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An Arrow Of Salt & Ice

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My heart is pieced by Cupid,

I disdain all glittering gold,

there is nothing can console me

but my jolly sailor bold.


 

They are viscious, unfeeling, the terror of the water. Gentle smiles hide gleaming teeth, until the smiles turn to snarls. The mermaids of White Cap Bay cannot leave, and cannot stay. The years have twisted their minds until they are as knotted and corroded by time as the broken nets and rusted metal swords that litter the floor of the bay. The fish don't swim in these waters.

The terrifying shoal of women grew from 10 sisters, besmirched and thrown away by their husbands for the sake of a few pretty girls. As they attempted to drown themselves, one by one, the salt of the bay flooded into their hearts, coating it in layers of salt and brine, and the sisters changed. The blood of their veins turned to salt water, their legs bound together and hardened over with glistening scales. Bitter and heartbroken, the sisters promised themselves their revenge.

In time, their husbands formed a group and agreed to look for their missing wives, who had run away and were never seen of again. The took a ship, and sailed the world, coming back to the Bay empty-handed. Returning in the dead of night, the people of the Bay shone a bright light from the lighthouse, so the men might guide the ship safely to the dock. As the firelight lit the water, a spark just as bright ignited in each sister's heart. They gathered at the bottom of the ship, staring at the great keel with such an intense hatred that every living thing in the water fled from the area.

The eldest sister swam to the figurehead, and hauled herself up to the railing of the ship. She sat on the rail, tail dangling over the edge, with her tangled hair covering her breasts and started to sing. The men stopped what they were doing, and gathered around her. Her face was bathed in the light from the tower, her blond hair shone like gold, and all the riches the men had obtained on their voyage paled in comparison to her. She beamed a bright smile, eyes shining in the night, and beckoned the man who had once been her husband over to her. Paralysed by her golden, wide eyed glory, the others did nothing to stop him. As she began to lower herself down the side of the ship, her once-husband followed, desperate to be with the women he once loved. But as he paused, perched precariously on the rail that saved him from falling to the depths, his wife's face twisted, changing into a deadly mask that contained all the rage and betrayal that she had carried for a decade. Grabbing him by the throat, she threw them down into the water, where her sisters swirled in restless anger around the ship.

As the eldest sister began to kill her once-husband, in his terrified comprehension he understood what she had done, what she had become when he left all those years ago. He stared at her in a strange mix of horror and sad understanding as he quickly bled out, red tendrils of smoky blood sifting through the golden-shaded water.

The rest of the sisters had begun to rock the boat, some hauling themselves to the railing, keening a high, shrieking cry, as their eyes glowed with battle rage, for their night of revenge. They trapped their husbands in nets woven of kelp, dragging them below and screaming their anger through the water for all the ocean to hear.

Calypso stirs at the surging anger, and the sea at the Bay began to boil, hail rains from the sky like brimstone. The people of the town, who waited the return of the ship buy the shore ran screaming from the bay at the sight, fleeing to high ground. Tidal waves pounded the shore in a viscious fury, the roaring wind beginning to suck up water, creating a waterspout that seizes the great ship, tearing it to pieces and reducing it to splintered wood in just seconds.

Eventually, the sea calmed and the women sank below the waves. The townspeople fled, leaving the island and never returning, spreading terrifying tales of the devil-women who prowl the beautiful water of the bay. The bodies of ten men drifted silently at the bottom of the ocean, never to be seen again. The ship's flag was tied around the neck of the once-husband of the eldest sister, a grim cloak of their victory that would forever be his shroud. The sisters jeer in irony at the body, for the flag at sways around him, a symbol of a quest to find a woman who was no longer his, this man who would never know the friendly touch of a woman, or feel triumph for his actions ever again. 

