Season 2, Episode 6: Delta
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
Not far from the coast of Pa’an, in the delta of the lifegiving Lwan river, there lived an old fisherman. Every morning he would cast his net into a fork of the delta and fasten it on either side with bamboo pegs, hoping to catch a great salmon swimming upstream to spawn, or even a handful of herring. Every evening he would return, and most days the net would be empty.
When he caught small fish he would fillet them by the side of the river and eat them raw. On the rare occasion he caught a salmon or other large fish, he took it back to his hut and smoked it carefully to preserve it. When he had no fish, he would take a small handful of rice and prepare it in a large pot of boiling water. As the rice cooked, he would stand over the pot and breathe in deeply, not letting the rice-steam go to waste.
One day, when the old fisherman went to check on his net, the pegs had been pulled out and the entire net dragged upstream by some great fish that now lay tangled and beached on the near side of the river. The fisherman was confused, as he’d never caught a salmon that large, and from between the close-woven strands of the net, the fish’s scales gleamed in the dimming light, catching and throwing the sunset like flashing fire.
Picking his way through the wild yarrow, the fisherman stopped still when the fish spoke.
“Fisherman, you have caught me in your net. Free me and I will grant you a wish.” The voice was high and undulating, moving over itself like waves coming to shore.
The old man stared, dumbstruck.
“Please, good fisher, do not leave me here. I grow dry.”
A talking fish was a wonder, and wonders were dangerous things. The fisherman hesitated a moment, then gave a slight nod and knelt by the fish’s tail. The net was a mess, torn and twisted by the fish’s struggles. There would be no simply pulling it free.
Taking out his boning knife, the old fisherman began cutting his net, carefully sliding the flat of the blade between strand and scale, then turning the sharpened edge out and slicing away from the great fish. The tail, a wondrous fan-like spread of glittering color, was soon free, but that was the barest beginning. It was slow work, and grew slower as the blade dulled on the hemp, but the old man was immune to boredom, as all his work was slow.
Completely focused on the task at hand, he did not look ahead, and so was surprised when iridescent scales gave way to pale skin. Smooth, flawless skin, and so light in color as to be translucent; he could make out fine blue veins traversing that milky map, and thought of the familiar forks and windings of the river delta.
With renewed care not to harm the creature trapped therein, the fisherman continued the slow work of cutting away his net. He did not look up, and kept his full attention on the work in front of him, but he began to sweat. Above the long glittering tail was a very shapely torso, taught, muscular, and almost human. He tried not to pay attention when the skin beneath his fingers softened, or when, shortly thereafter, a pair of small and sleek breasts flopped free of their restraint.
The work up by her shoulders was tricky, and in trying not to stare anywhere else, the fisherman found himself admiring the shape of her collarbone. Quavering inside but keeping his hands steady, he freed her neck. Fortunate she did not choke, he thought, but then gills flared and closed on the sides of that neck, and he paused. Perhaps she could not choke?
It was at that point that pale hands rose before him and pulled the remains off of her head, snapping the strands of the net that remained in the way.
“Thank you, fisherman,” said the mermaid, “you have freed me. I am in your debt.”
The old fisherman gaped at her, and the mermaid smiled back, lips the color of living coral parting to reveal pearlescent teeth, brighter than any mortal could boast, but also sharp enough to cut the light. Those teeth, impressive as they were, were not her most striking feature. Her eyes were large and of one solid color, a shade of blue nearly black, her nose small…no, it was not a nose but a pair of nostril slits that looked almost like a human nose. She had no visible ears, nor hair, but most remarkable of all were the horns. They emerged from the sides of her head and framed her face with their tightly curled opalescent spirals, like miniature ram’s horns but with the appearance of polished abalone.
“Fisherman, I owe you a boon,” she said, her voice high but melodic, with that strange undulation like the tide. “What would you ask of me?”
The fisherman paused for a long time before answering.
“It is enough to have been of assistance to a great one such as yourself,” he replied. “I require nothing.”
“Surely there must be something you…” the mermaid paused and drew in breath, causing her gills to flare and her chest to heave, “want.”
The fisherman felt a little less old as things stirred in the back of his mind and in his loins, but he replied cautiously, “My joints ache and my wants are simple. A good day’s catch with little strain is all I hope for.”
The mermaid’s eye’s gleamed as she spoke, “Then you shall have it.”
The next day, the fisherman went to the bank of the river with his hand net, as his large net was beyond repair. All morning he cast his net, but every time he pulled it back in, it was empty. The sun was high in the sky when he cast his net a final time only to have it jerked out of his hands. A great shimmering mass shot by him in the delta, heading upstream, but then there was a great thrashing and splashing in the water and, with a crash, the horned mermaid slid onto the bank.
She thrashed, caught in his simple net and tore it, but as she tore at it she became entwined in it. Finally she ceased struggling and lay back on the riverbank, her arms somehow bound behind her and the twisted strands of the net crossing above and below her heaving chest. The fisherman noticed that her nipples were the same orangish red as her lips.
“Oh, no!” cried the mermaid. “Here I am, bound by ill chance, helpless and vulnerable!”
