I woke where I had been left. The shore trees, backlit, cast long afternoon shadows. The water had receded to my feet, leaving me covered in mud and leaves.
“Marin Goranich?” A soft tenor called to me from the water. No. I curled into myself at the octave. No. It meant the water. That note meant suffocating. Meant dying. Claws wrenched through my skin as I curled tighter against the rock and wrapped my arm around my head protectively.
“Saeesar? I do not understand what is wrong with the Kraken child. He is Kraken. Púca’s child. Half-human like I told you,” Taigre explained.
“I see that, Taigre. Patience. You’ve scared him badly. Let’s see what we can do.” A different voice, lower, chastised the dynllyr.
“No more than he did in trapping me and having a human operate on my tail,” he hissed at the comment. I turned numbly to the sound. At a logical level, I could accept that accusation. I probably had scared him. Finding the broad expanse of water at sunset did nothing to set the stutter in my chest at ease. Awareness of the baser needs prickled. I scurried away from the creek edge and clambered up the gully away from the pair of dynllyr. I had spent the day numb to my need for a bathroom. The woods would suffice.
“He’s terrified of me.” Taigre sounded dejected as I scuttled for somewhere out of sight.
“I don’t exactly blame him. At the moment, he is seeking relief, though, not running away from us outright. Now, tell me why you forced him to use his gills when he was not even aware of them. You are no calf, Taigre,” the new voice, Saeesar, bit back at Taigre.
I found myself a place far enough for privacy and yet close enough to catch their conversation.
“As dynllyr and son of territory holder, it is my duty. I need to bring him to the Antumnos so he can meet his father. He can’t be left in the night. He glows like Púca Kraken. The other humans would hunt him. He needs to be safe.” Taigre’s voice reminded me of a petulant child who thinks they’ve found the perfect validation for their actions.
“You should have left him and come got me before trying that, not after. What if his gills were not fully developed? Kraken children born to land creatures do not always have mature gills for our waters,” Saeesar chastised.
“Will they mature?” A note of terror inched into Taigre’s voice.
“That entirely depends on the creature. For his sake, if he is a Kraken child of Púca, I would hope so. He will be noticeable more so than many of the others,” Saeesar answered.
Finished, and put back together, I returned to the creek side, wary. Taigre blended into the dark colours of the water. The merman next to him was a different colouration from Taigre’s chalk grey and navy blue upper half that twisted in swirling colorful spots. Saeesar was broader in the shoulder and thicker banded with muscle. His fins were a midnight black from his long hair to his tail. Stark white, his skin could have been titanium powder.
“I see what you mean by him using emotion words. He is neither calf nor fry. Not by way of the humans I have seen. He’s full grown, at least by height and appearance. He has not been taught how the Antumnos talk properly, is all.” Saeesar flicked his fingers in emphasis, black nails glistening.
“You’re not going to drag me back in, are you?” I called down to them.
“It would do you no good, Kraken child,” Saeesar returned my call. “I do appreciate the compliments, but it would be good to restrain yourself a bit with the admiration.”
“What compliments?” I slipped on one of the slick rocks and scattered stones on my way down to the edge of the creek.
“You speak with both the human tongue and the Antumnos tongue. If you keep your mouth shut, we hear your emotion words. If you speak with your human tongue, your emotion words weave into your speech,” Saeesar explained.
“Antumnos tongue?” I sat down on the rock, tucking my feet away from the lapping water.
“It is how Taigre and I are speaking to you,” Saeesar explained.
“And what is it that I’m saying that I seem to not realize,” I ventured.
Saeesar snorted at the water. “He really doesn’t know what he says, does he?”
“You should have heard him last night. Siren’s Voice,” Taigre returned.
“My music? I played melodies I learned because you seemed to like them,” I defended.
“He plays the human’s instruments to communicate?” Saeesar turned to Taigre.
“What is an instrument?” Taigre asked.
“My mandolin and guitar. I did sing, but they were just little folk songs everyone knows.” I brushed away shards of sandstone from my rocky platform.
