by Graham B.
Ancient prophecies are fulfilled, out on the waters.
|It was in the deepest calms of the ocean that Kayan found the da'ilan. All the while, the purpose which kept his feet dry and the sails of his ark filled ebbed away even as his fresh water dwindled and his fishhooks broke.
Kayan knew the songs of the mysterious da'ilan as any child did, legends passed down from one generation to the next, a telling that spanned thousands of years back to when Yeh'ili vomited up the waters in anger at man and covered all of Arda. Song after song swelled poetically about the da'ilan that had been swallowed up by Yeh'ili's waters, never to be seen since. Songs of loss, of longing echoed in Kayan's head as he inspected the sails and confirmed that the calm stubbornly prevailed.
Do you still slumber?
Do you still dream?
Beneath the waters
In yau'ahan laughter
Voices of the fathers
Raised in song
To us return
Do you still slumber?
Duyan'uli grinned a toothless rictus at him from the ark's bow. How had Kayan fled the superstorm ahead of the destruction of Mituru'arda only to end up in a tiny ark with this useless old man?
"Do you have something to say, Duyan?" said Kayan. "I can almost smell your mirth."
"And stinking of day-old fish, no doubt!" said Duyan. "Have your prayers gone unanswered?"
"What is so funny? I am down to my last three hooks, and the village arks are scattered before the storm!"
Exhausted, Kayan slumped down into the ark's bilges. He felt wetness under his fingers and realized that moisture was inside the whalehide of the ark. Fighting through his fatigue, Kayan began scrabbling around the bilge, looking for the leak.
"The sea will take what is hers!" he crowed. "For we all return to her in the end!"
Kayan examined the hide. The leak was next to the keelbone, tiny but enough. He reached into his pouch for the stinking wad of seaweed gum to repair the leak. It was a pitifully small lump, and Kayan hoped he didn't have to repair many more leaks.
"If Yeh'ili claims me, then I will be with my father once again," Kayan said.
"Is it your father you think of?" said Duyan. "Lost all those years ago in the last superstorm?"
"Does it matter? I follow in his wake."
Kayan muttered wards against madness and lapsed into silence. The ark gently swayed in the near-nonexistent waves which murmured against the side. It was the voices of the yau'ahan rising from the deep, the stories said. Today they were only whispering, unlike days ago when Yeh'ili's anger sent the storm against Mituru'arda. There had barely been time to cast off from the flotilla of arks, and the torrent of spray and mist had borne Kayan's ark away before he could see what had become of the floating village.
The sun rose higher and seemed to pin Kayan to the ark with its fierce glare. It would reach its zenith in another hour, and the calm showed no signs of abating. He slumped against the gunwales, hunger gnawing at his guts, thirst burning his throat. The last he had eaten was a mackerel he had caught two days ago, and he was down to his last water bulb.
Even if the winds came, where would he go? The superstorm was the largest in living memory, from the bowels of Yeh'ili himself. Mituru could not have survived.
"Do you think of your father sails still?"
Kayan glared. Wasn't the hunger affecting Duyan?
"How did you get in my ark anyway?"
Duyan cackled again.
"I get around, lad! I'm where you least expect! I hide behind your eyelids and leap out as the 'ili wills!"
"Yeh'ili bore my father away. That is all there is to it."
"Yet you wanted to search for him, did you not?"
Kayan closed his eyes, but he could not close his ears, and Duyan's voice prodded.
"Would anyone help you?"
"You know they didn't. They had many problems. They had to save Mituru'arda."
Kayan made another ward against insanity. He knew it would not last forever. Every gaa'ra knew what would happen if they spent too long at sea alone. First voices, mistaken for the sounds of waves. Then visions from the sun and the moon, visions of impossible colors and yau'ahan leaping from the ocean into the clouds. It was said that Arda itself spoke through the madness. Kayan forced himself to look at Duyan.
"I was only a boy! How could I look for him myself?"
Duyan no longer grinned, and his eyes seemed luminous.
"And ever since, you have been adrift, haven't you?"
"Crazy old man," Kayan muttered.
Duyan cackled and lay back, his frizzy gray hair fluttering in the breeze.
What did the old gull mean "adrift?" Kayan thought back to Mituru, the floating village trying to piece itself back together after the last superstorm. He remembered hopping from one ark to another, pleading with villagers to search for his father. He thought of the days he spent sitting atop the gently rocking roof of the market ark, peering out to the horizon, looking desperately for a lone sail to herald his father's return.
The anger still nibbled at him, like fish at a floating carcass. Anger at Mituru for his father's loss. Anger at himself.
The ark lifted slightly, pushing itself and its occupants toward the sun. Startled, Kayan gripped the side and looked into the black water but saw nothing.
"He is coming," said Duyan.
"Who? The yau'ahan? We haven't seen one around in years. We've no whalehides to build arks."
"No. Think deeper, lad."
The water bulged again, and Kayan was thrown into the air. He landed hard in the bilge, his head striking the keel bone, and he lay there stunned. Kayan's eyes found Duyan, gray hair waving and rippling.
There is no wind! What is blowing his hair around?
