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#SIRENS

The cold sea flexed and bubbled like raw black glass, flicking gobs of foaming spume over the lurching ship’s prow. The night sky had an angry cast, iron-grey clouds scudding across the moon and stars, teasing the water with fleeting silver glimpses. Yuri braced himself against the constant, groaning motion, and shivered.

 

This, he mused bitterly, was the so-called ‘Pacific’ – but in these northern latitudes it was anything but peaceable. He felt light-headed, faintly nauseous: ludicrous for one so suited to seagoing. This was his first paid voyage, and he could not afford to show weakness. He shook his head forcibly, focussed on the job at hand, and peered through the spray. This was a vital watch, for even though the winter had officially ended, the risk of free-floating ice remained all-too real.

Yuri tried not to let his thoughts wander, but he was only seventeen, and prone to distraction. One thing distracted him above all else, and could excite him even more than the thrill of being a true sailor at last – that thing was women. He ate, slept and breathed women. In truth he knew near nothing about them – apart from his mother and a few obscure aunts he had encountered very few. This did not stop him from loving them, from wanting to consume them; to hunt them down much as this expedition would hunt down fur-bearing sea otters by the dozens. Soon, he hoped, the ship might dock at some exotic port where he might literally immerse himself in some convenient fleshpot, and waste his wages in the only way that appealed to him. But in the meantime…

In the meantime, he had heard the yarns spun by old salts back in Mother Russia. Legends of

fish-tailed beauties who flashed in the foaming breakers, who bared their breasts on rocky outcrops, lulling sailors with their songs. This was the true, secret reason he had gotten himself rostered on this watch – they were said to be most active at night. Of course, he didn’t really believe these tales, but just in case...

A long way off to starboard, something broke the surface with a faint splash. His sea-trained eyes fixed on the anomaly immediately. In a fleeting wash of moonlight he clearly saw flukes curl above the swell, then slip below. He rubbed his eyes and strained forward as cloud smothered the brightness once more. Now he could make out next to nothing, but what he could divine reinforced the notion in his mind, incredible as that was. A long, curvaceous body with an unquestionably fishlike tail; what seemed to be long, matted hair about the head; and best of all, the suggestion of a fulsome breast, replete with nipple, as the creature lazily rolled in the water.

Yuri swore, his heart thudding. Deep in his loins there was a familiar stirring and swelling. Overcome with excitement, he shouted.

“A mermaid! It’s there! I see her!”

The commotion drew the Mate and another old salt to his side, hurrying erratically across the pitching deck.

“What’re you yellin’ about now, boy?” growled the Mate.

“Look, look!” Yuri cried.

They looked. As if on cue, a shaft of moonlight dropped like an alabaster column, illuminating the water and stripping the vision of all mystery. Yuri’s heart sank. The men began to guffaw.

“By my Grandmother’s arse, Yuri, you’ve a one-track mind. Your mermaid’s nothing more than a common sea cow. D’you really want to get off with that?”

The animal was like an elongated seal, its sinuous curves formed from rolls of blubber. What he imagined a human head was merely blunt-snouted, bewhiskered and vaguely canine. The glistening ‘hair’ was a long, shredded frond of seaweed that had somehow jammed in a corner of the creature’s mournful mouth, and flowed over its back like some ludicrous garland.

The Mate tipped a sly wink at his partner, who pinned Yuri’s arms while he put a brawny hand across the front of his breeches, pressing upon his erection.

“You’ve not been playing enough at Wankie with the boys, Yuri,” the Mate said. “You’re letting your imagination run away with you. If it’s sea cows you’re after, we’ll be seeing plenty more of them soon, but if it’s women – well, I happen to know there’s a couple of real-life sirens on the island, so just you be patient. For now, I think you need to calm right down...”

The Mate was a skilled rigger: his massive hands were capable of the most delicate operations. Deftly he unfastened Yuri’s breeches and coaxed his phallus free. Yuri felt the chill around his testicles as he was exposed, and another wave of lightheadedness passed over him. With curled fingers the Mate aggressively jerked his foreskin: within seconds Yuri grunted and discharged helplessly. His copious pearl emission arced over the deck, mingling with the frothing spume. Then Yuri collapsed. His last thoughts before he slipped into semi-consciousness were, naturally, of the sirens. He hoped they would be blonde; he hoped they would be beautiful. On both counts, he would be correct.

Bering Island, 1765

Karena opened the cabin door, and breathed deep the salty morning air. The wind had eased with the coming of dawn; now it gently fanned the silvery water of the bay. The clouds were lifting and breaking – she fancied they might even see the sun this day.

Karena was twenty-one years old and, as her father liked to tease her, a “ripe young woman”. Full breasted, narrow waisted, wide hipped, she was in the prime of her voluptuousness, like an unpicked fruit bulging on the vine. Her wide, violet eyes saw everything, and along with her full rosy cheeks and pert nose gave her a girlish air which was dramatically undercut by her slightly squared chin, heavy jaw and seriously set, full-lipped mouth. A high brow, that might have become careworn, was concealed by a riot of rosy gold curls that sifted magnificently in the breeze. Karena was undoubtedly a woman, but in certain lights, on certain days, she could take on a matronly cast. This was only to be expected, given her situation.

She watched the two figures as they made steady progress around the bay’s curve towards her. One, the man, moved slowly and stiffly, his once broad shoulders and tall frame stooped by the weight of a lifetime’s misfortune. This was her father, Jorin Wimakov, and seeing him first thing always set a weight on Karena’s heart – the weight of wrongs beyond her capacity to right. By contrast, the other figure spoke of nothing but light, and energy, and goodness. Lenta was eighteen, and if Karena was a rose, then Lenta was a lily at the point of blossom. Looking upon her, Karena felt the standard sisterly mélange of warm affection and deep-seated envy. In figure Lenta was every bit as voluptuous as her sibling, and threatening to exceed her monumental curves. Her angelic face seemed carved from cinnamon-dusted cream, chin and nose tapering into dainty, mist-softened points. Her round eyes were blue-grey and piercing, framed by lush locks like silvered-yellow strands of evening sunlight. Had she been taller than herself, Karena might have felt life was no longer worth living.

