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Archive for June, 2014

Featured Author on Horror Addicts July 12th

I will be the featured author in Episode #103 on July 12th at Horroraddicts.net. Come on by and check out the interview and podcast short story reading. A big thank you to Emerian Rich and David Watson for having me on the show. Emerian’s podcasts are always a lot of fun. This will be great!

http://www.horroraddicts.net

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Categories: Writing

Mermaid Steel Status

The 11 posted chapters of Mermaid Steel are 162 manuscript pages. There are 7 chapters remaining. I estimate those will add about 100 pages, for a total of about 70,000 words. The next chapter, Chapter 12, will appear only on this wordpress blog due to content, as did Chapter 10. (The family-friendly chapters are also being posted on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/mermaidsteel. That site has lots of additional behind the scenes discussion. You should check it out.) This is probably the last such adult-rated chapter. There will be plenty of action in the remaining chapters, just not that kind of “action.”

I have been approached by an artist to illustrate the book. My thoughts have also turned to how best to publish the book once it is done and edited. More news as it develops.

I hope you are enjoying the book. Please let me know what you think. Please tell your friends.

Categories: Mermaid Steel, Writing

Chapter Eleven of Mermaid Steel

Sten felt his body gently swaying and rocking. It felt good, very natural, like he was being cradled. He felt the sun warming him, and realized he was floating on his back in the ocean. He opened his eyes and confirmed where he was. He had no clue how he got there, but somehow he didn’t really care. He wondered what part of the sea he was in. With nothing visible on the horizon, he turned over and swam down into the water. He had forgotten to take a breath, but that didn’t matter either, as he was breathing fine underwater. Inexplicably, this did not alarm him. Again it all felt perfectly normal. Yet he realized this was not normal for him. On a hunch, he glanced back and saw his long, graceful Merrow tail sticking out from his tunic-like shirt where his legs should have been. Or should they? The tail felt so right.

He marveled at how clear the water was, and how his eyes could focus. He looked at his hands, his webbed hands, and could see every texture. He liked how the back of his hairless hand and arm was gray while the inside was white. He returned to his dive and was amazed at how easily he slid through the water, and how fast he could go with only the slightest effort.

He swam down and the village came into view. His village? Round coral houses were nestled in canyons that surrounded a town center with open markets and an amphitheater gathering place. Merrow swam from building to building, going about their business. He looked up and checked how the village was still close enough to the surface to get plenty of light. He swam down onto a “street” and looked in a window or two to see the sunstones illuminating the interiors. No one noticed him. He felt right at home, even though he knew he didn’t belong here.

He avoided making contact with anyone because he was sure he would be found out if he tried to speak their language. He swam into the market to see the shops. To his surprise, they weren’t selling goods, but rather taking orders to make things. He saw no money of any kind change hands. He was also pleasantly surprised that he could understand what they were saying. Everyone was friendly with one another and seemed content. He was taken with how peaceful and happy the village seemed to be, and how being there made him feel the same way.

He caught a shadow move out of the corner of his eye up on the surface. He looked up but couldn’t see anything. No one around him seemed to notice it. He was going to dismiss it as a passing cloud, but thought maybe he should make sure. He swam up, and again was pleased with how quickly he covered the distance.

He opened his eyes and was a little shocked to find himself dry and in bed. In bed with Chielle, who was still sound asleep. He caught his breath and smiled at his wondrous dream. He played it back in his head, highly amused at how his mind had translated her words into this vision of life beneath the waves. Had she really given him such detail? He loved how the dream had let him see it as a Merrow, the same way Chielle would see it.

Chielle. He turned and lovingly studied her face, the curves of her big eyelids, her darling tiny nose, her wide lips over her pointy little chin. How he had come to love looking at this face, so alien yet so beautiful. He traced the lines of her gill fringes with his eyes, how they folded so neatly together to lay flat, hiding in plain sight looking like neat rows of short curly hair, dark in the back and light in the front like the rest of her. He saw for the first time a scar across one of her gills. It didn’t look like a major injury, yet it had not healed right. He started to touch it but stopped himself. He was enjoying watching her sleep too much to disturb her.

