A Merfolk Fable, Part 3

This is the third and final part of the story of the origin of the Hands. If you missed the beginning, you can find it here. If you missed Part 2, you can find that here.

As morning dawned on the second day of the singing, a ship appeared on the horizon. It drew near, but instead of singing, the sailors were quiet, crowding to the side to listen. Then one sailor jumped into the water. Then another. And another and another, until no one was left to steer the boat. The sailors were drowning, not even trying to swim, rapt in the song.

The Great Singers saw this, and stopped singing to catch the sailors and bear them up to the air. As the song faltered, the new people also saw and caught them up in their arms and held them to the air. The sailors became aware, choking up the sea, and thrashed in fear. Some drowned because they could not be held to the air and they could not swim.

Why couldn’t they swim? Well, Limpet… I suppose if they could swim they wouldn’t need ships to move around on top of the water. Maybe it’s because they don’t have fins like we do. I don’t really know… some of them can swim but some can’t, and we still try to help them if they fall in the water. That’s why every pod must have someone carrying a pouch of gill-sponge.

Anyway. The Great Singers captured the drifting ship and brought it back, and a few sailors were lifted aboard by great leaps of the Singers, who then drew their surviving fellows up to the deck. But they were afraid and confused, not understanding that they had been saved, thinking only that they had escaped through their own cleverness. They began to cast spears at the new people and the Singers; many were injured, and one of the sea people was pierced nearly to the heart, and even after the Singers’ healing, was pained there to the end of her days.

The new people were shocked. Then they were frightened. Then they were angry, and began to cast angry songs and thoughts at the ship and it’s crew. The sailors dropped their spears and held their heads, for the anger-songs were painful. They cried out and fell to the deck.

The Great Singers saw this and began a song of their own. Both sailors and new people were captured in it, and ceased their raging struggles. The Singers bore the new people away with them, and as they left the ship behind, cast a song-borne thought that it had all been a dream.

The new people swam with the Singers for many seasons after that. The Singers were uncertain that they had done the right thing, in giving such powerful voices to these unpredictable new beings, and their councils were divided over it. The new people, for their part, were shaken by their own abilities, and that their first reaching out to their land cousins should have had such disastrous results. They begged the Singers for guidance.

The Singers reluctantly gave it. They urged that the new people avoid the ships of the land dwellers, or if they could not, to not allow themselves to be seen, and never, ever to sing within the hearing of the land people. For their desires and emotions, combined with their powerful new voices, could cloud the minds of those who had no defence, and that was wrong.

The new people were sad, for they had hoped to establish trade and friendships with the land folk, but they saw the wisdom in the Singers’ advice and agreed to abide by it.

And we still do — for the most part. Sometimes we cannot help being glimpsed as we listen with longing to the songs drifting out from a ship, and if we cast a thought and a snatch of song behind us as we swim away, to not see, and forget, forget… well, sometimes it hits its mark and sometimes not. And that is why you sometimes see carvings of sea people at the heads of boats or paintings on their flanks; memories are strange things and will sometimes take on a life of their own.

What’s that, Gull? You saw a Great Singer once? Oh yes, that would have been when my sister, your Auntie, returned from her Healing. She learned many things on that journey. Yes, I know, Auntie’s a little strange… you’ve still got to go help her with her urchin garden, though – that’s enough stories for today!

 

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