“The problem remains, though, even in accepting your dowry, that I don’t speak Antumnos, and I can’t use my gills. What is there for us if I have an aversion to the water?” I motioned to the horizon behind Saeesar.
He pulled up a shoulder and twisted his head at the question. “I am not without understanding or as crass as to demand anything of my partner which they do not wish to give freely. You have time, Marin Cimet, to find if the water or the land will be home.”
“My name is Marin,” I tacked into the conversation.
“You are not Marin Goranich? That was the name I was given?” Saeesar cocked his head in the opposing direction.
“Some humans have multiple names. Marin is my first, Goranich is my last. I just go by Marin.” I ducked my head to rub at the back of my neck.
“If it will not offend you?” Saeesar ventured.
“Do you-” I cleared my throat, “do you go by Saeesar, or do you also have multiple names like humans?” Saeesar stalled at the question, his fins telling his mood of nervous and relaxed. I scrunched in on myself at the action. “Is that something I’m not supposed to ask?”
“It is not that, necessarily. It is that…” he trailed off, still at a loss for words. I waited, letting him determine what he was willing to talk about. “I am spotless.” His tone warbled, the type of note I would expect before Anna or Viktor would start crying because of bullies at school.
“Are spots common amongst the children of Llyr?” I asked.
“The clans of the large Llyr have them and many of the small Llyr folk. The nesting grounds to which I see, and Keris, the territory’s overseer, are of one of the large Llyr clans,” he explained in a roundabout way.
“You are not from Taigre’s clan?” I summarized. “You are from somewhere else than the gulf, then?”
Saeesar’s fins eased at the questions.
“I am half-human Saeesar, and you and Taigre are all that I have seen. I have seen prejudice within the human world. I will not deny that. Is that what is happening to you?”
“Prejudice. It is an interesting articulation for Disgust and Hate,” Saeesar deflected.
“Those are the Antumnos words for it, I take it?” I flicked a pebble into the surf.
“My mother fled with me from the nesting grounds in the three-channelled river of Ayutthaya when the Burmese burned the human settlement to the ground. So much of the destruction polluted the nesting grounds, decimating entire stocks of our people.” He slid off his perch to return back to the water. In a way, he reminded me of my father pacing the floor in front of the fireplace the night he told us the farm would be foreclosed on. “It is not that we died out. It is that my father died in helping save some of the humans that were forced into our waters by other humans.”
“You were forced out because your father tried to protect who he could?” I demanded, rising in frustration.
“My mother fled with me from the other Bet-tah when I was not yet old enough to protect myself. Baya or Overseer is passed down within the Bet-tah from father to son. With my father dead, and me too young, the seat turned over to the rule of the Council until I came of age. She died of stress shortly after reaching the Gathering Grounds, where the Antumnos Council meets. She had hoped that one of the Council would place me with a clan. Keris knew nothing of what happened in Ayutthaya. The Council placed me with him to distance me.”
I frowned at the procession of events. “Then, if you are mature, why have you not returned to oversee your nesting ground?”
“With no mate, I would still be seen as unable to lead. Traditions.” He sank back into the water, eyelids cast low at the admission. “It is not that I asked you to be my mate so as to take back my grounds.”
“It’s a bonus, though?” I guessed. “How does this tie into your names and spots, though? I’m still lost on the importance?”
“I have lived more years with the deep Llyr than my own clan. They pride themselves on their spots, on their colours to find a mate. I remember very little of my own clan. Mother did not have spots, though. She was a slim grey white, almost pink. I do not believe my people can vary their colours like Keris’s people,” he tried to explain.
“And kids can be right dicks when they get it in their mind that someone else is different,” I assumed of his life. I had suffered my own share of issues; it was easy to relate.
“Yes, calves can be. So can their parents.” Tension eased from his shoulders and his fins relaxed.
“I am sorry that you’ve had to deal with that. Spots or not, I like your fins.” I smiled. He ducked at that, going below where all his fins had fluffed out, making him into a black and white cloud. Stalled beneath the waves, he covered his face with his hands as he curled his tail around him, using the largest of his fins to cover himself. “Are you coming back? Did I say something wrong?” I called. No response. “Saeesar?” I tried again.
A snap of sticks from behind startled me. “Hey, boys, look what the storm dragged in!” A man called into the oleander thicket. I tripped back from the voice, trying to see between the rotting dock boards. Through them, A pair of blue eyes stared down at me from the edge of the forest. A shotgun cocked behind him.
