Note to the unwary reader: Although this story is by the same author as Scars On the Heart, it does not take place in the same narrative continuum (I couldn't be bothered to try to make events match up neatly, and I decided I felt like making some things turn out differently, just for kicks). In the case of Sylvie, the mermaid, I have had to make up some details, since there is no entry active for her in the Escaflowne Compendium so I can't find out things like her real age. The Compendium also gives her name as Sylphy or Silphy, but Sylvie was suggested by a friend of mine, and I just like that spelling. I'm silly that way. (Of course, since it means 'of the woods,' it's about as silly of a name for a mermaid as 'Ariel,' which is the name of a sprite of the air. Still, Disney's mermaid was a babe, and damn' good work for a character animator whose notable previous work consisted of stuff like the scary bear in The Fox and the Hound.)

Although Sylvie never speaks in the Escaflowne TV series, I decided to let her have a voice. Hans Christian Andersen was mean enough not to let his mermaid talk to her prince, but I like my lovers to have conversations. Anyway, it is my considered opinion, as someone who has studied children's literature at a post-graduate level, that the original story of The Little Mermaid sucks ass. Call me a shameless revisionist, but I'm grateful to the Disney people for giving it a happy ending. (And Sebastian, because Sebastian is a god.)

I've refrained from peppering this story with the usual song quotes, but if you would like to know, I was listening to World Famous in New Zealand, Overnight Success by Dave Dobbyn, the soundtrack from The Blues Brothers and Bruce Springsteen's greatest hits while I wrote.

Okay. There's one little quote from Sway by Bic Runga. But damn it, that's just the best love song in the world. Bic'd make a lovely mermaid.

And okay, okay, there's a reference to Dobbyn's song Whaling, but damn it, that's another great song, a true New Zealand anthem.

Incidentally, the 'spotted sausage' dream is one I really had, when I was about four years old, and I've always remembered it. I still think that's what it meant. Admittedly, as numinous objects go, a spotted sausage doesn't sound quite as good as the One Ring or the Holy Grail, but that seems to be the quest my subconscious has stuck me with. Maybe one day I'll find it, or the symbolic equivalent. Here's hoping!

Dryden and Sylvie - Chapter One

It's a curious fact that the tears of a mermaid are fresh water. Sylvie did not know why this should be so, but she could taste her tears in the water around her face, oddly flavourless, null and warm, before they blended with the great salty normality of the sea. She had wept enough to be very familiar with the taste.

After the first joy of receiving her home, Sylvie's mother had become subtly critical of her daughter's attitude.

'I don't know why you want to be off by yourself so much of the time,' Melamy said. She had never particularly understood her middle daughter, but she never ceased to remark upon the fact. 'I'd have thought you'd have had enough of that, being all alone, away from your family, up among drylanders for months. It almost looks as though you're not grateful to be home.'

'I am and I'm not,' Sylvie said. She still sometimes tried to explain to her mother, although she had come to feel that some things could not be put into words. 'I'm grateful to be home. I love being here with you and Tanamil and Manaly and Gerrane again. But I'm sad that I'm not with him any more.'

That explanation only made Melamy angry. 'How can a drylander be more important to you than your whole family?' she exclaimed, throwing up her hands. The disturbed water rushed in Sylvie's face, buffeting her puffy eyelids.

'He is and he isn't,' she tried again. 'I could never be happy not seeing you again. But…' she trailed off as her mother turned her back and swam away, leaving her alone in the ice-green grotto. It was not that Melamy did not care about Sylvie's feelings; it was only that she despised and feared drylanders so much that for Sylvie even to suggest that they might not all be bad would have felt like mutiny; for her to mope around for the sake of one of them for weeks on end was a betrayal. Melamy could not see that there could be a 'but.'

'What was so special about him?' Manaly, Sylvie's younger sister, who was more easygoing and less fearful, enquired.

Sylvie struggled again to put words around an inchoate feeling. Manaly looked at her, hands vaguely sketching in the water before her, lips trembling with unformed words, and sighed in mild exasperation.

'I mean, wasn't he like all the others? Just wanting you for a status symbol to stare at? The only reason they don't kill us is because they think we're beautiful. I hear they'll even take quite good care of you to keep you looking nice.'

'He wasn't like that,' Sylvie said, grateful for an example that might illustrate the indefinable quality. 'He did think I was beautiful. He said so to me many times. But the others look at you like you're a statue or a painting, a beautiful possession, not something that might be looking back and having its own thoughts about them. He looked at me as though I were a beautiful woman, and he asked me ... he asked me what I thought of him.'

