Lauren and her sisters were on the open sea, waiting for the arrival of the schooner their father’s seagull had sighted. Camilla practiced showing off the bangles on her wrists, plundered from the last ship they’d downed. Bonnie wore a tiara with a large green jewel in the center, sparkling in the sunlight. Amanda was the youngest. She was decked out in multiple gold chains, a wide jeweled band around her forehead and a pearl snood, which she didn’t know how to wear, so it was hanging off the side of her head.
The onslaught of direct sunlight and its reflection bouncing off the waves and jewelry made Lauren’s hangover doubly painful. She closed her eyes and lay back in the water, lazily flipping her tail to keep herself afloat.
“Your hair is going to be all slimy,” Amanda noted. Lauren covered her ears, but Amanda continued in inescapable Sirenese, “No one wants a fishy looking sea creature.”
The words dove under the waves and penetrated Lauren’s aching head. She lifted it out of the water to give her sister a miserable glare.
“Who taught you that?”
Amanda looked at Camilla, whose attention was suddenly absorbed in a hangnail.
“Camilla, why would you teach her Sirenese before she’s completed her training?”
“Hmmm?” Camilla’s irrepressible grin belied her feigned innocence.
“Ugh.” Lauren pumped her tail to distance herself from the pack. There had better be rum.
“Aren’t you going to put anything on at all?” Amanda called. “Not even a bracelet?”
“Leave her be,” Bonnie said drily. “She gets it done.”
The schooner arrived well before sunset, to Amanda’s delight since she was counting on dazzling in her gold finery. The first sailor to see them was young, about her age. She glowed with pride when he pointed her out first.
“Captain!, Hoy! Fish-girls in the sea!” he shouted, leaning so far out of the crowsnest he almost fell out of it. Amanda felt a rush of power.
The boy scrambled down, as the other older sailors shouted insults and jeers at him. But one sauntered over the bough to take a look, and did a satisfying doubletake when he spied Bonnie, then Camilla. Camilla lay back in the water to give him a good view of her naked torso, pushing her hair behind her shoulders to further bare her skin, while staring unflinchingly at him, one eyebrow cocked.
“Oh my…” he began, unable to finish the thought.
His pals soon joined him, gawking at the four mermaids flaunting their beauty in the full light of day.
Amanda ruined it a little by trying to sing, but Lauren flipped her tail to splash a faceful of seawater that shut Amanda up in a fit of coughs. Lauren was the strongest swimmer and was well away by the time Amanda recovered. She made it to the ship on the side where the nets were hanging and called up to the men.
“Do you permit guests to board?”
Her voice should have been inaudible, but every man on deck heard and felt compelled to rush to the side. Bonnie and Camilla knew they were left behind, but couldn’t help admiring their sister. She just had the magic.
Four of the men lowered a net so they could raise her up and lift her over the side of the deck. The rest crowded around, pushing to see her. Although she lay in a relatively undignified state on the deck, her low murmur held them in reverence.
“Do you gentlemen have any grog? You’d be surprised how thirsty one can get in all that water.” she leveled this at the tallest of the group, who had a handsome pair of calves.
“I’d be honored to share my ration with you, miss,” he said with an awkward bow.
“As would I!”
“Mine’s right here!”
She thanked the tall one and took his flask, draining it in a few swallows. She handed it back, asking “Who’s next?”
Several flasks appeared for her selection. She took the largest one from a chubby, curly headed man with flushed, pock-marked cheeks.
“Aren’t you a treasure,” she said in her low voice. He beamed as she finished off his ration.
Things were looking up now. She felt her headache melt away with the heat of the rum.
“Anyone here enjoy a game of chance?” she asked.
“I do,” an imposing voice broke through the ranks accompanied by the sound of steel unsheathed from a scabbard.
The men parted to let a uniformed officer step forward. He held his sword at ready, but looked away from her as he spoke.
“I like my chances better with my friend here.”
“Are you afraid to look upon me sir?” she goaded him. But he was a student of the lore, and knew he and his crew were in grave danger if he allowed himself to look.
It took a great amount of resolve to keep his eyes averted. Every word that she uttered caused his blood to migrate toward her. But he was a brave and stalwart captain.
“Gentlemen, mates, I believe our guest would like a tribute. Please deposit your valuables, earrings, chains, wedding bands and purses. We can do this peaceably, and I’d like to save your wretched lives along with mine, at least today.”
He sent the cabin boy to his chambers to fetch his lockbox.
“You’ve been lucky today, madame. We’ve just come back from a successful trade, and have more than enough to satisfy your elegant taste. I would only ask that you accept our grateful gift, and allow our ship to pass unharmed.”
Lauren had been looking forward to a night playing with the sailors, hearing some music and learning new card games, but she was also pleasantly drunk, and found she didn’t care much either way.
She beckoned the curly headed man to her side. “Lift me up so I can speak to my sisters.”
He did as she asked and she called out to them, “We have a voluntary tribute, shall we let pass?”
Camilla pouted a little, as she always enjoyed when the drowning sailors clung to her, but there was no denying the expedience of this take if they were just going to hand it over. She and Bonnie nodded to each other. The deal was on.
“Get something to put it in, it’s a pain to go chasing for it,” Bonnie called out.
The captain heard this and offered his lockbox.
Lauren was draped across the tall sailor, negotiating the trip back over the side while simultaneously pressing against him teasingly. The captain had just secured her in the net with the lockbox and they were lowering her down when the sound of Amanda’s singing came at full volume.
The men dropped the nets and Lauren plunged into the water. The lockbox tumbled in, disbursing its contents into the murky depths. Amanda’s siren song swirled around their heads and the men became crazed.
The captain was the first to lose his mind. He ran through the first mate with his sword. Fights broke out amongst the other sailors. The cabin mate jumped into the sea, holding his ears. More sailors jumped overboard. Camilla made for them. She caught the first one as he was thrashing, and she trained her eyes on him, calming him. He grasped her tightly, a stupefied smile on his face as he sank under the water.
Bonnie surveyed the mess a moment, then dove after the contents of the lockbox.
Lauren lay in the net, drunk and uncaring. She would figure out how to disentangle herself tomorrow. And Amanda, she was going to have to do something about that one.
Image: The Mermaid’s Rock – Edward Matthew Hale (1894).
Fair use / public domain Wikimedia Commons