(Show/Hide Browsing Column ->)
When I was three years old, I met the great love of my life. I went down to the beach to play, with my little metal bucket and shovel painted a cheery shade of yellow. I wore a mauve dress that had been fashionable the season before, and I had my red hair tied up in tails. I wandered a little way apart from my brothers and sisters. Then I sat on the beach as the tide came in, building cities out of sand and watching the waves wash them away.
He came to my beach riding on a big wave that splashed up and wet my feet. I was still squealing with laughter when he crawled up the beach toward me, his little flippers clawing at the soft golden sand. I held out my hand to him. He came closer, right to the edge of the water, his head bobbing on his long neck and his tail waving. His body was smaller than my head, his neck no longer than my arm. I named him Stormy because his back showed the blue-gray of thunderclouds, though his belly shone white as fair-weather clouds. He looked incredibly cute romping in the waves. We must have played for an hour, digging sand and splashing water together, before he swam away.
I knew about sea monsters even then, of course. What Duurludirj child would not? But sea monsters were big and mean and ate people. They weren't small and cute and playful. Still, I sensed that my family might not understand, so I said nothing about him when my brothers and sisters came to collect me.
They were all older, but I was already bigger than most of them, being a giant instead of a normal-sized girl. I would grow tall, like my six-foot giant grandmother Gludarai for whom I was near-named. With luck, my brothers and sisters might top four feet. My brother Dlujeren, at seven, wanted to become a warsailor and took his guard duty seriously. Even within sight of the beach house he carried his wooden pole with its sharp point, someday to give way to a real harpoon. I did not think Dlujeren would like my choice of playmate.
* * *
When I turned ten, I graduated from First Form at the same time. My older sister Gluranei, who wanted to captain a fishing boat, gave me my very own fishing pole. It was the first one I didn't have to borrow from the family collection in the beach shed. Since I had my swimming and fishing licenses, that was just what I needed for a perfect day out. Sometimes I would strip down to a halter and shorts so I could go swimming with Stormy, and take that pole with me.
Stormy let me ride on the high hump of his back and fish from there, as long as I shared some of my catch with him. By that time he was about as big as a beach shed. He remained perfectly gentle with me, though. He could take a slippery fish from my hand without so much as nipping. He still looked cute with his big pink tongue lolling out as he begged for fish. I always came back with a bigger and better catch than my siblings, because I was fishing farther out than they could cast from the beach or dock.
"Gludara, how do you do it?" my sister Gluranei often asked me.
"I use the fishing pole you bought for me," I told her, which was true, if not complete. Of course, I was also learning a lot more about fish from swimming with them than I ever learned in school, even in a good Duurludirj school with Sea Studies taught in every Form. I knew not just their names and colors and classifications, but what they liked to eat, when they surfaced to feed, where they gathered regularly. I tried looking up Stormy's kind but never found anything about them in the school library, so I named them paddlefish for the big clawed flippers. My teachers praised my classwork and recommended that I consider a career in Science, perhaps even going to the mainland for higher education.
My sister Gluranei took a more practical approach. She simply wrung me for information about fish. As long as I gave her occasional hints about what bait to use and which time of day to cast a line, she didn't bother me too much. I never gave her any of my locations, though, and if she threatened to follow me, I swore I'd never give her another hint in her life. I didn't want her to find out about Stormy.
My companion seemed to have an innate knack for sensing friendly humans vs. hostile humans, because few people ever saw him even from a distance. As playful as he was with me, he was shy around others, a trait I preferred to encourage given everyone's tendency to harpoon any large sea life that came within range. Fortunately the main fishing fleets only launched from the large harbors, far from our little semi-private beach. Stormy and I had to dodge small fishing boats sometimes, but they seldom trespassed in our cove. That left us plenty of room to find secret spots rarely visited and rich in fish. My sister would just have to find her own special fishing spots, like every other fishing captain.
* * *
When I was nineteen, the course of my life changed forever. I had graduated from Third Form near the top of my class. A university in Faarar offered me a scholarship in their Saltwater Biology program. I wanted to go there, but I worried about Stormy. Big as a modest hut now, he still spent plenty of time playing and fishing with me, but it was getting harder for him to hide. He already had several scars on his neck and hump, some from other sea monsters but some from humans too. I can't believe people mistake a paddlefish for a deathfin -- my Stormy is smaller, differently colored, and has no fin -- but they do.
Then one day as I sat on the dock taking notes on the fish, I saw Stormy in a fight with several people on a fishing skiff. More precisely, the fishermen were trying to kill Stormy, who was more interested in getting away than fighting back. But the water this close to shore was too shallow for him to dive out of reach.
I didn't even stop to think -- I just dropped my notebook and jumped into the water. I swam out to the skiff. I couldn't let them kill Stormy. I could not. He was my first and best friend. I screamed at the men from the water, but they didn't listen to me. All their attention focused on Stormy.
Then suddenly I was lifted out of the water, rising up and up into the salty air. I scrambled to my feet on Stormy's back and stood looking down on the skiff. At six feet tall, I loomed over the little men. The fishermen cowered away from us. I can only imagine what they thought of encountering an enraged giant somehow riding safely on the back of a 'deathfin.'
I pointed at the mouth of the cove and roared, "Leave!"
