Sample Sunday – A Mermaid In The Desert

Here is another sample from my novel EEL’S REVERENCE. That’s EEL’S REVERENCE, as in Reverence belonging to The Eel. I thought it was a nifty title, but people seem to have trouble with it. Too late, now.

Here’s what the book, a fantasy, is about: In the coastal area known as The Eel, a Coalition of “reaver” priests coerce and oppress humans and mermayds alike. When an elderly “true” priest known as Aunt Libby happens into The Eel, she’s forcibly set up in her own temple by a merchant set on using her presence to negotiate better terms from the Coalition. With the common folk ready to rally for revolution with the pacifist Aunt Libby as their figurehead, she needs every scrap of cleverness, will-power, guile and bad temper she has to out-maneuver both her enemies and her friends.

At one point, the young mermayd, Loach, finds himself stranded in an oasis town.

Loach, saturated with sensations, fell without warning into lassitude. His high spirits turned sulky, grainy, raw-nerved. He had a cramp all down his tail. His fluke felt cold, as if its circulation were being interfered with. He craved water, preferably temperate and salt but, ultimately, water of any sort. His instinct urged him to head for the lake at the base of the city. He turned his horse toward the cliffs and left the bazaar behind.

The people of Batumi gave the scowling mermayd a wide berth. Some had seen mermayds before, but none traveling alone, and none who looked so ripe for trouble.

Loach stopped. His head went up, his back straightened. He had heard, he had smelled—living water.

He looked around. The bustle of the bazaar lay five arcs back. The waterfall still lay far ahead. To either side rose walls, blank and solid.

The crescent where the walls ended was one of shops catering to the local populace. Some were imposing and carried goods marked up from the bazaar, some were modest and dealt in the higher classes’ castoffs.

And there were temples. Few and far between, Loach could see the flash of a reaver temple. More often, he saw temples adorned by nothing richer than a carving of an oasis, a painting of waves with a man rising out of them, or a statue of a wolf fashioned out of local materials.

True priests! thought Loach. If true priests have water, they’ll share it. Thanks be to Micah for this blessing given a foolish old woman: Because he had met me, Loach recognized the real thing when he saw it, and knew what it meant.

The splashing had come from his left and sounded louder now. To his left stretched a colonnade, open on three sides. Under the sweet shade of the colonnade’s roof, rising from the packed red sand, a fountain played. Over the basin curved a figure that might have been a man or a mermayd, and from it poured and plashed water—free, for the poor.

Loach slid from his horse and undulated toward the fountain. His horse came with him, drawn by its own thirst. Loach plunged his hands and arms up to his shoulders into the basin.

Nothing had ever felt so good. Loach, foolhardy and inexperienced, hadn’t realized how quickly his cheap gillband had been desiccating. He knew, now, how much of his debility had been conservation of energy; his waterlust, a final push for survival.

A priest came out of the temple. He looked only fourteen, just out of the seminary. Slight but muscular, he had the markings of a worker: oversized hands thickened with callouses and skin sun-darkened to the color of mahogany.

He had apparently never seen a mermayd before. His astonishment and delight carried him closer to Loach than his courtesy would have permitted.

Loach drew back and put his hands on his knives. He opened his inner lids. The priest’s dusty green cassock reassured him, and he relaxed.

“Welcome,” said the priest. He hesitated, trying to think of something else to say. “I’m Uncle Endo. Welcome.”

Loach was touched and amused.

“You’re from the coast. Well, of course you’re from the coast.” Uncle Endo bit his lower lip and stood silent and staring, with a smile of such hopeless friendliness, Loach couldn’t resist it.

“Thanks for the water,” he said. “It saved my life.”

“That’s what it’s for. I’m glad. Come in.”

“No, thanks.” Loach coiled into a sitting position. “The last temple I went into, I had to be dragged. That’s where they did this to me.”

Priests did that to you?”

“Churchwardens, but a priest gave the order. Not a true priest; the kind we have in the Eel.”

“I don’t understand. Even a reaver wouldn’t—”

“That’s it! That’s what she called them.”

“But that isn’t…reavers don’t…”

“She didn’t believe me, either.”

“Who didn’t?”

“Aunt Libby… This real old…” Loach’s voice faded into a gasp. The dousing with fresh water had given Loach’s gillband only a temporary reprieve. Now he clutched at it, blank-eyed, and flopped sideways, toward the fountain.

EEL’S REVERENCE is available for $2.99 for Kindle, Nook and at OminiLit in many electronic formats.

WRITING PROMPT: What is the worst environment in which you could strand your main character? In space? At a flower show?



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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