The Tale of the Tides|
The sea may play upon distant shores so long as it obeys its master's commands.
Warnings: rated T (Teen) for heavy angst
Note: This is a re-write of one of my first stories ever in which I tried to explain a natural phenomenon (i.e. the ocean tides) using Greek mythology.
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@ Fiction Press
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The sea is a simple creature – lazy, selfish, fickle – like a cat stretched out upon a sun-warmed stone. It’s easy to see why my brother, Zeus, prefers his throne atop Olympus. Although the sea is an unwieldy force to command, it serves me well. All is as it should be: I am its master and it is my servant.
Like all servants, it plays when it believes its lord is otherwise engaged. I indulge it, turning a blind eye to its pastimes. The playful crashing of the surf upon distant shores is of no concern to me. In short, I care not where its attention wanders every morning and evening so long as the sea obeys my commands.
“Come to me,” I bid, scowling fiercely at the hull of a ship as it passes by. I do not recall being offered a sacrifice from this crew to ensure their safe passage upon my sea. Heathen mortals. They will be punished for this disrespect.
I call to the sea, raising my arms and summoning a whirlpool the likes of which shall make Charybdis herself quake in awe. These men who blatantly dare to cross my domain without permission shall pay my brother, Hades, a visit!
I call to the sea.
It does not answer.
For a moment, I am at a loss, an utterly uncomprehending loss. Why do only the most half-hearted of currents swirl around me in response to my summons? This does not feel like defiance – although it most assuredly is! This feels like distraction.
Very well, then. I let my pet remain distracted and, as it frolics happily in distant places, I seek out the recipient of its attention. I find it.
The sea is so enthralled with its playmate that it pays me no heed as I clothe myself in gossamer threads, set aside my trident and reach for my belt of jewels. Feet bare, I step out of the surf and onto the beach. My wayward servant’s frothy fingers push past my ankles in their rush to tickle the toes of the girl who dances upon the shore.
A girl. A mere mortal. She is not yet of age to be a wife and yet she is allowed to shirk her duties. Her hands, which clap in reply to the hiss and rush of the waves, ought to be spinning wool or grinding grain for bread. What parents would spoil a child so thoroughly?
She laughs and the sea gurgles, lapping toward her feet. She leaps back out of reach, teasing her companion with a dimpled grin. I watch this game for a moment, my resentment growing. I have been disobeyed on the whims of a child?
The sand beneath her heel crumbles and she slides suddenly down onto the beach. The sea rushes up and tickles her bare toes. She laughs again, breathlessly. That is when I begin my approach.
Her smile freezes when she sees me. Her breath halts, caught and held motionless in her throat. Mortals are so predictable upon seeing us.
I curve my lips into a kind smile. She still stares, her eyes wide. I do not hurry to speak.
“You are Lord Poseidon,” she informs me, blinking once.
Her temerity is startling. It would have been insolence if not for the reverence of her breathless voice.
“You are a girl beloved by my sea.”
She does not deny this. She glances toward the water which no longer froths around her feet. The sea surges worriedly just beyond reach, wary of me, of what I will do.
“In fact, this is not the first time you have danced here, is it?” I inquire politely, recalling the times when the sea had seemed preoccupied elsewhere. In her expression – which is both guilty and whimsical – I see her answer.
“Twice a day,” she replies. “I’m permitted to go down to the shore only twice a day. I would stay forever, if I could.” She reaches out a hand to the rocking waves from where she still sits in the sand. The sea answers her call at once, surging toward her helplessly.
“This is fortuitous,” I inform her, smiling again, “for I am in need of a queen.” I hold out my hand. “Come with me and you will never be parted from the sea again.”
She stares at my open palm, no trace of mirth in her face, but there is fire in her eyes that I had not expected to see. She stands; she looks from the surf as it caresses her feet cajolingly to the vast blue ocean beyond; she turns toward me; she places her shaking hand in mine.
“Now,” I whisper, “I shall take you home.”
And then I pull her beneath the waves. We move so quickly that we arrive in less than a heartbeat. Before us now is my palace, shining with silver and gold, with gardens and grand archways caressed by the currents. But this nameless, mortal child does not look toward the palace. No, she stares at the forest of coral beneath our feet. She smiles at the array of vibrant fish and a single, grumpy eel. She glances at me, her eyes bright and lips stretched into a magnificent grin. And then she turns her face up toward the light which dances on the surface above and sighs.
The bubbles rush upward and I release her hand just as the sea realizes my intent. It swirls around her, pushing her up toward the world above, but it is already too late. She is only mortal, after all. Although, remarkably, she had not panicked, she had not begged for her life when I’d held out my hand to her. There, upon the shore, she’d known what I’d intended – I had seen it in her eyes – but she had merely accepted her fate.
She had understood that she could not escape death, so she had chosen it knowing she would have a single moment to be with the sea, to see its secrets, to bask in its beauty.
I let my servant carry her body back to shore where her family will likely find it. I do not speak of the sea’s punishment for disobeying me and, when I next call to it, it answers. All is as it should be.
The sea is a simple creature, but it learns. Perhaps there have been others whom the sea has loved; I do not know. And if the sea rises and plays upon the shore where a girl once danced twice each day, I turn a blind eye. I may take a life, but with all my powers even I, the god of the ocean, cannot take away a memory.
* * *
A few more notes: So, I wrote this with some of the tragic and profound short stories that I read in my high school days in mind. I cannot - for the life of me - remember the titles of them, but I remember each plot line and how wretched (yet emotionally and intellectually evolved) they made you feel by the end. I hope this story is worthy of such a philosophical moment.
Doolin's Second Pub
The Groundskeeper of Kylemore Abbey
Photos by K. Writerly
Cover art from my short stories plus additional lovely images of distant locales.