Short Story

Dreamworld/Fisherman

The mystics have long maintained that we are like islands in the sea of an interconnected cosmic field – separate on the surface but connected in the deep – a subtle sea of fluctuating energies from which all things arise – atoms and galaxies, stars and planets, living beings and consciousness.

William James

Souls interwoven and entwined together, forever.

This story began in August 2012 with two friends meditating upon an ancient memory involving a dolphin and a fisherman. What follows is part fiction, part truth; a story evolving from that original meditation.

The North Sea can be very cruel, but Fisherman had spent his whole adult life learning how to handle his boat alone. Knowing no other life he followed generations before him, riding out on his father’s boat as soon as he could walk. His father guided him gently but firmly about the dangers of the sea: the sudden changes in weather and tide, the ferocious force of the wind, the creeping, lethal numbness of body and mind which so easily ended many fishermen‘s lives. He was made to understand, above all, the necessity of ensuring the boat was in perfect seaworthy condition at all times. The sea was a dangerous companion, and demanded he learned fast to work with her rather than against her, or life was lost. There was nothing in-between, no second chance.

Several years ago when Fisherman was only sixteen, his father died suddenly of heart failure. As an only child, he promised his father on his deathbed that he would take care of his mother. Fisherman inherited his father’s love of the sea, feeling comfortable and confident alone with the beloved boat.

From an early age he watched his mother weave nets, and listened intently as she showed him how to repair them by himself. The nets were strong, and carefully weighted with stones and pebbles of equal size. Utilising these nets with expert dexterity, Fisherman trawled the sea, scooping up bounteous daily catches of sturgeon, shard, herrings and skates. Other mariners had asked to share his boat or their boats but he much preferred his own company during sea journeys. Being alone he had time to reflect and consider his life; his hopes and dreams.

Fisherman’s home was on Rungholt, a beautiful area on the island of Strand, within the Danish duchy of Schleswig. Rungholt was a community where inhabitants truly knew each other and secrets were hard to keep. All the males and a few women were mariners. The only mystery surrounded his parents’ emigration from the southern coast of Germany, where he was born, but he knew not to ask about the past. When he was younger he was inquisitive, but his parents reactions of thin, tight lips, frowns and silences eventually stopped his searching and he accepted it was not his business.

His parents were polite, private people who did not mix with the community but were respected by their neighbours, firstly because of Father’s mariner skills. Following in his father’s stead, Fisherman became the greatest fisher in the area; his fame spread fast, and many envied his ability with the boat and nets. His advice was sought and he gave it with quiet consideration, freely.

The weather was prone to rapid and dangerous shifts; steel grey storm clouds would gather as the rising southwesterly winds buffeted Fisherman’s boat. It took more skill than most men had to hold the boat steady with the swell of the rising tide, yet he did it with ease and grace. His body was often soaked to the bone with salt spray, every muscle aching with exhaustion and exhilaration, but his boat rode always with the power of the waves.

Sailing back to the safety of the harbour brought him a tired sense of relief, but sometimes, despite his expert efforts, he came to port with an empty vessel. Hungry stomachs and dark houses always awaited him, and when he had nothing to show or to lay on their tables, he could barely face the dismay in their eyes. He would return home alone, where his mother waited patiently for him, her face marred by decades of worry. If she felt disappointment in him, she did not show it. On nights such as these, people ate dried salted fish from their stores. But these stores were beginning to run low.

However, the delight of hauling a big catch and being able to go back to port early was worth all the risk. Today, this was the case. After distributing his catch at the quayside he returned home to strip off his wet clothes and rub himself down with soft sheepskin. He released the leather strap that held his long, thick brown hair, put on a fresh tunic, belted over wool hose, and wooden-soled clog shoes. His mother prepared him a substantial meal of bread and fish, which he washed down with a tankard of barley whilst sharing the day’s adventures with his mother.

Every day she wondered how she had produced this giant of a man, and always concluded that it would remain a mystery till the day she died. She was an elderly woman now, and her body bore the painful after-effects of decades of hard labour. She wrapped herself in layers of wool so only her pink, pinched little face was visible. Every evening followed the same pattern, as much of her life had. When she had eaten she fell asleep, safe, warm and comfortable.

