The fourth in a seven part series, Nifi, a short story, follows the character of Nifidorian Feltwood, who lost his mother when he was just a boy, and now at the age of fifteen has to deal with the potential loss of his father. He embarks on a search but along the way encounters interesting characters and creatures whilst also having to deal with not having the very person he is searching for beside him. A desire for wanting to explore the world in search of a purpose outside of seal hunting turns into him having no choice but to do so. All of this is intertwined within a fantasy backdrop within the port town of Glaceport.
. . .
After the brokering of the deal and the fulfilment of the task he had set himself, Nifi gazed up at the vessel he was about to board. The vessel that would bring his father back to him. Or so he tried to tell himself. It was a rather simple looking thing, pale brown in colour. A figure of a woman guiding the boat to its destination, holding a shield as if to protect those on board, was attached to its prow. Along its side there was a red flailing streak painted across it from front to back, but that was as far as its decoration went. The red streak was faded and tatty from the corruption of the sea and the woman on the prow had fingers missing on her non-shield arm from various grazes and close calls whilst at sea. Confidence was not the first thing Nifi thought when looking at the ship, but it was a ship, and a ship was what he needed.
“I see ya eyeing up me beauty of a vessel. ‘er name is Safe Passage, and she does what ‘er name describes,” the Captain announced, proudly. Nifi still did not know his name.
“She’s…um… a fine vessel,” he lied. “I’m Nifidorian Feltwood, by the way, but people call me Nifi.”
“That’s no Glaceportian name,” the Captain said, curiously.
“My father… he brought me and my mother here from the Midlands in the search of housing.” Nifi felt it was unwise to give the Captain explicit details on the dire situation his mother and father had been in when he was just a babe in arms, before they had stumbled upon Glaceport. He did not want to add to his vulnerability in this situation. It also pained Nifi to speak of his father when his existence was so uncertain.
“I see, in search of a better life, and Glaceport is where ya chose,” the Captain uttered, as if to say, why? “At least ya ‘ave a decent view,” the Captain had a smirk written across his face. “Me name is Thoren One-eye. Now get on board an’ help release the ropes, we’re settin’ sail, you’re a sailor o’ Safe Passage today. I’ll ‘ave no slackin’,” The captain walked up the plank and on deck.
Nifi followed him on deck. It was at this moment when he realised he had never been on a boat before and he looked around for direction. “YOU,” Nifi heard from towards the stern of the ship. He turned and saw a short, slight man with black hair and a scruffy beard of the same colour walking towards him from releasing a rope. “Who the fuck are you?”
Nifi gulped, “I’m Nifidorian Feltwood,” and he stuck out a hand.
A rupture of laughter consumed the air around him. He had an audience. “OOOOO, sorry your highness, would you like me to kiss that precious hand of yours? And then maybe drop my trousers for you and bend over?” He slapped an equally short man next to him on the shoulder in jest.
Nifi retracted his hand, blushing as red as he ever had.
“OOOOOO, blushing now are we, have I embarrassed you, precious? There’ll be none o’ that handshakin’ ‘round here.”
Before Nifi knew it he received a firm fist to his upper arm that was followed by a deadening throb until his it felt numb. He grasped his dead arm and began to rub it. Nifi looked up accusingly at the dark-haired man who had struck him. “A dead arm makes the jobs on deck a bit more interesting,” followed by another raw of laughter.
Nifi looked around at the audience he had gathered. It must have been at least twenty sailors and he noticed that none stood higher than his shoulder. He had always been tall and was still growing but these men were noticeably short.
“I’m Norn,” the little scruffy man said to him whilst rolling up his tunic sleeve. It was a faded red with many a stain and many a tear. He tensed his blue, bruised bicep, which rippled with veins and muscle despite its slender size, stiffened his body and closed his eyes tight. He expected a strike back, Nifi realised. His audience looked at him expectedly and so he clenched his fist and gave his hardest strike to the mans bicep. “Ha ha ha! A jessy punch that was, but I have my manners! Nice to meet you Nifidorian Feltwood.” Norn split their audience and strode off to return to his duties.
At that moment the Captain emerged behind Nifi, “too work ya sods, there’s time for greetings later! Oh, and if during this voyage ya see a head bobbing above water be sure to tell me, our new recruit here lost his father out at sea. He’s paying us with seal skin to find ‘im so eyes open!”