My gut tightened at the sound. No time to figure out Antumnos. I needed Saeesar to leave, to get away from the calm water where he would be seen. If he thought his people were cruel, there was no time for him to discover the depravity of humans. Picturing every instance of danger I could, which, with a gun so close by, wasn’t difficult, I tried my internal screaming. I could only imagine that was what he had been referring to when he had told me I was screaming when I wasn’t last night. I didn’t dare take my eyes off the one man who was descending down the rock to the beach edge where I was hiding under the dock.
My spots were glowing in the fading light.
“I thought you said he was some homeless guy you saw in your woods today! He’s glowing like a radium dial!” A different, high-pitched voice called back to the man approaching my lair.
“He’s been talking and humming to himself all day in a weird language. Thought he hit his head,” the man called back.
“I-I can explain!” I scuttled for the water’s edge, getting myself away from getting caught in the brush around the dock.
“Oh, there’s no need to explain, lightning bug,” the man reassured. His voice scalded, sending shivers down my skin.
“I’ll just be leaving. Thought the dock was abandoned and figured I’d be safe out of the wind a couple days. Didn’t mean to encroach.” I slipped on a rock as I backed up, finally finding the guy with the gun up in the woods, and three more men.
“Don’t leave; we were just getting to know each other. You know there’s talk of Hag and Wally looking for some additions to their show?” The man jumped the rocks, knowing which were solid and which would shift.
“I know how it felt having trespassers on dad’s farm. Meant no harm. I’ll be gettin’.” I swallowed, hoping for escape.
“Randal!” One of the men up in the treeline yelled at the one pursuing me.
“I hear ya! We’re gonna be rich, boys.” The man launched himself across the rocks and up over the dock while I tripped, turning to make a run for it in the settling dusk.
“Get him!” Another of the men followed suit. Clattering footfall echoed behind me as I pulled myself over boulders and skittered along the sharp flakes of sandstone and sand. Prickle shrub jabbed into my skin, tearing at my hands and arms. The shotgun was a pump action. Each click raised the hair on my head. Three clicks. I dove for the deeper water where I knew the boulders were thinnest from when Saeesar had brought me ashore. A flash of searing pain and fire blew through my shoulder blade and upper arm.
I’d been shot.
Limb useless, burning through with numb fire, I pushed myself into the darkening water, hoping they would lose sight of me. My spots were bright, though, and easy target. Another loud blast. Fingers grabbed onto my good hand beneath the water and tugged me lower, out of range of the buckshot. Saeesar’s face came into view, concern creasing the edge of his eyes as he pulled me into the cold until we were sitting at least twenty feet from the surface. I clutched at him as he engulfed me in his wrap of fins, keeping my spots hidden to only us.
“I hate to say this after your experience from yesterday, Marin, but you’re going to need to breathe,” he told me. I knew it. I knew it, but I really didn’t want to. The burn from the water yesterday was worse than the buckshot today. He put his hands to my chest, quickly tracing my spots to form glowing circles and lines. “A couple more seconds, Marin. Hold on a couple more seconds.” He said that, but my temples were throbbing, my wound was turning our hiding nest murky, and rings were forming in my eyes.
“Now! All of it. Push all the air out entirely. Don’t hold out on me.” He twisted his tail against my back and pushed against my chest in an effort to help me. I held onto his sides, fear taking hold as I did what I was told. That next breath in was hell. Worse than before. My ears rang with it, and my stomach twisted. I willed myself to not kick for the surface like I so badly wanted to. “You’re doing good. You got it in. Now out. Your mantel doesn’t just go in your mouth and out through your gills. Like humans breathe air, you have to get it out.” He twisted, helping me as I started going light-headed. This time, though it burned, I found I was able to more easily draw the water in and out.
“Yes. Good. I curled a charm into your mantel to strengthen it. It won’t last more than a couple of minutes. We need to get you away from this shoreline, and I can’t cast any more charms. You’re bleeding, Marin!” He noticed in horror, clamping his hands down on my shoulder.
“And it smells of Kraken child,” a low voice echoed through the waters, a massive head emerging from the darkness. Long, and wide, it looked like an albino rattlesnake with massive red eyes.
“Leviathan!” Saeesar hissed.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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