- The Sea Wolves
Screams of hatred and rage swirled in the wind. Wood cracked, and Jack turned to see one of Death’s wolves smash through the railing and flail wildly as he fell into the ocean thirty feet away. Jack prayed that Sabine and he would not be seen, that the werewolf could not swim, that the sea would drag the monster under.
Jack hauled himself into the boat to find Sabine already there. She smiled at him with relief, then they hurriedly untied the ropes binding them to the doomed Larsen. Jack raised the small sail, then grabbed one of the long oars and pushed them away from the hull. He had to push hard because the sea still drove the tiny boat against the Larsen, but inch by inch he shifted them along until the skiff slipped past the bow, and the sail caught the wind.
He fell back and clutched the rudder, watching the sail to sense which way the wind wanted to take them. Right now, that was the direction he would aim. The faster they could flee these two warring ships, the better.
“Jack!” Sabine called, and she was staring past him at what they were leaving behind. Keeping his weight on the rudder, he turned to see what had startled her so.
On the Larsen, the conflict had spread across the deck. There was a riot of activity at the bow—a pile of slashing, slavering bodies, tearing and gouging and biting—and in their midst, a battling shape that they both recognized. Ghost. He raged and roared, threw a wolf overboard, and picked up another by its legs, swinging it around and using it to batter others aside. Ghost was revealed at the heart of the onslaught, and he was a statue of blood and violence. For a moment Jack was afraid that the captain was more than man, more than beast, and more than anything he had ever imagined. But then he fell, and other monstrous shapes fell upon him, murder their intent.
Jack turned and met Sabine’s eyes. He tweaked the rudder, and the wind filled their sails.
“We’re away,” he said, and she nodded.
The skiff carried them into the heart of the storm, and the battle vanished behind them. Savage, bestial cries and the scrape of the ships’ hulls flitted like ghosts around the small boat, dancing on the wind and then blocked by rolling waves. As they sailed away, Jack’s fear of the wolves also began to vanish, replaced by a total focus on the task at hand—not dying at sea. He gripped the tiller so hard his knuckles ached, and given the strength of the storm, it was all he could do to hold the sail in place. The skiff leaped over the waves, and Jack and Sabine did their best to hang on.
In minutes they were alone on the sea. Yet Jack could feel Ghost’s rage following them, a bitter resentment that lingered long after the last wolf’s cry had been swallowed by the wind.
Sabine shouted something to him from where she sat in the bow.
“What?” Jack called over the wind.
She rose up on her knees, dress plastered to her body, damp hair across her face, looking very much the sea witch that Ghost had called her. Sabine pointed off to starboard and turned to him, shouting to be heard.
“To the northwest!” she cried. “The nearest land is there, less than a day’s sail!”
Jack nodded, struggling to keep control of the boat as he adjusted their course. A huge wave rolled beneath them, and for half a heartbeat he thought they would capsize, but then the wave tossed them back down and they were on their new heading. The rain pounded at them, gusts of wind battered the sail, and the small mast creaked ominously.
His muscles burned with effort, and he clenched his teeth and blinked away the rain. Whatever happened, he would not release his hold. His mind went back to the White Horse Rapids in the Yukon. He had maneuvered to safety then and he would do the same now, conquering the raging sea, triumphing over the vast, wild ocean. If that meant navigating through stormy waters all day and night, he would do it. Jack refused to allow himself to accept any other possibility.
The laugh began soft at first, then grew louder, and then Jack turned his face to the rain and let it come.
“You’ve gone mad!” Sabine called, though she herself was grinning.
“We’ve escaped him!” Jack said. “Damn Ghost and his pack. Damn all of them! We set them against each other, outsmarted them.”
“You think a lot of yourself!”
Jack laughed at that as well. “It’s true. And I think a lot of you! But we’ve survived because we’re human. In our hearts and souls, we’re human. Not the mere animals that Ghost insisted we all were.”
