Blood and Water

Giles woke to the sounds of screams being abruptly cut off.

Giles woke to the sounds of screams being abruptly cut off. He had heard them in his sleep, but in truth, many creatures screamed, yelled, shouted and he didn’t usually pay attention. It was actually the quiet that did it. It was an eerie silence, as if the lagoon had just witnessed something. Around him, his mangrove shuddered, and he felt her emotions, a flurry that shifted from one thing to another, as if she didn’t know how to feel, but it was … something. Horror? Maybe. Disgust? Kind of. Revulsion? Yes. Something beneath their roots was wrong. Off.

Giles slid from inside the tree, taking only what was necessary to form his face, enough to stick his head out from inside the bark. The sun blinded him at first, bright for no reason, overly cheery considering what had woken him. He scanned the other mangroves, looked across the water and saw nothing. The lagoon was still, silent except—

There was a slurping sound, tearing, chewing then deep gulps and gasps. Against the roots. Giles sighed and looked down. All he could see was a tail, wide, flared, iridescent. It could have been a fish tail, but he knew it wasn’t. Dark red blood stained the water beneath and around the lazily fanning appendage. He sighed again, this time more of a grunt of irritation breathed out of his nostrils.

Giles pulled his head back in and mentally manifested his body, large and muscular like he had been before he joined the trees, brown like the bark. Strong. With the thought firmly in mind, Giles stepped from inside his tree and climbed over the roots until he was hanging, his toes melded with the root he had chosen, upside down so that he could see what rested against the side of his tree.

The water sprite was back.

All he could see was her back, lithe, pale green skin that shifted into purple, green and blue scales across curvaceous hips that led to the flopping tail. She could’ve chosen any form, had she wanted to, but mermaids were never out of popularity with humans, which made them easy prey. Most otherworldly creatures preferred easy, simple, safe. A quick kill kept them hidden and safe. Giles shuddered. The sprite was curled around a large man, tanned, muscular, dead. What was left of his neck was a grisly mass of chewed tissue and bone. His head, a look of horror trapped on the face, flopped and jiggled as she tore off another bite.

“You’re going to kill my tree if you keep doing this by us. She’s sensitive.” Giles said. The mermaid froze, her face still buried in the gaping hole of the human. Giles steeled his nerves for when she looked at him, covered with blood and bits of flesh, like the last time, when he had recoiled in horror because she reminded him of the past. This time, though, she dropped the man, like a branch drops a dead leaf, and awkwardly climbed through the roots to clear water. She dove under, and Giles flipped backwards, unhooking his feet from the tree limb and sitting on it instead. She would return.

When she came up, her face was clean and her smile, full of serration and pointed teeth between full, lavender lips, was wide. She spoke in a soothing voice that was almost a whisper, soft and slow. The sound traveled across the water. “Hello, tree spirit.”

Her eyes were never-ending circles of blue, from the lightest hue to the darkest. Her hair was a mass of pale, pale, white, curls, riotous, both long and short, large but fine. Oxymoron. She cocked her head when he didn’t speak but continued to study her. She posed and ran her hand suggestively down her torso. “You are interested?”

Giles laughed, a quick bark of disgust and incredulity. “No.”

“Pity.” Her soft voice sounded like she meant it, but Giles knew better than to trust the water kind.

“Stop eating under Syl—my tree.” Giles folded his arms across his broad chest and frowned at the sprite.

“How else will I see you?” She laughed, and it was a delight to hear, fluid and full of promise.

Giles shook his head. “You won’t. Take your dinner and go.”

“He’s not warm anymore.” Her voice held a hint of a whine.

“All the more reason to bury him at the bottom of the ocean.” Giles pointed at her as he began to meld back into his mangrove. “Don’t come back.”

“Wait,” she said, and it was the first time Giles had heard her actual voice, no magic, no water within, just a sultry tone, similar to earlier, but fuller, rich.

He stopped, half in the tree, half out of it, and looked at her. He met her eyes and waited.

“Do you … ” she paused, her second eyelid flickering as she blinked and looked around at the forest. “Do you ever swim?”


“So, you walk? There?” She tilted her head towards the beach that was on the other side of the lagoon, towards the rocks that made up more of the island than the beach or trees did.


