CHAPTER FIVE: SECRETS AND LIES
Elaric turned back once he was out of sight and easy mind contact of the mysterious Mer.
Does he really think I’m so stupid or foolish to just go away?
Elaric smiled mirthlessly. He thought of the other Mer’s unusual eyes. They looked like--though he must be wrong--House Bexys’ eyes. Maybe he was some far flung relative of that House. Or maybe an exile… That last thought had Elaric both excited and uneasy. A Bexys alive? That was impossible! As far as he was aware, the Bexys did not exile their own. They had trouble enough bringing people into their secretive House. They had been desperate not to lose one. Still, it was clear that this Mer was hiding something.
His secrets have secrets and I will know them!
His parents had told him not to approach any Mer he met, not even the hybrids, but to return to them immediately if he found anything interesting. But simply finding this Mer was not enough to re-establish his good standing within House Silvyr. No, he needed to learn more. He needed to have the answer to the other Mer’s secrets to display before his parents--and maybe the Mer himself--in order to regain his lost place.
So Elaric stealthily swam after the mysterious Mer, keeping his thoughts shrouded, and well out of sight but not so far away that he lost track of the other Mer. The other Mer was round the island and heading towards a relatively empty beach. He sensed two humans there.
To his surprise, the other Mer swam to the beach and got out, heading towards the two humans. Elaric moved in towards shore and lifted his head so that his eyes were clear of the water. He watched as the other Mer was met by the humans. The female one handed him a towel and helped him dry off. The male one held up more of that terrible human clothing. The other Mer started to cover up his, admittedly, lovely body.
Elaric frowned. Why was this Mer taking on human trappings? Was he actually living on land? Were these humans his servants or… his friends? What kind of life was this for a full-blooded Mer? While he understood how a hybrid could cling to the humans things they were familiar with at first, he could not imagine how a full-blooded Mer embrace such things after having all the wonders of their world? Elaric felt a mixture of horror and almost ghoulish interest. This other Mer was more alien than the humans were.
So Elaric swam in further until he was practically laying down on the sandy floor of the ocean but able to keep his eyes mostly above the water and hear the conversation between the three. He shut his mind down so that there was no chance the other Mer would sense him.
The human male had made a bonfire. The three of them crowded around the red-gold light. Fire was one of the things the humans had that did fascinate Elaric. There was nothing quite like it under the sea except for the sea vents that sent out boiling water that was heated by magma. But nothing so elusive and ephemeral as fire.
“Could I--ah, well, maybe this is rude but see your gills, Bex?” the male human asked pointing at the other Mer’s--Bex’s--side.
For a moment, Elaric froze. Bex. That was so close to Bexys. Could this young man truly be related to House Bexys? If he was and Elaric brought him back to House Silvyr then truly he would be back in his parents’ best graces and then some! Maybe they would even hear him about going on the attack against the creatures of the Sundering Deep! He shook himself out of dreams of reinstatement and focused on the moment. He must see and hear everything in order to make that come true.
The side that the male human had pointed to was already covered up, but Elaric knew that even if the skin was completely dry it would take far longer for the gills to settle and become smooth, unmarked skin.
“Ned, that’s definitely rude!” the female human said.
“You want to see too, Cathy! You’ve talked for ages about wanting to examine a Mer up close and now’s your chance. I’m just saying out loud what you’re thinking.” Ned lifted his chin in the air and sniffed.
Elaric’s eyes narrowed.
Interesting. Why have they never seen Bex’s gills? They appear friendly and knowledgeable about one another and yet… hmmmm, has Bex kept his true nature from them? Even after the announcement of our kind existing was made public?
“I--I--I did not!” Cathy’s cheeks flamed crimson and it had nothing to do with the heat of the fire. Then her shoulders slumped as the other two stared at her almost incredulously. “Okay, maybe I did. A little. But that’s understandable!”
Indeed it was. Mer were beautiful, exquisite creatures and their gills allowed them the freedom in the ocean that humans did not. So it was not surprising that she wished to examine them. But that did not mean her curiosity should be indulged. A Mer’s body was not a science experiment for humans!
But with a shy smile, Bex did indulge her and lifted up the right side of his shift to show her the gills that still fluttered there. Cathy leaned in, her almond shaped eyes widening. Her left hand extended almost seemingly of its own accord to touch the dark purple vassili. Bex jerked back and let out a laugh. Cathy snatched her hand back and held it against her chest. Her face was horrified.
“Did I hurt you?” Cathy gasped.
“No, it tickled! You heard me laugh, right?” Bex asked her with a raised eyebrow.
“Oh, yes, I just… I just don’t want to hurt you,” Cathy told him softly.
