The Shark Prince

The Shark Prince

A Story by Megan Hackbarth

     My mother once said that the world had been made of steel.  Cities reached the skies and some men went their whole lives without touching the ground.  But men were greedy in those days.  They built weapon after weapon until finally one civilization used it against the other.  Perhaps once it would be important to know who had started the war but now, according to my mother, it no longer mattered.  The damage had been done.  Their cities collapsed, returning to the Earth.  Some people who lived inland still resided in the structures, determined to make the ugly ruins useful in some way.  On our islands we had no such worries.  There were no structures to contend with and we allowed our lifestyle to be shaped by the Earth.  My grandmother Kristjana told us that when her great-grandmother was alive that some parts of the Earth had still been poisoned by the weapons used.  My mother said that the Earth was healed now but then again, my mother said a lot of things.
     When the Earth was reborn, old things again became alive.  My mother was a selchie, a seal that could take the form of a woman.  Long, long ago her kind had almost gone extinct but with the fall of man, her kind again flourished.  She fell in love with my father, who was a human diver.  My mother, Emma, told my siblings and I that she knew she would love my father the moment she saw him swimming like a seal.  My father, Randi, was much amused by this.  He said he loved my mother firstly because he could easily sway her opinion with fish.  Whatever the case, they fell in love and had myself and my siblings, of which I am the youngest.  We are all selchies and I suppose when we were younger it was easy to bribe us with fish.
     Being the youngest is always hard.  I have to admit I feel a bit slighted when it comes to the order of my birth.  I was always the first to be put to bed and the last one to be told something, and by the time a story reached me, it had been exaggerated to near epic proportions.  So when I was little my parents labeled me as a liar when really my tales were based on misinformation from my siblings.  If I did lie it was only a little and on accident.
     My siblings and I are only spaced a year or two apart.  One could say that my parents were very busy.  Indeed, rumor around the village is that until I was born, my parents were never seen outside their home.  The eldest, Martina, was only seven years older than me.  I was thirteen years old when she first became a seal.  It was a harrowing event.  We were combing the beaches for crustaceans, a chore we did not mind much as it got us away from our parents.  My brother Brian, only a year older than myself, was tormenting me greatly with a slimy piece of kelp.  Suddenly he stopped and stared past me.  I remember wanting to kick the crabs out of his basket but instead my curiosity got the better of me, so I turned to stare as well.
     Martina looked like a woman possessed.  She had thrown her basket aside and was clawing off her clothes as if fleas had suddenly infested them.  I thought maybe i should go pick up the fleeing crabs but I was too entranced by the spectacle she was making of herself.  As soon as she had her clothes off she went flailing towards the water.  Once she was waist deep, she dove below the surface.
     We stood there for a moment before we all realized Martina wasn't going to surface.  Then we all scattered.
     Thirteen years of being chased by my sisters and brothers, combined with much experience in tattling, gave me the fastest pair of legs.  I reached our home first and kicked in the door enthusiastically (something I had seen my father do once and had been anxious to try myself), bellowing out the problem at hand:
     "Martina has rabies!"
     My second oldest sibling Baeta told me I was an idiot for what seemed to me a reasonable conclusion at the time.
     "Mona's lying!" A not-so-reasonable conclusion on Baeta's part, "Martina's Changing!"
     Having not been informed that human-born selchie's first Change into her seal form involved going insane, I felt more than a little miffed at being called a liar.  I hope, dear reader, that you're beginning to see the many injustices one has to face as the youngest in a brood of seven children.
     "Be quiet, Mona," my mother preemptively quieted me before I could protest, further exasperating me, "Randi get a blanket.  She'll be freezing when she comes out.  Her body will take time to get used to the seawater."
     My mother opened a trunk and pulled out her sealskin.  It was a beautiful thing and I always felt a thrill of excitement when my mother pulled it out.  It was a hooded robe, lined with calf's leather dyed a soft gray shade and trimmed with silver fox fur.  In her true form, my mother was a ringed seal.  Her sealskin was soft and smooth, silver with black dappling.  The ring of black fur the seals were so named for encircled the base of the hood.  Now Martina would get her own sealskin and my mother and grandmother would help her make a robe of it.  I was intensely jealous.
     Once my mother had her sealskin and my father a blanket we all fought to get out the door.  Selchies, when joined with another selchie, usually only have one or two children.  I'm sure that if Martina had been an only child her first Changing would have been much more austere.  Unfortunately for her our mother had married a human man which created a much more fertile union, so she had six gawking siblings to witness the event.
     My father held up the blanket until my mother shed her clothes and walked into the waves.  Her sealskin robe meshed around her and soon my mother was a graceful seal bobbing in the waves.  I always loved my mother's seal form.  Her face was serene and elegant, and her fur beautifully dappled.  That did not mean, though, that i wanted to be a ringed seal.  They seemed to be quite defenseless and were always getting eaten by polar bears and such.
     We waited and waited.  We waited long enough that Brian and Siv, my two elder brothers, began taking bets on whether or not my sister would ever reappear.  When the betting got to ridiculous proportions, each offering weeks worth of chores, my father threatened to lock up their sealskins and bind them permanently to land.  They were mostly quiet after that.
     When my mother reappeared it was with a sleek, almost dog-like head floating next to her.  Selchies have an inner voice that tells them what species another selchie is.  So my inner voice chimed in with, Oh.  A Northern Fur Seal.  I was pretty impressed.  That was a species that was quite fierce when they needed to be.  We watched her come out of the water, shaking beads of water from her fur.  I'm sure the sense of awe would have lasted longer if my parents hadn't decided to give birth to two male children.
     As Martina barreled onto the beach, Siv muttered, "She waddles."
     "And she looks like the village's dogs," Brian added.
     Martina shut them up with a series of furious barks.  We all backed off then because at the point she had dangerously sharp teeth and we were all still blatantly human with soft, squishy parts.  My father held up the blanket to hide the both of them.  Once my mother had changed and dressed, Martina was wrapped in the blanket, her now human teeth chattering.  I'm sure we all had something to say to her but we remained quiet.  My parents were fond of saying "when you're older, you'll understand".  I think it was one of those moments, one of those rare moments, that we suddenly realized that our parents weren't always wrong.  The gleam of triumph in Martina's eyes was incomprehensible to us at that time, and it stunned us into silence.


     This story really starts though when I was nineteen years old.  My brothers and sisters had all attained their seal forms while I, as usual, had to wait.  Life had progressed normally according to selchie standards, and being as we had a large family, we were all of course more prone to the dramatics of love and lust.  My sister Martina was being courted by a selchie male, Erst, who I hated mostly at that time for being ugly.  He took the form of an elephant seal, a species I found grotesque.  As selchie forms are a reflection of the soul it was the perfect case for his brute-like personality.  Whether human or seal, Erst walked with a swagger that was undeserved and had a cruel glint in his eyes.  Baeta could have had her suitors but like me she was busy hating Erst and at every turn spent her time trying to convince Martina that he was below her.  There were darker undercurrents of malice in the relationship that had all my siblings on edge.  But Erst was good at being kind to one's face, so there was no grounds for a true challenge by either my mother or one of us. 
     My third eldest sister Amalja had joined with a fur seal, Bjorn, who looked much like his namesake, the bear.  They were expecting their first child and had taken up residence further down the coastline.  His family was far away though, and like all selchies, the drive to belong to a colony was powerful in his blood.  Both him and Amalja spent the majority of their time with my parents and siblings, though my parents assured all of us that once Amalja had her pup we would be free of her hormone induced insanity.
     I liked Bjorn much better than Erst.
     Erna was too dreamy and preoccupied with her female friends to cast much thought towards any of the flirtatious males that tried to court her.  She refused to be tied down.  Flirtation, however, was all that Siv and Brian thought of.  They spent hours every day swimming off in search of attractive selchie or human females to woo.  When they weren't doing that they annoyed all of us by showing how manly they were by having obnoxious wrestling matches in the surf, hoping the ruckus would bring an elusive dream woman to them.  I made fun of them as much as I could.  However I was more cautious after they thought it funny to trap me in a small kayak out at sea and made sure I couldn't return to shore until I was near screaming with hysteria.
     I had been fifteen at the time and to this date I still carry a grudge.
     Of course there was then me, Mona, who was too busy with household chores and being ordered about by my mother to even think about having a suitor, let alone friends.  That's how I felt at least.  I was only nineteen and still under the thumbs of my parents until I took my seal form. 
     It was a week before my twentieth birthday when I met the Shark Prince.
     My day started as most days; my mother managed to find the most heinous chore for me imaginable.  When she handed me the padded basket I knew at once what it meant.
     "Gull eggs!"
     "We''re out again."  I swear my mother smirked.
     I glared at her.  Picking gull eggs was one of the most unpleasant chores a child could have on our island.  The gulls nested far up in rocky outcroppings on the bluffs not far from our home on the beach.  Gulls were loud, obnoxious, and flat out disgusting birds.  Not only did they swoop and peck, but they defended their nests by taking aim with either puke or fecal matter, depending on which end of the gull that happened to be full.  Unsurprisingly this was a task most often left to the youngest and most nimble child of the household.  I suppose if you had seven children you could run the risk of one of them splattering their brains all over the reef after being knocked off a cliff by an irate gull.  I told my mother that much as well.  I was obviously dispensable to her.  Cut your loses!  Send the youngest!
     "Mona," she gave me that steely-eyed look that you wouldn't think someone who took a form as adorable as a ringed seal would be capable of, "While you have been in bed the rest of your brothers and sisters have been up since dawn helping your father and I.  Even Amalja has pulled her weight today."
     "It's not my fault I can't change!"  I added a 'ugh' sound of disgust.
     "You can still get your rear end out of bed and help around here.  Even Erst is more helpful than you are!"
     Even Emma Ruttisdotter couldn't pull a fast one on me, "Ha!  You don't like him either!"
     "Mona!"
     "Admit it!"
     "Why couldn't the Sea God have swept you away as a child?" She griped, pushing at me, "Get out of my house, Mona!  Go get some gull eggs before the greedy weasels take them all."
     "Wait!" I cried as she attempted to shove me out the door, bracing myself on the doorframe.
     "What now?"  I wondered if she was as exasperated as I was, but being nineteen and full of myself, I gave little consideration to her feelings.  Children are children.
     "The traders come into the mainland today," I straightened the basket on my shoulders as she eased up on me, "I saved up all year so that I could trade.  If I go get your gull eggs can I go today?"
     "Just go tomorrow, Mona.  Gull eggs aren't your only chore."
     "All the good stuff will be gone!" I cried in dismay. 
     "My God, Mona, they'll be here all month!"
     "Mom.  Please."
     She looked tired and I rejoiced inside knowing she was about to give.  I suppose as a parent one learned quickly to chose one's battles.
     "Alright.  Now get out."
    
