I am very excited to be writing my first story on Fictionpress! Hopefully we'll be getting right to it after this note.
This story takes place somewhere in the 19th century in various fictional towns in Great Britain. The story features North, the captain of a cargo ship who took place of his adopted father after he died, and Elodie. (You will discover her purpose in chapter two, and I will clarify in chapter three.) After an unfortunate series of events and accusations, Elodie and North, although polar opposites of each other, become closely attached in a very short amount of time. For now, that is all I can say without spoiling the rest of the story!
The story has been rated T for death, destruction, and possible language that might come up in the future.
Now, let's hop right into the story! Have fun reading, and absorb yourself in the fictional realm of North and his crew.
North wasn't your usual, loudmouthed guy. North was, from a distance, cold, and often he was stoic, stubborn, and, quite frankly, suspicious, considering the way he stared down at you while you spoke. His hair was dark, which was unusual, for he had been born on the shores of some European coast. But no one really knew which country, exactly. Even if you got to be good friends with him, there were certain things he wouldn't tell to anyone, not even his closest friends. Which made him that much more suspicious.
But some people found him enjoyable. Maybe at the least bit tolerable. He smirked and smiled and joked with his friends, but he mostly kept to himself. Which was good. He wasn't too irritating. He wasn't too flamboyant or narcissistic. He wasn't vulgar, either, which was rare, considering his position. It was because of how he grew up and who he grew up with. Better people than any, he would say.
North had been working on a wooden cargo ship ever since he could remember. He had learned how to fight for himself on the ship and the crew taught him many strange lessons, many of which he would have never learned in a normal school. He grew up on that very cargo ship, delivering supplies and foods from far-off lands with his best friend and the then-captain, Kit. Although Kit had a less-frightening name than others on the ship, he was a proud, loud, and tough-as-nails sailor. He was much different from North: robust, friendly, observant, cheerful. North looked at him as a father, fighting for his crew and feeding his "family".
At the ripe, young age of 19 years, North became captain after Kit developed a rapidly-spreading illness at sea. North had truly believed that Captain Kit could tough it out, but Kit hadn't been as strong as North thought he was. The Captain didn't even make it to the Indies with his crew before he passed.
Hastily, Captain Kit had declared his "adopted" son, North, to lead the crew to the Indies and back to Britain before the time had come. This wasn't hard for North. He knew how to navigate the boat; the Captain had let North try himself once as a kid, and he had executed the job flawlessly… but North truly hadn't been a leading, commanding sort of sailor. Nonetheless, he gave into the captain and the crew's wishes of the adoption of the role. The crew of the rickety ship were perfectly alright with the new assignment, and they cheered North on. They were family, after all. Rough, smelly family.
And now, at 27 years, North was loading crates of brandy onto the cargohold of the ship with his loyal crew, checking off his handwritten list as he overlooked the work.
"Done, boss!" North's crewmember and friend, Crispin, saluted his captain, smiling his goofy smile that revealed his missing front tooth and yellowed others. North had known Crispin as long as he had been on the ship. Crispin had been on the ship much longer than North, and he knew and got along with everyone on the ship.
North grinned at his friend, tipping his red tricorn hat with the same hand that had been holding his quill. "That's it then? We'll be off right on time. Get the crew ready to set sail."
"Aye aye!" Crispin nodded, turning and running off to the ship's deck. North followed far behind with a slower, steadier pace than his energetic friend. For once, maybe they'd leave on time. It was awfully rare for them to leave on schedule. His crew was a ditzy one, and they often lagged behind when it came to loading cargo.
North's dirtied rubber boots thumped under him, the hard soles wearing bit by bit every day. They were good boots for standing around in, but not so much for walking. They arched too much for his liking, but he had grown used to the feel of the black boots. His job didn't consist of much walking, though. His job was to stand around and command his crew, which wasn't his favorite thing.
