In the Gardens: Part Five

The brittle stars and bio-luminescent flowers swirled by in the vortex, Leura really hoped wherever the tunnels took her this time would be new. Not as though the Gardens and Ilzenor hadn’t been a pleasing departure from the norm, but she wanted to see something new. Though rarely did her vacations from the sea last long, she hoped the guardian would suffice for Chysial-iun longer than usual. In that time, Leura hoped to see a couple different locations throughout the land. And, if the old god demanded another tribute soon, Leura could only hope he ask for something less troublesome to collect. Yet, in the way of things, she also knew her luck wasn’t enough for that. Nor was it even enough for her to come across anything enjoyable in her travels.

As she broke the surface of the water, something, not heavy but a bit sharp made contact with her forehead. Shaking off the sudden jarring sensation of it, Leura cast a glare in the direction it came, almost reminded of the witch’s whip. However, instead of a pumpkin-faced old woman standing beside a pond, Ilzenor sat dressed down from his armor, wearing a less than surprised look. He was stripped to the waist in only trouser that were slicked and wet, rolled to the knee. In his hands were several marks from one of the sky-lands, their coinage dented as was the custom for them. With an unexpected grin, he tossed the coins to his side and slid into the sun-warmed waters.

“What are you doing here? I thought… well no, I suppose… Is this the same place I met you last time?” Leura asked hurriedly, trying to decide if she was losing it or if the knight was stalking her.
With a hearty laugh, Ilzenor answered, “What are you talking about, Leura? It’s the Gardens, of course, I probably should have moved on from now, but after all that travel, I needed some rest.”
“How do I keep coming back here!? I just want to go somewhere new, see some more of the world, instead its these woods the past three times. What is so special about this place, anyhow?” the mermaid demanded, a bit flustered.
The silver-haired man shrugged though kept his grin, “The Gardens are just the Gardens, they’re like this year-round but don’t get too many visitors. It’s the old witches; they keep the village folk away, I think.”
“The witch! She did something to me, I bet. Whatever she doused me with did something, and now my sense of direction is all messed up, that’s why I ran into the eel. Oh, I’ll get that old hag one way or another!” she splashed through the water’s surface with her fist.

Allowing the merm a moment to become a tad more level-headed, Ilzenor remarked, “You know, I don’t have all the best experience with witches, but I could find one of the old women of the woods and see if they can help you. They don’t take kindly to breaking hexes and usually demand a high price, but if it would help you.”
“You’d do that for me? Seek out one of those old crusty things and try to help me? What’s your catch?” Leura asked with a raised brow.
He shrugged in return, “A question, or the answer to it if you’ve got it.”
“Well, I can see if I know it or if anyone under the sea has an answer. What do you want to know?” despite wanting to be more apprehensive in dealing with a human, Leura found herself warming to this overly kind man.
Rubbing at a series of scars in his left shoulder, some that featured shards of some emerald material, Ilzenor attempted his best nonchalance, “Just, if it’s possible for some land walker like me to becoming a swimmer like you.”

Awestruck, Leura floated staring at the man, incapable of giving voice to an answer or even able to formulate one in her mind. After a few silent minutes, Ilzenor pulled himself out of the pond before laying himself out in the fading sun. There was a knowledge that what he asked was taboo, perhaps he thought a merm would understand it, but again Ilzenor admitted he may be wrong. After what felt too long, Leura swam to his side and peered over the lip of stone to look upon the man. He was so still and quiet, breathing so relaxed that Leura thought him to be sleeping. As gently as she could, she stretched over to touch the gem-stone like protrusion on his far shoulder. They felt smoother than any stone tumbled by the current yet almost soft like a gel but entirely stuck.

With an uncaring calm, Ilzenor asked, “Do you like them?”
“Like them? I don’t know, they’re just different, I suppose, I guess I couldn’t tell you, having lived in the sea all my life,” Leura responded nervously.
Turning his head to face her, Ilzenor said with a less than content expression, “It’s what you get sometimes when you go against the clans. Certain things you can’t talk about, somethings you shouldn’t ask.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you, and I suppose it’s not going to make it any better if I tell you I don’t know if a man can become a merm. But that doesn’t mean I won’t look and that I can’t ask around, ok?” Leura questioned, concerned too evident in her tone.
Patting her pale pink hand where it lay on him, the knight responded, “And I’ll talk to the witches. I will find whichever one hexed you and get it undone, no matter the cost.”
“Shouldn’t be throwing all your coins in the pond then, I’m sure that hag wasn’t too keen on what I said to her,” the merm responded with a chuckle.
Shaking his head, Ilzenor remarked, “Money doesn’t mean a thing to them, they just want things they can use for their craft. But I doubt I should find anything they’d so desire around here unless a gryphon or dragon or something of the like pass through.”
“Would these help? I mean, humans barter with them, why not witches?” Leura set a handful of scales on Ilzenor’s chest.
He looked to her fondly, “Funny you say that most only trade for scales to make deals with witches. I didn’t want to say it and put you out, but maybe I can fix this much quicker with this and what you’ve already given me.”
“And who knows, maybe once I’m free from this little hex, we can swim together to all sorts of place,” Leura spoke more lovingly than she’d have liked yet couldn’t help but meaning it. He may have been a human and something of a stranger, but something about Ilzenor was making Leura glad she had met him thrice now.

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