The sound of gulls and the stink of salt and maceral was the life Old Dominic had known. Sitting in his wooden jetty, casting his line from the wee hours of the morning to the fading light of dusk, he lived the humble life of a village fisher. A few coppers were what came his way each day, perhaps a silver if he were really lucky, yet he and his wife were blissful in their cobbled hut with so many cracks in the stone and thatch the smell of the sea wind filtered in without end. Few knew of Old Dominic more than the leathery faced fishmonger, always with a warm smile tucked in his scraggly grey beard.
The day was calm but not clear, with a low fog rolling on the water's edge and grey clouds turning the sky into a smooth sheet of slate. As he sat in his boat, line cast over the side into the water, Dominic reeled in fish one by one. Each was little more than a mouthful, and his net still showed the bottom of his boat through its uncovered holes. Then…something tugged harder on his line. The old man excitedly jumped up in his boat, gripping the pole and pulling up tightly. The sea fought back as Dominic wrangled whatever catch was below the surf…fighting furiously for dominance over the fisherman.
Then…the sea rose with a surging vengeance, and a creature unlike any the old man had seen towered above. A massive, green-shelled crustacean…bigger than a townhouse with claws that could sever trees, pointed legs that could skewer a man with ease, and a gruesome face that spit foam from the maw between its stalked eyes.
Who dares to waken me from my slumber? The creature hissed with a voice sharp as glass. Neither man nor orc has been so bold as to disturb my rest!
Quaking in the shadow of the beast, Dominic fell backward and raised his shaking arms. "P..please bring me no harm, c..creature…I never meant to d..disturb you…I only want t..to feed my family!"
There would be no sympathy from this creature of the sea, which only chuckled in cold, clacking laughter. Reaching up, it tugged on the line with the hook still stuck in its side. A quick snap of its claw broke the fragile thread, and that same claw now reached for Dominic's neck.
I hunger after such a long sleep…though I do fear your poor bones will do little to stave my appetite. That village behind you…now I bet there are many men, women, and children ready to be gobbled up! But…that sounds like a lot of work.
Moving back, the creature took its claw away from Dominic's throat…snapping it shut mere inches away.
I'll task you, fisherman, with a way to save your life and that of your people. Ten hundred fish, and ten hundred more, to be dropped in my waters…in three days' time. Fail to fill my ocean with such a catch, and I'll tear your home apart.
All Old Dominic could do was nod, staring at the barnacled claw before his eyes. Slowly, the creature sank back into the water…leaving the old man in utter silence until he started to weep. Two thousand fish…how could he possibly manage something like that? A haul that big was larger than his entire village brought in every season, let alone how much a single man could catch in three days.
As his tears slowed to a stop, Dominic clutched the oars of his boat and began rowing back to shore, his heart heavy and his net nearly empty. The village on the horizon expanded until the familiar docks were in view, and the early risers could be seen going about there day. Nobody had noticed the creature rising from the surf, and few noticed the old fisherman pull in much earlier than he usually did…leaving his net in the boat while he shuffled toward his home.
Dominic's wife, the kind and motherly woman she was, was there to hold him in her arms as he told of his plight. They sat at the old kitchen table, Dominic's head in his hands while a comforting hand rubbed his back. It seemed all hope was lost, for neither could think of a way to catch so many fish. There was no net large enough to hold so many, and no amount of men in the village to catch them in such short time. They feared that their home would be razed by such a bitter and despicable creature…
Then, woeful eyes peering through his fingers, Dominic caught sight of the old harpoon mounted above their mantle. The weapon was fashioned from a whale's rib, a keepsake from his father who would hunt down the mighty creatures in his youthful days. As he stared at the wicked weapon, Old Dominic felt a plan brewing in his mind…a plan to save himself and his village…a plan that would take exactly three days.
Taking the weapon from its mounts, and kissing his wife goodbye…for it might be the last time he'd feel her lips against his…the briny fisherman set out to sea, once again in his small boat with nothing but the harpoon in his hand, and the fish in his net. A day and a half it took to row far enough until his village was swallowed by the horizon. All around him, the sea was a smooth sheet of glass…with a blazing sun overhead, its light dancing against the water's surface. Here, where no man dwelled for miles, there were whales. Great, powerful creatures that lived far below. And they were watching Old Dominic.
A gathering of whales circled under the tiny boat. Dozens of massive creatures that had known the craftiness of humans…hunting their kin since the earth was round. They'd seen fleets of warriors and magicians and hunters after their pods…yet they'd never seen a single man in a tiny boat…sitting absolutely still. For Dominic hadn't moved his boat since first laying down his oars. He hadn't taken up the weapon at his side. He barely moved at all, only to tear fish meat between his teeth and spit out the bones.
