The Muntjac was doing her best against the stormy seas. She was a brave ship, loyal and true, but this was starting to look like more than even she could handle.
King Quentin, Child of Earth, was on deck, although he should have been below where it was safer.
“We’ve got to get that sail down!” the Captain roared over the sound of the angry sea.
“It’s stuck,” the First Mate yelled. “We need someone to climb up and cut it down or the ship’s going to blow over.” A gust of wind caught the sail exactly wrong the boat swung hard starboard side and everyone grabbed ahold of what they could to keep from going over. Quentin could feel the ship fighting to right herself, and a lucky wave helped get them back to upright.
The Captain held his hand up. “Give me an axe and five minutes,” he yelled as the ship tried to keep herself upright.
“I’m going,” Quentin yelled.
“Nay, my King,” shouted the Captain. “You best be going below.”
Quentin worked his way against the rain and wind towards the mast and unhooked the saw that was attached at the bottom. He turned to the First Mate. “I outrank the Captain and I’m doing this of my own will.”
The First Mate touched his head and heart, a sign of luck amongst the seafarers. Quentin nodded at the First Mate and the Captain and started to climb.
Quentin climbed up and up and the wind was even worse and the cold rain pelting across his face felt like hundreds of tiny daggers stabbing. Twice a gust caused his feet to blow off the rungs and he clung to the mast with only his arms while he worked against the wind to get his feet back on the rungs. He finally made it to the top and clinging to the mast the best he could, he started to saw at the ropes that kept the sail attached to the mast. It was hard going, the ropes were strong and true.
Quentin heard the wind before he felt it, a low roar. He heard shouting below but couldn’t make out the words. He gave one final cut to the rope and the sail was instantly whipped away in the wind and he held onto the mast with all of his strength. The rain turned to hail and the wind grew colder and he could feel the ship dipping dangerously low. With a cracking sound that he heard and felt, he realized the mast was breaking and he used the last of his strength to push away from it and hitting the water was a relief, a break from the rain that had been slicing at him and a break from the deafening sounds of the wind and sea.
It felt like he went down and down into the dark sea. He didn’t know which way was up but he instinctively started kicking, trying to find the surface of the water. Everything was dark and his air was running out and still he kicked and kicked.
Something - someone! - grabbed him around the chest and he heard a small melody in the water so beautiful if he wasn’t so cold and so tired, he might have thought he had died. He felt himself being pulled and everything was getting louder and louder and he found himself above the water gasping for air. After a few grateful breaths, he started looking for the Muntjac, but she was gone.
“Muntjac!” he yelled, as if that would make her appear to him.
“Your ship is blown towards the reef,” Quentin heard in his ear, “but you are cold and the shore is much closer.” Quentin felt the arm tighten around him and they started moving quite quickly through the water. He felt himself starting to shiver and all he could see was black and feel the rain against his face.
“Are you sure we’re heading to the shore?” Quentin asked, unable to see anything in the dark.
There was a laugh in his ear. “I am,” he said. “Not much longer.”
The storm was coming to an end: almost as quickly as it had blown in, it was blowing out.
“Put your feet down,” the man said as the arm was released from around his chest and Quentin was grateful to feel sand beneath his feet. He stood and they were in waist-high water. “Hurry, get onto land,” the man said. “Follow this inlet until you are on rocks and then follow the rocks towards the Chama star until you can’t go any farther. There’s a small cliff and some trees that will protect you.”
“I can’t see the stars and I don’t know what the Chama star is,” Quentin said desperately.
“Follow the inlet to the rocks and then follow my voice until you find the cliffs,” the man said.
“Thank you,” Quentin said, overwhelmed at how inadequate that sounded. He tried peering into the dark to see his rescuer but there was nothing but black.
“I am King Quentin,” Quentin remembering his manners. “I am in your debt.”
“Goodbye, King Quentin,” the man said and Quentin thought he heard a small splash. Quentin gingerly started making his way up the sandy side of the inlet. He heard the faint sounds of singing coming from his left.
