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Mermaid Steel Readers

August 30, 2015 Leave a comment

The WordPress reader metrics show me that someone sat down and read all the posted chapters of Mermaid Steel today. Whoever you are, welcome and I hope you enjoyed the book! It was a lot of fun to write. Tell your friends.

I am doing an overhaul edit. I am not changing the story or the characters in any significant way. I am adding a couple of subplots that I overlooked the first time through. I am adding a lot more description and tailoring the language to better convey the moment. I do not have a publisher yet, and I do not have a release date. I am planning an elaborate cover.

Back in the day, I was a competition costumer specializing in sculptural techniques. I want the cover to be a close up photograph of Chielle hugging Sten on the beach. This will mean building a lifesize model of her cuddled up to a human actor. I don’t know from computer graphics, but I do know from sculpting. I have a really good photographer who will have a ball with this photoshoot. News as it develops!

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Categories: Mermaid Steel, Writing

Resuming rewrite of Mermaid Steel

March 19, 2015 Leave a comment

While Margaret and Kristoph are recording the album for The Mirror’s Revenge, and while I am awaiting the printing of the Snow White tee shirts, and after speaking to four classes of middle schoolers yesterday at their Career Day about what it is like to write for a living, I am reminded that I have a certain mermaid who is waiting for me to finish her story. So last night I dusted off the first draft and dove in to make the changes my beta testers gave me, and to add all the things I have thought of since flying through the draft online with you last fall. I was very happy to see the magic is still there, I love this story every bit as much as an editor as I did as a writer.

Categories: Mermaid Steel, 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

Writer’s process and finishing Mermaid Steel

September 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Chapter 16 is short and nasty, setting up a cliff hanger. Cue evil laughter. Only two chapters left to wrap up the whole adventure. I have them figured out down to a fine detail, so these will come pretty quickly.

Next will come the beta reading, comments, and editing. This step really shows my process. I make passes through the text, starting with sketchy bits and filling in with each pass to finished text. Once I see the story I had in mind to tell, I go back in the final passes to add continuity details like accents, patterns of speech, clothing, smells, and architecture that I did not make clear in the earlier rounds. Where to add these details often is not clear until the first complete draft is done. That’s the stage you see in these published chapters. So in the final print version, you can expect to see a lot more richness of environment and personal details – the stuff that helps you feel like you’re really there.

I am still building a beta posse. So if you would like to critique a complete copy, please let me know. No committee of more than six people ever made a decision, so I will cut off the list at six.

I originally set a personal deadline of having the first draft done by this weekend so I could crow about it at Convolution in Burlingame, California. After decades of making competition costumes for conventions, I should know better than set a con as a deadline. Costumers will understand.

I hope you enjoy Chapter 16.

Categories: Mermaid Steel, Writing

Chapter Sixteen of Mermaid Steel

September 24, 2014 Leave a comment

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.

Categories: Mermaid Steel, Writing

Chapter Fifteen of Mermaid Steel

September 12, 2014 Leave a comment

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.

Categories: Mermaid Steel, Writing

Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen of Mermaid Steel

September 2, 2014 Leave a comment

Y’all have been patient while I worked out this critical turn in the story. Thank you. For your reward, here are the next two chapters. This brings us to page 200, with about 50 pages left in the book. This is pretty much your last chance to give me any feedback for this draft. From here out I am just finishing the tale I have started. I would love to hear from you with any comment, short or long, good or bad. I am considering whether I should publish the last few chapters online or whether I should save them for the printed book. There are not that many of you reading along, so I’m not worried about giving anything away to a wide audience. This has been a fun experiment. It would have been a lot more fun if we had all played together. What can I say, I have very reserved fans. I can only hope you are enjoying the story. Here is the next 5200 word installment.

Chapter Thirteen

Sten was bored, sitting alone with his thoughts in the cave, staying out of sight of any passing boats. None came by. He looked around and considered trying again to find a way around the mouth of the alcove up onto the land behind it. His explorations had not found a way other than swimming out and around. He was enjoying dry clothes too much for that.

