They caught the mermaid on the eighth day after the third moon at sea.

  The capture itself had been simple once they had located the creature. Two-eyed-Linus had made the sighting off starboard early one morning and the small row-boats had been lowered off the Huntress into the ocean to herd the mermaid closer. It was Yorrik who made the shot. It had been said that Yorrik could hit a sling-fish at ninety paces and he had yet to cause anyone to doubt that rumour. A clean arrow pierced through her arm and she was hauled up by a net onto the main deck and tossed down for the men to see.

  To Ears she looked pitiful. A wretched beast writhing on the wooden planks, showering blood and salt water in tiny flecks onto the crew who surrounded her. He couldn’t get a good look as, being one of the smallest members of the company (Besides Re’hurl of course), he was naturally at the back. Those lucky ones at the front were laughing and blowing kisses to the mermaid in mockery; at least Ears thought that was what they were doing. For every man had wax or root vegetables stuck in their ears to block out the siren song, so Ears couldn’t hear their foul-mouthed taunts.

  The creature’s futile agitation lessened as she struggled to catch breath out of water, and Yorrik made the signal for the mermaid to be transferred to the holding barrel. Helft one of the largest men in the crew, picked her up by the tail and swung her clumsily head first into the salt-water barrel. With unheard cheers the men nailed down the lid and rolled it towards the stern of the ship.

  Yorrik cautiously removed several thick scarves from his head and gave the signal. With a sigh of relief, Ears pulled two sizeable radishes out of his ears and re-joined a world of noise.

  The first sounds were the familiar rush of the ocean wind and the crash of the waves against the Huntress as she carved her way through them. The crew were raucous in celebration of the catch, but as this background volume settled, Ears could hear a muffled, panicked thumping coming from within the barrel.

  A sudden lull.

  Men straightened their spines and a few brushed the larger bits of gruel off their weathered garments. A familiar rhythmic thud of wooden leg upon wooden decking and the Captains’ cabin doors opened up to reveal the formidable sight of Captain Orpulous.

 

  The sight of the captain always made Ears wish a latrine was within the close vicinity. The first time they’d met in Port Farlan, on that very deck, the Captain had glanced Ears up and down and spat at Yorrik.

  “I thought I told you no first-timers?”

  Ears had knelt quivering before him. The Captain wasn’t tall, but he was broad shouldered and muscular. All visible skin was scarred, and fresh scars overlapped older scars in counter intuitive directions which was enough to make one see patterns if you stared for long enough. He had a long wolf fur jacket and a battered tricorne worn at an angle to cover his missing left ear.

  “There’s fair few old timers to be had Cap’n. Most ‘ave been signed up for the wars in the south. Good money in warships.” Yorrik had defended. “Plus he’s fast. I saw him climb Pletoria’s mast faster than Two-eyed-Linus in his prime.”

  The Captain had grimaced. “He’d best be worth his wages. Urlag knows I don’t need no wet-behind-the-ears cretin working the Huntress.”

  The name ‘wet-behind-the-ears cretin’ had stuck. But being folks of little words, the seaman aboard the Huntress had shortened it to ‘Ears’ if they liked him, or ‘Cretin’ if they did not.

 

  “I told you if you sailed with me you’d find your fortune.” Gloated Captain Orpulous to the cheers of the crew. “Some didn’t believe I knew where to find ‘em. But I knows! I knows where to find the slippery buggers!”

  Ears smiled; he had heard the oncoming speech before. You needed three things to catch a mermaid, the captain would say. Firstly, you needed to know where they were. And the captain had his map, handed down from father to son for generations, and then stolen from that family by the captain when he was but a decade and two years old.

  Secondly you needed a prince. The ‘prince’ that the captain used was a sack of potatoes and a bucket with a smiley face drawn on it. For, as the captain would explain, a foolish mermaid could not resist their primal urge to rescue a downing prince. The ‘Prince’ had been dragged behind the Huntress for the past three weeks in order to lure their mermaid in.

  Thirdly, the Captain would say, you needed a fearless crew; and this was the cue for the men to cheer loudest and chant the captain’s name.

  Or be thrown in the brig.

  Unseen and unwanted, Ears slinked away down the ladder to the spar deck. He had been unnerved by the capture and couldn’t shake the image of the gasping mermaid bleeding on the deck.

  “It’s not natural.”

