With the start of May is the start of Mermay, which I’m excited about, because who doesn’t like mermaids?
So I had purchased this giant sketchpad a while back and finally decided to use it for the occasion. Drew some merfolk, got confused by anatomy as usual and finally ‘finished’ after hours of misery (there are some fixes I want to make so I’m redoing it digitally). I didn’t plan much for it but since all of May is dedicated to our fishy friends, I decided to come up with a story for these characters. So here we have Cordelia and Kai. Below is just whatever I managed to get down in a day. I will be reworking it so details will probably change here and there. Without further ado…
Cordelia and Kai and the Beautiful Sea
Even though she knew that this day would inevitably come, she was wholly unprepared for it. She was hundreds of years old—the exact number she’d long forgotten—and she felt more ignorant than a small child about the world around her.
For as long as she could remember, she had been the pillar that protected her people. She was revered and worshipped, never having to lift a finger. Her only role was to exist within the cage that was made for her and to pray endlessly for the gods’ grace. How she longed to be free from it all.
But when she was abruptly ousted from her position into the vast, open ocean, she wanted nothing more than to return to her isolated prison. She watched as people who used to take care of her were now directing their praises to the newly appointed pillar. The new pillar was but a child, but her already elaborate, flowing fins that cascaded around her tail was proof that she’d make for a grand pillar for many centuries. Centuries of loneliness and solitude— how funny that she’d want to return to that. She felt sorry for the child.
Turning away from the palace that she spent most of her life in, she swam away meagerly, her tail much too weak for a proper mermaid. It didn’t take long for her to tire, so she listlessly drifted on her back to wherever the water took her. She squinted, wondering if she could perhaps make out the sunlight or anything that could give her a sense of purpose. Her hand brushed against her once long fins and a melancholic smile passed her lips. There was no point. It wasn’t as if she had much time left. Perhaps it was best for her to just close her eyes and wait for her time to come.
“Are you okay?” An inquisitive voice beckoned her to open her eyes. She blinked drearily, the figure above her becoming clearer each time. It was a merman, eyes filled with curiosity but brows furrowed in concern.
“Yes, I’m just waiting.” She closed her eyes again. “For something. Anything.”
Her words were met with a silence and she wondered if the merman had left her alone. It wouldn’t be anything new. But she felt a hand grasp her own, forcing her to open her eyes to see what was going on. The merman smiled at her.
“Instead of waiting, how about looking for that something?”
She was surprised by his eagerness and she nodded mutely only for him to grin cheekily at her in return. With hands still laced together, the merman pulled her along with him. He asked her what she wanted to see but she didn’t have any answers for him. She didn’t know what was out there.
Before long, she became tired again and her hand slipped from his. She apologized as he turned around to see what was wrong. She was ashamed that she couldn’t even do something as simple as swimming without her body giving out on her. Was it because of her inactivity as the pillar or that fact that her youthful appearance belied that she was several centuries old? Feeling useless, she waited for him to abandon her just like those at the palace did. But instead, he swam towards her and took both of her hands, returning her apology with his own.
With a slower pace, he guided her around, pointing out various things that he thought she’d like, the colorful schools of fish, the intricate structures of the coral reefs— she was awed by it all. He explained to her that everything was thanks to the pillar, who prayed endlessly for their fortune and happiness.
She was surprised by his mention of the pillar. Most of the common folk didn’t understand what being pillar entailed and assumed that she was a divine being that kept them safe. In reality, she was nothing more than a glorified priestess whose voice was said to be the only voice that was heard by the gods.
“Before Lady Cordelia took on the mantle of pillar, there hadn’t been a pillar for ages. The land was desolate. Fish were in decline. The plants that we’re swimming through right now weren’t in existence.” He explained.
It was only natural for her to wonder if he knew who she was. After all, he was speaking of her. But there didn’t seem to be any hint of recognition on his face. But she supposed it didn’t matter. She was no longer the pillar. His thanks would soon go to another. She halted when she realized that he had spoken of a time before she became the pillar.