“You stay with your tree.” She sounded disappointed.

“Yes.” Giles slid his foot in, felt the magic of his relationship with the mangrove begin to take over.

And as much as he hated to admit it, the creature looked lonely. He could almost see hope in her eyes.

“Wait.” He heard the desperation in her voice and looked back. “Tomorrow? If I don’t bring a death, you will come out? I tried to get your attention before. This … ” She pointed at the body and shrugged. “ … worked.”

Giles considered the sprite before sighing for the third time in one day. He was going to regret this, but she couldn’t keep harming his tree with all this blood. Sylvania hated the proteins in human blood and the glucose wasn’t good for her. And as much as he hated to admit it, the creature looked lonely. He could almost see hope in her eyes. “Giles.”


“My name is Giles.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “When you come, without a bloody body, call:

Giles, Giles, can I see you?

Giles, Giles, will you come?

Giles, Giles, I am waiting.

Giles, Giles, I’ve brought rum.

And I will come to you. Once. Then, you will leave me and Syl—my tree, alone.”

He didn’t wait for her response. He had almost given her his tree’s name. One thing the humans had right: names have power, but Giles was human, in a way, and his name didn’t carry the same weight that Sylvania’s did. Inside the darkness, with the rings of years pressing around him, he gave up the body from over a century ago and closed his eyes. This was twice in a matter of months that the water sprite had disturbed his sleep. He would see her again, just once more, and rest for another decade or two.

Unfortunately, the mermaid wouldn’t let him rest.

The first time she woke him with the poem meant for his descendants, she told him her name was Virginia. They both knew that wasn’t true. Water sprites were creatures of habit and usually had names that matched their tide. She grinned when he asked what he should call her, and outright laughed at her lie.

She entertained him. So, when she returned as Addison, Tynika, Penelope, Sorsha, Danyell, Giles entertained her. She was Zaria today.

“Have you ever considered leaving?” the sprite asked, her lilting voice curious and deliberately casual. Usually, when she had that tone, she wanted something.

“To go where?” Giles asked in return. He was resting against Sylvania’s trunk, as usual, close enough to meld back into his tree in a moment’s time. Zaria splashed and swam backwards for a bit, her head above water. Her hair was pink today, with white iridescent scales that hinted at hues of pink and orange when the light touched her body. She was not ugly in the way water creatures sometimes were, how he had seen them before meeting her.

“Anywhere.” She looked at him, the layers of blue the only thing that didn’t change. “I have been everywhere.”

“Yet you keep returning to here.”

“To you.” She smiled at him, sharp teeth glinting. “You should not exist, but here you are. Human but not. I recognize you, but I can’t remember why. You interest me.”

“I shouldn’t.” Giles stood. He had manifested clothing today; a billowing white shirt, fitted breeches, calf-high, black boots. Constant conversation brought him back to himself, just a bit each time, and it was enough that he wanted to be dressed. The clothing from his old life chafed at his skin. “I need to go.”

“Why not?”

“Why not what?” Giles asked, already plunging a long-sleeved arm back into the tree.

“Why shouldn’t I be interested in you?”

“Because I’m not interesting.” Giles shrugged. Sylvania’s thoughts surged through him. She was unhappy by how much he had moved around of late, how distant he was from her. He shook his head. “I’m not coming back out.”

“You say that every time.” Zaria laughed. “Next time, I will be Nya, and I will wear black and brown to match the rum I have for you. You’ll like it.”

“I won’t.” Giles stepped into the tree. As he relaxed into Sylvania’s embrace, he heard the mermaid laughing.

“See you tomorrow!” she called.

In truth, Zaria’s words bothered Giles. She shouldn’t recognize him, and if she did, he didn’t want to keep reminding her of why. In his past life, before Sylvania, he had done things he would prefer remained there. In the past. He stuck to his resolve to not return, but the water sprite didn’t take his silence lightly.

It is not an easy thing to uproot oneself from one’s home.

She came back every night for the next month. She brought fresh humans and killed them against the roots, she screamed his poem, and she yelled his name. After she shouted at and threatened Sylvania, Giles and his mangrove, for the first time in over a century, decided to move.

