Thursday, 16 October 2014

Fresh Water and Salt Water

Here comes the final story from Folk Tales of the Sea People. 

With this, I conclude one of the goals on The List:
046. Write 10 original stories of 1000+ words

There is an illustration for this story, but this time it's at the end.

So without further ado, I bring you the tale of a siren and a nereid...

Fresh Water and Salt Water

There once was a handsome young man, a Siren like you and I, who was many tides past the age to become married. He had lustrous red hair and shining scales to match, and his fins were dark blue like the twilight sea. His name was Moana.
Everywhere Moana went, women stared and blushed at his handsome appearance, and sometimes some of the men did, too. Many young women lusted for Moana’s attention and the men, envious of Moana’s popularity, looked on in envy. Moana received many proposals of marriage from men and women across the kingdom. He found it most tiring to receive so much attention and turned down each and every request that came his way.
His parents fretted at his reluctance to marry, for in those days marriage was for profit and appearance, and it was deemed improper for a man of Moana’s age to remain alone. Every day they would beg him to choose a bride from the many willing suitors.
They did not know that Moana mourned for a secret love, Melanchor of the Swan People.

Moana and Melanchor had met in the Swan-land, shortly after Moana came of age, and had fallen fast in love. Moana loved Melanchor’s jet black hair and smooth white skin, and his beautiful face and his clever mind. Melanchor had taught him the Transformation Magic of his people, so that Moana could turn his tail into human legs and they could walk the riverbank together. In turn, Moana had taught Melanchor the songs of his people, thought to be the most beautiful in the whole world. Moana sang to him every day, making up new songs so that he might sing of his love.
Though Melanchor was several tides older than him, they loved each other greatly. But that love was to be cut short, for Moana had to return home after his long expedition away. They promised each other that they would soon meet again: Melanchor would go to the sea and Moana would meet him there.
Sadly, not long Moana had returned home, he received the news that Melanchor had died. Moana hid away and cried, his heart broken.

After that cruel day, Moana returned to the Swan-land many times. He found Melanchor’s grave and he cried again and again, and when he could cry no more he spoke to Melanchor as though he were still alive, and imagined Melanchor’s beautiful face smiling at him.
As time passed, Moana’s visits continued, but he cried less and talked more, though he never sang. His broken heart was healing, but Moana did not believe he would fall in love again.
He thought upon this as he swam home from his work. Melanchor would wish for his happiness. Moana knew he could not be truly happy without Melanchor, but if he married, perhaps he could be more at peace. If he chose a kindly bride, he could feel the comfort of her company, even if he did not feel love for her.
At supper, Moana spoke to his parents of his decision to choose a bride.
“Wonderful news,” said his father. “Your mother and I have been concerned, for all you do is mope and go on your trips to the Swan-land.”
“We know you must be lonely,” said his mother. “So we are happy that you have made this decision. Who might you choose?”
Moana could not think of a single person, for he had given little thought to this. “I must think on it more. But I must visit the Swan-land first.”
“You must stop going there,” said his father. “The fresh water is unhealthy. Each time you return, you look ill.”
“I shall make one last visit to the Swan-land,” said Moana. “When I return, I shall choose a bride.”

Moana departed for the Swan-land with a heavy heart. When the visit was over, he would have to forget his beloved Melanchor. This final visit was so that he could beg Melanchor’s forgiveness for choosing to marry another, and ask his blessing. It would be his final goodbye.

From the sea, Moana swam along rivers, through the Human-land, until he reached the Swan-land. He used the Transformation Magic to give himself human legs, and climbed up onto the riverbank. Though he was very tired and incredibly hungry after his long journey, he did not stop for food or rest, but went immediately to Melanchor’s grave.
The sight of the mound of earth, still adorned with the shells that Moana had brought every time he went there, caused Moana to cry greatly. He clung to the new shells he had brought with him and knelt before the grave, sobbing. When he could no longer cry, he carefully laid down the shells, chosen for their colour and beauty, and began to talk silently to Melanchor. He asked his love to forgive him and to bless his marriage, but he could no longer imagine Melanchor’s smile. Moana bowed forward, resting his head upon the mound of Melanchor’s grave.