As they neared the cabin Lenta, who had seemingly never met a day that wasn’t full of possibilities, broke from her father, dancing over rocks like some ethereal sprite.

“There’s a ship on the horizon,” she gushed. “Papa says it’s a whaler.”

“I said no such thing,” her father panted as he brought up the rear. “I was merely speculating. Don’t put words in my mouth, Little Swan.”

“Do they mean to come here?” asked Karena concernedly.

“Hard to tell just now – even if they are, with the wind dropping it’ll take them a while. Let’s worry about it if and when it happens. For now, nothing should distract us from breakfast.”

Above the rocks, above the waterline, there stood three cabins, haphazardly crafted from salvaged timber. The largest was where the family dined, and the sisters slept. Fifty yards of pebble-strewn nothing separated it from their father’s retreat, where he burned too much midnight oil trying to make sense of his observations and of his life. Set slightly further off was a third structure, which spent most of its time sealed against the elements. This was for the use of visitors to the island, be they furriers, sealers, whalers or whatever: a few at a time could be accommodated on shore. The senior Wimakov was careful to control access to this part of the island – men might come seeking supplies for their expeditions, but the presence of two blonde-bedecked beauties was a bonus some might seek to exploit. Jorin had made sure his cabin lay between them and temptation, and he had the firepower to fully defend his daughters’ virtue.

By early afternoon the ship had nosed its way into the bay – it was assuredly not a whaler. The three of them stood above the rocks and watched as the anchor plunged home. Shortly after a lighter was lowered and came rocking in to shore. Aboard were two grave, grizzled looking men, and what seemed from a distance to be a young boy, asleep.

Karena and Lenta looked on as their father and one of the men exchanged pleasantries – he was the ship’s captain. The other man – the Mate – half-carried, half-dragged the youngster up the shore: he was not sleeping, but neither was he fully conscious.

“I apologise for the imposition on you and your daughters, Mr Wimakov,” the Captain was saying, “but I felt you of all people might be able to assist young Yuri here.”

“If you know of me,” Jorin replied, “then you also know I have never claimed to be a doctor.”

“Nonetheless, you were a survivor of Bering’s last expedition, and I know you assisted Mr Steller in his works while you were stranded here – that makes you a man of science in fact if not in qualification. Your reputation precedes you.”

Karena bristled. She did not appreciate anyone, especially a stranger, raking up the past her father had dedicated his life to atoning for. She was aware of the Mate perusing her and her sister, all the while pretending to be looking elsewhere. Lenta, wide-eyed and innocent, was taking it all in, especially the semi-conscious boy.

“Very well,” sighed Jorin. “What is the nature of the lad’s complaint?”

“He collapsed three nights ago, while on watch. He’s been in and out of consciousness ever since, getting weaker all the while. I thought it was the scurvy, but now I’m not so sure. And until I’m sure, I’d rather he was kept away from the rest of the crew.”

“I see. Carry him to my cabin, and I’ll take a look. You and your Mate will stay for supper, of course. Karena, it appears you must cater for guests, after all.”

Yuri remembered, albeit vaguely, being placed in a tiny boat; lying back and looking up into an unexpectedly cloudless sky. So when he felt cold water lapping at his face he simply assumed he had been set adrift and was now drowning in the ocean – the thought was not unduly troubling. With an immense physical effort he forced his leaden eyelids open. Above him was the pale, pink-cheeked face of a bona fide angel – she smiled.

“I’m Lenta,” the apparition said, gently dabbing his brow with dampened cloth. Yuri grinned, then drifted off again, content that his first glimpse of Heaven had matched his expectations.

Supper went well, at first.

“So, Mr Wimakov,” said the Captain, “what is your opinion of Yuri’s ailment?”

“Like yourself, I do not believe it is the scurvy - I suspect it is some latent malady that has manifested itself through exposure to bad weather at sea. However, I am also convinced it is nothing that rest cannot cure. I prescribe two weeks on shore.”

“Two weeks?” interjected the Mate. “If we’re to hunt sea otters out here I need a full crew – we can’t afford two weeks.”

The Captain raised a hand, silencing his deputy. Karena watched in mild satisfaction as the man skulked.

“Do you see no other way for the boy?” asked the Captain, pleasantly.

“No, sir: if you keep him on board, he will only become weaker, and you will waste valuable supplies keeping him alive. If, however, you can contrive to leave him here for a fortnight at least, I can guarantee you a fully fit crewmember for the remainder of your expedition.”

“A fortnight is out of the question, Mr Wimakov, but let me make this proposal: we will plan a short cruise among the Commander islands and seek the otters there. That should take about a week. We will return here and stock with provisions for the journey into the open waters further north – this may consume another few days. Can you have Yuri restored to health by then?”

Jorin nodded, then asked, “Do you intend to hunt all the spring?”

“Perhaps into the summer, too,” said the Captain, gravely. “It is a difficult business nowadays: Sea Otters are not as plentiful as they were, and we must pursue them all the more to match demand back home. But you of all people should appreciate that, Mr Wimakov.”

Karena froze. It seemed to her that the Captain was deliberately trying to steer the conversation into areas that couldn’t fail to make her father uncomfortable.

“Yes,” said Jorin, agreeing obliviously. “When I was first here, I sat many hours with Steller on this very shore while he studied the otters at play – no more.”

“That’s what makes it all the more puzzling,” the Captain mused, deliberately.

“What?”

“Well, you were stranded here, along with Steller, for nine months. In that time you lost half a ship’s crew, including the great Bering. Of all places, why come back here? And why bring your daughters to such a lonely spot?”

A heavy silence fell on the gathering. Karena could see her father’s jaw twitching; his eyes darting as he struggled to formulate a sensible answer. On the face of it, it was a perfectly reasonable query: she herself had often wondered. But she saw the pain it brought on in Jorin, the terrible guilt and anguish that filled his solitary hours. She could not bear to see it.

Then, like a bubbling miracle, Lenta came bursting into the cabin, having attended the invalid. The Mate’s eyes swivelled leeringly towards her, but this was a minor point: the spell had been broken.

