Stumpy the Mermaid Slayer | Teen Ink

Stumpy the Mermaid Slayer

June 15, 2018
By emilyneufeld, Niagara Falls, Ontario
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emilyneufeld, Niagara Falls, Ontario
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Favorite Quote:
"Hope will never be silent." -Harvey Milk

The air was crisp and the crew was much more rowdy than normal. Nicolas watched out the porthole as the sun sank below the water level and the sky fell into darkness. He was always fascinated by this particular time of day, which was one of the many things the other lads enjoyed teasing him about.

“Aye, Stumpy!” one of the men yelled, swaying in Nico’s direction. His acrid breath was heavily laden with booze.

He barely paid Pete any attention, finding the glimmering stars to be more interesting.

“You’ve had a snootful! You should go sleep it off,” Nicolas suggested.

“Nay, mate!” Pete was relentless. “You just need a drink, aye, that’ll cheer ya right up!”

Nico shook his head and trailed his fingers along the bottom of the porthole before standing up to face the deck.

“I’m fine. I think I’ll go catch some sleep before midnight. Gotta keep my energy up so I don’t get left behind.”

Pete grabbed at Nico as he tried to slip down the hallway on the right.

If he followed it all the way down he would end up in the Captain’s quarters, but the secret hatch in the floorboards led to the bunkers below deck.

“Yer in my crew tonight, Stumpy. It’d do ya some good to keep up.”

Nico shrunk away from Pete’s damp palm and continued on down the hall.

“He’s just a bitter old salt,” he muttered to himself, almost tripping over the hidden door.

When Nico first went below deck after joining the crew, the bunker made him feel claustrophobic, but now it was his sanctuary. The soft yellow glow of the lantern on the wall reminded him of his childhood home, but the constant sound of dripping shattered the illusion. He was on a ship, not at his mother’s.

It was the biggest ship Nico had ever set eyes on. The most revered, too. The Midnight Pearl was grandiose, even though it desperately needed to be cleaned.

His bunk was at the very back of the room, beside the porthole. The other lads - despite their flaws - were kind enough to let him have the view he craved, but Nico often wondered if it was through kindness or pure pity that the crew treated him.

After all, he was the newest person on the Midnight Pearl. And he only had one leg. He was a waste of a man according to everyone back at home, but out here on the water, Nicolas was a respected member of the crew.

He climbed into his hammock with ease, having already mastered the movements needed to accommodate his large frame into such a cramped space. It rocked slightly until he steadied his palm against the slime-covered wall below the porthole, but the motion didn’t bother him.

In the semi-darkness, his concerns about the evening floated through his mind. It wasn’t because of the crew, or because of the amount of booze they were currently drinking. He was confident in his own abilities too. He had trained the crew well, at Captain Alday’s request, earning him the title “the mermaid slayer”.

It was just a feeling he had. Or maybe it was the date.

May 21st, 1547.

The day his mother had died a few years before.

The day he met Captain James Alday.

The last day he stood on two feet. Two legs, rather.

Captain Alday was well-known in town but the rumours didn’t even come close to describing him. He was worn-down and shaky, and when he asked Nico to join his crew, it was far too risky to refuse. There was nothing left for Nicolas on land anyway.

His mother would have been so angry. Nico was almost glad that she would never find out.

Heavy footsteps made Nico’s eyes flicker and he jolted awake a moment later.

“I tell ya, the mer won’t be expecting us tonight,” the booming voice of Martin chortled on the other side of the room.

“Won’t be expecting us, I’m sure.” The second voice wasn’t as loud and Nico recognized it as Oliver, a man who joined the crew just before he did.

Nico sat up unsteadily and messed with his hair, then turned towards the voices.

Most of the crew poked fun at the mermaids but weren’t smarter than a mouse themselves.

“With a plan like ours, ha! They ‘ave no chance. Pathetic creatures. It’s a service that we’re doing for ‘em.”

The merfolk had been discovered a few years back when a sailing master mistook a mermaid for a shark and sent his crew into a frenzy.