“Oh dear! Are you alright?” A voice that was soft like sea foam spoke from beside Moana.
He looked up to see a young man with pale blue skin and golden hair, and lively blue eyes that sparkled like the sun on the sea.
“My love is buried here,” Moana admitted quietly. “I came to say goodbye, for I must marry another.”
“I’m very sorry for your loss,” said the young man, sympathetic. He thought it a tragedy that such a handsome face had to be contorted in anguish, that such deep, dark eyes had become sore with tears. It was not right for love to die so young.
Moana sighed and touched the grave. “I could not have married him, had he survived. He was from fresh water and I am from salt water, and neither of us could have dwelt a lifetime in the other’s kingdom.”
That Moana’s love had been male did not appear to surprise the golden-haired man, who smiled gently and crouched beside him. “I am sure he loved you greatly, and would pray for your happiness,” he said. The man touched Moana’s shoulder gently.  “You’re drying out. Let me get you some water.”
Moana looked dubious. He did not want to be torn away from Melanchor so soon.
“Come,” said the young man. “For surely your love would not want for you to become ill. You can return later.”

The young man’s name was Nereus, in honour of the god of his people, the Nereids, and he dwelt in a huge lake far into the Human-land. Nereus, though he had not suffered a loss as great as Moana’s, understood the Siren’s sadness.
Moana felt quite weak from his tears and his travels, so Nereus helped him to the river. They dived into the depths together and Nereus made Moana rest whilst he brought him food.
Though a little sadness still resided within his heart, Moana began to relax as the man fussed about him. As they ate, Nereus encouraged Moana to talk of his love, and Moana told him all about his deep yet somewhat brief relationship with Melanchor. When he told Nereus about how beautiful Melanchor had been, Nereus smiled and Moana realised that his new friend was pretty. Nereus was a few tides younger than him, but had wisdom that surpassed his years.
“If Melanchor were able to speak to you now, he would wish for your happiness,” Nereus told him kindly. “You are young, Moana, and you deserve to live your life as a happy man. Though it is your custom, you should not marry for propriety but for love. Should love not happen your way, in the very least you can exist without a companion, in the knowledge that the love you experienced with Melanchor was strong, honest and true.”
Nereus’ words were so comforting that Moana started to cry again. Nereus, being from a place where society was not as restrained as in Moana’s realm, held him tight and stroked his hair, murmuring gently to him. “I did not mean to make you cry,” he said. “But if you must cry, let me comfort you.”
Moana nodded and let Nereus hold him. Though he had not been held and reassured this way since his childhood, it was indeed comforting. Nereus’ slender arms were strong and firm about him, and his touch tender.
At length, Moana ceased to cry. He felt as though a weight had been eased from his heart. “Thank you, Nereus,” he said quietly. “So much time has passed since Melanchor was lost to me, and until today I have had nobody to comfort me, for nobody knew.”
“Oh my dear Moana,” Nereus looked at him sadly. “You must have felt such pain.”
“I did,” confirmed Moana. Nereus embraced him again, and this time Moana held back. He had not liked the sad look within those blue eyes, and wanted to see Nereus smile again.

Moana had not arranged lodgings within the Swan-land, for he never did. Each visit, he spent all night sleeping at Melanchor’s grave, and all day talking to him, only stopping to refresh himself in the waters of the river. Nereus insisted that Moana join him in his own lodgings: a small house in the river, which he had borrowed from his brother-in-law. The house was cosy and comfortably furnished, and Moana was given a room to himself that was fine enough to rest and to think within. Moana felt grateful to Nereus, who knew him not but treated him like an old friend. He realised that he had spent much time telling Nereus of his woes and his life, but knew nothing of the Nereid. So when they stopped for supper, Moana asked of Nereus for his story, and what brought him to the Swan-land.
“I came here to escape and have an adventure,” Nereus explained. “Like you, I have had many proposals of marriage, but I wish to explore and enjoy myself before I settle down. There are many Nereid men and women who would have me, but I do not love them, and shall not marry one I do not love.”
Moana smiled. He too had first gone to the Swan-land for the same reasons as Nereus. “You have not met one who takes your interest?” he asked.
“I met a handsome man, but we have spent very little time together and my chances are very slim,” Nereus replied. He looked a little flustered, so Moana did not press him for more.
After supper, they returned to the riverbank and Nereus walked with him to Melanchor’s grave. He remained at a respectful distance whilst Moana knelt to speak to his lost love.
Moana found that words did not come easily that evening. Conversation with Nereus had caused Moana to think more deeply upon marriage, and he realised that he did not want to become wed. But he had made a promise to his parents.
“I know I cannot be with you, Melanchor,” he whispered, tenderly tracing the rain-worn shells upon the grave. “I came here to ask for your forgiveness that I might think of marrying another, and for your blessing that my marriage would be successful. Instead, my love, I beg that you might help me somehow, for I no longer know what to do.”
As ever, an answer did not come, though when Moana closed his eyes he could picture Melanchor’s beautiful face watching him. He almost believed that Melanchor wanted to tell him something.