“Sing for me, Kraken child. Let’s see what this Siren’s Voice is that Taigre has been bubbling about for the last few hours.” Saeesar demanded. My cheeks burned red at the demand, sending all of my spots glowing. Saeesar dropped his head into his hand and rubbed at his eyes. “We are going to need to fix that before we bring him anywhere near your father or anyone else in the Antumnos.”
I was embarrassed and done with feeling insulted. I’d take the long way around, head back for my brother’s apartment, and tell him that the adventure was not worth the time of day.
“Calm down, Kraken child. I am not dismissing your advances or meant to make you angry.”
“What advances, shark bait? I haven’t said a damn word!” I walked away. If I kept my pace, I would reach a section where their larger bodies would not be able to follow.
“Your emotion words. You’ve asked both Taigre and me if we would be your mate and described me as handsome. I appreciate the compliment, I do, but I think you are not aware of this. I would save you from more embarrassment if we were to take you into the Antumnos by having you address this now rather than where it might be misconstrued,” Saeesar explained.
“I’ve said no such thing!” I squeaked back, mortified.
“Are you aware of telling me you are scared, or that this is uncomfortable, a bad conversation?
“It’s not what’s coming out of my mouth.” I crossed my arms.
“No, it’s the tone of your skin, your stance, where your eyes fall, the way your face moves. It all wraps into the lais in the front of your skull. We of the Antumnos each have one. Come down here. I promise on the infinity that is the water in the sea I will not make you drown.” Saeesar swore. “You have every right to be scared. I will not tell you otherwise. The screaming can come down a note or two, though. If you don’t want to come down here, that’s acceptable.” Saeesar pressed his fingers to the front of his head and settled back into the water to study me under lowered lashes.
I shifted on my perch as they waited. Flicking a glance at the fading light, I knew I needed to make a decision. My skin was glowing in bursts of blue and white light that I would not be able to hide easily. I dragged in a deep breath and ruffled my hair, scratching at my two-day stubble.
“You won’t make me try to breathe the water again?” I demanded.
“Promise. It would do you no good to try it again. Your musculature is not strong enough to handle that right now.” Saeesar soothed.
“Why do you know this?” I took a tentative step forward.
“I have encountered a few other land children before like you. It has been well over a century since the last I saw. Often raised outside of the water, it takes time to develop the ability to breathe properly because of the weight of the water compared to the air. Often, as children of the Antumnos grow, they are introduced to breathing small amounts of air at a time until they are able to sustain themselves in and out of the water for emergencies such as the one Taigre found himself in. Thank you for seeing to his tail. You have my greatest appreciation.” Saeesar ducked a bow.
“Why were you so sure I had gills?” I demanded of Taigre.
“I can see them,” he justified.
I looked down at my chest, still bare from having given Taigre my shirt for a tourniquet. Nothing. Just my skin, and the strange lights. Resting a hand on my chest, I breathed in and out. It felt no different than it had in the past.
“Linguistic discrepancies, I see, are going to get in our way. This would be so much easier if we had time on our hands. Did you really introduce him to breathing in this sweet water mix?” Saeesar demanded of Taigre.
“As soon as I realized he had gills, proper gills. I didn’t see them until I got under the water.” Taigre ducked.
“May your oysters produce pearls rather than rocks one day, Taigre.” Saeesar rubbed at his eyes before pushing his hair off his face. “My charge has probably done you more harm than good. I apologize for that failure in his education. We are able to return back to the delta and out to the ocean. Are you capable of walking the creek edge to there?” Saeesar asked from the quickly receding waters.
“Probably.” I started toward the beach, the sandstone gritty and sharp on the pads of my feet. As long as I stayed out of range of their grasp, whatever their plans were for me, they couldn’t reach me on the land. Taigre and Saeesar disappeared under the surface. Within seconds, Taigre’s brilliant green tail had disappeared.
Washed up driftwood and felled trees hindered some of my passage. In those moments, I backtracked further inland before going out to the creek edge more than I would have liked. There was no way I was getting the five feet into the water where the Llyr creatures could nab me.
