Authors: Leigh Michael
Miriam’s voice rang out like a song, “My dearest, Prince Adrianus. I offer my sincere condolences. The guards were told to bring any intruders straight to me. I hope none of you have been hurt.”
He turned once more to look at me. “Annabelle, are you okay?”
“Um, yeah, I guess.”
“Annabelle!?” Miriam gasped. “The name of the ‘Second Alpha,’” she continued, bowing.
It was weird seeing a queen react this way to me. I wasn’t sure how to respond and did this awkward half-curtsy thing back.
Adrian didn't witness my response for his eyes remained glued on Miriam. "Yes, Annabelle is seeking the conch shell. She is fulfilling the prophecy.”
“My words escape me,” she said, her hand rising to her mouth. “We've heard rumors that the ‘Second Alpha’ has begun her journey, but we were unaware she would be at our doorstep.”
“I apologize for the unannounced visit. Clearly you weren’t expecting us,” he added with a sideways glance at the guards. “We were hoping you’d be able to help us.”
“Help you? But how?”
“Well, we have this…” he said, holding out the coin.
“Could it be?” Miriam whispered under her breath. “Is it the coin from the sunken chest?”
Adrian swam toward her, his hand outstretched. “It is.”
She eagerly moved to meet him, still somehow looking graceful, and extended her own hand.
By the way Miriam handled the silver you’d think it’d crumble in her grasp. Her expression was serene at first. The appearance of complete peace. Her brow then twisted.
Eventually, she spoke, “This is not what the prophecy spoke of. A flower doesn't appear on the coin.”
“That confused us as well. However, Aurelia said she overheard the Trackers talking about the New World Tropics.”
“My ears appear to deceive me. Did you just speak the name of your beloved sister?”
“There’s a lot for us to tell you.”
“Please, then. My friends, please accept my apologies and come inside.”
This time as we moved, the guards bowed.
Miriam hung on our every word as we filled her in on our trials and tribulations. She was the epitome of a captivated audience. The soft oohing, ahhing, and gasps that slipped from her lips added to our storytelling to a T.
She also explained why we had such an exciting arrival in Mamadjo. Just a few hour prior, the guards spotted Trackers lurking not too far from their trapdoor. Miriam didn’t think the Trackers had pinpointed their exact location, but when unexpected guests arrived, no chances were to be taken.
Once we were all caught up, Miriam leaned back in her chair, resting her hands softly in her lap. The look that came across her face resonated nothing but calmness. It was a complete clash from the vibrancy of the parlor in which we sat, especially the ginormous crystal chandelier that hung from the ceiling.
After gathering herself, she let her mouth fall open to speak. “My dear friends, proximity is not the reason you’ve found yourselves here in my home. I believe the spirit of Orunmila has brought you here.”
As if she read my mind, she continued, “He was a great African God. A spirit of wisdom, destiny, and prophecy.”
“So what does he want us to know?” Adrian questioned.
“Nothing less than the location of the flower that will fulfill the prophecy.”
“What?” My eyes bore into Miriam's. “Where is it?”
Miriam made this statement so matter-of-factly and with such grace. If I were the holder of this information, I’d shout it from the rooftops.
One look at Adrian’s face told me not to prod her further. His expression was so unlike the one he wore the many times he bounded into my room back in Tritonis. He somehow looked older. Following suit, I called upon my patience, clenching my hands in my own lap. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the saying “good things come to those who wait” originated from discussions with Miriam.
When she spoke again, what came from her mouth was good, very good. Also very long, but well worth the wait.
“The spirit of Orunmila didn’t just lead you here because you were nearby. He led you here for a reason.
“In fact, I must express my relief at knowing why Orunmila has visited me in my dreams with information that left me void of its purpose. Now I know it was in preparation for your arrival. He has used me as a vessel to help you fulfill your destiny.
“You see, the coin depicts dolphins surrounding Arethusa. Much like a lot of things in our histories, these animals have significance.
“The prophecy itself is Greek, so it’s fitting that the coin would also align with Greek ancestry. In particular, Poseidon—the lover of Arethusa. He oftentimes used dolphins as messengers to… how do humans refer to it... run errands. That’s why in the present day many see dolphins as the helpers of mankind.
