Mermaid Tales with Royal Mermaiden Princess Jia
I felt my mother shift in her chair on my left and realized my thoughts had drifted from the meeting before us. Jia, I scolded myself, listen and concentrate! I drew in a slow breath and then brought my mind back into the MerCouncil room. We Mermaidens had been watching our parents and the MerCouncil debate for hours, rarely getting a word in ourselves. It was the third day of the MerCouncil, and everyone was restless.
I glanced over at Brynn and saw her stifle a yawn. We had been up half the night in our special “Mermaidens only” room on Waverlee’s demands to have “girl time.” Personally, I would rather have gone to bed early to prepare for the next day, but the thought of staying up late was enticing since my parents are usually so strict about retiring and rising early. Also, some of the stories and secrets we shared made the long night well worth the unfamiliar grogginess in the morning. I smiled to myself as I remembered Destiny’s story about the moment Frank realized that he didn’t have eyebrows. We all were doubled over laughing much too loudly by the end!
Glancing across the table, I watched Serena tap colors onto her hand on the table. Little dots of bright orange, pink, green, and yellow appeared for a moment before fading away. How beautiful, I thought. I’d never been much of an artist myself. But I consider healing my own kind of artistry, in a way.
My eyes scanned across the room to Waverlee, who sat strangely quiet and still, smiling into the distance with a glazed look in her pretty blue eyes. Immediately I knew who she was thinking about.
Damon. I narrowed my eyes as I watched my friend daydream. The young merman clearly had a powerful effect on all my fellow Mermaidens, but Waverlee couldn’t stop talking or, it seems, thinking about him. I will admit, I thought to myself, he is very charismatic and strangely likable, but there’s an unsettling feeling about him that I can’t shake off.
Darek arose, and immediately all attention flew to him. The wizened old merman clasped his hands together. “We, the MerCouncil, thank each one of our guests and propose a short intermission. There will be a light meal served in the dining area. We will meet here again in one hour. Thank you.”
I let out an inaudible sigh of relief and followed my parents out of the MerCouncil room. As soon as I floated out the doors, I was whisked away in a stream of girls toward the dining area. Crystal slipped up beside me and smiled when I gently bumped her shoulder with mine. Zoey let out a blast of laughter ahead of me in response to something Destiny said. Brynn and Waverlee playfully squabbled over who Serena should paint next. She had been working her way through each of us, portraying our likenesses in paintings like no one I had ever seen.
“Yer perfection would take much too long to capture, Your Highness!” Brynn teased with a mock bow, to which Waverlee simply smiled proudly and flipped her hair.
We found our own table to sit at in the dining area, but no sooner had we taken our seats than a shadow fell across the table and a hand came down on my shoulder. A shiver went down my spine and I hesitantly looked up, while Waverlee squealed in delight. A pair of crystal blue eyes met mine and a broad grin smiled out of a forest of long black hair. “Why m’lady Jia,” Damon murmured softly, “I must say I’ve never been quite so glad to see someone as I now am to find you here. You see, I seem to have injured my hand and I can think of no better healer than you. Please, sweet Jia, will you consent to help a poor soul like me?”
I stared up at him and wondered for a moment if he would take no for an answer. Then I internally chastised myself. The poor young man needed my help. How could I possibly turn him away? I gave Damon a small smile and softly answered, “Of course, Damon. I would be honored to help you. But you know you don’t even need to ask. I am willing to use my gift to help anyone who may be in need.”
Damon gave me another of his famous smiles and quickly pulled a cushion beside me, turning to whisper hello to Crystal, who was on his right, and tell her how enchanting she was. I quickly inspected his hand, which (I couldn’t help but notice) dwarfed my own, and then excused myself to retrieve my healing satchel from my room. As I left, I heard Damon start an engaging conversation full of laughter with my friends. He is quite charming, I thought to myself as I returned with my satchel, and I have no right to think ill of him. I’m too harsh on merfolk I don’t know.
After a few moments of digging through my supplies, I pulled out a small clamshell and opened it carefully. I use many different shells for containers for my medicines. This one was a little difficult to pry open. It held a mixture that helps relax tight muscles, soothe strained ones, and even mend small tears. I turned back to Damon, and he placed his hand in front of me. I scooped a little bit of the thick paste out with my fingers and then started to massage it into his hand.
“So it seems from the way your hand is swollen,” I told him in my best healer’s voice, “that you strained a muscle in there. It’s possible you tore it, but I highly doubt it. After I finish massaging this mixture in, I’ll wrap it. Try not to use your hand for the next few days. If it doesn’t hurt anymore within that time, then when I check it again, I’ll rub more of this in and you’ll be as good as new.”
“Ah thank you, dearest. How can I ever repay you?”
