Authors: Kay Berrisford
Tags: #Fantasy, #M/M romance
Table of Contents
Raef, a lonely merman, spends his days watching the dashing Lord Haverford from afar and dreaming of love. When Haverford is robbed by a pirate, Raef vows to reclaim the stolen goods, hoping his victory will buy him the happiness he yearns for with Haverford.
But Jon Kemp does not match what Raef knows about pirates, and the simple quest Raef anticipated turns out to be an epic journey. For while Jon might be a nobler man than Raef believed, he's still a pirate. Love and loyalty are not on Jon's agenda, and he certainly has no plans to love someone not entirely human...
The Merman and the Barbarian Pirate
By Kay Berrisford
Published by Less Than Three Press LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission of the publisher, except for the purpose of reviews.
Edited by Amanda Jean
Cover designed by Julie Wright
This book is a work of fiction and all names, characters, places, and incidents are fictional or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, places, or events is coincidental.
First Edition July 2014
Copyright © 2014 by Kay Berrisford
Printed in the United States of America
Digital ISBN 9781620043981
Print ISBN 9781620043998
The verse quoted is from THE AFFECTIONATE SHEPHERD by RICHARD BARNFIELD (1574-1627).
With thanks to my betas, Elin Gregory, Melanie Tushmore, and Becky Black, and to Liz and Abigail for inspiration.
"The little mermaid fell in love the instant she laid her eyes on the handsome prince, who strolled along the seashore."
"But how does she know she loves him, Mama?" asked Raef, and he twitched his little fishtail with happiness.
The spark of first love was his favorite part of the traditional merfolk tales his mother would share at bedtime. Still, his question
to be asked. All the lovers seemed to fall head over tail for each other within the flutter of a heartbeat.
"Because the prince was beautiful, darling. He wore a crown encrusted with diamonds, and his fine face told of a magnificent soul." She leaned forward and brushed his golden hair—the same shade as hers—from where it had floated across his eyes. "And the mermaid was very pretty, naturally, so when she revealed herself to him, he adored her, too."
"I see." Raef nodded, trying to appear wise beyond his tender years. He supposed that made sense. It must be how things happened in the world of humans, who breathed thin air and walked on dry lands, far above the oceans. Such realms seemed distant and exotic compared to this nest in a tiny cave where Raef had passed his formative days. The home was part of a labyrinth of halls, chambers, and tunnels carved into the slopes of the submerged volcano around which their mertribe dwelled.
One thing Raef knew for sure: merfolk were an attractive race to look at. His mother's features were delicately carved, her complexion pale, and her eyes large and blue. She wore anthracite jewels on her earlobes and one on a chain about her throat. Though she was so skinny these days, the weight of the gems seemed to tug her forward like a wilting sea-grass. "So did they get their happy-ever-after?" he asked.
"Not yet." She pulled some of the bedding woven from thick seaweeds up around Raef's bare shoulders. Two lines creased between her brows, informing Raef the story was going to get serious. "Just as the prince was about to leap into the ocean and the outstretched arms of his chosen one, a bunch of foul-faced kluggites leaped from a hidden cavern and carried him away."
Raef shuddered. Kluggites—known in the world of humans as pirates. They were always the villains in the stories he adored, ugly as lumpy fish, hungry for treasure, and rotten to the core. He swallowed a lump from his throat. "Did they eat the poor prince?"
"Oh, no. They sent a message to the prince's father, the king, demanding a hundred chests of pure gold in exchange for his safe return. Sadly, the king was a gnarled old miser who had many sons and loved his fortune more than any of them. He refused to pay, and the pirates sailed off with the prince still a prisoner in their ship's fetid belly. He might've withered there, if it hadn't been for—"
"The little mermaid!" Raef jerked bolt upright, excited. He'd not heard this exact narrative before, but all mer tales shared similar plots. He sensed this was when the heroine would dive to the rescue. "What did she do?"
"Ah, she was very brave, my love." His mama eased him back down into the folds of the nest and tickled the frilly gills behind his ears. He giggled and squirmed. "She followed the ship, and squeezed through the tiniest porthole and inside the stinking hull. Then she hid 'til sunset. Do you know why?"
