25 July 2006
“I was going about my business there, still working for The Deep, when suddenly there was a robed man and a blue, naked woman standing in my cabin right here, sure as both of you are now. Well, you know, I’d seen some things in my years out here. Seems once you become an agent of the spirits, other spirits think we’re all in this together. So I weren’t too surprised, but none of them had been bold enough to just show up in my cabin before. I couldn’t let that become a thing, so I demanded to know what they thought they was doing. And the man, he says to me, he says, “It’s about Ingrid.” I froze right there. I hadn’t said a word about her in hundreds of years, you know, and now this guy just shows up wanting to chat about her? What was his problem? So I asked him as much, and they started to explain things to me.
“Ingrid, they said, is a selkie. Not was, is. They told me true selkies were spirits, like them, and like what I’d become. I didn’t know I’d become a spirit, but they said I had, and I guess it makes sense with the turning into water and such, so I guess I’m a spirit. But they told me, they said that Ingrid is a selkie, and Lambert had been controlling her because he’d found her pelt. Her skin, you know, her seal skin. He’d heard about our ship that was blessed by a siren, and he’d made some kind of deal, and it turns out she’d lost her skin some time before I’d met her and this bastard went off and found it, and used it to make her do what he commanded. That’s why she went with him that night, and that’s why she sank my ship. Everything she’d done with him, she’d done because of the power he had over her with that skin. And, they said, he’d taken the pelt with him. That was that box that man told me about, that he wouldn’t part with! Well, they never unlocked it to find out what it was, and it seemed mighty important to him, so they buried it with him up in the Orkneys. But she didn’t know about that, and couldn’t go that far inland anyway, and has been searching for her pelt ever since!
“Which is where you lot come in. See, they told me, they said, “there’s a pair of travelers coming, you can meet them at Miami. They’re looking for passage to Iravati, but no one will take them. They can go ashore. They can help you.” So I made for Miami, and as soon as I knew I’d found you, I sent for you. So that’s my deal, you see. I want you to go ashore, when we arrive at the Orkneys, and I want you to dig up that bastard, and you find that pelt, and you bring it back to me. And then, when I have that, then I’ll take you to Iravati.” Benedict and Akshainie sat for a moment, then looked at each other.
“Is that all?” Akshainie asked, turning her attention back to Tidh. “Your price for taking us to Iravati is just to dig up some seal fur?” Tidh pounded his fist on the arm of his chair.
“Ain’t you been listening to my story, woman?” he bellowed. “This ain’t just some seal fur, this is my wife we’re talking about!”
“What do you plan to do with it?” Benedict asked.
“Ain’t none of your business!”
“You did ask me to put in a good word for you with Saint Peter.” Tidh sank into his seat and grunted.
“I’m just gonna call her, okay? I’m gonna call her, and give it back, and ask if she’ll have me back. That holy enough for you?”
“Yes. When do we begin?” Tidh waved his hand in the direction of the window, and Akshainie and Benedict looked out at a port city.
“We arrived twenty minutes ago.” Benedict nodded and stood, followed by Akshainie. They started to leave, but as Benedict held the door open for Akshainie he stopped and looked back at Tidh.
“Oh, about your confession,” he said. Tidh perked up. “Look, you did…a lot. Just, I guess just start praying the rosary.”
“For how long?”
“Until we get back.” Tidh nodded, then pulled a rosary out of his pocket and started praying. Benedict smirked, then turned and left.
I was back to hunting. The ship was sturdy and accepted commands from me, and the sea was always on my side. I couldn’t call down storms, I tried, but there was nary a force on the water that could stand up to me. I acquired a crew, slowly, as time went on. Sailors who were willing to strike a deal to kill if it gave them another shot at life. Most of them were victims of my own ship, scooped out of the water when they made their pact as their shipmates died around them. Some few were sent to me by The Deep, and a few have been willing to tell me where they came from. Most, though, haven’t.
I sought out every pirate I could find and laid waste to them. And when they crossed me, as they were wont to do, I gave the same to any official navy that came into my waters. I soon found that there was a territory I was patrolling, and every time The Deep came to desire a certain ship, it was always one in that area. I hear the people on land came to tell stories of that patch of water, calling it The Bermuda Triangle, and I guess the ships we claimed came to be stories for you lot. We did our job well, I must admit, and these men earned the legendary status they have now. I’ll never forget how powerful we felt the first time we ripped a vessel out of the sky and learned men were inside.
But in those early days, you know, we were focused on pirates. I wanted the Heretic Wind with every fiber of my being. I listened for tales, I demanded answers from ships I had at my mercy, and very rarely did I get any answers. It was some years, I stopped counting days after I rose from The Deep, but it was surely some years before I held a blade at a man’s throat and a spark of recognition flashed across his face. I captured that man and held him in my brig until he was ready to talk. It didn’t take long. But when he did, he tells me, he says, “Lambert’s dead.” So I demanded to know what he meant, you know, and he told me all about it. He said he was on that ship, he was one of the men sent ashore to find the witch-doctor’s staff.
