The Old Men And The Sea – Short Story

He stood there on the marram grass, a rough carpet at his feet, and held the sword aloft. He was a proud man, our hero, for he was strong and he had vanquished the tyrant. The blood still marred his blade but it was evidence of his triumph. A clouded grey sky tried to part for the sun’s rays but it was too thick, only a dismal afternoon half-light lit the victorious scene. Our hero looked out to sea, at the roiling, grey waves and his mind was a theatre of thought.  Images of the tyrant’s bloody death came to him with visions of the realm’s glorious future, unshackled and free. He thought also of gold, they say the tyrant’s hoard could fill a mountain.

The afternoon wind did not gust and blow but still it pushed at the man’s hair, ruffling the lank, salty strands beaded with sweat and grease. His hands were rough and the knuckles were red with blood, he wore a coat of pembra skin and farmer’s trousers, for his birth had been lowly, once upon a time. He would strip and step into the waters, yes, he would wash himself in cold and emerge renewed, rise naked from the sea the hero of our times, ready to dress himself in coloured silks and cured leather. Clean, he would feast for days, offer libations to the gods, and thank those uncaring stars for the fate they had transpired. His green eyes, green as jade, stared across that colossus of an ocean, our nation’s past and future tossed to and fro on the current. Now he was the wave and the tide.

The blow struck him thick and fast on the back of his skull and he crumpled to the ground. The sword fell with him, its point striking the earth and burying half its length in the sand. The assailant knelt and others joined him and together they beat their stones against the hero’s head until it was sunken and smashed. The hero had not heard them for they were old men, their bodies stiff bone and aged parchment skin, and they walked as if they were barely there, half their souls already singing with the after gods. The wind stirred a little more and their loose black cassocks flapped, as if they had wings.

Five surrounded the body and they placed their hands on the hero’s flank and legs. They could not lift for that man had been iron and muscle, instead they dragged him over the marram grass. His body caught on pebbles and weeds, the odd thistle cut the skin on his arms. They hauled as if it were a ship and not a carcass. They reached the edge of the bank that overlooked the sands and pushed the body down. It fell the short distance and lay crumpled amongst broken shells and fragments of worn glass. The old men descended, scratching at the bank, one stumbled and fell with a cry. He twisted his bare, blistered ankles but he got back up, letting the pain scour the length of him as it climbed towards his slow, beating heart. The group gripped the young hero with their gnarled fingers as they crossed the sands. Quartz found its home on him, lining his lips, burrowing into his ears and even climbing between his eyelids. Rutile, zircon and feldspar painted him as he made his final voyage.

And so the rasping men reached the waters’ edge. It was cold as broken icebergs and it stung their knarled bones. Their feet sunk deep into the wet sand and they took the body with them. From water unto water, that was the hero’s life, and the life of those men too as it rose from ankle to shin to knocked kneecap to waist. The dead man floated between them as their struggle became the swim and not the pull yet it seemed even the tide colluded with their efforts and dragged them further out to sea, as if the colossus of the ocean drew breath.

That was the day the old men took our hero. Not one of them returned. All they left behind was the sword, buried half in the sand, waiting to be rusted by the rains. They left us as well, the impoverished, the beaten, the bent children of tyranny and victory, to fend for ourselves. They left us without a hero. And it is said that as they went the clouds parted and the sun lit the white crests of the waves and, blinking, we had to face the day.

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