JOURNEY TO MIRANGA ISLAND
Part II: Crossing the Threshold
In the skiff, no one spoke. Declan kept his eyes on Saltana, dead ahead. The closer their little boat got to the ethereal threshold; the wall of light and shadow that separated the land of the living from the land of the dead; the more excitement the young lord felt. He narrowed his gaze, hoping the land would be clearer to view now that they were closer to it.
“Can you make out anything Balric? Near or far, it all looks the same to me,” Declan said.
But Balric wasn’t looking at Saltana. He was huddled at the tail end of the skiff with his eyes on the ocean’s edge. It held calmly, contained by the threshold like it was soup and the translucent wall was the rim of a bowl. The water did not push through, nor did it come back in on itself. In fact, there were no ripples at all; as though the mighty ocean acknowledged this thing as its limitation.
Balric did not feel as calm though. They were very close to the threshold now and at any moment they would start passing through. “I wonder what’ll happen to us in there. Will we age more quickly inside? So that only two old men land in Saltana? Or what if our little boat breaks up on the wall?” Balric’s mind was racing again. In answer to his rising panic he pulled out a scroll from his satchel, broke the seal and began scribbling.
“Balric! Doodling?” Declan was incredulous.
“Writin actually, sir. Had a lovely idea for the start of my memoirs,” Balric said, in a higher pitch than he had intended.
“Boatman, how many men have successfully crossed over into Saltana?” Delclan asked.
“Successfully? Everyone who’s tried boyo. One hundred percent o’you bonies ends up in Saltana sooner or later,” the ferryman chuckled while keeping his attention on the wall before them.
“Ignore him Balric,” Declan reassured. “The point is, we’re about to do what few dare to do and your face is buried in that scroll. I promise you, there are no questions you could possibly have that are as amazing as what lies before us in this present moment.”
“Scuse me, boatman? How many livin souls have successfully come back from Saltana?” Balric asked.
“No no!” Declan yelled before the ferryman had a chance to respond. “We can’t think too far ahead Balric. We must…”
“HOLD ON!” the ferryman shouted from the front of the skiff. Declan turned towards their pilot with lightning speed. Balric stuck his head out over the side of their boat to get a clear view of what lay before them.
The skiff was just about to make contact with the ethereal wall. Balric grabbed onto the side of the boat he was leaning towards, dropping his parchment and pen in the process. Declan turned his body fully to face what was coming. They pierced the ethereal wall. Declan and Balric braced themselves for resistance, as though the wall would put up a fight to let them through. But there was no fight. They passed through the barrier easily, as though it were an old aunt welcoming them to a Sunday feast.
Halfway through. Balric looked over to his master with a mixture of fear and concern; “I hope the lad is alright,” he thought. But Declan was more than alright. His eyes were alight with a wild spirit of adventure that he had only experienced a few times in his young life.
Three quarters through now. The aunt was so eager. Balric couldn’t bear anymore and bent his head low, looking at the bottom of the skiff while waiting blindly to hear and feel what came next. Nothing came. After what felt like several minutes, he looked up again. They were engulfed. Shades of things passed them by: small islands bearing a single tree, or bushes that seemed to sit on the surface of the water. But none of them were real. “Well,” Balric thought, “real enough for this place, maybe. But ya can’t touch’em. I much prefer our world, where things can be touched.”
“HAHAHAHA!” Balric’s thoughts were suddenly dashed by the high-pitched cackles of the ferryman. “I do so love doin that to bonies like you wha cross over for the first time. Haha, stupid bonies.”
Declan’s head moved rapidly this way and that as he seemed to be taking in everything around them. Balric was just about to call out when the lad suddenly turned to his left and went to the side of the skiff, taking a seat next to the nervous manservant. Slowly, Declan bent over the edge of the boat to look at the water below. Then, Balric saw the boy’s hand move slowly towards the water…
“MASTER!” Balric yelled as he pulled Declan away from the edge. The young lord was whipped around quickly, looking the stout servant square in the eye. Balric was taken aback; for on Declan’s face was a smile so wide that he thought for a moment that this place had put the boy under some sort of spell.
“What are ya doin?”
“It’s alright Balric,” Declan replied calmly. “Look for yourself.”
Declan turned back, away from Balric, to look over the side of the skiff again. Balric turned to his own side of the boat and put his hands on it. “You can do this,” he thought to himself. “Ya can’t be scared of everythin. Declan’s right. Just let go, and look.” With that, Balric willed his head over the edge.
As hazy and foggy as the threshold had been all around them, the surface beneath them was vividly clear. For what they were sailing on was not water, but what seemed to be the night sky itself. “We’re sailin on a sea of stars!” Balric thought, so moved by the sight that he had to breathe in deep at the marvel of it; as though simply looking was not enough.