As he found the rocks the man had promised, the clouds blew away the beach was bathed in warm moonlight. The singing continued, it sounded old and weary, like a sea shanty from centuries ago. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever heard.
Up ahead, he saw the promised cliffs and he ducked underneath a branch into a small copse where it was a bit warmer out of the wind. He laid his head against a large tree and closed his eyes, listening to the singing. He must have fallen asleep because when he woke up, it was light outside and no singing to be heard.
A year later:
“You, Eliot Waugh, don’t want to go to the Moonlight Masquerade?” Margo swam next to Eliot, who was eating a psychedelic jellyfish. “We go every summer.”
“I know that,” Eliot said, “but I don’t feel like it this year.”
“It’s that Land Dweller,” Margo said. “What if I told you that I had some good info on him?”
“I’m not listening to seagull gossip again.” Seagulls were the worst! Eliot hated them.
“No, Todd told me. He did the legs thing a few weeks ago to go drinking and happened to go to a music night at one of the pubs and heard some interesting things.”
“And you didn’t tell me then?”
“You were being all mopey, I needed to wait until you were mopey and needy,” Margo said.
“Continue,” Eliot agreed.
“So your King Quentin,” Margo paused to wind up Eliot and Eliot hated that it worked.
“Tell me,” he said, flipping his tail dramatically and throwing up sand from the sea floor.
“He’s been hitting up all of the places people sing hoping to find a certain someone who saved his life. But he only has a few months because according to the rules of the Land Dwellers he needs to be married by the next Harvest Moon.”
“I need to find him.” That was the only conclusion Eliot could come to: Quentin was looking for him.
“You have a tail and he has legs,” Margo said. Eliot was about to tell her that he’d live in a pond near the Castle to be close to him, but Margo was far wiser than him. “You need the Sea Witch,” Margo said, eyes gleaming.
They set off immediately to see the Sea Witch, a Merperson said to be over four centuries old who knew the old magic.
Margo and Eliot had to swim far to find her cave, and when they arrived, she was outside tending to her seaweed beds. Her tail was still shiny and her hair was bound in a practical bun on her head.
“Welcome young Merpeople,” she said, expertly removing weeds.
“I’ve come about a boy,” Eliot said.
“Well, come in and tell me all about him,” she said and they entered her cave together.
Eliot explained how he had come to meet King Quentin and how he had saved his life. Margo filled in what she had heard from Todd.
The Sea Witch turned to her crystal ball and peered in for a few minutes. She finally looked up at Eliot, shaking her head as if to clear it.
“I have seen many paths,” she said. “Some are more likely than others, but one of them will be the path we take.” She floated closer to Eliot and took his hand. “Here is my offer for you.” Eliot bit his lip and he felt Margo’s hand on his shoulder. “I have a spell that will give you legs longer than a tide. But this is an old and powerful spell and I will require something of yours to harness it.”
“Anything,” Eliot said.
“Eliot, wait,” Margo said.
The Sea Witch laughed. “Listen to your friend,” she said. “My offer is this: legs for as long as you need them, but I will take your voice for the same length of time.”
“Maybe you don’t love this boy as much as you think you do,” the Sea Witch said.
“Do it,” Eliot said.
Eliot was on the beach, the beach where he had saved Quentin so many moons ago. That night had been a stormy one, the type of storm that usually caused him to swim as deep as he could to be far away from the choppy water and loud thunder. But he had heard the ship, the Muntjac, Quentin had called her, that night. Ships might be made by the Land Dwellers but they were more kin to the Merpeople. Even as her mast had broken, she had called out to save the one that had gone over.
It had taken Eliot what seemed like forever to find him, the sea had been so rough that night. But he’d been able to get him to the surface and onto the beach and he’d seemed no worse for the wear. And then he had sang for him, and Quentin might not have known how rare it was for a Merperson to sing for Land Dweller.
Eliot pulled on the clothes that Margo had found for him. The clothes were still damp, but they smelled like the sea, like home. From far away, he could hear Margo singing his favorite song to him and it gave him strength to keep going and leave the ocean.
