A Short Story from The Galean Universe
Cold desolate waves crashed over the shore. Freezing winds whipped through the air, bringing with them the scent of a brewing storm from the over the Beaufort Sea. Even as the sub-zero temperature continued to drop, it didn’t deter the small figure from wading out into darkened waters.
He was short, barely five feet tall, but he was broad and thick, and where the chilling water would have taken the fortitude of any mortal man, it did nothing to hinder the resolve of the dwarf.
Further up on the shore, camped in the shelter of the cliffside, the dwarf’s brethren huddled around a roaring fire, cooking bear sausages and tomatoes whilst sharing stories to one another. The smell was quickly stolen away by the chilling breeze, but their deep laughter traveled farther than expected, to the point it attracted the curious attention of the caribou who had wandered down the shore. All the while, they paid little attention to their King as he ventured further into the waters. It was best to leave him be, he did what he did, and they couldn’t deter him from that.
The dwarves often came to the northern reaches of Alaska, as well as many other ports and islands along its vast shores in search of the rocks and minerals that were treasured to them, and ignored by humans. On one such venture though, the King found another treasure of sorts. A great beauty he happened upon along the Sag River.
She’d risen out of the water like a dream, with her sea-green hair framing the palest heart shaped face, but that wasn’t what had stolen his breath away. Her emerald green eyes shone from her face brighter than the stars that glittered the sky on the darkest night. Every dwarven damsel that had ever flitted across his path, tried to curry his favor, disappeared from his mind like they were never were.
As a dwarf, he’d lived his entire life surrounded by the magical and the graceful, but never had he seen such a creature as this.
He’d heard of her kind, but they were so elusive and rare many believed they didn’t even exist anymore. The common name for them was Mermaids, though they’d also been hailed as Sirens, Nereid, Naiad, Sea-Sidhe. He didn’t know their true name, and she always refused to tell him.
Perhaps it was as much her mystery as anything else that brought him back every year after the Yuletide festivities. He would always wade out into the chilling water to meet her before she came to walk on land, and they would spend but a handful of days together before each returned home to their people, to their responsibilities, to their lives that were so far apart.
Oft his brethren teased him. It was said that the dwarves of his lineage were notorious for being attracted to the exotic, and he did little to dissuade them. Supposedly his great ancestor from the Old World had taken an elvish princess as his bride, and soon after went to war for her. The truth was lost to time, but the stories still floated around dinner tables and bedtime stories.
Undinia didn’t have a silky beard but she had those eyes and those iridescent scales that he found more beautiful than any gem he had ever mined from the earth. She and her kind lived so far from any human or fae civilization that she knew little to nothing about his world, and he knew nothing of hers, so they would fill their time telling each other exaggerated stories of their lives, after he taught her English, of course. His language was too guttural for her to speak well, and her native tongue was…quite beyond his vocal range. She’d learned a bit of Icelandic in the past, so he’d had to teach himself before he could introduce her to English.
The waves rose to his chest as he waded out further. The sky was turning dark in the distance, and a dread began to fill him.
She never took this long to come to him. She was never late. Rather, it was he who kept her waiting instead. His brethren liked to dally around on their travels north.
She’d told him in the past how the human pollution and poaching and fishing had driven her people as far north as they could go. Some had gone as far south as they could, while others retreated to the deepest depths of the oceans.
Had something happened?
Had she been wounded? Killed, even?
Perhaps she simply didn’t wish to see him, or they had been forced to move on to new waters. His mind reeled with the possibilities.
In the distance, he saw streaks of lighting slice through the air, illuminating the storm clouds and brightening the sky for a fraction of a second. it took a few moments longer for the boom of thunder to reach his ears.
The dwarves around the fire quietened at the noise, and the caribou on the beach began to move inland in search of shelter, but still he waited.
He waited so long that his thick dwarfish muscles began to shiver, his bare feet grew numb, and he could feel tendrils of frost beginning to build in his beard.
The shout came from the shore, from his brother Dolen, but he ignored it. He’d wait just a bit longer. He’d give her more time.
Lighting flashed across the sky once more and thunder crashed overhead moments before a great wave swelled over him, catching him off guard and sweeping him under the water but he quickly regained his footing and stood as a rock against the waves.
“Come back!” More shouts from the shore. All of his brethren now. He looked back, and they were waving at him to return. He could feel the water growing heavier, darker, colder and more vicious as the storms brewed and he knew he had no choice.
He couldn’t wait any longer.
He turned back to shore, holding strong against the growing waves as they tried to swallow him, to drag him under and carry him out to sea.
“Bolen!” It wasn’t his brother’s voice that carried on the wind, it was Undinia’s.
He turned and saw her tiny head in the darkness, bobbing up over the waves only to disappear beneath them again. The glint of her tail was like a beacon beneath the waves, glowing against the darkness.
The water seemed to calm, just a bit, as she approached.
“I can’t stay out here much longer,” Bolen said. “Come to shore with us, away from the storm.” His teeth chattered from the cold, but he couldn’t stop it.
“I can’t,” she said. She had the strangest accent. Thunder cut across the sky over their heads, but his mind would rather pick up the gentleness of her voice, the strange dwarvish-french accent she’d somehow ended up with. How, he had no idea.
