Notes, Known Problems, etc: (will be changed when I get ahead on word count..)

All right, I FINALLY fixed the tense problem. It's all in past tense now. I don't think the first sentence sounds as good now, but we all have to make sacrifices sometimes.. O.o

While I was at it, I changed the captain's commands too. If certain someones who know more about ships than I do are reading this, some feedback would be appreciated. I didn't really know for sure what he would say, just wrote some things that sounded reasonable.

AND I changed the dolphins so they are (hopefully) less annoying. Removed them entirely from one part actually. This means that something Safi says in..Chapter 1? may be a little inconsistent, but I'll get that in the next round of editing..

If you already read the Prelude, then sorry if you got bothered by a new chapter notification.. You don't have to reread if you don't want, as plotwise nothing has changed, just spruced it up a little so that I don't have to be embarrassed about plugging my novel .

And if it's your first time through then enjoy the new and improved Prelude!

And now for the story thing....

SURFACE OF THE DEEP - A yuri fairytale

PRELUDE: Through water darkly

(Safroneia, Daughter of Phorcys)

The surface shimmered above me like a dream, impossibly, dazzlingly bright. This far up, the light filled the water, too, but I had no eyes for the murky green around me – I was arrowing for the sunlight sparkling on the surface, the fractured mirror of the world above. I would finally see the sun, the men in the image of the gods, the mountains that touch the sky and the forests and beasts that float in the air.

Then something marred the brilliance of the surface above, a shadow, like a great shark or whale passing overhead. Only this shadow was higher than any shark, larger than any whale – it could only be a ship, a contraption made by men to sail across the Kesopeios, because their legs don't work on the water as they do on land. I turned and dived back toward my sisters, singing to them joyfully, "A ship! A ship! A ship of men has sailed through here for my birthday!"

"A ship?" Issidra's narrow green eyes gleamed. "What excellent news. It's been some time since I savored warm man-flesh. Perhaps your birthday will not be a waste of time after all, Safroniska." She beat her tail vigorously and streamed past me in a cloud of bubbles, her voice ringing through the water. "I'll be the first on the surface, the first to snare the men with my voice and entice them to my side."

The others sped up too, surging from the wine-colored murk toward the surface and the shadow of the ship. Sephra cast me a glance saying Come on! And I swam after her, but my older sisters were all stronger swimmers – there was no way I can catch up to Issidra and the others. My birthday ship, taken from me by them! This would be no different from usual, however.

But they were not swimming toward the ship; they were heading toward the side, a stream of sinunous undulating bodies gliding toward the surface, their dark hair streaming after and echoing the curves of their bodies. There were oars, I remembered, great blades that slice through the water on either side of the ship. But if the tales my sister had told me were correct, there would be no oars in the center of the ship. I broke away from my sisters and swam directly toward the shadow, toward the blot on the sparkling surface of the world that carried the people from the sky.

The sea around the ship was churning, great streams of bubbles marking where the oars cut through the water, and a foaming wave spreading from its prow. But as I thought, its center was dark and still, the rounded bottom of the ship gliding silently through the water. I swam toward it, and felt the smooth surface slip through my hands, too smooth to hold – and anyway I wanted to get to the surface.

The oars thundered on either side, but not right beside the ship – there seemed to be a space at least the length of my body between the hull of the ship and where the oars came slicing into the water. I could hardly see any of my sisters anymore; they had to be near the surface now, too. I would have to hurry if I were to be the first, if I wanted to claim the greatest of the men on board the ship. I turned and wove through the water, my stomach and arms brushing the side of the ship. And then – the cold air seared my face and my shoulders, sharper on those parts that were bare of scales. The side of the ship was so starkly dark and the barrage of sound so ringing, that for a moment I was stunned, frozen in a pain of confusion. Then, slowly, the flowing darkness in front of me separated into slabs, slabs run through with minute lines and dark with water, and I began to be able to separate the creak, crash, pull of the oars from the groaning of the whole ship and the crisp voices of the men on board – so strident and heroic in my ears.

"Someone in the water!"

"Where?"

"Here, sir. Port side – there's another!"

"Port oars, back water, easy does it! Ahoy there!"

"Are those women?"

"By the spear of Deos – they are! All oars – up, and forward on my mark, double time... Mark! Row, by Diaktros's winged feet! Row for your lives!"

