The waves held no mercy. They tore through the wood of the raft, ripped off the mast, and devoured the last of the rope. The sail, or what was left of it, twisted above the roaring sea free and ignorant of the turmoil. Lubwa kicked against the wicked current that constricted him. The shore was a faint speck of shadow and silhouette against the roaring torrent. The raindrops hammered against his skin. Each impact like falling metal. The depths of the sea opened its mouth wide, prepared to claim yet another unfortunate sailor as its next meal. It was a fate that Lubwa knew would be his one day. Every time the sail was hoisted, every time the hull cut through the waves, every time men dared to encroach on the domain of the sea goddess, Mukwano, they risked her fury. No mercy would be given. So Lubwa wouldn’t ask for it.
He took a breath and kicked. His muscles ached. Salt consumed every surface of his mouth. He could no longer feel his legs. The cold was doing its work. Lightning cracked across the sky; the island became a speck of green before vanishing in the dark. But it was all Lubwa needed.
If you can swim, you can live, his father whispered.
“Swim and live….” Lubwa muttered, his arms and numb legs moving at pace. “Swim and live. Swim and live.”
A log burst from the depths. It drifted without direction before nudging against his side. Lubwa saw himself throw his arm around the object. Good fortune at last. A round of coughs sent waves of pain up his ribs. The pain told Lubwa the log wasn’t a dream. He sighed, but rest and relief were things Mukwano preyed upon. He kicked his aching legs towards the shore.
“Swim and live. Swim and live.”
The sand was a bed of stones. Lubwa rolled on his side and spent the remainder of the night coughing out the entirety of the Kurembera Sea from his lungs. By the time darkness cleared from his vision, the sun blazed on his shivering body. The remnants of the raft brushed against the shore. Lubwa dragged himself up the slight hill that separated the shore from the rest of the island. The camp, a mat beneath a stretched-out tunic with additional leaves, welcomed Lubwa.
He found the small black notebook he had buried beforehand along with the cut reed coated with clay at its tip. He managed to sit up and his tired hands moved across the page.
“Day forty-two,” he wrote. “Escape attempt eleven has failed.”
The island was far too familiar to Lubwa. It was a jagged triangle of uneven stone and sand with a dark grey volcano looming overhead. Trees swept the surface stopping only at the base of the volcano. A small bay at the island’s midpoint separated the western and eastern shores. At low tide it was an easy matter to cross the sandbar that formed. At high tide it brought in the fish that had sustained Lubwa’s stomach for the past forty-two days.
Lubwa scratched at his uneven and unkept beard. He would need a proper razor if he ever left the island. He pushed back the thought. Dwelling on such things were the seeds that sprouted madness. What was in front of him and what he could control were the only things that needed to occupy his mind. And what was in front of him now was a rough fishing net of twine, rope, and vine that would house five to six fish brought in from the tide. He would have two now, study the waters, tides, and winds for his next attempt, and then have the remaining three for dinner.
A snag kept the net in place. Lubwa groaned. It was probably caught on a rock or some coral. He pulled again but whatever the net was snagged on resisted. It thrashed against the ropes and twine, nearly dragging the rest of the net into the bay. He tried to imagine the size of whatever fish he had been fortunate enough to catch. Hunger and anticipation swelled his muscles.
Four rhythmic pulls and the net soared from the bay. Lubwa stumbled back and drew his knife, prepared to gut what massive creature had the misfortune of finding his net. His catch flopped about on the stone shore; its tail found a gap in the net and thrashed but the motion only tangled the creature further.
Lubwa raised his knife. A hand shot out from the net. His knife froze over the creature. It couldn’t be. His catch twirled once more, and the ropes coiled around its neck.
“Wait! Stop! Stay still!” Lubwa exclaimed. “Stay still I said ! You’ll strangle yourself if you keep moving!”
The catch froze.
“I’ll get you out,” Lubwa said. “Just stay still.”
His hands trembled as he cut around the sea creature he had caught. With each piece of rope and twine cut away, Lubwa was sure he would wake up or that whatever was in the net would shift to a collection of stones or coral. He’d been on the island for too long. He was beginning to hallucinate.
But the golden hue of the fin was unmistakable. A jengu. He had caught a jengu.
“There,” he said after cutting the final piece. “You’re free.”
The jengu slithered out of the gap, her tail slapping Lubwa with a faint trail of seawater as she went.
Neither man nor sea creature dared to move.
From stomach up, she appeared to be no different than a girl with nineteen living years. They shared the same dark ebony skin and high forehead. Her hair was a thick meadow of coils that perfectly framed the round face. She kept a tight grip on her necklace of pearls, bones, and cowrie shells.
His mother’s tales of the jengu rattled in Lubwa’s skull. The maidens of Mukwano lurked in the sea’s depths, arriving on shores to carry messages from the living to the ancestors who dwelled on the ocean’s floor. They cured diseases for their most devoted followers. The floating shrines to the jengu were always filled with offerings of fruit, chicken, goat, and more until the shrine sank. A jengu would then take the gifts and returned the shrine to the surface, guaranteeing a season of good fortune for the village.
