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

Chapter Sixteen of Mermaid Steel

Thymon followed his sister’s lead as she signaled to the other fourteen young Merrow to fan out in front of the advancing whales and not let them pass.

“You have to be nice to them. Firm but nice,” she told him.

“Yes, I’ve done this before. You compliment them, praise them, they like that.”

“They’re probably pretty scared from the storm. I expect they won’t want to stop. Just don’t take no for an answer.”

The usually clear water was churned cloudy even this far out and deep. Thymon spotted six whales, four big females and two smaller males. He was glad to see there were no babies. The females could get violently uncooperative when they had babies along. He swam up to one of the females and pulled alongside her enormous head. “Welcome beautiful sister,” be greeted her in her own language.

She eyed him suspiciously. “Welcome to you,” she said steering away from him.

He darted around to her other side. “I need your help. Rorra needs your help. You alone are strong enough to help.”

Two other Merrow fell in alongside the forty arm-length whale and stroked her barnacle-scarred gray sides with their hands.

“Storm coming. Must leave,” the big gray told him.

“Yes, big storm. We will keep you safe from the big storm,” Thymon assured her. “First we need your help, your strong and gentle help.”

She slowed to a drift. “You will keep us safe?”

“Yes, there are many of us. We have refuge. You are large and able. We are small. Will you help us?”

“To do what?”

“Push boats.”

“How far?”

“Not far. From the harbor to the drop off.”

The whale turned toward the harbor as she spoke, guided and encouraged by the Merrow. “How many?”

“Ten. It will be easy with you so strong, so graceful, so gentle.” Thymon looked back and saw the other teams had turned their whales too. They were all pointed toward the harbor, and they seemed to be watching Thymon’s whale who was in the lead. “You are leader mother. The others look to you to lead.”

She kicked and sped up the coast and into the harbor.

Thymon signaled for his partners to swim ahead and prepare the first fishing boat. When Thymon and his whale arrived, they had jumped on board and pulled up the anchor. Thymon was thankful there was still enough depth in the harbor for the whales to maneuver. He guided his enormous charge around behind the boat and to nudge against its stern. The boat was longer than the whale, but she had no problem shoving it out to sea. Thymon was pleased with how easy this was going.

He looked around and saw there were another two dozen boats anchored in the harbor besides the ten fishing vessels. Thymon wasn’t sure if they would have time to rescue them as well.

His pleasure did not last long. By the time the first boat was beyond the lip and he told his partners to drop the anchor, the sea had grown choppy with whitecap waves and the wind was howling. He was glad to see another five boats moving into position. He turned his whale back for another boat as quickly as he could coax her.

Back in the harbor, things had become dangerous. The waves were tossing the boats high and low, and it was hard to get his whale to cooperate. His partners barely got the anchor up and had to jump off the boat or be thrown. Thymon put his hands on the stern and pushed. His fellows saw what he was doing and joined him.

“We all work together for Rorra,” he chanted.

“We all work together for Rorra,” the others joined in.

“We all work together for Rorra,” they sang all together.

Finally the whale followed their lead and pushed up against the boat. “Together for Rorra,” the behemoth sang as she took over the pushing.

He looked across the harbor and could barely see how the other teams were doing in the dim light under the sky that was now black. Rain started coming down in great sheets. He caught a glimpse of Chielle lining up her whale behind the next boat over. The anchor was up.

A bolt of lightning flashed and he saw men on board the boat. Chielle did not see them. One of the men had a harpoon and he was running for the stern. Thymon left his team to handle his whale and swam as fast as he could to his sister’s aid. He cried out to her above the water, but his voice was lost in the wind. He dove under and yelled her name through the water as he swam, but he couldn’t be sure she heard him.

He arrived in time to see the man throw the harpoon. Chielle saw the man and dove under. The whale slammed the boat hard and the man tumbled over the back rail. Thymon dove under looking for Chielle, and found the harpoon lodged shallowly in the whale’s side. He pulled it free and circled around for his sister. She wasn’t where he had seen her. She wasn’t with her team at the boat either.

The man floundered and yelled for help. Thymon decided he could wait. He dove under and peered into the dark water but could not find her. He circled the area twice more, fighting back panic. He surfaced to ask the man if he had seen where she went, but the man wasn’t where he had left him.

Frustration, anger, and fear all overtook him. He looked back and watched the whale, guided by Chielle’s team, pushing the boat to safety. Thymon felt powerless with the storm so violent and overwhelming. He dove again, continuing to look for his sister.

****

Sten sat at one of the front tables in The Pied Cock, looking through the shuttered windows at the wagon he had loaded with his most valuable tools. Rain fell from the black sky in a continuous downpour. The wind tore at the tarpaulin he had tied over his belongings, making sure the water got in. He knew his shack would not survive the beating the storm was giving the wharf. He looked around the room, which was full but not as crowded as he expected, at the others who had come to wait out the storm. The place often smelled of damp. This was the tropics, after all. With the downpour, the usual sap smell of the wood beams was mixed with mud and mold from below the floor boards.

One table was full of the fishermen he had helped at the beach. They all looked really worried and made small talk to distract themselves. Clete Sandsen caught his eye and nodded. Sten raised his glass and nodded back.