The end of his shout was drowned out by the voices of my sisters, singing their enchanting song. The shouting voices fell silent, and the the great oars, raised above me like a terraced roof, dropped in a ragged line, the blades splashing and swerving awkwardly into the water. I had been swimming close to the hull of the ship to stay out of the way of the oars, hardly able to poke my head out of the water as they swiveled by above. Now that they were still, I eagerly grabbed two of the shafts and poked my head out to see what was going on.

My sisters were about ten taillengths away, their shoulders brilliant white under the light of the sky, their hair and scales shining. Their arms were outstretched, the spine-like nails making them seem even longer and more fluid, waving like seaweed in the current in time to their song. As I was turning to look at the ship, the oars swung out and the ship leaned, creaking, the black hull hanging quite close to me. Within arm's reach above me were the men who live under the sky and sun, clustered thickly at the rail.

Whether they really were the peers of the gods in beauty, I could not tell, because they were so covered in metal and animal hide and cloth – gleaming helmets and cuirasses, some with chestplates and bracers of leather, some with cloaks in swordfish blue-gray thrown around their shoulders. But their arms as they leaned on the rail were burly, sturdy as the oar handles, and their faces bristled with hair under the cheekpieces of their helmets. They hung over the rail, speechless, straining toward my sisters' song which wended through the air, Issidra's voice leading them in the teasing, haunting calls which we were so good at, lingering notes that wavered in the air, a mystery begging to be discovered. Then the first of them fell, a tall man with a crest of white hair on his helmet and a cloak of brighter blue than the others. He toppled over the side just over a taillength from where I hung on the oar, his neck craned to look toward my sisters even as he plunged face-first into the gently swelling water. I am sure that Issidra met his eye as she leapt forward, and then dived sharply into the water after him.

Others began to come down from the ship now, jumping or diving into the water or sliding with hands and feet down the oar shafts, and my ears were filled with the crashing noise of heavy bodies entering the water, throwing droplets and spray every which way. My sisters surged forward, their song now a raucous chorus of excited cries. Some men sank like stones; others thrashed to stay on the surface, but within moments, every one had a mermaid's arms around his neck. I saw blue-eyed Hadra press her lips to those of her chosen man, who closed his eyes in joy; I saw Sephra stroking the black curls revealed by a fallen helmet, and the man snared by Chamira laying his hands on her voluminous breasts with a look of rapture. One by one the remaining couples began to sink beneath the water, while I still hung on the oar alone. Was there no man for me?

"Get off there!" a voice shouted from above, and one of the oars I was clutching shook in my hand, forcing me to let go. I grabbed the other oar with both hands, only to find that one shaking too. A man was at the rail, shaking the oar, his eyes fierce, his helmet and cuirass flashing in the light. There was one left for me after all!

"Come to me, my dearest," I sang, stretching out my arm to him, but he jumped back, shaking his head.

"No!" he shouted, darting along the deck, toward the prow with the heavy bronze ram and the great staring eye. "Aithrenus! Hryxene!" He leaned over the side and tugged at one of the oars, waving it awkwardly in the direction of my sisters Celpha and Lacryme, and the men they were embracing. "Stop listening to them! Grab the oar! Hryxene!" As the pairs dropped below the waves, the man let out an anguished wail and ran back toward the middle of the ship. It looked like he was flying, he moved so easily through the air, over the rocking deck of the ship.

"Come let me ease your anguish, sweet hero," I sang. "Come taste the sea salt on my lips, the passion under my skin..."

"Shut up!" he yelled, and snatching the helmet off his head, he hurled it at me. I ducked, and it clattered off the oars and splashed into the water. I looked up at him again, about to restart my song, but his features were so fine, his eyes the pale gray of the sea floor, his face so perfectly framed by his black curls, partly drawn back and partly hanging loose, that it was his beauty that stopped my song, and not his murderous glare.

"You foul creature," he snarled. "Don't you have enough? You and your ilk have taken the whole troop. Get away from here! Leave me alone!"

I stared at him in confusion. My sisters had always said that men desired us more than anything, particularly when we sang, but this soldier seemed to feel quite the opposite.

"Won't you...come to me..." I tried again hesitantly.