He saw a shape rising in the swells and was pleased at how quickly Chielle had returned with food. It wasn’t one shape, though, that emerged, but six mermen. He recognized the front three as Aalto, Pinngot, and Raggeck Blauoon, the builders who ordered tools. He also recognized the three very large mermen who followed from their red church guard tunics. This did not look good.

Sten walked down to the beach to meet them. “Aalto! What brings you to my little piece of paradise?”

“Mister Sten, I have come to apologize. I think I gave you the wrong impression yesterday about needing tools from you.”

The Merrow hunched up on his tail at the water’s edge with his brothers close behind. He nervously averted eye contact as he spoke. Sten watched the red guards standing straight with their tails planted in the shallows, looking on sternly.

Sten saw the right thing to do. “No need to apologize. We were just talking. I understand Merrow don’t need anything from humans. I certainly did not think we were trading for anything.”

Aalto and his brothers sighed a little breath of relief.

Sten spoke loudly enough for the guards to hear. “I hope someday our peoples will come to trust each other enough that you can use my tools to make a better life for yourself. In the meantime, I know you will do just fine.”

“Thank you, Mister Sten. I doubt we will ever speak again. Have a pleasant life.”

“You’re welcome. May Rorra watch over you.”

One of the guards bristled at his comment, but they then all turned back to the sea.

Sten was really glad Chielle had missed this. Sten had feared this would happen. He was even more disappointed that it was the temple guards that enforced it. That meant the disapproval was official, possibly even form the Shaman himself. This was a huge setback.

Sten was pondering this when Chielle swam up, a bag slung over her shoulder.

“Hello, Sweetheart.” He stepped up and kissed her.

“Sweetheart,” she pondered playfully. “I like the sound of that.”

“Well, you’re not going to like the sound of this. The Blauoon brothers came by, escorted by three of the red temple guards. They withdrew their order for tools.”

“Oh no, that’s very bad.”

“Means the Shaman ordered it, right?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“I brought this on myself. I did invade your town unannounced.”

Chielle was distracted in thought. “I’ll have to find out how far this goes.”

“So now I’ve got both villages up in arms. For a man who set out to make peace, I seem to be stirring up a lot of anger.”

“Speaking of your village, that’s where I went to get breakfast.” She reached into her shoulder bag and handed him a sealed pot that was made of some kind of pink stone, but it was much too light to be stone.

“Is this coral?”

“Yes,” she said opening it to reveal rice cooked with flecks of fish and egg. “Jacio had a funny name for it that he said he couldn’t pronounce. His mother made some for him and he gave it to me to give to you.”

“Kedgeree. Good lad. This will be an excellent breakfast.”

“While I was there, I learned that indeed your constable has arrested Captain Boole and is holding him until your High Lord can decide his fate.”

“So the High Lord is still in town?”

“It would seem so, yes.”

“May I ask how you found all this out?”

She hesitated, but only for a moment. “I spoke with some friends of mine who keep an eye on things in Saint Rachel.”

“I take it they are well practiced in the art of staying undetected.”

“Yes,” she said with a coy smile. “Yes, they are.”

“Now that your red guard knows where I am, I’m feeling vulnerable stuck here on this beach. Maybe it’s time to borrow Norn’s boat. Let’s have breakfast, and then can I ask you to take me out there?”

“Of course.”

“We’ll have Jacio go tell Norn what I’m up to. Norn won’t tell anyone. That way I can go into town when the time is right.”

“That would be when?”

“Give it one more day. I want the villagers united in thought that Boole and his approach is the wrong way to go.”

“All right. After I get you to the boat, I want to go check with my family and see what’s been said since your visit. It’s really rare for me to spend this much time away from my home. I’ll spend the night there.”

“Of course. Your mother knows about us. Does your father?”

“I don’t know if my mother would wait for me to tell him myself. She had to tell him something with me gone for three days and two nights.”

