~ Mermaids & Books - Strategic Mariners
this is my new favorite thing
Okay I know how annoying it can be when people make everything about fandom, but I will give cookies to the person who writes me a ficlet where Charles is the mermaid and Erik is the sailor, and he bribes Charles with books. I just. Oh my god,
[blah I am sick, but this is for Prof and Syn. Prof totally prompted this without knowing Syn had.]
The first time Erik saw the merman—excuse him, the Oceanid, since some people were fussy about it—he’d had to trade a copy of a book on navigation and his least-favorite novel in exchange for passage out of the bay.
The bay in question was a cove, a refuge large enough for the Lodestone to maneuver but sheltered on the lee side of the storm winds that had driven the ship there in the first place. Its blue waters lapped at the skirts of a white-sand beach, which in turn rose up into the relics of volcanic cliffs. And down those cliffs, returning to the sea, tumbled freshwater streams, their headwaters flowing past coconut trees and fruit trees of every description, and large birds roosted in those trees and drank from the streams and fish played in them.
If Erik had known this land of safety and milk and honey was guarded by an extortionate Oceanid, he might have reconsidered stopping, never mind that the extortionate Oceanid was all lovely pale, freckle-spattered skin on top and crystalline, complex pelagian blue below. He had brown hair that dried to a wild tumble if he stayed out of the water too long to talk, and blue eyes more remarkable than his home waters.
“You would not have reconsidered,” Charles said in response to Erik saying a heavily-edited version of what he actually thought. He hung awkwardly over the dinghy’s gunwale, his tail smacking against the water and damp fingers flicking aside the pages of Erik’s latest offering. (It was a natural history of the British Isles.) “You’ve been back here three times, not including this one. And besides, I always give your books back.”
Charles had a peculiar gift with silences. He would say something, like digging out a scoop of mud at the edge of a tidal pool, and Erik’s thoughts would rush in to fill the empty place.
So now he thought about how the first return he had given Charles a ladies’ magazine and a short story collection, the second a history of Rome’s naval battles and his third-favorite novel. The third time he had bought a book of Greek mythology especially for Charles and, with some hesitation, a copy of the Tanach.
In return, that third time, Charles had given him a flute and said, if he played it while sailing the seas around “the southernmost mountains in the great waters”—Cape Horn, Erik ascertained, after showing Charles a map—the dolphins would guide him through the shoals and reefs.
From that first time, by Charles’s admission, the Oceanid had been fascinated by him. Why he’d been fascinated by a tall man, skin like driftwood and tendons like hemp rope, Erik had no idea. But one minute he had gone with a landing party to the shore and the next a brown, curious head popped up over the dinghy’s bow and, after Erik had calmed his hysterical crew with threats and given his own name, had introduced himself as something soft and hissing that Erik had interpreted as Charles.
They would talk while the ship sat in anchorage, Erik of the “dry world” and Charles of his territory, which extended out of the cove and into the waters for miles around. He had fabulous treasure buried away in caves and vents, his own gathered from around the world, and some hoarded by his family. He seemed puzzled by the concept of ‘banks’ and why Erik would trust another person to watch his treasure, which Charles reckoned was obtained in raids and forays against enemies of Erik’s creche-kin or those who wanted his territory. Vengeance and honor seemed to be beyond him, so Erik had agreed that Schmidt the Privateer was the water-enemy of Erik’s creche and he chased the man over the greater and lesser waters to strip away his treasure.
It wasn’t a perfect understanding, and Charles, tail twitching agitatedly, would say Erik looked past the age where he ought to have settled in his own territory.
“I don’t have a territory,” Erik had said. This had been the last time, the third time, he’d returned, with Lodestone’s masts half-shot away and an insidious leak beneath the waterline that resisted patching. Schmidt’s work, of course. He and Charles had talked for weeks while the crew put Lodestone together.
“You are not creche-kin,” Charles had said with his curious decisiveness, “and so this cannot be Territory for you. But still, come back when you can. You will have safe coasting in my creche-waters.” He’d said that with a warmth that touched his strange voice more and more frequently and lit up an answering warmth in Erik’s chest.
Of course, he had still reminded Erik that, if he didn’t get some new books, he would have his whale friend crush the Lodestone the second it ventured into open water. Charles had, apparently, befriended the whale calf on his youthful journeys through the oceans and had brought him, and many treasures, back to his family’s territory here in the warm waters. The whale seemed to stick around as a sort of giant watchdog.
“It doesn’t do to be seen going soft. The ocean is not kind,” Charles said this time. Of course, Erik thought, and watched as Charles touched the natural history and Erik’s favorite novel with the narwhal tusk and sang the spell that would preserve them from disintegrating. “And here.”
He tucked the books into the satchel around his broad, pale shoulders and, with an utter lack of ceremony, took the coral necklace off from around his neck and handed it to Erik.
“If you sail down near the frozen places, drop this in the water and you’ll be allowed safe passage,” he said, and while Erik marveled at the rich red and green, the delicate limbs twined together around a bit of twine, he kissed Erik on the mouth, cool and salty, and flipped back into the water and was gone with a swish of his powerful tail.