Sated of their revenge, the sisters attempted to travel back to their home soil. As they painfully began to haul themselves up the beach, 10 flaming arrows soared from the sky, piercing 9 sisters over the heart. One arrow fell harmlessly to the ocean. The nine sisters who had been hit wailed and shrieked as the salt covering their heart turned to ice. Salt water freezes in their veins, and their minds glazed over completely, turning their twisted minds as sharp and deadly as the minds of horrifying predators that stalk the depths. One arrow blazed in the sand next to the smallest girl, thrown further ashore than her sisters by a stray wave. She looked on in horror as her sisters looked up, their gentle eyes gleaming with bloodlust that had so recently been fulfilled forever, that was not supposed to return. As the far-away thunder of oars churned through the water, nine of the sisters took off, tails beating through the white water as their minds hone in on their food. The tenth remained on the beach.

A single tear slipped down her face, as she thought of her sweet sisters, pierced forever by Cupid's curse. The salt over her heart dissolved in her tears, and her tail melted away, to her legs. Her sisters, her sisters…

Her home destroyed, her family gone, the youngest sister cried on the beach for the rest of her life. Sometimes, when the night is clear and the air is still she would sing, haunting melodies floating over the bay and flying through the water. Sometimes, just sometimes, when her sisters have not eaten in months, she will hear them sing back. Sister to sisters, they sing and weep for the lost one.

She lived on the beach for the rest of her life, watching her family swell in numbers. For every young women who throws herself into the ocean in despair over her lover. she meets the same fate as the original band of sisters.  For every first kill of a new one, a flaming arrow would fall from the sky, plunging into the water where it would strike a salt covered heart.

 


 

 

The youngest sister is out late one night, staring at the sea, lit up by the moon path. The water is still and silent, and the bright white on the water looks so solid that the youngest sister believes she could run along the sea, dance over the waves if she wanted to. She wants to. She is an old women now, tired of walking along along the beach forever, with only her footprints in the sand to stare at her. She lights the whale oil of the lighthouse tower, but shifts the glass away, so only the room is lit by the fire light. The rocks below the tower stand cold and unmoving below, and the water doesn't dare to ripple as it seeps around the rocks.

The youngest sister's dark hair is tangled, filled with a thousand knots that could never be brushed out, no matter how much she tries. Her vivacious accent has faded to mumbles, and the skin that once shone luminous in the light is tanned and cracked from years at the mercy of the salt wind. She walks to the very edge of the tower, hoisting herself up to stand at the niche, looking over the bay and noticing the rainbow ripples under the water, most obvious by the moonlight. She hops down, shifting the glass so the rocks directly below the tower are bathed in the red and gold light. Then slowly, slowly, the youngest sister climbs up to the window notch once more, and sings one last time, a tale of decade's old regret that the breeze blows away, carrying her tune and skipping it like a stone over the water. And with a final look at the rainbow ripple in the water, the youngest sister jumps, falling to her death on the rocks below.

Frozen minds or not, the sisters remember the firelight on the water. Curiosity piqued, the sisters lead the shoal to the shallow waters, where a figure lies still on the rocks. As they form a ring around the woman, nine minds break into a haze, where they remember sweet music, the fateful night ten men perished at their hand, and blazing arrows that fell from the sky. They cradle their little sister in their arms, weeping tears of salt that float like liquid mercury in the building waves. They pull her out to sea, weaving sea-flowers through the knotted hair and tying ribbons of kelp around the thin figure. They bury her in the sand, in the very deepest part of the bay, while those new to the shoal swim away in disinterest. The sisters sing their goodbyes and wipe the last of the silver tears from their eyes, before swimming away and never looking back. All that marks the grave of the fallen sister is a single, burnt arrow, which the sisters found, grasped tight in her hand where she lay.

 


 

 

Cupid's vengeful arrows strike the salt-crusted hearts of dozens of women. But of the hundreds he fired, only two ever missed.

A young women by the name of Syrena held her lover's hand on her wedding day. The couple beamed at each other in the Spanish sun, sharing a kiss as relatives cheered and clapped. A feast was held along the beach, but Blackbeard's pirates raided the town, and as he protected his new wife, Syrena's husband was killed.

Keening in pain and misery, she had walked to the cliffs not two miles from what would have been her new home, and jumped. Instead of drowning, Syrena felt the salt of the water sink into her pores, her blood, her heart. She heard the singing of those in the distance, and followed the sound for hundreds of miles, eventually ending up in the White Cap Bay. She swam with her brethren, not questioning how they live, snatching fish and eating them raw. One day, she comes across a burnt arrow, struck deep in the sand of the bay like a type of marker. When she asks the women of the shoal about it, none of them can remember what it's for.