How had he come to love her so much? Just the thought of her made his heart ache with joy, even with her right here in front of him. She had become part of him. He had been in love before, but it had never felt so encompassing. Maybe her being so different made him notice more. Or maybe he loved her more than he had ever loved anyone.

He felt the bandages around his chest were tighter than the day before. They seemed to have shrunk when they dried around him over night. They were uncomfortable enough to distract him from his musings. He considered rewrapping them, but decided getting them wet today would loosen them up enough.

The blanket had fallen off her shoulder as she lied on her side facing him. His eyes followed the grey/white dividing line and caressed the skin of her neck, over her shoulder, down the length of her arm, and onto her delicate webbed hand. It was all he could do not to follow his eyes with his hands. Oh, how he loved to touch her. The firmness of her skin, and how she felt cool at first touch but then warm once he held her, it wasn’t just fascinating, it was intoxicating. It was like her skin was showing what he had learned of her, strange at first, but warm and loving once he was close.

He wondered what she saw in him. This headstrong young woman from another world, why would she find him attractive? She seemed as amused by his body hair as he was taken with her aquatic skin. Beyond their surface differences, though, they had somehow connected very deeply. He couldn’t explain why, but he was sure glad she had been attracted to him as well.

He heard footfalls approaching up the wharf that he recognized as Jacio’s, and realized it was at least an hour after dawn. He would have stayed in bed and bathed in her glow all morning. He slipped out of bed, the twisting of which sent a twinge through his torso, trying to move slowly and not wake her. More blanket fell away, and when he stood up he looked back over her naked form. His manhood responded valiantly. He gently pulled the blanket up over her and grabbed a pair of pants. He retrieved her dress from where it had been tossed, and laid it across the foot of the bed for her to find.

He greeted Jacio from the bedroom door, which he closed behind himself. “Good morning,” he said quietly as he slipped on a shirt. “We have company, who is still sleeping.”

Jacio smiled crookedly and his eyes danced around the room as he considered all this implied. “I’m certainly glad to see you up and feeling better.”

Sten smiled at his careful choice of words. “Thank you for saying so. That was quite the couple of days there, wasn’t it? So today I want to move ahead with our diving adventure.”

“The one with the hundred feet of bamboo tubing?”

“Indeed.” He held his hand over the grate and found the fire had gone cold. He noticed the boy carried a sack. “What have you got there?”

“Bom Stickney gave me this yesterday to bring out to you,” he said handing it over. “He said it was for a friend of yours in Silverton.”

Sten took the boot out and looked it over. “Yes, this is perfect.” He looked back at Jacio. “It’s not going to Silverton. It’s for Chielle.”

The door opened and she stepped in, blanket wrapped around her shoulders against the morning air. She smiled coyly at Sten and said, “Good morning. You’ve got something for me? Good morning, Jacio.”

“Good morning, ma’am,” he said with a nod.

Sten held up the molded leather. “It’s a boot for your fluke. I’ve noticed the base of your tail gets pretty beat up when you walk around on these wooden planks. We wear shoes to protect out feet from rough surfaces.” He handed it to her. “Why not you too?”

She turned it over and undid the laces. “That is the sweetest thing. Thank you. Let me try it on.” She pulled up a chair, sat down and coiled up her tail so her fluke was in her lap. “You are so clever. The laces work great,” she said as she cinched them up. “It fits.” She stood up and took a couple of steps. “This is marvelous. The leather grips the wood, and I don’t feel a thing.” She stepped over and hugged Sten. “Thank you. My first shoe.”

“You’re welcome.”

She held up a finger and handed Sten the blanket. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have to take a dip.”

Jacio stepped aside and let her leave.