After his meal, Fisherman strolled to the corner to join his seafaring friends at the local inn for storytelling. The storyteller always sat in the same corner nook by the warmth of the blazing fire. His regular audience listened intently with drinks in hand, smoking favourite clay pipes, sucking, puffing and blowing on the tobacco to make soft curls of smoke which gathered on the low ceiling in a comfortable haze. Tall tallow candles and soft oil lamplight cast deep shadows on the old dark polished wood. For Fisherman it was a satisfying, social ending to a lonely day’s toil.

Fisherman was fascinated by the stories told by the storytellers. Of particular interest to him, being a lonely man, were their tales of silkies. Occasionally, it was told, unmarried fishermen would find a seal or dolphin on their fishing trip. If they took this creature home with them, it would take human form and become their wife. The tale held true for fisherwomen also; for them a seal or dolphin would become a devoted husband.

The people of the area knew the silkies were different beings, mysterious but kind. They made loving wives who took excellent care of their husbands and any children they bore. Husbands adored their silkie wives but everyone knew they must never return to the sea. If they so much as ventured near it, they would be slain and reclaimed by the Spirit of the Sea. This was always revealed in hushed whispers, the storyteller looking carefully and furtively around the room. It was never spoken aloud, but there was always the sense that the Spirit of the Sea may be listening and churning the waters into a treacherous trap for any who dare sail on her.

After a relaxing few hours at the inn, Fisherman ambled home, his imagination reinvigorated. The tales he had heard would keep his mind occupied for the next few days alone at sea.

Before daybreak Fisherman sailed out on calm, smooth waters, both mind and body refreshed. The sun rose slowly in the east, casting long, golden fingers over the waves. Fisherman was surprised to find himself singing, and in possession of an electric optimism that he rarely felt. The feeling seemed to emanate from his stomach, and at first he mistook it for seasickness, which he had not felt since he was a very small boy. But this was something entirely new. His spine tingled with excitement; goosebumps appeared on his skin, but he could not think why.

He sailed on in the perfect conditions, turning his face to the sun and warming himself in its golden rays as he passed through them. They turned the surface of the sea into shimmering gold. He found a sunlit spot, where the water seemed almost motionless, and cast his nets. This done, he sat back and waited with an unfamiliar patience. Somehow – again, he could not think how – he knew his nets would be full today.

His patience was rewarded as he spotted a large shoal of fish swimming towards his boat. He remained motionless, without tension or pressure, waiting for the moment. Suddenly the nets were full, teeming with wriggling silver shadows. He pulled and hauled, straining every sinew with the weight of the mighty catch, and boat and net drew closer. A final heave, and the net was flush against the hull of the boat.

Fisherman was face to face with a magnificent blue dolphin. Dolphin’s beautiful eyes met his. Immediately a thrill passed through his body, his heart seared, thumping in his ears before it seemed to be wrenched from his chest. He felt faint, but could not remove his eyes from hers. It was a meeting of connected souls; they knew each other. For that moment nothing was visible to either of them but the eyes of the other.

He tried to wrest control of his senses, but it was impossible. Instinctively his arms went around her. Her skin was cool and like silk beneath his fingers. He laid his head tenderly against hers. As moments passed he felt tremors passing through her body and realised she was gasping for breath; her head was held clear of the water by the net. Her eyes pleaded as they began to close.

He realised Dolphin could not become his silkie. She would not survive the journey home; her life was already ebbing away as she struggled to break free. In his head Fisherman screamed; I can’t let her go, I can’t let her go. Trembling, he lunged for his finest knife.

Dolphin’s eyes were clouding over, but they flickered when she saw the blade in his hand. Breathing rapidly, she forced herself to focus her eyes on him while he frantically began slashing at his precious nets.

Fisherman’s clothes were soaked with salt water and sweat. His hair fell from its strap and tumbled around his shoulders. Veins stood out in his hands and arms. He ripped away the nets wrapped around her body, his skin bleeding as the ropes sloughed away his outer flesh. Their eyes remained connected to one another throughout the struggle.

The remaining fish wriggled free of the ruined net as Fisherman cut the last remnant from Dolphin’s weakened but unharmed body. At last she was released. She turned and slid beneath the water, barely breaking the stillness around them. Her strength quickly recovered, and within moments she was rolling and leaping out of the sea. She hung in the air for what seemed like seconds before diving back, silver droplets of water streaming from her beautiful blue body. She swam away and returned to him several times, raising her head from the sea each time to look at him. Finally, she gave a last, lingering gaze before diving down into the deep cool water and gliding away to find her family.

