched as far as the eye could see in either direction. Jonathan consulted his maps: they were quite some distance from the rocky barrier ahead, but the fact that it was already visible astounded him. How large could the barrier possibly be?
As they sailed closer, Jonathan refused to believe what he saw: the rocks ahead weren’t just rocks, they were veritable mountains, standing in a long line, impenetrable and impervious to the crashing of the sea. In either direction the mountains spanned, seeming to go on forever. It was an impossible notion, but Jonathan had never seen anything like it. The entire crew had gathered near the bow to stare at the wonder.
Squinting, he could just make out the lethally sharp points and ridges of the jagged mountains when the captain appeared on deck. The crew snapped to attention, but she only nodded at Knox to follow her below deck.
The crew stood in confusion as the ship neared a great break in the rocky face; it was time to man their stations, but no orders were given. The men just swayed with the rolling of the ship and waited. A few moments later, their confusion deepened as Knox and the captain emerged with armfuls of bandages.
“Take one of these cloths and bind your ears,” McBane commanded, much to the bewilderment of the crew. "After, tie your lifelines and report to your stations.” The captain’s voice dropped an octave as she looked hard at the men before her. “You are ordered to keep your bandages in place. No matter what you see, or think you hear. This order stands until you’re personally instructed by either myself or Mr. Knox to remove the wrappings. Is that clear?”
Bewildered, the crew’s “Aye, Captain!" was brisk and immediate.
“Keep your heads up, stay steady, and watch for my signals,” she continued. "We will make it through this unscathed.”
Knox and McBane ensured that every man had tied his bindings firmly. Jonathan tried to ask what was happening, but Knox’s lips were set in an uncharacteristic grim line. Curious, Jonathan watched as Knox secured his own bindings and the captain checked them.
All was eerily still as they continued toward the cliffs, trussed up in their peculiar restraints. He didn’t see why the lifelines were necessary. While the sky above was certainly grey, the weather was perfectly calm and still with just enough of a breeze to billow their sails, bringing them closer to the rocky cliffs.
Now that the Persephone was close enough, Jonathan could see they would have little trouble navigating this pass: they could sail between the soaring cliffs with ample room on either side of the hull.
The crew held their puzzled silence as they drew closer to the cliffs—cliffs which grew more looming and menacing with each passing moment. The reason for the lines soon became clear, but not the bandages. Why wouldnʹt she just tell them what was happening? The sea bashed against the rocks with such ferocity it was a wonder they did not shatter. In some places along the land, the water pooled into dangerous sinkholes. Should they hit even one, they would be hard-pressed to get out again without crashing into the jagged rocks. It wasn’t an ideal path, but they had sailed through far worse.
The sea air hung heavy around them, still and stagnant. Luckily, it was just enough to keep them headed through the treacherous divide.
Time slowed as they sailed at little more than a drift—their surroundings only growing bleaker as they continued on. Soon, a faint fog rolled across the water, making it difficult to see the rocks which jutted up from the water like claws. Knox’s knuckles were white on the helm as he squinted into the fog.
It was a tedious trek but there was an end in sight.
Jonathan looked down at the sharp bits of stone protruding from the sea to discover they weren’t all stone. Some were wood with tays and ropes around their base. These weren’t rocks, but wrecks. Like icebergs, the greater parts of their broken hulls and masts lay beneath the fog and water.
Looking ahead, more ships hulls could be seen. A chill ran down Jonathan’s spine. Strange trees grew all around, springing up from the water like thin white arms. These stark formations in actuality were bones, piled high and held together with bleached sinew. The crew stared on in horror. However, the captain only looked ahead, signaling every now and then on which direction the sails should turn.
Reluctantly turning his attention back to the Persephone’s bow, Jonathan struggled to decipher what he was seeing: halfway up the rocks ahead he noticed three thin white lines upon the cliff face. Atop each line was a smudged blot: one red, one black, one gold. He could not turn away as the ship grew level with this newest oddity. Then he realized each smudged blot was actually a head attached to the body of a woman floating against the sinister cliff face.
McBane stood unfazed by these creatures and continued calmly signaling the crew.
Though startling and unnatural, the beauty of these three women was undeniable. They looked down on the crew with their arms open in welcome. Were they angels of the sea guiding sailors through this rocky channel? Jonathan saw their lips mouthing words down at the crew. For a moment, he forgot the bindings around his ears.
Glancing back, yet again, he saw the stern set of the captain’s jaw as she glared up at the shimmering women. It then dawned on him that they might be the danger McBane guarded against.
McBane turned suddenly, concern etched upon her face. Jonathan followed her gaze to one of the men below who had wandered to the edge of the ship, his ear bindings half off, stretching his lifeline as far as it would reach.
Knox was busy at the wheel and the captain had to direct the crew. Jonathan knew he had to help.
With a nod to the captain, he untied his own lifeline from the railing and headed down the quarterdeck stair to the man straining desperately toward the three mesmerizing forms. The man’s bindings now hung loosely around his neck as he pawed mindlessly at the knot of his lifeline. Jonathan quickly refastened his own lifeline to the lower railing and turned, trying to get the man’s attention. No matter what he did, the crewman paid him no mind.
