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A Faithless Lover

by Kit Olsen 4 months ago in Fantasy
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A scene or a prologue of another world in the midst of three moons

A Faithless Lover
Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

“The ocean was a faithless lover.”

The words fall into the night air with a catlike grace on the ears of all. Callister shifts slightly in his seat upon a barrel, here on the deck of The Sanctity. The crew is all gathered on deck, their faces illuminated equally by the light of two of three moons and a small cook fire, tended to by one of the kevelan crew members. Peleas, Callister thinks his name is.

Callister does not know the name of the woman whose voice has now caught the attention of every deckhand and crewman. He has only heard her referred to by her rank, Ensign, in the four days since he has boarded with his meager belongings. In those conversations with the others, her voice has been harsh and coarse to be heard over the whirring of fount engines, now propelling the ship slowly over the endless dark waves.

Now, away from engines and grease and a need to shout, she is different, he thinks. Her voice is loud, but not harsh. The Medari form of the common tongue has taken on a musical tone. She has cleaned her face; now free of grease smudges, grime is replaced instead by the rosy glow of strong spirits against sun-kissed copper skin. Her eyes glitter in the flickering light, one green, one blue, auburn hair now let down in a wild halo against the moons. For a brief moment, Callister thinks she is looking at him. Callister has heard the Medari are wild folk, that their hearts are never content unless they are wandering. Here, he sees their wildness contained within a single person, and he is enchanted.

Or perhaps, he quickly corrects himself, the spirits are stronger than he anticipated. He slowly takes another sip of the liquor that tastes like brown sugar and sweet apples and somehow like neither in the strength of their burn. She too takes a long draught from the cup in her hands, holding it in her mouth as if waiting to see how hot it will grow as some of the other crew members call out.

“We heard this one before, Ensign.” The man is pale, almost ghostly in the fireglow. Ensign, as Callister now thinks of her, slowly swallows the spirits held in her mouth, and leans forward.

“Aye, but not as I tell it. I’ll thank thee to keep tha pretty mouth shut as I spin the stories tha so kindly asked for, as some on board have yet to hear.”

The crew laughs and settles once again. Shifter like, Ensign takes one final sip, and before the eyes of all, transforms. She is no longer a waif among the engines. She is an actor upon the stage.

“As I said. The ocean was allus a faithless lover. But only a few stories are left about the first of his infidelities. Nay. This is an old tale. A tale from when the sun burned white and yellow, before gods were kept in cages and corners.”

Callister knows she is looking at him now. He feels her eyes rest on him for the smallest moment, as if daring him to react. He feels a prickle of heat against the vestment collar marking him as a servant of the divine, but holds his tongue.

“The lekuja stories say when the Realm Beyond and we were one, the sisters above would wander about the world as they did the sky. Relemar, Heleiria, Selvah, each in their turns, would slip down from the night sky–” Ensign’s finger traces a path skyward, pointing to where Relemar and Heleiria gleam brightly above “--and come a-courtin’. Whomever they pleased, the sisters above would seek a partner, a bit of companionship to make the cold nights up there more bearable in the wait for their sisters’ return.”

The deck sits otherwise silent, apart from the creaking of the ropes and sails, waiting for the humming of the engine to fail, and the soft breeze off the sea. Only Ensign’s voice carries like a melody over it all.

“One night,’twas Relemar’s turn, and she slipped from the sky down to the earth below, all radiant in her dressin’ and her hair streaming like starlight behind her as she fell. But tonight of all nights, someone new saw her falling, and ‘twas none other than the Tempest, the ocean himself, who saw her fall.” The woman’s hand spreads, gesturing to the dark water that now sloshes against the sides of Sanctity with irregular rhythm. “Tempest saw the Lady Relemar fall, and oh his heart leapt at the sight of her, strong an’ beautiful an’ radiant against the dark sky. So without hesitation, the dear Lord of Storms rose to meet her halfway, to catch her as she fell.”

As if on cue, the ship rocks with a particularly strong wave, and the crew chuckles nervously. Callister’s eyes narrow in spite of himself, the girl has had no magic that he’s seen thus far, but the timing is perhaps too convenient. Ensign sighs, staring out over the water. “Aye, I’m gettin’ to it. Rest easy.”

She shakes her head and continues. “The Lady Relemar landed in the Tempest’s arms, and found herself starin’ up into the most handsome face she’d ever seen, beard all sea plants and hair soft as sea foam, and oh her heart stirred at the sight of him. She thanked him for his aid, catchin’ her from the sky as he did. And as the Tempest held her in his arms, he felt not just his heart stirrin’ as he stared at the lovely lady before him. He invited her to walk with him, and shewed her all his domain on the waters and below them.” Ensign’s face takes on a hint of mischief. “And that night, he rose to meet her once again, if ye catch my meaning.” She gestures crudely and the crew laughs.

“But the old man of the sea was a fair lover, and as they lay restin’ in each others’ arms after their tryst, Lady Relemar promised to him that she’d return as soon as ‘twas her turn again to leave her sisters above in the sky. The poor girl was in a love beyond love, and as she ascended again to find her sisters, her thoughts remained below with him.

