We were born of the sea, those primordial waters of Chaos, and so to the sea we are destined to return. I am not oblivious to the idiosyncrasies of such a claim – a queer declaration, easily undermined by myriad evidence to the contrary. Truly, there exists no domain more inhospitable, more unforgiving to man, than the vast and fathomless depths.
And yet it calls to us; like a good mother to her children, she calls us home.
When most speak of the call of the sea, the “call” is purely figurative – the expression of a metaphor. My experience differs, for like Jason and his Argonauts, I was beckoned by a song articulated by lips of flesh and blood. With none to play the role of Orpheus, I chased the melody with unfettered fascination.
My name is of no consequence. I leave it here, alongside the husk of my former life. Woe betide any who immortalise it in requiem or stone.
I am forever bound to her; forever bound to her and those deep dark waters. Tethered and drawn low by love and worship, I will drown in her kingdom. I suffer no fear, no hesitation, for to drown in her abyss is but to live again. I know this now.
Some will undoubtedly mistake these words for the Bedlam scribblings of a madwoman. It matters not, for I know – and am unconcerned with the fact – that only imbeciles and lunatics would ever believe me. There are no kith or kin, not a single earthbound soul to which I owe an explanation. And yet here I find myself, a slave to this compulsion, penning my final thoughts before the plunge and to the sealing of my fate. Without regret, I consign myself to this destiny.
I was born to an affluent family, and though our primary residence was a London townhouse, we summered at Caeruchel Hall, an attractive Jacobean three-story, which as an adult, I would claim as my permanent, solitary home. It is the only place to which I associate any happy memory and where the most formative influences on my life would occur. The other seasons brought only tribulations and despair, but these were the halcyon days where I could, for a time, escape from misery.
The manor stood atop a high drumlin on an isolated strand of the Welsh coast, and cast a long, oppressive shadow over the lowland hamlet of Craigwen. The villagers below regarded my family with a curious mixture of fear and reverence – perceptions natural to a society grossly preoccupied with social hierarchy, where subservient greetings rife with honorifics were followed by grumbled profanities out of earshot.
You will not find Craigwen on any map. Even after the Crown’s intervention – the displacement, replacement, and rapid industrialization – few have heard its name. Only neighbouring communities are in any manner familiar with the village and its residents. The denizens of these adjacent communities used to say that the people of Craigwen lived exclusively off the sea, that supposedly no two fish caught from its waters were ever alike, and that there was something unwholesome, perhaps even heretical, with the local religion – the Church of St. Brendan.
As noted, my family was not one without means. Father owned a shipping company and suffered a stubborn, nigh compulsive need to directly oversee its management, which in turn rendered him absent throughout much of my childhood. He cared for me, in his own manner, though it was a tenderness not shown until far too late.
I cannot say the same for Mother, who displayed a consistent and cruel indifference to my existence. Wanting nothing to do with me, she relinquished all parental duties to the servants.
What I desired most was their love and understanding, but these were things my family could not – or would not – provide. Multiple miscarriages preceded my birth but it was evident that what they truly desired was a son. Despite being practically a tomboy, my character and interests did nothing to satisfy their yearning for a male heir, a proper scion that would one day bring even greater prestige to our name. The effect in fact proved quite the opposite, as they ardently sought to subdue my hoydenish behaviour.
As for Craigwen, I will say, in retrospect, that there were signs of things to come, of marked events forever immortalised in my mind. The denizens of that seaside hamlet, already a superstitious folk, exhibited certain peculiar behaviours during my family’s third visit to the region. The locals had arranged loose rocks to form primitive altars, upon which they placed offerings of scrimshaw, meat, even precious metals, despite the abject poverty of the community.
We observed these oddities from our carriage while en route to Caeruchel Hall. Mother was quick to disparage the displays as the heathen icons of a degenerate populace but Father took a more charitable view, assuring that the unusual configurations simply represented some manner of local festivity unique to the region. If this was truly a holiday, then the faces of its celebrants bore an inappropriately grim facade. Certain aspects of these rituals remain in practice to this day, though I believe I am the last to understand their true significance.
There were six of us in total, though Caeruchel Hall was fully capable of quartering a platoon. The household included Mother and Father, two maids, the cook, father’s valet, and myself. There was additionally an elderly groundskeeper but he resided in a shack closer to the water, intentionally secreted away like a blemish on the scenery.
I would spend the Summer exploring the coast, maintaining a wary distance from the locals, for I did not care for the disdainful glares they cast in my direction. Poverty breeds contempt, not unlike affluence and all else that divides. Although I did nothing to garner their ire, their distrust of outsiders was not without warrant. Despite my unhappy upbringing, I was not ignorant to the privilege of my birth and never was so naive as to envy their lot in life.
I met her on a dismal night in early July. Sleep had come easy due to the sedating patter of rain against the windows. Fatefully, I was roused by a blast of thunder that shook the very foundation of our manor. Unable to return to slumber, I lay in bed and listened to the storm, when I began to notice something strange – an inexplicable sound that had no place in nature’s cacophony. I focused my attention on the quiet interludes between each roaring cannonade. Therein I encountered harmony – a song, beautiful and inhuman, that came from outside.
Clouds obscured the moon and stars, yet something glimmered off the glass of my chamber’s seaside window. At first, the light was soft, almost unnoticeable, and resembled the living fluorescence of lightning bugs and foxfire. I pulled myself out of bed and crept through empty hallways, my steps careful and deliberate, eventually arriving at the southern terrace overlooking the Atlantic.
I chased the melody, running barefoot through the wet grass and towards the headland. The horizon opened wide as I neared the cliff, revealing milky blue-green lights dotted across the ocean’s dark expanse. The song, now a chorus, overwhelmed and extinguished whatever apprehensions I should have felt. There I watched the waves roll in and out, the strange lights unmoved by the ocean’s churning.
Then, devoid of thought or hesitation, I threw myself into the water.
The sea was black, cold, and seemingly infinite. Though conscious of my environment, I had been rendered senseless and made no attempt to breach the surface. Even as the darkness pulled me under, I offered no resistance and slowly succumbed to a death-like sleep.
After lingering in a state of unconsciousness for an indeterminate length of time, I awoke with a spastic jerk. Rolling to my side, I coughed and heaved until every last drop of seawater was purged from my body. Choking, gasping, I struggled for air and blindly reached for some surface to clutch and regain my composure. The silence was oppressive and neither wind nor rain nor thunder reached this place. Lifting myself to my feet, I leaned against the rightward wall and waved blindly ahead with my left hand as I stumbled onward across the barnacle-encrusted floor.
Despite their neglect, I did what any imperilled child would do and instinctively called out for my parents. When my voice echoed back, it brought with it a realisation. Though I had little notion of how I arrived, it was nonetheless evident that I had become trapped within one of the many sea caves that dotted the lower cliffs. With this knowledge, escape became conceivable and emboldened my steps. Alas, hope is a fleeting, flickering thing, and mine was extinguished the moment I felt the undeniable tactile sensation of flesh upon flesh.
I tried to scream, not that any would hear it, only to find my voice muffled by a slick hand. Never before had I known such fear, such sheer and bloody consternation. I kicked and thrashed about until the stranger sang softly in my ear and lulled me into a state of limp surrender. As my head rolled back, I beheld a pair of luminescent eyes – spiralling radials of gold, stippled by flecks of azure and encircled by pitch. These eyes, gleaming with intelligence, gazed deep into my own before blinking through two distinct sets of eyelids.
Wrestling with the unnatural calm, I eventually slipped free of my captor’s grasp. In desperation, I crawled into the miry darkness but found egress barred by solid rock in every direction. Trembling, I reluctantly turned to face my pursuer and was granted my first full and unobstructed view of the creature.
The entity’s skin bore streaks of luminescent colours, forming beautiful patterns and bathing the cavern in a pale, spectral glow, without which I would be blind. It was not as large as I anticipated, only eclipsing my petite frame by virtue of its serpentine lower-half. Long, supple arms hung listlessly to its sides, ending in broad palmed hands with spindly webbed-fingers. A pair of appendages whip-like extended from the waist down, appearing to aid in balance and stability when on land.
