There exists a stretch of ocean waters off the coast of the Faerie Lands known as the Shark Seas. The area reaches from the tip of the Pheban Peninsula, to the northernmost shores of the Dreamtime Lands. Then from the Island of Avaiki, to the wastes of the Bear Tundra.
Sharks swim these waters, of course they do, but they are just one of the many dangers that await the unwary sailor. Not that there are many sailors. The oceans of Faerie are not well travelled.
Many times has it been noted that the lands of Faerie are not the closest companions of sensible geography. With all the bridges and forests and caves and crossways maps are more of a suggestion than a statement of fact.
This is, if anything, more true of the oceans of Faerie than anywhere else. The situation has worsened since the time of the Vanishing. It used to be that if you sailed out from the western Shadow kingdoms you would eventually land upon the shores of the Terra Draconis. When the land of the dragons disappeared within the folds of dark magic that route was closed forever.
There is the odd vessel that sets out from Phebe, or the Bear Tundra. Fishermen use tethered boats to ply their trade. Faerie fishermen are a nervous bunch. Many are given to fits of twitching.
Then there are adventurers and explorers. All hoping to find something of profit on the numerous islands scattered across the Shark Seas. Such voyages tend to be undertaken by sailors with nothing to tie them to land. No one with a family to leave behind would ever take their chances on a journey from which they would almost certainly never return.
For this reason most of the manned vessels that sail upon the Shark Seas are peopled with mortal men. A single bad storm, a whirlpool crossway or an encounter with a grumpy undine can lead to mortal vessels becoming lost this way. Those that make it to the Shark Seas are fortunate indeed. Many begin their circuitous journey in the Ocean of Mists where no faerie sailor would ever go.
The situations that lead to mortal men washing up on the palm-fringed beaches of a Shark Sea island are calamitous indeed. Many who survive these circumstances do so at the expense of their original vessels. It is not too remarkable a thing to discover a couple of sad mortal souls marooned with no more than a row boat upon the soft white sands.
The natives of the Shark Islands tell stories of stranded sailors. Usually these stories are passed down for several generations until the next incident occurs.
Rona-Iki was a young woman who once lived upon the island of Jas-Nwi (translated from the local tongue 'Our Home'). She possessed a vast imagination, which many would count as a gift. In an island community a broad mind was often seen more as a nuisance. If the other members of the tribe were in a particularly bad mood they might even call it a curse.
Rona saw pictures in clouds, heard voices in the curl of the waves and imagined monsters made of rock living deep within the earth. She had heard all the stories of the sky god and the sea god and the god who lived under the mountain. She had made up her own stories about these gods.
She liked to think that her stories gave the gods more rounded characters. She borrowed without hesitation from the stories the grandparents told. She was the kind of person who would wonder how a strange, red-skinned god might come to Jas-Nwi in a row boat and what sort of god that would be.
The god in a row boat theme was one that Rona thought about often. The story of three red-skinned gods wearing white wigs was one she heard often. They came to the island in the time of her great grand-father. She had considered the details of the tale so often that sometimes it appeared real.
One of the gods had left behind a gift, a coat and a triangular hat. None of the children were allowed to touch the coat or hat, they did get to see it displayed on feast days.
When Rona found the barrel that was yelling for help on the sunset beach it had nearly pulled her mind inside out. Whenever she imagined finding gods on the beach they came in a row-boat, not in a barrel. A barrel was barely enough space to contain one god, let alone three or four. Unless they were small.
Rona's imagination ran riot, a dozen tiny gods, arriving in a barrel. Maybe they would mistake her, four sticks tall in her seventeenth year, for a different type of god. She may have to explain to these tiny gods that she was just a person. She might have to stop them from worshipping at her feet.
As she approached the barrel it appeared to her that there was only one voice calling for help from within. That tended to suggest that there was only one person in the barrel. That tended to suggest that no one would be worshipping her any time soon.
