- Brianna Sugalski
READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Arms of the Ocean, By Jamie Webster and M. Dalto
"The fairies are in the sea as well as on the land. That is well-known by those that are out fishing by the coast."
The Lady Gregory, Irish Folklorist
Tristaine's oceanside life with her drunk of a father has never been easy, but when the world starts to crumble beneath her very feet, the sand and glistening tides call temptingly to her like the only solace she's ever known...
This Tuesday, we'll join Tristaine and her newfound band of friends—and enemies—in the world's most whimsical last frontier...
Preorder your copy of Jamie Webster and M. Dalto's ARMS OF THE OCEAN, HERE!
“Come on, Papa,” I whispered as I leaned in close to pull my father from the chair. The sour smell of fermented ale oozed from every pore in his clammy skin. He slumped further away from me, pushing me back while grumbling in protest. White wiry hairs weaved through the red beard that was etched into his face, poking me as I again tried to pull him up. “Please, Papa. You can’t sleep here.”
Which wasn’t exactly true, since he spent most nights in that wooden chair, nestled into the corner of the cottage next to the window overlooking the cliffs of the Inara Sea. From the corner of my eye, I could see white crests rocking violently across the ocean, slamming full-force into the rocks, splashing up and over to soak the ground with salt and water.
Usually, a bottle of ale would be in his hand as he cast angry eyes over the water, his mind saturated in the vile liquid that fed the deep-seated fury he felt toward those waves.
But tonight was not most nights. Tonight was Midsummer Night’s Eve, when the entire town came together in celebration, freeing themselves to music and the beauty of the night sky.
While the town danced and sang, playing harmonious songs on the shrill pipe flute and melodious harps, however, my father would drink himself into oblivion.
We did not celebrate Midsummer Night’s Eve. At least, not anymore. There would be no gifts given, no songs sung, no love nor laughter shared.
My father pulled away from me again, a low growl erupting from his throat as he shoved me away. The night’s bottle of ale tumbled from his hand to the floor, and an ear-piercing shatter erupted around us. Shards of glass scattered, what little liquid that remained soaking into the gaps between the stones. I swore as I smelled the strong scent of the fermented hops, knowing it would linger no matter how hard I scrubbed.
My attempts to comfort him were met with him swatting my hands away. “Don’t worry, Papa,” I said. “I promise I’ll get you another bottle once you go to bed.” Only then did he stop fighting me. His arm laid “heavy over my shoulders; I boosted his body up, hoping he wouldn’t lose consciousness and pull me down with his weight.
“Come on, Papa,” I said again, weary from a day on my feet and years of dragging my father away from that window. He leaned against me, and though he still supported some of his own weight while we stumbled along, he allowed me to drag him to his room as he muttered about the sea.
Weaving around the broken glass, the discarded alcohol was slick against the soles of his shoes as I walked him into his room. The room was cluttered with dirty clothing that had been unceremoniously dumped onto the floor. An empty woven seagrass basket sat in the corner. Empty bottles were scattered across the floor. I kicked any that blocked my path away with one booted foot just before we reached the bed. He sat down heavily, burping, and looked at me, the whites of his eyes reddened. I avoided eye contact as I reached down and pulled the first leather boot from his foot; the faint scent of the fisherman he had been lingered.
It had been a long time since he had properly fished, but he so hated the sea....
“I can get them off myself,” he growled, his voice thick from the effects of the ale. But he didn’t move to remove his shoe, letting himself fall back against the grey cotton sheets that were laid over the mattress. His other foot, still in its shoe, hung precariously over the bed.
It was growing harder to remember what he had been like when I was a child, when I still had baby curls in my long brown hair, streaked with blonde where it was bleached from the sun and salt. Back when he was a man with a reputation to uphold, managing deck-hands that would pull in the thick nets filled with fish from his boats to take to the fishmongers. He had two vessels in his fleet back then and I loved to stow away onto those boats, to see the wriggling fish in the nets, to watch the water slosh against the wooden hull, to feel that fresh sea breeze on my face. All these memories sometimes made me wonder if they were real in comparison to the dark-faced man now snoring on the bed. His nose twitched over the coarse hair that grew on his face while I stood there, watching him, and I hoped he’d stay asleep tonight.
I grabbed a handful of the soiled clothing, hearing the clink of hidden bottles as they shifted within their cloth caves. I tossed the clothing into the basket, clearing a path to the door in case he needed to make it to the bathing room, and slipped out of his small room, shutting the door behind me.
The scent of fermenting alcohol again penetrated my nose, and I grumbled to myself as I put the basket aside, realizing the floor would need to be cleaned—again. I almost made it to the kitchen area before a soft breeze from the open window near Papa’s chair caught my attention.
