Disclaimer: none of the princess bride characters belong to me… I'm not that creative.
The deck swayed beneath his knees on the vast Atlantic swirl. He looked down at his hands; clenched so tight they were white. The splintered and twisted remains of the main mast scrapped back and forth and somewhere near him an iron ball rolled amongst the fallen bodies with the changing pitch of the ship. Black acrid smoke curled into the air driven forth by the scattering of heated shot imbedded through out the hull. Even the normally fresh ocean breeze was now tainted with the aftermath of war. He continued to stare at his hands. Clenched. White.
His ears rang with the sounds of conflict so recently passed. His mind still reeled from it. Steal on steal. Iron on bone. Metal on wood. His mind burned with the sounds. His hands so tightly clenched his fingernails cut into his palms. Small droplets of red spattered onto the weathered wood, instantly swept up by a pool of still hot oil that flowed around him on the deck, scorching his knees. The pain bringing him quickly out of the super clear realm of his memory and into the hard world around him. He raised his head. Dark shapes were scattered all over the deck.
No one stirred. No one groaned. Only he remained.
Wreckage littered the ship. A full and deliberate broadside had battered and burned its way through the world beneath his knees. Heated shot, boiling oil, balls of iron, ballista fire and yard hooks. Nothing was held back, the two ships had even collided hulls with fear inspiring power, each trying to ram the other beneath the waves. The deck and rigging of the merchant ship he had come to know so well was torn apart before his very eyes. Men had fallen. So many men.
Sea swirl pitched the ship. A heavily dented helmet clattered close by his side. It stayed there for a time, his eyes fixed on it before it the swell rose again and it clattered away. Above him a sheet of sail was rented free from the mangled rigging, slowly he lifted his gaze skyward to watch it float silently away into the foul wind. Twisting with it was a snaking black trail of smoke. He looked down at his hands. He was still alive. Slowly his hands uncurled. Still alive. He got mechanically to his feet.
He walked slowly and exhaustedly across the length of the ship. He searched yet there was no one else. Alive and alone.
Alone on a ship in the middle of a vast ocean. Not even a ship, just a shadow of a ship. It would have taken weeks of hard sailing with a full crew to make land again. Now there was only a crew of one. He could take no more his strength was gone. He realized then he was going to die. It was going to be his last day and he was so alone. Just then a cold wind from the south, swept across the ruined deck, blasted against his numb body, as if to emphasize his own gloomy thoughts. He turned to look at the vast gray cloudbank hanging silently on the horizon, the thunderheads were huge. He looked at the monstrous ship crushing waves beneath and into the building storm beyond. Now there was no doubt. He would not survive. She would never see his body as it was dragged under into the liquid deep. He would never see her smile again. She would never see his. He couldn't even tell her goodbye.
A long peel of thunder cracked through the air so loud it rattled the anchor chain that lay sprawled upon the deck. He wanted to tell her all the things he should have but hadn't, to talk to her just once more. Hold her just once more. He wanted it so much. In defeat Wesley dropped again to his knees. There was no more hope for them, it was gone. Had failed her. Symmetrical tears flowed over his cheeks. 'Please' he whispered 'I need to live'. There was no one left to hear him.
From high up the gigantic storm front watched as the tiny and insignificant ship was swallowed up beneath it.
The light of the full moon streaked across the dusty floor and splashed onto the old oak table. It flowed up the earth red vase in the middle of the table. A single withered flower in it. It raced past the table and up the side of the chair beside it. It shone radiantly against the fair hair of the beautiful Buttercup who sat in that chair, but it was wasted on her. It might as well have been pitch black. Inside she was as withered as the flower in the vase. She stared blankly at the space beside her door. The space where his boots should have been but were not. Where they would never be again.
She continued to stare at the door, motionless, one side lit with silvery moonlight the other in darkness. The thoughts running through her head were much the same. Some shinning brightly, some dark as night.
It happened a week after he left.
