Jeffery’s mind was in a haze. He squinted. Why was it so bright? He adjusted his eyes to the light, sitting up. He frowned in the confusion at the feeling beneath his hands that he’d used to pull himself up.
It was then Jeffery tried to move his tail but only got a detached feeling of throwing two limbs together.
He thought, looking out to find that he was ashore on a beach. Had he left the water? Would he finally be able to go home?
His trial of thought was soon disrupted by the sound of feet crunching dry sand as someone made their way towards him. He looked towards the direction of the sound, his eyes widening when it was met with the site of the woman from the boat the night he was thrown off-board.
“Who are you?” he asked as she continued to smile at him. She soon stopped at his sitting figure. Her lips were smeared with bright red lipstick, her hair was done up in the popular complicated updo of that time.
“All you need know is that I’m the one who helped you get into the water,” she muttered as her smile widened. “Now all I need is a favor in return.”
Jeffery narrowed his blue eyes at her. He never asked to be a merman. He wondered what on earth the woman was rambling on about.
“You did something to me that night,” Jeffery said, biting the inside of his cheek. “Are you a witch?” he asked, eyeing the woman as she walked towards the water.
“You can call me a miracle worker,” she said with a small laugh as she picked up her dress to stand by the water so that the waves came brushing her toes once in a while.
“Well, you worked a miracle no one asked you to,” Jeffery said as he rubbed his hand against his throat. It felt odd talking in such dryness.
“I read your heart’s desire and provided it, or do you want to be here in the human world?” the woman asked, turning to Jeffery. The strands of hair that were purposely left down bounced with her head movement.
“Maybe,” he muttered before thinking briefly to the thanks he hadn’t shown to Aquas yet. “What’s the point, I’m already up here aren’t I?” Jeffery said as a feeling of relief and yet sadness overwhelmed him. Yes, he was out of the water, but he hadn’t thanked Aquas like he’d planned to yet.
The lady laughed, placing her hand on her chest. “You think this is real? It’s only a dream dear — an apprehension. I just needed to speak with you.”
Jeffery’s mouth opened a bit. So, he was still in the water...
“I need you to ask about ‘Lax pearls’. I want them as a payment for my help,” she muttered, giving Jeffery another smile.
“I don’t know my way around the place very much yet,” Jeffery replied, trying to give the woman an impression that he was playing along.
“Nonsense, ask anyone of them,” she said before turning to look towards the water. “I better return you now, don’t forget about the pearls,” she muttered before everything went blurry under the sunlight.
Jeffery was soon subjected to the strong feeling of being plugged back into reality.
He sat up, gasping on the nest made with dead moss and seal hind. He looked about the dwelling assigned to him, wondering what on earth had just happened to him and whether it had been real or just a very realistic dream.
He swam out of the nest and out into the streets of the gatherer dwelling area to clear his mind. Merpeople were still swimming through the streets or going about their businesses. There was no set day or night, and merpeople just caught some rest whenever they could.
With the time Jeffery spent in the cove he’d gotten acquainted with more merfolk. They were reasonably friendly and inquisitive. He’d even gotten to talk to Marsha a few more times outside the council hall. She was as Jeffery guessed — Aquas’ older sister.
He’d talked to Aquas on a few occasions too but was only entitled to short polite replies and nods.
Yanus must have seen his devastation at this. He’d explained to Jeffery that Aquas was rather shy around relatively new people.
Jeffery soon came up to the dwelling he was looking for. Yanus’ dwelling was carved into the canyon rock and was neatly kept and free from rock moss.
Jeffery wandered in through the open entrance, looking about the first room in search of his friend.
Merpeople weren’t big on privacy. Jeffery had learned that when Yanus had been startled at finding him at the entrance of his home knocking on the smooth rock surface. Yanus had asked him what he has been doing and Jeffery had found it hard to explain the concept of knocking to him. Yanus had eventually given him a weird look before dismissing his talk about ‘knocking’ and inviting him in.
Jeffery soon found his friend on one of the three rooms of the dwelling. Gatherers were given an extra room to store weapons and spoils. Jeffery watched as his friend skinned a dead seal, sending occasional clouds of red blood into the water.
“Hello,” Yanus muttered when he looked up to find Jeffery.
“I went to the surface recently,” Yanus explained as he continued to undo the skin around the seal. He was trying to get it all out in one piece. “I caught this one that strayed far away from the rest. The unlucky thing.” Yanus added with a small chuckle.
Jeffrey smiled in agreement before wandering over to the smoothly shaped rock at the corner of the room to take a sit.
“What brings you here?” Yanus asked, successfully undoing the skin of the seal in one piece. Its limp body fell to the ground, motionless and bloody.
“I wanted to ask you about something,” Jeffery said, thinking back to what the dark-haired woman in what he assumed to be a dream asked for.
“You can ask me anything,” Yanus said in encouragement as he left the sealskin on the dwelling’s floor to swim over and take a sit by his friend on the shaped rock.
The room’s walls were adorned with hanging skulls, bones and skins of all types of sea creatures. The hanging dead animal parts kind of made Jeffery feel sick, but he had to swallow his disgust considering he was soon to be doing similar things.
“What are lax pearls?” Jeffery asked as Yanus’ eyes searched his.
“Why are you asking?” Yanus questioned Jeffery curiously. Jeffery looked down at the stone floor, moving the tip of his fin across its smooth surface.
“I heard someone mention it,” Jeffery replied, earning a nod from Yanus who was expecting the exact same answer.
“Lax pearls are very precious because they take hundreds of years to form,” Yanus started, eyeing Jeffery. “Our own cove’s reefs were harvested and damaged by humans a few years back and we’re only trying to revive them,” he said making Jeffery’s mouth hang open in shock. How come the sailors that did that never saw them?
“We stayed away for a few days as they harvested the pearls without care,” Yanus said as a frown formed on his face. He seemed angry and Jeffery could understand why.
“We’re forbidden by holy law to show ourselves,” Yanus explained, answering Jeffery’s unsaid question.
Yanus move to another topic, avoiding the one that seemed to stir irritation in him. Jeffery had gotten enough information. He now knew what the woman had wanted from him.
He wasn’t going to do that, not after what the merpeople have done for him, not after Aquas had saved his life.