There are times when I looked back and wonder how different my life would be if that bottle that had washed ashore that fateful day was opaque instead of clear.
To say I'm not much to look at would be understating things considerably. I grew up in a nice home with loving parents and a big sister before a raging fire took all of that away one winter night. I was the sole survivor, but the right side of my face was badly burned and I no longer had a roof over my head. I was taken to an orphanage run by the Order where my burns were treated, but never fully healed. The clergy at the orphanage were kind, but that did little to change the fact that nobody was interested in adopting me. Perhaps the one bright spot was Sister Vermalis, a nun slightly older than my sister who would often take me out picking berries and mushrooms. It was thanks to her, I learned which ones were edible and which ones to stay away from- invaluable skills for my rather solitary existence.
Currently living alone in a ramshackle seaside cabin, I was used to the sea depositing an occasional gift on the stretch of beach that doubled as my front yard. Despite never venturing out into the briny deep any further than chest high, she had been a pretty good neighbor to me. During warmer months, I would create my own salt from evaporated seawater and have more than enough left over to bring into town to sell or barter. There was also an abundance of fish for me to catch- I often used some sea salt to preserve my catch or the various meats I brought back from town. This helped me get through the cooler months where the chill wind and freezing rain would lash the coastal region. Not too much further inland was a freshwater stream that fed into the sea and a fallow field where blackberries grew in abundance.
Holding up the bottle to the blue horizon, I found myself fascinated with its smooth texture, wondering what the vessel had contained prior to being discarded. Probably rum or grog for some sailors, I surmised. Still- the bottle was quite nice, and more importantly I noticed the cork was still intact.
For a few days, the clear glass bottle sat on my table. Although I considered it a fortuitous find, I wasn't sure what to do with it until I found some paper from a blank logbook that I scavenged from someplace that had been resting in a forgotten corner of the tiny cabin ever since. On a whim, I ripped out a page and put pen to paper.
To whom it might concern-
I hope that this letter finds you in good stead. On a whim, I decided it might be interesting to see where exactly the currents ended up taking this particular bottle. If interested in keeping me appraised of its progress, I can be reached at a small cabin by the sea along the Post road some forty oxgangs south of Rannakülas. I certainly would welcome the company!
-Yacobi of Maakond
After scrolling up the hastily-written letter, I tied a thread around the. middle To my delight, it fit perfectly in the clear bottle that I found along the beach. After securing the cork in the mouth of the bottle, I went out to the shore and gave it a good heave. Tumbling end over end for a bit, the bottle and message landed with a splash several yards away.
Wouldn't that be uproarious if I actually got a reply? I mused as I watched the bottle bob and float further away. I figured the clear bottle and enclosed message would- at best- end up being a few moments entertainment for whatever sailors, fishermen or beachcombers came across it in a few weeks before going about my business- readying more saltwater from my evaporating pans.
Some ten days later, after I had managed to trade some seasoned salt for poultry and spirits at one of the taverns in Rannakülas, something on the beach caught my eye.
A glass bottle.
The same glass bottle that I had tucked that message into, no less.
After setting my newly acquired goods down inside, I went to check on it. My first thought was that my original message had simply drifted away before doubling back and washing ashore once again. However, a closer look showed that the paper inside was a slightly darker color.
Uncorking the bottle, I managed to 'pour' the message out and unscroll it although I'm taken by surprise once I examine it.
Written in dark ink and a looping, feminine-looking script was a most unexpected reply.
Salutations, Yacobi of Maakond!
I hope that you are doing well. My name is Rüütama and it was a most unexpected surprise to find your letter out in the open sea- by my estimation, some 500 nautical arpents from Rannakülas. You sound like quite the interesting fellow to be sending out correspondence in such a fashion- and I certainly would like to know more about yourself. If you're up to it, you are more than welcome to reply in the same manner that you sent out your first message. Believe it or not, I have a knack for tracking down some things on the open sea.
Looking forward to hearing from you again.
The hearts were a nice touch.
My pulse quickened a little as I read and re-read the letter. Outside of some vendors at the village, this could easily be the first time a woman has initiated contact with me since Sister Vermalis at the orphanage. This Rüütama seemed quite outgoing and spirited, and almost immediately I wondered what kind of person she was like.
Still, I had to think over what I should do next.
