This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
“There was, once, a woman named Tolta. She lived in a town just like Sochima. It was called Khadae. She and a kindly man had been paired, assemblaged, coupled, and eventually had two very favorable children. They were a very normal couple, of course. The kind man worked with metals. He found metals in the sea and tamped them into useful shapes for the people of Khadae. Each day, Tolta would go to market during the forepeak legs, and fish and crab for food in the afterpeak legs. Their two children were very bright as well. The boy was able to weave strong and comfortable fabrics from the fibers he traded for in the market, and the girl had devised a powerful healing salve from ingredients she could find anywhere in the sea. Tolta and the kindly man were very pleased to have such useful children and knew that surely they would be cared for into their older seasons.
Once, in appreciation of all she had, Tolta decided she would row her dinghy out further to try to catch some larger fish, perhaps even something exotic. As it was, her life was very content and she wanted to give it as a gift to her family-set. ‘That way,’ she thought, ‘they would know how robust and bountiful their lives will be!’
“So on that day, instead of going to market as she normally would, she set out shortly before the first leg. She rowed out far enough she could no longer see Khadae… and Khadae could no longer see her either. Then she rowed that far once more and stopped her boat there. She dived into the unknown sea. She swam and swam deep into the cold dark depths, past the groupers and past the sharks.
“Around the time when she thought she was deep enough she saw a man there. This surprised her very much, because she thought she had paddled fathoms away from the nearest human! Not only that, but she knew of no one else who could dive so deep for so long. He looked like typical folk, but for a scabbed gash at his inner elbow that looked like it might be diseased. So she approached him and asked him:
“Who are you and how are you here? You seem injured, and yet you are fishing in the deeps.”
“Good day to you. I am Maroto and I see you are a deep diving fisherman.” She suddenly felt silly for thinking herself so special and was glad he didn’t question her about it. “Who are you?”
She noticed he ignored her comment about his arm, but carried on to answer, “I am Tolta, I’m a diver from Khadae. I have come to explore for more exotic fishes.”
Maroto looked at her suspiciously, and asked, “Why would a girl want to do that? Are there no fishes in Khadae?”
“There are fishes nearer my home-sill to be sure. But my family-set is so fine and able. My kindly husband is a tinker and makes metal into useful things for the Khadae community-set. My son is a skilled fabric maker. My daughter makes a salve that can heal any wound,” she boasted. “I love them so; I wanted to give them a present. I decided to come out and collect a large, exotic supper for them so that they can feel secure in their place.”
An impish look passed over his face, but Tolta didn’t see it. Maroto said, “Well, little girl, that is such a sweet and loving idea! Perhaps I could help you. For I am a chef, but I am not a very good fisherman—“
“A chef?” Tolta asked, for she knew not this word.
“—I prepare food with skill and finesse. I make it beautiful and even more delicious for those that eat it. I propose we make an agreement. If we work together, you can catch much more wondrous fish than I could ever and I can make your catch not only tasty, but beautiful for them as well! They will feel so safe to know that you were able to provide a bounty above and beyond. They will know they will live long lives if you can afford to provide such splendor. If you come to me for each of the next three days, I will make your food look and taste delectable on their tongues. I will make a true feast for them! The catch from the first day will be for your family. The catch from the second day will be my fee. And I will give you the meal on the third! Do you agree to this?”
As he explained his proposition, Tolta nodded and became excited by the image of her family’s confidence and comfort. She exclaimed, “This is a wonderful plan, Maroto. I agree to your terms.”
“I will meet you here at the end of the sixth leg each day, to collect on the first two, and you shall collect on the third.”
“I shall get to work immediately.” And so Maroto vanished, and Tolta found and killed many large and exotic fish. Each more beautiful than the last. She swam deeper and deeper, finding and killing fish even as large as she!
Just as the sun reached its peak at midday, she heard another voice, that of a woman.
“O, Tolta, what have you done?”
Tolta turned around to find a robust, mighty, and greenish woman floating at eye level. Her hair seemed to be a fan with innumerable veins. Tolta tread the water in awe.
“Who are you?” Tolta gasped.
“I am your Sea Mother to whom you speak always from your home. But you have come to my home and so I speak to you face-to-face.”
“I am sorry, Sea Mother.” She wasn’t sure why she apologized, but she knew her goddess was upset. She tried to explain, “I simply wanted to provide for my family-set and I ended up here on your toes.”
“I know why you are here and your heart is good. But your mind isn’t holding you back as it should. Who was that man you spoke with?”
Tolta was confused by this line of question. “Uhm… he called himself Maroto.”
“And from where does he hail?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“And what of him?”
“…he’s a chef. I know that.”
