.. | the little merboy | chapter 3
Returning to his family was a bit more difficult than he had imagined. He'd forgotten how much it would take to put up with his aunt and uncle in the short time he'd been gone. Thankfully, Elise had brought some clothes for Calida, who was decently tall, but in terms of weight was half his size. Isodore's clothes would have hung off him like grain sacks. However, the search for clothes proved useful; dressing would give him some time at least to come up with a story of just where he had been for these past weeks.
"Here, these should fit him. They're my brother's old clothes."
"Elise, you can speak directly to him. He did promise not to do it again." Isodore was hastily pulling on breeches. He and Elise may have had a few fumblings in the dark, but it wasn't meet to be so... well, naked in front of her.
Calida was gazing at her with huge eyes. Then his gaze moved to the bundle of clothing she held out to him at arm's length.
"What are those?"
Isodore shot him a covert irritated glance. He smiled at Elise's confused expression. "I told you he's not from here. I suppose they wear different clothing there."
"We don't wear any-"
He clapped a hand over Calida's mouth. "And you can see he's very tired and confused, would you excuse us?"
Elise narrowed her eyes. "Just exactly where did you say he was from?"
"He doesn't know. He forgot. Never got to tell me." Isodore started to politely herd her to the door.
"Isodore, I don't-"
"Bye Elise! Sorry you have to go, I'll be down shortly to see Aunt and Uncle." He shut the door and leaned against it, sighing. "That was disastrous."
Calida stood up, wavering only slightly, and fingered the clothes with aversion that Elise had set down. "I don't see why she has to be so nosy."
"Probably because you give her reason to be!" He took a deep breath. "'Lida, listen to me. Just do what I do, all right? Don't draw any more attention to yourself than possible. It's bad enough you won't let me cut your hair-"
Calida grasped the locks that spilled over his shoulder and twisted them into a thick, glossy red tail. "That again. How dare you suggest such a thing! I haven't cut it since I was spawned!"
Isodore rubbed his face with his hands, contemplating what reason he could give for such unnaturally long hair on a boy. Calida, meanwhile, was petting the locks that fell over his shoulder and still eyeing the evil clothing. Isodore picked up the shirt an held it out.
"Put it on."
The merboy pouted, but crossed his arms and shook his head. "Why do I have to hide anything?"
"Because it's not fitting for a man to walk around naked! You wanted to come here, so now you have to play by the rules."
The merboy said nothing. Instead, he watched the shirt Isodore held out for a long time, imagining it jumping out of his hand, wrapping around his face and suffocating him like the leathery, fish-eating leaves of a myna plant. They remained at a standstill until Calida, as with anything new to him, reached out and poked it with a finger.
Isodore took that as acceptance enough and threw the thing over Calida's head and pulled it down. It took some wrestling with uncooperative flailing limbs before he finally could lace the ties up and straighten it. He then stood back in appraisal. A petulent child to the end, Calida picked at it, getting used to the constant contact against his skin. Isodore contemplated the breeches and how he was supposed to get them on the stubborn merboy, who had just now noticed with an obstinate look, what Isodore was planning to do to him next. But something else had caught his eye. He looked down, past his belly.
"Ah! Isodore! My fin, my beautiful fin!"
His human was preparing the breeches and a full-on assault. "What about it?"
Calida lifted the shirt that he may see better. "It's so small! How am I supposed to face anyone with this?"
"You're not going to face anyone with it, 'Lida, it's not proper. And don't touch it like that in front of someone, for God's sake, that's even worse." He held out the breeches so Calida could step into them.
The merboy obeyed, holding onto Isodore's shoulders for support. "But my fin was so beautiful. And it's so small now," he whined.
Isodore laced the breeches up. "You'll have to trust me," he said. "In my world that fin is nothing to be ashamed of."
"Really? But I still like yours better. It's bigger than mine now."
Isodore hid his flushed face as he knelt to straighten Calida's pant legs. "Possibly, but then again, I'm a little older." More mature, is what he'd really wanted to say, but that sort of thing didn't even need pointing out at this point.
The merboy put his hands on his hips challengingly. "I'm seventy-three years old. How about you?" God, he didn't look a day over seventeen, pretty as he was.
"In human years, 'Lida. I'm twenty-two and you're only three hours old. I win." He moved away to rummage through his closets, looking for a suitable pair of boots for Calida to wear.
"Ah. So the older you are, the bigger it gets? That makes sense." Calida mused quietly to himself.