“He’s asleep,” she gushed, eyes shining. “I think I’ve lowered his temperature.”

“More likely raised it,” the Mate muttered, then flinched as the assemblage fired hostile glances in his direction.

“Well done, my dear,” said Jorin, his relief palpable. “Karena has saved you some supper. I will tend to our guest overnight, and tomorrow we will prepare the spare cabin for his comfort. You see, Captain, Yuri is in the best of hands.”

At dusk the officers returned to their ship. A sea fog had drifted into the bay, and the ship’s lamps were ghostly glimmerings in the swirling white. On unseen shoals seals barked mournfully. Karena and Lenta settled into the bed they had shared since childhood, snuggling close against the creeping chill.

“What do you think of Yuri?” asked Lenta.

“Evidently not as much as you. He’s a good-looking lad, but how you can get so excited about someone who isn’t even awake is beyond me, Little Goose.”

“Don’t call me ‘goose’.’

“You’re not a swan yet, my dearest. Now sleep - your precious Yuri will be there in the morning. Where else can he go?”

*

Yuri’s recovery was accomplished with astonishing swiftness – by the third day he was up and around. Pleased initially to discover he was not dead, he was dismayed to find that his ship had deserted him, albeit temporarily. He then found his island sanitarium was far from a Heaven, but there were definite compensations: the sisterly sirens matched anything he could have imagined. He desired them both, utterly, but it was Lenta, with all her fresh-faced vitality, that truly captivated – not least because she seemed almost as infatuated with him.

It was another fine morning – spring was, by imperceptible degrees, asserting itself over the island. Jorin crunched his way across the pebbles to the main cabin. Karena was, as ever, in full culinary flow.

“Mm, something smells good,” he commented.

“It smells revolting,” countered Karena sourly. “I simply cannot make this seal appetising – can’t we try something else?”

“I saw cormorants over the headland yesterday – maybe I can take young Yuri and bag one. Where is he, by the way?”

“Where do you think?” said Karena, nodding towards the bay. “The lovebirds are out on the beach, as usual.”

“How now, my firstborn, is that jealousy I detect? The boy is barely shaving – of course he would prefer little Lenta’s company. He wouldn’t be worthy of a full-grown woman like you.”

“It’s not that – I just don’t want anything to happen to her.”

“Pish – they are like childhood sweethearts, that’s all. Once his ship has whisked Yuri away, they will fondly forget each other in a matter of days.’

Karena said nothing, but busied herself with the pots. Jorin paused, fidgeting, as if trying to frame difficult words. He laid a hand gently on his daughter’s arm, stilling her toils.

“I know things have been difficult for you ever since your mother died,” he began, not looking at her directly. “You’ve had to take her place in so many ways, and I know you feel Lenta and I don’t appreciate it. But we do – at least I do, perhaps your sister is too young to really appreciate anything. I just thought you should know.”

Karena placed a hand upon her father’s. There was an awkward silence, and Jorin seemed about to say more, but then he shrugged and began trudging back to his cabin.

Down on the beach, Yuri watched mesmerised as Lenta danced among the foaming breakers, wind and spray sculpting her simple dress tight to the fulsome curves of her bosom and backside.

“You’ve got lovely tits,” he said, with a straight face. “I’d really like to feel them sometime.”

The comment brought Lenta to a dead stop, ashen-faced. She stood ankle-deep in the water, open-mouthed, unable to formulate a response. This was in large part because her attention had been hijacked by the obvious bulge in Yuri’s breeches.

“What’s that?” she giggled, nervously pointing.

“That’s my wood,” he answered proudly. “It means I want to fuck you.”

The blanch in Lenta’s cheek held a moment, then rapidly gave way to a vivid blush.

“You shouldn’t talk like that,” she pouted, “it isn’t nice.”

“Nonetheless, ‘tis true.” He flashed his best boyish smile. “You can feel it, if you want.”

Lenta considered, anxiously gnawing a knuckle. She was at once fascinated and repelled by this brazen display. Of their own accord, her legs carried her out of the water to where he stood. Not daring to meet his eyes she put out a trembling hand and gently brushed his crotch. What was in there felt massive, ramrod-straight and faintly pulsing.

“Did you mean that, about wanting to – you know,” she breathed.

“Fuck you? Oh, yeah. Thing is, I couldn’t do you properly, seein’ as you’re a respectable young lady, an’ we’re not married or anything. If you got in the family way it’d be no end of trouble. So if I have you, it’ll need to be through the sailor’s entrance.”

Lenta recoiled.

“Whatever do you mean?”

“Well, you’ve got a fabulous arse,” Yuri commented nonchalantly. “I’m sure I could get in there no bother, if you’d let me.”

“That - that’s revolting,” Lenta squeaked. Her mind was reeling; she felt strangely disembodied from this entire exchange.

“No it’s not – I bet you’d really like it. Lots of the blokes back on ship love it.”

Lenta now felt genuinely faint.

“You mean, they...” she couldn’t articulate the notion.

“That’s right: they fuck each other, up the arse. Well, there’s no women on board, is there? An’ playin’ Wankie’s not enough for some. Mind you, I’m not that taken with blokes, so I wouldn’t do it,” he added.

Lenta had no rejoinder. She could only stare at that monstrous bulge with dry lips and thudding heart, and wonder how it would feel to be violated by such an appendage. More pertinently, she wondered how she could even countenance surrendering to it.

“C’mere,” Yuri grinned.

“What for?” Lenta lowered her eyes, she hoped in a coquettish fashion.

“I want to feel your tits.”

“Suppose I don’t want you to,” she murmured, but she was already stepping towards him, a moth in firelight.

“Of course you want to,” he snorted. “Anyway, it’s only fair – I let you have a feel.”

He put his big, bony hands on her bosom, and squeezed lightly. In spite of herself Lenta gasped and shuddered. Her body seemed to be pushing itself into his grasp, and she was filled with an aching, singing longing she could neither resist nor comprehend. She seemed to be melting into him, helplessly.

“You’ll let me fuck you, won’t you?” he asked, sweetly.

