The solution, for the moment, was a long abandoned dock a few miles from the bay. It had belonged to a private property. From the water edge, appearances were that the roof of the mansion had collapsed years ago. The beach receded into a cobbled-together mass of sandstone boulder and shrub brush before the boards and old tree trunks jutted out to make a slapdash deck. Hauling myself up over a particularly large boulder under the dock, I sat down to regard Saeesar and Taigre. “You guys going home?”
“I should see Taigre back to the nesting grounds and inform his father of what has happened. He will be worried.” Saeesar dipped under the water.
“Like he would notice I was gone. He can’t get out of the cave.” Tigre slapped his fin on the water’s surface and disappeared.
“Would his dad really not notice he was missing for the last day?” I ventured to Saeesar. I could be upset that my parents had left Jarl and me at the edge of the sea when the farm collapsed, but I had, when we left Vail, enough in my pocket to see me to the East coast and gotten a job at any pharmacist or print studio. Would the young dynllyr’s father truly not notice his absence?
“Karis has been worried. He traded several of his shells of gems to send out searchers across the breadth of the gulf. He himself left out towards the Yucatan to see if he had been swept out there. I will escort him back to the nesting grounds and send a diver to fetch his father back.” Saeesar explained.
“And I guess I’ll just curl up here?” I ventured, pushed a few rocks from the flat top of the boulder, and established a place to lounge.
“I will find you again come sunrise. I will seek conference with Karis to see if he can contact Puca. I must be off.” Saeesar backed farther into the depths.
“Saeesar!” I called out.
“Kraken child?” he returned the question.
“Thank you,” I told him as he ducked under a wave and disappeared.
“Get some sleep, Marin Goranich,” came the reply back, though it was as if yelled from fields away.
Sleep? I had spent most of my day asleep on the creek shore. No, that wasn’t quite accurate. I had laid about the creek shore in shock and terror and watched the water. Irritated at the thought of sleeping under a dock the evening I had left my brother’s apartment, I brushed sand from my damp trousers. They would never dry at this rate, and my legs were chafing at the texture. I shed them and my underpants. Setting the clothes on top of one of the dock boards, I hoped they would dry in the night.
No such luck. The rocks were cold. The breeze was misty. Every creak of the boards around me and the splash of the water sent my heart racing. What kind of adventure had I been hoping for when I had left Jarl telling him to write mom? A fairy tale? One involving pirates and princesses? Maybe buried treasure?
The stars blinked along the horizon, what I could see of it under the dock. The moon rotated across the sky to light up the water’s undulation. Over the hours huddling for warmth, my eyesight attuned itself to the dark. Not that there was much to see from my vantage other than more rocks and brush.
“Marin Goranich?” a low voice pulled me into the early morning dawn. I was drooling and had finally warmed up from the night in the sea spray.
“Saeesar?” I rubbed at the crust in my eyes.
“You are still here?” Saeesar asked in disbelief.
Blinking, I forced my focus to see beyond double vision. Saeesar’s black hair and eyes bobbed in the water. He would have made for a believable clump of algae in the murk of sunrise.
“Not like I have many other options available to me.” I pushed myself to sit up. Testing my trouser legs, I grimaced. They were still wet from the night before. Same with my undergarments.
“It is difficult separating yourself from the comfortable and familiar.” Saeesar pushed closer to the dockside.
“Life happens, and sometimes you don’t get much of a choice in the matter, huh?” I shrugged. “Probably don’t need clothes in the deep blue sea, do I?” I stared at what would be the last of my mother’s handiwork that I would probably ever see.
“It is not that those of the Antumnos do not decorate themselves with the occasional piece of shell or brightly coloured rock, but human textiles would mark you as different.” Saeesar beached himself on a low rock, much closer than I anticipated.
“You gonna get yourself stuck?” I frowned at his action.
“High tide is rolling in. I won’t be here too long.” He laid his arms and head up along the ledge the rock made.
“You have a back fin!” I gasped in surprise, now that he was out of the water.
“Three, to be exact,” he snorted.
“You do that. It is your type of laugh?” I asked after the action. I had seen Taigre blow bubbles when he did it.
“It is. I cannot execute it as well out of the water.” His eyelids descended, and my fascination continued with his differences compared to the other dynllyr.
“You have double eyelids too, but yours close in the same direction!”
Saeesar snorted again. “You are comparing me with Taigre. We are the first of the Antumnos for you to meet, yes?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, what else am I supposed to compare you with? Though, Taigre said that his spots were from descending from some colossal whale creature. I don’t remember what he called it. You don’t have spots – spots,” I stuttered with my observations. Tracing the line of his back and further to where I would have expected hips on a human, I stalled with confusion. An array of voluminous black fins bobbed with the tide. Following the circuit of him, I found he had latched himself along the line of the rock he had perched on. A couple of arm lengths longer than Taigre? He had to be twice his length entirely.
“What are you compared to my age?” I ventured, swallowing, and tugged my damp trousers from the dock if only to hold them against myself to keep me decent.