"No really, he looks well. Much better than I would have expected to be lost at sea for so long," Elise was saying as she took tea with the satrap and his wife as they waited down in the grand moonlit garden room. Open glass ceilings allowed the beauty of the night to fill the wall-candle fixture lit room. It had always been Isodore's favorite place to go in the palace. Time had not passed for dinner yet, and the servants had been told to hold it so that it may be presented formally.
Isodore's aunt sipped her tea quietly. "So that's where he's been, is it? He goes out riding one evening and just jumps on the first ship he sees to disappear for weeks and weeks?"
Elise stirred her cup, the soft tinkling of the spoon grating on her nerves as it dispersed the otherwise heavy silence. "He said he had been attacked and kidnapped by some men on the beach. They took him on their galley while he was unconscious. He said he met the other boy there and they escaped together."
The satrap grunted a bit at the documents he was reading. "I suppose that's where he lost his manners. He's sure taking his time about getting down here."
"Now 'Lida, there's things you have to know about the people you're going to meet," Isodore said as he laced up the merboy's boots for him. Calida stood above him, rubbing at the snugness of the black breeches and playing with the ballooning sleeves of his shirt and the thick fabric tassels at his cuffs. Isodore had braided his hair for him and it hung in a thick, heavy rope down his back.
"They're my uncle and aunt, but I've lived here since I was a baby," he said. "They're very proper people, so please, don't mention any of the things we talked about."
Calida didn't give a response as he busied himself with kicking things with his new heavy boots, delighting in the protection they gave his feet. However, he stopped with his playing when he noticed the mirror for the first time. The concept wasn't hard for him to grasp; they had shiny stones for the same purpose in his ocean home as well. Calida posed before it, flipped his braid over one shoulder and smiled winningly at himself.
Isodore stood up and appraised the merboy with a furrowed brow. "I think if Elise had not seen you, we could have more easily passed you for a girl."
Calida beamed. "Then would I get to wear pretty colors like she does?" Isodore had already spent an hour trying to explain the differences between the sexes.
The merboy was unfazed. "Then again, it looks like she wears more clothes than we do, with all those ruffles." He made a face, fingering the long cuffs of his wide sleeves. "And what were those on her chest? Really."
Isodore put a hand to his forehead. "I told you, it's a female characteristic. You're not female, you don't have them." He began to walk out of the chamber, throwing a cloak over one arm. Damn it felt good to have clothes on again. He turned around, beckoning Calida to follow. They had to get downstairs soon or his uncle would send someone up after him, and the last thing he wanted was some servant overhearing this conversation.
Calida followed close at his heels like an eager child, speaking directly over Isodore's shoulder, nagging him to go into more detail. He had to bound along behind him to match his human's brisk pace and on his tiptoes to reach his ear. He seemed to have already quite mastered the art of walking until they came to the top of the long, curvilinear staircase.
There, at the top step as Isodore was about to go down, the merboy clamped onto him from behind, nearly toppling them both down the carpeted stairs.
He unwrapped the slender arm from choking his neck. "What is the matter with you? You walked up them just fine."
Calida peered around him down the stairs. "Up is not the same as down. I'll fall."
"Hold onto the hand rail if you think you will."
The merboy remained clamped onto him and Isodore gave up. He made his way down the stairs carrying the slender boy on his back, praying that no one would happen into the grand foyer to see him in such a state.
Dinner was disaster, as he might have expected. Isodore was constantly on the verge of strangling the boy next to him for asking so many questions, so much that Calida's shins would be black and blue before dessert. He was endlessly fascinated with Isodore's uncle, a tall, robust man who resembled in the slightest sense his consort back home, if not in age appearance alone. As Elise and his wife chattered on about the return of his nephew, the satrap tried to ignore Calida's stare and eat in silent peace. Finally, he couldn't take it anymore.
"What is it?" he demanded, finding it very rude of this outlander to disrespect him so.
"How old are you?" Calida asked, eyeing the distinguished greying hair at his temples.
"Beg pardon?" the man sputtered. Beside him, Isodore put his face in his hands.
"You look old," the merboy said. "That's all right, I look old too. I'm only three hours-"
Isodore cleared his throat, "-three hours away from his birthday, in fact. It's tonight, at midnight."
His aunt was refilling their wine glasses. "Ah, isn't that nice."
They resumed eating their bread and cheese appetizers in silence until the satrap was forced to notice Calida's unwavering study of him again. He glared at the youth, hoping to subdue his brazenness with a look once and for all. But Calida just propped his hand on his chin.
"You must have a really big fin," he said.
They all looked at him.
"Can I see it? I want to see if it's bigger than Isodore's."
The satrap, genuinely confused, looked at his nephew. Isodore looked from one to the other, then leaned close to whisper to his uncle.
