Late into the night, or maybe early into the morning, I put away my guitar and set my mandolin back in its cradle. The winds continued to slam the boarding house, but I could not keep my eyes open any longer. My shoulders were feeling better, for one having been bit a few hours before by a merman. He had slowly drifted off after a time of me playing through a multitude of songs stored in my head. Not since we had moved to Grabble had I actually sung anything. Fiddled a bit with chords, but this was the first time I had really felt the weight of my heart. It had been interesting to watch his colours shift in response to the tunes. Some seemed to distress him; others turned him brilliant shades of crimson or sometimes thoroughly green.
Jarl gave me a pair of spare blankets, and I made myself a bed near the fireplace. What was I to do in the morning? Would the ship be there? What about Captain? Stephan? Had he made it out of the mudslide? Questions busied themselves around my head as I tried to settle down. What about the merman? How would I get him back out of town without someone noticing? Could I convince him to play dead, make it look like I was just cleaning up the refuse left over from the storm?
What about my injury, now that I knew I was not quite human? I had to ensure I would be careful not to get myself cut on the boat now. It would do me no favour to have my crewmates decide to make me a source of profit in these difficult times. I had gotten myself down on the floor, one of the blankets rolled to make a passable pillow, when my brother tamped the lamplight. The room danced with a thousand blue lights.
“What on the Lord’s green earth is that?” Jarl demanded, shooting upright in bed to study the high ceilings and the rest of the room before turning to me. “Devil’s talk. You’re glowing like a flock of fireflies!”
I blinked, trying to bring the sparkles into focus. Pushing the blanket from me, my chest patterned in a myriad of tiny little glowing spots in circles and spirals. I swatted at them. No good. I was a dead man. The next sideshow freak. The next register in an asylum. They were in my skin. “Jarl?” I asked, my voice rising in terror.
“You’ve never done that before. Not that I’ve ever been privy to.” He backed up in his bed.
“I’ve never seen me do this either,” I returned the mutual panic and got up. Sliding to the caudal fin on the creature, I dove into the bathroom and grabbed him about the shoulders, shaking him awake. “What did you do to me?” I demanded.
Massive orbs of black, the barest line of grey, stared back at me in fascination. The songs again. The melodies echoed in my head, swamping me, sinking me to my knees. Exhaustion I couldn’t fathom begged for me to sleep, but terror commanded my attention. The merman traced the patterns on my face and down my arms. His melody was soft, steady, a refrain like a lullaby. Slowly, slowly the glowing eased, but the spots continued flashing with every fear that speared me as I thought of what was wrong. I was not human. I was not this thing in the tub. I was nothing but adrift in a sea of questions and impossibilities.
I looked up at the creature tracing lines along the flashing spots. It was no impression this time. I had heard it. No. That wasn’t it. He had not spoken as Jarl or Captain or mom would speak to me. The word was a swirl of colour and intent. The open sea on a calm morning. My stomach hurt at the suddenness.
“What do I do? Make it stop. Please. Whatever you did to me, make it stop,” I begged. I would not last long with the life of someone always watched.
More songs. More sensations. No resolutions. My brain tripped out, and I found myself slipping the edge of the tub to curl on the cold tile in the creature’s nest of a tail.
The silence was deafening. I pushed into cold scale and ceramic, trying to keep the back of my eyes from imploding. Fish. I couldn’t escape the smell, even in my sleep. The texture of fins under my hands. I had only been here for five months, and I was already dreading work.
A melody. “Hey, wake up.”
I blinked, fighting the building nausea. Why was I surrounded by fish and my brother’s bathroom? I pushed myself up to survey the mess. Large grey eyes blinked down at me from over the tub edge. “Oh, holy mother!” I gasped, scooting back until I pushed up against the plasterboard.
“I am no mother, but I do have a hole in my tail. If you’d be so kind as to remove your hand from it, that would feel a lot better.” The merman watched me, its colours shimmering. Last night’s adventures came back with all too much clarity.
“Alright. Why do I understand you?” I asked.
“Oh, you do talk? I thought you only said emotion words and used those human furnishings for communication.” The merman wasn’t opening its mouth, and my brain was fracturing at this thought.
“Jarl, you aren’t goofing me are you?” I called to the next room. A grunt greeted me. The one that told me he was asleep and would not appreciate me waking him up.
“Jarl? Is that the name of the human?” The voice was a mid-tenor with a lilting laugh in the back.
“Yes. Wait. You’re in my head?” I demanded.
“No. I speak normally; you’re just listening finally.” The merman shrugged.
“You don’t speak normally at all. Your lips aren’t moving, shark bait.” I pointed out.
