Black fins flashed in deep water. A low voice echoed in the cave, a lecture to an audience of one. “There are moments in time when humans can slip the Antumnos Veil. When they see things they aren’t supposed to see. Those moments are when we find those that were lost to us. Babes that had been carried away in the night. The products of love from our side and theirs.” Bubbles slipped past the cracks as a sharp green tail slid into the shadows, away from the voluminous black.
“Hard to tell, the little ones,” The low voice followed the green tail. “Rare too. Not many humans swim in our waters. Some do. The ones that live along the edge of the warm waters learn. The ones near cold rivers are often in danger.
“Ships crossing our oceans are fraught with danger. Beware getting too close lest you are injured. They are the ones where we meet those humans that will be dragged down into the cold depths. Glassy eyes lose their focus beyond the sunlight zone. Hard to tell when most of the wrecks happen during storms and at night. Some of us can see them more clearly than others, but more often than not, they didn’t come into range of the nesting grounds. Something about pressures and temperatures.
“Others of Llyr refused to help with cleaning up after the wrecks, saying the humans deserve it. Some of the children of Llyr fear the humans and their large nets. We have seen too many of our friends caught up in the long lines of hooks. Others twisted in the massive ropes until they lost their breath, killed on their migrations.
“It used to be the men above would see us. They used to call to us. They swam with us and knew of us. They trusted us to show them safe ways through the coral barricades. They used to draw our likeness on the edge of maps. They changed though.
“The maps no longer show where we are. Where to seek refuge. Where to seek help. How to gain our attention. Soon, with the advent of their peculiar superstitions, the edges of the maps were no longer us. They are warnings to the humans. There be monsters.
“And that was when we drifted from the thoughts of man. The cautions. The conversations. They lost their trust of the waves. They commanded, they battled it, willed it to bow to their form. Yet, they lost the touch of the water. The feel of it in their bones. The sensation of it buoying their hearts as the moon rose over stillness, massive and unyielding in a reflected blanket of stars.
“With fear, mankind lost their ability to slip the Antumnos. Now, we keep to ourselves. We pick up the pieces, trying to steer the wrecks from damaging our nesting grounds, and distribute the leftovers.
The black fins stilled at the edge of the cave to watch the individual with the green caudal fin flit about a mirror in irritation. “They’ve not lost their imagination. With every season and every wreck, we find they have learned how to manipulate their world more. How to transport more. How to make life easier. How to make life more difficult.”
A younger voice, a soft tenor retorted to the older, “Father’s halls are covered in their odd curiosities. The effigies of us from the bows of their wrecked ships hold up algae-covered curtains. Plate ware and silver occupied rotting slabs of timber furniture. Jewels tumble from oyster shells. The reflection of the human mirrors brings light deeper into our alcoves, spotlighting glimmering hints to the world above. I’m not keen on the distortions. The shadows that lurk in the corners and flick across the edges of the frames. I’d rather watch you in the arena.”
“Captured spirits from the world above our waves.” The older voice conceded. “Taigre, we’ve moved away from our traditions to scavenge their deaths. It’s not that it makes our lives any better. It only leads to jealousy and war within our factions. We would do better to steer the wrecks from our grounds and leave the debris to the humans.”
“You do go on, Saeesar. Keris leaves you to mind me, and instead of teaching me how to fight like you, you’re off on some high-thought speech. You’re a combatant, not an orator.” Taigre bemoaned his lecture, drawn from a study of one of the newly acquired mirrors his father had seen hung in the last day. A massive storm raged far above the nesting grounds. What humans had named a hurricane. These seasonal events always yielded more of the human effluence.
The dark figure bowed modestly. “He left strict instructions with me to keep you from making your mother mad, and usually that entails keeping you from getting injured. I might be your father’s gladiator, but between both their ire, I might not survive.”
“A Bet-tah versus a Dynllyr. I’ve seen you take apart participants. Teach me something useful!” The youth bemoaned as he slipped through the crowded passageways.
“When your father decides you’re ready for your own trident, he may grant permission for you to see the training houses.” Saeesar mused in the shadows.
Taigre sighed in disgust, a stream of bubbles brushing the dark ceilings. “I’ll be well into my second century before he thinks I’ll be safe around more than a flint knife.”
“I am well into my second century and don’t feel safe with a flint knife.” Saeesar shrugged.
“You don’t need weapons. I’ve watched you work.” Taigre stalled in a room filled with gold and silver ingots, all covered in algae and barnacles.
“That’s what it is, Taigre. Work. It’s not something for a territory overseer’s son to handle.” Saeesar pressed at his brow bridge where a headache was taking root.
“How can it be work when it is entertainment?” Taigre left the cave to another passage.
“For you on the outside, it might be entertainment.” Saeesar let the rest of his protest drop from his lips. It would do no good trying to explain to the starry-eyed bull calf that a gladiator was no more than an executioner.
“I am amazed, with father’s amassment of human currency, that he does not walk amongst mankind yet in order to fulfil all of his watery desires. I am sorry, Saeesar. Well, no. I’m not, honestly enough. I’m frustrated with him. He’s gone off once more to add to this ungainly hoard and I’ve had enough of it. It is time that I move from his burrow, I should think.” Taigre wiped away algae growth on one of the silvered mirrors to study his reflection, flicking his green tail this way and that.
Saeesar slipped through the maze of oddities to look over the mirror Taigre had cleaned. He regarded his reflection in distaste. What little reflection there was for a spotless white-bodied black finned Bet-tah in the dark cave. He was not sleek and brightly spotted like his young charge.
The overseer of the nesting grounds had asked him to keep the bull-calf out of trouble. At every turn, Saeesar found Taigre to be more and more a handful. He sagged along a wall, his ruffled fins billowing in the soft current. Regarding his charge, he fought between what was worse, being his keeper’s death sentence or his keeper’s babysitter. Neither in the end, had an advantage.
“That is between Keris and yourself. Though, you are of an age that would make sense that you should seek your own cave or crevice within the nesting ground. There are many available as you learn what it is to leave your calf years,” Saeesar suggested. At least the discussion of growing up was safer than having the bull calf turning moonstruck on him again about the arena. Taigre flicked his tail in irritation and shifted from the mirrors to leave the nest. He pulled himself out onto the reef where he could watch his many other neighbours busily farming algae and protecting their own crevices.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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