Jack had to fight a sudden gust, tearing his gaze away from Sabine’s beauty. He had been on the verge of speaking his heart and was glad of the forced interruption. In all his life he had never met a girl or a woman who had made him feel so breathless, who had enchanted him and made him feel such true devotion. Though the storm threatened to swamp them at any moment, he felt only glee at their rush to freedom and this adventure they now shared, away from the constant threat of murder.
He wondered, though, about the mutiny that had become a massacre. It felt to him like a story with no ending, and the questions would linger with him. Who had survived that terrible, bloody battle? Did Ghost still live, and if not, had he been killed by his own crew or by his lunatic brother?
Salt spray stung Jack’s eyes, but he blinked it away and looked at Sabine again, realizing that these questions would not have to haunt him. His beauty, his sea witch, could stop him from wondering. She would know the answers, if he truly desired them.
Right then, Jack decided he did not want to know.
“I love you,” he said quietly, expecting the words to be taken by the storm and swirled away.
But in that same moment, something changed around them. The sea grew calmer, the rain reduced to a sprinkle, and the wind became gentler, yet still firmly behind the skiff. It happened so suddenly that he had not even time to notice before the words were out of his mouth, and the breeze carried them to Sabine.
Yet her eyes were closed. As raindrops slid down her face, she breathed deeply and evenly. Jack studied her, nervous; she must have heard him.
A smile played at the edges of her lips.
“There,” she said softly. “That should be a bit easier on us. Keep on with the wind, and it will deliver us to the island.”
Jack stared. Island? Easier on them?
“Wait a second,” he said, looking around to see the storm still raging behind them. Even off to either side of the boat, the sea remained a churning froth. But directly ahead the ocean had calmed, the clouds parted to reveal blue, and the breeze breathed true.
Sabine arched an eyebrow, her smile turning flirtatious.
“Is this you?” he asked. “You’re doing this?”
She pushed wet strands of hair from her face and nodded.
Jack laughed in amazement. “But how?”
“I’m not really sure.” Sabine shrugged. “I told you that I had other powers … gifts that I feared Ghost would inherit if he were to kill me. This shaping of the weather is one of them.”
“The fog?” Jack asked.
“No, I didn’t create the fogbank. But I called the storm to blind Ghost and Death and make it more difficult for anyone who might pursue us. All the better to hide our escape.”
Jack guided the little boat, settling down into an easy rhythm as the Pacific seemed to welcome them now and to help guide them on their way.
“Are you really a witch, then?”
“I need to rest, Jack.” Sabine curled in the bow, and he could hear the weariness in her voice. Much as he wanted to quiz her, he knew what she had been through.
Soon, Sabine slept, and Jack steered them across the ocean.
She woke after several hours, stretching stiffness from her limbs. She smiled at Jack. And in those hours, his need to know many things had grown greater.
“Not far now,” she said after a moment’s contemplation.
“What are you, Sabine?” he asked.
She stared at him, and he could see that she accepted his need to know. Perhaps she had dreamed of them together, or maybe she had dreamed of things he could never understand. Either way, he left the question standing, and her answering began.
“I honestly don’t know. I’m not sure what a witch is. I only know that these gifts are mine, and that sometimes they frighten me, and if I could make a single wish, it would be to understand better what they are, and what I am.”
A profound sadness filled her as she spoke, and Jack wanted to reach out to comfort her, but he dared not move from his place for fear that the current would twist them around. Even if Sabine could influence the weather, she could not master every wave.
“I’ve been thinking on this while you slept, and I know what you are.”
Hope lit her eyes.
“You are a woman, no matter what magic lies in your hands. And you are lovely.”
She smiled, but her sadness remained. “I feared that if you knew the truth about what I can do, you would think me no less a monster than Ghost.”
Jack scoffed. “You are hardly a monster.”
Her gaze hardened as if she was challenging him. “I have more magic than I’ve told you, Jack. It isn’t just the weather, or sensing the location of a ship upon the water. I sought out Death Nilsson, you see? It isn’t only that I knew he was coming. I sought him and felt him, and guided him to us so that he would kill his brother. Or even better, they would kill each other.”
