Dee Moyza's Story Archive

Drown My Soul in Sensory Pleasure

It had long been considered a pirate's death wish to seek out the treasure of Captain Gullbasher Finch, whose ship disappeared off the coast of an island he had freshly plundered.  No ship that set out on such an expedition ever returned, until the evening that the Mad Strumpet drifted into the harbor, with a crew of one.  The lone sailor was delirious and half-starved, and ranted about sirens to anyone willing to listen.

"Enchantresses, they are.  Temptresses.  They lure men into the sea with their beauty and wiles, and then they drag 'em down, screamin'.  All that surfaces are bits and pieces—an arm here, a head there.  I was sick with fever meself, and had not much care for their charms, lest I be swimmin' in their stomachs right now."  The sailor shuddered.  "I waited 'til the screamin' and the thrashin' were done, then I turned 'round and headed home.  Sailed for days, not knowin' where I was goin'—owin' to the fever and all—and prayin' to whatever is out there that I wouldn't run afoul of them sirens on me own."

His woeful tale did little to curb the interest in Gullbasher's treasure; in fact, crews headed out in greater number, eager to find not only the treasure, but the alluring women the sailor had mentioned.  None of them returned.

"Fools," Captain Ravosa snorted, charting her own course to the site of the rumored treasure.  "Men hear tell of a pretty woman and they lose what's left of their heads.  The creatures of the sea must be well fed near Gullbasher's coast."

"What do you make of the Mad Strumpet's tale?" her first mate, Notleigh, asked, looking over Ravosa's shoulder, watching her work with compass and quill.  "Do you believe the sirens are out there?"

"I don't put much faith in the ramblings of a sick man, but something took the rest of his crew.  And we will be prepared for whatever that thing is when we set sail.  We go forth with our eyes on the dangers in front of us, and not on the treasure at the end."

"And if the sailor is telling the truth?"

"If he's telling the truth, if there are sirens, I will deal with them alone.  Men are useless in the face of beauty."

Notleigh clicked his tongue.  "You are just as susceptible.  I know your proclivities, Ravosa, how you'll take swabbie and wench alike."

"To sate my hunger, on my terms."  Ravosa leaned back and looked at the map in front of her, then drew a bold question mark in the area where the sailor had claimed to encounter the sirens.  "I am the master of my own desires.  I will not be swayed."

* * *

The Savage Rose cut through the waves, late-summer winds filling its sails.  Ravosa stalked the deck, scanning the horizon for threats, as the crew bustled around her.  They were only two days' journey from where Gullbasher's ship was said to have gone down, and they'd not encountered hostility yet.  Where, then, did the ships before them go wrong?  With clear weather and favorable winds, it should not be difficult to collect the treasure and set sail for home.  Unless the real threat waited at the treasure site, biding its time.

"I've seen neither hide nor hair of anything out here," Notleigh said as she passed him.  "Nor have I seen the remnants of any ships before us.  Where did they go?  They couldn't simply vanish."

"Especially if that sailor's tale was true," Ravosa replied, "and the sirens lured the crews from their ships.  We should be seeing plenty of empty ships by now."

"Unless the creatures sunk them afterward."

"Then how did the Mad Strumpet survive?"

"Mad luck."  Notleigh shrugged.  "Maybe the sailor turned the ship around in time."

"And they just let him go?"  Ravosa shook her head.  "Whatever is attacking these ships must be closer to the island.  Perhaps the inhabitants of the island, themselves."

"Doubtful, even if any remain.  An island without so much as a city could not have the naval power necessary to sink so many ships."

"I never said they had a fleet of their own.  Don't underestimate the power of vengeance, of desperation.  And don't forget all of the inlets and crags on the coast; they are perfect for luring ships in, then dismantling them, and their crew, bit by bit."

"An arm here, a head there…" Notleigh repeated the sailor's account and shuddered as he had.  "It seemed less gruesome to think the sirens did that."

"Think what you want, but keep your eyes open.  As soon as we're in sight of land, drop anchor.  I'll not trust the Savage Rose to whatever lies out there; I'm going ashore on my own."

"On your own?  Surely, you don't mean—"

"I will be well armed."  Ravosa brushed past him toward the great cabin, but stopped and turned her head to the side.  "If I do not return in three days' time, head home without me, and consider the Savage Rose yours.  I will have no more need for her in the hereafter."

She did not hear Notleigh's mumbled affirmative as she entered the cabin and sat at the large desk inside.  Alternately gazing at the map and out the windows, she watched the day wear on.  She slept fitfully that night and rose irritable, and watched the sea for another day.  By midday of the next, she finally heard the call she'd been waiting for.

"Land ahoy!"

"Drop anchor!" she shouted back.  "And prepare the jolly boat.  You—" she pointed to two crew members, "—arm yourselves and come with me.  You'll ferry me to shore."

"Are you sure you don't wish to sail closer?"  Notleigh asked.  "Or to take a few more men with you, at least?"

