Home > Mermaid Steel, Writing > Chapter Nine of Mermaid Steel

Chapter Nine of Mermaid Steel

“Well, now I see why you come home smelling of smoke.” Chielle was startled by her mother’s voice. Gonnakaa Mmava walked into the shack’s bedroom waving her hand in front of her face. Thymon followed meekly behind her.

“Mama I’m so glad you’re here.”

“This is quite the secret you’ve kept.”

Chielle got up from Sten’s bedside and let her mother step up to examine him. “I’m sorry Mama, I didn’t want to tell you until I knew for sure if…”

“If you really love him? Do you know now?”

“Yes, I do.”

Her mother looked at her and sighed. “You’ve carved out a hard life for yourself.”

“I know, Mama.”

Gonnakaa looked over his unconscious form. “He’s so beat up.”

“He got into a fight. Defending me.”

“Really? It looks like he fought the whole village.” She picked up his arm and prodded the sting.

Seeing her mother out of water and next to Sten, she was taken with how petite and old she looked, despite how beautiful she was in her long yellow tunic. This struck her as odd, since her mom was such a source of strength in her life.

“Humans usually don’t pass out from Lionfish venom. The sting surely hurts them a lot. He must be allergic. I have a mud that will help with the venom. He’s going to have to recover from the shock on his own. I hope he’s strong.”

“He’s very strong,” Chielle said a little too quickly.

“Thymon, give me my bag,” she directed. “This mud should be mixed up with hot water and smeared all over his arm.”

Chielle walked from the bedroom into the shop front half of the shack. She grabbed the tea pot off the grill and stepped over to the rainwater barrel. She caught her mother watching her through the door as she filled it and set it back on the hearth. She turned the bellows crank and brought the coals up to glowing.

Her mother didn’t say anything. Her knowing look said it all.

“Yes, I know my way around this shop.”

“Does he live here alone?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know if he has always lived alone?”

Thymon spoke up. “He told me he used to have a sister, but he didn’t say how long ago that was.”

“What’s your point, Mama?”

“Humans often don’t stay with their families. They like to strike out on their own. If he has been living alone for a long time, then maybe that’s because he likes living alone.”

“Mama, I’m not planning on settling down with him. Yes, I love him, but we’re only dating.”

“I’m just looking out for my girl. How long have you been dating him?”

Chielle had to think about that one. “Coming up on four weeks.”

Gonnakaa turned to Thymon who was standing idly by. “That goes back before you and your crew started making iron spears. Let me guess. Sten showed her how to craft iron, she showed you, and you went and armed yourselves.” She rolled her eyes. “My enterprising children. Oh, but at your trial you didn’t say anything about Chielle.”

“She didn’t know I was going to make weapons. In fact, she was really upset with us when we showed her. So I did not mention her.”

Their mother turned back to Chielle. “I hope you realize if it comes out that Sten here was the source of the knowledge that led to those weapons, the Shaman will probably forbid you from seeing him again.”

“That’s not fair. He showed me so I could make tools. I showed Thymon so he could make tools.”

“I didn’t say it was fair. I said it was likely.”

The kettle began to whistle and Chielle pulled it off the grill. She grabbed a bowl and came back into the bedroom. Her mother scooped out a handful of the mud from its jar and Chielle dribbled in hot water. Gonnakaa mixed it in and applied a handful across the length of Sten’s injured forearm. “The heat breaks it down,” she explained, “while the mud draws it out.”

Thymon said, “We’ve got company.”

Chielle had been so focused on what her mother was doing, she hadn’t heard anyone approaching. She started to walk to the front, and met Jacio in the doorway.

He looked from her to her brother and to her mother, suspicion and dread growing by the second. “Chielle, what’s going on?”

She shifted to English. “Jacio, it’s okay, this is my brother and my mom. I called them here to help Sten with his injuries.”

A woman with gray streaks in her curly dark hair stepped up behind Jacio and said, “My son came and got me for the same purpose.”

Chielle heard her mother let out a tight chirp of shocked surprise. The woman spotted Gonnakaa and she too looked shocked.

“Do you two know each other?”

They both ignored Chielle and neither of them said anything for a very tense moment. “Gonnakka, it’s been a very long time.”

“Patry, it certainly has.

Chielle lit up when she recognized the name. “Oh, Mama, you told me this story. You two used to be best friends when you were teenagers. Now you’re Mrs. Bilboa, Jacio’s mother. How delightful.”

Then Chielle noticed neither of them were smiling, In fact, neither of them had moved. Watching the two of them stare each other down, Chielle feared they would stop helping Sten. She was about to say something when Patry turned to Chielle.

“My son tells me you and our blacksmith are having an affair.”

“Yes. Sten is very dear to me, which is why I sent for my mother to come help.”

“He’s important to us too,” she commented coolly as she stepped over to his bed. Chielle noticed a rustling sound from under the woman’s full, black skirt as she walked. “Oh gracious. I heard about the fight. He’s worse than I thought.” Without looking up to make eye contact, she asked Gonnakaa, “What’s wrong with his arm?”

“He was also stung by a lionfish. He had a bad reaction and passed out. The hot mud will break down the venom and keep it from spreading and doing any more damage.”

Patry untied his shirt and examined his torso which was almost entirely covered in red and purple bruises. “He hasn’t seen a doctor. These wounds haven’t been treated.”

“No,” Jacio confirmed. “He came straight here from jail. I changed his shirt this morning when he got back. It was covered in blood.”

“Jail?” Chielle asked.

“Yeah. He and Captain Boole were arrested and held overnight.”

Patry felt his body and face with her pink hands. “He’s got two broken ribs, but I think all the rest of his bones are intact. Did any of you see if he was vomiting blood?”

“He threw up some food after the fish poison,” Thymon said. “But it didn’t look like blood.”