I left with an immense sense of smugness.  I had saved up my beach coming collection all year.  In my travel pack at home I had neatly stashed a year's worth of fine shells, polished sea glass, shark's teeth, and whale ivory.  A storm had blown in during the winter and knocked a flight of tropical birds off course so on top of my regular fare, I had a neat bundle of rainbow hewed feathers.  The best was the scrap metal I had found.  Traders would give high end items for large chunks of scrap metal, rusted or not.  My pieces weren't amazing but they were relatively free of rust so I could expect a good return on them.  The traders would get an even larger profit once they sold the metal to jewelers and weapon crafters; I was technically on the bottom rung of the trading ladder but that didn't stop me from being a vicious barterer.
     My smugness lasted until I reached the beach and ran into the rest of my family.  I did feel a twinge of guilt as I noticed their morning's work.  Baskets of fish lined the beach, ready to take into town to sell.  Some baskets were marked for smoking and salting for when winter drove the shoals far from the coast.  My father had already finished mending the nets and he was examining the bodies of five sharks he had laid out.  I ran over excitedly, ignoring the raucous calls of my siblings.  They all lazed in the sun, yawning and scratching their bellies with clawed flippers.  The sharks were plain reef sharks, most around six feet in length but one that had to be near nine.  They had all been killed by a larger shark, their soft undersides ripped out.
     I let out a whistle of appreciation; "What kind of shark did that?  Or was it a blackfish?"
     "A shark, love.  An orca doesn't leave wounds like this," my father was sharpening a long skinning blade, "A wanderer at that.  Nothing this large resides here in the waters.  My guess is whatever sort it was, was hassled on the way through.  None of these bodies have been fed on."
     "Do you think it was one of the Shark People?" I kept my voice low to keep out of earshot of my siblings; though I was nineteen and almost an adult (I fully expected to change any day), I still found the stories of the Shark People frightening.
     My father grinned, "No need to worry, Mona.  The Shark People prefer to stay south where it's warmer.  It was just a large one moving through.  We had excellent fishing today and the seals are out, so whatever it was, it's moved on."
     We could always use Mona as bait just to make sure, Siv teased.  He wasn't cruel about it but it was annoying nonetheless.  I was the butt of every joke.
     "Shut up, Siv," I snapped back.
     My father flipped over a shark to begin cleaning it, "Be nice, Mona.  You shouldn't be so defensive all the time.  Relax."
     She'd make a good elephant seal, Erst suggested with a chuff-like laugh.  He was decently good looking as a human, and maybe that would have saved him my ire, but this morning he was still in his seal form and his ugly, floppy face made me even more sour.
     "At least a shark would want to eat me," I taunted, "You're such a ball of blubber you'd be considered nothing but junk food!"
     "Mona!" My father scolded.  Erst let out a displeased rumbling sound that reminded me of boulders grinding together.  Being a selchie, he was larger than any other elephant seal male.  He drew himself up to his full height and suddenly he seemed less like a shapeless tub of blubber and more like some monstrous leviathan rising from the deep, his hard little black eyes shining nastily at me.  Erst and I had never liked each other and it had never been so clear until that moment.  Thankfully before I could soil myself out of fear, Martina cowed him with a ferocious snapping of her gleaming white teeth.
     Enough, both of you!  I was pretty sure she was talking more to Erst than to me despite the fact she had used the phrase "both of you".
     The situation calmed, Martina settled herself and asked kindly, Mona, where are you off to today?
    
"To get gull eggs," there were grunts of sympathy and I basked in them, "But later I'm taking my goods in to trade."
     Amalja, her seal belly fat with her pup, laughed, Are you going to cheat them again this year?
     I was known for driving hard bargain.  I blushed, complimented, "Only if they're stupid enough to let me."
     Even my father laughed at that, elbow deep in shark offal.  The sharks made my heart pound a little harder.  Instead of killing it's own kind, one of my siblings could have ended up with their stomach ripped out by whatever giant had passed through.
     I took in the sight of my brothers and sisters.  Baeta was a crabeater seal and she lay next to Martina, the bond between the two eldest clear in the way Martina rested her head along Baeta's back; her thick chocolate shaded fur clashed against Baeta's sleek, silvery-blond hide.  Brian had taken the form of a Stellar sea lion, while Siv was an Australian sea lion; both were bold, and brash, and the powerful forms fit them well.  Amalja was a harp seal like our grandmother was and Erna a ringed seal like mother.  Bjorn was a fur seal and he lay in close attention to Amalja.  I just ignored the fact that Erst was present.  A shark could eat him for all I cared.
     They were all so different, a selchie's form being dictated by one's inner self and not by genetics.  To lose one of them...
     Please be careful today, I used the mental selchie language that we all shared.
     That really surprised them and I could feel their affection bounding back at me, shining through dark, intelligent eyes.
     You as well, littlest one, Erna responded fondly, Don't let a gull knock you down!
    
"I won't," and before i could be caught up in another sentimental moment, which were the exact types of moments I was terrible at dealing with, I ran towards the cliffs.


     "May the Sea God take all your feathers!  May He give you mange!" I screamed, swatting at the mother gull that was keen on taking my eyeballs from their sockets, "I hope an orca snatches you right off the water!"
     Yelling at the gull didn't seem to be helping.  Instead she increased the intensity of her attack as if she were insulted.  I had been lucky, coming early enough that almost all the adults were out feeding.  Only a handful remained and those were too busy gawking at each other and preening their shoddy nests to deal with an egg raider.  I had thought the nest I was currently trying to mob to be unattended but then the gull, like mother birds of all species seem to do, came out of no where and began pecking at my head and shoulders.  I began to wish the bird had been of the puke-or-poop-on-and-fly-away variety.  Being only a hand hold away from her nest, I was still determined to rob her blind.  Forget leaving an egg or two to hatch out for next season.  I was going to fry up all her potential babies and personally eat every last egg.
     As if she read my mind, the monster pecked me so hard on the head that I saw stars.
     And slipped a few feet down the cliff.
     As soon as my body registered the feeling of falling, my arms and legs dug into the side of the cliff, like I was some super-sized spider.  None of the pain registered at the moment, thank the Sea God, and by the time I stopped all I could feel was a sense of relief so immense I nearly started blubbering.  I hadn't bashed my brains all over the reef.  I let out of mutter of thanks to the Sea God for saving my ungrateful self.  The stupid gull, meanwhile, perched on her nest and clucked at me as if she were startled as to how I ended up where I was.
     I was shaking but I wasn't too weak to lift my arm and make a rude gesture at me.
     The gull let out a grumble and thankfully disappeared back into her nest.
     When my muscles began to relax more, I lifted up each arm to assess the damage.  A disgusting amount of skin had been scrapped off of both limbs and there was a good amount of gunk shoved into the wounds.  I thought of the fecal stains all decorating the side of the cliff and tried not to add to the mess by emptying my stomach of all it's contents.  I looked down at my legs; they were just as bad and the sight of them made me a little woozy.  Hot with the urge for revenge, I was about to resume my climb upwards to take every egg I could get my hands on when I noticed something shiny below me.  There weren't many glittery things on our island so naturally I was inclined to look.
      Below me was the body of a massive rocking back and forth in a large tide pool.  How a shark that big had managed to get into a tide pool was beyond me but I didn't stop to consider the impossibility of it.  The shark was a bronze whaler and bigger than even the white sharks that were sometimes caught out in the deep; in fact, it made the biggest white sharks I had seen caught on the docks seem like little shark pups.  I had never seen a bronze whaler that large and figured it must have been one old shark.  As I scrambled down the cliff, ignoring the burning pain in my limbs, my mind firmly routed itself on one thought.  Bronze whalers were particularly prized for their hide.  If properly treated it would range from dark bronze to light gold depending on the shark.  A fresh hide would be worth even more to the traders since it was untreated and uncut, and this one being so large and being a nice, golden-copper tone, would bring an unprecedented price.  The hide alone would make me the most sought after person at the shops.  Add on the liver, fins, flesh, and teeth...I'll admit my greedy little mind could only think of how rich I would be after trading all the shark had to offer.  By the time I got to the bottom of the cliff I was so excited I couldn't feel the pain of my fall any more.
     I spent a good deal of time searching for a nice hunk of driftwood.  The shark was towards the deep end of the tide pool where the water was more than double my height, but it was positioned oddly, with a good portion of it's tail thrown over the side and flopped over the rocks.  I could have climbed into the pool and still had plenty of room to move about but the deep rooted seal-fear in me prevented me from doing just that.  Even though dead, I could still imagine the creature grabbing me in it's jaws and easily devouring me in one bite.  Maybe two if it was being polite about it.  Not wanting to take the risk, I scrambled over the shark's tails and onto the rocks facing it's back.  Determined to shove it towards the shallow end of the pool, I raised the stick over my head and gave the shark's body about the hardest jab that I could muster.  The body didn't move.
     But the tail did.
     The tail of the shark raised itself from the rocks.  Up and up it went, looming over my head and dripping seawater on my face.  Then it was whipping down towards the water.  A caudal fin longer than myself slapped the water with a resounding crack the brought to mind thunder.
     The same time the tail hit the water a voice slashed like lightening through my brain.
     I'm not dead yet.
    
I sat stunned for a moment or two before I could manage a breath.  Once I could breathe past my shock, I began screaming.
     The shark was kind enough to allow me three good shrieks before snapping, By the Grace of Aikanaka!  Shut up, woman!
    
I screamed once more though I'm not sure whether it was out of ear or defiance.  Once the scream stopped reverberating off the cliffs, the shark spoke again.
     If you wish to stab my dead body with a sharp stick you're going to have to wait until I am actually deceased, the shark's voice was as cold as a northern front, Once I'm dead you may jab me all you like.  Until that moment, leave me alone.
    
I have a bad habit of saying exactly what comes to my mind.  The fact that I was speaking to a shark did change that at all.
     "How did you get into there?"
     I walked.
    
At first I thought he was being facetious then it dawned on me that I wasn't speaking to just any old shark.  This was one of the Shark People.  This was one of the scary creatures my brothers used to tell me stories about at night.  I shuddered.
     I can feel your fear, the shark's mouth was working slightly.  It was like he was imagining taking a nibble of me.  I poked him again with the stick.  Hard.
     "Stop doing that!"
     I cannot, one massive eyeball rolled back to look at me, I need water to flow over my gills to breathe.  I am no sand-dwelling shark to lay about on the bottom for hours without bother.  I'll suffocate.
    
"Huh," I was glad for my lack of gills, "Well it'd probably work better if you weren't on your side.  I'll roll you over."
     To this day I have no reason for whatever possessed me to help the shark, but there I was, offering to help him.
     No, the shark seemed to twitch at the thought, My belly will scrap along the bottom if you do.  I am dying fast enough as is.
    
"Well at least let me look," I said as I crawled around to the other side of the pool.  I had missed the wounds before but now I could see clearly what had caused him to be in such a dire predicament.  Some fine specimen of shark had targeted his belly in an attack.  It wasn't ripped out as the reef shark bellies had been but the perfect oval of puncture wounds were deep.  Stuff that was inside was threatening to poke all the way through.  I had the morbid urge to use one of my fingers to start poking it all back in but I had a feeling the shark wouldn't appreciate that.  The wounds made my skin crawl, honestly.  Whatever shark had made such a wound had been not only giant but intelligent.  The bite mark was not given in a frenzy or just out of aggression; it was surgical and calculated.  I wondered if it had been a punishment and wondered who he had angered.
     I scrabbled over the rocks towards his head.  It may seem like a dumb place to sit but I thought it was at least polite.  The shark was dying.  The least I could do was attempt some eye contact versus sitting near his rear end.
     "Why don't you change back?  I'll help you get to a doctor's."
     My human form cannot handle another change.  Moving from the reef nearly killed me before.  To do so again would just bring death faster, and I am in no hurry.
    
I couldn't help but squint at him in disbelief, "So...this is it?  You're giving up?"
     Yes and it would be much more pleasant to do on my own.  Your presence here is not required.
    
"I'm just trying to help!"
     Since when does a seal offer aid to a shark?
    
I couldn't answer him right away.  After all, it did seem something that would be counter-productive to me continuing to live.  The Shark People and selchies were infamous for not getting along.  It probably stemmed from the fact that in the wild, our lesser cousins had a strictly predator-prey relationship.  Not to mention the fact that only in recent years had the Shark People started differentiating seals from selchies.  Old animosities and fear aside, though, he hadn't done anything to hurt me.  And to be fair, I had been more than ready to skin his carcass and profit from it.  Plus I had eaten plenty of shark meat in my nineteen years of life while for all I knew, he had never even eaten a seal, let alone a selchie, so I was in no position to judge him unworthy of help.  Instinct was telling me that it was important to help.  For selchies our instincts are sacred.  I had been told as a child that werewolves and werecats had some sort of collective mind that ruled their lives; it was a gift from their Goddess.  We viewed our feelings, our instincts, the same way.  That little voice and feeling that dictated our lives was the Sea God's way of guiding us.  To not listen would be to cast ourselves from Him.
     "I'm trying to start a trend," was my answer.
     Clever, the shark responded blandly, What ever it is you plan on doing, you had best make it quick.
     "I plan to," I retreated from the tide pool and looked back at him.  Before I had seen only a chance to profit from the shark's death.  Now he seemed quite pathetic.  I imagined that he had certainly been a proud, terrifying predator before someone decided to take a bite out of him.  He just looked sad now, like a tiny fish stuck in an even tinier puddle.  Especially with his insides trying to be outsides.  It was quite sad but I didn't think he would be in the mood for pity.