"Of course I do." Raef proudly recited something he'd recently learned. "If on land at sunrise or sundown, merfolk can harbor the power of the changing orbs to shift into human form. To return to their mer bodies, they must be back in the sea at the same enchanted moments." Raef looked forward to trying this when he was older, although he'd been told it could be painful and must be timed carefully.
"Well remembered," said his mother, and Raef grinned. "So at sunset, the little mermaid shifted. Once her gills had vanished and her tail had split to become long, graceful legs, she tiptoed through the ship and rescued her prince. Of course, by this late hour, the vile kluggites were intoxicated with rum and most of them had passed out. Together, she and the prince tied them all up with rope so they couldn't escape. Then the mermaid and her love sailed the ship back to the nearest port, where cheers greeted them. The kluggites had been menacing the coast for years. They had stolen much gold and silver from the noble lords and ladies who lived near, so the mermaid and the prince were hailed as saviors."
"Hurrah!" Raef pumped his fist, setting the waters in the cave undulating.
"Even the old king was pleased, because the kluggites had sunk several of his ships. He gave the little mermaid a gift of some clothes spun from pure silver thread. Humans are a strange breed and like to veil even the loveliest bodies with cloth."
Raef frowned. Merfolk enjoyed wearing colored stones and jewelry, but he didn't comprehend clothes. He'd only once stuck his head above the surface of the ocean—where the air felt too light and made him giddy—and hadn't seen any humans yet, let alone this strange custom. He wouldn't let the weirdness spoil the story. "So they lived in happiness forevermore?"
"Ah, the course of true love never flows quite so easily." She sighed wistfully, the gentle sound mingling with the chatty pips and clicks of some dolphins swimming nearby. "You see, even clad in her new finery, the little mermaid couldn't stay in her human form for long. We need the water, Raef—it's vital to our blood. The magic that sustains our shift into human forms only lasts a little while. We must go back to the sea regularly, breathe the salt waters in our gills, or we will wither and fade like old, dried seaweed. But now, the prince was a hero, and the king begged him to come back to court, tempting him with many titles and riches. And the court was far, far away from the sea."
Raef bit his lip. It was late, and weariness crept through him, making him desperate for his happy ending. "Did he leave the little mermaid?"
"For a while, he did. But he pined for her 'til he could perform his courtly duties no more. He gave up all ambition at court and returned to the sea. He built a beautiful castle on the edge of the beach, so he and his love could always be together."
"Was the castle built of gold?" asked Raef.
"Pure gold, my love. It glittered in the sunshine, which shone on them every day."
"I'm glad," said Raef, but his joy at the happy ending proved short-lived. While his mother offered a tremulous smile, he sensed pain beneath it, and that made him sad too.
She lay down beside him in their nest and pulled him tight against her breast, stroking his back. He didn't like to ask why she was melancholy, but he guessed. When Mama was sad, she usually was remembering his father, who Raef had never known. He'd died before Raef was born, the victim of an unfortunate encounter with a giant squid.
"Mama," he said quietly. He wound his baby fishtail, which was still translucent, about her grown-up silvery one, hoping to offer some comfort. "Why don't you go seek a handsome prince to make you happy?"
"Because I gave my heart to a fellow mer," she whispered, her caresses growing fretful. "And I'll never give it twice. But you… you must seek your heart's desire, Raef. You must find the one who makes you happy and be with them always… for me."
"All right," murmured Raef, determination swelling. He fantasized of such an adventure every day. "I will go seek my handsome prince as soon as I can, I swear it."
"Oh, darling!" Raef was surprised to hear his mother giggle. "You mean your beautiful princess?"
"No," said Raef, bewildered. "I want to rescue a handsome prince like the little mermaid did in the story. I
it's a handsome prince I want. I'm sure princesses can be feisty and fun, but they're not for me."
"Whatever makes you happy, my sweet," she whispered, and they snuggled closer together. Only the distant, sonorous moans of the whales broke the quiet of a calm night beneath the sea. It took Raef a little longer than usual to submit to the tug of slumber. When he did, his dreams were clear as rock crystal: he fought evil pirates for the hand of his prince, striving to win true love.