Party shook her head down at Sten. “You are one tough customer. I want to bandage these cracked ribs so they can heal straight and not puncture anything in the meantime.”

Gonnakaa, who had been quietly standing by, spoke up. “If he’s in shock from the venom, shouldn’t we keep him warm?”

“I don’t think warm will be a problem.” She grabbed the bottom edge of her corset through her white blouse and straightened it gruffly. “It’s just another hot, humid day in our tropical paradise. Some of us don’t get to run around in our swim suits. I think he’ll be plenty warm.”

It pained Chielle to watch her mother force herself to not react to the slight. “Can we do anything about the swelling on his face?”

Patry met Chielle’s gaze. “If you have some way to apply cold. Cold will take down the swelling.”

“Will cold meat work?”

“Sure.”

Chielle caught her brother’s attention. “Thymon? Get us some fish? A couple of fat perch should do.”

He perked up at the chance to do something. “No problem,” he said as he slipped out the door.

Chielle found a large empty cloth sack. “Will this fabric work for bandages for his ribs?”

“Yes, that will do fine.”

Chielle took out her knife and started cutting the sack into strips.

Patry lowered her voice and half turned to Gonnakaa. “Is Thymon your son?”

Chielle caught her mother crack a half smile. “Yes, he’s my eldest. I have a middle daughter too, Sooreet.” She waited for a reaction but got none.

Patry started to lift Sten up into a sitting position and take off his shirt.

“Is Jacio your only child?”

“No. His older brother Horel is grown and moved away.”

“Two sons. I bet their father is proud.”

Chielle thought she caught Patry flash the tiniest smile, but then it faded. She brought the strips over and stopped cold when she saw his back was covered in long vertical jagged scars. “Oh, Rorra!”

The two older women followed her horrified gaze and looked around at his back. “Oh my, he’s been flogged,” Patry concluded. “This is ten, twelve, fifteen lashes. Well, he’s been a bad boy. You only get fifteen lashes if you burn somebody’s house down, or kill someone. He came to Saint Rachel about a year ago. I don’t think I have ever heard where he came from.”

Her mother looked up at Chielle. “Has he ever mentioned having a criminal past?”

“No, I had no idea. He never let on at all. I guess that means they don’t hurt him.”

“Scars usually don’t have any feeling,” explained the human. “I’ll have to ask Constable Blaine what he knows.”

“Or we can just ask Sten when he wakes up,” countered Chielle. “Jacio, has he ever talked to you about his past?”

“Only that he apprenticed to be a blacksmith in a town on the far coast.”

“It sounds like he came here to make a fresh start,” Chielle asserted. “We should give him a chance to tell us the whole story.”

Patry and Gonnakaa traded a knowing look. Even though she understood they were patronizing her, Chielle was happy to see the two sharing a motherly moment.

“Okay, sweetheart,” her mom assured. “We’ll let him speak for himself.”

“Thank you.” Chielle noticed she still held the bandages in her hands. “Do we just wrap his whole chest?”

Patry stepped aside and instructed Gonnakaa, “Here, take his arms and hold him up.” She then started wrapping the strips around him, instructing Chielle, “Just keep wrapping them overlapping, snug and smooth.”

Gonnakaa commented, “You’ve done this before.”

“My husband if a ferrier. He is forever getting stepped on or kicked by horses. I’ve learned a lot about patching up men.”

Chielle caught her mother’s eye and saw a flash of daring. “So who did you marry? Would I know him?”

Patry stepped back and let Chielle take over the wrapping. She sighed quietly and turned at last to Gonnakaa. “Yes, you would. I married Wilton.”

“I remember Wilton! How wonderful for you.”

“And you?”

Her mother tilted her head and smiled. “You’re going to laugh. I married Chumbor.”

“No. You hated Chumbor.”

“I know, I did. And then, I didn’t. People grow up and see things differently.”

Patry’s smile faltered and she looked away. “Sometimes.”

“Look, Patry, I see you are trying really hard to stay mad at me. I don’t expect us to go back to being best friends after thirty years just because we ended up in the same room. I just don’t see why you have to still carry hatred for me.”

Patry turned and looked her in the eye. “You never even apologized.”

Chielle could see her mother had played this conversation in her head by how she stayed calm and collected in what was painful just to watch. “How can I apologize for something I did not do? Everyone was so quick to accuse me of stealing that necklace. I knew it was precious to you. I would never want to take something important away from my best friend. You were more important to me than any piece of treasure.”

“You could have said so. You didn’t even come to me to explain.”

“I couldn’t, our parents separated us before we could even discuss it.

“You’re going to blame this on our parents?”

“I’m not blaming anybody. You may have been heartbroken to think your best friend had chosen a trinket over our friendship. Well, I was heartbroken to see how quickly you believed people who didn’t even know me. I can still hear them. ‘Of course she stole it, she is after all a mermaid.’ I was your friend first, regardless of our species.”

Patry looked away. “I don’t know, Gonnakaa. That’s a lot of water under the bridge. I don’t think I can just re-cast you in a different light after all these years of distrust.”

“You said I never apologized. I am sorry. I am sorry anything drove us apart. I am sorry we have grown so far apart for so long. We can’t go back. We’re grown up with children of our own. I am sorry thinking of me still makes you angry. I wish your memories of me made you happy instead.”

Patry thought quietly for a long moment. “So you’re saying what we lost was more valuable than that stupid necklace.”

“Oh, absolutely.”

She looked up at her old friend and took a deep breath. “That’s a big step for me. I’m going to have to think about this.”

“Thank you for trying.”

Chielle wished the woman had looked more hopeful, but she looked confused and sad. “I will try. I’ll stay in touch through your daughter.” She turned and left with Jacio following.

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Categories: Mermaid Steel, Writing
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