"To lose a good part of my crew and leave the rest of you at the mercy of whatever is out there?  No, I know what I must do."  She affixed the sheath of her cutlass to her belt, and the holster of her flintlock across her chest.  Then, after inspecting both weapons, she placed them in their proper places and pulled on a light jacket.  "I'll tell the crewmen the same thing: wait for me for three days, and if I am gone, head for home.  No sense in all of you dying at once."

Ravosa said no more, and climbed onto the jolly boat and turned her eyes toward the coast.  The rhythmic creaking of oars and sloshing of seawater steadied her nerves, and so it was that they reignited with a white-hot bolt down her spine when she made out an unusual figure—a woman with the tail of a fish—sunning herself on a large rock.  Was this the fearsome siren the sailor had talked about?  She did not look threatening, on her own; but Ravosa knew that a legion of creatures like her could cause all sorts of trouble. 

The siren turned her head, slowly, sensually, and regarded the boat's approach with languid interest.  She did not move to meet them, nor did she rise to attack; she simply waited until they were several boat-lengths away from her, then flopped onto her belly, tail curling over her back, propped her chin in her hands, and called out a cheerful greeting.

"Ahoy there!"  She smiled, and Ravosa felt another wave of heat course through her body, this time in her veins, and headed toward the most inappropriate location, given the circumstances.  "If you're here for the treasure, there is none."

"Lies," Ravosa replied, letting her irritation dampen her desire.  "The story of Gullbasher Finch is known well.  This is the last place his ship was seen."

"Perhaps, but there is no treasure.  Yet your kind keep coming, keep searching."  The siren sighed.  "Are you not all too old to still believe in such fairy tales?"

"Silence, siren!  The tales of the sea may be strange, but they often hold a grain of truth."

"Siren?"  The siren scoffed and raised herself.  "Impudent wench!  You should be glad there's no siren here."

"And I ought to slice your mouth from ear to ear for confusing me with a common wench.  What do you mean, you are no siren?  Do you not lure men to their deaths with your beauty and wiles?"

"I do nothing of the sort.  I am simply beautiful; if men choose to abandon ship to get a closer look, that is their poor judgment."

Ravosa swallowed hard.  The creature before spoke at least one truth: she was beautiful, with black locks cascading down her back, gleaming red in the sunlight.  Soft shoulders led to supple arms that framed—and, at the moment, buttressed—generous breasts, wide areolae blooming dusky brown against her tanned skin.  Ravosa was not surprised men would risk death to get a closer look, to venture a forbidden touch; her fingers and lips throbbed with the questions of how it would feel to run through those tresses, to press against that flesh. 

So, she curled her fingers into fists, and moved her lips to further interrogate.  "If you are not a siren, what are you?"

The creature looked at her as if she were a half-wit.  "A mermaid," she said simply.  "I presume your fairy tales forgot all about us."  Another dramatic sigh.  "It seems you must be either royalty or a murderer to be remembered."

"Yet sirens do exist.  You said as much."

"Oh, yes, but you would not confuse us if you'd ever seen one!  They are much larger than me, several times the size of your ship.  And they hunger for flesh, indiscriminately—human and mermaid and fish alike."

"How do I know you're telling the truth?"

The mermaid rolled onto her back, arms out to her sides, and dropped her head over the edge of the rock to regard Ravosa and her crew upside-down.  "You could wait and see.  The sirens' seasonal migration passes through these waters.  They'd snap you up before you even knew what was happening."

Ravosa frowned.  "It seems the more pertinent option is taking you at your word.  Now, about the treasure."

"There isn't one."

"I assume the sirens took that, too."

"Oh, they've no need for treasure.  They live only to hunt.  But the treasure that was here has been picked clean.  Ages ago."

"By whom?"

"Other mermaids.  Those ships that come through—"

"What happens to them?"

"Sirens.  The northeast coast is part of their main thoroughfare."

"We'll avoid that area, then."  Ravosa turned to her crewmen and exchanged nods.

"I'll admit, I even took a little bit for myself."


"The treasure.  I could not let the others have it all.  It's too lovely."

"So, you do have it."

"I never said I had no treasure."  The mermaid righted herself and chuckled.  "I said there is no treasure for your taking."

"I'll be the judge of that."  Ravosa stood, shakily, feeling the boat shift beneath her, and unsheathed her cutlass.  The mermaid was unmoved.

"I've no reason to fear you," she said.  "Before you reach me, I can disappear beneath the waves."  With that, she rolled off the rock into the sea.

"Damn it!"  Ravosa glared into the water around her, seeking any trace of the mermaid.  A splash from the stern of the boat startled her and she turned around as quickly as she could to see the mermaid surface.

"But you intrigue me," the mermaid said, leaning her arms on the edge of the boat.  Ravosa's crewmen edged away from her, though by the lusty gleam in their eyes, Ravosa knew they longed to pull her aboard.  "Perhaps I might interest you in an exchange?"

"Go on."

