imaginary archive (ib_archive) wrote,
imaginary archive
ib_archive

[story] june mermaids (or: a letter of business concerning an ill-advised love affair)

author: pei yi
email: dreamsmoke [at] gmail.com



29th June, 1932
Athens, Greece

To Madam Worth,

The weather in Greece is as unfavourable as one could expect from the Mediteranean in summer. The sunshine is interminable, the sky is blue, and the lack of clouds inconvenient. Far be it for me to appear ungrateful for your esteemed regard, generosity, etc, but you might like to consider the services of someone not adverse to sunlight when seeking assistance in the height of summer. Large hats and heavy overcoats draw a regrettable amount of attention in this season. I'm sure I can't think why.

Attached are my expense accounts. If they seem rather high, your granddaughter will be pleased to explain since she was responsible for most of them.

I found her, as your reports predicted, at the unfortunately named Hotel Medea. It fancies itself a modern day Olympus, with suitably ridiculous decor to match. Their restaurant served terrible tea, but then most of the tea in Greece leaves a great deal to be desired.

Having lurked as unsuspiciously as circumstances allowed, I gathered that Clarisse kept little company apart from her paramour. The friends she had come with look like a fickle lot - they kept their own schedules, and if your granddaughter kept a different one then they left her to it.

The young man was as beautiful as could be expected - limpid eyes, a face you could carve in marble, dark hair. He spoke little and moved awkwardly when walking or standing still, but danced passably well. The signs were sufficiently ominous - they dined and danced and saw the sights together, he smiled a great deal and she smiled back, they spent an inordinate amount of time in each other's company.

No one knew what he did or where he had come from. No one knew where he lodged, who he knew or where he went when he was not with Clarisse. Attempts to shadow him were difficult in the day and inevitably ended at some beach, whereupon he would vanish into the sand and foam. That avenue exhausted, I trailed him by night instead. He took the same roads every evening - a long, circuitous path that led straight back to the hotel's side gate and your granddaughter's window.

Perhaps I should have been more impressed at the romance of it all? Or it could be that old age has worn down my sensibilities.

Having seen as much as seemed necessary, I accosted him in the evening. It was a lovely night - the air was losing its heat, even here in the city, the stars stood clear, and the darkness was a welcome reprieve. It would have been considerably improved if he hadn't bitten my hand when I muffled his shout. I twisted his arm behind him more sharply than needed and dragged him back into the shrubbery, just as a light appeared in Clarisse's window and she leaned out into the garden. When her call received no reply, she sent the light drifting into the garden.

I believe you neglected to mention your granddaughter's skill in the family failing when informing me of her extensive list of accomplishments?

When she began to swing herself over her window sill, I thought it best to speak.

"Your room is on the third floor. I think it would be better if you used the stairs."

She froze, transfixed, and her light flared into a star burst above us. I tried not to wince.

"What? Who are you?" she asked, startled.

"An acquantaince of your grandmother's. Who will not be best pleased if you break a leg climbing out of a hotel room window."

"Oh, fine. But it's not like I haven't done worse at school," she said, but left the window.

When she came out the side door, her friend redoubled his struggles, but I kept my grip.

"You're the vampire!" she said when she saw my face.

"I beg your pardon?"

She flushed. "Oh, that was rude, wasn't it?"

"Since it appears that I am trying to kidnap your friend here, perhaps I should not quibble on the finer points," I said. "I didn't think I was so notorious."

"My brother Percy told me about you, after that time he got in trouble with banshees. Please let Theseus go, it's not like it looks, really!"

"Is that so." Her face was very young and very open; she looks very much like her mother. "Oh, very well."

I released the young man and we followed her to her room. The Hotel Medea was not heavily occupied, even now in the height of the season, so the corridors were quiet. When she had locked and bolted the door behind us, she stared at me again.

"You're not like I imagined," she said. "You don't look much older than I do."

"I had the good fortune to die young and the better fortune to come back from it, it seems," I said, dry.

"Oh, um. Well, do you take tea? I don't have anything else with me, and the room service here is rather awful--"

"Tea will be fine. Don't worry, I quite prefer the taste to blood," I said, which was when she started to laugh.