Although my first thought was to immediately tear out another page from the blank logbook I scavenged, I figured I'd be better off sleeping on whatever reply to this Rüütama I had in mind. After a good night's rest and tending to my salt pans the following day, I began mentally composing a reply to my unexpected letter from this Rüütama. Giving it a good deal of thought, I sit down and begin writing out a response. Perhaps the biggest challenge was to somehow make my solitary life appear at least somewhat interesting to the letter's intended recipient.
Withholding the fact that she was corresponding with a recluse who had prominent facial scars, I mentioned to my new pen-pal that I lived by myself near the shore, made salt from evaporated seawater and was a pretty capable cook despite hardly any formal training in the culinary arts. In fact, I mentioned that I planned on tonight's dinner being some fresh fish with wild rice and mushrooms. I closed out the letter by gently prodding Rüütama to tell me a little more about herself in a follow-up letter.
Once finished, I again rolled my letter into a little scroll and tied it into place with a thread before dropping it into the bottle. Making sure it was sealed good and tight with the cork, I walked out to the sand, cocked my arm back and gave the bottle a good heave. Watching the bottle bob and float away, I couldn't help but wonder if I'd ever get to find out more about this Rüütama or if getting her letter in the first place was merely happenstance that was never to be repeated.
Over the next several days, I held on to the letter from Rüütama as though it were some sort of lucky charm. While some of the girls in the village or back at the orphanage cringed at the very sight of me, Rüütama's letter reminded me that perhaps there may be out there for me after all.
About a week after leaving my most recent letter to the mercy of the tides and the currents, I step out one morning to see that a familiar looking glass bottle has once again washed up on the beach.
To my immeasurable delight, it's another letter from Rüütama.
Hello again, Yacobi!
How have you been? I was quite pleased to hear from you once again.
It sounds like those evaporators have been keeping you busy. What is it you usually barter the salt for? Something tasty, I imagine.
As for me, my diet consists mostly of fish and sometimes kale since I spend so much time offshore. I wish I could try beef, chicken, lamb or pork dishes more often, though. Perhaps if I was able to visit some time, you could prepare one of those dishes for me!
Like you, I presently live alone although I'm nowhere near as intrepid as you are. Evaporating seawater for it's salt content? I'm surprised more people haven't thought of that.
P.S. As you can probably tell, I'm a little hungry as I'm writing this
Unlike her first letter, I didn't need a whole night's sleep to ponder a response to her that I was comfortable with. My reply to Rüütama seemed to flow from my quill so naturally.
Thank you for your quick reply to my previous letter. I'm not sure how you do it, but I must say you're getting quite good at figuring out how to get your correspondence to me.
Although not many people have thought about evaporating seawater for its salt content, I can tell you that it's pretty hard work. If the weather doesn't cooperate, I need to use an open flame to speed up the process which means getting charcoal or firewood. I forgot to put a few pans in for the night the other day and a mist moved in from the sea overnight, getting everything wet- so I had to start all over again. However, since I live alone, I really have nobody to blame but myself.
I pause, wondering how flirtatious I should be in my correspondence with her. Throwing caution into the sea breeze, I continue.
Perhaps I can blame you- since I was so giddy at the prospect of hearing from you once again that I was so easily distracted.
Tell me, Rüütama- what do you like to do in your spare time? I sometimes enjoy walking along the beach and see if anything interesting washes ashore- like this bottle.
I hesitate, but for not quite as long this time.
I'm beginning to think this is some sort of magic, enchanted bottle given the way it's found its way between you and me so easily. It's as though it wants us to stay in touch until we meet face-to-face someday. That would be nice, wouldn't it?
But after a warm and sunny day, there's nothing quite like watching the sun setting over the sea and setting the sky and clouds ablaze with these amazing rose and lilac shades.
I'll tell you this, Rüütama. I'll watch the next sunset and be thinking of you, hoping that despite the distance between the two of us, you can see the same sights that I do.
P.S. How are you able to get your messages to me so quickly?
With a *splash*, my next reply was off.
It had gotten to the point where it seemed as though I no longer measured time in days or weeks, just the time between letters from Rüütama. Curiously, the time it was taking for the bottle with her reply to wash ashore seemed to be getting shorter.
It didn't take too long for me to realize that something out of the ordinary was taking place. After some consideration on my part, my best guess was that this Rüütama was some sort of water elemental since she could send her messages across long distance with such prescion.
I didn't give the true identity of Rüütama much thought until I came home after dusk. It had been three days after I sent off my reply and as I ascended down the path from the post road to my shack, I could see what looked like lights further down the beach. It wasn't unusual to see the lights of the occasional passing vessel off in the distance, but this was much too close to shore to be a ship.
