“Was this what it felt like to die?” Little Jacob wondered as his small form was tossed amongst the hulking waves that rolled and crashed with the strength of a thousand storms. No roar of thunder could compare to the colossal rage that drummed against the ocean’s surface. He should be scared, clutched by terror as the sea twisted and turned him this way and that. He felt a strange calm as the waves churned him in the blackness of the dark waters. A mammoth wave tossed his tiny body once more before plunging him into the awaiting depths. He could see the faint outline of the hull of the ship and the blur of lights along its sides. The men were probably all looking for him. “Here I am, father!” he thought as he sunk further and further, but he knew he would not be found. As he sank, he watched as the ship faded away and the surrounding darkness engulfed him. “I won’t be coming home, mother. I’m sorry. I love you.” Down, down, down, further into the blackness. Further away from life. He never thought that death would feel so peaceful or that it would come so soon.
Earlier that day –
“Storm brewin’ off the port, Cap’n. Look’s a big’n too.” Captain James Stark looked up from his map to the black clouds that were racing towards them. “Aye, better round up the men and batten the lady down.” He paused and the man turned to leave, “Silas...” the Captain eyed his first mate as he turned back to face him. “Tend to Jacob, he’s in for the ride of his life and his mother’ll not forgive me if anything should happen to him.” Silas gave a nod and disappeared down the steps to the lower deck.
This was the first time the boy had come with him on a sail. His mother said that he was far too young at the tender age of 6, but Jacob had pleaded with her. James had assured her that he would be fine and it would strengthen him for years to come. “He’s just so young, James. The sea is no place for a boy” Lanie had said to him. “Ahh he’ll be fine, love” he said as he cupped her cheek and stroked the smooth skin of her face with his thumb. “We’ll only be gone a short time and he’ll be back asking for milk and cookies and bedtime stories before you know it” he said with an amused smile. “I just don’t like it” she replied as he pulled her into his arms and held her. After a while he pulled back and cupped her face in his hands. “He’ll be fine, Lanie. Won’t you trust me?” Lanie had looked deep into his eyes and he knew that she still didn’t want him going, but he also knew that he and Jacob would get their way. “Okay” she had said with a silent plea to keep their boy safe, in her eyes. “There’s a lass” he said kissing her softly and hugging her once more.
Jacob had been brimming with excitement telling everyone in the village who would listen that he was going on an adventure at sea with his father. It had made his father laugh. He loved the boy dearly and felt a great pride in the boy he had become. He was a quiet lad, clever and kind and always minded what he was told. The two of them would lie on the ground and look up at the clouds or stars with a quiet understanding of one another. He was so like him in so many ways. A life of endless possibility was ahead of him.
Their first night on board, they sat down to a dinner of roast pheasant and potatoes. Both sitting in silence, feeling content with each other’s company. Jacobs father had been sitting there thinking over the journey and all of the things he was going to show his boy. By journey’s end he would know all there was to know about being a sailor. He had already learned how to raise the mast and was about the only one on the crew who enjoyed swabbing the decks. He smiled to himself.
“Are you happy to have me here, father?” “Hmm?” his father replied, lost in his thoughts of things to come. “Are you happy that I’m here on the ship with you, father?” Jacob looked at his father with a hope in his eyes that asked for acceptance and approval. He laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder “there’s no one I would rather have by my side.” He laughed as his small face burst into a big toothy grin.
Those words were echoing inside the Captain’s mind as he watched the clouds roll and pulse towards them. The strikes of lightning and claps of thunder were playing a game of cat and mouse and with each flash and thunderous boom the cat grew more fierce. They would be tossed about but they would survive. They always had. She was a good ship, The Duchess, built with ancient oak and the blood and sweat of strong men. She had survived many a storm and tonight would be no different.
The waves were beginning to swell, teetering the ship back and forth. The storm was moving fast, hopefully she wouldn’t last long. “Father, can I help the men batten the hatches and bring down the sails?” James looked at his son who was standing at the top of the steps, looking so small against the wooden giant. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all” he had thought to himself. “I think they’ve pretty much got her down” his father replied. “Is it going to be a big storm, father?” “Aye, but we’ll be just fine. You’ll be needin’ to go below deck though as I’ll not be able to keep my eye on you.” “Can’t I stay in our quarters up top, father?” “No, lad. For your mother’s sake and mine, you’ll need to stay below deck where you’ll be safe.” “Yes, father.” “There’s a good lad.” James winked at his son who smiled in return before making his way down past the ships bunker to the sleeping quarters of the crew.
The rage of the storm grew with each crack of thunder, sending waves crashing against the side of the ship. Some would crest over the side and drench the crew, it would only get worse. Silas was bellowing orders at the crew, his voice barely audible over the swirling madness around them. Captain Stark was at the helm steering the ship into the waves, as every good sailor knew that if you ran parallel, you would be capsized and all would be lost. The storm was proving to be far worse than anyone had anticipated and the unease of all aboard was increasing with each passing moment. But there was no turning back and no backing down. Their very lives depended on that.