An osseous crest spread from its brow to the top of its skull where it separated into six sharp points, beyond which hung a gorgonic mane of luminescent tendrils which coiled and writhed as if by their own volition. It continued to stare in my direction, its grey lips parting to expose rows of shark-like teeth. This creature was not the unimaginative merger of fish and woman of folklore, nor the crudely stitched together chimaera from some huckster’s exhibition. These traits were seamless, revealing a singular species greater than the simple sum of its parts.
Strangely, it was not its monstrous aspect that astonished me most. As a suffering of chronic nightmares, I already expected something bestial but instead the creature bore a visage of youthful femininity. My “captor”, in truth my savior, was a girl, like myself, but from a world utterly alien to the one I thought I knew.
She immediately reminded me of the merrows – the sea-folk of Celtic legend. Among my family’s servants was the widow Ms. Kelly, who, acting as a surrogate to my mother, regaled me with tales of these and other fantastic beings at bedtime. Even as a child, I never imagined them to be more than fairy-tales and make-believe. In retrospect, it was a trifling resemblance but “merrow” would remain my preferred nomenclature for the species. Every culture with an affinity for the sea had tales of mythic species bearing these singular traits – sirens and finfolk, naga and lamia, and a full bestiary of others – and the very reason as to why was right before my eyes.
Through the sidewinding slither of her serpentine body, the merrow came nearer. Uncertain of her intentions and paralyzed with fright, I dared not even breath. At various times she would retreat, disappearing as she dimmed her light-bearing flesh. After several minutes of this game, the merrow lunged and wrapped herself around me. She proceeded to open her mouth, widening until the jaws parted far beyond its lips and eventually separated from ear to ear. Slowly, deliberately, she clasped my neck between her teeth. I remained perfectly still; too afraid to scream, I merely whimpered. The ordeal lasted only a few seconds before she pulled away and returned her mouth to its resting size and shape. It had been a surprisingly gentle display and failed to puncture the skin.
It made little sense to me at the time but I would later understand the meaning: “I could devour you, but I choose not to.”
I occasionally wonder if the human smile or kiss originated to express a similar intent or lack thereof.
Like a sprightly child on her first playdate, she took my hand into hers and dragged me off. At first I faltered, for though her light allowed me to see her, I was otherwise oblivious to my surroundings. Though she had the strength to take me by force, the merrow instead showed patience, even empathy, and slowed her pace in response to my frequent stumbling.
We would eventually arrive at the edge of a briny pool, where she slithered into the water and waited half-submerged, her luminescent eyes watching me expectantly. My mind raced, leaving me dizzy and dumb but still clever enough to observe my environment, from which I deduced that there would be no possibility of escape once I entered. After untangling my thoughts, I further recognized that the merrow had many opportunities to kill – and that if she intended my demise, then she would have already seen it through.
Freed from trepidation, I silently agreed to her invitation and lowered myself into the pool.
The merrow looked at me and smiled and I tensely smiled back. Unable to contain my anxiety, I fell into a fit of nervous laughter. My pathetic noises seemed only to delight the merrow, who gaily slapped the surface of the water. I pointed to myself and told the merrow my name, distinctly enunciating each syllable. She tilted her head, seemingly perplexed. How strange my sounds must have been.
She lay both hands upon her chest, closed her eyes, and sang the aria of her true name. The harmony called forth visions – whole experiences – all closer to reality than any dream. I imagined myself floating through the murky shallows of mangroves and among coral gardens in unknown tropics. I tasted blood in the water as ancient reptilian instincts awakened, if but only for a moment.
It is a name beyond the human tongue, something no system of writing could ever truly convey. In later years, I would endeavour to transcribe her song, merely to create something so shameful, so utterly profane, that I had no choice but to consign it to the flames.
I would instead call her Muirgein, meaning “sea-born”. According to legend, it was the Christened name bestowed by St. Comgall to the mermaid Lí Ban as part of her baptism. Though it ended with the mermaid’s death and ascension to heaven, it was her aquatic adaptations and angelic voice that stuck with me most.
It was a flawed, all too human name for such a magnificent being but alas, it would have to suffice. Simply lingering on the memory of her true name excites my mind with the anguished longing of a dipsomaniac for the bottle. I sweat and shudder even now, failing to hold it back. If you heard what I have heard, you would feel the same.
I let go of the edge and drifted towards Muirgein and into the pool’s centre. I remember the curious manner in which her grey lips curled – almost mischievous. She would again take my hand, drawing me so close before plunging us both beneath the water. Perhaps it was the influence of her voice but I heedlessly capitulated to her whims.
Muirgein was, in what should come as no surprise, a phenomenal swimmer, and I had not yet even begun to struggle for air when we breached the surface. The sky was a welcome sight, tumultuous as its darkened clouds were, and what I now knew to be the light of her kin still filled the sea. She took me to the shore, where we would spend the rest of the night at play.
The language barrier – and the barriers of culture and species – were minor obstacles to our amusement. We swam, gathered shells and driftwood, built small palaces from stone and sand. At dawn, we parted; I waved goodbye, and she mimicked my actions, though I cannot know whether or not she understood. I hurried home, washed the salt from my skin, and returned to bed mere minutes before the grandfather clock struck and rang the sixth hour. Exhausted, I feigned illness to catch up on sleep lost to last night’s escapades.
Muirgein abhorred the daylight, a trait emblematic of her species, and so we came together exclusively under the cover of darkness.The storm had passed and the moon was waning gibbous, leaving me less reliant on my companion’s nocturnal vision.
One particular night stands out among my memories. I had led Muirgein, who swam in the water parallel to me, along a lowland peninsula and to the old lighthouse. It was hardly the Pharos of Alexandria, but it was one of the few artificial structures to ever really call to me and I wished to share it with her. Once we arrived at our destination, she climbed up the rocks to join me, employing all five of her appendages with hypnotic grace.
The lighthouse was different from how I remembered it. The keeper had boarded its windows and wooden stakes formed a palisade around the tower’s base. Though undoubtedly raised for defensive purposes, my young mind failed to connect the enclosure to the merrows’ arrival. Inside the lighthouse, a man recited a litany of prayers.
A mournful dirge echoed from across the bay and drew my attention back to the sea. It was the song of a great whale that had been lured into shallow water, stranding and bloodying itself upon a reef. Merrows swarmed the trapped leviathan, and though the finer details were beyond my sight, predator and prey alike glistened crimson beneath the moonlight. I have heard that whales are notoriously difficult to fell, and knowing this, I can say that the beast’s lamentations were mercifully short-lived. These pelagic hunters were, if anything, efficient killers.
The wild hunt was terrible to behold and though I pitied the beast, I could not avert my gaze. I had to see this – I had to understand – that there was no evil, no cruelty in the hunt. This was the way of all living things.
I learned this lesson well.
Unfortunately, these nights of joy and adventure could not last. Although I dreaded my family’s return to the city, it would be the merrows who were first to depart. I waited by the shore, gazing at a sea of stars, but Muirgein never came. One by one, the lights disappeared, and I was left alone to wonder if it had all been a dream.
It would be years before I saw her again.
In my twelfth year, our household was joined by a governess, Ms. Bradshaw, who would tutor me on subjects deemed crucial to a child of my class and gender. Beyond some elementary mathematics, there was no place for the sciences in my curriculum; for that, I would be forced to self-educate. No, I would instead learn etiquette, social grace, and the banal rites of polite society.
I despised these lessons, and every new rule and ritual – the manners of self-control; awareness of social position; which fork was reserved for dessert – were designed to erode my identity until nothing remained but an elegant husk. Aimless days blurred together to resemble the grey monotony of Purgatory. I was dead, a ghost and her walking corpse, awaiting the chance to live again.
Bound by familial expectations, our aestival retreat no longer afforded me the same respite it had before. It was not ‘ladylike’ to explore the coast, its sea caves and tidal pools – those rare places that soothed my fragile constitution and lulled melancholy to a tolerable repose. Ms. Bradshaw paid close attention to my activities; like Father’s stalking valet, she had become my shadow, and I was forbidden from venturing beyond the estate unchaperoned. It was impossible to live as I truly desired; nay, not merely desired, but in a manner essential to my being.
My family endeavoured to break me of my habits – to destroy me, and shape the remnant pieces into their ideal daughter. If they wished to fashion me into their dreamless doll, I would rather be like an effigy and burn.
Even with my mind lost in the fog of despair, there was no escape from the springtide of life. Adolescence, no doubt an exciting phase for many, only served to amplify my frustrations. Mother had finally begun to take notice of me. Some souls, desperate for recognition, will not discriminate between love or animosity.
