Make sure to read Chapter II of The Lost Prince before reading The Sinking Woman & The Drifting Men, so you don’t spoil the story for yourself!
The Lost Prince, Part Three
The Sinking Woman & The Drifting Men
It was Lazrilus who first spotted the sinking woman. We had been travelling for about a day and a half since our flight from Ashuron’s harbour. It had been a difficult beginning to our journey. Lazrilus, as the more experienced navigator between the two of us, had taken charge of our map and of the ship’s rudder, leaving me to scurry below the deck in order to check on our engine. The ship was so slight of frame that even the smallest wave seemed to make it rock and dip like a leaf caught in the midst of a great storm.
The air burned with the taste of salt, and the sun hung low in the oppressive sky, beating down on my old back with whips of fire. Lazrilus, on the other hand, seemed quite at home at sea. He leaned against the rudder, as languid as a cat, surveying the endless sapphire desert we found ourselves in with a lazy sailor’s eye. It was no surprise, therefore, that he was the first one out of the two of us to first catch a glimpse of the sinking woman. I was just returning to the deck, after having replaced our engine’s jazrillite crystals. My hands had been scalded from contact with the burnt-out crystals, so that my raw fingers matched my neck, which was being mercilessly beaten on by the sun’s whips. As I staggered onto the deck, wiping my sweat-drenched lips, Lazrilus called out to me:
“Come take a look at this, Demetrius. Tell me if I’m dreaming.”
Muttering the foulest of oaths under my breath, I heaved myself to Lazrilus’ side. I followed his gaze, and, after much blinking and squinting, I saw what he was looking at.
A scrawny barge of some kind was being tossed by the waves, close enough that I could make out the patchwork of scars that criss-crossed its flank. In the centre of the barge stood a thin wooden pole and to this pole was tied a woman, dressed in a thin, pale blue dress. A faint melody brushed my ears and I realised with bewilderment that the woman was singing. The necromancer and I watched with child-like wonder as the waves surrounding the barge seemed to respond to the woman’s song. Every time she lifted her voice, the ocean itself replied in kind and elevated the imprisoned woman, on the tips of its frail, blue tendrils and every time the woman lowered her voice, the water mimicked the falling tones of her unintelligible melody, lowering the woman back into its folds with the soothing movement of some maternal leviathan. Somehow, the woman was using her song to carry herself across the ocean’s surface, without the aid of sails or oars or a rudder. The longer I stared at the woman, the more I realised two things. The first thing I discerned was that the woman looked as though she hailed from Kazore. She had the same skin, as dark as the mountains of the Onyx Valley, that I have heard is shared by the ruling Priestess class of Kazore. Her hair was long and dark, aside from the occasional streaks of pale blue dye and her neck and arms, from what I could see, were covered in spiral tattoos.
The second thing I realised was that, despite the Kazorean woman’s best efforts, her vessel was sinking. Every time she commanded the waves to lower her back onto the water’s surface, she sank just a little deeper into the water’s embrace and I noticed, as the barge rose, the amount that it was able to do so diminished with each ascent. A large wave hurled itself against the barge’s flank and, for one dreadful moment, it seemed as though the whole thing might capsize. The woman continued to sing, however, even as her doomed vessel ploughed deeper and deeper into the waves. I turned to Lazrilus.
“Turn the ship,” I commanded, “head towards her, but be careful!”
Wordlessly, Lazrilus obeyed. I could tell by his narrowed eyes and clenched jaw that he shared my concerns for the sinking woman. We glided over to her. As we drew closer, I observed that the bottom of the barge was clogged with salt water, so much so that it completely obscured the woman’s feet. I told Lazrilus to slow down, so that we were bobbing alongside the sinking barge. The woman stared at me and I gingerly stepped from the deck of my ship onto her own vessel. She never once ceased in her singing, but her eyes bulged with relief as I approached her, taking care to raise my palms in a gesture of peace. I examined the ropes. I spat out another oath. Whoever had done this to the woman hadn’t merely tied her to this doomed barge, the ropes had been fused together, clearly by some magic-user. I would have to cut the woman free. I raised my finger-telling the woman to wait, before climbing back over onto the deck of my own ship. I scuttled to Lazrilus and hollered into his ear.
“Give me the rudder! I need you to cut her free!”
“With what?” barked Lazrilus, “we don’t have any knives!”
I rolled my eyes and pointed at my mouth. The Vomoran’s eyes widened with understanding and he grinned, baring his long, sharpened fangs at me. I took hold of the rudder as Lazrilus, without the slightest hint of fear, leapt onto the barge. At once, I saw the woman recoil in horror. Ashenmore was not the only nation that had suffered at the hands of the Vomorans. Lazrilus bent down to bite trough the ropes and the woman shied away from his fangs, her voice wavering. As her song faltered the entire barge shuddered and, for one terrible, moment, lurched deep into the waves, as though it were about to disappear beneath the water’s skin. Lazrilus swore. I waved at the woman, one hand locked firmly on the rudder, the other flying above my head. I had no idea if she spoke my tongue but, nonetheless, I screamed at her that Lazrilus could be trusted. The woman seemed to understand and, when Lazrilus again knelt down to bite through the ropes, she did not struggle. The Vomoran made quick work of the ropes, his long fangs slicing through her bondage as though it were mere blades of grass. Then, the Vomoran took the woman by the wrist and practically threw her onto our ship. The woman squealed and, finally, broke off her song. Lazrilus’s feet touched the deck of our ship as the barge gave one last shiver and, without further resistance, vanished into the depths of the ocean.