The motion of the vessel on the waves was already changing. The creature lay dead on the deck, Acros holding his blade uncertainly. He had struck the blow that had slain her, for female she undoubtedly was. At first sight, more lovely a creature I had never seen but now, now as her corpse bled onto the wood of my brother’s boat, I felt repelled. Compelled to keep myself as far from her as possible. I knew that this could not end in anything but sorrow. My brother had struck down one of Poseidon’s daughters and Poseidon has never been known as a forgiving Deity, even to those who worship him above others as we did.
I ran to the stern of our humble ship and strove to turn her about and head back to the shore. Erasmos saw what I was doing and appeared to break out of the spell that had held us all. He felt the wind and smiled. Only for a moment before Poseidon’s breath came billowing out from the direction of the shore, trying to push us further out into the ocean.
“Acros! Help Erasmos bring in the sails or we’ll never make it home!” The wind’s new found strength had me struggling against the rudder, so much that I almost feared it would break in my hands. Acros hadn’t moved, simply dropped to his knees and let go his sword. As I watched in horror, he lay down beside the mermaid and began to cradle her wet, dead flesh against him.
The sky was already beginning to darken. Poseidon seemed determined to send us to join the girl in Hades’ realm. A task I knew we could not make easy for him. What had seemed like bad fortune as we set sail was working in our favour now, the winds had been too weak to bring us too far out and even under the growing clouds I could still make out the docks as a mark against the landscape.
Looking back to Erasmos I saw him cutting away the canvas’ support ropes as he hung from the mast, gathering it as well as he could alone. I couldn’t help but smile, my young brother had always had a knack for getting by without help.
I abandoned the rudder, judging that we were as safe from the wind as we were likely to get and knowing that Acros was going to be no help. It was a good thing the Simede only needed two of us to row her.
Erasmos and I tried not to look at our elder brother caressing the creature’s cheek as she stared lifelessly into his eyes.
“Cassander?” I grunted in response, locking my oar into place opposite his. “Why haven’t we just thrown that, thing, overboard?” Like I said, Erasmos was always the smart one. Unfortunately, Acros was the strong one and the way he gripped the dead thing when he heard those words would have bruised anything living, I’m sure of it.
I pointed this out to Erasmos and he nodded, worried. I had nothing I could say to him. I was worried too. I didn’t like seeing Acros in this state. He’d killed sea beasts before; we were fishermen after all, it was our trade. Nothing had ever sent him into a shock like this though. I was glad to turn my back to him as we began to row. Acros may have been the strongest, but neither of us were weak; growing up under our father had seen to that. So it didn’t take us long to build up a good stroke.
The creaking, splashing rhythm of the oars didn’t quite drown out the sound of the brewing storm. I’d known it was coming and I thanked Tyche that Poseidon was taking his time. The Lady of Luck had always been a friend to me when I needed one most.
I didn’t look behind my until I felt the first droplet hit my skin. It was followed shortly by several more. I looked up to the sky, but the clouds were still mostly white above us, the water had come from the sides of the boat where the waves were beginning to rise above the height of the wood. I looked at my little brother and caught his eye. We both started rowing extra hard, the docks close enough now that I told myself I could see people running along them, securing any boats left moored and covering up anything that might get snatched by the winds.
Eventually we made it. There was no small trouble keeping the Simede afloat, both Erasmos and myself stopping periodically to bail her out, the water tainted by the mermaid’s blood each time. It may have only been my imagination, but it seemed that every time we poured more of the blood stained water back into the ocean, the winds howled even more aggressively.
They were positively screaming when her prow hit sand and we leapt out to drag her up out of the tide’s reach. It was a struggle, especially with Acros still holding that damned corpse, but we got her out of the water. Getting Acros out of the boat ended up being just as hard. Eventually we had to bundle up the mermaid in the sail canvas and carry it between the three of us. I don’t know what we must have looked like to the people we passed, but most of them weren’t looking our way, hurrying to find shelter as they were.
Acros’ wife was, as I had expected, rather unhappy with the prospect of a rotting fish carcass on her kitchen table and was even more upset when the canvas fell open to reveal the lifeless eyes of the dead creature, so very close to human. She went almost as silent as Acros himself for a moment before stroking her cheek in much the way he had. She immediately assumed we’d killed some local girl and rounded on the three of us, calling down such curses I was eminently glad she was a dressmaker and not a witch.
Erasmos, Gods bless him cut her off mid tirade by opening the rest of the canvas. The first thing she saw was the tail of course, it was strikingly colourful. The lustrous red and purple shimmering of the scale was one thing that her death hadn’t diminished, at least in those areas where it could still be seen under the congealed blood. Having long gotten over my shock, I was able to take a more objective look at the rest of her in the moments Galene stood shocked.