     One of the bad things about having a mother that cares is that they'll want to patch you up when you're hurt.  As she was applying some sort of salve to my scraps and cuts I had to resist the temptation to knock her down and bolt for the door.  Sure I was glad that she was cleaning all the junk out of the wounds but she was taking her time.  I had a shark to save.  Not just any shark at that, but one of the Shark People.
     I couldn't tell her that though.  For one, she'd forbid me out of the simple fear that I would get eaten.  Secondly, it'd be a death sentence for the shark.  Old hatreds die hard.  Selchies used to be on the menu for the Shark People and selchies weren't keen on forgetting that.  That had all been before I was born so perhaps that was why the issue didn't bother me quite as much.  Besides, my inner voice told me to save this one so that was what I planned to do.  It was going to require a little lying, though.
     "Hey...Mom?"  I tried not to fidget as she pulled the last of the pebbles from my torn shins, "Do you still have Grandmother Maeva's books on healing?"
     My mother looked up at me in surprise, "Yes, why?"
     "Well," here came the lying part, "I don't know.  On my way back I was just hinking that if I got really hurt someday or someone I was with got hurt, I would have no idea what to do.  I don't even know the basics of taking care of injuries.  I was thinking that I could take them with me and after I'm done trading I can just go relax and...you know...study up on it a little."
     I think I could have gotten my mother to run naked through the village at that point.  Parents are fairly transparent, no matter what they think.  I knew my mother was feeling guilty at that moment.  She sent me on a chore that everyone knew to be dangerous, despite being a common one, and I could have fallen to my death instead of making it home with scrapped knees and arms.  Instead of patching me up she could be arranging my funeral.  I should have probably been more sympathetic but my mind was filled with concern for the shark.
     "That's very responsible of you," my mother wiped my sore shins, "Don't put anything on your arms and legs.  Just let them get some air and they'll heal faster that way.  And if you get dirty, bathe in the sea.  The salt water helps us heal faster than a human."
     I tried to hide my anxiety as she dug around the trunk that contained her sealskin.  After what seemed forever she brought out a large book.  I'll admit it was pretty neat.  I flipped through it, looking at the precise illustrations.  A lot of work went into the book.  It was more designed for human and selchie medical problems but I figured I would wing it.  There was no harm in trying, at least.
     "Please just take care of it.  This book means a lot to your father.  It's the only thing Maeva left behind when she died."
     The book was heavy in my hands; the shark's life could very well be saved by it, "I promise.  It means a lot to me too."
     She kissed me on the forehead and I squirmed.  Selchie or not, at nineteen I considered myself too old for such affection.
     "I'm glad you're growing up."
     How kind of her.
     She seemed inclined to let me leave so I took up my pack and book.  Before I left I hugged her to show her that what could have happened wasn't lost on me.  She seemed to appreciate the gesture and didn't bug me out the door.  I was glad for that because as soon as I was out of eyesight I flipped the book open and went straight to injuries of the abdomen.  Until you're looked at a medical book you don't really understand all that can precisely go wrong with the body.  There were normal wounds and then wounds that could only be gained in a freak accident of sorts.  I spent some time admiring the gruesome illustrations before finding what I wanted.  The book was highly descriptive so by the time I reached the shops I had what I needed fixed in my mind.
     I remembered the doctoring shop from last year.  It was ran by a middle-aged human woman with a small, ugly dog.  Sadly the dog was nice, which made it's small and ugly situation all the much more tragic.  When it greeted me at the doorway, I couldn't help but pat it's head kindly though it looked a bit mangy.  The doctor woman who ran the shop smiled at me.
     "I remember you, selchie girl.  You never came back last season to get your blisters looked at."
     That had been my mother's doing.  She had kept bugging both the doctor and myself to get the blisters thoroughly examined since at the worst point they had gotten a bit smelly.
     "They, uh, healed up on their own."  They sure had...after weeks of hobbling around.  I had learned my lesson though; after spending my whole life not wearing any sort of shoes, deciding to wear a fancy pair all day had been a poor decision.
     She eyed me, "Do you need any patching up now?  Those are some dreadful looking scraps you have."
     I hastily un-shouldered my pack and handed her my list, "No, no...no.  No thank you.  Actually I've come to trade."
     The doctor was surprised at the contents at the list, and examined me over the top of the paper with her eyebrows quirked, "That's fairly heavy material you're asking for."
     "Expensive?"  At heart I was very cheap.
     "No," she frowned a bit, a crease forming on her forehead, "Just not what I would expect from someone such as yourself."
     I feigned embarrassment, "It's for a friend.  She has the skill, just not the goods."
     "Ah," she began opening drawers and pulling out items, "Many a young doctor has been in that exact spot before."
     Nodding, I pretended to understand.  She stacked the items neatly and i opened my pack for her.  She was pleased and took half of my shells and sea glass pebbles.  The shells would be broken down for a supplement for the elderly and the sea glass pebbles heated and used for massaging sore limbs.  I listened to her doctor talk with only half an ear until she gave me a severe look and lined up my items in front of me.
     "Now this dissolving suture will work best on selchies and other changing beings.  It holds for two weeks before being absorbed by the body.  If used on a human make sure your friend keeps them on restricted movement for four weeks.  Our bodies don't heal as fast as the changing peoples' bodies.  This suturing here will have to be manually removed.  I've provided you with a pair of clippers and a good needle, no extra trade necessary.  Tell your friend to not give up.  Being a young doctor in study is frustrating but it is a worthwhile pursuit."
     I took my items, thankful for the free ones.  A good amount of my goods had been taken.  It would be a slim year for trading.


     What are you doing?  The shark sounded distrustful as I waded into the tide pool.  It was deeper than it seemed.  The middle portion was well over my head.  I made note of that.  If I could submerge him right where the flow of water was, he wouldn't have to gasp like a fish out of water.  I held my tools in my hands, using the shark's uninjured portions to move through the water.  The deep took marks were even worse up close.  I wrinkled my nose and moved quickly away from the wounded area.  I used his long pectoral fin to push myself towards the tide pool wall.  I could have easily walked around but I figured the best way to get over the residual fear of the shark would be just to jump right in with him.  Once I placed my items on the rocks, I turned to face the part of him that scared me the most:  his head.
     "Those are quite the fish manglers," I commented on his rows of sharp teeth.
     I do not mangle fish.  I eat them.
    
Considering my close proximity to his jaws, I wasn't going to argue.  I squeezed between his snout and the rocky wall of the tide pool.  It was an uncomfortable feeling with the rocks in my back and a head wider than my body pushing into my stomach.  The vicinity of his gaping jaws made me feel a little queasy.  I braced my feet against the wall and grabbed his elegantly pointed snout, preparing to push him out to where I could get around him more easily.
     As soon as my hands gripped his nose, the shark's body went slack.  Panicked, I let go.
     "What was that?!"
     The shark was tense again, We have an area around our jaws that relaxes us.  Do you like your hair played with?
    
The answer was an obvious yes because man or woman, who didn't like their hair played with?
     It is the same sensation.
    
"Oh," I thought this to be a curious thing, "Well get ready because I'm going to tickle your nose again."
     As soon as I firmly gripped his snout, he went loose like a cut string.  He was much easier to move now that all of him was in the water and his body was relaxed.  There was no sound of protest from the shark so obviously this nose tickling thing was a good deal.  I floated out towards the middle, guiding him like a raft towing a larger vessel.  Once he was bobbing in the deeper middle portion of the tide pool, I swam to where his tail had been resting on the rocks.  The skin was beginning to crack and ooze from exposure to the harsh air and sun, but it would heal quickly once he was completely submerged again.  I reached up as far as I could on his pectoral fin and placed my feet against his side.  In theory, if I pulled my weight on his fin and bounced a bit, he'd make like a flipped sailboat and roll over onto his back.  Then I could easily get to his wounds.
     What are you doing?  He voice was warmer now, calm and tinged with a pleasant baritone rumble.
     "I'm going to flip you over so I can get to all your wounds," I bounced lightly on his side, giving it a bit of a practice run, "I'm not a doctor soooo...I'm not going to try stitching half of them underwater."
     Wait!  He yelled before I had a chance to start.  He was slow on explaining why he yelled at me so I went ahead and did it anyways.
     Something indescribable exploded through me.  It was like suddenly reliving the happiest moment in your life.  It was a feeling of utter contentment, of being at peace with the world.  It was like my mind and body were wrapped in a soft blanket.  I was protected, safe, and I had no care in the world.  It was as if I were on a sunny beach and had no concerns, no chores, no responsibilities, and all the time in the world to be hypnotized by the coming and going of the waves.  It was being a seal with a full belly and watching my pups play in the surf, riding the brisk current and letting it's power sweep them along.  It was holding your child's hand, or watching them play under the water for the first time as a seal, winning a challenge for a sunning spot, and having the perfect mate.  This feeling or whatever it was wasn't just my joy but all the joys that selchies shared throughout their lives.  The first change, the first suitor, the first child, and a life well lived.  Those were things I hadn't yet done but I could feel them within my heart.
     Then it wasn't just selchie joy but another sort of joy.  Gliding through the water with absolute mastery, knowing with every fiber of my being was primed as a predator...this was not the joy of a selchie but that of the Shark People.  My shark in particular.  I was him as a shark pup, hiding underneath his mother's belly on his first trip into the ocean from the nursery cove he had long played in.  There was fear, for the ocean was so big, but even greater was the thrill of security for mother was the Queen of the Shark People, and he, the Shark Prince, could not be harmed while she was there to protect him.  There were courtship dances and fires on the beach.  There was respect and love, things that made the shark seem so much less alien to me.
     The images and emotions swept away then and I realized that while the experience had felt like hours, only a few moments had passed.  The sun hadn't even visibly moved in the sky.
     "What just happened?"  Whatever it was had been mind blowing.  Sharing someone's life and the world of their people in the span of a few seconds was the greatest trip I had yet taken.
     The shark's voice sounded distant, It is the state of tonic.  It was a gift from the Sea God to the First of us, Aikanaka.  It is a bonding experience, usually only shared between family or lovers.
    
I winced and went to grab my supplies, "Sooo...it's not something your people share with selchies?"
     Considering the circumstances, the shark seemed vaguely amused, if not a bit confused, it might be acceptable.
    
His belly provided me with a table to set my supplies on.  I started washing his wounds out with the antiseptic given to me by the doctor.  The shark did not make a single complaint though I'm sure that like all medicines, it probably burned.  I guessed him to still be away in happy-land.  Silence pervaded while I worked.  I decided it was going to be a long afternoon without conversation.  He seemed more inclined to talk while upside down so I figured it was worth a shot.
     I finished scrubbing one side and moved around to the other, "Is your mother really a queen?"
     Yes.  She takes the form of a bull shark.
    
"What's her name?"
     Lilina.  Your mother, Emma...she seems to fierce to be a ringed seal.
    
So he had shared some of my memories as well, "That's what I keep saying.  I guess somewhere down in her soul there's a kind, gentle Emma waiting to burst free.  What was with those weird dances you were doing as sharks?  You were spinning around and biting each other.  It looked painful."
     Courtship dances.  When it comes to the Shark People, women in their shark forms are always larger and more powerful than their mates.  So to impress them we strive to show them how strong we are by attempting to over power them.  If we succeed, we dance.  Why do your males fight one another so much?  There is much blood shed between selchie males.
    
"For the same reason, I suppose," I started suturing his wounds shut, using the the thread that would be absorbed on the inner layers of his injuries, "They're all hoping to impress us as well.  As far as I'm concerned, if they want to act like bullies they can do it for someone else.  I'd rather have a clever man than a blockhead."
     You do not have a mate already?  The shark seemed puzzled, Many of the Shark People have partners by your age.
    
'I'm only nineteen!" I was a bit hurt that by Shark People standards I was essentially an old maid, "I won't take suitors until I've Changed."
     When do selchies first Change?
    
"Sometime within our twentieth year, sometimes later.  It depends on the person.  What about sharks?"
     I was seven, the shark seemed to think on it, Usually, it seems to happen between six and thirteen.
    
"Lucky," I was a bit jealous, "You'll have been changing for years by the time I get around to it."
     It is one of the benefits of being a shark.
    
