Jeffery woke up feeling light-headed, completely bound and restricted.
He screamed out, tugging hard at the ropes that held him down to the raised smooth stone surface.
“You’re awake,” a voice said as a merman came into view. He was holding an odd looking shell in his hand. A skin bag was attached to his waist by a belt.
Jeffery just stared on, wondering if he should be relieved or petrified at the merman’s presence in the dwelling.
“You’ll be better,” the merman muttered, coming up to Jeffery. He kneaded something within the shell, taking some of the substance out to apply on Jeffery’s throat.
Jeffery’s sore throat soon felt better. He felt as if he could even manage to speak now.
“The numbing cloth always has this side effect, don’t be surprised at how you’re feeling,” the merman continued as he went on to massage Jeffery’s temple with the balm.
Jeffery’s eyes narrowed at him. The merman had light hair with smooth pale skin and captivating blue eyes. His tail was equally blue. Jeffery watched in curiosity as the merman tended to him, the merman’s tail swaying from side to side to keep afloat.
“The council members are nice merfolk,” the merman said, trying to indulge in a conversation with Jeffery. He wasn’t so sure about what the merman was going through, but he couldn’t help but pity Jeffery in his condition. Jeffery looked confused and conflicted and the merman’s heart went out to him. It was one of the reasons he was given the position of caretaker with a handful of other soft-hearted merfolk.
“You don’t have to feel frightened,” the merman continued as Jeffery continued to stare at him. “You can tell them where your cove resides, if you’re lost that is. They’ll help you find your cove. Our People don’t raid or invade other coves.”
Jeffery looked on as the merman talked. He really didn’t fully understand what the creature was going on about, but it was obvious from the little he could piece together that there were more merpeople beyond this place.
The merman soon stopped babbling and went to drop the shell on top a table shaped erection of rock. He fished out a blade from the bag around his waist next. He examined it before nodding contently. Jeffery was intrigued, all the merpeople seemed to carry the pouch bag around.
Jeffery pulled his tail back and tensed up in reflex when the merman swan up to him with the blade in hand.
“I’m only going to groom you, don’t fret,” the merman said before gently scraping over a small part of Jeffery’s tale with the sharpened blade as if testing it. Small dead scales fell off, exposing the shiner surface underneath.
“See, it doesn’t hurt,” the merman muttered in a soothing voice as he continued to scrap dead scales of Jeffery’s tail.
Jeffery loosened up in a matter of minutes. Dead scales were scrapped from his tail and between his slightly webbed fingers. His nails were also cut short and buffed with a soft sponge-like material that made it shine.
“There,” the merman muttered as he put the blade and ointments away. “You’ll be fed soon,” he muttered as he gave Jeffery a sad smile.
The merman ran his fingers against the ropes that held Jeffery in place. He wasn’t exactly sure why the merman was here but he was sincerely sorry for the merman. He thought that Jeffery must have likely been separated from his clan and was not willing to speak for fear that they would invade his home.
The merman left soon after, leaving Jeffery to his solitude and thoughts. Jeffery stared up at the ceiling of the dwelling. The luminous creatures trapped within were still glowing in their various colors.
Time passed and Jeffery couldn’t tell if it was night or day. The depths were still the same either way, unaffected by the rising or setting of the sun. He did realize, however, that the water felt cooler. Jeffery had read about the convection cycle as a lad and guessed it was probably day above the waters.
His mind traveled. Being alone gave him too much time to think. He wondered whether his mates and crew members were searching for him. He wondered when he’d come across the creature that saved his life in this seemingly vast and well-structured community.
His throat felt stuffed as his mind drifted to the possibility of them executing him. He wasn’t one of them and from the way they’d been treating him, he’d come to the conclusion that he was a prisoner of some sort.
His eyes snapped open at the sound of sliding rock. A mermaid with olive skin swam into the dwelling with a bowl of what seemed to be dismantled fish parts.
Jeffery’s stomach grumbled against his will. He was mentally disgusted by the thought of eating anything raw but he was starving having rejected everything the gatherers had offered him on their journey here.
He watched the mermaid swim over to the erected stone structure to drop the bowl of food before approaching him.
“Stay calm,” she muttered under her breath as she came up behind him. Jeffery obeyed, watching as she bound his tail down with rope before freeing his hands.
The mermaid gave Jeffery a quizzical look, a little surprised that he hadn’t attempted to break free. Good, he’d saved her the stress of having to numb him into compliance.
