Authors: Leigh Michael
Rather I should say, lack of knowledge.
As the prince, the person of authority, Adrian took the lead. “I was going to propose we head back to Tritonis to discuss with the Elders, but we’re closer to the Mami Wata. Let’s head there first. Perhaps Miriam will be able to help us.”
“She’s the Queen of Mamadjo, where the Mami Wata merfolk live.”
Nodding, I looked at the others to gauge their reactions to this idea. I took their silence as a positive one.
It felt good knowing we had a new course of action and a small weight lifted from my shoulders. I itched to move again⎯not only to distance us further from the Trackers but also to move closer to the fulfillment of the prophecy.
Based on Clemente’s knowledge of our current location, our travels consisted of a straight path across the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean. Right into the waters along the coast of Nigeria.
In just a few hours, we could be knocking on the Mami Wata's door with the help of the jet streams. The guys weren’t too keen on that game plan though.
Shamus barked. Clemente clicked.
In the end, we decided the jet streams were a risky approach. Our plan B would take a little longer, but in the end, it’d be safer.
Safe sounded better.
So instead we wrangled a hippocampus for Adrian and me. My arms found their way around Adrian seamlessly. I pressed my cheek against the back of his armor and tried to hide a grin. No one knew we shared a kiss or that I reveled in this closeness to him.
As we journeyed across the ocean, my security concerned the boys. Like before, they sandwiched me in the middle of their formation.
The extra time Plan B took also provided the opportunity to trade war stories from our encounters in the caves.
The last time I saw Shamus he laid lifeless on the ground. It was his first mission as a Guardian. Like so many others, it was a title passed from father to son. Thing was, the greenness of Shamus caused the Elders to doubt him. However, their hands were tied. From training, Shamus had proved himself to be worthy.
In addition, his father was a decorated member of the Guardians⎯one whose deteriorated health kept him bed ridden. Because he no longer served, his insistence for his son’s inclusion didn't waiver. In the end, the Elders initiated Shamus into the intimate pack assigned to our mission.
While trapped in the dungeons, it was a mission that Shamus believed to be over before it even began.
“I’m not really sure what happened,” Shamus barked, Adrian translated. “The details are still a bit fuzzy. One second I remember fighting. The next, I was locked up.”
It sounded similar to my own blackout story; except mine included the reveal of my ex-boyfriend’s true colors as well.
“Natasha and I tried to find a way out,” he continued. “It was hopeless. The bars were solid, there were no windows, no cracks in the wall… nothing.”
My head tilted as I chimed in. “What about those bracelet things?”
Barks bombarded my ears.
“He said they were never outfitted,” Adrian added. “The coins distracted the Trackers, along with our capture. After the Trackers haphazardly tossed Shamus and Natasha into their cells, they rushed off, not looking back once. To quote Shamus, ‘we were just pesky rodents who didn’t garner a second look.’”
“It was a blessing from Tykhe.”
Adrian smiled back at me. “It was.”
He then translated once more, trying to keep Shamus dialect intact. “Aye, we were at our wits end when ya’ll burst in.”
I ran a hand over Shamus smooth back. “Happy to help.”
Clemente on the other hand, had a different story to tell. His started long ago. Like Shamus’ father, he was a hero amongst the sprites. Although, his devotion centered on the protection of the nixies and merfolk who ventured away from their homes. This decision left him as a nomad without a family of his own. But over the past few years, Clemente spent increasingly more time in Tritonis. Here, Shamus was taken under his wings to pick up where Shamus’ own father left off. It wasn’t a well-known sentiment, but Clemente looked at Shamus like the son he never had. It was an emotion he masked behind a well-trained façade.
While he stood guard outside the cave, his mask cracked. He, too, thought Shamus a skilled warrior more than capable of holding his own, but he couldn’t help fear for the safety of his protégé. In a rare moment of weakness, the Trackers surprised Clemente, rendering him useless inside a net.
Nets, as their amount of use evidenced, were a tried and trued way to entrap underwater. Their mistake, though, was to leave Clemente unattended while they rushed inside to ambush us.