The story as I gathered it was that Theseus had been sent to - how does one phrase it? win over Clarisse's affections, as you had feared. But for all her suitor's charms, she was not as susceptible as they might have hoped. And Theseus had his own worries; they had his brother, and they would only free him in exchange for Clarisse.

Clarisse had no intention of giving herself to them, but she also refused to abandon Theseus and his brother to their fate.

The situation was quite a lot more convoluted than you'd warned me for, I observed. And how could Clarisse be sure he spoke the truth? All the while, Theseus watched me, silent, his eyes large and dark and strange.

She shook her head. "I have to show you something," she said, and caught my wrist. I let her pull me through the bathroom door and shut it after me. She gestured at the bathtub with a flourish.

"Look!"

The bathtub was half-filled with water and at the bottom lay a skin of shimmery, silver-green scales.

"It's his," Clarisse explained while I fingered it curiously. She grimaced. "You wouldn't believe how hard to was for me to get the seawater."

"His?"

"His, um, his tail? It doesn't look much like one, but I'm pretty sure that's how it works. They stripped it from him, to make him look human. He gave it to me to show that he was telling the truth."

Curiouser and curioser. "Your paramour is a... mermaid? I beg your pardon, merman," I said, bemused. "I suppose that explains some things. Why on earth did they go to the trouble of ensorcelling a merman?"

She flushed pink. "I think they thought he could enchant me with his voice," she mumbled, and shot me a sidelong look. "But it didn't work as well as they... thought. I'm so glad Gran sent you!"

When I raised an eyebrow at her, she continued, heedless. "You can help us rescue his brother and free him from the witch! I would have done it before, but I'm not very good yet and I didn't quite know how. I even thought of writing to Gran, but it would have taken her forever to get here and she would have grumbled all the way..."

You might like to pretend I didn't mention that part.

At length, it appeared that the only way to extricate your granddaughter without carrying her away from Athens by due force was to aid her in her scheme. Theseus could tell us little about his captors except that the one who had performed the spell on him had been a witch. He met them by the shore each day, and as the weeks wore on and he showed few signs of reeling in their prize, they were growing impatient.

In the end, I hired a private investigator to speed matters. They trailed Theseus better than I could, and more importantly, found his captors and where they lived. A villa by the coast, owned by a wealthy Piras Omarus who claimed to be a businessman, though in what business, we could not trace. Perhaps you will know the name better than I.

The place was guarded, but not so heavily armed that I could not find my way in. The magical defenses were another matter - by your granddaughter's estimation, they were just as heavy and far more dangerous. Allow me to mention that it was her plan to gain entrance by "giving herself up". I advised against it but I think you know her stubbornness quite well, and she would not be dissuaded.

Theseus reported his "success" and they were invited to the villa under the guise of a dinner and party. If it was a pretense, it was a lavish one. The rooms were draped in green and blue silk, hung with pale gold lights and bright coral, and thronged with the fashionable and wealthy.

But the villa's biggest conceit were its pools, carved from the black rocks that lined the coast, and filled with fresh seawater through a system of ingenious locks. I didn't pause to inquire into the mechanics, but whoever had built it knew the magic of the sea exceedingly well.

After some difficulty, Clarisse had helped me fashion an invisiblity charm of sorts. There was no one to watch me when I left the crowd that surrounded the largest pool and found myself in a labyrinth of small, lapping pools and puddles of and ponds, still as black glass under the crescent moon. I found Theseus' brother in the pool furthest from the locks, small and barely knee-deep. He did not look much older than a ten-year-old child. A guard stood watch over him, but I removed him easily enough. The merboy's tail churned the water as I knelt by the pool.

He stilled when I showed him the silver scale I had plucked from his brother's skin, and allowed me to lift him from the pool and carry him in my arms. He murmured in a sibilant, hissing language I did not understand, until I set him down in the pool closest to the first lock. It was the most I could do without setting off the protective enchantments on the walls.

I returned to the party. Already their nets were closing in; when I found your granddaughter, she faced a petite, dark-haired woman with a soft smile; they stood, still and unblinking, in a clearing in a crowd that seemed to have forgotten they were there. Only Theseus watched them.

