The schooner anchored not far from them was in danger, and several sailors had fallen into the sea. Marina, who was able to swim, jumped, together with a few others from her ship, to save them. She caught one of the sailors and after a while, the one she was towing didn’t struggle anymore. She was relieved to notice this, as she had started to get tired fighting with him. But suddenly both her one and the other’s ceased holding on their rescuers and tried to reach quickly the side of the boat… all at the same time. Couldn’t any of them use their common sense judgment?
The boat, as expected, was in danger of capsizing now, thing noticed by the two rowers. They looked one at the other for one moment, almost like reading each other’s mind in their glances, then it seemed they agreed instantly upon the best thing to do in such a situation. Each of them approached the sailor who was the closest to him and threw a good punch, knocking him out in order to save the boat from getting turned upside down. The unlucky boxing bags let the boat go and went, unconscious, to the bottom of the sea, while another man gave a hand to one of the sailors, helping him to get into the boat suddenly relieved of its additional load. The one who had gripped the fender was also helped to get inside.
“Now I’d really need Gorgona’s help!” Marina thought. “Or at least if I knew the secrets of sponge fishers!”
She had admired always the sailors of the Greek Islands who went for sponges and corals, to the depth of the sea. She could swim, but she wasn’t an expert in diving and swimming under water… and there were two of them to be caught quickly!
Her thoughts were focused on a prayer while she was looking for bubbles to indicate where those men could have sunk. She finally saw some bubbles and dove in that direction, catching a mass of curly hair, then she pushed back to the surface with her prey. The boat was, of course, still close, so once that stupid sailor caught, they took hold of him and she took a deep breath, diving again… not too sure if there were really bubbles what she had seen this time.
Marina was diving deeper than the first time, searching for the man she couldn’t find. The water made a sort of a semi – opaque curtain, unlike in the gulfs of the Aegean where she had tried, for fun, diving together with her brother, many years ago. She wasn’t sure what to do next, how and where to look for him, if what she had seen weren’t his bubbles… “God, if it is Your will… please let me find him!” she prayed.
God? No, somebody else she would have to pray for the sailor’s life… because she was bewildered to see a beautiful girl, with a lily-white face having the features so well known around Thessaloniki, waiting there for her, in a blue-green attire… and with a golden comb in one hand. Was it for good or for bad that she was seeing Gorgona, so far away from her native seas?
Diamandis had told them he had caught a glimpse of her after a storm, while she was sitting on a rock of the many scattered around Monemvassia, and that he hurried to answer to her question before she asked it. It was, no doubt, the wisest thing to do, as their ship had been spared then. Now Marina was going to do the same:
“Hail, my queen!” she thought, carefully choosing her words. “Your brother is ruling happily for much more years than I can count, sending you greetings!”
It was exactly what Gorgona wanted to hear, but she didn’t expect to hear somehow the mermaid’s answer.
“And your brother is happy in my arms. Little Dora is my lady-in-waiting. You are doing well where I sent you. Have you told my story to these foreign sailors?”
Marina was strangely happy to hear these. At least the ones she had lost were far from any regret and pain now. Maybe it was better for a family of sailors to be at Gorgona’s court than in that Paradise with milk and honey and angels. She answered immediately:
“Yes, my queen, I did, and they liked it. They have other mermaids in their legends. My queen, please give me this sailor’s life, if it is upon Your will to spare him like you did with me…”
“It might be, but what are you willing to offer me in exchange?”
It was a fair question; only… what could she offer to the mighty queen of the sea who had everything?
“You have already my life. You have marked me as your own six years ago, in the shipwreck. I am yours to serve! What else can I give you?”
“Your tears?” came the unexpected answer.
“I am not allowed to cry. I am supposed to be a tough sailor boy,” Marina protested, without understanding.
“You aren’t opening your mouth either… and still we are holding a conversation. I want your tears, the ones you will cry for a lost love, exactly like the tears I had shed some time ago!”
“You have them… and anything you want from me!” she said earnestly, thinking that any sacrifice was worth for saving a life.
Besides, what could the mermaid really want? Her tears for a lost love? Will she really fall in love some day, and will it be like in the knights’ stories the girls at the monastery were telling far from the nuns’ ears, a broken heart’s tears? Well, a broken heart might be a fair price… for somebody else’s life! And in some stories or songs… even a broken heart healed after a while.
“Well, we’ll see what else I might want from you in the future – because, indeed, you are mine to serve… and you’ll do it well from the deck of a vessel, for many years to come. I have a plan for you!” Gorgona said.
This was nothing new to Marina, who had always believed that it was a reason why only she had been chosen to live after that shipwreck. And the reassurance that she will be a sailor for many years, was more than she could wish to hear. It meant her dream would become true some day.
“Thank you very much, my queen, I’ll try to be worth of your favours!”
The mermaid motioned her to come closer. When she did, Marina received a strange embrace… Hers? Then she felt in her arms the texture of a sailor’s clothes. She had been granted her request! As she reached the bottom of the sea, with a firm push she hurried to rise back at the surface, still holding well that sailor. They would survive. Both of them! And now she had more than the confirmation she was seeking about her destiny… she had Gorgona’s blessing.
The long awaited portion of fresh air came just in time, and the boat was nearby.
All rescued sailors aboard the boat, Marina could gather her strength to follow them. She was tired, but happy. The rain on her face helped her to overcome the tiredness and become again her usual self still while on the boat. The satisfaction of having saved two lives superseded everything else. Well, almost everything. And the other happiness she was hiding deep in her soul made her forget the rain, the pain in her tired muscles. When she finally succeeded to get inside, she heard that there was another man missing. Strangely, but these news didn’t surprise her.
“He wasn’t here around”, she said with a small, epuised voice, “otherwise I would have found him when I dove. He might have gone down somewhere else.”
The ones who wanted to look for the missing guy might try, but she had the feeling that they wouldn’t find him. Not even the body!
“How was he like, the missing one?” she asked the sailor who was closest to her.
Before hearing his answer, she suspected what this will be: the officer was a handsome young man, exactly how Gorgona liked to choose her devoted guards. This was the reason why she had accepted to grant her the second sailor’s life: she had already taken her tribute, a young officer.
Marina returned to her ship with a large smile on her face. The officers had ordered to have blankets and tea ready for the brave rescuers.
“Thank you very much for allowing me to go with them, Sir! That was really my call!” she told briefly the first lieutenant.
Seeing him around gave her a new idea – something she wanted to know since her underwater adventure. She approached him and asked with an apologetic smile:
“Sir, do you happen to know how deep was the water where we had to dive? I mean I reached the bottom… finally… but it seemed… strange.”
Actually, something else seemed really strange to her, but she couldn’t say it: “how was it possible to meet Gorgona so far away from her native Aegean or Ionian waters? And so close to the harbour!”
“You dived to the sea floor?” the first lieutenant was surprised. “From memory I’d say around 30 feet or thereabout. Have you felt lack of air? This might be the strangeness you are telling about.”
Nobody would ever learn about the negotiation under water. It was her secret – and even if she was foolish enough to say anything, who would believe that she received the mermaid’s blessing?
– THE END –