He stepped back. Niamh was left with her boat in the middle of a ring of ghostly faces.
‘Finally you are here.’
The voice was cold and bottomless, hissing and crashing from everywhere at once.
‘Who are you?’ said Niamh.
‘I have too many names to count but I am the greatest of all forces and now you are part of me.’
‘You’re the sea?’
‘That is one of my names. I have brought your beloved.’
‘She needs to be fixed.’
‘You will have time to fix her. You will have all the time now my dear one.’
‘Are you the reason I’m dead?’
The sea scattered and rushed.
‘I claim no one. You came to me.’
‘And my son? His fiancé?’
‘I only have you Niamh.’
‘You know me?’
There was a swishing sound, like laughter.
‘Of course I know you. You are here to join my other wives.’
Ghostly faces appeared in the water, old and young with eyes of coal and rust. Their mouths moved but no sound was made. That is why there were no women with the ghostly hordes.
Her lip curled up.
‘That’s why you brought me here?’ she said, ‘to be your wife?’
‘You belong here Niamh. You live for me! Even your own family couldn’t make you stay. You return to me again and again. You even abandon your boy for me.’
‘I never abandoned him! I loved him!’
Niamh was white hot and burning.
‘You left him! On the Earth, in the lifeboat, you always run away! I came first’
‘That’s not true!’
She choked on the words.
‘You weren’t there are the close of the day, there to tend to his wounds and smooth his way to adulthood.’
She fell to her knees. I wasn’t a good mother, she thought, I’m so sorry David.
She heard the sound of the sea laughing again and a memory bobbed to the surface like a buoy.
It was just before the boat trip. She and David were loading up “Mistress”, ready to take his fiancé on her first trip across the folding waters.
‘Are you happy?’ she had asked him.
David hoisted a water cooler into the cabin.
‘Happiest ever,’ he said.
David leaned on the rails and waved at his fiancé who was walking down to them.
‘I used to think…I used to hate it when you went away. But I remember good things too. I remember all the stories and light you brought back with you. You needed to be out there mum. If you had stayed I would have had a mother – but she wouldn’t have been you.’
The sea was speaking, but Niamh had tuned out, staring at her shattered boat.
‘Give me the time and means to repair my boat,’ she said, ‘where I go, “Mistress” comes too.’
‘You shall have whatever you need.’
‘I’ll just need the Lieutenant to help me.’
With skilled hands Niamh and the Lieutenant bathed and sealed the mistress’ torn hull. Gathered scrap and rope were tied and wrapped and pulled into place. Niamh felt the boat fill up with the sea just as she had done, its’ colour changing from white to grey.
‘What will you do?’ asked the Lieutenant.
‘What I have always done – run away.’
‘He will not let you leave.’
‘He will keep me? Like the others?’
‘He takes what he wants. We move to his whims.’
Niamh shook her head.
‘We shall see.’
When the repairs were complete, Niamh bid farewell to the Lieutenant and stood at the wheel of the “Mistress”, staring up at the mast as it waved in the current.
‘Are you ready?’ the sea whispered, seductive as a lapping shore.
A dark sense washed over her. The faces of the sea’s wives emerged and shimmered in front of her. She saw their faces crying in the dark.
With a shout, Niamh swung out the crooked sail. It caught the current and the boat began to move, jolting at first, then quicker, slicing through the ghosts of the water. She hit the whirlpool and the “Mistress” was lifted up towards the hole in the cave. Niamh moved and pulled and twisted, pushing through the current.
‘Niamh, where are you going?’
The sea was calm, but danger, as ever, lurked beneath.
‘Niamh, you are dead. You are bound to me now. You are mine.’
‘I’m no-one’s,’ Niamh roared, ‘ I am the Mistress of the sea and you will obey me! You kill me but I do not die. You destroy my boat but I repair the pieces. I will never be your wife Poseidon. I call you out Neptune. All that man has called you, he has never named me. I am the mistress of the sea – and I am free.’
The boat flew out of the top of the cavern and continued, bubbles tracing her line. The sea could not hold her. She headed for the swimming sun, the ripping wind and her own, final horizon.