“Next though came Heleiria, the sweet golden child of the three. Soon as her elder sister came back, ‘twas Heleiria’s turn, and she slipped from the sky down to the earth below. Her eyes twinklin’ gold and her hair streamin’ in endless green waves behind her. And once again, tonight, someone saw her fallin’, and it was none other than the Tempest. And at the first, he thought she was Relemar again, come back to court him, but as he rose to meet her halfway, he realized the girl was not his lady love with whom he’d spent his time. Nay, this was another girl, but where Relemar was strong and pale, Heleiria shone near as like the sun, maylike prettier than the sun with her bright and blinding light. Still, without hesitation, the Lord of Storms rose to meet her halfway, to catch her as she fell.”

Ensign pauses for the smallest moment, enough to catch her breath and steal another sip of the strong liquor in her cup. Callister realizes he has listened breathlessly, and that his own drink has gone untouched as he has sat entranced by her tale. As if reminded, he slowly drinks from his own, and the apple leaves a bitter aftertaste he had not noticed before, one that causes him to drink even further.

“Sweet Lady Heleiria landed in the Tempest’s arms, and she found herself starin’ up into the handsomest face she’d ever seen, his eyes all glitterin’ like the stars above, but his arms warm and welcomin’ around her, and oh her heart stirred at the sight of him. And because she an’ her sisters were well polite, she thanked him for his aid, catchin’ her from the sky as he did. And as the Tempest held her in his arms, he felt not just his heart stirrin’ as he stared at the lovely lady before him.”

This time, there is no laughter.

“Now the dear old Tempest knew the girl he held now was no Relemar, even as he remembered the faith she pledged him, and her promise to return. But as he held her, he thought her even fairer than the last, and as he set her down upon the waves, he invited her to walk with him, and shewed her all his domain on the waters and below them. An’ that night, he ‘rose to meet her once again.

“An’ the old man of the sea was a fair lover, it seems, for the poor girl Heleiria was in a love beyond love. As they lay restin’ in each others’ arms, the sweet sweat shared ‘tween them, Lady Heleiria also pledged her trust to the Tempest, and promised to him she’d return as soon as ‘twas her turn again to leave her sisters above in the sky. She bid him farewell, and ascended again to find her sisters, her thoughts remaining below with him.”

Again the sea seems to nudge the side of the ship. Ensign shakes her head as the crew seems taken for a moment out of the tale. “Impatient tha’ art tonight, ain’t it so.” Her voice is soft as a whisper of wind, but Callister catches it nonetheless, for no other sound haunts the deck of the ship now.

“Finally, it was sweet Lady Selvah’s turn, youngest of her sisters, and fairest by far. Soon as her elder sister came back, ‘twas her well-earned turn, and she slipped from the sky down to the earth below. Her hair was but a wisp of starlight, an’ she didn’t fall but danced along the constellations as she slipped down. But tonight of all nights, she had an audience, an’ tha can guess which eyes were on her as she danced.

“At the first, the Tempest thought ‘twas Relemar come back to court him, but this one was smaller and weaker than she. Then he thought ‘twas Heleiria come back to spend the night in his arms, but this one was smaller and paler than she. Nay, this was yet another girl, but where Relemar was strong and pale, and Heleiria gold and radiant, Selvah danced along the starlight with aelden grace, barely more’n a whisper of a thing, but a whisper he craved more to hear. So without hesitation, the Tempest rose to meet her halfway, to catch her if she fell.

“But the Lady Selvah did not fall, she danced, elegant as tha please, alone in her starry ballroom, an’ as the Lord of Storms rose to meet her, she was not caught, but caught him. Without hesitation, she pulled him into her dance. Lady Selvah found herself starin’ up into the handsomest face she’d ever seen, an’ as they danced she found a grace an’ that matched her own, and oh her heart stirred at the sight of him. But as the Tempest danced with her, he found his own heart stirrin’ along with other sundry parts. As they ended their dance and bowed to each other, she thanked him for his aid, dancin’ with her when she lacked a partner.

“The Lord of Storms held her in his arms an’ found himself with a choice to make. The dear old Tempest knew the girl he held now was no Relemar, nor no Heleiria, even as he remembered the faith they both had pledged him, and their promise to return. But as he held the Lady Selvah, he thought her even fairer than both her sisters before her, and as he set her down upon the waves, he invited her to walk with him, and shewed her all his domain on the waters and below them. An’ that night, he ‘rose to meet her once again. An’ again. An’ again.”

There are a few scattered chuckles from those who know the story well. Callister feels one bubble within his throat, but he watches and waits. He does not know this story, at least not as it is now told to him, and he wants nothing more than to learn more.

“An’ the old man of the sea was a more’n a fair lover, it seems, for the poor girl Selvah was in a love beyond love. But unlike the other sisters, so was old Tempest, as he held her in the sweet afterglow. As they lay restin’ in each others’ arms, Lady Selvah also pledged her trust to the Tempest, as her sisters before her, and promised to him she’d return as soon as ‘twas her turn again to leave her sisters above in the sky.