  Ears jumped, then located the voice to the aft side of the spar deck, where the gaol was. He wandered over to the prisoner. By the gaol you could hear the captain’s speech continue, as the cell opened up to the deck above via metal bars through which the men would send scraps of food or bodily fluids down. A pale, cachectic old man lay naked in the corner, staring at Ears.

  “Nothing good will come of this, you mark my words. It’s bad luck to catch a mermaid.”

  “Shut your gruel hole.” Ears may have been low in the ranks, but everyone got to abuse the prisoner.

 

  Ears dreamt of the mermaid that night. And the next night. She had been moved to the specimen room on the lower deck so Ears hadn’t seen her since the capture. And life on the Huntress rarely gave him time for social visits. A harsh wind had arrived and he was constantly on the ropes, or scrubbing the deck, or cleaning out the galley, or throwing tortoise dung overboard.

  He seemed to be the only one adversely affected by the mermaid on-board the ship. The rest of the crew endlessly discussed what they would spend their fortunes on when they reached land. And as a single mermaid scale could fetch a man’s weight in dubloons, they had a lot to discuss. Gambling naturally spread exponentially as the men spent their future earnings, and more than one fight had to be ended abruptly by Yorrik’s crossbow.

  Ears finally got his chance to see the mermaid a week later. On returning from an arduous galley shift, Re’hurl cornered him and begged him to take his bout feeding the specimens. He had lost a month’s wages in a game of crabs and was desperate to win it back. Trying not to appear too keen, Ears agreed to the dwarf’s pleas and headed down to the lower decks.

  The specimen deck was unlike any other part of the ship. It was crammed with large cast iron containers, each full of sea water with a glass panel on the front so you could view the creatures within. The first few were empty, but as Ears progressed through the cages he started to pass giant sea-spiders (sold for their anti-venom), a venomous-crankhurple (used extensively in beauty potions), and the two-headed shark they caught in the second week (a delicacy in Talkhaven). Steering clear of the shark, Ears’ lantern finally illuminated a solitary container at the back of the deck.

  He gasped.

  The mermaid was gagged, curled up at the bottom of the tank and shivering. As he approached, she flinched and curled up tighter. Ears sat in front on the tank and placed the lamp by his side. He found the mermaid fascinating. He guessed they would have been about the same age, and held up a hand as a sign of friendship. The mermaid glanced up at him. He could see her face was badly bruised but her beauty still took him by surprise. Ears had seen many girls before, even desired a couple, but no-one could have prepared him for the sheer enchanting intoxication of seeing a mermaid in the flesh.

  She had silver-blue hair which floated irresponsibly in the water above her. Her smooth, green tinged skin shone slightly in the darkness and her tail- her tail was covered in golden scales and ended in a fin as wide as her arm-span would have been.

 

  He did not know how long he sat there staring at the mermaid. She mostly kept her face covered and glared at him from time to time. When Ears finally went back to his hammock, he didn’t even realise he’d forgotten to feed the specimens.

 

  He went back every night that week. To Re’hurl’s delight he took on feeding the specimens every evening, and then he would sit, staring at the girl in the tank until he lost his nerve and returned to his bunk. On the third night he noticed a golden scale was missing on her left side which he hadn’t seen previously. On the fourth, the area had spread, revealing the rough red flesh underneath. He wondered if she had some sort or skin-pox like the sailors got after visits to certain ports. By the seventh night the area was the size of his arm and the tank had a pinkish hue to the water. The mermaid now seemed to expect his arrival. Most nights she would sit curled at the bottom of the tank like before, but Ears swore she moved closer to the glass window each visit, as interested in him as he was in her.

  On the eighth night he fell asleep. Ears was woken by the sound of the hatch opening from the deck above and men coming down the ladder. In a panic he snuffed out the lamp and dived behind a tank of telepathic sea-cucumbers. The light from the men slowly advanced towards the mermaid and Ears heard Yorrik’s familiar whisper.

  “If she scratches me again I swear I’ll end her.”

  As the men shifted into his field of vision, Ears identified not only Yorrik but Helft and Duul.  Ears shrunk back. Yorrik and Helft were bad enough, but everyone knew Duul was an ex-priest of Diel.

  The priests of Diel, Re’hurl had once explained to Ears, were worshippers of Dielim, the God of the dead. Not satisfied with the usual morbid religious practices, they split from the main Dielim priesthood to found a denomination of ‘pure Dielimists’ who believed that to truly honour the lord of ghosts they must provide him with death. The order almost finished minutes after its formation, as the members realised that the quickest way to please their lord was by committing suicide. The few that remained felt strongly that by continuing in life they could please Dielim more by providing multiple corpses instead of a single offering.