“You’re…” She started but paused when she couldn’t figure out an appropriate way to phrase her statement.
“An old man?” He finished for her and chuckled. “I have been told that I have a baby face.”
Merpeople were eternally youthful so there wasn’t so much of a way to tell how long one had lived except through their mannerisms. She had assumed that he was a young merman from his look of innocence and how he seemed to carry himself. The look of wonderment and surprise on her face made him laugh again.
“Why are you showing all of this to me?”
“I once had a friend who took pleasure in the smallest of things. We grew up together, laughed together, cried together. She meant the world to me and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.”
There was an unspoken ‘but’ within his story and she understood that his wish hadn’t been realized. The pain she heard in his voice betrayed the jovial expression on his face.
“These are all things that she would have liked seeing.” He smiled as he reminisced about his friend. Swimming through a grotto, she marveled at the bioluminescent algae that grew along the walls, lighting their path. “And this was her favorite place.” He finished as they emerged on the other side of the narrow cave to a magnificently luminous den.
She wanted to tell him how breathtaking it was but the words were stolen from her mouth from the sheer intensity of the ache in her chest. Memories that she had forced herself to forget flooded to the forefront of her mind.
“Your friend,” She swallowed. “What happened to her?”
“She was taken away to become the pillar.” He spoke with less vigor than before. Seeing her distraught mien, he led her out of the den and continued along to the various spots that he’d found over the ages. “Naturally, I was against it. But I learned that the palace guards weren’t called guards for no reason.” He laughed, eyes twinkling merrily. She could tell that he was trying to lighten the mood and she smiled at the gesture.
“It was an honor, they said.” He continued. “The rest of the villagers happily sent her away. After all, it was for the good of the entire ocean. I was the only who selfishly wanted to keep her for myself. But seeing the world around me flourish, I’m proud of her.”
She wondered just how long she had been the pillar—how many centuries of her mind wasting away within the palace walls. When she was taken, she never thought she’d see her friends and family ever again. So she decided to forget them simply to save herself from the torment of finding that they all passed before her.
She gazed at their linked hands as he pulled her along. Her role as pillar meant that she was naturally inclined towards a longer lifespan. But in his case…
It wasn’t unheard of for merpeople to live as long as he did, but it wasn’t common. The longer one lived, the more their mind deteriorated. Perhaps his mind had also gone since it seemed he didn’t recognize her either.
“There’s one last place I want to show you.” He said. He navigated through the dense kelp forests, over the cliffs, and under the arches, taking her with him at every turn. She wanted to tell him to take a break because it must have been incredibly taxing on him to have to pull her along due to her physical weakness. But with one last flutter of his tail, he propelled them both up over the next cliff to oversee a village in the distance.
Her heart clenched and she trembled at the sight of it. It was bigger than she remembered but it still held its unique charm of pinks and blues from the shining flora and the multitude of caverns that begged to be explored.
“It’s still the same as always.” He said wistfully as if he hadn’t been there in a long time.
“Is that your home?” She asked even though she was certain of the answer.
“It hasn’t been for a long time now.” He cast her a sidelong glance. “Not since you left.” His voice dropped to a whisper.
Her lips quivered and she bit back a sob.
“Welcome home, Cordelia.”
She shrunk down on herself and shook her head in disbelief. The last of her poise and fortitude that she had worked so hard to build up came crumbling down and she launched herself into his embrace. They held each other tightly as if they’d lose each other again if they let go.
“I’m home.” She whispered through her sobs. “You’ve waited for me all this time… but I—”
“Shh…” He quieted her. “It’s okay. I don’t have much time left either, but I couldn’t leave you behind.” He consoled her.
Through sheer strength of will, he had held on to life just so she wouldn’t have to go alone. She thought of how he must have wandered all this time waiting for her and it pained her know that he suffered as much as she did.
“This time, we go together.” He reassured her. She nodded and rested her head against his chest, listening to the sound of his slowing heartbeat.
She closed her eyes and felt the rhythm of her heart match his, fading gently into the sounds of the sea.