Elaric frowned slightly. Was this human female in love with Bex? No, not romantically. But she clearly had high regard for him. That was interesting. She seemed more intelligent than most humans he had encountered and she showed the proper respect for Mer. This Bex was able to elicit some loyalty in the human population.
Ned stared open-mouthed at the gills. He hadn’t blinked since Bex had revealed them. Finally, only when Bex had lowered his shirt did he seem to snap out of his daze. He blinked and went from starting at Bex to staring into the flames.
“Are you okay, Ned?” Bex sounded uncertain. His handsome face showed strain and his hands were twisting together on his lap.
“What?” Ned looked up from the fire to Bex. “Oh, yeah, just re-sorting the world out in my head.”
That answer did not appear to ease the other Mer’s concerns. His lips pressed together and his head lowered. Even without their minds touching, Elaric sensed Bex’s sadness. For an instant, he almost wanted to open his mind and show Bex that the acceptance he sought from these lesser beings was nothing compared with that found with another Mer. But he squelched that foolish desire. Not only would it give away his position but it was also unnecessary. This was a full-blooded Mer!
So surely Bex knew how much more satisfying it was to have Mer approval. And yet, this Bex reminded him more of how the hybrids were. They were uncertain and tentative about fully opening themselves to Mer society. They were often lonely and isolated. The exposure to many Mer minds was overwhelming for them. House Silvyr had found two hybrids so far and his parents were taking exquisite care of them and integrating them slowly but surely. To Elaric’s mind this was yet more proof of how humans were simply toxic for Mers. These fragile hybrids had to be taught the simplest things and were, in many ways, broken by their time with humans.
“Me being a Mer turns the whole world around?” Bex gave a faint smile, his expression clearly showing he hoped that Ned was exaggerating.
“Cath and I have talked for years after she saw you swimming one night that you and your folks were Mers. But for every thing that said yes, you were, there were just as many other things saying no, you weren’t. The biggest was…” Ned’s shoulders rolled inwards and his gaze left Bex’s. “The biggest was if you were you would have told us after Mers came out. And you didn’t. You acted the same as always. Well, you actually acted more secretive. And that made no sense! But you are a Mer so… why didn’t you tell us?”
That last line came out as so plaintive that even Elaric shifted uncomfortably. There was clearly a feeling of betrayal and bewilderment at such a betrayal in Ned’s voice and body that the question had to be answered then or it would sever a friendship.
Bex opened his mouth, shut it, then licked his lips. “My… my parents.”
“What about your parents?” Cathy leaned towards Bex, her elbows resting on her knees.
Bex rubbed the back of his neck and licked his lips again before abruptly standing up and pacing in front of the fire. The two humans watched him without saying anything. Every once in awhile, Bex would glance out at the ocean and Elaric ducked lower. But even with a Mer’s more acute dark vision, he was certain that Bex did not see him. Bex let out a sigh and turned back to the humans. It was clear that he had decided to tell them the secret that had been clearly eating him up inside. Elaric nearly held his breath. Not that he had to. His gills moved without any such action from him.
“My parents are from a House that didn’t allow intermarrying. They’d… well there had been a lot of it,” Bex explained.
“You mean they had too many kids like King Charles II of Spain? He couldn’t like eat or talk!” Ned asked.
Cathy whapped his arm. “Ned, that’s terrible to say! Though I must admit that I am impressed you knew about him.”
Ned shrugged while rubbing his arm. “What can I say? I like royalty!”
Bex grinned and it lit up his face, making him more handsome than usual. Elaric frowned. It did not matter that this other Mer was beautiful. Truly, he must just need sex. He had been too alone for too long without bodily and mind release to find this Mer exceptional whatsoever.
“Well, I don’t think there were like three legged babies or something. Though there is webbing.” Bex’s gray eyes sparkled in the firelight.
“I can’t wait to go swimming with you!” Cathy enthused.
A truly warm, grateful smile crossed Bex’s face. “Me either.”
“So you could have saved me from drowning today instead of the arrogant bastard?” Ned asked.
Arrogant bastard?! Elaric frowned furiously at the ungrateful human! If not for me, you would have been dead!
“I was almost racing out there. I would have exposed the secret for you, Ned. You have to believe me,” Bex pleaded. “It took everything I had to wait even a second.”
“Nah, it’s okay, man. You knew that AB was out there so--”
“AB?” Cathy’s eyebrows drew together and then they cleared, “Oh! AB equals arrogant bastard.”
“Since we don’t know his name. He’s too good to tell us that,” Ned scoffed.
