Of the Sea and Its God

A fisherman was born by the sea. His parents, a fisherman and his wife, took him down into the water and made praises to the god of the sea. They took a lamb, which was not a creature of the sea and was thus a delicacy to the god of the sea, and slit its throat. As its corpse floated out into the water it left a long trail of blood behind it, until it sunk beneath the waves in a red froth.

The parents dipped their child beneath the water once, twice, three times. Not once did the baby cry, for he was a fisherman born and bred. Water and salt were in his blood; he would not let loose any from his eyes.

As the baby became a child, his parents did not need to teach him to respect the sea, for he knew it as if he had been birthed from a mermaid. He could swim before he could walk. In the beginning, his parents fretted as he crawled out into the waves and disappeared beneath them, but he would always return, happy and soaked. He could hold his breath longer than a whale, others joked, though his parents wondered if it might be so.

He was pious too. At first he merely observed his father, but soon he began to mimic, then to pray on his own. He knelt in the surf each morning and said his prayers, like a good fisherman, asking for a bountiful catch and fair weather. More often than not, the sea listened to his prayers, and his father returned with fish that would feed the family and more. The sea had blessed him, they said.

As the child became a man, it was as if watching the adolescence of a hero. He was lean but muscular, rugged yet handsome. Sailors near the beach would see him and think they saw the god of the sea himself swimming through the waters. The villagers knew better, that he was simply a fishermanís son. But that did not stop the girls from favoring him.

He had his pick of wives. He could have selected the most beautiful girl, or the most charming, or the most wealthy. But he chose none of them. He picked a quiet, ordinary girl, with long black hair and green eyes. None could say why he picked her, though when she was around he always wore a smile like a fool, and everyone thought that was alright because they were in love.

When they were married, the fisherman moved into his own house, as near the sea as he could manage. Every morning, he knelt in the surf and prayed for a bountiful catch and fair weather, and every evening he returned with more fish than he and his wife could eat with nary a cloud in the sky.

Soon, his wife grew plump, both from the many fish and the baby inside her. Nine months later, his son was born, and as was custom he took a lamb into the waves and slit its throat. However, as he was making the cut, the lamb slipped from his grasp. It ran from him in pain and terror, onto the beach, where it fell and died far from the water.

"We should get another," his wife told him, for it was an ill omen to give the sea god a lamb which had not died in the sea.

The fisherman laughed and said, "The sea has always been good to me! I am favored. The sea god will not care." He retrieved the lamb and carried it into the waves. It sank quickly and disappeared. The fisherman dunked his son beneath the waves once, twice, thrice. The baby wailed each time he was brought back above the water, but the fisherman paid it no mind.

The next day the fisherman knelt in the surf and prayed for a bountiful catch and clear weather. That evening, he returned with many fish and pleasant skies. He smiled at his wife as she nursed their child and she forgot about her worries.

They lived happily for many years. The fisherman continued to bring home plenty of fish and their son grew to be a strong young man. He prayed every morning, at his fatherís side, and helped his mother clean the fish and sat on the pier and cast his line, but rarely pulled anything in.

One day, after they had prayed in the surf, his son asked, "Father, will you take me out fishing with you?"

The fisherman asked, "Why do you wish to come with me?"

"I cast my line off the pier, but do not catch any fish," the boy said. "You go out in your boat and catch many fish. I want to see what you do and learn from you."

Proud of his sonís enthusiasm, the fisherman agreed to take his son with him. That day, they went out into his boat, little more than a dinghy. They rowed far from land, out to where the sea was a pure blue, and there seemed to be nothing in the world but the dinghy and the water.

Soon after they cast their lines, the sky began to grow dark with clouds. The fisherman thought they should return home, but his son pleaded with him to stay. "We prayed for good weather. When has the sea refused you?" The fisherman was still reluctant to press his luck, but his son said, "Will some clouds keep you from teaching your son?"

The fisherman finally relented. For several hours the clouds gathered and though their lines twitched once or twice with the nibbles of fish, never were they able to set the line. By the time it was noon, it was almost as dark as midnight. The fisherman finally decided enough was enough and pulled his line.

It was too late, however. Not long after they got underway, the rain began to pour in torrents. The fisherman and his son rowed as hard as they could, trying to reach the shore. Their arms burned with the effort as their dinghy began to fill with water. The son began to bail out the boat as the fisherman rowed, but then the waves began to crash higher and higher around them.

Suddenly a huge wave rose and overturned the boat, throwing the fisherman and the son in opposite directions. The fisherman called out to his son and urged him to find the boat and hold on to it, but more waves took him and threw them apart. Soon, the fisherman lost sight of both his son and the boat. He yelled for his son until his throat was hoarse, but the thunder and crashing waves and pouring rain drowned him out.

Finally, he had no choice but to leave or drown. He turned toward where he knew land was and swam. For hours he strove against the waves and rain, until finally he came to the beach and pulled himself to shore. Exhausted, he staggered back to his home and collapsed.

When he woke the next day, he told his wife what had happened and she wailed in sadness. The fisherman went out to gather the other fishermen and organize a search, for he held out hope that his son had kept hold of the boat and stayed alive. But as he neared the beach, he saw his dinghy overturned on the beach and knew that he had lost his son.

Overcome with grief, the fisherman leapt into the sea and swam. He plunged down beneath the waves and though his eyes should have burned from the salt water, his tears came so freely that he felt nothing at all.

He swam and swam, until he finally came to the palace of the sea god at the ocean floor. Furious, he stormed to the sea godís throne and demanded answers. "I have always been a faithful follower!" he sword. "I prayed to you every day!"

"And did I answer those prayers?" the sea god asked.

"You did, until yesterday, when you took my son from me," the fisherman told him.

The sea god nodded, recognition crossing his face. "I remember. The boy prayed to me, but I remember his birth sacrifice to me. It was a lamb slain on land. It was worthless to me, an insult even. The sea must have its sacrifice and his life was the one it demanded."

"But why?" the fisherman asked, tears still flowing down his cheeks. "He was as devoted to you as was I! How could this one wrong be worth his life? How, when all else I did was in praise of you?"

"If you steal from a man, are you excused because you said kind words to him first?" the sea god asked. "No, it is instead considered a greater betrayal."

"But we prayed to you every day!" the fisherman argued.

"Thousands pray to me every day," the sea god said. "And yet very few insult me with an unsuitable sacrifice."

The fisherman hung his head and turned his back on the sea god. His swim back to the surface was more difficult than the descent had been and he thought he would surely perish before he reached the shore. Indeed, by the time he spotted land, he was already exhausted and he passed out thinking he would soon see his son again in the land beyond death.

But he woke some time later in his own home, in his own bed. His wife sat beside him and threw her arms around him when he sat up. "I thought I had lost you too," she wailed.

"No, I am here," he quietly murmured to her. "Our son is gone, but I am here."

The next day, the fisherman knelt in the surf and prayed for a bountiful catch and fair weather, but he also cursed the sea god for taking his son. And though he returned with fish enough for he and his wife, he caught no more than that, and he forever looked over his shoulder for the gathering black clouds.

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