The moon’s reflection - “Is it a reflection?” – shone so brightly that Balric immediately turned his head skyward to see where it was. But above, he could only make out the shape of the moon. There was no color, no sparkle, no light at all; just a pale imitation of the reflection cast below them.
“Amazin!” Balric said, barely above a whisper.
“Yes Balric! Exactly!” Declan said as he clapped his manservant on the shoulder. “Stop worrying, and embrace the adventure.”
“I just wish I knew what we were up against in Saltana,” Balric replied.
“We DO know Balric. It’s a bazaar. We’re dealing with merchants. And if you’ve dealt with one you’ve dealt with them all,” Declan proclaimed.
“Both right and wrong,” the voice of the ferryman came back to them from the front of the boat.
“Which one of us?” Declan demanded.
“Both of ya boyo. Bazaar merchants are scheming, plottin, connivin wretches it’s true. They’ll do whatever it takes to make a sale and Saltana’s no different. In fact, I’d say it’s worse,” the ferryman concluded as he turned his hooded face back to them.
“There, you see? We’ll just keep on our toes and all will be well,” Declan said with an easy smile.
“Scuse me sir, but you said we were right and wrong. What makes us wrong?” Balric asked.
“First of all, yer headed to the land o’the dead. That makes Saltana the bazaar o’the dead. Understand?”
“So, the merchants…they’re all ghosts?” Balric prodded.
“Exactly boyo. Ghosts, ghouls, folk of the non-livin sort,” the ferryman replied.
“Really? A ghost bazaar? How exciting!” Declan stood up in the skiff and absently drew his sword in response to the fervor mounting within him.
“Swords won’t work on them,” the ferryman said. “Like any merchant, hagglin’s yer best bet. But that’s where things get real interestin.”
Declan sheathed his sword and sat back down quietly in anticipation of what the ferryman would say next.
“How so?” Balric pressed, feeling the same impatient curiosity as his master.
“Saltana is a bazaar to the two o’you, but to them...to the merchants workin it, s’more like a prison. Ya see, these were the worst sorts o’liars an cheats in life. Greedy an vicious; makin money was their only aim, an they didn’t care who they had to stab in the back to do it. But now that they’ve died, well…Saltana’s doomed them to the same fate. Forced’em to sell to the few livin folk who pass through. An if they can sell ya one o’their wares, they’re freed from Saltana. Allowed to pass on an be at peace. If not…then there’s no escape.”
“Well, that’s unsettlin,” Balric said quietly.
“Not at all my dear Balric. They’re still merchants. It doesn’t change how we haggle,” Declan said confidently.
“Maybe not, boyo, but ya must admit yer facin a sort o’desperation ya’ve not encountered in livin sellers,” the ferryman replied. “Sides, hagglin requires you to have somethin the merchant wants. An I can tell ya now, ya don’t have much to offer’em.”
“Oh?” Declan asked, with a small smirk on his face.
“Ya think these ghosts are interested in yer money or valuables?”
“Yes. Because you just told me they were,” Declan replied.
“In life, they certainly would have been,” Balric said, not looking at either his master or the boatman. “But in death…they’ll want whatever frees them.”
“Always good to have the fat friend, eh bonie?” the ferryman scoffed at Declan. “Leastaways, those that have more brains than you to help ya along.”
“You know something boatman?” Declan replied as the smile he was wearing disappeared. “I’m doing all this to find my long lost sister. Perhaps when I do, I could introduce you.”
“Don’t…you…DARE!” the ferryman shouted. “Ya find the right person when yer MEANT TO!”
“Excuse me!” Balric interjected, standing up as quick as he could and placing himself in between their pilot and his master. “No need for tempers to flare up.”
“Yer right boyo,” the ferryman agreed. “Cause we’re here.”
The skiff stopped suddenly, or rather, was stopped. Declan and Balric toppled over in the boat from its impact against something neither of them could see. The fog had grown so thick all around them that they couldn’t make out anything. The ferryman waved his large oar, dissipating some of the fog, allowing his passengers some limited visibility . Declan and Balric looked up and could make out an old looking wooden dock as what was responsible for their small collision, but beyond it they could see nothing more.
“We’re come to Saltana, as agreed. Now get off my boat,” the ferryman said coldly.
The pair quickly scrambled past their pilot and climbed onto the dock. Once they had, the boatman pushed off and turned his skiff around, making his way back from where they had come.
“Wait sir!” Balric yelled out. “You told us money doesn’t interest these ghosts. Then what are we to barter with?”
“There’s only one thing ya both have that they’re interested in boyo,” the ferryman shouted back at them just before he disappeared into the fog. “A livin soul!”