She stared into his eyes, her mouth working soundlessly. Just as she was summoning the breath to answer, a shout like a gunshot echoed across the bay. Yuri’s hands snapped to his sides as they flew apart like repelling magnets. Along the shore was marching the familiar figure of her father, waving cheerily – he hadn’t seen a thing.

*

That afternoon, Jorin led Yuri on a hunting expedition. They were armed with driftwood scraps crudely shaped into clubs. Skirting the shoreline, they glimpsed flocks of eider ducks like shimmering snowstorms far out to sea; while the glossy backs of fur seals twirled elusively on the tide. Yuri thought of his ship, out there somewhere in pursuit of otters, and for a nanosecond was distracted from thoughts of Lenta’s body and his all-consuming desire to penetrate it by any means possible.

They clambered up on dark rocks slicked with spray and clinging seaweed. Atop the outcrop a group of birds were clumsily perched. They were large, with stout longish necks and broad webbed feet. Their streamlined heads, bedecked with sparse light feathers that resembled long grey whiskers, tapered into a vicious-looking, narrow bill. Their dark plumage seemed at first dank and oily, but as they moved it sheened faintly in iridescent greens and purples. But the wings were what caught Yuri’s eye: they seemed disproportionately, almost ludicrously small; especially when the birds sat with them comically extended, as if to dry them on the breeze.

“They look like cormorants,” Yuri muttered.

“Not just any old cormorants,” Jorin corrected. “These are Spectacled Cormorants – see the white rings around the eyes? Steller named them, of course.”

“Steller? Who’s Steller?”

“Never mind. Let’s just get one secured, and we can head back – it’ll be easier to carry between us.”

They approached the birds, which clacked warily but made no attempt to flee. Nor, with their great size and feeble wings, did they appear capable of doing so.

“God, they stink,” Yuri grumbled. “D’you really eat them?”

“They’re fine, if you cook them properly. Karena does it in the native fashion: stick it in a clay pot, feathers and all, and bake in a fire pit – delicious. Now, do you want to do the honours?”

Yuri demurred – he was already bored with the enterprise, and anxious to get back to Lenta. Jorin stepped close to a bird, which stared uncomprehendingly up at him as he raised his club. One precise blow to the narrow skull, and the deed was done. There was a brief commotion of head-bobbing and wing flapping from the other birds, but they still wouldn’t desert. Yuri could not prevent himself letting out a startled guffaw.

“Is that all you have to do?” he gaped.

“They’ve no fear of humans,” replied Jorin sagely. “In fact, having been on this island so long, they’ve no fear of anything. They’re utterly trusting, which is not good for them.”

Jorin bent to pick up his fresh carcass. Before he quite knew what was happening, Yuri had tripped past him and plunged into the middle of the flock. With maniacal glee he struck out left and right, cracking heads and breaking wings. Utterly disoriented, the birds milled aimlessly until reduced to bloodied smears upon the rock. Jorin roughly grabbed Yuri’s arm and hauled him back.

“What in God’s name do you think you’re doing?” he snarled.

Yuri, panting with the sudden exertion, seemed genuinely perplexed.

“I was only havin’ a bit of fun with these stupid birds – where’s the harm?”

“The harm is that one bird will feed the four of us for a couple of days, so one birds is all we need. If you just go about recklessly killing things, especially at this time of year, we’ll have no supplies for next winter. It’s the sort of stupidity that has your Captain chasing otters all over the Pacific ‘cause he’s taken too many in previous years. Steller warned about this, but nobody listened.”

“Who the bloody hell’s this Steller?” Yuri barked. “Why d’you keep going on about him?”

Jorin turned suddenly pale. He relinquished his grip on the boy.

“He’s... someone I knew, a long time ago. I don’t really like to talk about it.”

They gathered up Jorin’s bird, leaving the others to the sea and scavengers. Their passage back was conducted in an awkward silence, until Jorin happened to espy a familiar, sinuous movement among the waves.

“Look there,” he called out, “Sea Cows!”

Yuri still had vague memories of that strange night on board ship, the night he’d fallen ill, so the notion of these creatures filled him with an embarrassment-tinged apathy. Nonetheless, he looked, and even he was impressed by what unfurled before them.

It was a herd – there was no other word for it. Perhaps twenty individuals, of varying ages and undoubtedly mixed sexes, were ploughing with monstrous delicacy in towards the shoreline. Yuri realised now that the one he had seen that night was far from mature – the adults in this group were huge, easily twice the length of the rowboat that had ferried him ashore. Their rolls of grey blubber merged with the waves, making them seem even longer. Purposefully, the group fanned along a line of low-lying, weed-draped rocks, and began to graze. Snuffling and snorting like hogs they razored off the clinging green with their wide, blunt muzzles. Where the weed proved stubborn, they planed it free with clumsy scraping of their wing-like flippers. Within a few minutes the rocks had been thoroughly denuded, and the group began to retreat out to sea. In open water they lost all clumsiness, undulating with an easy grace that belied their massive ugliness.

“Fascinating creatures,” Jorin marvelled. “It’s just a shame he chose to call them ‘Sea Cows’ – seems rather inadequate for such impressive animals.”

Yuri fixed him with a stare.

“You’re talking about Steller again, aren’t you?”

Jorin blanched, then half-smiled ruefully.

“I’m going to have to tell you, aren’t I?”

“I think you want to tell me,” said Yuri, surprising himself with the insight. “That’s why you keep dropping hints; why you asked me out here this afternoon. Isn’t that right, Mr Wimakov?”

“Yes, I suppose it is. But it’s too late now – we have to get back to the girls. We’ll talk later, Yuri, I promise. Later, I’ll tell you the whole sad story.”

*

Evening. The Sun was setting into the bay, turning the sky pink and the water flaming orange. Bellies full of the succulent flesh of the cormorant, Jorin and Yuri walked the ebbing tide line in a stiff silence. Cheated again of a possible tryst with Lenta, Yuri was regretting his decision to accompany the old man. His ship would be returning in a few days, and he fully intended to have his way with the buxom blonde several times before that happened. And then Jorin suddenly spoke.

“Tell me a secret, Yuri.”

“What sort of secret?”

“Doesn’t matter – anything at all. I’d just like to feel I know something private about you, before I tell all there is to know about me.”