"Raise the anchors! Lower the sails! We're leaving on time!" Crispin exclaimed to the crew, and they frantically shuffled around, doing nearly the opposite of working. A ditsy crew, really. No doubt about it. North couldn't help but snicker silently to himself. He knew how hard they all tried to work, but they weren't very good at their jobs.
"Onward to the shores of the Indies!" Crispin cheered, raising his closed fist high in the air. The rest of the crew followed his cheer, hollering and whooping with excitement as they raised their own beaten weapons and knuckles to the sky. Some sailors had raised the anchor as told and followed Crispin's orders, and the ship eventually creaked onward. North had to give them some credit. They were certainly enthusiastic.
North's crewmates had many stories they had taken up while on the shores of far-off countries. There were also many from their homes in Britain, but one had been spreading around from crew to crew of other cargo ships, and Crispin had been urged to tell the new story to North.
North and his crew exchanged stories on late nights while others were assigned to stand guard on the upper deck and steer. Crispin was one of the best storytellers on the ship. He had been telling stories for ages. North, on the other hand, never told stories. He was a listener and an observer, and certainly not a leader or commander like he had been ranked. But he enjoyed the storytelling amongst his crew, for it kept their hopes up on the long journeys to foreign places. And it was certainly entertaining, no doubt.
"Have you all heard the stories about the swimmers?" Crispin asked the crowding crewmates who were sitting in their spots on the damp, wooden floor of the lower second deck. The sounds of coughing men and rustling clothes filled the creaking boat's concealed rooms. The anticipation that hung in the air for Crispin's stories was so thick that North could swear he could feel it.
"Not that I can recall," North grunted, lowering himself to the floor as he removed his hat and tossed it behind him. He shrugged off his matching crimson coat and carelessly threw it back, and it fell heavily over the discarded hat.
"It's been going around from merchant to sailor, and it's an awful popular story," Crispin affirmed after North had finished shedding off his outer clothes, crossing his legs under him as he pressed against his knees with his hands.
"Won't you share it?" North smirked, shooting a glance up at his friend, who smiled coyly back as he sighed.
"Of course. I know exactly to begin." He scrubbed his sandpapery chin with his left hand, waiting silently for the last few men to settle down in their seats before he sharply inhaled.
"Many of the sailors delivering cargo to the Indies have spotted certain people floating in the middle of the sea, as if they've gone overboard or they've swam out. Many of them have been women, but an occasional man pops up. What's so strange about this is that, most of the time, the ships passing through are not carrying any women, and they are too far away from shore for people to be swimming out. These people are unusually stark naked when they're found—" some of the sailors gasped, while others snorted. Crispin ignored them and continued, "- and when the passing ships try to approach these swimmers, they bob up and down for a moment before they drop down into the water. Some jump in to help, but most just leave them be.
"I was talking to one of the fish merchants in town when he had told me the story. He had been half a day out into the water, catching his supply when he thought he had seen a girl bobbing up and down in the water, but when he went to get a closer look, she dropped under the surface. And when the guy decided to tell his fellow merchants, they all thought they had heard similar stories from other sailors and fishers who had called those people 'swimmers'. It's really famous back on the shores, now. Maybe, if we keep a good eye on the waves, we might be able to spot one of them."
Awestruck sailors turned to their neighbors, whispering and murmuring among themselves of the strange swimmers. North grinned, and instead of turning to the people beside him to discuss the rumor, he thought about it.
"They sound similar to mermaids."
Everyone turned to North, recognizing his scratchy voice distinctly among the others. A hush fell over the room.
"They do!" Crispin remarked. "But one of the surrounding merchants interrupted the fish merchant and commented on his story. He said that he had heard somewhere that the swimmers don't have tails like mermaids. They look like they have legs and feet from up above."
"Could they possibly be humans?" One of the sailors to North's left added.
"If they were, it would be a frightening coincidence for all of these people to be out there at once surviving."