“There’s no need for that. I’m only doing my job. Tell me, Damon, how did you hurt your hand?” I asked while studying the swollen muscle under my long fingers. “Have you been doing anything strenuous?”
I felt Damon’s forearm tense beneath my wrist and I looked up quickly to see if I had touched something tender. His face relaxed as soon as his eyes met mine, and for a moment I thought I saw something like wariness in his features. But it was gone as soon as it had come and was replaced with a ready smile. “Well, other than writing an average of ten pages of notes a day, no, I have not. Although really, that note-taking is rather taxing on my poor hand. It gives me finger cramps like you wouldn’t believe.” Damon gave an over-exaggerated sigh and I let a small smile escape my lips before I turned back to massaging his hand. “You wouldn’t happen to have anything in that bag of wonders for sore fingers, would you?”
“No, I’m afraid I only brought what was necessary on this trip. My father assumed there would be other healers amongst the MerCouncil so that my talent wouldn’t be needed much for injuries… such as finger cramps,” I added awkwardly.
“Ah, but you would be mistaken, Princess Jia. Hand cramps are the most fearsome of injuries for a future MerCouncilman to have. You see, I have to write oh so much with my pelican quill, and in such a short amount of time, I have absolutely not a second to give to my poor fingers, should they fail me.” I could hear the teasing in his voice, and I responded with a half-smile. I needed to focus on the MerCouncil proceedings and not dwell on the flirtatious words emanating from my mind. I chose to respond instead by wiping my hands with a soft cloth to get rid of excess medicine and ask a question I had wondered about for some time now.
“Damon, how does a merman or mermaiden become a part of the MerCouncil?”
Most of the chatter at our table fluttered to an end and six pairs of eyes landed on Damon. He straightened up and leaned in, causing the same involuntary response from every other Mermaiden at the table. Clearly, I hadn’t been the only one with this question. Crystal’s big blue eyes had gotten so wide, I suddenly found myself widening my own in return.
“Well, ladies. It all starts when a mermaid or merman is born. Periodically, as I’m sure you know, a test is given to a promising generation in each of the Seven Kingdoms. Out of that generation, the most promising merchildren are chosen from each kingdom. He or she must show remarkable qualities such as leadership, intelligence, bravery, or strength, among others. Each merchild is then taken by the MerCouncil into their keeping, leaving their homesea and family. They are given to a mermentor, who is charged with raising and teaching the child the ways of the MerCouncil and strengthening them, physically and mentally. The young mermaid or merman spends all of his or her time with this mermentor until the age of 12. It is then assumed that the young apprentice is ready to take on small responsibilities. They are given duties like serving their mermentor his or her meals, running errands and keeping their records organized. By the time the merward is 16, they could be standing in for their mermentor in small meetings, or carrying messages into the Kingdoms. By 18, they are preparing to take their mermentor’s spot on the MerCouncil indefinitely at any time. If they haven’t already by then, they spend most of their time listening in on the MerCouncil’s meetings and taking notes to later organize and file. That,” Damon concluded, “is the stage that I am in now. MerCouncilman Aldric is my mermentor. I document MerCouncil proceedings as they relate to Aldric’s involvement. The poor fellow is quite old now and can hardly lift a pen himself, but thankfully, his mind is as sharp as ever.”
A million more questions seemed to race in my mind, but just as I was about to open my mouth, Brynn beat me to it. “So ye say you were taken as a wee child, but surely ye must have some memory of which MerKingdom you’re from? Couldn’t each MerCouncilman be biased toward his or her own homesea?” Her stormy green eyes were narrowed and seemed to stare Damon down accusingly.
“Aye, that we could—“ Damon started with a twinkle in his eye and a surprisingly good impression of Brynn’s deep Scottish accent. She stopped him with a thunderous look and he awkwardly coughed and started over. “Aha, what I meant to say was, yes we could be biased if we did indeed know which Kingdom we came from. But, as future members of the MerCouncil it is crucial that we remain impartial. That’s why we are taken so early in our youth and the information of what homesea we are originally born in is kept secret from us. We are taught to bury ourselves in our studies and that becomes our identity. There’s no room for anything else.”
“But don’t your families miss you terribly?” Crystal’s soft voice was met by a long pause of near silence. Each girl’s eyes flitted between the look of confused shock on Damon’s face and Crystal’s own sweet innocence. Damon turned toward her slowly and they locked eyes. Then slowly he grasped her white hand in his uninjured one and brought it up to his lips.
“Yes. Yes, I suppose they might,” he breathed softly against her fingers. I studied how rigid the muscles in Damon’s back were. As if he felt my gaze, he suddenly let out a long breath and relaxed. Then he rose from his chair, formally bid us all goodbye, and swept toward the door. We watched him go in silence and then turned back to face each other.
Crystal’s voice brought us all back to life. “Was it something I said?”