"You'll have to come ashore, of course."  The mermaid glanced disdainfully at the crewmen.  "Just you.  And then I will give you something from my treasure for an item of yours."

"How can I trust you?"

"I've never invited anyone to do this before."

"That's not a guarantee."

The mermaid pouted and looked around the boat.  Seeing a bag of citrus stashed beneath a seat, her eyes lit up, and she pointed to it.  "You carry fruit, right?  Fruit from your lands?"

"Yes, we do.  It combats scurvy."

"It tastes so good!  It is different than the fruits grown on the island, and I haven't had any in such a long time.  Give me five pieces, and I will return with trinket of comparable value.  Then you'll know you can trust me."

"Very well."  Ravosa motioned to the crewmen to hand over the five pieces of fruit.  The mermaid gathered them in her arms and disappeared beneath the surface once more.  Ravosa waited, on guard for the slightest hint of danger, of betrayal, for perhaps a quarter of an hour.  She had long resigned herself to the loss of fruit when the orange-gold gleam of the mermaid's tail caught her eye.  The mermaid surfaced in front of the boat with nary a splash and raised a golden pendant from beneath the waves.

An item of comparable value?  Did she really have such little understanding of human economics?  Ravosa willed her tongue to be still; a stroke of luck like this was not to be questioned.  Instead, she extended her hand, palm up.  The mermaid placed the pendant there, and Ravosa weighed it.  Solid gold, with what appeared to be a ruby laid in the center.  Easily several months' expenses taken care of.  Even a fraction of Gullbasher's treasure was worth a fortune.  And the mermaid had more? 

"Yes," she said, bobbing up and down, the tops of her breasts breaking the surface to tease a glimpse before going back under, "and I'm willing to trade, if you come ashore."

"Can we not trade here?"

"Not the most valuable thing."

"Which is?"

"Knowledge.  I see your kind sail by all the time, but you are the first who has bothered to talk with me.  The others, it is nothing but lust, lust, lust, their breeches already half off by the time they jump in the water."  The mermaid leaned back and floated closer to the boat.  One of the crewmen whimpered.  "I'd honestly believed humans had no higher reasoning.  But you've proven me wrong and stoked my curiosity."

"And I can satisfy it right here."

"Not in the presence of your companions."  She gave her tail a playful flick, splashing the boat with water.  Both crewmen groaned.  Ravosa glanced back at them, at the tightness building in their breeches, and sighed.

"Very well, I will come ashore.  I will stay for several days, and I will tell you what you wish to know."

The mermaid beamed.  "Thank you!  I will meet you at the water's edge, once your companions have departed."  She dove out of sight.

Ravosa turned to her crewmen and dropped the pendant into onto the lap of the one closest to her.  He yelped.  "Pull yourselves together and take me ashore.  Take this pendant back to the ship and tell Notleigh that I'm altering my plan.  If, in five days' time, I am not waiting for you in the same place I disembark, he is to take you all home.  But I'm confident that won't come to pass.  I'm sure I can gain the mermaid's trust and treasure in much less time."

"What if she doesn't let you go?"  The crewman asked, admiring the pendant.

"Then I will kill her.  I'm not helpless.  Now, come on, row!  I would like to use what's left of today, as well."

* * *

The wind rustled through the palm fronds and the waves broke over the rocks, and Ravosa watched the jolly boat return to the ship.  She looked around the beach, one hand on her cutlass; there had been no sign of the mermaid since she'd disembarked, and she did not rule out the possibility that she'd just walked into a trap.  If that were the case, pity the souls who laid it, for Ravosa was skilled with her blade, and merciless in her fury.

Once the jolly boat was being hoisted back onto the ship, however, she noticed movement in her peripheral vision.  Turning toward it, she saw the mermaid clambering up onto a rock, motioning her over.  The mermaid wore a necklace of fine pearls now, which narrowed through the valley between her breasts and came to rest just above her navel.  She ran her fingers over the beads at her clavicle and smiled.

"I don't know how you reason with them," she said, angling her head toward the ship.  "It seems as if they are governed by their bodies, rather than their minds."

Ravosa followed the line of the necklace and shifted her weight, the thought of being alone for days with such a beauty increasing the pressure between her own legs.  "It's the human condition," she replied.  "Some of us are better equipped to handle it than others."

"Do they not harass you?"

"They daren't try."  Ravosa patted the handle of her cutlass, then pulled her jacket aside to reveal her pistol.

"Oh, that is lovely.  Is it a weapon?"


"Pity.  I assume you don't care to trade it, then?"

"You assume correctly.  Your necklace, on the other hand…"

The mermaid held up her hand.  "In due time.  First, we must introduce ourselves.  My name is Ipthia.  Yours?"

"Ravosa.  Now, about the necklace—"

"There, it is yours, now, in exchange for that knowledge."  Ipthia pulled the string of pearls over her head and tossed it to Ravosa.  Ravosa smirked.  If all of the exchanges were going to be this easy, she would have more than her share of Gullbasher's treasure by the time she returned to the ship.