"There's no such thing as coincidence," North mumbled to himself, digging under his nails to remove any grime. The crew returned to their idle chatter. Crispin's story was certainly a hit around the crew, no questions asked.
North's nightly routine was rather monotonous, always repeating in the same order every afternoon as the sun drooped under the horizon. He would make sure the crew was staying on task before retiring to his cabin. He would count the earnings from the first morning's sales, calculate savings, and finish up by writing down in the captain's journal. It was an unspoken rule to write down the day's activities before going to snooze, and North followed the rule without fail.
Usually writing down in the captain's journal wouldn't be that big of a deal, but today was their first day on sea. Although they were making good progress so far, it seemed to be two hours past the usual schedule. In town it would be, at most, an hour after midnight. His crew and their stories had occupied him for too long, holding him back. This wouldn't be a problem for any normal captain; his crew was just impractical.
The trip so far, on its own, had been going smoothly, though. They were making good progress on their departure to the West Indies. Everything was going fine, and although North was personally behind on keeping tabs in the journal, his crew was showing good effort on moving forward. If they were lucky, they might even be two days early.
The crew was louder than usual up on deck, but they had been on many occasions. Hopefully they had been drinking their own brandy and not the brandy from the crates. North scribbled down his thoughts in the worn book, commenting on his crew, their progressive effort, and the journey so far. The boat moaned as they floated through the waves. The bag of coins in his coat pocket shifted silently. He was nearing the end of his entry, and he was definitely ready for a good night's rest.
"Captain!" Crispin erupted from behind the cabin door, the expression on his face causing North's stomach to nearly drop. He was sweating profusely, and his face was scarlet red. He had been panicking and running around, according to the beads of sweat dripping down his face and his weary wheezing. "A fire has spread on deck!" North pushed his chair away from his writing at this, leaping up from his seat.
As his exhausted mind processed what his friend had said, he heard the shouts of "Fire! Fire!" from across the hall. The information hit him all at once, and he spun to his chair, throwing the tricorn hat on top of his head. "How much fire?" North asked bluntly, rushing past his friend and out of the cabin as he slipped on his coat.
"Enough to sink this ship," Crispin replied dismally. "Even if we could extinguish the fire now, the ship would still sink."
North hopped up the stairs to the deck with Crispin following close behind. As they pushed open the door overhead, erupting from the square hole to step onto the deck, North found the sea air too warm for his liking, but as salty as usual. Many men, if not all, were too drunk to operate, which must have contributed to the noise and carelessness. If anyone had been sober, the news would have spread much faster. The fires on the deck were growing, and Crispin hadn't exaggerated about the size. The sails were just beginning to catch fire, and he was surprised to find that practically the entire stern had caught fire. Consequently, this meant the yawl boat was burnt to a crisp. Even if it hadn't been at this point, there was no way they would have been able to reach it now.
North remembered the makeshift boat at the bow of the ship, lying untouched but surrounded by crew, he soon noticed. He backed away from the fires, staring up at the clear, starlit sky shrouded by the whipping tongues of the flames. The boat couldn't hold more than one person; it would surely sink with two. Who would that one spared person be? He knew he couldn't let it be him.
As he turned to Crispin, North realized Crispin had run up to the boat without him, but he hadn't been paying attention to hear Crispin calling his name. He rocketed across the deck to his crew. They seemed to be fiddling with the little boat momentarily, moving parts around for reasons unknown.
They began to carry the tiny boat to the side of the ship. They balanced it against the ship's edge, and North watched it rock and dawdle for a moment before it dropped with an impressive thump into the sea's thrashing, murky waters, causing North to unnoticeably flinch.
"Jump in!" Crispin yelled back to North hurriedly, and North balked at the command.
"I can't!" He shot back, revealing a seemingly appaledCrispin. His entire crew was ushering him on, but North hesitated.
"If anyone's going, it will be you!" Crispin retorted, and the anger on his face was stressed further by the flame's blinding glow. "You need to go!"
