This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts. Check Sunday’s post (4/14) for a recap of parts A-L.
Valerius brokered his, Icarus, and Xavier’s labor in exchange for passage across the water. It felt good to be on the water again. It had been too long, the constant defense and skirmishes on the border taking up most of his time. He’d be glad when he could finally turn his attention solely to his boat and fishing. Valerius had finished a shift at the oars and Xavier took his place.
The sea was choppy and Icarus looked grey, like he was about to retch at any second. He sat next to Dianthe who was stroking his back, trying to ease his discomfort. The boy was a constant source of amusement; Valerius delighted in teasing and tormenting him in the manner he himself had been tormented growing up with three older brothers.
“I’m in no mood for you today,” Icarus squawked as he approached.
“You look a little green my friend. Are you hungry?” Valerius pulled out the remains of one of the rabbits from the night before, began gnawing on a leg bone. It had the desired effect on the lad. Icarus ran to the side of the boat and began heaving.
“That was cruel,” Dianthe said.
“I know,” Valerius smiled. “But he’ll feel bet—”
“Hel—Help!” A splash commanded everyone’s attention.
“The boy went over the side!” someone shouted.
“She can’t swim!” Dianthe shouted, running to where Icarus was standing seconds ago.
“She? Who’s she?”
“Icarus! Cardelia! She can’t swim!” Dianthe shouted. “Do something!”
Valerius could make out the bobbing orange top of a head. He did the only thing he could think of, he dove in after him—her—whatever.
Valerius was a strong swimmer but the rough water made it difficult to reach her. He grabbed around her waist just as she’d stopped struggling for air. He tugged her upward, and pushed her face above the waves, willing her to breathe.
Xavier threw him a rope and Valerius tied it around the both of them and let the crew onboard drag them in. He handed the girl up to Xavier then scrambled up the side of the boat. The girl lay face down on the deck, unconscious. Dianthe was crying and a circle of onlookers gathered around the body.
Valerius was consumed with guilt, knowing his teasing had brought this about. He pushed his way through the crowd to the girl’s side. Girl or not, he whacked her back as hard as he could.
“Xavier!” Dianthe cried as he did it again.
The gods must have heard his plea because the girl coughed and then gagged the seawater that had clogged her throat and lungs.