“I am one of the Gweryn Llŷr, a Dynllyr to be exact, thank you, not leftovers for shark. What a horrid description to escape a Kraken child’s lips,” the creature hissed.
“I hope you don’t expect me to try pronouncing that. Your name is what, Durshur?” I estimated, though that didn’t sound right at all.
“No, no, my name is Taigre. I am, in human terms, a man of Llyr, god of the sea. We are a clan of those of the Antumnos. You have been separated from us for quite a long time, Kraken child, if you have forgotten us.” The merman flicked the edge of its tail in a similar manner to what I had seen of housecats when comfortably interested in something outside the window.
“Taigre. That’s a bit easier. I don’t know anything of this Antumnos you’re talking about, and why are you calling me Kraken child? My name’s Marin Goranich. I’m from Vale up in the Rockies. There is no way I’m whatever you are,” I adamantly clarified.
“You honour me with your name, Marin Goranich Kraken child.” He bowed a little for what he could in a bathtub.
“Again with the Kraken child. That’s not my name.” I bristled.
“It is a title of honour for those who are born to a Kraken parentage. You are a son of a sea king,” he defended his position.
“My parents were from Austro-Hungary. They lived in the mountains when they got here. There is no way I am this Kraken thing.” I waved the notion away.
“You speak our tongue. You taste like squid and bleed his colours. You luminesce at night and in distress. You are Kraken child. Specifically, his highness Púca Kraken. This would also explain why you are so small for a Kraken child -”
“I did no such thing as luminesce until you bit me!” I interrupted, agitated at this one-sided information dump that made no sense to me.
“I am sorry for biting you. I did not realize that you were trying to help me. I thought you were a human trying to torture me. Your servant seems to be of good use, though. I should thank you for having him see to my tail. If I could reach the spot, I could set a couple charms on it to make the pain stop. Would it be too much to ask?” The merman sloshed water in the tub as he pushed to raise himself from his slump.
“Won’t that be bad for your breathing, your gills and all?” I asked, scuttling up to steady him, pulling him so he could rest more upright.
“I can breathe air as much as I can breathe water. My lungs process in the same manner. This, however, is fresh water and hurts to breathe for too long. If you had put me back in the ocean, I could have returned home and had someone else mend my tail. Why did you bring me here?” Tiagre asked.
“You were hurt. There was a big storm. And I didn’t exactly want you coming back up in the tide dead. My brother’s place seemed to be the safest place,” I explained.
“Brother? Surely not. He is completely and wholly human,” The merman tried to flip his tail toward himself with irritating frustration. He grasped for it, but the length of his body after his trunk to the tip of his caudal fin had to be two-thirds the rest of his body length.
“He said I came out of mom and have been around since then.” I shrugged. “Do you want help?” I offered after watching him reach for his fin a couple more times in futility.
“If you would be so kind, Kraken child, that would be of some benefit in getting me healthy enough to return to my nest and announce that a sea king’s spawn has been located.”
“I am not spawn,” I hissed at the word.
“That is insulting to you?” he asked in surprise as I helped pull the brilliant greenish yellow-hued fin up carefully and worked the kink in the body so it would curl to the merman’s hands without causing more pain.
“It is not said nicely. Usually associated with devils and demons. I am not demon,” I growled.
“Oh, no, the Devil Kraken keeps close track of her own spawn. You do not possess the deep red colour or spines that would give that away -”
“Back up there, merman. There’s a Satan in your Antumnos?” I rubbed at the throb at the base of my skull.
“No, by all means, no. Devil Kraken is not Satan, not by man’s tradition. She is just bright red and has hooks. She took a liking to the description from your books and commandeered the title. I no longer remember what her original name was,” he mused. “As it is, what is this word you call me, merman?”
“It’s what you are, just not a mermaid. Right? You’re male, yes?” I shifted, suddenly wondering if last night’s understandings were, in fact, misunderstandings.
“As much as you are male, so am I.” He traced patterns around his tail, colours swirling across his body in mimic. “Why would you think me different?”
“You don’t have breasts,” I whispered in hushed tones, my face going warm.
“Breasts? Whatever would be the use in having the human addition to us? No. Definitely not. The amount of water drag alone. Not to mention the need to keep milk at a proper body temperature in water. Some of the clans are more like the sea lines, the ones that live more towards the ice caps. Within my clan, we have mammarian slits. Think whales.” He explained.
“Whales? Whales drink with slits?” I tried to picture this and came up empty. I had always considered whales to be cows of the sea, and realizing that they did not have an udder by which to feed their calves when that time came made no rational sense in my head.
