Friday, June 24, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday: "Heartsong" Part 6 of 7

Kellan did not see the siren again before the next waning of the tide. He reached up and took down the satchel of dry clothes she had delivered. He recognized the style; many sailors in his father's fleet wore the very same black trousers and plain white shirt. A bit of colored fabric nearly dropped down to the water below, but Kellan caught it in his fingertips—only to fight the urge to drop it again. He knew that pattern!
Sailors who worked on ships requiring some sort of uniform commonly wore neckerchiefs that were as unique as they were. This particular pattern had been the favorite distinguishing mark of Hans, the wise deckhand who had saved Kellan's life; to be wearing his clothes now could only mean—Kellan swallowed back the lump in his throat. He would not dwell on what might not be. Perhaps this was just a second set of clothing Hans had packed away on the voyage Kellan had been on: never worn, left behind when the ship sank. Kellan munched away on his meal, but the tack was hard, the berries were sour and even the water left a bitter taste in his mouth. He fell asleep to dreams of Hans and of sailing on the ship with all those men who drowned.

When he awoke, the tide was just coming in—and Melody was waiting for him. He could see her staring coldly at him from just beneath the surface. The water just barely touched his feet. He could see that she towed a few barrels behind her on a rope, floating on the surface of the water. Rising just above the water level, Melody gaped and panted, disused to breathing air, but she remained long enough to see that Kellan could reach the end of the rope and pull the barrels to him. She sang a song as he opened the barrel of food, one that made him feel happy with the way he looked. Kellan interpreted the song as a rather primitive way of complimenting his clothes. He shook his head, and she tilted hers sympathetically.
"It's not that I don't like the fresh, dry clothes, I am grateful; but these ones..." He let his voice trail off. "I knew the man they belonged to." He looked sharply at her. "Did you kill him?"

Melody watched him carefully, assessing his mood before opening her mouth and singing a song that immediately reminded Kellan of Hans, capturing his personality in the notes she sang. Then her song altered a bit, and Kellan relived the memory of Hans—brave, clever Hans—surviving to sail on another ship after Kellan risked his life to save him... Only to drown while Kellan sat in a cavern underwater.

The young man felt his frustration climbing. "That's not fair!" He declared. "Who made you ruler of the sea, that you can just decide that all men must die? Simply because women like you were cast overboard by wicked pirates doesn't give you leave to destroy every ship you see!"
Melody didn't seem to appreciate his tirade. She began singing a song in the midst of Kellan's words, something like the idea that even the most noble of men regularly mistreat their women, but he was too angry to care. 

"Men like me, like Hans, are every bit as innocent as you were! And yet you kill us? At least you women have achieved some strange ability to change, but you won't give men that chance? Where is the justice in—" His voice died in his throat, and he couldn't make another sound. Melody's strange song had seen to that.

The siren, seeing that there was nothing either of them could say to each other, promptly left Kellan to a lonely meal as the water climbed to its normal level.

While it did, Kellan kept himself busy. He brought out the worn-down rock he had been using against the rusty grate beside him, and worked until the metal finally separated. Now all he would have to do is slip out of the ropes and he could swim away without the siren knowing.
"And when I get free," he promised himself, "I will never sail again." If this was the way of the water, then he would not risk being drowned a second time.

Once his temper cooled a bit, Kellan began to wonder if he hadn't been a little unfair, himself, in his outburst. Perhaps not all the sirens were cruel and vindictive; after all, Melody had elected to save his life, when the rest of her kind would elect to kill him on sight. Even if she had once been human, perhaps the transformation into a siren had caused her memories of being human to fade. He recalled her conflicted reaction when he had pointed out the locket hanging around her neck; maybe all she needed was to be reminded what it was like to be human, and he could perhaps convince her to see reason from the human point of view.

With renewed purpose, Kellan awaited Melody's return. She came, bringing him a barrel of food and another one full of trinkets. He recognized a child's toy yo-yo, a pair of spectacles, some boots, a book, a comb, and a pocket watch. Melody watched him with intense fascination as he inspected the items--most of which Kellan didn't find remarkable in the least. When he moved to push the barrel aside, Melody accepted it, and began trying the items, tucking the spectacles in her hair, tossing the yo-yo up in the air and watching it strike the water and float there. The book flapped open when she grabbed it, and her eyes shot up guiltily, as if she had broken it somehow.
Kellan couldn't restrain a chuckle. "No, it's not ruined; it's supposed to do that. Haven't you seen a book before?" The question left his mouth before he thought twice about it. Melody offered him the book, twisting in inquisitive circles when her hands were free. Kellan opened and began to read.

"Since she first heard of it, the little mermaid desired nothing better than to swim to the surface and watch the humans in the great, tall ships. She wondered what it would be like to walk about on two feet--"

He stopped; obviously it was a collection of fairy tales--but far different than the one he was living now. An idea began to take shape in his mind.

"If you were once human," he said to Melody, "then why don't you speak as I do?"

Melody opened her mouth as she did when she sang, but this time, she tried to move her thin, fish-like lips in a "talking" motion. No sound came out. Melody shook her head and lowered her gaze to the water.

Kellan chuckled. "Oh, come now," he chided her. "That wasn't hardly trying; I bet you could re-learn how to speak, if you wanted to. Just think about it like your singing."

The gaze came up quickly at the mention of the song, and Melody seemed taken aback. But she straightened her head and dipped her face below the water. Kellan could see her mouth moving, but the surface muffled the sound. 
"Come on," he encouraged, "Try it above the water this time."

