Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Drabble No. 9: Where We Were Part Nine



Where We Were: Part 9


Levine began to heal more quickly than Miranda had imagined possible. In days, the skin of his leg was healthy and pink, only a round scar left where the gaping wound had been. She wanted to believe that Jerome's medicine was simply that effective, but she knew it had more to do with the Jengu man's powers than anything else. 

At dawn on the seventeeth day on the island, Levine called them both to the fire. 

"We're going to have to figure out our own way off the island," he told them as he spitted three fat fish and held them over the fire. "I don't know what happened to my men, but we can't wait any longer."

"Can we build a boat?" Miranda wondered. There were only two palm trees on the island, and it would take days to chop them both down, but she'd seen men do more with less.

"Not one that will take us where we need to go." Levine turned the fish over the flames, lightly searing both sides. "I'll have to call on an old friend to give us a ride."

"Why haven't we done this before?" Jerome asked. He took the fish on the palm leaf that Levine handed him. He was tan, his skin having more of a glow than Miranda had ever seen. 

"Because this friend doesn't like to be bothered for trivial matters." Levine picked apart his own fish, a signal for them to do the same. They'd fallen into an easy pattern over the last weeks. He was kind to them, and valued their opinion. She'd never seen him angry, and didn't fear him as she had other masters.

"Umibozu is a sea shadow. He's recalcitrant at best and homicidal at worst."

"And he's your friend?" Jerome smothered a sigh. 

"We've been of mutual benefit to one another more than once." Levine chewed thoughtfully for a few minutes. "The only issue is how to call him up from the depths."

"How do you normally call him?" Miranda asked. Her belly was full, her muscles tired from the hot sun and the endless gathering, fishing and cleansing of water that they did all day. She blinked against the weight of her eyelids. She shouldn't sleep until her master allowed it.

"With my flute." Levine tossed his palm leaf into the fire, and then took hers. "Rest," he ordered.

"A servant should never sleep before the master."

He sighed. "No man should be master over another," he muttered darkly. 

"But, the Jengu take slaves. You said it yourself, it's the only way for the species to survive." She lay down on the sand, pillowing her head on her arms. She was too tired to argue with him about resting. Jerome finished his fish and tossed his leaf into he fire before he stretched out with a soft groan. 

"It is the way of the Jengu, but not my way," Levine told her softly. "We do as the king demands, but there are many of us who would rather bring the willing souls to the palace. There are many who would serve us simply for the meal and the bed, without the need for bloodshed."

"That's the truth," Miranda agreed. "Most of us on that ship would have gladly given up the fates we were headed toward for a chance at being treated decently for once. But..." She trailed off and swallowed. 

"Ask if you must."

"But why kill the men, then?"

"And if we boarded the vessel and asked politely for volunteers?" Levine chuckled. "We've learned that men who trade in flesh rarely allow us to take from their bounty so freely."

She knew he was right. None of the men on the ship were indentured like the women and children were. Even Jerome held a slightly higher status than them, being both a scribe and a scholar. 

"Sleep," he ordered again. 

"What about Umibozu?" She yawned, eyelids fluttering.

"Perhaps the gods will smile upon us and give us a sign."

She smiled.  A nice thought, but the gods rarely spared a thought for people such as herself. She drifted off, dreaming of sea shadows and a dark, haunting melody.

***
They worked in tandem for days, desalinating water, catching fish, and chopping wood for the fire. Levine didn't mention Umibozu again, and Miranda began to wonder if he'd given up on the idea. 
Then, while she stirred the salty fish stew as it boiled in the broken conch shell, Jerome handed Levine a shiny white whale bone.

"What's this?" Levine turned the bone in his hands.

"A flute. You said you needed one."

Levine's eyebrows went up. He stared at the bone, polished smooth. Miranda saw that holes had been carefully drilled across the top. Jerome had, indeed, created a flute.

"A fine job," Levine praised. "You're full of surprises."