“Of course. This is common information within the Antumnos. I do not possess such features, being male. Neither do you, by the look of your trunk. Not that females of the Kraken children possess such structures either, commonly. Your coverings protect you from sight, but I was able to determine you to be in possession of male genitalia. I may have assumed wrongly, though. Do you identify with being called male or something else? Not all who have particular genitalia identify as such, and I am sorry if I have misjudged. Some of those within the Antumnos Veil are capable of changing themselves completely if they determine the desire or need to do so.” He checked the bandaging of his tail, unwrapping it to inspect the hole. The wound looked ragged, but it refused to bleed, which was relieving to see.
“Male. Definitely male. Has anyone ever told you that you are long-winded?” I asked.
“Seran, my father’s right hand and my overseer, often tells me I do go on,” he freely admitted. “It is a common trait within the children of Llyr. In the old days, we were often compared to your humpback whales for the length of our songs. A beautiful comparison, if I must say so. As there are Kraken, Kraken children, and squid, as there are to Cirein-croin, Gweryn Llyr, and whales, dolphins and porpoise.”
“You’re a whale?” I was fighting to process this information and make understandable connections.
“I am not full-sized yet. Gweryn Llyr grow slowly. I have another one hundred and fifty years to reach my complete length.” He carefully eased his tail so it would not flop. I caught it and set it on the tile.
“A hundred and fifty years? That’s all? How old are you now?”
“Twenty-one.” He rolled his shoulders.
“Huh. Not what I expected. I’m twenty-three.” I couldn’t take the cold floor anymore. I got up and carefully navigated around the tail. Nabbing the kitchen chair, I noted Jarl still peacefully trying to sound like the storm last night. I settled my seat in the bathroom and sat back down.
“Twenty-three? That is quite old for a Kraken child. Often, they last only three or four years.” Tiagre brushed back his hair and plaited it out of the way.
“You mean I’m going to die soon?” I swallowed.
“You are half-human. I do not know? It would be something to ask the sea king.”
“Are Kraken long-lived?” I was grasping at straws.
“Ancient. They have lived longer than any of the Antumnos I am aware of. Your father must be a thousand if not more quite easily, though you would not know it by looking at him.” Tiagre drew in an exasperated breath.
“Are Kraken children often half-human? Are you half-human?” I asked.
“Half-human is uncommon for Kraken children. Often, they are what human’s call sea-monsters. The offspring of a match between another creature of the ocean. Kraken spread their seed far and wide every few hundred years. It is in the same manner as most octopus and squid do. Quite different from Cirein-croin, though none have fathered young since the Gweryn Llyr were established millenia ago. It is said with the end of the ice-age, that there was no longer reason to continue creating more offspring of their own and would leave it to their children to continue the legends. I have never met any of my great ancestors. You, on the other hand, can meet your father, who is one of the great sea kings. I must say I am rather jealous of that birthright.”
“You do not know your father?” I asked carefully.
“Oh, I know my father, all right. He is not a Cirein-croin. He’s like any other child of Llyr. He’s just obsessed with all things human world, which is not benefitting our region or our nesting grounds.” Tiagre flicked his small black nails in the water in agitation.
“Summarise for me. You aren’t a whale. You are half-human, though, right?”
“I am dynllyr , a male of the children of Llyr, who descended from the Cirein-croin, what could best be thought of as the great monster whales of prehistory. You are a Kraken child, a direct descendent of a Kraken. I am not half human. I was born to my mother, as were my other siblings.
“She has left my father to his devices and taken up residence within another territory. I do not blame her for that decision, though it must have been difficult. Often Gweryn Llyr mate for life and she had been with my father for three hundred years before leaving three-four years ago now has it been? He hoards human trinkets, and it has taken over the cave. Trifles and knickknacks would not be so bad, but one does not require fourteen tin bathing troughs as a dynllyr. We live in water!” Taigre’s colours were turning an agitated swirl of yellows and oranges.
“If you are part whale, why do you go all colour spotted?” Sounded like his father was having a mental breakdown.
I was being a little slow, I know, but the throbbing in the back of my skull was fracturing his information, and he tended to get distracted off of short answers.
“Not whale. Descendent of an ancient line that can be thought of as whale. We have spots because we have spots. It’s part of how we communicate.”
“Yeah, I got the communicate part. You turn all sorts of colours, though you turn a kind of pallid grey when you pass out or are asleep,” I pointed out.
“Camouflage. We live in and around rocks and great crevices that are a dark grey. It helps us hide if larger things come out to try and eat us.”
“Larger things? Like what larger things?”
“Like Kraken, Leviathan, Charybdis, and Jormungandr .”
“Kraken eat you people?” My voice cracked.