I immediately wished for the return of her characteristic neglect.
Mother descended from nobility – a fallen house – and married Father in a bid to retain her lavish lifestyle. Inheriting the malignant pride of her ancestors, she turned her nose up at him and other members of the nouveau riche. An interminable hypocrite, Mother’s disdain for Father’s inferior pedigree never prevented her from squandering his wealth on frivolities.
Her lust for worldly possessions typically gravitated towards Parisian gowns, fine furs and pearls – each a sacred relic in her cult of self-worship. This vile sect held power in our household, manifesting itself as an overabundance of mirrors and a constant air of condescension. Father was among the faithful and indulged her every whim.
She ridiculed my appearance, regularly disparaging my body as too thin, my face as too angular, and openly questioned how she gave birth to a daughter so unlike her, placing blame on Father’s common blood. I knew she only wished to hurt me but her accusations were not inherently without merit, for we shared little resemblance; that I took almost entirely after my father was plain for anyone to see. Not that any of that matters. We are all bound by the chains of pangenesis, but I am no more tethered to the most recent coupling as I am to the eldest link.
I am not my blood; I know this now.
Books were to be my only refuge. Neither of my parents could be described as active readers and it is probable that, as a solitary child deprived of friends or siblings, I simply lacked other means in which to occupy myself. My favourite subject was biology, which was in many aspects still in its infancy.
Despite his blatant disinterest in literature, Father maintained a library at both residences. After all, books symbolised status and presented the owner as an individual possessing vast knowledge and a keen intellect. As trade was his only acumen, his intellectual curiosity did not expand beyond new and improved methods of cost-effective shipping.
The library was quite different at our summer abode, containing singular titles that would never be found in the frugal bulk purchases my father preferred. At our primary residence, the collection was, if not famous, then at least recognizable—encyclopaedias, dictionaries, poetry, and prose; authors whose works were known even amongst the illiterate.
But not here.
A sizable portion of this library had been left by the manor’s previous occupants, a family whose name and bloodline had since faded into obscurity. Whoever they were, their selection betrayed interests both scientific and esoteric, with topics ranging from forgotten Pagan gods and rituals to heterodox theories of abiogenesis. I would lose myself in those pages, finding a fleeting, artificial means to transcend the mundane.
Most of the books were handwritten, often in languages not yet familiar, and lacked any indication of formal publication. Knowledge starved, my appetite had grown voracious. Many of these age-worn tomes were ultimately beyond my comprehension and it would be decades before their full impact came to fruition.
I retained access to the widow’s walk, where I would excuse myself to watch the sunset. Of course, I was not there for the sun, nor the moon and stars, as my interest, my obsession, was strictly worldly. The heavens could wait, for I sought the electric blue and amber lights of vagabond merrows – of my solitary, long yearned companion.
My patient vigil was rewarded five years after my initial encounter with Muirgein, just a month after my sixteenth birthday. I remember gazing at the coast as our carriage approached Caeruchel Hall. There, by the water’s edge, were rocks stacked in tight formations and laden with oblations that glistened beneath the Summer sun. These were the silent harbingers of her return.
I departed from the manor once all had retired for the night and surreptitiously made my way to the rocky peninsula leading to the lighthouse. The keeper had once again raised his palisade in preparation against the merrows. It was a bulwark born of fear without reverence and betrayed his status as an outsider.
In time the sea erupted in light and song. I came prepared this time, donning a navy blue bathing gown and carrying a folded terrycloth under my arm. Had I brought my parasol, I’d have undoubtedly appeared ready for an ordinary day of sun and leisure on the beach.
Silver ripples moved upon the face of the water, joined by the foamy wake of undulating bodies hidden just below. A couple serpentine shapes broke from the throng and surged towards me, reigniting old fears – primal, instinctive. How foolish I was, to stand so boldly before the sea folk; for fear, like respect, was due. They breached the surface with incredible force and sent me flying backwards.
A vociferous wail, like a banshee’s shrill lament, called the merrows back into the water. I sat there, bewildered, as my rescuer slithered up the stony slope and threw herself upon me. Blinded by tears of joy, I lurched forward and wrapped my arms around Muirgein while she cantillated a delightful song of reunion. Both of us had grown, with nature guiding us along analogous paths of development.
Mesmerised by her sacred tones, I surrendered to her euphonic baptism and sank into the depths of its profundity. Soon we were in the water and among the tides we sang and danced; no one could stop us, nothing else mattered. Here we made merry until forced to flee the approach of dawn.
Feigning illness, I took to bed during the day and visited Muirgein in the night. By this method, I was able to maximise our time together – a resource I now knew to be in short supply.
Misanthropy and a propensity for brooding rendered friendship, let alone the lowest manner of acquaintanceship, an unfamiliar notion. Despite my introverted nature, I still knew that girls my age typically gifted each other tokens of appreciation.
But what does one give to a merrow? Wild and transitory, the sea folk had little need for material possessions. Humans hoard; it is an instinct born in reaction to our environment – to cycles, to seasons, of sowing and reaping and of famine and feast. But for a merrow, survival is to live in the moment, to exist in the now, without care for the future or past.
At least, that is what I imagined at the time. The truth is more complicated.
Following days of indecision, I eventually settled on a gift and made my offering at midsummer. It was a cannetille necklace, whose golden filigree tendrils and aquamarine adornments reminded me of her. I had pilfered it from Mother’s armoire, who regarded the piece as out of fashion. Having plenty of jewellery to spare, she would not notice its theft.
My hands trembled when I wrapped the chain around her neck. I felt something with her that I had never felt before – an emotion I was too naive to understand. It began as an inner warmth, a perplexing sensation that left me almost stupefied.
On our final night, before Muirgein parted, she held me close and pressed her sable lips against mine. She uncoiled, releasing me before slithering wistfully back into the sea. I looked on, tears trickling down my cheeks, as her luminous body merged with the radiance of her kindred shiver. Sorrow took me, sending me to my knees, while one by one their light disappeared, until the sea was again as black as the moonless sky.
The dynamic of our relationship had changed. I did not simply wish to be with her, to frolic and delight in shared activities – I wanted her. My burning heart, so consumed by girlish infatuation, ensured that the next five years would feel like an eternity.
Alone again and consumed by curiosity, I sought to learn all I could regarding the vagabond merrows. As the village was forbidden to me, I turned to the solitary native in my family’s employ. I knew little about our groundskeeper, not even his name, but I did know that he was born and raised in Craigwen. Shy and lacking my family’s gift of gab, I could not bring myself to openly approach a man who was, for all intents and purposes, little more than a stranger.
Instead, I wrote a letter with a series of questions – about the town, its history and folklore – in addition to directions to a particular rock, beneath which he could deliver his response. I placed the message at his doorstep, along with a handful of sovereigns for his troubles, and would check my impromptu drop-off daily. It was all so comically elaborate but such was my nature; I hadn’t even considered the likelihood of his illiteracy. After a week of waiting and nearly ready to abandon this endeavour, I lifted the selected stone and found my letter returned, along with my bribe of coins. Written on the back of the parchment was a simple, straightforward reply:
The groundskeeper was literate, at least partly, but unfortunately wanted nothing to do with this bargain. I watched him tend the garden, where he kept his head down and avoided my gaze. I was confused, seething even, for it never occurred to me that he might decline. The severity of my dismay revealed that more of Mother’s haughtiness lurked inside me than I imagined.
If he was unwilling to tell me the truth then I would have to glean it through subterfuge.
Ms. Bradshaw’s watchful gaze remained a problem, necessitating a certain degree of trickery. I ultimately decided to exploit our situation and requested that she chaperone me to the village, feigning interest in Cragwain’s scrimshaw and assorted knick-knacks. My pretence was met with scepticism but she nevertheless acquiesced. Her only demand was that we remain together and that we would return before dusk, citing the village’s notorious inhospitality.
We departed Caeruchel Hall after tea and travelled by foot to that destitute hamlet. Craigwen was but a quarter mile from the manor – appearing from that distance as an ugly blotch upon an otherwise splendid scenery – and so the journey was not unduly arduous. For reasons unknown, neither clear skies nor a bright summer sun could lift the heavy gloom from that place and there was an ever-present fetid miasma, reeking of fish and the nitrogenous waste of low-tide mud.