"At least my hands still work." Jerome lifted his good shoulder in a shrug. "My hands and my mind."

"A man's mind is the most important muscle he has," Levine said with a grin. "More so than his arms, legs or back." He stood and held the flute to his lips. "Shall we try it?"

"What will happen if it calls Umibozu?" Miranda asked. As hard as life was on this tiny island, she was enjoying the peace of a routine. 

"He'll rise if he hears it. Then I'll ask him to carry us to the Jengu palace."

"Won't we drown?" Jerome asked.

"No, Umibozu can wrap us up in his shadow, and we can breathe. I've done it before."

"Can't you breathe underwater?" Miranda asked. She made sure to keep her eyes off the gills on his neck.

"For a certain bit of time. But to get to the deep, we'll need a vessel like Umibozu."

Levine put the flute to his lips and placed his fingers carefully over the holes Jerome had drilled. He began to play, and Miranda recognized the haunting melody from her dreams. It startled her, but it was not the strangest thing to happen to her of late, and she let it go with a shrug. She was living in the world of the Jengu now. 

Levine played to the waves until the sun began to set, and Miranda called him back to the fire to eat his soup. They each drank from the conch in turn, the warm liquid filling their bellies. 

"I'll try again tomorrow," Levine said as she scoured the conch with sand and rinsed it out. "It takes time for sound to travel, and he could be far away."

"I don't think so." Jerome was staring at the sea with wide eyes. "I think he's here."

Miranda looked over her shoulder and gasped. A shadow as black as a moonless night was rising from the water. It was almost human-shaped, with a head, shoulders and torso. Lidless eyes that were simply holes of white looked in their direction. 

"Put out the fire," Levine said to her with a grin. "It's time to go."



TO BE CONTINUED

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Thursday, August 29, 2019

Drabble No. 8: Where We Were Part 8



Where We Were Part 8

Levine was weak, but he didn't want to show that to the others. Five days had passed, and still his men had not returned for him. He began to worry as the sun set on the fifth day. Had they all been killed in the attack?

The two humans were quiet and efficient, moving about when the sun was down and the breeze was cooler, resting in the day when the heat was the worst. They'd constructed a bit of shade with palm leaves, and he was grateful for it as he lay under it next to them.

The woman was strong, and she moved with purpose. She thought carefully about each task, and completed it efficiently and without complaint. He let her pour desalinated water down his throat, and even some salty, fishy soup that she and the man assured him had the protein he would need to heal. 

His leg was healing, he could feel the lessening of the pain, the throbbing dull instead of sharp enough to feel as if his leg was being severed. Every few hours the woman would unwrap the bandages, boil them to keep them clean, and wash the wound before applying more of the yellow paste. The man was hesitant to get too close, but he was smart. Levine knew many healers who would not recognize the deep sea sponge that was working to cleanse the poison from his wound. He left the man be, as much as he could. He saw no point in forcing the man to interact with him. The woman, on the other hand, was happy to chat with Levine as she went about her work. 

"This is looking much better," she told him as she rewrapped the wound in the clean, dry bandages. "I think you'll feel great by tomorrow night."

"Feeling better already."

She sat back on her heels and put her hands in her lap. He noticed things about her that told him more of her story that he supposed she would like. Her hands, for example, were rough with calluses from days of hard labor. Her knuckles were large from the swelling, and her joints cracked when she moved too quickly. She had a small scar just under her eye, and it was the crescent shape of a sharp fist that hit bone and tore the delicate flesh across her cheekbone. 

She caught him staring and her lashes fluttered down over her startling amber eyes. "Are you feeling well?"

"Fine." He shifted some, missing his bed in the palace of the Jengu king. "Thank you for your care."

"It's our duty, master."

"You may call me Levine." He nodded at the man who lay resting with his good arm over his eyes, asking her to translate. "Don't call me master or sir."

She spoke to the man, who raised his hand in acknowledgement, before she turned back to him. 