After they heard her splash, Jacio said, “I’m sorry I almost walked in on you.”

“Not your fault. You couldn’t have known. I couldn’t have known. We’ll just have to get used to having a lady guest around.” Sten spotted the pot of porridge still on the grate. He picked it up and found the already solid cereal now a hard glued mass. “Do we have anything to eat, besides porridge?”

“You’ve got a bag of rice and and a bag of beans in the lower cupboard. Oh, and there’s a pot of lard. I think you finished the jarred fruit you got last week.”

Sten grabbed a blunt ended metal file and started prying the porridge mass free. “That’s the problem with living in the tropics, food spoils so fast you can only keep on hand what you can eat today.”

“Have you not always lived in the heat?”

“Oh no. I grew up in the mountains on the other side of the continent. In winter we could pack food in ice and it would last for weeks. You could put together a collection of different kinds of food and make really wonderful meals.” He got the edge up and was pleased to see he could peel the dried mass out of the pot. “How lucky is that? There you go,” he declared as he pulled it out with his fingers. “I thought that might take all day.” He threw it in the ash bin and held the empty pot up for Jacio to see. “Victory. Can you get the fire started? Chielle and I haven’t eaten since yesterday afternoon. I’m starving, and I can only imagine she is too.”

“Not for long,” she announced at the door holding up a gleaming silver fish so long she had to use both hands. It had a large knife piercing just behind its gills and it was not moving.

“What a beauty, Chielle. Give us just a few minutes to get the fire going and we’ll turn him into a feast.”

She raised an eyebrow at the fish. “He already is.”

“Ah, you’re my guest here, so let me cook for you.”

She shrugged and nodded. “All right. Where shall I put this?”

He took it from her. “I’ve got this. You just have a seat. Put your…tail up and relax. You’ve worked long enough around here with me laid up.”

“By the way, someone docked a boat on your landing platform.”

“Oh good. I arranged that with Norn Tureck. We’ll use that later.” He scraped out the rest of the pot with a spoon and filled it with rice and water. Jacio had the fire going, so Sten put the pot with its lid on the grate.

“Is that another plant you have to boil to eat?”

“Yes, dear,” he said without looking up from what he was doing. He caught Jacio and Chielle exchanging a grin. “What are you two up to?”

Chielle, turned the grin on Sten. “Thank you for making me breakfast.”

“You’re welcome.” He grabbed a thin knife and the fish and headed outside. He gutted it, beheaded it, and tossed the offal into the sea. When he stepped back in, Chielle looked at the fish as he walked by and he caught a flash of disappointment. “It’ll be great,” he assured her.

He melted a dollop of lard in a skillet while he spilt the fish down the middle. Chielle leaned forward to watch what he was doing as he placed the fish halves into the bubbling lard skin-side down. He checked on the rice, and watched her watching the fish. “Have you ever had cooked fish before?”

“No.”

He put a lid on the skillet and moved it to the side of the grate away from the main heat. Then he went into the bedroom and retrieved a bottle of brown liquid.

Jacio recognized it. “Is that the fruit stuff that Mrs. Mitchne sells in town?”

“Yes, she calls it her Everything Sauce. Have you had it?”

“Yeah, it’s really good.”

“Do you know what it’s made from?” Chielle asked.

“She won’t tell anyone, cause it’s her secret, but I can taste pineapple, molasses, and some kind of nut or bean. Here, take a sniff.”

He handed her the open bottle and she tried it. “Just smelling it makes my mouth water. She put her finger over the top and tilted it. She looked dubiously at her wet finger before tasting it. “Sweet and salty at the same time. It’s tasty.”

“I’m glad you like it, because the whole meal is going to taste of it.” He checked the rice again and it wasn’t yet done. “Do you have anywhere you need to be today?”

“Not really. Are we going somewhere with the boat?” she tried again.

“Yes, we are. I just don’t know how long it will take.”

“I always have plenty to do back home, but I can don’t have to be back by any particular time. Where are we going?”

