The Sea’s Tithe

by Dawn Elliot

Under the howl of the storm, Chi could hear the bones of his ship breaking, and the tears he shed for it were swept away by the torrent. The storm had risen over them suddenly, tossing the fishing vessel like a child’s toy. The Mother Sea was taking her tithe in blood tonight.

There was nothing to do for it. Chi had lashed himself to the rudder, the crew had taken what refuge they could, and little Wif had already been swept under. Barely audible amid the howl of the storm, Chi’s wife sang songs to calm it. The storm seemed only to scream louder. They wouldn’t last much longer and were too far out to hope for rescue.

“Gods!” Chi chanted and worked with weather-worn hands to undo the ropes binding him to the broken rudder of his ship. “Sweet gods have mercy and take your due from the captain, and be satisfied.”

The rope slipped free, and for a moment the weather seemed to hold its breath as Chi stood tall at the stern, face turned to the wind-lashed waves.

“Chi!” his wife’s voice rose fearfully above the wail of the wind. And the water came crashing down.

The dark wave hit like a hammer, cold as the grave, and washed him from the deck. He kicked his boots free, striving for the surface but couldn’t tell up from down in the wild current. In the gloom of the stinging salt water were the shapes of splintered wood. His breath was knocked from him in a cloud of bubbles as lumber slammed into his side. Choking, Chi kicked weakly, knowing the struggle was useless, but unable to surrender to the sea he’d fought all his life.

Rising from the dark depths like a ghost, a face loomed in his drowning vision. He clawed at it with the last of his strength, fearing the spirits of the drowned had come to drag him down. Strong hands gripped his arms and dragged him up instead. They broke the surface, and Chi dragged in a desperate breath, letting it go in a terrified shout. He thrashed in the grip of long hands and blue arms.

“What?” Chi shouted. “What?”

Around him, other faces bobbed to the surface, pale green or sea blue. One of the people cradled Wif’s coughing form in her arms.

“Ai!” shouted the blue-skinned man holding Chi, voice thick with a south bay accent. “Settle down, friend. That’s no way to treat them what come to rescue you!”