Posted on 2013-10-31
Lt. William Price was reading a book when the order came to beat to quarters. He put down the Greek myths his sister Fanny had sent him and ran up to the main deck of his ship, the HMS Honor. They were sailing the Mediterranean, on patrol in the Aegean Sea. To his surprise, however, they were not being attacked by the French. Or anyone, for that matter. Or were they?
On deck, facing off with his angry captain, was a beautiful woman. His captain never allowed females on board, said they brought bad luck. To William's way of thinking, most things spelled misfortune for a ship, especially one of this size.
Perhaps she was a stowaway, for that could put the devil in his captain's eyes quicker than it took to splice the mainbrace, be they male or female. But no, he could tell by the man's loud words that this woman had just suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
That was impossible, of course. There was no land in sight, and any small craft would have been spotted long before from the crow's nest. Then the captain demanded the woman's name.
The tall, beautiful female, wearing a flowing white chiton, laughed and said she was the mermaid, Thessalonike.
Almost to a man, the crew members crossed themselves. Who among them did not know of this woman, sister of Alexander the Great? When she died centuries before, she had been transformed into a mermaid and she always asked a question on the ships she encountered.
Now, this particular captain was not a bright man, just a mean one, holding his command through rigid control and a strict adherence to naval rules and traditions. He could not, however, recall the legend of Thessalonike and he had no idea why his crew was so afraid. If this was a mermaid, then she should be tossed back into the sea! He moved to pick her up and do just that when she held out a hand and he stopped dead in his tracks.
By now, most of the men were holding their breath, even those who were bending down and looking sideways to see if they could detect a tail beneath the mermaid's gown. From where William stood, none was visible.
While the captain was frozen in place, Thessalonike looked about her and frowned.
"Is King Alexander alive?"
No one spoke. One wrong word and this woman could stir up a terrible storm, dooming the Honor and everyone aboard.
William thanked Fanny and his Maker in the same breath that he knew the answer to this one, and he stepped forward to salute the mermaid. From where he was stuck to one spot, the captain glared at him.
"He lives and reigns and conquers the world," William replied.
Thessalonike laughed, briefly touched William's face and dove overboard into the sea. Her gown disappeared with her, and the men ran to the railing. Those there first later swore that she slapped her fish tail on the water before she slipped beneath the waves.
William was much celebrated after that, for saving the ship, and despite his despotic captain, he moved fast up the ranks, finally attaining a command of his own.
It was in the month of October, a number of years later, that William found himself once again on the Aegean Sea. He stood on the deck, watching a large full moon, and could not help but think of Portsmouth and home. It was almost All Hallow's Eve and everyone there would be hollowing out turnips, carving scary faces into them and dropping in hot coals, all designed to scare away evil spirits.
Fanny was married now, as was Susan, and William thought he might even start looking for a bride when he returned home. Not that anyone could compare with the mermaid he had once...
The attack, when it came, arrived without warning. One moment the HMS Stalwart was quiet, the next it was teeming with a ragtag fleet of pirates. The intruders were more than a match for his crew, unfortunately, and killed everyone in sight.
William fought as bravely as anyone, even more so, really, as the ship was under his command. In the end, however, they were all overpowered by the pirates.
He was a special prize, however, and might have been held for ransom, except that the pirate leader was his old captain from the Honor.
"Well, well, look who we have here," the man snarled, his eyes solely on William, who was being held captive by two of the ruffians. "Capt. William Price. Captain!" He spat the word. "He was a poor sailor when he first went to sea," he told his men, listening to them jeer at their captive. "And he's even worse now - look how easily we captured his ship! It's my ship now, Price, and you are quite expendable!"
"Make him walk the plank!" someone shouted .
"William's hands were tied behind him, a sword thrust against his back, and he was forced off his ship and into the dark, oily water below.
He was sure he was drowning, but figures came up out of the deep, some untying his rope, some placing their mouths on his, breathing oxygen into his lungs. He did not know how long he was kept underwater, as he blacked out before he could see that the creatures around him had fish tails.
Meanwhile, Thessalonike once again faced William's former captain and once again she asked her question. This time, the wrong answer was given. The pirate fleet was doomed. Oddly enough, the Stalwart remained whole, but when it was discovered, not a soul was found on board.
William woke in a grotto, face up on a small sandy strip. He sat up gingerly, surprised to find himself alive, and wondering where he was. He was joined later by the beautiful Thessalonike, who took him into her arms, loved him tenderly, and then ate him for her breakfast.
A month later, in Portsmouth, Mrs. Price opened her door to find a beautiful lady waiting patiently, a small, wet sack in her hands. Her gown was long and white and her smile was as bright as the sun. Mrs. Price was not quite sure, but the lady's teeth seemed a bit sharp.
"I was with your son when he died," the stranger said to William's mother. "I brought you his belongings. May I come in?"The End