Eliot was admiring his legs, so weird and long and not good for swimming when he saw an old woman and her dog walking down the beach. She approached him with a wave.
“Too much to drink, I'd wager,” the old woman laughed. “I’ve been there before.” She looked around. “You look like you could use a cup of tea.”
She held out a flask and Eliot took a sip. It was nice. He smiled at her.
“So what’s a boy like you doing on my beach?” she asked.
He tried to say a few words and remembered he couldn’t. He grabbed a stick and drew what he could remember of the castle into the sand.
“Castle Whitespire!” the woman said nodding. She looked at Eliot. “Do you want to go there?”
Eliot nodded as hard as he could.
“If you need food or shelter, you can go to the Council. They have a representative here in this town, don’t even have to go into the city,” she said.
Eliot pointed at the drawing. The woman nodded, and explained how to find the Kings Road. She drew a rough map into the sand and pointed out where he would see certain buildings and crops. It seemed easy enough: find the main road and follow it until he found the castle.
Eliot felt much better after tea; the woman had been so kind. He waved goodbye to her and hurried to find the road. He hiked up the beach, down a path a ways and saw the road. The sun was where the woman had reminded him to check and he started walking.
The morning burned off the fog and he kept walking. From far away he heard the sharp clip of horse feet and he stepped to the side of the road. Four horses and a carriage stopped in front of him.
The man driving the carriage shouted, “The King requests your presence!” He jumped down and opened the door to the carriage.
The king! Eliot was thrilled. He walked over to the door and peered in. It was King Quentin and all Eliot could do was smile at him. His hair was a little longer, and now he could see that what he remembered as dark brown hair from the water was a medium brown.
“Hello,” Quentin said. “Sorry about that, I wanted to check and see if you were ok? There have been vandals on this section of the road …”
Eliot pointed to his throat and shook his head no.
“You can’t talk?” Quentin asked.
Eliot shook his head no.
“But you can hear me?”
Eliot nodded his head yes.
Quentin smiled. “Sorry, of course you can.” He opened the bag at his feet and pulled out a piece of parchment and a pen and started scratching on it. Eliot looked at what he was doing. Oh, writing, right, that was something the Land Dwellers did, the way they handed down their history and stories.
Eliot put his hand on Quentin’s forearm, warm through his sleeve, and shook his head no.
“You can’t read?” Quentin said. “Or do you know a different language? I took a year of Japanese in college.”
Eliot shook his head no.
“Right, there isn’t Japanese here anyway,” Quentin said shaking his head. “Ok, um, can I help you with anything?”
Eliot took a breath. This was his moment. He pointed at Quentin emphatically.
“Me?” Quentin looked perplexed. “Do you need to plead your case?”
Eliot shook his head no, and pointed again at Quentin.
Quentin looked confused. “Would you like to ride to the castle with me?”
Close enough. Eliot shook his head yes.
“Ok, that’s fine.” He looked relieved to figure out what Eliot watned. “Can you tell me your name?”
Eliot tried to think of a way to tell him, but didn’t have any idea. He shrugged.
Quentin gave him an appraising look. “I'd like to call you something, may I give you a temporary name?”
“How about Edmund?” he asked. “It’s a name from a story and -”
Eliot touched his knee and nodded. He’d figure out a way to tell Quentin later.
Quentin smiled brightly at him. “Well, Edmund, we’re heading to Brighthaven for the day, and then we’ll be back to the castle by nightfall. Would you like for us to pick you up on our way back or - “
Eliot went ahead and got in the carriage facing Quentin. He didn’t know what to do with his legs, so he mirrored Quentin’s and tried to tuck them under the bench the best he could.
Quentin smiled. “Ok, then.” He yelled for the man driving the carriage to keep going and the carriage door was shut firmly and Eliot felt the carriage start to shake as the horses started walking.
Quentin looked nervous. “So, well, like I said, we’re heading to Brighthaven for the day. I have a meeting with some people about a big project we’re doing and then after, I’m going to have dinner and a drink at a pub that’s having a music night.”