  Mastering the art of bringing mass death soon bred a group of highly skilled assassins with no regards to law or honour, who were feared even by the very men who dared hire them.

  No one knew why Duul left the sect, but most knew better than to ask.

  Not needing one himself, Helft bought a small step ladder for Yorrik and the two unscrewed the top of the metal tank. Silently, Duul withdrew two nooses from within his hooded black cloak and handed one to each of them. Helft swung the lid off the container and with a well-practiced flick, Yorrik caught the mermaid’s neck in the noose. She tried to struggle but Helft soon had the second noose around her tail and the two men lifted her out the water. Ears saw the panic intensify in her green eyes as Duul once again reached into his priestly garments and bought out a silver pair of pliers. Ears watched in horror as the priest methodically pulled a gold scale from her thigh. The mermaid’s muffled screams would feature heavily in Ears’ dreams that night.

 

  “I don’t give a rat’s arse if it’s urgent. The Cap’n’s asleep.”

  Ears gave the guard his most sincere glare, which was difficult as the man was twice his height.

  “Fine, then you can explain to the Captain in the morning why he wasn’t told that someone was stealing scales from the mermaid.”

  The guard hesitated the way a man will do when his next pay check comes under threat.

  “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

  With that the guard disappeared into the captain’s cabin. He was away just long enough for Ears to doubt whether he was returning. Then the heavy oak doors swung open and Ears was beckoned inside.

  He’d been in the cabin many times before to clean up after Mr Sparkles, yet each time he found something more fascinating to divert his attention. The cabin was like nothing he’d ever seen. A red carpet clashed offensively with brightly coloured drapes that hung from the ceiling. Every wall, surface and most of the floor was covered in trophies from previous hunts. The captain was sat behind a large mahogany map table, smoking a thick purple liquid and feeding a ruby-shelled tortoise raw fish.

  “Mr Sparkles is particularly hungry tonight boy. Make this good or I’ll make you dessert.”

  Ears didn’t doubt the captain for a second. He always wore thick leather gloves when cleaning out Mr Sparkle’s cage and he still had bite marks on his fingers.

  With a deep breath, Ears explained what he’d seen as succinctly as he could manage, pausing only for quick breaths between sentences. The captain listened, giving away nothing, just slowly feeding the tortoise bite after bite of flesh. When Ears had finished talking, the Captain let silence hang in the air, and then asked Ears the very question he had dreaded.

  “And what were you doing on the specimen deck so late?”

  “I… I…” Ears spluttered.

  The captain stood up violently, tipping an unimpressed Mr Sparkles onto the floor in the process.  He took a stride towards Ears and then reached down to his thigh. Ears flinched, thinking he was going for his dagger, but instead the captain pulled off his wooden leg and threw it onto the desk.

  “Unicorn.” He pointed to a horn on the starboard wall. “That one in fact. Pierced me right through the leg one night when me and Yorrik were out trying to catch their farts.” He paused at Ears’ confused face.  “Unicorn farts are mighty valuable to the right buyer boy.” He pointed to the hole where his ear should have been. “White tiger.” A missing finger.  “Bumblewasp, big fat bugger too.” A scar across his abdomen.  “Poisonous black-elk.” He leant in towards Ears’ face. “I’ve hunted near on every single accursed creature on land or sea. Never had two scars from the same animal. You know why boy?”

  Ears shook his head.

  “I learned. Know your enemy. Know your enemy better then you know your own mother. Better than you know yourself. Fight a man once and lose, fine. Fight the same man again? This time you win – because you know. I know mermaids boy. Been hunting the vermin nigh on twenty years now. Oh aye they may look pretty enough, but they’re damn sneaky. They target the young, the virgins. Lure them in with their looks, their songs – get inside your head, boy. Had any dreams? Any visions?”

  Again, Ears shook his head, wondering if the captain could see inside his head.

  “Don’t trust them. Don’t trust yourself around them.” The captain sat down on the side of the table and reattached his leg. “Don’t go near the mermaid again.”

  “But Yorrik-“

  “I’ll deal with Yorrik. Promise me you’ll leave the mermaid alone.”

