The First of the Mermaids: Part II
The visitors were dark of skin and dark of hair. They had brought meat to the village; large racks of it from animals that towered over the children and stood at shoulder height to the men. Leara was pleased; it was rare that they had meat that did not come from fish, and how she hated that!
It wasn’t the meat that caught her eye, though. There was a man who’d come with the visitors stood out to her. She’d heard of people falling into lust — never love, no, never for the Merdoc people did not know that word — with someone at first sight, but she’d never experienced it herself. Nim sometimes teased her that she’d be an old maid, never bedded.
This man, though, was beautiful. He was tall, taller than her, and his hair was long and black. The moonlight would glint off it, turning it to a deep blue. He was narrow of shoulder, but a solid build nonetheless. She wanted to touch his face, for it was fair. She stared at him from a distance, dimly aware of the low heat that filled her belly.
His eyes! They were a deep green that reminded her of grass. Gods, he was beautiful! She was yanked out of her thoughts by a sharp elbow in her ribcage. She turned to glower at Nim. “What?”
“You are staring,” Nim said. She sounded amused.
“I’m not,” Leara said.
“You are,” Nim said. “Do you find him attractive, Leara? This visitor that has so obviously caught your eye?”
For a moment, Leara thought about lying. She had nothing to be embarrassed about though; coupling was a common thing amongst the Merdoc — and the rest of the world too, for that matter. She swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded. “Yes.”
“Go to him,” Nim said. “Make your manners. Your hair is beautiful today, and you are glowing. He will find you attractive as well, I am sure of it. And you must bed a man soon. You need children to raise and teach. You must pass down our heritage.”
Leara grimaced. When she’d been younger, the idea of children had entranced her. She’d thought of them much like she thought of dolls. Fun to play with, beautiful to hold and coo over. As she’d grown, though, she’d realized what a responsibility a child would be. She wouldn’t be able to slip off at all hours of the night to dip into the sea and swim.
She’d never been a shy child, but she was shy now; what if he didn’t find her beautiful? What if he found her pale skin and white hair to be too different? “I don’t know,” she finally said.
Nim laughed, and the sound rose through the breeze, carrying over to the visitors. The one with the green eyes turned to them, and Leara felt his gaze settle on her. She felt blood filling her cheeks, turning them pink. The visitor raised his hand in a wave and Leara returned the gesture.
His lips curved into a smile.
“Go to him,” Nim urged.
Leara hesitated a moment longer but then she shook her head. She was a Schlinn; her heritage was as ancient as the moons themselves and she had nothing to be scared of. If the visitor didn’t like her, she would find another, and another, and another until she could no longer remember the sharp angles of his face, or the fullness of his lips, or the shape of his eyes…
She went to him. “Hello.”
“Hello,” he said, and she was pleased to hear that his voice was as beautiful as he was. It was as though she was listening some long forgotten song. “I am Mikael. Your village is very nice. I haven’t been to a steadfast in years. All those we meet our travelers, like ourselves.”
“I am Leara,” she said.
“You are not like the others of your village,” he said, “You look different.”
“I come from the moons,” Leara said. She reached out and touched his jaw gently, turning his face towards her sister, “That is Nim. We are Schlinn.”
“You are both very fair,” he said.
Leara felt a slow smile spread across her face. How her heart was beating! Would it burst from her chest? She thought it might. “What brings you to the Merdoc people?”
“We are hoping to trade,” he said. “We brought meat to sweeten the deal. My Lerain said it would be a nice gesture, to show our good spirit.”
“Lerain?” she said, repeating the foreign word.
“Our leader,” he said. “Do you not have one?”
Leara shrugged a shoulder, “I suppose that I would be our Lerain. I play the flute.”
Of course, he wouldn’t know what that meant, and she was suddenly embarrassed. Who was she to brag about her position in the village? She was only a girl, a silly girl, that could not make the beautiful music that her mother had passed down to her to create. “I haven’t mastered it yet,” she admitted.
Mikael took her hand in his. “I would get to know you better, Leara,” he said, “For you have caught my heart with your teeth. Have you heard this?”
“No,” Leara said.
“There is something about you,” he said, “You fill me with a warmth that I’ve never felt before.”
“I find you very fair,” she admitted, her voice coming out an octave higher than she’d expected. She turned her eyes briefly towards Nim. Her sister winked at her, and just like that, her nerves were gone. “Can I show you around?”
“I would like that,” Mikael said.
Together, the two of them explored the village, holding hands the entire time. Mikael exclaimed over simple things; such as the privy that the men had erected the last season. He was likewise taken aback by their system of drying meats and canning vegetables. She took some of this and led him to the outskirts of town, where the sea was the most beautiful.
Together, they shared a meal and looked out at the water.
“It’s beautiful,” Mikael said.
“I like to swim in it,” Leara said.
“You swim?” he said, “Isn’t it too cold for that?”
“Not for me,” she said proudly. “I have the blood of the moons in my veins. It warms me even on the coldest day.”
“Perhaps we could swim,” he said. “I would like to see you in the water, Leara.”
Leara nodded. She stood, leaving the remains of their food on the shore. She shook off her gown and watched the way his eyes widened at the sight of her naked body. She walked into the waves, unaware of the chill that brought goosebumps to her arms. She was at home in the water, and she was soon swimming and splashing.
Mikael followed her example, discarding his clothing and following her into the water. He did not have the blood of moons in his veins and she saw him shiver.
She swam up to him, and put a hand against his face, “You make me feel different,” she said.
“I think I might love you,” he said, “I know that it makes little sense; we have only just met, but yet, my heart feels as though it has flown to you.”
“I’ve never heard of love,” she said, “The Merdoc people believe only in lust. Is it lust that you are feeling?”
“No,” he said. “You are beautiful, but that is not it. My people believe in love… they believe that you find one who makes your heart sing and you stay with them for years upon years until you are both old and grey. I speak of marriage. Have you heard that word?”
“No,” Leara said.
He nodded, as though he’d expected this. “Many of the villages I’ve been through are the same,” he said. “They only couple together, but they never stay. I would stay with you, Leara. Come with me when we leave.”
The offer struck her hard, and she almost agreed. Then she remembered the flute, and her heritage. It felt as though her heart was breaking. She wiped away a tear that had fallen. “I can’t,” she said, “I have responsibilities here.”
“Then I will stay,” Mikael said, “If you’d have me.”
“I would,” Leara said. She took his hand and placed it on her bare breast. “Show me how to love, Mikael.”
And in the cold water, he did just that.