Prologue: Bride Of The Sea
91 Days Till Winter
The warm, sultry days are over; the sea breezes have turned cold much like tonight.They whisk through my hair, creasing my dress, the light mist leaving behind salty kisses on my flesh. It feels like a cleansing, the gust washing over me, just like the moonlight on the black waters surrounding me. The crash of the small waves against my boat and the larger sprays against the rocky shoreline feel relentless and drown my ears of the subtle sounds.
My body yields to the reverberation, a slight tremor starting in my muscles and shivers caressing my spine. I do not fight but welcome it. I’ve always felt one with the island like I belong to these waters ever since I was a little girl. The golden sands, the turquoise waters sparkling in the sun’s rays, and the stars that dance upon the waters at night. It does not matter if it were night or day. I belong to them just like they belong to me.
Though the other tribes from nearby islands do not feel the same nor do they honor our Gods, the Sirens. They are ignorant of the old ways, choosing to forget our origins, how we too once came from the seas. Instead, they mock the teachings and are cursed, lacking the protection of the Gods.
As far as I know, we are the only ones to accept and worship them, but I have never ventured away from the island, not even to fish. But the stories of our Gods are ingrained in me so much so that I could retell them from memory, much like our storytellers. From a very young age, we have been told the Sirens own the sea, ruling all marine life. To not pay homage is sacrilege, and those who don’t will be banished from the tribe to live all eternity in shame.
I do not understand why one would do such things, as in my eyes our island is a paradise. All of it is beautiful as is dangerous.
And I suppose it is in that way, the best I can describe Gimgar.
A loud crash against the boat brings me back to my daunting reality, and with the waves getting larger by the second, my boat wobbles and sways, scaring me. At this moment, I feel so alone in the darkness, disconnected from everything, more of a sacrifice than a bride.
The villagers feel far away at the moment. I can barely hear their drums and singing which normally echo across the open waters, but the huge waves hitting the shore have quieted them since I started my journey
The bonfire on the shore too is distant, looking like an angry red ant, from where I am bobbling in my boat as the sea steals me farther away. The comforts of human life have been abandoned, as all I can see around me is darkness and what lies beneath. I wait, my eyes combing the water’s surface, the candle I hold barely casting any light into the depths of the sea.
The melted wax slowly slides down, past its holder, dripping and cooling instantly when it hits the wet boat. If He doesn’t show up, it means He hasn’t accepted me. I hold the candle over the edge, peering down into the waters. Praying and hoping I would be accepted as His bride. I would bring shame to my family and dishonor to the entire village if I returned home.
A scary thought crosses my mind. Will I be banished? Where will I go?
Suddenly a loud noise and a crash at the bow causes the boat to tilt heavily on the side I was leaning over. It frightens me and I jerk back, hitting the other side. My action rocks the boat back and forth violently, nearly making me fall into the water. Only my tight grip on the stern prevented it. My heart pounds as I try to find my balance, still holding on to the candle firmly. I don’t want to be without any light in this inky blackness that my world has turned into. The moon and stars seem to have disappeared as the sky is cast with dark shadows.
I frantically look ahead where the sounds originated, unsteadily crawling forward, with the candle outstretched. I then hear a splash to my right, and I swing the candle in that direction. Then another disturbance in the water, and my hand jerks toward that, the little light creating a small arc of illumination on the surface of the sea. Another noise from behind the boat startles me, and I turn around sharply. This time, I see something, my eyes follow it, refusing to give up the chase. A long tail breaks the cacophony of waves, bathed in silvery shimmer before it is swallowed by the dark. The only evidence left behind is the small ripples joining the waves.
Did I imagine it?
I know the sea likes to play tricks. I have heard enough tales from the fishermen on how the sea likes to make you see things that are not real. My breath hitches in my throat.
Or He could be here…
I turn my head in all directions, searching for the elusive Siren. I grip the plank of my seat only for my fingers to tangle in the spider webs, making me pull back in fright with a yelp. I shake my head, the silken webs sticking to me, making me forget the sea’s guiles. Immediately I wipe my hands on my white dress, anything to make the feeling of spiders crawling over me go. Then I hear the trickle of water coming directly from behind me. Something has surfaced, and it is behind me.