“I wish I had met him before now.”

“What, to show him your feelings for me are genuine?”

He looked her in the eyes and grinned. “Well, yes. I would also hope my fighting for Merrow justice would sway his opinion.”

“My father is in a tough spot over that. He’s old enough to remember when we all got along, but as the head of our family, he has to uphold the official doctrine of separation. He had a hard time balancing that when Thymon armed his friends and went into battle. I’m afraid he might feel he needs to be strict with me. I’m really going to have to move carefully.”

“You know your folks better than anyone. I’m sure you’ll work it out.”

****

Thymon followed his sister up the anchor chain to the surface. “Back Forty?” he read on the prow.

“It’s a ranching term. The owner raises cattle.”

“Still doesn’t make sense,” he muttered to himself as they kicked up out of the water, over the low rail to scoot, behind-first, onto the deck.

“Sten? Sweetheart?” Her voice wavered.”Are you up yet?”

Thymon thought the gray, overcast sky less than an hour after dawn was sadly fitting for their mission.

He stepped up from below decks wiping his face with a towel. “Yes, I was just shaving. Thought you’d appreciate that. Oh, hi Thymon.”

She got up and hunched over to him. Even from behind, with her shoulders slumped, Thymon could see how dejected she was.

“Whoa,” Sten said. “That bad?”

She just nodded.

“Your father…banned you from seeing me. Which is why the escort.”

She flung her arms around him and buried her face in his shoulder.

Sten looked up to Thymon. The usual ruddy color of his face blanched. “I’ve been living in a fool’s paradise, thinking I could just do whatever I wanted and people would come around to my way of thinking.”

“She argued brilliantly.” Thymon got up while he spoke. “She said you were our only hope of making peace with the villagers. She even told Father about her dreams of walking in the snow.”

Sten pulled her back. “What dreams?”

She looked up at him with the saddest eyes her brother had ever seen on her. “When I sleep in your arms, I dream of having legs and walking through snow in the mountains. At first it felt so strange, but then I started really enjoying it.”

“You never told me about this.”

“I wasn’t sure what it meant, or if it meant anything. It does mean we have a special bond. It didn’t convince my father, though.”

“This is amazing. I’ve been dreaming of having a tail and swimming through your village. I thought it was just my imagination, but then when I went there, my dream was right, down to the details.”

She looked at him for a long moment. “Have you ever heard of a town called Nathanson?”

His face it up. “That’s…wow…yes, I grew up in Nathanson. I spent many an hour stomping around in the snow, in fur boots, all bundled up. Is that what you dreamt?”

“Yes.” She smiled weakly.

“Then we really do have a bond. I don’t just mean you and I, but your kind and my kind. We couldn’t be sharing memories in our dreams unless there was something much deeper connecting us. This didn’t sway your father?”

“It kind of terrified him, actually,” Thymon added. “Our father has always been strongly isolationist. My going to war didn’t help matters. This time he was acting on our shaman’s orders, but after hearing about the dreams, he was even more convinced.”

“On the shaman’s orders? Your religious leader can just order people around?”

“He isn’t just our religious leader,” she explained patiently, though it clearly pained her to talk about it. “He is our protector, our wisdom guide, our decision maker. He talks directly with Rorra, and everything we have flows from Rorra. His word is law, and his law has always been for our best.”

“What, he’s never wrong?”

“There simply is no arguing with him,” Thymon stated. “More than that, this goes right to the basic doctrine, that if Merrow started trading with humans, and using human tools, and doing things the human way, then Merrow will become selfish, corrupt, and evil like humans. We were all raised with that message. Our people are not ready to argue with that.”

Chielle wrapped her arms around his torso and put her head on his chest. Thymon’s heart broke seeing her usually shining confidence faded like this.

Sten put his arms around her while he talked with Thymon. “So the law that was written a hundred years ago prohibiting commerce, that was a Merrow idea as much as human?”