Retrieving a lantern from inside, I ventured back out to where I thought I had seen the lights. They were still there, but they seemed to be receeding the closer I got with the lit lantern. There seemed to be no discernable outline and whatever it was had gone further out to sea as I approached. A sense of unease washed over me as I stood at the water's edge and watched the lights drift further out to sea. Their proximity and movement only served to reinforce that it was no distant ship I was seeing.
The following day, I went back out to the beach only to find the same bottle deposited in the sand- not far from where I had first seen the enigmatic lights. I hesitantly unscrolled the letter inside. A little further down from where I found letter were some strange markings in the sand, as though something large had managed to drag itself ashore. I find myself hoping the two were unrelated.
Hello again, Yacobi!
With regards to the sunset, I followed your advice the other day and was glad I did. The clouds looked like they were purple and each one tinged with a rose-hued flame- Magnificent!
If you don't mind my being forward, I would be happy to meet you sometime, Yacobi. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy our correspondence and I hope to meet the man behind these delightful letters I'm receiving. I could even arrange for a special gift for you in two days time.
As for the speed of our correspondence, let's just say I know the ocean's currents far better than you realize.
A special gift?
The prospect leaves me simultaneously intruiged and worried. If my pen-pal was determined to leave me some sort of present, there was really nothing I could do to prevent her- just wait until the appointed time to see if she made good on her promise. However, with this talk of wanting to meet me, I grew increasingly worried about how disappointed Rüütama surely would be after meeting me face to face.
Damn it- looks like I just bit off more than I could chew.
Still concerned about the unexplained lights, I mentioned them in passing in my letter while trying to give myself a way to somewhat gracefully back out of meeting Rüütama face-to-face, hopefully saving her from a major disappointment. The words weren't flowing quite as freely as they were in my previous correspondence, but I finished the letter and sent it off in the bottle that afternoon.
Returning from the village after bartering some salt for some mutton two days later, I spied a solitary figure in the cove adjacent to my shack. It appeared to be a woman standing waist-deep in the water. The woman had pale skin and almost violet hair while clad in what appeared to be some sort of dark skintight suit that showed ample amounts of her pale, voluptuous figure.
Could this be the woman who's been writing to me? She must be a foreigner to be in such exotic vestments, even though in the letters she has a pretty good command of our language I say to myself.
My first instinct was to actually try and hide, since I made no mention of my scars in our correspondence. However it would be futile to try and conceal myself as I made my way down the path to through wide open terrain to my shack. Doing my best to conceal my nervousness, I manage to find my voice as I approach the cove.
"A-are you Rüütama?" I call out to her.
As though she's just noticing me for the first time, she turns and faces me- waving shyly as her response. The woman is nothing short of stunning, with almost lilac colored hair and a curvaceous frame.
"That I am. A-are you Y-yacobi?"
"Th-that's me...." I stammer nervously, wading into the water without even bothering to remove my shoes or clothes. I don't know why, but I feel as though I must get closer to her.
Too late, I'm aware of a churning in the water around us as I draw closer. I'd like to think I at least looked the role of a dashing hero as I unsheathed my dagger, but I imagine my face registered nothing but sheer panic as at least eight tentacles sprang out from the water in a semicircle around the two of us.
Of all the times for a monster to attack.....
"Rüütama! Take my hand!" I say as I reach out towards her. Turning to drag her to the relative safety of shore, I see below her waist for the fist time. My heart sinks as I mass of tentacles radiating out from beneath her where her legs should have been.
"I'm dead...I just walked right into this monster's trap." I lament. Defeated, I feel her tentacles roughly seize my arms and legs. I can only contemplate how cruel she was for toying with my feelings just so I'd let my guard down. In that moment, I was convinced I was going to die alone by her hand. Not that it would've done me much good, but I'm dimly aware that I dropped my dagger into the water.
Surprisingly, they didn't teach us much about monsters at the orphanage, despite being run by The Order. Perhaps it was because mamono were pretty rare in this land (operative word being 'land') or perhaps its because they were more interested in teaching older kids such as myself a trade before sending them off into the world. However, we did get the occasional tale of how these mamono had been known to drag off unwitting human men- never to be seen again- and draw our own conclusion from there.
"Please.....please don't hurt me...." I plead.
"Hurt you?" she looked genuinely offended. "Why would I hurt the man who's letters brought me so much joy?"