'I don't see what's so remarkable about that,' Manaly said.

'Because you've never been a slave,' Sylvie told her. 'When you're a slave, no-one asks. They tell. Sometimes they question you, but that's not like his asking. They ask things like "Can you sing?" and "What will you do for a good dinner, darling?" He asked things like "How does it feel to breathe water?" and "What do you dream about?"' He never told me to do anything, except, at the end, to go home.' The tears began to leak again.

'Well, he must have been basically all right, then,' Manaly said comfortingly, and put her arm around Sylvie's shoulders, feeling that she was being very understanding.

'You still don't know what I mean,' Sylvie said, shrugging her shoulders round, folding her arms protectively, rejecting her sister's hug in favour of her own. 'He wasn't basically all right. He was wonderful. You don't understand at all. No-one does.'

Sylvie's long hair swirled loosely around her face, blinding her to the look of hurt crossing Manaly's features. She felt it when she left, but she did not see her go.


Eventually Sylvie had to come out of the ice-green grotto. The colour was beginning to make her feel sick. She whipped her hair into a bun, because it had started to bother her too, and went up to take the air.

It was not that a mermaid could not breathe air, since she had a nose and all the requisite tubes, but her lungs were less efficient above the waterline. She could keep her head and shoulders out of the water and talk ... for hours she had kept her head and shoulders out of the water and talked, until her throat felt dry and thick ... but if she hauled her whole body onto land she grew exhausted quickly, and exertion brought on an asthmatic wheezing.

'You manage better in the air than I could in the water,' Dryden had said. She didn't speak his name aloud, but kept it in the silence of her mind like a star-shaped treasure in a velvet box. He had tried to swim with her, so awkward and weak with two thin cornery legs instead of a powerful flexing tail; she had tried to hide her smiles, afraid that she would make him angry, but he had seen and laughed at himself. He was lost in that tank of water on board a ship afloat on an ocean of air, and he knew it, and had no pride about it.

He had been so strange-looking to her to begin with, as all of them were strange-looking. They didn't have normal hair colours, colours of the sea like deepwater turquoise and faintest green-tinged foam-white and all the shades of coral from rose-red to palest pink, and although some of them were nearly as fair as merpeople, they displayed a whole range of pigmentation in their skin. She had seen one little girl who was actually brown-black all over, except for pink palms on her hands and soles on her feet. That was the ones who called themselves human.

The demi-human beast-people looked more normal to her, for all their strange fur and teeth, because at least they were something mixed, not this undiluted humanity that was so weird and bare and weak-looking, but which apparently had all the power. In the first market, the one by the sea, she had seen dolphin-men, and they had been like faces from home, but they did not turn when she called, though she called them in their own language. After whistling and clicking herself hoarse she had realised that she was in a glass box of water, and they were out there in air, surrounded by air voices, such a babble that they probably could not make out her tired, desperate speech. One had walked close by her aquarium and looked right at her, and her heart had leapt with hope, before he had shaken his head sadly and walked away without a second glance. She had quite soon lost any idea that anyone would try to help her.

It had been market to market, because at first her purchasers were slave-merchants who planned to take her on to the next place and sell her at a profit. The further inland you went, the more of a rarity she was, and the price you could ask went up accordingly. Or she might be transported over miles of weird terrain, jouncing in a wagon or floating in an airship, sloshing in her square bubble of real world, bumping shoulders and hips against the dead flat glass until the motion stopped and she was unloaded somewhere where a local big man had made a name for keeping a menagerie. He could look her over and decide if she was a suitable addition to his collection.

Once she had passed into private hands, no-one had kept her long. They seemed to have been expecting her to be fun. When she lay curled at the bottom of her tank all day, only the soft slight flutter of the gill-slits at the nape of her neck showing she was alive, they felt cheated.

'What does it do?' one pretty young lady had asked querulously. Sylvie was her birthday present. After a week the pretty young lady said she was boring and stupid and she had wanted a new spring coat anyway ... the one in the catalogue, isn't it pretty, Daddy, and they'll send it really quickly from Pallas if you pay just a little more for the courier.