"Do you want to ask me more questions?" he teased. She was careful, testing his patience with her, but she had many questions. Most of them were things he'd want to know if he was in her position, so he answered without ire.

A blush colored her cheeks, but she raised her chin. "May I?"

He waved for her to go ahead.

"Tell me about the Jengu."

That was a loaded question. As far as most humans knew, the Jengu were nothing but folklore. Not officially existing was a boon for the Jengu, all told, because they moved about the open waters without much fear of coming across vessels hellbent on capturing or killing them. He supposed it wouldn't hurt to tell her what he knew. She was never going to return to the human world anyway. 

"When the world was new, and humans were just learning to poke at anthills with sticks, the Jengu were at the height of their civilization deep beneath the seas. They had hundreds of cities in every ocean across the world. But as with any population, they began to outgrow their habitat. Food became scarce, and the world was an ever-changing environment. When fire rained down from the skies it began to evaporate the oceans, and most of the Jengu died out."

She bit her lip, thinking over his revelation. "But some survived."

"The current king's father was the last of his people. He lived so deep in the ocean that he managed to survive, but he knew that if he wanted to continue his bloodline he would need to find a mate."

Her cheeks bloomed with color again. He found it interesting that the talk of mates would illicit such a reaction. 

"He swam near the shores and waited for a human female to come close enough to the edge. He took her, and brought her to his palace deep in the ocean to help repopulate his kingdom."

"That's terrible."

He coughed, surprised by her reaction. "Terrible?"

"That poor woman! Taken from her home, never to see her family again. Forced to breed with an inhuman!"

"We don't condone his actions," he said, affronted. "Times were desperate but it doesn't excuse his behavior. I'm just telling you the history."

"How did he do it?"

Levine froze, uncertain of the question. "Do it?"

"How did he bring a human to the bottom of the ocean without drowning her?"

Despite her disgust, she was quite practical. "The Jengu are magical creatures, I suppose you could say. There were ancient practices that the king's father read about in the great library, and he used them to bring the human woman to his palace."

"And now? You take humans from ships to become servants of the Jengu."

"When the king's father bred with the human woman, the king was born. He had several siblings who did not survive childhood. As he grew, they began to discover that he had a strange ability. Any human he used this ability on would transform into a Jengu. This is how we repopulated the city."

Her mouth fell open. "The current Jengu were once human?"

"All but the king. His parents are gone now, though they lived for centuries before they died. I, and the others like me, became Jengu after we passed the trials."

"Trials?"

He shook his head. "Only those who are deemed worthy of the trials can know their details. Just know that the king can foresee the outcome, and he will choose those who can survive to be Jengu with us."

"Could Jerome or I be chosen?"

"It's not out of the question." He yawned, tired. "We will talk more tomorrow."

She stood, but then paused. "Are they coming, Levine?"

He liked the sound of his name on her lips. He couldn't lie, even if it might make her feel better. "I don't know." 

"What do we do if they don't?"

"I'll think of something."

She left, and he watched her tend the fire. The flames lit up her hair and turned her skin to caramel in the moonlight. As sleep overtook him, he wondered where the hell his men were.



***DONT FORGET! If you like the story, leave a comment and let me know!!***

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Drabble No.7: Where We Were Pt 7


Where We Were Pt 7


Miranda began to worry about their rescue on the third day.  Despite what the Jengu said, there was no sign of his men coming to their aid. 

Jerome was quieter than usual, their escapades having drained him more than he wanted to admit. The Jengu man was limping, but he caught fish efficiently, and his knife was sharp enough to cut slivers off the palms to burn. 

On the fourth night they were sitting around the fire as the sun set, when Miranda noticed the unusual pallor on the Jengu man's face. 

"Are you unwell?" she asked as he waved away a nicely roasted fish. Sweat lingered on his brow, but he shook his head.

"Infection," Jerome said as he delicately picked the flesh of the fish off its bones. "He needs medicines."

"I don't get sick."

Jerome shrugged. "The cephalopods have rotting remnants of their meals in between the suckers. Infection is common."