“It’s not widely known, but Poseidon had a soft spot for Arethusa that went beyond their affair. However, Amphitrite, his wife, knew it. She was overcome with anger and grief at her husband’s conquest of yet another suitor. In response, she made a secret plea to her personal guards to dispose of her.
“Fortunately, the realization of this reached Poseidon in time and he sent dolphins to watch over his forbidden lover.
“Although, I fear it was Arethusa’s appeal to another that eventually led to her demise. Alas, I digress on the misfortune of that poor girl.”
With a slight wave of her fingertips, she continued, “Poseidon’s gift of protection surrounds Arethusa on the coin you possess. It’s representative of the protection of the sprites and mankind that a second ‘new beginning’ can provide.”
Miriam took a deep breath. A long pause followed, allowing her precious time to collect her next thought. I, on the other hand, was struggling once again with thoughts of impatience.
I saw it seep through Adrian’s face a little as well. We still had a lot ahead of us and finding the flower was crucial to getting to the trapdoor in time. Tomorrow was New Year’s Eve.
Finally, she spoke, her eyes jumping from Adrian's to mine, then back again. “Now, as I was saying, the dolphin has significance.
“There is a flower native to the New World Tropics. It has a long green stem with flat, elongated, spade-shaped leaves. The flower is no more than three inches long and is the color of the setting sun. It’s called the Columnea Billbergia from the Gesneriaceae African violet family. This is the part you’ll want to listen closely to. This flower takes on the shape of a dolphin.
“I believe this is why you were brought here. It resides along our shores on top of a great peak. And I dare say this is the flower you must recover.”
Glancing over at Adrian, I imagined my face resembled his own. It was a mixture of shock, excitement, and hopefulness.
Realizing Miriam wasn’t going to add anything more, Adrian was now ready to chime in. “Can you take us to it?”
A smile cracked her lips. “It gives me great pleasure for you to believe my old body is capable of such a thing, but no, I will not. However, Maddox will accompany you to the waters edge.”
“Great,” I said. “When can we leave?”
“Soon, my dear, soon as the light sets on the land. This great flower rises with the morning sun.”
A peek at the nearby window answered my next question. The corals only dimmed slightly, which meant morning wouldn’t be here for hours.
As my hand moved to my necklace, I tried not to visibly show my frustration, but I didn’t hide it well. With a soft look, Miriam led my arm back to my lap, keeping her hand lightly on my forearm. “There’s nothing more we can do this eve but wait. If I may, Mamadjo requests your presence at a celebration in your name. It’s the least we can do after all the sacrifices you’ve made and for those yet to come.”
“A what?” I cringed, not wanting to think about the sacrifices portion of her statement.
“A simple celebration is a tradition of ours for guests.”
Adrian cut in, sending a sympathetic look my way. “We’d be honored.”
Odd how after only a week or so, Adrian had become so in tune with what I felt. I hated being the center of attention. It wasn’t something I’d openly discussed, but Adrian innately knew this. As we followed Miriam from the room, he gently squeezed my arm and shot me a look of empathy.
Then he did the sweetest thing. His hand lowered to meet my hand, wrapping his fingers threw mine. Without hesitation, he raised the back of my hand to his lips. Just a soft brush before he brought our hands back to our sides.
It was in that moment that I realized the significance of Adrian in my life. I prayed he would never break our grasp. I needed him more than ever.
The water literally thumped as Adrian and I approached the door to where my “party” was already underway. The huge wooden doors barely muffled the ear-pounding music. I’d never been to a club before, but I imagined this is how it felt to approach a bouncer protecting the door.
Jealously toward Shamus and Clemente spiked inside me; they were off with Maddox devising a game plan for the morning⎯far, far away from whatever madness waited on the other side of this door.
Adrian and I, on the other hand, had no choice but to partake in the festivities of the Mami Wata. I wanted to disappear, to shrink to a miniature Annabelle and discreetly slip away.
