The full moon cast a shimmering path across the sea and I stared at the gentle waves with longing in my heart. My hair hung in matted clumps, the salt-stiff weight pulled on my neck. My skin itched and cracked, begging for moisture, but I could not return home, not yet.
I crept from my hiding place amidst the shadows of the trees and stood in the open , scanning for any signs of movement. The soft lap of water on sand soothed my ragged nerves as I walked across the beach toward the ship which held the man in chains.
As I stood beneath the vessel, astonished by its size, I thought it must be nearly as big as one of the great whales that lived beyond the reef and sang their sad songs. How could it stay atop the waves?
Finally I noticed a series of hand and foot holds extending up one side of the curving exterior. To reach them I had to swim a short distance. A sigh escaped my lips as water surrounded my body. I didn’t allow myself to change, the swim was not so far that I needed my tail and fins. Besides, the risk of being seen in that form was too great. I pulled with my arms and kicked with my two legs pressed together, splashing like a half-dead fish.
The noise was bound to alert someone, so I dove under, smiling as the itch was erased from my skin and the weight of my hair lifted from my aching neck. The distance closed too fast. I surfaced reluctantly at the base of the ladder. Wrapping my fingers around the first protruding board, I began to climb.
The ascent was more difficult than I’d imagined, working against the outward curve of the ship, but I made it. Peeking through the holes in the railing I searched for the familiar shape of a person among the myriad of foreign objects.
No man in chains.
No men at all, or women for that matter, were visible on the deck, but I knew he had to be here somewhere.
Wood worn to a smooth finish sluiced water from my drenched clothing as I pulled myself over the railing and onto the ship. I crouched low, dripping onto the clean deck, then half-crawled half-walked across the deck, scanning for any signs of movement. I stopped when I heard a groan followed by a soft clank.
My head swiveled in the direction of the sound, and my body followed until I heard it again. I saw a large dark square made of criss-crossed metal pieces. Through the holes in the pattern I saw him.
The man in chains.
My heart began to pound as I searched for some way in, some way down. I pushed my fingers through the holes and curled them around the slim bars. I tried to pull. I tried to push. I shuffled forward to get the strength of my legs beneath me and tried to lift; all to no avail.
Panting with exertion and adrenaline, I released the bars and wiped a bead of sweat from my brow.
The sweat froze on my skin when I heard the pat-pat of bare feet behind me. A deep voice closed the distance between us and seemed to crawl across my skin.
“Well, well, what have we here?”