Singing Nymph’s dwelling wasn’t far away: Penny and she only needed to swim about two hundred and fifty feet to reach one of the numerous huts that made up the pod’s living area. From the outside it look remarkably like every other building: a rectangular space perhaps twenty feet by fifteen feet with a dome-like roof maybe fifteen feet high. Just like with the building they had just left this made sense to Penny, for a mermaid wasn’t going the walk around their living area, she would swim. And they need that space to move around, particularly if there was another person with them.
The entrance was covered over with seaweed, which again made sense to Penny: doors would be unnecessary in the ocean, but a mermaid would probably still enjoy a little privacy. Singing Nymph pushed through the seaweed door and Penny followed.
The inside of Singing Nymph’s dwelling was rather spartan. The far end of the space consisted of a seaweed hammock attached to the walls and ceiling with strands of something that seemed to be organic. Closer to the entrance were two more hammocks that seemed more for reclining and sitting than sleeping. The wall opposite the entrance had a space set aside for what appeared to be various forms of body jewelry, and wall immediately to the right as he entered the dwelling had several racks made of what look like bone protruding from the wall where there was a variety of weapons.
Singing Nymph set her spear onto one of the racks before swimming into the center of the dwelling. She held out her arms and looked to her left and right. “Here it is. This is been mine for the last five years.”
Penny slipped the nylon carryall offer back. “How old are you?”
Singing Nymph took the carryall and set it on a hook where the body jewelry hung. “I’m twenty-three.”
“So double my age.”
“Yes.” Singing Nymph pointed out the different objects in the room. “The weapons you can figure out; I would prefer if you leave those alone for now. These—” She pointed to the two reclining hammocks. “—are for resting and sitting. Behind me is the bed. And over where I put your carryall, that’s where I keep my body adornments.”
Penny floated over and check out the jewelry. “There’s like a couple of dozen items here.”
“Yes, there are. Mermaids like to adorn themselves: that’s our one way of expressing her individuality. It’s funny that I wasn’t wearing anything today; I overslept this morning and decided I would put on something after I got back from patrol.”
“I see.” Penny turned so she faced her cousin. “My grandmothers had tattooing. Do a lot of mermaids have that?”
“It’s mostly the older ones who get that.” Singing Nymph smiled. “And by older, I mean those mermaids of reached about thirty years of age, when our bodies will pretty much stay the same for about a hundred years.”
“How do they do them? And what makes them glow like that?”
“An artist mixes squid ink with bioluminescent secretions. The ink is actually chiseled into the skin: the next time you’re close to your binding grandmothers take a look and you’ll see the raised surfaces on their body.”
Penny wanted to ask why the term “binding grandmothers” was being used, but figured she discovered this information later. “I’ll do that.”
Singing Nymph pull the chain that seemed to be made out of amethyst and emeralds and wrapped it around her waist so it hung off her hips and just below where her human-like abdomen merged with her scaly tail. She grabbed another article of jewelry off the wall and turned to Penny. “I had this when I was about your age; I think it’ll make a good first adornment for you.”
She slipped a loop over Penny’s head and pulled her hair out of the way so it rested around her neck like a necklace. It hung down in front of Penny’s torso and Singing Nymph showed her how to full her tailfins and slipped them through the bottom loop. Once the jewelry was in place it look like a harness of emeralds that ran down her torso and were secured at her neck and blow her butt.
Penny looked at down herself and admired how she looked. “Where you find all these gems?”
Singing Nymph smiled. “They’re all over if you know where look for them.”
“Well, I’d like to look for a few.” She smiled back at her cousin. “Thanks.”
“Thank you. It was the least I can do.”
“So…” Penny glanced at the reclining hammocks. “Do you want me to sleep over here?”
“Of course not.” Singing Nymph floated backwards and touched the large mass of seaweed behind her. “You’ll sleep here, with me.”
Penny felt a quick clutch in her chest. Not only was she used to having her own bed, but she had never considered sleeping with someone twice her age. “I don’t—”
Singing Nymph was in front of her with two quick flicks of her tail. “Little Bubbles, how old were you when you stopped sleeping with your binding mother?”
“Do you mean my mom?”
“I was about eight.”
“Really. And you’re eleven now?” Singing Nymph chuckled. “You never thought it was unusual you’ve only been sleeping alone for three years?”
The moment her cousin brought up her former sleeping arrangements, it became clear that Penny hadn’t thought it unusual that she shared a bed with her mother until she was about eight and a half years old. Up until the moment she got her own room in bed, Penny sort of assumed this was normal. “That’s something mermaids do, isn’t it?”
Singing Nymph gave a slight nod. “It is. Mermaids are extremely communal creatures; we enjoyed being around each other. It’s rare for mermaid to ever want to be alone and if she is, she really stays alone for long. They’re just over a hundred of us in this pod, and you’ll find that you almost always have one of us. You at all times.
“And when it comes to sleeping, we’re just as communal. I’ve only recently received my own dwelling, and it is an unusual for another mermaid to come over and spend the evening with me. We find it comforting to have someone next to us while we sleep.” She gave Penny a warm smile. “I assure you, in a day or so it’s going to feel normal to you.”
Realizing she came to the pod to learn of her mother’s culture, Penny nodded and smiled back. “I guess I will.” She swam over to the hammock. “Is there a blanket that goes over this?”
“No. Let me show you—” Singing Nymph swim to the end on Penny’s left and spread the hammock apart, then slid inside with a few flips of her tail. Her head popped out the other end, resting against the bottom half of the hanging seaweed bed. “See? The top is a little shorter than the bottom, so we stay nice and comfortable.”
“It’s like a big sleeve. Your tail is hanging at the other end.”
“It’s all right: it doesn’t get cold.” Singing Nymph drew her arm out and motioned toward Penny. “Come on; you try it.”
Penny swam down by her cousin’s tail and pulled open the seaweed hammock, noticing there was more than enough room for them both. Doing exactly is Singing Nymph did, sliding inside and moving up through the sleeve with just a few, lazy slaps of her tail. A second later she was resting next to Singing Nymph, her back pressed against her cousin. “This is kinda comfortable.”
“I think you’ll find it exceptionally comfortable. In case you are wondering, when we get out in the morning just give you tail a couple of quick flips—”
“And will pop out the other end.” Penny did that and was up and over the hammock and swimming toward the center of the room in a matter of seconds. She waited for her cousin to join her before she spoke again. “So, what you want to show me next?”