Titannius lounged back on a rocky ledge in the cavern used for confidential discussions. Measuring eight feet from his head to his large translucent fluke, he was the longest of all those in the local mer-folk community. His white hair fell to his broad shoulders and was plentiful. Muscular arms, big webbed hands and a heavy-set torso and tail made him an imposing figure. Scales which had long ago were golden-brown had retained their shine but were now silvery-blue.
“Selena, your devotion to the welfare of our race is beyond reproach, but that does not mean you ought to place yourself in danger.”
“Is it not true that you speak of the greater good, my lord?”
“Let’s clear up one small matter before we address the greater good.” The clicks and tones emitted from the great merman were as rapid as any of his kind, but much deeper in resonance. “While in this chamber, I do not expect one such as you to address me as your lord.” His lips twitched and his rippling torso trembled as he laughed. “I am well into my second century, and have considerable influence, but this does not mean that I am greater than you, or infallible.”
Selena said, “You have guided our people since before I came to be, and without exception we will abide by any decision you make.”
“That idea pleases me, because, before it becomes too late to take part, I intend to play a major role in whosoever succeeds me.”
“This is as it should be, great Titannius. I am confident, as all others are, that you will be our leader for much longer before you request that another takes your place.”
“I recall when I was as youthful and spritely as you, Selena, prepared to face untold dangers on behalf of our brothers and sisters of the oceans.” He paused and studied the sea nymph. “Do you know what age I was when elevated to the status of community leader?”
“It’s not an area I ponder often, but I believe that you had reached your half-century, having gathered much wisdom. As I have been taught, you were young and had gained tremendous respect from your peers and superiors alike.”
He nodded. “An older person, with a well-developed knowledge and approachable character is how many perceive a leader. Back then, I was not yet a half-century, Selena, I was about your age when I first accepted the mantle of leadership.”
Selena’s double eyelids flickered in admiration. “If so, you must have amassed much of your knowledge since taking over such a responsible position.”
“Yes, it is so, my dear. There may be cultures where an elder statesman is the desired leader because of an already supposed wealth of knowledge. Our people have known this for a long time and pondered the reasoning. It was decided a long time ago that it was better to have someone younger, with a thirst for knowledge who was capable of listening and helping to choose a positive direction.”
“I understand the need for such a person, and also for having a regularly changing counsel. By maintaining a leader and changing the counsel, we have refreshed ideas but we retain a strong hand to guide our people.”
Titannius nodded. “When granted the authority to make certain decisions, so too must we accept the burden of responsibility.” He held the gaze of the youthful beauty. “I know, of course, of the terra-folk’s exploration of our home and for the past while, I have sat in discussion with the counsel regarding action.”
“Have you come to a decision which you can relate to me, great Titannius?”
“I have not, but by telling you this, you might wonder why we are here to talk in private.”
“I would not presume to guess.” Selena sat on her rocky platform and waited patiently.
“It has come to my notice that you have recently been putting yourself in great danger.”
“I would not put the lives of our people in danger—”
Titannius nodded sagely and raised a hand for silence. “Let us dispense with trivialities, Selena. Earlier, I sensed a troubled mind and found your good friend Coralina sitting alone in a chamber. When I asked what caused her smooth brow to be creased in worry, she tried to smile and cast away the notion.”
Selena was confident that Coralina would maintain the confidentiality of their earlier conversation.
Titannius met Selena’s gaze. “I briefly placed a hand on Coralina’s arm to put her at ease and I sensed much more than a simple worry. He smiled. “Like you, she is youthful still and was unable to hide her foremost concerns.”
Selena’s lips parted as the implication hit home. Titannius was known to have the most finely-tuned telepathic powers of his kind. If he’d made physical contact with another mer-person who was feeling extremes of emotion, he would know in which direction their thoughts lay. The more extreme the emotion was felt, then the more accurate Titannius could pinpoint the cause.
“It was clear to me, my dear, that Coralina was not worried for herself, but for you. I asked her to unburden herself and she tried to withhold her fears. I reminded her of why she now lives here with us and told her that I would do all in my power to alleviate her worries.”