"Your generosity is noted.  What else do you wish to know?"

"Much!  So, so much.  However," Ipthia leaned forward, chin on hands, "I will not give my treasure away all at once.  Three trades per day: one for an object, one for knowledge, and one for…acquaintance."

"What do you mean by that?"

Ipthia reached out and stroked Ravosa's hair.  Ravosa stiffened beneath her touch, compelled by habit to push her hand away, compelled by the fire in her veins to lean into it. 

"Interesting," Ipthia murmured.  "Thick, coarse.  I assumed human hair was as fine as ours."

"Some is."

"Hmm.  I've never been this close to a human.  I am not going to pass up my chance to learn all about you.  What you feel like, what you smell like, what makes you work."

Ravosa hummed in response, heat overtaking habit, and closed her eyes, opening them only when Ipthia pulled her hand away.  She looked up and saw Ipthia extending a jeweled snuff box toward her.

"And I will reward you very, very well."

Drawing a shaky breath, Ravosa accepted the snuff box and tried to reorient her thoughts.  She was here for the treasure, not to be some mermaid's plaything, but if that's what it took to secure the riches, she would concede to Ipthia's curiosity.  She just needed to keep her wits about her in the meantime.  Going forward, she vowed to think only of the treasure, to imagine gold and jewels whenever Ipthia drew close, to keep her mind from drifting into Ipthia's trap and taking her body along with it.

"This is the final trade of the day, then?" she asked.

"For today, yes, but I am not averse to accepting advances on tomorrow's.  Tell me about yourself, Ravosa.  Tell me about your home, your family, your ship.  Tell me about your world, and I may decide to reward you twice for the knowledge tomorrow."

With little else to do, Ravosa hauled herself up on a nearby rock and told Ipthia of her past, of having been born to a whore in a port town, of turning to the sea to escape sharing her mother's fate.  She joined her first crew at age eleven, disguised as boy of nine, and grew up cleaning and cooking to earn her keep, until she was old enough to sail on her own.  She found valuable artifacts, and one complete treasure, and with it, she secured a ship and crew of her own, and had been on the water ever since.

"Fascinating."  Ipthia twitched her tail.  "And other humans, they do not live on the sea?  What do they do instead?"

Ravosa answered her question, whiling away the rest of the sunlight.  It had been ages since she'd spoken so freely to someone, ages since she'd allowed a variety of emotions to color her words.  In her capacity as captain, she was ever cognizant of maintaining authority and respect, and feared that anything less than detached self-assurance could be mistaken for weakness.   But in the face of Ipthia's rapt attention, the words simply flowed from her.  It felt good, a release she didn't know she needed, and, though she would never admit it, even to herself, she felt a twinge of disappointment when Ipthia departed at night, guiding her to the western edge of the island, out of view of her ship and crew, and leaving her to seek shelter in a small cave in the cliffs, from which a freshwater stream burbled toward the sea.

Ipthia returned in the morning with a pair of delicately carved ivory figurines, and the next few days passed similar to the one before.  She offered a jeweled hand mirror in exchange for Ravosa's jacket, a handful of gold coins for the chance to touch her face, and promised another pair of artifacts for more stories.  Abalone combs for those stories the following morning, an emerald ring for her scarf, another strand of pearls to inspect her feet.  Sapphire earrings for knowledge, a gold pocket watch for her boots, and a solid gold ingot…for a kiss.

Ravosa hesitated.  She'd done a fine job of keeping her thoughts on the treasure, of not allowing the flame of lust that Ipthia kindled with every word, every movement, to overtake her heart.  But a kiss…that was dangerous.  There was no way to disconnect her mind from her body when the heat of another's was pressing against her own.  It was intimate, delicate; it was playing with the latch to a floodgate.  She glanced at Ipthia and tried to think of a proper response.  Nothing came; meanwhile, Ipthia stretched in the water, head and shoulders back, sunlight glinting off her throat, her collarbone, the curves of her breasts, and Ravosa realized that she would do well to take some knowledge of her own in exchange.

"Very well," she said, "an ingot for a kiss."

Ipthia grinned and twirled in the water.  "Are you sure that's wise?"

"It is what you asked."

"And you are not going to negotiate?"

"Is there any reason I should?"  Ravosa swallowed.  "A kiss is nothing special.  A meeting of mouths for a brief moment, that is all."

"Then you've never been properly kissed."  Ipthia went underwater and surfaced at the edge of the beach.  "Sit on the sand, I will come to you, and I will show you what's so special about a kiss."

Ravosa sat down on the beach, legs bent in front of her, and watched Ipthia wriggle out of the water, ingot in hand.  She was awkward on land, but by all the gods in heaven and hell, she was even more stunning.  Her hair clung to her back and shoulders, and delicate fins encircled her hips where her sunkissed skin melded seamlessly into her bright orange tail.  The muscles in her abdomen rippled with each movement, and when she looked up, a faint flush ran through her cheeks, whether born of exertion or anticipation, Ravosa could not tell.  She pulled herself next to Ravosa and turned Ravosa's face to hers.

