From his rooftop, with the twin suns setting somewhere behind him and to his right, Gammel watched the ship come into port. He knew nothing about ships, really, but the water was boiling copper and the wood was glowing bronze and he found himself (for a very brief moment) admiring how easily the men seemed to bring it alongside the dock with their long poles flexing in the dying light. He remembered that he knew something about sailors, and the feeling left.
“I still think we could take it straight off board,” Sara said beside him. She sat mirroring his posture: feet drawn in, elbows on knees: “How many of them’ll stay on there tonight?”
Gammel lent her a critical look. She was too pretty. She spilled too much blood. More of a thug than a proper thief — but anyway he couldn’t do it himself.
“I don’t like it. We should just dig it up after they bury it.”
“She said not to be grave robbers. Got to get to it first,” the woman insisted, which made Gammel clench his teeth, shake his head.
“I don’t care.”
“You do, liar.” She smiled, but without joy. (I admit these are the trappings of fiction; I knew these two for so very short a while. I know not even their names.)
Gammel set his sight back to the ship, hoping it was apparent that he was working out his thoughts. The gangplank was down, and more men had come to unload the nondescript bundles and boxes and sacks that sat in piles on the deck. But she had been summoned up again into his mind, that terrible woman in white. Her voice had been like icicles. Her eyes were cold ashes. Corroded blood had clung to the beds of her fingernails. Gods, she was an evil thing, and she had said very clearly some will come for it, take your prize before it is buried, grave robbing is most unclean.
“They’ve come a ways,” Sara continued to argue her line of thought, as if she were reading his, “and who knows how many’ll come to fetch the damn thing, or where they’ll store it then, in what locked-up vault or funerary hall. But that’s tomorrow, and here it’ll be sitting with only a few watch for the whole ship. Everyone else’ll be in tavern. You know it.”
She was right, of course. And it bit. He wanted to see what would happen to the box between now and then, but he knew it wasn’t wise. If it belonged to a lord, it would be guarded better by the lord’s men. And there it was.
“Alright,” he grimaced, “You’re right,” and put his dark hands around either side of his own neck, linking his fingers behind. And having capitulated he found himself in the black waters where no moon watched aside the high, round hull of the ship in his black little boat with his companion, sure that they had not yet been seen.
They scaled it with the tools of their trade, and heard once on deck nothing but the slow creak of the wooden beast, the breathing of its wet ropes. They moved quickly and quietly towards a low door that they hoped would lead in. But on its own it began to open, and Sara fled, crouched, to the opening side, pulling from her jerkin a piece of steel. Gammel watched her leap forward when the opening was just wide enough, and heard the sailor gurgle instead of scream. He went in after them, shut the door behind him. A single lamp lit the the cramped entry, and beneath it Sara let the man slide down the wall where she had stabbed him, let him slip awkwardly down the stairs, clutching still his throat. They stepped over the dying and followed the steps into the hold.
The box was easily found, the hold mostly empty.
“We’ll take it with us. We’ll lower it off the side in a life boat,” Gammel stated, but Sara was already prying at the lid.
“Want,” She said between nails, “to see it here first. Let’s get the stone.”
She was right again, and so he helped. They removed the lid, and froze.
“It’s just another corpse, woman,” growled the thief, but he was slow to touch it himself.
He was beautiful, she thought. The man lying in the box could be no more than twenty years and perfectly formed. He had the complexion of porcelain, yes, but not the blue cold of a corpse. “He’s not dead.” What made her say that? He must be.
“Well, he’s not breathing,” Gammel pointed out, “He must have just died.”
“This ship’s been on the sea for a month, Gammel. He didn’t just die.”
“Doesn’t matter,” said the old thief, “If his mouth is empty then we got the wrong box.” He tugged on the corpse’s narrow chin, which acquiesced easily. On his tongue was a stone, rough and blue, like an uncut jewel. He took it, held it up to show the other. “And there it is.” He put it away in a pocket.
“Let’s go. We’ve got it now,” Sara begged without subtlety. (I remember it distinctly. Her voice was the first that was real).
“She wants the corpse, too, she said. All of him. We can’t…”
“Fine,” she turned swiftly away, “Let’s find a way to get it down the side.”
“Len bhzur,” I said, forgetting my tongue. It stopped them cold, I think. They had nearly made it to the steps. No one bothered me while I crawled out of my wooden tomb. I found it difficult, fell to the floor. When I looked up, the female had a dagger in hand. The old man was gripping his wrist, eyes simply bulging. She took a step forward, and I knew she had made up her mind — the man tried to stop her with a word, but I knew she would come (she would have to make me a corpse again, for her world to make sense). I found my feet beneath me, caught her wrist as she thrust the dagger out, took it away from her easily enough. I decided she should have it back, so I turned her to the floor and sheathed it in her throat.
I know not whether he watched me feed, or if he had already run. Could I have been paying attention? Oh, the wood was real — so real — beneath us and her life was running hotly into my mouth and its essence flooding the blood gate (awake awake awake). I heard a splash as I got to the deck, and saw the sea.
The sea was black and went on forever. Even when the suns would rise, the bottom of the sea would know no light, for ever and ever it would remain unchanged. The sea cannot die.