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Ocean Rose

Long ago, before the wings of time were clipped, there lived a young girl. Her life was a blissful existence with her parents in a small fishing village next to the sea. Her playground was the water’s edge, the beach with it’s daily offering of playthings, the rocks and tidepools with their fanciful creatures. But this story isn’t about her bliss, for what kind of a story would that be? No, her bliss only lasted a short time, and this story is about what happened to end her bliss and begin her becoming.

One year, the rains stopped, the fish disappeared, and the village fell into hard times. Families struggled to feed their children off of meager catches and what they could gather from the land. On a day that began like any other day a well-dressed stranger came to town. He stopped at Estella’s house (for that was the girl’s name) and spoke to her parents, while Estella was sent outside to play. The stranger offered to buy Estella. “I will pay you well for your daughter, and you will have no need to scrape by for food any longer. She will be well taken care of.” Her mother and father thought the stranger was nice, and what a relief it would be to have some money! Besides, they reasoned, Estella will be much better off with this gentleman. “Send her down to the water’s edge tomorrow morning, early. A boat will be there to pick her up.” Estella had crept underneath the window and heard the whole thing. She was sad, but thought surely her parents knew best.

The next morning, Estella’s mother woke her at dawn, dressed her in her best outfit, and handed her a basket. “Go down to the water and collect seaweed for our meals today. Make sure you get a lot, we don’t have much else to eat.” She gave Estella a quick hug and pushed her out the door. Dutifully Estella went down to the water’s edge and began collecting seaweed.

A skiff pulled up to the beach, and three rough-looking men jumped out. They grabbed Estella and dumped her into the bottom of the skiff, and pushed off. They pulled unevenly at the oars, sending the skiff zigzagging out toward the open ocean, where a black ship with dark sails hove to. Estella was frightened; none of these men were the one she saw yesterday, and they looked very different from the people in her village.

On board the pirate’s ship (for that’s whom she had been sold to), the pirate captain forced her to work hard for her keep. She had to clean the heads, scrub the cabin floors, and keep everything ship-shape below decks. She was not allowed on deck, and her life was confined to the cramped spaces of a working ship. They gave her a small box to curl up in to sleep in the galley, and the scraps of dinner to eat. They called her girl, and other than ordering her around, gave her no friendly contact at all. She grew thin and pale, and developed a cough from the moldy air. Two and seven years passed, and she forgot her village, her parents, and even her name.

One day, as she was cleaning in the main cabin, she heard a tap-tap-tap. Different from the usual sounds of the boat creaking through the water, she looked around for its source. At a porthole she saw a small bird tapping on the glass. She opened the window, and the bird hopped in to sit on her shoulder. “I am injured. Will you keep me safe for a few days until I heal?” For the first time in years, her heart swelled. “I will.” She kept the bird safe in her box. On the third day, the bird said, “tonight, at midnight, climb to the top of the mainmast with me and let me go.” “But I can’t go on deck, I’m not allowed.” She said. “You won’t be noticed, if you are quick and silent.”

At midnight, she quietly climbed up the main hatchway. She stood on deck stunned by the beauty of the moonless night, the stars reflecting in the sea. The bird pecked her ear and she began to climb, not wanting to look up or down. Finally, she reached the lookout at the top of the mast and stood in it, holding on tightly, the swaying far more pronounced this high. The bird said, “when you get back down, put on the gold medallion you find in your box, and don’t take it off. In the morning, the captain will ask for it. No matter what he says, reply ‘I will return this to you when you set me safely free.’” The bird flew into the night sky.

When she got back to her box she found the gold medallion, with a purple ribbon tied through the center, and put it around her neck.

The next morning she went to the captain’s cabin. “Where did you get that medallion?” He roared when he saw it around her neck. “I will return it when you set me safely free.” She replied. He gave her the hardest jobs that day and she did them with a heavy heart. The next morning, he yelled again, “Give me that medallion!” “I will return it to you when you set me safely free.” She replied. He again gave her the hardest jobs, and she labored all day and into the night. The next morning, she went to his cabin. “I demand the medallion!” His voice could be heard all over the ship. “I will return it to you when you set me safely free.” She said once again.

He dragged her onto deck. She could hardly see, the sun was so bright to her unaccustomed eyes. The captain pulled her over to the starboard rail, where a small skiff waited. She could see they were anchored in the lee of a desolate rocky island. “I will set you free, but first you must enter that cave and kill the dragon that guards the treasure there.” The men lifted her into the skiff and lowered it into the water.

She wept as she entered the darkness of the cave, sure that this was her end. Suddenly in the pitch black, a small light appeared, held by a gnome. “Why do you cry?” He asked. “I’m to kill the dragon that guards the treasure, but I have no way to kill a dragon.” And she wept more. “Oh, that’s nothing.” He replied. “All you need to do is give the dragon a sweet and it will do your bidding. Here, take this.” And he handed her a lovely cake he pulled from nowhere. “But you must not eat any of it, or the charm may not work.” “Oh, thank you.” She continued on. But the cake looked so good, and all she had had to eat were scraps from the pirate’s table; she thought surely just a little taste of it wouldn’t hurt. She nibbled just the tiniest bit from the edge.