"Are you a healer?"

"I know the basics."

"We have to look at the wound," Miranda said, scooting closer. "Clean it."

"Leave it." He waved her away. "We have no medicines."

"On the contrary, we do." Jerome finished his meal and struggled to his feet. "Boil some water in the conch shell," he told Miranda before he hobbled down toward the water.

"Is he always so bold?" the Jengu demanded. But Miranda saw how weak he was becoming, and the words held no real ire.

"He knows that if you die our fate will be unpleasant. So he'll do whatever it takes to keep you well." She unwrapped the makeshift bandage and reared back at the smell. 

"I take that to mean it's bad."

"It's festering." She used two thick palm leaves to handle the old bandage, tossing it into the fire. She poured some of their purified water over the red, oozing wound. He hissed, and his head fell back, but he made no other sounds. 

"Put this in the boiling water," Jerome said, handing her a dull yellow conical item.

"What is it?" She held it in her hand, trying to decide if it was a rock or some kind of plant.

"Sea sponge," the Jengu muttered. He eyed Jerome. "Clever."

"They grow deep in the ocean, but I saw some washed up here. Boil them and they can have medicinal properties." 

Miranda tossed the sponge into the large conch they'd broken in half to use as a makeshift pot. After it boiled for several minutes, Jerome instructed her to remove the concoction from the fire to cool. After several minutes, it was a thick yellowish paste. 

"Here." Jerome ripped his shirt some more, and held it out. "Spread the paste on the wound and wrap it."

The Jengu stiffened at her touch, but held still despite what must have been immense pain. 

"You'll need more water than usual, and rest," Jerome told their new master. "Until the poison leaves your body."

"I made the right decision," the Jengu muttered as his eyelids fluttered closed. 

"You did well," Miranda told Jerome, handing him another fish. "Perhaps we'll survive this after all."

Jerome shrugged. "Perhaps we will."



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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Drabble No 6: Where We Were Pt 6


Where We Were Pt 6



The Jengu had passed out a few minutes before the island was in sight. He was dead weight in the water between Miranda and Jerome, and without his powerful push the going was much slower. Eventually, as the sun was setting, they dragged him to shore and lay down on the sand, breathing hard. 

"He wasn't kidding when he said it was just a rock in the water," Jerome said after catching his breath. "There are two palm trees, a few inches of sand, and nothing else."

Miranda had to agree. The 'island' was less than five hundred yards across at best, and it was some kind of hard, lumpy rock under the meager sand they lay on. 

"What about him?" Jerome asked, poking the Jengu. "Is he alive?"

Miranda studied the man. "He's breathing."

"That arm is out of its socket," Jerome told her. "And something shredded his leg."

"He's lost a lot of blood." He looked pale lying on the sand; the only thing to tell her he wasn't human was the crease of the gills on his neck. 

"Not much we can do here." Jerome grabbed hold of his tattered shirt and ribbed the hem off. "Let's bandage up the leg at least."

Miranda pushed back the Jengu's pant leg to reveal the shredded skin of his calf. It was covered in a thick black slime.

"Ink," Jerome told her. He scooped some of the sea water into his hands and doused the wound, washing away the slime. "Some kind of octopus or squid got him."

"Big one," she murmured, staring at the imprint of hand-sized suckers on his skin.

They wrapped the wound, still oozing blood, and tied it tight.

"That's all we can do," Jerome told her as he lay back again. His own body must be screaming with exhaustion. His mangled left arm and leg were mostly useless, meaning his right half pulled most of the weight of his movements. "I need to rest."

"You rest," Miranda told him. "I'll look around and see if I can find anything to build a fire. Two stones to strike a flint, maybe."

He nodded, eyes closed. "Be careful."

She left the two men lying on the beach and made her way over to the palm trees. She gathered a few stray fronds, dried out from lying on the ground for a while. When she had a goodly stack, she dropped them near Jerome and the Jengu man and went back to look for something to strike the light. She found two stones, but she had no idea if they'd work or not. As the sun began to fully set, she decided there was no harm in trying. 

