The Phoenix of the Sea

Submitted for Contest #44 in response to: Write a story that starts with someone returning from a trip.... view prompt

31 comments

The first step onto dry land was bittersweet: the sweet relief of home and the bitter ache of parting.


Years had passed but the swaying green of the bluffs hadn’t changed at all. She stumbled her way forward, her legs unused to the steadiness underfoot. Behind her the waves lapped at the shore and she could hear the familiar creak of wood on the wind but she would not turn. She would not crack. 


She paused at the base of the cliff, eyes caught by the sparkle of a rock pool. Her reflection swam in and out of focus as tiny crabs rippled the surface. How different she was now. Soft, doughy features replaced by scarred cheeks and steely eyes. Her hair, now flecked with grey, was much shorter than it had been the last time she’d stood in this spot. The long flowing locks were a luxury that she hadn’t been able to afford: a handhold that she wouldn’t provide. Conscious of eyes at her back, she straightened. Lingering here would only prolong her pain. 


The worn path home was so familiar she found herself following it with little effort. In the stillness, with only the crickets and the itch of salt on her skin to distract her, she felt her mind trying to wander. Trying to remember. She focused on the scene around her, firmly controlling her wayward thoughts. Crocuses lined the path, the first signs of spring. She looked for the beauty in the journey - it had been years since she’d seen flowers in the wild. A flash of a cabin, a battered metal jug stuffed to the brim with bluebells bought from a harbour stall. No. She had made her choice. 


The path was both too short and too long. Houses came into view sooner than she was ready for. In the garden of the nearest - a small cottage with a modest garden - stood a man hanging out washing. 


She stopped and watched him as he draped shirts and breeches, marvelling at how tall he was, how he seemed to vibrate with the fitness and vitality that young men sometimes did. Her breath caught in her throat as he looked up and realised that she was there. Saw the shock of recognition in his eyes, seeing past her rope-callused hands and sun worn face to the woman he‘d once known. Her knees gave out when he took his first tremulous step towards her and tears blurred her vision as she heard his voice crack as he called for his father.


Tears. Embraces. Exclamations. Her old home, as familiar as the path but also so strangely other. Where her vegetables used to grow now stood untended weeds. Where her pies used to cool on the sills now boasted a tired collection of rusty cans. Where her boy used to be now stood a man. 


She couldn’t keep her hands away from his face. Brushing his hair to the side, cupping his cheek, wiping the moisture from his eyes. She studied the face she’d dreamed of for years. He looked more like his father now even though he’d resembled her more as a child. His smile softened the sharp angles and planes of his face and the joy in his eyes dulled the ache in her heart. She kissed his forehead and huffed out a laugh as he crushed her in a hug that nearly cut off her air. 


She didn’t miss the shadow at his jawline or the faint smudge of green around one eye. She touched both with a gentle fingertip and he flinched, a look of shame flickering across his face. Behind him, a man stood in the doorway, regarding her coolly.


A flash of the same man and the same doorway, her arms thrust out towards him and her voice hoarse from screaming. Him slumped, cradling an arm and bleeding from the mouth. She blinked and the vision faded. Automatically looked at the floor to see the grooves she had worn in the ground as she’d been dragged away but, of course, the years had erased them. 


He looked older. Leaner. The taut, wiry muscles stood out on his bare chest and she shuddered involuntarily at a flash of his arms pressing her down. She closed her eyes and called to mind a different set of arms, just as strong and lean but wrapping around her with tenderness. But, no. That memory would no longer bring comfort, not with the loss so fresh in her mind. 


The man waited, expecting her to rush to him and fall to her knees for him as well. He would be waiting a long time. The meek, obedient woman he had barked at and belittled had died in the raid that night. The woman who stood before him had been reborn from her ashes and that woman had not returned for him. She had not battled storms and crossed oceans, fought friends and killed foes, manipulated captains and bedded pirate Queens for him


She drew herself up and narrowed her eyes. The plan had always been to return. She’d left a life that she loved, left the woman that she loved, all in the pursuit of home but as she stood on the threshold of her old life she found the idea of settling back into it utterly repellant. She turned to her son, who cringed at the look in his father’s eyes, and decided. 


The ship would not leave until dusk. That had been the promise given in the hope that she’d change her mind and return. Her lover knew her better than she knew herself, it seemed. She spoke for the first time since returning, offering her son the choice that had been made for her so many years ago. His hitched breath and panicked glance at his father gave the warning she needed to avoid his arms as the brute she’d married attempted to shake the defiance from her. He wasn’t prepared for her neat sidestep or her clever twist of his arm that drove him to his knees. She’d learned much in her time away and she was no longer defenceless. 


Calmly, she repeated her question and pushed her husband’s face into the dirt to quiet his screamed threats and obscenities. The boy, offered freedom, stumbled a little before gathering his few possessions from the cottage. 


His father, too comfortable in his role as the victor, required another lesson or two before they could leave without pursuit but even he backed away from the barrel of a pistol levelled at his face. 


This time the path was entirely too long, though the bliss coursing through her veins lent her speed. This time the beauty wasn’t difficult to find and the sunlight hitting her son’s dark locks made a bubble of laughter escape her. He smiled tentatively in response and she resisted the urge to grab his hands and dance to the shore. 