The monster that has me in her grip is undeniably beautiful, but her words aren't immediately sinking in as I continue struggling in vain.
"Let me go....please..."
The pale beast's response was to move a little closer and wrap her arms around me. Her voice was reminiscent of a mother trying to calm down her frightened child after a particularly violent thunderstorm.
"Shhh.....you'll be all right. I'm not going to hurt you..." she whispers reassuringly.
"Who are you?" I ask hoarsely.
Her features brighten considerably when I ask her this. By the chief Goddess she's so beautiful it makes my heart ache.
"I already told you, silly..." she says playfully. "I'm Rüütama, but you can call me Tama."
"No....I don't believe you..." I said, choosing now of all times to be defiant for some reason.
As if she anticipated this, the tentacled monster woman produced a pair of bifocals from her a previously unseen pocket on dress before one of her tentacles dropped a clear glass bottle into her free hand. Producing the letter from the bottle, she unscrolled it and begins reading it to me word for word.
"Dear Rüütama- I was very pleased to receive your last letter. I have been doing well and the weather has been quite nice these last several days, helping my salt-making endeavors. Dinner last night was chicken with some exotic spices that I brought back from the village along with wild rice.
With regards to meeting face-to-face, I would be honored if you chose to stop by to visit. However, please don't get your hopes up. I'm sure you must be quite busy with constantly going out to sea and I'll understand if you couldn't make it...."
She looked up from the letter and smiled mischievously. "Looks like I made it."
"But....you never told me you were a...a...a monster- a Kraken! What are you doing here?"
"It never came up." she replied, trepidation creeping into her voice. Her grip on me loosens a little. "And I merely accepted your invitation...Are you sorry I came?"
One look into those piercing violet eyes and I wilted. "N-no....that's not it. I'm just really surprised, that's all."
"I didn't mean to deceive you...." she said, gently setting me down. "I just thought I'd bring it up eventually, but I kept putting it off. And you didn't seem to mind writing to me." "But you're a monster! I-" It's a pretty big detail to overlook, but the words roll off my tongue like venom before I can stop myself.
Hurling invective at her was no way to treat a rare guest. Suddenly my face felt warm and flush. My heart sank as though I just remembered something and my hand reflexively flew to the scars on the right hand side of my face. I had absolutely no right to judge someone based on physical appearance.
"I....I'm sorry, Rüütama. I imagine you must be pretty disappointed." I ask, suddenly unable to face her now.
The Kraken said nothing, but gently put her hand on mine- the one feebly trying to conceal the scar tissue from her eyes- before lowering it. She then softly caressed my cheek and temple- scars and all.
"Why would you even think something like that?" she asked.
"I...I thought maybe I made myself out to be something I'm really not when I was writing you..."
She slowly pulled her hand away from my face while still fixing me in her gaze.
"You made yourself out to be a solitary but intrepid soul who yearned to know so much more about the world around him. What part of that was untrue?" She asked me, even though she most likely already knew the answer.
"I guess all of it is true." I conceded. Her tentacles were still around me, although they weren't gripping as tightly and my arms were now free.
"But Yacobi......" she said, a blush creeping into her pale features. "There was something that was left unsaid in your letters. Something you may not have been willing to tell anyone, but I was still able to pick up on it."
"What's that?" I ask as I nervously rub my wrists. They have what look like little circles on them after Rüütama wrapped her tentacles around them.
"You're so very lonely and your heart yearns for someone to be with." She reached out to gently clasp my hand with hers before putting it squarely on her right breast. "Just as mine does....can you feel how quickly it's beating now that we've finally met, Yacobi?"
"I don't get it.....what's my appeal?" I ask, taking in the beautiful lilac-tressed monster's features as my hand was feeling her quickening heartbeat through her supple bosom. Despite to cool waters, I felt so sublimely warm standing this close to her.
"Well- it's not every day I come across a bottle containing such beautifully-written words."
"But all I did was write about salt evaporation and wild berries...."
"And sunsets and the sea." Tama interjected as she caressed my cheek. Once again, I'm looking into her soulful amethyst eyes. "I think you have this gift for making even the mundane seem as precious as a sapphire pearl. Your letters let me see a part of the world through your eyes, Yacobi....and I liked it."
My fear and hesitation is replaced by something else now- a strange bemusement and delight. This powerful yet beautiful creature who could easily strangle or drown me on a murderous whim is instead blushing like a timid choir girl- all because of words I put to paper. Noticing me eyeing her reddening form, she puts her bifocals back on and resumes reading from my letter.