I wove past the people until I was almost close enough to touch them. Intent on the witch, your granddaughter never saw me. I kicked my shoes off, sighed, and then with a flick on my wrist, hurled my invisiblity charm into the pool where it landed with a small plop.

Theseus heard it first. A cold light sparked in his dark eyes, and his teeth when he bared them at me were sharp in the moonlight. He threw his head back and cried to the star-bright sky, and his voice was an arrow through the gut.

Clarisse broke from her trance then and saw me just as I stepped behind the woman, caught her around the waist and then threw the both of us into the pool. It seemed the easiest, if clumsiest, way of breaking the witch's defenses. As we struck the water, the woman screaming in my ear, your granddaughter snapped her fingers once, twice, thrice and with a boom and a roar, the locks shattered.

And then the waters were filled with the song of inhuman voices, haunting and dream-like and calling a single, irresistable name.

I released the woman and kicked for the surface and she sank like a stone beneath me. Her dress, gold and cream and brown, fanned out around her like wings and caught in the sea song, she made no move to save herself. She closed her eyes as she struck the floor.

When I broke free from the water, your granddaughter was waiting. Theseus had vanished; presumably to find his brother.

On her knees by the poolside, heedless of the water lapping at her skirts, she stared at the still form under the waters. "Is she--"

"They took her," I said briefly. "Are all the locks broken? I couldn't be sure I found all of them."

She frowned. "I think so. The water in the pools is falling already, look--"

Sitting on the pool edge, I watched the water leave my knees, until it lapped at my ankles.

"Philippa, do you suppose we should..." Your granddaughter gestured at the bottom of the pool.

"I don't think you can do anything now. She called the sea, and now it has called her back. You should know how it goes better than I."

She heaved a great sigh. "I didn't mean for..."

"A pity then, your friend did not feel as kind," I said, wry.

In the chaos of locks breaking, the crowd had scattered from the pool. Surprisingly, the guards did not find us. When Theseus returned, he was as dripping wet as I was, squelched with every step, and already seemed to shine with the liquid gleam of mother-of-pearl. He stopped at the opposite edge of the pool and smiled at your granddaughter, a great, bright thing, and I think that in the whole affair, this was the most dangerous moment for all that Clarisse did not know it.

She smiled back.

"He is safe," he said. "Thanks to you."

I watched her flush, and swung my bare feet from the water to stand. "I hope he didn't get a fright when Clarisse broke the locks?" I asked. His eyes snapped to mine, and I wrung my shirt out with a splash. The seawater quite ruined my only decent men's suit, you'll find the cost of the new one in the expense account.

We studied each other for a long moment before he looked away again.

"No. So close to home, nothing could have scared him," he said.

"Wonderful. And now perhaps we should return before they decide the arrest the perpetrators of the damage. Clarisse will catch a cold if she doesn't change out of that dress."

So we left. There was little mention of the incident in the news; if investigations were made, they did not find us.

To round off matters, Clarisse returned Theseus' tail to him. With the witch gone, her enchantment was broken and he was free to return from whence he came. We found a small beach far enough from the city to be deserted, and for a moment, it seemed he would ask Clarisse to come with him under the waters. But he did not. He slipped a conch shell into her hand instead, a great, whorled thing.

"Call me and I will come," he said. Clarisse threw her arms around him and kissed him on the cheek.

"Alright. Be safe!" she said, though I do not think he understood what the words meant.

Wading out into the rising waves, he threw his skin around him and dove so neatly into the water that it barely rippled in his wake.

I think you can consider your granddaughter's summer fling resolved, as much as it could be when it did not actually begin. By my gauge, she has survived it unravished and relatively unattached, which should be as much as you could hope for. You might see fit to keep her away from the coast for a while but that's for you to decide.

The last I saw her, Clarisse was preparing to leave for England again. You should see her again in another two weeks. Should you have any other queries on the matter, direct them to my bank and they will forward any letters to me as always. Two weeks of poor tea and excessive sun are quite enough; I will be seeking a kinder clime. Look for me again in winter, if you must.

My regards, as always.

Respectfully,
Philippa Leston

the end
Tags: author: pei yi, book 04: heatwave, story
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