“Alright, well: you’ll think I’m really stupid, but you know them Sea Cows? I saw one, from the ship, a few nights back. I s’pose I was dreamin’ of girls as usual, an’ in the moonlight – well, I thought it was a mermaid.”

“Ha!” Jorin ejaculated. “That’s good, Yuri, very good. If it makes you feel better, you’re not the only one to make that mistake.”

He stooped, plucked a stone from the beach, and skimmed it hard across the gently lapping water.

“I first came here twenty-three years ago,” he began. “When I was young and reckless like you, I volunteered as a deckhand on Bering’s last expedition. Bering was an old man by then, but he’d been charged by the Tsar to determine the shortest route between Russia and America. We set off from Petrapavlosk in June 1741, in two ships, the St Peter and the St Paul; but early on there was a storm and we were separated. Well, to cut a long story short, by mid-July Bering found the coast of what they now call Alaska. We stayed less than a day before Bering decided to head back to Kamchatka. But then it all went wrong – great storms slowed our progress, and the Arctic Winter was upon us. Many of the crew started going down with scurvy, and things quickly became desperate. We decided to make for an island – this island – and ride out the winter, but we were almost shipwrecked on our arrival. The few of us still in stout health went ashore, and built shelters. Then we fetched the sick, but many were too far gone and died almost immediately – we had to bury them on the island, fighting off scavengers as we did so.”

The sunset, purple and magnificent, reflected shimmering in Jorin’s moistening eyes.

“Things got worse: in November another storm destroyed the St Peter, and now we were stranded. It was too much for Bering – he declined and died not long after. Things seemed hopeless, and even I was sickening by now. But we were saved, not by a miracle, but by a man. He was Georg Steller – a German by birth – and he was the expedition’s naturalist. He found us fresh water, and food; had just enough medical knowledge to nurse us through. We grew stronger, and were able to hunt for fresh meat. We took otters, seals, cormorants, and later the Sea Cows. Steller was a marvel – he did his fair share of tasks, but still found time to study the creatures of this island, for Nature was his consuming passion. I became, I suppose, a disciple of sorts, helping to record his observations. It was remarkable – it the midst of all that death, destruction and despair, he showed us what an idyll this place could be, if you only saw it in the proper light.

“We were stranded on this island for over a year. When the weather improved, we salvaged what we could of the St Peter, and fashioned a new boat from her timbers. We made it back to Petrapavlosk on 25th August 1742 – forty-two of us from an original crew of seventy-eight. We should have been heroes, but in truth everyone had forgotten about us. Things were different: we were different. None of us settled very well – Steller himself moped about, got into trouble with the authorities, and died wandering across Siberia. I defied the odds, found a wife, and settled down. We had our beautiful daughters, and I thought I’d left this place behind me. But then my wife – my beautiful Katya – took a fever three years ago, and died.

“My world collapsed, and I sank into the deepest funk imaginable. Karena and Lenta could not console me, and I just stayed in my room and stared, trying to find some direction, some meaning in what had happened. And then one day it dawned on me what I must do – I had to come back here. I had to honour Steller’s memory, by studying the creatures he had discovered, by cherishing this place he had loved. I suppose I’d always felt guilty that I’d outlived him, and so many of the others – I had to make it up. Can you understand?”

Yuri said nothing, mainly because he had lost interest several minutes before, and resumed dreaming of Lenta. It occurred to him that he could really do with a wank. Night had fallen on the foaming breakers.

“Well anyway, that’s the story,” said Jorin wearily. He began trudging up towards the rocks, and after a short interval Yuri followed. By the cabins they said goodnight, and retired to their respective abodes. Yuri glanced towards the women’s hut, and saw a pale light glowing within. He thought of all that female flesh constrained in one small bed, and gave himself an enormous hard-on. The urge to wank became unbearably overwhelming.

Within those wooden walls, the girls were having a difficult night. Lenta’s being stilled hummed in ways she didn’t fully understand, making sleep impossible. She sighed and jiffled, vividly aware of her body’s extremities and where they contacted blankets and mattress. She was especially perturbed when her body contacted Karena’s, no matter how fleetingly – this had never bothered her before.

“For God’s sake, what’s the matter with you?” Karena finally hissed, deep in the darkness.

“I can’t sleep,” Lenta replied feebly. “I keep thinking about him. D o you think it’s love?”

“More likely cabin fever. What’s he done now?”

“That’s just it – he hasn’t done anything. We haven’t even kissed, but – he tells me things, things that make me feel so strange. He wants me, Karena, and... I think I want him, too.”

Karena’s hand reached across under the blankets and took her own, squeezing it firmly.

“Be careful, Little Goose – whatever you think he is, he’s just a sailor boy out for what he can get, and you’re just another girl in another port. Let him take you too deep, and you’ll drown.”

Lenta snatched her hand away.

“You’re just jealous ‘cause no man’s ever wanted you like that. You don’t know what it feels like to be in love – you want to become an old maid, and you want me to be the same. Well I ‘m not going to be, and if Yuri wants me, maybe I’ll let him have me just so I don’t turn out like you.’”

There was a leaden silence, then Lenta felt Karena turn away from her, and bury herself in the covers. The bed quivered faintly, and it struck her that Karena was crying. She felt wretched, knowing she had gone too far. She wanted desperately to reach out and cuddle her sister, make everything all right again. But she did not.

*

Yuri emerged from warm, wet, vaguely erotic dreams. His waking was of that rapid, absolute sort that precludes going back to sleep. Grey light glazed the third cabin’s tiny window, indicating pre-dawn. After lying for a few abstracted moments, he got up and walked down towards the beach. The other cabins were dark and silent, even the girls’, which was unusual – Karena was a notoriously early riser.

As he reached the shore, he saw a familiar figure sat just above the gently booming tide line. For some reason, Jorin’s presence did not especially surprise him, nor did the man seem in the slightest bit disconcerted by his arrival.

“Can’t sleep?” asked Jorin pleasantly. Yuri shrugged, and settled beside. There was a stark freshness to the morning air that hinted winter had not fully relinquished its grip.

“Look out there,” indicated Jorin.