It took several minutes and a few curses before the strike of the stones produced a spark that caught the fronds. The fire was burning heartily when the Jengu man groaned and opened his eyes. 

"Be careful," she whispered, so as not to wake Jerome. "You're hurt."

"The two of you dragged me here?"

She nodded.

His eyes drifted to the fire. "You built the fire?"

"I did."

He struggled to sit up, and she leaned toward him, pushing him up without touching his injured shoulder. 

"We're going to have to do something about that shoulder," she told him. 

"I'll take care of it." He glanced at Jerome. "Is he alive?"

"He needs to rest. He tires more easily than most."

"So you dragged us both here."

She didn't answer. She and Jerome had been friends since childhood, so she didn't think of him like that at all. He wasn't a burden; he was her friend.

"Help me stand." 

She helped him up and he pointed to the palm. When they were close, he waved her away. Before she could gasp, he turned and rammed his shoulder into the tree, an audible pop echoing in the quiet. He sighed, his face pale. "That's better."

She pushed herself under his good arm and led him back to the fire. Once he was settled, she sat across from him. "Are you all right?"

"I will heal." He glanced at the makeshift bandage. "Thanks."

"We'll need food and water," she said to him. 

"Tomorrow I'll catch some fish to cook over the fire."

"What about water?"

"I can show you how to extract the salt from the seawater, to make it drinkable."

"Oh." 

They were silent for awhile, only Jerome's occasional snore breaking through the quiet. 

"My men will come looking for me when they don't find my body near the wreckage. We won't be here long."

Miranda stared out at the moon as it rose over the water. It was beautiful here, all alone in the middle of the ocean. 

"Are you afraid of what will happen to you in the King's Palace?" he asked.

She shrugged. "No more afraid of what might happen when I got to the new world. Anything is better than where we were."

"Was it London?"

"Yes." She didn't ask how he knew about London. She figured the Jengu came on land from time to time. 

"Why did you save me?" 

"I told you, better the devil you know than the one you don't. You've been decent to us. Most would decide that Jerome isn't worth saving, and I'm nothing special myself. If we're to have a master, better to be in his good graces than on his bad side."

The Jengu man laughed. "I can see your point." He looked at Jerome. "What happened to him?"

"His father was a blacksmith. At age four Jerome stumbled into the fires of the forge, and his entire left side was burned. It was a miracle he survived at all."

"He gets around well for a man of his disability."

"He has to. It's get around, or die."

"My King is a good man, Miranda. He treats his subjects well and he is fair. The Jengu take slaves, a practice many don't agree with, but without them the palace would fall to ruin. There are no Jengu females, and so the species is dwindling even now."

"No females?"

"None that are natural born. Some are turned, like I was."

"You were human?"

He looked at her, his face stark and still pale in the light of the fire. "I was. The trials are arduous and not many survive."

"So, you were a slave, too?"

" I was. We all were. We proved our loyalty and our worth, and the opportunity to face the trials was given to us by the King."

Miranda knew that the world ran on one being's ability to use others. Servants, slaves, it was all the same. Why would the Jengu world be any different? 

"I don't agree with the practice of taking slaves," he told her, surprising her. "But it's the way of the Jengu and the King is adamant that it be done."

"I think you'll be a fair master, at least."

He chuckled. "I hope so. If you do your job you'll be well fed and housed and you'll not want for anything. We don't punish our slaves and there is no violence allowed."

It sounded like heaven to Miranda after some of the other places she'd been. "I have no family, save Jerome, and no reason to stay here. I'll do my duty, and do it well. Maybe someday I'll be chosen for the trials."

"Maybe." He looked at the sky. "Only a few hours until sunrise. Rest now, and I'll keep watch until Jerome awakes."

"But you're injured. You should rest and let me keep watch."

"Go to sleep, Miranda."