The smell of brine on the wind overpowered the acrid scents of the cabin, and as always, the scent had the ability to raise my spirits, even at the darkest of times. I would often find myself staring out to sea, wherever I might be, and feel completely at peace.
Another breeze wafted into the cabin, and I listened to the soft sounds of music from the village floating toward me. My stomach dropped—I still needed to go back to town since I had promised Papa more ale.
I dreaded my infrequent visits into the village. The pitying eyes of the villagers haunted me. I attempted to remain in the shadows, away from the red light of the lanterns that hung throughout the streets. The daughter of the drunk, that’s all they would see.
What did I expect them to say? To do? Someone had to stay with Papa, to take care of him.
Yes, I had promised, but first, I needed something.
I licked my fingers and doused the lantern’s flame between my index finger and thumb, feeling a quick bite of heat before leaving the dark cottage. The air outside was warm and inviting. The sea breeze mingled between the strands of my hair, lifting it to trace along my cheek bones. The salt was thick in the air; the only sound was the violence of the sea as it nibbled away at the minerals in the rock. I walked across the worn dirt path toward the edge of the cliff on which our home sat. The pathway ran down through the craggy rocks, which would bring me directly to the rocky shore, but tonight I didn’t have time to feel the frothy water on my bare feet. Tonight I had a promise to keep, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t first see the white peaks of the water crashing before I headed to town.
I crossed my bare arms over my chest as I arrived at the edge of the cliffs and looked out over the sea. The combination of brine, seaweed, and salt made me pause and close my eyes, allowing only a moment for myself to take it all in. I listened to the song of the sea, tasted the salt brought to my lips by the breeze, and let it rock away the sadness nestled in my heart.
But I had already lingered too long, and with one final glance at the sea that would always feel more like home than our dark cottage, I reluctantly made my way toward the village.
I slowly approached the Midsummer’s Eve festival, the village already alive with music and laughter. There were too many people dancing, drinking, and celebrating for my presence to be clandestine, and those cursed lanterns were strung as expected, glowing with a vibrant red in the summer’s night, removing any and all shadows I could have used as cover.
The upside to the promise I’d made, I realized as walked along the outskirts of the partygoers’ dancing circle, was that every tavern within the village would be open for patrons, and my search for my father’s imbibement would only need to go as far as the nearest pub. So long as I kept my head down and my eyes forward, I would be able to enter, get what I needed, and return to the cabin before Papa awoke, yelling for more.
I stopped in my tracks, blood freezing into ice.
“I wasn’t expecting you to escape from that hellhole you call home at least until morning.”
I squared my shoulders and raised my chin, turning on my heels to face the one person I would have preferred to see bobbing under the ocean’s waves, never to resurface.
“Fiero,” I responded with the same distaste he had spat at me.
What I wouldn’t have given to smack the self-satisfied smirk from his face as his dark eyes roamed freely over my body, but the less attention I brought to myself, the better. He stood a head taller than me and I took a step back so I wouldn’t have to arch my neck as I continued to glare at him.
It wasn’t that Fiero was unattractive. Smoldering dark eyes with high cheekbones and a deep-set jaw had many of the local girls fawning over him. No, he definitely wasn’t unattractive...he was just an ass. At least he was alone tonight and not with his usual entourage of village girls desperately hoping to one day be the young lord’s wife.
He had grown up in our village—we’d even gone to school together—but when he was fourteen, his father received a lordship due to an ancient uncle who had never conceived his own children. After that he had moved to some inland town that I couldn’t be bothered to remember the name of.
Like the others in the village, he wore his festival best, though his was made of silk versus the linen that the villagers wore. His ash blond hair was tied back to fall behind his shoulders. Why he chose to come back here on Midsummer instead of some more glamourous celebration day was beyond me. Maybe he wanted to flaunt his new “wealth” to the fishing town he grew up in, finally proof that he was always better than us.
“What do you want?” I snapped. I just wanted to go home, give Papa the ale, and maybe sneak another glance at the sea before retreating to my small loft room and sleeping.
He crossed his sculpted arms in front of his chest. The smirk remained. “That, there, is the question to ask, isn’t it?”
I huffed and turned from him, but his hand grabbed my arm, harder than necessary, and he pulled me back to face him.
“We’re having a conversation, Tristaine. It’s rude to turn away when someone is talking to you.”
“Well, I am done talking to you,” I responded through clenched teeth, trying to rip my arm from his grasp, but his grip only tightened.
He pulled me closer, and I could smell the familiar scent of ale on him. Fiero had clearly begun celebrating earlier in the day. I attempted to hold my breath to keep from gagging.