Ceridwen rode to the east to visit her father’s family who now resided near the port city by the coast. She had to tell them the news and in case more trouble was heading their way there were fishing boats for safe passage. As a girl she had sailed with her cousin and uncle in a small fishing ship and though it had been many years she had confidence she could remember how to sail again. Given a good sense of humility she was able to make bargains in exchange for travel before, so she was sure there was a way out regardless. Faster and faster Rhiannon took them. They stopped to rest and then headed onward. The next day as they were getting closer she looked up at the sky, still gray and seemingly lifeless until she saw a familiar sight. Seagulls flew overhead and she could smell the ocean salty air.
It was a small but bustling port with many vendors and merchants selling fish and various items for those heading out to sea. Ceridwen’s father grew up here but longed to live in solitude in a quiet farm village away from “the never ending crashing sounds of the sea”. Ceri thought of how her mother and father had met when he was on a fishing trip to the lighthouse in one of the islands down the coastline nearby. She had to tell herself that they’re gone now and coming here again was to bring bad news and not to spend time by the beach with her family like she had always done many years before.
Ceridwen and Rhi walked further until they came up to find her aunt and her cousin. They were at a cart selling fish next to other merchants who were also surrounded by sailors and fellow travelers. She slowly waited until the next patron left their cart and her Aunt Siwan and cousin Aeron realized who was standing to the side in disarray with a horse covered in soot. They looked happy at first then their faces dropped. Ceridwen looked for her uncle but didn’t see him. He must have been off at sea fishing as he had always done and Siwan and Aeron were home to take care of the merchant market. Her face was grave. The spoils of tragedy were painted all over her.
“Ceri you look as if you’ve gone through the underworld and back! What happened to you child?” Siwan screamed. Aeron came up and hugged her. He had never seen Ceridwen dressed in clothes of battle in such a state and at first thought she had escaped a battle.
“We heard you were training. Not going off to fight somewhere. Where did you go?” Aeron asked in a panic.
“I did. I was sent off to train up North but when I got back home there was smoke. I ran as fast as I could and when I got there, everyone was gone. Everything’s burned down. It was silent but I could almost still hear it. Like I was there. All is lost. I arrived just as it was too late. Rhi is the only thing I had left.” Ceri said as she patted her friend.
Siwan had tears in her eyes. “Let’s go over here.. I must know more.” She had grief written in her eyes and she motioned to the vendor to the side of her to come over. She whispered something to him and he nodded and motioned for them to go.
Aeron and Ceridwen followed Siwan’s lead as they walked away from the market square.
“Were there any enemies that you know of? Anyone who had wanted this all along? Someone maybe your father owed a debt of some kind to?” Siwan asked.
“Father and Mother never had enemies. They never went far. I was the first of the family to travel in years, but..they left this behind,” Ceridwen said as she opened her bag on the side of Rhi and pulled out a dirty and tattered flag with the sigil of the Northern City. Siwan shuddered. “Gods alive.” she exclaimed and looked around frantically hoping no one else had seen what Ceridwen just took out in plain sight.
“Put that back and hide it. You must never show that to anyone until you need to. I have a plan. It may not work but it’s worth trying.” she said and took Ceridwen and Aeron by the arm also and they began hurriedly walking abruptly towards the pier.
“We have a boat here you can take. I’ll have one of our fishing captains take you. I’ll go find him if I can. We must hurry. These boats are just meant for use in small fishing trips. But it’ll get you further and out of the eyes of those on land. You can sail can’t you? You’ve been out with your father and Uncle Emyr before. You can’t trust the ocean, Ceri. Remember that. You must move with it, never against it. When a heavy gust of wind comes and the tides rush remember to pull the sail…”
Siwan was interrupted abruptly by Aeron. “Mother, I’m going with her.”
Siwan looked apprehensive.
“No. Trust me. I can take us. We have to move fast. Now.” Aeron said as he looked at Ceridwen.
“You just help me when we get on land.” he said as he looked down at her sword she was clutching by her side.
“Alright then. Ceridwen, you must go to your father’s family’s home up by the island near the lighthouse. Don’t stop unless you have no choice. They must know of this at once. They can rally as many other territories as possible. You understand? A treaty has been broken. You’re now the messenger for the beginning of war.” Siwan said, with tears starting to form again in her eyes.
“Now go. And don’t come back until it’s safe.”
They each gave Siwan a hug and headed towards the boat. “How many times have you sailed? I mean, I trust your judgment and everything but I’ve never seen you man a boat before.” Ceridwen asked her cousin.
“Enough to know how to get us out of here, but it’s been a while.” Aeron said.
“How long is a while?” Ceridwen replied, while trying not to look puzzled.
He hesitated for a moment then said, “Since the last time you were with me.”
Ceridwen’s face dropped. “The time we weren’t supposed to take it out by ourselves and I had to take over because you were over too sick to?”
“That makes us both evenly as unprepared. This will be..interesting at least.” Aeron said.
The wind started picking up as they set out to the gulf. “If it starts to rain there’s not much we can do for cover. So we have to be quick. We’ll be lucky if we meet the island by morning.” Ceridwen said
“We don’t need to think about time anymore. We don’t know how much time we even have left at this point or if the enemy will find us on our way. Let’s just try our best to make it there in one piece.” Aeron replied.
“I missed your honest, yet negatively cloaked logic.” Ceridwen said with a smile.
They had been sailing for a few hours when they started to get tired. “You need more rest than I do. I know I said before not to think about time but I know it’s been far too long since you’ve even slept, Ceri.”
“I’ll be ok.”