Upon killing the beast, they realized that it was not a sea monster, but a beautiful woman with scales covering her body and a long tail in the place of legs. The Captain of that ship sold the body to a wealthy man, who called it a woman of the sea, or a mermaid.

Many rumours claimed that the scales of the merfolk held healing powers and had in fact saved the wealthy man’s wife months after being discovered.

A few other pirate crews, having heard news of this, took up the challenge of capturing the mer and collecting their scales. There was quite the market for them on land but it was said to be a dangerous task, and the land dwellers left the work to the pirates, offering copious amounts of money in turn.

“Aye, what’chu you doing there?” Martin said loudly. “Come an’ join us if ya want.”

Nico smirked and stood up unsteadily, gripping the edge of his hammock as he tried to get his balance.

“I have a good feeling about tonight lads,” he said, walking over to them stiffly and resting his weight on his left leg.

Oliver nodded. He was a mousey looking man, with thin graying hair and a long list of crimes behind his name.

“I heard there’s treasure too,” Oliver added, glancing out at the sea through the porthole. “These mer are collectors, according to the Cap’n. I heard him saying that.”

Martin grinned, one golden tooth catching the light. Nico thought he looked very manic in that moment but kept this notion to himself.

“Aye, treasure is what I’m here for! Gold and scales, that’s all,” Martin said, one lip curling up in a twisted smirk.

Shouting above deck caught Nico’s attention and he started toward the narrow stairs leading to the hidden hatch. It was the only way up from the bunkers so just one person could get up or down at a time.

He stumbled to his feet and grabbed the wall with one hand to steady himself. With his other hand he pulled his cutlass out from the scabbard around his waist. He kept the point facing the ground and stridden out onto the deck.

It was chaotic. A few crew members were scuffling and the flash of a nearby dagger temporarily distracted Nico. In the centre of it all was Captain Alday and a frightened looking powder monkey. The Captain’s sword was drawn on the young boy as he was shouting orders.

“Throw him overboard! Throw him overboard!”

Nico knew better than to ask what happened or what the boy did, so he pushed the thoughts to the back of his mind.

After the fights broke up, the crew dispersed fairly quick and started making preparations for the merfolk ambush. It was never easy to capture the mer, even though the pirates had nearly mastered the art; it was still best to be prepared for anything.

Nico sat with his back to the ship’s outer wall and his leg outstretched. The cutlass was back in its scabbard and he was ready for the night.

What felt like hours later but could have easily been only minutes, the quartermaster announced that they had reached the cove. The high tide would make for an easier ambush.

The crew disembarked from the Midnight Pearl and ventured into the cove, with the men holding lanterns leading the way, and Captain Alday just behind them with his cutlass drawn.

Nico shivered as the dampness of the cove sank into his skin. His eyesight was weak - as it was on the best of days - and even the fiery glow of lanterns did not help. It was a good thing he was not a scout.

“Here!” Oliver, who was near the front of the crew, announced. “Over here!”

Nico could hear the faint but charming song of the merfolk as they neared the water’s edge.

As the water rippled over the rocky shore, the crew spread out, carefully avoiding any hidden dangers. Nico shifted the cutlass in his hand and looked around cautiously until something caught his eye.

Beside a large rock on the ground was something small and shiny.

Nicolas got closer to it, his curiosity making him feel temporarily compelled to pick it up, so he did.

It was smooth in Nico’s rough palm, and it shone brilliantly, even in the dim light. He tilted his hand slightly to one side, then the other, and watched as it rolled across his dirt-encrusted skin.

It was a pearl. He smiled, shoving it into his pocket and heading back towards the opening. He could only see a few of his crew members at this point and knew from the hideous shrieks that the ambush was going well.

“Who are you?” Amidst the cacophony, the voice was high and sweet, catching Nicolas off guard. He nearly panicked at the disembodied voice, until he noticed a mess of blonde curls attached to a striking body laying on a large rock nearby. It was tall enough that she wasn’t immediately noticed by the invading pirates.