I had no such luck. When we were a few feet away, two merfolk heaved the doors open in one fluid pull. My mind launched into full retreat mode at the sight in front of me. I instantly kicked backward, the only thing that kept me in place was Adrian’s hand still tightly grasped in mine.
Merfolk jam-packed the room. I mean, barely room for us to enter. Everyone’s arms flew every which direction to the beat of the music. Hips swayed, heads bounced, and tails flapped.
It was the most intimidating thing I’d ever seen⎯which was a big deal coming from the girl who squared off against a fifty-foot megalodon just yesterday.
Red poncho looking garments draped all the mermen. The women wore identical white ones. For the Mami Wata, wearing red was customary of males during festivities. It represented physicality and power. For the mermaids, the white was a sign of new life and spirituality.
Regardless of gender, endless amounts of embellishments covered their bodies, with gems and jewels following the curves of their arms, legs, and torsos. Each movement created a disco ball effect as the light of the room bounced against their jewelry. And every once in a while, the coral would catch the gleam of the ruby eye of the snake-shaped belt worn around their waists, sending a chill up my spine.
I glanced over at Adrian, but he was frozen in place as he stared at the spectacle in front of us.
“For you!” Miriam screamed, gesturing wildly.
I timidly smiled back as her hand landed on the small of my back. With a gentle push, she encouraged me to make my move into the room.
Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath in lieu of a hearty pep talk. There was absolutely no way, zero chance I could do that dance. On the other hand, there was no way, zero chance I wanted to disrespect Miriam and the Mami Wata. Without their help, our mission would be at a standstill.
Thankfully, as soon as Miriam’s presence was known the dancing came to a halt. Better yet, the music lowered to a level that no longer made my head throb. Not that it sounded bad, but I was grateful for a slight reprieve from the thumping of the underwater drums, guitars, and harmonicas. They sounded a lot like they would above water: loud and vibrant—just slightly more muffled.
“My dear family,” Miriam started, addressing her merpeople. “It gives me great pride to welcome the “Second Alpha” to share in our evening. Please make Annabelle and Prince Adrianus feel like our own!”
As she threw up her arms, the room erupted with cheers, hoots, hollers, and smiles that stretched from ear to ear. Each sound jolted my body, shaking me to the core.
A moment later, the craziness of the room ensued. Somehow the intensity of their bodies picked up a notch although I didn’t think it was possible. The little space that cleared from Miriam's announcement quickly filled like a tsunami along the shoreline.
I tightened my grasp on Adrian’s hands, my knuckles completely white. But before I knew it, someone had grabbed my other hand and tore me in the opposite direction.
It wasn't one of those moments where our hands slipped from one another in a dramatic fashion. It was instant. The Mami Wata simply ripped his hand from mine.
I frantically looked over my shoulder toward Adrian, but the sea of merfolk had already swallowed him whole.
With wide eyes, I turned back to the merfolk who had stolen me away.
“Princess!” he said, his eyes unable to focus.
If he didn’t pull me into a hug afterward, I wouldn’t have known he referred to me. This was the first time such a title was used to refer to me. And it wasn’t even true. I wasn’t a princess.
I opened my mouth to correct him. Honestly, I don’t know why I bothered. Before a single syllable left my lips, another merfolk swept me away.
A wrinkled face of a mermaid replaced the clearly drunken one of the merman. “I offer my gratitude,” she chimed.
“Oh, you’re wel—”
The rest of my sentence hung with the air bubbles I left in my wake. This time, I stopped nose to nose with another weathered face with a thousand-mile stare. She clearly was just as drunk as the first as she mumbled her appreciation, both hands sandwiching my face, squishing my cheeks so my lips puckered.
One face after another was thrust in front of mine as I spun around the room. I lost track of the amount of times my arms were grabbed, the music changed, I was pulled into an embrace, my name was screamed, or I was kissed.
Actually, the amount of times someone kissed me was the most alarming. Because the alcoholic beverages flowed, the merfolk oftentimes kissed whichever part of my skin they could muster. Their drunken advances peppered my eyes, forehead, hair, nose, neck, and mouth.