The Salty Seven

- Part 6 -

It took the sorely wounded team of sharks, mermaids, and rescued friends several weeks to slowly navigate the tunnels back into the North Sea and then make the long swim back to the ruined city of Atlantis. Once into the cold, turbulent waters of the North Sea, Selkie made her farewells to the group and returned to her own underwater grotto to rest, promising to stymie any efforts from the Atlantians in the Loch to track their escaped prisoners.

“Old Nessie will take care of that, for the most part,” she reasoned in her Irish brogue, suppressing a shudder from her recent up-close brush with the prehistoric leviathan. 

“Don’t be a stranger, Selkie. You spend far too much time alone up here in these cold waters,” Sylvella chided her with a loving smile and brief embrace.

“Oh, I have company from time to time, don’t you be fretting,” Selkie retorted with a sly wink. “But I’ll be sure to come visit again soon.”

On the last evening before they would arrive back at Atlantis, Nado finally decided to broach the subject that had been most on his mind since the daring rescue of Kako, Lyell and Kadory. While the others slept, he moved quietly to Kako’s side and let out a long exhalation of water as he considered exactly how to start the conversation.

“Let me guess,” she offered with a teasing smile. “You’re wondering how Sylvella and I could be sisters, given our obvious differences?”

“It’s a topic that may have crossed my mind from time to time,” Nado answered evasively, chagrined at being so easily read by an Atlantian.

Kako laughed quietly at his poor attempts to hide his curiosity, but her laughter was warm, and of a comradery nature. Given all he had risked rescuing her and now having spent some time with this diverse and skilled group, she had seen how much they all regarded Nado and his leadership. 

“I’ve watched you wrestle with your own curiosity for the past two weeks, and I’ll admit to being impressed you held out this long.”

Glancing over at Sylvella, who was curled and asleep just a few meters away, Kako lowered her voice and leaned in close to Nado. “This is a story I’d wager neither of us have shared before, but I owe you more than I can repay for your bravery in rescuing me from my own people,” she began, the final part of the sentence carrying a note of disappointment or bitterness, Nado could not decide which, as he listened intently.

“Sylvella and I grew up together during the 12th century, in a small village on the coast of Greenland, shortly after our Thule ancestors migrated there from what is now known as Canada. Our family was adept at hunting the bowhead whale and from a young age we were taught to fish, hunt, carve, cook, and fashion tools and shelter. We didn’t have any luxuries, but the whales provided most of our needs and our family and small community were happy,” her voice, as she retold the story of her youth was soft and full of love for her childhood and family as she described the challenging environment. It only took moments for Nado to become wrapped up in the re-telling, able to visualize even the smallest details from her well crafted storytelling. 

“Kako, wait!” Sylvella called to her older sister as she hastily grabbed a weighted fishing net and crude bucket fashioned from cured animal hides.

Kako looked back towards the village from the shore as she untied the mooring rope of a small fishing boat and prepared to push off. The day was still early, but the sky was clear and the waters calm and Kako had decided to make the most of the opportunity for some early season fishing. Sighing but with a smile, Kako held the mooring rope with one hand, keeping the boat close to the rocky outcropping her family used as a natural pier and waved with her free hand for her sister to hurry up.

Sylvella was just twelve to Kako’s fourteen, but the younger sister was athletic and quick on her feet and closed the distance from the village to her sister’s boat in record time. Kako marveled at her younger sister’s grace and knew well that her hunting instincts would not be wasted on this expedition. Kako was a fair hunter and could catch an adequate haul of fish, but her skills lay in crafting whalebone tools and other items from the carcasses of their kills, and she was also blessed with a natural beauty that lent her family a position of influence now she was at an age for marriage and children of her own. 

Sylvella jumped from the icy shore to the naturally formed rocky pier with a graceful leap, tossing the weighted net and bucket to Kako as she swung her legs out over the rocky pier, pivoting on one arm as she landed in the boat without the slightest risk of capsizing it. Kako laughed at her sister’s antics and the two women sat opposite each other in the narrow fishing boat for a few moments, wrapped in their arctic fox furs just grinning at each other as they both considered the opportunity and bounty this day would bring their family. 

Kako cast off the mooring line and the two quickly pushed off from the rocky pier with their oars and skillfully paddled out from shore, the waters turning a dark blue as they soon entered the deeper waters of the Labrador Sea.

For the next few hours, the two women cast their nets and hauled in a sizeable bounty of cod, Atlantic herring, and capelin. With full buckets and tired arms, Kako and Sylvella basked in the meagre warmth of the midday sun as their narrow fishing boat rocked gently on the surprisingly calm waters of the sea. Sharing a smoked fish lunch packed by Kako, the two women reclined as much as possible in the now cramped boat filled with their fresh catch and dozed. Beneath the deceptively calm surface, the Northwest Atlantic Mid-Ocean Channel was running fast delivering the cold waters of the Arctic to the comparatively warmer waters of the Atlantic.  Unbeknownst to the two Inuit women, something large and ancient rode those deep-water currents from the North and was rapidly approaching their chosen fishing grounds. In almost any other circumstance, this creature’s supremacy would be unchallenged, but on this day, it was the hunted, and it was using the fast-flowing currents to try and escape.

