#14 Váxia of the Sea
Aiga’s weather "gift" is still here. Snow and more snow, and rain when it’s not snowing. Though initially people were quite happy about this phenomena, we now have to deal with the ice. I almost fell flat on my back this morning.
“I take my wish back”, Aiga complains, rubbing her wrist. She looks at the distant swamp, and the tall rocks around it. “I should’ve wished for something else, like…” She closes her eyes. “Like meeting Váxia!”
“The hero from Gaimde.”
“Ah, that Váxia. I’m afraid she’s long gone, and no longer a hero. At least not a hero for Gaimde.”
Aiga pays no heed to my words and starts chanting the grand deeds of Váxia. We enter the inn and the few visitors look at her, not quite sure who or what “Váxia” is. We order two cheap bowls of steamy soup, only so that we can warm our cold hands.
“Is that a vegetable or a chunk of fat?”, Aiga asks, pointing at a floating blob.
“If it was fat they wouldn’t have given it to us”, I retort as I take a long gulp. Warmth. I take a moment to enjoy the sensation.
“Is Váxia not famous around here?”
I pretend to ponder as I take another gulp.
“We are far from eastern shores. She’s not well-known outside of Gaimde or Temarigan territories, I believe.” The bard looks ever so disappointed. “How did you come to hear of her?”
She hesitates, but, for the first time since I’ve met her, she tells me a little about her past. It feels strange.
“I was raised in the seas of Gaimde, even though my parents aren’t really Gaimdeii”, she says. That dreamy look gets back on her face. “There was this statue where we lived in Merypha…”
“Ah, the one and only tribute to Váxia”, I mumble.
“She looked so powerful, greatspear in hand, like a true hero. And the tentacles on her head were impressive, and the tail, and… Oh, and there was a plate, but I didn’t understand the language. Anyway, once I got my mahrym, we moved to Falkor. As rice field workers, not as patrons of the arts”, she adds”
I finish the soup, leaving no time for it to cool down. The people sitting by the fire have just left, so the bard and I snatch the spots. We grin in silent complicity.
“You said she’s no longer a hero”, Aiga ventures.
“No, I mean, you said she is no longer a hero. Is she still alive?”
“The fact no-one has seen her in hundreds of years doesn’t mean she’s dead. One can still live through other people’s stories. Would you like to know why she’s no longer a hero in Gaimde?”
“Can I sing about it?”
“You certainly can.”
Váxia of the Sea
Hundreds of years ago, outsiders weren’t welcome on, in, under or anywhere near the Gaimdean seas. Land-dwellers were to stay on land, just as Gaimdeii were to stay in the sea. Such had been the will of the waters, and who were they to change it?
Váxia, a hero known for her prowess in battle, was the commander of the guard when the landfolk attacked the capital, Merypha, built inside a giant jellyfish. Armed with harpoons and eight heavily-armoured ships, they had sailed to the heart of the sea, hungry for the many treasures that lay deep within.
They pierced the membrane walls that kept the city safe. They slew those who stood in their way. They desecrated the tombs in the reefs, chased the sea beasts away, snatching anything they deemed valuable. The city was destroyed and surrounded in crimson by the time the Meryphan Guard arrived.
Infuriated by the land-dwellers’ greed, Váxia launched a counterattack, for those treasures belonged to the depths of the sea.
If you’ve seen a Gaimdei fight in the water, you’ll know that those poor landfolk hardly stood a chance. Váxia’s greatspear pierced through their guts and hearts, and she swiftly dodged the harpoons they shot over and over again. Váxia and the Meryphan Guard sank their ships and pulled them down to the depths of the sea.
There was only one surviving ship. It left the others at the mercy of the sea, but Váxia knew they would return months later with yet another fleet. Another massacre.
“They came prepared”, she told the Gaimdean Senate; “their ships are nothing like we’ve seen before. They were prepared, possibly trained, for underwater combat. They knew what they were looking for.”
The Senate discussed the issue for the whole morning before they returned that evening with an answer.
“We cannot let this go unpunished”, the magistrate said. “We will take them down. Slaughter them before they can return. We do not have the time to rebuild the city before they strike again.”
There was a silence, the kind of silence only the sea knows.
“We command that you and those under your command adopt your land forms. Track them down. Attack them on land, where they least expect it. Sabotage their weapons. Sink their ships. Render them useless. Slaughter every single one of them before they can give birth to more.”
“Nonsense! The land is hostile to us!”, Váxia protested. “They will hunt us down before we can get close to the shore! Is there no alternative to shifting to our land forms?”
“You will have the necessary training. And the necessary means”, responded the magistrate.
“So is the will of the waters. And the will of this Senate.”
“Magistrate”, Váxia pleaded; “it will take months for us to shift to our land forms."
“Then quit wasting time. Yours, and ours.”
But time is ever so short when one’s in a hurry. Váxia and the guard had to grow human legs. Shed their tail, their skin, their beautiful fins. They had to learn how to walk, how to speak out of the water, how to hide the scales that had refused to fall, their hair, their eyes, their voice. They used the clothes of the landfolk who had perished in battle.