Selena thought her secret had been discovered. “What did she say, my lord?”
“She told me nothing, Selena, insisting that she could deal with her problem. Although she was unable to hide her worries, she guarded against me reading her thoughts, but your name came through to me strongly. I’m hoping that you can trust me with whatever you told your friend.”
Selena briefly looked down at her tail before meeting the gaze of her leader. She quietly explained about what she’d done earlier in the day regarding the terra-vessel. When he simply nodded and showed no outward signs of concern, she continued. It was embarrassing to tell Titannius that she had used his name as the authority for her dangerous task.
The wise one nodded once again. “I see you not as foolhardy, but brave, Selena. I appreciate that you used my name because it would ensure that Coralina would respect the secret. In one way, your idea worked, because she focused her thoughts to prevent me knowing what worried her. In another way, of course, the lovely creature was so emotional it caught my attention and highlighted you.”
“I am sincerely sorry, great Titannius—”
Again, he smiled and raised a hand. “Rather than an apology, I would like to hear this mission that you and I have apparently discussed.”
Selena smiled, relieved. She briefly explained about her personal plan to thwart the degradation or destruction of Neptune’s Finger, and the underwater mountain; their home. When her clicks, warbles and murmurs ended, she gazed at her leader and waited for his opinion.
“I can understand your reasoning, and your heartfelt desire to take action, but why did you not come to me or a member of the counsel to tell us of this terra conversation that you’d overheard?”
“I hoped to alleviate a loss of more than one life by dealing with the terra-folk myself.”
“You intended to communicate regularly with a terra-man?”
“Yes, and I believe that if I can make contact with the right person I can prevent further exploration of our mountain home.”
“It is well-known that terra-men over the centuries have been attracted by the natural beauty of sea nymphs like yourself, but you must remember that they also consider all mermaid creatures to be sirens … creatures who would lure men to their deaths.”
“I believe that this is a risk that one of us must take. We know from our amphibious friends that the terra-folk have destroyed much of the dry land beyond our aquatic environment. We have also been endangered by the terra-vessels and waste materials discarded by the terra-folk. They have begun exploring many of the islands away from the coastal waters of the great land mass.”
“Selena, I have discussed these matters with the counsel and in the past we’ve taken action to dissuade the terra-folk from exploring along the coast. Indeed, you have taken part when a multitude of us has created a great tsunami and destroyed whole settlements of terra-folk.”
“Great Titannius, I have taken part in such defensive action, and I understand. After hearing the discussion between the two terra-men, I requested a favour of Laser and his pod. I asked them to investigate the terra-folk activities around the islands.”
Titannius nodded. “Now that is a solution with which I agree. I have often used our dolphin friends on intelligence gathering.” He smiled. “Terra-folk have such trust in the dolphin species. What has Laser been able to find out for you?”
“The terra-folk have discovered a material, a mineral, which they are mining. This mineral is found along the coast deep below the water surface.”
“This is of no concern if they find it on the coast or high above any caverns used by our kind.”
“They are not digging small amounts by their own hands, Titannius, they are using the vibrating sound machines.”
The leader’s brow furrowed. “Those which cause pain and discomfort to all aquarians?”
“Yes, and some of Laser’s companions perished because of them. The dolphins were too close to the vibration in the water and were so disorientated that they couldn’t reach the surface to breathe.”
“How many dolphins perished?”
“Twenty or more, and Laser watched helplessly as his friends floated to the surface, paralysed.”
“Perhaps I’m missing something obvious, Selena. Please explain which aspect of this coastal mining by the terra-folk affects us and our home. If they swim under the surface and use their hands to take some of this precious mineral it will not harm our home.”
“We have two areas of concern. The first is that there are terra-folk exploring our home. Secondly, the early exploration is done with their hands, but when they discover sufficient levels of the mineral, they return to the location with the noise machines. They also use a magic substance which causes large areas of rock to be separated, creating a hole in the rocky surface. The underwater vibration from their magic substance travels many miles through the water. It injures some larger creatures, and kills shoals of our smaller aquatic friends.”
“You have witnessed this magic substance in use?”