Rona squashed down the possibility of disappointment as she came near to the barrel. After all one god was one more than anyone had discovered in four generations. Not only that but it was the only god ever to be discovered in a barrel in living memory.
"Ca nennyb ordy heeermeeee?" came the voice from with in the barrel. Strange words that Rona did not recognise. It seems that gods spoke in their own tongue. Rona wondered that a random stream of noise like that could be understood by anyone. Why didn't the gods just speak like everyone else?
"Duh liddiz tuk," came a pleading tone from the barrel. "Ih zennybore dee neeer?"
The barrel was quite unlike any that Rona had seen before. Uncle Dev made barrels out of hollowed out gourds that one found on the mush-fruit tree on the lower slopes of the great mountain. All he did was make sure the insides were clean, paint them up to look nice and stick a lid over the hole.
This barrel was a construction using many sticks of wood. It was bound at both ends by metal hoops so smooth and regular that Rona did not know how they could even be. Unless they were the skin from some strange metal fruit that grew in the land of the gods. Maybe the gods cut the skin into strips and bent it to make hoops.
The land of the gods was already far more interesting than Jas-Nwi. All Rona knew was that they must have giant metal fruit there. Apparently they had no gourds. Still, nobody could have everything.
The god had fallen silent. Rona did not want anything bad to have happened. She reached out her hand and rapped on the hard skin of wood that made up the body of the barrel.
"Hello," she said. "Strange god, are you in there?"
"Hoozat?" said the god. "Ih zummun dehhr?"
"I'm sorry, I don't speak like a god," Rona said. "I am Rona-Iki of the Tribe, welcome to Jas-Nwi god in a barrel."
"Lodehr," the god continued. "Canoo elpmee? Ayams duk."
"I'll try to get you out," said Rona. "Wait here."
Rona ran back up the sunset beach and found a sizeable rock. She came back to the barrel and started to hit the lid with the rock trying to break it open.
"Ayah!" came the voice from within. "Cairph ool. Myed isdehr."
After a couple of blows the lid split in two. Rona dug her fingers in and picked the remains of the lid from the lip of the barrel.
As soon as he was able the god came tumbling out of his wooden shell. He was everything Rona could have hoped for and more. He was not red like the last gods but rather a pale white, almost blue. He was dressed in white clothes, aside from strange black skins on his feet. A crumpled black hat was stuck to his head. The god was quite wet, the barrel clearly not waterproof like a gourd.
"O, thah ts bettah," the god said, huffing and panting. "Thah nkyu yung lay dee."
"I'm sorry," Rona said. "I still don't speak the tongue of gods."
The god looked put out at this. Rona wasn't clear as to whether he could understand her or not.
"Ode eer," the god muttered to himself. He looked pensive for a moment. Then he sat up on his haunches and touched his chest with his hands.
"Chess Turr," he said slowly, carefully.
"Your name is Chess Turr?" Rona asked. "Is that what you mean?"
The god looked puzzled. Rona understood that she was as garbled to him as he was to her. She mimicked his stance. Putting her hands on her own chest she said:
The god pointed at her: "Rona-Iki"
Rona smiled. "Chess Turr," she pointed at him. He smiled too.
Well, it wasn't a lot, but it was a start, she thought.
"Ayam lur kingfor dagoled skin poor pise," Chess Turr said slowly. In an instant they were back to not being able to understand one another. "Wayd!" he said then and held up his hand.
Chess Turr reached into his shirt and pulled out a scrap of thick skin. He laid it out on the sand to show that it was daubed with paint in a curious design.
At first Rona could not understand the jumble of black lines surrounding a yellow central area. There were other daubs of black and deeper yellow but Rona could not understand the pattern.
"Goald poor pise," Chess Turr repeated. He pointed out to sea. "Goald poor pise."
Was this supposed to be a picture of a fish, Rona wondered.
As if the thought itself was magic the jumble of lines and colours resolved in Rona's head. The gods had painted this skin in such a way that if you looked at it and thought 'fish' one would appear on the skin as if it was really there.