It was easier to leave the grave when Moana had company. Nereus stuck close by him and talked of light-hearted things, with a wish to improve the red-haired man’s mood.
When Moana retired to bed, he slept soundly for the first time since Melanchor passed away.

Moana had intended for his trip to the Swan-land to be brief, but felt reluctant to leave. He had not found an answer within himself for his troubles, but he had found a good companion in the form of Nereus. The man’s understanding ways and wise words were soothing and his stories uplifting and entertaining. Moana did not wish to part company from his new friend just yet, so when Nereus asked that he stayed longer with him in the Swan-land, Moana accepted.
Every day, Nereus accompanied him to Melanchor’s grave. After Moana’s morning visit, they would find adventure together, eat a hearty lunch in the river or nearby lake, and explore the Swan-land further. Moana always went to Melanchor in the evening, with Nereus at his side, and after a time Nereus would join him there, sitting before Melanchor’s grave. They picnicked there once or twice, and Moana was certain he felt Melanchor’s presence with them, and that his past love was amused and pleased that they ate with him.

The seasons changed once, twice, and a third time, yet the pair barely noticed for all the fun they had together. Gradually, Moana’s visits to Melanchor became shorter and he ceased to visit in the morning altogether. He no longer knew what to say when he knelt at the grave, and began to think that Melanchor would be disappointed if he knew that he spent so much time there, instead of living. After all, there was still much to talk of and many places to go to with the pretty Nereus.

However, his adventures with Nereus had become briefer, too, for Moana felt somewhat ill these days. He knew that he would have to return to the sea before long, and his heart felt heavy at the thought of leaving Nereus behind. It was as though his life with Melanchor was repeating itself with Nereus. Moana searched inside himself and found his answer: he had to return home and marry. He would say his goodbyes to Nereus and leave the next day, never to see him again, for Nereus was from fresh water and he was from salt water, and never could one survive long in the waters of the other.
Moana only picked at his food that evening, mostly watching his Nereid friend as the man chatted cheerfully about the things they had done that day. Had he not noticed before how sweet the man’s smile was, or how silken his hair? Had he not realised the graceful way in which Nereus moved, and the way his laughter was like music—his voice like gentle waves upon the shore?
As though he had heard Moana’s thoughts, Nereus looked up from his meal and smiled beautifully. “It was a fun day, wasn’t it? Oh, are you not hungry, Moana?”
Moana smiled back when their eyes met. He had noticed the affection within Nereus’ eyes a long time ago now, but had pretended not to. It flooded his heart with warmth, but that warmth was tainted with sadness. Moana could not involve himself with Nereus. To have a relationship with him would be impossible. Besides, Nereus had told him, right when they met, that there was a man he cared for.
“Moana?” Nereus touched his arm gently, concerned that the Siren had not replied.
Moana took hold of Nereus’ hand, his own shaking slightly. “I am getting sick,” he admitted quietly. “Tomorrow I must leave for the sea, and return to my own kingdom,” he sighed. “I’ll leave after breakfast, and say goodbye to Melanchor before I go.”
Nereus began to cry. He took his hand from Moana’s and covered his face, sobbing. All this time, he had pretended that Moana wouldn’t have to go back to the sea. They’d had such splendid times together, and in some moments he had been sure Moana looked at him with a fondness beyond their friendship. But now it was clear: Moana would always love Melanchor and had no room in his heart for another. Nereus had imagined those special looks and the affectionately-spoken words that had filled him with hope.
Seeing Nereus cry caused pain within Moana’s heart. He wrapped his arms around his friend and held him tightly. “Do not cry, Nereus,” he said quietly. “We have had a great time here and I will treasure those memories.”
“One more day,” uttered Nereus desperately. “Please give me one more day of your time. One day to say a proper goodbye.” He knew it was selfish, but did not want his time with Moana to be ended so abruptly.
“One day,” Moana agreed. He was feeling sicker with every moment that passed but he too did not yet want to be parted from the lovely Nereus.
They finished their supper in silence. Whilst Nereus was clearing up, Moana snuck out and went to Melanchor’s grave alone.
“It is happening again, my dear Melanchor,” he whispered, tears in his eyes. “I must part from him, just as I had to part from you. But this time there is no hope of my returning here. If I stay, I will die for certain. My body is already beginning to wither. He cannot come with me for if he does, he will be the one to die… What can I do, Melanchor? Please help me.”
As usual, there was no reply. Moana walked away and headed for the place he had come to think of as home. He was halfway there when Nereus came running toward him, tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Moana!” Nereus exclaimed. He flung his arms around the Siren.
“What is wrong?” asked Moana. He held Nereus tight, worried at what might have befallen the beautiful Nereid.
“I thought you had left without saying goodbye...” Nereus sobbed against Moana’s neck, and Moana stroked his hair, feeling guilty.
“I needed to talk to Melanchor,” he said. “But I am coming home now. Let’s go together.”

