The Sea-King and the City

By Josh Wilson

You often ask, child, about the fog that rolls in thick on the heels of the day, and clings like a shroud through highest summer. Any student of atmospheres and temperature will tell you how the hot breath of the great Valle do Meio passes through the Golden Doors, the Portal Dourado, to kiss the cool, moist air of the wide Ocean, and bring forth the City’s famed, silvery tongues of cloud and vapor.

They will tell you that the fog is a cloud brought close to the soil, a byproduct of heat and condensation. But I say that “tongues” is far more apt.

* * * * * *
Once there was a Sea-King, old and cold and slow, who ruled a quiet kingdom of muted sun and bottomless depths. His subjects were primitive, elusive — remorseless sharks, and minnows in glimmering schools; heavy-jawed eels and scuttling crabs; and courtiers from the surface and the sweet inland waters, flexing salmon, otters and sea lions, and pickpocket birds that plunged and dived amid the rolling waves to fish out bits of silver.

All this the Sea-King saw, and all of it was encompassed within the span of his arms: the ebbing currents and tides, the sighing waves and forests of kelp, and even too the craggy rocks, with their crowds of barking seals, and circling gulls, and cormorants with outstretched wings.

These he knew like you know the hair when it rises on the back of your neck, like you know the lines on your knuckles, the dimples on your knees or the contours of your teeth.

But there was more to this world. Sounds and bright light, up there, away from his cold depths. Voices bright and singing, and glimpses stolen from the tops of his highest waves — great expanses of trees, and glorious constructions rising above the water and the land, stretching away and up the slopes of those damnable hilltops and ridges!

He strove and he grasped — but the Sea-King was a slave to the moon. She drew him out like silk, pulled up the billowing tides and let them collapse again, and never did she let his reach exceed the lowest sloping dunes, or whelm the broad, ancient sea wall.

Still, the Sea-King dreamed of the City, his visions half-complete, or less, all veils and dazzling sun upon his waters.

He sought after the little creatures who raised up its arches and towers, hoping to glean from them its secrets. They would play and splash at his shores, and tease the waves with their ships and skiffs. He’d pick one of the many, and rob them from the surface, bear them down with sucking currents. But they never would hear his words, would heave and quickly perish, and their shades were bitter, frightened, wailing things that he left with their skulls to dissolve in the brine.

And still the Sea-King dreamed of the City’s brightness, and lush follies, and sought to bring it all down into his cool, quiet depths.

So he called to the winds and cursed at them, and they lashed his waters into huge, frothing surges.

And he whispered to the moon, and flattered her, and she laughed and reached to him, and drew up the heaving tide.

And his waves found consummation. They deluged the long beach and the seawall, and lapped at the windmills on the edge of the park, the green expanse raised through artifice and craft from the dunes and drifting sands.

Now, I should note that this was altogether another time and epoch of the City, in the unknowable past, when it was home to all manner of conjurer and thaumaturge — including a number of the world’s leading oromancers.

And among the many saints and wizards, and diverse witches and priestesses of the temple, were also beings more of air and vapor, of smoke and flame, than our dull mud and dust.
The waters surged and roared, and leapt against the gates and steps of the most westward residential districts, till at last the wisest of the City’s peoples gathered upon the high cliffs to the north, overlooking all the shores and beaches under seige.

“See how his waters curl above the seawall.”

“So high … ”

“And snatch at the children and their parents.”

“He will claim them all.”

“And all of us.”

“He may not!”

They turned to regard the speaker, a great afrit of storms, clad in red and black.

“The old sea-father seeks that which is not his,” the afrit said, and his voice was rushing and cold, and crackled with ozone. “He has tempted his mistress from her gracious station, and maddens my peers with hateful talk. He goes against his nature, and so nature shall turn him back!”

The prince of spirits leapt upwards then, gathered himself into a whirlwind and hovered above. He spoke, and his voice was thunder and gales, and his sisters and brothers gathered, and listened, in frightening ranks of wind and lightning they nodded and bobbed, blue-white wreathed, and at last they cried out as one, a thousand roaring tigers of the storm, and hurled themselves upwards and against the water, and sought to drive the waves back into the open ocean.

And at last the waters retreated from the sea wall, and left the shoreline streets and byways slick with kelp.

The Sea-King grunted, stirred down to his most blind and empty depths. But he was crafty, and patient, and he whispered anew to the moon, and appealed to her vanity, and she sighed and smiled, and stroked him, and drew up the swelling tide, which he gathered into a broad, rolling blue-gray mountain that surged toward the shore.

“Wind and fire first beat him back.”

“And now the Earth.”

“And now the Earth!”

The oromancers gathered, their robes dark brown and black, and dug into the soil. Nachiam Preleg, the eldest, built up a cairn of rock. Black-Eyed Jarmouh, the fattest, laid around it a sloping base of gravel and mud. Erian of Downy Market, the fairest, danced then with the swarthy Burgenveld twins, and they whispered to the rocks and soil to remind them of how they grew, of lustful serpentine and granite heaved up into the sky, and their forms writhed and tangled and entwined, till they were submerged in the mud and soil.

The ground itself trembled with their gasps, and rose with their shuddering flanks. Below, ever further below, the water receded, and even the mighty wave drawn forth by the amorous moon crashed, monstrous but hopeless, against the bottommost rocks of the new-risen cliffs.

The Sea-King was beaten, then. The moon called to him, but saw at last his heart was false, and grew angry, for she had allowed herself to be drawn astray from the great order of things. Her light and yearning turned pale and chill, and never again did the waves stir from their helpless observation of her passage.

The fickle winds and storms whispered through the promenades and courtyards, now lifted up so high above the water, and swiftly forgot the insults and the battle.

The whole City was hushed, the towers and arches fallen, the paving stones upturned and cracked. The wizards and saints and mistresses of the temple were broken and lost, the spirits dispersed. Even the oromancers were buried, smothered by the turbulence they teased out of the Earth.

But birds and foxes flitted among the ruins, and clustered orange poppies grew in abundance. In time new peoples came to the place of the City, and wondered at the waters and broad grassy slopes, the bracing, chilly peaks, twins cloven by a deep, high, fertile canyon.

And still the gulls cried as humans built new homes and reared their children, and made great works of art and terror, and lived their dreary, thrilling lives, for countless generations, to this very day.

And still the Sea-King dreams, of his long-fingered limbs and thick, uncurling tongue flooding through the avenues, surging over the rooftops and bringing the light and voices into cold and silent depths.

It will never be, as the great afrit has promised. We are too far upwards now, beyond his briny grasp.

But still he dreams. And the fog then is thick, and swirls about us like tongues and breath, and we can imagine a different world than the one we live in, lost beneath the cresting waves, the light of the sun just a rumor far above.

One Comment on “The Sea-King and the City

  1. This is wonderfully evocative of the watery depths, Josh… thanks from your sis’s doppelganger.

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