“And I’m grateful for it,” Jack assured her, listening to the slap of waves on the side of the skiff as they sailed beneath increasingly clear skies. The storm raged behind them, closing in once they’d passed, as if erasing their trail so that they could not be followed.
“I can disorient a man or hex him with bad luck,” Sabine went on. “A talent I was sorely tempted to use on the Larsen, but which I kept to myself. Displaying my true talents … well, Ghost is a covetous man. I can touch the dreaming minds of those I have used my gifts to find, as I did with Ghost. Every time I helped guide Ghost to another ship, I tried to warn the ships’ captains by whispering in their dreams, but it never seemed to matter how prepared they were for an attack. The wolves were too ferocious. Too swift.”
“You tried,” Jack assured her, wanting more than ever to take her into his arms again.
Sabine composed herself and gazed at him. “There is one other thing. One last thing.”
“Ghost could have murdered me, I am sure. But I do not think I will ever die as an ordinary woman would, of age.”
Jack stared. “You’re … immortal?”
“There’s no such thing as immortal. But I have lived a very long time, Jack. I’m afraid to tell you what I recall of my history, for fear it would frighten you to know what an old woman I truly am. Even I do not know exactly how old. I don’t remember being a small girl. Those recollections are lost to me. But I believe I am … ancient.”
Jack held his breath a moment, searching inside himself for some reaction, trying to understand what he felt. And then he realized that what he felt was not numbness; he simply did not care.
“You’re not the first woman I have met with gifts that some might have called witchcraft.”
Sabine leaned forward, eyes fixed on him.
“And not the first to show me magic,” he continued. “But the other—her name was Lesya, the daughter of a forest spirit, an elemental—she was cruel, a madwoman. You are kind and gentle and loving. You are far from a monster, Sabine. I said I loved you. I know that you heard me.”
She turned away.
“I love you still,” he said.
Her smile returned, tentative at first, but blossoming.
“How can you?”
“How could I not?”
Sabine shook her head, took a moment to consider his words; and then her eyes narrowed in contemplation. “Jack … if you knew.”
“Knew … nothing. Nothing, Jack. So, this Lesya. You must tell me about her.”
Jack thought back to his time in the Yukon, the hardships and brutality of that journey and the beauty and madness of Lesya’s forest. He tried to figure out where best to start relating his story. Even as he did, he realized that though he had professed his love, Sabine had not spoken the words in return. And he wondered if a woman who might be immortal and had lived many lifetimes could love an ordinary man.
Jack turned away from her, staring out at the ocean, lost in thought. When he finally began to speak, he was unsure if the words that burst forth would be the tale of Lesya or an inquiry about the nature and disposition of her heart. But as he turned back to Sabine, words failed him.
In the distance, beneath a clear blue sky, the island beckoned.
Sabine might have been able to influence and steer the weather, but the ocean was its own beast. As the wind drove them toward the island, Jack dropped sail and let the waves carry them. He steered as well as he could, aiming for an inlet where the waves might not dash their boat to pieces at the foot of low cliffs or smash them against the rocks protruding from the sea. Sabine helped, using an oar to urge them aside when it looked as if they were heading for a violent clash of waves. They finally positioned themselves well and rode the waves in, and it was only when Jack allowed himself to relax and believe that they had made it that the splintering, rending sound came from below.
The boat drifted to shore and grounded on the sand.
“Is it bad?” Sabine asked. She sat at the bow, exhausted and soaked. Jack still saw her as a gorgeous woman, not the old thing she claimed to be. What that displayed about his state of mind he was not sure, but his feelings were true. Perhaps the mystery she presented made him love her even more.
“Let’s pull it onto the beach so we can take a look.”
They jumped from the boat and landed on the coarse sand, where Jack had a fleeting thought: Our island. Escape had been his prime concern, and then reaching shore safely, but now he could consider the future beyond the hour or day ahead. This might well be their island, because they were as good as stranded here. In a small boat like theirs, an ocean journey of any length would be treacherous beyond belief, however much food and water they might be able to store on board. And if the damage the hull had just sustained by scraping over unseen rocks was as bad as he feared…