The history of Craigwen was far less known to me than that of the region as a whole. The putrescent village appeared as if frozen in time, preserved beneath layers of rust and rot as if it were an insect in amber. And yet I suspect that even the most discerning of antiquarians would fail to glean a shred of truth from this mummified corpse-town.
Though penniless, hunger was not a peril these people suffered. The men always returned with a truly bounteous catch, undoubtedly miraculous by the standards of other fisherfolk. Why the people of Craigwen never simply sold or bartered their surplus sustenance would be readily apparent to any who had set their eyes upon it.
I’ve previously noted that Craigwen does not appear on any maps, that few are even aware of its existence. This did not prevent neighbouring villages from being rife with rumours about the beshadowed little town. A common claim was that no two fish caught off its waters looked the same. This, like most hearsay, proved false, but hardly an unreasonable conclusion to come to. North-Atlantic marine life is not known for its beauty but there was something offensively hideous about Craigwen’s principal resource.
I saw this firsthand at the wharf, where mothers and wives gutted the most recent haul. There was a diverse array of obsidian eels, some with dragon-like heads and faintly glowing bulbous eyes, others with mouths thrice the size of their bodies; grinning fish with the scaleless pink and wrinkled skin of men; ghost-fleshed wretches with organs visible, bearing the lamenting visage of doomed souls. Grotesque fiends, fantastic beasts, and loathsome aberrations – malformed by the crushing black abyss and now destined for the pot and plate.
Peering over the edge of the docks, I searched for evidence of yet another rumour. Our cook, though not a native to Craigwen, was born and raised in a nearby village, and it was from him I was able to learn these tales. He told me that large ships gave Craigwen a wide berth because of hazards hidden below the water’s surface. These lurking threats easily brought ruin to even the most seaworthy of vessels and folks these days knew to steer clear. This ultimately meant no cargo-laden clippers, no prosperous whalers – as industries developed, often bringing the benefits (and horrors) of mechanisation, the village of Craigwen was left behind.
The cook had never seen them himself but others had, including his late great uncle, whose ship foundered off Craigwen while lost amidst a fog. The sailor returned to his village as the crew’s sole survivor, claiming that the old legends were true; that these were no mere rocks but great cyclopean statues – monstrous effigies from before the Deluge.
He said no man was mad enough to conceive such beings; that these were the idols of forgotten beings – of God’s first and failed creations, rightly cast down and drowned in preparation for humanity. Even devils, he said, were more kin to us than the makers of those profane stones.
Alas, whatever was out there was content to remain hidden from me.
There was one other rumour I wished to investigate, regarding a certain church and its unwholesome reputation. Knowing my governess would never allow it, I waited for when she seemed most distracted. Fortune graced me in the form of an elderly accordionist, who played just well enough for her to linger. Seizing this opportunity, I surreptitiously slipped between buildings and serpentined the grimy narrows which wormed their way throughout the harbortown.
Craigwen hid more within its clustered shanties and tortured alleys than outside observation would impress. Unfortunately, I had no time to appreciate the singular, almost organic quality of the dilapidation. What I sought would not be too difficult to find; indeed, I could see its steeple from Caeruchel. There, in the ramshackled heart of Craigwen, was the Church of St. Brendan; one needed only to follow the town’s capillaries to reach it.
The old stone church was distinctly Welsh, though oddly placed. Traditionally, such religious sites were located on the outskirts, adjacent to or surrounded by a cemetery. There were no graves here, at least none that were marked. The only standing monument was a statue of the church’s namesake. The iconic saint had been deliberately defaced, its head removed and its body engraved with blasphemous symbols not yet known to me. It seemed unlikely that superstitious mariners would spurn their patron saint.
Unless, that is, they had gained the patronage of another – something jealous and unwilling to share the devotion of its faithful.
If these people worshipped a new god, I found few signs of its veneration within that putrid sanctuary. I remember how the sunlight poured through cracks in the roof, illuminating particles of dust and spores as they floated through the aether. Exposure to the elements caused the damp interior to be fertile grounds for all manner of fungi. A particularly pervasive mould blackened those long-neglected pews and gave its wood the sodden aspect of flotsam.
The church had fallen into disuse, and decades ago if the level of decay was any indication. Time was limited, so I immediately began my search for clues, though had little notion of what I sought. Focusing my attention on the nave and chancel, I sifted through rubble and rubbish but failed to identify anything of significance. Frustrated, and full of youthful vigour, I impulsively pushed over a decaying pulpit and watched satisfied as it splintered across the hard stone floor. This petty act of childish vindictiveness proved unexpectedly fortuitous, for half-buried in the resulting wreckage was a book, no doubt of some importance and secreted away long ago. Loosening my bodice, I hid the tome close to my body, believing it best to conceal my prize from Ms. Bradshaw.
I returned to my governess with feigned ignorance, claiming that our separation was purely accidental. While she never called my bluff, she betrayed her scepticism with furrowed brows. I noticed that her face was paler than when I left her, despite the summer warmth; it was the haunted visage of one who had seen a ghost and, as memory serves, she would never visit Craigwen again.
Back at Caeruchel, I secluded myself with the tome and pore over its sepia pages. By happy chance, it was written in English, albeit the antiquated English of three centuries ago, and was primarily a record of local events.The first half was dedicated almost entirely to mundane celebrations and incidents – marriages, baptisms, funerals – anything that required the local priest, who was undoubtedly the book’s anonymous author. The tone of these chronicles took a sudden turn when Craigwen was besieged by a series of disasters. A powerful storm tore the town asunder, which was next followed by disease – an unknown sickness festering among the fish, spreading to those who consumed their poisoned flesh – and finally, famine.
Henceforth, the book shifts from record-keeping to what I could only then, in my ignorance, perceive as the diary of a madman. Believing himself forsaken by God, the priest made a desperate plea to a seemingly indifferent universe. That was when they came. Though he called them “Angels”, they did not descend from the long vault of heaven but instead rose from the fathomless deep.
Through these angels of the sea, a new covenant was formed – its fulcrum the promise that Craigwen would never hunger again. Alas, the specifics of this pact are lost to me, for mould blackened the remaining pages, rendering most words illegible. But I had to wonder: what did these thalassic saviours expect in return?
Virtually a prisoner in my own domain, I satisfied my need to explore within the manor itself. The estate had undergone numerous incarnations throughout its existence; the ordered grandeur of its Neoclassical architecture succeeded the Stuart period’s simplicity, which itself replaced a grim and austere Tudor castle. Evidence for this process of destruction and reconstruction can be traced back to a 1st century Roman fortress whose brickwork still stands as the manor’s foundation. Only those long-dead legionnaires know what came before but I’m certain the tribal Demetre or Silures made effective use of this land prior to their subjugation.
This history of consistent occupation had a perfectly logical explanation. The horizon was wholly visible in every direction due to its high elevation and the ocean surrounded the estate on three of four sides. Unscalable cliffsides prevented access from the shore, save for a single narrow path. Thanks to these and other geographical features, it was the most naturally defensible location in the region.
There is one place older than the foundation, a place so genuinely ancient that any speculation regarding its age was pointless.
I discovered it by accident while in the basement, hiding from Ms. Bradshaw and her vacuous lessons. Lantern in hand and my afternoon reclaimed, I spent the time in search of the skittering vermin that so naturally congregated in the damp and inky blackness. Cobwebs formed congruous patterns across the ceiling, merging the silken domains of many a spider. I remember how it twinkled before my light, its surface bejewelled by drops of moisture that no doubt lured prey as diamonds would a thief.
At the far end of the chamber, behind the furthest cask, the web grew dense and layered, littered with the desiccated remains of winged insects better suited for the wide outdoors than a lightless cellar. Spiders are of an inherently unsociable disposition and I wondered what brought about their atypical assemblage. Intrigued, I brushed aside the web and forced my way through.
Beyond the viscid threshold was a wall – ordinary and not unexpected, save for the presence of a gaping vertical fissure. Despite its advanced state of deterioration, the structure was relatively modern compared to adjacent architecture. It was undoubtedly the stonework of an amateur, someone other than the master masons responsible for Caeruchel Hall or any of its previous iterations. Proof of this was how one strong push was all I needed to send it toppling.