“You’ll see.” He saw her shoot a glance at Jacio, and he held his hands up that he wasn’t going to spoil Sten’s surprise.

Sten checked the rice again and it was done. So was the fish. “Jacio, three plates please if you will.” He doled out the rice, then scooped the fish flesh off the skins and over the rice, then liberally splashed on the sauce. “Here you are.”

“The fish doesn’t look like fish anymore. It all smells all right. She tried a forkful and nodded. “It tastes like is smells, which is good.”

Jacio interjected around his own full mouth, “Fanciest breakfast I’ve had in a long time.”

Their conversation stopped as all three dug in. All through the meal, Chielle kept shooting Sten sideways smiling glances that clearly expressed her thanks and her love.

When they had finished, Sten resumed his hustling pace. “Let’s get this going,” he said to Jacio.

“Going…wherever,” she commented to herself.

He grinned. “You’ll see.”

Sten headed first to the heaviest of the many items stacked up at the end of the wharf, the crank bellows. He started to lift it by himself but his broken ribs were not having any of it. “Jacio, I’m going to need your help with this.” So began the rather tedious job of carrying the equipment down the ramp and onto the boat.

Chielle stood by appraising what she saw. Sten watched her piecing the parts together in her mind. She seemed to be struggling with it, but she did not say anything. They carried the bellows, the beaten copper bell helmet with the sealed glass window, the twenty lengths of bamboo pipe, several coils of rope, and lastly his swim fins. Chielle stepped up and helped carry some of the pipes and ropes. At one point Sten saw her test fitting one of the rubber ball joints onto the end of one of the bamboo pipes. Again, she did not ask any questions.

When they got it all loaded, she turned to him and said, “Clearly you have your heart set on doing this, so I’m not going to try to talk you out of it. Of course I hope this works. If it fails, I will be right next to you ready to bring you to the surface. Have you tested it?”

“Individual parts, but not all together,” he admitted.

She blinked and sighed. “I’ll stay close by.”

In that moment, he loved more than ever. He hugged her and held her for a moment, whispering in her ear, “Thank you.”

When they set sail, she directed them to the spot above her village. “Celidan is about ten of these pipe lengths straight down. So with twenty, you should have some side to side mobility.”

“That’s what I was hoping for.”

“Take down the sail. We’re too deep to set the anchor, and you’re above my home anyway. The wind will blow the boat away, with you attached, before you see anything.”

With the sail down, Sten put on his fins and climbed overboard. Jacio handed him pieces of pipe and ball joints, and Sten stuck them together. Chielle hopped in and helped. The pipeline floated as it grew. Last out was the bell. Chielle and Sten held it upright with air inside to keep it buoyant while Jacio held the rope that was attached to its top. Once it was attached to the pipeline, Jacio handed Sten two solid metal weights, which Sten hung on either side of the bell. He yelled up to Jacio, “Start pumping!” before he ducked up under the bell as it started to sink.

Sten was pleased to see the level of the water inside the bell pushed down by the air pressure coming in through the hose fitting at the top. The air pressed down under the edge and created streams of bubbles that floated upward. It took him a moment to figure out how to hold onto the side handles and keep himself upright, with his body in the water up to his ribs. The bell just fit over his upper body with no real room to move his arms inside. He looked out the window in the side and saw Chielle watching him with a very worried look on her face. “It’s working great!” he yelled, in hopes that she could hear.

She nodded and vocalized without opening her mouth what came through the walls of the bell like, “Okay.”

Very clever of her.

As he descended, he realized how cramped the inside of the bell was. It only held a few breaths of air and he could hear his own breathing in the metal enclosure. He never thought of himself as afraid of enclosed small spaces, but this was certainly putting that fear to the test. When he checked the fit on the surface he had thought of it as clothing. Here underwater, it was his whole world. He tried to focus on how big everything was outside through the window.