Then she looked right at him. Her gaze hung heavy upon him as she continued.
“I have been found by a man, and a strong virile one at that! What depraved use will he make of me?”
With a gasp she shifted and stretched as if attempting to scoot away or escape her bonds, but only managing to writhe sensually in the process.
“What are you doing?” the old fisherman asked.
The mermaid stopped stock-still for a moment, then spoke again. “Ohh, fisherman, I know that the charms of my kind are irresistible…do what you must, but please be gentle!”
The fisherman stepped closer and the mermaid writhed again.
“You were here yesterday, and headed upstream.” He stated in a bland tone. “How did you come to pass this way again?”
Again the mermaid stopped for a moment, but if a frown quirked her face, it vanished as quickly as it came. “You must have seen one of my sisters! The Lord of the River has awoken, and we are all going to pay homage. You must be a man of good character. Help me…” she shifted again, and the strands of the net pressed in tighter against her small breasts, squeezing them “…I would do anything to be free of this net.”
“Are you quite certain that you cannot free yourself?”
“Oh, please help me!”
The fisherman approached cautiously, trying to ignore the pounding of his heart. When he touched the mermaid to reach for the first strand of the net, she moaned. He began carefully pulling his hand-net away from her pale, flawless skin, and cutting the strands, trying to keep his focus as the mermaid groaned and gasped.
“Mmnnn…aahhh!” she moaned as the net finally loosened.
Even as the mermaid was shaking off the fragments of hemp fiber, the fisherman had turned and was walking away, trembling with fear and trying to conceal his arousal.
“Wait, good fisherman!” said the mermaid. “I owe you a boon!”
“I need nothing,” cried the fisherman.
“Do you also want nothing?” the mermaid called after him, an edge of disappointment in her voice.
There was no reply.
The next day, the fisherman rose at dawn and took his only remaining net, a tiny one used to scoop up bait-fish, back to that same fork of the delta. He was scarcely surprised when the net was caught up out of the water mere moments after he had dipped it in.
There was the mermaid, and there was his net, draped over her left hand.
“Well, fisherman,” she said, “you’ve caught me.”
“Please,” he said, “don’t tear that net. It is the only one I have left.”
She tossed the small net back to him, and he caught it on a finger and flipped it onto a branch by the riverbank.
“So,” said the fisherman mildly, though his head felt light and his limbs ached, not with age, but with something more like anticipation, “is this the third time you have landed in my net, or am I to understand that two of your sisters have already come this way?”
“What would you prefer?” she asked, leaning forward with a coy smirk.
The fisherman shrugged. “You may tell any tale you wish, but lies make me tired.”
The mermaid sighed, not a big showy sigh, but a small noise of resignation. “Very well. Ask me anything and I shall answer true.”
“Do you intend to drown me or eat me?”
There was a moment of silence. Then the mermaid laughed, her gills flaring as she did so. It was a strange sound, with a whistling quality and a bit of a gurgle in it, but it was definitely laughter. “Are those my only options, fisher? You make it hard for me to keep my promise… In that case, I must say that I wish to devour you. Ask me another.”
There was a part of the fisherman that wanted to flee this beautiful and dreadful creature, but the pounding in his veins anchored him to the spot.
“Why me?” he asked. “I am old. There is little meat on my bones, and what there is, is tough. My skin,” he said, opening his robe, “is like leather, sun-scorched and wrinkled, a poor match to the clarity of yours.”
The mermaid licked her lips.
The old man shook his robe off of one shoulder, exposing that arm and half of his chest. “My strength is not what once it was, nor my stamina. I strain to lift loads I once bore singlehanded, and sometimes I doze when I should be in meditation.”
The mermaid’s gaze was fixed on the old man’s firm, fit, and hairless chest as he shrugged off the other sleeve
“The virility of my youth has dried up, and taken the desires and pleasures of the body with it.” He loosened the sash of his robe, and the mermaid stared as the fisher’s manhood appeared, neither small nor wizened but standing straight out.
“So you see,” said the man, “there is not much to me, and surely nothing worthy of your time or interest.”
“Catcher of fish,” intoned the mermaid, “I thought you said lies bored you. The lines on your face are distinguished, your hair is like moonlight, and your skin is etched with wisdom. You speak of weakness yet you stand before me naked and unbent. You speak of impotence and yet,” she paused, staring at his cock, “your virility is clearly unimpaired by age or disuse.”
He gave a slight bow, as if embarrassed. “I do not know how to accept your praise.”
“Perhaps,” she grinned, exposing her pearl-bright and terribly sharp teeth, “you now wish to claim the boon I owe you.”
The flush that broke through his weather-beaten skin said that perhaps he did, but what he said was, “You say you owe me a boon for freeing you, but you netted yourself, and you could have freed yourself. You did not need my aid, so you cannot be said to be in my debt.”
She frowned, deeply this time. “Are you asking me to go?”
“Say, rather, that I wonder if there is something you would ask of me.”
“Ah!” exclaimed the mermaid, her midnight blue eyes narrowing. “In that case, I ask you to join me in the river.”