The dust settled and revealed a timeworn stairwell. After a period of hesitation, I swallowed my fear and descended. The spiralling passage delivered me to a labyrinthine network of megalithic tunnels. Underground structures could be found throughout the world and Britain was no exception. Mediaeval crypts, Anglo-Saxon barrows, and even Roman Mithraea were hidden across the Isles.
The walls bore singular engravings – pictograms, possibly even hieroglyphics – which failed to coincide with any known culture. Aeons ago, a cult carved this complex from solid bedrock. I could only imagine that these were the creations of the Demetae or Silures or perhaps some other forgotten Celtic tribe unknown to the historians and archaeologists of our age. These depictions ranged from the familiar, such as waves, fish, rain, and whales, to the utterly abstract, if not alien. Abstruse as they were, these symbols and their configurations invoked a particular aesthetic or theme – one that, like the songs of the merrows, seem to embody all things thalassic.
Though devoid of life, these ruins were not silent. There had been a faint droning since the moment of my arrival and the volume only amplified the deeper I travelled. By the time I recognized the steady burble of running water, I had already reached its source, where a confluence of subterranean tributaries fed into a large central basin. Steam emanated off the surface of the water and I knelt at the edge of the pool before dipping a finger, finding it warm to the touch but not scalding.
Just how much of this grotto was a product of nature or human artifice, I cannot say, but what I did know was that this was a sacred place.
Five monoliths encircled the basin like the outstretched fingers of a buried giant. Jutting from the centre of the pool was a statue depicting a menacing amalgamation of serpent, octopus, fish, and woman. The chimeric goddess displayed the plump breasts and distended abdomen of late pregnancy, leaving little doubt of an association with fertility. It had the head of a devil-fish, a hideous species known for its enormous mouth of needle-like fangs and bait-like cranial appendage. Long, sharp spikes protruded from the shoulders and back like the spines of a sea-urchin while the lower-half was an anarchic skein of snakes and tentacles with a strangely chitinous texture.
Within the shallow gouges that constituted its eye sockets were a pair of large pearls, their perfectly spherical bodies appearing jet black with green-blue overtones – a rare coloration that has, to the best of my knowledge, never been harvested from British waters; indeed, my research on the subject suggests that such pearls are typically only produced by the black-lipped oysters of the exotic South Seas. I cannot say for certain how they came to be on the other side of the world but it stands to reason that the merrows were at the root of it.
I stared in awe, in horror, so great and terrible were the gods of old.
Mother Ocean, Her Undulating Vastness.
Low on kerosene, I retraced my steps and returned to the manor. I told no one of these ruins and hid the entrance through the strategic arrangement of wine racks. As I wrote before, this was a sacred place, and I would not have it profaned. It would serve as my lifelong sanctuary, my truest refuge from civilization. Ms. Bradshaw would berate me for my sudden and inexplicable absence but proved otherwise ignorant of my whereabouts.
By the age of eighteen, I was free of Ms. Bradshaw, who had fulfilled her contractual obligations and left our home without fanfare or farewells. I do not know how common it is for a governess to feel fondness towards her ward but there was certainly no love to lose between us. In retrospect, I must admit that I did not make her position any less tolerable. One might expect that I would have sought to extract some sliver of affection from her – to find in Ms. Bradshaw a maternal surrogate. Alas, I simply regarded her as an extension of Mother’s will, if I regarded her at all.
It is a terrible thing when tutelage merely distracts from one’s true vocation. My governess was but an obstacle, though through no fault of her own.
As I neared marriageable age, Mother organised the visitation and courtship of several suitors. She often insinuated that the bloodline would end with me if left to my own devices. Though her goal was to insult me, Mother spoke the truth – I was terribly shy, barely speaking more than a few words.
But do not mistake my diffidence for bashful simpering. I felt nothing for these men.
It became increasingly apparent that these suitors weren’t invited for my benefit alone. Mother would parade herself through the parlour and devise excuses to join us. I saw how she positioned herself, how it would further exaggerate her natural curvaceousness. She knew how to look at them, how to smile and laugh, and when to be coquettish or coy. As she feasted on their adoration, her ego bloomed.
I do not pretend to understand the reasons for her endless cruelty. At the cusp of my development, time would begin to take its toll on the woman to which it had previously been so kind but this was not the fault of envy. No, it was instinctive – an emotional form of filial cannibalism, like beasts who consume their brood at the first sign of weakness. Mother was a predatory creature, a witch wielding insidious glamours, and who she hurt was inconsequential. Whatever Mother desired, she received.
It was my twenty-first Summer and our ride to the coast that year proved memorably intolerable. Father had matters of business to attend and would not be joining us, vowing to arrive sometime in the weeks ahead. Without him as an intermediary, Mother was free to focus all her scathing ire upon me. To hide my tears, I turned to face the window. Our destination was still days away.
There was a short-lived period when I actually strove to be the debutante I thought she wanted. In my foolish naivete, I convinced myself that I could truly earn her affection, or at least her respect, through imitation – that she would see something of herself in me, as for her there was no other more beloved.
My efforts were in vain. Mimicry only served to better illustrate the differences between us. In despair, I returned to the quiet defiance that had always characterised our relationship.
For four days I suffered in silence, seething in my secret hate, but Mother’s suffocating darkness diminished as the Welsh coast came into view. Alerted, I focused my gaze on the distant beaches, watching the shapes – little more than dots at first – manifest familiar forms. The stones had again been raised, heralding the coming of the merrows. I smiled, I truly smiled, as hope rekindled my dimming heart.
Kicking off my shoes, I practically threw myself from the carriage the moment we neared the gatehouse. I sprinted down the hill, across the emerald headland, along that narrow path leading to the hidden cove. Foolish in my excitement, I failed to reckon the hours remaining between then and sunset. Already weary from the daylong journey, the sudden exertion depleted what little vigour I had left. Slumping beside a boulder, I slipped into a sweet torpor while the placid tide lulled me to sleep.
My mind’s eye conceived, or instead found itself impressed with, a double flash of white and scarlet. I awoke face-down in a pool of my own coagulated blood with my hands bound behind me. Shifting my weight from side to side, I rolled on to my back and regained my field of vision. Though the sun had yet to wholly set, the moon, full and silver bright, presaged the advent of night.
My eyes widened as my dread surmise became fully realised.
Having been rendered senseless by blunt force trauma, I was bound, gagged, and taken captive aboard a skiff. To this day, I do not know if the assault was an act of opportunity or one premeditated with grim intention. We were far from the coast, far from any who might take pity. Two strangers manned the oars whilst at its bow, facing my direction, was an old man bearing a familiar visage.
It was the groundskeeper of Caeruchel Hall, the man who spurned my search for answers years before – questions that undoubtedly raised suspicions and ultimately precipitated the dire situation I found myself in.
I lay there, still as the dead, virtually invisible beneath the groundskeeper’s moonlit shadow.
He spoke to me, or rather at me, as he seemed oblivious of my return to consciousness. Between his litany of chants, prayers, and ancient invocations, were apologies. Solemn, sincere, but not too mournful – the words of a man who had experienced a lifetime of necessary evils yet never grew entirely numb to the deed. He went on to say that I knew too much; that what he intended was without joy or malice. “Better an outsider” he said, “than yet another of our own”.
“Just one life,” he muttered, “just one life to ensure the survival and prosperity of Craigwen”.
When the oarsmen ceased their rowing, the groundskeeper lifted a crwth and bow from his lap, braced the bottom of the instrument against his chest, and began to play. The sounds he produced bore a singular assonance that deviated from the region’s traditional folk music. He called out to the sea with his strange and frightful melody and the sea called back in immaculate chorus.
The merrows had risen.
The largest oarsman lifted me over his shoulder, bringing my head so close to his that I could smell the ale on his breath. Perhaps the brute drank a few pints for courage – and to numb his conscience in preparation for what he intended to do next. In spite of his robust physique, he grunted and laboured to carry me, leading me to notice that my bindings were tethered to several hefty stones.
These men planned to drown me – to sacrifice me to the merrows and their nameless gods – and these weights were there to seal my fate. This had always been their way. A tried and true method, learned from their fathers, as their fathers learned from theirs.
The sea was full of light and song, a beauty so mesmerising, so utterly transcendent, that few would ever recognize it for the predatory lure that it was – no, not before the trap was sprung. And the colours! Gold and violet, turquoise and indigo – sprawling, cascading, and vibrating to the rhythm of their ancient rime.