Then he felt the water level starting to rise inside the bell. He yelled to Chielle, “Tell Jacio to pump faster.”

She nodded and took off to the surface.

A moment later the air pressure increased and once more pushed the water down to the edge. The air pressure inside the helmet was making it difficult to breathe, and his ears felt like they were being crushed. He reached up with one hand and held his nose and blew to adjust the painful pressure inside his head. He was pleased to find that helped a lot.

He caught a glimpse up at the jointed pipeline, and saw small air bubbles streaming from around each rubber ball fitting. He wondered how long he had before Jacio became exhausted.

By then he saw the bottom coming up. He peered out the window as shapes came into view. Chielle reappeared and he gave her a thumbs-up sign.

At first he wasn’t sure what he was seeing. The bottom was made up of large round hills, one of which he was about to settle onto. Chielle motioned for him to swim to one side, which he easily did with the flippers. He landed on flat sand next to the hill, and he suddenly realized the hill was a house, a round, cultivated coral house. It was just as she had described. He was also amazed to see it was just like the ones in his dream.

Two Merrow, a man and a child, swam around the house to face them. Chielle started talking to them. Although he could not understand them, it was clear they were upset and she was reassuring them. There was a lot of pointing at the surface, and Sten couldn’t tell if they were going to let him stay on their property.

The pressure in his ears was hurting again, so he held his nose and blew and could focus again.

Chielle turned to him and started to say something but paused. She screwed up her face as she figured out how to make English words inside her head underwater. Sten listened hard to figure out the words in the sounds. “They will let you stay, but they fear you will die in their yard.”

“Thank them. I’m going to walk around,” he yelled back. Walking was more swimming in long, slow leaps. The flippers let him maneuver and land without tripping.

The houses were organically curved, multichambered coral caves with all the expected reef inhabitants living on the outside. As he walked between two, he saw window portals. Some of them glowed from within. He turned to Chielle, and found her right next to him. “May I see a sunstone?”

She motioned for him to follow her over to a window.

“I don’t want to intrude by looking into someone’s home.”

She held up a hand, then darted around the other side of the house. A moment later she swam out of the nearby window holding a stone about the size of a human head, oblong and smooth, glowing with a brilliant yellow light. He reached out from under the edge of the bell and touched it. It was cold. “That’s amazing.”

She took it back to the window and three Merrow were crowding there watching him. He waved from under the edge.

“Which way is the center of town?”

She frowned and shook her head.

“A marketplace?”

She grimaced in thought but then shook no again.

“A church?”

She brightened and nodded. She took hold of the rope on top of the bell and lifted him up over the houses. Now that he understood what he was looking at, he could see the houses lined an array of canyons. Again he was taken with how accurate his dream had been.

She lowered him down in front of a curved hollow in a hillside. This was the amphitheater from his dream. She alighted him in the bench seats that had been cut into the rock. He looked down to the center and was awe struck with what he saw. The circular “stage” shimmered like a mirror, and in it he thought he could see a reflection of not just the sea above, but of more ocean than he should be able to see at that angle. He didn’t understand what he was seeing, but it was so beautiful he just stood and stared. He was sure he had not seen this reflection when Chielle lowered him. It must be a trick of the angles and the light. It looked more like a window than a reflection, a window out to the whole of the ocean.

“It’s beautiful!” He tore his eyes away and asked Chielle, “What is it?”

“We call it the Eye of Rorra.”

“It’s like I can see the whole of the sea. Do you worship Rorra here?”

“Yes, every day if we can. It reminds us of her presence.”

He looked again and let himself be absorbed, transfixed, transported by the view that seemed to open up wider and deeper the longer he stared. It was as if the entire ocean, countless miles of it, was suddenly all right in front of him to see.