“Oh, yes,” he explained. “Our ancestors chose that path. Did you think that was forced on us by the villagers?”

“I wasn’t sure. I haven’t been able to get a straight answer from anyone. It must have been to prevent another war. Can’t they see how being separated is driving us into war now?”

“They don’t see it that way.”

“Well I know you’re worried about losing the last of your fisheries. You took up spears to defend yourself. If you pull back into isolation now, the fishermen are going to take everything and force you to leave your homes. You will have to abandon Celidan.”

“Believe me, I agree with you. My people would rather do anything but fight again.”

Sten blinked and gritted his teeth. “Boole and his ilk are going to think themselves justified. They got away with labeling you thieves, and now they’re going to label you cowards, unworthy of those fisheries the treaty is supposed to protect for you.” He took a deep breath and blew it out. “I just can’t help feeling I’ve made things worse. I drew this all out into the open to try to bridge the gap, and now I’ve forced the Shaman’s hand into shutting you off.”

Chielle looked up at him. “You did the right thing. You did what Atlan would have done. You seized the moment, you gave it your best try. Don’t beat yourself up for that.”

“There has got to be some way to convince your elders to stand up for themselves. Now is exactly the wrong time to go into hiding.”

She beamed at him and stroked his cheek. “That beautiful tinker’s mind of yours, always looking for a solution. If anyone can think of it, it will be you.”

He met her gaze and held her with his massive arms. Thymon still wasn’t comfortable seeing his hairy skin around his sister’s waist, even if he was only touching her tan tunic. “What’s to become of us? I’m not giving you up. If my people drive you away, I’ll come with you. Or we can both run away together.”

“Our father would come after her,” Thymon interjected. “It would be ugly.”

Sten looked into her eyes and the anger in him seemed to melt into sadness. It was at that moment that Thymon saw just how much Sten loved his sister. “I can’t believe it. They’re taking you away and there is nothing I can do about it. Your mother…”

“No. My mother knows how much you mean to me. She used to have great love for her human friends when she was young. This is now. She will not go against my father.”

“I promise I will not give up the fight above the surface. I will do whatever I can to show your people that most humans welcome the Merrow as neighbors. Somehow I’ve got to show them, or I’ll never get you back.”

“And I promise I will wait for you, no matter how long. I have faith in you. For now, though, my love this is good bye.”

He hugged her tightly and she hugged him back. “Pray to Rorra for a miracle. Rorra abides and provides, right?”

When she pulled away, tears were running down his smooth cheeks. She touched them. “I wish I had tears too, to show you how much I am going to miss you.”

Chapter Fourteen

Sten tied the Back Forty to his landing dock and looked around to see that no one had noticed his arrival. The village would be bustling by now with morning errands. No point in wasting time with social niceties, he thought. He marched up the ramp and met Jacio who was coming out to the shop.

“Hey, welcome back!”

Sten did not slow down. “Thanks. I’ll be back later.”

Gerb the sailmaker looked genuinely shocked in his shop window as Sten marched by. “Sten, you’re alive!”

“So it would seem,” he said with a smile but without breaking his stride.

It was the same with most folks he passed. They either lit up when they realized the Merrow had saved him, or double-took as if they were seeing a ghost. Both reactions meant people had taken Boole’s crime seriously which greatly buoyed Sten’s spirits. By the time he got to the constable’s office, he was sure his plan would work.

“Well, well,” Blaine greeted him as he entered. “If it isn’t the ghost of our long dead blacksmith.”

“Good morning, Arum.”

The big lawman got up from his desk and shook Sten’s hand. “Welcome back. Don’t tell me I’m supposed to be surprised your friends under the sea saved you, because I never had a doubt.”

“Just because I was saved does not mean he didn’t try to kill me.”

“Oh, absolutely.” He pointed his thumb over his shoulder at the jail in the back. “Captain Boole will stand trial for attempted murder, especially now that I have all the witnesses.”

“You also have the High Lord to preside.”