Sylvie wondered what they all put so many layers around themselves for. Perhaps they found themselves strange-looking too. The only things a mermaid wore were for decoration. The day they had caught her, she had had ribands of red deepwater seaweed bound about her arms and the hollow shells of baby nautilus coiled in her hair. They had put gold on her, and ropes of pearls, as heavy as chains. One merchant complained that she was sickly-looking, and tried to paint her face rosy with makeup, but it rinsed off as soon as she was let back into the water. He was a downmarket man who could not afford jewellery to decorate her. That was near the middle of the second month, when she could no longer eat.

She was not beautiful any more, then. Her only value lay in rarity, and even then she was considered a poor thing by most of the people who saw her. This last merchant, the one with the makeup, was getting tired of her. She was a disappointing investment, and he felt that the man who sold her had seen him coming. It hurt his pride to have been duped that way, and he was not especially kind to Sylvie as a result. When people came to see her, he would roll up a sleeve, plunge his arm into the shallow display tank ... too small to turn around, only just enough room to turn over, nothing to hide behind so people could see her better, and sometimes the air-bubbler did not work so the water grew sludgy and she felt she was choking, and had to come up and take shallow breaths of straight air, though she did not feel safe that way ... he would plunge his arm in, twist his hand in her floating hair and pull her sharply to the surface.

'Doesn't hurt her,' he would say cheerfully to any tender-hearted customers who winced. 'They don't really feel much. This one's good. She's gentle, see?' He shook her head, and Sylvie stared dully at the way the world bounced. 'Doesn't fight. Nice quiet pet. Teach the kids about nature, eh?' That was to family men, at least those who wished to remember they were family men. It was for the others that he wanted to paint her.

'You could pretty much do what you want with her, am I right, squire? Look at those eyes, look at the pair on her. She doesn't say much, but who wants them to? Name? You can call her what you want, they haven't got names. I call her Bubbles, but she'll pick up a new one pretty quickly. Fairly bright, if you're firm with her. She needs a firm hand, don't you Bubbles?' He made her nod. 'And you'd like to go home with this gentleman, wouldn't you? Like the look of him, don't you? We know what they say about mermaids, right?' Nod, nod. It was a bit desperate. It got too tawdry for even the ones who looked at her hungrily.

'I've seen livelier things on a fishmonger's slab,' someone said. 'Give you a tanner for her battered and fried with chips,' said someone else. No-one wanted to pay any more. They left the merchant's tent with a final air, though he followed them, suggesting other things they might like to see.

One day someone came in when the merchant wasn't there, ducking under the tent flap, which was not so very low, but he was tall. Sylvie lay in her tank, one arm pillowing her head, and watched him because he was moving. The water was stale today. It made her skin itch.

He took a look at her from the far side of the tent, arms folded. He was one of those who wore so much that you could not even see the shape of him, big loose wraps and a hanging sash. Earth colours in his skin and hair. He wore glass in front of his eyes. Sylvie did not understand that, although plenty of people seemed to do it. Did they need windows for their faces? Or shutters, because the glass was dark. Windows and shutters were things she had only learned about on dry land. She was trying to solve a puzzle with ideas that did not really make sense to her anyway.

He gave a little start and murmured 'Of course it's not that dark in here ... forgot I had my shades down.' It was the soft voice people used to talk to themselves, and were embarrassed if they thought she was listening. He put his hands to the glass circles and turned them up ... the dark glass swung up on little hinges, and there was clear glass behind it. Sylvie thought glass was like water that had died and turned to stone.

Once he could see clearly, the man crossed the dusty floor of the tent and looked at her more carefully. His eyes flicked over her breasts rather quickly, as though he were embarrassed to look there, and lingered on her face, which was noteworthy simply for being the exact opposite of what she was used to. Most people would not really look at her eyes. 'They're almost human,' one old woman had said, shuddering and turning away.

This man looked into her eyes for a long time, until she began to feel twitchy. She realised he was a young man. If you ignored the colours, he had a good sort of face. Everything about him was scruffy and comfortable.

Once he's had his eyeful, she told herself, he'll leave. The merchant must not even care any more if he just tells people to go in and take a look. He isn't really trying to sell me now. He must think I'll die soon. She tried, really tried to find that comforting, and in her worst moments she almost did, but most of the time she felt a thick black terror of dying, of never seeing her mother and father, never seeing Melamy and Tanamil again, of going down into darkness alone. Mermaids can breathe in air or water, so they have no concept of drowning as something that could happen to themselves, and at first Sylvie had not been able to think of the word for how she felt. Now she knew she was drowning, and it was taking a very long time.

