Though the sky was just blushing with orange and gold, Raulin took the captain’s advice and retired early. His cabin was one of four for non-seaman and was tight with a single bed, dresser, and desk all bolted to the floor. After he closed and latched the door, he pushed an empty barrel he had borrowed from the ship in front of it. It was the only way to guarantee privacy.
Once he was sure the door wouldn’t open, he took off his mask and absently touched his face. This caused him to laugh quietly and shake his head. When he was training as a child, he had been told plenty of frightening rumors and tales. He had been twelve when he heard the one about a trirec’s mask having magic strong enough to make things come true. It had taken him a full year to realize that, if that were the case, then many of the trirecs wouldn’t be trirecs. Still, he couldn’t resist the childish habit to check and make sure his face didn’t have the scars he had mentioned.
He placed his mask on the desk and the color reminded him of the storm. The outer mask was a polished steel with horizontal bars missing across the eyes, nose, and mouth in descending length. It was affixed to another mask below it, one of softer metal in charcoal and in a more traditional mask shape with holes around the eyes, nostrils, and mouth. Three black leather braids met in a silver buckle in the back and cinched the mask tightly to his head.
He next undid the tie that held the tail of his medium brown hair away from his face and combed it a few times with his fingers, straightening the light waves of his locks. He took off his dark blue traveling shirt, raking it lightly over his back. No wings, either. He was surprised the captain had believed that one. He threw his shirt on top of the dresser and kicked off his boots before reclining on the bed.
Raulin was worried. He had initially thought that storm was just a breezer, a minor inconvenience that would blow them off course or drench the boards that night. The conversation with the captain had changed his mind. The Spirowan was a large merchant ship with plenty of cargo to keep it set low and steady in the water, but still, the captain had seemed beyond concerned.
That should have kept him awake. Jobs he had performed that required a lot of risk would usually keep Raulin up for most of the night, so it was peculiar that he closed his eyes and fell asleep into that dark twilight when there was nothing but peace.
He heard a voice say “ten” firmly, confidently. It almost startled him awake before he was dragged into the dream and chained. He was sitting in a chair, his head bowed, and could see nothing. When the person had said that word, his head snapped up and he looked towards them in some dark part of a large room. The word had given him hope where he’d had only grim resolution moments before. And there was some feeling of confusion. It was.a man who spoke, a man whom he had known for some time, though he didn’t recognize his voice in the present. In the dream he knew him well, though something had changed recently between them. There was a friendship with him and that surprised Raulin most of all. As of that moment, he had very few friends and none that sounded like him.
The darkness cleared to him sitting on a ship, one larger than the Spirowan. He sat leaning against a railing when a woman leaned in to speak to him. She was backlit against the sun, which kept blinding him when she moved her head. She was beautiful beyond what he could see of her face, which was hard to view with the spots in his eyes. They were having a conversation about something concerning the future, something involving travel. He felt an intense, deep love for her. She loved him, too. He wanted so badly to reach out to her, to draw her into an embrace, but something stopped him. Their conversation remained chaste and ended when she stood. “I guess you’ll have to make a decision, then,” she said with a smile that made his heart ache.
She was the only person he saw during his dream. It went muddled, then black again. This time there was pain, burning and throbbing. There was no fear with it, though, only an exultant relief that something terrible was over. He felt the same woman from before hold his face and kiss him, tears streaming from her cheeks onto his. He grinned and heard a deep baritone say, “He looks good for a man who’s died three times,” with a dry wit. He laughed and put his arm out, which was swallowed by that man’s and squeezed once.
Lastly, he heard a voice that was familiar, someone from his childhood. “I would like to meet the woman who made you a king.” He felt tenderly to that man, as if he were a long lost uncle. This time, things were coming together, not up in the air. He felt anticipation, resolve, duty. He felt changed into someone he was proud to be.
Raulin was pulled slowly out of the dream. The emotion clung to him, filled his veins and his mind with thoughts that weren’t his own. He wanted to stay asleep, to let it linger, but it was fading. He moaned as he opened his eyes, immediately irritable.
It was as if he were a beggar on the streets during an ice storm, staring inside a window to see a fire lit and warming the parlor. He hadn’t felt happiness, the deeper kind, for years. Life was always ‘almost’ for him, some fascimile of normalcy that most men took for granted. He secretly craved domesticity and comfort. He’d spoken of the hunger to no one. There wasn’t anyone who could understand he was forced to live a life that he didn’t want. From what he’d heard from almost everyone he encountered, he lived ‘the good life’. He traveled, he ate rich foods, he had plenty of excitement with and without women. But these people that envied him usually had what he did not. He could buy dinner in the best restaurants, but never eat a home cooked meal. He could rent the nicest room in the most luxurious hotels, but never sit by a hearth with his children. He could even buy a woman and pay her to pretend to love him, but know the entire time it was just a business exchange. No one envies what every man has, except the man who doesn’t have it.
And for that dream, he’d had it. But it wasn’t real and it was gone.