Quentin watched the world moving by for a moment. He sighed deeply. “Ok, the truth is, and I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but last summer someone, a man, saved my life when I fell into the sea and he had the most beautiful singing voice and I’ve been trying to find him ever since.”
This was it! Eliot pointed to himself.
“You’ll help me?”
Eliot gestured even harder at himself.
“I get it I get it,” Quentin laughed. “Thank you.”
Well, shit. That Sea Witch had tricked him.
They made it to Brighthaven before the sun was at its peak. Quentin left Eliot alone to wander the city. Eliot kept track of time by the tides and he could feel the tide moving out and sometime during that afternoon, it was the longest he’d ever had legs. He had a moment of panic, all Merpeople know you must be back to the sea by low tide or you’ll die, but he was fine and at least the Sea Witch had given him that.
Maybe he should have thought this through better. Of course Quentin only knew him by his voice, so giving up the one thing that would make Quentin recognize him was a terrible idea. Margo had tried to warn him, though. Eliot had enjoyed his and Quentin’s carriage ride together, even if his part of the conversation was just nodding to tell Quentin to keep talking.
When the sun was starting to sink and the tide was halfway in, Eliot found his way back to the carriage. His legs were tired from all of the walking so he sat next to the wheel and waited.
Quentin and his guards came back to the carriage, and Quentin’s face lit up when he saw Eliot.
“Hi,” he said shyly. “I wasn’t sure if you were going to stick around.”
Eliot nodded emphatically.
“Ok, how about dinner?”
Eliot nodded again and Quentin held out his hand. Eliot wasn’t sure what to do but held out his hand and Quentin grabbed it and pulled him into standing. Oh! That was an easy way to stand up.
They walked to the pub that Quentin had mentioned before and there was a table ready for them. Quentin, Eliot, and the guards sat and were served within minutes. Eliot had practiced this years ago, but watched Quentin to make sure he was using the fork and knife in the way of the Land Dwellers.
He saw Quentin looking around now and then, looking at men’s faces. Looking for Eliot, he knew. This was frustrating. He wished he could talk to Margo, but that was impossible.
The singing started with a cheer for the King, and as different people stood in the front to lead a song or three, Quentin looked more and more disappointed. At the sign of one of the guards, Quentin touched Eliot’s shoulder and they walked back to the carriage. Quentin easily jumped in and Eliot followed more gingerly.
Quentin thanked him for accompanying him to the pub, and said he was sure his mystery man was out there. If only Eliot could talk for one minute! Eliot must have been more tired than he thought because he woke up with a gentle shake to his shoulder and he could see Castle Whitespire in front of them.
Eliot spent the night in a fancy bedroom down the hall from Quentin’s bedroom. He slept until he was woken by a gentle knock to the door.
Quentin poked his head in. “Good morning,” he said. “It didn’t look like you had extra clothes with you; you’re welcome to borrow mine.”
Eliot would like to get out of these clothes. He followed Quentin into his bedroom, a bigger version of the room he had slept in last night. Quentin flung open the doors to the wardrobe and Eliot was enchanted by the layers and layers of fabric. He trailed his hand through them, marveling at the different textures. He didn’t know where to start, so he grabbed a shirt the color of the sea at sunrise and pants that were the color of sand at Fingerlings Beach.
He took his shirt off and left it on the floor and started working on the knot that kept his pants on.
“Oh, we’re not shy are we,” Quentin said, turning his back to him. “You can have some privacy.”
Eliot rolled his eyes. Land Dwellers.
After he was dressed, Quentin led him through the maze that was the interior of the castle and brought him into a room that was full of plants and bathed in golden morning light. “I forget what they call this here, but I call it a conservatory.” He rang a small bell and asked for breakfast for two.
After they had both eaten their fill, Quentin leaned back.
“I’ve got to be honest, I’m not sure what you’re doing here,” he said.
Eliot pointed to Quentin.
“Very funny, Edmund,” Quentin said blushing. “Would you be interested in learning to read and write?”
Eliot considered it. It could be useful as a way to communicate while he didn’t have his voice. He reluctantly nodded.
