There was something amiss in the heavens: someone, somewhere, was not doing their job properly. A pipe had burst, likely as not, and the entire country had been–for the past three days–under a perpetual deluge of sky-water, which showed no signs of abating.
Sinead slumped through the bleary greenness of Ireland, only vaguely aware of the sheep he was charged to bring home. Had anyone else been nearby, they could’ve heard his stomach rumbling over the cacophony from the clouds above. As it was, Sinead was very much alone. With only the flickering of the storm to guide him, Sinead cleared the last drumlin before his house.
The troubling thing about the sheep was not that they were bumbling about on the grey limestone and green muck, but that today, there were only four of them. Yesterday, there had been five. Earlier in the week, six. If the people from town’d got their ears on that bit of news, they’d’ve shaken their sorrowful heads and muttered, “Faeries, and the like,” before carrying on their way to or from the sea.
Sinead knew better.
Shivering against the water trickling down the neck of his shirt, Sinead shuttered the door behind him. The sheep pawed around his feet for a moment. He took a deep gulp of the smell drifting in from the cast-iron above the fire. Alone, it filled him up better than carrageen or chickenweed ever could. He sat on a low stool and removed his socks one by one, stopping to wring the torrent from each before placing them on a grate by the fire. His mother righted herself from where she’d been stirring that night’s dinner and planted a sound kiss on his cheek. “All in, are they?”
“That’s m’boy,” she mumbled before peering back into the thickening stew. Bubbles surfaced as Sinead watched his mother. Tired, as ever. The lines of her mouth softened though, and she carded her fingers through her greying tresses before saying, “Out with it now. Don’t be bash.”
Crimsoning ever so, his eyes squinted back at the window. “I could swear I saw—but, on a night like this, no one’d be—“ And yet.
Lightning. Thunder. The earth quaked beneath Sinead’s feet. But the moment’d been enough. He saw it—a ship being lifted, dashed upon the waves, moving ever closer to shore—he was sure of it. He gulped down a desperate hope, Adam’s apple fighting him as he flung the door open and raced back into the storm.
The crew fared badly. Their boat, not being made for water proper, was buffeted on all sides as they tried desperately to move their vessel away from the impending shore. It was no use. The crew jibed and lied ahull and eased the halyard and did every other sort of nautical term they could think of, but nothing helped: they were going to run aground, and soon. Not that any of them seemed concerned. The Cap’n shook his head and opened his mouth, about to call to the crew to abandon ship when, on the edge of a cliff off the starboard bow, a small light twinkled, not unlike a star. A lantern, most likely, and in the small flickers of unrelenting lightning, Cap’n Finley could just barely make out the frame of a young lad in a white sweater. “Svetta!” C. Finley bellowed to his first mate, “That cliff there, d’you see ‘im?”
This Svetta, his first mate, let drop the rope she’d been tying and squinted through the downpour in the direction the Cap’n was pointing.
“Nah, Cap’n. Jus’ some trick o’ the light. Faeries, probably—you know how these Irish shores are,” she laughed, gamboling closer to the edge of the boat. The entire crew was in such good spirits, despite the gravity of their situation. It seemed only natural that some island native would be standing at the edge of the cliff in the pouring rain, doing what he could to lead them to safety.
The bos’n joined her, whooping in delight as the ship careened in the gelid ocean. “Fantastic, this! But what could he possibly—“
Sinead raced to the edge of the limestone cliff, clutching the lantern in his hand. His ma tore after him. “What d’you think—could get us all—back here— blessed lambs—“ hit him in spurts, between the aberrant clashing from the storm clouds above. His trousers were drenched up to his knees, sticking to his sweaty skin as he dashed along the very edge of the cliffs. Glancing back every now and again, yes! They were following him! This was an old trick he’d seen an old sailor use once, to bring a carough in from a particularly frightful day at sea. But never at night. And never a ship of this size.
The winds tore at the ship, flinging it, with every passing moment, closer and closer to shore. The helmsman, as she guided the ship, let out a shout when she realized, “He’s leading us up to a cove!!”
“Brilliant!” thundered the Cap’n. “Keep her steady, Nico! Once we’re in the fjord, the wind will still be tuggin’ us in the direction of the shore, so all hands! Make ready to berth, and quick-like, now!”
Sinead stood in the gap between cliffs, a couple hundred meters from the water. This had to work, this had to work, this had to work. His mother had caught up with him now and began firing off a string of, “What d’ya think you’re doing, out ‘ere in the bitter cold, usin’ my best lantern—“ and wrenching it out of his hands and gesturing like mad and—
“But Ma, would you just—“
“A right sorry lot you’d be, if—“
Turning, Mrs. Tamm noticed the ship. Her eyes flew wide, and she pulled her red wrap closer about her shoulders. “Sinead, is that—“
“And will they be—?”
“In a matter of minutes.”
As Ma Tamm steps over the threshold, she murmurs, “The blessing of God on this place.”
The Broken Light, being made for the skies, yes, but built in a way resembling those made for the sea, was quite peculiar in structure. For example, all the wood had to be made of a particular sort of wood that not only supported everything it was required to carry and was not very dense, but also lightning-resistant.
“The boy’s already seen enough. If we let him go now, he could report us to the Authorities for all we know.”
“As if they make it a point to traffic Inishmore, Svetta. You forget yourself,” he spat. Nevertheless, a small starry bit shone from his eye, “As if I wouldn’t let him join us for the asking…” Nico, who had been watching the entire ordeal from the wheel, shouted down, “About time, Cap’n! I’d begun to think you would ask him yourself, before long!”