Thump thump thump
My heart begins to beat rhythmically in tune with my rising fear, but I know I have to look.
I slowly turn on the seat and at first, see a long tail raised out of the sea. It reminds me of the end of a fish. Water flows down its smooth shiny surface on either side, including the long frilly flukes, with droplets pattering the surface. Then I see a long-gnarled hand reaching for me. Grim remnants of the sea bottom darken its nails, more like claws, and my breath stops in my throat.
He is here… is all I think, looking up into the dark brown orbs with flecks of shimmering gold in them. Eyes that remind me of soil and sand. They are so animalistic, like an eel’s eyes, zoning in on me automatically when I turn to face him, watching me like I am nothing but prey.
He cocks his head, his nostrils flare, taking in my scent, and I see the smallest flicker of movement in his neck with each inhale and exhale. His claws touch my cheek, just the tips, before he drags them down my face. The feeling is ticklish, and I squeeze close my right eye, the feeling odd, his hands cold and wet and the webbing in between his fingers even odder. A trail of slime streaks all where he touches.
I hold myself in place letting the Siren study my face and learn my features, but I couldn’t hold back the shudders coursing down my body, some due to cold air but mostly it is him.
He must like me so far… the elders have told me if a God is unhappy, he will let me know instantly. I start to wonder what happens to unwanted brides. I’ve never heard of tales explaining that.
His claws traverse lower, down to my neck, and his eyes too slip from my face to follow his hand. A sudden burst of pain like that of a prick makes me flinch and drop the candle I have held onto so well. Although it bounces, the flame continues to burn by some miracle, illuminating the hulk of the boat. His hand withdraws to his side, more precisely to his mouth, and before he darts one finger into his mouth, I see a dark liquid coating it.
I swipe my hand on my neck, checking my skin where the pain continues to flare. I feel wetness under my fingertips and pull them up to my eyes. My finger comes away coated with streaks of bright red like the color of my hair.
It is blood! He has nicked me with his claws.
Completely horrified, I look at him with utter shock as he sucks the finger smeared with my blood. He stares up at me as he slowly moves back and lets the waters draw him away. I see another movement, his other hand rising from the sea, followed by the sound of water hitting the surface, alerting me and drawing my attention to his wrist.
There is something coiled loosely, bunched up around his wrist. Something red.
He gives it one swift yank and throws it in an arc, dropping it inside my boat. The thing slides with a thud, stopping at the center of the hull by my feet. A necklace. That’s what he has given me. The candle’s flame makes it glow crimson, what is potentially coral strung on a dark cord. I look back at him and do not miss him drawing his finger slowly out of his mouth, his bluish tongue wrapping around it one last time. And instead of a smile that I would expect, I am greeted by a line of long and jagged shark teeth, almost in a grimace. I gasp, the sight bewildering, and I couldn’t prevent the startled sound from escaping my lips. The elders have never once mentioned our Gods have such teeth.
“I accept,” he says to me in English, the words falling bizarrely from his lips, rumbling in its tenor, echoing in the air around us, before he sinks beneath the waters.
His tail is the last thing I see, the long muscle flexing before that too disappears under the surface. The color is unusual, a ruddy red, like that of rusted metal. Once he is gone, I exhale several times, a cumulation of all breaths I held in bravely. I then realize, as I reach for the necklace he has gifted me, how badly my hands and legs are trembling. They must have been like that the entire time he was gazing at me.
Picking up the necklace and bringing it closer to my face, I can smell the sea strongly on it, something I thought I was immune to by now. It is wet and cold, much more frigid than the Siren’s skin. I am still getting over the realization he’s accepted me... At least that is a good thing. It’s better than being denied, but I am so frightened. How can this man become my husband when I am so scared of him from the start?
My fingers clench around the red coral, relief along with worry washing over me. I can’t disappoint my elders or my family. I then tie the wet cord around my neck, the coral falling in between my breasts and draped over my shoulders, the color of the necklace nearly matching my hair. I have promised to honor my family. I cannot be afraid. I need to be strong, and by putting the worn cord around my neck, I too accept his offer of marriage.
I will be the next bride of the sea, but if only I had known the dangers of accepting such an offer…