"No!" The soldier looked around, then took two bounding steps, sure on his feet in spite of the way the ship rode the swells. He grabbed a spear off the deck and strode to the rail. "Be off with you!" he shouted, stabbing at me with the spear. It grazed my arm, and I let go of the oars with a gasp. "She-demon! Sea witch!" He was trembling now, the spear quivering too, and his thrusts with it were weak and poorly aimed, but it did have a sharp point, so I drew back. He watched me from the rail, the spear shaking in his hands, as I backed off and the ship moved away some, directed gently by the sea and sky. Finally, when I was some thirty taillengths from the ship, the soldier turned away and set the spear down, and set about tugging on some of the ropes attached to the sails, hurrying frantically from one rope to another. and with the unhurried movement of a leviathan, the ship changed its course across the waves. He was sailing away.

He was sailing away! My soldier was sailing away, leaving me alone on my birthday, when each of my sisters had claimed a man, but I had not gotten one. How could this be fair? The fates had truly cursed me – even they played cruel tricks on me and left me out of all the fun.

I ran through my options. My song did not work on this soldier, for some unfathomable reason. I doubted I could convince the waves to swamp his ship; I would count myself lucky if I could get them to rock it slightly. I did not want to call on my sisters' aid; they would mock me about it forever, and worse yet, they might – no, undoubtedly would – claim the soldier for themselves. How then could I get him off his ship, make him mine, or, I thought bitterly, get him back for rejecting me so cruelly – for stabbing me with a spear, for Peiokron's sake! Who could I take my anger to?

Then the answer came – to my father. When he saw the gash in my arm, he'd dash the soldier's ship on the rocky cliffs of the Seabird Islands. And then he'd be at my mercy – or at the sea's; I wasn't sure that I cared to have him anymore.

I dropped down the under the surface, and the comfortable gloom of cool green water strecthed around me to all sides – I ignored the irritating brilliance sparkling on the surface above. I thought of calling to my father, but my sisters would surely hear. I would have to find him on my own – but perhaps I could ask for help.

I stopped swimming and closed my eyes in order to concentrate better. I had inherited more of my mother's abilities than my sisters, but not all of them, and I had to work very hard to do some things. I let out a single squeaking note as a test – it sounded right, so I warbled out the rest, notes in a pitch so high that my sisters couldn't even hear them: "Delphinoi, my companions, are you near?"

I waited with closed eyes, for I would hear them before I could see them, and needed to concentrate to pick out the sounds. But I heard nothing. Had I sung it wrong? I opened my mouth to try again, but just then the response came, clicks and whistles disconnected by the notes that were still higher, above even my hearing range. I understood hardly any of it, but I thought I caught the word where, so as soon as the last whistle faded, I repeated my call.

Then I opened my eyes and waited, and soon they came, chattering in clicks and whistles, compact forms arcing toward me in playful loops. They tumbled around me, spinning me in the water and warbling greetings. I laughed and tumbled along with them – their playfulness was infectious. But then the stinging pain in my arm reminded me that this was not a time for play. "Have you seen my father?" I asked, raising my voice a little to propel it through the streams of bubbles that surounded me in the wake of so many beating tails, but hoping that it would not carry too far. "Lord Phorcys – where is he?"

An enthusiastic flurry of dolphin laughter greeted my request, and they streamed past me to the surface, leaping through it to spin in the crystal cool air before diving back into the green murk. I swam up with them, and stuck my head up through the surface into the biting cold of the air. Far away I could see the mast of the ship jutting up from the waves, and that was the direction the dolphin pod was headed, leaping and arrowing through the waves. They liked to play with ships just as much as we mermaids did.

I ducked below the surface again. "Listen to me! I need to find my father!" But the dolphins continued to swim on, whistling with laughter. I swam along with them, just to keep up with them, beating my tail and arrowing along just beneath the surface. I looked around as I swam, and spotted one I knew, a thickly built dolphin with a pale stripe down his side, whom I thought of as a big brother to the younger ones. I swerved over to him and caught him by the fin to get his attention. He tumbled over in the water with me, chirping at me.

I showed him my arm. "See? This is what happened at the ship."

He warbled in alarm and nudged at me, in the direction of the reefs and caves by the Seabird Islands.

"I know. But I need to tell my father first. Do you know where he is?"

The dolphin flipped over in the water, squeaking and whistling. After a moment I caught some of the words: "King... with... the king. The sea king... in council... with the sea king."