She swam up to the erected stone structure before taking the bowl from on top the table. She swam over to him with the bowl. Jeffery was already sitting up and was presently inspecting the marks the ropes had left on his skin.
“Here,” the merwoman muttered, handing the bowl over to Jeffery.
Jeffery looked over the merwoman as he received the bowl. Her silver hair made her look dull and uninteresting, but she had a friendly face.
“Thank you,” Jeffery muttered, uttering a string of words for the first time since he was thrown into the ocean. His throat felt odd, as if it was not used to the feeling of talking.
The merwoman beamed, a smile gracing her thin lips. She hadn’t expected Jeffery to thank her.
“Someone will come for you soon,” the merwoman Informed, taking the bowl from Jeffery when he was done. He felt utterly disgusted by what he’d just consumed, but at least he was full.
He hugged his tail to himself as the merwoman left the dwelling via the entrance. The rope tied just before the fin of his tail made a loud swashing noise as he tried to adjust his position and in turn pulling the rope harshly through the water.
He waited to be called upon in silence, his mind swimming with theories of what they could do to him. His mind wandered briefly to his mother. He’d never had the opportunity to send the letter he’d started on the night he’d been thrown into the depths due to a strange turn of events. Jeffery felt he might never get to send the letter to her, or any letter to her ever again for that matter.
Jeffery felt a wave of surprise when he felt his throat club and his eyes burn painfully. He was soon compelled to let out deep low sounds. Was this how merpeople expressed sadness? If it was, he didn’t like it. Unlike human crying, it was impossible to keep it back and not give into it.
From Jeffery’s guess of the time using the water temperature, he figured a considerable amount of hours had passed, so much so that the water became to feel warmer like it was supposed to feel at night.
“Look at him,” a voice said, making Jeffery look towards the entrance. “He’s breaking down, I doubt he’s anything but a stray.” Jeffery listened in as two mermen swam into view.
One looked significantly younger, with dark green tail and a toned body. He had apparently been the one talking. The other, although lean, had signs of aging on his facial features and strings of gray hair that ran through his brown hair.
The two mermen stopped bickering when they swan into the dwelling, only pausing to undo the rope around Jeffery’s tail. They tied his hands together afterward, taking him by a hand each before swimming off with him.
He was soon dragged through the entrance of the hall he was in a day ago.
“How are you feeling?” the mermaid he recognized as Marsha asked as the merman that brought Jeffery in left.
“F-fine,” he muttered under his breath, still feeling a bit odd about talking.
“I can see that he speaks,” the young merman that was part of the council said with a smile. Jeffery felt uncomfortable under the attention so he looked down at the stone floor.
“We only want to know where you’re from my dear,” the dark-haired mermaid with purple eyes from the day before asked.
Jeffery kept silent, wondering if it was safe to actually tell them the truth. His mind wandered back to the suggestion that Marsha and a couple of merpeople had been making since he got here.
“He must be lost.”
He remembered the statement vividly and decided to go along with it. He could forge amnesia and by some special grace he might even get away with it.
So, he looked directly into the eyes of the member he deemed the kindest and lied, “I don’t know, I don’t remember.”
As he hoped, Marsha’s eyes were then clouded with concern.
“We should help him,” she muttered, turning to the other members of the council. The other merwomen nodded in agreement as well as the eldest merman. The other two mermen looked skeptical.
“Why? what if he never remembers?” the youngest of the mermen asked, throwing a quizzical look towards Marsha then Jeffery.
“Then we’ll let him stay with us,” Marsha said in a matter of fact tone before turning to address the rest of the council. “Our people are known for kindness, why prove the assumption false now?” she asked. The doubtful members sighed before muttering their agreement.
“Then it’s settled then,” the purple-eyed mermaid said with a smile, “you’ll stay with is until you remember.”
“You can’t be a heavyweight though,” the youngest merman slipped in, holding up a soapstone slab. “We’ll assign you a dwelling and a duty.”
Jeffery nodded animatedly, agreeing with their every condition they came up with as the youngest merman carved into the soapstone with the sharpened end of a blade.
“You can take him away now.” the young mere informed the mermen floating by the entrance when the last condition was carved into the soapstone. The mermen immediately swam up to Jeffery, taking him by a hand each.
As he was dragged away, Jeffery couldn’t help but feel a stab of relief at the fact that he wasn’t going to die. He would have time to figure everything out and draw up a plan.