A Watery Grave
by Kristin A. Masters
When Cazort awoke he could sense that something was wrong. He still could not move his limbs; although broken, his legs did not pain him. His whole body itched and every nerve on his skin tingled.
As he opened his eyes, he saw scales covering his flesh. As the water nymph caressed his forehead comfortingly, the last of his hair floated away from his bald, scaly head. The humiliation of baldness pierced his mind and he let out a terrified cry.
“Help,” he screamed, “I am becoming a fish!”
“Cazort, love, don’t be alarmed,” the water nymph said, tickling his tender gill-slits to calm him, “I had to transform you into an eel, or you would have drowned! How else could you have lived with two broken legs at the bottom of a well?”
“I’m going to spend the rest of my life as an ugly, slimy eel?” he shuddered, alarmed. “Couldn’t you have considered a more dignified creature to change me into?!”
“No,” she cried, “it’s the only way. Eels are the only fish that can thrive in both salt and fresh water. Once your transformation is complete, we can travel together to the sea king Nettino. He will be able to heal you and grant us forms that will allow us to live together. In only a few weeks, we can be together.”
Cazort was silent, trying to comprehend his new situation.
“I’m sorry, Cazort, I did not wish to upset you,” she whispered, hurt. She turned away from him, undone by his silence.
Cazort continued to untangle his emotions, wavering between the shock of being covered in new flesh and desiring to comfort the woman that he had loved for so long. Finally, he slid around her, entangling himself in her hair, and wept.
The water nymph shook him free, trying to meet him eye-to-eye. He was back soon enough, hiding in the luxurious forest of her hair.
“I want to hold you,” he sighed with infinite sadness, “I want to have fingers to run through your hair, I want to have hair for you to run your fingers through. I want to talk with you and laugh with you and live with you forever...”
“I know,” she said simply, “It will happen, love.”
“Thank you for saving my life,” Cazort spoke, still unnerved. Then he shook himself and asked, “Love, what is your name, now that you can have one?”
“I have no name,” she spoke, reaching up through her hair to stroke his back. “You must name me.”
“You are depending upon your pet eel for a name?” he scoffed.
“Darling, when I was a salamander, and you placed me in a lantern to shelter me from the rain, was I your pet?” she asked.
“At no time. We were equals.”
“And we’re equals still. Cazort, just because you are an eel, it doesn’t mean that you’re my pet.”
“It just feels so odd...”
“I know. When you transformed me into a water nymph, it was alarming. I had so many new things to learn, and it felt so strange being inside another body! — but I’ve learned how to cope, and so will you, dear.”
He shuddered, coiling around her tighter. “The night that your flame went out, I thought you were dead! How did you manage to escape Holzer?”
“I don’t know. When he touched me, he stole my fire. I could feel my essence changing. Then you extinguished us both. Your tears bathed me, and I clung to them, following them down into an underground stream. I don’t know what has happened to Holzer, but I know he isn’t a water spirit. He’s still out there. I’ve been so worried for you...” she sighed, “until now. I can’t believe you jumped down a well to find me,” she smiled. “Thank you.”
“I grieved so much when you disappeared,” Cazort said with a sigh. “I wanted to die with you. I know that a human and a salamander can never love one another, but life has been so miserable without you. You’ve burnt my heart, love, and it wants more.”
* * *
Thereafter time was full of pleasure and comfort. Cazort learned that his scales were very ticklish for water nymphs. He would spend the days brushing his sleek body behind her ears, around her tender neck and waist, wrapping around her in endless play.
There was no haste to find Nettino and gain a new form. Finally reunited with his water nymph love, Cazort spent every waking moment with her, laughing with her, holding her, chasing her. She would change shape and size, sometimes the size of a human, sometimes the size of a trout. They would race from one end of the well to the other until they slept side by side in exhausted slumber.
He was thus engaged chasing his watery love when a fishhook fell down into the water. Cazort did not recognize it with his water-weakened eyes, but he surely felt it as it gored his side. He soon found himself tangled and trapped upon its barb.
At the sight of his blood, the water nymph paled. “I’ll help you!” she cried, ignoring his protests.
“Don’t! It’s made of Cold Iron, you won’t be able to help, love!” he moaned. “Darling, love, flee! I don’t want you hurt, too!”
She would not listen. She freed his tailfin as gently as she could, trying not to touch the iron fishhook. The presence of Cold Iron weakened her and she fell senseless upon it. It pierced her back, lifting her up and out of the water. Cazort clung to her, trying to pull her free, but as she was lifted out of the well his grip failed him and he fell onto the rough ground with a thud. Out of water, he had only enough strength to survive and gasp for breath.
Although in a new form, Cazort instantly recognized the one who fished them out of the well. He leapt up, trying in vain to rescue his mate from her Fey suitor, Holzer.
“Holzer, no, please!” the water nymph cried, shrinking herself to the size of a trout to preserve her strength out of water.
