The science of landscape enthralled him. From a ship with a shifting horizon and creaking rigging, landscape was something to be savoured.
Mycul looked towards the island that not so much rose but coagulated from oceanic mud. Its cliffs punched above the water leaving a thin ribbon of clay to mark land. “It looks beautiful but don’t get left behind,” the sailor said. He slapped the youth’s back.
“What do you mean?” Mycul pushed strands of black hair from his face revealing his bright blue eyes.
“Dreadful things happen on the Reach of Key.”
The sailor came so close Mycul could smell the mix of garlic and rotting gums on his breath. The skin around his eyes was creased with lines interrupted by warty growths. “Mordonts,” he whispered, and would say nothing further.
“Mordonts?” Mycul looked more closely at the island hoping they were close enough to catch a glimpse. He remembered the bedtime tales his father had woven into his dreams.
The boson whistled. At the signal, the sailors took up position and began heaving in the sails. “Now you’re for it,” the sailor cackled, “the Graken tests us all. Those she doesn’t like!” He slapped his hands together. Mycul got the meaning.
Still nervous from the ordeal of his first days at sea, Mycul was summoned to the initiation by the captain.
“All new sailors are called to mount the Graken and sit with her rider.” The captain pushed Mycul forward and the sailors parted leaving the deck empty.
The rider lowered the Graken’s sinuous neck, almost level with the deck. Mycul hesitated but felt the hand of the rider grab his collar and pull him behind on an intricate saddle. The sea monster sprang upright and issued a fierce roar. Mycul nearly toppled backwards and was only saved by his feet catching in the stirrups. He dangled upside down to the roar of laughter from the deck. He felt his life had ended and his humiliation was complete. Do not fear me, Mycul Zas. The words inside his head formed like colours. Her name drifted through the hissing of blood in his ears.
He saw the horizon tilt as the creature lowered her neck and he regained his seat. The Graken shot upright again. Mycul Zas! her fellow Graken shouted until the name lost its meaning in the cacophony of voices. You must not tell the truth, Mycul. Deny you heard us! The Graken lowered her neck to the deck and Mycul dismounted.
“Did you hear her voice?” the captain asked, keen to find a replacement rider.
Mycul trembled from his ordeal and lied. The sailors raised a cheer and patted Mycul on the shoulders before lifting him and carrying him round the deck. Only the captain seemed unhappy.
The Duskwalker slowed as they reached the port. The Graken pulled the ship into harbour carefully avoiding other vessels. Mycul knew these creatures towed the largest ships across the sea at great speeds. Their bodies dwarfed the vessels under their control. Above the waves, her slender neck twisted and turned with a solitary rider perched on a saddle behind the Graken’s ears. The ship surged forward as the Graken spied its meal at the harbour side. The beast’s yellow teeth dripped saliva. Mycul watched. The ship jolted as the head darted forward and grasped the man. He had time to scream before the jaws crunched into the skull. The Graken tossed the head back and swallowed before returning to the body. The blood spurting onto the harbour side excited the creature and it licked the granite blocks before flicking the body into its cavernous mouth.
The Keeper arrived dressed in the purple that marked his authority. “I proclaim this land to be the Reach of Key and subject to the laws of Faires.” With this he banged his staff on the ground and the Graken submerged, leaving her rider swimming for the ladders lining the pier.
This was the first time Mycul had seen land for days. His uncle had decided he should see the world: “The farm could wait” he had insisted. The old deck hands had laughed until tears rolled down their cheeks as Mycul told them his story.
That had been his first night on the Duskwalker, a cruel night in which truth unfolded with the contents of his stomach. Slowly it dawned on Mycul how naive he’d been. He hadn’t been able to sleep, instead the yawing of the ship induced thoughts of his betrayal and dreams of impossible revenges. He saw it clearly now. Mycul was only weeks from his eighteenth birthday at which age the farm would legally have been his. The Keeper of his village would have held an assembly and proclaimed it. One tap of his staff and his entire village would be obliged to Mycul Zas for land stretching from the hills to the sacred valley. Even mordonts would know of the greatest landowner in the area. Mycul wanted to see the world before he settled down to farm and his uncle had played to that desire. Nevertheless, Mycul also wanted to find out about his father who had vanished all those years ago.