Brigit’s Flame JFF Entry
March Week Four – “The Devil I Have Not Met”
Warnings: some violence and adult situations/references
Consciousness flowed into her senses at the pace of a calm sea sliding up the shore. At first, the notable call of a gull overhead, then the roiling click of pebbles in the ebb and flow of the tide. There followed the burning grit of sand embedded in shallow slices over knees and palms. More pebbles were rendered by her senses — these pressed carelessly into her cheeks.
With effort the woman rolled onto her back. Cool sea water lapped at her heels and icy droplets plopped onto bare skin too wet to complain further. One eye opened. Followed by the instinctive twitch to raise a hand against the glare, but the sky was thickly grey – the sun a hint of white struggling to be seen through a pewter day. Sails spun overhead, languid and uncharacteristically colorful.
She blinked. The ground was firmly beneath her back, but the great billowing sheets circled directly above, parallel to the beach, as though trapped in a fixed tempest. She struggled to make sense of this, but a pounding started up in her skull that drowned all thoughts.
And the clickety pebbles.
And the hungry sea birds.
She was jetsam – wet and alone on a beach with nothing but the sound of her own blood crashing against her skull to the rhythm of a racing heart. The internal maelstrom pulled her under.
After a while, she could hear the birds again and all of the tidal sounds became external. The waves were caressing her calves now. The ocean had dragged the pebbles and sand away from her feet creating two deep ruts. She stopped thinking about her head and started working on a way to get up the beach before the tide could collect her for another journey.
It was a slow and painful process that involved much crawling (after some falling). Her head hammered, while her knees and palms burned and the frigid rain made her shiver violently. Teeth chattering – consciousness waning – she pulled herself into a small cove that was relatively dry.
Lying down felt too much like succumbing to weakness, so she struggled to prop herself up against the hard stone wall behind a boulder conveniently stationed to block the wind. While settling in, she managed to anger a few small crabs who claimed first rights to the shelter. The boldest used his large claw to bite into the tender flesh at the base of her thumb. Fruitless attempts to fling him off were followed by one solid crack to the shell from a fist-sized stone that the cove offered up.
She was hungry — though the sensation had not made it through the pain until now. There was nothing to eat in the cave — except this one dead crab. He wouldn’t yield much meat, but since she was limited to eating raw less might be better. She ate the slimy flesh from his claws and the claws of his friends who were not smart enough to run when the others started dying. Keeping it all down was an effort – not just for the lack of cooking.
She passed out instead of vomiting. The blackness overwhelmed her with stealth and swiftness, replacing pain with nothing for a time.
The dark void lightened to the interior of the shallow cave, glowing softly with the light of a full moon and a nearby lantern.
Hands were groping at her body.
She let out something between a yell and a scream in protest and confusion. Instinctively, her legs flailed in defense. She felt her knee connect with something – someone’s chin by the loud clack of teeth that followed contact. A surprised grunt. Male. Then whiskey fog engulfed her face, trailing the stench of rotting teeth and a diet of fish. A calloused hand scratched across her mouth and nose, blocking out the foul breath but introducing new odors that called to mind outhouses and the heavy sweat of a barmaid’s thigh.
“‘Ere now. I thought you was dead,” the man slurred in mock concern. “No need for screamin’. I was simply looking for your purse to pay the grave-digger.”
His full weight was pressing down on the woman – her head pounded with the struggle to buck him or position her head to bite his stinking finger off. The mugger’s hand turned toward molestation as he groped for flesh through her salt-stiffened blouse.
“Mind you,” he sneered, “I prefer a struggle to cuddles. You caused me a bit-a pain when you clocked my chin, but all of this wriggling has me want to forgive you. Open these knees and we’ll call it a truce, Lovely.”
Violently the would-be assailant’s head rocked out of view as she smashed his temple with the stone from dinner. Ignoring the waves of pain in her head and nausea in her gut – barring the black void through sheer force of will – she bashed the man’s skull with two fists and a rock until she was sure he would not get up again. There was no energy left to hold off the gorge. She sprayed the corpse with half digested crab, then used the last of her strength to push away from him and fall into the soft sand.