She lay down next to Jerome, and she fell asleep to dreams of underwater palaces and places where violence wasn't allowed.



Thursday, August 15, 2019

Drabble No 5: Where We Were Pt 5


**Check the blog for parts 1-4**


Where We Were Pt 5


Levine held on to the woman and the disabled man as best he could as the ship rolled and flipped. Water churned around them, and he knew the humans had little time before they drowned. His men had gathered the others, saving as many as they could. He saw Bernhardt take hold of his other slave and her offspring and swim away in the murky depths. 

When he got his hands on the bastard who'd attacked his ship he was going to make them pay, but for now he had to focus on keeping his captives alive. What good were servants if they died before they could work? 

A few kicks of his legs pushed them away from the ship as it fell apart around them. He swam into the open ocean, away from the wreckage of the ship as it sank below them. He pushed hard toward the surface, their weight dragging him down and making the effort much harder than usual. He felt them struggling against him, the fear of running out of air making them fight for life. Good, he needed them strong. 

The light was closer, signaling the surface as he swam as fast as he could. He let them go, pushing them into the air and breaking the surface as something grabbed hold of his leg and yanked him back down. 

He rolled, staring into the eyes of the giant cephalopod that held him.

"Leave me be, Coriolis!" he said in the language of the sea. He knew the creature understood. "I have no quarrel with you or yours!"

The tentacle pulled him deeper, and he felt the bite of the grip on his leg, slicing through flesh to the bone. Coriolis was warring with his king, and saw him as a substitute for punishment. He pulled his bone knife from it's scabbard at his waist and hacked at the tentacle. Ink bubbles rose around him as Coriolis reacted to the wound. 

Other tentacles slapped at Levine, as his own blood, the blue green phosphorescent of the Jengu, stained the water and mixed with the ink. He stayed conscious through sheer will as the tentacles battered him, cracking ribs and dislocating his shoulder. He swiped at the cephalopod and finally the damned thing let him go. His knife still tight in his hand, Levine swam for the surface. 

He gulped in air he didnt really need as he hit the top of the water, his injuries throbbing in time to his heart beat. He saw the woman and the disabled man treading water nearby, and he was glad they could swim. 

"What happened?" the woman demanded as she swam closer. "What happened to the ship?"

"Attacked," he managed. "Destroyed."

"You're hurt!" She eyed the glaze of his blood that coated the surface of the water around them.

"Won't be conscious much longer," he told her. "If I go down, just let me sink."

"What?" She blinked in surprise. "Won't you die?"

"Possibly."

"Here!" The disabled man kicked his good leg and pushed closer, holding on to some debris. "Parts of our ship you destroyed, I think." 

She translated.

Damn. He hadn't wanted them to know they'd decided to sink their ship, but there was no denying it now. He threw his good arm over the chunk of wood, thankful he could float without expending any more energy. They floated next to him. 

"My men will come for us," he told her. "But it will be a day or more before they can return with a new ship."

"What do we do?" she asked after explaining to the other man. 

"There is a rocky island not far, but I won't make it. Swim that way and you'll find it." He waved in the direction of the only 'land' for miles. 

She conferred with the man, and then shook her head. "We won't leave you behind."

"Why?" He was surprised. Why would they want to help him when they could be free?

"Who knows who our master will be if you're gone when the others come?" She grabbed hold of the chunk of wood and hauled him closer. "You saved us."

He was losing energy fast, his leg wound still bleeding. No time to argue it now, no matter how confounding he found their choice. "I can manage with one leg. Can you swim beside me and keep me heading in the right direction?"

"Jerome only has one good leg, too. The two of you together might make a useful man." She waved the man, Jerome, to his other side. Together, the three of them could kick and propel themselves forward. It would be slow going, but they could make progress. 

"Your name?" Levine asked the woman. A woman who had decided he was a better master than the others without knowing him at all. A perplexing woman. 

"Miranda."

They didn't speak again, saving what energy they had for some hope of making it to land before the sharks got a taste of his blood in the water. 


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