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Sacrifice (story)

Note: I first published this as part of my Christmas Round-Up post. It's not Christmas themed but it's fantasy and I thought it would be good to share it at Christmas. Hope you like it. :)

I'm working on a e-book of stories based around the sea but it's not ready yet, so I thought I'd just share one of them here. :)


In the village they have a saying that if you really want something you can make a sacrifice to the sea and it will be granted. You must sacrifice something that is very important to you, of great value. Then the sea gods will listen.

  This is why one evening young Ariane steps out of the house. She is making her way to the sea to ask the gods for help. Her stepfather is closing his fist tighter, tighter over the house, hurting everyone in it. See the bruises on her arms? Ariane can stand it no longer, she must do something.

  So down to the sea she goes, dressed in nothing but her thin white nightdress, feet bare. The moonlight shining in her golden hair. She stops at the edge of the shore and opens her hand. Inside are two golden bracelets, her most treasured possessions. Back from the days when things were good.

  Ariane’s mother gave them to her. “These are for when you get married,” she told her. “Wear them on your wrists the day you wed your sweetheart, as I did.” She was laughing as she said it, her dark hair framing her face.

  This was just 5 years ago. Two years later Ariane’s father died and a year after that her mother, swallowed up by grief, married her stepfather Joseph and was swallowed up by him.

  For the past two years Ariane has watched her mother lose her spark, become gaunt and haunted and now she thinks, “No more.”

  It is a calm night, the moon glittering on the ocean. Ariane looks at the bracelets one last time and then throws them into the water.

  “Sea gods hear me!” she shouts. “I sacrifice my most precious possessions to you. I ask for your help, save us from my stepfather Joseph Millward. Save us, my mother and me! I beg of you. Please.”

  She had thought she would cry at this point but she is dry eyed. A wave swirls in, takes the bracelets and washes them back out. A wind springs up from nowhere and whirls Ariane’s hair around her head. Just as suddenly it subsides and she knows it is over.

  Quietly Ariane returns home, she sneaks back into the house, slips into bed and closes her eyes. She sleeps long and hard.

Two days later her stepfather is killed by falling lumber from a house he is working on. He dies quickly. When Ariane hears she is shocked to think that her actions have resulted in his death. She imagined that he would leave, not that he would die. Perhaps it was a coincidence…But she cannot quite bring herself to believe that. Not after what she has asked for.

  There are not many who mourn Joseph Millward; drunkard, wife beater, child beater, thief. Still, he was a person who lived and he deserves a funeral like everyone else. The ceremony is brief and afterwards at the wake, Ariane sits quietly while her mother cries and is comforted by two of her friends. More people have attended the wake than the funeral, likely for the free food and drink. Ariane is sad and she regrets but most of all she feels relief. Relief that he is gone, that they are free.

  But in the long nights to come, she feels guilt and grief. Guilt for what she has done, grief for her mother and- and for him. For Joseph, despite all the bad things he did.

  She has nightmares where Joseph is down in the depths of the sea, some kind of dark monster now. The storms that come are his rage. He lures unwary sailors to their deaths. Through the dreams he grabs Ariane and shakes her, shakes her, tries to break her bones. Hisses at her, “See what you have done to me!”
  In vain she cries, “I’m sorry!” He doesn’t want to listen. And now what good does it do?

In time Ariane moves on. The secret of what she did is like a stone in her heart but the first time she sees her mother smile, sitting in the sunlight, she remembers why she did it. For her mother and herself, so they could be free. Because she loves her mother so much.

  At 19 Ariane marries Michael and moves into his house. Michael is good, a man you can trust. He will treat Ariane and her mother well, perhaps now Ariane can rest. Well, maybe she could, if not for the dreams. They still wake her up at night in a cold sweat. Michael holds her, asks what’s wrong and she can say only, “I had a nightmare.” Then he will stroke her hair and soothe her until she falls asleep again.

  The years pass. Ariane gives birth to a child, then another. Her time is taken up with being a mother and a wife, the steady rhythm of her life. Slowly but surely a quiet happiness sets in. She comes to believe she has done the right thing.

  One autumn her mother dies of pneumonia. Ariane mourns but underneath it all she is grateful that her mother had a good life these past 20 years. That she helped it to happen.

  The autumn Ariane is 40, she finds herself alone in the house one afternoon. Her children are almost grown; Eliza, the oldest is 19 now and Seamus 17. She is no longer needed as she once was, they are moving on with their own lives. Eliza is soon to marry Peter, a local man from the village. She will start a family and Ariane will become a grandmother. Seamus is working as a carpenter with his father but he has plans to attend a college in the city. Ariane knows she will miss them both. When she thinks of her babies leaving, she is gripped with a fierce ache. But Michael will be left, steady, dependable Michael. Ariane still loves him as much as the day she married him. She has spent every day of her life with him since their wedding, opened up to him and loved him so. Only one thing has stood between them- the death of her stepfather and the role she played in it.

