I Belong To the Sea

His lifeless body slumped over a giant block of wood. Undulating waves roiled beneath him. The overcast sky bled color from the body and the wood beneath underneath, twisting them as dead grey leaves. His arms were covered in small, fine cuts like razor nicks, still fresh with blood.


In days gone by, Marco was a promising musician and poet in a town near the sea, set back from a series of sharp cliffs on the eastern Mediterranean Coast. Balzi Rossi, back then, before the outsiders came in and knocked up the beaches, was just a series of towns and modest but sprawling coastal villas nestled among the lush hills. Marco had one such Villa to himself, set out on a cliff. The artist's father still lived in town and conducted his business as any gentleman might. 

Marco had a sizable inheritance, one that kept him happy and fed and endowed him with a trusting and magnanimous soul. Some nights, he left his beloved home to wander the bars and festivals with his instrument pointed out toward anyone who would listen. Marco's greatest strength was also his weakness: his empathy for others, and his need to show them they were special. It is for this, if this alone, that Marco had many, many friends, but his life often seemed at odds with that. His patience for others ebbed and flowed; when he wasn't feeding off others' company, he was almost actively shunning it. 

On his worst days, he wandered the cliffs near his villa, gazed down at the beaches, and screamed at the heavens. He often thought jumping was the only escape. To stop himself, he'd run to a nearby Cypress and climb it. He laid there for the rest of the day, breathing steadily and muttering to himself. The next day, voice hoarse from screaming, he'd gather in the town square with some wine and friends and play a song about the day he almost hurled himself over the side and drowned.

He played light with this idea of his own demise, but his friends - among the local shop owners and his fellow musicians - couldn't see the humor. They worried about him. There were whispers of a woman who swept into town once and broke his heart but as far as the town knew, the wayward poet's only true muse was his Sanctuary, Villa Bizzoso.

Villa Bizzoso was a series of small garden courtyards led by an austere structure in the center. Few travelers made it in, but those who did reveled in its good humor. Loud noises were often heard from behind the walls of the Villa during Festival Weeks and Religious observances, which angered the town. Before, long, however, many of the same angered citizens found their way to Bizzoso. For a time, it was the place to be. 

Marco preferred candlelight, but flooded the villa interior with light when company came, making sure no one was without drink and no more than a few moments of time passed without music. The safety and joy he felt when hosting served as counterpoint to his solitary rituals. When alone and when wild storms whipped up outside, he lay on the floor of his Villa and listened to to the tapping of rain and the wind's roar. He composed music all hours of the night in a small, humble nook at one edge of his abode, with the help of a single light.

One Summer, after a long illness, Marco's father passed on. The town righted itself after a short time, but Marco lost his moorings in the months that followed the funeral. He unhooked himself from the town square and blew about the coast. He stopped inviting people over. He holed himself up in his villa, posting guards at all hours to turn away visitors.

Some of his guards took their jobs far too seriously and, on a couple occasions, accosted the local courier and accused him of trespassing. After this, no deliveries came, and all supplied had to be purchased by the guards and hauled back to the property.

Over Christmastime the following year, Marco dressed his guards up like ostentatious nutcrackers, complete with face paint and tall hats. After this, all refused to work for him and travelers were warned to stay away.

By this time, Marco was far from the generous troubadour they'd known in the square. He still possessed the out-sized personality, but other parts of him had atrophied. He'd developed into a rather paranoid and prickly soul, taking dramatic offense at innocuous statements, engaging in long soliloquies for hours on end, slowly spilling the townspeople out of his domicile. Once they filtered out, the dregs were left lolling over the sides of his railings, tromping about in the gardens, climbing up onto his roof, burrowing through his stores of wine and stuffing valuables in their bags.

It was among those dregs that Marco remade the acquaintance of one Signore Ladri, a short, oily gold broker with a thin mustache. Ladri and Marco were childhood friends once. They had little in common - Ladri had little patience for art or music - but they both had a talent for making the other feel special. Soon, Ladri's little wooden cart could be seen parked in the dusty square near the villa almost every day.

Whenever anyone from town came to visit Marco, they saw the wooden cart, but its driver was never anywhere to be found inside the Villa Bizzoso. Instead, they found their old poet friend, alone, bottle in hand, gazing out the back window at the sea, muttering to himself. 

Months passed and it seemed that the local artist and the oily gold broker were not friends but signatories. Weird devices and statues and signs began appearing around the villa. It took a whole week for one section of fence to push out onto the cliff, but in just a single day it seems a hut was erected. It was ramshackle and poorly designed. Many assumed it was for Marco's new guest, but in fact, it was for Marco.

The Signore, it appeared, had taken over the main house. He laid gold bricks around the outside as a deterrent from evil spirits. Marco drove the old wooden cart into town, buying building supplies and hay for Ladri's horses. Some at the bar where Marco formerly held court joked that their old friend had become a lap dog for this mysterious houseguest.

