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Extensive new interview up on Muse Hack

October 31, 2014 Leave a comment
Categories: Writing

Chapters 17 and 18 of Mermaid Steel – The End

October 6, 2014 Leave a comment

Finishing is cool.

Chapter Seventeen

Chielle was walking through the snow again. She found the scrunching sound of snow underfoot very satisfying, and she stomped her fur boots a little harder with each step to make more of the delicious noise. She had come to love the feeling of pushing off with her feet against the ground. She still didn’t like how her knees only bent in one direction. She kept wanting to move them to the side or in curves. Still, as long as these dreams kept giving her the chance, she was going to take it for all it was worth.

She was walking across a field of snow with no clear destination. It was pleasant enough, with her bundled up against the cold, the sun high in the clear blue sky over the untouched smooth snow, the smell of crisp, clean air in her nose. So she didn’t worry herself about where she was going. Best to let the dream take her and show her what she needed to see.

She took a step and it sank lower than she expected. She figured it was just a dent in the ground below, so she took another step. This one sank even further. She stepped to the side to find level footing, and the bottom fell out with an alarmingly loud crack. Her steps knocked open a fissure in the ice below the snow and she barely had time to catch herself with her arms on the snow. She looked down into the dark crystal blue gap and fought back panic. She pushed her booted feet against the slippery walls of the crack but could not get any traction. She tried to wedge her legs against opposite sides of the crack to push up, but this pulled her body away from the one side she was hanging onto. She felt her grip slipping and she clawed at the snow but it was too late. She fell into the crack, sliding down the walls of ice until her body wedged tight. She looked up and saw she was at least ten cubits below the surface.

She had no idea how she was going to get out. Panic set in as she frantically looked around for any option and found none. “Help!” she yelled. Her voice rang off the walls but she doubted the sound made it out her prison. “Help!” She had no tools in her clothing. Her only consolation was her clothing was thick enough to protect her against the bitter cold of the ice all around her. “Help!”

She considered taking her coat off and wedging it below her. Even if she could stand on it, the surface was too far away for her to reach it. “Help!”

Minutes went by. She wondered if anyone would even think to look for her. She was new in town. The thought squeezed the last bit of hope out of her. She hung her head and started to cry.

Something moved next to her. She jumped, fearing something alive and dangerous was in the crack with her. She looked up and it was the end of a rope, a rope hanging down into the crack.

“Hello down there!” A man’s voice called from the surface. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, I am not hurt, just stuck. Can you pull me up?”

“I’m an old man, so I’m not sure I can pull you. I’ll hang on, and you climb.”

She twisted around and got a good grip with both hands. “Are you ready?” she called up.

“Okay, I’ve got you.”

She pulled and tried to kick with her feet, but again, they slipped off the walls uselessly. She took a deep breath and pulled with all her might, dragging herself up. She got her hands down to her chest and then flashed one hand up to grab some more rope. She had never climbed something hand over hand before and it took a moment to figure out the motion.

In the back of her mind she became aware that she has not holding a rope, but a chain. Her feet were not hanging uselessly, but rather her tail was throbbing in pain and not moving. She tried to bend it and stiffening pain racked up its length. Her head hurt too. She blinked and the dark blue ice faded to dark water, brown from the churned bottom. The hardness of the ice walls gave way to the violent surging of the tides around her. She looked down and saw an anchor holding the chain steady enough for her to hold on. She looked up and saw a boat at the other end being tossed around. She remembered where she was and realized how quickly she needed to get to safety. She didn’t know how long she had been knocked out. The storm surge could arrive at any moment, and she would be swept up onto the shore like so much kelp. Being hurled onto the buildings of the waterfront was not something she wanted to think about.

Time to go.

****

As soon as the rain and winds relented enough, everyone in the pub ventured out to survey the damage. Sten ran for the shore. The water in the streets was still running back into the sea, and he had to watch his step as he overran the runoff. As people ventured tentatively from storefronts, Sten noticed someone jogging along behind him. It was Clete and the other fishermen from the pub. He knew what they wanted to see.