The mermaid’s skin lost its scales somewhere around her hips, the human-like flesh holding out longer the closer to the middle it was, almost reaching down to where a human woman would have her legs parting. Out of a sense of decency I tried not to look too hard at that area, though I’m not even sure if there would have been reason to be embarrassed, there didn’t seem to be anything worth looking at. She had pale skin and light hair, not so pale or light as the Germanic traders who infrequently passed through our little island village, but lighter than most.
“Cassander? What are we going to do with her?” You may have noticed already that, while I may not have been as quick of thought as my younger brother, it was still usually to me that my family turned when they needed direction. In part I blame our parents for naming me in honour of an Oracle.
“I’m sorry to tell you sister, but I have no thought as to what must be done. I never heard of anyone cutting down a mermaid like this. Poseidon’s rage howls around us as we speak and…”
Erasmos caught my arm and whispered so that Acros couldn’t hear “We should return her to the sea, surely Poseidon rages most because we have stolen her. Let Galene put Acros to bed, so that we can undo that mistake.”
It was a good plan, and would have worked if Acros’ hearing hadn’t been quite so acute.
He attacked us both from behind and knocked us down to the floor, me with the pommel of his sword, Erasmos with his fist. Dazed and near unconsciousness, I had barely managed to stand again before I saw his blade shining before my eyes.
I parted my arms in surrender and followed his brief instructions. I followed the length of his blade up along his arm and to his eyes. Even through my own blurriness, I could see a dancing madness in them. I wish I had been stronger, more careful, something, but Galene had tied me to the chair I now sat in faster than I could come up with a plan to disarm Acros. I felt the knot when she was done and tried not to let the fear show on my face when I found what a good job she’d done. Living with fishermen had given her enough knowledge of rope work that I wouldn’t be able to untie it without getting a good look first. Especially with my head still ringing. I almost didn’t hear Acros commanding his wife, distracted as I was by the slow trickle running down the back of my neck.
“…care how you do it but tonight we dine on a legend!”
“No!” Erasmos cried out and received a huge slap for his outburst. One that echoed even against the rain thundering down outside. He wasn’t to be silenced by that, however. “We can’t eat her. That’s monstrous!”
Acros pressed his sword against our brother’s throat and cursed him to silence. “We can and we shall. We caught a legend today my brothers, one I will not allow even the Gods themselves to take away from me!”
I faded in and out of the next hours, catching only moments of coherent conversation, at least one of which seemed to be about me, or at least, my head. I was grateful to Galene for caring for me, even under the threat of this beast that had stolen my brother’s voice. Whatever magic controlled him was powerful. Powerful enough to make him force the seared flesh of the mermaid down each of our throats with a predatory glint in his eye. He forced us to eat and eat, long into the night, long past the point where we all protested we could eat no more, until we had somehow consumed all but her humanoid body.
I will not describe how it felt or tasted, in part to spare you from knowing, but mostly because I could barely tell, even at the time. My brother tells me that the storm raged stronger and harder with each new cut and each new wretched swallowing.
I finally succumbed to my swimming head with something approaching relief as Acros, who had yet to swallow even a morsel walked toward the butchered girl with mad purpose in his eyes and a filleting knife in his hand.
Galene and Erasmos never speak of what they saw.
When I awoke at long last, my first instinct was to struggle for the surface, but I could not guess which direction it might be and after a momentary panic I realised why. There were walls around me, solid, stone, terrifyingly familiar. I fought to move my arms and found myself still bound to the chair. I tried to move my legs and found them gone. In my shock I let out the breath I held and should have blinded myself with bubbles of air, but none issued from me. The water before my face barely stirred. I learned a lot of things in those first few minutes, like how to breathe again, how to move myself around, the chair’s natural buoyancy made it much less of a hindrance than it might have been were I still above the surface.
I learned so much more when Erasmos came to untie me, his legs, like mine replaced with a piscine tail, glittering in the low light. The first thing I learned was that sound travels poorly in the water and only when he spoke directly into my ear did I hear anything at all.
The most important thing I learned was that Acros was dead. He had apparently died on the boat when the mermaid’s last breath had stolen his body away from him and left her in control. She was apparently very ancient and had stolen numerous lives before, cursed by Poseidon to never set foot on dry land.
To keep to his curse, Poseidon had drowned us all, our whole island. Only we had survived because we had eaten the sea-witch’s old flesh. Erasmos believed it was Acros who’d saved us, that he was still alive, his soul fighting hers. I don’t know if he’s right, but I know that Ligeia, as she was known, treats us like slaves.
I fear what might happen if we try to flee her, but we must. She mocks us by eating the flesh of our former friends. Before long I am certain we will cease to entertain her and she will begin to kill us off.
I need to come up with a plan before she tires of Atlantis.