Wind and Water: A Mermen of Ea Series
by Shira Anthony
© 2012, Shira Anthony
Fiall pulled his knees to his chest and looked out over the water. The waves danced on the surface as the wind created white capped peaks and bubbles. He closed his eyes and imagined what it might be like to swim beneath like a fish.
“The water’s warm today,” said a familiar voice.
“Aine.” Fiall opened his eyes to see his counterpart from the Phantom smiling back at him from the water’s edge. Naked, his long hair dripping, his face shining with pleasure, Aine had clearly just transformed after a long swim.
“You could swim with me,” Aine said as he wiped a stray lock of hair from his eyes.
“I’m not much of a swimmer.” Fiall wouldn’t tell Aine that he’d not gone swimming since he’d nearly drowned months before.
Aine sat next to Fiall on the warm sand. “Taren told me about what happened during the storm,” he said, his voice gentle. “He said you fell overboard and almost died.”
“I owe Taren my life,” Fiall said wistfully. He hated to remember that dreadful night and his horror when afterward he’d believed Taren had perished in his place. It didn’t matter that Taren had been rescued by the crew of the Phantom or that Taren had found his soul mate in the Phantom’s captain as a result, Fiall still shouldered the heavy weight of his guilt.
“If it hadn’t been for you,” Aine pointed out, “Taren would never have known of his true nature.” He covered Fiall’s hand with his own.
“Did you read my thoughts?” Fiall angrily retorted.
Aine shook his head. “I cannot,” he said. “Not in my human form.” He touched his knee, where only moments before there had been a tail.
“I’m sorry.” Fiall turned and met Aine’s understanding gaze. “You know I don’t fear you or the other Ea.”
“I know.” Aine squeezed Fiall’s hand reassuringly, then fixed his gaze on the water.
Neither of them spoke for the longest time, the only sound the waves as they broke along the shore. Finally, Aine said, “Swim with me?”
Fear writhed like an angry snake in Fiall’s belly. “I… I can’t.”
“Do you not know how?” Aine asked.
“Aye,” Fiall answered. “I do know how. It’s just….”
“You fear the water.”
Fiall heard no judgment in Aine’s words, only understanding. The realization warmed him, and his fear eased a bit. “Aye,” he admitted.
“I will keep you safe.” Aine stood and held out his hand. “We needn’t go far or deep. And I will stay by your side.”
Fiall had never seen Aine in his Ea form, although he’d often tried to imagine how he might appear. “You’d… transform?”
“Aye. Of course.”
“I… I don’t know….”
Aine reached for Fiall’s hand. “I promise I won’t leave you alone. When I transform, I’m far stronger than as a human. I can easily carry you, should you require my assistance.”
Fiall drew a long breath and pushed away the tendrils of fear that still clutched at his heart. He nodded, words failing him. His face grew hot in his embarrassment. Aine’s hand felt so warm, so good. Aine didn’t seem to notice, but grinned happily. Fiall expected Aine to lead him to the water, but instead he waited expectantly.
“Shall we?” Fiall asked. Aine giggled and pressed his lips together. “What is it?” Fiall pressed when Aine said nothing.
“You cannot swim in your clothes,” Aine pointed out.
The heat in Fiall’s face now felt like fire. He looked away, then undressed. He’d never been self-conscious before, but now, as Aine waited patiently for him, Fiall felt the stirrings of a new modesty.
“Good,” Aine said as he once again took Fiall’s hand. He didn’t seem to care that Fiall was as naked as he. “Now come with me.”
Fiall followed Aine to the water’s edge. “Stay there,” Aine told him. “I’ll transform and—”
“I want to see you transform,” Fiall said, surprising himself with his own boldness.
For a moment, he feared Aine would not want this, but then Aine’s face lit with a bright smile and he skipped into the waves. “You would want to watch?” Aine asked.
Aine shouted happily and splashed his way past where the waves broke. “Will you be all right,” he asked as the water reached his shoulders, “putting your head under the water?”
Fiall thought only briefly about this and nodded. He moved closer, making sure his feet never left the sandy bottom. His heart raced with excitement as Aine waved, then sank beneath the waves.
Fiall took a deep breath, leaned over, and put his face to the water. Slowly, he opened his eyes. Here, where there were no crashing waves, he could see clear to the bottom. A few feet before him, Aine waved once more at him from where he floated a few feet beneath the surface.
For a moment, Fiall feared the water had grown cloudy. He soon realized it wasn’t sand that partially obscured his vision, but a silvery aura that wrapped itself around Aine’s body like a blanket. Aine’s legs seemed to lengthen as they glowed. His feet seemed to swirl and undulate as they, too, lengthened. Aine’s toes had vanished, and in their place Fiall saw the makings of tail flukes sprout at the end of a long tail.
Aine’s body appeared to solidify in the midst of the silver cloud. Colorful markings streaked what was now his tail, and Fiall noticed appendages at Aine’s wrists: small fins that ended in sharp tines. Aine’s torso had changed as well. Where the concave contours of his youthful abdomen had once been, Fiall saw the slight indentations of muscle. The muscles of Aine’s arms were also more clearly defined than before, the honed planes of his chest more like a man’s than a boy’s.
Fiall felt his mind blur much like the water before. He imagined Aine’s voice in his mind shout, “Fiall!” He reached out for Aine, smiling and floating on the current. In his dreamlike state, he no longer feared the water.
“Fiall, you must breathe!” Aine shouted once again.
Strong arms pulled him upward and into the air. Fiall coughed and spluttered, inhaling long breaths to fill his starving lungs. He’d lost track of himself beneath the water and he’d forgotten he couldn’t breathe beneath the surface!
Fiall looked around and realized they were far from land. Momentary panic evaporated as he felt Aine’s powerful arms encircle his waist and keep him above the water.
“Are you all right?” Aine asked in his mind.
“You can read my thoughts,” he replied.
“In this form,” Aine explained, “this is how we communicate. But I can only hear the thoughts you wish me to hear.”
This time, Fiall did not speak, but thought the words, Thank you for saving me.
“Goddess! You frightened me,” Aine answered. “I feared you would drown.”
I was…. surprised by your transformation. He guessed Aine would hear the words “amazed” and “stunned”, as well.
“I am sorry if I —,” Aine began.
You mustn’t apologize. Fiall didn’t want Aine to think he’d been frightened. It was… you were so… beautiful, I lost myself for a moment. I thought I was like you… That I could breathe in the water as well.
Fiall sensed more than heard Aine’s sigh of relief. “Then you still wish to swim with me?” Aine asked.
Aye. If you will stay at my side.
“I will,” Aine answered. “I promise.”
For just a moment, Fiall found himself wishing that Aine spoke about more than just swimming. That they, like Ian and Taren, might stay together for a lifetime. But that was a dream, after all. A fantasy for someone who couldn’t breathe the water and whose legs lacked the power of an Ea’s tail.
As they swam away from land, Fiall thought he heard Aine’s voice in his mind say, “If there is to be a future, then each of us, Ea and human, must learn to build a bridge between our people. Each of us must face our fear and open our hearts.”
He wasn’t sure Aine had truly spoken the words, but Fiall believed in their truth. With Aine by his side to keep him safe, he believed in their power. And for now, that was more than enough to make him smile.