"Last chance," she whispered, her breath hot and salty.  "A kiss for an ingot?"

In response, Ravosa leaned forward and captured her lips with her own.  Ipthia didn't flinch; mermaids must be as accustomed to kissing as humans were.  She hummed against Ravosa and sucked lightly on her lower lip, then pulled away and flicked her tongue over Ravosa's lips.  Ravosa started at the unexpected parting gift and leaned forward to prolong the kiss.  Ipthia chuckled, met her halfway, and showed her that, indeed, she never had been properly kissed.

Ipthia took Ravosa's lips with relish, probing at them with the tip of her tongue until Ravosa opened to her, then pushing her way in.  Ravosa moaned and invited her deeper, pressing her body against Ipthia's, digging her fingertips into Ipthia's back, desperate to hold on as the heat and the salt set her nerves alight, her heart beating against her ribcage.  Ipthia let her own hands wander, first to Ravosa's back, then up her neck, where her fingers curled in Ravosa's hair.  Without warning, she gave a hard tug, pulling Ravosa's head back and breaking the kiss, before sliding her mouth along Ravosa's jaw and down the front of her throat.  Ravosa sighed and clutched her tighter; she was not accustomed to giving up control, but the novelty of it, and the insistent ministrations of Ipthia's mouth, thrilled her, and she heard herself choke out Ipthia's name.

Ipthia tightened her lips around the skin on Ravosa's throat and sucked hard, then pulled away with an audible pop.  "Good, isn't it?" she breathed, smoothing Ravosa's hair, brushing stray strands out of her face.  "It seems I was right: you'd never been properly kissed.  It makes me wonder what else you've never properly done." 

Ravosa yelped as something hard pressed between her legs, sending sparks dancing through her veins.  Though she recognized it as the ingot, she couldn't help but slide herself along its length, once, twice, until she caught herself and rolled away from Ipthia.

"I thought so."  Ipthia clicked her tongue.  "You poor woman, how have you gone without?"

"I haven't," Ravosa said, gulping down air.  "I have had plenty of men and women in my time."

"Plenty of novices, apparently.  Did they not know how to please you?  Or did you not let them?"

"That is really none of your concern."  Ravosa adjusted the collar of her blouse and picked up the ingot.  "I have fulfilled my end of the bargain.  I will see you again tomorrow."

"But the day is young, and there is still so much I wish to learn."


Ipthia laughed, quietly at first, building up into a glorious, melodious sound.  "Fine, I shall leave you for now.  But if you are so shaken by what happened today, I would suggest preparing to negotiate tomorrow."  She winked, then dragged herself back to the sea and dove in, far below the sunlight’s reach.

Ravosa looked at the ingot.  Solid gold.  She could live for years on what it was worth; she needn't agree to any more exchanges with Ipthia.  But just the thought of her brought back the feeling of her mouth hot on Ravosa's skin, the sensation of her fingers tugging at Ravosa's scalp, and the throbbing between Ravosa's legs drowned out whatever rational thoughts might be left in her mind.  She'd toyed with the latch of the floodgate, and it had broken open inside her.  She pressed the ingot against herself and rode it to completion, Ipthia's face filling her thoughts, Ipthia's name tumbling from her lips.

* * *

It was an enchantment.  It had to be.  Nothing else could explain the fever Ipthia’s kiss kindled in Ravosa’s body.  Nothing could explain the fitful sleep Ravosa endured in the cave that night, besieged with sensual visions, waking to delicious convulsions.  Come morning light, Ravosa held the mirror to herself and an unidentifiable woman stared back: tousled hair, wild eyes, a bright purple love-mark blooming on her throat.  This was no pirate, no captain; this was a lovesick woman, a woman whose mother’s blood thundered through her veins, inescapable no matter how hard she tried.  This was a woman undone by lust, by whatever charm that blasted mermaid had worked on her, and Ravosa hated her, from her flesh to her blood to her very soul.

She flung the mirror into the stream and watched it sink to the bottom, too weighed down by gold and jewels to drift out to sea.  Every muscle ached as she rose slowly, stiff from sleeping on the cave floor, hungry from rationing what little food she'd brought with her.  Before her stay on the island was up, she would need to make her way inland to forage for food, or at least materials with which from which to fashion a decent fishing rod or spear.  She wondered briefly if Ipthia might have something like that to trade, then gave a cynical laugh when she realized just how quickly her definition of treasure had changed.

Shielding her eyes from the glare of the late-morning sun, she exited the cave and found Ipthia nowhere in sight.  Rather than sit idle, she began a trek to the southern side of the island, from where she could see the Savage Rose.  If anyone on the ship was looking back, perhaps she could wave them down for extra provisions.    She waded through tidepools and clambered over rocks, her bare feet slipping on their smooth surfaces, and when she reached the southern shore, she saw the Savage Rose, farther away than she remembered it and moving toward the horizon at a steady clip, its sails full and no sailors looking back toward the island.