“You told a person, of whom you know nothing, everything of importance to you, Tolta. You told him of your family-set. You told him of what makes them so strong. Does that sound very wise to you?”
Tolta was flustered and began to cry, for she knew nothing more of the man than that he claimed to be a chef. A thing she hadn’t ever heard of before.
“What’s done is done. Go. Live your life as carefully as you may.” And with that the Sea Mother swam deeper and vanished. Tolta, feeling ashamed and flushed, returned to her boat with the fish she had collected and waited for Maroto to appear.
As promised, at the end of the sixth leg, the man appeared; with his big toothy smile, he collected her bounty. But she noticed that his clothing seemed nicer, no longer worn, faded, or tattered as it had when she had met him earlier in that day.
“Are you…?” she began, thinking of the Sea Mother’s lecture.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Can… can… I trust you?” Her voice quavered as she uttered it.
“There, there, child.” He very gently patted her hair. “I gave you my word and you can rely on it. I will be here as promised each day including the third and you can wrest your heart from the claws of worry. Our agreement is a good one and shall be honored in full.”
And with that she rowed home. Upon arriving to the home-sill she realized she did so without any supper to show for it, she had forgotten about it on such a busy day. When her husband and daughter asked about it, she didn’t want to spoil the surprise and so she lied to them. She said there had been no fish in the afterpeak legs of the day. She was so flustered by then that she didn’t even notice that her son hadn’t returned from collecting his weaving materials. The kindly man saw she was agitated, and though he was also concerned, this wasn’t the first time the boy had been out past supper, and so he decided to not worry Tolta any further.
The next forepeak she got up early enough to catch a small dinner for the family-set before heading out to supply Maroto. She didn’t see the Sea Mother this time, and Maroto did appear on the empty seat of her dinghy to collect this day as well. However, this time he wore metal bangles around his wrists and his neck. A thing she had never seen, but he was a man from an unknown place who did an unknown work, and she decided not to question him.
When she arrived home, she found only her daughter. She cooked their supper and asked her about the kindly man. Her daughter said that the kindly man had gone to help a friend with his home-sill so he wouldn’t be around for supper on that day. That seemed odd, but she was coupled to a man of goodness and grace, so it wasn’t unbelievable for her. She went to sleep excited about the feast she would be presenting all three of them on the following day.
Knowing the feast was coming, she set out to market as usual and then spent the sixth leg rowing out to see Maroto one final time. As she waited alone in her dinghy, she thought that maybe the sea mother’s warning was right! What if he didn’t arrive? And all of this was for naught. But just as the sun reached its seventh leg in the sky, Maroto appeared with a glorious bounty, enough to feed several family-sets as Tolta estimated. But she was so excited by the feast she would be providing her family, she didn’t ask Maroto about his arm. The scabbed gash seemed to have completely healed! This was an amazing feat of healing, but she was so excited to get home to her family she forgot it before she could ask. She thanked Maroto and rowed as quickly as her arms would allow.
But when she entered her home-sill on this, the third evening, instead of a proud family, she walked in to an empty silence. She called out their names but she only heard her voice echoing off of the walls in the galley. She remembered what the Sea Mother had told her, and how Maroto had appeared on each proceeding day. She realized that she had told him how to take her for all she relied on in her blindness and love. She had seen his inner arm, but not questioned it, and here had been her fate. Soon thereafter, the market-folk began to notice that Tolta went missing too. And that, my dear, is why you always keep to yourself and never trust a stranger until you’ve checked the crook of his arm for a familiar mark.”
makaylakay: I love love this story! It's written incredibly and well thought-out plot! I love how it's a different twist in fantasy fiction, other then the usual vampire or werewolves. Love the romantics and drawn to the two characters so much already! This book will draw you in within the first chapter and ...
Alex Rushmer: This was not what I expected, but I enjoyed it a lot Malfoy was always one of the characters that I liked a lot, so I like that a lot of this happens between him and Colette. I read the first couple chapters, and I enjoyed your writing style and am excited to see where you take this story. My com...
Marijana1: The melancholy present throughout this story has the power to influence and etch into the minds of the readers, to stay there and refuse to leave even after they have finished reading the story. This is a deep, powerful story, making the readers wonder about everything – about love, about their e...
nikmariecav: I loved reading this book! I was hooked from the moment I started reading. It took me a day to read the whole thing but I didn't want to stop reading. The way the paragraphs were broken up made it at times hard to read and know what was going on. Other than that I loved the plot and the character...
spooky jedi: Love your story!I really hope more people read this story!Its amazing!! The plot is very unique and different, which is very good to have in a world full of stories. You have very complex and intellectual plot line, with your many loveable character and that hint of 'will they, won't they' is ju...