She swam straight up to him and pressed a bundle of netting and seaweed into his arms.
“What-” he started.
“Take her,” she said.
He looked down at the bundle in his arms just under the water, and saw two glowing eyes staring back up at him, shining out of the darkness like stars, like great sapphire stars.
He cursed and pulled the bundle out of the water to hold it against his shoulder.
“What is this?” He had to yell it over the roar of the winds that had suddenly picked up around them.
“She is yours,” she said. “She cannot stay here,” her voice broke, and he saw the well of tears in her eyes, they glowed with the colors of a mother-of-pearl. He watched them slide down her face.
“The waters are too cold for her to survive so deep here,” she said. “There are creatures here…of the like we have never seen…” she stopped, and just stared at him, waiting.
“Undinia,” he said, reaching out to her. His brother’s voices carried over the water as they became more frantic. He glanced back, and saw that his right hand, Maldur, was wading out into the water after him.
“You have to take her,” she said, “take her home to your great mountain. Far from here, far from the seas.” Her voice was quiet, but it carried easily, she didn’t have to yell. She started to drift farther away from him, but she never took her eyes off the tiny bundle he held tightly against his shoulder. It barely filled his hands.
“Don’t go!” He shouted. He tried to reach out to her, but she stayed out of reach, pushing away from them both. “You can come with us,” he swallowed a mouthful of water as the waves crashed over his head. White water swallowing him, grabbing him, the current cutting into his legs.
“Go back to your mountain,” she said. “Do not return here, Bolen Moonhammer, for I will not.”
With those words she disappeared. He could no longer see the glow of her scales beneath the water, and when she was gone, the waves crashed harder, rose higher, roared louder, and he was forced to turn back. Maldur caught his arm. He’d waded all the way out to get him and drag him back to the shore.
Bolen stumbled as his feet hit the shore, numb now from the freezing waters, and Maldur nearly carried him back to their camp. They had started another fire inside the small cave at the base of the cliff.
They would have to wait out the storm before they could travel.
Bolen collapsed shivering beside the flames and someone wrapped a heavy fur around his shoulders. He still held the tiny bundle against his chest, his mind reeling over Undinia’s words, he’d almost forgotten he was holding it.
Not it, her.
He felt in shock.
“What in the name o’ all the gods were you thinkin’?” Maldur demanded, throwing another blanket around Bolen’s shoulders before wrapping one around himself. Someone threw more logs into the fire and the embers rose to the ceiling and warmed the small cave.
“What have ye got there?” Dolen asked. His white beard looked orange in the firelight as he squirmed his four foot body as close to Bolen as possible, trying to see what he was holding.
He could hardly bring himself to lower that tiny bundle, to look once again into those bright eyes, but when he did they all gasped.
They were the bluest blue he had ever seen.
Bolen pulled away the seaweed and netting from her body and wrapped her instead in the dry furs.
“Look at that lads!” Dolen shouted, his voice echoing off the rocks. “It’s a baby! Ha! It’s a wee little lass.” he laughed and peered down closer. “Those be the bluest eyes I ever did see. Well then, a wee mermaid babe. I’ve never seen such a thing in all my days.”
Neither had Bolen. She had no tail, but blue iridescent scales decorated her tiny body. There were slits against her neck and ribs, gills. She had chubby arms and chubby legs. A squishy belly and a round face. Hair as blue as her eyes and scales. She cooed and gasped at the air as the gills closed and faded, leaving faint lines behind, and as her skin dried the shimmering scales disappeared.
It was possibly the first gulp of real air she’d ever breathed in.
Undinia had said that this was his daughter, and as he stared down at her plump little cheeks he knew it to be true. There was no denying it. He felt it with every fiber of his being.
“No,” he said aloud, “this is no mere mermaid babe, this is a dwarven babe. This is my daughter.”
They gasped again and started cooing at the baby. Someone smacked him on the shoulder in congratulations. They all talked, laughed, joked, poked at her little hands and feet and asked a thousand different questions, none of which he heard save his brother’s, and he only asked one thing.
“What’s the wee lass’s name then? She needs a good ‘un.”
Undinia didn’t tell him her name. Maybe she didn’t give her one, knowing what she was going to do, so he had to think for a moment.
“Bowbi,” he finally said. “Her name is Bowbi, daughter of Bolen. Heir to the throne of Vagenhyle.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you! I’d also like to share with you how this little fairy tale came to pass. Though the story existed in my notes, I never intended to write it. I did however, because my Nana wanted to read some of my writing, and I thought that my normal stuff was a bit too bloody and profane for her. So I wrote about Bowbi’s origin. Here’s the twist. After I went through the mental anguish of writing this for her and making sure it was sweet and safe, I found that old woman’s stash of 50 Shades of Grey hidden in her bedroom … all of them … and the movie too.
Well played Grandma.
JLRose is an American fantasy writer, 3D artist and game designer living in Melbourne, Australia. She’s spent the past three years working on the first full-length book of The Galean Universe titled Repentance.
Her short story, The Chase, is now available on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. The Venue is set to be released in September. Click the images below for more.