When they heard the cannons and the storm, he said, they rushed back to shore, and watched some of the fight happen. The Heretic Wind was barely holding together when it returned to the cove, and Lambert was in sore shape. He’d been shot, twice, and pieces of wood had stabbed into him at some point during the fight. Ingrid was held captive while they tried to help him, and when it became clear they’d done all they could, they set up camp. The Heretic had already begun to sink, and every hand that wasn’t busy helping Lambert or guarding Ingrid was off scavenging whatever supplies and good wood they could from the ship. He was on that last crew, he said, taking apart the Heretic Wind. With what wood they could, they made a small boat just barely sea-worthy, and between that and the couple boats they already had on shore, they gathered the survivors and a small box Lambert refused to part with together and made for the sea. They were rescued after about four days at sea, and Lambert died before they reached port. I took comfort in the knowledge that I’d killed the bastard, and sunk his cursed ship, but there was still one question left.
“What happened to Ingrid?” I asked the lad. He hesitated.
“Well, we…you see, there weren’t enough space on the boats for everyone, and it seemed most sense—” At this point, you know, I put my sword to his face.
“What happened to her?” I asked again. This lad, he took a hard swallow, before he admitted that they’d left her behind. They’d left her! On that island, alone! I cut that man’s throat right then, is what I did, and then I made orders that we needed to get to that cove. Well we got there as fast as this ship would carry us, with all the power of the sea pushing her along. I didn’t even try for a boat or wait for the ship to fully stop in the cove before I dove out and ran along the water, calling for Ingrid. I screamed her name the whole way to shore, and then as soon as my foot touched dry sand, my leg turned to water. Well, you know, I fell forward onto the beach, and all of me turned to water and rolled back into the sea. I came to myself again and rose from the water, some few yards out, and tried again. The same thing happened. I hadn’t known until that moment that I couldn’t walk on land anymore. I was an agent of The Deep, and I could not go out of the sea.
All day and night I stood at the edge of the water, as close to land as I could get, and called for her. Some of my men tried to go ashore on my behalf, but they had no better results. All day and night, and the next, I cried for her, but she never came. I didn’t know why. I hoped that she was still alive, that those bastards hadn’t caused her death on this island, but I couldn’t know. So we tried, for a week we tried, until finally we went back to my ship and went hunting again. This time, though, we spared one soul. I did not welcome him into my crew, I did not make him any offers, I just took him and burned his ship, and sailed back to the cove. When we reached shore, I made him my offer. “Search this island for a woman named Ingrid,” I says to him, “search everywhere. And if you find her, or any sign she might have been here, you bring whatever you find to me.” I told him, I says, “If you do not return, I will leave you here to die, and I promise you will die. But if you find her, I will take you back to port safely.” Well, he ran off into that jungle, and I waited as close to shore as I dared.
Two days he was ashore, somewhere. I saw smoke rising at night, a different place each time, and on the third day he finally returned with some torn fabric. I recognized it, it was part of the skirt she’d had on when I last saw her, with Lambert’s hand on her shoulder and the storm consuming me. I was furious. I couldn’t bear the thought that she’d been here, for God knows how long, and now she was gone, somewhere. He tried to comfort me, he really did. He told me how he hadn’t found any bones, no sign she had died here, only that fabric and a couple campsites. He tried to tell me I could still find her, you know, maybe she was found by another ship and taken away, and she was still out there somehow. I think he knew he was pleading for his life, and really, he did a good job of it. But I was in no condition to hear such an argument, and the water dragged him away and the crabs and starfish ate him. I returned to my ship as he cried out in pain, and sailed away.
So I changed my tactic. I started seeking any information I could find on her. It was more years before I found someone who knew who I was talking about, though he didn’t know she could sing to the wind and the waves. He only knew how they’d found her, his old ship, they’d found her on an island somewhere and gave her a ride to port on the mainland. No one seemed to know what happened to her after.
I continued asking, but soon enough anyone who would have been at sea in those days was dead, either by my hand, or some war, or just from age. I searched everywhere I could for her, but I never found her, and soon I had to accept that she was likely dead and gone, buried an old lady on some land I would never be able to walk upon.
I gave myself over fully to the work when I came to that understanding. And until very recently, I refused to think about any mortal concerns again.
Tidh Connelly sat in silence for a moment, staring into his drink. Benedict and Akshainie waited, unsure if he was done, or if they should say something. When the silence grew uncomfortable, Benedict began to reach and lean forward as if to offer comfort.
“Do you fear death, father?” Tidh asked. Benedict stopped, then sat back in his seat.
“I do not welcome it. But, as Saint Paul says—”
“It’s cold, you know. I don’t know if that’s because of the water, or because I wasn’t in God’s favor, but there were no angels to carry me to old Saint Peter. No light, no smiling faces from beyond. There was just water, and cold, and terror as the lungs begin to fill with water, and then darkness.”