Hands groped again – these more rough than searching. Before she could kick out, she felt her ankles gripped firmly. She was being dragged from the cove into the wet sand.
“Are there no gods in this place that will let a woman die in peace?” she yelled into the void threatening to swarm her consciousness again.
A flash. Gunsmoke filled her nostrils like cotton and another man’s limp body was crushing her own.
For a moment, she had the sense of being carried, then nothing.
Sun broke through the clouds, warming her eyelids and cheeks. She raised a hand to block the glare. The pain in her head had turned down to a flicker. She noticed a bandage wrapped around her hand, then registered the scent of fresh linen and oranges. Down a curve of sand from where her window looked out, there was a great windmill with churning sails for blades.
The name breached the surface of her mind as though in need of air.
Zeldyn Cay. Followed by a sense of accomplishment. There was still something missing – a huge gaping hole in her memory – but Zeldyn Cay was the name of this place. She was sure of that, and she was sure it was where she wanted to be.
A door she had not noticed creaked open a hand’s breadth. There was no warning of the approach, thus no chance to feign sleep. It was pushed open further to reveal a cheery, red-cheeked face frilled round with a house bonnet. She darted a hand to her head and realised she was wearing one as well.
“Stars!” Redcheeks exclaimed. “The healer said you were on a good turn, but we had no hope of you being awake so soon.”
The woman delivered this information in a rush; crossing the room with a nervous flutter of hands. Then she turned to look at the door as though she might rush back out. Redcheeks faced the patient again, leaning in – eyes wide and cheeks redder with a fresh blush.
“I’ve no doubt you’ll be wanting your breakfast. I’ve been feeding you your broth for the last few days and keeping yourself clean. But now that you are awake to ask, I wonder which you’d like first – the pot or your soup. They’re not on the same tray, mind. That would be unclean.” Redcheeks twittered nervously.
With a hoarse croak she requested use of the pot, followed by a quick and uncomfortable bath with rags and a pitcher. During the process Redcheeks introduced herself as Mary and explained that the Marshall had spared the patient from the ruffians who surely meant to drag her back to their ship.
“What can we call ye, Miss?” Mary asked when her own jittery tempest of words had finally calmed.
“I don’t know,” the patient rasped. “I can’t remember who I am or how I came to be here. I felt I would die on that beach. I think I may have been on a ship in a storm, but that’s conjecture not memory.”
“O,” Mary said with a little moue. She stood from the bedside and walked to where she’d placed the tray of soiled rags. Then she turned back to the woman lying on the bed and asked cheerily, “What can we call ye, Miss?”
The other woman paused, searching Mary’s eyes for signs of joviality or madness. She wished she knew her name. It felt so weird to be without one. A thought came to her – it didn’t have the confidence behind it like the name on the map, but it felt as close to right as she could get.
“I washed up on shore, so why not call me Jetsam until I know what to call myself? Is that good enough, Mary?”
The red cheeks glowed happily. “Well I think that’s a lovely name. Jetsam,” Mary repeated as though tasting the word for the first time. “Jetsam. I will let the Marshall know.” With that she handed Jetsam a bowl of large green grapes and instructed her to finish the bowl. “We want you to be fully recovered so the Marshall can walk you down the aisle instead of carrying you over his shoulder.” Then she turned and walked out the door.
“What aisle?” Jetsam asked with alarm to Mary’s retreating back. Mary just winked and closed the door behind her. Jetsam could hear her nervous twitter from the hallway.