"Your ceremonial sword, Uncle, I'm sure. I showed him mine and he was quite impressed. Of course he thinks yours would be much grander."
A little flattery went a long way. The elder man went back to his meal, his mood lightened. "Ah yes, I see. Of course you may see it. After dinner, in fact, I'll take you into the grand room and show you myself, if you like."
Isodore made a mental note to hurry Calida off before he could remind the satrap to make good on his offer.
Things calmed down a little after that as they finished off the bread and cheese. By that time, his aunt absolutely adored Calida, declaring that she simply must be allowed to do something with his hair, which had been passed off as a symbol of Calida's high status in his native land- a fact that wasn't entirely untrue. His uncle, however, remained displeased by Calida's lack of knowledge about his own country when he posed questions about his family and state to the boy. His lack of table etiquette was excusable due to his long days eating from ship decks. In fact, Isodore did most of the talking for the merboy, dealing out prevarication like a deck of cards.
Elise had eyes for very little else than Isodore that evening, something that didn't escape his notice as well. She alternated between short indignant glances at Calida and long, dreamy gazes at Isodore when he spoke. Calida had been watching her glances too and did not seem to approve of her attention on his pet. Isodore kicked him under the table again when he seemed inclined to make comment about it to her. The merboy shot him a dirty look but settled back in his chair, alternating between silently pouting and scowling at the girl.
But the worst was when the food came, carried in on platters by several servants. When the lids were lifted, Calida's hand shot to his mouth. Fish, crab, shrimp... The merboy let out a strangled cry and jumped up from the table, looking wide-eyed at his astonished dinner companions. His eyes strayed to the meal again and he fled before Isodore could even get up to stop him.
All eyes turned on him.
"Uhm. I forgot he's a vegetarian. Would you excuse me please?" He couldn't escape the room fast enough.
Elise trailed him about the house in search of the boy. She was apologizing profusely, tugging at his arm and insisting that had she known, the seafood dinner would never have been served. Isodore ignored her and swept about the grandiose house, angry at himself for never even thinking of it. Why hadn't he? They lived next to the damn sea for God's sake!
He nudged Elise back off his arm politely, annoyed at her proximity. Before his little 'vacation', he and Elise had been flirting quite a bit, enough to catch the attention of his aunt anyway so that she said something to him about 'improper' behavior. Elise was a lady. She was to be courted, not flirted with.
But now... something in him had changed. Elise was distant to him, and his interest in her had faded to the point that he would never admit. For now, his only concern was Calida.
He had a sneaking suspicion that the merboy might had braved the stairs and fled back to his room. Isodore politely excused himself from the lady's presence, leaving her with the message to his family that he was retiring for the night. He raced up the stairs two by two.
Calida was sitting in the deep-silled window of the huge room. He had one knee drawn up into it and had removed his heavy boots and loosened the ties of the shirt at his throat. He was biting on his nails as he stared out at the moonlit horizon.
The merboy looked around at him. He wasn't crying, though the look on his face betrayed that he wasn't far from it.
"I didn't know," Calida whispered. "I guess I should have expected it but-" He looked back out the window, his fingers playing in the soft curtains. He sighed heavily. "It's so different here. And I haven't even been here a full day."
Isodore sighed. He had known this would happen, just not so soon. In an instant the jovial, flighty countenance had disappeared and again, Calida's suppressed side had surfaced. The part of him that had been the lonely creature back in his ocean home. But now it appeared he was lonely for home.
The merboy lay his head on his drawn up knee. He fingered his long sleeves and then the hem of his breeches. "Can I take these off now? They're scratchy."
"Go ahead." His eyes lingered on the merboy for a moment longer before he turned his back and pointed to the bed, hoping to get rid of the sorrowful mood the merboy was in by introducing him to something new. "That's what humans sleep on."
Calida had already stripped off his shirt as he turned his attention to where Isodore was pointing. He cocked his head and dropped the shirt carelessly on the floor as he moved towards the huge bed. Gingerly he sat down on it, pushing his hands into the voluminous linens. He smiled then, pleased, and lost all grace as he scrambled up onto it the rest of the way and flopped on his back, arms and legs spread out.
His human host laughed as he snatched the discarded shirt from the floor. The servants were going to just love Calida, he could already tell.
"Come on," he said, folding the shirt and heading for the door.
Calida sat up, genuine confusion washing over his pretty face. "Where are we going?"
"I'm going to show you to your room."
"To sleep, of course! That's my bed you're lying on." He smiled at the merboy, though Calida appeared to be even more confused.
He pulled at the linens he sat on. "Your bed?"