It is not an easy thing to uproot oneself from one’s home.

They had chosen the spot together, when Sylvania was still a relatively young tree, no more than a few decades. In fact, she was nearly the exact same age as Giles was when he washed ashore, nearly dead, dying, in fact, carried by the island’s current into the tiny lagoon. There had been magic that night, magic both he and Sylvania harnessed. They’d promised themselves to each other. Together, they had written his poem, and spread it from one tree root to another, seeking out his only son.

“Come and find your father,” the message was supposed to say, but Galen had never come, and Giles had slept where he was supposed to sleep forever.

Now, they were moving, one agonizing suctioned wrench of one root after another. Sylvania looked like any other mangrove, but she had stood out before, with her prominent place at the lagoon’s entrance. In another area, they would be one of many, rather than apart. It took all night to move to another side of the lagoon, another night to leave the lagoon altogether, a third night to enter the coastal mangroves and join their ranks. It wasn’t a good spot. Sylvania wasn’t happy, and in truth, neither was Giles.

“Giles, Giles, can I see you?” The words to his poem, his lodestone woke him, but Giles didn’t exit his tree.

“Giles, Giles, will you come?” The water sprite was not close and not far away, but her voice was loud, carrying across the water, swirling up to his ears. She would have seen that the tree was gone, was probably probing, swimming up and under every mangrove along the coast.

“Giles, Giles, I am waiting.” Her voice seemed to be louder, if it was possible, as if she was screaming for him.

“Giles, Giles, I’ve brought your rum! Can you smell it?” There was a crash of breaking glass and a spicy fragrance, something sharp and familiar that he couldn’t quite place. Curiosity won, and Giles allowed his eyes to manifest against the bark. He opened them to see if he could tell where the mermaid was. He didn’t see her at first, only the brightness of the setting sun on the eastern horizon. He waited for her to begin her song again when his gaze snapped back to the east. The sun sets in the west.

It wasn’t sunset, but fire.

He remembered the scent.

Sylvania was exhausted, but so was he. So much of their energy was shared, yet Giles still manifested, allowing parts of bark to stay on his skin, for leaves to stay twisted in the matted locs of his hair. He left his tree at a run, his bare feet slipping across and over thousands of mangrove roots until he was in the lagoon, surging through the current to stare in horror at the burning trees that he had peacefully slept by for years.

“Giles, Giles.” The mermaid said, and she was right by him. “I knew you’d come.”

There was a story told by sailors when Giles was just a cabin boy. The siren that changed shapes. The mermaid who ate men. The sea creature worth a million in gold, enough to make a sea captain a king. He had been on that journey, crossed those seas, hunted that creature, and they had found wonders, but never the one that his captain sought.

Until finally, they had.

The night itself seemed to have exploded into bodies tearing the ship apart.

The creature had been grey, ugly, covered with random scales and too many fins, but they had taken it, killed it and Giles had helped. And something had screamed. Hundreds of somethings had screamed. The night itself seemed to have exploded into bodies tearing the ship apart.

It was beneath the sea that Giles had seen them, so many creatures like the one they had killed, but young. Its brood. And he had swum away, stripping naked to blend into the water, darker than his pale-skinned shipmates. One had caught him, fought him and he had fought back, but not before it tore into his stomach. He had broken free and made it to his lagoon. To Sylvania.

“That tree kept you safe.” The mermaid said into his ear as she pulled him down. “But I remembered, and I found you. I found you.”

Giles felt his connection to Sylvania fade as he was pulled further under the water. He reached for her and attempted to phase his body into the insubstantial bond that was only theirs. But he was already too far away, and Sylvania was still exhausted. He felt his body solidify completely, the wounds from that long ago night reopening in a gush of blood. With a last thought, he considered apologizing, but the water sprite wouldn’t care, and the tree wouldn’t hear him, so he apologized to himself, for making the wrong decision once again.

About the author

Azure Arther is a college professor, playwright, and a children's author. Her works have appeared (or are forthcoming) in several publications, including Midnight & Indigo, Aurealis, and Writers of the Future. She is an editor for Tales and Feathers Magazine and a 2023 Marble House artist. Her website is