They returned to the little house in the river, but there was no lively conversation that evening. Instead, sadness filled the house. Nereus was silent, and stared out of the window as if in a trance. Eventually, though he did not want the night to end, Moana retired to his room to sleep.
That night, a strange dream came to Moana. It was a sunny day, and he walked upon a beach with Melanchor at his left, and Nereus at his right. As they walked, hand in hand, Moana noticed that whilst the sea lapped at the shore on one side of the beach, on the other side was a vast freshwater lake, fed by a river. ‘How peaceful it is here,’ he said to his companions, for the only sound was that of the waves, and the only people were the three of them. ‘Peaceful and happy.’
‘A happy place to be, certainly,’ said Nereus.
‘Peaceful indeed,’ agreed Melanchor. He stopped walking and kissed Moana’s hand, smiling. ‘I think I can sleep now, my love.’ Melanchor let Moana’s hand slip from his, smiled once more, then transformed into a black-necked swan and flew away. Moana was left on the beach with Nereus.
‘How beautiful he was,’ uttered Nereus admiringly, as Melanchor’s winged form disappeared on the horizon.
Moana did not feel sad; instead his heart was filled with peace. ‘He was very beautiful. Beautiful and kind. I loved him very much.’
They continued to walk along the beach between the two waters, and when he woke up, Moana missed the feeling of Nereus’ hand in his.

