His mate Lamiya lay sunning on the hardwood deck with their daughters, Aliyah and Azinza. Lamiya herself was descended from the Afar people on the shore of Lake Abbe in Old Djibouti. A single aged servant, Yohela, had accompanied her on this trip, yet her hair, braided and beaded into the intricate patterns typical of the Afar, never bore the same configuration two days in a row. Four years Kai's senior, Lamiya was in both face and form the most elegantly sensual woman Kai had ever known, and he had adored her since childhood.
Beside her, the small ones waved their pudgy brown arms in his direction, giggling. Azinza, a plump little fireball, had seen four summers, two more than Aliyah. Azinza was adopted, being the daughter of Kai's late uncle Malik. But despite the different circumstances of their birth, the girls couldn't have been closer had they been twins.
As always, the sight of his family filled his heart with joy, but there also remained a trace of regret. Kai loved the water's warm embrace, its ability to challenge his body's endurance and strength. Its potential to wash away sins.
Below the waves lay a world entire, a world more innocent and honest than that above. One he would have shared with his wife, but could notLamiya was no child of ocean or lake. Her forays into water were confined to the bath. In fact, except for considerable skills as a horsewoman, Lamiya was more a creature of politics and etiquette than physical exertions.
"Time for another dive?" Kai called.
"Just a few more minutes," his beloved replied. "We'll have dinner ashore."
"Are you sure you wouldn't like to come in? Yohela could watch the children." He arched his eyebrows at her flirtatiously.
She laughed tolerantly, resisting the lure. "Perhaps later, Kai, and closer in to shore."
"I won't let you drown."
"The ocean may have its own plans." She gazed up at the Sea Horse's sails. "A good wind. Will Elenya's ship be on time?"
"If wind fails, her captain will stoke the boiler." He wrinkled his face at her.
She settled back down with Aliyah. "Wave to your abbabba."
"Abbabba!" the infant screeched, grinning hugely.
Kai waved back, and then dove, once again seeking the sleek gray masters of the deep. It was they who would attend the voiceless, shattered ships, who might comfort the ghosts of long-drowned sailors. His finned companions' flat black eyes knew him for who and what he was, yet still they accepted him, agreed to be his confessors.
Silently in the depths, they communed.
Copyright © 2003 by Steven Barnes
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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