My dearest Vasnik,
It has been some time since my last letter, and I hope this one reaches you in good health. I am sure you were deeply worried about me. Rest assured that I am now safe. Yes, there were troubles, but by the time this letter reaches you those troubles are long past.
While on the way to Rhothum our ship was caught in a terrible storm. I, and a few other men, were thrown overboard. I do not know the fate of those other men, but I was fortunate enough to wash ashore after a day at sea. Beneath your concern, I know a part of you chuckles away at the thought of me out in the ocean. You always teased that I was not particularly valorous, nor pursued any kind of adventure, so I can imagine the humour that my misadventure must hold. However, I prove to be a survivor. I hesitate to say that it is a trait that manifests from within myself, verily I am lucky to be alive.
When I washed ashore my struggle to stay alive was replaced by an incessant shivering. My body gave out then and there. I only remember shaking on the shore, the water rushing past my legs threatening to drag me back into that cold abyss.
I recall that coldness, but also the face of the man who found me there. I shall never forget Doile for as long as I live. He is kinder than any other man I have met with a refreshing sense of humour you will be unable to find in a more settled place. He took me in, introduced me to his family, and tirelessly worked to get me to the nearest city. For much of this time I helped his family: I gathered food and sometimes went fishing with his sons. As you can imagine, I was not particularly good at fishing; they did not take me often.
The water there was quite beautiful. Often, I found myself walking along the beach admiring the colour of the water. It is clear like a crystal, such that you can see the fish dart around from the shoreline. There is truly not a sight like it at home.
During one of my strolls along the shore, I encountered Doile’s youngest daughter: Ouraela. She clutched a menagerie of coastal goods precariously to her chest. As she grabbed more seaweed, driftwood would fall off the other side of her collection. Intrigued, I went to aid the child in her quest and offered her a seashell. I was taken completely aback when she responded with a scream, running back home and dropping her haul.
I was not a stranger to Ouraela. She had given me many lengthy talks about her favourite colour and how she can spell her name. While I was genuinely interested in how they spelt names here the first time, after her tenth retelling I had grown quite tired. Given her odd behaviour, I asked Doile about it. He laughed heartily for a while which only made me nervous. After he composed himself, he asked me which way the seashell was facing. I did not recall such a strange detail. He cleared my confusion with this tale:
“Long ago when the sun was high and the seas not so dark, there was a young boy. His name was Parre. Each day Parre would walk along the beach and he would collect shells. One, two, three, four, he would count the shells until he could count no higher.”
Doile paused to say that Ouraela always interrupted him here to ask how high the boy could count. He smiled smugly and said he always made the number higher than however high she could count, much to her frustration.
“But this boy wouldn’t stop there. He would keep walking, collecting more and more until he had so many that when he put them in a pile, he made a mountain. Daelle, the goddess of the sky, watched him collect shells from upon a cloud. She noticed how Parre was collecting only shells whose openings faced upwards. From upon the cloud she called out to the boy. “Why do you collect only shells whose openings face upwards?” The boy looked around for the voice. Four times he looked around until she told him to look up.
“Although not able to see Daelle, Parre knew it was her speaking. He said, “I know that the shells which face up belong to you. I was hoping you would see and come down.” The boy shuffled his feet because he was nervous. His mum told him that you should always be careful of goddesses. “Dad says you are the most beautiful of everything ever. But I don’t believe anything could be more beautiful than mum.”
“The goddess was shocked at the boy being so rude to her, but smiled knowingly in the clouds. “I am the most beautiful creature there shall ever be!” she exclaimed to him. The boy did not believe her, so she told the boy to come see for himself. “I cannot leave the sky. You must come to me,” Daelle said. “If you build your mountain high enough you will see I am the most beautiful.”
“Parre wanted to prove his mum was the most beautiful, so he searched for more shells to make his mountain. The boy looked far and wide, but he could not find any more shells facing upwards. “The mountain isn’t big enough,” the boy thought. Seeing the boy had stopped, Daelle told him he should take the shells which faced downwards. So, he did.
“Shells whose openings face downwards belong to Crataeis, the queen of the sea floor. Crataeis watched the boy taking her shells with anger: they were her shells which were being given to Daelle. She waited and waited until her last shell was taken. Too angry, she leaped out from the sea and attacked the boy, grabbing him and stuffing him under the mountain. Parre screamed as she pulled him further and further into the mountain. The boy was never seen again.
“And that is why when you put a shell to your ear you hear a moaning sound. It is the sound of Parre moaning, stuck under the mountain. That is why we call this sound parredégais, which means the cry of Parre.”
Caught off guard by the sudden and violent ending, I implored Doile why he told this story to his children. He shrugged and said it was fun to tell and that he would sometimes use it to scare his children from the water’s edge, grabbing them from behind pretending to be Crataeis. I tried asking him more, but further questioning about the story did not yield much else.
My own emotive interrogation must be equally as sudden and uncharacteristic to you. Yet, while imagining the child’s screams and pleas, I heard instead, my own hoarse voice bellowing out into the night and the howl of the storm which had put me there. The spluttering, the gasping, the struggle to keep afloat, these things were vivid to me at that moment.
I should be grateful that Crataeis had not personally come to drag me to the bottom of the Merothi channel, but my humour had not returned quite yet and I mused at the fickle chance that had spared my life. There had been no divine favour in it, just my will feebly persisting as I was buffeted by the storm.
The irony behind my musings was not lost on me, given the purpose of my voyage, so it should be no surprise to you that I have ventured onwards since then. This letter was written from the safety of Rhothum. Soon I will be embarking on the sea again and I may not be able to send another letter for some time. Should our business with the Tungol’s Aghetha proceed swiftly, a return journey could be possible before the year’s end. I am longing for home, even though I owe you 7d. I have not played a match of l’ho in months and my purse is abnormally full.