Letters of Marque: Tall Tales

Many generations ago, deep below the borders of the sea and the sky, a young mermaid grew bored with her life of treading water. She ate the anemone and raced through the reef, but each movement felt heavier, as if a great sea turtle were tied to her tail and insisted on swimming the other way. She grew tired and moody and her father grew concerned.

One day, a spirit found this mermaid lurking about a field of sea stars. Despite their varying shapes and colours, the mermaid could not see beauty in the field, and the spirit grew concerned.

“Little mermaid,” the spirit said, “why can’t the stars make you smile? They twinkle in the fading light just for you.”

“I long to see different stars,” the mermaid replied. “I do not feel as though I belong here in the ocean. I long to see the surface and the mystery we call land.”

The spirit swirled about the mermaid; her dark red hair floated around her like twilight clouds as she turned to watch it move through the water.

“There is more. There is something else that troubles you, child.” The spirit’s gentle voice washed over her and wrapped her in warmth.

“I…” She hesitated and only the patient silence of the spirit encouraged her to continue. “I saw a man. He was handsome with ebony hair and he was on this thing that swam across the place where the sea meets the sky.” Her voice lowered conspiratorially. “He saw me above the water. He smiled.”

The spirit observed her for a moment before speaking again. “You wish to find him,” it stated plainly. “You long to go to him.”

The mermaid hesitated. “Y-yes. But I wish to explore the space between water and air. I want to know what I can find there.”

The spirit smiled. “Swim to the surface and then find the shore. Drag yourself upon the white sand and your tail will split into legs and you will find your Man and he will take you upon his ship and you will sail for the far horizon until your heart is content. But go now, Dúial, for if you fail to reach his shores by the time the sun sets, your tail will split before you are safe on dry land and you will drown.”

The mermaid was sad, for she had no time to say farewell to her mother and father and all her sisters that lived in the coral palace. She was sad because she would not be able to talk to her friends, the dolphin and the fish. But she swam as quickly as she could, and just as the sun began to sink behind the far horizon, she pulled herself up onto dry land, dragging her heavy legs behind her.

Exhausted, she stared up at the sky as the stars began to twinkle to life. Smiling, she closed her eyes and fell asleep until the bright sun and the sound of a man shouting pulled her awake…

“Horseshit,” a sailor guffawed at the man telling the story. “There ain’t no such thing as mermaids, an’ you know it, Deck. Who tol’ you that lot of crap?”

Deck grinned despite being interrupted and pointed a thumb over his shoulder back toward the aft of the ship. “Cap’n likes to tell it when he’s fallen head firs’ inna his drink. Ye ain’t never heard him speak o’the mermaid that wont ‘come a Woman? Gave up everythin’ she did, and married a prince ‘mong the Southron tribes, it goes.”

The doubtful sailor snorted and continued to carve a piece of whale bone into a harpoon head. “Rubbish, the lot. Too much Southron influence, you ask me, has taken hold’a your rotten head.”

“Don’t let Cap’n Judd hear ye say such things!” Deck warned.”He’s right superstitious, he is. Was relieved to take the Apple up the shore on these new routes, I hear say. Get ‘im outta the sights of some o’the dark folk’s cannons.”

“House Remlor’ll sink if this new idea don’t work,” the sailor said. “Dol Amroth’ll sink sooner’n it’ll realize. Cap’n got a plan, then, eh? Think he’ll take to piratin’ again?”

Deck grunted and tipped a canteen of liquor to his lips. “Cap’n Judd’ll figure it out. Since Cap’n Thanat disappeared, he’s been doin’ right.” The old first mate looked up at the sky as the caravel tore through the sea toward Eraidor. “Yep, he’s doin’ right.”

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