Chielle was saying something but he wasn’t listening. Then she knocked on the bell and that woke him from his reverie. “We have to go!” He looked up and saw three large Merrow men swimming straight at them. Chielle swam up to meet them. All three wore the same red robes. Two of them stopped to talk to her but the third swam around her and came up to Sten. He stared into the window and looked around as if looking for something other than Sten. “It’s just me, Sten Holdsmith, the blacksmith from Saint Rachel.” The man seemed entirely unimpressed.

Sten looked passed him and saw Chielle was in quite a heated exchange, with the two men pointing and yelling. It looked like they were about to arrest her when she darted away and swooped down to Sten. She said something curt to the near guard, grabbed the rope on top of the bell, and started up.

Sten unhooked the side weights and let them drop while he kicked with his flippers to speed the ascent. As the pressure lessened, the air started bubbling up out of the bell, since Jacio was still pumping hard enough for the deep. Sten’s ears felt like they were going to blow out so he grabbed his nose and sucked in until he felt the pressure subside. It only took a few seconds to reach the surface. Chielle was clearly not wasting any time.

Sten ducked out of the bell and grabbed it by the rope. He turned around, found the boat many yards away, and called to Jacio. “We’re over here! Can you pull me in by the rope?”

“Chielle, your temple was fantastic! I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”

She kept nervously ducking her head under the surface.

“Do you think they’re coming for us?”

“I don’t know. I’m afraid I may have gotten us into some real trouble showing you the temple. Those were our shaman’s templar guards. They have the power to enforce our laws anyway they see fit. They answer only to the shaman.”

“Did you know showing a human your sacred ground was illegal?”

“No. The temple is open to everyone. That’s why there are no walls around it. It was the reason Celidan was built here. I can’t imagine there is a law forbidding access.”

“There doesn’t have to be a law,” Sten supplied. “Distrust of humans would be plenty for the guards to move to protect the site. The good people of Saint Rachel would certainly take up arms if they saw a Merrow walk into the sanctuary of the Atlan temple. They probably saw my very stepping on that ground as a desecration.” He looked around as they neared the boat. “Doesn’t look like they followed. Let’s just hope they’re happy with shooing us away.”

“How was it?” Jacio called out as they approached. He was covered in sweat.

Jacio and Chielle both needed to help Sten up the rope ladder onto the boat. His ribs were really hurting, but he was much too excited to let it slow him down. “It was everything I hoped it would be. Their town is beautiful, in the most peaceful, natural way. We may have trespassed a bit, so we need to pack up and get out of here just as fast as we can. Thank you for cranking out that air. I can see it was a chore, but the bell worked perfectly.”

The three of them loaded the bell and pipes onto the boat and head out.

As Sten steered up to dock, three Merrow men climbed onto the landing platform to greet them. “Damn, they followed us after all.”

“No,” Chielle corrected. “These aren’t the guards. These guys are smiling.”

“Hello,” Sten ventured. “Who are you?”

“I am Aalto, and these are my brothers Pinngot and Raggeck. We are the Blauoon Family Builders. We are fifth generation stone masons.”

Sten left the tying up to Jacio and he hopped off the boat to face them. “I am Sten Holdsmith, Saint Rachel’s town blacksmith.”

“Oh, we know who you are, Mister Holdsmith. We heard about your visit to Celidan today, and we wanted to congratulate you on your adventure in person.”

Chielle stepped up alongside Sten. “Blauoon. Yes, I’ve heard of you. I don’t mean to be suspicious, but there must be something more pressing than congratulations for you to risk censure to come here.”

“You are right, Miss Mmava. It is in fact the risk you speak of that brought us here. We had hoped that your visit was a sign that our two villages were now dealing more openly.”

Sten smiled and shook his head. “If only that were true. I’m sorry to say, gentlemen, that my visit was not official or sanctioned by either village. It was just me risking a peak at your beautiful town.”

The three brothers traded disappointed glances. “So we are not yet able to trade for steel tools from you?”

Sten took a long deep breath, as deep as he could with the bandages confining this chest. “You’re stone masons. I imagine you could use tempered hammers and chisels?”