  Cornered, Ears make a promise he knew he couldn’t keep. Satisfied, Captain Orpulous bade him goodnight and the meeting was over.

 

  The Huntress, or Thrine’s Huntress as she was formally named, was an old whaler ship which Captain Orpulous had modified to his liking. Silver with a black lining and emerald sails, she cut through the surf like a blade. Her structurally and magically reinforced hull proudly supported three towering masts fitted with powerful detectors of all shapes and sizes to locate the Huntress’ prey; the most striking addition to the ship was an oversized mechanical harpoon launcher at the front, which was enough to deter even the most foolhardy of pirates.

  Yet the Huntress was still having to battle against the elements as they ventured into more violent waters. The crew’s hope of a quick return to land to cash in their new booty was fading like the last lights of day. The rumour was that the captain was tracking a school of yemfish; easy money if caught, but born with the irritating ability to spontaneously combust when scared.

  Ears was thankful for the heavy weather. The extra rope work mostly kept him distracted, it was only at night when he could see those green eyes staring through him, pleading with him to intervene. It was only by knowing the captain would be extra watchful that he managed to sidestep the growing temptation to go see the girl.

 

  His resilience failed in less than three nights. A fierce storm was determined to turn Huntress on her side and the crew was battling to get the mainsail down before it succeeded. A sudden gust caught them off guard and Ru’hurl received a lash to the face with the fore-rope. Ears was sent below to fetch the cook, who also claimed to be the ship’s doctor when inebriated. He passed the specimen deck on the way to the galley and before he realised what he was doing, he was back in front of the mermaid’s tank.

  He gasped. The salt water was stained with blood, the girl was curled up on the base like before, except all of the scales on her left side had been removed. Ears felt hot with anger- the Captain hadn’t even acted on his story. He’d let those men rip the golden scales off her. It wasn’t right. With a new clarity of vision, Ears clambered on top of the tank and started to undo the bolts.

  “Oh Cretin. The Cap’n told me I shouldn’t let a landlubber join a mermaid hunt.”

Yorrik stepped out from behind the two-headed shark tank.

  “Let’s go and see what he has to say about this.”

 

  Yorrik dragged Ears from the specimen room all the way to the Captains’ cabin; Ears’ delicate frame no match for Yorrik’s weathered, muscular one. Ears found himself thrown face down on the thick red carpet in front of Captain Orpulous. Duul and Helft entered behind Yorrik, blocking any thought of escape.

  “We found him. Just as you said Cap’n,” sneered Yorrik.

  The Captain knelt down next to Ears and lifted his head off the floor.

  “I told you to leave the mermaid alone boy.” Ears could feel his hot breath on his cheek. “That mermaid is very precious to me.”

Captain Orpulous let go of Ears’ head and stood up, as if giving a speech. “I told you I’ve hunted almost every creature on land or sea. That’s true.” A glazed look of longing came over his face. “But now I have the chance to capture a real magnificent beast. A creature whose very existence defies the laws of nature. A god among the animals! A god, it is my desire… no my, my destiny to kill.”

  He rounded back on Ears. “What do I need to hunt it? What do I need?”

Ears stammered “A… a map?”

  “A map!” roared Orpulous. “A map which, thanks to Duul, I now have in my possession. What else?”

  “A prince?”

  “Bait!” The Captain appeared delirious. “With mermaids you use a prince, but this beast preys on mermaids.” He laughed. “And we’ve been dropping off little bits of one over the stern for weeks!”

  In the last throws of the lesson, the Captain grabbed Ears by his hair and pulled him to his feet.

  “And what’s the third thing I need boy?” He shook him. “What’s the third thing?”

Ears knew the answer. Resigned to his fate, he gave it:

  “A… a fearless crew.”

  “Aye. Unlike you, you runkle-bellied puke warmer.”  He turned to Yorrik. “Teach him a lesson then throw him in the brig.”

 

  Thin slices of rain needled down through the bars of the prison to dampen the two prisoners. Ears groaned. Most of his body had turned a green-purple colour in response to a vicious beating from Yorrik. Helft had then picked him up like a rag-doll, dragged him across the deck and tossed him into the brig. Ears had passed out for a while to save embarrassment and came round to the grinning face of his fellow inmate.

  “I warned you them mermaids was bad juju.”

  Ears groaned again.

  “Let me guess- you tried rescuing the little harlot didn’t you? Ha! Well you won’t have been the first.”

