The ship continued to roll with the heaving waves, but the rain began to slack off, as least enough to be able to see. Gavin pushed from below as I pulled with all my strength. One by one we drew the twelve other prisoners onto the saturated boards of the deck until only Gavin was left below. As I looked down at him, panic began to rise in my chest. I hadn’t thought past getting the prisoners out. I could not reach him, and even if I had been able to reach, I could not lift him.
A soft tap on my shoulder made me turn. The man closest to me extended one end of a length of rope which the prisoners had uncurled from a nearby post.
I nodded my thanks and lowered the rope.
Together we heaved as Gavin clung to the wet hemp. As soon as he was able to grip the deck, he began to help lift himself out of the hold. He had one knee on the edge when a flash of movement made me look up.
Langley barreled toward us, brandishing a sword and shouting against the wind and rain. I pulled on Gavin’s tattered shirt, tearing a piece off as we scrambled backwards. He struggled to rise to his feet while simultaneously trying to shield me from Langley’s approach.
Gavin bore no weapon, he had no way to protect himself. He gripped the chain that hung between his manacled wrists and held it forward to deflect the blow as Langley raised his sword above his head.
I opened my mouth to scream but the sound never escaped, stopped cold by the sight of a spear soaring through the air and piercing Langley through the heart.
Blinking, I turned my head and saw one of the female prisoners standing with one foot forward and one arm still extended. She watched Langley bleed from eyes bright with hate.
The sailor’s who’d tied themselves to the mast and railing yelled as they cut their bonds. They rushed toward us, and the ship lurched again. Feet began to slide, voices screamed. The sailors were tossed overboard and then, to my horror, two of the chained prisoners slipped and fell. The pull of their fall caused others to slide and soon the lot of them were braced against the railing, clinging as one, then another, lost their grip and fell toward the sea.
“The Key!” Gavin called.
I followed his gaze toward Langley’s body, which had also started to roll across the deck, but had stopped when the spear protruding from his chest became caught in some netting.
On my hands and knees I made my way toward him, praying that the spear would not slip loose, of his body or the netting.
Finally I’d reached him. Fumbling with cold wet fingers, I attempted to remove the ring of keys from the dead man’s belt.
“Hurry!” Gavin yelled.
In a fit of desperation I yanked the ring and tore the belt from Langley’s pants as the ship righted itself once again.
My trapped scream finally escaped as I turned and saw the last prisoner lose his grip on the railing. He began to fall, and the weight of a dozen bodies pulled Gavin over the edge with him.
Without another thought I ran and dove.
Within seconds of hitting the water I kicked off my stolen pants and began to kick toward the sinking struggling line of bodies. My tail and fin formed, one hand still gripped the belt; I raced against time.
“Elisande!” I started at the sound of Taya’s voice, my friend from what seemed like a lifetime ago.
She swam toward me, flanked by Imalia and Leilani.
I barely had time to wonder what they were doing there.
“Help them!” I yelled, pointing toward the shackled prisoners.
They nodded and we raced together.
The four of us were able to get beneath the length of chain and swim upwards until the heads of those thirteen men and women broke the surface.
“Hold on to them!” It wasn’t clear if I was speaking to my friends or the prisoners, but it didn’t matter, everyone clung to each other and kicked with every ounce of strength they had.
Moving down the line I unlocked the manacles which bound hands and feet, letting the heavy chains fall to the depths of the sea. At last I came to Gavin.
As his chains fell away he smiled, and then looked at me with amazement.
“I didn’t think it was real.” He said. “I thought it was just a story.”
I smiled back, but the grin quickly faded. We were so far from home, so far from shore, and many of the men and women we’d saved could not swim, even without the chains.
We helped them stay afloat, Taya, Imalia, Leilani, and I, until the storm passed.
“Elisande,” Imalia said. “What happened?”
“It’s a long story,” I replied, “and one for another time. How did you find me?”
“We followed you all the way from the harbor.” Leilani replied.
“The night that you left,” Taya continued, “your father returned.”
“He came back?” I asked, then repeated the words softly. “He came back.”
“Yes,” Taya replied with a grin. “They all did, and they found us a new home.”
“The problem is many are too weak to make the trip.” Imalia stated.
A moment of silence followed as we contemplated this new problem.
“Well, it looks to me like you’ve got a ship.” Gavin interjected, nodding his head toward the fading, floating vessel which had brought us here. “And I dare say you also have a willing crew.”
Looks passed between the prisoners, buoyed now by the shoulders of my friends. They all nodded.
I looked Gavin in the eye and then cocked my head.
“Can you swim?”
“And sail,” he replied.
“Then what are we waiting for.”