It was as if the sea had waged war against The Duchess and was using every inch of power it possessed to claim her. Strikes of white hot lightning were piercing the air all around them and the thunder that followed shook them down to their bones. Wave upon wave assaulted the ship, smashing against the ancient oak hull relentlessly. The Duchess withstood the attacks but not without price. Lightning had struck one of the masts near the top and it toppled and crashed against its base. The Captain prayed that it would stay there and not continue to fall and risk piercing the deck sending them all to a watery grave. It was something they could repair later once the chaos passed.
The Captain began to feel hope that that would be the worst of the damage that the ship would endure. But hope came too soon as lighting hit the tie down for the boom on the main sail. Captain Stark watched as it let go and swung out over the water. The force of the swing bore too much weight on the mast and the boom cracked at its base sending it into a nose dive. It held on but only just. Some of the men struggled to grab the rope to gain control of it but a wave pitched the ship and it swung hard and fast back towards them. The men were able to duck and shout a warning to the other crew members and that’s when he saw him. Captain Stark felt his heart drop with a sickening thud as he saw Jacob standing there on the deck looking in awe at the madness before him. With horror he watched as the boom charged towards the boy who stood there frozen. Everything else around them seemed to drop away and there was
only that moment. That one horrifying moment when both father and son knew that what was about to happen was inevitable.
“Jacob!” his father yelled, racing towards his son in vain. The boom swooped and crashed into his son with incredible force and sent him hurling backwards. His father watched wide eyed with despair and disbelief as his son flew through the air, out away from the ship and into the beckoning roar of the ocean. “No!!!” The Captains howl sliced through the air and everyone on board turned to look. A number of the men rushed to the side of the ship in hopes to fetch the boy.
“Do you see him?” they yelled back and forth, searching deftly for any sign. Jacobs father blindly started to climb over the side, about to jump in after his boy, but Silas and the other men pulled him back. “Let me go! I must find him!” he growled fiercely. Silas held his arms and chest “you’ll not be any good ta’him dead!” The Captain looked at his first mate with seething anger but knew he was right. He yanked himself away from his men and rushed back to the side. “Jacob!” he yelled into the waves, praying to see him. A head, a hand, anything that would give him hope that his son was alive. He scanned each wave, each rising swell, moving up and down each side of the ship. “Please God. Please...” his mind raced with prayers and curses, memories and what ifs. His heart was hammering in his chest and he was praying with every fibre of his being that God would hear his pleas.
After a time, one by one the men stopped looking and turned towards the Captain who was still searching madly for his son. Soon, it was only him that remained pacing and scanning the waves. He noticed that his men had stopped and were all staring at him. “What are you all standing there for?” he screamed. “My son is out there! Keep looking!” Silas walked over to him and laid a hand on his shoulder “he’s gone Cap’n.” In a rage the Captain grabbed his first mate and slammed him up against the side of the ship “He’s not dead! He’s not dead, you bastard! My son isn’t dead!” “We’ve looked and looked Cap’n, he ain’t out there! He’s gone! I’m sorry” Silas lowered his voice “but he’s gone...” The Captain let out a guttural cry and dropped to his knees, cupping his head in his hands. Silas again placed his hand on his shoulder to try and comfort this great man that was in ruins. He leaned back and wailed his sorrows into the sky. The men of the crew stood and grieved for their Captain and their friend, and for the boy who lost his life too soon.
When he returned home, his wife was surprised to see him home so early. “You’re home early darling. Jacob missed his mother hmm?” She looked at her husband seeing the expression on his face and the tears in his eyes. Lanie stopped in her tracks “where’s Jacob, James? Where’s our son?” James could barely look at his wife “he’s gone Lanie, Jacob’s gone.” “No...no, he can’t be” she tried to push past her husband but he blocked her and pulled her back. “I’m sorry Lanie, I should have listened to y...” “No!”Lanie shrieked. “No, no, no, no, no” she cried, shaking her head back and forth. “Not my boy....not my Jacob.” She looked into her husband’s eyes searching for answers, searching for reason. “You promised me” she whispered.”You promised!” She began to beat and pound her fists against her husband’s chest screaming and crying with an indescribable despair. Fresh hot tears slid down his face as he let his wife’s frail form beat him. He hated himself. He was a failure as a husband, a failure as a father, as a Captain, as a man...
He heard the most beautiful singing he had ever heard. It sounded like angels. Was he dreaming? Was this heaven? Jacob slowly opened his eyes and saw light all around him. When his eyes began to focus he saw that it wasn’t exactly light but a sparkling iridescence. He was lying on a giant clam shell, one that he had only heard about in stories that his mother had told him.
“You’re awake! Oh, I’m so happy!” Jacob turned and looked to where the voice was coming from and there, in the water, was a beautiful young girl. He was only 6 and had not seen a lot of girls aside from his mother and the ones in his village. But, he suspected that this girl was prettier than any of them by far. She was cast in the blue iridescence but even so, her features were captivating. Her eyes were almond shaped and her lips were shaped like a taught bow. Her hair was as long as his mother’s but she always kept hers up. This girl let hers flow down her back and down into the water. It had little flowers and shells woven through it. Jacob knew right away that he liked her.
