The next day, the three awoke before the sun rose and hurried out of the lighthouse, making certain to seal the door. Nerin and Nerissa hung out along the shoreline. They enjoyed the smell of the sea and the fishery provided good cover. There were all kinds of toys and knick-knacks to hide behind or inside of, if needed. Besides, Mira had her hands full with Ethan.
Meeting at Poseidon’s Secrets, Mira arrived later than Ethan. She noticed his strong Artisto features as he leaned against the front wall. His silver tunics and metallic robes fluttered around him. He appeared to her like a young man coming from the ocean’s waves.
“Got here before me, I see,” Mira panted after her swift walk from the shore.
“I’m excited to see you made it,” The king’s son said gripping her elbow. “Are you full of more questions for me today?”
Giggling, Mira blew off the comment. She didn’t want him to know she merely used him for information; it would raise suspicion. “Care to go inside?” She asked with a tilt of her head. She noticed the sunlight glistening over his robes. “Sure, after you.” He gestured for her to walk in front. The store still appeared as dim as ever, with a musty smell. She guessed the owner didn’t believe in bright light. Shawls hung over the entryway and kept most sun rays from entering.
Each careful step led her to an item that ignited either fear or righteous anger. The smell of the soaps stunk of Mer skin. She couldn’t shake the scent that lingered with her.
Wigs hanging from the ceiling only reminded her of how little humans valued Mer life. She could imagine Nerissa in one of the wigs, Nerin in the other, her own parents...Marina and Zale. Remembering how tender her father always treated her, she lowered her head in sadness of everything around her. He would never -never- treat these humans the way they had treated her people. Chills ran down her spine. She couldn’t shake how sick she felt, like poison from a rattlesnake slowly coursing its way through her veins. Mother would be so disappointed in this world, and Mira began to doubt for the first time if coming here had been the right decision.
What were mother and father doing now? Did they miss her as much as she missed them?
She spun around, trying to shake how much she missed home off of her as her arms wrapped around her waist. Then, she bumped into Ethan again, head-to-head.
Laughing, he exclaimed, “Warn me next time. You have a tendency to to wander away!”
“Sorry...” Mira headed to the front desk. She contemplated how she could learn more. If she had to suffer this unsavory environment, at the very least she could answer some nagging questions, “How often do you get shipments in of Mer goods?” Mira asked the owner.
His disheveled appearance only marked his commoner status. “Each month we get new goods. It is the Pirates’ contribution to the city.”
“You can say that again,” Ethan snuck up behind her. “Pirates are either bringing us Mers or causing havoc on Remnantville.”
“Havoc?” Mira pried.
“Remember last month when they brought their last shipment?” Ethan rested his arm on the counter.
Chuckling, the owner joined in on the incident, now the town joke. “Sure do.”
“Two Pirates carried a Mer prisoner in shackles to the center of town. They thought they had him secure,” Covering his mouth with his hand, Ethan let out a laugh. “But obviously they had not. That headstrong Mer broke the iron chains. How, we will never know, and proceeded to race around town with every pirate after him.”
“What finally happened?” Mira bit her lip, hoping for a happy ending for the Mer.
“The Mer was stabbed, wasting his eyes and hair. The blade went through the back of his head and ruined any chance for a wig or amulets.”
Mira stood, silenced. She wanted to react to hearing of the brutal incident that could have involved Nerin or any of her loved ones, but she couldn’t let her sympathies show. Zale had warned her about the Pirates on many occasions. “You have to be tough," her father warned. Keep a strong spirit.
Holding in her desire to defend the Mers, she managed to turn her grimace into an awkward smile and changed the subject, “I guess you get a lot of business here?” Mira pointed to the most dazzling amulet with a yellow-orange hue. Unlike most of the eyes that shone yellow, this one glowed slightly different.