   This particular afternoon Michael and Seamus are at work and Eliza is visiting her fiancĂ© and his family. Ariane has been baking cakes, ready for when they get back this evening. As she bends to take them out of the oven the wind shrieks, banging the back door and she jumps.

  All day she has been like this, nervous and jumpy. The wind has been wild since this morning, making her restless. It sets her on edge, makes her feel as if something terrible is waiting around the corner.

  Ariane sets the cakes on the table to cool, looking round the room as she does so. Why does she feel as if she’s expecting something to leap out at her? The wind moans again. Enough! Ariane decides she will go for a walk. Maybe getting out of the house will help her feel better, clear her head. Grabbing her heavy winter shawl, she goes out.

  It’s cold but not too cold, although the wind is fierce. Ariane walks towards the beach. She feels suddenly as if something is calling her.

  Down at the ocean’s edge the sea is wild. It’s high tide. Ariane’s heart is thumping in her chest. The sea spray hits her skin, causing goose bumps to rise. It feels like someone is waiting. The feeling presses down on Ariane, recalling the atmosphere of that long ago night.

  “Silly!” she scolds herself, brushing her hair out of her eyes. “There is no one here, just you and the sea.” 

  Still she cannot shake the feeling. Why did she come out here anyway? Thinking somebody was calling her! There is no one here. Time to go home.

  Ariane turns and is just about to head for home when something catches her eye in the gloom. She spins round back out to sea, the breath catching in her throat. There is something on the waves! Coming closer…closer…She wants to run but is paralysed. 

  “Please! Leave me alone!” she thinks, shutting her eyes.

Suddenly something rears up in front of her, a huge dark shape. She is battered by the sea.

  “Ariane,” a voice whispers, a deep, rumbling whisper that travels through her bones. “Ariane!”

  It keeps on and on until she is forced to open her eyes. Then she can scarcely believe what she sees. Before her is her stepfather, looking as he did the day he died. Not a minute older. But he is bigger than he was in life and looks colder and darker, if that is possible. In a rush Ariane understands- he has become part of the sea kingdom and everything that is dark and cold about that world, he has now become. He has absorbed it and it has absorbed him. His rage, his pain, his fear. Just like she dreamt, his moods control the storms and the seas. And now he has come to punish her.

  “Ariane,” he says in the deep rumble, “look at you! Still as beautiful as ever, that same golden hair. Tell me, do you regret what you have done to me?”

  Ariane struggles to speak; her voice seems frozen in her throat. “I-I-I am sorry, Joseph! When I asked for help I did not know what it would mean. I was a young girl, frightened out of her mind. I thought only to save myself and my mother.”

  “You were a selfish little bitch!” shouts Joseph, his voice whipping the waves up. They crash wildly over the beach but the sand around Ariane stays dry. She is trapped on her own little island.

  “You consigned me to this existence without a thought!”

  He reaches out and grabs Ariane’s wrist, his fingers digging in. His touch is cold and wet and Ariane feels it snaking around her, seeking to hurt her, squeeze the life out of her body. Anger grows in her, remembrance of the times Joseph hurt her and her mother. All the times he beat them, shouted, made them afraid. 

  “Stop!” she shouts. “Let go of me! I’m sorry I did what I did! It was wrong to cause you to lose your life and I have regretted it every day since. But I did it because I was afraid, because you were hurting us, my mother and me. You were a bad man, Joseph, you always were and nothing’s changed. You were a bad man and it’s not my fault!”

   With that she yanks her wrist backwards. There is a wrenching sound and she topples onto the sand. A huge wave comes up behind her stepfather, swirls around him, round and round. She watches as his face and body are swallowed up by it. The sea roars, dashing the rocks and sands violently.

  And then suddenly it is gone, leaving only Ariane, drenched to the skin. It is some minutes before she is able to move. Finally she gets up slowly and looks out to the sea, now as calm as if nothing has ever happened.

  “Thank you,” she says to whoever is listening and then, “Rest in peace,” bowing her head.

  When there is no answer she gets up and walks back along the beach, returning to her family.

Copyright Zania Muma 2016


  1. Wow what a story! You truly had me gripped and I was expecting the worse for Ariane. I'm so glad she survived... Thanks so much for sharing your story with #WonderfulWorldofWriting. Hope to see you again next month, unless there's any other writing you would like to share in the meantime?

    1. Hi Carol, thanks a lot for reading! I'll have a look for what I can share in next month's link-up. Thank you for hosting it. Hope you're having a lovely day! :)

  2. I was really enthralled and enchanted as I read this piece. I've featured a link to it in my Britmums Poetry & Prose Round-up which has been published today too! Thanks for the great read! Dawn x

    1. Hi Dawn, sorry for the late reply, just come across your comment now. Thank you! I'm glad you liked it. :) And thanks for featuring! I'm going to have a look at your post now. :) Zania x


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