She smiled at him and he found himself smiling back. “Aren’t you cold, sitting in the water like that?” he asked her. “Oh no, I love the water. It’s wonderful” she said with an admiring grin. He furrowed his brow and timidly asked her “are you a mermaid?” Surprised the girl laughed “why yes, yes I am! How did you know?” she asked as she flicked her tail up and out over the water’s surface so that he could see. “My mother reads me stories with mermaids in them. Father says that some people believe they’re real and some say that they’re make believe.” “Well...” she said, looking at him thoughtfully “what do you think?” He smiled at her and nodded saying “real” and they laughed together.
“My name is Jacob. What’s your name?” She whirled around in a circle as if dancing in the water “my name is Kiarra and you are in my home. You, little one are awfully lucky I came along when I had or else you would have suffered a terrible fate.” Jacob looked at her inquisitively “what do you mean?” Well I had felt the surge of the storm in the currents so I went up to have a look. I saw your vessel battling the great waves and somehow I just knew I had to stay and watch because something terrible was about to happen! I saw you get struck overboard, I cried out and quickly whispered a spell that would keep you safe and unafraid.” She toyed with some small shells that were lying on the rock in front of her. “By the time I got to you, you were asleep, so I brought you here, away from the storm until it passed.”
Jacob eyed her with great wonder “you saved me with magic?” She smiled and laughed again “oh yes, the sea is full of magic. Great and terrible magic. Fortunately for you, mine is great” she said with a soft giggle. “Where is my father? My father’s ship? Are they still up there?” “No” she frowned. I went back to check, they were there for a while and I felt and heard a great sadness. Then after much time, they left the area.” Jacob sat up “my parents think I’m dead! I need to get home! Oh, how will I get home!” Kiarra pushed herself up out of the water and sat on the rock wrapping her arm around the boy “shh shh, it’s ok. Everything will be alright.” “But how will it be alright? You don’t know where I live, I don’t even know where I am!” “You forget so soon, little one” and then she let out this strange squeaking sound. She smiled down at Jacob and waited a moment. Out of the water poked the heads of two dolphins who squeaked in response to Kiarra. They spoke back and forth for a moment before the two dolphins disappeared below the surface again. Kiarra gave Jacob a squeeze and said “we’ll get you home, you’ll see.” “But how?” Jacob wondered sadly. As if she had heard his thoughts, Kiarra smiled and said “magic” then gave a wink.
Before long the two dolphins returned and spoke in their dolphin tongue to Kiarra. She replied in turn and waved to them happily. “Come on! You’re going home now!” She grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the water. “But I won’t be able to breathe!” She smiled and said “silly boy.” She urged him toward the water again and hesitantly he stepped in. Soon they were below the surface of the water and they floated there, looking at each other. Jacob was a bit frightened but then Kiarra kissed him on the cheek and once again he felt that feeling of serenity wash over him. He fell asleep in Kiarra’s arms as she quickly swam away towards his home.
Jacob’s father stood on the beach with all colour drained from his face. Deep lines of sorrow had set in where lines from laughter had once been. He had lost all will to live, he didn’t eat, he didn’t sleep. Lanie had not left their bed since that day. She wept all hours and long into the night before drifting off from pure exhaustion. He couldn’t bear to see her like that. He had done that to her and he would never forgive himself for that. What good was there in life if you were to outlive your child? There was none at all. He cursed God, he cursed the sea, he cursed the very blood that ran through his veins.
Still there had to be some glimmer of hope that made him stand here day after day, scanning the horizon. He prayed with each wave that it would carry his Jacob back to him. He couldn’t be dead. Not his Jacob, not his boy. He remembered the very moment he was born, how he had held him and fell in love with him entirely. He vowed to be the best father that he could be and to protect him all the days of his life. “Jacob, my boy...I have failed you.” His shoulders wracked with sobs and he collapsed to his knees. He had never felt such despair. It was as if not only his heart had broken but his soul along with it.
“Father! Father! I’m here, father!” He was going mad now, hearing the voice of his son. “Father I’m here! I’m alive!” The sea was mocking him. Oh such woe, this life.
Jacob placed his hand on his father’s shoulder. “Father, I’m alive, won’t you look at me?” James slowly turned his head and looked at Jacob, his face at first blank. Then as his eyes began to focus on the boy he looked at him with incredulity. “Jacob?” he reached up and touched the boys face. “It’s me, father. I’m home.” His father gasped and crushed the boy to his chest. He then shoved him back, running his hands over him in disbelief. “But..how? How are you here?” his father stared at him and held on to his boy afraid to let go for it to all be a dream. “The sea is filled with magic father.” He crushed the boy to his chest again and Jacob looked out to see Kiarra wave and dive back into the oceans depths. His father laughed and cried happily, thanking God for his return. “The sea is indeed full of magic” thought Jacob’s father. He didn’t know how or why, all he knew is that his boy stood in front of him, alive. Alive...
“Come father, let’s go home to mother.” “Yes” his father replied, lifting Jacob up into his arms. “Home” he thought, turning towards the path that would lead them back to the village “Lanie we’re coming...”