Our conversation continued as I stitched each wound shut, praying to the Sea God that I was helping the shark and not actually causing more harm.
     What is the story of the first selchie?  He asked as I rested in the water next to him, waiting for my hands to recover from a crap.  His voice still had that deep, sleepy quality to it.  If only laying on my back caused me such relaxation!
     "Well, the first selchie was a woman named Jora.  She fell in love with a man who was a fisher.  They courted each other and he realized that he loved her greatly.  He wanted to marry her but was too poor to give her a marriage gift.  So he went diving for the finest shells, which really was stupid because you can find perfectly good ones on the beach, and like an idiot he became trapped against some small island.  The surf was beating him to death when Jora saw him from the beach.  She went running out into the ocean, ready to die for his sorry rear end.  So she goes jumping into the ocean and she impressed the Sea God with her willingness to sacrifice herself.  He decided to give her a fighting chance and as she went diving in, He turned her into a seal."
     What kind?  Though still in the world of bliss, the shark seemed to perk up with intrigue.
     "A Wedell seal," I was glad to have an attentive audience, even if it was just an audience of one shark, "She saved him but when she left the water her sealskin shed off and she was again a woman.  Her man got all mad and stuff and accused her of being a demon, and that angered the Sea God."
     The shark sighed, Early humans were very ignorant.
    
"And ungrateful.  Small wonder why they blew themselves up," I snorted in distaste; humans now were thankfully a far cry from their ancestors, "So the Sea God appeared on the beach and gave them each an option.  He told the man that he could accept Jora and become like her, and live the immortal life of a selchie or Jora could give the man her sealskin and live as a human.  She could never return to the sea, though, because she would be spurning the gift of the Sea God and he did not wish her presence if she did so."
     "Jora chose the man and years later had a son with him.  Their son, Matthias, loved the sea.  His father was proud of him and made him a fisherman as well.  While they were out fishing, Jora was spoken to by the Sea God.  For twenty years since the birth of her son she had made offerings of her own blood and gifts from the sea to the Sea God, letting Him know that she regretted turning away his gift.  He recognized her sacrifices and appeared to tell her where her husband had hidden her sealskin and that she must find it quickly to prevent disaster."
     "It was a good thing she hurried because Matthias was going through his first Change and his father was ready to spear him, fearing he was possessed by something evil.  Jora jumped between them but was killed instead.  The man wept for her, blaming their son, and pulled the spear out of her body to kill Matthias.  But Matthias turned into a leopard seal and devoured his father."
     Very shark-like.  I detected a note of approval in the shark's voice.
     "Yeah, well, that's why you don't see leopard seal selchies around.  None of us have that kind of soul."
     What kind of soul is that?
    
"A vengeful or hateful one.  May I finish?"
     He was quiet so I continued, "The Sea God saw this all go down and saw that Jora had made the right decision in the end, so he brought her back to life.  One of the Sea God's sons was so struck by her sacrifice and by the bravery of Matthias that he left the depths of the sea to take Jora as a wife.  So that's where the selchie line began."
     Your father is human.  Do others disapprove?
    
My fingers had stopped hurting so I continued my task of sewing him back up, "I don't know.  Some might but I think that most don't.  Matthias went on to have like, a thousand selchie children with a human woman.  He gave up immortality for her so while it's not really common...I don't think it's really frowned on.  No one has ever seemed to have a problem with my mother and father's relationship."
     Will your mother give up immortality for your father?
    
I shrugged, "Probably.  They're disgustingly in love."
     He was quiet for a moment, then:  Doesn't that bother you?
    
"Nah," Shark people weren't given a choice like the selchies were when it came to immortality, so his confusion was pretty much understandable.
     "I'll miss her but she wouldn't be truly happy without him.  They're two sides of the same coin."
     The shark pondered that while I continued to piece him back together.  The stitches were ugly and uneven but they held without being too tight, something the medical book declared a no-no.  The slow seepage of blood had stopped so he was no longer in risk of slowly bleeding to death and in my opinion, everything was going swimmingly.  The company, surprisingly, wasn't half bad either.
     I clipped some excess suture off, "What about Aikanaka?  I know she was your First but that's all I know."
     I have never shared the story with someone who was not of the Shark People.
    
"There's a first for everything.  Spit it out."
     I was glad he was too blissed out to be irritated.
     I am not as exciting as a story teller as you, the shark warned, but this is how it is told.  There was once a man whose sons were killed unjustly by the King of their tribe.  He went to the Sea God and the Sea God agreed to give him vengeance.  This man, Kumalo, was to go to the bluffs and build a wall across the base of the cliffs.  Then he was to gather those who chose to believe in the Sea God's vengeance behind the wall.  He would be given three days to do this.  Kumalo was a man who belonged solely to the Sea God so he readily agreed.  He began to build the wall and the other followers of the Sea God began to help him.  The King was prideful so he did not pay attention and when the third day came, all those who followed the Sea God hid behind the wall.  The Sea God sent a storm through the village and everyone who sided with the King was washed into the cove where sharks were waiting.  They began feasting on the non-believers.  One woman watched over the wall and noticed a forgotten child being carried away by the water.  She could not condemn a child for the King's crime against the Sea God and his followers.
    
He recited the story and indeed, was not a great story teller.  However, the story itself was pretty exciting.
     She jumped over the wall and let the water carry her to the cove.  She managed to grab the child and throw him into the rocks.  Two sharks grabbed her and to save her, the Sea God turned her into a great tiger shark.  The others were submissive to her but the blood in the water put her into the prey-frenzy and she fed upon man and shark alike.  When she came to her senses she cried for what she had done and begged that the Sea God kill her for taking the lives of others.  The Sea God understood her pain but would not change her back into a human.  Instead he gave our People and all sharks the gift of peace to perform on one another as an act of friendship, love, and trust.  This made the pain bearable so the woman, who named herself Aikanaka, which means 'man-eater', asked one more request which was only that she not be alone.  Half the villagers, including Kumalo, volunteered to be of the Shark People.  He later became her King and they became the first of my family's line.
    
"I like Aikanaka better than Jora," I admitted, "Jora was a push over."
     Perhaps you should have been born a shark.
    
I snorted and clipped the remaining thread from the last set of stitches.  It probably wasn't the prettiest medical work ever performed but I was proud of it.  It wasn't every day that an unchanged selchie girl got to stitch up a Shark Prince.
    "Ready to get right side up?"
     Hmmm... was the only response I received.  I took that as an affirmative and put my materials up.  After a little balancing act, I managed to get the shark up right.  Water rushed over his back, his sandy hide glittering gold and bronze.
     "I'm going to tie some rocks to your fins and tail to weigh you down.  Will the flow of water into the pool be enough for you to breathe with?"
     Yes.  His voice was more curt now that he was no longer in the stage of tonic.  I missed the lighter expression in his voice.  It had made for a better conversation.  So I ignored him and grabbed the rope I had brought with me.  A large rock, which required some effort on my part to get with obviously no help or thanks from the shark, tied on either end provided a good counter weight to his natural buoyancy.  I thought that sharks just sunk but apparently this shark was different.  The rope was long enough that he could float away from the rocky bottom but still have all of his body covered by the water.  I waited until his body settled near the bottom before diving down after him.
     Under the water I could imagine what the shark was like before his injury.  The sunlight filtered down, the areas it hit on his body lighting up with metallic brilliance.  I had never really seen a live shark in person.  Our island consisted mainly of human and selchie, an occasional wanderer thrown into the mix.  Sharks stayed away from us, minus the reef sharks that sometimes hunted our waters.  I'd never really seen them though except for the rare sight of a dark shape coasting by the beach.  He was frightening but his form was graceful.  Even something as frightening as a shark could have beauty.
     Are you really a prince?  I asked in the mental voice.
     His massive eyes pinned me with a menacing stare as I let my body gravitate through the water towards him.
     Yes.
     My name is Mona,
I offered.
     He hesitated and then sighed, I am Nanave.
    
I laid my hand on his back, feeling the tiny teeth covering his hide tickle my palm.  If he minded he didn't say anything.  It was something to savor.  Never had I heard of a selchie getting way with petting a shark before.
     Who bit you?
     No one! 
Nanave sounded angry at first but then he seemed to collect himself, I...perhaps I will tell you tomorrow.
    
I wrinkled my nose in the water, I like you better when you're upside down.
    
There was a hint of laughter in his mind's voice, I like myself better that way as well.
    
Bubbles obscured my face as I grinned, I didn't know sharks liked to be petted.  It's like have my own undersea dog.
     Curse your hide! 
Nanave growled, Get out of my tide pool!


    
Nanave.  He was on my mind the whole night.  I wondered if he was well.  Over dinner I realized that I had not even thought to provide him with food.  Guiltily I promised myself that I would get him a whole basket of fish in the morning.  I helped with dishes and worried what would happen if a squall came through while he was in the tide pool.  If he bounced around a lot he would end up opening his stitches again.
     What if someone found him?
     I was disgusted with myself.  Who would be skulking around the bluffs in the middle of the night?  No one!  Angrily I tossed in bed, glad that my siblings  were adults and had bothered off for the night.  My mind kept racing with 'what if's.  Finally, thoroughly annoyed with myself, I pushed my face into a pillow and screamed.  If this was what it meant to be a parent or even to own a pet then forget it.
     I hated responsibility.


     For four days I tended that ingrate before he again decided to gift me with a conversation.  That equated to four days of me awkwardly checking his stitches, feeding him, and adjusting the weights on him in silence.  It was a least not an angry silence, but still, it was uncomfortable especially for a chatty person such as myself.  I was on the verge of asking him if he had suffered brain damage when he finally deigned to speak with me again.
     Why are you helping me?
    
The fact that I was helping him and not hindering him seemed to be an issue of sorts.  I mentally sighed as I floated another fish towards his mouth.  I was surprised again by the neatness with which he ate.  Since the fish were not overly large Nanave seemed to just slurp them down.
     Listen, I bobbed in the water next to him, I don't hate sharks.  I know it seems weird to you but what have you personally done to me?  I think the Shark People are scary, yeah, but you're not inherently bad.  You're People just like the selchies.
    
Nanave seemed extra contradictory that day, Our People kill each other all the time.
     So do other Peoples,
I moved my hair out of the way of my vision, but you see them trading and getting along sometimes all the same.  Why is it so hard for you to understand this concept, Nanave?  Don't the Shark People help each other at all?
    
I knew it was a dumb question as soon as I asked it.  Nanave had shared his memories with me.  What I remembered of the Shark People was not a cold society but a warm one focused on kin and tradition.  I had seen their courtship dances and mothers guiding their young out of the shallows to truly swim in the sea for the first time.  I was embarrassed and Nanave seemed to sense that because he remained silent as I mentally berated myself.
     That was stupid, I said as way of apology, I guess old beliefs are hard to kill.  I was always told that Shark People were cold, brutal...all those unsavory sort of things.  But I mean, you guys do eat your own kind.  That's kind of hard to look past.
     Seals are guilty of the same.
     Just some,
I admitted guiltily.  Why was it so easy to judge someone else when you were doing the same thing?  Shark People didn't eat their own, but sharks did.  Selchies didn't eat their own, but seals did.  It shouldn't have been so hard for me to draw that line.
     Well?  Nanave prompted.  I could have sworn he was teasing me.
     Alright I'm just digging myself a hole.  My point is that you haven't given me a reason not to help you, shark or no shark.  It wouldn't have been right for me to leave you there to die.  Why does it bother you so much?
     I don't know,
he sounded troubled, I would have probably let you you die.
    
I was insulted and withheld the next fish as punishment, Why?!
     Out of principal,
he eyed me, Give me that fish.
    
I grudgingly floated the fish towards him, keeping my hands well away from his mouth.  It wasn't that I thought he would bite me intentionally.  I had pretty much gotten over that fear.  I just didn't want him to accidentally confuse one of my hands for a mackerel.
     I guess I understand.  Most selchies would have just left you here to die.
     Or killed me.
    