Raulin found it easier to mock the dream then to cope with the loss. “How does a man die three times?” he said to himself. “No man lives more than once, that’s just… stupid.” But the tone of the man’s voice, while mirthful, had also been also truthful. And what about the last declaration? He scoffed at that. “What, am I going to start rescuing queens now? Perhaps a king will pay me to save his daughter from a dragon and we’ll fall madly in love.” He shook his head. There was no woman on Yine who could make Raulin a king.
It was just a reverie, messing with my memory, he thought, almost humming the tune to a famous song from his homeland. He drew his blanket up to his chin and fell asleep again.
He was awoken abruptly when his head slammed into the side of the bureau. Raulin jolted to standing, throwing on his shirt and mask, then quickly tying his hair back just to get it out of the way. He laced up his boots and checked his person to make sure all his knives were in their right places.
Raulin moved the barrel in front of his door and was slammed in the face as it swung back at him. The force was strong enough that, even protected with his mask, he saw stars. He moved carefully down the hallway to the deck, grabbing ahold of the walls to steady himself.
The captain had been right. It was pure bedlam aboard the ship. The rain poured in sheets across the deck, the wind visible by its effects. Men were running around everywhere, unfastening ropes and securing cargo. The torrent caused the men to slip unless they held a wall or mast for support. Raulin was soaked through in just a few seconds.
“Captain!” he yelled over the heavy sound of rain and thunder in the distance. “What do you need me to do?”
The captain, manning the wheel on the quarterdeck, called his boatswain over and exchanged a few words. “Are you a climber?” he yelled.
“Good! Man the crow’s nest on the mizzenmast and look for rogue waves!”
The boatswain grabbed Raulin by the arm, to keep them steady as he lead him to the rear of the ship and pointed up. Raulin touched the heel of his hands together and twisted, giving him the “I understand” sign and hoping he knew what that meant.
He’d had ample practice climbing up everything imaginable in his work, and therefor scurried up the ratline quickly. He passed the lower nest, which was already occupied, and headed to the upper one. From there he could see miles in every direction, even farther when the lightning flashed.
The sea was angry. It was the only way he could describe it. The waves churned and broke on each other, fighting to take over the skies. It made peaks and valleys in miniature mountain ranges that shifted in each moment.
It dawned on Raulin, as he watched the terrifying spectacle, how likely he was to get fried by a lightning strike. He also realized he didn’t know nautical terms and wouldn’t be able to tell the crew where the wave was if he saw one. Then, he wondered how they were even going to hear him over the roar of the storm.
The ship dipped, seemingly hanging in mid-air. Raulin’s stomach lurched. He hoped there wouldn’t be anyone below him on deck if he emptied his stomach.
“Wave! Starboard bow!” he heard from the crow’s nest below. He looked around and saw the monstrous wave to his right, dozens of feet tall. The men on deck started a chanty, a song with that limped every other beat. It guided them as the sailors hauled lines and braced for impact.
The galleon turned, aiming for the center of the wave. It pierced it, walls of water pluming out and drenching the ship from the beak to the main mast. Raulin watched as the crew helped each other up after the spray and continued on their jobs. The ship turned back towards the left and proceeded on course.
Ten minutes passed. Raulin grew seasick from the constant dropping and rising of the ship while his eyes kept on the horizon. Another massive wave formed and Raulin got the credit for spotting it first. He yelled and pointed, the man below him looking up to follow his gesture. The five other sailors yelled and directed the ship again.
His stomach lurched and he thought, if only for the benefit of the man below him, he should get down. Perhaps there was something he could do on deck. He was about to climb down when he heard, “Wave! Starboard bow!”
Because he was already facing port to climb down the ratline, he saw it first while everyone else was looking starboard. “Wave!” he yelled and pointed to the left.
The man below him turned around, then said, “Wave. Port bow.”
Raulin wasn’t sure, but he thought the crew went silent before they took up another chanty. It was hard to hear it over the waves, but he caught bits of it. It was soulful, a call and response in a minor key. He caught snippets of phrases. Some were pleads, others laments. He caught one line of lyrics that sent a shiver down his spine, asking Queyella to meet them when they embraced their graves below.
The ship wasn’t turning. He blinked for a few moments, turned to watch both of the waves, then sighed bitterly. There wouldn’t be any time to hit the first wave head-on, then turn to face the other. They’d hit one right after another and the ship would capsize or be ripped apart.
Raulin was going to die. Why did this time feel different than all the other times he’d faced it? Because only a few hours ago he had been showed redemption. “Why?” he shouted into the storm. “Why send me that dream only to kill me? Are you punishing me for choosing my life? I didn’t choose it! You chose this for me!”
He panted heavily, still yelling angrily. “Do you think I would choose how things turned out if I could? Don’t blame me! You’re the one who stole them from me!”
The ship hit the starboard bow wave. He could feel it dip low in the ocean as it swelled. He clung to the crow’s nest, wishing there was some way to wrap himself in the ropes.
“Why?” he yelled for the last time as the wave hit.