Out in the bay, two massive, undulating shapes showed darkly atop the brittle pewter waves.

“Sea Cows,” sighed Yuri. “So what? Seen ‘em yesterday.”

“They’re about to mate,” Jorin said, and there was a strange timbre to his voice. “See how the female keeps turning her back on the male? She’s just like a woman, teasing and taunting him, stoking his ardour until it drives him insane.”

Curiosity piqued, Yuri sat up and watched the spectacle keenly. Their movements had that intrinsic delicacy pertaining to all massive things – it was like watching two islets bump slowly together on the tide. It may have been an illusion, but the female appeared more slender and elongate than her suitor. She flexed and twisted with innate skill, keeping her back to him; fending off his operatic advances and making him snort and bellow in frustration. Once, caroming mightily off her grey resistance, he rolled over, and the scale of his desire was momentarily visible to the world in all its immense glory. As if in competition, Yuri felt a familiar stirring in his breeches.

It went on for some time, until at last the female seemed to tire, or perhaps she too was consumed by an ardour of her own. She rolled decisively upon her back, vast bosom exposed, tail flicking away to reveal a pouting genital slit. Immediately the male was upon her, ululating his triumph as consummation was achieved amid much froth and saltwater surge.

“Isn’t that the most arousing thing you’ve ever seen?” whispered Jorin.

Yuri could hardly demur – he now had a morning glory like a ship’s mainmast.

“When you were on the St Peter,” he began cautiously, “did you ever play Wankie

“We had different names for it back then,” replied Jorin sagely, “but I know what you mean.” He reached down and gently patted the bulge in the boy’s groin. “Seems to me you’re in urgent need of relief, Son.”

Jorin opened Yuri’s breeches at the crotch, and his erection sprang free – a pale, curving monolith in the ripening dawn. He clenched a fist around the pulsing shaft and began to pump with steady, measured rhythm. Yuri leaned back, closed his eyes and murmured in satisfaction.

“What are you dreaming of, young Yuri?” asked Jorin pleasantly.

“Your daughter, sir – your gorgeous, luscious Lenta.” His voice quavered with building excitement.

“And what are your intentions towards her?”

The game of Wankie had only two rules: first, one did not stop until your shipmate achieved orgasm; second, all fantasies were to be truthfully and completely recounted, regardless of content.

“I want to fuck her,” breathed Yuri. “I want to fuck her front and back, and in her mouth too. I want to fuck her until she can’t stand it anymore, and begs me to stop.’

“Are you fucking her right now?” Jorin’s pumping became harder, faster.

“I’ve got my cock wedged between her beautiful tits. I’m going to come off all over her neck, her face, her – ah...” he broke off suddenly, and Yuri felt the power of the final surge through his locked fingers. Gobs of off-white jelly fizzed into the air, then fell like stranded jellyfish onto the sand. As Yuri’s trembling subsided, so did his stiffness, and the limp appendage slipped from Jorin’s fingers.

Yuri giggled in satisfaction, then sat up briskly.

“Your turn,” he grinned, and grabbed clumsily at Jorin’s belt. The older man resisted.

“But that’s not fair,” Yuri seemed astonished and genuinely affronted. “You can’t pull me off, and not let me do the same to you.”

“My wife is dead,” protested Jorin. “I don’t have those kinds of feelings any more.”

“You don’t have to dream about your wife. You can dream about any woman you desire, real or imagined. You can dream about a man, if you want – I won’t mind.”

Jorin shook his head. “I’ll never desire anyone but her.”

“Then let me bring her back,” said Yuri softly, kindly, “if only for a while. Close your eyes.”

Gently he freed Jorin’s portly, semi-erect penis. A few, light strokes with his fingertips, and it began to harden. Jorin closed his eyes, and shivered.

“Think of her, on the bed,” Yuri whispered. “She’s naked, her legs are open – she’s desperate for you.”

Jorin groaned. His imagination flashed back to their tiny room in Petrapavlovsk, and there was Katya in all her glory. Her russet-blonde curls spilled madly about her shoulders, down onto her voluptuous breasts. Her – wait, that was wrong: Katya’s hair was auburn, and straight; her breasts were not especially large. Jorin tried to focus, but his late wife’s features blurred and shimmered, continuously supplanted by another form he did not consciously recognise. Suppressed excitement welled within him, like dark flotsam coming to the surface.

Yuri interlaced his eight fingers around Jorin’s shaft, leaving his thumbs free to massage the foreskin in a way guaranteed to please.

“She’s ready for you now,” he said, raising his voice above Jorin’s ragged breathing. “You’re on top of her, in her arms – all you have to do is slide in.”

He lowered his head, wet his lips, and slowly drew the salty bulb of Jorin’s glans between them. This was a trick he reserved for only the most special occasions.

Jorin gave a throaty, bestial moan. In his mind’s eye it was really happening: the woman was beneath him, and he was pushing into her warm, wet sanctuary. Her bosom heaved; her blonde hair flailed as she cried his name in ecstasy. And he was shouting her name, too. Her name was not Katya. Her name was:-

“Karena, my Karena,” he growled, pumping wildly and helplessly. Yuri kept his head still, letting the flow spatter forcefully against his palate. When the tremors eased he skilfully swirled his tongue and spat the wad of ejaculate dead-centre into a nearby rock pool. Knowingly he looked down at Jorin’s flushed and guilty face.

“My ship will come back soon,” he said calmly. “If we’re going to get what we want, we have to do it today.”

*

Breakfast was late, and it was a tense, silent affair. Karena was sullen; Lenta, as ever, gazed wetly at her paramour like an eager puppy; Jorin struggled to affect nonchalance. Only Yuri seemed relaxed: he had the air of a child on Christmas morning.

“Karena,” began Jorin awkwardly, “I wonder if you’d care to assist me today – I am writing up my journals, and I think some proofreading is required.” He was trying to sound casual, but came across like an intimidated schoolmaster.

“Very well.” Karena shrugged, oblivious. “What about lunch?”

“Lunch can wait,” Jorin replied, a little too snappily. “You spend too much time over the skillets, anyway. Besides, Yuri wants to see some more of the island before he has to leave. I thought Lenta could show him some of the other bays. Would you like that, Little Swan?”

