Callista leaned out over the railing, her eyes on her namesake, the stars of the constellation known as the Big Dipper or the Mother Bear. The wind that night was chill and brisk, the ship speeding north under the power of its lowered sails.
Callista had been born on the waves as had many of the sailors on the ship so the susurration of the water was as familiar to her as her own heartbeat.
So she recognized when the waves broke too soon, the faint splash that disturbed the whisper. She peered down into the water. The keel broke the water and sent it skittering out to either side in a line that caught the moonlight and starlight and shone like a silver ribbon trailing from the boat’s prow, the crash of the wave into the water like the whisper of her mother’s voice in her ear. The ribbon’s light scattered, broke, and refracted some ways to starboard, over just a small body, a small irregularity.
Callista leaned further over the railing, trusting in the wood and the ship to hold her.
The shape was neither seal head nor the nose of a whale breathing in the nighttime air. It was flat and wide as a hatch door save for a hulk as if of discarded laundry heaped by its edge, making the plank tilt.
Callista turned. “Essa!” she called.
Her call brought curious stares from the other sailors, men and women working or lounging on the deck. The First Mate appeared among them. A tall man with a taller presence, Callista was sure that he could help. Despite the rawness of her shout and the terror that must shine in her wide eyes, he appeared calm even when Callista called down her report:
“There’s a person in the water!”
The sailors scattered into action, grabbing ropes and readying a boat with shouts and halloos. The First Mate walked across the deck and climbed the steps to join Callista at the prow. He lifted a rope from the deck and secured it around his waist. The surety with which he tied the knots, the mere physicality of his person calmed Callista’s fear, and she called down to the man, though she could not from here in the dark tell if he was even conscious, “Hang on! Help is coming!”
Callista watched him as the First Mate climbed onto the railing and leapt from it without a pause. The moonlight and the starlight suited him and seemed to make visible something of the First Mate’s manner that was not ordinarily visible.
He swam to the plank that she had seen, and he came alongside the man who lay draped over it. Callista saw the First Mate touch the man but she could not hear what was said. Together the two of them talked, and Callista watched, and other sailors gathered around her.
It was a privilege always to watch the First Mate when he sacrificed his own safety to try to secure the safety of another. It was everything that the sailors loved about their First Mate.
Gwen is a thief! She stole this line to write “Certain Lies,” which you can find on her blog, Apprentice, Never Master. I also need to apologize for this and the last legal theft post. I reread neither of them. I have spent both days with Gwen and Amy of The Gate in the Wood in person.