The fisherman, feeling as young as a songbird, ignored the lump in his stomach and stepped gracefully into the river. The water hardly made a splash against his strong calves, and he strode effortlessly out to the middle of the fork, where the water rose almost to his shoulders.
There, with a quick flick of her tail, the mermaid swept him off his feet. Even as the water closed over his face, she was diving after him, and he wondered if she was going to drown him after all. The mermaid’s smooth, long arms reached out, her fingers twining in his hair, and she pulled him close for a submerged kiss.
He saw the light shine off of her horns and sparkle in her fathomless eyes just before they closed. Her lips were warm, and her tongue was nimble. He relaxed into her embrace and returned the kiss, finding her teeth dauntingly sharp and her tongue as long and flexible as it was quick.
A strangled cry of pleasure escaped his throat in a cascade of bubbles as her tongue looped around his and she sucked him into her mouth. He wrapped his hands around her back and pulled their bodies together. Her sleek breasts rubbed against his bare chest, and this time, she was the one who made a noise low in her throat.
He should have been straining for air by now, but a very old thought, something he’d forgotten, passed through his mind. The water is not broken upon the rocks; the fish does not drown in the sea. He did not need to breathe.
The mermaid broke the clinch, and water rushed into his mouth. It felt like a kiss of another sort, more filial than intimate. The mermaid bit his ear, not quite hard enough to draw blood, or perhaps it was just hard enough to draw blood. Either way, it was exquisite.
She made her way down his neck and kissed a meandering trail over his chest, making sure to suck hard enough that each kiss would become a mark. She reached his cock, and it was, if anything, thicker and longer than before. Holding his hips firmly, she planted quick kisses up and down its length, darting about like a school of fish.
He gave a great watery groan as she stretched out her tongue and began to lick him. Shifting a hand to his bottom, which she found to be pleasantly tight and muscular, she used her other hand to pull back his foreskin and lick the tip of his cock. Slowly she took him into her mouth, her tongue all over him, as she drew him gradually deeper and deeper.
His spine arched and his toes flexed. It felt incredibly good, but a new thought gnawed at the back of his mind. The blossom gives to the honeybee, and the bee to the flower. He was breathing water, and that was fine. But he was receiving pleasure without giving it—without knowing how to give it, to a woman whose bottom half was that of a fish—and that was unbalanced.
Her veins, like the forking of the river delta. Her tail, spreading out like a fan. Flowing like water, swimming upstream…her mouth, that tongue…another memory. Why is the riverbed greater than the mountain’s peak? The riverbed goes down, abases itself, does not seek its own satisfaction.
In that moment, he knew. Flowing like water, forgetting form and self, he found in her the very river delta, saw the way she forked just like the Lwan. He stirred her stagnant ponds with his feet, dug his fingers into the soft mud of her bed, and cleared her gushing channels with his lips and tongue. In response, the mermaid bucked and took off, her tail pounding the water into froth as she swam upstream. He was at once still pressed tight in the mermaid’s hungrily sucking mouth and all over the delta, making love to her breaks and bars, to every rivulet and eddy.
The river overflowed its banks as they shot upstream, carried on a rising swell of desire and satisfaction. His awareness returned to his body as he was about to come, and his head and shoulders crested the river just as he cried out.
He felt her sucking down his seed as the orgasm flowed through her, her lips still pressed tight around the base of his cock, and her sharp teeth just barely touching his sensitive skin. She shook, her eyelids fluttering, her fingers clenching and clawing at his back, and her tail flopping, casting spray up into the air.
Afterwards, they cuddled together as they floated with the river, heading slowly downstream again.
“So,” she said “you are one of the seven sages.”
“I am the sage of the sudden grove,” he replied, “though I had forgotten myself.”
“I had thought you might be the heron sage.”
“No, I had to do something…unlike my previous self. Besides, the heron sage is taller than I.”
“Regardless, I knew you were something special from the time I first saw you.”
“When was that?”
“Don’t you know? You caressed my forks and byways, you drove me upstream through the length of myself.”
“You are the river delta,” the sage replied, awe in his voice.
“Yes, and I remember when first you came to my banks.”
“I was hiding then. The High King’s bounty was upon my head, and those of the other sages. Countless assassins sought that coin, and facing them was…wearying. “
“They are gone now, all dead. You remain.” The ululation of her voice was very warm as she said this, almost a purr.
“I was not lying when I said that I must visit the Lord of the River. That awakening allowed me to take form again.”
“For which I am grateful,” replied the sage.
“Do you wish to come with me?”
“No, but give the Mighty Lord of the River my greetings. I think I will float back down river to my hut by the banks of your delta. Will you come see me when you are done?”
“Of course. Will you make a new net for me?”
“Oh great one, this humble soul means no disrespect, but what is it with you and nets?”
“It is my nature to be free, but sometimes I like to play at being caught.”
“Then I shall weave you a fine net, a trap as strong as you see fit.”
They embraced then, and began kissing first above, then below the water. Some time later, the delta spirit swam upstream, and the sage floated back down, careless as water, already planning a net that would complement translucent skin and blue veins.
© 2013 Copyright Tof Eklund
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