“Great,” Quentin said. “Let’s start now.” He pulled out a parchment and a pen and started making marks. Quentin started talking about alphabets and languages and phonetics and it was honestly over Eliot’s head but it was a joy to watch Quentin talk about anything and Eliot smiled at him.
Eliot fell into a rhythm. He borrowed clothes from Quentin, clothes were so fun, and then they had breakfast together. After breakfast, they worked on reading and writing until Quentin had to go do King duties. Eliot liked to walk around the gardens, and had befriended a young mapmaker named Benedict and would go watch him while he worked.
Eliot also spent time in the Royal Baths, a series of steam rooms and soaking tubs. It wasn’t the sea, but he found it calming. Quentin came with him a few times although he liked his soaking at almost scalding hot. Land Dwellers, so strange.
It had been a half of moon when Quentin said the other King and Queens would be back from their visit to the North the next morning.
Quentin collected Eliot before breakfast like usual and they walked to the conservatory. This time there were a few others sitting at a small table.
“Hi,” Quentin said. “Sorry I’m late. Everyone this is Edmund, Edmund this is everyone. Uh, Julia, Josh, and Poppy.” Quentin pointed to each person in turn.
“Hello, Edmund,” Julia said. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Eliot nodded and waved again.
“Oh!” Quentin said, “He can’t talk, but he seems to be able to hear well enough,” Quentin finished by turning to Eliot.
Eliot nodded again.
“Someone that can’t interrupt when Quentin is talking about Fillory,” Poppy said. “Edmund, delighted.”
Eliot nodded at her.
“Sit down and eat,” Josh said. “Let me get a chair for you.” He rang a bell and a servant rushed in with a chair. They all sat down and started talking about official matters.
“The delegates from Loria are going to be here today,” Julia said, checking the notes she had next to her plate. Eliot could recognize an uppercase L. “It’s a long ride, so let’s show them to their rooms and hold off on the talks until tomorrow.” Julia looked around and seemed happy with what she saw.
“Quentin, how was the site visit that you did?” Poppy asked. “I want to get that power plant powering stuff, like, yesterday.”
“The site was perfect,” Quentin said. “We’ll build it right on the river and there’s enough flat space near it we can build the factories.”
Eliot wasn’t sure what was going on, but he didn’t like it. He tapped Quentin on the shoulder and made a questioning face.
Quentin creased his eyebrows as he figured out what to say. “Ok, so we’re not from Fillory, we’re from a place called Earth.” Eliot nodded. “Earth is a lot more technologically advanced, and we’re going to bring some of those advancements here to Fillory.” Eliot wasn’t sure he understood any of that sentence, but he nodded so that Quentin would continue.
“We’re burning down trees faster than we can plant them here,” Quentin said. “We’re going to build a power plant on the river that will use the energy of the water going downstream instead of burning trees.”
Eliot really didn’t like this, and apparently Quentin could read it on his face.
“It’s fine, really,” he said. “It’s pretty small, and it’s only going to be on one side of beach mainly. The water will go through the plant, and we’ll use that energy to do things like cut wood and make cloth. The water will end up about 5 degrees warmer and will be pumped into the ocean.”
That could kill everything that lived there. Eliot grabbed Julia’s pen and started drawing dead fish.
“We know there are going to be some fish that die,” Quentin said. “But think of all of the birds that die when we cut down their trees.”
This was it, because someone had decided to let these stupid Children of Earth rule, Eliot was going to have to be the one who broke the Merperson secrecy and told the Land Dwellers that they exist. Eliot drew himself and his tail.
“You’re worried about Mermaids?” Quentin said.
Eliot was shocked, the Land Dwellers already knew?
“That’s so cute,” Poppy said, “And believing in mythological creatures is something you have in common with Quentin. Although Fillory is real ... ” She shrugged.
Legs for as long as you need them, the Sea Witch had said.
Eliot grabbed Quentin’s hand and pulled him along back to his bedroom and through the bedroom and into the giant marble bathroom. The bathtub was already full and ready for Quentin. Eliot started taking his clothes off, first his shirt, then pulling his pants down and kicking his shoes off. He scrambled over the edge of the tub and sighed in relief as his legs changed back into a tail.