There was no joy in Nereus and Moana when they left the house that day. They did not go far, and swam in the river with little conversation passing between them, each man consumed with his own thoughts. Moana pondered his dream, and thought to tell Nereus about it.
“I dreamt of Melanchor…” he began.
Nereus sighed. “You will never stop loving Melanchor, will you?” he said, turning away. A tear escaped his eye and dissolved into the water. “Why can you not see me, Moana? You will forget about me,” he murmured.
“Nereus?” Moana swam up to Nereus and rested his hands on the Nereid’s shoulders, seeing his tears. “Do not cry, dear Nereus,” he said soothingly. “I will not forget about you. We have been great friends and we have seen a lot of the Swan-land together. Though I must go home and marry, you have the freedom to return to your land and get to know the man you care for better. You will fall in love and live happily.”
“What man?” Nereus asked, perplexed and distraught. Did Moana jest?
Moana tilted his head. “When we met, you told me you had met a man who interested you, but you did not know him well. You told me your chances are slim, but that is better than having no chance. There is still hope.”
“There is no hope,” Nereus uttered, a sad smile upon his face. “For I spoke of you, Moana. And now you are leaving me.”
Moana felt stupid. Nereus had cared for him for such a long time, yet he had only recently noticed. Now, he was afraid to do anything about it. But he could not bear the look upon Nereus’ face, nor the pain within his heart. “Nereus, it breaks my heart to do so,” he said honestly. “For you fill my heart with happiness and my days with joy. But if I remain here, I shall die before the season changes.”
“If only it were not so, and you could stay here forever,” Nereus said bitterly. “I love you Moana, though perhaps it would have been better had I not stopped that day, to see if the sad, beautiful Siren needed comfort.”
“I am happy that you stopped,” Moana told him gently. “You taught me to how to enjoy living again, and you healed my heart. Indeed, you stole it, too.”
Nereus’ eyes widened and Moana could no longer hold back the words--or the tears. “I love you,” he uttered, choking back a sob. “Maybe I would rather know your love and happiness, and die here shortly, than live a lifetime in a loveless marriage.”
Nereus held him tightly. “Shush, Moana. I cannot bear the thought that you might die,” he sighed. “Please, let us enjoy what remains of our time together. I do not want this last day to be filled with such sad thoughts. You must survive, my love, and live to remember me.”
“You’re right,” Moana nodded, reluctant to do anything but lament on his poor luck. But Nereus’ smile eased his heart, and the Nereid took his hand and guided him through the water.
They swam upstream into deeper waters and dived down to the riverbed, where Moana kissed Nereus and embraced him. Nereus’ lips were soft and his kiss gentle, and in those moments together both forgot about how soon they would have to part company.
As they lay in each other’s arms on the riverbed, they spoke of the things they had done together over the seasons, and Moana made up new songs and sang them to Nereus: songs of his love for the beautiful Nereid. All too soon, Moana began to feel tired, an effect of his illness.
“Oh for us to live in waters where we are both healthy,” he bemoaned quietly.
Nereus nodded and held onto him a little tighter. “My brother-in-law told me of a place,” he said thoughtfully. “Where the saltwater sea and a grand lake of fresh water are separated by a narrow beach. Though I know not if it is a mere myth.”
Moana gasped. “I dreamt of such a place!” he exclaimed, and told Nereus of his dream. “Now I wonder that it wasn’t a dream, but Melanchor giving me the help I have begged him for…” Moana smiled. “I think he has given his blessing.”
“I think you are right,” Nereus touched Moana’s cheek and kissed him. “For a dream such as that is a gift.”
“Let us find the beach of two shores,” Moana said hopefully. “I can travel there by sea, asking my way as I go. I will not become sick.”
“And I can swim the rivers and lakes. Surely it will not take long,” Nereus smiled, eyes sparkling with sudden excitement. “It will be like a race, and whoever reaches the beach first must greet the other with a kiss.”
“I cannot wait that long for another kiss,” said Moana, and they kissed again.

Parting was still a sad occasion, despite their plans to meet at the beach of two shores. Nereus had joined Moana at Melanchor’s grave when he said goodbye to his departed love, and together they thanked him for his help and his blessing. Nereus swam with Moana as far down the river as he could, before the water began to get salty. They kissed goodbye and parted company, each with tears in his eyes.

Moana fretted greatly as he swam for home. Would he return only to have news of Nereus’ death? Was fate really so unkind?
But Moana returned only to the glad faces of his parents, who were pleased to see their son after such a long time.
“Mother, Father,” he greeted them. “I have great news, for I met my love in the Swan-land, and I shall meet him at the beach of two shores, if I am able to find it.”
“Him?” echoed his mother.
“If you are able to find it?” echoed his father.
They were dubious of Moana’s tale, and did not like that he had chosen to love a man, for they had hoped for grandchildren.
However, Moana would not allow them to change his mind. He had promised them that he would choose a partner, and he had chosen Nereus. Likewise, he had promised to meet Nereus at the beach of two shores. Moana would not break either promise.
So he spent a few days asking the elders and looking at old maps, hoping to find the beach of two shores. Though he found no definite route, he heard rumour of the direction in which the beach lay, and having bid his parents goodbye, swam off with great hope.
Several seasons passed, and Moana did not find the beach. He swam all day, every day, stopping only to eat and enquire the way. Sometimes he was so tired he thought his tail might drop off, but still he swam, on and on. Most people along the way – be they Siren or Selkie, Mer-folk or Nymph – had not heard of the beach, or thought it only a story. Moana had to find his way using only the vaguest of directions, gained from elderly people with dwindling memories of travels in their youth.
Sometimes he thought he should give up, and that the beach did not exist. But then he thought of Nereus, waiting on the beach and looking out to sea, and he thought of Melanchor, who had sent the dream that had put him upon this journey. No, Moana would not give up.
One evening, as he swam about looking for a place to rest, a storm came upon the seas. The water Moana swam in was not deep, and his arms and tail were so tired that when the currents became stronger and the waves became rougher, he was too weak to swim against them. Moana was dragged closer and closer to land by the currents, and tossed against the rocks. He lost consciousness, body bruised and battered.
A calmer sea bore him to land, and gentle waves set him on a sandy beach.