“Be my mate or perish,” the kobold growled, clutching at her with an unyielding grip.
“No! Just leave us be!” she gasped, fainting from the effort of survival.
“Us?” Holzer asked, taking a sudden interest in the eel at his feet. “Us?” Why, Cazort, how fitting!” He laughed in glee, tossing aside the spent body of the water nymph to devote his full attention to his rival. Baring his elfin dagger from its sheath at his belt, he grasped the eel in one hand and sliced at his flesh.
“I’ll tear out your heart, as you tore away mine,” Holzer continued to rant in anger. “She was mine, you bastard! I loved her and you stole her from me! And now you can have her — her corpse, at least! And die like the scum-sucking lamprey you are!”
As the kobold began to gut him, Cazort felt how carelessly he was being held. Holzer’s thumb was wrapped loosely around his neck, immobilizing his fins but not his head. All of his anger and pain compelled an idea into the eel’s brain. He thrashed against his captor’s hand and bit his thumb with all of his might, and soon felt Fey ichor gushing onto his scaly sides. Holzer cursed and tried to shake the eel free, but Cazort held tight, determined to hold on. Finally Holzer was able to shake the dying eel from his nearly severed thumb and threw him in disgust onto the ground. He staggered away weakly, collapsing nearby.
Cazort dropped on the soft sod, exhausted from the pain and effort. As Holzer stumbled away, he slithered to the fading body of his water nymph love. He curled around her form, using the slime of his flesh to keep her alive. As he held her, he watched her body tremble and he knew that she would not survive without water.
“I’m sorry,” she breathed, resting her cheek on his flanks. She closed her eyes in sleep and it began to rain.
Cazort clung to consciousness and the body of his beloved. The mud and the mist kept him alive, but his innards and blood were seeping from his wounds into the earth. At last he could sense the ground shaking with the pulse of approaching footsteps. He felt the heat of his rescuer’s hands upon him, pulling him out of the puddle of gore in which he lay. A familiar face hovered over him, scrutinizing his features.
Cazort spent the last of his energy trying to recognize his rescuer’s voice: “I think I’ve found Cazort.”
“What about the water nymph?” a far-off voice asked.
His rescuer answered in sorrowful silence, and then Cazort knew no more.
* * *
Cazort awoke to the sound of his friend’s voice. “Oren?” he croaked.
“Yes,” the kobold replied, relieved. “How do you feel, Cazort?”
He groaned in response, sore. “What happened?”
“Too much to tell. What do you remember?”
He struggled to sit upright and put his thoughts in order, but Oren gently pushed him back down into the basin he lay in.
“Try not to move,” the kobold warned.
“I’m still an eel,” Cazort said, remembering his transformation and realizing he lay underwater. “Is that why I’m in a washtub?”
“Yes. L’in and I rescued you in time, but your transformation isn’t complete yet. You’ll be in this basin for a while longer.”
“How did you find me?”
“We were worried for you when you didn’t come for your weekly visit. We saw how disheveled your garden was and knew something had happened,” Oren laughed. “We searched for you, and found you as an eel beside your garden well.”
“How am I alive? Holzer gutted me,” he asked, then gnawed on that information.
“Because you weren’t just an eel. The water nymph made you Fey before she transformed you into an eel. She made her ichor flow through your veins so that nothing could come between you and her.”
“But she’s dead now, isn’t she?” Cazort asked quietly.
“L’in and I think that her soul evaporated once she was caught. In times of crisis, water nymphs retreat into the clouds to recover. We think she caused the rain that kept you alive.”
“But I held her as she died,” he said sadly.
“But Fey don’t die, they merely transform,” Oren explained. “I didn’t die when I was caught by humans; my spirit bonded with human flesh and I was transformed into a halfling. The same thing happened to my mate. And your salamander love transformed into a water nymph. She would have only died if she had collapsed on dressed stone and was unable to gain the strength of the earth to heal.”
“So she’s out there somewhere where Holzer can pursue her? Will she ever be safe from him?”
“Cazort,” Oren laughed, “You defeated him. You will never see him again.”
“How?” he asked, trying to remember. “How can an eel kill someone?”
“You bit off his thumb.”
“How can I manage to survive evisceration, but he doesn’t survive an eel bite?”
“The bite was poisonous. Eel venom is incurable.”
“And Holzer died?” he asked, hopefully.
“Remember, Fey don’t die, they transform,” Oren repeated, “Holzer passed out on the dressed stones of your garden well. He has become a spirit of stone, unable to harm another being ever again.”
“How is this possible?” Cazort groaned, still balking at the facts.
“Because she loves you. And she wanted you to live with her forever,” he replied.
“What if I’ve lost her?” he sighed, lovesick.
“Do not give up hope, friend,” Oren said. “The clouds are gathering around us, and they look heavy with snow. She may come to you as soon as tomorrow.”