Generally when a dolphin came to be trapped in a fishing net, it was unable to break the surface to breathe, leading to suffocation. Some kinds of dolphins are able to stay underwater for about an hour, but for some, it can be as little as ten minutes.
Clemente, as an encantado, was able to survive a lot longer. And in places like Tritonis, pockets of air provided access to breathe, much like charging stations.
Having this extra time allowed Clemente to maneuver himself to a rock formation with jagged edges. Fortunately the rope frayed and he eventually escaped.
But by the time he freed himself, Adrian and I were long gone. In fact, he neared the mouth of the cave at the same time the Trackers first dragged out Natasha kicking and screaming, then the unmoving body of Shamus.
His instincts told him to attack. He saw the gash across Shamus’ head that reddened the surrounding water. Aggression toward the Trackers rippled through his body at the sight.
His training told him to hold back. He knew anger that fueled hasty actions would lead to his capture or, worse, his death. The decision he ultimately made was one that many wouldn’t have been strong enough to make. Years of experience allowed him to push aside his emotions as he watched the Trackers haul his son away.
It was because of this resolve that Clemente turned the tables and tracked the Trackers. Until then, the Guardians had never found the location of the Tracker’s town. Some say because they didn’t stay in one place too long.
In fact, after the boys thought about it, they couldn't pinpoint a name for the town. It was just understood that it was a place you wanted to avoid—at all costs. Compared to Tritonis, it held a completely different vibe.
From my time there, I thought of Tritonis as prosperous and robust. It was nearly impossible for the energy from the hustle and bustle of the sprites not to be felt. I deemed it a place where I considered myself to be safe. In the short time I spent there, it became somewhat of a home.
On the other hand, the Tracker’s dominion seemed drab, almost darker. In the few minutes it took us to escape, we saw a barrage of run-down, loosely constructed homes and surprisingly enough, no other merfolk.
Being back in the open water was a relief. My body felt lighter, my arms looser with each stroke that distanced us from the Trackers’ home.
In the end, our trip across the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean went smoothly. No Tracker attacks. No megalodon attacks. No threat of humans.
In no time at all, we slowed near the entrance to Mamadjo. Clemente broke off from our group first to approach the trapdoor. He looked around, waiting to see if the guards of Mamadjo would appear to question him, but there weren’t any movements besides our own. Then, he signaled for us to join him.
Once the four of us reached the sand, we all looked around then back at each other.
That was when four swords suddenly pressed stiffly against each of our throats. My body went equally as stiff.
My eyes immediately darted in the direction of Adrian. He was off to my side and I strained to see him.
The fear of turning my head kept me solid in place. Still, as I heard Adrian’s voice, the memory of his face clouded my vision. “What are you doing?! I am the Prince of Tritonis. You're going to want to take your hands off us.”
His words reached my ears, dripping with his threat. Though Adrian and his grandmother didn’t generally rule with fear, they weren’t above it.
The merman holding the knives only offered silence.
Then, the attacker who grasped Clemente motioned to another with a slight nod of his head. The fact that Clemente was straight in front of me provided a clear view of their non-verbal communications.
A moment later, they led us closer to the trapdoor. With a stomp of the merman’s tail, the door opened to reveal a glimpse into the world below.
Only moments ago, the thought that the Trackers had intercepted us created my initial fear. Now it became clear that the mermen weren’t Trackers—they were Mami Wata.
This realization only confused me further. In all of Adrian’s accounts, the Tritons considered the Mami Wata as allies. They were friends. It explained how we knew the location of Mamadjo. A town’s trapdoor wasn't information freely passed around.
While I grappled with my thoughts, the mermen ushered us toward the entrance. As the guards thrust us through the entryway, the fear of the blade at my throat kept every muscle in my body tight.
Even with this panic, a new emotion crept its way deep inside my being. Blade or no blade, I couldn’t help but notice the glamour of Mamadjo.
I was in awe.
Every last inch of the city dripped with jewels, sea rocks, and corals. Basically anything shiny or colorful had been draped across the buildings, lined the streets, hung from signs, and covered the expansive grounds.