By the following year, Villa Bizzoso was nigh unrecognizable. Guards surrounded the property. The villa now spilled out onto the cliff. This was not erosion, but a monstrous construction project. The main building jutted out across the field and out onto the cliff, held up by supports. Strange glass tubes poked from the roof, ostensibly to collect rainwater, but nobody knew for sure. Huge exotic trees appeared around the Villa and other trees, once staples of the property, disappeared.

As for Marco, the last time anyone saw him in town, he and the Signore were spotted at the local Courthouse, signing a pile of old documents. 

One of his old musician friends told the story that same day. 

"I tried to speak with him but he spat out a vile insult, shook his head violently, and refused to say another word! This other man, this Ladri fellow, he seemed to be instructing our old Marco on something, as a teacher to a pupil. I wasn't close enough to hear their entire conversation but Ladri was on about Marco losing the Villa unless he signed, and how this was the only way to save it, and how the transfer of finances was temporary. I didn't catch any more. They left right after the last document was signed. I tell you, this is not Marco! Our old friend looked like a walking corpse and just went along with everything!"

The others shook their heads, looking sad, and no one bothered to pay their old friend a visit. They were afraid, perhaps, of being spat on, or worse, attacked by the guards. They were also deathly afraid of this oily snake and the odd rumor that he carried multiple knives with him and was a renowned blade expert.

Had any of them traveled to the cliff side villa on that overcast day, they might have witnessed the moment that Marco woke up and realized his home was no longer his. Anyone paying attention might have noticed that as the influence of friends and loved ones grew scarce in Marco's life, the influence of the gold broker grew. Marco himself realized this the day he woke, too late, to a pile of hastily signed court documents. In his rage, he wrested violently with his front door, and alarmingly, tore it from its hinges and threw it to the floor.

His 'savior,' the old Signore, took full advantage, you see. In the space of a year, he accomplished the feat of convincing Marco that the Villa had a value problem that could be fixed with a value added solution that only he, Signore Ladri, could provide. Marco subsequently signed assets over to Ladri, one by one, until there was nothing left. Marco saw this after it was too late, and he dragged the door through the gardens that were once his, past the gate that was once his, past stumps that belonged to trees that were once his. He railed and shook his fists at the small, smiling man with the mustache who peered at him through thick glasses and chortled.

"Damn you, Signore Ladri!" he screamed. "Come out here and fight me, you filthy rat!" Marco stood on the door and screamed obscenities at his old villa for hours on end.

The gold broker responded by stepping past the threshold of his new, ostentatious Villa. He brushed past the guards and approached Marco. In a quick motion, he pulled two small, sharp knives from his boots. Marco held his bare arms up to block the knives, but they sliced through his skin again and again, like tiny claws, until thick rivulets of blood ran down his pant legs and onto the door. The Great Signore Ladri of the newly christened Villa Ladri licked his lips and smiled contentedly like a cat after a meal. He admired his handy work for another moment, then stepped back through the threshold, barring the gate as he went.

Marco stood stunned. The pain started. He grabbed the door and dragged it behind him across the field toward the cliffs. It took some doing, but he managed to kick it over the side. It hit some thick roots going down and splintered in two, then smashed into the grey water below. Marco looked around for a reason to dissuade him from jumping, but all the old Cypress trees he once clung to in his youth had been ripped from the soil to make way for Villa Ladri's excesses. There was no turning back. He jumped.

The water caught him strong and cold, dipped him down five meters, enough time for him to kick up and grab hold of something sturdy. It was half a door. Bless the light, dry wood of his old place! It floated beautifully. He hoisted his torso aboard and slumped down. Salt spray stung his eyes. The numbness in his arms gave way to searing pain. He tried to relax and concentrate on the steady, rhythmic undulation of the water beneath him, to sort out what had happened.

Marco had always associated the jump from the cliff with Death, but Death was clearly not the only outcome to consider. It was here, in fact, that his own Villa - or a piece of it, at least - had literally saved his life.

The grey day gave way to a clear purple night, and the clouds parted, leaving a bright moon overhead. Marco's feet knocked against a reef. He and his door washed up on a small beach. He rolled onto his back, too numb to shiver, and gazed up at the stars.


The gold broker's influence in town grew with each year. Before long, 'the small man with the gold knives' as he was known, had a personal stake in every building in town. Villa Ladri was a sprawling estate, taking up at least five times the space its former inhabitant did. The town square lost its inclusive charm. The fountain at its center was drained of its water. The local bar drew in all kinds of customers from out of town. Consequently, there were more fights, more killings, and more chaos. The sleepy Inn made an unceremonious transition to a brothel, over a long period of time. In fact, the permanent tenants only realized it once the sounds of knocking and moaning through the walls commenced.

