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

Chapter Fifteen of Mermaid Steel

As he swam along underwater, Sten slowly realized he was in another mermaid dream. The motion of sliding through the water with only the slightest push with his tail felt so natural he didn’t question it at first. Once he did connect, he looked around more carefully, wondering what the dream would show him this time.

He was swimming over the amphitheater in Celidan. He looked down at what should have been the Eye of Rorra, but he couldn’t see anything. He remembered Chielle had shown it to him from the stone seats, so he dove and turned to face the center from where he had stood in the diving bell.

He couldn’t see anything at first so he stared intently. He caught a glimpse of rippling water and waited for it to open up into the window that was the Eye. It did not. Instead the ripples coalesced and appeared to be moving right at him. He started to back up but it was moving too fast and it was upon him.

It was the shape of a mermaid, made of water, visible only by the distortions and reflections of things behind her. Sten was transfixed and before he could move, she reached out and held his face in her hands and kissed him full on the mouth. He felt water rush into his mouth and all around his face as the watery form rushed past and around him. He turned to watch her and she was gone.

His heart was racing and he found himself breathing hard through his gills, which felt really strange. He had no idea what had just happened. Was that Rorra? Why did she kiss him?

He heard what sounded like distant drums. He spun around, trying to place them, but couldn’t. He remembered Chielle describe how she “heard” with her face to get an all-around picture of her surroundings. He paused and felt for the sound. Yes, drums, drums and cymbals, maybe even stomping feet. Feet? Maybe it was coming from the surface. He swam up and found he could track it.

He breached the surface right off the beach next to his wharf. He knew this place was miles from Celidan, but he went with it. The sound was huge and coming from up in the town. What in the world could be making such a racket?

He struggled up out of the surf and onto the beach, trying to quickly learn how to achieve the hunching step shifting his weight on and off his pelvic fins like crutches. He failed to time his weight shift and he threw himself on his face. He looked around and there was no one on the beach to see him. He squirmed around and got himself up over his tail again. He tried to remember exactly how he had seen Chielle do this. She was so fluid in her motion, he had never really broken it down. Doing it himself was an entirely different matter. He planted his pelvic fins stiffly and coiled his tail up off the ground and swung his weight under to land on what should have been his thighs, but was now his backwards curving upper tail. It worked!

He only made it a half dozen “steps” up onto dry sand when the source of the noise came to him. A throng of villagers spilled out onto the beach, singing and dancing and pounding drums and shaking noisemakers in what he now saw was an enormous celebration. His first reaction to all these people coming his way was to dive back into the sea. He didn’t know if his dream villagers were more or less friendly to Merrow than the real world ones.

He got his answer when several men and women ran up to him and started cheering and patting him on the back and welcoming him into the merriment. He couldn’t tell what they were so happy about, but he was glad they hadn’t attacked him. He looked around and saw several other Merrow dancing and singing in the crowd. The camaraderie took him entirely by surprise.

“What are we celebrating?” he asked a random dancer.

“Rorra’s gift!” the man cried over the din.

“What is Rorra’s gift?”

The man double took on him. “You’re a Merrow. If you don’t know, then who does?” Before Sten could ask him further, he spun off into the crowd dancing and singing.

Sten saw Merrow standing on their folded flukes in the sand swaying and gyrating their hips to the drumbeats and handclaps while singing their long warbling songs. Alongside them humans danced faster paced steps to the fiddles and whistles, yet stayed in time with the Merrow music. The blending of the two musical styles was striking and yet felt so right. Like so many things he had seen between humans and Merrow, they seemed to fit together like two halves of a whole.

A woman called his name from behind him that he thought might be Chielle. He started to turn around but tripped over his tail and fell.

He landed awake in his bed. Being horizontal under covers with legs took a moment to accept. He wiggled his toes just to be sure. He sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. “What was that all about?” he asked his empty room. “Clearly wishful thinking having its way with me.”

He saw dawn was just breaking out through the window on the far side of his bedroom. Something did not look right about the sky. Or was it the sea? He leaned over without getting out of bed to look straight out but saw nothing unusual. Maybe he was just disoriented from the dream. He got up and started his day as usual. By the time he started thinking about breakfast, the odd feeling was back. He decided to go outside and see for sure.

The ocean was gone. He ran to the edge of the wharf and the sea had dropped to only a few feet of water. The Back Forty was tilted over resting on its keel in what couldn’t be more than ten feet of water. Even the lowest tide left over twenty. The ramp down to the landing hung almost vertical. There was a steady cold wind blowing off the ocean. The wind was never cold here, and it was certainly never steady off the sea in the morning. It was all so weird he wondered for a moment if he was still dreaming.