He chuckled and closed the two-pace gap between himself and the lad. Sinead’s heart thundered as he realized:
The rain had stopped sometime in the night. Sinead rolled over and sat up, blinking in the unfamiliar sunlight. Around him on the floor lay the sailors, much like a mortuary full of a bazaar’s cadaverous remains. Careful not to disturb their snoozing and snoring, Arden rolled up his blanket, rubbing the soreness from his shoulders and neck. Then he saw her.
TO BE CONTINUED
“Wut–” he started, but she waved her hand, motioning for him to be quiet. “Shhhh, Arden!” hissed Svetta, “D’ya want the whole bloody lot? Let ’em sleep.” Her eyes went back to the penny dreadful she had clutched in her hand.
Arden added a few more branches to the fire, then padded–quietly–over to the low stool by the window, where Svetta was sitting. He stood there for a moment.
“I, uh–well, I’ve got to return the sheep to… I’ll be back, shortly,” he muttered softly before steeling his way over to the door. He paused half a second, berating himself. His cheeks flamed. He could feel her eyes watching him as he stepped over the captain and the bos’n and the sprawled form of Tom. Once in the adjoining room, he collected the sheep that had slipped his mind a moment ago.
By the time he had corralled the small herd, Svetta was by the door, waiting for him. “You can’t read, can you?” Arden’s brow furrowed for a moment. “Uh, no–what’s the matter?” he spat.
She opened the door, tucking her penny dreadful into one of the monstrous pockets of her greatcoat and stepping into the sunshine. “Oh, nothing. ‘s just that, if you COULD read, I would have lent you my copy of–” with a flourish, “The Huge Hunter; or The Steam man of the Prairies!”
Arden scrunched his face as they walked on either side of the sheep.
“What? Do ya mean to be likenin’ yourselves to God, sailing clear up to Heaven in this ship?”
“Nah, lad. We just intend to be stealin’ his thunder.”
“Lightning belongs to the crown,” he said plainly. “Whist it is in the air, at any rate. If a bolt fell in someone’s garden and they just happened to have lightning storage equipment there, it would be legal for them to store it, but lightning-attracting equipment is against the law. The main royal lightning collector is at the top of Mount Huon, on the Storm Hold itself. No need even for a lightning attractor there, just a simple spike. I also have a fleet of royal lightning collecting vessels, they collect whatever more is needed. And I have a wing of lightning marshals, to keep a check on piracy. But to be honest, so long as my own nets are full, I have no personal interest in pirates. My lightning marshals can round up a few and hang them now and then, but I have better things to do.”
relate it to kids catching lightning-bugs in jars, mark twain quote.
“Tom! Yer up!”
Tom whooped like mad, and scrambled belowdecks. He returned a moment later with a monstrous greatcoat and a velvety top hat, which he donned with a flourish. He bows a little and says, in an airy British accent, “Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, at your service, sir!”
Knock it off, that’s NOT what your “Tom” stands for.
Yeah, I know that, and you know that, but
“And once we’ve caught ’em, we’ll store the bolts in these–” here, Tom pushed aside a monstrous door that, to Sinead, had simply appeared to be part of the wall. All around the darkened room were shelves, and lining the shelves were glass jars, some of which were lit up in spasms of light. “See, I don’t know if you ever caught fireflies as a kid,” Tom continued, grabbing one of the jars, “but, back where I grew up, we’d have dozens of ’em that would just fly like mad all over the countryside, and me and my friends, we would rush out with jars like these,” he set the jar back, “trying to catch as many as possible.” He slid the door back in place. “I guess the only difference is, instead of lightning bugs, we’re just catching lightning, eh?”
Tried juggling potatoes, but they kept slipping from his fingers, all different shapes and weights. “Hang on a tick…” he muttered, and began rummaging around in one of the packs they’d divested upon entering. From its depths, Tom pulled three green apples. Shiny in the flickering light from the fire, the mere sight of them caused similar lights to well up in the eyes of the two little girls watching them.
Cap’n Finley noticed, even if Tom didn’t. As the latter set to work throwing them around in a blinding fury that had the girls shrieking with delight, the Cap’n motioned to Svetta. When she was near enough to hear his whisper, she nodded a few times, then ducked back outside.
“The real trick,” Tom was saying, “is to plan where your hands will be before you toss up the apple. That way–” he tossed the first of them up– “you can work the tosses–” the second one– “into a regular routine–” and the third. A smile spread across his face as his juggling picked up speed, “See?” He caught all three with a flourish, and bowed, feigning bashfulness. The little girls cheered, as did Ma Tamm, remembering, in the half-light, some faint recollections of traveling circuses and the apples they would buy with drizzled caramel. She sighed at the though, moving over to the fire to stir the lamb stew again. Rather pathetic, really. Won’t be enough to be filling up the likes of these, she thought.
Just then, the door stammered again, and there was Svetta, clutching several packages and dripping all over the floor. Which, because it was dirt, was slowly becoming mud over the course of the evening. At least she’d had the good sense to wear her oilskins, so as not to soak through the change of clothes she’d been given earlier.
“I um,” she smiled, “well, we figured we should thank you, Mrs. Tamm, for conceding to host our unexpected lot for the remainder of the evening. And, since it won’t be doing much good on the ship, we figured it was just as well