“Oh, most certainly.”

“I’ll tell you what. Sometimes you have to just make the changes you want to see in the world. It takes several steps to work up tool quality steel, so it’s going to take a day or so to do it right. What do you have to trade?”

“Pearls. We just finished a job for a jeweler who gifted us with bags of pearls.”

Sten heard Jacio on the boat involuntarily cough. Sten had to restrain his own reaction. “That should do nicely. Three sets of hammers and chisels. Can you come back the day after tomorrow, say in the afternoon?”

This time the three exchanged broad surprised smiles. “Yes, sir.”

Sten held out his hand and shook with each of them. “It’s a deal. Safe journeys, gentlemen.”

“Good day to you, sir.”

When they had left, Sten turned to Chielle who regarded him with one raised eyebrow. “You just can’t get in enough trouble today, can you?”

“So it would seem.”

By the time they got the diving equipment off the boat and up the ramp onto the wharf, the heat of the afternoon was upon them. Chielle cooled off with an occasional dip in the ocean, while Sten and Jacio consumed quite a bit of his rainwater supply.

Once they were done, they relaxed in the relative cool of the shack, lounging on chairs and benches. “Sorry that took so long. I had hoped to be done before the heat arrived. That’s something I don’t think I will ever get used to about living in the tropics. Every afternoon you lose two or three hours because it’s just too hot and humid to do any work.”

“I must say, we don’t have that problem under the surface.”

“I’ve been living that pattern my whole life,” Jacio added. “I just plan around it and enjoy the break. Some folks eat their biggest meal of the day during the heat, since you’re not going to move around much afterwards anyway.”

Sten got up and started poking around in his larder. “Speaking of meals, maybe one of us should run into town and get something. I’m running low on everything.”

“You’re going to make me run into town at midday for groceries,” Jacio said without making it a question.

“Heads up!” Sten called as he threw a bag of coins to him.

Jacio grabbed a sun hat and headed out. “Be back soon.”

Sten found a sketch he had been working on. “Speaking of going into town, I’ve been thinking about what life will be like once we get passed this time of conflict. I’ve only been here are a year, but my impression is things weren’t always this hostile between the two villages.”

“My mother says everyone got along much better when she was a girl. Did I not mention that her best friend growing up was Jacio’s mother?”

“Really? Oh, sorry. I’m not supposed to use that word.”

Chielle rolled her big eyes. “Of course you can use the word.”

“Weren’t they both here when I was unconscious?”

“Yes. It was quite the reunion. They parted badly years ago and they weren’t sure how to handle bumping into each other.”

“Wow. So things used to be better just twenty years ago. Lots of people on both sides must remember those times. So there is hope we can repair things if we just remind those folks how good it used to be.”

“Well, that’s the plan,” she said with some doubt in her voice.

“Now I have visited your village, and at least some of your people seem pretty happy about that, as we saw with the mason brothers. I wonder if we should think about letting my village know that you’re here.”

“They already know. Your stone mason was very angry to see me here. Your fishermen beat you up for sympathizing with the Merrow. I don’t think Saint Rachel is ready to accept me.”

“You’re probably right.”

“What have you got there?”

Sten looked at the drawing and sighed. “Just me being a dreamer. Jumping to conclusions.” He handed her the paper.

“It’s a chair with oversized wheels.”

“Yeah. You turn the wheels by pushing on the tops of them.”

“This would be a way for me to get around on land. In the village?”

“That was my thought. Pretty silly, now that I think about it.’

“No, not silly. Just a few years ahead of time. It’s lovely to think we will see a day when I can roll around town and be welcomed as normal. Maybe I’d wear a dress to cover my tail. Your people seem most distressed by bare Merrow tails. It’s a great idea, Sten. Just a bit soon, I’m afraid.”

Jacio ran back down the wharf and burst in. “You gotta hide, or run, or something,” he told Chielle.

“What’s wrong?” Sten asked.