Deep in the late winter, a ship blows into the bay. The mermaids can hear the men shouting, the frantic tempo of the drum as the rowers struggle to escape the legendry deadly waters. Syrena swims toward the ship like her life depends on it, but she doesn't know why. They stop dead in the water, churning the already-violent sea into a mess of roiling bubbles. The eldest of the shoal, who looks no different to when an arrow struck her all those years ago, swims forward to the surface, her blond hair trailing behind her like a golden cape of royalty. As she begins her song, wide eyes innocent and kind, the rest of the shoal head to the surface, including Syrena, and join the song. The captain of the ship, a strong man with a shaven face bends toward the water, climbing down a rope that hangs off the side of his ship to stare into the eldest's face. Another man on-board, whose trembling fingers are stuffed tightly in his ears screams for him to come back, but the captain pays him no attention. Something Syrena recognises, a rosary, is gripped in the man's shaking hands. When the captain bends his head to claim his kiss, the eldest daughter grabs him by the neck, shoving him down to the depths as she claws at him.

The rest of the shoal becomes a screaming frenzy, as Syrena looks around desperately, confused. She sees the eldest one surface again, locking her gaze on the man gripping his rosary, fingers locked around the crucifix, who cannot swim well and is drowning as he struggles to keep his head above the water.  As the eldest streaks towards him, he doesn't scream in fear but begs Christ to absolve him of his sins and his murderers of theirs. And that is the last Syrena sees of him, as he is dragged beneath the waves while his ship towers above him.

She makes her first kill that night. As the man perishes beneath her hands, she remembers, sick with grief, the expression of her lover as he died on his wedding day. As the man drops to the ocean floor Syrena stares at the blood on her hands in dismay. He would have preferred she truly did drown than become this. Hurling herself through the water, her vision tunnels to white foam and bubbles, oblivious to the flaming arrow that streaks toward the water from the sky. And then, as though Calypso herself had planned it, a wave folds itself in two over Syrena, and spits her onto the sand of the bay, as the arrow strikes hard into the sand by her tail.

As she looks at the arrow, slowly becoming a blackened mess in the sand, she recalls where she saw another, deep at the floor of the bay. And Syrena weeps, tears trickling over her face, crying for her husband, her life, and the single other mermaid who missed Cupid's venomous arrow. The salt covering her heart dissolves, leaking out through her tears, which stream down her face like a heavy rain. Her tail melts away, and she is left, naked and vulnerable on the sand, watching the ruins of a once-great ship wash up on the beach. Something gently clinks against a piece of wood, only inches by her feet, and Syrena picks it up carefully.

A rosary. The rosary held by the trembling fingers of a man who in his dying moments had asked God to take mercy on his killers. A fine item, the beads made of glass, and Jesus hanging from a cross of silver, while the Mother and Child smile serenely in ivory. Syrena wraps her fingers around the rosary, and her tears stop. She is not God, she cannot bring back those who pass to Kingdom, but she will honour his memory.  She crawls back to the water, watching her legs fuse together, and swims, deep to the very heart of the bay, where a burnt arrow still stands straight in the sand. She twines the rosary around it, then thrusts her own arrow beside it.

She stays with the women who become her sisters for years, watching her sweet and gentle friends turn to viscious monsters when the smell of men fills their nostrils. She wonders bitterly why Cupid felt such hatred toward them as to pierce their hearts with his poisoned arrows. The riches from sunken ships build up, and Syrena has not lived with the shoal for ten years before the floor of the Bay is entirely covered in gold and bones.