An hour later and sunset approaching, I was greeted by the waisted shoreline. Dead fish, birds, troller netting, anchors, busted buoys, and glass bottles littered what had been a clean beach the day before. Overturned ship hulls loomed, casting cold shadows.
“Kraken child!” I heard the call before I saw the shapes. Startled, I slipped amongst the debris, slicing my foot open and fell, puncturing my calf and hands. Cursing, I looked around for Taigre while I quickly pulled glass and shell from my cuts. “Get your fish butt over here. I’m not coming to you.”
“You are injured?” Saeesar called back. I still couldn’t see them.
“Fell in the trash heap. Give me a minute.” I flicked detritus into the netting.
“He smells of Kraken,” Saeesar whispered to Taigre.
“I bleed blue if that helps.” I pulled a fork from my calf. Got kicked enough times by livestock that pulling crap out of my skin still sucked, but I could at least hide it behind a jovially sarcastic tone.
“You have cut yourself?” Saeesar called back, trepidation dripping in his vowels.
“Yep. Got my foot and my hands. Have a nice hole in my leg too now. You keep saying I’m Kraken and need to live in this Antomnus place. I don’t have a fin like y’all do. My skin won’t do well in the water like that. Taigre said he put charms on his tail to make the pain stop. Can you make the bleeding stop?” Pain flashed through my nerve endings.
“A simple fix. It means coming into the water, though. It would do neither of us any good if I beached myself and you had to strain to get me back into the water,” Saeesar cautioned.
“I think I’d rather sit in the trash heap,” I mumbled to myself.
“You’re well within your right to do that,” Saeesar returned.
The sun slipped past the horizon, leaving the beach in dusk blue. My skin lit up the little nest of trash I found myself in. “Is there a way to turn the lights off?” I sighed, realizing that my fear of drowning was going to have to deal with my fear of someone getting ahold of me on land.
“Not really. You can minimize it, depending on your emotions and thoughts, but from what I know of Púca, his never turn off,” Saeesar admitted.
“Why did this start after Taigre bit me?” I asked.
“You did what?” Saeesar yelled at Taigre.
“I thought he and the human were trying to kill me!” Taigre protested.
“Human? What human?” The other dynllyr demanded.
“My brother Jarl. I lugged him up from the shore and took him to Jarl’s apartment because he had a tub. Taigre had a pipe stuck in his tail. Figured: if he was a fish, he’d need water and somewhere to heal. It was a hurricane. I couldn’t just push him back into the water!” I justified.
“Kraken child, come down to the shore and let’s get your wounds dealt with; then the two of you are explaining exactly what happened since Taigre went missing from the nesting grounds.
“In the dark?” I strangled at the thought.
“Screaming, Kraken child. Again with the screaming. You pierce worse than a mast bell. You smell of Kraken, and that will call in Leviathan. I’d rather not dash hiding from them at the moment. If you would, please.” Saeesar kept his tone level.
I swallowed at that threat. I was not keen on meeting something that could eat something the size of the dynllyr. Gingerly, I pulled myself out of the trash trap. Hobbling, I crept around the looming body of a capsized sailboat and tripped into a pair of oars. Cursing, I jammed my shin against a wooden board and tumbled into shell-littered sand. “Where are you?” I gritted my teeth, the sand cold under my chest. I was close to the tide edge.
“Deeper in from you. Are you going to make it, or do I need to bring myself out?” Saeesar ventured.
“You bigger than Taigre?” I pushed myself up to sit, waiting for my nerves to stop splintering fire through my limbs.
“By a couple arm spans.”
I caught the splash along the wave line where they were waiting. My stomach dropped. They were a lot deeper than I initially thought. “So, probably heavier. Yeah. I wouldn’t be able to push you back in without help. This is going to hurt.” I grumbled to myself, watching the saltwater lap and remembering the times I had gotten salt into my blisters. I shivered at the waves so close to my head. I told myself I wasn’t going to cry. That was a lie. I inched into the water, my heart in my throat. My wounds burned in the salt water. Swallowing a curse, I hobbled through the jarring waves until I was chest deep, all the hairs on my arms rising in the darkness. I whimpered at the shaft of ice running through my spine when warmth brushed against my fingers.