“Actually, it’s Elaric. Lord Elaric Silvy.” Bex lowered his head as if ashamed to know his name.
“How do you know that? Did you introduce yourself to him?” Ned asked.
“Not on purpose.” Bex grimaced. “We met when I was dealing with the Baileys.”
And why did you not want me to know you were here? Why did you not reach out to me.
Bex continued slowly, “In truth, it’s more important to keep the fact we’re secret from other Mers and not just humans. Truthfully, I think my parents would have no problem revealing what we are to everyone on the island, but…”
“It might be overheard by the Mers?” Cathy guessed, but her forehead wrinkled.
Whatever the secret is it must be grave indeed to require such subterfuge!
Elaric felt a swelling of excitement rise in him. Whatever this secret was would truly get him out of this place and might, just might, wash away some of the stain of Amatheia’s blood on his hands.
“Yeah, okay, so back to my folks. Essentially, they’re cousins and their House didn’t want them to marry, but had other folks for them to, but they didn’t want that so they left their House. Ran away. Came to Huntingbelle, got married and had me.” Bex shrugged.
And indeed such a “secret” warranted only a shrug! It wasn’t a secret at all! Elaric had heard of closer relations between Mers--parents and children, siblings even, far more closely related than cousins pledging themselves to one another--so this made no sense! There must be more!
As if hearing his thoughts, Ned said, “Bex, are you sure there isn’t more to all of this? I mean I’m not an expect on Mers like Cathy is over there--”
“Shut up! I know a few things about them and you act like I’m obsessed!” Cathy scowled at Ned, but their banter was playful, not full of true barbs.
Ned chuckled then said, “But, seriously, marrying cousins is… like no big deal?”
“I know.” Bex let out a breath and rubbed the back of his neck.
Are you lying to your friends about greater crimes?! Come! Tell them!
Elaric’s hopes of bringing back some dastardly Mers to his parents was disintegrating by the minute. He felt his heart sinking.
“I know. I’ve always felt that there was more. But my parents tell me that the Mers aren’t being truthful with humanity about things,” Bex explained which had Elaric tensing again.
Why was Bex disparaging his own kind to these lesser beings? And what secrets did he think the humans were entitled to? Did he have any of them to spill? Such as the fact that the creatures of the Sundering Deep were stirring and would become a danger to everyone if they were not stopped? But no, that was his secret .
“Basically, they’re not revealing things that humans might not understand or respect,” Bex said. “I guess intermarrying being verboten is one of them.”
Bex let out another sigh and was rubbing the back of his neck again. He did that when he was troubled, Elaric realized.
“That seems so… well, relatively benign,” Cathy murmured.
And it wasn’t even a problem for the Mers! It was ridiculous!
“Well, it must not be because I’ve begged and pleaded with them to come out! I can’t tell you how much I’ve wanted to let you guys know the truth! How it kept us apart and damaged our friendship!” Bex’s arms flew up into the air and the firelight cast shadows of them behind him. They looked like monstrous birds.
Cathy and Ned reached over and patted his back.
“We knew it had to be a good reason for you to stay hidden,” Cathy said.
“Yeah, dude, we knew you were weighed down by something you couldn’t share,” Ned agreed.
Bex’s head though hung low. “Thank you, but I don’t know if you should be so accepting of it, because I--I don’t know if I would be.”
“It’s a big deal, Bex. And…” Cathy bit her lip. “There are some on the island who might not be as welcoming to you guys if they knew the truth.”
“But most would be!” Ned said loyally.
“Yeah, that’s true. But we either leave Huntingbelle in a few years--after it becomes clear to everyone that good genes can’t account for my parents not aging--or we tell the truth. The longer we wait, the worse it will get,” Bex told them. “But my parents won’t budge!”
“They must really believe something terrible will happen if you’re found. They would know better than all of us,” Cathy said, but she sounded uncertain.
“I understood why we had to keep secret when no one knew Mers existed,” Bex said, “I mean us coming out would reveal all of the Mers. But after? I mean King Cetus is having dinner at the White House!”
“They’re really fawning all over him,” Cathy murmured.
Elaric was not surprised by this. He had only limited exposure to their king, but Cetus was charming and beyond impressive. The humans could have never resisted him.
“I find it funny how he always insists on not wearing clothes with them!” Ned snickered.
“He’s wearing the traditional garb of the Mer!” Cathy again looked scandalized.
“He is,” Bex agreed, but with a grin said, “But his Consort Zed is always dressed to the nines in human clothes. So don’t tell me he couldn’t wear them, too.”