It was there, at the Inn, that the remaining townsfolk not under Signore Ladri's influence would gather and discuss the finances of the town. One of them, a quiet Sig. with dark, tired eyes, knew a lot about the gold trade, and set about educating the town about their unwise investments. Over time, a few of them, with the tired eyed gentleman's prodding, retained some of their assets by petitioning with certain obscure documents to higher courts. The wait was intolerable, but little by little, certificates came back from the Capital declaring the 'right to use' here and the 'proof of ownership' there. They were small victories, but essential ones.

The leaders of the town rebellion continued legal fights against their knife wielding, gold hoarding master. Among them was the former bar owner, along with two musicians who had known the dear departed Marco, along with a magistrate from another town who considered it a righteous project to unseat Ladri, and, of course, the tired eyed Signore from the Inn who did his best to keep out of confrontation and by all accounts, had no personal stake in the town's well being.

The guards from Estate Ladri visited town a few times to rough up the citizens there, but after a few years of quiet legal rebellion, they had all had enough. Many of them were angry at their old friend for loosing this snake into their midst, but they had themselves to blame as well.  They knew deep down that they were as complicit in Marco's corruption as their own. This self-knowledge, rather than shrinking them away, had the effect of making them more righteous.

That's why, when Ladri himself wheeled his opulent, gold trimmed vehicle into town to talk some sense into them, they were having none of it. His mustache was flecked with gray. His once youthful grin was now a miserly sneer. He was a man who had grown comfortable in his digs, and he poked and prodded at them with legal talk about ownership rights, then visited the possibility of legal action.

This is where the quiet, tired Sig. stepped in and engaged in a debate, in the center square, with Sig. Ladri. The knife wielding rat had no chance. In fact, by the end of their very public debate, the tiny man was boiling over with rage. His mustache twitched. He held his hands inside his clock and sprang.

The other man stayed perfectly still, except for his arm, which block the blade with one of his own. The movement was too quick for anyone to see, but two things were suddenly very clear to the people in the square watching the fight: the tired man no longer looked tired, and his arm, now visible and bare, was covered in tiny scars.

How could none of them have seen the obvious? The man before them was undoubtedly the troubadour they had once admired and even loved, but in so many ways, he was not. His voice had changed. His stance had changed. Here he was, among them for quite a long time, instructing them, never asking for spoils or a share of the reclaimed assets.

Marco and Ladri stepped nimbly around the drained fountain, shuffling and striking and blocking. The quick charged hisses of metal slicing across metal echoed through the square. All else was silent. Neither combatant spoke at first, but the moment Marco got a good slice across Ladri's shoulder, the injured rat hissed:

"You'll be wanting my house too, eh?!"

Marco lunged and slashed into the smaller man's arm again, then knocked the flat edge of his blade against the top of Ladri's hand. One gold knife fell, clinking on the stone. Ladri fell back, his eyes wide.

"No." answered Marco, straightening himself. He looked decades younger, as he once did, and it was here most of the townspeople came to their sense that it was Marco. "That is not my home, not anymore. You keep it. I let you take it -- so you keep it."

Ladri flashed a quick, smug victory smile, then looked around at the other townspeople. His smile faded quickly. He sheathed his other knife and took two steps back.

"That's right, Signore." answered Marco. "You have already lost. You will be gone from that place within six months." Marco then turned to all the others gathered around him. Some cried. Others looked like they wanted to hug him.

Ladri the thief clamored awkwardly back up onto his golden cart. He looked silly and embarrassed up there now, and his departure wasn't noted by anyone in the square as Marco addressed the people. He raised his voice for everyone to hear.

"When the time comes, destroy that place. Destroy every block of wood, every shingle. I will not return."

"Stay!!" a woman cried.

"I cannot stay," he responded, patience and love in his voice. "I overstayed my welcome. No, no. This is no longer my home. I gave it up long ago. I should have left long ago. I should not have stayed in Villa Bizzoso once my father passed. I should have left to find my way. Instead, I stayed, and something festered in me that let him in."

They pleaded with their faces, shaking their heads in disbelief. Marco went on.

"I let that snake into your midst, after all."

"We are all to blame!" a voice cried out from the crowd.

"Yes, that may be so," retorted Marco. "But I let him in. You would not have."

They all wrung their hands, eyes wet with gratitude and grief. A few looked around for someone who could get some drinks, and some instruments into the square. They did not want him to go.

"Where will you go?" the Magistrate from another town asked him.

"Home." he replied, allowing himself to smile. "I travel the sea now. It relieves my anxious... inner tides. It is why I can't stay."

That night, for the first time in many years, the whole town gathered to celebrate. It was like the old days. Even the non-musicians played to much applause. The laughter from the square could be heard from miles around. It even spilled over the walls of the Villa Ladri, where its sole, lonely resident hoisted gold bricks from around the property up onto his cart.

The next day, a few came out to watch the ship sail. It was small but sturdy thing. The vessel was almost all deck, except for a tiny, austere cabin near the bow. As Marco undid the moorings and the townspeople led his ship away, a few noticed the cabin door. The scar was still evident, but the sharp crack down the middle had been fixed and sealed.


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