She could see now the shadow of the fish belly and the curve of the fish spine, the tail behind it smaller than the nose poking forward. It was as if the fish, a golden dolphin, was leaping out of water right towards Rona.
Rona gasped. She touched the skin, already it was drying in the afternoon sun. She recognised this creature. This was the golden dolphin that swam in the undersea forest of the sea gods. This was a sacred animal, one that the fishermen did their best to avoid.
"It's the gold dolphin!" Rona said. "Why are you looking for that? Have you business with the sea god?"
"Yoo nohdiss?" Chess Turr asked. "Whair isdiss?"
"It's no good," Rona said. "I can't make any sense of you. Maybe one of the elders will be able to."
It was clear that Chess Turr was not understanding her. Their brief, pointless conversation had made him slump back, defeated.
"Chess Turr," Rona said, slow and loud. Chess Turr responded to his name, looking up at Rona. She pointed over to the treeline, to the edge of the trail back to the tribe. "Come with me."
Rona stood up and started back over to the trail. Chess Turr stood and followed her, hesitant. She nodded and beckoned encouraging him. He followed with more confidence.
Let us hope that one of the elders knows something of the god's tongue. Someone has to know more than me, Rona thought.
Rona lead Chess Turr through the trees, back to the tribe, the walk did not take long but it took longer than it should have. Chess Turr seemed remarkably nervous for a god. He kept looking back the way he had come. He jumped at the sounds of the everyday birds and beasts.
When they reached the tribe the reaction was all that Rona could have guessed it would be. The other islanders stared at Chess Turr as he walked along the trail towards the grand fire. It was getting towards late afternoon now and the elder women were stoking the fire, making ready to light it.
"What have you brought us, Rona-Iki?" one of the elder women asked. "It's an odd fish, for certain. Pale enough but too many limbs."
"I'll bet it's bony and tastes of salt," said another one, joining in the joke.
"I found this god, in a barrel on the sunset beach," Rona-Iki replied. "I cannot understand his words. I wondered if any of the elders might understand him better. Maybe someone picked up a word or two from the red-skinned gods."
"This god has pale skin," the elder woman replied. "Maybe his words are not red god words."
"Then how are we to understand him?" Rona asked. It would be disastrous if she had found a god in a barrel only to have no way to understand what he was saying.
The elder woman shrugged, it was clear that she didn't care what the pale god was saying.
"Mak-Ava," she instructed another of the elder women. "Get some of those useless men down here. See if any of them can speak with the pale god."
Mak-ava ambled off to find the elder men. After a few minutes there came a noise of general discontent. Fragments of grumbling and short-tempered questions floated down the trail.
The noise of elder men disturbed before the fire was lit resolved into a procession. The elders came down the hill towards the great fire. Their grumbling did not cease even when they came within sight of the pale god.
"What's all this about? Who disturbs us with talk of a pale god?" Jama-Ray, the leader of the elders, asked.
"I found him on the beach," Rona said. "He is pale and I cannot understand his words. His name seems to be Chess Turr."
The remaining murmurs from the elders came to a swift halt. They turned to examine Chess Turr.
"Uhm. Hair low," Chess Turr said, smiling awkwardly. "Dohnt surpohss ennyovyu spee kinglesh?"
"Ayes peeka lihttle," said Kam-Oddy the oldest member of the tribe. "Ayes pohkit wenayewazah lihtl bwoy."
Chess Turr's eyes lit up. He gabbled a bunch of sounds that Rona had no way of following. Kam-Oddy waved his hands, signalling for Chess Turr to slow.
It appeared that the oldest member of the tribe would be of some use but he was not fluent in the tongue of the gods by any means.
Rona was quickly shoved to one side after these introductions. During the great fire she was expected to look after the young ones, like always. By the time for bed it was as if nothing remarkable had come to pass that day at all.
The disappointment grew over the next couple of days. Chess Turr spent all his time in the company of the elders. Rona had to carry on as normal.