Rolling my wrists, I successfully loosened the ropes that bound me, just enough to free my hands as the brute prepared to toss me overboard. Hastily, desperately, I hoisted one of my intended anchors and tightly grasped the stone with both hands. Invigorated by the hysterical strength that accompanies the will to survive, I took that stone and drove it through the giant’s skull. His head caved in with a sickening crack, splattering blood and brain as his lifeless body crumpled where he stood.
The groundskeeper was blind to my actions, his conscious mind lost to the frenzied playing of his crwth.
But the remaining oarsman was soon upon me. He was a lanky fellow but his tenacity more than made up for his size. Before I could react, he had the shaft of a paddle pressed against my throat and was attempting to push me into the sea. I clung to the hull, digging my nails into its sea-worn wood. Something had to give and my stubborn defiance, faced with his relentless force, would ultimately result in my vicious dislocation of my left arm from its socket. The pain was of a nauseating nature and caused me to vomit. With nowhere to go due to the gag in my mouth, I began to choke on my own bile.
What a wretched and ignoble way to lose one’s life.
My attacker laid aside his oar and squatted over my limp, defeated body. In his palid, pox-scarred face, I beheld terror of an order beyond that even I, his intended victim, could possibly comprehend. He mouthed a few words but all I heard was the hundred voice chorus and the groundskeeper’s screaming crwth. Then calmly, coldly, he pushed my head beneath the surface of the water. Powerless to stop him, I could do no more than look on in dismay.
The ocean was ablaze with the luminescent flesh of oscillating ophidian forms. Golden spots, ethereal blue-green ribbons – like the fire of rare falling stars – and suddenly, splashes of crimson, a torrent of blood as the mangled bodies of men hit the water. The calloused hands that so tightly held me released their grip and floated away, severed and trailed by streaming clouds of maroon.
I sank into a storm of teeth and claws and bone and flesh as the merrows eviscerated their own devotees. Still wracked by pain, my frayed nerves sent my body into shock, sparing me from any further glimpses of that vision of hell – before the sea, or my own spewage, had the chance to drown me.
I awoke in darkness. Though my body was battered and bruised, I was relieved, if perplexed, to find that functionality had returned to my left arm. My head had been attentively swathed as well, with seaweed serving as an opportune substitute for cotton bandages. I did not question how I came to reside in this lightless place, nor was I curious about the identity of my guardian and healer, for that answer was self-evident.
The brutes of Craigwen had sought my demise. I witnessed the end of three lives, one conceivably felled by my own hand, and returned from the sea haunted. And though it all transpired in a blur of shapes and colours, perceived through barely cognizant eyes, a troubling, albeit not entirely unsuspected truth was confirmed.
Imagine a child growing up on a farm. Too young to partake in the family’s labours, they might instead seek companionship among the domestic beasts, blissfully unaware that these animals were destined for the butcher’s block and kitchen table. Muirgein and I were young when we met. As we were too innocent to comprehend the true nature of our respective races, I was forced to wonder if she would regard me as friend or food.
These concerns gnawed their way to the forefront of my mind. There they embedded themselves – feeding on my sanity and breeding increasingly complex, ever conflicting emotions.
As I fumbled through that sunless realm, I eventually regained my bearings and, not long after, encountered an unlit lantern – specifically my lantern, and one of the many I intentionally secured in the caverns beneath Caeruchel Hall. A cache of matchboxes and oil was nearby, for I had seen to their strategic placement throughout my hidden grotto. I cast out the darkness, though I suppose I had little need for light to guide my way through such well-traversed corridors.
In search of respite, I stripped down, discarding the trappings of humanity as I approached the primordial spring. The warm water embraced me like an old friend, soothing aches and wounds. My sense of self soon became as vaporous as the balmy mist and I no longer knew where my body ended and where the water began.
My concentrative idol, the pearl-eyed goddess, stared back at me. I closed my eyes, inhaled the sibylline fumes, and entered an intoxicating reverie. Words poured like liquid from my mouth; gibberish at first but a harmony soon developed. The lyrics escape me now, if there was anything lyrical to begin with, but I was certainly no prima donna. I was loud – hysterical even – as I unburdened myself of those accumulating emotions. I wailed and crooned, though I have no notion for how long; time was meaningless – nothing existed beyond my sacred grotto.
That night, I would be the siren.
When Muirgein returned, she emerged from the water like foam-arisen Aphrodite. She had saved me again and oh, how she had grown – grown and changed – and what a magnificent metamorphosis it had been. With no hindrance from gravity, Muirgein achieved prodigious size and now towered over me at more than twice, perhaps even thrice my height, though her singular anatomy rendered any estimation of her exact length or weight inextricable.
Obsidian-like scutes and bulging osteoderms insulated her dorsal hide from harm yet her grey ventral skin remained comparatively sleek. Despite these reptilian adaptations, well-developed breasts betrayed her mammalian heritage – unless, of course, they were merely plump with venom. During the time since our last encounter she had become both more and less human. A true daughter of Typhon and Echidna, her monstrous elements served only to intensify her allure.
Muirgein’s beauty was not exclusive to anatomy, to aspects of the flesh. Golden ornaments decorated her body, much of it undoubtedly salvaged from the wrecks of long-lost galleons. The jewellery had been bent, twisted, and linked to create pieces capable of accommodating her size and distinct physiology. Torcs and bangles wrapped around her neck, ankles, wrists, and even her various tendrils, while a warped and strikingly asymmetrical diadem adorned her head, accentuating her six-pronged osseous crest. This gold had developed a porous, almost organic quality, though I’m uncertain if its texture was an aesthetic choice, perhaps an alloy or process unique to merrow metallurgy, or simply a byproduct of prolonged exposure to a marine environment.
Among her many necklaces was a familiar cannetille, my gift to her from years before. Unable to contain my excitement, I called out her false name. Alas, the barrier of language remained between us. Her voice had such power over me and there was a degree of comprehension, even if the details proved elusive.
But it was doubtful that my tuneless words possessed equivalent significance to her. How defective I must have seemed. Like a nightingale, caged and isolated since hatching, forever ignorant to the melodies of her lost watch. For this, I could not help but wonder if she pitied me.
Tears of joy trickled down my cheeks. Unable to fully wrap my arms around her ample waist, I instead buried my face in her stomach. I was haunted by the horrors of the recent past, the lingering pain and unwanted memories, but her warmth would cleanse me of their poison.
I sat down where the bubbling water was shallow. Muirgein took to the deeper centre, where she performed an aquatic pirouette; if this display was meant to impress me, it succeeded. Looking at her, I found myself drowning in the twin amber pools of her labyrinthine eyes, whose cloudy spirals seemed to go on forever. Her sable lips parted, flashing sharp teeth; a human smile to disguise an inhuman maw.
Muirgein flaunted her luminous flesh, producing a chromatic and mercurial glow that limned every voluptuous feature. Nothing was hidden and I studied these shimmering lines not only as a captivated admirer but as a naturalist. Life under the sea facilitated the development of powerful muscles, especially her abdominals which had grown to resemble chiselled marble. I trembled in the presence of this corporeal goddess as my heart sank beneath my navel and continued to flutter.
Located beneath her breasts were a pair of gills, a trait that had gone unnoticed until now. Likely there since birth, it is probable that they simply appeared increasingly prominent with age. This discovery further mystified merrow evolution, undermining my original assumption that the species underwent a selection process similar to other aquatic mammals, such as cetaceans. I would come to question if the merrows were altered by a greater intelligence as opposed to the anarchy of evolution. Muirgein truly was the living reconciliation of faith and nature.
She lunged at me, like a predator moving in for the killing blow, feinting an attack only to hug me at the last second and spin us round like a pair of dancers.
Feelings of friendship and innocent fascination gave way to burning desire. Such was the strange alchemy of emotions, transmuting perceptions following the introduction of a potent catalyst. I did not consider myself the amorous type, an opinion my past suitors only reaffirmed, and yet there I was, enthralled by passions once thought absent.
These memories are still warm, like the embers of a smouldering bonfire.
Drunk with newfound lust, I abandoned the burden of reason and let instinct be my guide. I began to kiss her smooth ventral skin, tasting the salt of her flesh as my impetuous fingers caressed the tightly bound sinew of her Amazonian physique. Recognising the impetuosity of my actions, I ceased my self-indulgent fondling and pulled away from her.
