Rising to Die
...Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
I. While the evening is still fair
He had a youth once, you know. It might have been somewhat hard to imagine that, with his callous, wind-beaten face and his gnarly hands, but he had a youth once too.
The earliest thing he remembered was his momma's soft voice. Sure, she was a notorious pirate with a temper to match, but when she heaved him up and put him on her lap, with Aneria sitting close by—oh, what a beautiful, smooth voice she had! It was that voice that sang him lullabies, told him of the freshness in the salty wind, and soothed him after some immature nightmare that seemed all too real then. Other times, her voice had a harsh, clashing quality to it, but when it was just him and her—and Aneria —her voice would melt into this melody.
He missed his youth, sometimes. Not just his childhood, but all of the reckless energy and carefree laughter that went with youth. He still held on to most of that, but it was different. He could touch and taste and smell the difference. It felt like too little butter and jam on too large a piece of bread; like old leather that was stretched tautly until little cracks began to show through; like the bite of an apple that had gone mellow, and gave in to the teeth little by little.
II. Puzzle of a bleeding thirst
"Momma!" A scrawny little boy ran across the dock, stumbling as if he was just learning to walk, though he was beyond those years. Those stable grounds, standing fast and unchanging, were different from the ones that he was used to, swaying rhythmically, soothingly. "Momma," he cried out again, frantically searching for the anchor of his life.
A head of black, all frizz and curls, turned his way and flashed him a smile. And his world was in its place again. He slowed down, walking more deliberately this time, steadying his steps and planning his balance.
"You there," a voice called out to him, "pirate boy".
He looked in the direction of the voice, and found a little girl in a scrappy dress, torn in many parts and dirtied beyond recognition in the others. Her hair was in tossed braids, mousy brown and mussed, as if she had been tumbling around, despite that she was sitting quite complacently on the deck, her feet dangling over the edge and above the waves. He was confused, because he had never actually talked to a girl before: his momma had told him that girls were fierce, volatile things, not to be taken lightly and never to be toyed with. It sounded like a daunting race of creatures, so he had been out of his way to avoid the said race. This, however, was a direct call, of which he couldn't ignore. The etiquette of the suave pirate, his momma taught him to be, despite the paradox. Really, he didn't even know it was a paradox until somebody had laughed at him when he said he was a gentleman pirate. (Of course, momma had soothed his bruised ego later, and explained what a paradox was, and how stupid that man had been.)
"Are you mute, boy?"
He scowled. "You're no older than me. Stop talking so—so"
She smirked "Condescendingly?"
"Whichever word you find most suiting. What can I do for you?" Upbringing sometimes rooted deeper than he realized.
"Oh I was just bored—your ship looks like she's got quite a lot of stories, so I was wondering if you could tell me any."
"Bored? Where's your momma then?"
She giggled, hands coming together to cover two rows of pearls in her mouth. "Momma's boy, huh."
Flustered, he huffed and was about to walk away when she cried out "No wait, I didn't mean no harm—couldn't you be nice and tell me a story? Pa wouldn't be able to go home till all the ships are docked, and that's always so late!"
So Sed went over, sat down awkwardly next to her and began rambling, the way that young children were prone to do, before learning the differences between girls and boys. Despite being a little put off to discover she was a good few inches taller than he, Sed still told her stories of the sea until the sun had set and Seth whistled for him.
In the looming darkness, Sed remembered the name of a little dockhand's daughter: Gin.
III. The longest forgetting
Years later found Sed on the same dock, feet much more familiar with the earth. He stretched as he got off board, the cool touch of his gun rubbing against his back. Shaking his mane of hair—cut haggardly in the fashion of young pirates these days—he scanned the crowds for a dockhand.
"Sed, take care of her!" The same head of frizzy curls, still the blackest of nights, ordered him as she jogged away to a pub.
"Aye, aye Momma!" he saluted her jokingly.
"Sed?" A tentative voice tried out.
He turned his head, beheld a young woman and was again confused. There was too little to distinguish her from all the laughing, merry-making crowds at ports everywhere: muted brown hair, a soft-spoken voice, and a young infant in her arms. "What can I do for you?"
Her head bowed a little, her shoulders slumped, and her voiced faltered. Before she could excuse herself though, it dawned on him: "Damn my foolish head, is that you, Gin?"
A small nod, almost imperceptible, and Sed was further puzzled. What happened to her? What happened to that bubbling energy of hers, that fierce, wild look in her eyes and that smiling mouth? What happened so that a lively young thing was turned meek and tamed?
Be it not him, though, to voice those concerns so callously—nay, gentlemen chose their words with more tact. "It's been a long while, Gin—life been good to you?"
"Ah…yes, good, good to me." A pause as she trailed off, eyes cast down again; but then something altered—either the light flickered, or the girl Sed had met burst back to life again. "What stories do you have this day, oh gentleman pirate of mine?"
So this time too, they sat down on the dock, Gin rocking her baby slowly back and forth, as she drowned in the foreign tales that Sed told. It did not matter when Seth appeared again, chiding Sed for not taking care of their ship but sending a wink in Gin's way. It did not matter when the sun slowly sunk down, casting fiery tentacles out, setting the sea ablaze in a mass of orange.
It did matter, however, when Gin's husband came and took her forcefully away, glowering at the woman who turned lifeless and tamed again.