"He's with Lord Enesichthon?" I said in awe and disappointment. I would never get to see him then.

The dolphin rolled over and then shook himself, making a burbling rumbling sound. "Not the Earth-shaker?" He warbled affirmatively and then scooted forward to suspend himself in the water, his tapering nose pointed toward the surface and body hanging down, as still as possible, only his fins moving slightly. "Oh! The sunken king!" The dolphin flipped over forwards, whistling with laughter, then spiraled around me and up to the surface to join his comrades.

"Thank you!" I called after him, and then dived into the deeps. I passed towers and arches of rock, and the slime covered hulls of ships, until I came to the sunken king, a great statue three times as long as I was tall, weeds billowing about his form like a flowing robe, hanging off his upraised arm and draping his massive body.

Near the sunken king, I spotted my father's distinctive form, his arms folded and claws raised as he spoke to come creature perched on the king's shoulder, and called out to him softly.

"Safronikos, my youngest daughter," he said, raising his head toward me. Then his dark eyes grew stormy as he saw the gash in my arm, still leaking blood. "What has happened to you, my child?" he demanded. "And why do you not take shelter with your sisters? You know how dangerous it is to be in deep waters with a wound such as this."

"I do, father," I said, declining my head. "But I had to tell you of how it happened. My sisters and I found a ship of men riding the waves, and we sang to them and drew the men off into the water. My sisters each claimed a man, but the one I had set my sights on would not leave the ship, and when I approached nearer to sing to him, he wounded me with his spear."

"A mere man?" my father rumbled. "A sailor?"

"A soldier."

"Part of the Archians' hell-taken siege of Ilios, no doubt." The water around my father was beginning to shift with his anger, stirring the tendrils of his hair that dangled over his shoulders, his eyes gleaming under thick lowered brows. "Those insolent fools! The gods of the sky smile on them and toy with their fates, but they can all rot in Phtaros for all I care. Daring to attack a daughter of Phorcys! What did you do to him after such a vicious stroke?"

"I could do nothing, father. My voice had no effect on him, and I dared not approach him while he brandished the spear. Eventually, he set the sails and sailed away."

"Sailed away where?' His burly reddened arms and red-speckled claws shifted, longing for action.

"Toward the Seabird Islands, I think."

"That wretched cretin – I'll dash his ship on the rocks, and cut him up for the sharks!" I had to beat my tail to keep from being carried away by the current of water inspired by his anger.

"Come with me, daughter," he said, propelling himself upward with powerful strokes of his tail. I spun around and swum hard to catch up to him; once I did, the stream he was creating carried me along. The sea floor flowed by far beneath me, a silvery blur. Soon I saw shapes moving in the gloom, sinuous shadows curling about near the bottom, moving burdensome objects there. As we came rapidly nearer, I recognized the long tails and filmy fins, the lithe bodies and long arms, and flowing nets of hair of my sisters – too late to make any change of course, and powerless anyway against the will of my father.

We were on them before they had hardly realized we were coming. Some of them still lingered near the bottom, arms and tails twined round the things that lay there. Issidra, Hadra and a few others swam above, their tails beating with fast, angry strokes, sending them rippling through the water. We came still nearer, and I saw Sephra draw her lips away from a swollen shape, slowly, sadly peeling her body from it. Others, too, noticing our father's arrival, were rising from the bottom, long nails and silken fins giving last caresses to the bloated shapes. They were wrapped, I realized, in faintly glimmering armor, and a few crested helmets and shining swords lay discarded in the mud. These were the soldiers from the ship, lying still and swollen in the mud, my sisters hovering over them, some with smoldering fires in their eyes, some with faces drooping with sadness. Issidra was among the former and Sephra, the latter.

"Greetings, you fairest of my daughters," our father said, casting an unconcerned glance over the bodies in the muck. "I see you have once again made your claim on the world of men. But did you know of their assault upon your sister?"

I hung back, but I could not avoid Issidra's glare, or Sephra's look of dismay.

"You did not claim a man, then, Safronikos?" Issidra's sharp teeth glinted.

I shook my head.

"No, for one of the soldiers attacked her with a spear," my father rumbled, his great claws, long as his arms, raised up and braced open in agitation, and the water swirling dangerously around him. "He still sails the ship, but not for long. I will dash it upon the rocks and he shall perish in the jaws of the sharks. Come, my daughters, may you all be present as I restore my youngest daughter's honor."