Jonathan looked back to the captain who motioned for him to cover the man’s ears. Catching on, Jonathan rewrapped the man’s head. But the sailor suddenly flailed in protest, knocking him back. Annoyed, Jonathan continued his struggle only to receive a nasty blow to the side of his head. Jonathan’s world tilted and his ears rang as he grasped at the man.
Then, he heard it. Singing. Dumbstruck, he locked eyes on the women above.
Their song pulled at him like nothing he’d ever known. They sang such sweet notes: songs of far off seas he’d never before heard; songs of longing and desire; songs of promise and songs of triumph.
Their beauty filled his vision: he saw distant unexplored lands with great vast oceans leading to the heavens. Stars hung so tightly packed, he could not hope to ever count them. He walked across glassy pools of gently churning water. Jonathan needed no boat to explore; he was free, free to roam wherever he wished. The seas were his to command. The stars begged to tell him the very secrets of existence.
Suddenly and painfully, these infinite lands of euphoria were wrenched from his grasp. Agony wracked his mid-section as he looked down upon jagged rocks and crashing waves.
Jerkily, he was pulled back. McBane stood above him, checking his bindings and retying his life line. When had it come undone?
Jonathan blinked at his surroundings. He stood at the railing, drenched with seawater, and aching all over. The ship’s port side hugged the jagged space between the cliffs, rocking back and forth, nearly hitting sinkhole after sinkhole. An ill-tempered gust of wind now blew. All around, the crew fought to keep the sails taught and the ship on course.
Wincing, Jonathan got to his feet and sprinted to the helm to assist Knox, who struggled with the wheel.
Working tirelessly, they sailed straight through the center of the great cliffs—all eyes were downcast, all bindings firmly wrapped. Finally, the cliff walls broke and the Persephone was in open waters yet again. They had escaped their would-be grave.
Thankful to be alive, but desperately restless, Jonathan wanted to turn back. He needed to return to the stunning land he’d only briefly glimpsed, needed to skim the starry waters of those distant lands. It took him some time to realize he was pulling at the helm, struggling against Knox's steering. Shaking uncontrollably, he released the wheel and dug his fingers into his hair as he tried to push the visions away.
“Take a break, Maritime,” Knox quietly commanded, his eyes full of pity.
Jonathan only nodded and went to the deck to assist in belaying ropes.
Slowly, the crew shrugged out of their lifelines and ear wrappings, like snakes sloughing off old skins.
They blinked and shook their heads as though waking from a dream.
Once they were on a steady course, Jonathan approached the captain. “What happened back there?”
“Sirens. I’ve dealt with them before," she replied as she nodded to
Knox and headed past him down the stair to her quarters.
Jonathan pursued. “Is that why you didn’t need the ear bindings? I saw things back there. What happened, what did I see?"
“I wouldn’t know, but Knox has been through it. It is said their songs reveal your deepest heart’s desire. Perhaps you can ask him sometime.”
“When did you encounter these creatures?” Jonathan asked and couldn't help what he would say next. It had been bottled up far too long and he was too weak to keep it at bay. “Was it before or after you rescued me from servitude?”
Moira froze just before reaching her door and turned back to Jonathan. Moving close to him, she looked him straight in the eye. “We rescued each other, and I thank you not to speak of such times again.”
“Why?” Jonathan asked, despite his better judgment.
“The woman you knew no longer exists,” she replied in a fierce whisper. "Be aware, it is no longer the same person you address.”
Jonathan stared back, surprised by her coldly rigid countenance. “I think you’re right,” he replied. “That Moira would have warned me of danger, would have warned her crew.”
“You had what you needed to know. Would you, or any of the crew, have believed we were to encounter Sirens?” Jonathan could only shake his head. “Is that all, crewman?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied through tight lips.
She turned quickly, disappearing into her chambers. For the first time, Jonathan wondered just what he had gotten himself into by boarding the Persephone.
Banon closed his misty eyes. When he reopened them, they had returned to their blond-‐‑brown shade. The small liquid pool left by the siren’s claw quickly evaporated into the great stump.
“Is there a place your ship has not sailed?” Killian asked his brother.
“We’ve been everywhere from here to the depths of Tartarus itself.”
“Another good tale,” Angus commented distractedly, gazing at the door of the great room.
“What is wrong, Brother?” Killian asked. “I’m beginning to doubt Conner will show.”
“He may have an easily distractible eye but he would never miss a Social Ball.”
“I hope you’re right. If he doesn’t show we’ll be a story short and I have no other tales for the offering.”
“I have another story in the meantime. A lighthearted piece,” Patrick offered.
“Go ahead, Brother. Let us just hope Conner shows
The brothers nodded to Patrick who then pulled a small wooden box from his pocket and slid the top open. “I offer this tale of a young man in the grips of changing youth who attempts to exact revenge upon his peer. I bring the tools of his revenge.”
Patrick turned the box over and several very small, very white, very dead bugs fell onto the table, where their husks instantly began to brown.