Philip sifted the sand through his hands and tossed his head back, basking in the light and the warmth. For too long, he had been cooped up in the darkness of an underground cavern and he had missed the sun. The brightness of the light stung his eyes, but he welcomed the sting. Turning to glance behind him, he saw Syrena laying in the surf, her head and torso in the sand, her finders buried in the soft, grainy stuff, her eyes were closed and a smile rested upon her lovely face, while her tail remained in the waves. She had missed the sun as well, Philip noted as he watched her sunbathe.
He plopped himself back down into the sand, taking his cue from the mermaid, and allowing the warmth and the sun to wash over him. After a moment, he felt a damp, sand covered hand fit itself into his palm, and he glanced down to see that Syrena had extended her arm from where she was lying to clasp his. He smiled at the sight and gently ran his thumb over the soft, white skin of the back of her hand, and watched as her own smile widened in response.
Something about their position struck him then, him holding her to the land, she lying betwixt and between the shore and the sea. He was her anchor in his world, he knew, the only thing that kept her in the land of men. What a sacrifice she was making for him, letting go of all that she knew to embrace the ways of a species that hated her kind.
"I can feel you staring," Syrena murmured, drawing him from his reverie, and Philip squeezed her hand. He entertained telling her how beautiful she was for a moment before casting the idea aside. She knew how lovely mankind found herself and her sisters. She knew that her kind was irresistible to the human male. For him to compliment her in such a way would merely remind her of something that she was already aware. Better to compliment her on her strength, her kindness, her fortitude. Those would be words that she would appreciate.
They lay in silence for a time, basking in the warmth of the early morning, until the sun grew oppressive rather than pleasant and the sweat began to bead on their brows. Feeling lightheaded, Philip pushed himself to his feet and glanced down at the dozing mermaid lying in the surf. Her dark hair framed her face like a halo, and one of her hands had curled beside her cheek. She looked almost angelic as she slept, as though God had created her to be a winged seraph rather than a fish-tailed daughter of the deep.
"Syrena," he murmured, leaning down to lightly shake her shoulder. Her eyes opened slowly, squinting in the sun before turning to rest upon his face. "We need to find some fresh water," he murmured, tasting the salt on his lips and the parch at the back of his throat.
Syrena blinked her large eyes before nodding, and used her arms to drag her tail out of the shallow water and into the sand. Philip stared, transfixed as he always was, as her tail slowly morphed into human legs and the scales on her breasts and arms sloughed off. "Humans cannot drink sea-water. I had forgotten," she apologized, and Philip smiled before drawing her against him and pressing his lips to her temple.
He then took her hand and led her through the sand dunes up to the jungle, slowing to meet her gait as her steps became slow and her knees began to wobble. He was about to lift her into his arms when he saw the stubborn set of her jaw, the determination in her eyes, and he realized that his help at this point would do nothing but shame her. She was a proud mermaid, proud and strong and fierce, and she would not welcome his interference. He knew that it was sheer willpower that kept her moving one foot in front of the other as they began to make their way through the jungle in search of water, but he resolved not to offer her his assistance until she asked for it.
Eventually, she slowed and then stopped, hanging onto his arm for support as her legs trembled. Taking his cue, Philip swept her up into his arms and continued walking, determinedly ignoring the fact that the mer-girl was very, very naked. "You did well," he complimented her without taking his eyes off the scenery, and he felt her relax into his arms, felt her head fit against his shoulder.
He had not walked long when he heard the babbling of a nearby stream and so he followed the sound to its source. It was a small stream, to be sure, with water that barely rose high enough to cover the rocks, but the water was fresh and pure and sweet. Philip drank his fill and used the stream to wash the sand from his body, averting his gaze when he saw Syrena begin to do the same. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her stop moving, saw her attention become riveted elsewhere. Philip turned in the direction that she was looking, and his heart skipped a beat when he saw a skeleton propped against the rocks, a sword through its sternum.
"Don't look at it," he murmured softly, coming to stand beside Syrena and attempting to draw her face away from the gruesome scene, his protective instincts kicking in. However she drew away from him, looking puzzled and entirely unaffected.
"My sisters drag men to their deaths; I have tasted human flesh. Why should bones bother me?" she asked, and Philip felt a chill run up his spine at her words.
She had such large, pretty, innocent eyes, a pale face full of sweetness. She looked so fragile, so human that Philip had forgotten what her kind, what she, was capable of. He had forgotten the fangs, the slitted eyes, the talons on her hands where fingernails should be. Looking at her now, staring unperturbed at a human skeleton that likely would have made a human girl cry, he was reminded of how fierce she had been the first night that he'd seen her. And he found himself unable to avoid wondering how many men she had killed in her lifetime.
She must have seen some of his shock, some of his trepidation, because her face softened and she stepped forward to lightly touch his arm. "I did not eat anyone you know," she said softly, as though the words should reassure him. Instead, Philip felt his stomach heave.