For another day, the whales gathered and circled. Some wanted to swallow the fisherman, and rid themselves of this intrusion swiftly. Others were paranoid, having seen the wickedness of men before. Could this not be a ploy? Some trick of a human mage to bait them into attacking? What would happen if the old man's death triggered a storm that would decimate every whale for miles? As they all circled and argued, wondering what course of action to take…the sea began to churn with them. Fish and all manner of sea creatures were stirred up, tossed around in great gatherings. Waves began to crash violently against the distant shores, where even Dominic's new foe could feel them…writhing in his sleep.
Finally, one whale could take no more waiting or arguing. He surged forward, towards the sun with his cavernous mouth open to swallow the boat, and with it the fisherman. However, just before the beast's mouth broke the water's surface, Old Dominic stood tall and proud. He'd lashed a rope to the end of his harpoon, and with a mighty throw let it loose down into the water. His aim was true, and the wicked took pierced right into the mighty whale's eye.
Half blind and in great pain, the whale darted through the water with tremendous speed. Just before the end of the rope slipped from his boat, Old Dominic took it in his grasp and held firm, his jaw clenching as the strength of the mighty whale pulled the boat along with it. The strength of the old man didn't falter even as the enraged whale swam fast and hard, cutting through the ocean without direction. A swift tug on the rope, and the whale changed course…right down the horizon where Dominic had come from.
As the whale charged through the ocean, his mouth agape in a scream of agony, all the fish that had been stirred from the gathering poured in by the dozen. Seven, eight, nine hundred and more…going down the whale's throat. The fight was becoming tough for Old Dominic, who felt the slickness of his blood wetting the rope under his clenching grasp and making his hold slip little by little. But, the village appeared on the horizon…and close at hand was his plan from coming to an end.
In the village ahead, men and woman gathered along the docks at the sight…for a wave was growing on the distance. Nobody could see the old man or the whale, only the vengeful sea rising to crash upon them, and they were frightened. So frightened that they began running from their homes and the boats, fleeing away from the towering surf. Even the bitter creature in the shallows was growing restless, rousing from the muck to see what could bring such disturbance to his waters.
Then, just as the whale approached the shallow bay, Old Dominic tugged hard on the rope. He yanked it back, and every muscle in the whale's body seized upward. The sun was eclipsed as the mighty whale breached the water, sailing upward and breaking through the wave he'd made. With another sharp tug, Dominic freed the harpoon from his eye, and with another guttural scream the whale let loose a fountain of shimmering fish that rained down upon the village.
Every man, woman, and child stopped in their flight as fish began to drop down at their feet, filling cobbled streets to the brim and thumping down on thatched rooftops. As the whale crashed back down into the surf, a spray of the sea splashing down on the docks, it limped back home to rejoin its brothers and sisters, batting Dominic back toward his village with one final, spiteful, smack of his tail on the water.
Villagers came rushing forward with bushels and baskets, gathering each and every fish that had rained down. As they did, the old fisherman ran through the streets, pleading with them to bring the catch to every boat in the docks…for there was work to be done yet. None had heard of the creature in the muck, but in awe of Dominic's skill…nobody questioned him. Soon, twenty hundred fish…and ten hundred more…had been gathered on fishing boats and jetties and greater ships full of men yelling praise. The docks were emptied as each and every sail was unfurled, leading them all to the further bay.
At his word, all the fish were dumped down into the surf, hitting the water with a symphony of briny splashes. And as the two-thousandth fish sank below…the monstrous crustacean surged forth once more. All the men reeled back in fear at the sight of this creature, but Old Dominic stood tall and proud, a smile tucked in his grey beard.
The time has passed…and the toll has been payed. I spare your life, fisherman, but only for now. Be warned…that I'll be less merciful should my rest be disturbed once more.
And with that, the creature sank back down…down into the muck with enough fish to keep him full and slumbering for such a time as to keep the village safe. The village rejoiced, for not only had they avoided certain destruction from such a vile beast, but the fish that rained from the great whale would feed them all in a grand feast…dining upon delicacies from deep waters this little bay had never seen.
As for Old Dominic, well, often is the tale sung of The Whale Wrangler. His twilight years were lived in relative comfort, as no more need had he to scrounge for coppers, hoping for a lucky silver. In that cobbled house did he and his wife live, serenaded by the sea wind coming through the cracks in the thatched roof. And thus, his yarn has been spun.