IV. I am aweary, aweary
The last time Sed set foot on that particular dock, he hunted through the crowds for Gin. Worries and thoughts that he didn't voice—worries that fled once he took sail—came back crashing. All those questions of why and when and how that he pushed out of his mind once the stories unrolled—all those things that he should have said, instead of the high sky, the open sea, the treasures found, the comrades lost…
He had lost his momma, his Aneria, his pa—all so fast, all too soon. It still felt surreal and nauseating, losing everything (not everything, he still had their ship, but what was that? A ship to sail out on sea was freedom, but what was freedom, without anybody to share it with?). He knew that he will learn to handle the pain delicately (so as to not provoke it, for it will never go away, never), that it will become easier to breathe (but not any easier to face the empty space beside him), that sooner or later, he might even find somebody who can soothe and dull the aching (but the holes, the momma-shaped hole, will always gush cold winds into his body).
For once, he took care of the ship properly, overseeing every last detail, a little breathless in his orders but commanding nonetheless. There were glimmers of hope in his vision, his mind betraying him by insisting that they will be here, that momma never left him, that they were just a fraction to the right, just out of sight. It was idiotic of him to get caught up with all this grief and mourning, really. He had known how hard it was, and how to move on—known, because momma had told him, on late nights with the sea-wind in her hair, but never understood. He was a sad, sorry sight, if momma could see him now.
Ah, but she can't, now can she? His treacherous mind taunted.
"Sed?" a soft voice called. He turned, despair still in his eyes and darkening his pale face. "Gin," he grunted out, still recognizing her in his foggy mind.
"Abel honey, go play by yourself for a while, okay?" Gin spoke, obviously not directed to Sed, and he was startled to find a little boy, with messy, stringy black hair and muddy brown eyes beside Gin, nodding. "That's Abel, my son, you remember him, don't you?"
Sed nodded too, feeling very much like that child.
"Are you free to tell me more stories?"
He shook his head vigorously, ponytail tugging at his scalp painfully. Pain was good, he thought, pain meant life.
"Oh," Gin couldn't help the disappointed undercurrent in her voice, but being a mother to a stubborn, proud child, and—used to be—the wife of a proud, silent man, she intuitively knew the difference in this visit. "Well, I have a large pot of stew on the fire back home; if you don't mind the shabbiness, we can talk over a warm dinner?"
"Ah—no, no, I must see to the ship, which is very tricky business…" He trailed off rather vaguely, not vested enough to find a more valid excuse.
Gin nodded compassionately and benignly—she knew enough of ships to know what trickery needed a man all night, and the limits of a ship's complexity. "Be what it may mean to you, my offer stands as long as the night's not over."
She had already started walking away, her feet slow and quiet as if to not startle this bumbling man, when he abruptly jerked a step towards her and hollowly squeaked out: "Wait!"
Wait she did, with more softness in her smile than he had imagined possible from the feisty little girl he originally met. Patiently and eagerly, she waited for a good five minutes before he found his voice again, and could lift his eyes up from the sandy ground.
"That…that would nice."
"Well come on then," Gin wrapped her arm around his, offering more affectionate support than intimacy, gently tugging him in a direction, "Don't just stand there! You weight a ton!"
Sed made out a feeble chuckle and allowed himself to be led towards the residential area. "Won't your husband mind?"
Even Gin's good mood seemed to be tampered at the mention. Silence, in which Sed was too weary to apologize, and Gin smiled nonetheless. "He…he went away some while ago. It's just me and Abel now."
"I wish I could say I'm sorry, but I'm really not. He was a bastard." Sed offered, words rough as always: pirates just were not well versed in solacing others, and he was glad that Gin seemed to be able to decipher that.
"Same here. So, how long are you here for, this time?" Her head was bowed and in the shadows, so Sed could not see her expression, but her arm had tensed around his. He hesitated, cast a glance to the sea, its waves singing and beckoning softly, water burning under the dusky sun. Then he felt a foreign smile bloom on his cheeks—god knew how long it had been since he last smiled—and answered unwaveringly, "A while; a long while."
He stayed, that time.
V. Que sera, sera (whatever will be, will be)
Age must have been catching up with him, Sed mused. It was a shame for pirates to be caught by the royal navy—but a joyous if frantic reunion with his momma made up for that. Still, the way these damned kids (little balls of energy, all of them) ran around made him feel a little nostalgic. Even Gin's kid, that Abel, never exhibited this liveliness—the one Gin possessed, right up to the day she passed away.
At least they were finally close to this Hall of Mirrors.
Alas, he had not the years of his momma—and he was glad. Sort of. He was glad because she told me to be: told him how lonely her prison of solitude was, and how things changing should bring yourself to change too, and how it was so hard sometimes, even with all the love of freedom in her ship, to see everybody go. He didn't quite understand—none of the mortals did, really, because it was like being told how it was like to fly, or what was the meaning of life. You could probably know what it was, but to understand took more than just that. Still though, he was glad he didn't have all those years, because momma told him he should be.
Being glad didn't keep him from pining for his youth sometimes. Sometimes, when his bones make screeching noises when rubbed together; when the gun he held seemed heavier than he remembered; when the little kids run around marvelling at everything. Especially then, actually. It was harder to forget your own age when such crisp younglings were constantly asking you this and that.
Then again, he was happy enough to have gone through his youth—lord knows how frustrating it would be to live it all over again, or keep living it.
He was happy enough that his momma would sing to him in that beautiful voice of hers when he dies, holding him in her arms but not shedding a tear. It seemed to him that sometimes he was only born to die—which, in some sense was true.
Well then, by all means, let him die with a splash.
Author's Note: Poem is The Kraken by Tennyson. Cover art is from the game Shadow of the Colossus.