As he neared the shore, he was taken by the smell of rot. When he turned out onto the beach, he could see why. Great heaping piles of seaweed had been thrown up onto the buildings facing the beach. Many buildings were caved in or had their roofs smashed by the force of the water. People were inspecting the damage, but no one appeared harmed. He was glad to see folks had cleared out in time. As he scanned the debris, he was even happier to not see any Merrow bodies thrown ashore.

Several boats were tossed and broken on the beach. The fishing boats were not among them. The light rain and the dark skies made it hard to see very far, but he could make out some boats moored outside the harbor. The Merrow had come through.

Yet there was no sign of the Merrow. He stood on the beach with his fists clenched, barely able to contain his impatience and dread. Where was she?

The fishermen who ran up behind him spotted their boats safe outside the harbor and began cheering and yelling. Clete ran up and grabbed Sten in a bear hug. “I’m sorry we ever doubted you or your merfolk.”

“I’m just glad they pulled it off. I wonder if Captain Bellows made it back safely.”

“We’ll find out when we row out to fetch the boats once the sea calms down.” Clete looked out again at the ocean which was choppy but no longer threatening. “I hope your girlfriend is all right.”

Sten was surprised and smiled at him. “Thank you for that.”

What had been a trickle of people coming to the beach was now a steady stream of concerned onlookers. The town’s three dozen fishermen were gathering on the wet sand near the surf, pointing and clasping each other on the shoulders. Sten looked over at the wharf. The pilings were still intact, but a lot of timber was torn away. His shop had some walls standing, but it was clearly thrashed.

The fishermen started calling out something and Sten turned to see them pointing into the surf. He didn’t see them at first, then he spotted heads bobbing behind the breakers. Swimmers, yes, the Merrow had come to see what the storm had done. Sten ran down to the water’s edge. “Welcome!”

Clete stepped up beside him. “Yes, please come ashore! We want to thank you for saving our boats!”

Very tentatively, a handful of young Merrow men came up out of the waves. Clete and Sten shook their hands. “Thank you all so much for saving our fleet,” the fisherman started. “How did it go? Was it dangerous? Was anyone hurt?”

“It was scary toward the end with the last few boats. The storm came up strong and tossed your boats around like toys. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Sten was taken with how normal the young Merrow sounded, just like any young man after a big adventure. He was glad the fishermen were seeing just how approachable he was.

“I think there were some injuries. We had whales helping us.”

“Whales?” Sten was amazed.

“Yeah, it was Chielle’s idea to use them.”

“Where is Chielle?”

“I don’t know.” He looked around at his fellows who were talking with villagers. “I’m sure someone has seen her.”

Sten held his hand out. “By the way, I’m Sten.”

“Oh, you’re Chielle’s Sten. Glad to meet you. I’m Kriish. I’m a friend of Chielle’s brother Thymon.”

“I know Thymon. We once shared a quill together.”

Kriish looked rather shocked.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned that,” Sten said with a shrug.

The clouds were starting to thin and break up, letting in late afternoon light that made it much easier to see on the beach. The villagers had all come down on the sand and were checking out the stranded, broken boats and meeting the Merrow. Sten saw this but he didn’t think about what a great step this was. He was too distracted. Kriish has said there were injuries.

He shook Kriish’s hand, “It was very nice to meet you. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go do something.” He started walking down the beach, looking at each of the Merrow who had come on land. He did not try to assure himself, as Blaine had tried, that she was certainly capable enough to not get hurt. The more faces he saw, the more nervous he became.

He saw what looked like two Merrow attached to one another coming up out of the waves. He ran to the water’s edge and saw it was one carrying another. When they cleared the breakers he saw it was Thymon carrying Chielle.

Sten ran out into the water. “Chielle! Thank Heavens you’re all right. Wait a minute. You’re not all right. Can’t you walk?”

She turned around in her brother’s arms and hugged Sten. “Hello Sweetheart.”