I tilted back my head and tried to meet her gaze, embarrassed, ashamed, and desperate to convey some manner of apology. Muirgein’s coquettish grin, though full of fiendish incisors, quickly dispelled my nervous worries. She had the slightest underbite, just enough to display a pair of fangs between where her lips ended and where her extended jawline began. What a strange and savage beauty, intimidating yet so easily adored.
There was something different about the way she looked at me. It was subtle, at first, until her eyes and squamous brow contorted to convey a singular and all-too-telling expression. Yearning, it seems, communicates itself through a truly universal language.
Muirgein lifted me from the water, leaving my legs dangling in the air while her more dexterous tentacles cradled my head and torso. One such appendage brushed between my thighs, if just for a moment – brief enough to seem accidental. My beloved knew exactly what she was doing.
There was no turning back, no means of escaping her grip, but egress was the furthest thing from my mind. Brought face to face, I watched her mouth open and a long, azure tongue roll out. It wagged suggestively, displaying considerable prehensibility. Having teased me long enough, she drew me into her sweet embrace.
We kissed. Her dark lips, the only lips I’ve ever known, caused mine to tingle, as electricity pulsed through every nerve in my body. I felt as if my heart would erupt and engulf the world in flame. Truly, the cinder of my heart burns just as bright for her now. For her, all others were but tinder and I would raze all-creation for one more taste.
She explored my neck, then down my back – kissing, licking, and gently grazing my skin with her teeth, a reminder: “I could devour you…”
I whimpered as my most salacious dreams were realised, oblivious to the ecstasy that still awaited me.
Swooning, I laid my hand upon her cheek and slowly gravitated to her lips where my middle and index fingers slipped inside. Muirgein’s bright eyes widened with apparent bemusement as my saliva-soaked digits pulled aside her mouth to its furthest corner. There I paused to admire her rows of interlocking teeth and their zigzag pattern. The fact that she could effortlessly destroy me, and that I would let her if such were her desire, only deepened my arousal.
As a virgin, I was utterly ignorant to the ways of intimacy. Rarely did I engage in the solitary vice but alas, my living goddess manifested a carnal itch that no amount of deviancy could satisfy. Only she could ever invoke such mad affection and not a single soul in the world would feel differently had they known her as I.
Gripping me tight, Muirgein dove backward and propelled us to the other end of the spring with a swipe of her tail. Leaning against a monolith, she set me straddled atop the underside of her vertical length. A witness to her full glory, I was rendered dumb and drooling. If this forgotten grotto was a temple, then I was now before its holiest of altars. I nudged closer, wide-eyed, bouncing, and smiling like a simpleton.
Harmonious moans guided my touch, and when the time was right, Muirgein delivered me to the heart of her femininity. Her pliant folds resembled a bluebellvine flower and I explored her garden like an innocent in Eden. There was joy in service and submission. We were but two creatures, sinless in our love, entangled as nature willed. As we delighted ourselves, her song never ceased – a melody interlaced with carnal cries, lewd whimpers, and their accompanying spasms.
I hear them still, in my most euphoric dreams.
A seemingly satiated Muirgein let her body slump but raised her tail, allowing gravity to send me sliding down onto her lap where our most intimate parts touched, flushed and throbbing. With one hand gripping her hip for balance, I nestled the other between us and stroked to the rhythm of her sonorous hymn.
Upon her holy altar, I sacrificed myself; again and again, I died enraptured until we both collapsed, entwined in shared oblivion. Through her sacred flesh and unabashed designs, my goddess showed me the agony of ecstasy.
Left enervated from my initiation into the rites of Venus, oblivion rolled over me like a wave. I later awoke to find myself still engulfed by Muirgein’s coiled embrace. Though my body ached, it caused me no anguish; quite the contrary, for each twinge of pain brought to mind their carnal source, producing involuntary moans and muted whimpers. My lover contracted and constricted for every yelp, for she knew, and delighted in teasing me. She clasped me close like a treasured doll as we indulged ourselves lasciviously.
Time had no meaning in our Sunless Eden. How I wished to immortalise these experiences, to live within each sublime moment as if it were a lifetime. I had no intention of leaving Muirgein’s side; let Mother and Father draw their own conclusions from my absence. I was a woman now, not some needy child, and choices were mine and mine alone to make. Perchance I gave in to wanderlust or succumbed to suicide – my family certainly gave cause for either.
But time did in fact matter, even if it moved unperceived. The stars aligned for us, allowed our lives to intersect, but such moments were tragically fugacious. We were an eclipse, and like the Moon and Sun, destined to spend the greater part of our existence apart. In this knowledge, it is no wonder why the consummation of our love came so swiftly; perhaps, under less ephemeral circumstances, we might have enjoyed a slower courtship, to better relish the anticipation.
My devotion to Muirgein was, is, and shall forever be without question but her interest in me proved difficult to comprehend. By sheer size and strength, she could have claimed me – to do with me whatever she desired and leave me spurned, or worse – and yet instead she treated me with adoration; I, the one so small, so human, so tragically mortal.
Did she find my frail body and broken song somehow endearing? Was I, as a landwalker, an exotic curiosity? Truly, she could declare her love for me in the Queen’s English and I’d nary believe her.
But it was good to feel wanted. To be desired, to be loved – through her, I was closer to Heaven than I ever thought possible. Even as days turned to weeks, we remained committed to the pursuit of bliss and did so with wild abandon.
Sustenance was not an obstacle, despite our isolation. The fresh water streams that fed into our brackish grotto quenched my thirst while I tended to ablutions far from its source. Muirgein hunted, scouring the sea for fish, crab, and bivalves. I roasted whatever she returned with over a small, lamp-oil-fed flame, though she preferred to consume her portion raw, swallowing it whole; her teeth evidently reserved for larger prey.
It was comforting to know that she had not spared me for lack of appetite.
I would occasionally accompany Muirgein on her hunts, riding her through flooded caverns and out into the great open sea with spectacular celerity. Seeing Craigwen from the water, I was better able to appreciate its decay and just how much. As this land was lost, the community was forced to rebuild in an increasingly clustered and haphazard configuration. I suspect that the Church of St. Brendan was originally situated on the outskirts, eventually becoming the centre through a process of elimination; soon, it too would drown.
Together we formed a union of apocalyptic singularity and exhibited ourselves for any sleepless souls to behold. Though muddled as we were by the dim and fog, I could not help but imagine hidden onlookers, struck by awe – that bewildering amalgam of wonderment and terror – even if there were none to tell me so. In the presence of Muirgein I felt synchronously, contradictingly, a fool, a slave, a queen and goddess.
At high tide, beneath the pale full moon, Muirgein carried me to a semi-submerged shoal where a stone altar protruded just above the surface of the water. Wrapping her serpentine lower-half around the shrine’s foundation, she pinned my body against the mist-soaked slab as we enjoyed a prolonged, amative kiss. Gently, reassuringly, she pulled away, even as my trembling lips and imploring gaze begged for more. She closed her eyes, held her hand over my heart, and proceeded to serenade me as only a lover could.
The arcane reverberations of Muirgein’s musical language interlaced the waking world with dreamlike visions. Though they began as little more than undulating and amorphous lights, these tonal illusions developed definitive forms over time, revealing visages of an antediluvian age. Soon the shoreline disappeared, leaving only the rippling vastness of a seemingly endless sea and the mauvish-crimson firmament up above.
This portrait of formless beauty lingered but was gradually replaced by the emergence of colossal blocks of porous greenstone. These megaliths rose from the depths until we were encircled – more so enshrined – within the grand fane of a cyclopean temple-city. Tunicates and corals decorated the walls, hosts to a myriad of luminescent colours that shed light on the sigil-scarred architecture. The transformation was thorough, for even the slab of unwrought stone upon which we lay had come to resemble the exalted edifices of that phantasmal cathedral.
Muirgein’s flesh shimmered with a nacreous lustre which reflected off my pallid skin as an imitation much diminished. She opened her eyes, erecting her torso while she settled over me and began to sway exotically as if dancing to the rhythm of an inaudible drum. I was mesmerised by the motions of her hips, her heaving bosom and writhing tendrils, though no aspect was so enchanting as those brilliant, labyrinthine pupils.