“That’s true. He decided to stick around for a few days.” He absently rubbed his short cropped blond hair. “I think he wants to make sure we don’t go to war with the merfolk.”

“I hope that’s why he stayed. I have to talk with him about what happens next.”

Arum squinted. “You sound like something has changed.”

“It has, and not for the better. Do you want to come along? I hope to catch him before he gets busy with other business.”

Arum glanced around, then nodded. “Sure. Nothing here that can’t wait.” They left and the constable locked the door behind them. ‘The High Lord is staying at the Saint Rachel Arms.”

“That makes sense,” Sten said heading in that direction. “It is our only real hotel.”

“Did you really build a pipe and helmet rig to breathe underwater?”

“Yes, I did.”

“So you saw Celidan first hand?”

“That is true.”

“I bet that was amazing. Obviously you’ve been spending a lot of time with that mermaid lady friend of yours.”

Sten stopped walking and turned to face Arum. “Her name is Chielle. Is there something you want to get off your chest?”

“Don’t take offense, and tell me to drop it if you want to, but they are so mysterious, I have to ask. What are they like in conversation?”

Sten was relieved Arum did not go where he thought he might. “In conversation? They talk just like you and me. What do you mean?”

“Well, do they speak their mind openly, or do they hide their feelings? Are they kind to their women? Do they make jokes? You know, are they really different than us?”

Sten was dismayed. “Holy Atlan in the grave, are you kidding me? Do people really not understand the Merrow are exactly like us except they live underwater? Do you really think they are so different that you can’t even have a normal conversation with them? Have you never spoken with one?”

“Well, no, not casually.”

“Of course they speak their minds. Of course they are kind to their women. And yes they make jokes. They hold some things more dearly than we do, like sharing and community. Their culture is geared to their life in the sea. But they love and get angry and get drunk and laugh and cry just like humans. How in the world did you come to think otherwise?”

The townspeople walking nearby heard Sten laying into Arum and slowed down to listen.

“They’ve been here alongside you for the whole hundred years you’ve been here. I happen to know that thirty years ago you used to get along with them as neighbors. Humans had Merrow as best friends.” Sten noticed the crowd growing around them. He didn’t try to hide the desperation in his eyes. “I thought I was just up against greedy fishermen. Does everyone harbor these same suspicions? Have things gotten that bad?”

“I don’t know, Sten. I haven’t asked a lot of people, and people don’t speak up if they don’t have to. I just thought, since you’ve been around them so much, I should get the facts from someone who knows.”

Sten looked up at the tall blond and caught his gaze squarely. “I’m glad you did. I wish I could tell this to everyone in Saint Rachel.” He turned to the onlookers. “They are just folk like you and me. I knew this was bad. I’ve been here over a year, how could I not know it? But to think you can’t even talk with them? Lord, have I got my work cut out for me. Starting with the High Lord,” he said as he began walking again.

On the rest of the way to the hotel, the surprised looks at Sten’s reappearance were accompanied by a spreading wave of chatter about what he had said. Sten saw that Arum noticed it too. Sten hoped this was the sound of good news.

Sten marched into the hotel straight to the front desk with Arum close behind.

“Good morning,” the young man clerk in the jaunty pillbox hat greeted them.

“Good morning. Who can I speak with about seeing the High Lord?”

Footfalls from the stairs behind them were followed by a man’s voice. “That would be me.”

Sten and Arum turned around and faced Jesery Clune himself. Sten almost didn’t recognize the judge without his official headgear. With his large bald spot and his unassuming street clothes, he looked positively normal.

“Your Lordship, how good to see you again.”

“Constable Blaine. Mr. Holdsmith, it is so good to see you recovered from your watery grave. I usually don’t hear petitions before breakfast. As I am headed to breakfast now, and you have managed to catch me, I will make an exception. Why did you want to see me?”