He hugged her back and took her from Thymon. “Have you broken something? Are you in any pain?”

“She won’t admit to any pain, but it obviously hurts too much to swim or walk,” Thymon explained.

Sten stared at her with such excitement and such relief he found himself breathing hard. Just holding her in his arms, being able to protect her when he had just felt so helpless, he couldn’t think straight to ask the next question.

“Oh dear, are you all right Sten?” She held his face in her hands and looked into his eyes. “You look like you’re going to faint.”

“I’m just so relieved. You can’t imagine how relieved I am to have you here. How were you injured?”

A boat got lifted up and it fell on me. I was knocked out and when I came to my tail was badly bruised. I don’t think anything is broken, but it hurts a lot when I try to use it.”

He leaned in and rested his forehead on hers. “I’ve got you now.”

“It took us a while to get up onto the beach too, her brother added.”All the water running off the land is creating some really strong riptides. I wanted to take her home to treat her, but she insisted we come ashore first.”

“Your friend Kriish said you wrangled whales to help push the boats. That’s amazing.”

“It was one of the whales that lifted the boat that landed on me. They’re really strong.”

Thymon wasn’t going to leave that alone. “I saw what happened. The whale defended you. I pulled the harpoon out of the whale’s hide.”

“Whoa, what happened?” Sten jumped in. “Harpoon?”

“One of the boats had sailors on it, and one of them tried to harpoon Chielle when she lined up her whale. I saw what was happening and I swam over as fast as I could but it was too far. The sailor threw the spear, and the whale dove under it and into the back of the boat. Chielle dove under the boat, but then it came down on her. She sank to the bottom and I couldn’t find her for the longest time. It was very scary.”

“Did the sailor have long white hair?”

“Yes,” Chielle said.

“Dade Bellows.”

“You knew him?”

“I tried to stop him.”

“He fell into the sea and perished,” Thymon explained. “The other sailors are still stuck on that boat.”

Sten walked up onto the sand carrying her, headed for a group of very noisily happy men and Merrow. He noticed a group of villagers headed down the beach toward the reveling fishermen as well. “I want you to meet the fishermen whose livelihoods you just saved.”

“Clete Sandsen, this is Chielle Mmava and her brother Thymon. It was Chielle’s idea to re-anchor the boats outside the harbor.”

He shook her hand vigorously. “That’s fantastic! We can’t thank you enough!” He turned to the other fishermen who were trading stories with the other Merrow. “Men! This is the little lady who thought of towing the boats to safety! Can I have a three cheer?”

“Hip, hip, hurray! Hip, hip, hurray! Hip, hip, hurray!”

Chielle seemed embarrassed by all the noisy attention.

Sten saw the group of villagers on the other side of the revelers taken aback by the cheer. They spoke among themselves and then left as a group.

Sten explained to Clete. “Chielle was injured saving Dade Bellows’ boat. Unfortunately, Captain Bellows fell overboard in the rough seas and drowned. His men are still on their boat.”

Clete nodded. “We’ll go get them presently.” To Chielle he added, “I’m sorry you got injured, miss.”

“Thank you. I’ll be all right,” she assured him.

Sten tracked the moving group of villagers as they made their way back to the debris-strewn waterfront walkway. He saw lots of shaking heads and waving fists. It seemed not everyone was pleased with the celebration.

His eye was caught by someone climbing up the poles of what used to be the welcome sign over the wharf. The recently repainted wooden unwelcome sign was entirely blown away by the storm. He pointed to them for Chielle to see. While they watched, two men shimmyed up the poles and hung a cloth sign across the gap that read, “Welcome All.”

She gave him a big congratulatory hug.

****

Patry Bilboa waded through the crowd that had collected at the end of Main Street, looking out over the waterfront. She absently noticed the exquisite bustled red dress in front of her and deduced it had to be Vanda Rymerand. She tapped the young woman on the shoulder. “Isn’t this quite the turn of events?”

Vanda turned back and scowled. “Indeed.”

