This is how the golden age of piracy ended.
The first mermaid to get tattoos 🙂
“we didn’t know any better,” the crewman says, and swallows, presenting the chest to the captain. “what do we do now?”
“kill it,” the captain says, but the ice is melting in his eyes.
“we can’t,” the first mate says desperately, praying she won’t have to fight her captain on this. “we can’t. we – i won’t. we won’t.”
“daddy,” she says, floating in a tub of seawater in the hold, “daddy, la-la, la-la-la.”
her voice rings like bells. her accent is strange; her mouth isn’t made for human words. it mesmerises even the hardiest amongst them and she wasn’t even trying. the crew has taken to diving for shellfish near the shorelines for her; she loves them, splitting the shells apart with strength seen in no human toddler, slurping down the slimy molluscs inside and laughing, all plump brown cheeks and needle-sharp teeth. she sometimes splashes them for fun with her smooth, rubbery brown tail. even when they get soaked they laugh. they love her.
“daddy,” she calls again, and he can hear the worry in her voice. the storm rocking the ship is harsh and uncaring, and if they go down, she would be the only survivor.
“don’t worry,” he says, and goes over, sitting next to the tub. the first mate, leaning against the wall, pretends not to notice as he quietly begins to sing.
“father,” she says, one day, as she leans on the edge of the dock and the captain sits next to her, “why am I here?”
“your mother abandoned you,” he says, as he always has. “we found you adrift, and couldn’t bear to leave you there.”
she picks at the salt-soaked boards, uncertain. her hair is pulled back in a fluffy black puff, the white linen holding it slipping almost over one of her dark eyes. one of her first tattoos, a many-limbed kraken, curls over her right shoulder and down her arm, delicate tendrils wrapped around her calloused fingertips. “alright,” she says.
“why am I really here?” she asks the first mate, watching the sun set over the water in streaks of liquid metal that pooled in the troughs of the waves and glittered on the seafoam.
“we didn’t know any better,” the first mate says, staring into the water. “we didn’t know- we didn’t know anything. we didn’t understand why she fought so viciously to guard her treasure. we could not know she protected something a thousand times more precious than the purest gold.”
she wants to be furious, but she can’t. she already knew the answer, from reading the guilt in her father’s eyes and the empty space in her own history. and she can’t hate her family.
“it’s alright,” she says. “i do have a family, anyways. i don’t think i would have liked my other life near as much.”
her kraken grows, spreading its tendrils over her torso and arms. she grows too, too large to come on board the ship without being hauled up in a boat from the water. she sings when the storms come and swims before the ship to guide it to safety. she fights off more than one beast of the seas, and gathers a set of scars across her back that she bears with pride. “i don’t mind,” she says, when the captain fusses over her, “now i match all of you.”
the first time their ship is threatened, really threatened, is by another fleet. a friend turned enemy of the first mate. “we shouldn’t fight him,” she says, peering through the spyglass.
“why not?” the mermaid asks.
“he’ll win,” the first mate says.
the mermaid tips her head sideways. Her eyes, dark as the deep waters, gleam in the noon light. “are you sure?” she asks.
the enemy fleet surrenders after the flagship is sunk in the night, the anchor ripped off the ship and the planks torn off the hull. the surviving crew, wild-eyed and delirious, whimper and say a sea serpent came from the water and attacked them, say it was longer than the boat and crushed it in its coils. the first mate hears this and has to hide her laughter. the captain apologizes to his daughter for doubting her.
“don’t worry,” she says, with a bright laugh, “it was fun.”
the second time, they are pushed by a storm into a royal fleet. they can’t possibly fight them, and they don’t have the time to escape.
“let me up,” the mermaid urges, surfacing starboard and shouting to the crew. “bring me up, quickly, quickly.”
they lower the boat and she piles her sinous form into it, and uses her claws to help the crew pull her up. once on the deck she flops out of the boat and makes her way over to the bow. the crew tries to help but she’s so heavy they can barely lift parts of her.
she crawls up out in front of the rail and wraps her long webbed tail around the prow. the figurehead has served them well so far but they need more right now. she wraps herself around the figurehead and raises her body up into the wind takes a breath of the stinging salt air and sings.
the storm carries her voice on its front to the royal navy. they are enchanted, so stunned by her song that they drop the rigging ropes and let the tillers drift. the pirates sail through the center of the fleet, trailing the storm behind them, and by the time the fleet has managed to regain its senses they are buried in wind and rain and the pirates are gone.
she declines guns. instead she carries a harpoon and its launcher, and uses them to board enemy ships, hauling her massive form out of the water to coil on the deck and dispatch enemies with ruthless efficiency. her family is feared across all the sea.
“you know we are dying,” the captain says, looking down at her.
she floats next to the ship, so massive she could hold it in her arms. her eyes are wise.
“i know,” she says, “i can feel it coming.”
the first mate stands next to the captain. she never had a lover or a child, and neither did he, but to the mermaid they are her parents. she will always love her daughter. the tattoos are graven in dark swirls across the mermaid’s deep brown skin and the flesh of her tail, even spiraling onto the spiked webbing on her spine and face. her hair is still tied back, this time with a sail that could not be patched one last time.
“we love you,” the first mate says simply, looking down. her own tightly coiled black hair falls in to her face; she shakes the locs out of the way and smiles through her tears. the captain pretends he isnt crying either.
“i love you too,” the mermaid says, and reached up to pull the ship down just a bit, just to hold them one last time.
“guard the ship,” the captain says. “you always have but you know they’re lost without you.”
“without you,” the mermaid corrects, with a shrug that makes waves. “what will we do?”
“i don’t know,” the captain says. “but you’ll help them, won’t you?”
“of course i will,” she scoffs, rolling her eyes. “i will always protect my family.”
the captain and the first mate are gone. the ship has a new captain, young and fearless – of the things she can afford to disregard. she fears and loves the ocean, as all captains do. she does not fear the royal fleet. and she does not fear the mermaid.
“you know, i heard stories about you when i was a little girl,” she says, trailing her fingers in the water next to the dock.
the mermaid stares at her with one eye the size of a dinner table. “is that so?” she hums, smirking with teeth sharper than the swords of the entire navy.
“they said you could sink an entire fleet and that you had skin tougher than dragon scales,” the new captain says, grinning right back at the monster who could eat her without a moment’s hesitation. “i always thought they were telling tall tales.”
“they were right,” the new captain says. “how did they ever befriend you?”
the mermaid smiles, fully this time, her dark eyes gleaming under the white linen sail. “they didn’t know any better.”
She protects her family.