The screams still echoed in his head so Arthur took another drink. Around him the crew were laughing, even drunker than Arthur had managed, though he’d been at it for hours.
The booty had been glorious. His father had stood at the helm, his gold tooth glinting in the setting sun, telling everyone to drink their fill and dance to the sound of the gold coins below deck as they rolled with sway of the waves.
The rum turned sour in Arthur’s belly as he reached for his cup with blood stained hands. There had been children on the ship they’d attacked, more women and children than Arthur had ever seen at sea before. They were heading to the New World, maybe to a better life than what they’d left behind. Or maybe to finally join their husbands and fathers who had been sent ahead to make a home.
Arthur had led the slaughter at his father’s orders. He took another swig of his rum and stumbled to stand by the rail. He stared out at the black sea shimmering in the moonlight; hours before, his crew had made it run red. Leaning over the rail, he vomited.
The only son of the dastardly Captain Pendragon was feeding the fishes with the contents of his stomach over the loss of a few innocent lives. He’d be walking the plank if his father knew his thoughts. It seemed to be his fate, anyway -- he couldn’t hide forever. He had no taste for piracy, and no choice for a different life.
He lifted his boot onto the plank. It didn’t feel so bad under his feet. He looked around, but the crew were all below decks, singing songs with lewd lyrics. He stepped onto the plank fully, stumbling a bit with the roil of the sea. The wind in his hair, his arms out for balance, he felt a freedom he hadn’t thought possible since the moment he’d asked permission to come aboard the Great Dragon.
He took another step.
He hadn’t meant to jump. Nor had he meant to lose his balance, but a splash in the distance, and glimmer of scales and silvery pale skin had him stepping once too far, oblivious to how close he was to the end of the plank.
The water was frigid; icy cold pin-pricks pierced his skin as if he’d rolled onto broken glass. He sobered instantly, but it was too late to stop himself from taking in a lungful of water.
It was a painful way to die, drowning. He hadn’t realised. His muscles cramped as he struggled to find the surface. The panic had him thrashing, choking on seawater, trying to determine which way was up. He wondered if this is how his mother felt as she’d died. If she’d struggled, her dress twisting around her legs, dragging her down to the depths with its weight. It was a frequent nightmare, something that had haunted him since the day he and his father received the message as they ate their breakfast in the manor house.
That was so very many years ago, but it was etched in his memory as the day he lost both his parents: his mother in a pirate attack as she’d crossed to ocean to meet them in the New World, and his father as the news broke his heart and broke his mind. His need to control the seas, to be the worst of its monsters, became his only focus.
That day, and all the years between, led him here, to this -- dying exactly as his mother had.
The moment Arthur’s body gave in, his eyes closing and mind blanking, arms wrapped around him. With a harsh squeeze, water was forced from his lungs, and an instant later lips pressed to his.
It was so dark, he might as well be blindfolded, yet he was certain air was being kissed back into his body. Or he’d died and this was heaven, except the ache in his lungs as oxygen replaced the salt water was too painful to be anything but real.
He drifted in and out of consciousness as he was dragged along, too drunk and too exhausted to try to think of how and why he was still underwater and still alive, or what this creature was who had saved him -- kidnapped him -- or where they were going. He was being taken away from the Great Dragon and the blood-thirsty demands of his grief-stricken father, and that was all he needed to know.
It was dawn by the time they arrived at a beach; the water was pink with the rising sun. The creature hovered over him, covering Arthur’s body with his own, keeping Arthur’s nearly naked body warm in the chilly November breeze. It had silver-scaled skin from the waist down -- a man’s torso morphing into a powerful tail. Its blue eyes lit with amusement as Arthur stammered to find words.
“Merman,” Arthur whispered, for surely if this creature had a name, that was it.
The merman laughed, capturing Arthur’s mouth in another kiss. They rolled together along the surf until their backs were itchy, coated with sand. It hardly mattered. Arthur was as drunk on life as he’d never experienced before; the creature’s enthusiasm and joy was infectious and they writhed in each others arms, warming themselves with shared body heat and friction while the waves tickled Arthur’s toes.
The merman’s tail splashed in the outgoing tide, a constant reminder that this was no man, no human he was with. Arthur’s legs were spread -- the creature’s scaled hips settled between them, rocking against Arthur’s groin until Arthur felt like he was drowning all over again.
He feared for a moment it was this creature’s magic luring him in, a thrall that would be his death, but even so Arthur was helpless against it. His hands twisted into the merman’s long dark locks; they were cold, slippery as seaweed. He clung to the wild hair as the rolling of their hips grew purposeful and desperate.
The glare of the rising sun on choppy seas blinded him and he squeezed his eyes shut against it, focusing only on the swelling need within him. His climax came upon him as wave in a sudden storm, crashing against the deck and washing it clean, sweeping all baggage into the sea.
The creature kissed him through it, anchoring him. His mouth was beautiful, devoted to worshipping Arthur’s as he slowly came down from his high; each kiss otherworldly like the universe had been broken, severed and askew, and was finally slotting into place.
Overwhelmed and light-headed from the journey, dizzy with kisses, Arthur laughed at himself for his melodramatic thoughts. The creature looked at him, startled by the laugh, and his eyes shone with happiness, as though Arthur were a greater bounty than all the gold the seas had to offer.
The creature grinned. “Found you again, Arthur.”