Suddenly the cave shook and she could see the glow of the dragon’s lair ahead. Trembling she went forward and entered it, coming face to face with the dragon. It looked at her with beady eyes, then saw the cake. “I’ve come to offer you a sweet.” She said in a shaky voice. “It has been eaten from already,” a voice hissed, as the cake disappeared into the dragon’s mouth, giving her a good view of double rows of sharp teeth. “I’m sorry, I’m just so hungry, I haven’t had anything to eat in so long…” The dragon came towards her as if to eat her. It didn’t quite reach her but was close enough that when it opened its mouth the heat of the dragon’s fire scorched her hair off and the medallion heated enough to burn her skin. She fell backward, then remembered the gnome’s words. She looked up at the dragon and said,  “This is not your true home. You need to leave here and return to your real home, and leave in peace.” The dragon turned and slithered out of the cave. As it flew out and over the ship the pirates cheered. When they arrived at the lair they found her sitting on top of the pile of treasure.

The next morning, she went before the captain. “You said you would set me free.” “Yes, well, first you must re-tar the ship’s rigging, tonight, while we sleep. By morning I want all the rigging tarred, then you will be set free.” At sundown the pirates all went below to drink and party, leaving her on deck with tubs of tar. She sat down and began to cry, sure she would never be set free.

Soon she felt a brush on her cheek. The bird sat on her shoulder, asking, “Why do you cry?” “I have to tar all the rigging on the ship or I will never go free.” She sobbed. “Oh, that’s nothing.” The bird said. “We can take care of that for you. But you must help us.” “How do I help?” “You must hold all of our feathers for us until we finish, none must touch the deck.” She agreed. A whistle from the bird brought a whoosh of wings as birds flew in from every direction. She laid a piece of sailcloth over her arms and they all shed their feathers onto it, then began tarring the rigging, starting at the topm’sts and working their way down. After a few hours, they were nearly at the deck. She was so tired from holding all the feathers, and so sleepy, that she began to drift off. As she relaxed, one feather slid off the edge of the sailcloth and drifted to the deck. Immediately, the birds rushed back down and grabbed their feathers, waking her up. She realized immediately what she had done, and felt very bad, but she was now alone on deck. She spent the rest of the night finishing the tarring.

At first light of dawn, the pirate captain came on deck to find the tarring complete, and tar covering much of her body. “Set me free now.” The pirate, much to his dismay, could find no fault with the tarring. He grumbled, but when she would give him no rest, he said, “fine, but you must do one last thing. On the other side of this island is a deep undersea trench, where there is a garden of roses. Bring back one of these deep sea roses and I will set you free.” He was sure this would be the last he would see of her. They dropped her off on the island to walk across.

Too exhausted to even cry this time, she set out for the other side of the island. At the topmost of the craggy rocks, she ran again into the gnome. “Can you help me find the undersea rose garden?” She asked. He grinned. “Oh, that’s nothing.” He said. “Eat the leaves of the plant you find growing at the water’s edge. Dive down and keep going, you will find it. If you want to pick a rose, though, you must wait for them to tell you which one to pick.” She thanked him. At the water’s edge she found the plant and ate some leaves from it. Diving into the water, she swam down and down, protected from the cold by the tar still covering her body. She swam deeper and deeper, and deeper still. Finally, she reached bottom, but saw no roses. She began swimming around, making wider circles, and encountering the weird creatures that lived at the depths. She saw another drop off, and went down again.

Before long, she saw it—a whole garden of fantastic, colorful flowers. She swam carefully down to look closer, not wanting to touch the fragile petals or leaves. When she had looked at all of them, she sat on the ocean floor off to one side, wondering how they would let her know which one to pick. She waited and watched. She waited so long her mind cleared of everything except the garden. Then, slowly, she saw one rose begin to appear brighter than the others. She waited a little longer, and when she was certain this was the one, she swam over. As soon as she touched the stem it came into her hand. She thanked the rose and the garden, and began to swim back up, up and up. As she swam, her hair grew back, the burn disappeared, and the tar peeled from her skin. When she got to the surface, she thought, “The ship needs to come get me.” Soon she saw it round the point and come towards her.

When she climbed aboard, the entire crew was on deck. The captain came towards her. “I’ll take that then,” he said, holding his hand out for the rose. She held onto it. “No. You no longer have any power over me.” She held the rose up high over her head, for all to see, then threw it as hard as she could down onto the deck, where it shattered into dust. A shock wave passed through the whole group, and they froze. Then, as she watched, they transformed from a ragged band of pirates to a good-hearted crew of sailors. The shabby, evil-infested ship they stood on was restored to its original splendor. The captain thanked her for releasing himself and his crew from the spell that an old wizard had placed on them years ago, subjecting them to live outside society, outcasts who prayed on others and brought fear and despair. “Stay and sail with us. You will be our leader.” He said. “What shall we call you?” “My name from now on will be Rose.” For many years, they sailed the seas from port to port, trading goods and news from far off places, and bringing excitement and joy to towns everywhere.

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