“It is not uncommon. The Great Kraken and her children along with Bigfin are some that have decimated parts of our nesting grounds.”
“And the Púca Kraken?” My hands prickled.
“You’ve turned spotty again, Kraken child. I did not mean for this to alarm you,” Tiagre apologized.
“How am I sitting here not alarming you if Kraken eat your people?” I squeaked. My brother rolled in his bed, the springs squealing a protest.
“The Púca Kraken is the smallest Kraken, not much larger than my father. His offspring are known as death bringers. I am, quite honestly, screaming on the inside. You are more terrifying by your lineage than anyone I know in the entire sea. Púca Kraken children are rare. They tend to pack hunt and eat other Kraken children more often than not, thankfully. Do you care for the taste of squid?” Tiagre asked.
“I’ve only had it once since coming to the seaside. It’s better than fish?” I shrugged.
“Have you had whale or dolphin?” He continued.
“No? Not that I’m aware of. Usually, the catch coming in on Captain’s boat was red snapper. Sometimes we’d get swordfish.” I shook my head.
“You are a sea hunter?” Taigre hissed at the announcement, his colours sparking. The bathroom glowed in response as all of my spots flashed at the predatory sound.
“It was a job that paid and fed me. Mom and dad kinda abandoned Jarl and me here and pretty much said good luck and left. What was I supposed to do, starve?” My teeth clicked in reply.
“The boats and nets have killed many of those in the Antumnos and have taken away many of our hunting grounds. They are destroying us!” Taigre pushed at the tub.
“Don’t break the tub! I don’t have enough money to replace the thing. What do you want from me, an apology? I’ve been here for five months. I’ve barely learned more than how to keep myself from getting tangled in the dang nets when they get pulled in. I don’t even pack fish yet! I didn’t even know y’all existed before I met you.” I rose, towering over the dynllyr. He swallowed, sinking back at the reprimand. He dropped his gaze, stilling until he had reached a smooth shade of grey almost to the tip of his tail.
“You do realize I can still see you, right?” I snipped.
“Yeah. It’s just…it’s a reflex. Can’t help it.” He crossed his arms.
“Not like much will be left of the harbour after that storm last night. You shouldn’t have to worry about trollers for a few weeks. I should get myself down to the docks and see if Captain’s ship made it. You’re tail good enough for me to dump you back in the water, or are you going to need a few days in here?” My voice had gone flat and cold.
“I’ve set charms. I can get home, probably. They won’t heal it, but they’ll numb the pain for a while,” he answered quietly.
“Sun’s just about out. Let’s get you out of here then before someone sees us.” I grabbed down my rain slicker from a hook on the wall.
“That would probably be for the best.” Taigre let me heft his weight onto my back after I had wrapped the slicker around him.
“My employer might be contributing to your hunting grounds; doesn’t mean I don’t sympathise with your problems.” I muttered at him as I gingerly wormed my way around the length of his tail and got most of it precariously balanced between his arms and mine. The caudal fin, though was ridiculous in its proportions.
“Getting the creature down to the beach, cud cutter?” Jarl rubbed at his eyes and yawned.
“Good a time as any.” I nodded, my chest compressing under Taigre’s weight.
“I don’t know what the deal is with you and him, but I think… Yeah. I think mom brought you here for a reason, and I think they’re it. That boat was never good for you, but the water always has been.” My brother rose and walked over to open the door.
I thought quietly for a moment at that. “My key’s in the right coat pocket. Grab it for me, would you?” I asked him.
He raised an eyebrow at Taigre and reached for my jacket pocket warily.
“What is he doing? Why is he getting close? What did you tell him?” Taigre whispered in my ear, clutching closer to me until I swore I wouldn’t breathe again.
Jarl pulled the small silver key out of the rain slicker pocket and held it out for me. “It’s yours. Take whatever’s left of my earnings and fix the damages. Send mom a note saying I found an adventure. Thanks. Thanks for everything, Jarl.”
“You’re leaving?” He asked, dropping the key on the floor.
“I can’t very well stay here and become a sideshow freak.”
“I mean, you could. Probably make good money doing it too.”
“It’s not me, and you know it. I don’t have the stomach for people staring.”
“Be safe, kid. I’ll keep your mandolin and guitar for you. I promise I won’t sell them off. So, if and when you do come back, you’ll have that much.”
“I’ll still have you. Distance might be had, but you’ve always been a good brother. So, a brother you always will be.”
“Don’t drown.” He opened the door.
Dynllyr (man of llyr)
Gweryn Llyr (people of llyr)
Kraken, Leviathan, Charybdis, Jormungandr sea monsters
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
If you would like to tip the author, check out the following buttons: