The crew readies the sails and Evelynn goes to the foredeck. She looks back at the shore, at the Island. She wonders how her mother must have felt when she was leaving for the Continent eighteen years ago. Was she feeling the same dread and excitement in her heart as Lynn is now? Most likely not. Her mother had done her duty to the Island, played the role she had been born into. She had been free. And Lynn is a fugitive. She is about to face the waves and the mist, and the storm the Island would send her way; the Island who would rather see her dead.
‘Are you ready, my lady?’ the captain asks, a bit nervous for what’s to come. He should be. Evelynn asked for ten of his best men - not nearly enough people to control the ship. But he understood why she did it – the fewer people knew, the easier it would be for her to sneak out the island… and fewer people would get hurt. The girl doesn’t answer his question. She continues to look at the beach and the forest behind it as if daring them to come after them. The captain wouldn’t be surprised if they did.
‘The people I leave behind,’ begins Lynn, turning around to face the man, ‘will they take care of each other?’
The captain doesn’t know who she means by ‘people’. Maybe her brother and uncle, though as far as he knows they’ve never been too keen on each other. Or maybe she’s talking about the Islanders. If so, then… no. Without her, they will turn on each other like hungry wolves. But he can’t tell her that. She needs to be strong now, she needs to think of what’s ahead of her, not behind her. So instead, he says:
‘I am sure they will, for you.’
Evelynn turns to face the grey afternoon sea.
‘Then yes. I am ready.’
Archer steps up to the railing and watches the shore move farther and farther away. They will soon enter the net of mist surrounding the Island. Even had he not met the queen and embarked on this suicidal adventure with her, he would have left eventually. But he never thought it would be like this. He thought he would make it to the Continent in one piece. Now he wasn’t so sure. But after everything he and the queen had been through, it didn’t matter anymore. The Island had taken everything from him and would continue to do so until his duty was over. Archer would rather die today, trying to take control over his own life, than continue living as a pawn in someone else’s game. Evelynn thought him that and he would be forever grateful to her… or however long they had left.
‘Did you see the girl Cap was talking to? Sam says she’s the queen.’ Two of the crew members are still fiddling with the ropes. Archer looks at their sloppy work and can’t help but cringe. He isn’t a sailor but even he knows that those knots won’t hold. In their defense, they don’t know about the storm that is coming.
‘Yeah? Well, Sam‘s an idiot. What would the little queen be doing on this old wreck? She has a whole fleet for herself, doesn’t she?’. There is a note of mockery in the crewman’s voice that annoys Archer. He tries to keep his temper and doesn’t say anything. Nothing good will come from starting a fight now.
‘Apparently, she’s trying to leave the Island. My wife heard she’s been missing for a week. Guards are looking for her and- ‘
‘If she really is on this ship then she is even worse than I thought. The Island would drown her before it ever lets her leave and she’s going to take us down with her. Not to mention the chaos that’ll follow. What sort of a queendoes that?’
Archer can’t listen anymore. They have no idea what they are talking about. He starts looking for Lynn and as he passes by the two crewmen he deliberately bumps his shoulder into the one talking shit about his friend. He wants to do a lot more to shut him up, but they need all the working hand they can get if they don’t want the ship to sink.
He finds Evelyn at the foredeck. She is squeezing the rails so hard her knuckles have turned white. He puts a hand over hers and her grip loosens. They stand next to each other in silence, not needing words to express how they feel – scared, sad, excited. They have left Brandon Harbor behind. No one had unmoored a ship to give chase, meaning the city guards still hadn’t figured out how and where the queen and her jester had escaped. And now, the sunset spills across the water in a thousand red and pink sparkles, and the sea is calm.
Perhaps the Island will truly let them go and the mist will part like drawn-back curtains. But when Archer turns to look at Lynn she is crying.
The winds ruffle the sailors’ collars at first and whip a little hair in their eyes. For as long as the skies remain clear they pretend it is only a good sailing wind, to help them along. When the first of the mist slithers across the waves they try to pretend it is only fog. But soon the mist is a wall, the storm is a gale and the Island is bearing down on them.
Evelynn keeps her arms at her side as she tries to concentrate. Word had spread around the ship about the queen’s presence and her plan to sail away to the Continent. None of the crewmen says that they should turn back, but every one of them is afraid. They feared they might die today, but they feared hermore.
The net of mist lies heavily atop the water, white and thick. Wind pushes the sails so hard that the entire ship jumps forward like a wild horse. It’s a beautiful storm and Lynn would love it were it not send to stand in her way. She turns to Archer and tells him to get everybody to safety underdeck. He opens his mouth to object, to insist on staying by her side. But then he sees the determination in her eyes, her own storm that’s raging inside them, and he knows she’s not the scared little queen anymore. He squeezes her hand one last time and turns around, barking orders at the crewmen. Soon only the captain is left at the helm, to help her steer.
The dawn is gone. Beneath the warring storms, it is dark as midnight. Only near constant lightning illuminates their way and the thunder that follows is near deafening. The waves raise them up only to send them crashing back down. The captain fights to keep the wheel steady, half steering, half holding on to it to keep from being washed overboard. The queen stands alone on the foredeck, her teeth chattering from the wet and the wind. A wave tilts the deck hard to the side and for a moment it seems as though they might not come back upright. But they do. And amidst it all Evelynn still stands upright, channeling everything her ancestors have left for her.
They crest a wave and slam down. She bites her tongue and tastes salt, but can’t tell if it is blood or seawater. She wipes the rain and salt from her eyes and swings her head back to look straight up, at the storm. She screams. She calls more wind and more lightning, praying that they would lend her their strength, that she would be able to control them this time. But she is just not strong enough.
In front of her, the clouds and the mist merge together, forming a grotesque skull-like face. When another lightning strikes, it looks as if it’s grinning. Another wave hits with so much force it feels like being slammed into a wall. The wind pushes the sails taut and tears at her clothes. She hears the scream first, then wood cracking, and then she only has time to turn around and catch a glimpse of the wheel flying towards her, before it hits her.
She smells the sea first. Tastes the salt on her tongue. She feels the sand beneath her cheek and fingers and in her throat. When she tries to take a deeper breath she can’t. Her back arching upright, she coughs out water and sand and seaweed. She opens her eyes and can’t wait for her vision to focus, desperately searching. She sees the timid waves first, washing crashed wood ashore. And bodies. She recognizes the captain as his body is gently washed on the beach. From where she’s standing she can’t see if he’s breathing or not. It takes her a couple of minutes to realize what must have happened. She looks slowly to her left, her head still dizzy. There’s more shipwreck on the beach and more people, some just gaining consciousness, and some laying terrifyingly still.
She hears a cough to her right and her head swings in its direction. Archer is only a couple of feet away from her, convulsing and vomiting seawater. She lets out a relieved breath she didn’t realize she had been holding. But her relief only lasts a second. Because in the distance behind Archer Queen Evelynn sees the familiar lights of Brandon Harbor.
Please, read this:
This was Mishela Dimova’s graduation short story, published here exactly as submitted.