Eventually, she found it impossible to ignore the pale skinned god she had brought to the tribe. She tried to ask questions about him of the elders. All they did was frown and tell her to mind her own affairs.
On the fourth day Chess Turr came to find Rona.
"Hello, Rona," he said. "I wanted to come and thank you for bringing me to the tribe."
"You speak like a person!" Rona cried out in delight. "How did you learn our words so fast?"
"I made a preparation that assists with learning such things," Chess Turr said. "It comes in handy when you need to speak with a lot of different people."
"Could you use it to teach me the tongue of the gods?" Rona asked.
"Uh, well, um, I suppose that there's no reason why it couldn't be used that way," Chess Turr said. "But it's quite difficult to make, and there's not much use for the tongue of the, um, gods around here."
"No, I suppose not," Rona said. "I imagine you must go back to your home. Either under the waves or up in the clouds. So I will probably never see a god again once you have left."
"No, probably not," Chess Turr said. "But I want you to know how grateful that I am that you rescued me. The barrel hit a rock when I washed ashore and that tightened the lid. If it hadn't been for you I might have starved to death inside the barrel."
"That's no problem," Rona said. "I have always wanted to see a god, and now I have. I fear the rest of my life will not be able to compare with the afternoon of four days ago."
"I'm sure you will find some way to make your life worthwhile, Rona," Chess Turr said. "Adventure can hide in the most unlikely of places."
"I'm not sure it does on Jas-Nwi," Rona said. "But thank you for trying to give me hope."
With that they parted. After a few days more Chess Turr had crafted some clothes with the help of the elders. He made his way down to the sunset beach to resume his own journey.
He and the village men made a small vessel, a raft. The raft carried food and water, it had a large white sail. It looked very grand, far sturdier than a fishing raft, it would have to carry Chess Turr back to the land of the gods.
Some of the tribe had come to the sunset beach to wave Chess Turr off. Some wanted to see that he made it out to sea safely because they wished him well. Some wanted to see that he made it out to sea safely because they did not trust pale gods.
The sadness that Rona felt seeing the stranger continue on his way weighed on her heart. She felt it like a gourd filled with sand, heavy in her chest. Rona knew that nothing as exciting as Chess Turr's visit would ever happen on Jas-Nwi again.
As the raft floated over the breakers out onto the ocean Rona split from the small crowd. She began her slow trudge back towards the trail to the tribe. She hadn't gone three paces before a very stupid and dangerous thought had entered her mind.
Rona wanted to ignore the thought, but, at the same time, it was the most amazing thought she had ever had. For that reason she didn't want to let go of it. For the first time in her life Rona tried not to think any new thoughts at all as she hurried into the water and swam out into the sea.
Once she was out far enough, hidden by the rolling swell of the waves she cut back towards Chess Turr's raft. The way out of the sunset bay was difficult under full sail and Chess Turr was piloting his raft slowly out to sea.
Rona swum up behind Chess Turr's raft. She grabbed hold of a long branch that held the back of the craft together. Taking off her belt she strapped it round the branch and twisted it to form a loop. She slipped her wrist tight into the loop and sat herself low in the water.
She had to ensure that Chess Turr had gone too far to turn back before he discovered her presence. That way he would not be willing to take time to return her to the island. It was not that she disliked her family or the rest of the tribe. She knew that Jas-Nwi only offered her a life of boredom and frustration.
Rona had determined, on the sands of the sunset beach, to have an adventure. Maybe, if she went with the pale skinned god, she would never return to Jas-Nwi. At this moment that didn't appear too terrible a fate. Certainly not as terrible as never seeing anything different or interesting for the rest of her life.
Eventually, of course, Chess Turr discovered Rona. As she had predicted he was not happy at all. By that time she had managed to hold on for long enough that he couldn't afford to turn back. So Rona and Chess Turr set forth on an adventure. What happened on that adventure is definitely a tale for another time.