The Spearman Stays His Hand

It is an ocean somewhere in the never, on the shores of dream.

The captain harries the serpent from east to west. Hard-pursued, she dives. She passes the layer of fire, where the phosphorescence of the worms turns the sea red, yellow, orange, and white. She passes the layer of darkness. She passes into the land of the Princes.

“Help me,” she says, to the spearfish, its nose as sharp as a razor and long as the day. But it gathers its raiment of gold and its chorus of anglers and swims away.

“Help me,” she says, to the great dark eye of the squid. For a long moment, it studies her. Then there is a flickering and a fading in the great eye’s depths. The squid’s attention has turned away.

She batters at the gate of the Sea King’s palace.

“Help me,” she says to the guardsman there.

“The Sea King sees no one,” says the guard. “Nor may I help a straggler by.”

“If I am slain,” says the serpent. “If I am slain, that day the world dies.”

“Aye,” says the guard. “But things are as they are.”

“That is the day the world will die,” says the serpent, as if she cannot comprehend.

“I’m sorry,” says the guard.

So the serpent flows upwards to break the surface of the sea, and there is the captain, who has gained much distance on her in this time. His ship is made of darkest wood, and its sails are tattered as from knives; and the sky behind it is splashed with blood, and the wheel is made of bone; and on the deck stands the spearman, braced to throw.

“Kill her,” says the captain.

She flees across the water, as hard and as fast as still she may.

“Kill her,” says the captain.

For just a moment, the spearman stays his hand.

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