“I do very well, thanks to the Aristos,” the owner commented, handing the amulet to her. After laying the necklace across the counter, Mira touched the glass that held the eyes and felt a distinct shock, like electricity, run through her veins.
Jolted back, she landed into Ethan’s arms, “Gotcha.”
“Geez, sorry again.”
“Don’t worry about it; I have that effect on women,” Ethan joked, making Mira smile. Inside, however, she wondered why she had such a reaction to all the Mer paraphernalia. She grew up with the Mers. That much was certain. She loved the Mers, but could that alone be the reason she felt the eyes calling to her, shocking her? The reason that the smells of dead Mer hair and skin made her mind foggy and dizzy?
“Do you want to get out of here?” Mira moved her slim form toward the door, feeling nauseated.
“Sure.” His eyes conveyed something that Mira couldn’t quite figure out, something that made her all the more curious and nervous.
Strolling along the road, the Commoners were neatly tucked away inside their assigned shops while the streets remained bare. Good fortune to find the streets empty as that gave more time for Mira and her friends to go unnoticed.
But Nerin and Nerissa chose to stay near the lighthouse, and from the looks of it, the fishery remained busy all day. Mira briefly wondered how her friends managed, but the sound of Ethan’s shuffling steps drew her back to him.
“I’ve been meaning to ask...I know I should know this as they teach it in school...and I don’t want to sound dumb...” Mira batted her long lashes in his direction.
“Go ahead, what is it?”
“Well, I couldn’t remember why...and probably because I was not paying much attention when we covered this, but why there are so few children?” She tried to convey an apologetic tone and hoped he didn’t notice her terrible attempt at lying.
“Oh, is that all?” Ethan grew lightheartedly, “I thought you would ask me why the maps my father sketched are not in the geography books in class.” He shook his shoe, releasing a pebble caught inside the textured sole.
“Oh...well, that is a good question, too.” Mira looked up at him.
“Well as we’ve seen over time, many commoner children, and some Aristo children are born with webbed features. Every year there are more of them,” his face expressed repugnance, “Twenty-years ago when Remantville was formed, the Magi warned us that, we would be wise to take care of the mutated children by returning them to the sea before the Mers grew in number and consumed our only lands.”
Mira cringed and instinctively almost blurted, “Good God!” But she stopped herself.
“But with such few children left, who will be left to repopulate?” Mira crinkled her brows.
“There are enough children. Besides, the best of us, the Aristos, have more unaffected human children every day. We don’t need the commoner’s young.”
“Right,” That had become Mira’s new favorite word. After all, nothing an Aristo said was wrong. She was sure that was some unspoken rule. Only Commoners could be wrong. Forbidden to do what they wanted; forbidden to enjoy the luxuries of Mer goods and upper class living. With such class distinctions, with such control, the Aristos wielded over the Commoners, it was not shocking the Commoners did not know who the Mers really were.
The travesty of giving children who possessed Mer features back to the seas due to superstitious beliefs boggled Mira’a mind. Marina saved her, desperate for a child of her own. Why would anyone throw such life away?
But no one proved more superstitious than who she ran into next.
Standing beside the corner wall of the a pearl structure, Mira longed to pry more information from Ethan’s brain, but didn’t want to push. She, an Aristo, should certainly know such things. She must find it out alone.
Her fingertips grazed the smooth, slippery rounded beads outlining the revered constructs, and at the sight of the pearly embossed A.C.H., Mira finally made sense of the abbreviation: Aristo City Hall.
Apparently, one A.C.H. would not be enough for Remnantville. The Aristos had such egos they needed one A.C.H. every several blocks. Or maybe they had such large numbers, they needed many meeting halls? Mira decided the reason must be the former. That conclusion made sense with her observation of many Commoners, opposed to the six Aristos as of yet.
Rounding the pearl A.C.H., she stopped at the sight of an unearthly darkness, an ominous panther-black tent. Smoke rose from the base and slithered out like snakes through the thin creases and openings. Curious, Mira quickened her step, moving away from Ethan.