“I have disheartening news from Celidan. With all this conflict, the Merrow have decided to retreat from all contact with us. If left unchecked, the fishermen are going to take advantage of that and seize the rest of the fishing grounds. The Merrow have given up all the fisheries they can afford to lose and still sustain themselves. If our fishermen harvest Harper’s Meadow, the Merrow will have to abandon their village and migrate away. They were here first. We will have taken unfair advantage of their good nature and driven them from their ancestral home.”

“I agree that would be a great injustice. What are you asking me to do?”

“Start by enforcing the treaty. It sets Harper’s Meadow aside for the Merrow. Forbid the fishermen from going there.”

“I understand the Merrow have arranged that the fishermen cannot find any fish there anymore. So they seem to be enforcing the treaty themselves.”

“We can only hope they continue to do that. Then ask the Merrow Shaman to alter the treaty to allow commerce. The ban has driven a wedge to where our people think of them as brute savages that can’t even communicate. You know that’s not true as well as I. We have to open up the chance for healthy contact.”

Clune raised his eyebrows and sighed. “The Merrow leaders wrote that treaty to keep their people away from our influence. If they have decided to withdraw, that is their choice. It has worked for them for a hundred years. My asking for a change would just convince them how right they are to withdraw. I understand you have visited with them extensively.”

“He went to their village using a breathing device,” Arum interjected.

“Indeed? Impressive. Does your coming to me now mean your efforts at building rapport have failed?”

“They saw me as an invader.”

“There you have it. They would see me the same if I asked to change the treaty.”

Sten wanted to argue with him, but he knew when all was said and done, the High Lord was right. Even if Boole was discredited and his hatred rejected, even if the people of Saint Rachel opened their arms to the Merrow, nothing would convince the Shaman or his followers that humans could be trusted. Sten found himself just standing there in the hotel lobby staring at the red carpeted floor between himself and the judge, with nothing to say. He felt like something vital had leaked out of his body onto that worn carpet and left him empty.

“I am sorry. I know you wanted to fix this now. I appreciate your efforts to bring these two villages together. By forcing the fishermen to overreach the law, you have probably helped avert any further open combat. Your message of peace and goodwill will likely grow here in Saint Rachel. In time the Merrow may see that and open their borders again. These things take time, and you are doing the hard work that needs to be done. I hope you continue.” He paused and waited. “If there is nothing further, I bid you good day.” He turned away toward the hotel’s café.

“Thank you for your time, Sir,” Arum said.

The walk back to his shop took forever. Though he was greeted with smiles by everyone downtown he passed, he felt utterly alone. Having Arum walking alongside him gave him no comfort.

“Are you noticing how happy everyone is to have you back and alive?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Sten agreed glumly. “So?”

“So now that they have seen where Boole’s hatred leads, they’re more likely to listen to your message of peace with the Merrow.”

Sten glanced over at Arum. Arum used the word “Merrow” for the first time. “That’s true. It’s a start. It’s not going to convince the Merrow to open their borders.”

“You know,” the tall blond said confidentially, “I’m not as thick as I look. I know your real loss is your girlfriend. I understand that taints everything else, but don’t miss the good you’ve done for the town – for both towns.”

They arrived in front of the jail. Sten held out his hand. “Thank you for backing me up with the High Lord. Let me know when you want me to testify against Boole.”

Arum shook his hand. “I will.”

By the time he got to his shack, he had thought over what Clune and Blaine had said about what good he had done. He was able to manage a smile for Jacio when the boy greeted him enthusiastically with a bowl of warm porridge.

He tried to keep himself busy and distracted. He taught Jacio how to cut fine gears out of brass to repair a mantle clock. He pounded out two hundred nails for the carpenters’ cooperative. In fact he was so productive, he finished all the orders he had in the shop with two hours of sunlight left. He let Jacio go home and then swept the soot out all the corners of his living quarters.

None of it helped. The hole he felt in his chest grew deeper by the hour. He considered sitting out in his wharf chair and drinking, but it was such a beautiful sunny day, it just didn’t feel right. Drinking the blues worked so much better in foul weather.