Yearning for her touch, I reached for Muirgein in fevered desperation. Her sable lips curled into a smile, exposing a hundred gleaming daggers. She wrapped her clawed fingers around my waist, lifting my body in the air before drawing me into her engulfing embrace. Nestling my head against her sternum, I breathed in her salty musk and sighed in satisfaction.
Muirgein grasped my chin with a single tendril and tilted my head until our faces were aligned. Our eyes remained fastened as she laid me back onto the slab. With my body splayed and exposed, her gaze gravitated, ever slowly, down my entire length. The memories flood my mind, flawlessly vivid despite the interminable gulf of years. Like two serpents entwined, we surrendered to our passions and rolled about that fleeting bed of Eros, singing a duet of sensuous exaltation.
I was to be her bride. At this altar, within this ancient memory, we were to wed – uniting us in spirit and flesh. Look at how my tears stain these pages and smudge the ink – let them serve as testament to the veracity of my experience! Like St. Teresa in maddened ecstasy, I impaled myself upon her spear and allowed her divinity to fill the emptiness within.
And in a moment, in the single tick of a clock, our rapture was interrupted by a loud crack, like the snapping of wet canvas in the wind, followed by a thunderous cacophony echoing off the cliffs and across the bay. The mephitic stench of sulphur filled my nostrils and forced me back to a bleak reality. Smoke rose from Craigwen and, of more immediate importance, from the muzzle of Father’s Whitworth rifle; an old purchase, though unfired until this very moment.
And there was Father, standing at the head of a mob armed with torches, clubs, and rusty flensing knives. I remember his face clearly, but I still cannot say whether his countenance betrayed fear – fear of “monsters”, fear for his child’s safety – or revulsion for what we were. Regardless, his actions and words implied that he was blind to the truth. His posse was composed of men from the nearest constabulary, in addition to his valet and several locals successfully pressed into service.
And Father, drunk with rage and grief and probably whiskey, tore the secrets of this place from the flesh of its denizens. Through his ignorance and impulsivity, he broke the old covenant. Like Caligula, he declared an unwinnable war on the sea.
It was a foolish, though ultimately accurate shot, and the bullet struck Muirgein in the upper-back. If there was blood, I did not see it, but the force of the impact was strong enough to cause a violent shudder and the sudden constriction of her body still wrapped around mine forced the air from my lungs. Her torso spun backwards as she uncoiled from the altar, ending our union of flesh before focusing her predacious gaze upon the crowd.
Muirgein opened her mouth and unleashed a wrothful aria that reached far and wide, indiscriminate in its permeation. In the beginning, there was pain – a visceral suffering accompanied by the most infernal emotions, as if nails forged of pure rancour had been hammered into the back of my skull. Agony forced me from the altar and sent me reeling into the shallow water. I tried to scream but the words never left my lips.
Her seething hymn summoned manifestations of ill-defined horrors followed by complete and utter darkness. Though I could not see, I experienced the nauseating sensation of spinning and falling, as if the earth had vanished from beneath my feet. The gaping chasm of the mind swallowed my consciousness whole, sending me plummeting through a psychic void until I at last pierced its strangely gelatinous borderline. And beyond that realm of nothingness, I beheld unthinkable monstrosities.
The limitations of the mind, of the human senses, provide a curious defence against such aberrations. The memory is neither vague nor fragmented, and yet there is something mercifully incomplete about its recollection. Each component can be called upon with visceral clarity, only for the line of thought to terminate as I approach the sum of its parts.
These were the True Leviathans and I was but a transitory visitor to their abyssal domain. Fleeting glimpses of their singular anatomy revealed traits found among both flora and fauna; resemblances that were at most superficial and betrayed a lineage severed from the tree of life as we know it. I cannot imagine what strange epoch spawned such entities, if they were ever native to our world to begin with.
I remember how their vaguely anguilliform lower-bodies seemed impossibly long. With no end in sight, perhaps they went on forever. Clusters of tentacles sprouted from their sides and expanded root-like throughout their domain. Their bulbous heads lacked facial features, bereft of eyes or even a mouth, and were instead covered by numerous, irregularly placed holes. The texture of their flesh seemed more fungoid than animal but this, like the preceding descriptions, fails to wholly capture the nature of what I witnessed. But with the evanescence of a dream, the vision soon abated and only dread remained. From the abyssal court of forgotten gods, I was delivered – transported from one nightmare to another, “incidit in scyllam cupiens vitare charybdim”.
“He runs on Scylla, wishing to avoid Charybdis”.
Torn from that otherworldly realm, I stood knee-deep in reality’s aftermath, wading through shallow pools of maroon and pushing aside pale corpses until at last reaching the shore. A wild tempest now held dominion over this land and its power was increasing by the minute. I followed the trail of dead, of blood splattered across the chalky stone, as it led me back to Caeruchel. There I found the main door in pieces, evidently smashed apart by something seeking entrance from the outside.
On the floor, beyond a failed barricade of tables and bookshelves, was the corpse of my father. With hands over his ears, his eyes bulging and mouth agape, his ghastly visage betrayed the abject horror of his final moments. Blood soaked through his hunting jacket, drawing my gaze to a gaping hole in his chest. Father’s heart had been destroyed, a relatively swift and merciful end to his life; a death undoubtedly kinder than what he and his ravenous coterie intended for Muirgein.
Father was brave; stupid, yes, but still more courageous than I ever knew. He cared enough to kill for me – and I suppose to die as well, though perhaps he was too arrogant to consider his own mortality. Unable to recognize the exorbitant naivety of his endeavour, he died for nothing. Victory had always been impossible, for Muirgein was, and forever remains, a living goddess – a daughter of the monstrous and divine.
And a man cannot kill a god.
Nude and trembling, I retrieved Father’s heavy redingote from the coatroom before returning to the unseasonably cold outdoors. The logical choice was to remain sheltered, to hide until the storm had passed and for when the Sun would drive the merrows for darker waters. Blinded by the glare of anarchy, of blood and haunted melodies, I wandered about the manor grounds in a state of discombobulation.
Trudging through the sodden earth, I unwittingly followed the desolate road to Craigwen. As I approached the flooded isthmus marking the edge of our estate, a large object began to take shape in the fog and would in time unveil itself as the overturned wreckage of the family carriage. One horse lay dead, the other was missing. Though rain had washed away the blood, limbs and viscera remained to mark yet another grisly repercussion. Inside the cushioned interior was Mother’s mangled body, her head crushed beneath an iron lockbox laden with riches. Father may have provoked the merrows’ wrath but Mother sealed her fate through greed and want.
A weight had been lifted – a shackle broken – and in her death, I found catharsis. And so I left her there, forever unmourned, while the ebb and flow of the tide gradually interred her corpse in silt. The indifference she showed me in life I repaid her in death.
Having seen enough, I turned away from the wreckage and marched on into the heart of the maelstrom – to the doomed village of Craigwen.
Between roars of thunder, I heard the merrows sing. A dismal rage imbued each note, suffused every shift in tone and tenor and enveloped me in their seething litany. While desperate villagers prayed for mercy, I alone embraced the deluge with open arms. And as others tried to flee the winnowing, I called to Muirgein with love, wanting only to be returned to her side.
Though I could barely see through the tenebrous winds, flashes of lightning granted moments of illumination and revealed the world around me like etchings in a flipbook. Each step I took met resistance, the buffeting gale countering my stride to almost a standstill. Titanic waves surged through the streets and alleyways, demolishing homes and assimilating the resulting debris to create even greater destruction. In flashes of lightning, I saw the old church topple, as prayers were replaced by unintelligible shrieks and then silence. When the tempest finally abated, I beheld ruin.
Most of Craigwen was gone, not just the harbour and hovels but the very land itself – all dragged to the bottom of that oldest voracity. The merrows called this storm, for their words enslaved the air, commanded the tides, veiling both the Moon and rising Sun. Through its elemental fury, they exacted punishment on the breakers of laws, of creeds either unfamiliar or near forgotten, making no distinction between outsiders and oathbound.
What little remained of the town was indistinguishable from a shipwreck. An outsider would be quite justified in thinking this land unclaimed. Looming over the great emptiness, atop a high drumlin, stood Caeruchel Hall, which suffered no more than the loss of a few roof tiles.
The merrows were gone, and with the covenant broken, would not return again.