"So what do you think our little home?" Shireen asked, sweeping her hands in a dramatic fashion.
"It's no stump," Teak murmured. The teakettler had stretched out next to the stove, soaking in the heat. If any of the others had heard him, they made no comment.
"It's very.... nautical." Anna ventured. "Your mother said that you did some of the carvings - I really like them." On this Anna was being honest.
"You do? Thank you so much!" the shark-tooth girl grinned. "I've done them all from memory. We don't go to the surface very often and it's hard to get good material so I practice whenever I get the chance."
"Where do you get the material?" Anna was curious. She couldn't imagine Elma and Shireen walking into the merchants shop and placing an order for furniture or kitchenware.
"Shipwrecks mainly, " Shireen answered. "Most of what we come across is waterlogged or rusted, but once in a while we will find a fresh wreck."
This confirmed what Anna had suspected. Most of what adorned the kitchen could have been found in any home in her village. They were scavengers of the sea bottom.
"Are you mermaids?" Anna asked. It made sense, they lived under the sea after all.
Up to this point, Elma had been working to prepare a meal, chopping and slicing various things (Anna had no idea what some of the items were), and tossing them in a bubbling pot. When Anna had asked the question, the chopping suddenly stopped. Shireen looked like someone had punched her in the gut, and nervously looked over to her mother who stood frozen, hands clenched, unmoving.
Shireen leaned in and whispered to Anna, "We don't say the M word around here."
Elma regained her composure after a few moments. She finished chopping up the ingredients before turning her head to give a slight smile to the girls. "It will be ready in a few minutes." With that, she wiped off her hands and stepped through the archway.
"A mermaid?" laughed Teak a few minutes after Elma had left. "Do you see fins? Do you see a tail? Mermaids... HA!"
Anna looked at Shireen for an explanation.
Shireen got up from the chair, crossed her arms and began to pace the room."There's been some bad blood between our people and the mer... I mean the M people for quite some time." She stopped for a moment, shuddering as if recalling a terrible memory. "They killed my father."
Many of the misgivings that Anna had felt about Shireen melted away at that point. Despite their differences, Shireen was just a teenage girl like she was. Anna got up, and put a comforting arm around Shireen's shoulders. "I'm sorry, mermaids are the only sea-people I know about... I just thought." Anna trailed off.
Shireen smiled slightly and looked Anna in the eyes, smiling sadly. "It's alright, you are new to our world. There was no way for you to know."
"Will your mother be OK?"
"She just needs a few moments, that's all." Shireen motioned to the chairs. "Come on, let's sit down again and you can tell me about your home."
Anna returned to her chair, and began to recount what it was like to live in her village.