I hid in my cabin, barring it to keep me safe from the mutterings of the crew. I often saw Captain Argon or Darren in an argument with a crew member, who would gesture at the pirate ship and then at me, not caring if I noticed.
I understood that they were afraid. They hadn’t agreed to lay their lives on the line for me, or for anyone. They were sailors, not soldiers, and the ship behind them carried men that were far more experienced with blades than they were. I often wondered if, when the time came, they’d be willing to give me up to save their own skins.
That night, I went out on deck. With most of the crew sleeping, it was easier to hide in the shadows and avoid their angry glances, the fear that made them begin to hate me. In the moonlight, the white sails ofThe Eaglestood out against the dark water, trimmed in black. I ignored them and looked out at the waves.
I wondered if mermaids forgot you, if they never came back. Amii appeared to have forgotten me, or maybe she sensed my inability to cope with her mysteries.
I leaned my elbows against the rail and rested my jaw in my palms. It was funny, really, how you could love and hate something so much – this ocean. Love its beauty and mystery, and at the same time, hate its secrets.
A hand touched my shoulder from behind, and I jumped, spinning around to look into a pair of startling blue eyes, full of pain and sadness. I instantly flinched away from him.
“Marina…” his voice was soft. Darren’s hands went to my waist, pinning me to the rail.
“Please.” Something in his tone made me stop resisting, and his arms went around me, his lips brushing my hair.
For a moment, I stood stiff, and then my heart won over my logical side, and I buried my face in his shirt, clinging to him.
“Why?” he asked simply, one hand rubbing my back comfortingly. “Why won’t you let me near you? I thought…” He pulled back and met my eyes. “I thought you loved me. And I thought… I thought you wouldn’t care…”
Tears welled up in my eyes. “I do care,” I whispered. “I care too much. I don’t even knowyou. I don’t even know myself. I’ve left everything I’ve ever known, and I left with you. You felt… right… But now, you can’t tell me anything. And it’s… it’s eating me alive, Darren!” I pulled away and turned towards the sea, my hands clenching the rail. A tear fell down my cheek, and I brushed it away angrily. I could feel his presence behind me.
For a second, he was silent, and for a scary moment, I thought he would walk away and leave me, angry with my inability to accept him as he was. But his hand touched my back again, and he stepped up beside me.
“I hate it too,” he murmured. “I love you.” His eyes were suddenly fierce, and he reached up to touch my face, brushing my hair away from my eyes. “I want to tell you everything, every story that makes up my life, but I can’t.”
Another tear fell. “There isn’t any way?”
“Only patience, and time. Maybe I’ll be able to tell you someday, but I can’t now,”
“The ocean doesn’t like giving up its secrets.”
I looked out at the waves. “I used to think unsolved mysteries were fascinating, but now…”
“Does me not being human bother you?”
I looked at Darren. “You look human.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
I was silent for a moment. “Yes, yes it does, because then, what are you?”
“What have you guessed?”
My gaze drifted to the sea and back to him, recalling the thoughts I’d had. “I would go anywhere with you, from the time of that first kiss. You’re aren’t some sort of male siren, are you? Bewitching girls?”
Darren’s eyebrows rose, and he grinned. “No, definitely not, though if I was, you’d probably be the type of girl I’d be bewitching.”
A smile crept over my face. “Then I don’t know.” I studied his face. “I don’t see anything but a man.” My fingers traced the line of his cheekbone. His skin was smooth; I couldn’t feel any hair.
“Then don’t think of me as anything else,” he said softly. “I’m not so different from one.” Darren leaned down and pressed his lips to mine, gently. “We’ll get to the Isles in time, I promise, and maybe there I’ll be able to tell you.”
I smiled at him, but the promise meant nothing to me. The ship gained. He kissed me one last time, and left me to my thoughts, gazing once again out over the rail.
My hand felt for the black pearl that remained forever in my pocket, and my fingers clenched around it. Could I leave him? Even to save his life? My heart ached at the thought of it.
Could I learn to love him completely, ignoring his secrets, even if I never solved his mysteries? Or was I truly willing to enter the unknown, simply to discover answers, leaving Darren above the surface?
My fingertips caressed the pearl’s smooth surface. Yes, I would do anything to save his life, even if he would hate me for what I needed to do. And I needed to understand… even if we reached the Hidden Isles, would I stay if he could not tell me?
I blinked back tears and buried the questions in my heart. I couldn’t face them right now. But the black trimmed sails on the horizon lifted them to the surface.