Tales of Telluria: Birthright and DeathRight

Gruncle Caldo tells Yet Another Story

The Old Man and the Sea

Hey! Come here, you two. Give your gruncle a hug. I got yous presents, see?
Yeah, I know Hearth’s Warming was last week. I… hadda go away for a while.
Here. It’s that Toofensmhirtz Dragon & Pierro the Slayer action figures all the kids are talking about.
Oh, that was last year, huh?
Look, her tail whips when you turn her head behind her. Is that cool?
Well, it’s supposed to. Lemme see that.
Huh. Guess I shouldn’t’a put it at the bottom of my saddlebags. No worry. It needs a little glue, is all.
What? What’d I say?
Well of course I didn’t mean “glue” like from you old pony sprinkles. I meant “paste”. Slip of the tongue. Comes from spending so much time abroad.
No, I guess paste won’t fix that. Here, give it back. I’ll make it right. I’ll use some… special paste. Bring it back good as new.
Dammit, kid! Don’t give me that look. You think your uncle’s a monster?
I am not shouting. Just gimme the lousy toy already. I said I’d make it right, and I will.
Get back here, you two! Arianthana, tell these kids they’re acting crazy.
You know what? Forget it. Keep the toy. Keep it, throw it out, I don’t care.
I’ll tell you a story, how about that? I’ll sit right here in this chair and start talking. If anybody came in here and sat behind me, they’d hear a good story. With magic, and the sea, and hot babes in—
I mean romance. It’s got magic and romance. Okay, okay, Arianthana. It’s got magic.
I tell ya, it’s hard to be an artiste around here.
I’m starting the story now.
This is the story of the shark man and the sea people.
He wasn’t always a shark man. At first he was a landed farmer, a villager like you and me. Nothing different about him at all. That was his problem.
He had a job figuring how much money the rich people had and how they could keep more of it, and if he did something really clever, his boss took the credit, but if he messed up, he took the blame. Ladies wouldn’t give him the time of day. They were all down at the docks, ogling the shark men.
Now the shark people lived in the sea. Look across the bay on a calm day, water shining like a mirror, you’d think you never saw nothing more peaceful. But the sea people were there, just under the waves. On stormy days you’d see their heads bobbing between the breakers, them smiling like those big widow-makers were a kiddie ride. And at night they’d roll in on the waves, shake the water off their flat webbed feet, sharpen a claw on their scales, toss their stringy seaweed manes back, and stride into town like they owned the place, which they did, at night.
They were mean, ugly, sharp-toothed bastards, but they got respect.
So one day our hero finds himself in an alley with a guy says he knows a guy who knows a shark man. He forks over a month’s bits for a tarnished gold chain that might’ve been copper underneath. “Just put it on and wait,” the guy says.
“What’s the catch?” he asks.
“Why should there be a catch?” the guy says. “Anytime you want out, take it off and throw it away.”
So he puts on the chain. Nothing. Weeks go by. Then one day he sees somebody on the street stare at him and look away quick. He reaches a hand to his neck, finds slits there, opening and closing each breath he takes.
His hands stretched out into claws. His hair stiffened and turned to scales. Not long after he was riding the waves and rolling into town at night himself.
He’d never felt so alive. Ladies loved him. When he finally found the one he wanted, she took him, teeth, scales, and all.
But he started biting her. Couldn’t help himself. Those long needle teeth, they had to bite. Then he’d run back to the water, and she’d follow, wading in after him until he disappeared under the waves.
Then one day she bit him back. Took him by surprise. He looked at her neck, saw a gold chain and a baby set of gills.
“What,” she said, “you thought there was only one magic chain in the world?”
So they went into the bay together, which was okay, until one day she took up with a great white dire shark with long gleaming black teeth and swam off.
By now he’s buddies with the sea people. They’re okay guys, mostly, but like I said, they bite. They drift. After a few years he’s surrounded by strangers again.
So he climbs back onto shore, shakes the water from his mane, and reaches for the gold chain.
But he couldn’t find it. His scales had grown over it. He clawed at his neck until it was bloody, but that chain was in too deep. So he went back to the sea.
But every Hearth’s-Warming Eve, he comes out. His gills don’t work right in the air. He blinks in the harsh sunlight, lurches around on webbed feet, and goes to the houses of the people he used to know. Sometimes he comes inside, dripping marsh-water all over their floor, and tries to remember how normal people talk. Sometimes he just looks in at the windows. So he can still recognize them. So he can keep them away from the water.
Yeah, Arianthana, I know they weren’t listening. It’s okay.

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