Lost on the Tide
By Gareth Johnson
She didn’t know what to make of it. Her uncle taught her the basics of reading runes, but runes were tricky things. Even if you’d seen a particular rune before, it may not mean the same thing. Context was everything.
And all the context she had was bits and pieces of driftwood with a few scattered runic symbols on them.
“Well?” asked the captain, in an impatient tone.
Frustrated by the question and the tone being taken, Thyra muttered “I’m working on it.”
“What was that? Speak clearly when…”
“I said I’M WORKING ON IT,” she shouted. This isn’t going well. Just three days into the voyage, and she’s already shouting at the captain. That isn’t acceptable…even if the captain is her mother. She took a deep breath. “Sorry.”
“Whatever,” Captain Iona said dismissively. “I’ll wait.” She began tapping her foot impatiently.
Doing her best to ignore that, Thyra turned the plank of wood over in her hands. It was old wood, but well preserved. Definitely from a ship. The runes likely held some sort of protective spell over it at one point in time, though whatever it was remained a mystery. She suddenly grew concerned as something about the plank struck her as odd.
“Ma…I mean captain…one side of the plank was broken a long time ago, but the other side looks like it was broken much more recently.”
“And what does that mean?” Iona was a great warrior and captain, but she did seem thick in the skull at times.
“It means the plank was broken twice, once a long time ago…maybe the original sinking of the ship…and then again more recently. Maybe it was disturbed by something at the bottom of the ocean.” Maybe this trip will turn out to be more interesting than just a fishing expedition after all.
“Hm…anything about the runes?”
“I don’t think the runes are important.”
“You mean you can’t read them.” Iona’s deprecating smirk was almost more than Thyra could take.
“I mean they don’t MEAN anything. Just a protection spell or something.” She needed to get away from her mother for a while or she might do something stupid. “I’m going to help the netters.”
Iona couldn’t help but get the last word in. “Good. Put your strong back to use. Certainly more useful than what’s between your ears.”
Thyra gritted her teeth to help keep the tears at bay. That was harsh…even for her.
There was a time when Thyra’s parents were proud of her. She had always been strong and tough, even for an Yngvar. Everyone thought she would make a great warrior, like her mother. But she didn’t want to be like her mother. Instead, she discovered she had a talent for manipulating the elements and would spend all of her time practicing magic instead of spear work. Thyra’s uncle passed some of his knowledge of the magical arts to her before he died, but he was the only one who ever supported her. Now, Thyra was stuck following her mother’s orders because no one else wanted her around, like she was cursed or something.
At this moment, Thyra certainly felt cursed. She needed to get away. Find her own path…like uncle Gustav did. Maybe she’d seclude herself in the mountains for a while.
She began helping pull the net in, her strong frame making easy work of it.
But then, it stuck. “Rock!” she called out.
The netters let out some slack, and then tried pulling in again. Stuck. The ship jerked to a stop. Then it jerked backward.
“Holy Thunder!” one of the netters cried. “Got a monster of a fish! Have to cut the rope if it don’t let us go.”
The ship was being pulled along at a steady pace now. Invoking ancient words of power, Thyra called upon the wind to gust more strongly into the sails. The ship shuddered and began tilting backward.
“It’s pullin’ us down!”
“Cut the rope!”
Snap! With the rope severed, the ship’s prow splashed back into the water.
In the peace that followed, the crew listened and watched the water. “Well, that’s enough excitement for one day.” Iona issued a few quick commands to get everyone moving again. “We’ll put to shore, prepare our spare net, and then renew our…” Crack!
Something hit the ship hard. Thyra had to take a couple steps before regaining her balance.
Someone shouted, “Man overboard!” And that’s when everything went to hell.
Thyra ran to the port rail, narrowly avoiding a thrashing tentacle that whipped over the starboard side a second later. Pulling the water with a quick spell, she tried to move the overboard crewmate toward the rescue rope.
No good. He was already too far away, and Thyra couldn’t get a good pull on the water at that distance. Damn! But now was no time to dwell on it. Several more tentacles had swung up over the rail, and were now thrashing wildly above the deck. Soon half the crew would be in the water.
Thyra raised her arms and called a magical plea to the spirits of nature. They heard her, and almost immediately the elements began coalescing protectively around her. A gust of wind whipped around just in time to deflect debris from the mast as it was ripped into pieces.
Thyra dodged the main bulk of the mast as it fell onto the deck, but a tentacle whipped into her gut. A wave of water came up between her and the puckered limb just in time to dull the blow, but not block it completely. The wind was knocked out of her as she slammed into the cabin door.
Slightly dizzy, she saw her mother at the prow of the ship, the bravest person Thyra ever knew. Iona had a spear in one hand and a shield in the other as she faced down the ugly mouth of a terrifying sea creature, some type of giant squid. It was still too small to be the Kraken itself, but that’s what any survivors would surely claim it to be.
The ship was breaking apart. Thyra willed herself to stand up. She had to make a decision. Help her mother fight the creature, or try to salvage what she can and escape before the ship is completely lost to the sea.
She made up her mind.
Pulling open the door behind her, she dived into the cabin, narrowly avoiding another flailing tentacle. She grabbed the nearest supply pack and her pouch of alchemical ingredients and elixirs. A terrifying howl sounded from the monster outside. Then an even more terrifying crash as the ship jerked and tipped on its side. Thyra hit her head on a table as she fell.
She hurt all over and couldn’t tell what was happening outside, but she got the impression that the ship was no longer in one piece. With difficulty, she was able to climb to the door. One hand gripping a shelf, she grabbed the handle with the other and pushed it open.
The rest of the ship wasn’t there. She saw debris floating in the water everywhere, but her eyes were drawn to the monster a hundred feet away. Her mother was gripped by one tentacle, but by the gods, she was still fighting. Iona had a dagger in one hand and the shattered remains of her shield in the other. The bravest person Thyra ever knew.
Thyra had one shot. She shouted the words to her spell and let go her hand from the door just long enough to provide the somatic component. There was a pair of flashes as two bolts of lightning struck out of the cloudy sky, both striking the monster in its hideous face. But just as the dual claps of thunder reached her ears, Thyra was falling. She lost her grip when she cast her spell and fell to the wall below. Her head pounded with pain, but only for a second.
Her vision faded to black.