Days passed in a mix of confusion, boredom, and deep sleep. Primarily the confusion stemmed from the intense periods of sleep. Jetsam could not tell if she had slept for twelve hours or one. Mary would wake her to eat, eliminate, change her dressing, and sometimes just to talk to her. The joyful girl was very fond of word problems, but did not seem able to do them herself. They would sit together by the window and Mary would read the questions aloud, expecting Jetsam to suss the answer each time. Another source of confusion was the Marshall. Per Mary, he had announced that he would marry Jetsam during the days she’d spent unconscious, yet he had never once stopped by to introduce himself or get to know her. This seemed to make perfect sense to Mary, but Jetsam was already planning her escape to avoid an arranged marriage she had not agreed to.
When the healer came by and told Mary that Jetsam was stable enough to traverse the stairs and even stroll a bit outside, Jetsam thought the Marshall would come by to take her on that inaugural walk himself. Perhaps he’d been shy about visiting her in her rooms or thought the amount of dressing required to receive a visitor too much in her weak state. Surely he would take a meal with her in the parlor or walk with Jetsam down the boardwalk to point out the ships of interest.
When she asked these questions of Mary, she was told that the Marshall was clear on the other side of the territory and would not return until the wedding night. Jetsam felt rather put out at this news until she remembered that she did not intend to marry the Marshall and did not want to be romanced besides.
“That’s just not what I came here for,” she thought to herself.
Mary kept Jetsam company as she got stronger. They continued with morning riddles and added games like catching the chickens in the yard to shoo them back in their pens and apple picking with only their aprons for gathering. It was a pleasant time, but every day closer to the wedding Jetsam’s restlessness grew. She needed to retrieve more of herself. She needed to find out why Zeldyn Cay was so important to her. She needed to slip away from the Marshall’s reach before he tried to wed her.
The healer stopped by one afternoon while Mary was at market. He checked Jetsam’s wounds, of which little evidence remained. Jetsam was used to his silence in these visits. other than direct questions about pain and how she was sleeping – if she was dreaming – he typically addressed the rest of his remarks to Mary. On that day, he surprised Jetsam by calling her by name and inviting her to meet him in the morning for a trip into the countryside.
“There is an herbalist there who may have a remedy for your memory loss. We will leave at first light.”
Jetsam could not argue. Finding herself again was one of her main goals. She left a note for Mary to wake her before dawn and laid out clothes for a brief journey.
Mary did not protest her trip with the healer. He was an older gentleman who seemed to be at the cusp of middle-age and frailty. It was midday when they arrived at the herbalist’s cottage. There had been some minor skirmishes between villagers that Jetsam had helped him smooth over along the way. The walk itself might have taken half the time if not for the civil unrest.
The herbalist introduced herself as Dwayna and welcomed them into the tiny thatched cottage like old friends. Dwayna was unimaginably old, with skin like a dried fruit and bent at a permanent right angle from the waist. She drew Jetsam to the small hearth and instructed her to pull down various herbs, liquids, powders, and jars of ingredients from the many shelves and nooks built into the main wall. Jetsam lined the items up along the table as instructed and engaged in pleasant conversation with Dwayna as Jetsam opened the containers with her more nimble hands and pinched ingredients into a pot.
The final ingredient was in a large tin so rusted and dented Jetsam could not find a way to open it. She turned it around in her hands many times, an untimely sense of foreboding crept through her stomach and tingled through her arms. The tin was familiar in some way. It tugged at her brain and charged her lungs with oxygen too heavy to push or pull with a mere breath. “Maybe I don’t want to remember,” she thought. But she knew that was wrong. Jetsam had been lost here long enough without her name and the million other things that belonged only to her – that made her who she was. “Who am I?” soared from her mind on the wings of a flying fish.
Her finger found a familiar dent in the tin, just over the rusted image of Die Lorelei singing from her rock. Without thinking, Jetsam pressed her left thumb into the depression and used her right to pry the lid up. It gave easily. She opened the tin and looked inside at the message that had been left for her. It read:
“Zeldyn Cay Quest is 75% complete. Are you sure you want to exit now? Your progress will be saved from this checkpoint.”
User JJJenson clicked ‘Exit’ and logged out of the game.