The scaled skin glimmered beneath the water of the sea, stray rays of light reflecting into Catryn’s eyes. A mermaid, alive and swimming, gliding down into the depths before darting back up towards the surface. After racing back and forth three times, the mermaid paused near the surface and gazed at her rescuer. Her finger crooked as she beckoned Catryn into the water.
As she hovered above the glass surface, Catryn heard the faint neighing of horses and, just further out, the slight sound of the howling of the hounds. They would reach her, sooner or later. The hounds might lose her scent in the streams, but the guard wouldn’t stop until they found her. Fear of the Queen was fear of returning empty-handed. She had nothing to lose by continuing to trust the mermaid.
Icy water licked her skin as her face broke through the water’s surface, and surprisingly light and airy voice echoed through her.
“Child of darkness, you have saved a life. Returned this life home. We are grateful. A debt is owed, a debt will be paid. Rise and breathe.”
Catryn pulled out of the water and coughed before gulping in some air. The slightest sound of hooves settled around her. Sooner or later, she thought. One more deep breath before diving back under the surface.
“A wish for a girl. One wish. Choose your heart’s desire and speak it aloud. Breathe.”
Once more, Catryn went through the motion.
“Remember,” the mermaid continued, ” a child of darkness must only visit, never stay in the dark. A child could get lost forever. Be wise, be kind. We lose enough rulers to the darkness. Breathe and wish.”
This time, ignoring the deep need of her aching lungs for air, Catryn slowly pulled her face from the water while her eyes lingered on the peculiar creature staring back. Once she had removed herself from the water, the sounds of the trailing party loomed over her, and the entirety of what her life would be played before her:
The small home surrounded by acres of land and animals. The marriage with the young farmer. The three young children running through the pastures as a fourth repeatedly nudged her ribs beneath her swollen belly. A life, while better than most, she detested.
” A different life,” she sputtered, “I want a new life , a life with adventure. And far away from here.”
The mermaid tilted its head and looked up at her. A smile danced upon its lips before it nodded and swam away. And she was left alone.
What felt like hours passed while Catryn stared at the spot from which the mermaid vanished. The howls of the hounds were long gone, but the sounds of voices and horses surrounded her. They were here. Her time was up ,, and the scouts sent to find her would ****** her up at any moment, and the mermaid was gone, and nothing had changed. The stories and tales, they weren’t true. Mermaids didn’t repay debts. They were real but had no magic after all.
Her life was over.
Catryn struggled to her feet and began to stumble along the shore of the sea towards a small, heavily wooded inlet. She thought of trying to make it, but they were here and the chilling sound of swords leaving their sheaths halted her movement. She turned and saw two riders approaching her.
“You! Girl! Come with us.”
The riders slowed, watched the young girl shake as her eyes darted back and forth between the men. She looked as though she might still dart away, and if she made it to the inlet before they could catch her….
“Girl! In the name of Queen Ysolt, I command yo-“
His sentence cut short as an arrow jutted through his throat. His body fell from his horse and the girl could only stare in awe. The other rider turned quickly, narrowly dodging an arrow destined for his eye. Neighing echoed around the girl as she continued to stare at her two would be captors. The live one was scanning the edge on the inlet, sword and shield now out.
Catryn heard the running steps before the blurry figure shot past. The blur was unseen by the other guard as they swung onto the guard’s back, pulled out a dagger, and stabbed the guard in the chest.
“We were in the right place at the right time for you, yeah?”
The soft, deep voice startled her. A tall and wiry man had just – appeared by her side. She hadn’t even heard him walk up. A low grumbling came from her left; a massive black wolf had her in its sights.
“Rolphe, calm,” the man said. Once the wolf stopped its growling, the man turned to look down at her. “You looked like you were in distress, and I can’t pass by a damsel in distress.”
Something in her gut ached, and Catryn realized she had been just a damsel who was in distress. Not even brave enough to make a dash to the inlet.
“I was. A damsel in distress.”
The man smirked at her. “Sounds like you are ready to change that.”
“Good. Let me introduce myself. I’m Galeran, and these merry jesters make up the rest of my band of assassins.”