For Holcan the pain of losing his father is too much to take. There must be more to grief than the usual rituals of mourning: offering sacrifice into the whirlpool of Nuaha and the shedding of his own blood to the god to ease his father’s way into the afterlife. Although he died in a storm at sea, Holcan knows that his father’s death was no accident. He must have revenge on the man responsible. No matter what the cost. No matter what the consequences.
“Two Lives for the Sea God” is a fantasy short story set in the world of Neriador.
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The temple of Nuaha was not the conventional temple one might expect for a god. It was unusual in that it was also a great natural phenomenon, a freak of nature you could call it. Three large jutting rocks thrust their heads out of the ocean to form a rough circle about half a league from the shoreline of Baneshia. These rocks were large enough to have tunnels and galleries carved into them, chambers housing some twenty of Nuaha’s priests and halls for worshipers numbering in the low hundreds. If that was not unusual enough, the three part temple to the wrathful god of the sea was formed around a huge natural whirlpool, the Cuahnaven that spun in the center of the rocks, drawing down all that was offered to it into the depths of the oceans, or to the underwater grottoes of Nuaha, if one preferred those tales. Worshipers paid their respects to their god from galleries high in the cliffs hanging over the whirlpool. These had been carved out of the rocks in ancient times and were reached by tunnels and steep stairs, which wound through the rocks themselves. These galleries were the chapels in Nuaha’s great naturally formed temple, their surfaces left bare except the occasional use of wooden boarding or handrails to provide assistance in some sections. No candles or incense burnt to honor this god or comfort his worshipers. No tapestries or paintings, or golden icons stood to remind people of their need for devotion.
The great whirlpool, more than fifty paces across, which formed the center of the temple, was enough for anyone to understand the nature of this god. The whirlpool that sucked down all that it was offered – sacrifices and the bodies of the dead without ever sight of them again. Down into the crypt of Nuaha, according to the priests.
A cynic would hardly credit the likelihood of such a temple. Holcan had been a cynic once, in his sixteenth year he had spurned the religion and beliefs of his father and his sailor community. Tough, rough men who lived and died by the whims of the sea. They offered sacrifice to the Creator gods, particularly Nuaha who ruled over the seas and waters of the world. Leaving his future open to fate had not appealed to Holcan. He would make his own destiny with his own hands and his own clever brain, turning the tables on the rich merchants, oligarchs, and yes, the puffed-up priests taking their tithe from the gullible. He had been called thief and spurned by those who used to nurture him when he was a child, but he was in control of his life and needed no faith to keep him from harm.
If the whirlpool was not amazing enough then just think of that other occurrence that nature sometimes blesses the sea with. The wave, motionless, called a standing wave, because it appears not to move. The priests of Baneshia sought to explain it as Nuaha’s will that the area around the three rocks of his great temple be marked in such a manner, they called it the Wall of the Afterworld; for those who crossed it were either dead or journeying to mourn their dead. The wave ran for several hundred paces across the route to the temple from the shore. All the boats that traveled there bearing worshipers had to cross the wave to reach the temple.
One day Holcan’s world fell apart. He could not plan for death. His father was taken from him in a great tragedy at sea, the fault of the avaricious merchant who had scrimped on the safety of the vessel yet again. This man was untouchable, surrounded by bodyguards. Holcan would never get near him and certainly never live to savor his vengeance if he did. There had been only one choice—turn back to the very superstition he had cast aside as an adolescent.
He stood in the prow of the boat as it broke the standing wave, spray whipped up from the top of the wave splashing his face with foamy salt water. He wiped it away smiling, feeling content that it was nearly over, this path would soon be complete and he could return to his former ways soon enough. The boat drew nearer to the landing stage of the principle rock, called the Alha of Nuaha. Holcan steadied himself with his right arm against the bow and felt the pain as the scar tissue on his right forearm cracked and opened. The boat drew back on the swell, and despite bracing himself, Holcan was nearly pitched over the side.
“For the sake of The Creators can’t you keep the boat steady,” said Holcan. “What am I paying a boatman-priest of Nuaha for? I could have rowed myself if I fancied a dip in the ocean.”
The boatman-priest mumbled something under his breath, cursing him no doubt to a watery death. The boat came in again to the jetty, lurching this way and that, the boatman threw a rope to one of his fellows on the shore waiting to catch his line.
Holcan did not wait for the boat to be tied fast, but leaped ashore. He may not have sea legs but he was still agile thanks to his profession. “I’ll be back soon,” he shouted and proceeded to stalk hurriedly up the jetty and towards the stone steps leading to the heart of the temple. Just at the end of the jetty stood a group of what were no doubt servants of rich masters who were visiting the temple that day. The group of men stood round, their cloaks wrapped around them against the chill salt air, laughing and sharing the gossip of the day. Holcan glanced at them as he passed, idly wandering how rich their masters might be. Judging by the quality of their clothing, “not bad” was his conclusion. One of the men looked his way as he left the jetty, regarding him as he went by.
Holcan stopped. “Yes?” he said to the man.
“Nothing brother, just watching passersby, that’s all,” the man replied, smiling slightly, mocking perhaps, the other men in his group quiet now to hear what would happen.
Holcan stared at him for a moment, anger broiling within him. He turned curtly on his heels and went on his way, his face flushing as he heard the low chuckles of the men. What had he been thinking? Why had he let himself get so worked up over nothing?