“Tell me of your home.” I studied paper white skin at the edge of my cheek. Green flecks of plankton and salt drifted in swirls of ocean waters across Saeesar’s chest. The sun beat down on us as we floated over calm waves. His fins billowed out around him, soft and translucent like threadbare muslin. Absently, I ran a finger along the edge of a frill, mesmerized with the gentle tickle across my senses.
“It – that is, um. Home.” He contemplated the clouds filtering out harsh rays.
“You aren’t from these waters.” A headache pulled between my eyes and my skin burned.
“Why do you say that?” Saeesar pulled against a wave, sending us farther east across the Gulf Coast.
“Burmese isn’t a town around here, I think.” I shifted, my pinky going numb with my fascination on his fins.
Saeesar adjusted my arm to relieve the pain from the pellet in my shoulder. “No, it’s not.”
“You’re fluffy. That seems strange for someone keeping space in the Gulf. The fish we’d catch, they’re smooth. All sharp edges. Taigre was sharp edges. Sleek.”
“Strangely observant. Humans have a knack of watching, though they also have a propensity for destroying that which is watched. He stalled in thought to study a seagull. “I did not mean to offend.”
“I sensed nothing of offence in your words. Curiosity and pain. You wish to distance yourself from the burn in your shoulder. That is what you are murmuring beneath your landleg words.”
“Landleg? Humans?” The drifting waves and heat seeped into my stomach. Faint and tired, I wanted to slip into cooler water.
“Humans. What you call people. What would you call a group of fish?” Saeesar pushed away from my question of home. I wanted to come back to it. Maybe it, like my brother, was a tender topic.
“Captain called them a school. Shoal, I think some of the other crew called the small silverfish that came up along the beach edge when the water was calm.” I eased my hands into the water in hopes of finding coolness for my blistering skin.
“It will hurt your shoulder to go in again,” Saeesar cautioned.
“Reading my mind is unsettling. My back hurts.” I admitted to what was bothering me. My shoulder burned in a different way to my skin. It had turned from snaps of fire and lightning to an all-encompassing throb. Sunburns were sunburns. I wanted to peel myself from the angry heat and sink into a dark cold.
“I can take you under for a couple of minutes, but it will sting that wound?” Saeesar offered.
I nodded, too tired to reply. Maybe I did reply. I still didn’t understand how the iase in my head worked.
“Do you want a charm? Are you strong enough without?” He draped one of his side fins across my back. The relief from the sun battled with the tacky sensation that made the sunburn angry.
“No. I’ll try on my own. Not that I feel strong enough to breathe, but I want to save a larger charm if something like that white snake shows up again.” I wanted to shift so that I could keep my shoulder out of the water, but submerge the rest of myself into the shadows he cast with his fins.
“How much can you put up with? I could try to drag us into one of the high currents and get us to Nuada sooner.
“Can you tell if I’ll pass out? Will this voice thing you hear from me tell you?” I would rather get to our destination sooner if only to hopefully have a doc dig the buckshot out of my shoulder.
“Yes. I’ll know.”
“Then I’ll put up with whatever gets me there.”
“Why do you want to know about my home?” Saeesar traced charm lines over my face and across my back.
My vision blurred around the edges as a charm settled into my shoulder. Inhibitions gone and almost asleep, I didn’t right care what fell out of my mouth. “Are all of your kinfolk as pretty as you? I don’t like the idea of it. You’d think I didn’t want your dowry. Not like the dowry is all that important. The pearls would be enough to keep me fed until my death. It isn’t that I don’t want them.” A burst of tiny bubbles caught up in the hairs on my arms. Saeesar had laughed at me.
“You apologize?” Saeesar layered another series of small charms across me.
“I like pretty people and pretty things. I’d probably say things not knowing. I wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings by accident.”
“We’re going under.” His fingers found my neck above the pellet holes and the small of my back as he twisted into a dive.
Pulling in a breath was less terrifying when there was enough pain elsewhere to distract. The water rushing across my wound twisted nausea at the back of my throat. A charm burst, scattering bubbles around us. The sick knot unravelled in my core, along with the headache beating between my eyes.
“My home wasn’t here. I came from halfway across the world, like I said. Burma. You didn’t know it. Lands across this vast expanse where the trees drip with humidity and wind is a song of frogs and rain. Where you can lay in the water at midnight and listen to the laughter of a festival amongst the shadows. From what I remember, there were others far more elegant than me. Father, he was solid black from the top of his head to the end of his fins. Darker than shadows under new moons. His kindness was bottomless like the trench. Courage larger than Leviathan.
“Mother, the other women, they were not as decorative, though they too held their own displays. She was distinct, more so than others. Grey, almost whiter than gull wings. Enough so she was pink with it. I recall her eyes. They were reflective red like that of the deep sea creatures who hide from the regular sight.
“Gentle as still water with the stubborness a whirlpool. She was everything to me for the short time I had with her. I was her only offspring to survive.
“We battle amongst ourselves from the time we are young. Protected by our fathers, who in turn wage wars for us until we are of an age to make our way, and then they battle against us. Our loop of destiny is crossed from the good in us and the instinct we have to protect our grounds and our mates.
“This was home as you asked it. Family.” He broke into a current. The push sent us hurtling past vast swaths of barren plains far below us. That left me reflecting on Taigre and the probability of what his parents looked like.
“What of Karis, you ask? The children of Llyr? Where do they come into play? It is not that I see them in poor light. They have shown me hospitality, in a way. We are not similar enough. I am no more than a contestant for Karis. Entertainment for his pod.” In contemplation, his fingers rubbed against the back of my neck. I didn’t like that word.
More bubbles skimmed across me.
“Protect? An interesting word you use. What is it that made you think that?”
What did he mean by contestant? Entertainment? A coliseum came to mind. A worn history book of generals, trojan horses, and emperors playing fiddles.
“Gladiator. Humans have something similar? Interesting.” Saeesar’s tone turned to quiet interest.
I didn’t want that type of confirmation. The tips of my fingers cramped. I loosened my death grip on his side.
“You meant no harm. You would worry about what I do within the clan? Why?” The channel merged into a larger flow crowded with fish. A shadow passed by on our right.
“Baya Saeesar? A long way from your clan,” a female voice greeted. An orange body and tails with black. Grouper? Her face was long, if not rectangular so in nature.
“Only so far as to help a sea-king’s child to the council.” Saeesar had an interesting habit of distancing me from approaching creatures. I settled listlessly into the crook between his body and a side fin. There were too many inputs to process. The last thing I remember was choking on salt water.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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