“There’s an angry mob right behind me!”

Chielle and Sten looked out and saw about ten men, led by Selric Boole, just a few steps away.

“They’re going to see you leave,” Jacio insisted. “They’re already boiling mad. God knows how much worse they’re going to be if they see you here.”

When they unloaded, they had piled the diving pipes up along the edge, and so the two step path was now a six or seven step path. Thinking fast, Sten grabbed a bucket of sea water that he used for cooling hot metal. He held it up and asked Chielle, “Will this work? Or not?”

She regarded the bucket, looked him in the eye, took a breath, and nodded.

He poured it over her, and she disappeared. Her clothes were still visible, so she peeled them off and handed them to an astonished Jacio. They watched as her fluke made wet footprints, one after the other to the edge.

Boole and his mob pulled up in front of the door. He was hobbling on crutches and his face was covered in bandages. It was obvious how mad he was even with the mask. “What the hell is all this for, diving? You’ve been down to the fin village haven’t you? I knew it! You’re conspiring with them against your own people!”

Sten stepped out to face them. “You don’t know the first thing about them. I’m at least trying to learn. It’s a big ocean. There’s no reason our two villages can’t get along. We need to know more about them so we can work out something more than just driving them out of their fishing grounds. Yes, I visited Celidan, and you know what I found out? They arrested the young mermen who attacked your boats in Harper’s Meadow. They don’t want the violence either. The only person who wants a war is you, Captain Boole. You only want those fishing grounds if you can take them by force.”

Some of Boole’s men nodded and looked at the bearded captain suspiciously.

Sten pressed his point to them. “Wouldn’t you rather live in peace? Do you really want more blood on your hands, especially if we find there is a better way?”

Boole heard the mutterings behind him and scowled back at them. “Don’t listen to him. He’s on their side. He’ll say anything to stop us from defending what’s ours.”

Sten caught Jacio out of the corner of his eye, headed around the mob towards town. He winked at the boy and Jacio took off running.

“Sten, you’ve become more of a hazard to the safety of this town than the value of your workmanship. We can get another blacksmith. We can’t live with the man who taught the fin how to make steel weapons to use against us. Seize him, men!”

Four men surrounded Sten and held him by his arms.

“So now you’re my judge? Who gave you authority to arrest anyone?”

“Somebody’s got to stand up for what’s right. Bind him!”

The men grabbed ropes and tied his arms to his body and his feet together.

Sten was undeterred. “Look at me, Selric. I’m standing tall after defeating you in single combat. You’re crippled up and need to turn your sailors into lackeys to do your dirty work for you. I’m diving to the ocean floor, trying to find a peaceful solution, looking to the future. You know why I’m not afraid of you, and why you slink out here like a thief? Because I’m right. My righteousness makes me invincible.”

The men all stepped back, and Boole clenched his fists and turned bright red around his bandages.

“That’s right, I’m quoting scripture. I am living the Atlantean ideal. I am seizing every moment for the betterment of all.”

Boole screamed and threw down his crutches. He staggered up to Sten, attempting a string of insults that just came out as furious gibberish. “Fucking fin lover! Taunt me with Atlan! Go die with the damn fin where you belong!” He threw his arms around Sten’s waist and picked him up while driving him backwards and over the edge.

Sten was surprised but not disappointed. “You’re going to kill a tied-up prisoner? What a coward!” He had half hoped Boole would lose control and commit a real crime. As he went over the side, Sten saw Boole’s men were shocked as well.

Categories: Mermaid Steel, Writing

Review of Daughter Cell and Extensive Interview up at SF/SF Magazine

Yvette Keller has written an enthusiastic review of Daughter Cell for SF/SF Magazine. “This novel is going to be most satisfying to readers who like things thinly sliced with sharp knives: edgy.” She also interviewed me at my best. Thank you Yvette! http://www.efanzines.com/SFSF/SFSF153.pdf

Categories: Writing
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