“Where are you going?” He called out with cracking treble, but her stance remained fixed; she was determined to find out what laid underneath the tent fabric. She sensed something sinister, but curiosity dominated any fears. Sliding the entry sheets to the side, she pushed her long frame inside and stood, stunned, catching whiffs of burning incense.
Elders, garbed in muted black with grey hair tucked under silver turbans and an amulet over each of their necks, stood huddled. One tossed a wad of white powder into the air, the dust rendering them momentarily invisible, followed by a rush of chatter. Whispers permeated the air, hitting Mira head-on.
“These eyes will pull a high price from Poseidon’s Secrets.”
“Let us not forget that female Mer skin is worth much more than male Mer skin. We want to separate the genders before putting the layers into the storage facility.”
“I had a special request from the Queen herself. She wanted us to create a cure from Mer blood for her unpleasant cough.”
“Mixed with milk or tea?”
“Milk. She says the bitter taste blends better.”
Shrinking away, Mira grabbed the sheet, her form still in the entryway. Sick to her stomach she felt dizzy with anger. She wanted to throw up, scream, and hit something all at the same time. How could anyone treat a Mer that way? Like some kind of fish! But as she stepped backward, she crashed into a rounded table and knocked over an amulet, smashing the glass against the hard dirt floor. All eyes veered to her.
“What did you do!?”
“Who are you!?”
Questions pounded in her brain, and to be honest, she couldn’t answer without stumbling over her words. Who was she? She hardly knew. A human? A Mer? An Aristo? Something else? Something more? She certainly felt more than human. Her connection to the Mers felt more than human. And why could she suddenly hear better and smell better than she ever did on Liberty Shore?
One of the men with a finely combed beard that reached his chest seized her arm and jerked her toward the huddled assembly, “Look what you did! How will you pay for this, you careless girl!?”
Her cheeks burned hot, and then Ethan glided in, pulling off his cap and revealing his stark-red hair cropped around the ears but dangling to his shoulders.
“Prince Ethan,” the men wooed.
“We had no idea you’d be visiting us today.”
“Come to pick up the elixir for your mother? We need a bit more time.”
Ethan cleared his throat, “No, no. I’m with Mira.” He placed his hand over the scared girl’s shoulder, and the angered man released her.
“We are so sorry. No idea she was with you.”
“Accept our apologies.”
“No need to mention our discourtesy to your father, the King?” The man swallowed a bitter mouthful of pride.
Mira absorbed everything like a sponge, the reactions were almost fearful of Ethan, of the King.
Then Ethan waved his hand at them, forgiving their atrocity, and the six men bowed before Ethan exited with Mira on his arm.
“What was that all about?” Ethan looked agitated.
“I...I wanted to take a peek.”
“At the Magi’s magic? You know that is forbidden, even for Aristos. Only the royal family has rights to see the magic.”
“Right,” but her agreement didn’t fool him this time, if it ever had.
“You’re not really from here, are you?” Ethan said pointedly.
“I...I’m” Mira considered revealing the truth. He protected her from the Magi; he acted like a friend. But then, she did appear human. Remembering the disgust in his voice as he spoke about the Mers, she re-thought her decision. “I’m from the north, Washington state.”
“Come to our humble abode to learn?” Ethan nudged her with a grin.
“Something like that. My Grandmother really does need some gauze and we have little of it in Washington.” She considered staying close to her initial lies would be best, because she didn’t want to explain why she’d really come here.
“Well, why did you lie to me?” Ethan looked dumbfounded as if no one -not a single soul- had ever lied to him before Mira.
“I was new here and wasn’t sure who I could trust.”
“Then I guess it is best to bring you to where this town was founded.”
“Where would that be?”
Nervous excitement bundled up inside her. She would meet the King, the man with maps of land, the man who ruled this town. Oh, God! She could not go back now.