  Ears tried to pass out again and failed. The prisoner, sensing a vomit may be imminent, gave Ears what little space the cell allowed.

  Up close the prisoner reeked. Scurvy had run riot with his dental work, and his blood shot eyes seemed to dart between things that were there and things that were imagined. There wasn’t much clothing or muscle left on him, and his ribs stuck out unnaturally from his pale skin.

  “Forgive me, it’s been a while since I’ve had guests. Where are my manners? Would you care for a beverage?” offered the old man. At Ears’ nods he pointed to a small, foul-smelling bucket in the corner, and then collapsed in peals of laughter.

  “Oh I’m sorry. Did I hurt your feelings?” More high pitched giggles. “I just thought you might be stupid enough to give it a try, after all you did just get duped by a little fish-girl.”

  “I did not get duped.” Croaked Ears. “They’re torturing her.”

  “Of course they are. And I’m a pixie.”

  “No it’s true!” Ears found himself telling the prisoner everything. When Ears reached the Captain’s plan to use the mermaid as bait, the prisoner became visibly agitated.

  “Then he’s found the map. And that insane cripple is going to try and kill one of them.”

  “One of what?” Interrupted Ears.

  “Better kiss your loved ones good-bye. If we find one, this ship will be splinters by the dawn I swear to you. Ever heard of the leviathan?” Ears looked blank. “The Slopharui? Maxiprismatica Atromarginata?” The prisoner sighed at Ears’ ignorance. “It’s like a massive sea-slug. And I mean huge. Few have actually laid eyes on the thing, and certainly no-one’s ever killed one. This thing makes the kraken look like kelp. It’s the dragon of the sea- if dragons were slugs.”

  “How bad can a slug be?”

  “Ask a lettuce. Have you not been listening? This thing is the ultimate sea monster. A god among sea creatures. The captain’s been trying to capture one for over twenty years, but no-one knows where to find the damn beasts. Now some moron’s gone and told him where to hunt!”

  There was a pause as the prisoner punched the wall and broke his hand, cursed until he was blue in the face and then sat down opposite Ears, defeated.

  Ears’ voice broke him out of his self-pity;

  “You’ve been with the captain twenty years?”

  “I’ve been his prisoner twenty years. Hardly with him.”

  “What did you do?”

  “I didn’t do anything!” Growled the prisoner.

  “Then why did he-“

  “What do you need to catch a mermaid?” Mimicked the prisoner.

  Ears was getting sick of being asked this question.

  “A map, a prince and a crew.”

  “Well I ain’t part of the crew. And I sure as hell ain’t no map.”

  Ears stared at the man in disbelief. He shook his head, it couldn’t be true.

  “Prince Augustin, at your service,” spat the prisoner. “You think the ‘prince’ is just a sack of potatoes and a bucket? Mermaids ain’t that dumb, boy. No, they need the real deal.” The Prince held out his arms to show Ears the deep scars along his wrists. “They bleed me before each voyage. Put my blood in that sack behind the ship. They used to just drag me, but they soon learned my blood was much more sustainable. Still-” He smiled a terrifying grin, “no more of that; we’ll all be slug food soon.”

 

  Maxiprismatica Atromarginata attacked two days later at dusk. From the prison, the two men could hear the first call to arms, followed rapidly by the screams and roars of battle. Men were running to and fro, the captain was hollering orders, the Huntress was bouncing around in the ocean like a cork. Ears hated not being able to see the action. He overturned the bucket and stood on it, pulling himself up by the bars to try and see what was happening.

  A body slammed into the metal and Ears fell back down into the cell. There was a terrible hissing noise and a stream of black smoking liquid poured in from above. Ears rolled out the way but the prisoner’s leg was caught by the slime. He screamed in agony as it burnt through his leg and the floor below. There was squeal of metal and then the body fell into the cell too. The black liquid had burnt its way through the metal bars above them. Ears recognised the body as Helft and with no sympathy, used the corpse to clamber out the prison and onto the main deck.