When the scouts returned, they reported where the ships had come from. They weren’t Osvarii. Or perhaps they were. They weren’t able to tell. The ships had come from a distant archipelago.
It was Váxia the first to enter the land, for her face most resembled that of a land-dweller, her ears and the tentacles on her head hidden under a cloth. The rest of the Meryphan army infiltrated other islands. They were ready to kill them, one by one, until there wasn’t a single one left.
It was a child the first to see her. Thinking she had a skin disease, the little girl brought her to the nearest town, where she lived. “All the easier”, Áxia thought. She would only have to inform the army, and they’d strike. Perhaps that same night, if they were lucky.
But the people in the town were kind to her. Friendly. They offered her food and drink. She hardly talked, overwhelmed by the difference in sound.
There were people who resembled Osvarii, but they weren’t. Some had half their face covered in bone, others had symbols despite bone didn’t grow on their faces. Others had none at all. They called themselves "Temarigæ".
“How is it possible”, she thought, “that Osvarii and Vasarigæ are living together?”
They had rebuilt the ships. They were armed, readier than they had ever been. Blood boiled again in her at the sight of the harpoons. They had to strike, but perhaps they should spare the people who had been kind to her.
Yet as night fell and they launched the attack, the Gaimdean warriors showed no mercy. They made no distinctions on whether they killed children, Osvarii, Vasarigæ, those aberrations that were neither Osvarii nor Vasarigæ, that were known as Temarigæ. They were all accountable.
The treasures were retrieved, at least for the most part. The fish caught in their nets were taken, and so were any other valuables in their possession. Their ships were pushed into the sea and sunk.
Váxia saw the face of the little girl who had come to greet her at the shore. The one who had taken her to the town. She was shaking, hiding under the rubble, still alive, with other children and adults.
Váxia would never forget the terrified look in her eyes.
“We’re done here”, she told the others, and left the archipelago.
It was months later, when she had shifted back to her sea form, that she confronted the Gaimdean Senate.
“They fed me when they did not have to. They offered to care for me. They offered me shelter. Don’t we, too, have a land form? Don’t they bleed, and laugh, and cry, as do we?”
“We do not laugh. Or cry. Laughing and crying is noise. And a waste of energy. Live on land, if such is the life you long for.”
But living on land would have been a disservice to the landfolk. Instead, Váxia spent years in Merypha fighting for the landfolk to be able to live there, too. To stop the attacks against traveling ships. To return to the landfolk what they had lost in the depths of the sea.
She was first stripped off her rank. She was then denied food, a home, a place to sleep. Váxia knew they wouldn’t kill her, for the Senate respected the will of the waters, and their will was that she lived.
The Senate summoned her again.
“What do we have to do so that you leave this city? In fact, what can we do so that you leave Gaimde once and for all?”, the magistrate asked.
Váxia, deprived of meals, sleep and strength, smiled.
“Amend the treaties. Safe passage for the landfolk through Gaimde. Allow outsiders to live in the cities.”
“Live among us! The audacity!”, some of the senators exclaimed.
But the pressure increased as other Gaimdeii joined Váxia in her demands. The merchants were the first to join Váxia’s cause and, in time, part of the Meryphan Guard sided with their former commander. Disobedience of Silence Laws was followed by rebellion. Statues of the senators were brought down. Many underwater farms refused to work if they weren’t paid, and other Gaimdeii were barred from entering Merypha. Eventually, economy collapsed.
After countless meetings, secrecy and debating, the Senate yielded to some of Váxia’s and the protesters’ demands, only so that she would move as far away from Gaimde as possible and the revolutionaries would finally quieten.
A number of landfolk would be allowed in a specific district in Merypha at their own risk. They would neither harm nor help landfolk. They would have to provide for their own breathable air. They would not have to give them jobs. Silence and Treasure Laws would be partially amended. Ships would be able to travel safely, “save if they pose a threat to Gaimde”, the senators said.
And finally, much to the Senate’s rejoice, Váxia left to never be seen again. She’s a hero to the landfolk who remember her deeds, and who now live under the seas of Gaimde. The same deeds that made her a traitor to her own kind.
The first landfolk were the ones to erect the statue in her name. The only statue of a Gaimdei made by people from land.
It is said she still roams the seas, rejected by her own kind where she goes, keeping watch from a distance and helping those in need.
In Temariga, she was Váxia of the Sea. In Gaimde, she was Váxia of the Land.
“So why would they build a statue in the capital?”, Aiga asks. Of course she’d ask, that was the point of the whole story.
“To remind land-dwellers of that massacre. The plate is a warning. They still haven’t taken it down because it holds an entirely different meaning for landfolk who live there.”
“Is she the reason we can now live there? Inside those jellyfish cities?”
“Perhaps. Though the cities were already there, only with less breathable air.”
The fire crackles as the innkeeper tosses in another log and winks at me. I wait for her to leave, before asking the bard: “Out of all the things in Gaimde, why would you remember Váxia’s statue?”
The bard’s gaze is lost in the distance.
“That statue was who I talked to, and sang to, and danced with when my parents were at work. She was…” Aiga looks at me, and she smiles. “She was my only friend.”