“The Lord of Storms, though, spoke in a voice like the rumble of thunder. ‘Leave me not alone among the waves, abide with me a while, and I will shew thee love as tha deserves.’ But the Lady Selvah knew her duty remained among her sisters above, and told him thus. She bid him farewell, and ascended again to find her sisters, her thoughts remaining below with him.”

The deck remains silent as Ensign again sips at her drink, waiting patiently for the story to resume. No waves nudge the ship; if anything, the sea is oddly still, as if waiting for her as well.

“As the time passed, the three visitin’ one after the other in their turn, but never within the others’ sights, the Tempest shewed love upon love to the sisters above, even as they bestowed love beyond love upon him. They doted their affections, and the seas rose and fell in their turns to meet them, and ease their passage to the Lord of Storms’ sea-bed.

“But then, at once came a day, when ‘twas Selvah’s turn once more to slip from the sky down to the earth below. An’ she did not fall, but danced, adorned in the shimmer of the stars, down to meet her lover. An’ the Lord of Storms rose up to meet her halfway, the two of them in their starry ballroom dancin’ together, as he placed kiss upon kiss on her cold lips. Neither of them, poor lovers, saw Relemar and Heleiria both soft against opposite horizons, watching them. The Tempest thought he’d been out of sight of them both, but here and now, all the eyes of the sisters above rested on him and his dance with Lady Selvah.

“An’ at the sight, oh Relemar and Heleiria felt their hearts shatter, even as their eyes burned with jealousy to see their youngest sister so content. And the two of them both thought to themselves, not to confront him, but that they should catch the Tempest in his infidelity. So the both of them, in their own times, slipped from the sky above down to the earth below, to test his loyalties and his love.

Not so much as a breath of air stirs the sails now, and the deck is almost painfully quiet. Callister reminds himself to breathe, as if he has forgotten how.

“The Lord of Storms felt as they fell, and feared they should both injure themselves should he not be present to catch them. Halfway through their dance, he begged pardon of the Lady Selvah, and tore himself in twain to catch both Lady Relemar and Lady Heleiria in their fall. Both the elder sisters were surprised to be caught, the ruse remaining in place, as he split himself in as many ways as he needed to divide his attention evenly among the sisters, now all among him on the earth, and not in the cold sky above. As he left pieces of himself with the other two, he now gathered himself as much as he could, back to meet his Lady Selvah, an’ keep her company through the long night.”

Ensign sighs. “But for thee, oh sailors, this divided love was violent unlike any the sailors had ever known. Their ships found no purchase in the waves an’ capsized, the tides changing too rapidly to correct. As the Tempest made false love to Relemar and Heleiria, and proved evermore his love to Selvah, the storms roiled an’ boiled, with no moons to guide the lost souls through the night. An’ so it was the tides first changed, an’ left in their wake the souls of a hundred good men, no more than casualties of the gods’ affairs.

“As the morning rose an’ sisters bid their farewells to the old man of the sea, ascending again to find their kindred, the Tempest stared upon the act he had wrought, an’ knew he had caused their demise. But he knew even now, by deceiving them further, that he now could not stop his deceptions, or by revealing his falsehoods he would surely lose the Lady Selvah to whom his heart now belonged. The Lord of Storms pondered this for a moment until he came to his answer. He would send out a signal to the sailors, when the storms were prone to come, an’ would tell them how to prepare. He whispered these answers to his faithful, sharing with them and them alone his secrets and infidelities, even as he swore them to secrecy in their prayers.

“An’ so it is that any sailor worth their salt knows when Selvah stands high in the sky, with Releram to their east and Heleiria to their west, that they prepare. For they know the Lord of Storms, who has yet to be caged, will remain true to his nature, and will remain the allus faithless lover he is and has been. An’ so it ends ‘til next tale begins.”

“An’ may begin before another glass is drunk.” The few other Medari crew mates intone some tradition with which Callister is not familiar. But the remainder of the crew seems visibly to relax now that the story is over. It is as if sound and sense have returned to the listeners, and the world itself is whole again. The waves lap against the sides of the ship rhythmically, and the creaks and groans of the ropes and sails provide a counterpoint worthy of song.

Callister realizes his glass is empty, and reaches again for a bottle, as he sees Ensign finish her glass. In a rare moment of impulse, he fills his own, then stands, and walks to where the storyteller sits on her perch of a pair of stacked crates. She looks up at him, first in confusion, then in expectation. “Aye?”

He proffers the bottle with a slight incline, her flushed face lighting up at the sight. “An’ here I am thinking tha wert abstinent from fine spirits. Not part of tha vows, then?” She holds her cup out, and he fills it, blushing furiously before turning without another word and going back to his seat. The liquor swirls in his cup as he looks at it, smelling again the rich molasses sugar and the apples now sweet again. The crew goes back to talking amongst themselves, and Ensign, the storyteller, toasts him silently across the deck, before quenching her thirst with the strong alcohol.

As she drinks, he swears her one blue eye gleams like starlight.

Or perhaps, he quickly corrects himself, the spirits are stronger than he anticipated.

Fantasy

About the author

Kit Olsen

Queer poet, short fiction author, and long-time storyteller of all varieties. Feel free to stick around and see if anything catches your fancy!

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