She called out to them, knowing full well her voice could not reach them, but not knowing what else to do.  Over and over, she cried out, running into the water up to her waist, ruining her flintlock in the process and getting buffeted by incoming waves.  She lost her footing twice, and each time, she resurfaced coughing out seawater and curses alike.  Still, the Savage Rose remained on course, sailing away from her, taking with it everything she had worked for. 

The next time the waves knocked her down, she did not fight, but let them carry her to and fro, hoping they'd dash her against the rocks and free her from the nightmare she'd woken up to.  It was evident that the crewmen who had rowed her to the island never relayed her new instructions to Notleigh; what was less clear was if Notleigh was even alive anymore.  With a solid gold pendant in hand and their captain nowhere in sight, the possibility that the crewmen had mutinied was far too real.  Anger welled up inside Ravosa, bitter and hot, and overrode her desire to die.  She struggled to the surface and broke through with a gasp, determined that someone had to pay for this betrayal.  And if she couldn't reach the mutinous crewmen, a certain saucy mermaid would have to do.

Still coughing up water, Ravosa dragged herself onto the beach and waited.  The sun had dried her clothes and hair and formed a crust of salt on her skin, and was sinking toward the western horizon when Ipthia finally showed, surfacing near a group of large rocks and looking, for the first time that Ravosa had seen, incredibly tired.

"A tiara," she said without preamble, holding up one made of fine silver filigree, "for the strap that holds your gun."

Without a word, Ravosa removed her flintlock from its holster and unbuckled the strap, then tossed it toward Ipthia.  Though her mind's eye replayed the sight of her own ship sailing away, at the sound of Ipthia's voice, the rest of her body replayed the sensations of the night before.  Anger and lust battled within her, both setting her blood aflame, both sending her thoughts spiraling out of control.

"And a scepter," Ipthia went on, "for a story."

"I've none to tell."  Ravosa said, toying with the handle of her cutlass.

"Nonsense.  Surely, you could not have exhausted your memory already.  I've hardly heard your history, let alone that of the rest of your kind."

"Theirs is not worth telling.  It is nothing but a litany of war and betrayal."

With a huff, Ipthia swam closer.  "You are different today.  Distant."  She smirked.  "If I had known my kiss was powerful enough to muddle you so, I would have saved it for the last reward."

"I am not muddled."

"Then tell me a story."

"I said I have none."

"In much the same way that I have no treasure."  Ipthia pulled herself onto the beach.  She was nearly within striking range.  Ravosa tightened her grip on her cutlass.  "I know you have something to tell me today, whether you want to or not, because I saw it happen with my own eyes."

Ravosa blinked.  "What are you talking about?"

"Your ship.  I saw it sail away today, I saw you call out to it.  I followed it for a distance, but it never slowed.  I…don't think they intend to return."

"And whose fault is that?"  Ravosa's voice was measured as she got to her feet, and she turned a steady glare on Ipthia.

"I do not know your crew members by name, so I cannot—ahh!" 

In two strides, Ravosa had closed the distance between herself and Ipthia, and swung the cutlass wildly toward Ipthia's head.  Ipthia screamed and ducked and began an awkward retreat to the water.  Ravosa followed and brought the cutlass down, barely wide of Ipthia's tail.  There was no way Ipthia could outrun her; all she had to do was take a breath, steady her movements, and—

"It isn't mine!" Ipthia cried.  "It's not my fault!  I didn't abandon you."  She threw her weight to one side and rolled out of the path of Ravosa's swing, but ended up on her back.  Her dark eyes flickered with terror as Ravosa loomed over her, one foot on either side of her tail, and raised her blade once more.  "I couldn't.  You're my treasure!"

Ravosa squeezed the handle of the cutlass until her arm shook, desperate to wash away her shame and anger and sadness with Ipthia's blood, but just as desperate to feel her touch.  Ipthia's frightened eyes, her outstretched hand, her admission of something bordering on affection for Ravosa—sincere or not, they struck Ravosa's heart like a battering ram.  She shut her eyes against the sting of tears and flung her cutlass to the side, then covered her face with both hands and sunk to the sand.  Somewhere along the way, sobs began to bubble up from her chest, angry and hurt and vengeful sounds, and she let them out with abandon, until her throat was raw and her head throbbed, until she felt empty. 

She had no idea when Ipthia began stroking her hair, but as she became aware of it, she felt her despair subside.  Each pass of Ipthia's nimble fingers soothed Ravosa's soul, warming her in a way she hadn't felt in years, if ever.  She'd grown up without physical affection, and had convinced herself the wanting of it was a sign of weakness.  Now, however, she leaned into the touch, nuzzling her cheek into the soft sand of the beach and whimpering quietly.

"It's all right," Ipthia whispered.  "I will not hold your anger against you, even if you did intend to kill me.  But you had the chance, and yet you stilled your blade.  Why did you spare me?"

