THE DACUNA • by John M. Whalen

Thirty days becalmed. Thirty blistering days the Orion sat in the fetid waters of the Sargasso Sea. Never had Tragon of Ramura, captain of the Orion, seen the like. He looked out over the deck of the ship at his men lying parched and burned, their hands still gripping the oars they could no longer row. They had run out of fresh drinking water two days ago and now they lay sick and dying.  “It’s no use, Captain.” Yusef Ahmed Ali Nazir, the first mate, wiped sweat from his shaved head. “Unless there is a miracle, we are done for.”

Tragon looked at the black man from Jadia, and saw despair on his first mate’s countenance.

“We never should have entered these waters,” Yusef said. “The old soothsayer in Kabula was right. He warned us not to try to reach Zaguro by this route. We laughed at his dire words. He said the day would come when we would look in the sky and see the Dacuna circling over us high in the sky — the giant bird that eats the flesh of dying sailors.”

Tragon turned his eyes skyward.

“There’s nothing in the sky yet, Yusef,” he said.

There was a loud trumpeting and the splashing of water. Everyone turned sternward. Tragon’s grey eyes narrowed at the sight that met his gaze. A beast of a sort that he had never seen before was moving toward them in the water. It was nearly half the size of the Orion. Its body was shaped like that of a whale, but a long dorsal fin trailed down its back, and two gigantic tusks jutted down from its upper jaw. The creature dove, thrashing the water, with a wide tail covered with long, vicious looking spikes.

“On your feet, men,” Tragon ordered.

Galvanized by fear, the crew struggled up from their oars and gathered their weapons. Spears and swords were soon in hand as they waited for the beast to resurface. The creature rose up through the boiling water and struck the ship’s prow with its head. The Orion shuddered.

Tragon ran to the port side with a spear and threw it at the glistening beast’s hide. Yusef stood next to him with his long bow and let three arrows fly in quick succession. If the monster even noticed, it gave no outward sign. The thing turned and began circling back.

“Brace yourself,” Tragon shouted. He grabbed another spear from one of the crew and stood on the bulwark. Two more arrows struck the beast’s head. The huge jaws opened and it moved forward, its giant tusks ready.

Tragon hauled back and heaved the spear. It flew into the dark maw of the creature’s mouth. The massive jaws slammed shut, breaking the spear in two. The sea-beast’s forehead rammed the Orion and the ship rebounded with the sound of crunching wood. The beast dove down again into the depths.

“One more like that and we’ll be sunk,” Tragon said.

The Jadian first mate stood searching the water to see where the sea-beast would resurface. Then, suddenly, Takira, one of the crew, cried out.

“The Dacuna!” he screamed. He pointed skyward. “Aaiiieee! The Dacuna! All is lost!”

Tragon looked up and saw the dreaded carrion bird circling high over the ship. Its huge wings, wider than twice the length of the Orion, stretched out over the windless sky and the bird glided silently in the dead air in a tight circle over the ship.

“It knows we are doomed,” Takira said. “It waits for the sea-beast to kill us and then the Dacuna will come for our remains.”

“It hasn’t killed us yet,” Tragon hollered.

But then, he saw the monster-fish again steaming straight for them. Tragon could see its tiny eyes glaring at him with malevolent hatred. Tragon mounted the bulwark again, another spear in hand. But this time the monster turned suddenly, raised its spike-covered tail in the air, and slammed it hard against the ship. Wood splintered. The impact of the attack sent Tragon flying backward onto the deck.

“We’ll never stand another onslaught,” he hollered at Yusef, as he got to his feet. But Yusef seemed not to hear him. The Jadian was busy tying a long line of rope to the end of one of his arrows.

“What are you doing?”

Making sure the line was secure, Yusef fitted the arrow to the bow.

“I have an idea,” he said. “Try to hold the sea-beast off.”

The black man raised the bow high. Tense muscles rippled under his black skin. The arrow shot straight up, towing the rope behind it. The Dacuna seemed oblivious to the missile speeding its way. When the arrow struck, Yusef dropped the bow and grabbed the line attached to the arrow.

“That should hold,” he said, tying the rope around the mainmast

Everyone onboard watched as the Dacuna’s mighty wings began to flap. It let out a terrible cry of pain. The mast creaked under the strain of the rope, but slowly the Orion began to move in the water.

A trumpeting blast came from the port side, as the sea-beast charged the ship again. This time every man on board, strengthened by Yusef’s miraculous feat, ran to the side. Spears, knives, swords, pikes–everything the could find–they threw at the monster. Blood came pouring  from its mouth, and it backed away.

“We’re away,” Takira shouted. “Yusef has saved us!”

Tragon looked up at the Dacuna, wings now steadily flapping, pulling the ship toward the west.

“An amazing shot, Yusef,” Tragon said.

“According to the legend,” Yusef said, “when the Dacuna knows it will die, it must fly to Carmush, the island home of its birth. It was our only chance to get away from the sea beast, and I prayed that my aim would be true enough. We should reach fair winds before long.”

John M. Whalen’s stories appear regularly in and he has stories upcoming in The Sword Review, and DKA Magazine. Read the prequel to the Dacuna in Flashing Swords.

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