“I am as surprised as the next person, but I have to say, I am pleased they rose to the occasion.” Patry noticed that her words were not having the effect she expected. In fact, the more she spoke, the angrier Vanda seemed to become. “The fishermen seem to be having a party right there on the beach. I assume the merfolk succeeded in saving their boats.”

“I’m convinced it’s a trick,” the young blonde growled through clenched teeth. “There is no way those fin have that kind of integrity.”

“Vanda dear, if I may say so, your anger seems bigger than any lingering suspicion. Do you know something we should all know?”

“Only that they are thieves. Always have been and always will be. That strumpet Chielle they are all cheering about stole my Sten right out from my grasp. Can you imagine that? Sten with a stinking fin, over me? Who does she think she is?”

Patry was relieved to hear Vanda’s anger was simple jealousy. For a moment, she worried if Vanda had discovered some hidden agenda. While the young woman railed on about her would-be paramour, Patry noticed a glittering bauble on a chain around Vanda’s neck, bouncing between her breasts pressed up by her low cut bodice. “Yes, yes, dear, men are remarkably fickle that way, I’m sure. If you will excuse me, I need to ask you about your beautiful necklace.”

Vanda held it up to show it off.

Patry was stunned silent.

“Isn’t it exquisite. I believe these are all real diamonds and rubies. Mama gave it to me just before she passed away. She said it was her ‘closest held treasure,’ whatever that meant. Clearly one of a kind. It is certainly my favorite.

Patry could not bring herself to speak. She held back a tear and took a deep breath to steady herself. “Yes, it is lovely. If you’ll excuse me, I have something I must do.” She pressed her way through the crowd and marched out onto the sand.

Stomping through the sand, she could not hold back any longer and she broke down crying. “Selna Rymerand, how could you! We’re you so jealous of our friendship you had to tear it apart with theft and lies? I trusted you. I trusted you!” She stopped walking, bent down and clasped her face in her hands. She started sobbing, overcome with anger and regret. “You, you monster!”

She sniffed a great inhale and stood up straight. “I may not be able to curse you to your face, but I can certainly make amends. She wiped her tears away and resumed marching down to the water.

It wasn’t hard to find Chielle. For some reason Sten was cradling her in his arms. Maybe he was just glad to see her. She stepped through the sailors milling about. “Chielle, my dear. congratulations on a job well done!”

“Mrs. Bilboa, what a pleasant surprise.”

“Hello Patry,” Sten greeted her.

“Hello Sten. Chielle, I have to ask you a favor. When you next see your mother, could you please tell her I need to see her as soon as possible? It is a private matter and quite urgent.”

“Of course, I’ll be glad to.”

“Thank you. Tell her I will come wherever and whenever works for her.”

“I will. Is everyone all right?”

“Yes. In fact, things are going to be much better from now on.”

Sten watched her trudge away back into town. “You told me your mom and Patry both worked on my bandages. I didn’t know they knew each other.”

“Actually they have a long history together. I’ll tell you all about it sometime.”

They were interrupted by a commotion down at the water’s edge. The fishermen and their Merrow guests parted to allow the Jeljing, the Merrow Shaman and his entourage to stride ashore. The leader’s elaborate coral crown and wide, colorful, beaded collar had been impressive in the town square. It was rather intimidating in person, making him appear a foot taller and a foot wider. Sten braced himself for what he was sure to be bad news. Aside quietly to Chielle, who was still in his arms, he asked, “How do I address him?”

“Your Grace,” she whispered back. “Let him speak first.”

He pulled up to stand on his fluke while his guards did the same behind him. “Mister Holdsmith and Miss Mmava, this was not a normal storm, was it?” He asked rhetorically. “It was almost as if tensions between our two peoples had built into a typhoon. What would you know about such things?”

“The storm was a gift from Rorra,” Sten declared.

He felt Chielle stiffen in his arms that he spoke up.

The Shaman raised an eyebrow. “Your village is badly battered, yet you think this was a gift?”