She missed him like crazy and had decided to sleep in the hayloft in the barn were he usually slept. Waking at the crack of dawn she had dressed in one of the shirts he left behind. She buried her face in its collar. Even though it was clean it still smelt like him. She loved that smell, just like she loved him. It was too large for her coming down to just above her knees, his tall lean frame being much bigger than her own. It made her laugh and she wished he were here to laugh at her too. She practically danced around the paddock in the cool morning breeze amongst the emerald grasses and the golden wheat stalks, feeding the animals, the shirt trailing behind her in the wind.
It was a long and dusty road between here and the city and the messenger would be sorely parched. She invited him in for a drink but he refused. He pulled forth a letter and handed it to her. He seemed very skittish, the way a horse was before a storm. He excused himself and hurried back down the way he had come. She didn't notice him. Even now her heart pounded, adrenalin surged, even now before she opened the letter. She broke the red wax seal of the justice department on the back. Her heart broke with it.
Red, the color of warning, the color of blood.
Inside the envelope was Wesley's death certificate. The cause of death: murder by piracy. She read it and re read it, couldn't make sense of it, and couldn't accept it. Her Wesley would be coming back soon. A month of work at sea and they could afford the marriage tax. It must be a mistake. Her Wesley wouldn't leave. He promised he wouldn't. They had made so many plans together, why would he leave her?
That's how it had happened. Now she sat here. Alone. Empty.
'Boat ahoy, 4 points nor ward' came the call from the crow's nest.
The first mate raised his spyglass to the dark floating shape that had just nudged its way over the still horizon. 'Alert the captain' he called behind him without lowering the glass. There was hardly enough left to call it a boat he thought to himself.
The Captain stood by as the boarding party ran out and secured the gangplank between the two ships. Once in place he strode across. His pikemen one-step behind, spreading out around him, simultaneously securing against ambush and searching for survivors. They needed no orders they were all veterans of many campaigns and had done it a thousand times before. This ship must have made it through the storm the Captain realized, some what astonished.
Large patches of charred wood from repeated lightening strikes gave grim testimony to the severity of the storm. Not a single mast had survived intact; all had been struck, burst and shattered by the fire from the sky. The small amount of wreckage that had not been claimed by the sea was clustered before him in the center of the warped and battered decking. As he stared at it a coil of heavy rope fell aside.
A hand rolled out. Pale and cold in the clear morning light.
'Sergeant!' he called, still staring at the hand. Men rushed to clear the jumble of debris under the sergeant's swift directions. It wasn't long before the rest of the body emerged, propped upright against the remaining stump of the main mast. When they had finished they moved aside. The Captain looked closely at the corps's face but failed to recognize it. Just then the body's eyes fell open. Some of the men flinched, the Captain stood unmoving. He continued to stare. He couldn't look away from those lifeless eyes. There was something strange about them.
The eyes blinked. It wasn't a body it was a survivor! The captain looked deeper into the eyes. They were not lifeless as he first thought, they were hollow. Empty from the nearness of death.
'Fetch the surgeon.'
How long had she been sitting here? A few days? A few weeks? She couldn't remember. She couldn't remember anything after reading the letter, not even entering the house. She neither slept nor ate. Such things were for the living; they were no longer for her because now she was dead inside. Dead like the wild flower in the vase beside her. Through the fog like gloom of her mind a memory surfaced.
She got up and went to a drawer, was momentarily paused by a bout of dizziness, then took out a parcel. A piece of fine cotton. Inside lay a wildflower she had pressed to preserve it. He was standing at the door when he gave it to her. A freshly picked flower and an admission of his love. Moisture welled up in her eyes and she sobbed at the memory. The house was full of memories.
She burst out the door and into the stormy night. Cold rain mixed with hot tears. She ran and ran, the pain of her loss fought off the dizziness. She ran without knowing where she was going, subconsciously she knew.
She often came here to watch the ocean, to wait for her only true friend, her true love. She was at the cliffs at the boarder of her land. She cast a long gaze out over the churning water, there were no ships. Her lover was gone, why did she watch the ocean? No earthly ship would ever bring him home again. All they had shared was a single kiss, now that's all they would ever have. That kiss would be their last.