That was true.  Yeah, that too.
     I appreciate that you didn't do either. 
It was the closest thing to a 'thank you' that I had gotten.  Something told me that the Shark Prince had a pride issue.
     You didn't act like it at first, I reminded him.
     I was ashamed, his voice was as embarrassed sounding as I had felt earlier.  I couldn't help but feel a bit vindicated.
     Why?  Because a selchie was helping you?
     No,
he said firmly, it wasn't that.  I wanted help.  I did not want to ask for it.
    
That was a feeling I could understand.  I hated asking for help, even when I wanted it.  If I happened to be frustrated an offer of help felt like an insult.  I knew where he was coming from in feeling that way.
     I know how that feels, I gave him another fish, I don't like asking for help either.  Are you ever going to tell me who bit you like that?
    
He was still, a vast golden shape in the water.  His shark eyes fixated on me.  Just a few days before his eyes would have sent me running for home.  At first they had seemed devoid of emotion.  Now I was fairly certain of the subtle emotions displayed there.  Nanave was calculating, thinking.  I almost told him that he was making him feel like lunch but he was so serious that I metaphorically swallowed the words before I could communicate them to him.  That nagging feeling was emanating from my gut again.  This time it was telling me that Nanave was going to say important and it was better to keep my mouth shut. 
     Can I trust you?
    
It wasn't just any question.  This was one of those big questions that required absolute honesty.  Could he trust me?  I thought on it.  It wasn't hard for me to find the answer; I had hid him from my family and from others, and had possibly risked my life at his hands to help him.  He could trust me.  We had shared glimpses into each others world.  How could I betray someone's trust after having an intimate encounter with their life?  I knew whatever he spoke, I would keep secret.  And I would defend him.  I think it was at that moment that Nanave became more than just a responsibility.  As soon as he became willing to open up he became my friend.  I had a feeling that not many could claim the Shark Prince as their friend, especially if that person was a selchie.
     I nodded to him, my thoughts to complex to voice.  How could I explain to him that the instant he asked the question I knew that I could never betray any of his secrets, that he was someone special and important beyond his role as Shark Prince?  I couldn't and I knew he would have thought me insane if I did.  The Sea God had His hand in things and it looked like it was leading to something complicated.
     Did you know that the Shark People only have two children, a boy and a girl?
    
I hesitated, Kind of.  I think that I picked it up from your memories.  Why only two children?
    
Nanave's voice was a little condescending but I chose to find no offense because I didn't think he meant it to sound that way, One girl to rule the family with her other female relatives, and one boy to join another family.  Females are more dominant.  As we grow up, the males often become bartering tools in family alliances and treaties.  It may sound unusual to you but our society is different than many.  Growing up, it never bothered me.  i received the same education and treatment as my sister.  She would just have different responsibilities.
    
I could understand this to an extent.  Selchie males were more dominant.  Our families were generally patriarchal rather than matriarchal.  It seemed a bit odd but I supposed things were mostly the same, just with the genders swapped.
     My sister's name was Kaia.  Her shark form was the same as mine.  She was older than me and when we were younger, she tormented me.  Yet we were best friends.  She was to inherit and I would marry and join another family.  The girl I came to care for and chose to be my future wife was named Mei and our families were very close.
     Was she pretty?  I blurted.
     The shark rolled his eyes in surprise, Excuse me?
    
My face went on to prove that indeed, a person can blush underwater.
     Yes, she was, Nanave continued, obviously as confused by my outburst as I was, She was very kind as well, and smart.  This is about Kaia, though, not about Mei.  Mei is no longer in my future.  My sister was a princess and she had more life in her than any one else i have ever known.  Kaia was brave and never frightened, not even as a child.  We were all proud of her.  I never grew jealous of her; that wasn't the way our world worked.  I knew she loved me and she would defend me to the death if need be, and I would do the same.
     She was killed two years ago,
his voice lacked any expression of pain; whatever sorrow ate at him he had long buried it, It was during a freak summer storm.  We lost many, Kaia being just one of them.  My mother was more progressive than most.  She could have adopted one of my cousins or one of the orphans of the storm to take Kaia's place.  Instead she trained me.  My to-be wife Mei would be queen but the power would be mine until we had a daughter who grew to legal age.  I was fine with this arrangement and proud even.  Many were not comfortable with the plan; it was a break from traditions thousands of years old.  A few weeks ago the conclusion was made that I would be sent to the Ancient Ones.  If they approved I would be the interim ruler of the Shark People.  If not, my other would have to choose an interim heir until my daughter came of age or she would have to adopt a new daughter.
     Who are the Ancient Ones? 
I interjected.
     The first of our kind, Nanave's voice had a reverent quality to it, Aikanaka, the Queen of us All, her husband Kumalo, and their children Pele, Oliwa, Kanani, and 'Ele.  They make up the ruling council of the Shark People.  My mother is just one Queen of many, and when quarrels break out between our groups, the council members are the ones to solve it.
     Aikanaka...she is the ruling head, and it is always her word that is final.
    
A shiver ran through me despite the warm water's embrace.  The way he said Aikanaka's name was a mixture of love and harsh bitterness.  I knew in my heart by the way he spoke her name that she had been the one to so injure him.  It was no wonder he said her name with such mixed emotion.  I hadn't been wrong in thinking her much more intimidating than our pathetic First, Jora.
     I should have gone with a humble heart but I was arrogant and demanded the council let me rule as my mother had wished.  I paid for it.  Aikanaka and the Ancients did not agree or disagree with the situation, but dictated that I cannot return until I have defeated my pride, Nanave's voice was brittle and his teeth snapped in the water, Aikanaka marked me so that all would know my shame.  When I left i knew I couldn't return to my people without an answer and bearing Aikanaka's teeth.  But I couldn't go back to the Ancient Ones yet.  Even then my pride was too much.
     Soooo...
I tip-toed my fingers across the edge of his pectoral fin, You decided to give up.
    
I expected a snappy response but instead was given silence.
     Dark eyes moved over me, Aikanaka was right.  Pride is my downfall.
     Well,
I answered cheerily, Admitting you have a problem is the first step in solving it.


    
Erst stopped me the next day as I was on the way to the tide pool by grabbing me by the basket of fish on my back.  My heart nearly stopped in my chest.  He glowered down at me, the shark tooth necklace around his neck seeming more malicious than usual.  I liked to think that Nanave would rip Erst apart in a second, but Nanave was weakened.  He wouldn't be slaughtering anyone any time soon despite how tempting it was to bring Erst to the tide pool and shove him in.  He fingered the woven material of my basket roughly and I pulled away, baring my teeth.
     "Don't do that!  You'll tear my basket!"
     He crinkled his nose at me, "What are you do with all this fish, pup?"
     I bristled at his condescending tone; unlike with Nanave who spoke arrogantly out of royal habit, Erst did it on purpose to annoy, "I'm not a pup any more, Erst.  I turn twenty tomorrow."
     "Then you should know better than to wander off without notifying anyone and with the better part of a morning's catch on your back."
     "I caught these myself," I resented the accusation in his voice, "I wouldn't steal from my family."
     "I didn't say you did."
     I knew there was no point in arguing that he had insinuated theft.  I gave him one last glare and turned to leave.
     "Who is your suitor?"
     Those words froze me.  I willed my feet to move but my skin prickled along my spine and I found myself turning to face him.  Erst was standing there, a smug sort of meanness in his eyes.
     "I thought as much," he lazily scratched at his chest, "Who is he?  You come back every night reeking of male.  I hope you're not messing with a human boy.  Your bloodline is diluted enough as is."
     Before I could say anything, he continued, "But I don't think it's a human boy you're flirting with.  You smell like male, but not of human or selchie."
     "Stay out of my business!"
     He grinned, slow and toothy-like, "You're going to be my sister soon.  I have to watch out for you."
     I shuddered with anger, "You'll never be my brother!  Martina will never pick you!"
     Instead of getting ruffled like I thought he would, he gave me the look that parents give their children when the children were being indulged.  I knew that look well because my parents gave it to me quite often.  It never ceased to annoy me.
     "Your sister will choose me and I will be your brother.  I demand respect as such."
     "I don't respect you, so you're barking up the wrong tree," I said with deliberate haughtiness, instantly regretting it.  I itched to go check on Nanave.  I didn't want to stand here and argue with a waste of time like Erst, but I couldn't help but keep snapping back at him.  This must have been what my mother meant when she often said I let my mouth get away from me.
     Erst's eyes narrowed, "Some would say you're acting as a traitor to your kind."
     "I don't know what you're talking about."  Fear raced through my veins, icy cold.
     "You do," his voice rumbled, reminding me of just how much power he had, "But play your games if you like.  I'll find out what exactly you're doing eventually.  Martina would be very upset if I allowed anything to happen to you."
     I knew that if anything happened to me it would be because of him.  I knew that Erst, who loved to hunt sharks, would kill Nanave if he had the chance and probably me as well.  He was sniffing too close along my trail and my emotions had betrayed too much already.  The question was what to do about it.  The answer thus far was nothing.  Killing him was a nice thought but without obvious proof that he intended me harm, murder could not be justified.
     And Martina would definitely have something to say about that.
     As nasty as her suitor was, I couldn't hurt Martina like that.  I was fairly certain she would get rid of him in her own time.  Until then I was pretty much stuck.  Besides, I wasn't one of the Shark People.  Killing Erst was a nice fantasy but in actually the thought of carrying it out made me squeamish.
     I looked at Erst long and hard, "I'm not doing anything to hurt my family.  I love them."
     "Young girls can be foolish, especially when it comes to men."
     "If I wanted advice on men I'd ask my sisters," I was just flat out exasperated feeling, "Can I go now or are you going to keep on yammering your jaw?"
     He shrugged, "No one's forcing you to stay here."
     I gritted my teeth and resisted the urge to say something back and started walking swiftly away.  I wished Nanave was better because then I really would push Erst in at that point.  I watched behind me and took the longer, winding path towards the bluffs, hoping to throw him off my trail a bit.  It was kind of fun to imagine Nanave rearing out of the water to bite human Erst in half.  It was just a fantasy though.  Erst was massive in his elephant seal form and with Nanave being so hampered by his wound, Erst would be more than a challenge for the Shark Prince.  Erst was also sneaky and I had a feeling that in such a case, he would not fight honorably like I expected Nanave would.  Still...by the time I reached the tide pool, Nanave had inflicted a thousand imaginary deaths upon Erst, all of them more gruesome than the last.  By the time I got there, I was feeling much better.
      Nanave, however, was missing.
     Like a hysterical idiot I dropped my basket full of fish and screamed, "Nanave!"
     I winced as the sound of my own voice rocketed off the bluffs, scattering seagulls that immediately began croaking at me in their hoarse voices.  I waited until they settled before again yelling the Shark Prince's name, this time at a less shrill octave.  No answer.  I looked hopefully into the pool again as if Nanave might magically reappear.
     No such luck.
     Breathing deep I thought about it.  Either someone had kidnapped him, killed him, or he had taken off.  I discarded the notion of kidnapping or murder.  It would be ridiculously hard to kidnap a shark of Nanave's size, unless he had changed into his human form.  And murder...didn't that at least leave evidence?  Besides what would I do?  Run to the nearest patrol?  Help, please, someone stole my shark?
     He'd left.  The certainty of it left a hollow pit in my stomach.
     Ingrate.
     I didn't want to admit it, but it hurt.  After all I had saved him, taken care of him, and fed him fish with my bare hands.  We had shared that weird upside down tonic thing together.  Ne knew what it was like being a selchie.  I swore under my breath, quietly as if one of my siblings was waiting to hear the utterance and pounce on it.  I leaned my haphazardly thrown basket up against the bluff.  The surf was strong today and the rocks sheltering the tide pool were slimy-slick.  I climbed one any way, ignoring the risk.  Above the protection of the rocks, the wind battered me near senseless.  The sea was slate gray, decorated with the white tips of violent waves.  There was no sign of Nanave.  I called his name again.  Nothing.  You would think he would have at least left a note.
     I tried again, this time using my mental voice, which could be heard at much greater distance than my physical voice.  I put all my heart and frustration into the call.
     Nanave!
    