The audience dispersed and set back to work as Norn had done moments before. Nifi helped release the last of the ropes keeping them in the harbour and the sails were raised as they began to drift towards the glacial entrance of the town. This entrance was where the huge glaciers coming from the east and west came at their closest leaving a gap of no more than one hundred metres. The route Safe Passage was taking was through the gap, then, an immediate turn east and once free of the shore a short journey of around three hours south where the ship and its crew would meet the volcanic fishing springs in which they harvested the fish that resided there.
Once the ship had been set up for voyage and had escaped the harbour, heading for the waters outside of Glaceport and its ice based natural defences, Nifi was allowed to head below deck to await the volcanic pools. But he did not. He stayed above deck, instead deciding to look out to the horizon and scour the course they were taking for any sign of his father, although he held little optimism. He felt alone.
Nifi positioned himself at the very front of the ship, directly above the wooden woman on the prow directing it. He decided the best way to conduct a search for his father’s bobbing head in the vastness of the sea was in this position. He slowly turned his head from the ten o’clock position to the two o’clock position and back again in a continuous cycle in the attempt he would spot something in his line of sight.
An hour went by with no success, the longer he looked, the more the darkness consumed him and the more that last strip of hope was leaving him. If his father was alive and had drifted out to sea the ship would have passed him, there was no other way out to sea. Nifi would have seen him if he had washed up on the shore like his furs had. There was nowhere else he could be but dead below the water, if his body was still there. The seals had probably eaten him. All that would remain on the seabed would be his knife and his harpoon. His body erased. A life without his father was feeling like a reality, just like it had had to with his mother, but the life that left him with neither of them didn’t feel like a life at all. It just felt like existence, with no meaning and no outcome. Just taking in breath and releasing it again. This life wasn’t worth it. Nothing was worth living in such bleakness. Nothing. He no longer feared death like he had on the beach. Death would be a blessing. Nifi placed his hands on the wooden rails that met at the point of the ship and he tensed his arms, leaning his weight forward onto them. The cold of the water seemed more bearable than life. Erasing himself felt like the answer, why not make it three out of three Feltwoods? Nifi began to raise a leg…
“Y’know that’s what Grendel is there for, I have him on special orders to watch out for a floatin’ head amongst other things,” Thoren gestured up towards the top of the main mast from behind him. A small sailor was perched in a crows nest.
Nifi unclenched his arms, relaxing his body. “Two pairs of eyes are better than one,” he replied solemnly, a guilt flooding him for giving up. He remained looking out into the crystal blue glacial waters.
“Agreed. So why was this set of eyes about to throw itself into the water? Were they hopin’ to scour the ice that lays down there for clues?” Thoren asked, his good eye already seeing the answer.
Still, Nifi played dumb, averting his eyes from the water to the Captain’s one, “what?”
“Don’t play dumb with me laddy, you ain’t no good at it. You’re lucky you’re serving under me as your cap’ain and not the one that came before me. I ‘ave half the number of eyes I should because I tried to play dumb with ‘im,” Thoren stated as he stretched his eye-patch away from his face, revealing the shadowed, skin filled hole under it and releasing it again with a THWACK.
“He’s gone.” Nifi stated, his voice resigned to the fact.
“I think so, laddy,” Nifi was surprised at the softness in the Captains voice, despite his husk tone. However, the words were like poison. It was one thing for Nifi to believe his father was gone but another to hear it from the mouth of someone else. The guilt left him and was replaced by the harshness of reality, he was right to give up, his father was gone never to return.
It was at that moment Nifi felt his mouth begin to water and felt the acidity of bile working its way up into his mouth and the moment after that he was leant over the ship heaving the breakfast from that morning out into the clear water. It was not so clear after that. His eyes were watering, a mix of tears and heaving. “There ya go, sailor, there ya go,” he heard from behind him, accompanied by a firm pat on his back, once…twice…three times.
Nifi stood doubled over the side of the ship for near twenty minutes heaving his insides out overboard. He’d felt sea sick within five minutes of setting sail but it was the realisation of his father’s death, and someone else supporting the fact, that finished the job and sent his breakfast into the water. His death. He really was gone. Even as he had prepared to throw himself into the glacial water he did not fully believe it. But the Captain had confirmed it. Both his parents, gone. The darkness took route. During that twenty minutes it had entered him again, tangled him up, and dug deep, like ivy engulfing a tree. He felt helpless.
When Nifi rose back up and stood up straight, his vision whitened with merely the outline of the Captain stood to his right. Nifi blinked his eyes in an attempt to remedy it, but instead, with his head and the white world spinning he collapsed forwards. He thought someone had caught him but he couldn’t be sure.