“Right here, Kraken child.” Saeesar captured my fingers. My spots all dialated, illuminating his head and chest in the shallow water. I still didn’t have a firm grasp as to how much longer he was than Taigre. “I’m going to pull you out further from shore. The waves here are difficult to handle.” He explained quietly. I swallowed, my stomach twisting in knots at the idea of going deeper. “I apologize for startling you. Take your time. I can wait.”
“Is he coming in or not?” Taigre called from deeper out in the waves.
“Bull calf has no patients at all, I tell you. Taigre has left his mother’s side only recently, but he is not quite an adult yet. Not by our long-lived means. You must have something equivalent within the humans?” Saeesar muttered to me as I took another step forward.
“How much do you know of human age?” I asked.
“Your babes age quickly compared to us. Short-lived, humans die well before we have reached full size.”
“Baby, toddler, child, teenager, young adult, adult, middle age, old age.” I rattled off the list. “He said he was twenty-one. He is a bit younger than me, what we would call an adult, maybe a young adult.”
“He is more like between child and teenager, if age was scaled to fit with a human.”
“Oh god, and he thinks I propositioned him.” I blanched at the horror. This was like having the twelve-year-olds suddenly giving all the boys in class flowers back during my high school years. Weird. Prickly. Unnerving. I hated having to fake a nice smile when they did that because I didn’t want to make them cry and then their parents yell at me, but could their parents have talked to them about not doing that?
“Not thinks. You did use the word mate. Now he’s enamoured,” Saeesar explained. “You’re yelling again.”
“I am not,” I hissed. “You keep using that word. Stop. No. Nope.”
“Your Antumnos voice is screaming, and he can hear you.” Saeesar cautioned. “You used handsome for both of us.”
“You keep putting words in my mouth!”
“Wait! Why is he saying he’s a monster and disgusting? Why is he no longer my mate? What did you tell him, Saeesar?” Taigre demanded from the deep end.
“What the hell? Oh jeez, where’s the soap? Get it off my tongue. Ew. Ew. Ew. Nope.” I cringed, my gut twisting at the bottom of my throat.
“What are you equivalent to, half-human?” Saeesar asked. “You are not calf. I have seen human young, and you appear to be adult.”
“I’m twenty-three. I’ll be twenty-four in a couple more months. Old enough to have my own land and house. I put it all on hold to save to cover the cost of a university degree.” I cringed, losing my footing as he wrapped me in his tail and pulled me out toward the calmer water. “I don’t feel old enough to be dealing with so many responsibilities,” I admitted as his fingers started drawing patterns across my lights. The salted sting on my hands stopped.
“Even with age, no one ever feels like they are ready for the responsibilities they face. To you, with Taigre saying he was the same number of your adult age, the match made sense?” Saeesar pressed down on my foot.
I gulped at the stars shooting up my leg. “I never said a match. I never said mate. I still don’t know where you two are getting these words.”
“You have Siren’s Voice. You play human instruments. Taigre said you can make it sing, that you thought it was good when you were dealing with your brother about a difficult topic. Think about that,” Saeesar commanded as he worked multiple patterns, sending my spots throbbing.
I wanted to protest, but this was getting out of hand. I sucked in a breath and paused. Closing my eyes, I waited to slip the feeling of the cold water from my skin. Waited, filling my hands with the weight of my mandolin. The slick wood. The tensile strength of the strings. Home. Years of sitting in front of the fire when the snow packed against the door. Warm cider and hot cakes from mom’s griddle. Dad sitting in a rocking chair whittling.
“That. Name it. Tell me what that word is.” Saeesar pressed.
“Comfort. Warm. Home.” I named off a couple words that came to mind.
“You said Good in Antumnos. That is the emotion word you thought of.” Saeesar explained.