“You’re a mermaid!” Quentin said, mouth agape.
“I’m no maid,” Eliot said. His voice was back!
Quentin looked even more in shock. “You could talk all this time?”
“Of course not,” Eliot said. “I made a bargain with the Sea Witch. Legs for voice.”
“Oh!” Quentin said.
“Help me up,” Eliot said. “I need to dry off to get legs again and then I have until the tide goes out to get to the sea or else I’ll die.”
“What?” Quentin said. “Let me get a carriage ready, we can be at the beach in less than an hour!”
It was hard maneuvering out of the bathtub with a tail, but between the two of them, they made it work. Quentin helped dry him off and soon Eliot was relieved to have legs again. Who would have guessed a moon ago that he’d prefer legs? Eliot quickly dressed, the sea was calling to him.
“Thank you for telling me about the Merpeople,” Quentin said once they were seated side-by-side in the carriage. “We’ll go back to the drawing board and find another way to industrialize this place.”
“Thank you,” Eliot said. “The ocean is a delicate balance.”
“Is there any way you can come back?” Quentin asked. “We’ve, I mean, I have had a good time getting to know you, and it’s unfair you have to go just as you can finally tell me to shut up when I talk too much.” Quentin grinned shyly at him.
“I don’t know if I can come back,” Eliot said. “I’ll ask the Sea Witch. I hope she can help.”
Quentin smiled at him. “Can I kiss you?” and Eliot leaned in an kissed him. It was nice and Eliot brought his hand up behind Quentin’s head and kissed him again.
They broke apart and Quentin was smiling broadly. “Wow,” he said. “Hey! What’s your name?”
Quentin beamed at him. “I like that. Thank you for being Edmund.”
“I liked being Edmund,” Eliot said. And they kissed again.
“Maybe I can come visit you at the beach sometime?” Quentin asked, staring at his hands.
Eliot smiled. “I’d like that.” He squeezed Quentin’s hands and Quentin squeezed back.
The carriage pulled up to the ocean. The beach looked to be short walk down a grassy path.
“How much time do you have?” Quentin asked.
A few hours, he wasn’t in danger. “Time enough, come along.” Quentin jumped out the carriage and held his hand out for Eliot to step out. They walked down the beach and there were two women standing to the side.
“Margo!” Eliot said and ran to sweep her into hug. “I’ve missed you.”
“I heard you’ve been making trouble,” Margo said.
“It wasn’t my fault this time,” Eliot said. Quentin had joined them by this time. “Quentin, this is my best friend Margo and the Sea Witch.”
Quentin awkwardly bowed to both of them. “Pleased to meet you,” he said.
“This is the first meeting of the Land Dwellers and Merpeople in many centuries,” the Sea Witch said.
“We’re not going to build the power plant,” Quentin said. “Now that we know about you, you’re under our protection.”
Eliot beamed at Quentin. Margo rolled her eyes.
“Thank you, King Quentin,” the Sea Witch said.
“I do have one, tiny, small favor,” Eliot said. “Would it be possible for me to sometimes keep my legs long enough to visit Quentin? You know, for moon or two?”
“Of course,” the Sea Witch said. “Here's the biggest secret: the idea that a Merperson would die if they didn’t make it back to the sea by low tide was a way for the Elders to make sure no Merperson would become too attached to land and Land Dwellers. I think that time is over now.”
Eliot’s mouth was agape. “I could have come to land any time I wanted? With my voice?”
The Sea Witch laughed, and then Margo joined in and then Eliot. Even Quentin was smiling.
“Things were more likely to work out this way,” the Sea Witch said. “And I need to head back home, I have sea lilies that need tending.” She hugged everyone goodbye, whispering a “thank you” to Eliot and dove into the water.
After she was out of eyesight, Margo leaned in. “Hey, El, what’s it like to have sex with legs?”
Quentin blushed and Eliot laughed. “I hope I’m about to find out.”