"I…don't know."  Ravosa shrugged.  "I simply could not go through with it."

"I'm glad.  For the obvious reason, but also because I did mean what I said.  I have spent years surrounded by items like those I have given you.  Brilliant, beautiful pieces.  But what good are they to a mermaid beyond their aesthetic value? You, on the other hand…"  Ipthia slid a hand beneath Ravosa's chin and tilted her face up to look into her eyes.  "You are so vibrant, so knowledgeable, so passionate.  I finally understand what you humans mean by the word 'treasure.'"

Ravosa snorted.  "I'm no treasure.  I am but a woman who is lost.  No livelihood, no future.  I might as well be dead."

"Then let me remind you how alive you are."  Ipthia pulled Ravosa into a seated position and leaned close.  "If you intend to stay lost, lose yourself to me.  Let yourself go.  Let yourself be loved…" She gently kissed her below the ear. "…properly."

The heat of Ipthia's breath against her skin sent a shiver down Ravosa's spine and quickened her pulse.  The emptiness inside her began to fill with tiny fluttering motions, and she gave herself over to the sensation.  She had nothing left to lose but herself, and there was no reason why that loss, at the very least, could not be pleasurable.

Ravosa turned her face to meet Ipthia's lips with her own, opening her mouth to her and letting her dispel what remained of the numbness inside of her.  Soon, both women spoke only in whispers and sighs between kisses as their hands explored one another's bodies.  Ipthia made quick work of the buttons on Ravosa's blouse and opened it to reveal her breasts, which she gently cupped and kneaded.  Encouraged by Ravosa's whimpers, Ipthia lowered her head and dragged her tongue over one nipple, slowly and deliberately, letting the cool sea air sting the feverish skin before returning to it.  She moved to the other breast and let her tongue move in ever tighter circles, and Ravosa trembled beneath her.  Finally, Ipthia closed her lips around one nipple and sucked, while she rolled the other one between her thumb and forefinger, and Ravosa let out a drawn-out whine and dug her fingers into the sand to steady herself.  Of the lovers she'd had, many had done this before, but not with quite the precision, quite the passion, that Ipthia was lavishing on her now.

"Oh gods," she breathed, "that's amazing."

Ipthia gave no response except to switch her attention to the other breast.  Ravosa clamped her legs together, feeling the pressure building between them, and allowed Ipthia several more sucks before gently pushing her away.

"It doesn't seem fair," she said, "that only I get to feel this.  Let me taste you, Ipthia.  Lose yourself to me, too."  With that, she took Ipthia's lips again, then slowly moved down, from Ipthia's jaw to her throat to the tops of her breasts, stopping at intervals to suck the salt from Ipthia's skin and leave a trail of love-marks for Ipthia to discover in the morning.  Compared to her own lean body, Ipthia's generous curves were soft and inviting to hands and mouth alike, and she used lips and tongue and teeth to draw the loveliest sounds from her throat and a shudder from her muscles.

Ipthia collapsed onto the sand with a groan, pulling Ravosa on top of her.  As she began to fumble with the fastenings of Ravosa's breeches, Ravosa chuckled and scattered light kisses over her face as distraction.  One of those kisses broke off in a gasp, however, when Ipthia finally worked Ravosa's breeches and smallclothes over her hips and pressed a hand to the moist heat between her legs.  Immediately, Ravosa's hips rocked back against Ipthia's hand, as if by their own volition, and Ipthia's fingers began to gently probe the area.

"Oh," she exclaimed, "it's so warm!  This is your sex?"

Ravosa nodded, biting her lower lip. 

"And this…" she drew her fingers back and forth just inside Ravosa's outer labia, brushing against her clitoris and forcing a sharp cry from her.  "…does this feel good?"

"Ohh, very.  Very."  Ravosa ground against her hand desperately, her breath coming in short gasps.  She could come from this touch alone, and she would in a few moments, but she wanted to feel Ipthia's long fingers inside of her first.  "Deeper.  Press deeper.  In…then out…then in…"

Her brows furrowed in confusion, Ipthia nonetheless did as Ravosa asked.  She pressed gently around the area, and when one finger, then two, slipped inside Ravosa and Ravosa let out moan, her eyes widened.

"Yes," Ravosa lifted her hips and brought them down against Ipthia's hand, grinding against it and moaning.  "That's it.  Now move them…in, out…curl them…explore me, Ipthia!  Oh, don't stop!"

Ipthia didn't.  She moved her hand as Ravosa instructed, and soon, the two of them found a rhythm.  Ipthia worked in long strokes, her palm pressing against Ravosa's clit, and Ravosa rode it as she would any man, her eyes screwed shut, her fingers digging into Ipthia's shoulders.  She had no idea what words were spilling from her mouth, only that she could not keep quiet.  She leaned forward and kissed Ipthia deeply, still moaning, hips pumping wildly.  She was getting close, all thoughts driven from her head except the desire, the need to secure her release.  She broke the kiss and panted against Ipthia's shoulder, a shudder building low in her abdomen and spreading throughout her body.