When they reached the waving green of the bluffs and the black sails came into view, she wondered if it were possible to fly from happiness. She heard the shout go up from the decking even from this distance and she pulled the boy into the little rowing boat that had brought her here only hours before and used the power of her joy to row them both towards home. 


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31 comments

Maggie Deese
17:23 Jun 07, 2020

I loved this story, Laura! Incredibly engaging right from the start and beautifully written. You have a fantastic writer's voice. Well done!

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Laura Clark
17:41 Jun 07, 2020

Aw, thank you! That’s very kind of you to say!

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Zilla Babbitt
19:38 Jun 05, 2020

I'm so glad you asked me to read this. Really well done, excellent descriptions. Can't stress it enough. Little to no backstory, well done. I think actually you could put a tiny more, showing her transition from prisoner of the "raid" to strong pirate girl who returns to get her son. Great job. Keep it up!

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Laura Clark
21:48 Jun 05, 2020

Aw thanks! Now I need to work on the balance of backstory I guess! Thank you for looking at it 😀

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Zilla Babbitt
21:57 Jun 05, 2020

Haha!

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Jane Andrews
12:50 Jun 21, 2020

I thought this was beautifully written. You've captured your protagonist perfectly and you've managed the difficult job of saying a lot with a few words. It would have been so easy to overwrite this story, but instead, you make every word count. Well done!

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Laura Clark
13:13 Jun 21, 2020

Thank you! I’m quite pleased with this one, I have to admit.

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Steve Stigler
21:26 Jun 09, 2020

I thoroughly enjoyed this - thank you for sharing it!

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Laura Clark
07:09 Jun 21, 2020

Thank you so much for reading it!

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O.s. Schaefer
14:45 Jun 09, 2020

Loved this. A nice little vignette that hints at a whole world of adventure. If I put my editor's hat on, I'd say the stakes could be higher for her. Perhaps she worries her son won't join her. Or the husbands gets in a lucky shot, and we don't yet realise how strong she is. Of course, these things might add a little length. I only add this because the way it's written, I never for a moment feel that she's in danger, which is kind of great, but lowers the stakes in a story sense. (And watch out for some of those clichés, like "steely eyes.")...

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Laura Clark
15:39 Jun 09, 2020

Thanks for the comment! I always love a bit of constructive criticism so please feel free to read others and comment similarly. I agree that it’s not high stakes - if I were to rewrite it, I’d definitely include some level of doubt about her son joining her. I don’t think I’d make her husband any more competent (I know you said lucky shot, which is pretty much the only thing I’d let him do) but I really wanted him to be a trifling concern to the woman she’s become. Completely agree about the cliches too - I normally try to avoid them but...

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Roshna Rusiniya
19:12 Jun 08, 2020

This is beautiful Laura. I love the way you write!

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Laura Clark
19:14 Jun 08, 2020

Thank you so much! That’s really kind of you 😊

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Roshna Rusiniya
19:19 Jun 08, 2020

You are very welcome Laura. If you have time, please have a look at my story too. Thanks!

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Laura Clark
19:52 Jun 08, 2020

I absolutely will!

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Mr Jingo
10:35 Jun 03, 2020

Stunning:) A beautiful story with some intensely vivid imagery. I can feel the effort put into every sentence. Honestly, I would've loved to see more backstory, since this feels like a small part of something bigger. Exemplary work! I guess for constructive criticism, I'd mention some basic grammar advice (semicolons are for combining two sentences without a conjunction, don't forget commas in compound sentences, etc.), though these could merely be stylistic decisions. Also, I don't know if this is just me, but when the son called, "Pa," ...

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Laura Clark
10:58 Jun 03, 2020

Ah, thanks! I’ll have a look now and see if I can put your advice to work- thanks! I might just cut the speech entirely as there’s none anywhere else and I agree that it’s a little misleading.

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Laura Clark
14:48 Jun 03, 2020

I’ve edited with your comments in mind and I think (hope) it has tightened it up. Thank you!

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Vrishni Maharaj
00:35 Jun 03, 2020

Hi Laura! This is a great story! You have a very engaging writing style :)

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Laura Clark
07:29 Jun 03, 2020

Thank you so much! That’s very kind of you to say 😊

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Ranya Navarez
16:24 Jul 01, 2020

This was incredibly well-written! Good job, Laura!

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Laura Clark
16:37 Jul 01, 2020

Thank you!

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Ranya Navarez
16:40 Jul 01, 2020

You're welcome! Also, I'm going to be submitting my newest story, "Until Rebellion is Crushed" sometime in the next day or two. It's the sequel to "Two Sides" and I hope it is better written and told. Would you mind reading it and critiquing it when I post it? Thanks!

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Laura Clark
16:54 Jul 01, 2020

Of course! Do you want proper critique before the deadline so you can have time to make changes if you want to? Let me know when you put it up - I’m fairly responsive on here usually!

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Ranya Navarez
17:03 Jul 01, 2020

Absolutely! I'll definitely let you know! Thank you so much!

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Ranya Navarez
17:59 Jul 01, 2020

I'll probably be putting it up sometime this afternoon, btw.

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Laura Clark
18:01 Jul 01, 2020

I think we must be in different time zones because it’s 7pm here! If you leave a comment here when it’s up, I’ll see it and if I don’t look at it tonight, I’ll look at it tomorrow morning x

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