Seabound – Chapter 1

Edvard Munch – The Mermaid (1894)

We were born of the sea, those primordial waters of Chaos, and so to the sea we are destined to return. I am not oblivious to the idiosyncrasies of such a claim – a queer declaration, easily undermined by myriad evidence to the contrary. Truly, there exists no domain more inhospitable, more unforgiving to man, than the vast and fathomless depths.

And yet it calls to us; like a good mother to her children, she calls us home.

When most speak of the call of the sea, the “call” is purely figurative – the expression of a metaphor. My experience differs, for like Jason and his Argonauts, I was beckoned by a song articulated by lips of flesh and blood. With none to play the role of Orpheus, I chased the melody with unfettered fascination.   

My name is of no consequence. I leave it here, alongside the husk of my former life. Woe betide any who immortalise it in requiem or stone.

I am forever bound to her; forever bound to her and those deep dark waters. Tethered and drawn low by love and worship, I will drown in her kingdom. I suffer no fear, no hesitation, for to drown in her abyss is but to live again. I know this now.

Some will undoubtedly mistake these words for the Bedlam scribblings of a madwoman. It matters not, for I know – and am unconcerned with the fact – that only imbeciles and lunatics would ever believe me. There are no kith or kin, not a solitary earthbound soul to which I owe an explanation. And yet here I find myself, a slave to this compulsion, penning my final thoughts before the plunge and to the sealing of my fate. Without regret, I consign myself to this destiny.

I was born to an affluent family, and though our primary residence was a London townhouse, we summered at Caeruchel Hall, an attractive Jacobean three-story, which as an adult, I would claim as my permanent, solitary home. It is the only place to which I associate any happy memory and where the most formative influences on my life would occur. The other seasons brought only tribulations and despair, but these were the halcyon days where I could, for a time, escape from misery.

The manor stood atop a high drumlin on an isolated strand of the Welsh coast, and cast a long, oppressive shadow over the lowland hamlet of Craigwen. The villagers below regarded my family with a curious mixture of fear and reverence – perceptions natural to a society grossly preoccupied with social hierarchy, where subservient greetings rife with honorifics were followed by grumbled profanities out of earshot.

You will not find Craigwen on any map. Even after the Crown’s intervention – the displacement, replacement, and rapid industrialization – few have heard its name. Only neighbouring communities are in any manner familiar with the village and its residents. The denizens of these adjacent communities used to say that the people of Craigwen lived exclusively off the sea, that supposedly no two fish caught from its waters were ever alike, and that there was something unwholesome, perhaps even heretical, with the local religion – the Church of St. Brendan. 

As noted, my family was not one without means. Father owned a shipping company and suffered a stubborn, nigh compulsive need to directly oversee its management, which in turn rendered him absent throughout much of my childhood. He cared for me, in his own manner, though it was a tenderness not shown until far too late. 

I cannot say the same for Mother, who displayed a consistent and cruel indifference to my existence. Wanting nothing to do with me, she relinquished all parental duties to the servants.

What I desired most was their love and understanding, but these were things my family could not – or would not – provide. Multiple miscarriages preceded my birth but it was evident that what they truly desired was a son. Despite being practically a tomboy, my character and interests did nothing to satisfy their yearning for a male heir, a proper scion that would one day bring even greater prestige to our name. The effect in fact proved quite the opposite, as they ardently sought to subdue my hoydenish behaviour. 

As for Craigwen, I will say, in retrospect, that there were signs of things to come, of marked events forever immortalised in my mind. The denizens of that seaside hamlet, already a superstitious folk, exhibited certain peculiar behaviours during my family’s third visit to the region. The locals had arranged loose rocks to form primitive altars, upon which they placed offerings of scrimshaw, meat, even precious metals, despite the abject poverty of the community.

We observed these oddities from our carriage while en route to Caeruchel Hall. Mother was quick to disparage the displays as the heathen icons of a degenerate populace but Father took a more charitable view, assuring that the unusual configurations simply represented some manner of local festivity unique to the region. If this was truly a holiday, then the faces of its celebrants bore an inappropriately grim facade. Certain aspects of these rituals remain in practice to this day, though I believe I am the last to understand their true significance.

There were six of us in total, though Caeruchel Hall was fully capable of quartering a platoon. The household included Mother and Father, two maids, the cook, father’s valet, and myself. There was additionally an elderly groundskeeper but he resided in a shack closer to the water, intentionally secreted away like a blemish on the scenery. 

I would spend the Summer exploring the coast, maintaining a wary distance from the locals, for I did not care for the disdainful glares they cast in my direction. Poverty breeds contempt, not unlike affluence and all else that divides. Although I did nothing to garner their ire, their distrust of outsiders was not without warrant. Despite my unhappy upbringing, I was not ignorant to the privilege of my birth and never was so naive as to envy their lot in life.

I met her on a dismal night in early July. Sleep had come easy due to the sedating patter of rain against the windows. Fatefully, I was roused by a blast of thunder that shook the very foundation of our manor. Unable to return to slumber, I lay in bed and listened to the storm, when I began to notice something strange – an inexplicable sound that had no place in nature’s cacophony. I focused my attention on the quiet interludes between each roaring cannonade. Therein I encountered harmony – a song, beautiful and inhuman, that came from outside.

Clouds obscured the moon and stars, yet something glimmered off the glass of my chamber’s seaside window. At first, the light was soft, almost unnoticeable, and resembled the living fluorescence of lightning bugs and foxfire. I pulled myself out of bed and crept through empty hallways, my steps careful and deliberate, eventually arriving at the southern terrace overlooking the Atlantic.

I chased the melody, running barefoot through the wet grass and towards the headland. The horizon opened wide as I neared the cliff, revealing milky blue-green lights dotted across the ocean’s dark expanse. The song, now a chorus, overwhelmed and extinguished whatever apprehensions I should have felt. There I watched the waves roll in and out, the strange lights unmoved by the ocean’s churning.

Then, devoid of thought or hesitation, I threw myself into the water.

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