Moana awoke to pain. He remembered the storm and his fight against the waves, and realised he was sprawled upon sand. A tail was useless upon the sands of a beach, so, checking that no Humans were around, Moana used the Transformation Magic to give himself legs, and stumbled uncomfortably along the beach. He felt so tired and his stomach growled hungrily, but Moana wanted to regain his bearings and set off again for the beach of two shores. He began to climb a great bank of sand. When he reached the top, Moana gasped, for upon the other side was a huge freshwater lake. He had found it: the beach of two shores!
Moana looked about hopefully. Was Nereus here?
But there was no sign of his love. Moana wondered if Nereus had given up hope of finding the beach, or if he was still travelling. Surely Nereus would not give up so easily? Moana watched the water. Whatever the truth was, he would wait for Nereus to arrive, even if it meant waiting his entire life.
As he stood there, a voice called his name, a voice that was soft like sea foam. A golden-haired, blue-skinned figure raced towards him, eyes bright with tears. Nereus threw his arms around Moana and they held each other tightly, crying tears of joy.
“You are here,” Nereus exclaimed happily. Then he held Moana closer still and kissed him blissfully. “I thought you might never arrive!”
Moana kissed Nereus again, glad to feel the man in his arms after such a long time. “Have you been here long?” he asked.
“Two seasons,” answered Nereus. “I waited every day in hope you would come. And you did...”
Moana told Nereus of the storm that had washed him up on the beach. “I have not stopped searching since the day I left the Swan-land,” he admitted. Too exhausted to stand any longer, Moana collapsed onto the sand.
Nereus brought him salt water and food, and tended to the wounds left by the cruel rocks. Whilst Moana recovered, Nereus lay beside him told him of his own journey: that it had been relatively simple, for as he swam further through the Human-land, he met a Nymph who knew the way.
When Moana felt better, Nereus showed him the lake and the home he had made there. As the sun began to set, they walked along the beach hand in hand. A shadow glided over the sand and they looked up to see a black-necked swan fly overhead. Moana smiled suddenly and waved to the creature. “Thank you, my love!” he cried aloud. “Sleep well. I love you!”
He did not feel sad, but flooded with peace. Nereus wrapped an arm around him and together they watched the swan disappear into the clouds.
“Are you alright?” Nereus asked softly.
Moana kissed him. “I feel wonderful, and I love you very much,” he said cheerfully.
“I love you too,” Nereus smiled.
They continued along the beach, fresh water on one side and salt water on the other.

The pair lived a long and happy life together. Moana built a house within the sea, and he and Nereus took turns to visit each other’s home, though they spent every day on the beach together.
Though they are now long gone, it is said that if you should find the beach of two shores, look out for the spirits of a red-haired Siren and a blue-skinned Nereid, who stroll along the sands every day, between the fresh water and salt water.
And sometimes, if you look with extra care, you may see the shade of a black-necked swan flying overhead. 

Fresh Water and Salt Water, July 2014

And so concludes Folk Tales of the Sea People! I never intended this to be such a long story, or even for this collection to become more than a couple of stories. But as with most things I write, it took on a mind of its own and expanded beyond my expectations! 

Will make a new post soon with a chapter list for all the stories--easier than having to scroll through everything. 
For the time being, there's the Folk Tales of the Sea People tag

Thank you to everybody that took the time to read and comment on these stories. I hope you all enjoyed them! :)

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