“You’re the one carrying the evidence. We need you alert. Also you know how to use a sword better than me. You rest and I’ll keep us going.” Aeron said and she nodded and found a spot near the hull to lie down and rest. She felt sick from the crashing waves hitting the side of the boat. It’d been ages since she had sailed and was beginning to feel uneasy.
Ceridwen forced herself to breathe slowly in and out, taking deep breaths in her nose and letting the air escape her lips. A few more minutes of this and she finally felt her heart start to calmly beat normally again for the first time in what felt like days and she fell fast asleep. There weren’t lots of dream-like visions except faint glimpses of the faces of her slain family and people of her village. Clouds of smoke and screams of people in her mind shook her awake abruptly. For a second she forgot where she was and felt as if when she woke up she would be back home again and it was all in her nightmares. Ceridwen was breathing heavily and broke into a sweat when she realized she was on the boat with Aeron. He paused fixing the ropes he was pulling and looked at her.
“You make strange noises in your sleep, has anyone ever told you that?” Aeron laughed.
“Your father and mother did. When we came to visit last. Remember that?”
“My father ran into the room with your family and told them all you sounded like you were either summoning a demon or expelling one.” Aeron replied.
“Probably both.” Ceridwen laughed and they both stopped when the wind got still. It was warm.
“Does this mean we’re getting closer or going the wrong way?” Aeron looked puzzled.
“If we were going the wrong way it would be cold. Everything’s been different lately. Do you even remember the last time you saw the sun?” Ceridwen asked.
Aeron thought about it for a moment. “Four nights ago I noticed it was morning but not light enough outside to be illuminated. We just thought it was cloudy from a storm.”
“No, if it was a storm there would be rain. It feels like everything is changing. And fast. I feel like it’s getting worse but it’s hard to tell.” Ceridwen said.
“Let’s keep moving and all we can do is see. We can’t control whatever it is. Unless you’ve got kind of rain spell our ancestors know about that they never taught us.” Aeron said.
“Possibly. Let’s find out.” Ceridwen said with a smirk.
They kept sailing until it was Aeron’s turn to take rest. “Now it’s your turn. I’ll take over and you get some sleep. While it’s still dark.” Ceridwen said.
“It’s always dark.” Aeron replied with a laugh.
“There’s that cynical logic again. Go to sleep. I’m older than you so you have to listen to me.” Ceridwen nudged Aeron to go and he agreed and walked over to the edge of the boat and got on the deck and settled down. Within a few seconds he had rolled over on his side and fell asleep.
The wind started to pick back up again. Ceridwen wondered if this was some sort of pattern. No wind with a warm spot here or there then still waters to go back to normal as it was in fact being controlled by some unseen force of nature. She stared out into the ocean and the water and kept thinking about if others who had settled to new lands left because they had no other choice but to run for safety. Ceri closed her eyes and breathed in heavily with a promise to no longer feel sorry or pity herself for her plight. Moving forward was the only option and there wasn’t a way to take anything back or make any changes to the way things had occurred. She started to feel as if they were getting close to land and could see a faint spot in the distance that appeared to be rocks, but there was no lighthouse. Ceridwen gathered it was the islands leading up to her mother’s former home. When she was a child she remembered thinking they were near these rock but further on their trip could see that there were chains of islands that formed the archipelago.
Her father tried explaining it to her but she didn’t fully understand until she saw it for herself. Where the boat was floating felt familiar but the last time she had been here it was sunny and the water was blue.
Her hair stopped flowing in the breeze and the wind stopped again. The boat started to shake as if it was being pushed yet the waves were now still. She walked slowly towards the front of the boat. She could hear her feet creak against the wood underneath her and thought to herself she should be quiet. Her previous experience was now sparking paranoia she used for defense against the unknown. At this point she realized anything could happen and she had to be prepared. Beneath her vision into the dark below was something waiting for the opportunity to show itself. And it wasn’t alone.
Aeron stood up as if still partially asleep, but awakened in a daze. Ceridwen at first thought he was sleepwalking or trying to wake up. He turned toward the side of the boat and his head began to drop. “Oh no. For a little while I also started to get seasick. Are you feeling alright?” she called to him as she walked over his way.
He motioned his hand up that he was fine. She slowly moved over to his side and could tell he wasn’t feeling well.
“It’s all this inconsistent choppy wind messing with the currents.” she said.
He slumped over further down the side, his hands now near the water and he fell limp and she noticed his eyes were closed. Aeron moved slowly down as if he was either falling over the side. His motions seemed less voluntarily. The movements of someone being pulled. Ceri grabbed him by the back of his arms to pull him further down when she felt him get tugged further forward then back down again. It was dark and the moon wasn’t giving much light. She had a small dagger on her side and her sword was too far away. She pulled out the dagger and panicked. Aeron started to yell and he was being drug into the sea. She held on tight to Aeron but he was lifeless. Ceridwen tried holding him as much as she could bear but he was heavier than she was and his skin was wet and he started to slip away. Ceri took out the dagger and the only thing she could think to do was to fight off whatever had taken hold of her cousin. She didn’t want to slash his hands but had to free him from whatever had a grip on his wrists. With one solid swing of her blade she felt she had caught something. A blood curdling scream that was not from Earth emitted from below. It got louder and more high pitched and as she caught sight of a glowing white eye and gray skin the creature instantly pulled Aeron into the water below. Ceridwen screamed and was covered in the salty ocean backlash of his demise. He had sunk below the waves and was gone. She looked down into the water and screamed his name but he had faded out of sight.
Remembering her vow to not let emotions take over her with the events happening around her, she fell onto the deck of the boat and dropped her dagger and it rolled away. Ceridwen stared off in the distance in a cloud of confusion trying to process what had just happened.