"Indeed, father," Issidra said, her thin lips curving in a malicious smile, and a smirk gleaming in her eyes, cold as a shark's. "But why not leave us to him, dear father? If anyone has the right to avenge little Safronikos on a man, would it not be us, her sisters?"

"That may well be, my daughter, but I, too, wish to exact my anger on this man. If there is anything left once I am through with him, then you may have him." And with several strokes of his powerful tail, he was swimming upward and away, arrowing for the ship that carried my soldier. My sisters turned and darted after him, calling to one another in excited voices: "A wrecked ship?" "Another man for us?" "For Issidra, you mean." "Pish! Who says she'll get to him first?" "Or that Euthene won't draw him from her arms! Won't you, darling Euthene?" And Euthene, who was the youngest but for me, merely laughed, her beautiful dark eyes dancing evilly, and swam ahead a bit with quick strokes of her tail.

"But he was supposed to be mine," I said, to no one really, and then began to swim after them, but there was no hope of me catching them, or fending them all off even if I was able to somehow claim the soldier before them. I sighed, and sunk my teeth into my bottom lip in frustration. It was hopeless. Once again my sisters would ensure that I was denied my share in their game. My soldier would be torn to shreds by my father's silent, savage warriors or dragged down into the muck by my grabby sisters. The water around me quivered with my despair.

Then it changed – the water pushed against me, pushed away by something else, something massive and powerful, and a shadow filled the murk and the water filled with song, the haunting song of the queens of the open ocean. "My dearest daughter, why do you fret?" The voice twined round me, singing for me alone.

"I've...I've been to the surface," I said, trying to calm myself enough to speak. "And I saw a great black ship of the Archians, and a soldier as handsome as Phoerenes, the face of the sun. But foolishly, I told my father and sisters of this man, and now my father is going to smash his ship, and my sisters tear him to pieces among them."

"Safronikos, little Safronikos," my mother said, water caressing my skin as she curled around me.

"He is just a man. Forget about him. Mortal men can never give you any joy."

"But he was so handsome...I wanted him to be mine. But now my sisters will have him – they'll take him away from me, like they always do with everything. And all they'll do with him is drown him, turn him into one of those bloated corpses down there in the mud."

"And what would you do with him that is so different?"

"I...I don't know. It's...it's just not fair. It's my birthday, and I was supposed to have him, and now...I won't..."

"Dearest daughter..." My mother's voice was just a whisper of song in my ear. "No good will come of this fascination with a man of the sky. Please try to forget him."

"I can't, mother..."

The water around me shivered, my mother sighing. Then she spoke in rumbling tones. "I will pluck him from the ruins of his ship and carry him safely away from your sisters. Then he is all yours to deal with as you will."

"Thank you, dear mother!" I felt buoyant with elation, and had to restrain myself, out of respect for my mother, from beating toward the surface to seek my soldier.

"Do not thank me yet, dear daughter. My heart is heavy; I fear that much sorrow will come from this ill-fated fascination of yours."

"No, mother, you've made me the happiest creature in the sea."

"I only hope that your happiness will last...Safronikos, sweetest and dearest of my gorgon daughters." Her voice was achingly sad, and I felt bad for distressing my mother this way, but I couldn't understand why she was so upset. Then she moved off, a monstrous shadow looming the in the water, the sea seeming to move around her while she remained motionless; but her shape grew rapidly smaller, and I swam hard to catch up to her. To catch up to her, and to get to my soldier, who even now might be being flung from the smashed deck of his ship to the jaws of sharks or the tearing hands of my sisters. The Seabird Islands loomed ahead, great towers of rock rising from the bottom and breaking through the surface, and clustered by their height, a group of lithe figures, arrowing ahead together like a pack of minnows. The water here crashed and roared, the current tugging me inexorably toward the rock, and every now and then the surface would suddenly flash with light and shudder with a distant rumble. The surface was so dark that I could only discern the shape of the ship during these flashes, and then I saw it surging along with rolling surface of the water, each time closer to the rocks. Much closer. Then, just as there was a fantastic rumble which I thought must be the sky cracking open, the light flashed over the water and I saw the ship hurled against the wall of rock. It broke apart like a tuna in the jaws a shark, the sails coming down into the water like clouds, and then as the water threw it against the rocks a second time, it shattered totally, pieces large and small scattering on the surface. The waiting shapes darted into the wreckage, the undulating silhouettes of my father and sisters joined by the straight, blade-like forms of sharks.

