The First of the Mermaids: Part III
While the rest of the Merdoc people and the visitors were enjoying trades and celebration, Leara and Mikael were enjoying each other. They spent all of their time on the beach, playing games in the turbulent waters and making love beneath the moonlight. Sometimes, they would hold each other on the beach, talking for hours, and other times, Mikael would sing her songs about far off places that he’d seen.
The days were long and the nights were longer, but Leara would always remember it as the best time of her life. Even after all that followed, she would remember those days with a soft smile and a joyful heart. For what greater thing could there be but love? She was surprised that the others in her village didn’t long for this; for a person to share their heart and home.
Because of the time they’d spent with each other, both Leara and Mikael missed the city turning against each other as the Merdoc people and the visitors first grew hostile and then violent.
The first fight had started over something simple; a man who owned a small stand where he sold battered and fried fish had accused a visitor of stealing. The visitor had hotly denied it, and the two had a shouting match in the village’s common area. It was a common enough occurrence; the Merdoc people were angry by nature and fist and teeth had always been their solution. This time, it was different. The villagers had rose up as one to defend the accused, and the Merdoc’s had decided they were a threat.
There were many fist fights that broke out and soon the common area had turned into a brawling ring, where everyone fought as hard as they could to pummel the others into the ground. If Leara’s mother had been alive, she would have gone down to the square with her flute and she would have played it till everyone had calmed down. Her mother had died long ago, though, and Leara had no idea of the fight. Even if she had, she hadn’t mastered the flute.
She had no idea how long her and Mikael might have stayed at the beach, forgetting the rest of the world, if they hadn’t been interrupted. They were laying in the sand, naked, and chatting about the most obscure things (the way it snowed in other parts of the world, the sound a bird made when it took to flight, and other things) when Nim approached.
“Get dressed,” Nim said immediately, “You’re needed.”
“There’s a brawl,” Nim said. “I need you to come settle everyone down. There’s going to be a lot of death if you don’t.”
“I can’t,” Leara said, sitting up. She reached for her dress and pulled it to her. Beside her, Mikael was listening solemnly. She’d told him of her heritage, and what it meant, but she didn’t think he understood completely. Nobody did, unless of course, they’d heard the beautiful music the flute could make. “You know I can’t, Nim. I’ve tried. I can’t do it.”
Nim sighed, and flipped her long white hair behind a shoulder. “We should at least get back to the people,” she said, “Even if you can’t play, you should be there. The village respects you as the Chosen One.”
“Alright,” Leara said. She pulled her dress on and looked over at Mikael. He was dressing as well.
“You might want to stay here,” Nim told him. “The village isn’t happy with outsiders right now. You’ll be in danger.”
“I can’t sit back and—”
Leara leaned over and kissed him, “Stay here,” she told him, “I’ll return when I can. Stay safe. You belong to me now, and I belong to you. What is it you say? You’ve caught my heart with your teeth.”
“I love you, Leara,” Mikael said.
Nim looked away, as though embarrassed.
“I love you too,” Leara said, loving the way the words sounded coming from her lips. She’d never told anyone that before; not her sister, not her mother, and certainly none of the young men from the village that looked at her beauty as something to be conquered.
Together, Leara and Nim went to the village commons. There were people still fighting, but most of them were sitting against stones, too dazed to move, blood dripping from their mouths and noses. The sight disgusted Leara, as all fighting always had. “That is enough!” she called out.
Several people turned to look at her.
“Enough,” she repeated. “What is wrong with the people of Merdoc? Do we not have any respect for visitors?”
There was a sullen silence that met her words. Never before had she spoken to the people this way. She had always been the odd one, the one hiding in plain sight. Would they listen to her now? Or would they whisper amongst themselves how it should have been Nim, and continue their fighting?
She thought they might just do that when a man stepped forward. One of the outsiders. “We will leave,” he said. “The Merdoc people are not the sort we want to trade with.”
One of the Merdoc women spat at his feet, “You are cowards and thieves,” she said. “We will be glad to see you gone.”
Leara sighed. “It is best if you leave,” she said. “I’m sorry that your time here has come to this, but if we do not want death as well as bloodshed, you should go.”
Another visitor stepped forward, “You’ll shoot us in the back with arrows,” he said. “As we depart. I would take one of your men with us, as a hostage.”
“No,” Leara said.
“Yes,” he told her. “That is our price for leaving. We will walk three days out, and then release our prisoner. They will be given food and sent back. This will ensure our safety.”
Leara shook her head.
“I’ll go,” Nim said, stepping forward. All eyes turned towards her. “I am of the Schlinn legacy,” she said, “Perhaps not as important as my blessed sister, but still important. It would be my honor to ensure our guests’ safety.”
“No, Nim,” Leara said.
“You don’t get to make this decision,” Nim told her quietly. She walked up to the man who had said they would take a prisoner. “I’ll go with you.”
Leara wanted to argue more but she saw the look in Nim’s eyes. Nothing would change her mind. She had always been stubborn. “Be safe, sister,” she told her.
“Always,” Nim said.
The man put a hand on Nim’s arm and led her away. The others began to follow but they suddenly stopped. The man who’d taken her said, “We do not need a prisoner,” he told them, his voice loud and clear, “For the people of Nazhu will never cower.”
Leara frowned, walking towards them, “You just said that you wanted someone to go with you.”
“Yes,” he said, “That is a lie I told. This woman is important to you?”
“Yes,” Leara said.
“Good,” he said. In a quick movement, he had drawn the knife from his belt and plunged it into Nim’s side. She let out a low moan and then crumpled forward. He yanked the blade out, hauled her back to her feet and stabbed the knife in again, just below her skull. Nim dropped to the ground, bleeding everywhere.
“This is what happens when you order the Nazhu people,” he said, “We came here for fair trade and you repaid us by calling us thieves and starting a fight with us. A fight that has left many of our men and women injured. We have repaid you. We leave now. If you come after us, we will kill you all, for you are fishers not fighters.”
Leara barely heard this speech, or the growing anger from the crowd. She didn’t see the way the Nazhu visitors filed out of the city or the way the Merdoc clustered together to discuss the events that had happened and debate on what to do. Would they follow the men and attempt to avenge her sister? Leara didn’t know.
The only thing she did know was that her sister, her lovely sister, was dead. She went to her, cradling her head in her lap. “Nim,” she whispered, “Oh Nim.”
At one point, someone tried to draw her away from the body and Leara let out an eerie, long scream. Nobody bothered her after that. Some men formed up to follow the Nazhu, but most of them had had their sharing of fighting and death. Nim’s death was a harsh reminder that while they might fight amongst themselves, they were not skilled enough to fight outsiders.
Eventually, Leara became aware that she was drenched in blood — blood of a woman who’d been her sister and friend since her birth — and that her sister was growing cold. Her sobs slowly tapered off and she eventually got to her feet. She turned to the crowd that still gathered close by.
“Take her,” she said. “Take her and make her presentable. Tomorrow, we burn the body.”