Saeesar regarded me, his eyes thinning at the question to study me. “You are saying things in Antumnos tongue again, Kraken child,” he cautioned.
“I can imagine. Give me an approximation, and I will reassess what I will admit to in Antumnos.” I pulled down my undergarments from the dock edge too.
“Karis would be past middle age in human years. Taigre is not quite beyond calf, not quite responsible for a mate of his own.”
“And you? Are you well into your middle years? You said you haven’t seen Kraken children from the land in a century or was it two?” I pressed that number into my skull.
“I was no more than a newborn, not past nursing when I saw them.” Saeesar shrugged.
“And Taigre said that he would be fully grown at one hundred and fifty? Is that length, or is that maturity?” I asked.
“Would you say that your size is relative to your maturity?” Saeesar returned.
“No. There are enough people I know who are full-sized and still can’t keep themselves together, and they would have children by now,” I posited.
“I am by no means middle-aged. I am not so young as to be viewed as a bull-calf, though,” he hedged.
“How long did the Kraken’s land children last?” I asked the question dripping acid in my stomach.
“I could not say. They were of Great Kraken’s heritage. Mother said they were around when she was a calf.” Saeesar shrugged.
“Long-lived then.” This was not as reassuring as I first thought it would be. The concept of a long life was, on the surface, a pleasant thought until I realized that if my life progressed like the other half-humans, I would live well past my brothers and sister.
“You find this news troubling, but you were troubled at the thought that you would die soon also?” Saeesar asked after the change in emotions.
“When you think you won’t live long, and then you are told you will live longer than all your family, it’s a lot to take in.” I pulled my arms in around me.
“About what you were saying in Antumnos before you demanded my age relative to yours?” Saeesar glanced away from me.
“Are mates important in the Antumnos?” A shiver ran up my back.
“They are,” Saeesar’s voice pitched lower.
“Then you should ignore the rovings of a Kraken child who can’t even speak your tongue properly, shouldn’t you?” I turned and scuttled behind a bush at the edge of the docking to pull on my clothes, damp as they were.
“And yet you admire?” Saeesar contrasted.
“And yet I admire,” I admitted from behind the brush.
“What were you, before you were a sea hunter?” Saeesar asked when I returned to my rock beneath the dock.
“I farmed with my father. I had dreamed of becoming an artist, put away all of my money to go to school for it.” I folded my hands such that I could rest my cheek to study Saeesar against the lightening sky.
“Art. These are pictures?” Saeesar put his finger on the concept.
“You’ve probably encountered oils if you dealt with art from ships. I had fallen in love with lithography, though a handy set of charcoals would also make me happy.” I shrugged.
Saeesar perked up to the comment, his back fins rising in interest. “Siren’s Voice.” The words were a mere whisper.
“I’m not singing, Saeesar, just being nostalgic and wistful,” I admitted.
“You don’t hear yourself? That is Siren’s Voice if I’ve been privileged to encounter it in my two centuries of life,” he informed me.
“Siren’s Voice. Antumnos Tongue. I was raised on what I could see, what I could hear, what I could play. You are the embodiment of a charcoal sketch. So, I admire. My heart sings, it seems, in letting myself do so.” I slid off the rock and emerged from beneath the dock to the edge of the water. “I wish I had pad and pencil. You would have made Leonardo Bistolfi wealthy beyond measure just by your pose alone. Is that what Siren’s Voice is? My heart singing?” I pressed.
He swallowed, turned away from me to push himself from his roost, and disappeared into the deeper waters. Had I scared him off? My stomach growled in protest at having not eaten since the last time I stood on Captain’s ship eating leftover fish Stephan cooked up. A minute, two, I waited at the edge of the water for Saeesar to return. When I saw no sign of him, I climbed up from the rock and into the oleander thicket at the edge of the ocean to see if there were any wild edibles I could snack on. Seagull eggs and clams from a thinning tide pool came to hand after a bit of sorting through the brier behind the collapsed mansion.
Sated, I returned to the outcrop of rock to watch the water and contemplate what I was to do with my life. In the bright light of day, my spots were less noticeable. I had a spattering of white freckles in the sun, but the glowing blue in the shadow was not trustworthy around normal humans.
Noon approached and left before Saeesar returned to the dock. “Marin Goranich?” He called, anxiety thick in the question.
“Oh, you’re back? I had wondered if I had said something. I’m sorry.” I scrambled down the rock to the water edge.
From a satchel of algae-covered canvas, Saeesar pulled a large clam tied together with seaweed. “Please.” He offered me the bivalve.
Raising an eyebrow, I stepped into the water, fighting the initial horror of the sensation flitting across my back. “What is this?” I sucked in my breath and descended further into the water to swim to Saeesar’s rock.
“This is what the humans did near where I grew up, did when – when-” Saeesar swallowed, all his fins fluffing suddenly, catching me by surprise.
“When what?” I climbed onto the rock to sit out of the water. Taking the offered foot-long abalone shell, I unwrapped the seaweed from it and opened it. I gulped. Closed the lid. Opened it again. Closed it. “Lord’s green earth, what are you asking for, Saeesar?” A few thousand pearls lay within the box.
