There came times when food was plentiful. The people of Afibia felt generous and decided to share their spoils with other coves through throwing a series of feasts. Merpeople from various coves attended the feasts, packing spoils to take back home with them, as well as making acquaintances with the people of Afibia.
Jeffrey watched from the sidelines with Yunus as mermaids and men alike moved shaped rocks, arranged flowers and created paths in preparation for the feast for the guests that were already present. The cove square was bustling with activity. The singers and instrument players taking their places as some others busied themselves with bringing in shells and container s of food.
Jeffrey watched as a dark-haired mermaid swam across with containers filled with fish bones. Merpeople chewed on small bones like humans would biscuits. The bones had somewhat become one of the few things Jeffrey could tolerate eating.
“She’s fine, isn’t she?” Yanus said with a grin as the merwoman turned to give him an eye-roll before swimming off. Jeffrey held back a laugh as his friend stared on at the poor merlady as she swam away.
The feast was finally started with a prayer from the oldest council member. Jeffrey searched the gathering with his eyes afterward, finding Aquas keeping close to the tinker he’d come to know as Ramie.
A smile played on Jeffrey’s lips as the young merman’s eyes met his. Aquas’ eyes widened at the shock of being caught staring before he made to abruptly turn away.
There were a couple of performances from merpeople from the cove and invited ones. There was a group of heavily beaded merdancers, who occasionally wandered into the crowd to pull in people to dance with them.
Jeffrey politely declined when a black-tailed merwoman came to persuade him to come to the center and join her in a dance. She’d smiled, swimming away to find someone else.
“Smile and make merry,” Yanus encouraged, stealing a shell of shrimps from a passing server’s tray.
Jeffrey shrugged, smiling weakly at his friend.
If truth be told, he would have loved to fully participate in the feast, but his mind really where it should be at that moment. He was tired, and only managed to keep his eyes open while yawning periodically.
Sleeping had become something to detest apparently. He couldn’t go to sleep without being plugged into an apprehension where he would meet the dark-haired lady. He’d stopped attempting to sleep and anytime he did drift off to sleep unknowingly, he was met with an angrier version of the witch from a previous slip. The witch had probably realized he was ignoring her request.
“You’ll regret this!” She’d screeched out of frustration once when Jeffrey had refused to offer a reply to why he hadn’t retrieved the pearls.
Her threats to bring him back to the surface went unfulfilled for some reason. She probably was holding back because she felt he would eventually heed to her request, or she possibly couldn’t think of any other way to get the pearls she so desired.
Jeffrey’s eyes flew open at the sound of his name. He turned to find Yanus giving him an odd look.
“You’ll fall over,” he commented, watching as Jeffrey rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hands before sighing.
“Soon,” Jeffrey admitted as Yanus gave his friend’s shoulder a pat of empathy.
“You should rest, there are plenty of opportunities to do that,” Yanus said, giving Jeffrey some advice. His gaze soon traveled to the performance being held at the center. Two mermen were putting on a performance with two dolphins, making them perform tricks. From time to time merchildren were called out to pet or offer food to the animals.
Yanus’ gaze softened. He wanted children but the council wouldn’t grant him the opportunity without a partner. He’d asked Risa to join households with him many times, but she’s outright rejected him or ignored his advances.
As Yanus’ thoughts continued to dwell on his failed love life Jeffrey wandered away to get a better view of what was going on at the center. The merman performing with their dolphins had rounded up and the council was now publicly welcoming the leaders of invited coves.
“Now we dance,” the youngest male member of the cove that Jeffrey had come to know as Falli said with a clap of his hands at the end of the welcome. The band members sorted at the corner responded with a low screech. A sweet wordless song soon took the place of the screaming and was soon accompanied by the low bellows from the trumpets made from animal horns and shells, as well as the music from skin drums and rattles made of tied up seashells.
Merpeople soon started to wander into pairs to dance.
Jeffrey watched on with tired eyes for a while before he felt a slight touch on his arm. He turned to find a smiling Aquas, the smile, in turn, making him grin for it was quite infectious.
“You look like you’re about to fall over,” Aquas said as his smile grew bigger. The music and noise from the musicians and the participating merfolk was distracting, but Jeffrey could hear Aquas loud and clear.