We left, too. Stormy and I went to a tiny, forgotten beach. There he lumbered onto the sand -- something no deathfin could do -- and curled around me. I stripped off my soggy clothes, draping them over his tail to dry. Then I lay back against his warm side, clad in nothing but my swimunders, and cuddled his head in my lap.
The next day I sent my regrets to the university in Faarar. It doesn't take a fancy degree to live comfortably in the islands. I know how to build a hut and pick fruit, and I certainly know how to catch fish! I informed my family that I was moving away; they were horrified, but I stood firm.
Stormy and I traveled to a tiny, distant island away from the usual sea traffic. I built myself a nice hut and a beach shed along a sheltered cove. I also put in a dock so that I could walk out and chat with Stormy without getting wet.
He's always been smart, my Stormy. He understood that we moved to new territory because it wasn't safe to stay where we were any longer. When I started beachcombing for trade goods, he watched me ... and then he began to bring me things from the bottom of the sea. Often it was just driftwood or other junk, but sometimes it would be a whole jumarth shell or a mass of pearl oysters clinging to a rope.
Oh, not smart like a human -- I've figured Stormy to be about as smart as a dolphin, maybe more. One time I watched him outsmart a deathfin. You'd think he would just get eaten, but no. Stormy dodged through a narrow gap in the reef, and the deathfin sliced itself something awful on the sharp coral. After that it gave up and left him alone.
We've tried to get along with the other wildlife here. We did run off most of the trapjaws in the immediate area by raiding their nests until they moved elsewhere to lay. Stormy had an endless appetite for trapjaw eggs, and I loved them too. We left the giant sea turtles alone, though. We haven't bothered them, and they haven't bothered us -- a philosophy we can all live with. They've helped keep down the number of harpoon snails and jellyriggers, too. Stormy's gentle personality meant that he never picked a fight where he didn't have to. He would only hunt the fish, although he'd happily gorge himself on coconuts and mangoes when he could.
When I needed supplies that I couldn't get locally, I sailed back to civilization for a little while. It was there I first heard about the Mad Giant; the fishermen's seawracking encounter with me had grown into a set of outrageous fishtales -- which, I admit, Stormy and I later helped to grow a bit more. Occasionally I visited my family to assure them that I still lived, admire their children and Dlujeren's new warsailor scars, and give Gluranei my latest notes on fish. As a life, it's not been a bad one.
* * *
When I turned sixty, I realized that I needed to make some plans for the future. That evening I had fed Stormy a few pieces of sugar cane as a treat, and we watched the moons together. He floated in the water like a small house set adrift for the stormtime. I stayed on the dock because I couldn't swim as long or deep as I used to, else my chest started to ache. That night I felt the same ache for the first time on dry land.
The next morning I began to organize my notes. With only a rank of Clerk, I lacked the credentials that would lead to publication back in civilized society. Still, I had decades worth of observations on saltwater life of all kinds, made from a place far enough away from most people that I could study a fairly natural ecosystem.
Most important, of course, were my accounts of the paddlefish. They were not deformed deathfins, although I discovered that the warsailors recorded them as such. Few ever crossed paths with humans; none were recognized in their own right. So I described them myself: house-sized, with a high dorsal hump but no fin, four clawed paddles for swimming, a tail that tapered to a point instead of a paddle, all colored blue-gray above and white underneath. Neither do they birth live young into the water like a deathfin, but instead lay eggs on the beach like a trapjaw, as I have seen Stormy's mates do on occasion. Curious and playful if approached peacefully, they turn wary and elusive if threatened. The most vital difference is the one nobody will believe: They are not sea monsters.
I chose to spend my life on a deserted island rather than remain in a culture that prefers to harpoon first and identify later if at all. For what are the Duurludirj but enemies of all the teeth in the sea? Who among us has not seen the warsailors with their terrible scars, or lost a relative to the sea monsters? People even attack the giant sea turtles, who would leave them alone more often than not if allowed to pass by in peace. For the Duurludirj, the sea is both life and death, and there is no making peace with it.
Yet we cannot go on like this forever, or there will be nothing left of the world but harpoon barbs and bones. For all my schoolgirl credentials, I am a saltwater biologist at heart. I have seen the sea in its all its moods, gentle and fierce, nurturing and destroying. Life has its cycles as surely as the tides, and we are disrupting them. I have spent my days in the company of my friend, and I do not wish to see Stormy's kind vanish from the waters of our world. So I must leave my notes to my family, locked in a trunk, with only these instructions cast like a message in a bottle upon the currents of the future:
When one comes who has the heart of a warsailor and the mind of a scientist, that one is my heir; send this trunk to them at the university on the mainland, with the well-wishes of Gludara.
This story came out of the March 2011 Muse Fusion. It was inspired by prompts from M.G. Ellington (LJ user xjenavivex) and LJ user Padparadscha. Additional background inspiration came from Jane Goodall, Diane Fossey, Margaret C. Howe, and other researchers interested in wildlife or human/animal communication. "Forbidden Love" was later sponsored by M.G. Ellington.
The love in this story is not romantic, but rather a deep friendship that crosses species lines. It is so strong that it endures despite the prevailing hostility toward sea monsters which characterizes Duurludirj culture.