“The town can be rebuilt. The goddess gave us a chance to rise above our differences, a chance for humans to remember how good the Merrow really are.”

The eyebrow came down and his gaunt old face stretched into a grin.

Sten decided this was his one chance. “The Merrow risked their safety to show their good will. To make this peace last, please let the humans show our good will in return. Let us exchange gifts with your people. No one lacks for anything with an abundant sea and land. That goes for steel too. No more smelting in volcanoes out of desperation. It is only right to give when there is need. You live your lives by this truth. Let us show you that we believe that too. We can overcome greed if we are given the chance to do the right thing. You call it mutual giving. We call it trade. It will keep both of us away from fear and hate.”

The Shaman looked around the beach at the humans and Merrow standing side by side, paused in the midst of open celebration. He looked Sten square in the eye. He raised his hand and swept it over the attentive crowd. “Only if, and only for as long, as trade fosters more of this.”

Sten reached up with his right hand while still supporting Chielle’s tail with that arm, and shook his still outstretched hand. He caught the shocked look on Chielle’s face out of the corner of his eye. Well, he was bound to breach some formality at some point. “You won’t regret this, sir.”

Arum Blaine stepped up unexpectedly from somewhere behind Sten and greeted the Shaman. “Your Grace, welcome ashore. Please allow me the honor of treating you to some of our hospitality.”

Sten was amused at Arum saving him from his embarrassment. His amusement was short lived. Right behind Jeljing’s exiting entourage was a stern looking, broad shouldered Merrow in a dark blue tunic that somehow reminded Sten of Chielle and Thymon. “Oh,” he muttered when he realized why.

“Daddy,” Chielle started, “this is Sten Holdsmith. Sten, this is Chambor Mmava, my father.”

Her father folded his arms over his thick chest. Sten couldn’t stand letting an awkward silence ruin this moment, so he stepped right up. “Sir, I am delighted to finally meet you. I wanted to meet you when I visited your beautiful town last week, but I couldn’t stay very long.”

He eyed Sten up and down. “I expected you to be taller. Everyone talks of this crusader for justice who is going to bring peace to the two villages. This adventurer who risks drowning to see Celidan with his own eyes. This compassionate friend who my youngest daughter has fallen in love with. I thought, surely a man worthy of so many accolades must be a giant among men.”

Chielle cut him off. “Daddy, he is. His people recognize him as a hero.”

“I can see that. I see you, Sten, as the man who inspires my daughter to do crazy things, like pushing boats to safety in the middle of a typhoon. I can see she was injured in the effort, otherwise you wouldn’t be holding her like that. I was prepared to not like you, but I see I have no reason not to like you.”

Sten wasn’t sure if he should be encouraged by this or not.

“Our village took damage from the storm as well. We are going to need the talents of all our people to help with repairs, including Chielle.”

“Does that mean my ban on seeing Sten is lifted?” she asked a little too quickly.

Chambor continued talking to Sten. “I cannot control my headstrong daughter, so I am hoping you can at least keep her from harm. I will release her from the ban to see you, but I need your assurance that you will not let her take any more risks like this.”

“Thank you, Sir. It will be my honor to protect your daughter from herself, and anything else that threatens her.”

Chielle wiggled her tail to get their attention. “Hey, you two! I’m right here.”

Sten smiled at her. “Thank Rorra for that.”

The clear, hollow sound of a fiddle cut through the drizzle and the muffled din of people talking. The song was a reel, a relatively calm dance tune that Sten agreed would be a good way to introduce step dancing to the sway-minded Merrow. He craned his neck to see and indeed some men were dancing to the fiddler on the hard packed wet sand next to the lapping waves. The Merrow were watching the rapid bouncy steps intently.

One young Merrow man with a bandaged arm hunched into the dancers, stood up on his fluke, and began clapping his hands in half time to the music. He then swayed and gyrated in time with his clapping.

“Go Serool!” Thymon called out.

Sten was surprised at how well the two dance forms blended, one lots of small steps and the other no stepping at all but swaying on a planted tail. What amazed Sten even more was that he had seen this blending before, in the dream he had last night, the dream he had dismissed as wishful thinking.