He did not feel social, but he did feel like being waited on, so he ended up in the Pied Cock for dinner. Paulbert Caron made an excellent shepherd’s pie, just the kind of comfort food Sten needed.

“Oh thank Atlan, you are alive!” Vanda Rymerand rushed up to his table like a ship with full blue sails billowing in a strong wind. She grabbed a chair and sat down, her hand clutching his forearm.

“Hello Vanda. Please have a seat.”

“I was horrified when I heard that crazy fishing captain tied you up and threw you in the sea. How awful for you that you had to be saved by a Fin. It feels wrong to say it, but thank goodness that Fin was there to help.”

Sten was too tired to try to find a gentle way of breaking the news to her. “Vanda, that mermaid, who saved me, is my girlfriend. She was there to save me because she had just jumped off the wharf when Boole and his goons marched out to lynch me.”

Vanda blinked in several short but fast bursts as she digested his words. “Girlfriend. This was what, three maybe four weeks after you turned me down? So you were seeing her…oh no. You threw me over for a mermaid?”

“Vanda, please keep your voice down. We agreed to stay friends. Let’s act like friends now.”

Her face flushing red did not bode well for quiet conversation. “What? You were joking in the market about trying new things. Holy shit, Sten!”

“Vanda, don’t impugn yourself with foul language.”

“I have every right to swear.” She sniffed at him. “What’s that smell? Cocoa butter? Cocoa butter?! You’re sleeping with her? Do you realize that’s bestiality?!”

“All right, now you’ve gone too far.” He looked around and not surprisingly, everyone was watching. Most weren’t even trying to disguise their watching. “Fine, yes. I love Chielle more than anyone I have ever loved. She is brave and kind and selfless in ways you will never understand. By the way, how do you know they use cocoa butter to protect their skin?”

“My mother always hated Fin, and now I can see why.”

“You and I were over last year when you left town. I made that clear last month when we talked. You have no reason to be jealous.”

“Jealous? You think I would stoop to be jealous of a Fin?” She stood up abruptly and let her chair fall to the floor. “This isn’t jealously. This is disgust.” She turned and walked straight out the door, her bustle jerking side to side as she marched.

He surveyed the collection of rolled eyes around the room. “Show’s over folks.” He took one last bite of his pie and decided he should leave too.

On the way back to his shop he realized he had publicly declared his love for a woman he might never see again. He certainly had driven Vanda away once and for all. Better to be with no one than with a bigot like her.

He was so riled up from his fight with Vanda that despite his being bone tired, sleep just wasn’t an option. He tidied up around the shop, trying to calm himself, when he came across his sketch of the wheeled chair for Chielle. The drawing ripped open the hole in his heart he had been trying to ignore all day. His chest hurt worse than after Boole had broken his ribs. He felt weak in the knees and had to steady himself on the bench. She was gone. All the hopes and dreams he had let himself grow around her were shattered, the shards too small to even grasp.

He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth and let all his anger and frustration and confusion and torment boil over. He grabbed an ingot and threw it into the hearth. He spun the bellows wheel furiously and drove the embers to spewing white. Pausing only out of habit, he donned his apron before he grabbed the glowing block with tongs and seized a hammer. He brought it down on the metal bar with all his fury. “Damn the Shaman!” Clang! The ring pierced the night like a death scream. “Damn the treaty!” Clang! “Damn the old ways!” Clang! “Damn the greedy bastards that started this!” Clang! Tears welled up in his eyes and poured down his cheeks as rage overtook him. Sweat beaded up all over his face from the exertion. “Damn them all!” His aim slipped and a corner of the deformed block cracked off, spun up, and sliced him across the jaw. He ignored it and just kept crying and cursing and slamming the hammer down as hard as he could.

The blood from the cut mixed with the tears and the sweat that covered his face, formed a fat droplet on his chin, and fell cleanly through a space between the floorboards into the sea.

Categories: Mermaid Steel, Writing
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