But suddenly, the current changed, pulling the bits of the wrecked ship away from the rocks and spreading them on the water, and jumbling the predators who had closed in on them. My mother's long dark form, easily three times as long as the ship had been, flowed past me, rumbling, "This way, daughter. Hurry!" I took shelter in her wake, counting on her form to hide me from my sisters, and followed her through the water. Then, when we were in open water, deep and green beneath me, she suddenly dived down into the murk, leaving me with only a snatch of song: "He is yours; do as you will – but please take care..."

And I was left hovering just below the surface, a black scrap of the ship floating above me, rising and falling idly. I swam up to it, and it spread above me, black as night, hiding the sky – it was easily as wide as I was long. Two long, thin things hung off one side, parts of them white and soft as my own skin, some parts covered with scraps of animal hide or metal. The soldier's legs! He was here. I hovered in the water, transfixed by the contours of his legs, like a dolphin's tail split in two, but far more elegant.

Finally I managed to draw myself away, around the edge of the piece of hull and up to the surface. I grabbed onto the dark wood – it felt thick and wet under my hand – riding the water along with the hull and the soldier, less than a taillength away from him.

His metal-covered body rested on the wood, water lapping at him up to his armpits, though not quite reaching his thin, pale face. The metal gleamed orange, and a glance to west told me the that whole sky was painted in pink and orange, stained by a fiery red ball, and punctuated with clumps of dark gray. So this was sunset – which I had only known before as an orange gleam on the surface of the water. The colors were like nothing I had seen before, and it took a moment before I could tear my eyes away from them to look again at my soldier.

His face was turned toward me – his eyes closed, dark lashes resting on his cheeks and black curls spread on the wood. His hands were bare, and white as his face and legs, his fingers made of flesh, not scaly talons like my sisters and I had. Even in the fiery light of the sunset, he looked bleached, drained of color by the cold gray water.

As I looked back to his face, I almost let go of the hull – his eyes were open, and it was like staring into the sky – expanses of palest gray, unmarred by any expression. His eyes moved over the sea, the hull, and then came back to mine, still showing nothing. It felt like time stopped, the sun and the sea stopped moving, and all that existed was us – two people, alone together in the world. Then, as slowly as the sun dropping toward the water, the rising and falling of the raft keeping time with my heartbeat, his eyes closed again, until consciousness was gone from his face, just as the orange light slipped away. As I was left alone in the dark heaving water, I realized I had forgotten to breathe, and gulped in some air, still staring at his marble-like face.

Then I deliberately looked away – at the dark rolling water, at the purple-gray sky. Night had fallen now; already I could not see the line between sea and sky in the west, and the stars, the keepers of the sky, had emerged from their hiding places. In the darkness, the clarity of their light was amazing; I felt like I could reach out to touch them, but knew they must be far above, keeping watch over the roads of the sky gods. Were they watching me now – me and this soldier?

What would I do with him? Even though he had wounded me – and my arm still hurt – I felt no wish to harm him; I could not, after staring into those eyes. But we couldn't stay here; eventually, my sisters would find us and take him from me, and destroy him. And in any case, the water would kill him; he was a creature of the air, and if he stayed here in the sea, he would end up like the bloated bodies below. I couldn't bear to see that happen to his elegant legs, his god-like face – and in order to avoid that...I would have to return him to the air.

But where? How? My sisters would surely find him on the Seabird Islands, and I didn't know of any others. And could I move this raft-like piece of the ship's hull? I tried, beating my tail hard, harder, as hard as I could, but the sea pushed back, making the hull almost like a living thing that held its place in the water.

Perhaps I should pull him off the hull? Maybe I could pull him along in the water with me. I ran my eyes along his form, trying to think of the best way to do this. Perhaps by wrapping arm around his waist? I slowly inched my hand toward him, my breath slow and forced. It would be the first time I touched a man of the sky...

