- The Sea Wolves
“For a time, knowing his fascination with me, I wondered if Ghost might be able to understand the lonely yearning that comes of being unique. There are many other wolves, but none quite like him. And he sees the layers of the world in a fashion ordinary men simply cannot. But he has spent a lifetime killing all the empathy inside him, and I learned quickly that he could never truly know me. I believed no one ever would, until I found you.”
“Even though I’m an ordinary man?” Jack asked.
Sabine smiled. “There’s nothing ordinary about you, Mr. London. And that’s enough fishing for compliments.”
Jack laughed softly. “Well, you’re right that there’s no one like you.”
“I’ve never met anyone even remotely like me, though there have been pretenders.” She trailed off, looking out to sea once more.
“What happened to the pretenders?” Jack asked, not sure he really wanted to know.
“Time carried them away. So tell me about Lesya and why you think she might be like me.” She turned to stare at him. “And then tell me where she lives.”
On that hot beach where palm fronds touched the sand and azure waters washed lazily against the island, Jack London recounted his time in the frozen, haunted north. He told Sabine details that he had not yet found the courage to tell anyone else, even his good friend Merritt Sloper—about his time with Lesya in her cursed forest; his encounter with her mysterious father, Leshii, the tree spirit who had eventually saved Jack’s life; Lesya’s past victims preserved in the living wood of unnatural trees; and his final confrontation with the legendary Wendigo, the creature he had overcome to find and conquer the wildness within himself. Telling the tale was a catharsis, and by the time he had finished, it was dusk.
Sabine stared at him with an expression he had never seen in her eyes before. There was amazement and respect, but also a sense of longing that had nothing to do with Jack the man and everything to do with what he had lived through.
“You sound a little like me,” Sabine said, and Jack knew the source of the longing.
“No,” he replied. “I’m only a man.”
“There can be no ‘only’ about you, Jack,” she replied. “Your story is unbelievable, and yet I believe every word.”
“You’re only the second person I’ve told,” he said. “Probably the last. Anyone else would think me mad.”
“Perhaps,” Sabine said.
“She’s not like you, you know.” Even mentioning Lesya had given Jack the heat of longing, and a chill of fear.
Sabine only glanced at him, a strange smile softening her face.
“I mean it,” Jack insisted. “She might have had”—he paused, searching for the word—“talents that most people could never understand. But she was insane. She told me that her father had mated with a human woman, so she was part human, part spirit. An unnatural thing. To say you’re like her is like saying I am similar to—”
“At least she knew of her parents,” Sabine said. “I have no concept of ever being born.”
Her words hung in the air, floating like sparks. A silence fell between them, and Jack filled the time building a fire. When the flames took and he blew on the flickering kindling, Sabine’s face caught the light, and he saw that she was watching him.
“Thank you,” she said.
“For not fearing me.”
Her words had such sadness that he studied her more closely, and so he saw the moment when something gave way within her. Sabine sagged just a little, and she wiped tears from her eyes.
“Sabine?” Jack said, his heart aching for her.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, the words barely audible.
Jack felt a chill pass through him. “What are you talking about?”
A quiet sob racked her body, and then she inhaled sharply, getting control of herself. She glanced at him but could not hold the gaze. The corners of her mouth turned upward in a pained smile whose anguish it tortured him to see.
“It’s my fault…,” she said, her voice breaking. “My fault you’re here.”
“Of course it’s not,” Jack said. “Yes, I wanted to get you off the Larsen. But even without my fear for your safety, I had to escape or Ghost would have killed me.”
“You misunderstand,” Sabine replied, wiping away tears as she glanced at him quickly and once more lowered her gaze. “It’s my fault you were on the Larsen to begin with. My fault that Ghost attacked your ship.”
Jack exhaled, understanding at last. “It’s all right. You were doing what you had to do to stay alive. You guided him to the Umatilla just as you had to so many other—”
Sabine threw up her hands, sorrow and truth spilling out of her. “I didn’t guide him to your ship, Jack! I guided him to you!”
“What?” He could only stare. “You mean Ghost chose me somehow? Why?”
“Not Ghost,” she whispered. She shook her head, the weight of guilt heavy. At last she said, “I chose you, Jack. Searching for a target for the pirates’ hunger and greed, I found your ship, but it was no better prey than half a dozen others. Except that I sensed something else on board … something familiar. Your time with Lesya, the natural talent she unlocked within you, I recognized it as the closest thing to the magic within me that I have ever encountered. I had to meet you. To observe you. And the only way to do that was to tell Ghost the Umatilla was ripe for the picking.”
Jack’s mind spun with the implications. The hell he had endured as a part of Ghost’s crew, the horrific slaughter of the prisoners that the sea wolves had taken from the Umatilla … none of it would have happened if not for Sabine.
Yes, it would have, he thought. But to someone else.
“You must understand,” she said. “After so long alone, any chance to learn more, even the slimmest hope of an encounter with someone like me… I had to try.”
Jack shook his head. “No. You can’t have known that I would fight. That I would survive the attack and end up on board the Larsen.”
“I could hope. And I could work subtle magic as well. The pelican on the deck of your ship, the bird that drew your attention and alerted you to the pirates’ presence… I guided it there. A hex on the crew should they encounter you, just a small suggestion that they hold back the tiniest bit in attacking you, make you a prisoner instead of a victim. And then I could only hope that Ghost would sense something within you worth keeping alive. He may not even have known what he saw in you, not fully, but—”
“And if he had just torn out my throat or put me with the other prisoners for the full-moon slaughter?” Jack demanded, anger flaring within him despite the pain he felt at seeing her remorse.
Sabine looked up at him defiantly. “I would have fought him. No matter that it would have revealed my true talents, and risked him killing me and gaining my magic. I would have tried to protect you.”