Nammu, the Mermaid Queen, and a strong, powerful man had joined forces to catch and kill this terror of the deep, having both lost entire communities to its depredations. In the battle that followed, the creature had been sorely wounded but had managed to flee on the currents. When they caught up with it again, it was in the deep waters beneath our fishing ground. In desperation to distract and escape them, the creature sped for the surface, breaching near our small vessel which was quickly swamped and overturned. Sylvella and I were both tossed clear of the vessel to land in the icy cold waters. Our furs became soaked, our boat was destroyed as the creature landed upon it, and as the monster passed me briefly, I looked into an eye filled with pain, hunger, and madness, before it slipped beneath the waters once more.

Sylvella, being more athletic, had managed to swim to the remnants of our small boat, clinging futilely to it while calling out for me. I heard her scream my name, but I was already too cold and unable to respond as the weight of the furs dragged me under. To my surprise, or at the time, I thought to my dying hallucination, as I slowly sank beneath the waves, I came face to face with this powerfully built and handsome man. Outfitted for battle, and clearly looking for his quarry, he was both surprised and I think annoyed to see me, dying before him. He was about to leave me and chase after the beast, but a feminine hand stalled him, lightly resting on his forearm. The battle lust slowly drained from his countenance, and he reached out a strong arm to me, easily lifting me to the surface. 

I eagerly gulped in a mouthful of air, but my body was starting to shut down from the cold. The man regarded me with sorrow now as he knew my sister and I would not survive the conditions without our boat, nor would we last the distance back to land were they to take us. I was vaguely aware of the Mermaid Queen guiding my half-dead sister over to us as well. My mind was so numb, I did not even question the impossibility of these two saving us, even if it was only temporarily. 

“If we leave them to die, we can still catch it,” I heard the Mermaid Queen speak to the man as he still gently held me in his arms. His eyes never left my face, and I could read in his expression that her words were not actually a call to battle, but a call to compassion.

“They will never survive the journey to shore,” he spoke softly, turning now to face Nammu.

“No, we can only save them… the other way,” she answered, her own gaze assessing Sylvella with what I believed to be a calculating eye.

Suddenly I felt a warmth flow through my body, only it wasn’t a true warmth, more a removal of the bone chilling cold. The man turned back to me, cupping my face in one hand as he spoke to me. 

“I can save you, but you will need to live out the remainder of your years beneath the waves with myself and my kin.”

“What of my sister, Sylvella?’ I asked weakly.

He nodded once, “Yes, your sister…,” before the Mermaid Queen’s voice interjected.  

“Will join me and my family.”

“Are you sure that is wise?” he asked her curiously.

“It is fitting, given we were both responsible for driving that monster to destroy their vessel, and this girl, Sylvella I think she called her, is well suited to our kind,” The Mermaid Queen explained, before adding, “Besides, perhaps with a sibling joining each of us, it might bring our two communities closer together.”

“You speak as if we are adversaries,” he challenged her.

“We are not, for now,” she replied, “But, I cannot speak for the future, and I have heard… murmurs.”

“As have I,” he admitted soberly, “but, any such conflict would bring ruin upon us all,” he predicted, his gaze scanning the deeper ocean whence the terrifying beast had fled.

In moments, his eyes had returned to my face and again, as our eyes locked, his gaze softened, and the hard lines of his jaw shifted as he smiled softly. 

“What is your name child?”

“Kako,” I answered him simply, a little mesmerized by him, if I am being honest.

“Come Kako, let us return to my city of Atlantis,” and as he spoke those words, I felt magic course through my body, altering my physiology in both painful and wonderful ways. The outer layer of soaked furs was discarded and within moments, I was being carried in his arms deep beneath the ocean surface, unbothered by the cold waters and able to easily breathe the water as I had earlier breathed air. 

Kako opened her eyes, having become lost in the memories of her story, and gazed at Nado once again.

“It was months before I eventually crossed paths with Sylvella, finding her as you see her now, a mermaid,” she said, and Nado detected a catch in her voice, unsure if it was sadness or bitterness. 

“It was a bittersweet re-union given the changes to us both and even all those hundreds of years ago, we both felt the disapproval of our new families whenever we spent time together.”

“Why was their such animosity?” Nado asked her quietly.

“That’s not an easy question to answer Nado, if I am being honest,” Kako replied, “but I suspect both sides shoulder some blame.”

“Now we must worry for what our conflict will unleash, given our focus upon each other.”

“Do you know what that monster was?” Nado asked.

“No,” Kako shook her head once.

“But we have our suspicions, all the same,” Sylvella chimed in, opening her eyes to meet those of her sister.
“I thought you were sleeping?” Kako asked with a smile. 

“This is the first time I have heard you tell the entire story, Kako,” Sylvella answered, “That was worth waking up for.”

“Did I miss anything out?” Kako asked with a cheeky smile. 

“No, but I thought you over-embellished my athleticism,” Sylvella critiqued with a laugh. 

“Wait,” Nado chimed in, also smiling at the banter between the two sisters, “the man you described, who saved you and… changed you, was that…?”

Kako nodded once with a wistful smile, “Yes, the old King of Atlantis, passed now for almost a hundred years.”

There was a long pause of respect, as each of them remembered the noble and admired prior King of Atlantis. Impulsively, Nado leaned forward and hugged Kako once for comfort, an act which both surprised and delighted her if her peal of laughter was any guide.

“Get some rest Kako,” Sylvella suggested, “In the morning we return to Atlantis and an audience with The Mermaid Queen.”