“Sten!”

He scanned the choppy waves and saw Chielle bobbing out in front of the wharf. “What happened?”

It’s Rorratonton, the storm of all storms!”

He looked to the horizon but saw nothing. “Where?”

“Out past the horizon, but moving really fast. You have to evacuate the village.”

“Did you pray to Rorra last night?”

“Yes, I did, but not for this. Did you pray too?”

“No.” He felt the cut on his jaw. “Well, kind of, yeah. I think Rorra has decided the humans have to go.”

“No, that’s why you have to evacuate.”

“That won’t help. We can save ourselves, but a storm this size will smash all the boats. Without the fishing fleet, the town can’t survive.”

While they spoke, Sten kept watching the horizon. He suddenly realized what he was seeing. It had turned black and was moving this way. It stretched as far as the eye could see in both directions. “Holy Atlan,” he muttered to himself. “There won’t be much left of the town itself.”

“It will be here in less than an hour.”

“That’s not enough time to row out to the boats, sail them out and re-anchor them away from the shore, and still make it back to safety.”

“Is half a mile far enough?

“I don’t know. Probably, depends on the storm surge. Why does that matter?”

“There is a drop off half a mile outside the harbor. The ships’ anchors might hold if they stuck below the lip edge.”

“You’re not hearing me, Sweetheart. There isn’t enough time.”

“Not for the fishermen, but there is for us.”

“What?”

“The Merrow can pull the boats to safety.”

“Pull, what? Why would you want to?”

“The fastest way to wipe out fear and mistrust is with generosity.”

Sten was struck speechless for a moment. He was so proud of her yet so afraid for her. “Isn’t that going to be dangerous even for you? What if the storm hits in the middle of your efforts?”

“The more Merrow we get to help, the faster we’ll get done.”

“How many do you have?”

“Certainly all the younger generation who don’t like the old law. Lots of us have been waiting for the chance to break out of the old ways, and this is it.”

“I think you underestimate just how dangerous this is going to be.”

“We work as a community, remember?”

She was right. It wasn’t in her culture or her nature to put herself first. “Chielle, please be careful.”

“We don’t have time to worry,” she answered with a smile that told him she knew what he was thinking.

“All right. Gather up your people. I’ll convince the town. But please don’t do any hauling yourself!”

“Gotta go! I love you!” she called as she disappeared under the waves.

“I love you too,” he said into the wind.

He ran as fast as he could. He passed Jacio coming the other way, and the boy joined him running down the beach. The soft sand at the wharf end was hard to push through. He saw the fishermen down on the wet pack dragging their rowboats down the very long beach and launching them into the much too shallow water.

“Stop!” he yelled. “There isn’t time!”

They didn’t even look up. The wind coming off the storm had grown too strong and loud. Finally he and Jacio got onto the hard, wet sand and could run. “There isn’t enough time! The storm is too big and it’s moving too fast. The Merrow are pulling your fishing boats out of the harbor to safety!”

The men within earshot crowded around him and spoke at the same time.

“They’re what?!”

“Who said they could touch our boats?!”

“How do you know?”

“Those boats are our livelihoods!”

Sten tried to calm them down. “Your boats mean the survival of our whole town. The Merrow know that. We may have our differences, but they aren’t going to sit by and let us get wiped out.”

One of the captains, Dade Bellows, a white haired man with a dark golden tan, and friend of Selric Boole’s, demanded, “How do we know they aren’t just going to steal the anchors for scrap metal?”

“Are you serious? Have any of you ever found anything stolen from any of your boats? Those boats sit out in the harbor every night. If the Merrow were the thieves you say they are, why haven’t they stolen you blind? They’re not thieves.”

“We’d still rather take care of our own boats!” insisted another.

“You can try, but by the time you sail against that rising wind and set anchor, you’re going to be stuck on board when the storm hits. Do you want to go down with your boat if it sinks? There just isn’t time!”

“Why should we listen to you? You’re just a fin lover.” Captain Bellows fired back.

Jacio surprised Sten by stepping up. “I used to think they were no good thieves too. But I’ve met a few of them, and their really good people. You should be glad they are willing to help you out after all the hate you’ve shown them.”

Sten was proud of him, and he saw several of the men consider Jacio’s words.

Dade wasn’t having it. “Are you men going to listen to a boy, the blacksmith’s boy?”

“Use your heads, men,” Sten insisted. “What would Atlan do? He survived the Great Cataclysm by using his head first and his hands second. Why fight the sea when the Merrow have that covered. You’ve got better things to do with the short time you’ve got.”