 


 

 

The jewels and precious metals that are scatter over the sand like crabs pale in comparison to the eldest of the shoal. She is proud, strong, and unforgiving. Her blond hair floats around her head like a halo, and when the sun shines strong against the water the eldest sister looks like an angel sent from God. But in the moments when no-one is looking, her face turns hard and angry. Cursed as an immortal, having lost everything worth keeping, nothing will console her. Her mind is as blank and unfeeling as a sheet of cliff-rock. Radiant in her beauty, with all the power of the sea at her hands, she controls the very fate of any sailor to pass her mind and her territory. Her own life is reduced to destroying the lives of men. Her only comfort, the only thing she will take solace in is music. For the beautiful music that men can create, she allows just one to survive.

It is this such of a man who lives. A young man, sitting calmly in a tiny, sinking boat as he watches his friends perish around him picks up a lute. Strumming the instrument he begins to sing quietly to himself, hands shaking a little as he plucks the strings. The eldest sister stops in her tracks, and stares at him. Watching the eldest, the rest of the shoal stop, and move away from the boat, as the man looks around him in confusion. She creeps forward, little by little, and emboldened with courage, the young man begins to sing a little louder. And the eldest sister, who has never wavered in her resolve to stay alive, weakens. She leans against the boat, tail swaying softly in the water, smiles at the familiar song. As he comes to the chorus, she draws herself up, and sings with him.

My heart is pieced by Cupid,

I disdain all glittering gold,

there is nothing can console me

but my jolly sailor bold.

She sings the honest truth.

The young man's hands have stopped shaking, and as he finishes the final line of the song, the eldest sister reaches upward, and kisses him. For a few seconds, they are locked together, before the eldest gently releases him and drops back to the sea. Holding a rope tied to the prow, she guides the sinking vessel through the hidden rocks and crashing waves, until the boat washes ashore to the beach. Before she can swim away, the man catches her hand with his, and holds it, and for a few moments it feels as though time has stopped, the waves have stopped crashing to shore.  But she cannot stay, the icy salt in her veins being called by the leaving tide. And so releasing his hand, the eldest sister swims back through the waves, back to her sisters, as the young man watches from the beach.

Some years late, she spies him again, standing proud by the wheel of his ship as the shoal flies through the water.  Captain Edward Teague scans the water carefully, making sure his ship does not cross into the Bay's waters. A single head breaks the water, blond hair floating like spun gold around her. And Captain Edward Teague raises his voice in song, singing the chorus of an old sailor chant that began hundreds of years ago, that he himself hasn't sung for ten years. He listens, as an angel's voice sings back the same lines to him, before her golden head disappears beneath the bay and her voice was heard no more. And Captain Teague sailed on. He never went back to the island claiming the Fountain Of Youth, for he knew the price, which would forever be too high for him to pay.

 


 

 

Syrena has always been drawn to the light. Haunted by the memories of her life in Spain, dancing and running underneath a Spanish sun, she strains to touch a light like that again. One night, the Bay is lit up, dazzlingly bright by a light that only nine of the elder sisters can dimly recall. The eldest thinks of a burnt arrow in sadness, and then joins the rest of her shoal as they swim.

The light illuminates a boat sitting in the water, as one man, hardly awake sings to himself in his stupor. A young boy is present, and a man Syrena notices as holding a rosary, forcibly dragging her mind to man so different, yet tightly clasping that one special relic, many years ago. The eldest rises from the water like Venus on her seashell, and the men are startled awake. After brief talk, she begins to sing, the single melody she grants to sailors who cross her path, that Syrena has heard hundreds of times in her life. But as the eldest lowers herself and her victim into the water, she is stabbed back by an oar. Hurt but not dazed, the eldest screams in anger and launches an attack on the boats, and the sisters join, until the dark air is filled with shots and flashes of fire both in the water and above.

As fire flashes through the water, Syrena and the sisters swim in a panic to the shallower water, only to find a net. Shrieking in fury, the shoal attacks in a vicious frenzy, and man after man is dragged to the deep and killed. Syrena, frightened by the fire and screams of pain, from men and her sisters alike scrambles to hide by the rocks off the lighthouse tower. It is there, floating with his face half out of the water lies the man whose hands grip a rosary.