Fisherman watched her hypnotic display, tears trickling down his face. He slumped to the deck, a searing pain in his chest, as she disappeared into the deep. He covered his face with his bleeding hands and a primeval noise began in his throat. It turned into a howling scream that died in sobs. Then he began to curse.

He cursed the Spirit of the Sea for tricking him, giving and taking his love away in the same few moments. Unknown to him, the spirit observed this terrible outpouring of grief, and waited for it to pass, to calm in this man’s breast. But his anger did not abate; it rose to a level which would instill terror in any who heard.

A breeze began to form from the southwest. Dark grey storm clouds covered the sun. An icy blast of air hit Fisherman full in the face but still he ranted and raved against all who prevented him being with his silkie.

Small waves started to lap the hull, but the sound went unnoticed. Gradually the waves grew in size, rocking the boat harder and faster. The elements were rapidly changing.

Spirit of the Sea was beginning to grow angry with this ungrateful human. She had provided him and his community with food throughout their lifetimes; his relationships were his problem alone. She decided to call on her mother, Goddess of the World Waters.

Fisherman would not quieten. He ignored the whistling of the wind as it started to increase to a scream; his cries eclipsed all else. His boat rocked harder still, until grey water began to slop over the sides. The wind rose further, in competition with the waves. It tore at his wet clothes and howled through every hole in the planks of his boat, as if seeking every possible breach.

Fisherman cursed more and more, but his voice was taken by the wind. When water reached his ankles, he realised the danger he was in. Fear crept up his spine, sending up prickles of hair on the back of his neck. He closed his mouth, gritted his teeth, and grabbed hold of his oars. But the straying and rolling of his boat had disorientated him; which way was home? All around he saw only the blur of rain and mist. Currents dragged him this way and then that; his best efforts were futile in the face of such a maelstrom.

“I’m sorry,” he sobbed into the wind, “I’m sorry but I love her.”

The Goddess heard him but made no reply. He was now at the mercy of the Goddess of the World Waters. The only sound was the thrashing of the waves and the screeching of the wind, and in the terrifying noise he heard:

You were bad to curse us.

“I’m sorry,” he wept, “please forgive me.”

Too late, the sea spat,
Too late, the wind roared,
Still the Goddess remained silent as a grave, while the wind, waves and rain beat him relentlessly.

To all who witnessed the incoming storm it was clear that it was like no other. What would soon be known as The Grote Mandrenke had begun.

It rose in intensity, overturning Fisherman’s boat and casting his insignificant body into a valley between mountainous waves. Dolphin knew immediately, and separated from her pod. Her sister followed, and together they frantically swam back to find him.

Fisherman had been trapped beneath his boat, almost as if it had tried to shelter him. Finally the wind and waves had their way, and the battered boat began to sink. Fisherman, gasping for air, was pushed down beneath it. The two dolphins circled the sinking wreckage, darting in and out in an effort to nudge Fisherman free.

They were on the verge of losing hope when suddenly they were surrounded by their pod. The group pushed and pulled at the boat until finally they reached him. But it was too late; Fisherman hung motionless, his limbs swaying in the currents of the storm.

Tenderly they lifted him, and gathered about him until he was at their centre. Dolphin moved to one side of him; her sister the other. The pod formed a procession and sunk into the calm, still depths. They carried him to a place sacred to them; a cave known only to this day by dolphins.

Inside this cave, the dolphins placed Fisherman gently to rest amongst a bed of sea ferns. They  surrounded him with pearl shells and fragments of his scattered boat. Dolphin lay by his side for days while her pod fought off scavengers. Eventually her family guided her away, or she would have died with him.

The storm tide of this story, which wiped out Rungholt, and reshaped the Netherlands and Denmark, was part of the Grote Mandrenke (Great Drowning of Men) of 1362. It killed at least 25,000 people. Today you can sail over Fisherman’s home of Rungholt.

Dolphin and I, sisters, were part of the dolphin pod and bore witness to this happening. In the safety of the deep we lived on, following the burial of Fisherman. Lived on as only dolphins know how: in love and peace.

In 2012 Fisherman and dolphins met again, all now in human form. One of the dolphins wrote this story of love, and the other locked eyes again with her Fisherman. Instantly they knew.

Readers beware: never curse the elements. Remember this story when sailing, be courteous and be very careful. The Goddess of the World Waters and the Spirit of the Sea listen and demand respect.

Perhaps you and I will meet each other one day. Twin Souls will always connect.

Go well.

Copyright © Elizabeth Rowland-Elliott 2013

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