A sparkling golden-bronze fin sliced through the angry, dusky blue waves.  Relief spread through my chest.  I didn't realize I had been so panicked until I relaxed.  The Shark Prince obviously lacked any worry for me because he continued to cavort in the waves, the great crescent of his fin darting here and there.  After a while I noticed there were smaller, triangular fins racing around his.
     It looked like a large game of shark tag.
     I waited with my arms crossed until the high and mighty shark deigned to speak with me.
     I am feeling much better, he finally spoke to me, his voice managing to sound apologetic and thrilled.
     I grunted, not amused, I hope your stitches pull out.
     That is not very kind,
he lectured me, flipping about in the water so that his pristine white sides flashed in the air, They're holding just fine.
     Well fine,
I snapped, Good-bye then.
    
The fin disappeared under the churning wave, I am not leaving.  I was just exercising.  Meet me on the beach.
     Yes, O Mighty Prince,
I snapped.  By the time I got back to the beach the Shark Prince was waiting, dressed in what appeared to be a stolen set of breeches and soft leather sandals.  He was shorter and lithe than the other men on the island, his skin a dark golden hue.  His shimmering black hair was long too, which I wrinkled my nose at.  On the island, men had short hair and women had long hair.  Impulsively I reached out and pulled the thick braid swaying over his shoulder.
     "You better cut this off.  People will think you're a woman."
     Nanave grinned, showing a nice set of straight, pearly whites.  I noticed that his teeth were pointed as if they had been filed; it was unnerving to see in a human mouth, though it made sense.  Like a seal I had elongated and sharp canines, and molars more suited for shredding than masticating.  Still it surprised me.  His eyes were black shark eyes but they weren't emotionless.  He looked exuberant.
     "What do you think?" He motioned at his noticeably attractive stomach which was decorated by noticeably unattractive stitching.  The sutures had held nicely with nary a sign of tearing or stretching.  The flesh puckered slightly at the edges and I imagined the stitches would be unpleasant to remove but at least they had held through his changing, which was a good sign.  I wondered if I should seriously study to be a doctor.
     "We can take the stitches out tomorrow," I frowned at him, "Then what will you do?"
     Nanave looked across the sea, unreadable, "Put my pride aside and face the Ancient Ones again."
     I sat down uncomfortably on the sand.  The thought of him leaving for good upset me on a level I couldn't quite understand.  I felt sad, angry, and a little relieved and other emotions I couldn't place.
     "Tomorrow is my birthday," I said to break the silence.  The Shark Prince gave me a funny look.
     Nanave curled a lip in a smile that was both handsome and sketchy, "If you hadn't told me your age previously I would swear you were only turning seventeen."
     "Very funny."
     "I am being serious.  Or maybe you are fifteen...fourteen..."
     I pushed at him indignantly, warmed at the thought though that the Shark Prince had decided to tease like a normal person, "Oh knock it off.  I'm an adult now.  I could change at any moment and eat you like Matthias ate his father!"
     He raised an arched brow, "You wouldn't."
     "I liked you better before you had a sense of humor."
     But he wasn't paying attention.  He was looking past me, eyes narrowed with severity, "Who is that?"
     I looked over my shoulder.  A tall figure was overlooking us, obviously watching us with some interest.  A shiver ran through me.  I knew who it was.
     "What does he want?"  I could feel more than hear Nanave bristle.  He was every bit a prince now, his voice cold and shark-like.
     "Probably just some lost trader," my skin refused to stop prickling, "Let's go."
     "Where?"  He eyes were locked on the figure.
     "I don't know," I snapped, pulling his arm.  His skin was roughened and not smooth like my own; it was if his skin was more like a shark's than a human's, "Let's go get your hair cut or something.  That guy is bothering me."
     Nanave grabbed my wrist to stop me, "You know who it is."
     It wasn't so much of an accusation as it was a statement, "Yes and I want to live to see my birthday.  So please can you just not be a shark right now and listen to me?"
     There was no way I was going to incite his anger by telling him that I was more concerned that it was him that wouldn't live until my birthday.  I knew that man.  I could smell and sense him.  It was Erst and if any selchie could kill a member of the Shark People, it was him.  He was cruel and nasty; I could see that in his eyes.  It was always the mean ones that won the fights.  I tugged nervously on the Shark Prince's hand.  Nanave responded by reluctantly allowing me to pull him away.  i swore I could hear Erst laughing at me.  Nanave's grip was tight on my hand and once we were out of sight he pulled me to a stop.  His face was serious but he didn't frighten me any more.  Why he thought I'd be intimidated by his human face when I had been up close and personal with his shark face, I wasn't sure.
     "What was that about?"  He spoke with clear exasperation.  I sighed and spilled my guts to him.  I told him about all my feelings about Erst and the run-in I had with him earlier.  I made my dislike and fear clear and emphasized several times the fact that Erst seemed to act like shark killing was a mission from the Sea God.
     "I am a Prince and of the Shark People," Nanave stopped me wearily, "I am not afraid of him.  I cannot imagine that he would be so foolish as to confuse me for one of my little cousins that hunt in the cove."
     I was nearly as tired as him but in my case it was his refusal to see the evident threat was what wore me out.
     "You're still not fully healed and you're not listening to me!  Erst likes to kill.  There is nothing in his eyes that is good!"
     The Shark Prince's hand slid over his still stitched wounds, "And what about you?  What will he do about you?"
     "Try to accuse me of being some sort of race traitor, try to shame me, things like that.  Maybe try and actually kill me too, I don't know.  The point is that he for sure knows you're here now.  You have to leave before you get tangled up in whatever he might be plotting.  Erst is stupid but he'll complicate your life."
     "I don't understand," Nanave rubbed his temples, "You make him sound like a brainless brute one minute and a crafty warrior the next.  You are letting your dislike of him color the situation."
     "I just don't want you to get hurt!"  It was out of my mouth before I could stop it.  It was more a revelation of my feelings for him than anything but being a stupid male, Nanave took it the wrong way.
     "I do not need some silly girl to protect me," he raged, drawing away from me, "Especially a ridiculous little selchie!"
     I drew in a sharp breath, insulted.  I was not a silly girl, at least not all the time, and he said selchie as if I were an inferior creature.
     "No wonder the Ancient Ones took a bite out of you!"  His eyes flared with surprise and I continued on, heedless to whether or not I was truly angering him, "Next time you need someone to sew your intestines back into place don't come crying to this silly, selchie girl!"
     Irate, I turned away from him.  I couldn't help but turn back and yell out one last parting shot.
     "If I were Aikanaka I would have bitten off your head!  It's not like you use your brain any how!"
     I had the pleasure of seeing him look absolutely shocked before I walked away.  If he and Erst wanted to duke it out and act like typical males then it wasn't my problem.


     That night at dinner Erst was suspiciously absent.  Martina smoothly told us that the two of them had a falling out and he would not be around for long while, if ever again.  I was extremely pleased and even though my mother expressed regret, I was fairly sure that she was secretly as well.  In fact, she seemed to glow.  Dinner was full of excitement, after all the following day was my birthday.  I couldn't help but bask in the attention of my family.  I had watched each of them enviously as they reached adulthood.  Now it was my turn.  Within this year I would undergo my first Change.  My mother and father both gave me long, loving looks.  I think they were mostly looking forward toward me Changing, finding a suitor, and moving out.  Even if that was the case I didn't mind so much.  Over the past week I had carried more stress than I had realized.  The weight eased off my shoulders as I endured playful teasing about my gifts.
     I did a very good job of mostly keeping Nanave from my thoughts.
     When it came time to clean up I pulled Martina aside to ask her what had happened between her and Erst.  She gave me a wane smile and shook her head.  I grumbled and continued to bug her until she rolled her eyes at me.
     "Why do you care to know?  You never liked him in the first place."
     "True," I admitted, "I'm curious though.  Pleeeeease?
     "Well," she concentrated extra hard on the dishes she was scrubbing, "He took issue to the family and decided once married that we would move far way."
     I tried my best not to lift a single brow at her, "Sounds stupid."
     She gripped the plate hard enough to turn her hands white around the knuckles, "He went after you particularly, Mona.  He doesn't care for you at all."
     "Yeah, well...the feelings are mutual."
     Martina turned to me, her eyes fiery, "I'm just not sure how on any level he could think I would choose him over family."
     Then she added venomously, "Blubber for brains."
     I laughed until she beat me silly with a spoon.


     That night was a different story.  That night I tossed and turned, my head full of nightmares.  I dreamed that I was with my family, all of us gathered for my birthday dinner around the table.  Everything should have been right but it was not.  Our home seemed darker, more shadowed than usual.  Everyone's smiles seemed frozen on their faces.  I tried desperately to talk to them but they were statues with those sick grins warping their mouths.
     "There he is," one of them said through stiff lips.
     I turned to the doorway.  Erst was there, a covered silver tray in his hands.
     "No."  Whatever was on that tray I knew I didn't want it.
     "It's your birthday dinner."  Black, scummy water oozed from between Erst's teeth.  I whimpered, not sure if I was crying just in my sleep or back in my bed as well.  Despite my mind screaming not to do it, I rose from the table, the eyes of my family burning holes in my back.  I reached for the tray's cover and the whole thing shook in Erst's hands.  I wept.
     "Go on," Erst encouraged, "Try a bite."
     I tore the cover off the tray and my family began to cheer.  I scream and screamed as Nanave's head rolled off the platter and onto my feet.


     I woke up to the sound of my own yelp.  I gripped the blankets around me, squeezing my eyes shut against the lasting, heart pounding fear.  Guilt ate at me.  I should have reasoned with Nanave.  Now he was probably long gone or still here and in danger.  I bit my lip and tried to fight away the memory of the nightmare.  Outside the world was tinged with pink, dawn having approached while I was busy being scared out of my mind.
     Mona!
    
It wasn't my fear any more but that of Nanave's.  Images assualted my mind.  A man walking and a hidden, red-eyed monster rising out of the tide to crush the man with hundreds of pounds of muscles and sharp tusks.  The man was crying out in anger and rolling away to flee to the ocean.
     Nanave.  Erst had ambushed him.  Regret made my stomach turn.
     Where are you?!
    
Disjointed pictures appeared before my eyes heavily coated with pain, rage, and despair.  The emotions and pictures hitting me all at once made my brain ache in protest.  Trapped...Nanave was trapped!  He could not leave the cove because of his injuries, nor could he return to the beach where Erst waited in the shallows for him.  Some of his wounds had torn open and new ones marred his body and blood gushed into the sea.  In deeper waters his little cousins had begun to gather, drawn by the blood of their Prince.  I shuddered and hurried out of my bed, the morning cold biting at me.  I smothered my fear.  Nanave's emotions were enough to deal with.  I could feel how sorry he was that he hadn't listened to me; he wasn't sorry because of his injuries but because if he died I would never know...
     I sent him a quick thought to silence him before I was overwhelmed and completely blinded by the mental images.  All his emotions were too much for me and I sealed him out.  My heart beat at a frantic rate as I raced out of my parents' home.
     I ran smack into Martina.  In the instant our eyes met I knew my oldest sister had gotten Nanave's messages as well.
     "No!" I cried as she caught me, holding me back.  I kicked at her ineffectually.  Since she had Changed her human form had been given the strength of a seal.  She held me as easily as a parent would hold an infant.
     "You can't!"  She wheeled me around to face her; she looked sick, "He'll kill you too!  He'll do it without thinking twice!"
     "You have never brought him here!"  I tried to wretch my arms away but she held on; I couldn't remember ever being so furious with her, "If you hadn't brought him here this never would have happened!  He's going to kill Nanave!"
     Martina shook me slightly, anger bubbling up under her fear, "I know that!  Don't you think I blame myself for this!"
     "I can't let him hurt Nanave!"  I felt fat tears begin rolling down my face.
     Her grip loosened, "i think you're in love with him."
     That was enough to give me pause, "I...maybe?"
     "Close enough," she let go of me, looking tired, "You would be the one to fall in love with a shark."
     "Please, I need to go," I whispered, ready to flee.  The Shark Prince's name was beating a fast tempo through my heart.
     She wrapped me into a fierce hug, "You're not doing this alone.  Trust me."
     I swallowed my tears, hugging her back, "Martina, no!"
     "Mona," she was furious, though not with me, "For once in your life listen to me.  This doesn't just involve you."
     She was right.  I ran down the beach, ignoring the shards of pain in my feet.  As I ran I thought that Erst had done worse than just anger me and hurt Nanave.
      He had invoked the wrath of a big sister.