It was Jack’s turn to glance away. “Because you sense echoes of Lesya in me, and would have done anything to preserve your only connection to something that might be your kin.”
“At first,” Sabine admitted, her voice soft and ashamed. “But later, because I had fallen in love with you. The night we were locked together in the safe room—the night of the hunt—I saw the courage in you when you tried to get out of the room, to save them. And I saw your anguish when you knew you could not. You broke my heart that night, and at the same time, you filled it as it has never been filled in all my long memory.”
Jack had nothing more to say, and Sabine seemed to have finished her confession. They sat like that for a while, neither of them speaking, the silence broken only by the crash of surf and the wind in the trees. Sabine hugged herself against the breeze, her tears dry and her expression grim.
Eventually, without a word, Jack moved across to Sabine and took her in his arms. Sunset splashed across the island behind them and spread shadows onto the sea, and as stars began to appear, they saw a shooting star flaming overhead, casting a brief, stark wound across the night sky. Neither of them commented. All the words that had needed to be spoken had been said.
Sabine had said she loved him, and he believed her. And how could he blame her for what she had done, no matter what it had cost him? Loving her as he did, he would gladly endure it all over again so that she could have the answers she had sought for so long.
As the fire started to burn down, Jack realized that Sabine had fallen asleep on his shoulder. He remained awake, pondering what she had told him—those incredible histories she had seen, everything she had done, and the uncertainty that such long life had instilled within her—and by the time the island’s night noises started to intrude, he had silently vowed to aid her in any way he could.
He lowered Sabine gently, placing his jacket across her shoulders against the night’s chill, and went about feeding the fire. After his time in the north, he would always welcome such heat.
Then he sat back against the log Sabine lay propped against, and the flames made the night that much darker.
Jack started awake. In those brief moments between sleeping and waking, when a soul’s wealth of memory floods in to fill the blanks, his surroundings startled him. He felt more adrift than he ever had at sea, and the sense of something missing was profound. And though between blinks he became whole again, the loss remained.
“Sabine,” he whispered. She had vanished. His jacket still lay across the fallen tree, settled as though she had disappeared from beneath it without actually moving. Did she have such abilities? He could not know. She had told him much, but such a long life could not possibly be revealed in one short day.
He stood and stretched stiffness from his limbs, looking both ways along the curving beach. There was no sign of Sabine, but fresh footprints led away from where they had camped for the night, trailing along the beach a short way before turning in to the trees. As he watched, a wave broke and washed over a stretch of footprints, removing more of their detail from the world. A few more waves and they would be erased. Sabine had not been gone for long.
A rush of enthusiasm filled Jack, flooding him with one of those moments of utter contentment that never seem to last long enough. All that was wrong left him for a while—Sabine’s fears, his family’s and friends’ concern, Sabine’s confessions and her determination to meet Lesya—and everything was right. He passed by the dead men’s shelter, and behind it saw evidence that perhaps they had also been pirates. Rusted, dulled weapons were half hidden by undergrowth, and a collection of small barrels was stacked against the shelter’s remaining wall.
When Jack used an old, broken sword to crack open one of the barrels, he immediately recognized what it contained.
“Oh,” he said. He stared for a few heartbeats, then replaced the lid as best he could and set the barrel atop the others. As he continued in search of food, he wondered what use the gunpowder might be.
He moved farther into the trees, and as he started gathering fruit for breakfast, he was warmed by a background buzz of happiness.
“Mango,” he said, picking three of the fruits. He worked his way deeper, up the slope heading inland. “Papaya. Guava. A regular cocktail!” He gathered the fruits in his shirtfront, then returned to the beach to peel and prepare them.
Sabine had still not returned. He thought of calling out for her but decided against it.
As he settled next to the remains of the night’s fire, she emerged from the trees at the far end of the beach at a run, and he could tell from her gait that it was a run driven by fear. He dropped the fruit and grabbed his knife, looking past Sabine, readying himself for whatever might emerge from the undergrowth in pursuit. The beach was short, curved around the small bay, and the pursuer would be on them in moments.
But nothing followed her. Sabine’s face was slack with panic, but in her eyes Jack saw a desire to reach him, not a need to escape something.
“What is it?” he asked, and she ran into his embrace.
“Death,” she said, panting. “I was in the trees, sitting, exploring the island, and I felt Death closing in on me. On us. He’s coming, Jack.”
“Death Nilsson,” Jack said, because for a moment he’d thought she had meant true death. Perhaps this was worse. “But how does he know of us? Did he torture the truth from Ghost? And even if he did, he can’t know we came here.”
“No,” Sabine said, waving away everything he had said. She took deep breaths, calming herself. “He doesn’t know of us, at least not yet. But I probed out as far as I could and touched on a mind I did not expect—Ghost’s. He’s still alive, along with some of his crew.”
“Death did not kill his brother,” Jack said.
“Not yet. But after he captured and sank the Larsen, he took Ghost and his crew prisoner. His own ship was badly damaged in the battle. They’re sailing here for repairs, but Death has another intention. When they land, he means to finish Ghost here, on this island. Torture and kill him.”
“How long do we have?”
“They’re perhaps eight miles out.”
Jack’s mind was spinning, the good cheer he’d felt upon waking being rapidly abraded by old fears. But he and Sabine had already bested Ghost and his crew and escaped. And this time they were at an advantage—Death did not yet know of their presence, and they had time to plan. But escape wouldn’t be enough; he knew that now. They would never have true peace unless they rid the world of the sea wolves forever.
“They’ll sense us as soon as they arrive,” Sabine said. “Hear, smell. And Death’s crew is larger. They will track and capture us, and then kill us.”
“You fear death?” Jack asked, instantly regretting the question.