Thick dark thunderclouds spread out overhead. Monstrous waves hammered the rock face below. Sea spray flew into the moonlight. Fierce wind pelted into her. The clouds opened up with a thunderclap. Cold rain fell heavily against her but she did not shiver, it was nothing compared to the cold she felt inside
The storm sent waves crashed over the rocks below her.
Waves of sorrow washed through her mind.
Sobs racked her body.
She looked down and realized she was still holding the cloth wrapped flower, his final gift to her. Just then the wind swirled and shrieked around her tearing it from her hand.
It was all she had left of him. She reached out into the void. Screamed his name.
The wind went silent.
Her body overbalanced. Fell. Tumbled through the air.
Dark waves rose up to meet her. And with the weight of a mountain they swallowed her.
'Severe exhaustion. Dehydration. Starvation. Prolonged exposure to the cold. Loss of blood from a puncture wound in his side. Probably broke every bone in his body in that storm. He could be dead any minute. He should be dead now.'
'Will he recover?' Asked the Captain in a tone that conveyed he already guessed the answer.
The surgeon scoffed. 'No. I very much doubt It.' he got to his feet 'this man doesn't need a surgeon he needs a burial.' It was his final and most condemning prognosis. With that he picked up his bag and headed back to the ship.
The Captain took another long look into those empty eyes. Even if this once healthy young man could recover from his wounds, his mind had retreated from him to a place from which it could not hope to return. All men had their limits and this man had been forced way beyond his. Who ever he was when he entered that storm had perished in it. Now all that was left was a human shell. The Captain had seen it many times before. Catatonic was the word he recalled.
It left him with only one option. He knew what he had to do. He took a step closer and slowly and regrettably he drew his saber from the scabbard at his side. He raised his arm high. It would have to be a heavy blow to do this cleanly he reasoned to himself.
The corpselike man's gaze almost by instinct locked onto the sword blade. When it reached its peak something inside his head screamed and the mist from within his eyes suddenly vanished.
The Captain set his face into a harsh mask, ready but unwilling to deliver the death stroke.
The corpselike mans opened his mouth, his voice croaked out a sound.
The Captain hesitated.
'Please' came a pain filled whisper. His gaze meeting the captain's.
'Please' he whimpered again.
He swallowed painfully
The Captain lowered his arm. He looked thoughtful for a moment.
'Why?' he asked, truly curious as to what powerful force compelled this man to fight for life even when his body was clearly ruined and must be in such agony.
The corpselike man seemed to struggle with turning thought to word. His eyes suddenly blazed with passion at the memories flooding his mind. Memories of the woman he loved.
'Please...' he managed a final time then it was too much.
He sagged under the weight of his own emotion, slipped quickly into darkness.
The Captain returned the saber to its scabbard unused. He reached down and felt for a pulse.
'Sergeant! Get a stretcher team together. This man is coming with us.'
The fisherman was returning early. Last nights storm had broken many of the village's boats and his was one of the few to survive. It meant he would free choice of the premium fishing spots for at least the rest of the day. He had risen well before first light and headed out across the now flat sea. He hadn't even cast his first net when he made his first catch. He knew exactly what it was even before he drew up along side it. It would make him famous and he was sure to get many a free drink at the tavern as he retold this fateful tale. It was a mermaid.
The storm had obviously knocked her unconscious. She lay face up, eyes closed, her golden hair fanning out behind her, luminous as it caught the pre-dawn rays. Did all mermaids have hair made of gold he wondered briefly? With a lock of that hair he could buy the tavern! He reached over the side and hauled her in.
And almost threw her back out again. She had legs! He did drag her in though, and found she was still breathing. He wrapped her in a blanket and thought of all the fish he wouldn't catch that morning as he turned around and headed back to the village.
This is probably the last chapter… I'm to lazy to write any more. I love you all and… I give up!