Arum Blaine returned to their table and set another beer in front of Sten. “We’re going to be here for a while,” the constable said humorlessly.

“Could be even longer,” Sten countered. “After this, I am probably homeless.”

“The town’s got a bigger problem than that.” He sipped the foam off the top of his own beer. “How are we going to rebuild with no working blacksmith?”

“Damiel’s will be open. He’s way inland. Besides, I can set up shop anywhere you’ve got bricks and charcoal. When I first got here I was working out of one of Norn Tureck’s barns.”

“That was just over a year ago? You came from up in the northeast, mountain country, right?”

“Yeah, a village called Nathanson. Why the sudden interest in my background?”

“Well, I was going to sidle up to it, being all clever, but I guess I’m just not that smooth. I understand Patry Bilboa treated your broken ribs after your fight with Selric Boole. She asked me if I knew about your lash scars. She said she counted fifteen. As the Officer of the Peace here I have a right to know if someone has a criminal past, even if they have paid for it. Fifteen lashes got my attention. Anything you want to share with me?”

Sten looked around the room and no one was listening. “I murdered a man. It was revenge. He killed my younger sister. Actually he raped, killed, and mutilated her. I was responsible for her after our parents died. She was sixteen. I was twenty-four. I was found guilty, because I was. No one could prove the killer did it, but everyone knew he did. The judge went light on me instead of hanging me because he agreed the killer had it coming.” Sten was surprised at how calmly he could talk about this most painful time of his life. Enough time had passed, apparently.

“I thought I paid my debt to society and should be able to go on with my life. Nothing was ever the same after the people I grew up with thought of me as capable of cold-blooded murder. So I left. I made my way all across the continent for four years before I finally felt like I could make a fresh start here.”

Arum leaned back and stared at him dispassionately all through his story. Sten had seen that look before, that taking-it-all-in, non-committal look the lawman had. “That explains a lot of why you are so driven by justice issues. When you got so fired up about the Merrow being mistreated, I thought that might mean you knew a thing or two about the law.”

“I’ve just been on the receiving end of the law.”

“That’s right, when Roff Collum got his lashes for shooting that merman, you said he should pay the price like a man and be done with it. You paid your price but it didn’t work out so well for you.”

“I hoped for better here.”

The building shook and groaned against the wind. Sten looked back out the window.

“We’ll be fine,” Arum dismissed.

“I’m not worried about us.”

“You’ve told me what a smart girl your Chielle is. She knows that ocean better than any of us ever will. You’ve got to assume she’ll be fine. Otherwise you’ll just stay up all night sweating it, which will make no difference.”

“You have an amazingly detached sense of things, you know that?”

“I don’t let things get to me, if that’s what you mean.”

“You’ll have to share your secret with me sometime.”

Arum squinted on a thought. “I know it’s not my pace, and the last time I said something stupid about the Merrow you let me have it out in the street.”

“Even so, you feel compelled to stick you foot back in your mouth?” Sten said with a smile.

“I guess so.” He grinned and shook his head. “You seem awfully smitten with this girl in a very short time. Are you sure she hasn’t enchanted you? Mermaids are supposed to have siren powers over men.”

Sten saw this coming and chuckled. “You know, as ignorant as that is, I can’t get mad at you, because I asked her the same question. No, they actually can’t use their voice or any magic to enchant a man. That really is just a myth. No, I fell in love with her the old fashioned way, for all the right reasons.”

They were interrupted by a roaring sound that seemed to come up from below the floor. Sten looked out the window again and saw water flooding up the street from the ocean. It came in waves, just a few inches at first, but soon there was a couple of feet of standing water filling the street. Many of the bar patrons got up and looked. Paulbert Caron came running up, pony tail wagging, with an armload of towels which he kicked into place across the bottom of the door.

“This street has got to be, what, twenty feet above highest tide?” Sten figured out loud.

“That’s some storm surge,” Arum agreed.

Everyone sighed relief when the water stopped rising and seemed to recede slowly back to the sea.

Sten shook his head and rolled his eyes with a great exhaled sigh.

“What is it?”

“Here I am sitting, waiting for the storm to pass, unable to do anything to save the town or help the Merrow save the boats. Just sitting here going with the flow of things, trying to have faith that things will turn out all right,” he said with exasperation. “That’s the Merrow way of doing things. They trust in Rorra, their sea god, and wait to see what Rorra will give them. At this same time, Chielle, the love of my life, is out in the hurricane dragging fishing boats to safety. She’s taking control. She’s seizing the opportunity. Isn’t that supposed to be the human way, the way Atlan taught us?”

“You have a problem with this? Would you rather be out in the ocean fighting a hurricane?”

“No. Well, yes, but that’s not the point. The irony is just making me crazy. I’m so frustrated. I can’t stand this.”

“You should take this as a lesson. She learned assertiveness from you. You should learn patience from her.”

****

Chielle looked up and was shocked to see a man on board. She was further horrified to see him haul back to throw a harpoon at her and she dove under the stern of the boat. Her whale also saw the man and kicked mightily, plowing the boat so hard it lifted the back out of the water. She turned around to see what the whale was doing and the boat slammed down on top of her, knocking her unconscious. With all of the air forced out of her lungs, she sank heavily into the dark waters.

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Categories: Mermaid Steel, Writing
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