“But it wasn’t the end,” Akshainie said, before taking a sip from her own bourbon. “Not for you.” Tidh shook his head.
“No. Not quite. It should have been, though. Maybe…” He sat silent again, then looked at Benedict.
“Father, I know what kind of monster I became. Will you, when you get the chance, will you put in a good word for me? Remind the Lord, you know, whatever good you can think of.”
“Are we having a confession now?” Benedict asked.
“This has all been my confession.” Benedict sighed and relaxed into his chair.
“Then, please, by all means. Continue.”
“Should I leave?” Akshainie asked. No one answered, and she didn’t leave.
“I don’t know if I really died,” Tidh continued. “I don’t know if I was brought back, or if it was just that I was spared from death, but it hardly seems to matter now. The point is, after the darkness, there was something else.
“I don’t know how to describe The Deep. The sea, you should know, is not one great spirit. There are spirits for parts of the sea, for different bays or coves or currents. But down at the bottom, where the light is gone, there’s just The Deep. Vast, and cold, and dark, and somber. The spirits in the light, people make deals with them sometimes. They like humans, or they don’t, but they never much mind us either way. We’re just passers-by to them. But not The Deep. The Deep only knows mankind in death, only knows the broken hulls of ships and scattered remnants of treasure that sink beneath the waves. But the sea, all of the sea, knows that the world needs it, and won’t let you forget it. The spirits in the light, they get their payment from the superstitions of sailors. The Deep, though, was tired of not getting its due.
So I was given a chance. The Deep promised me power, and a return to the surface, and a new life to throw at my enemies, if I would agree to collect the tithe of The Deep. I would sink ships when I needed to, or when I wanted to, and as long as the darkness beneath the waves got its due I could carry on with my mission with the full rage of the sea at my beck and call.
Well. What’s a dying sailor bent on vengeance to do? I sold my soul to The Deep. And when I did, I felt the power of the sea surge through me. I could see in those depths for the first time, and my lungs quit burning from the water. I knew I could stay down there as long as I wanted, I could live in the water just fine, but my goals weren’t in the water. I let out a sharp whistle, I don’t know how I knew it would work, but I whistled and along came a kraken, or the kraken, I don’t actually know how many there are. But this one, or the one, came to me, my ship wrapped in its arms. Pieces of broken wood rose from the floor of the sea and snapped into place, making my ship and sails whole again. And I took my place at the wheel, and called for daylight, and together my ship and I sailed back to the surface.
I don’t know how long I was under the water. Maybe I was dead for a while, or maybe the conversation with The Deep took longer than I expected, or the building of my ship was slower than I remember. But when I breached the water like an angry whale, and sailed right into that cove, the Heretic Wind was gone.
The wood shards flew in every direction, and one of them drove right through Hendricks’ head, the poor bastard. Another went right into my leg, and I went down hard and found quite a lot of blood coming out of me. I saw her, you must know. I saw Ingrid start to run toward me, but with a word Lambert stopped her dead in her tracks, and she never stopped singing. We stared at each other, and for the first time in years, the world faded away and it was just me and her and her song. I felt the water rise up between us, and I heard the wood breaking, and the men screaming, but it was distant. Like it was a dream I was remembering, while Ingrid and I were sharing the only piece of reality left. She was crying, God, I’d never seen her cry like that before, and I’d slice open anyone that could make her cry that way again. The water pushed our ships apart, and the few surviving cannons on the Heretic let loose, and my ship buckled under the strain. The storm bore down on us with all its might, and as the distance between our ships grew I reached out for her, and she reached out for me. Then Lambert was there, his hand on her shoulder, a bloody grin on his face as he watched me.
Our cannons unleashed once more, and I saw parts of that ship shatter all around Lambert and Ingrid. I raised my pistol and fired again, and I hit him, but only on the arm. I tried to reach for another shot, to reload my gun and try again, but the wood of the ship broke under me and the piece that broke away tore me up something fierce. I screamed and dropped my pistol from my hands growing wet and numb in the cold rain, and when I looked again, Lambert and Ingrid were nowhere to be seen on the Heretic’s deck. I pulled myself onto a more solid piece of deck as best I could, and felt a nail bite into my side and tear a line straight down as I forced myself past it. The ship leaned, and I knew it was going down. My crew were scrambling, and as I heard lifeboats hitting the water I also heard gunshots and lightning strikes. I knew they weren’t going to make it, not if Lambert could have them.
I threw every curse I had at him. I swore on Heaven and Hell that I’d be back, that I’d turn the sea itself against him if I had to, that nothing short of God Himself would keep my Ingrid from me. I continued to curse as I felt the water reach me, the salt searing in my wounds and screaming in my mind. I continued to curse as the ship went out from under me and the Heretic began to limp back toward the cove. The last bit of breath I had was hurled at Lambert, and then the water took me.