Whispers

Born near the sea on a black stormy night during the winter, Abaddon’s emergence into the world was accompanied by a loud thunderclap. The walls of the mud hut where his father, Argos, a fisherman, watched anxiously as the midwife pulled Abaddon into the world, were shaking from the force of the winds. Icy missiles struck the roof as the blue-eyed, fair-haired boy emerged from his mother’s womb.

Rachel spoke when the midwife lifted and slapped the boy into crying life.

“May the same storms that accompanied him into the world guide and carry him always.”

The midwife shook her head, and spat. But that did not matter. It came to pass that Rachel’s words were prophetic.

Rachel doted on the boy. The boy doted on life, and the wonder of being alive. He learned to walk, then speak, then fish, and then read. The fisherman and his wife owned only one book. It was a treatise of the Milesian school of thought concerning the rise of all life from water. Abaddon read it hundreds of times. He learned all the names of the creatures in the sea. He learned how to tell what mood the sea was in by the color of the water, and by the motion of the waves.  From the book, Abaddon learned the knowledge of how to dive, and make himself heavy and light in the water. He began to swim for hours, then days. He would go out beyond the reefs and dive deep. By his tenth year, he was swimming out to his father’s fishing boat, catching up to it after it had been gone for two or three days. He would bring the book in a waterproof satchel, and read to Argos and the silent partner, Orto, who could not read.

Orto would stop working and listen. His craggy face would grow intent, and he would suck on his pipe. Unconsciously. He would almost go limp, entranced, his head wreathed in a cloud of smoke. The stories from the book made Orto’s eyes dance while the rest of his body almost forgot it was alive. Argos loved that power in his son’s voice, so he tolerated Orto’s lack of attention to the nets, and did his partner’s work in addition to his own while the boy read.

After reading the stories of how all life comes from the sea, Abaddon would share a meal of bread and fish with his father and the older fisherman. While Orto told him what a good and special boy he was, he would listen from his father’s lap. The old man’s gnarled hands would come together respectfully after his lips ceased praising the boy. Then, Abaddon would carefully pack up the precious book in his satchel, gravely shake each man’s hand, and dive into the sea. Just before he leapt from the small boat, the boy would salute and say, “I return to my mother.” And then he would swim with the dolphins, or dive to deep places no one else could go. Sometimes, when he arrived back on the shore, he would be carrying strange pearls, or other small treasures he had taken from the sea. Rachel’s smile would light up her face when this happened. Abaddon’s mother was much too beautiful to be a fisherman’s wife. Her red hair and fair complexion were the envy of the fishing village’s women. Rachel’s beauty was the undoing of everything.

One day, when Abaddon was 11, and had become renowned  along the entire coast for his swimming and diving exploits, a ship appeared on the horizon. It was a strange affair. Bigger than any local ship, and crewed by men rowing oars.  The sails were black and white. All the local ships used red sails. Some villagers sounded an alarm, but it was too late. The ship dislodged a landing party, and the landing party quickly took what it wanted from the town. When Argos the fisherman protested that his wife was not available as loot, he received a sword in his gut for the trouble. It took him hours to die, gasping and groaning in the sand outside his hut.

Rachel became the captain’s new toy, and Abaddon was beaten senseless after a fruitless struggle. When he woke, and protested, he was beaten again. The third time this happened, he saw his mother shaking her head. He stopped resisting, and was put to work as a ship’s boy. In time the ship was done plundering the coastal fishing villages. It began the journey back to wherever it had come from. One night, while Abaddon was cleaning the decks, his long hair falling over his face across his eyes, he noticed someone standing above him. Rachel bent and whispered in his ear. He nodded. She stood and left silently. Abaddon went back to scrubbing, his hands raw from the constant immersion in vinegar and the wood splinters that always jabbed him, no matter how hard he tried to avoid them.

The ship arrived in Silcyas, the greatest city of the three seas, and was heralded. Prisoners were unloaded, and some were sent to the auction blocks. Gregos, the captain, made the decision to keep his new ship’s boy and his concubine. He also kept three of the women from Abaddon’s village as whores for the crew. The rest of the villagers disappeared, never to be seen again. The captain, whose beard was almost always full of bits of food which he would sometimes pick out and then eat, was contemplative.

“Boy,” he shouted. “Come here.”

He glanced at the giant black who served as the ship’s warmaster and first mate.

“Teach the boy the sword, Davos. Every man on Styros fights when we need it.”

And so Abaddon was taught to fight. He learned the warrior’s trade from the very man who had stabbed his father in the stomach with a sword. Abaddon applied himself. He listened intently and only spoke when asked a question, never volunteering any more information than was necessary.

Abaddon read his book, which he had kept. He listened to the whispers his mother brought him from time to time. The two of them never spoke, except for the whispers which she breathed into his ear on dark nights.

The ship stayed in port no more than a few days. It resupplied, refitted as needed, and returned to the water, intent on plundering the shores of the three seas. Gregos, cunning and cold, guided the ship to the places least defended. He knew when and where the ripest fruits were. He plucked the excess food from his beard with his rough fingers and chewed it thoughtfully while instructing Davos on how to split the loot.