When Nico did not immediately answer her question, she repeated it. He took a step closer slowly and looked up at her.

“I am Nicolas,” he said finally, once he could see the woman clearly. The deep emerald scales that covered her body, except in a few pink patches, were iridescent. The puckered pink skin that showed in some spots of her body contrasted grotesquely, but Nico was intrigued.

“What are you called?” he asked, taking in the delicate features of her face.

“Euphemia, of the Cynn Clan,” replied the mermaid.

“What does that mean?”

“It means fair voice.”

“A fitting name,” Nico said.

When she laughed, it sounded like babbling water, and Nico was utterly entranced. The gills on either side of Euphemia’s elegant neck fluttered, then settled, and the mermaid smiled.

It was a smile Nico had not seen for a while, but he recognized it immediately. Euphemia’s smile was filled with sadness and barely concealed the underlying pain. It reminded him of his mother.

“Thank you Nicolas, winner of the people.” The mermaid paused and studied him, making Nico shiver under her intense stare.

She cocked her head slightly and her thick blonde curls tumbled over her shoulder.

“Tell me,” she said, melodic voice wrapping around Nico and pulling him in. “Do you live up to your name?”

He’d never thought about it before.

“I try my best,” he answered.

That was when he realized what he was doing. He was supposed to help kill mermaids, not make conversation with them.

“And your best is enough?” Euphemia asked.

Nico stared hard at her for a long minute. Then he raised his cutlass.

“You’re playing mind games with me so that I won’t kill you,” he said, pointing the tip at the centre of her chest.

Something flashed across her face but was gone before Nico could fully figure out what it meant. She inched closer to the edge of the rock and stayed silent.

“Is that how you got away before?” he demanded, motioning at the scar tissue on her tail.

Euphemia brushed a webbed hand across the skin gently, pulling away with a hiss.

“I had no choice,” she said, voice softer than before.

Her aquamarine eyes glittered as she moved her gaze down to Nico’s wooden leg, as if noticing it for the first time.

Nicolas looked down too, shifting his weight from the prosthetic to his left leg. Putting too much pressure on the wood always made him uncomfortable after a while.

“It happened in a fight,” he lied easily. “The ship got invaded and the whole deck was in chaos. One of the other pirates got me from behind.”

The mermaid’s green-tinged lips turned up.

“At least merfolk don’t turn on each other,” she replied, running her hands through her hair. Her body arched unnaturally as she dived off the rock into the water and resurfaced a few feet in front of Nico.

He snorted a laugh.

“My crewmates call me Stumpy because they think it’s funny,” he added. “It gets a bit tiresome after a while.”

“Pirates are cruel,” Euphemia said.

Nico froze, wondering what he was doing. After all, he was talking to a mermaid! She was probably trying to trick him.

He knew he should just kill her but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

Even though she was a completely different species, he saw himself in her. They were both missing a part of them that couldn’t be replaced or fixed.

“I need your scales,” Nico replied dully. It was his only way out.

Euphemia sneered, anger colouring her face.

“You can’t have them!” she snapped. “I would lose more than you would gain.”

Nico stepped closer, feeling a surge of confidence.

“The scales of the merfolk are worth more than you think. Humanity needs them more than you ever will.”

The water around the mermaid swelled up slightly as a wave ran through the cove. Beyond the cover of the rock, rain soaked the shoreline and the wind howled.

“Do you know what happens when scales are removed from merfolk?” Euphemia asked, eyes narrowed.

Nico didn’t answer. He didn’t think much of the merfolk, and certainly did not know the answer to this question.

The patchy green tail shot up through the water, drenching his white tunic with the spray.

“A mermaid’s wounds never fully heal!” she exclaimed loudly. “They become pale and scarred, and the pain is eternal.”

Nico thought of his leg and how it would feel to have a constant ache where it ended at the knee. His occasional flaring pain seemed irrelevant in comparison.