The sun stood straight overhead, searing his eyes. He felt, more than heard, something ponderous and powerful glide beneath his ark, something vast. Something terrifying. Kayan managed to claw his way to the side and look out into the water.
Right before his eyes, the ocean bulged upward, a black mass with water fountaining off the sides as it rose. A geyser erupted in steam a hundred feet in the air at the top of the mass and nearly eclipsed the sun. The sound was like ceaseless thunder.
The name escaped Kayan's lips as a whisper that seemed to echo into the depths.
"You see him?" said Duyan's voice. "The father of all yau'ahan has returned! He speaks to you, lad!"
Kayan tore his gaze away from the sight to look at Duyan, but the old man was gone. He was alone in the ark.
He was never here! The madness has claimed me!
The water finished running off the black mass, revealing a barnacle-encrusted hide and tangles of seaweed. A single huge eye rolled toward Kayan, an eye the color of the unfathomable depths. A giant crevice hinted at a mouth that could have swallowed scores of Kayan's arks in one gulp.
"Yeh'ili! Have you come to take me? Have you come to pull me into the depths, to swim with my ancestors?"
The mouth opened.
All Kayan could smell was the salty wetness of the sea. Yeh'ili let out a breath, a single roaring blast of wind that spun Kayan's ark even as it pushed him away in a torrent of wind and waves, a mini-storm threatening to capsize him. Kayan held on, but never took his eyes off Yeh'ili. That was how he saw the water enter the great mouth. A giant whirlpool appeared in the seething maw.
It is the prophecy! Yeh'ili is finally drawing the water he flooded Arda with!
The storm reversed course, and Kayan was pulled toward the maelstrom. Now Kayan could see the baleen in Yeh'ili's mouth, like a hanging forest of kelp. The thrashing water cascaded endlessly into the mouth. Kayan's ark teetered on the edge, and Kayan got a look into the maelstrom, down into the bowels of Arda itself. Then the ark broke loose and hurtled into the abyss.
Kayan sat upright and looked around, his head throbbing.
There was no Yeh'ili, no maelstrom. He was alone in his gently rocking ark. The sun was touching the horizon, and the moon showed half its face to the sea.
What in Nuh'ili's name happened?
Duyan was also missing. Had he ever even been there?
The ark knocked against something in the water and shuddered to a standstill. The feeling was strange, utterly alien to Kayan. Slowly, he stood and took in the feel of a vessel that didn't move. There was something in the water, something solid. Kayan lifted a leg out and pressed it with his foot, expecting it to move away, or squish, or do what any object in the water did when pushed.
It didn't move.
That was when Kayan became aware of a sound he had never heard before - the crashing of surf. It sounded like a thousand yau'ahans breaching the water, the sound of a thousand hides crashing back into the depths.
In yau'ahan laughter
Voices of the fathers
He turned and saw it. He didn't know what to call it at first. Something huge and substantial protruded from the water. Even the largest of yau'ahan rocked gently in calm seas when they slept on the surface. What could just sit there like that and not move? The water beat itself against it, yet it stood, resolute and unchanging. Sprouting everywhere from it were stalks of strange-looking kelp that stood straight up.
Kayan pushed away from the rock and began paddling toward the island. As he got closer, he saw other arks pulled up on the beaches, and his heart leapt when he saw the colors of Mituru'arda, along with the colors of other settlements. He saw his people there, and they greeted him with bright eyes and broad smiles. All were happy to see him, and to share with him the discovery of da'ilan.
"Kayan has returned to us!"
"The prophecy is fulfilled! It is da'ilan!"
"Yeh'ili has forgiven us!"
The prophecy had happened. After thousands of storm seasons Yeh'ili's anger had finally receded and with it, the waters. Dry land was reappearing.
Still numb with shock and hunger, Kayan asked around about a man named Duyan'ilu and received only blank stares until Mituru's ancient songmistress answered.
"You mean the first of the gaa'ra who was stranded at sea when Yeh'ili flooded Arda?" she said. "You should have memorized the songs better! He was the father of all of us, a man of vision. It was Duyan'ilu who Nuh'ili sacrificed his body for and created the first ark. I will sing you the song, so you will know!"
The songmistress began the song, and people joined in, clapping their hands, and stamping their feet.
Duyan'ilu gaa'ra na
Nuh'ili yau'ahan na
Father of the gaa'ra
No wave will crush you
No wind will capsize you
Borne on back of Nuh'ili na
Yeh'ili smiles upon your sail
The angry waters writhe and spray
But Arda will soon see the day
When da'ilan pierces the waves!
Kayan turned toward the beach and felt the wind coming off the water. The unmoving surface still felt strange to him, but the sand that squished pleasantly between his toes, and the wind whispering between the branches of the strange, dry kelp that towered overhead told him that everything would be fine. There would be no more arks. No more storm seasons. No more uncertainty beneath their feet.
Kayan whispered a prayer to Yeh'ili and a word of thanks to Duyan, to be borne away to sea by the wind to his ancestors - to his father. For a moment, it seemed that the ocean smiled.
Word count: 1995