Slowly, Melody lifted her head. Opening her mouth, she took two quick breaths--and a series of frog-like croaks issued from her mouth. She looked mortified, but Kellan gave a supportive grin.

"There! I think that's the first non-singing sound you've made!" He applauded her performance. "More than likely you do have the capacity to speak, it's only that breathing the water as you do has affected your throat. With practice, you just might get your voice back."

A slow, blushing smile spread its way across Melody's face, but as soon as it appeared, it vanished, and she turned her back on him.

"Melody?" Kellan asked, "What is it?"
Melody dove without an answer.

The next time she visited, Kellan encouraged her to try speaking more, and also the next. He tried on the boots when the tide receded, and found them just right for his size. Those and the watch would be useful when he made his escape--which he would do, he reminded himself, very soon. For now, he distracted himself with the challenge of getting a siren to speak like a woman. The more she tried, the softer her voice became. She would not converse with him--such things were still beyond her--but she would repeat whole sentences he read from the book of fairy tales.
At last, after two tide cycles of her regular visits to try speaking with him, Kellan put down the book and looked at his captor.

"Melody is not your name, is it?" he asked.

The siren's eyes watched him, her tail flicking in alarm under the water.
"No," she answered, the first word spoken of her own volition.

Kellan pressed further. "What is your name?"

She wavered silently, eyes blinking rapidly as if a small voice in her head was telling her not to reveal her name, but then she spoke: "Ah-deh-leee-dah," the sounds came rough and stretched from her mouth, sounding more like a phrase in some exotic language than a name. She tried again, "Ah-deh... laide."
"Adelaide?" Kellan repeated smoothly.

She laughed, a sound reverberating with joy. "Adelaide!" She said again, like a sigh of immense relief. "Adelaide! I am... Adelaide." Her first sentence!

Kellan nodded his head as if bowing to a gentle lady. "Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Adelaide," he said.

"Kal'n," she muttered. Her eyes squinted in a slight frown, and she tried again. "Kel-enn."
Kellan nodded. "Yes, I am Kellan."

Adelaide placed her hands on the grate of his cage, and Kellan flinched when she suddenly pulled. The front of the grate came off with a resounding crack, and Kellan now had a way out of his cage, though he was still tied to it. His arms out to steady himself, he watched Adelaide swim closer and place something in his hand. She backed away and he looked at the thing: it was a knife with a long, sharp blade.
"Kellan may go," she said softly. "Do not return to deep waters."

Kellan felt his heart begin to race. "You're letting me free?" he confirmed in a hollow voice.

Adelaide nodded. "Kellan must not go into deep waters," she repeated.

Kellan nodded, excitement building in his mind. "All right, I won't go into any deep waters; I will stick to only shallow water."

"Promise?" she pressed.
Kellan nodded. "I promise."

With a twist and a flash of her tail, she was gone.

Kellan wasted no time in cutting the rope from around his waist. What sweet relief to be able to stretch out and swim again! He reached the rocky cliff leading to the place he had always assumed was the entrance to the cove from land. Slipping the boots on his feet, he stood (how he had missed standing on his own two feet!) and slipped the knife and the pocket watch into the belt around his waist. He took a few stumbling steps--and saw the outside world for what felt like the first time in ages!

He stood in an unfamiliar corner of the kingdom--but he saw the peak of a familiar mountain, the one he remembered being able to see from his cabin on the ship. If he could just find his way to a harbor somewhere, perhaps he could at least find some other way of getting word to his father about his continued existence. Kellan began walking.

Dark clouds rolled in shortly after his trek began, and a stiff wind blew the pouring rain against him. Kellan wrapped his arms around himself as he marched on, squinting against the pounding spray. He needed to get out of this storm, but how could he, if it was all he could do to see three steps in front of him? Kellan could barely make out the looming form of a tall tree. He could wait under its branches until the rain had passed.

He ducked through the low-hanging branches, and found it calm and relatively dry, only the odd drop or two making it through the thick canopy. He took a seat and sighed with relief.

Something struck the bank beside him with a sharp crack. Kellan looked over. It was the wooden yo-yo--the one he had seen Adelaide playing with! A low, beautiful song reached his ear, coming over the surface of the water. Kellan remembered his promise about not going into the water--but upon hearing the song, he very much wanted to at least catch a glimpse of the siren who sang it. He remained securely on land, but leaned out to see where the song came from.

Right beneath him, a large body erupted from the water and wrapped around him, dragging Kellan back into the water. His boots filled and fell away, and he felt the knife graze his skin as something yanked it out of the belt. His eyes adjusted to the water, and Kellan saw at once that the siren brandishing the knife at him was not the one he had befriended. She was older, and much more bitter. Adelaide--the one he thought he had heard--floated just a few feet away, chained and weighted just like the women cast overboard were. She could not make a sound because of the gag in her mouth, but her eyes bespoke volumes of terror at seeing him at the mercy of the three vicious sirens.

They three surrounded him, holding hands and fixing their eyes on him. The one who had grabbed him said something in the singing language, but Kellan didn't understand.

At once, from all around him came a song that made his heart beat faster. He felt his mind fading, even as his lungs screamed for air. This was a battle of willpower, and the music of the song was slowly draining his away. They wanted him to drown--he knew it, and the more he listened to their song, the more he could not resist. The pull of his heartsong--the song he never heard Adelaide sing--was too great, and Kellan began to drown....

(It's not over yet!)

Further Reading:
-"The Glow" (A 3-Part Story)