     I stopped before Erst could see me.  The sight made me sick.  Nanave had stranded himself on a sand bar, far enough out to give him room to maneuver and be a threat should Erst pursue him deep into the water.  Yet he was out of reach of the sharp fins that cruised the deeper waters.  He would have to eventually face one danger or another.  I reached out tentatively to speak with him.
     Nanave?
    
On the sand bar an exposed tail fin moved in response, Your sister has poor taste in men.
    
I couldn't help but smile at his acrid tone.  He wasn't dead yet and still had some fight in him.  Is this a bad time to say "I told you so"?
     Extremely,
his voice was harsh, Are you coming to save me again?
    
Erst was in his seal form, a dark brown mass flecked with bloody foam.  His eyes were rolling as he crashed in and our of the waves, bellowing furiously.  Sharks were known for their bloodlust but Erst was feeling it too.  I almost froze with fear.
     Something like that, I crept along the beach slowly, hefting a rock.
     Please keep safe, Nanave's voice was soft.
     I squinted and aimed, You would be out of luck if I didn't.
     That's not what I mean.
     Shut up for a second.
    
I threw the rock as hard as I could.  It struck Erst on his flank, bouncing off with a clatter.  Still he charged in and out of the waves, not even noticing.  Evidently I had miscalculated how much of an affect a fist sized rock would have on a creature of Erst's size.  That didn't leave much of an option other than to go flying in.
     "Hey!"  I shouted as loud as I could, running towards him.  He turned as if in a haze, small eyes full of anger.  Blood, Nanave's blood, smeared his hide.  A crawling, enraged feeling swarmed over me and I clenched my fists.  Erst had drawn the blood of someone who had done no wrong, my friend, and as Martina had astutely guessed, someone I loved.  This outrage trickled over me, prickling me until I felt like I was being eaten alive by it.  Erst moved towards me, showing me the sharp tusks that had done so much damage to Nanave.  If I hadn't been so angry I would have peed my pants.  He advanced on me, roaring and keeping his body turned in such a way that he could keep an eye on the shark.  At that moment I wished he had been as stupid as I always accused him of being.
     So the little traitor shows her face!  His voice was dark and hateful.
     I curled my lips to show him my pointed teeth, "I hope the Sea God curses you for this!  Nanave hasn't done anything to you!  You've attacked an innocent, Erst!  The Sea God doesn't forgive hurting the innocent!"
     Lies!  He thundered, his form shadowing me, You would protect one of the Shark People!  Do you know what they do to our kind?  We are them as cattle are to humans!
    
"That's not true!  I've seen and felt what it is to be one of them," I refused to step away, anger giving me bravado, "You're so wrapped up in this...this...old hate that you can't even see sense!  You...everyone...can't you see how pointless this is?"
     Erst tilted his head slightly as if considering.
     You're a fool, Mona.  He moved towards me and this time I did stumble back.
     The world was left in the hands of those blessed by the Sea God, his voice was trembling with emotion, Would you rather we be ruled by his kind?  Or perhaps the kelpie?  The dolphins, the seafolk?
    
"What are you talking about?!" I had never heard such idiocy in my life, even living with two brothers, "The Shark People aren't trying to rule us!  No one is trying to rule us, stupid!"
     Should we wait until they try, then?
    
I drew a breath, "Erst, you're talking like an old-time human."
     Perhaps they had the right idea.  To strike an enemy before they have a chance to strike us seems like wisdom to me, his reddened eyes focused on me, They had wisdom in dealing with traitors as well.
    
"Oh really?  What wisdom was that?"  I wanted badly to look at Nanave.
     This would probably be a good time for you to get out and get away, I snapped pointedly.
     Not yet, his voice was strained, You're still too close.
    
I could hear the pain in his voice, That bad?
     Worse,
he murmured.  Despite his flippant attitude I could hear the fear.  The Shark Prince was afraid.
     Traitors, Erst was practically running me down now and I skipped backwards over the beach, received the death penalty.
    
"Did they, now?" I muttered afraid to turn and run.  He was moving fast for his size.  He could easily crush me if I made a misstep.
     I wonder if your shark cares enough about you to save you.  Would he risk dying or stay there in there water for me to take your life?
    
There was nothing to say now to him.  I was truly afraid.  My bravado was disappearing under the weight of the circumstances.  Erst planned to kill both of us one way or another.
     Whatever you do, just stay in the water.
    
Nanave was rightfully suspicious, Why?  What is going on?
     He's going to try and use me to lure you in closer to shore.  Just stay there!
     How is he-?
    
Erst's giant head snapped forward in my direction and I screamed, jumping to the side.  His breath had the dark, rusty smell of blood.
     "No!" I yelled at him as if he were an errant puppy to listen to me.  That would just make life to easy if he actually did my bidding.
     Mona!  The helplessness in Nanave's voice hurt as much as I imagined being squished by Erst would hurt.  I pleaded with the Sea God to keep him there and out of Erst's reach.
     I also added to my little prayer that if I had to die, I'd prefer it be quick and painless.
     I grabbed a rock and as Erst tried to catch me again in his maw, I did my best to brain him.  I didn't, but there was a satisfying crunching sound as the rock struck him in his eye.  He reared back, letting out a high-pitched sound of pain.  I clenched the rock in my hand and bared my teeth at him.  I was scared but ready to fight for Nanave.  Fresh blood from the wounded eye streamed down his neck.  I let myself be satisfied at the sight.  He roared, muscles quivering over his body.  I didn't need to use instinct to know that drawing blood from him had just irritated him more.  Now the matter of pride was involved.
     Erst drew back to strike again and in answer I raised my rock.  As he plummeted towards me, I was suddenly flying sideways, dark brown fur obscuring my vision.  I rolled hard over rocks, the breath bounced right out of me.  Confused, I stumbled to my feet.
     Martina was a whirlwind of fury in her fur seal form, mane bristled on end.  Her flippers and smaller size made it easier for her to navigate the rocky beach.  He wheeled after her, snapping and trying to pin her with his weight.  Martina dodged him though, sharp canines tearing into Erst with brutal efficiency.  I wasn't fooled though.  She'd be exhausted before she managed to really hurt Erst.  He was simply too large for her attacks to do much damage.  The ground shook as he slammed into the beach, missing Martina again.
     GO!  She screamed at me, batting Erst's too-close head away with one of her flippers and a toothy snarl, Get your shark out of here and get help!
    
I didn't need to ask for clarification.  I high tailed it into the surf, the freezing seawater stinging my body.  My body shook with the pin-prick feeling I had from earlier.  It was if ants were crawling under my skin.
     Nanave!  We need to get out of here!
    
I splashed closer to him.  The water tugging at him was stained dark with his blood.  Deep puncture wounds covered his body, steadily leaking into the sea.  The fins beyond him were growing closer, the fear of their Prince no longer overpowering their desire for flesh.
     The Shark Prince groaned mentally and lolled on the sand bar as I pulled at his fins, trying to drag him off the land.  He rolled over and cried out, Your sister!
    
A high pitched squeal came from the beach and I turned, waves pushing me at me.  Martina was flailing helplessly, her head locked in Erst's jaws.  He thrashed her back and forth as she screamed, writhing to break his grip.
     "Erst, no!"  I fought the waves, trying to move to the beach.  He was dragging her out into the water, her movements becoming weaker as his grip on her tightened.  Even from the sand bar I could hear the grinding of his tusks on Martina's skull.  My sister!  He had my sister!
     You should have never crossed me, Martina!  He flung her body side to side, dragging her further into the breakers that pounded the beach, Look where siding with your traitorous sister has gotten you!  Your blood will chum the waters...let the shark meet his end by his own kind!
    
His jaws were shifting to crush her, to use her blood and body as bait to entice the smaller sharks into a frenzy that would mean the end of all of us.  I dove into the water, the crawling feeling lighting my body on fire.  I lifted my mental voice in a plea to the Sea God.
     Let me save them!
    
As I entered the water I felt my body change.  My form extended outward and I felt a rush of relief as the scratching feeling subsided. 
     A voice like a hammer on brass thundered through my mind, TAKE YOUR VENGEANCE, DAUGHTER OF THE SEA.
    
I lifted myself from the water and howled with an inhuman voice from deep within me.  I could feel my body stretch outwards, flowing into a graceful, snake-like form.  My bones tingled as my head rearranged itself into an almost reptilian form, slashing teeth filling my mouth.  I could feel the sheer power of my body as I rippled through the water, thrilling in the play of my muscles.  I broke the surface and snorted water from my face;  I did not need to look at myself to know that my body was covering in ticked, shimmering silver hide.
     I was the cannibal seal, feared by it's own kind.  I was a hunter, a predator; I was vengeance.  The Sea God had given me the form of a leopard seal, the one beast that could face Erst not as a weakling, but as a formidable opponent.  I reared out of the water to show him my might, allowing the calculating mind of the leopard seal take over mine own.
     Erst was still, his red eyes on me, Martina weakly twitching in his jaws, her mouth agape to catch her breath.  Martina in his jaws, Nanave facing death at his own kind...it was too much.  Rage overwhelmed me and as Martina was dropped by Erst, I rushed towards the surf to meet him.
     He roared and swung his head towards me, scouring my body with his tusks.  Somewhere in me the human part screamed in pain, but the leopard seal let out an echoing bawl of joy.  Confrontation met; I would destroy him.  As I slithered away from in my serpentine form, my jaws raked along his side, devastating teeth slicing through blubber and into flesh.  It tasted good and I darted away from him, clicking rapidly from excitement.  My heart beat powerfully in my chest.  Erst and I were of the same length but my leopard seal form was sleeker and much quicker than Erst's.  He was dizzy, spinning in the water, seeking me out for punishment.  I yapped at him tauntingly and he responded with fury.  He churned the water, charging out deeper towards me.  Oh but the water!  It flowed over me and an awareness sunk deep into my mind.  I could feel the sharks out by the sandbar, circling, feeling their cold shark thoughts as they sought blood and flesh.
     They were not the only ones.
     Erst moved like a barge in the water in comparison to my quick, knotting turns.  His growling roar rumbled and crackled over me, and I hissed ferociously in return.  For a moment he moved towards me but before he could come within range of my reptilian jaws, he stopped, beady eyes moving over me.  His gaze left me, moving past my form.
     Past me, the Shark Prince was floundering on the sandbar.
     Erst was closer to Nanave than I was.  He turned in the water with a grating sound like laughter, his mass working swiftly out towards Nanave.  Rage unlike any I had felt before consumed me.  The love I had lately discovered towards Nanave bloomed like a terrible fire within my heart.  Love for him, for my sister who laid broken on the beach overwhelmed me, but something deeper pounded in my veins.  It was the Sea God whispering in his terrible, beautiful voice.  I was his instrument.  I would set right the wrong that Erst had done.  Horrid visions filled my seal eyes as I pursued the brown hulk in front of me.  To kill the Shark Prince would be to incite a war that would devour both our kinds.  If I saved him though...Not only would we have our love but something greater.  Visions of the future, the future that I wanted, tantalized my brain.  The Sea God was making it clear to me that it was not only my vengeance I needed to seek, but His as well.
     The Hand of the Divine guided me as I lunged blindly in Erst's wake.  My jaws landed, clenched around a rubbery flipper.  I pulled back, whipping my head to the side, and a horrible ripping sensation vibrated over my lips and tongue.  Oh God I hated it but my seal soul loved it as Erst was pulled backward through his own surf, honking shrilly at the loss of the flipper that slid greasily down my greedy leopard seal gullet.  Fury was in his eyes, yes, but now there was fear.  I had wounded him in a way no one else ever dared to.  My maw formed into a clown's grin, smeared with red.  He snapped at me and grunted, nose inflated. 
     You can't stop me, Mona, his eyes were wild, I will have my way! 
    
The leopard seal did not respond.  We had no need for words. 
     Foolishly he turned to Nanave again and I struck.  Up his back I swarmed, using my teeth as grappling hooks.  Erst writhed in the water but he couldn't reach me.  My clawed flippers clung to his back, biting deep into his thick hide.  He reared back his head, trying to strike me off but I moved to the side.  His massive head was right where I wanted it; I took my chance.
     A piercing scream sounded through my mind as I clamped my jaws around his skull.  The world swam around me as my teeth ground down, breaking and rending the bones beneath them.  As Erst screamed mortally, my world turned to black.  As everything faded around me I felt in my heart the warmth of the Sea God's approval.

