Jasper turned to the bristly sailor who stood in
the center of the deck, expertly coiling a rope in
his muscular hands. "Is it true that if you steal a
mermaid's girdle, she must grant you a wish?"
The sailor shrugged. "'S possible. I've been
up `n' down this spot dozens o' times an' not a hint
o' a woman or even half o' one."
"But Square Cut Bay is famed for mermaids
throughout the world! Half my reason for taking this
route around Calithwain instead of the shorter
overland trip was to feast on their beauty with my
own eyes. And maybe," Jasper added, nervously
licking his lips, "just maybe have a wish granted to
me as well."
A cluster of sailors who'd apparently been
listening in, burst into hearty gales of laughter.
Jasper glared at them. "You may think I've no
sense, wearing the robes of a scholar instead of your
rags or a soldier's armor, but I know what I've read.
I'm not big or strong but I'm wise. Calithwain is
different; everyone knows magic abounds here. There
are ways to steal a mermaid's girdle, and then you
can just go about begging for jobs if my wish is to
own all the merchant ships in the country."
"Or you could wish for the mermaid to marry
you," a sailor pointed out. Jasper found himself
grinning triumphantly. Finally they were taking him
"Aye, I could. Or court any girl on the land
with the treasure I'll win."
"Of course, she'll have a time walkin' up the
aisle with her tail flopping about," the sailor
Jasper stalked to the rail, staring out into the
black, murky ocean. The moon's reflection on the
waves gleamed just like a piece of silver. Jasper
would be seeing silver pieces that large and more
once he found the mermaid he searched for. All of
his books said that this was the place. For all he
knew, a mermaid might be swimming under the boat even
as he stood there. Wouldn't that surprise the men
who had moved on to even stupider jokes now, such as
how many mermaids it took to light a candle.
The next day, the ship stopped to take on water
and supplies at Fisher's Village. Jasper wandered
away, after making certain that the ship wouldn't
leave until sunrise the next morning. Fascination
with mermaids or no, he had a job waiting for him
cataloging books in Lotorinum, and couldn't delay it
only to search for an elusive and possibly mythical
As he walked along the pier, thinking thoughts
of mermaids and wishes, not to mention the arrogant
sailors, he heard a splash off in the distance.
Probably a fish. Yet he moved closer to the pier's
edge, staring into the mists hard enough to part them
and reveal his elusive quarry.
After a moment, Jasper stepped back. It had
been a fish after all. He resumed his walk, deciding
to stroll into the inn and have some food that hadn't
been rotting in a barrel for weeks before
consumption. There was another splash now, closer to
the pier. But there was hardly any point to
straining his eyes looking for another--
A feminine giggle cut through the soft murmur of
the waves and Jasper's head dropped like a load of