Lenta beamed, and Yuri was all confident smiles. Karena glanced sourly at both of them, and then began to clear the table.

The morning filled out clear, but brisk. A stiff wind knifed from the ocean, eddying the sand and rattling the cabin roofs. From his window Jorin watched two figures recede into the distance – without Yuri, he wondered if his nerve would fail him. Behind him, his beautiful elder daughter sat hunched at the writing table, intently perusing his documents. He turned and fidgeted; pointlessly shuffled some papers; then made his move.

“Karena,” he said, “are you happy here?”

“I suppose,” she murmured, distractedly. “Sometimes I miss the people we knew in Kamchatka. But there is a grandeur about this place – I can see why you decided to come back here.”

“Don’t you think having Yuri here has made us seem more like a proper family – more like how we were?”

Karena scowled.

“I know you like that boy, but I don’t trust him. I’ve told Lenta to be careful around him, though if that silly goose’ll listen is another matter.”

Jorin put a hand on her shoulder, and squeezed a little harder than he intended. Karena stopped reading.

“Karena, what I said before, about – well, about you replacing my wife. It’s true, you’ve done it admirably. But there’s one more thing that I require of you.”

He coaxed her to her feet, gently turning her so they faced each other. She regarded him with eyes of puzzled cobalt, her mouth set in an uncomprehending ellipse. Hoping he was not visibly sweating, Jorin reached across and began unfastening the stays of her bodice. He worked frantically in a silent void, not daring to meet his mute daughter’s eyes. Karena stood stock-still, neither resisting nor acquiescing – she appeared to have ceased breathing. The wind whistled distantly and impotently outside.

With trembling fingers Jorin exposed Karena’s magnificent breasts, and sighed. They hung level with her elbows, jutting forward in sweeping curves like bow waves from twin barges; broad nipples of pale bronze standing firm and slightly uplifted. As he reached to touch them Jorin was aware of Karena’s mouth working, but no sound came forth. Not until he contacted her fulsome flesh did she speak.

“No,” she said, faintly but firmly.

Jorin knew it was now or never. He plunged his face into her cleavage, as though trying to lose himself amidst the pliant bosom. Her hands grabbed the side of his head and hurled him away as though he were a heavy rock. Nerve faltering, he took another step towards her – the back of her hand flashed in a precise arc and caught his cheek a stinging blow. Shoulders sagging, he relented. Karena’s breasts were heaving from the exertion, and colour rose vivid in her cheek.

“I am going back to my cabin,” she said evenly. “This did not happen.”

Covering herself, she exited clumsily, slamming the door behind her. Jorin stood a moment, listening to the wind and feeling nothing. Then he sat down as his table, put his head in his hands, and began to weep.

Elsewhere, at much the same time, Yuri and Lenta strode arm-in-arm along a sheltered stretch of shoreline. Out to sea dozens of seals disported, twisting and bobbing in sudden flashes of glossy black.

“I spoke to your father this morning,” said Yuri, portentously.

Lenta’s heart skipped several beats. She gasped.

“You mean – you asked if you could marry me?”

“No, stupid – I told him how badly I wanted to fuck you. He said it was alright by him.”

Lenta came to a dead stop, and her face drained of all colour.

“He said that?”

“Uh-huh, and this here’s as good a place as any, so you just hitch up your petticoat and we’ll get to it. I’ll do you up the arse now, an’ then maybe I’ll do you properly later – I still haven’t decided.”

Forcefully, though without obvious violence, he pushed her down to the sand, and the metallic glittering eye of the great Pacific whirled before her as he rolled her onto her front. Damp flecks of grit adhered to her chin as he fumbled with her petticoat, gathering up its folds to expose her stocky, powerful thighs and the sumptuous pale curve of her backside. She perceived him opening his breeches, and then his erection brushed the narrow cleft of her buttocks – it felt huge and hard. She quailed, and slithered out from under him so fast he dropped into the sand like a felled tree, leaving an impression.

“I’m sorry,” she gabbled, “I don’t think I want to, just now. I think I ought to be getting back.”

She was on her feet, her hands working frantically against each other – one trying to pull down her petticoat to cover herself, the other lifting it to enable her to run. Yuri spat the grit from his mouth, rose leisurely, and after giving her perhaps fifteen yards set off in pursuit. He caught the girl in seconds, and sent her tumbling with genuine venom. As she sprawled on her back he sat across her hips, pinning her.

“All right,” he panted, “if you won’t play nice, I’ll just have to make it nasty. I didn’t really want to hurt you, but if that’s what it takes to make you behave...”

He began tearing wildly at Lenta’s garments. Her outstretched hands clawed instinctively in the moist aggregate, and her fingers closed about a decent-sized pebble. She flicked her elbow and struck Yuri’s temple at point-blank range. His hands went to his head and he howled in anguish, falling sideways. Kicking him away as though casting off a mooring rope, she scrabbled to her feet and fled. She permitted herself one backward glance – Yuri was lying on the beach with blood oozing between his fingers – then turned her face to the wind and sprinted for all she was worth.

Karena, having determined she would not cry, was obsessively washing her face with cold water when she heard the rapid-fire crunch of running feet across the rocks. Lenta burst into the cabin, looking like she had just emerged from a hurricane.

“Whatever happened to your clothes?” asked Karena, her voice distant.

Lenta did not answer. She blundered aimlessly about a moment, then collapsed onto the bed, sobbing convulsively. Distracted as she was, Karena’s maternal instincts engaged automatically – it occurred to her that rum might be what Lenta required in the first instance; then she remembered the bottle was kept in Jorin’s cabin. She settled uncertainly beside her sister, slipping a comforting arm around her shoulder.

“Hush, Little Goose,” she whispered. “You’re safe now. Did Yuri do something untoward?”

Lenta nodded dismally. Her head was in her hands, shining rivers of tears and mucus flowing across her wrists.

“He wouldn’t let me alone,” she said haltingly. “So I took a stone, and oh, God, Karena, I think I might have killed him.”

