The captain, crew, and palace retinue were dead; meat stripped from bone, broken and brined like soup carcasses. The ship was no more. Water to their thighs the three boys were standing somehow, breathing somehow, alive. A prince presumptive and his young guards facing an unknown shore beneath a fast darkening sky. Bred for leadership but having never lead, the prince was silent. He felt the sand dragging over the tops of his feet, sucked backward by the tide. He trembled. He thought of the ceremonial sword bestowed on him that very morning, its blade now plunged into the sea floor. In the woods beyond the the edge of the shore animals moaned and chortled and sung.
“We must build a fire.” said one of the young guards, the water dissolving caked blood from his tattered breeches. “Night falls, and to what proportion grows the animal’s madness by moonlight I’d remain ignorant.”
“Let us all three to work.” seconded the other guard, scraping the grey sand from his face and teeth. “Two for wood and one to find good stones, and with haste.”
The prince, his mind still in the icy waters off-shore, remained motionless. He thought of the velvet-lined box which contained his rings filling with black water. He thought of a jellyfish releasing the gush of its seed into the linen of his vestments.
Snarls and howls and lunatic hoots echoed from the island wood. The sun sank and though there was was no wind the trees swayed and shuddered in the dying light.
Seeing the prince frozen there, eyes empty, his young guards raised their voices to rouse him.
“Come! We must move. Or are you curious to feel a beast’s tongue on your belly?!”
“The sea has its tongues as well, and its teeth. Let us go! Now!”
The prince imagined a mollusc sliding itself into his embroidered slipper, the viscera and slime making a home in its toe. Finally he spoke.
“Are my servants now commanders?” He asked it softly, dreamily, as though in monologue. “Has the crushing tide that brought my ship low also brought my lowly high?”
He imagined protozoa and plankton being filtered through the fine gold lattice of his ceremonial scepter. He imagined its handle being gripped now by a dark blade of kelp.
The anger rose up in him. “You dogs.” Anger at the sea. “You filth!” Anger at the Fates. “You issue orders to me!” Anger at having his ship splintered on the very day of his reaching manhood. “You dare raise your voices to command? You? The low-born sons of cheap sluts and swine? Do you not see this that I wear upon my head?!”
The sun was gone now. The sound of footpads on sand could be heard a short ways off. “Aye, I see it.” said one of the guards.
“And what is it you cretin?! What is it that even the mighty sea, which today crushed 70 skulls and whipped blood to froth, could not strip from my brow?! Answer me! What do I wear upon my head?!”
Being bred to service but never broken, the guard, looking upon the prince’s contorted face, a face which had never sprouted a whisker nor brushed the inside of a woman’s thigh, responded simply, “It is a metal hat.”
“Aye” chimed the other. It was nearly a whisper, for he was looking inland at the massive black shapes which now approached from the wood, heads down, backs broad, their knuckles leaving grooves in the moonlit sand. “And wont it look splendid leaving a gorilla’s asshole in the dawn light.”