  The scene looked like a nightmare. The black liquid must have been flammable, for the Huntress was burning. Towering above the ship, illuminated by the flames, was the Slopharui. Its sickly yellow body had been pierced by harpoons, grappling hooks and arrows, so as it reared its head, it pulled the Huntress with it. Small tentacles from its back were spewing forth fountains of the black liquid in giant arcs over the ship, melting anything or anyone it came into contact with. Three waving stalks protruded from its head, each with a bulbous eye the size of a man at the tip. Most of the crew were either struggling to put out the ever engulfing flames, or on fire themselves. A few were firing what they could at the creature from the stern. Captain Orpulous was in his element; an impressive figure, he stood on the prow of the ship cursing and pulling on the harpoon rope, attempting to pull the beast closer to the Huntress. As Ears looked around, desperately seeking Ru’hurls’ small frame, the smoke parted and he saw Duul standing under the smouldering foremast. He was smiling.

  A hand awoke him from a paralysing fear. Prince Augustine had grabbed his leg. Ears turned and saw his terror reflected in the man’s eyes as prince handed him a hatchet taken from Helfts’ belt.

  “You know why it’s here.” Augustine shouted urgently. “You know what to do.”

 

  The specimen room was bathed in a dim light as the wall torches faded to embers. Ears crashed down the ladder and wound his way through the tanks to the back. Fortunately each one had been fastened to the wood below to prevent them toppling during storms, as the Huntress tossed and buckled in the attack. The specimens themselves were agitated, the sea spiders were clambering up the side of the cage in desperation.

  “Cretin!”

  Yorriks’ voice cut through the air. Ears froze.

  “I know you’re in here Cretin! Come to rescue your little sea-slut have you?”

  Ears heard the crank of Yorrik’s crossbow. He crouched down and crawled on all fours behind the sea cucumbers. Yorrik knew he was going for the mermaid, so Ears went backwards, keeping low and hugging the walls. He crept up to the tank containing the two-headed shark and peered around it.

  “You sneak like a drunk elephant.”

  Yorrik was there, crossbow loaded and pointed directly at Ears’ chest. Ears flinched. He was saved by the Huntress as she lurched violently to the side. Above them, the Slopharui had wrapped its sucker-like lips around the entire stern and was attempting to digest it. Yorrik’s crossbow bolt flew past his cheek and shattered the glass behind him. Ears leapt to the side as glass and shark spilled out onto the floor.

  With a cry of anguish Yorrik started to reload another bolt. Ears desperately ran towards the mermaid tank. He didn’t have enough time. As he ran, his feet felt heavy; it seemed to take more effort, like running in a dream. A barrel rolled past him and Ears realised the whole floor was sloping upwards. As the gradient increased he had to crawl on his hands and feet. He heard Yorrik curse below him. The Slopharui was trying to drag the Huntress underwater, and the whole ship was being pulled almost vertical.

  Ears reached the mermaid cage and grabbed onto its side just as the floor became a wall. Only then did he chance a look back at Yorrik. The first mate was clinging onto the ladder with one hand, and to Ears’ dismay was aiming the crossbow at him with the other hand.

It was over in a moment. Neither man had noticed the two headed shark sliding down the floor. With a flip of its tail the shark wrapped its teeth over Yorrik’s legs. The man screamed and let go of the ladder. Both shark and man fell and landed on the far wall with a sickening thump. Ears had to look away at what followed.

  The Huntress had been built to withstand a phenomenal amount of force. However no ship had ever survived the onslaught of a Slopharui. The Huntress seemed to scream with the pressure then split like a twig down the middle. The front half of the vessel plummeted down into the waves, as the stern was dragged underwater by the leviathan.

  Ears managed to cling on to the tank as they fell into the ocean. The cold waters immediately rushed in, engulfing the specimens and Ears with it. He could see the mermaid through the glass pummelling the sides of the cage. He couldn’t breathe. His lungs burned for air. The sea was rushing around his head; all he could do was press his face against the glass, longing for one last look at the mermaid. He felt the hatchet banging against his leg, and with one last effort withdrew it from his belt. It was hard to swing it in the water, but he swung it with all his remaining strength. Ears thought he saw the glass crack just before he succumbed to the blackness.

 

  For three days the beach had been littered with washed up bodies. Those that survived told wild tales of sea-slugs the size of mountains and warned of the curses from mermaids. Yimyan found the boy first, and thought he was dead. It was only as she sized the boys’ boots up against hers that he gave a violent cough and rolled over, groaning. She moved closer to have a look at his face. A live one might be of help on the fishing boats. Yimyan grinned; the gods had smiled upon her today. She noticed the boy’s hands seemed to be clenched tightly around something. With care she pried open his palm and pulled out some silver-blue hair that glittered in the light. She tossed the mermaid hair into the wind, and began to drag the boy up the beach.

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