Chapter 1: The river's will
Welcome to the first chapter of the novella titled "Manu of the River", which tells a tale of a humble fisherman's relationship with the Great River that covers his entire world, and surrounds his island home of Janua. Januain legend is filled with tales of adventurers who had achieved godlike powers after exploring of the unknowable expanse beyond their island home. However in modern times, the Great River has been a deliverer not of adventure, but of crippling fear. With its swift currents and turbulent storms, many have been swept away. None have returned.
Manu is the most experienced and skilled of all the Januian fisherman, earning him the highly regarded title of Master Fisherman. He is well built with a dark complexion. His nearly black eyes are flooded with kindness and with worry.
Today he has betrayed the most fundamental of safety precautions. He has anchored his large fishing boat well beyond the sightline of his beloved island home, Janua. Out here in the depths of The Great River, the waves are bigger and the currents are stronger. There would be no hope of rescue if he were to run into any trouble.
But Manu is desperate.
The Januian people, which rely heavily on fish for sustenance, are on the verge of famine. Despite Manu's best efforts, his yields have been steadily decreasing over the past year and are now barely enough to feed the hungry mouths.
While no one seems to blame Manu, he is preoccupied with guilt and shame from his failing skill. It seems that the harder he works, the less capable he is to meet the minimum quota.
This is in stark contrast to the era when his beloved mentor, Dalwean, held the title of Master Fisherman. During his lifetime, Dalwean had single-handedly ushered in decades of prosperity for the Januian people. Those not too distant glory days were long and relaxing. The nights, which were filled with jubilant celebrations, led to an influx of new mouths to feed.
Manu had always dreamed following in Dalwean's footsteps and becoming a legendary fisherman in his own right.
But today, survival of his people is his only concern.
This day held particular importance as a dark and ominous storm lay on the horizon. A storm that was far more intimidating than any Manu had seen in years, if not ever.
To Manu, this bold risk of being so far away from land on a day that all the other fisherman had stayed ashore felt absolutely necessary. From experience, he knew that the yield of fish was the best in the hours before a great storm and would dwindle to pitiful levels for weeks afterward. There would be dire consequences if he wasn't able to come through for his people today.
Manu was feeling great when he decided it was time to bring up the net for his last catch of the day. Today's yield had exceeded even his wildest hopes. This was the single biggest haul of his life and would only grow bigger with this last heavy load.
But the Great River had other plans.
Manu figured he had at least an hour before the storm hit. However, he was now at an impasse. He knew this last load was enormous but the net was stuck to something below the waves.
In the years before the fishing shortage, he would have simply let the net go. For nets that are stuck rarely, if ever, became unstuck. But, the importance of today pushed him to test fate. He would not let a lack of resolve create any undue suffering for his people.
Then suddenly the net became unstuck. Not from Manu's efforts, but by something far more powerful. Manu and his boat were being rushed at a feverish pace downriver by an unknown force. Directly toward the eye of the enormous storm.
Whether the power that was carrying him was a really big fish or the river's current didn't matter much to Manu. Either way, he was certain that his last breath was imminent. No one had ever returned from being swept down the Great River.
Being thrust helplessly across the top of the raging water, Manu recalled the legends of the Great River. For the Januian people, the river covered the entire world and was home to a single tribe of people, the Januian. The river flowed out of God's mouth, then past Janua island to provide fish and water before falling off the side of the earth and into oblivion.
Rather than being crippled with fear, Manu was enlivened with curiosity. He was excited for the chance to see what really existed downriver with his own two eyes. His life somehow felt like a fair price to pay for the experience.
As he approached the storm, the temperature plummeted and the winds accelerated. He was being pummeled by heavy rains and his boat was thrashing around, seemingly desirous of throwing him off its back and into the ferocious tides.
But despite his excitement, Manu was at peace.
Even after his boat crashed violently against a rock and threw him into the river. Knowing he could not survive in the frigid water, Manu summoned the strength to grab onto a very large rock and haul himself up.
The top of the rock was rugged, but relatively flat. It was just big enough to lie on his side in the fetal position and out of reach of the raging river below. Manu felt deep calm as he grasped for what he believed would be his last breath before losing consciousness.
But the river had other plans.