"There were some strange lights along the shore the other night- too close to be a ship, but they went further out to sea when I went to get a better look. Have you ever encountered something like that out at sea?"
"Yacobi...did you think the lights you saw were beautiful?" she asked hesitantly, looking up from the letter.
"I suppose, but I still don't know very much about them."
"Fair enough.." she sighed.
"Why do you ask, Rüütama?"
"Yacobi....I would very much like it if...if I could become....your muse...I'm not as good a writer as you are, but I want to show you something...." she stammers, clearly overselling my abilities as a writer. "It's something I've never really shown anyone else before- maybe it will inspire you, but I need to do this while it's still light out..."
Suddenly, I'm dragged beneath the surface by her. Before I can even try screaming or saying anything, her lips find mine as her tentacles pull me closer. She's now breathing air into my lungs
"Don't panic..." she says reassuringly, her voice surprisingly clear underwater.
Surprisingly, I'm not panicking.
The next thing I know, I'm surrounded by a spreading black cloud of ink. As I wonder what's going on, I can sense in the darkness that Tama has swam away but she still wasn't very far. As my eyes adjusted, I could make out a series of ethereal lights circling me from a distance before getting closer. It's almost like there's a constellation dancing to an unheard ballad around me.
It's Rüütama- her entire body is glowing white and there are little dot of white light trailing off along her tentacles. The sight of her is nothing short of spectacular. I pivot around so I can continue watching her glowing body circle me.
"I can create our own little world where it's nobody else but you and me..." she says as she swims up to me. Unable to say anything, she softly caresses me with her tentacles as we float together. Sensing I'm running short of breath, she once again puts her lips to mine. I'm almost disappointed as we breach the surface and are topside once again, still within sight of my shack after what seems like hours in the darkened waters. She had backed away slightly, but still had some of her tentacles gently wrapped around me.
"Well....what did you think?" she asks with a grin. "Is that something you'd like?"
"Th-that was amazing, Rüütama!" I gasp. Behind her, the sky was now ablaze with bright hues of orange, lilac and rose as the sun was now sinking on the western horizon. The shadows of the fading light accentuated her beautiful face and now slick violet hued hair.
"Awww....Tama! No fair! We couldn't see anything!" a female voice called out- also in the water but much closer to my shack than we were.
Rüütama suddenly blushed and stammered upon hearing the voice.
"N-nothing happened...honest!" she said, flustered.
"We don't know for certain with that ink cloud of yours." a second voice teased.
"What are you even doing here!?" she yells impatiently. I turn to see more 'guests'. By the shore were two mermaids- one with a pink beret and the other in what looked like clerical vestments.
"Who are you two?" I ask them.
"I'm sorry, Yacobi...they must've followed me out here."
"We're friends of Tama!" the one in the clerical vestments said, waving. "I'm Püha and this is Kala!"
"We thought you were going to sink a ship, Tama. You're nothing like you're sister!" the one in the pink beret was pouting. "Why didn't you just take him away and make him yours!? Y'know....give us a show, at least..."
"Because..." Rüütama said impatiently. "You can't coerce someone into writing words that would move one's heart....it just can't be done..."
"Kala is a Merrow and Püha is a Sea Bishop. They're....acquaintances....of mine." Tama said, turning to me and doing little to conceal exasperation with the two uninvited tagalongs.
"Did you ask him!?" the Sea Bishop called out.
"What!? No....don't be ridiculous!" Rüütama shot back before turning to me. "Th...they to know if you're willing to....perhaps...." her face turning a shade of crimson before trailing off. ".....write erotic fiction..."
"B...but Rüütama." I said quietly, certain that I was blushing. "I....don't think I can write about that. I..um...I've never...really....been with a mamono woman before". Actually, the truth was that I hadn't been intimate with ANY woman before, mamono or otherwise.
"Well....we're waiting on an answer! What's it going to be!?" Kala asked impatiently.
Ignoring them at first, I swam a little closer to Tama before turning to face the two.
"I'm not so sure...I'll need some time to think about your proposal!" I shouted to Kala before turning around to see Rüütama, her face and upper body silhouetted against the rosette-hued sky.
"If only I had some sort of muse to inspire me in my writing...." I said coyly to the Kraken with a wink.
Her face furrowed into a playful scowl before she softly tugged at me with a pair of her tentacles.
"I think I know just the place where we can get some privacy..." she teased as she gently pulled me beneath the waves and into an inky bliss once again.
I had found my muse.