“What is it Sweetheart?”

He looked down at her look of curious concern.

“You look like you just saw a ghost.”

He shook his head absently and grinned. “No, not a ghost, a goddess. Rorra showed this to me, to tell me everything would be all right.”

“In a dream?”

“Yeah.”

“Sten, when you were a boy, did you ever fall into a crack in the ice and need to climb out with a rope?”

He double took and gasped. “Yes! Did you dream about that?”

She nodded and said, “I think your memory saved my life out there in the storm.”

Sten wasn’t sure what to make of that, so he just hugged her closer.

Other Merrow started singing a high pitched, rhythmic chant that went with the swaying dance and clapping, and again complemented the more rapid violin playing. Another human added a penny whistle and another a boran drum. In no time more humans and Merrow joined in the dance as well, and the revelry became contagious. Sten felt his breath catch in his throat.

Chielle pointed past the dancers. “Look, there’s my mom.”

She started to call out to her, but Sten stopped her. “Hang on. Look over there,” he said pointing. That’s Patry Bilboa, and I think she’s found your mom.”

They watched as Patry pushed past a few folk and came up to Gonnakaa. The two spoke, with Patry doing most of the talking.

“That looks pretty intense,” Sten observed. “I wonder what they’re talking about.”

“I might know. I’ll ask Mom about it later.”

Patry suddenly abandoned her usual collected demeanor and started pleading. She looked really upset, maybe even crying. Gonnakaa threw her arms around the woman and started crying with her in an embrace that Sten thought could only mean forgiveness.

“Looks like some of the wounds dividing us go pretty deep.”

Chielle squeezed his shoulders and pressed her cheek against his chest. “Mrs. Bilboa said it herself. Things are going to be much better from now on.”

Chapter Eighteen

The further he walked out the wharf, the more timbers were missing from the walking surface. He steered the handcart around the holes as best he could. By the time he got to the remains of his shop, he had to lift the cart over gaping holes. The floating landing and its ramp were nowhere to be seen, ripped away and sunk.

The walls of his shack had more boards missing than intact. The roof was nearly gone. A whole day after the storm ended, everything was still sopping wet.

The brick hearth had collapsed when the beams beneath it shook. He stood there imagining what that much have looked like. He was glad he had grabbed most of his smithing tools, since it would have been a mess digging things out of that pile.

He was amused to find his pots and pans still in the cabinets.

His living quarters were the worst. Two of the outside walls were gone, and where his bed and sitting area had been, he was greeted by a clear view of the sea below.

“Oh, Sten,” Chielle’s sighed behind him. “Your home is destroyed.”

He smiled back at her from the doorway. “The storm took the bed where we first made love.”

She stepped up beside him and looked. She whistled at the sight, without blowing out any air in that way that only Merrow can. She was wearing some kind of wig woven out of yellow threadlike sea grass. It covered her gill fringes and hung down over her shoulders.

“What are you wearing?”

She flipped the ends around. “Do you like it?”

“It’s pretty. You did a beautiful job weaving it. It looks almost like human hair.”

“Exactly,” she beamed.

“Can you breathe all right? I mean it covers your gills.”

She looked annoyed. “Yes, I can breathe fine.”

“Did you do make this for me?”

“You don’t like it, do you?”

“Yes, I like it. It’s just different. I want you to know I love the way you look normally. You don’t need to change anything for me.”

“I know. I thought it might be easier for you to, I don’t know…”

“This awkwardness isn’t like you. Something’s bothering you. What’s got you thinking I need you to look more human?’

“It must have taken you some time to accept how different I am from you. I know it took me a while to get used to being with all your hair. Hair seems to be such a big part of being human, I thought maybe I should have some too.”

“I will admit, it took me some time, but frankly not very long. I think I started falling in love with you as soon as I started to get to know you.”

“Well, it bothers me that you have to think of me as this departure.  I thought you might like to see me more like the women you’ve known.”