He was silent for a long time, trying to remember with his mind still pressed by sleep. Finally he uttered anxiously, “Oren?”
“If it starts to snow before I wake up, can you drag my basin outside? Maybe it can catch her.”
A thin smile crept over Oren’s face. “Of course. I’ll drag you out into the garden, and you’ll be sure to catch her.”
* * *
Cazort awoke, chilled. Snow was falling on his bare form and his sense of propriety told him not to be naked in a snowstorm. He groped around with his fingers in search of clothing. As he searched, he realized that he had fingers again.
He opened his eyes in bewilderment and realized that his human flesh had been restored. Although his pulse quickened as he realized this, he instantly remembered with a shudder the pain that awaited him if he moved his legs. He had not yet ventured to look below the waterline of the wooden water trough in which he had been placed. His human legs were broken; no amount of elfin healing would change that in such a short time. He remained cautiously immobile until curiosity eventually overtook him.
“I do hope they remembered to keep some clothes on me,” he muttered anxiously. He tested his legs by trying to bend his knees, but his limbs resisted his commands. As he cursed, throwing his arms up in desperation of paralysis, his lower half finally complied to his will.
Cazort stared, dumbfounded, as a fin crept out of the water.
It took several moments for him to realize that the fin was his.
Quickly he placed his fingers about his neck to confirm that his gill-slits still remained at his jawline. He was a merman, sitting naked in a water trough.
He heard footsteps approaching and he looked frantically for some shred of clothing. A quick examination of his waist, however, revealed another set of gill-slits and a few modestly-placed scales covering his loins. He sighed in relief, although he still shivered from a mind uneasy without clothes.
“Cazort, you’re shivering,” Oren said, kneeling to face his new-formed friend. “Here,” he said, offering him a sweater. In moments Cazort was covered in wool.
“Welcome to your new body. You have a few instructions, but you’ll figure the rest of it out,” Oren continued, nudging the sweater over his friend’s new dorsal fin. “This is your dorsal fin. Don’t let anyone hurt it. If someone cuts it off, you’re human. Mortal. Done for. So be careful.”
“Thanks,” Cazort spluttered.
“This is your tailfin,” Oren said, dipping his arms into the water and fishing around for his friend’s extremities. “It enables you to swim. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble figuring out how.”
“Thanks,” the merman continued, trying to absorb his feelings.
“This,” he said, pointing to the fish-flesh, “you’ll need to clean regularly. Don’t let barnacles grow on you; it’s fashionable among merfolk, but unpleasant to look at.”
“Anything else?” The kobold scoured his mind for any remaining nuggets of wisdom.
“Do you think only water nymphs know of the great sea king Nettino, or his transformative potions?” he winked.
“Oren, I don’t know how you managed to do this, but thank you. Thank you for everything. Even if she is gone, thank you for everything,” Cazort spluttered sadly.
“She’ll be here,” Oren growled.
“Oren,” the merman began, but his resolve faltered.
“I’m going inside,” Oren said, standing up. “I hope you find her tonight.” Patting him on the shoulder, he turned away and left.
“Thank you,” Cazort said, unsure if Oren had heard him.
He closed his eyes and began to wait. He felt the snow falling around him; as the storm whipped up, the flakes still fell on him gently. Each snowflake was a tender kiss upon his flesh until she was there, in his arms, chilled but whole.
“Cazort,” the water nymph said with a sly smile.
“My love! Caerula!”
She smiled. “You’ve named me.”
“Caerula, my sky-blue darling,” he beamed, “I’ll love you always.”
“How?” she asked desperately, resting her head upon his chest. “If I’m a water nymph, and you’re a...”
“Merman?” he asked, raising his tailfin from the water and showing her his new form. “Oren and L’in have healed me. Now we can be together, and neither water nor fire can keep us apart, love.”
“Oh!” she sobbed. “Thank the Fates! But... what about Holzer?” she whispered anxiously.
“He sleeps as a spirit of stone,” Cazort smiled, caressing her cheek. “My snowflake.”
“My eel,” she returned, then opened her eyes to see the red patches on his flesh. “The burns! Your hands are still scarred!” she cried, dismayed.
He pressed her palm in his, replying, “And my flesh is still covered in eel skin, love. I will bear them forever as a token of my love for you.” He kissed his scarred fingertips, then hers in reverence.
“As I will bear the name you have given me as a token of my love for you.” She sighed, snuggling into his wet sweater, smoothing out its wrinkles. She stopped when she felt a bulge in one of the breast pockets.
“What is it?” he asked.
“A vial with a note,” she replied, “What does the writing say?”
“They must be yet another one of Nettino’s potions. ’Human-for-a-day drops.’ Hmmm... Caerula, why don’t we try these out and find a nice lake to settle down in? Are you in the mood for a happy ending to our little tale?” he asked.
“Very much so!” she gasped, pulling him down into the water to put to test his underwater kissing abilities.
Copyright © 2008 by Kristin A. Masters