“No, but two of Laser’s pod were affected by it and now, they must stay within sight of their friends. They cannot communicate normally, and use sight because their vibration sensors have been damaged.”
“Let me consider these things.” He gazed at the beautiful mermaid and summarised aloud, using deep grumbling noises and high-pitched clicks. “If the terra-folk also discover this special mineral in our mountain, you are right, there is a strong possibility that they will destroy our home.”
Selena nodded, and swished her tail, waiting patiently for a suggestion.
Titannius said, “You said earlier that you made yourself known to a terra-man underwater. Why do you feel that he would be the one to communicate with about this issue?”
“Before today, I have seen another terra-man who would be suitable, but the sight of me struck fear into him. At present, I have no notion if he believes what he saw in the water.” She paused. “The man I saw today was different, stronger somehow and I have seen him and others in the water together. On more than one occasion he has stopped his fellow terra-folk from using their strange weapons to kill sea creatures.”
“You have witnessed such things?”
“Yes, Titannius, he has done this.” She extended an arm and waved it downward. “The person with the weapon in each case has not fired upon the unsuspecting creature. When he has demonstrated this control he could not have seen me observing.”
Titannius nodded. “It seems that you may have found a suitable person, but how will you ensure your personal safety from him and others of his kind?”
“The vessels that come close to our mountain home do not have the noise machines within them, or the spinning fin in the water. Above the water, they have large fins like a sailfish which collect the wind. I have watched in wonder as the craft gather speed on the surface. Below the water surface is a huge fin which I expect maintains balance in the way that the aquatic anal fin works.”
“This craft does not come below the surface so the terra-man must use the large lung on his back, a device I have seen many times.”
“The terra-man I’ve observed has no need of the large lung. While the vessel floats on the water like Maxor the whale, the terra-man dives and swims with a small device in his mouth. I’ve watched, and when he leaves the water and climbs onto his vessel, he removes the device. I recognise the vessel the terra-man arrives in, and he has but one or two companions.”
“You have done much work already but I have more questions.” Titannius studied her. “How will you know that the terra man or his craft are here in our territory, and if you saw him here, how would you separate him from his companions to communicate with him?”
Selena smiled, knowing that her idea had captured Titannius’ imagination. “If I had your blessing, my lord, I would ask for support from Laser, Kendra, or Zephyr.”
“Yes, I have no doubt that our dolphin friend could help, but I know of the ways of the terra-folk, Selena. The sight of an orca or shark might not be an ideal support for your venture.”
“I believe that Laser could give me early warning of the vessel coming here. If I was accompanied by imposing characters, like Kendra or Zephyr, it would make it easier during my initial contact with the terra-man. He would be assured that I was not alone and vulnerable.”
“Underwater, it is the terra-folk who are vulnerable.” Titannius smiled. “We know that the terra-folk have many craft which might appear the same to Laser and his pod. There is also the problem of knowing when the boat is coming here, and from where.”
“We have, of course, our own names for the islands and all things related to the terra-folk. I have started to deal with the problem of translation by teaching Laser the names and terms that the terra-folk use. I can describe the colours and details of the sailing vessel to Laser. It is not unusual for his pod to visit close to the terra settlements and he could use his friends to locate the individual craft.”
“As I said, you have put much thought into this venture, Selena, but while I admire your planning ability, there is the possibility that this may not work as you imagine.”
“My lord, If my attempt were to go badly I would come directly to you with my report.”
“Very well,” he said. “I will agree to your venture, but it must only be you who is involved from the mer-folk. We will no doubt recruit more of our community at some point, but our strategy will depend on your … findings.” He resisted the temptation to say success or failure.
“Thank you, gracious Titannius. What shall I tell Coralina?”
“When you leave here, tell her nothing of our conversation. I will locate her and put her mind at ease.”
“I will not let down you or our folk.” She inclined her lovely head slightly, smiled and dived gracefully and silently into the water between them.
Titannius looked into the water as Selena dived towards the vents that would allow her egress to the seas. “Such intelligence, beauty and courage in one so young.” As he made his own relaxed entry into the vertical channel of water he was considering what other attributes a leader ought to have.