Ilaweh’s Will: Shipwrecked


Ahmed woke to the sound of crashing timbers and shouting men. There was no doubt in his mind as to why. The only real question was who would survive.

It was pitch black. There should have been lanterns burning! He leapt from his hammock and staggered, almost falling as the floor ambushed him from an unexpected direction. It was not flat beneath him, but tilted. Ahmed was no seaman, but even he knew this was a bad thing. How could the ship stay afloat if it tilted and filled with water?

“Ahmed!” Brutus shouted from his cabin. There was an odd edge to his voice, enough to set Ahmed’s intuition singing. This will not be good.

“Here! I’m coming!” Ahmed felt his way along in the dark, trying to overcome the disorienting sensation that he was climbing downhill, at last finding the opening between their cabins. There was no privacy aboard a ship, so there was no door to battle, only a makeshift curtain they had hung. As he struggled through the opening, light flared as Brutus adjusted the wick of a lantern had had somehow salvaged.

Ahmed almost wished it were still dark. The ceiling above Brutus’s hammock was splintered, and a huge spar of wood had fallen on him. Dark water swirled about his ankles, deepening with each moment. Brutus held the lantern in an awkward manner, tilted almost to spilling its oil on the floor, its flickering light casting shadows skittering over a skewed, tilted world.

Brutus grimaced and beckoned Ahmed forward. “To me! Quickly, before it is too late!”

Ahmed leapt across the tilting deck and seized the massive weight pressing Brutus to the floor. He hauled at it with all his might. Brutus, too, pushed against it, the cords in his neck popping out from exertion. The spar moved, but only inches, and Brutus cried out in agony when it did so. The ship itself seemed to scream with him in empathy, straining wood and creaking lumber wailing in their own version of pain. The ship, like her captain, was dying.

Ahmed could see beneath the spar now. It was more than just a weight. It had not broken cleanly. A sharp spindle was sunk deep into Brutus’s belly, passing right through him and into the planks below.

Brutus leaned his head back and looked up at what should be the sky above him, sighing. “It is no use! Do not behave like a woman!”

Ahmed shook his head, trying to stay focused. There was much shouting and screaming from elsewhere on the ship, but it was only here that mattered for now. “We try again!”

“Even if we get it off, I am still dead! There is no time!” Brutus’s eyes rolled in his head as he struggled against his wounds. “You must recover my papers and bring them to the prince! Swear it to me, prelate, in the name of Ilaweh!”

Ahmed ground his teeth. The water had grown higher now. It was lapping at his knees.

Brutus grabbed Ahmed’s head and pulled their faces together. The captain’s face was a mask of pain, but his eyes burned bright with purpose. “Swear it!”

“By Ilaweh, I swear.”

“Quickly then. In my footlocker. There is an oilcloth bag.”

Ahmed opened the locker, and found the bag at the very top. “This?”

“Yes. It must reach Prince Philip. Go quickly. If you don’t clear the wreck, it will drag you down with it!” Brutus gasped with pain and fell silent, eyes closed. For long moments, Ahmed thought the captain was dead, but at last he opened his eyes and sighed, “There is but one thing more. I ask a favor of you, not for duty, but for friendship.”

Ahmed felt his guts churn, certain what Brutus would have him do, and sick with the knowledge, but he accepted the burden nonetheless. “Name it.”

“Do not let me drown, brother.”

Ahmed clenched his jaw and nodded.

Brutus waved his hand and pointed. “My sword. There. It is a fine weapon, Ahmed. It has slain many. It’s yours now. Use it well.”

Ahmed took the scabbard and drew the blade from it. The metal sang as it quivered in the air. Brutus smiled at him. “You were right, brother.”

Ahmed raised the blade. “So were you, brother. Ilaweh is great.”

“Ilaweh is great,” Brutus sighed. “I am ready.”

Ahmed struck Brutus’s head from his shoulders with a single, swift blow and silently gave thanks to Ilaweh for guiding his hand. He shook the blood from the sword, sheathed it, and stood a moment, knowing it was unwise, but feeling compelled. A comrade had fallen, one Ahmed had come to call friend. Brutus’s passing should be marked. No words were needed. Brutus was not that sort of man. But a few seconds of silent respect was appropriate, and worth risking.

