Flash Fiction Challenge: The Shipwrecked Sailor

Chuck Wendig’s flash-fiction challenge for this past week was to choose a fairy tale and  re-write it in a new style, choosing from a  list of possibles on his blog. There’s nothing like procrastinating writing with other writing, so I thought I’d play along again. I thought at first perhaps a Western fairy tale, one of the more common ones. But none really appealed to me, and then it came to me. Of course I should write an Ancient Egyptian one! So, I have taken the Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor and attempted to re-write it in the style of Sword and Sorcery in 1000 words. I’m not sure how succesful I was, but it was fun.

The Shipwrecked Sailor is a tale originating in the Middle Kingdom and is preserved entirely in a single manuscript written by a scribe Amen-aa, son of Ameni. It is really a story within a story, but I have only rewritten the interior story, which is the main thrust of the tale anyway. The framing device is the narrator, a sailor in Pharoah’s navy trying to console his superior officer on returning home from a defeat. He is telling his superior of this experience he had on a previous voyage. And so, without further ado, I present:

The Shipwrecked Sailor

I paused at the rail of the ship, watching as the stone quay receded and the city dwindled behind us to be replaced by rocky red cliffs. My eyes blurred, and I whispered a quick prayer for protection to the Great God Min. The captain roared and I scurried about my duties, bare feet slapping on the heaving wooden deck. The Great Green heaved beneath us, as men swung through the rigging and men strained at their oars below until at last the wind filled the great sail and we cut through the waves. Our Captain’s swarthy face creased in a frown. I remembered that the fore-seers had said there would be very little wind, but already it whipped the heaving water to white froth. Our crew was experienced and our ship sturdy, but I prayed again for good weather.

The squall, when it came, appeared suddenly, almost by magic. It engulfed the ship with a whoosh and a wet thwump of sodden canvas. Timber groaned and men yelled panicked and contradictory orders at each-other. I caught hold of a rope as it whipped by and hauled on it, my skin tingling like lightening crawled across it. Magic for sure. With a deafening crack, the deck gave way, breaking in two nearly beneath my feet. I held tight to my rope for lack of a better option, and eventually it tossed me onto the spar it was attached to. There I clung as the gale raged above us, turning our faithful ship into kindling-wood and sending many good, brave men to the bottom of the sea.

My salt-rimmed eyes cleared a bit and my feet scraped on sandy bottom. An island wavered before my eyes, green and inviting. Bits of wood, cloth, and other debris littered the shore. I turned my eyes away from the emptied husks of my fallen fellow sailors, a few of whom had washed up on shore. If I ever reach home again, I will give an offering at the temple for their souls. Stumbling ashore, I found a large water-proof bag caught in a tangle of ropes and linen sail. Inside I knew I would find weapons. I armed myself with a curved sword and felt slightly better. My courage a bit restored, I sent a prayer of supplication to Lord Seth of Foreign Lands, and set off into the trees in search of…something. Some sign. Some human habitation.

Three days I wandered, drinking water from many small springs and eating a few dates here and there. On the afternoon of the third day, I discovered a valley that looked as though it were tended by the hand of man. My heart rose. I’m a sociable fellow, and wandering alone in the wilderness did not appeal to me. Perhaps there were people here. Perhaps they could help me return to my homeland. But as I wandered through fields of melons, grain and cucumbers and beneath groves of fruit trees of all sorts I saw no one. Waterfowl rested in large flocks on ponds filled with darting fish, but no hunters did I encounter. I ate and finally nestled myself into a small thicket to while away the hours of the Sun-God’s Death.

He was sailing his Divine barque low on the horizon when the shadow enveloped me, blinding me for a moment. Smoke and hot rock filled my nostrils and made my eyes water, heat as of the high desert blasted across my skin, and the earth trembled beneath me like the sea in a gale. My eyes wavered into focus, and I shivered. Standing before me, looking down from a great height out of jeweled eyes was a dragon. Each scale shone gold-tipped blue and his beard waved gently in the breeze of his great wings. My heart hammered in my throat and my mind screamed at my arms to reach for my sword — pitiful as it was in the face of such power and majesty — but my limbs would not obey me. As I lay, gasping and gaping like a stranded fish, the great creature spoke.

“What has brought you to my island, little one? Speak quickly or I shall burn you up in my fiery breath.” His voice was like thunder and hurt my ears.

“Mercy, my Lord! I am a sailor in the Great Lord’s ships bound for the mine-lands. A great storm rent our ship asunder and cast me up here, the last survivor.”

He smiled, showing all his great curved teeth. “Fear not, little one, for you are blest by the Great God. This is an enchanted isle, where nothing is ever wanting. Bide here but a few months and another ship shall sail past these shores. Then you shall go aboard and they will carry you back to your own lands. Fear not, for you shall not die here, but in your own village in your own time.”

A great weight lifted from my chest and I scrambled to my knees to grovel. “Oh great Dragon, thank you for your kindness. I will tell of your greatness to the Great Lord himself and all His court. I will bring back offerings as if to a god for you, I swear. Only do not let me die here in foreign lands.”

He let out a rumbling laugh. “Foolish mortal. This land is rich in everything I could want. In any case, once you leave these shores you will never be able to find this island again. It will vanish as if it has never been.”

My face burned with shame, and I bowed lower, fearing I had angered him. But he only said “Come, I will show you the wonders of this island. You shall refresh yourself, and be easy until your ship comes to bear you away.”

So I rose and followed the great serpent further into the heart of the island.


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