Abruptly, the young man cocked his head to one side, and said 'Pardon my asking, but aren't you cramped in there?'

No-one had used a word like 'pardon' to Sylvie for what felt like years. It was like a current of fresh water in her stale tank. She opened her mouth to speak, remembered that he would not be able to distinguish the sounds through water, and sat up to answer him properly.

Sitting up was a problem. She had not eaten for long enough to be unsure how long it was, and when she raised her head the room swung around wildly, as though they were on board a ship tossed by high winds. She slouched sideways, falling heavily against the side of the tank, and almost overbalanced it from its display platform.

'Whoops!' The young man caught the side of the tank with both hands, and a wave of musty water slopped down the front of his robes. He steadied the glass box, leaning his hip against it, freeing his hands to help Sylvie sit up straight. Her hair had caught across her face, a thick net. It did not smell good. There was some algae in it and many tangles, since she had not had the space nor the will to comb it properly for some time. The young man pushed the hair back from her face, which she slightly resented, but there was no disrespect in his touch.

'Good grief,' he said, 'you're half starved. Do you understand me? Or is it all jabber to you?'

'I understand you,' she said hoarsely. It had been quite a while since she had spoken, and her vocal chords shrank from the catch of air.

'Glad to hear it. My name is Dryden Fassa. What's yours?'

She almost said Bubbles. That was supposed to be her name here. She had also been Sandy, Aquamarina, Pearl, Coral and Salty Sue. After a moment's thought, she said carefully, 'Sylvie.'

'Where are you from, Sylvie? Where's your home?'

'Farferee,' Sylvie said promptly. 'My family's home range is between the Caris Trench and…' She trailed off, realising the place-names of her geography would mean nothing to him. 'They caught me in Beidurl Cove, in the Firth of Rhince,' she said. 'There was a net I didn't see. I swam in and they pulled me up. They were mermaid hunters. They had been watching our family for days and we didn't know.'

'Beidurl Cove,' Dryden Fassa said thoughtfully. 'You're a long way from home. I'd have to go a bit out of my way to go straight there. Can't really change my plans at this stage. But that doesn't have to be a problem.'

'What do you mean?'

'Good news; I'm buying you.'

Sylvie's heart sank. She had begun to think he might be different, although in what way she could not say, but now it seemed he was going to be just like anyone else. One more master. They just had to see her and all they thought about was possessing her… or they had. Did it still work that way now that she had lost her looks?

'Where's that greasy little greeb who showed me in?' he wondered aloud. 'Wait there a sec.' He turned away and strode out of the tent purposefully. Sylvie sagged against the side of the tank and this time there was no-one to catch it; the whole thing tipped, at first oddly slowly, and then fell in a splash and smash of glass and water on the packed earth floor. She lay there, only vaguely aware of the pain of the cuts, and felt the drum of feet on the floor as people rushed in.

'You've damaged the merchandise! You've damaged the merchandise!' the merchant was saying, sounding a little hysterical. 'You can't say you don't want her now, you broke it, you bought it!' He fluttered around, unwilling to touch anything.

Dryden dropped to his knees in the puddle of mud and glass and Sylvie's violet blood, gently, quickly picking the shards of glass off her back, sliding his arms under her body and, with a small grunt of effort, standing up. He held her carefully but firmly, guiding her head to rest on his shoulder. Her tail flopped and slapped against his legs, and he had to make a quick grab to adjust his grip before she slithered out of his arms.

'I'll take her now,' he said briskly. 'Since you seem so anxious to be rid of her. My secretary will be along in a minute and he'll pay you.'

'Don't you want to discuss the price?' the merchant asked, sounding dumbfounded.

'No, I just want to get her out of here,' Dryden said. He glanced down at Sylvie, and she was confused all over again by the worry in his eyes, clear to see through their little windows. The world seemed to be tilting away from her, and she could not spare much mind to wonder about windows any more.

The merchant's eyes narrowed. 'I'm not letting her go cheaply, mind,' he said quickly. 'You don't see a mermaid like that every day.'

'Thank goodness,' said Dryden shortly. 'I'd be ashamed to keep an animal in such a wretched state. If all she's worth to you is money, that's all you deserve to get. Come on, Sylvie ... don't worry, you'll be all right.'

'Sylphy?' the merchant said. 'Fancy name. Where'd you come up with that?'

'I asked her,' said Dryden, in tones of withering scorn, and walked out of the tent.

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