Just like in Tritonis, as we swam across the town, merpeople stopped and stared. But this time as they cleared a path for us, they looked unsure and weary of our presence, giving us a wide berth. We were criminals being escorted through their hometown.
Finally, we stopped in front of a palace. A near replica of Adrian’s in Tritonis, except this one glistened in the light of the corals. The sparkling nature of the sunstone brought out popping hues of orange and green.
Days ago, Adrian had mentioned it, but his words didn’t do the palace justice. The ancient Greeks believed this type of stone helped invigorate the body through renewed strength and health. The Tritons were honored to offer this gift of Heliolite to their friends. It was their wish that the Sun God, Helios, would offer them prosperity.
Now a day, some revered sunstone as an alternative approach for relief of stress and anxiety. As my teeth bit down again on my bottom lip, I trapped those emotions inside.
The merman’s grip on my arm tightened like a tourniquet. The pulsing of blood throbbed where each of his fingers dug into my skin. My ears flooded with a pounding sensation, leaving me lightheaded. What made it worse was that I led the pack. I couldn’t see Adrian, Clemente, or Shamus.
As we hovered in front of the palace, one of the guards shifted, bringing Clemente into my line of vision again. Seeing him helped to clear the cobwebs from my brain. Although, the stiffness of his body didn’t help to ease my nerves. His tail normally moved up and down, even when he remained in the same spot within the water, but not now. My teeth dug further into my lip.
I could sense the eyes of the Mami Wata on us. Not just of the guards, either. The townspeople also gathered at a distance, waiting to see who we were, why we were here, and if there would be any excitement.
Helpless, I forced my eyes sideways in hopes of making eye contact with Adrian, but he was still outside of my peripheral vision. I sensed he was behind me, but there wasn't a way to tell. If he was, I couldn't understand why he hadn’t spoken another word, defended us, done something.
Taking a deep breath, I wanted to take matters into my own hands, to try and reason with the Mami Wata. We weren’t enemies. We didn’t mean them any harm.
However, one look at Clemente silenced me. With a deliberate shake of his head, my lips pressed tightly together. I soon saw why he wished for me to stay quiet. The huge drawbridge door lowered little by little.
It was a grand entrance, a very slow grand entrance. I strained my neck to see what would be revealed. Rather, who'd be revealed. As the door descended, the view of a mermaid came into view.
She looked statuesque, the height of a runway model with hair as black as coal, hanging straight to her waist. Milk chocolate was the best way to describe the tone of her skin. She could’ve been molded from porcelain and didn’t possess a single flaw on her chiseled face.
Looking again at Clemente, I lipped “Miriam?”
Nodding back at me, the tension lifted slightly from my body. My shoulders relaxed, causing my guard’s hand to tighten on his knife. From what I’d heard, Miriam was known for being kind and gentle.
Her flowy, white dress contrasted perfectly with the darkness of her skin. The delicate nature and symmetry of her face opposed her attire. Strings of pearls, bangles, gems and jewels, and peach sea flowers masked nearly every inch of the white.
An outburst of unrecognizable words greeted Miriam as she distanced herself from the palace and glided closer to us. I wasn’t sure of the dialect that was used in this area surrounding Africa, but there was no way to mistake the underlying tone of it. Our attackers weren’t fans of us.
Miriam raised her hands to silence them. As if she had control of their vocal chords, their voices instantly cut off. Then with a wave, she gestured for the guards to step aside.
Not skipping a beat, I swam two strokes forward then threw my body around to look for Adrian. My newfound freedom felt wonderful. Having a blade to my throat wasn’t on my list of top-ten favorite things. It also felt good to have blood coursing through the veins in my arm once more. The outline of his fingertips on my skin was something that would act as a reminder of our arrival for the coming days.
I exhaled at the sight of Adrian's face. Just looking at him caused the knot in my stomach to untwist.
He kept his gaze on mine, inspecting my face for signs that I was okay. Then, he spoke, “Miriam, this is unacceptable. My friends and I shouldn't be treated with this disrespect.”