"Please, please," she whispered, dropping her head between her shoulders, digging her fingernails into Ipthia's flesh, contracting in on herself as her orgasm built, then flinging her head back with a howl when it finally arrived.  She clenched around Ipthia's hand, her legs pressing in on the sides of Ipthia's tail.  Somewhere on the edges of her consciousness, she heard Ipthia express something akin to wonder, but she could not make out the words through the thundering of her pulse in her ears.

When her climax receded, Ravosa let herself fall back onto the beach, sated and exhausted.  She heard Ipthia move, then started when Ipthia's hands, one of them still wet with her release, slid up her legs and pried them apart. 

"You are fabulous," Ipthia said, her breath ghosting the inside of Ravosa's thigh, "and I don't think I can get enough of you."  With that, she leaned in and licked along Ravosa's slit, each pass of her tongue a lightning strike.  Ravosa bit her knuckles and writhed in the sand, quickly overtaken by another orgasm as Ipthia finished cleaning her up.

"Treasure."  Mumbled against her core, the word vibrated throughout her body.  She opened her eyes and saw Ipthia smiling down at her, her hair in disarray, her chest heaving.  "One day, I will show you how to fully pleasure me.  Until then," she rolled to the side and pulled Ravosa into an embrace, "I am content taking what you have to offer."

Ravosa tried to laugh, but it only came out as an awkward sigh.  In the afterglow of her orgasm, Ipthia's arms around her felt as soft as any blanket, and she burrowed deeper into the embrace.

Ipthia laughed, and it rumbled through Ravosa's body.  "Now, aren't you glad you didn't kill me?"

* * *

The pain of betrayal was not easily forgotten, even in days filled with passion.  For as the glow of fulfillment faded, the reality of Ravosa's situation settled heavy in her mind.  With Ipthia's help, she was able to fashion a fishing pole and net out of the island's materials, and as the days passed, she ventured further inland to collect plants and fruit.  She refrained from going too far, however, for fear that the settlement that Gullbasher had pillaged still survived, and still remembered the violence done to it.  She was sure, in that case, that she would not be welcome.

As she had promised, Ipthia did teach Ravosa how to please her: where to touch her, where to kiss her, which scales to part to reach her own hot depths, and the two of them often found themselves in one another's arms, whether on the beach, in the cave, or waist-deep in a tidepool.  It was a way to while away the hours, aside from telling each other about themselves and the worlds from which they came.  Some nights, Ipthia would stay beside her as she fell asleep, and greet her in the brackish waters at the mouth of the cave in the morning. 

Life was simple, now. Though it had little of the rewards Ravosa had become accustomed to, it also lacked the frustrations.  But danger was not entirely absent.  One morning, Ravosa woke to the sound of water crashing against rocks, waves crashing onto the water, and ran out of the cave before it was flooded.  From where she stood, she saw a massive fishtail arc through the air and splash into the sea.  Turning toward the horizon, she saw an equally massive woman rising from the waves, followed by others like her, leaping and diving in and out of the ocean.


"You see?" Ipthia said, swimming up to a large rock and holding on as the waves pulled her back and forth.  "They are much larger than me.  Impressive, no?"


"Pity the ship that gets caught in their path.  How long is the journey back to your homeland?"

"The Savage Rose would not be there yet."

Ipthia turned to her with a dark grin.  "You may soon have your justice, after all."

Indeed, weeks later, as Ravosa approached the shore, fishing pole in hand, she noticed something large bobbing in the sea, just off the coast.  She swam out to it, turned it around, and gasped.  It was a large wooden head of a woman wearing a crown of thorny roses—Savage Rose, herself, or the remnants thereof.  Ravosa guided it back to shore, then set it upon a rock next to the cave.  She ran her fingers over the features, remembering when she had commissioned the figurehead from a local artisan, and how proud she was to have sailed with it.  She considered her own appearance in comparison with it, her own salt-stiffened hair pulled into a braid, the sunburn on her face deepening into a tan, and she realized that they had both changed in recent months. 

The figurehead, like her, was broken now, but not destroyed.  Savage in her strength and tenacity.

Perhaps, one day, there would be someone else who would sail close enough to hail from shore, and she might return home and build a ship anew.  Or, perhaps she would live out her days on the island, however many she had left.  At this point, neither option outweighed the other in her mind.  For once, she was happy where she was at the moment.

"What is that?" Ipthia piped up behind her, having surfaced while she was examining the figurehead.

"Savage Rose," Ravosa answered.  "Would you like to hear her story?"

Ipthia grinned and raised a stringer of fish from beneath the water.  "Have I ever refused a story from you?  I've even brought payment in advance!"  She handed the fish to Ravosa, then climbed onto a rock and listened as Ravosa told the tale of a woman who built her own life and outlived her treacherous crew, and who finally found something imperfect but glorious, something very closely resembling peace of mind.