One of the men in the back who had not spoken yet stepped forward. “Sten, what are you suggesting?”

Dade cut him off. “Clete, are you really going to listen to him?”

“Yes Captain Bellows, I am. Captain Boole showed us where blind hate takes us. If these merfolk are out there risking their necks for us, then we can do better than standing here debating how much we don’t trust them.”

Sten was amazed. “We need to get these rowboats and all your nets and gear back off the beach, as far back up in town as you can get them. Tell everyone to evacuate the coast. From what I saw up on the wharf, the sea could rush in and flood all the way back to the town square.”

Clete turned to the others. “We’ve got work to do.” They all grabbed the rowboats and started heading back up the beach. Dade hesitated and flustered, but then followed suit.

Sten, Jacio and a sailor grabbed the sides of a rowboat and started sliding it up the beach. Sten looked back and saw Captain Bellows, white hair blowing in the wind, and three of his crew running one of their rowboats out into the surf after all.

****

Chielle swam right passed the red-garbed temple guard, reached up, and rang the town alarm bell with all her might. The guard stared at her with a menacing glare while two others swam up behind her and surrounded her. They did not seize her. The rule was anyone can sound the alarm, but you had better have a really good reason.

Villagers rushed to see what was the matter, but she kept ringing it until she had most of the town in the arena. She figured she would only get this one chance, she needed a response right away, and she would either succeed or fail. She stopped ringing it when she saw her father arrive.

“Please listen up, everyone! We have an important decision to make, and we need to make it right now. Rorratonton will make landfall in less than an hour. The humans do not have time to sail their boats out to safety and still make it back to shore before the storm hits and floods Saint Rachel. If we let the storm smash their fishing boats, their village will fail. They will have to abandon their homes.”

“Finally, some good news!” someone yelled from the back. She thought she recognized the voice as belonging to Yurum Bool, a loud-mouthed, mean-hearted friend of her father.

She pressed on undaunted. “We have a once in a lifetime chance to do the right thing. If we drag their boats to safety, they will know we saved them, and all this hatred that has grown from their suspicion and distrust of us will end.”

At that, most of the gathered muttered objections and criticisms among themselves.

She knew she needed to make her point before she was booed off the stage. “They know how much trouble they are in. They know how badly they have treated us. A lot of them want to reach out to build bridges between our villages, but they can’t because we have decided to cut off contact with them. Now, I’m not going to argue whether that’s a good idea. Our elders have decided we need to stay away from the human influence. But does that mean we should sit by and watch them lose everything, when it would be so easy for us to save them. Even if we stay separated, they would be forever grateful for our help. They would know how good we are and how much they can trust us. They are part of our world, like it or not. They are part of Rorra’s world.”

“Then why is Rorra about to drive them into ruin?” someone called out.

“I don’t pretend to understand what Rorra is doing. Maybe she is giving us this chance to show how good we are.”

The crowd stopped shaking their heads and muttering. Maybe she was getting through to them.

“We need to stay here and secure our own village,” someone point out. “This storm is too big to just pass over us with no damage.”

“It won’t take many of us to do this. Rorra has also given us a pod of gray whales who are coming up the coast right now, out of season, ready for us to put to good use pulling those boats to safety.”

“How do you know about that?” This time she was sure it was Yurum, and he was definitely hiding back in the third row.

“I just saw them on my way back from Saint Rachel.”

“What were you doing there? We’re forbidden from making contact.”

“Yurum, I thought it only fair to warn them of the storm.”

“You saw your boyfriend, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I told Sten to tell the village.”

The crowd parted and Jeljing himself swam up toward her.

She swallowed hard and pressed on. “How will you all feel if we let the humans lose their homes when we know how easy it would be…”

The Shaman held up his hand and settled to face her. “You can stop. You made your point.” He winked at her and turned to face the crowd. “Chielle is right. We are above being vindictive. I too am confused by what Rorra is doing with this storm. If we can make good of it by doing the right thing by our neighbors, in spite of how they have treated us, then we should.”

He turned to her and smiled. “Go get those whales and save those boats.”

She bowed down, grabbed up his hand and rubbed her cheek on it to kiss it. “Thank you, Your Grace. You won’t regret this.”

She swam out across the crowd, signaling to her brother and their friends to come along. Numerous other young Merrow swam up from their families and joined them. As she swam passed, she saw her mother standing by her father. Chumbor Mmava watched her with neither a smile nor a frown. Chielle knew that was her father’s wait-and-see look. Gonnakaa, on the other hand, quietly beamed up at her in pride.

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Categories: Mermaid Steel, Writing
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