This is my first foray into Saturday Scenes. It’s a flashback scene from the beginning of the first book of my new series, with a working title of “Puzzlebox”. I hope you like it, and would appreciate any feedback or thoughts on it. This has not yet been polished – there’s still quite a bit of work to do on it. But I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.
The silver blade of the knife glinted as it passed effortlessly over the smooth stone in long smooth rhythmic strokes. A gentle whisk, whisk, whisk of the blade over the roughness of the stone slowly wore away at the old dull blade in his hand. Hints of a new and razor sharp blade were already apparent as the stone abraded the old dull edge. Quickly he spit onto the stone, the whisking of the knife never altering. A woman screamed, and the commotion of a gaggle of ruffled geese seemed to pick up to a muted roar. The knife blade stopped cold as Muirin turned towards the disruption.
Rhiannon was screaming unintelligibly, her words carried away on the brisk wind rolling over the cliff’s edge. A single arm outstretched towards the open gaping ocean. Her other hand had pulled her skirts into a knot of wool and linen fabrics, exposing her feet so she might run faster. Towards the rail, Muirin realized. Had she gone insane?
Eyes flickering to the rail, he saw the source of her insanity. Her daughter, Macha, was standing atop the rail giggling as the winds buffeted her small lithe form. Muirin’s throat lurched into his throat and his stomach flipped over. He knew about the winds, about the unpredictability of them. He knew it was a matter of time – an instant – before they switched and blew towards the sea. Without thought, he dropped the knife and the stone to the ground and sprinted for Macha. His arms pumped as hard as he had ever driven them, his legs were ramrods of stiff determination. He called for her. “Macha!”
She turned her head, and her eyes met his. She smiled – her beautiful three year old face lighting up – and quickly lost the smile in favor of a terrified grimace as she almost lost balance. It was too bad, in a way, his mind raced in non-sequitur. She would have fallen onto the road and been fine.
Within moments she had regained her balance, but Muirin could feel it. The hairs on the back of his neck stirred in just the right way and he knew. Breathing deeply, he urged more speed from his already tortured legs. The smile returned to Macha’s face, her triumphal look exultant and reveling in what she was capable of. With her oblivious, the wind shifted.
“Macha, get down now!” Rhiannon’s terror slurred voice seemed distant and was attenuated by the throbbing heartbeat thundering in his ears. Macha was still oblivious. Worse, she was dead. Muirin wasn’t going to be fast enough, he could feel it, smell his futility. With a final gasp, he caught his breath as he sprinted the final three steps between them.
Her hips thrust outward and her head backwards, arms splaying wide in an attempt to regain her balance. A strong and steady gust from the west pushed her back towards the edge of the cliff. Her joyous face melted into a mask of terror. Blood pounding in his ears, he forced himself on. She was a breath away. A tiny bit more, and he would be there.. He would make it.
She started to scream. The wind built steadily and he felt it drive into her chest. She was falling in earnest, now. Muirin’s fingers grasped as his arm flailed out, reaching for Macha. He was so close, nearly there. The wind driving her over the edge also pushed him towards her, his clothing a sail, his body a corvette slipping speedily through the waves. With a final effort he lunged for the rail and for Macha. His hand hit the cloth of the skirts she wore, and his fingers closed instinctively, feeling the cloth bunch and fold in his fist. He had her!
Muirin’s hands clenched the new rail, his fingernails clawing at and digging into the new soft wood and his stomach twisted. His teeth ground and his lips curled back into a kind of grimace. The image continued to play out in his head.
Momentum carried him forward, and he slammed into the rail. The wooden rail drove the air from his lungs, knocking the wind out of him. His stomach ached and he could feel the bruised stripe forming across his chest. It was all no matter to Muirin. He was focused on Macha and keeping her from the sea’s consuming and churning waves. His other hand snapped out and wrapped around her thin leg. Distantly, he felt the wooden rail splintering under his weight. Without the rail, he began to slip over the edge and into the void above the sea as well, Macha’s small body a weight and his own momentum dragging him onward. With his free hand, he grasped for the nearby fence post. He would not let go of Macha. Her terrified screams were all he could hear. His fingers touched the rough wooden spindle and his hand spasmed automatically, trying to clench desperately at his last salvation. His hand closed into a fist full of nothing more than air. “No!” he shouted, his free hand lashing out at anything. With his other hand, he hauled Macha up by her skirts and wrapped his arm around her small body tightly. He would not let go of her. She was sobbing uncontrollably.
He was panting, now.
Time slowed. He stopped grasping for the rail; he knew it was gone. His arms cradled Macha tenderly, regretfully. “I’m sorry,” he whispered to her. He didn’t know if she heard him or not, so intense were her screams. A surprising calm filled him, the clarity of his impending death and a hardening of his resolve. With his last moments, he could protect his armful of cargo.
Empty space and ocean pulled at him as his body passed into the void, the ground below him retreating as he slipped forward and over the edge. Brash waves seethed and roared as they crashed amongst the broken rocks below. Black, dark waves spilled into frothy white foam. The chasm beneath gaped and gnashed. His breathing was even and calm as he twisted his body underneath Macha’s. He held her close, cradling her tiny head and body tightly. Maybe she would survive. His belt passed over the edge of the cliff. The thrill of falling, the pressure of the air rushing against his body. It was all a sublime peace.
A tug at his belt jerked him backwards, his peace interrupted. His body crashed to the ground, the rough edge of the bluff biting at his legs through the leather chaps wrapping his legs. He cried out as his body bent unnaturally backwards against the sheer wall of the cliffside. He squeezed Macha tightly to his chest, his arms wrapped tightly about her tiny body as his head slammed into the rocky ledge. He gasped, stars plain in his vision. Macha’s screams had stopped, replaced by whimpering and sniffling. A moment later, a gnarled and well-worn hand reached down and wrapped its fingers around his simple workman’s tunic. The hand clutched and pulled him up as a wet sail.
Deckmaster Salley stared down at him, white moustaches blowing furiously as he puffed and struggled to reclaim his breath. “Boy!” his voice snapped, still crisp despite being winded. “Well done.” Another sharp intake, and then, “Are you well?”
Muirin turned his head at the peculiar keening he heard fast approaching. Rhiannon rushed up, her gibbering all but unintelligible as she wrested her daughter out of his arms. She lavished the little one with kisses and relieved sobs. She moved them quickly away from the precipice. Muirin stared after her. “Boy!” the Dockmaster’s rough voice snapped. “Are you well?”
Head snapping back to look at Salley, he nodded. “Y-yes,” he stammered, testing his voice. “Thank you, M-Master Salley. I owe you my life.”
Salley scoffed loudly. “You owe me nothin’, boy. I saw what you did for that little girl. If you ever need work, you come down and see me at the docks.”
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