The crew was waving him on, and North realized they weren't going down without a fight. The shouts of "Go!" and "Hurry!" mixed with the crackling of the flames and the noises of debris dropping into the sea. Would the most heroic thing right now be to jump into the opaque sea to watch his crew go down with his ship?
"I'm not going down!" He shouted over the crew.
"Exactly! Now get in the boat!" One of the crew replied.
"That's not what I meant!" The ship continued to lean dangerously forward, and North almost lost his footing. "A captain will always go down with his ship if not everyone is saved!"
Without any warning, the crew charged at him, and he hadn't enough time to prepare before the entire crew had him by his arms and legs. They held him above their heads, laughing heartily as they chanted strange phrases. Crispin hadn't been close to drunk, but he joined the group in their actions. North struggled persistently above, even after being launched off the side of the ship. The tiny boat bobbed in the waves, and North collided furiously with the crashing waters. He could still hear his crew cheering for him as he rose up from under the waves. They tossed down to him a stray bucket to get out any water from the ship. Why had they thrown him off? How had he let his crew pick him up and toss him out?!
North struggled not even for a few seconds to climb into the boat as his crew was shouting at him to, frantically dumping the tiny pools of water back into the sea with the pail.
"Now paddle away!" Crispin shouted over the edge. The entire crew was crowded around the side of the boat, and they had fallen completely silent. North couldn't help but do the same. How was he supposed to respond?! He couldn't just paddle away to leave his crew to die!
"I know it sounds foolish and maybe cowardly, but you need to paddle away, North!" Crispin continued. The flames couldn't drown him out. "Follow the North Star for now! You left your compass in your coat pocket! You could get home on your own with it, but none of us could!"
"I can't just leave!" North responded with the first few words that came to mind.
"Find us some swimmers, North!" Crispin hollered, and his crew grinned at the speech. The ship began to tilt further, but the crew made their way to the opposite side of the ship, obstructing North's view of his crew. He couldn't fight now. He could have sworn some of the sailors had dropped down into the lower levels of the ship. North did the only thing he could think of doing: paddle away.
It had been the longest night of his life. He had long forgotten the smell of salt and smoke, getting used to it all as time went by. The ship had gone under, and he hadn't seen Crispin go down with it, which was partially awful and partially a relief. The ship had burnt out and extinguished itself under the waves. He felt as if he had disappeared with the ship.
If he would have started crying now, he wouldn't have held back, but there was nothing there to come out. He hadn't had anything to drink since they left the shore. So he sat with his tailbone lying parallel to the boat's bottom, loose limbs hanging out over the edges of the boat. The sun had fully emerged from beyond the horizon, flooding the sky with shades of white and blue.
He was a coward, and that was all there was to it. He shouldn't have given in to Crispin's demands; North was the captain! But he couldn't fix anything now.
Their cargo ship had been on flawless schedule. They had been sailing for twenty hours, but it might as well have been a full day. Considering this, it would take North days just to get back to shore. Days he didn't have. He had no fresh water and no food. All he had now was the compass and the bag of coins feebly shifting in his pocket with every rock of the boat.
He wouldn't get back alive. It was impossible. He needed a miracle.
His head, tilted back, nodded weakly with the boat as he stared up at the blinding sky, waiting for a shark to come eat him or for the boat to tip over. But minute after minute the only sound was the waves rolling against his boat, nudging him back and forth in the water. His eyes shut as he let the sounds of the water burrow into his head, nesting there and intertwining with the undetectable white noise until it meant and sounded like nothing to him. The rocking and the sounds lulled him, but the rays of light glowed irritatingly past his shut eyelids.
He should have been shouting for someone to save him now. He should be trying to catch food with his bare hands. He really should be paddling his way back to shore or looking for passing ships. But any ships seeing off would have set sail yesterday. Ships didn't leave on Tuesdays. And any ships on the water now were far beyond him.
If there was any ship or miracle coming his way, it needed to come fast.