"But you do eat men?" he asked, his voice coming out high and forced even to his own ears.
"Mermaids live a very long time, Philip. I have been alive since before the English came to this land. In all those years, I have eaten some human flesh," she replied, and Philip could merely stare at the girl who didn't look a day over twenty in shock. "I do not like it though. It is too bitter," she added, almost as an afterthought, and Philip swallowed.
"Oh," was all that he could manage to say, and Syrena crossed her arms over her chest.
"I do not like their fear either. Or their tears. It makes me sad. Too sad to eat," she continued, and Philip took in a deep breath. Well, at least there was that. Her sisters had seemed to genuinely enjoy the hunt, had seemed to find excitement in the screams of the men. Syrena, at least, was bothered by the act of killing.
Syrena had turned back to the skeleton again. "My body bothers you?" she asked, and Philip coughed, wondering at the turn of conversation and glancing away from the bare flesh she had no qualms about displaying.
"Not exactly," he replied. Tempts me is a more apt description. She raised a brow and pushed her hair behind her shoulders, and Philip glanced away. "Somewhat," he amended, and Syrena nodded.
Philip heard a rustling, and he turned to see the girl pulling the shirt off of the skeleton. He took a step back, and his mouth dropping open. A heartbeat later, Syrena was fastening the ties of the dead man's shirt about her body, and when she saw Philip's consternation she frowned. "You do not like me naked, and he does not need it anymore," she said by way of explanation, and Philip swallowed. Her callous practicality was unnerving.
His mind scrambled for something intelligent to say that would downplay how nervous he had become, and his eyes landed once again on the shirt she had stripped from the dead man. "We should get you a dress," he murmured, glancing over the stained, tattered article and realizing that he would never be able to take her into civilization looking the way that she did.
Syrena cocked her head to the side. "Dress?" she asked, and Philip swallowed. Of course, it was men that her sisters drowned, and men that she had kept company with in her time on land. She had learned the words 'shirt' and 'trousers' but had yet to have an opportunity to learn about women's wear.
"Yes. A dress. The clothing a woman wears," he explained, and Syrena frowned, apparently attempting to process the information.
"Like what Angelica wore?" she asked, referencing Blackbeard's daughter, and Philip winced.
"Not…exactly. Angelica wore clothes like a man," he replied, and watched helplessly as Syrena's frown deepened.
"I do not understand your clothes. Clothes for women, clothes for men. Different types for different reasons. Your lives would be easier without them," she groused, her brow furrowed, her frustration plain in her countenance.
Philip chuckled and shook his head. "A mind as unsullied as Eve's before the serpent," he murmured with a fond smile, which widened at Syrena's questioning look.
"Eve was the first woman, created from the rib of the first man, named Adam," he explained, and silently thanked God for the opportunity to begin to witness to the woman that he would soon take to wife. "God created Adam in his image, and saw that man was lonely. So He sent Adam into a deep sleep and withdrew one of his ribs, which he turned into a woman. Adam and Eve were free of sin, and guile, with hearts pure as children's. They did not need clothes, because they did not know that they were naked. God created a wonderful garden for them to live in, but told them there was one tree in the garden that they were not allowed to eat from," Philip began, but paused when he saw Syrena roll her eyes.
"How silly. Man will always take what does not belong to him. If your God is so smart, he should have known better," Syrena replied, and Philip sighed.
"God knew that it was a possibility, but he wanted to give Adam the choice to obey him. He wanted Adam to prove that he loved him," Philip attempted to explain, and Syrena shook her head.
"But Adam ate the fruit," Syrena replied, and Philip sighed before nodding.
"A serpent tempted Eve, and told her that she would have the knowledge of God if she ate the fruit. Eve then convinced Adam to eat it as well. Once they had eaten the fruit they realized that they were naked and were ashamed, so they covered themselves. When God saw what man had done, he sent them away from the garden and vowed to never let them return," he finished, sensing that his opportunity to begin sharing the stories of God had gone awry.
For a moment, Syrena was silent. Then: "So, humans wear clothes because they ate a bad fruit and are ashamed?" she asked, and Philip let out a deep sigh and closed his eyes.
Lord…He could not find the words to accompany his silent plea. That had not been the lesson that he had intended her to take from the re-telling of Genesis 1, but what else could he have expected? "Sort of," Philip managed to reply, and noted that Syrena cast her eyes downwards.
"You are disappointed in me," she said softly, and Philip shook his head.
"No, never you," he replied, cupping her face between his hands."I am disappointed in my own inadequacy to explain God's word to you," he said, and watched as her eyes clouded in confusion before she sighed and managed a slight smile.
"You are strange," she replied, and despite himself, Philip chuckled.
"Blackbeard certainly thought so," he murmured wryly, and was rewarded by her lips twitching into a slightly wider smile.
"Come. Enough talk. We must find you a human settlement," Syrena said, and took his hand. Philip followed her willingly, and suddenly realized that he would be doing so for the rest of his days.