I did not touch him, however – I laid my hand on the metal that covered his back, and gasped at how cold it was. Slowly, I slid my hand over its smooth surface, over the bit of cloth, wet and rough, that was bunched between it and the metal on his front, and then tried to work my hand under his metal-covered stomach. But he was too heavy and I too weak – I couldn't get my arm under him to the budge him from the wood.

I drew back a little and gazed at him resting there on the wood, his face and bare hand pale against its dark surface, his bronze-covered back almost as dark as his hair in the night. The rest of him trailed off into the water... Supposing I pulled on his legs? Perhaps I could get him off the piece of wood that way.

I ducked under the water, where all was darkness, and found the soldier's legs by feel. They were partly wrapped in metal that was threaded with elaborate carvings, the flesh beneath soft and smooth under my fingers. I wrapped my arms around them, relishing the way my fingertips pressed into his skin, and pulled downward. At first the soldier didn't move, but then slowly he began to slide down into the water, until he slipped off into my arms, pushing me down, and swaying in my grasp. I let go and moved to take him by the waist – and he almost slid past me, plunging down toward the depths. I wrapped my arms around his metal covered body just in time, catching him under the arms. Water flowed past my face and arms and ruffled my fin and hair – we were still slipping downward.

I beat my tail furiously – but I hardly moved upward, even when I swam as hard as I could. I cursed my stupidity – of course the metal-covered soldier would sink, just like his comrades. After all this, I had destroyed him with my stupid blunder. I was starting to get tired – I could not keep beating my tail so hard, and my slow progress slowed further to nothing, and then we began to sink. I let out a deep wail of frustration, and then bit my lip. My sisters might hear, and the only thing that could make this situation any worse would be for them to show up.

I tried to make my tail move, but it simply would not work fast and hard enough to propel us upward. I couldn't do it. I was going to lose my soldier. There was no one I could call on – my father and mother would not help me after all that had already happened today, and my sisters were hardly worth even considering; even if I could somehow get only Sephra to come, would she even be strong enough for us to get the soldier to the surface. Who could I call on then?

Could I call on the sea itself, like my mother and father did, like Lord Enesichthon and the immortal nereids? Would the sea respond?

I had to try. It was the only hope I had left.

"O sea," I sang in a voice that was but a shade of my normal voice, a reedy hissing whisper. "O deep waters, o rolling waves, o monstrous heart of the ocean, hear me and answer my call. Lift me from your dark waters, lift me to the roiling surface, carry me to rocks where you dash yourself in white foam..."

And then, as if a great tentacle had lashed out of the deep and taken hold of me, I felt myself, and my soldier, lifted and propelled upward, the water roaring in my ears and tearing at my tail so that I feared it would rip the delicate fin to shreds. We shot up through the surface and surged forward on a rolling wave, breaking and crashing over the other waves. The darkness howled in my ears as we flew forward over the water – then a greater darkness reared up in front of me, and the water all around us was crashing and breaking in stinging spray, barely visible as a glimmer in the darkness. I almost lost my grip on the soldier as we were thrown against the sandy bottom and rolled over and over by the surging water – and then it withdrew, a foamy white cloak drawing back and leaving us uncovered on wet, pebbly sand. A moment later, water lapped over me again, but much gentler, covering me up to my waist, and then withdrawing again in silky trails of foam.

I raised myself weakly up on my arms and looked over at the soldier, just visible under the faint silvery light of the stars. He lay on his side in the water, his legs covered, his head drooping just above the water's reach when it surged up onto the shore. I tried to move him upward, but could not budge him, so I let go, crawled up over the rough sand, and then grabbed him under the arms and pulled. I found that if I timed my pull with the surging water, I could get him to move along with the water, and did this several times, until the water approached only to his waist, and I could move him no more. Then I sat back on the sand, feeling the water pushing and pulling at my tail, the sand dry and gritty under my hands; and staring at the soldier's color-drained face, pale gray in the darkness.

I was exhausted. I was alone. My arm ached, a throbbing pain that seemed to get worse as I thought about it. I wanted to curl up in the water, safe in the company of my sisters, wanted Sephra's comforting presence, wanted my mother to sing to me as she did when I was small. But they were all far away, and I could not go to them now. I had saved my soldier, but I felt no joy in it. I curled up on the sand, cradling my arm, and could not stop the little whimpering cries that slipped out of the cracks in my heart, too tired after the day's turbulence for any semblance of dignity or restraint.