High seas had always held dubious tales: Of sirens, of course, those that would lure the unsuspecting seaman to his death, but also those of the Lorelei and the mermaids who would sink their ship—months at sea and most of them were fixated on women. Halcyon days tended far and few between, as was their wont, but their stories and superstitious legends carried with them. Carried over the line even, as they did their song and dance, with tales of King Canute who couldn’t stop the tides and was wise enough not to try. And when those same tides carried them back to port, the stories stayed, clinging like salty sea-film.
They hold Marianne, though to hold her would be a feeble thing at best—little holds Marianne unless she wishes to be held, and when she snakes up to shore to find him, smiling with too many teeth to fit in any human mouth, Arthur knows that, was it her wont, she would pull him under in half a heartbeat and keep him there until he thrashed.
She does once, maybe twice. Keep him there. Sirens, mermaids—those of her ilk, with all their beauty and malice, they like to touch. To prod at things that aren’t theirs and see how close they can get to thievery. She pulls at his ankles and throws him off balance, pulls him into the sharp saltwater because she can and keeps him there while she watches. Far enough beneath the surface that the water makes the insides of his bones ache with cold. She prods at his mouth with cold fingers, slips the tip of her nail between the seam of his lips and watches with wide, pleased eyes as he chokes.
But he isn’t a corpse when she’s finished, and he counts it a point in his favour.
And Marianne—more than anything—likes it. Sensical, if morbidly so; she declares once, with pale lips stretched wide around the vowels, “I could eat you. You might make half of a decent meal, less perhaps if only because you are tough and bony and bitter.”
“You haven’t done it yet,” he snaps back. “And I expect that you won’t.”
She sniffs, combing fingers back through her hair to pull it over her shoulder. “I could. I might, even.”
When Marianne smiles, she shows all of her teeth, small and shiny and sharp, and when she wants to bite and snap at heels, she does so with the threat of blood hanging behind her lips, no siren songs or sweet words to coerce wayward sailors; she’s set her eyes upon Arthur’s back. It isn’t a comfortable place to be.
Nor is the sea, when she pulls him under again, one hand wrapped tight around his jaw, the other in his hair, keeping him there until he chokes on saltwater, panicked and thrashing in her hold, until gasping for breath is a relief, the water cool on the inside of his throat.
“See?” She asks then, eyes very wide and very blue. “I could keep you here with me.”
He pushes himself back to shore, spitting up water, half-choking still. “Not for very long.”
“I heard that humans die in the water,” she says airily. “I don’t understand why, though—you’ve mouths just as we do. Why can’t you breathe the same as us?”
“Because you breathe like a fish.”
“And why don’t you? Think of all you’re giving up for those legs of yours, Arthur.”
“You’ll never see a city. I can always see a ship.”
“And I can always sink it.”
“Is that a threat?” He asks, turning in the rocky sand to look.
And Marianne, with her sharp fingers and her too-many teeth, smiles and says, “A promise, more like.”