Ahmed managed half a minute before the ship gave another violent lurch. He heard more splintering, and new screams from outside. I know! Hurry up. He moved to the cabin door, tried the latch, and felt his belly fill with ice. The door wouldn’t budge.

Calm yourself. If it is Ilaweh’s will, you will live. It was easy enough to accept in theory, but unlike Brutus, he had no one to spare him from drowning.

He tried the latch again, making certain he had actually released it. No good. There was something heavy blocking the door on the other side. Ahmed took a deep breath. The water was rising quickly, almost to his hips. He was running out of time.

He hurled a shoulder against it, and felt the weight on the other side shift. The door yielded slightly, perhaps an inch, but no more. He tried again, and a third time, but it was the same.

Ahmed could feel the panic in his heart, yowling and searching for an exit like a cat in a shower. He crushed it down, knowing that it would do him little good. Still, he felt its claws tearing at him from within. He drew Brutus’s sword and began hammering at the door. Perhaps the top was clear, and he could crawl over the obstruction.

The ship lurched again, more violent this time, with a groan that sent shudders throughout the frame. The floor again tilted beneath Ahmed’s feet, water churned, and he lost his footing.

When he surfaced again, it was to blackness. The lantern was out, and he had no idea where the door was. The panic in him drew strength from this and surged at the chains of faith with which he had bound it, a frenzied beast intent on freedom.

The water was near his chest now, and freezing cold. He could taste the sea on his lips, or was it blood? His, Brutus’s, who could say? It was quiet now, just the sloshing of the rising water and the sound of his own labored, shuddering breath. He struggled to find the door again, to reorient himself. Surely, if this was the end, it would not be because he had not tried. But the door was simply gone. He pounded his fists against unyielding wood in frustration.

The ship groaned again, and he heard creaking nearby. A board, perhaps right next to him, gave way with a crack like thunder, and he felt more water rush in. Something hit his chest, something small, but hard and heavy. He reached for it, but found nothing. Another groan came from overhead, and then a great splintering, shredding sound. Ahmed simply stood. How could he know if he were avoiding a blow, or leaping into one he would have survived? It was in Ilaweh’s hands.

The water was rising faster now. It was up to his neck. This was his end, then. He shook his head at the irony, that a man from the desert should suffer such a death. He felt the fear in his heart subside, replaced with acceptance. He was ready, as difficult as the path was. Ilaweh’s will be done.

As the water closed over his head, Ahmed Justinius looked up one last time before he closed his eyes, and saw, in the pitch darkness, a twinkling of light. The door was over his head, and through the hole he had hacked into it he could see the moon.

Energy surged into him as he seized the edge of the wood. He could not strike a blow against it, not with the water, but he could pull. He did so with all his might.

Ilaweh, if it is your will that I die, let me die well. And if it is not, then give me strength!

Ahmed felt as if his arms would tear themselves from his body. Five seconds. Ten. Fifteen. His muscles tightened even more, and his breath burst from him in a cry of exertion. This would be his last chance. Twenty seconds. Twenty five.

The door gave way with a thunderous crack that Ahmed heard even through the water in his ears. The moon above wavered with the water covering him. He clambered through the opening and burst to the surface, sucking in air in great gasps.

He was on the main deck, what was left above the water at any rate. He saw men leaping from the railings, and remembered Brutus’s warning to escape the ship before it went down, or he would be dragged down with it.

Ahmed struggled to climb the tilted deck, to reach a high point and jump as the others were doing. He couldn’t help but smile at the irony. He had never learned to swim. He was, perhaps, jumping from the frying pan and into the fire.

I will learn, he promised himself. I will learn right now.

He leapt over the rail and into the dark, rolling waves. He watched the others, and tried to do as they did, digging and crawling through the water like sand. In the distance, he saw lights, and what looked like land, and his heart sank.

Too far. Far too far, and I am exhausted and freezing, and out of my element. Ilaweh, I have failed you. Yet he swam on.

Ilaweh’s will would be done.