He opened his mouth to reply but the cove had gone eerily silent. The screams and cries of the mer had stopped, as had the fighting. Nico dared to look away from Euphemia and took in the state of the beach. There were ribbons of red in the water.

Then the noise returned in the form of jovial conversation. As the crew made their way back out of the cove, scales filling their satchels, the chatter grew louder. Panic flared in Nico’s chest as he realized what this meant.

“I have to go,” he whispered urgently, one hand tapping against his prosthetic leg.

The mermaid scoffed and flicked her tail once more.

“We will meet again,” she said, and then she was gone.

Nico stood still for a moment, gazing out at the flat water, before he rejoined the crew.

The next day on the ship, Captain Alday announced that they would be docking in Chale Bay in two week’s time. The pirates gathered on the deck that evening and told wild tales of previous ambushes to celebrate the success of the night. A few of the drunk pirates broke out in song and even though it was a jolly time, Nico didn’t stay for very long. He couldn’t stop thinking about the mermaid he had spoken with.

That night he lay awake in his hammock with his arms crossed behind his head. The room was filled with loud snoring and someone was even mumbling in his sleep, but Nico swore he could hear singing. The haunting melody of the song of the merfolk was being crooned by a sweet voice.

Nico turned his head to the side and stared out the porthole. The view was darker than normal and he knew that a storm must be coming soon.

Eventually, the rocking of the ship began to lull Nico to sleep. His eyes were almost shut when a face appeared in front of him and he flinched awake, nearly hitting his head against the ceiling.

The face was pressed close to the glass and Nico had a full view of the mermaid’s sharp teeth. She raised a hand in greeting as he tried not to ogle at the jade green fin on her forearm. It was her eyes that he recognized, aquamarine and unusually round. Euphemia smiled, then pointed up.

He nodded slightly, slipping out his hammock as quietly as he could with the heavy wooden prosthetic. When he glanced back, only water could be seen through the porthole.

Nico pussyfooted through the bunker and up the stairs. Once he’d made it down the hallway, far away from any crew members who might still be awake, he peeked over the edge into the swirling water below.

“Euphemia?” he whispered, waiting to catch a glimpse of the mermaid.

He only had to wait a minute until a head popped out of the water, devilish grin on her face.

“Well hello,” she said.

“You have a lot of guts coming here,” he replied, shaking his head.

The mermaid laughed, reaching up to push her wet hair out of her face.

“I said we would meet again.”

They talked until the sky began to lighten. Nico crept back into the bunkers with a smile on his face, only getting in a few short hours of sleep that night. Even though Nico was tired during the day, he felt that it was worth it.

The next night, Nico was above deck waiting for Euphemia when she appeared. This became a regular occurrence as their friendship blossomed. Nico would ask about the merfolk culture and she would ask about life on land. The more Euphemia learned about humans, the more passionate her distaste grew for the land dwellers, and they would argue until he changed the subject.

Nico felt connected to her in a way he wasn’t with other pirates, or the villagers.

One week had passed since the Midnight Pearl set sail for Chale Bay and the weather was getting worse by the minute. They were only a day behind schedule, and Captain Alday was pleased with the progress they were making.

The crew was telling stories again and Nico joined in, speaking of horrors that did not really exist. He even acted out the first time he slayed a mermaid, much to the enjoyment of the men.

That night, Euphemia teased him about his stories. She said she’d been listening during the day and found his tales rather amusing.

“I doubt that was real,” she smirked, tossing her dripping hair back.

“Oh, it was,” he chuckled in reply.

The mermaid shook her head.

“You really expect me to believe that there’s a buried treasure in Fortuneswell?”

Nico laughed, throwing his hands up.

“That’s what the legends say!” he exclaimed. “Apparently it’s by the Cove House Inn.”

“Where did you hear this?” Euphemia asked, and Nico could tell she still didn’t believe him.

“My mother told me,” he replied.

Their light-hearted conversation was interrupted by a gruff voice.

“Who’s out there?” someone called.