Isodore caught the reason for his confusion and berated himself again on being blind once more. In the merboy's ocean home he had always slept in Calida's chambers, even though Calida had slept with his king.
"'Lida, you can't sleep in here now. It's not appropriate. This is my room. You have your own."
Calida moved to sit on the edge of the bed. His dark breeches were stark contrast to the white sheets and coverlet. "Not appropriate? What are you talking about? Of course it is! You're mine, remember? You sleep where I tell you to."
"Not here, 'Lida. It doesn't work that way here." He spread his hands in an effort for the merboy to understand. "They don't know-"
Understanding dawned and Calida hopped off the bed and made for the door. "Oh! Well then I'll tell them!" he said happily, striding out the door.
Isodore caught his arm and dragged him back into the privacy of the room after a brief struggle in the empty hall. Hidden in the room once again, Isodore leaned against the door and took a deep breath. Calida watched him closely with a small smile on his face. He still didn't understand.
"Calida, listen to me. Two boys sleeping in the same room is not acceptable here. And in case you haven't noticed, you are a boy. It would be a little different if you were a girl-"
"I knew it!" Calida suddenly cried. "It's about her isn't it? I saw her watching you all through dinner!"
"'Lida! This has nothing to do with Elise!" He bit his tongue. They would be heard if they weren't careful.
Calida, on the other hand, seemed not to care. As if Isodore could expect him to anyway. "You were given to me! To me! I won't let her have you!" Calida strode away to the other side of the room and thrust back the curtains. He gazed out the window at the black ocean as the silence settled thickly around them. The sound of the distant water seemed to soothe him.
"Dyce gave you to me because I was lonely," he whispered suddenly, turning around. "I don't want to be lonely again, and I will be if you leave."
The human stood rooted where he was, unable to speak. What could he say to that? What did the merboy want to hear? These moodswings were going to drive him insane, but if Calida wanted to be here, he was going to have to toughen up. He was going to have to learn to take no for an answer.
"People usually sleep with those they love, Calida," he said sternly. "And up here on dry land, sleeping with somebody means a lot more than just closing your eyes and going to sleep. That's why it's not proper-"
"Is that when kissing happens?" Calida cocked his head, genuinely interested.
Isodore exhaled a heavy breath. "More than that," he conceded doggedly. "Much more than I care to explain right now. Calida, I'm tired and I want to sleep. Go to your own room tonight and we'll talk in the morning, ok?"
The merboy shook his head stubbornly and moved closer to Isodore, silent pleading in his eyes. "Please? Just let me stay with you here? I'll sleep on the floor if you want, but just be here with me."
Oh, he should have known this battle was lost the minute he got caught in those sea-green depths, and the merboy knew it very well. When he saw his victory, Calida smiled handsomely and jumped back on the bed, shedding his breeches in a smooth movement and burrowing under the covers.
His human host was somewhat less excited about the idea as he tediously removed his dinner dress and decided to keep his breeches on, though there was absolutely no part of him that Calida hadn't seen already. He locked the door from the inside as a precaution; Elise liked to have the servants make morning calls with breakfast on a tray every now and then. There was no reason she wouldn't do it tomorrow morning, especially since it was his first back.
He crawled under the bed covers that had already warmed with the merboy's heat. Calida was fluffing his pillow and trying to get used to the sensation of it being under his head. But when Isodore laid down, he abandoned the pillow and accommodated himself by lying his head against the crook of his human's neck. His whole body slithered up to wrap around Isodore in a warm cocoon of slender limbs.
"I like this more," the merboy commented in a yawn, "than floating around to sleep..." His voice trailed off.
It was the closest Isodore had ever been with someone. Even Elise and he hadn't gotten past kissing, and here he was lying in the embrace of a boy? And he was allowing it? But he couldn't really see Calida as really human yet. Fine. That would be his excuse to himself.
He closed his eyes as the merboy nuzzled closer to him. What to do now? Calida would want to know everything, go everywhere when he saw the land in the daylight. Isodore would have to prepare himself to be dragged about all day tomorrow, explaining everyday human things to a boy who would cherish them like the secret of life itself.
His eyes opened again as a thought crossed his mind. The merboy appeared a sensual creature, but how human was he, besides in appearance? Did his body function the same? What about... arousal? Was it possible that Calida, in his innocent claim over Isodore and his obsession with kisses, would someday feel what it was like to want someone? He rolled his eyes. He couldn't wait for the day that Calida discovered what else could be done with his new appendages. Perhaps there was hope. Perhaps by some chance merboy wouldn't latch onto him as the source of stimulation.
But as the merboy nuzzled his cheek with his nose in his sleep, somehow his mind doubted that very much.
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