As they approached the pod location Penny had no idea what to expect. Cinematically she’d seen that mermaids live in grandiose cities or spend all their time surrounded by forest of seaweed and kelp, but what she did not expect was what she saw five minutes after encountering Singing Nymph: a collection of dozens of structures that appear to be built out of stone and mud surrounding a central depression that looked as if it served as a type of amphitheater.
It was only when they were within a hundred feet of the outer ring of huts that Penny saw the other mermaids. Five or six of them seemed to be swimming around; some carrying objects, some just swimming together. All stopped and turned in her direction as they glided over the pod huts, something that Penny expected due to her being a stranger in this group.
Penny quickly noticed that the tail of every mermaid possessed a series of different colors and patterns, and that no two seemed to be like. Colors appeared to go from grayish black to whitish yellow, with patterns ranging from speckles to stripes that went in every direction, including some that seem to be heart, star, and diamond shape. Since all mermaids were female and probably looked alike from a distance, the color and patterns of one’s tail could immediately tell one whom they were seeing.
Singing Nymph eventually floated towards the entrance of one of the larger structures in the mermaid village and motioned Penny inside. The space looked large enough to hold a few dozen people and there were several rocks of various size place that positions all around the interior. Singing Nymph stop near the middle of the room and turned to Penny. “You wait here for a few minutes: I’ll be back with some people who want to speak with you.”
Penny looked around the room. “I know this is going to be a stupid question, but—”
“Get your butt on a rock and curl your tail around you.” Singing Nymph chuckled. “Don’t worry, it’s gonna take you some time to figure these things out. I’ll be right back.” She hoisted her weapon to her side and darted out the door.
Penny took in the room around her. It was bare and unadorned, but there was plenty of light due to the natural bio-luminescence in the room. She realized there wouldn’t be paintings or murals, but she wondered if there was any sort of art gracing a mermaid’s existence. Her mother loved artwork, as made evident by the paintings throughout their home in Albuquerque, and wondered if she picked up her appreciation after coming out of the ocean, or while she lived here.
Two mermaids swam into the room and expertly sat themselves down on rocks about ten feet from Penny. These were the first mermaids she’d seen up close other than Singing Nymph, and what surprised her the most was that they actually looked like middle aged women. Given what Penny knew about the longevity of mermaids, she immediately guessed that these two were older than her mother.
They were also the first she’d seen who were adorned. Both had colorful ribbons of some material weaved into their hair, and around their waist where skin seamlessly merged into tail, there hung necklaces that to Penny’s untrained eye looked as if they were made of precious stones.
What was most unusual, however, was that both women possessed tattoos. The brunette on her left had a sunburst pattern on her right shoulder that glowed a soft green, while the mermaid with almost greenish blue hair on her right possessed an intricate pattern across her lower abdomen that seemed to be a combination of black and red. Since she had not seen these markings on the other mermaids, Penny wondered if they indicated some sort of significance within the pod.
There was one last thing she noticed: both mermaids wore bracelets made of stones that resembled emeralds and diamonds on their left wrists. Though it had registered at the time, she now saw that Singing Nymph—who was now floating just inside the entrance to the building—were the same sort of bracelet. Penny’s mind immediately connected those bracelets to something important, for could not be a coincidence that all three possess the same kind in style on their left wrists.
After a couple of moments of examination the brunette mermaid spoke. “It is our understanding you claim to be the daughter of Crimson Mane of Raging Sea Foam. That is correct?”
Penny nodded. “Yes, she’s my mother.” She slipped the nylon carry pack off her back and removed the laminated photo which she held out to the other mermaids. “This is a picture of my mother and me. I figured you might want to see it.”
The mermaid with the bluish-green hair swept off her stone and took the photo from Penny. With a quick flick of her tail she propelled back to the other mermaid so that they could examine the photos together. After five seconds the one who’d taken the photo address Penny for the first time. “Your mother has become quite the beautiful woman.”
“She’s really is beautiful.” Penny shrugged. “She keeps telling me I’m going to be that way one day.”
“It’s quite likely you will.” She handed the photo back to Penny and then returned to her rock. “We were told that your name is Little Bubbles of the Northern River Forest?”
“Do you know why you were given that name?”
“Mama told me it was because I was conceived near Portland, Oregon, which is on the shores of the Columbia River.” She looked down for a minute. “And that runs through pretty big forest.”
The brunette mermaid nodded. “Yes, we are both familiar with that body of water. And, I believe, that it is undeniable that you are the daughter of Crimson Mane.” She turned to the mermaid on her left. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
“I would.” Blue-Green Mermaid gave Penny a warm smile. “Little Bubbles, why have you come to us?”
Penny had spent a few days rehearsing his speech, not knowing if she would have to give it, but prepared to do so if necessary. “I only discovered my true nature a year ago and I’ve grown curious about this life that belonged to my mother. It’s been a long time since she’s been here—”
Both the older mermaids nodded with the brunette speaking. “That is true.”
“Since I want to know about this life, about how mermaids live, I knew the only way I could do so was by coming here. I figured if nothing else, I would have family here who could teach me.”
Again the mermaids looked between them with the brunette responding. “And how long do you intend to live among us?”
Penny gave a slight shrug. “I just turned eleven, so I figured I could live here until I was eighteen.” A crooked smile formed upon her face. “Or until you got tired of me and threw me out.”
“I can assure you we will not throw you out.” The brunette sat back on her rock and seemed to draw herself upright even more so. “And, you do have family here who will look after you. I am Swirling Maelstrom of Mid-Ocean, and this is Breaking Waves of the Tremendous Storm. We are the binding mothers of Crimson Mane.” As the older mermaid held the others hand, Swirling Maelstrom nodded toward Penny. “That makes you our binding granddaughter.”
Breaking Waves floated off her rock and held open her arms. “Welcome to the pod, Little Bubbles.”
Penny pushed off from her rock and swam into the waiting arms of Breaking Waves, hugging her as Swirling Maelstrom joined in the hug. When they finished Penny looked up into their smiling faces, feeling waves of adoration washing over her. “Thank you for having me.”
“What sort of binding grandmothers would we be if we turned you away?” Breaking Waves turned toward Penny’s cousin. “Singing Nymph the Bringer of Death?”
The young mermaid almost snapped to attention. “Yes?”
“I would like you to take Little Bubbles as your apprentice; she needs someone good to train her so we’re assured she’ll reached the Age of Attainment.” She gave the young mermaid a quizzical look. “Is that something you can do?”
“Yes, Breaking Waves.”
There were quick nods between both older mermaids. Breaking Waves patted Penny on the back. “Go with your cousin: from this point on she is your mentor. You will follow everything she says and learn from her—and it is important that you follow her without question.” She gave her granddaughter a serious look. “The things she will teach you could actually become a matter of life or death.”
Penny tried not to look afraid. “Yes, Grandmother.”
“Come on, Little Bubbles.” Singing Nymph motioned the girl to her side. She gave both the older mermaids a quick bow then swam out of the building with Penny close behind. “My dwelling is over here. Let’s get you settled in…”