Waves fill my ears at night. My friends here scoff, for the sea is so very far away, but I press my ear to my pillow and remember the surf and cries of gulls.
I was born upon the ocean, in a tempest stoked by the fury of the gods and a ship moments from foundering – if you listened to my father tell the story. During an ordinary spring storm in a vessel as sound that night as any other, to hear my mother, who liked to add that all the tossing hadn’t gotten in the way of his frantic pacing. He cannot give a straight tale to save his life, and she always wanted facts true and clear without mystery or embroidery.
I grew upon the waves as well, aboard the trading ship Wave Tracker. Father struck deals for the ship, hawked her wares in ports that believed his praises of these goods from distant places, spoke for her captain to harbormasters. Mother kept the books. And I? I sported aloft and below and through myriad ports and breathed the salt air and did the tasks a child might manage while learning my maritime way.
Sailors being sailors there were wagers on who I would favor. Falanil with his long pale hair and delicate bones and daydreamer’s fancies, or Karta, tanned and dark and sturdy, with her mathematician’s mind and constant practicality.
They’d met in an ocean port, he following random whim in search of newer things, she partner in a bustling tavern, and days later they’d signed together to serve a merchanter. Inseparable opposites, soon married – Father knowing even then how much longer he’d live but flit-headed willing to ignore future reality.
It turned out I favored both. Closer to him in looks, closer to her in keeping thoughts strung together. Yet in the end I was something neither of them dreamed or planned. I heard the sea. Not as any sailor will, but inside my bones. I learned I could shape the waves before I knew that most cannot. I swam without lessons, and never understood why others took deep breaths before submerging.
No one minded on the Tracker. I was everyone’s child there; it only meant I could inspect the hull better than anyone. Father, of course, spun it into mad dreams of grand destinies. Mother felt gratitude that she need never fear my loss overboard.
So when I found out why I should be feared, no one seemed likely to agree with me. I was grown, but barely, and not at all by Father’s people’s standards, and we sailed through a storm. A normal storm, nowhere near reefs or shoals, the Tracker answering well to the helm. The captain bade me below to fetch him some hardtack.
I felt the waves, below. Felt the ocean press upon our hull, wanting in. Felt myself wanting it to come in, hating the wood that kept me from joining with the raging sea, and I knew I could do it. Could call the water through, sink us all, and swim free. I reached –
And Mother’s fingers snapped before my eyes, her sharp concerned voice brought me back to myself. The captain got his meal, the Tracker won free of the blow. I told no one, ashamed, terrified of what I’d almost done.
When we made port, I told Mother and Father I had to go. Could they have found a way to make it safe for me to sail, had I confessed? Certainly I should have told them why I meant to leave the sea. The decades have brought me some wisdom. Yet I was young and frightened and very very sure of my own untrustworthiness, in that elemental certainty of youth.
I found my way inland. I learned the ways of the land. I had rough patches, and homesickness that peaked with every letter my parents sent and every letter I wrote back. In the end I came here. They needed an herbwife, a midwife, I needed a home and a place to practice control.
I stayed, yes I did, barring travel to the city a few times a year for supplies not found here. So far from the sea, still hearing it, yearning for it, making do with its faint echo in local streams. Mother and Father journeyed to see me now and then, sparse visits scattered across the years, each time bringing me gifts they’d found in their voyages. I never told them why I’d chosen this life. I could not unmake the decision, and part of me feared I’d been wrong, they’d point out a perfectly simple solution and I’d have wasted my years.
Mother aged. Life on the ocean kept her hale but not young. Father never changed and I saw that in his eyes Mother hadn’t either. Until the final time he came, merry light in his eyes gone at last, to say that Mother rested in the waves and he was done with the sea. He left me with tears and a pouch of glittering gems and no idea if he’d even remember to write letters without Mother to remind him.
Waves fill my ears at night. They are my pillow and my temptation, and one day I will trust myself enough to find them once again.