Sten snorted. “Sweetheart, you are more woman than anyone I have ever known. I love you just the way you are.”

“You shave for me.”

“That’s true.”

“I’ve seen how much trouble shaving is. You cut yourself almost every time.”

“You’re right. I do appreciate what you’ve done. We talked about how the townspeople will accept you. The wig might make a difference to them. You don’t need it for me. I love you just the way you are. I think you’re beautiful. You know that, right?”

“Yes, but I’m afraid.”

“Afraid? You, who just stood up to the whole of Merrow tradition to save us all from a typhoon? The heroine of my life is afraid? Of what?”

“That someday you will tire of how we can’t make love properly.”

“What, do you think I’m going to leave you for a human just because she has the plumbing I fit into? Sweetheart, every woman I have ever known has had the right anatomy for that. None of them have ever been the right person for me. That’s what you’ve got over anyone and everyone else, regardless of species.”

“I believe you when you tell me you love me. I know your promises are good. I don’t want you to promise something that will make you unhappy.”

“The only thing that would make me unhappy would be losing you.”

“I won’t be able to give you children.”

“I know. I thought about what that would be like. Would you want to bring children into the world who might be rejected by both your people and mine as half breeds? You and I are choosing this life. It would be thrust upon them.”

“That makes me very sad. but you are right.”

He paused and grinned. “Now the one part of your mermaid anatomy that did cause me some concern was your webbed hands.”

“What do you mean? You said you liked how soft my webs are.”

He walked out to his cart and dug out a satchel. She followed. “Yes, but you can’t wear a ring on your finger.”

She took the box he offered her and opened it. The polished silver filigree bracelet gleamed in the sun that filtered in through the broken shack. The metal swirls formed the letter “H” at the center. She took it out and stared at it wide eyed. She knew this meant something important, but wasn’t sure what. “When I wear this, everyone will know it’s from you, right?”

“Exactly.”

She brightened with the happy connection, “So this…marks me as yours?”

He knelt down on one knee. “Chielle Mmava, will you marry me?”

She sucked in a surprised breath and shifted her wide eyed stare from the bracelet to his face, and just froze. He noticed she had stopped breathing. A long moment went by and she still didn’t let out the breath.

He laughed. “I know you can hold your breath a long time. You haven’t answered my question.”

She caught herself. “I…I…I’m speechless.” She hastily put the bracelet on her wrist and blurted out, “I wasn’t expecting this. Yes. Oh, yes! By the depths and waves, yes!” She flung her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. “Yes, I will marry you Sten Holdsmith. I will be your loving, devoted wife for the rest of my days.”

He stood up, wrapped his arms around her and pressed her up against his body.

She kissed him on the lips and rubbed her face against his with slow deep affection. “Oh, Sten.”

“What I’m offering won’t be an easy life. Especially for you, since I can’t live in the water the way you can live on land.”

“I know. I’ve thought about that.” She loosened her grip and looked him in the eyes. “I have thought about what life would be like with you. I never expected you to ask me to marry you, but I have certainly fantasized about it. Oh, what about my father?”

“Have you forgotten that he made me promise to protect you yesterday? I’m hoping that’s only a handshake away from giving me permission to marry you.”

“I know we can make it work. I love you too much not to do whatever it takes.” Her broad smile faded. “Wait. How can we get married? Who would marry us?”

Sten grinned again. “I have friends in high places.”

She grinned back. “The High Lord? Would he do that?” She interrupted herself again and frowned. “Would my people acknowledge a marriage held by men?”

He smoothed her wig tendrils and gill slits. “So many questions, you worry too much. I’ve thought this through. I happen to know the High Lord held court with your Shaman this afternoon, to talk about how our peoples can get along better. I’m pretty sure they will jump at the chance to officiate a wedding that cements the peace they all want so badly.”

She lowered her head coyly and looked up at him. “Clever you. You have made me the happiest girl in the world. Both worlds.”

Categories: Mermaid Steel, Writing
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