“Lash that man, Davos,” Gregos would say, and the man in question would be lashed. Like Abaddon, Davos rarely spoke. He merely nodded and grunted from time to time. His huge rippling shoulders in motion were enough to strike fear into the crew. The sunlight gleaming off of his oiled body sometimes blinded enemies in the heat of battle.

In teaching Abaddon, Davos grew to trust the ship’s boy. In time, he was promoted to the ship’s war crew. More time passed, and Abaddon grew tall and strong. He earned Gregos trust. And Gregos, who had a wife and family back in Silcyas, the greatest city on the three seas, began to think of Abaddon like a son. He allowed his concubine to visit her son, and she whispered to him. Sometimes, when she was done, he read to her from his book of the sea.

Abaddon became so trusted that he was allowed to swim next to the ship, and to disappear when he wished to explore the secrets of the sea. He always came back before he was needed. The crew became used to seeing Abaddon strip off his shirt and dive into the sea. A rope ladder was installed on the side of Styros to facilitate his returns.

One bright day, when the sun was at its hottest, Gregos called his ten best men to come up into the city and eat with him. Davos and Abaddon walked in the lead, side by side, silently. Everyone parted without a thought for the grim pair and their retinue. The ten men arrived, and were greeted by Gregos, his wife, and Gregos’  daughter Apollonia, a beautiful maiden of 15.

Ushered in gracefully, the crew were entertained by household slaves. A long retinue consisting of carnal acts interspersed with displays of skill and culminating in a gladiatorial match ended with a formal meal. Gregos stood, signaling silence.

“Shipmates. I am growing old. I have no son. It is my intention that one of you take my daughter and wed her. In this way, my legacy will live through one of you, my trusted men.”

Coughing, Gregos sat.

“Who volunteers to wed my daughter?”

All ten men stood silenty.

“Who is willing to die to have her?”

Six men sat.

Davos, Abaddon, and two others remained.

“Fight to see who will wed Appallonia.”

Davos struck down the fighter called Appos in a single mighty blow. Rykos fought longer, but as ineffectively against Abaddon, who was now 18, and as feared a swordsman as Davos. Abaddon never gave any indicators of what might happen next. He simply and silently parried every blow Rykos rendered. When that man grew tired, Abaddon struck his head off with a single, sure blow.

Davos and Abaddon rested for a time, and were offered wine. Abaddon shook his head. Davos drank his fill. Then they were joined. Just before their blades touched, Davos said, “The gods are with me Abaddon.”

Abaddon fought with his usual lack of flourish. Every move cold. Every stroke intentional. Davos, his teacher, fought with the wine fire in his belly, and the confidence of a teacher who knows his pupil is not yet ready. And Davos died with a look of surprise on his face when Abaddon blocked his sword blow easily and shoved a small dagger up through his chin and into Davos’ brain. The most feared warrior on the three seas crumpled to his knees and then rolled gently to his left side where he went to the waiting gods.

Quietly, and without emotion, Abaddon whispered, “Return to the mother Davos.” And that is where the three crewmen were buried by their shipmates the next day. Davos, Rykos and Appos returned to the mother, shrouded in cloth and rope. They fed the sea for its service to them. Gregos and the crew watched silently while Abaddon oversaw the burial.

After, Rachel appeared and whispered in her son’s ear.

The marriage was scheduled for the next week, to be held at sea. A good omen to overshadow the passing of three crewmen. At the feast, the entire crew became ill and died violently, racked by heaving and uncontrollable spasms. Only Gregos, his wife and Appalonia were spared the violent end. Shocked and confused, they rushed from one dying man to another, pleading and begging with them not to go to the gods. But go they all did, within minutes of one another. On a deck awash with bile, the sure footed Abaddon approached Gregos.

“You owes lives to the sea, my dear captain. I am collecting the debt now.”

Rachel watched as the old man fought desperately. When her son finished breaking both of the captain’s arms with sharp blows from the flat of his blade, the captain knelt. His useless arms dangling, and his face contorted in pain, he pleaded for mercy.

“The sea shows no mercy. My mother has none either.”

With those words, Abaddon cut open the stomach of Gregos wife and threw her overboard.

“My lovely bride,” he said, turning to a horrified Appallonia. “I fear I will never know your pleasures. Go to my mother, and please her instead of me.”

And the Abaddon cut off Appallonia’s hands and threw her into the water. Rachel whispered something in his ear, and he nodded.

Abaddon sailed Styros back to the village where his father had once tried to defend his mother, and burned the ship in the harbor. He returned to his shack, and lived there with his mother.

Years passed. Every day, Rachel whispered to Abaddon. Every day, he swam out into the water, looking for his father’s boat, diving and gathering necessities from the sea. In the evenings, son and mother would share the fire and fresh caught fish silently, mourning their loss together.  Abaddon read from the book the explained how we all come from the sea, and sometimes, just before they slept, Rachel would whisper something into his ear again.

One night the sea leapt up and swept both of them into her arms, taking them home, down into the places where Abaddon had dived as a child. Down to where no storms ever reached. To where Argos waited in the embrace of the mother of us all. To where Abaddon and Rachel wanted most to be. In the arms of eternity with the fisherman.


Also published on Medium.

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The author

Pen has been writing in a professional capacity for two decades. He started his career as a combat correspondent in the U.S. Marines.

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