Some instinct drew Karena to her feet, and she crossed to the window just in time to see Yuri stagger over the rocks. His head was at a strange angle, his hand pressed to his brow.

“He looks very much alive to me,” she commented drily, and then her face suddenly darkened: Yuri was headed for Jorin’s cabin. Moving quickly, Karena bolted their door, and slid the storm shutters closed. Lenta watched uncomprehendingly – tears made her eyes seem even more luminous than usual.

“What are you doing?” she asked tremulously.

“Just a precaution,” Karena replied briskly, trying not to sound nervous. “Lie down, try to get some rest. I’ll pour you some oil – it’ll make you feel better.”

After fifteen minutes, there was a rapping on the door.

“Yes?” called Karena, as calmly as possible. She motioned to Lenta to remain where she was.

“Ah, it’s me,” began Jorin, with difficulty. “Yuri’s here – he tells me there’s been a bit of a misunderstanding. I gather Lenta is a tad upset.”

“You could say that,” Karena shot back. “In fact, you could say we’re both a little disturbed just now.”

“Yes, I can imagine you would be. What I want to say is, well, we’d like to make it up to you. If you’d both care to come to my cabin, this can all be settled in a civilised way.”

“No, Papa - I think it would be best if you just left us alone for the time being. Perhaps we can discuss this again tomorrow.”

“Well, if that’s how you feel.”

His voice died away, as if he’d turned to depart. Then suddenly it was loud again.

“Karena?”

“Yes?”

“What do we do about supper?”

“You’ll just have to improvise. I think Yuri’s shipmates left him some sailor’s tack – you can wash it down with rum.”

Beyond the door there was a muted, muttered consultation, and then the voices faded, this time for good. Karena exhaled violently, sagging against a shutter. Then she put her hands to her face and sobbed uncontrollably. Bewildered, Lenta left the bed and snuggled into her: comforted turned comforter. In the shuttered semi-darkness they held each other, grateful for the human warmth.

Later, over cups of distilled Sea Cow fat – one of the island’s key elixirs – they discussed their situation. Lenta’s innate volubility had begun to displace her anxiety, at least to the extent she was asking lots of questions.

“I think our father may have had some sort of breakdown,” was Karena’s answer to one, after she had provided a carefully edited account of her own predicament.

“Do you think it has anything to do with Yuri?”

“Possibly. I know Papa always regretted Mother not giving him a son, and perhaps it felt like a dream come true when that boy was just – presented to him. I think he intended to teach Yuri about this place, in the same way Steller taught him. I doubt Yuri would appreciate it.”

“He’s a beast,” spat Lenta. “To think – I thought I loved him...” She pulled herself back from the brink of further tears.

“Best not to dwell on it, Little Goose.”

They sat a while in silence. Then Lenta looked up sharply, with beautiful moist blue eyes.

“Karena, what are we going to do?”

“We stay here. If necessary, we stay here until that damned ship returns to the island. The water barrel is full, and we still have plenty of winter supplies left. There’s no need for us to go out, and they can’t get in...”

She broke off abruptly. A chilling thought had struck her, and Lenta realised.

“What?”

“It’s nothing,” said Karena, unconvincingly. “Come now, we’d better get to bed – perhaps things will be better in the morning.”

Long hours dragged by. Darkness fell unnoticed as they lay in anxious silence, alert for the slightest sound outside, but hearing only the lulling hiss of the distant tide. The wind had dropped, and the air inside the sealed cabin was already taking on a musty tinge. Sleep proved impossible in the bed’s smothering confines, and at length Karena threw back the heavy covers. Unexpectedly, Lenta’s arms snapped instantly around her shoulders, and her face nuzzled into her neck.

“Don’t leave me,” she mewled.

“I’m not going to leave you,” Karena replied, tenderly patting her sibling’s arm. “It’s just too damned close, is all.”

She felt the arms encircle her ever more tightly; something tender and wet touched her cheek.

“I love cuddling you,” Lenta whispered. “You’re so warm and soft.”

“I thought I was an old maid?”

“I didn’t mean that – you know I didn’t. I was just lashing out ‘cause I didn’t want you to be right. But you were right, Karena – you’re always right. I couldn’t bear the thought that all Yuri said about me being beautiful was a lie.”

“He wasn’t lying, not about that – you are beautiful, Lenta.”

“Not as beautiful as you. You’re the prettiest -that’s why you’re Papa’s favourite.”

Karena shivered faintly, not from cold.

“Let’s not talk about it any more. It must be getting late – try to get some sleep, Little Swan.”

She turned her head, and kissed her sister on the lips. To her surprise, Lenta kissed back. Their lips brushed twice, three times, then seemed to bond of their own accord in a long, salt-sweet fusion. Karena’s arms now held onto Lenta as fiercely as Lenta held her, and an unearthly wave of shuddering emotion passed through her being. It was only the fear of imminent suffocation that caused her to pull her mouth away. Though Lenta’s face was mere inches from her own she could not see it, but she could hear the harried breathing and rapid heartbeat mirroring her own.

“Lenta,” she said thickly, “we shouldn’t.”

“You said I was a swan,” Lenta’s sweetwater sibilance dripped at her ear. “I couldn’t believe it until you said it. Am I really a swan?”

“Of course you are,” said Karena, and tenderness like a sea swell rose within her. “A beautiful, fabulous swan.”

Despite herself, she kissed Lenta again, just to taste her lips, which were like and unlike every pleasant flavour she’d known since childhood. This time she disengaged with an effort.

“I want to be your swan,” said Lenta. Her voice was clear and definite, like a child’s. “I love you, Karena.”

Their next kiss was long and slow, sweet saliva ebbing between them, saying nothing yet saying everything. They were trembling now: not so much from fear that they were crossing an unknown threshold; more from anticipation of what that crossing might bring.

“Do you still feel hot?” Lenta’s voice seemed to come from miles away, across the ocean.

“Hotter than ever,” Karena sighed. Her heart was banging against her breastbone.

“Maybe you should take your nightdress off.”

“Only if you take yours off, too.”

“Do you want me to?”

There was a silence so thick you could carve it into rashers. Karena tried to swallow; found she was unable.

“Yes,” she said at last, faint but distinct.