Skin and Bones, Part Twelve
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.
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