Lubwa felt naked standing before the jengu without a prepared offering.
“This is your net?” the jengu asked, her voice a melonic whisper.
A lie lingered on his tongue but the jengu’s golden eyes smothered it.
“It is,” Lubwa said. “I am sorry.”
The jengu’s golden tail slapped a boulder. It shattered to pebbles.
“I didn’t mean to trap you!” Lubwa exclaimed. “I only wanted fish!”
And he did. Lubwa spoke faster than he thought possible. He told her of his profession as a smuggler. He told her of the king’s pursuers who had given chase after a disastrous job. He told her of the storm that swept him overboard and brought him to the island. He told her that he had spent the last forty-two days looking for a means to escape and reunite with his crew.
At the end of his tale, the jengu blinked. Her tail swished behind her. The sun struck the scales, basking the shore in golden light. The jengu regarded Lubwa for a moment. She bit her lips, revealing some crooked teeth. Finally, she took off her necklace and motioned Lubwa to hold out his hand.
“Take this,” she said simply. “Wear it and you will be given good fortune for seven days.”
“Thank you…” was all he could think to say. “For this gift.”
“It is not a gift,” the jengu said. “On the eighth day, come back to this bay and return my necklace to me.”
“And if I don’t….?” he asked at once.
Mischief flashed in the jengu’s eye. “Misfortune far greater than this shall await you,” she said simply before diving into the depths.
Lubwa wasn’t sure how long he stood at the bay, the necklace hanging off his wrist. If he moved, then he would wake up. He took a step back. Still awake. He slapped himself. Still awake. Another moment passed. Still awake. He sighed.
“How much worse can it get?”
He slid the necklace over his head.
The jengu did not lie. For seven days, good fortune clung to him.
At the end of the first day, his new net was filled with over seventy fish. A trading ship spotted on the horizon answered the question of storage and preservation before Lubwa could ask. His fish bought him passage and freedom from the island.
On the second day, his ship, the Abrihet, was spotted to the east. His crew of outcasts, rogues, and scoundrels embraced him. They had endured forty-two days of in-fighting, storms, hunger, and thirst in their search for him, but they had united the day before to save their captain.
On the third day, a royal pursuit ship was spotted trapped on a sandbar. The crew prepared evasive maneuvers, but Lubwa ordered them to maintain the current course. Pursuit ships traveled in pairs, it was rare, almost impossible to find one on its own, marooned on a sandbar no less. The crews were often high caste men connected to clans who would pay handsomely high ransom demands for their return. Or they were placed in charge of protecting valuable shipments between the crown and its allies. Either way, a comfortable plunder dwelled within the hulls of that ship. And Lubwa felt lucky.
The luck held and yielded a skeleton crew sick from eating rotten provisions, unable to properly defend their cargo from gentlemen of fortune. Triumphant cries dominated the deck of the Abrihet that evening at the sight of the cargo, 200 gold pieces, worth 20,000 dollars in the Crescent Island’s Akampa currency, their largest haul in months.
The next four days were a blur as Lubwa and his crew basked in their good fortune. Plunder, drink, women, and merriment swept the ship. At the end of the seventh day, Lubwa ordered they set sail for the port of Ngo to exchange their plunder for further riches. The jengu would understand. What was the point of this fortune if he could not ensure that it lasted?
On the eighth day, five royal pursuit ships blocked their path, eager for a return of the stolen gold no doubt. Lubwa clung to the Jengu’s necklace. The fortune would hold, he told both himself and the crew as the royal pursuers lived up to the name. The royal navy moved with the heavy wind and the strong current, nullifying Abrihet’s speed advantage.
Lubwa ordered the helmsman to take the ship into the Masud Stones, a collection of high-rise stones jammed together. Often it was called the Graveyard of Ships. It took only an hour for the stones to live up to their name. The stones scrapped against the hull and struck the rudder. The pursuit ships remained on course and fired off their catapults. In three volleys, the mast was struck. The rudder snapped off, and they were dead in the water.
The pursuit ships surrounded them and unleashed the fury of the king.
The Abrihet crumbled.
Lubwa made the call. Abandon ship.
The crew plunged into the depths; the gold lost to the dark.
The waves held no mercy. They carried him to a far too familiar small island where the jengu sat on a gray stone, a faint frown on her face. It was then Lubwa knew, the jengu did not lie.
“No more…. Please...” Lubwa gasped. He held up the necklace. “Take it back.”
“Again,” The jengu said.
Lubwa ran, but the waves rose at her words and dragged him back into the unending storm.
He would swim, and he would live.
About the Creator
I am an aspiring author with a focus mainly on epic high fantasy, mythology, westerns, and action-adventure, with the occasional op-ed. If you're seeking daring adventure, and fun, diverse characters you've come to the right place.