“That’s such a complicated experience for one single word. That doesn’t encompass everything I just thought of,” I protested.
“What about the concept of male and female? What is that to you?” he asked.
Neutral. Indifferent. Interested. Conflicted. Memories of those in the village, the pictures from the Sears magazine, those I had met in the towns when dad went to buy new stock. Attractive. Unattractive. Different. Old, young, my age.
“Ah, I’m seeing where the confusion is coming from, Kraken child.” Fine bubbles issued from Saeesar’s gills.
“Explain, because I’m not.”
“You use it as a yes-no when thinking of the concept in relation to yourself. You are trying to understand what a human is to you. Does an individual fit within a category?”
“Still not following.”
“Maybe not so much a category as an assignment of your concept of acceptable. I got mate as a word from you as you flipped through other description words, but also beautiful and handsome as scary nervous, like you would be displeasing to the individual. Old is nervous like you would disappoint or need to help. Young like you should protect but is someone else’s responsibility. You see them in relation to how you occupy space. You weren’t looking at Taigre and me as handsome in the way of mate as we understand the word. You were trying to formulate what relation we were to you as you exist. Here, let’s try something more specific than just male and female. What is your kin, your brother to you?” Saeesar persisted.
Memories flooded as I unlocked that reservoir. Fights. Agitation. Protection in my younger years at school. Brave. Cornered in conversations I didn’t want to have. Conflict. Asking for help when mom and dad had left me at the shore. Last line of help. Tears crowded again. When would I see him again? I was no longer safe. Who could I go to?
“Slow down, Kraken child. Tell me what you are thinking. You have said several words already in Antumnos,” Saeesar commanded quietly, bringing my attention back to pitch black eyes in a ghostly face.
“Everything was fine until now. I can’t go home, can I? Not glowing like a jar of fireflies the way I am?” I hiccupped.
“I am sorry. That was a tender topic, was it not?” he softened.
“Everything is a tender topic right now,” I whispered. “This is what you meant by emotions. The inside of me, the feelings of disgust, sadness, anger, these sensations, my internal dialogue. The people of the Antumnos can hear that?”
“Depending on how loudly you are thinking, if thinking is the correct use of the word in this case, yes. We can see it in your skin, the way you look at us, your lais.” He pushed a thumb against my skull. Pain shot through the back of my eyes at the touch. Images, a scattering of fish, whale, large disproportionate creatures, and brilliantly coloured odd forests beneath the waves filled my mind for a moment at the pressure. I grabbed hold of Saeesar’s shoulders as a flood of nausea made me lightheaded.
“What did you just do?” I gasped for air, my ears ringing.
“I checked to see if your lais was underdeveloped for your size,” Saeesar muttered, his brow furrowing at my reaction. “It is honestly quite large, though.”
“Why did I see pictures when you did that?” I swallowed against the roiling in my stomach.
“Pictures? Like the paintings from your ships?” Saeesar guessed.
“I saw fish. Whales. Strange places I’ve never seen.” I explained, my head splitting.
“That’s not right. You shouldn’t be able to do that. Here.” He took my hand and pushed my palm to the dead centre of his forehead. I pulled away and carefully prodded at the spot. It was bony like my skull, but with precision, I found a slight bump, an outline of an oblong rise, like when my lymph nodes had swollen during a particularly bad sickness in my youth. “What do you feel?” he asked.
The sound twitched along the pads of my fingers and up my arms. “Oh. That’s your voice? Your sound is like listening to humming if I’m not paying attention.”
“Taigre said he put you to sleep when you startled him the first time your lights glowed. The dynllyr can do this with their lais. Large whales can stun fish with a sound in a similar fashion. Kraken cannot. I have to wonder if this did something to you?” Saeesar floated the idea.
“Is he going to be alright?” Taigre circled with concern.
“Maybe. What are we to do with him for the evening? The charms have stopped the bleeding, but you cannot sleep below the water safely, and leaving you to the elements on land would be dangerous.” Saeesar turned our topic now that we had been interrupted.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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