     I was on the beach, the waves gently stroking my body as I lay in the surf.  The gentle rocking motion begged me to fall back into the half slumber I had been enjoying.  Nothing came to my mind until I heard a voice cry my name.
     "Mona!"
     I lifted my head with a snort, clearing the foam of the surf from my nostrils.  I looked up through seal eyes to see my sister bending before me.  Where were her wounds, the grievous cuts that Erst had placed on her body?  My memories came back in a flash and I grunted, raising my body half off the pebbly sand beneath my belly.
     Martina!  I rolled forward, flopping my way to her.  Deadly in the sea, leopard seals were awkward on land, my flippers and serpentine form ill suited to moving on the harsh beach.  She extended her arms and wrapped them around my head, pulling me close to her breast.
     What-?
    
"I saw him, Mona," she whispered, hugging me tight and stroking the smooth hide around my neck, "The Sea God...He laid his hand on me and I was healed.  He said...he said we had done well, Mona.  We had protected what meant most to us, and to Him."
     Love, I mentally murmured to me, The Sea God holds love above all.
    
"Yes," she laughed softly and breathlessly, "He told me everything.  You and Nanave..."
     Nanave!  I tore my head from her arms and she started to laugh, her laughter joined by another.  There he was, my Shark Prince, standing not far from us, a smile on his face.  My heart lit with joy.  His wounds were healed, scars tracing over his body, but not detracting from the sharp-tooth grin that warmed me more than my sister's embrace.  His hair was long and unbound, fluttering around his shoulders.  I snorted at him and crept forward, looking as subdued as a leopard seal can.  He bent down and placed a hand out for me to place my jaws on.  I snuffled at him pathetically; there were no words for how sorry I felt for the whole deal.  Without the Sea God's intervention, I very well could have caused the death of us all.
     "I told you that you should have been a shark," his voice was full of humor.  How typical.  I was sick with guilt and he was happy.
     I'm sorry, I whispered, I caused this all.
    
"No," he shook his head, his luxurious hair shimmering.  I was jealous that some silly Shark Prince had better hair than I did.
     He looked past me to Martina, "It was Erst.  The only thing you were guilty of was helping someone in need."
     Are you admitting that you needed help?  I feigned shock.  He raised a straight brow at me and looked for a moment like he would argue.  Then he just shook his head.
     "I did.  I needed your help.  I needed you."
     I knew it, I grumbled, rolling back a bit, Martina will you help me?  And you, Shark Prince, turn around.
    
As I changed, Martina gently gathered my shed sealskin and once done, she wrapped it around me.  I was shocked at how weak and cold I was, and my sister rubbed my sealskin vigorously to warm me.  Once my teeth stopped chattering she draped the skin around me to give me some sort of modesty.  I looked at her to thank her to find her smile faltering.
     "I'm sorry," I said, tears pricking my eyes.
     She stroked the side of my face gently, "It's not that, little one.  It's...Nanave you can turn around now..."
     Nanave turned and I could see the same brooding look behind his eyes.  My metaphorical hackles raised and I felt goosebumps cover my skin.
     "What is it?"
     "Mona..." My sister looked uncertain, "The Sea God told us some things.  You have a job to do."
     I was insulted, "Well I'm glad He saw fit to talk to me about it."
     Nanave placed a hand on my arm; his touch was warm and settled me, "That is His way, Mona.  I think you had enough to deal with at the time."
     I was slightly mollified by that.  After all, I had been a rampaging leopard seal.  The Sea God had probably thought I had been a bit busy for further instruction.  I shivered and rubbed my hands together.
     "What does He say?"
     "There's a lot for us to do," Nanave said, a light in his eyes, "It's going to take a long journey though.  You will be meeting many more of my kind."
      I felt a thrill of excitement but then a crawling sensation struck me, "What about...?"
      Martina looked at me; her eyes were unreadable; she pointed out beyond the breakers.  I turned and looked.  Further out a mass of smaller sharks were swarming around bubbling red water.  Our Erst problem had been solved with a finality that made my head swim.  He had found out what it was to suffer the Sea God's wrath.


     The waters were warmer than I had ever experienced.  I can't say that I didn't enjoy it.  The soothing heat seemed to reflect the budding affection between Nanave and I.  It was a quiet, growing thing that had taken root the moment I had decided to save him.  I think it was taking him longer to come to terms with the fact that his love was spent on a selchie, but I understood.  It came slowly on us in gentle words and soft touches.  I was happier than I had ever remembered being.  Swimming with him into the depths of the tropical waters was to know contentment.  We seemed well suited for one another.
     On the way we had seen others of the Shark People, dark forms flitting just out of clear sight.  They had left us alone, perhaps sensing our greater purpose.  I was surprised at not feeling any fear.  The leopard seal part of me knew that now I was more than a match for any of them; I was the largest seal to have ever swam in the ocean, fiercer than any selchie they had ever encountered before.  I don't want to sound egotistic, so I'll also add that I think the fact my escort was the Shark Prince had something to do with it as well.
     Down we dove into the depths.  Nanave didn't need to tell me where we were going.  I knew deep in my heart what the Sea God wanted of us. 
     Let them know we're here, Nanave demanded of me kindly.  He still wasn't very good at expressing his fondness for me but he wasn't as subtle as he thought.  I could read it in his voice, his eyes, his touch, and even in his mind.
     I let out a rumbling call, my seal eyes adjusting to the dim light of the deep.  Down here small glowing creatures I had never before seen danced in the currents.  They reminded me of fireflies upon land and I found comfort in their soft glow.  They gave light to the shapes coming from the deep and I felt my first tingle of fear.  They were even greater in size than Nanave, and the greatest among them was a striped form with a broad, deadly head.  Aikanaka.  The First of the Shark People and Queen to them all.  Around her ranged other forms and Nanave named them as they took their places.  Kumalo, Aikanaka's husband, the Great White.  Pele, the fierce Mako.  Oliwa the Lemon shark, Kanani the Angel Shark, and 'Ele, the bull shark.  None of them seemed so frightening though as Aikanaka, who took the form of a great Tiger shark.  Her form dwarfed them all and she watched us with hauntingly hollow eyes.
     The Prince returns, her voice was deep and endless, And who is this he brings with him?
     I am Mona, a selchie,
my seal form hung in the water; I knew my eyes were as mysterious as hers, black points in the darkness, but inside I was shaking.
     I am left to wonder then, Aikanaka continued, why a selchie would brave facing the Elders of the Shark People.  What is it that brings you here with the Prince, young one?
    
I lowered my head out of respect; I was completely in awe of her, The Sea God has given us a task.  We've come to fulfill it.
     Ah, but there is so much more that you don't tell me,
her voice was full of warmth that thrummed through my bones; it reminded me so much of my mother's embrace that I almost whimpered out of loneliness from my family, Tell me all of it, seal child.
    
I couldn't resist her request and the story poured out me.  At times I found my mental voice breaking with the anguish I felt.  It was only Nanave's steady presence and fear of the ancient beings before us that let me continue.  Nanave's rough pectoral fin brushed over me.  A lot of times he completely failed at showing affection but I could at least count on him to pull through that tough exterior for when I needed him most.  After I was done, the sharks sat in quiet, heads towards one another as if silently communing.
     Finally the silence was broken by 'Ele, We wish to know what it is you have learned from the Sea God.
    
I sat in quiet for a while.  What had I learned?  That my big sister had terrible taste in men?  How to sew up a shark's stomach?  How to avoid being squished by an elephant seal? 
     Love, I remembered the feeling of the Sea God within my mind and His power coursing through my veins, Love is the most important thing to the Sea God.  That's why He turned me into a Leopard Seal, so that I could save the people I love.  The Sea God cannot stand for hatred between His children any more.  He wants us to love one another, the way I love Nanave.
     And does our Shark Prince love you in return, selchie? 
Kumalo's voice was as timeless as Aikanaka's but deeper and full of a masculine timbre.
     Nanave moved ahead of me a bit, I do.  I love her as I have never loved another.
    
It was the most romantic thing he had ever said and he didn't even say it to me.  I was surely going to have to educate him on the finer points of romance once we were done being diplomats.
     Kumalo turned his dark eyes on Nanave, jaws working gently in the water, So speaks one who was marked with shame.  Tell us, Prince, have you learned the lesson Aikananka sought to teach you?
     I have,
the Shark Prince's voice was soft and humble, My pride...it almost killed me.
     I can see that the lesson has been sufficiently learned.  You come to us as a new person, Nanave, and it does me well to be able to tell you that I approve your temporary ruling of your people.  Not all the clans of the Shark People would agree but you have my approval and any that contests that may come and speak to me themselves.
     As for you selchie,
Aikanaka was addressing me again; her voice was so strong it seemed to echo in my bones, You have learned the lesson of the Sea God, and have made His appeal.  How, though, can you love what you don't understand? 
     I understand! 
Part of my natural contrariness was coming back to me, I've seen and felt it!  Nanave...we shared something.  I know what it's like to swim as a shark, and what it's like to be one of your people.  It wouldn't matter any ways.  I'd still love him.  The Sea God doesn't need our understanding.  We don't need to fully understand one another to love.  We don't understand all there is to the ocean, why the storms come as they do, why tides change after years of being the same.  We don't always even understand our own kind.  I don't get why my family members do what they do.  I don't get why my parents always make the choices they do and I don't think they always understand me.  They don't understand why I would come with Nanave, why I love him so much, but they still love ME.  They still support me.  Love doesn't need understanding and that's what the Sea God wants us all to know.  What we need are open minds and open hearts.
    
There was silence and then a blinding light.  Aikanaka was suddenly there as a human and no longer as a shark.  She was glowing, her beautiful face lit up by the light surrounding her.  Long black hair swirled around her.  She was smiling, her eyes lit by more than the supernatural flash around her.
     Oh daughter, she said warmly to me, raising her arms.  I felt close to crying as I swam to her and let her embrace me.  I felt the warmth then of the Shark People.  I felt the torn nature of their lives.  They were caught between a world of indescribable community and their inner nature for the flesh of others.  How long had the selchies misunderstood them?  How long had they misunderstood the fear we had for them?  I could feel the thread of Aikanaka's powers as she thought these things in my mind.
     She stroked my head as she spoke lovingly, Oh child.  Of all who are not Shark People, you are one who truly understands.  It is true that you have tasted the flesh of your own kind, and feel the desire within you even now.  You know the burden that the sharks carry.  What a weight for one so young, so unused to the nature of violence and desire.
    
I cried, for everything she said was true.  I had heard it gently from Nanave and from Martina.  As they had stood on the shore, healed, they had watched in despair as I had feasted from Erst before giving him over to the smaller sharks that had been such a danger to Nanave.  The shame of it had been burning inside me for the length of our journey.  I had kept it secret and locked away, to ashamed to even share it with Nanave.  I had no memory of doing such but I knew it to be true in the way that even now, I desired the taste of flesh.
     Rest, selchie child, Aikanaka's hands were soothing in my sleek fur, her voice drawing from me the pain, The Sea God never chooses those who would bear the burden of His love easily.  To the selchies He gives no relief such as the Shark People know.  It is solely upon your heart to come to terms with who you are.  Let us give you refuge, let us teach you to carry this hardness.
    
She extended an arm to Nanave and he came to her, letting her rest an elegant hand on his snout, I bless this union, and let all who question know it.  Everyone shall know of these two young ones who love despite the boundaries our peoples have placed.  Let those walls break and let the Sea God's lessons ring true.
     There is nothing more sacred in this world than love.

© 2011 Megan Hackbarth


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Megan Hackbarth
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Added on August 6, 2011
Last Updated on August 28, 2011
Tags: selchies, selchie, selkies, selkie, seals, seal, sharks, shark, shape shifter, Shark People, love, romance, legends, mythology

Author

Megan Hackbarth
Megan Hackbarth

Storm Lake, IA



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I like to write. Not much more to say. more..

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