He is barely conscious, through from wounds or near drowning Syrena cannot tell. But his face is kind, and similar, so similar to the man that died nearly 20 years ago, who also gripped a rosary in his hands. As he breathes, the steady breaths of one returning to life, a piece of flaming debris fall toward him. Syrena does not even hesitate in her actions, she leaps, shoving the man out of the way as falls back to the water, trapped, by a half-mast that pins her tail to the sand.

Dismayed and scared, Syrena thrashes desperately, wanting nothing more than to be safe at the bottom of the Bay, where no man can reach her. But the stirring of the water warns her to the man's movements, and she thrashes harder in her panic. As her tail is released and she scrambles desperately to swim away, a searing, sharp pain stabs through her tail, pinning her once more to the rock. As she backs away, head surfacing in fright, she stares into the face of the young man with the rosary.

He stares back at her for a long moment, before looking down in the water where her tail spasms and jerks, held to the rock by pain. The expression on his face as he sees blood trailing through the water must be similar to the look on her face long ago, as she stared for the first time at the sight of blood on her hands. He wrenches his sword from her tail, holding it loosely in his hand as he stares at her in horrified dismay. And she is too busy looking back, to notice the net that drops down on her head.

As Syrena is dragged from the Bay, she can hear her sisters crying, wailing through the water for the lost ones. She hears the eldest call for her, and sings back, weaving her grief and her fear into her song. But as they shut her in a glass box, Syrena can sing no more.

Blackbeard's face hasn't changed since the day he arrived on the beach where Syrena's wedding feast was held and cut off her husband's head. Her soul screams for justice, and she feels a new empathy to her sisters, wishing she could carry out her own murder. The heartless man walks to the Fountain Of Youth, while the parade with her tank, a bulky war prize follow in his footsteps. Syrena knows why she has been captured. But of all people to be captured by, she will never let Blackbeard take her tears. He has taken enough already.

 


 

 

They travel through jungle, green and luscious, bright with sunshine and bird calls. But Serena cannot appreciate the beauty, long forgotten but vaguely familiar.  Locked in her glass box, she can feel herself dying. She tries to do it in secret, so her captors do not notice she is perishing, but the young man who she saved calls attention to her in alarm. As he breaks open the lid, air rushes into the prison, and fills Syrena's lungs as she rises desperately after it, body needing life where the mind does not. She can only stare at the man in silent agony.

Why would you keep me alive? Why would you, when I saved you?

But the missionary's face shows no contempt, only concern for her, leaving Syrena to hate him in the private safety of her mind.

One of the men stumbles while holding the box, and Syrena and the glass both crash to the ground. She curls up in a ball as her tail melts away, hating her vulnerability in front of her captors. Strangely enough it is the missionary that rushes forward to cover her with his shirt, though why he would try to help her now she doesn't know. Told at sword point to walk, Syrena knows she cannot. Her legs are as thin as a child's, and she hasn't used them since she threw herself of a cliff all those years ago. As she falls to the wet ground, she is humiliated when the missionary kneels to the ground and tells her to put her arms around him.

"I do not ask for help!" she spits out, but her shaking body gives away the fact that she needs it, one that he acknowledges. Scooping her up, they continue the journey.

As the sit at the roots of an enormous tree to rest, she begs him to believe she tried to save his life, the night of the slaughter. His shocked disbelief must be what brings him to shout so angrily at Blackbeard when he calls for her head to be covered. Why the missionary should name her as Syrena she does not know, but she is grateful.  There is something in the name the gives the feeling of living.  That reminds her she was human, a long time ago, before the world turned to pain and blood in the water, where she was just another prettily scaled killer.  

She is dying in the pool when she comes to terms with her feelings for Philip. He begs her, in a tight voice, that if she might shed a tear to save his life, he would be grateful. But she cannot. Not for Blackbeard. She hopes against hope that they are merely calling her bluff, but Philip falls to the ground, bleeding and unconscious, and salt tears prick behind her eyes. Rough hands grab her face, but she remembers who she is held captive by, and remembers the faces of her dead sisters who surround her. No tears fall.