“What is the word you humans use? Dairy. Denial. Dessert. Dairy. I think it’s dairy. This is a dairy, for you. Would you be my mate?” he asked.
“Dairy?” I stuttered, confused. “Oh. Wait. Dowry. You mean dowry? Wait, a bride price?”
“This is why you wouldn’t admit to saying mate in Antumnos tongue, because you can’t agree unless there’s a dowry, yes?” he asked, anxious. I took the seaweed and quickly wrapped it around the abalone shell, afraid to accidentally knock the small fortune into the water. All of his fins slicked back as his glance fell.
“Isn’t this a bit sudden? You don’t even know anything about me.” I pushed the shell back into his hands.
“I’m confused?” he admitted.
“So am I! Take these; I don’t want to drop them. That’s a scary thought!” I yelped.
“This is not what I am supposed to do for your customs?” He slipped the shell back into his satchel.
I ran shaky hands across my face while my heart stuttered at what I had been handling. “Most of my customs pretty much taught me I had to go marry some woman and have a bunch of kids, and then the market fell out, and I’m just some poor country boy from the back side of the mountains.”
“I thought-” Saeesar paused, his fingers twisting the eddies around his rock as he tried to qualify. “But, you liked what you saw of me?”
“I like a lot of what I see of you; I’m just explaining the customs I grew up with.” I waved that remark down.
“Then I am an acceptable candidate?” he perked up, his fins spreading again.
“Don’t we need time, like getting to know each other first? Wouldn’t you want to know what you are getting into in a relationship with me? Like what if we don’t like the same food? That would make dinners quite uncomfortable, wouldn’t it?” I asked. “Let alone, is there no problem with dynllyr and kraken, or even half-human and…and…?” I trailed off, my face going warm.
“I saw no issues with you this morning.” He blinked. My face went hotter still, and all I could hear was my heart thumping in my ears. “You went silent, Marin Goranich? You’ve been bubbling all this time, and now all your colours are flashing.” He pointed out.
“You-you-you…I-” I pushed myself off the rock into the cold water if only to escape my own thoughts.
Saeesar slid from the rock to approach where I was paddling in horrified embarrassment. “You are saying a lot of words now, Marin Goranich?” Saeesar ventured.
“I’m surprised you’re not telling me I’m screaming,” I whispered, unable to pull my fixation from the middle distance.
“Did I offend you?” Saeesar asked.
“No, why would you think that?” I gulped, tearing my gaze from the water to his midnight black eyes.
“Is asking another to be a mate so quickly so strange?” he asked.
“For humans, we tend to court for a couple of years, learn more about each other, find out if we’re compatible before agreeing to marriage,” I answered in a small voice.
“In the Antumnos, if we are of age and find each other acceptable with our displays, it’s not uncommon for mates to pair off within a few hours of meeting. So strange. Yours is such a short-lived species, and mine is so long, and yet we do things completely opposite of each other.”
“And I’m caught in between.” I leaned against the rock, kicking my feet to keep myself above water. A slide along my feet and calves and Saeesar pulled me into the cradle of his tail. I grabbed for his arm to steady myself. “Is there a rush to claiming a mate?”
“For the sake of Siren’s Voice, you would be claimed in the Antumnos by one of the sea kings, whoever of the giants got to you first,” Saeesar hedged, keeping me steady as he helped me get back to the land side of the dock outcropping.
“I would not have a choice in the matter?” I ventured.
Saeesar wouldn’t meet my eyes at that question, all of his fins laying flat. “This is unfair to you, with your culture, is it not? You would be given a choice, a pick of many, and yet all you have met from the Antumnos is a bull calf and a spotless guard.” Saeesar pushed his hair from his face.
“In my culture, I wouldn’t have much of a choice at all, have not had a choice,” I bit back.
Saeesar twisted his head in question at the statement.
“You said you found my appearance acceptable. My appearance is a deformity to humans. No one would have me the way I am, and those I find attractive, it’s not safe to admit.” My fingers were going cold at the decisions being made for me.
“I mean, you have no fin, but there are those of the Antumnos who are finless too,” Saeesar hedged.
“Legs and feet are normal for humans,” I explained.
“I do not understand, Marin Goranich. You are perfect? Well proportioned. As a child of Puca, your colouration and spots are consistently patterned. You might not speak Antumnos well now, but you are learning. Your Siren’s Voice makes you unique, true. You would be the pride of any of the sea giants to have at their side?” Saeesar looked me up and down in confusion. “Any human should be proud to call you mate.”
I paused at the compliments. They were genuine and yet felt hollow for the many years I had lived different from what the other men around me looked like. I knew nothing of Saeesar. I knew nothing of the Antumnos. What the culture was. I knew nothing but that the world was not what I thought it to be, and I was no longer human enough to pass as acceptable. “If you would be proud of a half-human as a mate, then I accept your dowry, Saeesar.”
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