The Consort and Caller Zed had lived among humans, too, hiding his continued existence from the Mer. There were a million theories as to why ranging from the banal--that he and Cetus had fought and Zed had left in a huff--to the divine--that Zed was actually Cthulhu itself and needed to rejoin its full form. Though there were supposed to be no secrets among the Mer, Zed was certainly an exception. His thoughts were locked to all but Cetus and a few special others. But one thing was very clear. Zed loved human clothes and… he loved humans too. Like this Bex.
“King Cetus totally does it so that all the politicians are uncomfortable and don’t know where to look” Ned chuckled.
And that was likely quite true. Elaric knew their king to be exceedingly crafty and willing to do whatever it took to ensure all that was good came to the Mer, though he wasn’t sure what this alliance with humans was supposed to bring. It would just be better to stop the humans’ destruction of the planet and be done with it instead of all of this pretend equality and togetherness and peace.
But Elaric also knew his hot temper and quick to action mind was quite different from the king’s. And he accepted--sort of--that King Cetus was doing what was best. But Elaric also thought that King Cetus would come around to Elaric’s way of thinking when he realized the humans put themselves over the very ecosystem that kept them all alive.
“He is quite… uhm, well-endowed.” Cathy’s cheeks were bright with color again that had nothing to do with the flames.
“Yep, that he is.” Bex paused and then with an impish smile, “So is Elaric!”
Elaric’s eyes widened fractionally. So Bex had found him attractive as well.
“Too bad AB is, well, AB!” Ned smirked.
“Seriously, but it doesn’t matter anymore even if Elaric wasn’t AB,” Bex said. “Because he’s gone.”
“Gone?” Cathy and Ned said together.
Bex nodded and smiled, pleased with himself. Elaric snorted, which had Bex glancing nervously out towards the water, but then he settled down again.
“Yeah, he found me dealing with the Baileys like I said, and I couldn’t hide what I was so… I basically told him to get off my lawn so to speak. I said I was saving the humans here. He didn’t have to stay.” Bex again grinned that handsome grin. “I think he was pretty happy about it. He doesn’t like humans. Like at all. I have a feeling being here was a punishment.”
But then snarled silently to himself. There was no big secret here! There was nothing! Just some Mer who ran away from a too strict House! This wasn’t going to get him back into his parents’ good graces. He would remain stuck here while his people and the world were put in danger by the creatures from the Sundering Deep.
Cathy though was frowning, “But, Bex, isn’t he going to have to tell someone why he’s no longer patrolling Huntingbelle? Especially, if patrolling here was some kind of punishment.”
Bex bobbed his head. “His parents sent him if you can believe it. I wonder if it's the equivalent of being sent to your room or something.”
Elaric glowered, because in some way, he did feel like he wasn’t treated like a child. But the stakes were so high and this Bex had no idea what was happening!
“Bex, I assume you didn’t tell him who you were. After all, then your parents’ secret would be out,” Cathy said.
“Oh, no, he tried to riffle through my mind, but I put a stop to that!” Another small smile, again proud of himself.
“What is your House?” Cathy asked shyly.
“Uhm, my parents weren’t real creative here. They kept their House name as our last name, which seems really risky seeing that they didn’t want to be found.” Bex frowned at that. “But they did all of this before the Mer came out so they must have thought it would be all fine. And, I guess, it was one last link to their past.”
“So House Bexys, huh?” Ned said.
Elaric froze again. This was a House Bexys’ Mer. There were at least three of them alive on this island! His parents would have to be told. Though he wondered what difference would it make. What could three non-warrior Mers do? His parents seemed to think that the Bexys had powers of some sort. But he’d seen nor felt anything with this Mer. Yet his parents believed it so they would find this information hugely valuable. Elaric was about to turn and swim out when Cathy asked another question that had him pausing.
“What were the Baileys up to, by the way?” she asked.
“Oh! This is actually really cool!” The excitement in Bex’s voice practically shone in the dark. “They had this creature in their net and…”
Elaric listened in shocked horror as Bex spoke of a baby nightling. The nightlings were the lords of the Sundering Deep and Bex had saved one. But it was what Bex said next that had Elaric swimming away from the beach at top speed.
“And the best part,” Bex told his enthralled friends, “was that I could communicate with it! I think it might come back. I hope it does. I have so many questions.”
No Mer could speak to the creatures from the Sundering Deep, but somehow Bex could. More than that, it had been friendly to Bex. All of these things had Elaric intent not only on getting home, but returning to Huntingbelle as quickly as possible. All of the House Bexys Mer must be taken into custody. All of them must be made to tell all they knew about the creatures of the Sundering Deep. All of them would use whatever powers they had to aid in the fight.
And this time when Elaric came to Huntingbelle, he’d have his trident and armor with him.