“I haven’t been sleeping well,” Jeffrey confessed, making Aquas’ teasing gaze to turn into a look of worry.
“Really? You shouldn’t be here then,” Aquas reasoned as he looked over Jeffrey. His blond hair and toned skin looked as vibrant as ever, but Aquas was just noticing the bags under Jeffrey’s eyes.
“I’m fine, I’ll rest after,” Jeffrey said with a small yawn. Aquas wasn’t convinced, but he respected the merman’s decision. They talked casually for a while before Jeffrey looked towards the center of the crowd with merpeople dancing.
“Do you want to dance?” Jeffrey asked, his eyes fixed on the merpeople dancing. The center had been turned into a dance floor more or less.
Aquas looked over to the center shyly. “I don’t dance well...” He trailed before looking up at Jeffrey. “Besides, you seem really tired.”
“Ignore the fact that I’m tired, and I’m sure dancing isn’t that hard,” Jeffery said, waving his hand in dismissal of Aquas’ words. In all honesty, he really didn’t know anything about dancing with a fin instead of legs, but he guessed it wouldn’t be extremely difficult.
He wanted to spend time with Aquas seeing as this was one of the few times the young merman came to him on his own accord.
Aquas sighed, his green-gold freckled eyes looking from Jeffrey to the center of the crowd. Like every other merperson, Aquas was heavily decorated in jewelry, wearing large bangles that covered all of his lower arm and multiple necklaces and waist beads on his neck and waist. Jeffrey figured it was a substitute for adorning themselves with clothing.
“Alright then,” Aquas said, caving in. Jeffrey smiled in triumph, reaching out for the hand of the merman. Aquas placed his hand in Jeffrey’s and they both made it to the center of the crowd.
The musicians broke into low hums and riffs, encouraging a slower dance.
The merpeople at the center soon began to hold on to each other, moving around in slow revolving circles.
“Well?” Aquas asked, looking up at Jeffrey who was still deciding on where to put his hands.
“Will you be angered if I told you I actually knew nothing about this?” Jeffrey suddenly asked, earning a chuckle from Aquas.
“Really now? I thought it wasn’t that hard?” Aquas mocked, quoting Jeffrey. Jeffrey gave him a tired smile, turning his gaze to the passing dancers in a quest to emulate them. He was soon startled when Aquas’ silk soft hands took a hold of his wrists.
“I believe it’s like this,” Aquas muttered as he moved to place the merman’s hand on his beaded waist before proceeding to do the same to Jeffrey. He pulled himself closer, so he could rest his head on Jeffrey’s shoulder. “I believe you should do that too. I wouldn’t want you to drop dead out of tiredness.”
Jeffrey nodded, resting his head on Aquas’ shoulder. His mind was still getting over the shock of Aquas’ actions.
Aquas guided them in a slow dance in circles, propelled by their tails.
Jeffrey did fall into small spells of sleep, but these ones were short, peaceful and dream free.
Aquas encouraged the sleep spells by letting Jeffrey put most of his weight on him as he let a hand run through Jeffrey’s hair in comfort. Jeffrey was thankful for it, and he found himself wondering why the council hadn’t assigned Aquas a position yet. It was obvious to Jeffrey that he could be easily titled caretaker because of his obvious empathy for others.
“Do you recognize anyone?” Aquas suddenly asked, making Jeffrey’s eyes fluttered open.
“Hmm?” Jeffrey muttered, not quite sure of what Aquas was trying to talk about.
“I meant, since merpeople from about ten coves are here, I suspected you might have recognized someone or someone would recognize you.” Aquas reasoned as Jeffrey went into a slight panic. Aquas was closer to the truth than he knew.
“I don’t recognize anyone,” Jeffrey muttered, hoping that Aquas would leave it at that.
Aquas was silent for a while before letting out a small sigh.
“I swear I’ve seen you before, but I don’t remember what cove or where. I’m sorry I’m not much help,” he apologized soon after. Jeffrey felt a small sting of guilt as he and Aquas continued to dance. Jeffrey wished he could be honest about who he was, but he wasn’t sure of the consequences.
Jeffrey closed his eyes, deciding to not think too deeply about it. Things would play out as they wished.