Philip returns in the dead of night to release her, and she is so relieved to see him alive and well she cries tears of happiness. But selfish hands have been lying in wait, and her tears of joy turn to tears of fear as they grab her, holding a vial to her face. They have got one. She is tied again, left to burn at the sun's mercy as Philip is dragged away, shouting that he had not betrayed her. She can only hang there, crying silently in her fear as they abandon her, stomping away through the undergrowth.

Time fades. The breath in her chest falls in, out. Pain washes over her, with the bright rays of the sun. Fate has a cruel sense of irony. Lost echoes of songs float around the clearing, sad melodies of mermaids left to their deaths for their tears. The skeletons around her drift gently in the water, still tied to their stakes by rotten rope. Her chest hurts. Breath fades away.

She is lost, somewhere in the water. Her sisters are beckoning her from the sand, laughing and chatting with bright eyes that aren't dimmed by hate. But Philip's voice is calling as well. She can't find it, it isn't in the water. Her mind drags her conscience upward, away from the Bay, toward a world of pain and Philip's voice. Her hands fall to the water, she has been untied. A gentle hand cups her face, Philip's voice begging God to give her back in her ear. As she sees his face come slowly into view, streaked with dried blood, dirt, and sweat tracks she remembers what she was dying for. Her tear.

She flips into a dive, streaming through the water below, shooting through the labyrinth of passages with ease, past earthen walls slick with green moss, narrow tunnels studded with the gentle fronds of the coloured plants that grow in the salt.  She spirals up the channel beneath the fountain itself, as two precious cups sink slowly toward her. She holds them, rising to the surface to gaze at the face of the son of Edward Teague.  A war rages in the background, pirates among English among Spaniards.  Metal clashes, the air is rich with the scent of blood, and the noise becoming a chorus of screaming, bloodlust and greed driving the men toward each other again and again.  But the man before her has eyes that are heavily rimmed with kohl, beads clink against each other, woven between strands of matted hair.  His sword lies unblemished in the scabbard at his waist.  The woman he used to look to on the journey to the fountain is lies shaking in the background, close to death beside her father.  Syrena can do this.  She can trust this man to give life to she who deserves it, as the eldest, who was in a way the very worst of them, trusted the pirate's father to glide by the bay, for one last glimpse at what he could not have, rather than attempt to take it.

"Do not waste my tear" is the only thing she has to say, relinquishing the cups before flying back through the water to Philip.

He lies hurt and weak by the water's edge, trying to splash his wound with water. She draws herself up, watching his hands, shaking as they attempt to scoop water up from the pool.

She will not watch him die.

"Philip, I can save you. You need only ask."  His rosary gleams by the filthy skin of his neck, and he looks up at her, with an expression that she cannot quite identify. It is similar to the expression on her husband's face as he looked at her when she walked down the aisle on their wedding day. Like he couldn't believe she was real.

"I seek but one thing". His voice is weak, it cracks as he talks.

"What is that?" She bobs in the water, dipping down and coming closer to him.

"Forgiveness. If not for me you'd never have been captured." Syrena thinks of years spent underwater with her sisters, scared to stay but too scared to leave, not wanting to walk forever alone along the shore stretch. She has felt more alive as she died in the last few days than years spent in the water, dragging men to their deaths.  She has been given back a name.  She has been given back a life.

"Ask." She insists. She moves closer to his face, begging him with her thoughts to give in, to ask her.

His voice comes back, weak as water. "Forgive me."

And that is all the encouragement she needs to rise from the water, and press her mouth to his. As they kiss, she draws back to the water, pulling him with her. They plummet through the water as Philip's arms wrap around her, trusting her completely. Her tail ripples, the muscles taunt with effort as they fly through the sunlit underwater caverns, to the exit. Rainbows bounce through the water, thrown by beams of light from her tail. Philip's face is strained, blinded by the light and the water as he is lead to his salvation. Syrena swims faster, shooting through the water like a comet flying across the sky, leaving only rainbows and bubbles in her wake.

Calypso smiles, deep in the ocean, and Cupid screams in rage from the sky, but no arrow will ever reach into the underwater labyrinth. Dazzling light is dead ahead, Syrena swimming with all the strength of a thousand mermaids. Her face glows brighter as she smiles, blazing into the circle of light.

We are coming.