For two weeks, Sei had come nightly to lounge in the shallows near the beach, to listen to the eclectic mix of sea shanties and courtly melodies. Each night, the little musician swayed gracefully, playing a violin on the rocky outcropping that jutted farthest from the camp by the shore. Each night, Sei was careful to stay out of the firelight. The Sea God knew well how frightening some land-bound children thought him to be, with his mottled grey skin, opalescent eyes, and serrated teeth.
Besides, Sei couldn’t know if the child was an enemy or not—the chill of winter had forced the little musician into a heavy, hooded cloak that concealed any clue to their origin, and the camp stood too far from the water’s edge for Sei to inspect. Trapped as he was in the war his siblings had started, faced with a nation of mortals whose elite warriors were gifted with the means to wound a god, Sei could never be too careful.
As it was, he was already being lax in the mission his siblings had assigned him. He was meant to be searching for the most vulnerable of their enemies’ pawns—a little prince in hiding. Instead, he was staying within half a day’s swim from the little musician’s camp. The least Sei could do was exercise a little bit of caution.
“You know, I can actually hear you over there.” The musician’s voice, a young boy’s, rang out in the silence that followed the music’s abrupt end. “You’re swishing your tail, aren’t you? I can hear the splashes.”
The boy gingerly set his instrument down and dropped his hood to reveal a fair face, stormy blue eyes and dark, shoulder length hair that the wind ruffled into disarray.
Sei stayed silent, frozen with his tail fin about to break the surface of the water again. He scrutinized the boy, but still could make no guess as to his origin—or the affiliation that it might imply.
“Come on. This is my last night here; we break camp when Father arrives in the morning,” the boy insisted, lowering himself to sit on the edge of the outcropping. “You’ve listened to me play every night since we came here, can’t we have one conversation?”
Sei started to slip beneath the water, when the boy called out again.
Sei dove beneath the surface to build momentum before he raced back towards the outcropping, leaping out of the water and twisting his body in the air to land beside the boy. The god grit his teeth against the discomfort of his landing as he adjusted himself to mimic the boy’s position with his tail hanging over the edge of the rock.
“You’re smaller than I imagined,” the boy commented, studying Sei in the faint light and giggling when the god’s youthful face scrunched in displeasure.
“What? You’re barely any bigger than a normal merman. I expected you to be more like your siblings, Sei.”
“I—what?” Sei’s eyes widened in confusion.
The boy picked up his violin and played a few bars of a simple shanty.
“How do you know me?” Sei persisted. “You are not a temple dweller, or a scholar.”
Lowering his bow once more, the boy shrugged. “My father travels often, and I follow. Also, there’s no merfolk settlement here. Not according to our charts. So who else could you be?”
“Not many mortals jump so quickly to the assumption that they are in the presence of their gods. Not so flippantly.”
“Why not? You’re powerful. But you’re no different than us.”
Sei bristled at the boy’s words, lips pulled back to reveal his vicious-looking teeth. “Has no one taught you respect for your betters?”
The child simply carried on waving his bow as he spoke. “Oh forgive me, my lord. But I’ve seen your petty siblings, with their infantile tempers. And then I’ve watched them chased away by the king’s soldiers. Three times now. Is the rest of your pantheon any different?”
Indignant, Sei stared at the boy—trying, out of spite, to ignore the soft, familiar melody he began to play.
“You live in the capital,” Sei said, getting a simple nod in reply. “Why play for me?”
The boy’s hands faltered, the resulting screech of the strings making them both flinch. “What?”
“You have come to play every night, knowing I would be listening.”
“Behold, the hubris of a god.” The boy laughed, playing the final bars of his song properly before setting the instrument down. “I play for myself. It keeps me from feeling homesick.”
“That I want to be friends? Sure. You like my music, so we have something in common.”
“You should hate us.”
“How can you not?”
“I do. Gods are horrible. I mean, how dare your siblings attack a whole city for one lousy prince?” The boy stood as he spoke, pacing along the edge of the outcropping. “But one of your sisters likes my music too. She even brought down her clouds to dance while I played. So I thought, why not give you a chance as well?”
“Because it is my turn to chase after the prince.”
“I figured as much.” The boy paused with his back to Sei, apparently fidgeting with the fastenings of his cloak. “What’s your plan, when you find him?”
“I aim to destroy him.”
Sei meant to question the sighed comment, but by the time he looked back towards the boy’s face, there was only empty air. The child had tipped over the edge. He fell, fear stealing his voice as he reached up towards the god, who dove after the child.
Beneath the water, Sei froze. Hanging heavily from the boy’s neck, a silver amulet bearing the royal crest shone in the diffused moonlight. Though the impact with the water had winded him, the prince struggled against the current, his wide eyes pleading with the god for help.
Gritting his teeth, Sei shot forward and caught the prince, rushing to break the surface and drag his burden to the rock-strewn shallows of the beach. Sei waited while the prince coughed and sputtered, tail beating the water in agitation. When the prince did finally stop, Sei’s hand shot out to grip his chin and raise the child’s head, only to meet a victorious grin.
The god pulled back with a sigh, but the prince scooted closer and leaned in to kiss the god’s scaled cheek. “I knew you were different, Sei.”
Marty is an aspiring author from Ottawa, armed with an imagination stuck in permanent overdrive, a BA in English from OttawaU, and (soon enough) Professional Writing credentials from Algonquin College. When not writing, Marty’s usually occupied in some aspect of geek culture – from consuming new media (and revisiting old favourites for the thousandth time), to cosplay and conventions.