Nico’s heart was pounding against his ribcage at the thought of another pirate finding them together. A mermaid and a pirate were not meant to be friends, no matter how similar they may be.

The deck was flooded by soft yellow light a moment later.

“I heard voices,” the man continued. As he got closer, Nico realized it was Oliver.

With a panicked look at the mermaid, Nico took a step away from the outer wall of the ship.

“It’s just me,” he replied slowly, hoping that Oliver wouldn’t get any closer.

Euphemia motioned for him to keep talking and distract the other pirate.

“Stumpy? Who’re you talking to so late?” Oliver asked, eyes scanning the area for a possible explanation.

“Just myself,” Nicolas lied. “I couldn’t sleep.”

When Oliver was close enough, he glanced into the dark water, then froze as he noticed the dark green scales and blonde hair floating beside the ship.

“That ain’t a fish,” he said, eyes wide.

Knowing he’d been caught, Nico shook his head.

“A mermaid... Were you talking to it?”

There was no use in denying it.

“Her name’s Euphemia,” he said.

The minute Nico said her name, the mermaid dived back into the water and didn’t resurface. She saved herself, much as she had the last time her life was in danger.

Oliver escorted Nico to the brig, locking the thick metal padlock with a promise to discuss his fate in the morning.

Nico couldn’t sleep after that.

Befriending the enemy meant certain death, and the possibility of a trial made him uneasy. With no way to pass the time, he stared mournfully out the barred porthole at the steadily lightening ocean beyond.

It was midday by the time Captain Alday came to speak with him. The sun was high in the clouds and Nico wanted nothing more than to soak it in.

“A mermaid?” Captain Alday said instead of a greeting. “I didn’t expect that from you.”

“She was like me,” Nico replied softly. With a trembling hand, he gripped onto the metal bars separating them.

Captain Alday shook his head and gave him a disappointed look.

“When we reach land, there will be a trial and you will be executed for your offence.”

Nico nodded. There was nothing else to say.

He knew that they were still a week away from Chale Bay so he would have enough time to plan an escape. Even with one leg, he was still a pirate.

Nico counted the days judging by the sun’s position and hoped that his plans would work.

There were only four days of their journey left when the storm hit. With his limited view outside, Nico watched as dark clouds rolled in and the waves began to crash violently against the side of the ship. The constant rocking was no longer comforting.

The sun was still high when the yelling began. There was panic above deck and Nico longed to know why. A loud snap tore through the air, seeming to echo through the empty room. It was followed by several smaller cracks. The ship was at the mercy of the waves.

Nico couldn’t tell what had happened from his position under the porthole. He stood up slowly, one hand against the wall to support his weight. The shouting grew louder. Wind howled as the rain pounded against the deck. Someone was cursing rather creatively louder than the rest of the crew.

The thick metal bars of the prison pressed against Nicolas’ ribs. He had one arm stuck between the bars as he tried in vain to unlock the heavy padlock that was keeping him separate from the rest of the ship. Nico wished for a moment that his fingernails were as sharp as the merfolk and knew his efforts were hopeless.

“Help!” he cried, hoping that someone might hear him and take pity.

As water began to trickle slowly into the brig, the ship tilted, throwing Nicolas against one wall of his cage. Nobody was going to come and unlock the door for him.

With as much strength as he could muster, Nicolas grabbed onto the edge of the porthole and attempted to wrench it open, but it was no use. He was stuck.

The water splashed up the walls as it flooded the room until the walls split open from the force. The ship had not been built to withstand the weight of the water and cracked at the seams.

The room was on its side, with Nico clutching the porthole to stay afloat. His prosthetic was useless in the water. Tilted, the brig filled with water much faster than before, evaporating all hope Nico had of rescue from his crewmates.

Water filled Nicolas’ lungs and he had a sudden thought that Euphemia might save him. She could swim up to him and bring him to land. He imagined she would laugh if he had the chance to tell her that.

Black spots invaded his vision as the water took him. The last thing he heard was a sweet voice singing the song of the merfolk.

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