Marine stared at the bobbing shell. It stayed above the surface of the river, moving about at the end of its grass tie. It didn’t look safe. Not at all. Marine hadn’t done any water training, she’d only just completed enough training to go Topside and retrieve a stone amongst a commando of much more experienced soldiers. Yet here she was being faced with getting into the shell and being on the river.
‘Why do you do it though?’ She asked Briar. Briar laughed.
‘A mixture of reasons. It’s fun, it’s a quicker way to travel long distances, and sometimes if there’s a lot of us we can catch fish to eat. Like what you ate this evening.’
Marine thought about the delicious food. It had been good. ‘It just… it just doesn’t seem safe?’ She said tentatively. The second the words were out of her mouth she heard them: that underground logic of not doing something if it wasn’t safe no matter how fun it might be. She screwed up her face and resolved to be different. ‘Come on then, let’s give it a go.’
Briar pulled the shell in closer to the land by pulling the grass rope. They held it steady and indicated to Marine to hop a leg over and into the boat. Marine leaned a leg out and put her foot gingerly on the bottom of the nobbly shell. The whole thing was lurching and moving, wobbling alarmingly and small splashes of cold water were spraying on her face and hand. She steadied her weight and pulled her other leg over the lip of the shell and into the boat. She was in. First task achieved.
The second Marine had sat her bottom on the floor, Briar pitched themself over the side and leapt in the boat making it rock alarmingly. Marine watched the land next to the river rock from side as the water sloshed them. Briar picked up the two wide paddles at the end of the shell and with a quick flick of their knife, they cut the grass tether and the shell began to move swiftly away from the land. Marine watched it go with a peculiar sadness.
‘The first bit’s the worst.’ Said Briar, over the noise of the water, ‘It’ll settle down once we’re out in the main current.’ Marine didn’t know what a current was but she looked forward to it proving Briar right. The boat didn’t seem stable at all: they were twisting and turning and bouncing as they moved in circular, lurching motions across the surface of the river. Marine felt the delicious fish lurching about with the boat and wished she hadn’t had that second helping. Boating would be alright, she thought, if it wasn’t for how much it had made the land jump about around the river.
Briar was right though, and when the shell reached a distance that Marine judged to be equal distance from both riverbanks she did feel less buffeted about within the shell.
‘Where is the water going?’ She asked Briar, daring to kneel up on her knees and peer up over the front of the shell rim.
‘Nobody knows. Anybody who got that far away never made it back to tell us.’ Briar said, and Marine blanched.
‘What do the sticks do?’ She asked, watching Briar as they poked the sticks in and out of the water and twisted and turned them.
‘They steer,’ Briar replied, ‘And sometimes you can move yourself quicker with them. Here I’ll shall you.’
Briar passed an oar to Marine, who was surprised by the weight of it and nearly dropped it. Briar nimbly moved behind Marine and held her arms to guide her as she used the pole in the water. ‘See, if you change the angle of the oar, you start to change the angle of the boat.’
Marine did see. It was amazing how a little stick could do that. What was also incredible, was being in such close proximity to Briar. She could feel their breath on the top of her head and the warmth of the long, lean body supporting her from behind. She felt like her lungs were constricted; the excitement made her eyes feel less focused. Something about this Topsider made her pulse race.
Marine turned her head to look up at Briar, who was looking down at her with intensity.
‘Hi.’ Said Briar simply and leaned in to kiss Marine. Marine felt Briar’s lips on hers and in the instant they touched, she felt herself tipping over and losing her balance. Her head left contact with Briar’s all too quickly and suddenly she was freezing and wet; turning over and over in the river.
She gulped down water and air, trying desperately to keep her head above water but finding it nearly impossible to do so. She kept sinking down. She heard a thudding, splashing sound near her and suddenly felt strong arms pulling her back up towards the surface. Briar was in the water too - holding Marine around one shoulder and trying to steer them towards the bank.
‘Kick your legs!’ Called Briar over the roar of the water. Marine could hardly see: her eyes stung from the water and failed to pierce the heavy darkness around them. Water pulled at her legs and body as she tried to follow Briar’s instruction. She felt them jerk and her body collided with a rock, presumably seconds after Briar’s had and they tumbled back into the strongest current. Marine and Briar were both under the water and Marine could feel herself losing energy fast. Her head felt foggy and Briar’s grip on her was slipping.
Then her head was above water again and she tried to push the water out of her lungs. She felt herself vomiting and retching and trying her best to stay near Briar. Briar’s arm tightened its grip on Marine and Marine tried to put herself into a useful position to be as little weight to Briar as possible. She was frozen: her fingers felt like twigs of numb ice and she feared they would snap off.
Her bum scraped along something solid. ‘Put your feet down.’ Wheezed Briar, and Marine pushed all her remaining energy reserves into her legs and tried to stand. Her knees buckled beneath her and she slipped but gritted her teeth and pushed herself up to standing again. It somehow felt colder out of the water, and the invisible hands of the wind were slapping her spitefully on her bare flesh.
Briar was standing too, and gripped Marine tightly by the hand as they both lurched up the bank and away from the river.
‘Some first ride.’ Briar said, trying a joke through chattering teeth. Marine didn’t have the energy to be brave.
‘I want to go to sleep.’ She said meekly.
‘Help me build a fire first.’ Said Briar, we have to get warm before we can sleep or you might never wake again. This scared Marine to her frozen core and she stood quickly and tried to force her disobedient fingers to collect scattered twigs and dry leaves from the floor. They heaped them; both moving stiffly and awkwardly with their chilled joints. Briar rubbed two sticks today and Marine watched as they burst into flame.
They huddled together to keep warm as the fire rose and licked up to the sky. Marine felt her eyes drooping and she leant back into the muscles of Briar, and fell asleep.
She woke to the alarming sound of a bird nearby and instantly moved for shelter; her eyes scanning nearby to see if she could spot the predator.
‘Don’t worry,’ said a familiar voice, ‘If it comes near I’ll shoot it. Now give me the stone.’
Marine looked up into the eyes of Ezria’s lieutenant. She had a serene smile on her face and a knife at Briar’s throat.
How does Marine react?
- Rushes at Aysmar to fight
- Offers her the stone immediately
- Runs away
- Flings the stone in the river
- Tells her the stone is with Ezria and they need to go together
- Tells her the stone is with Ezria and she will go and get it and come back
- Tries to lie and say she doesn’t have it
- Turns invisible
- Turns into Briar
- Turns into Aysmar