Nereids of various shapes and sizes whirled around the nursery. Forty-nine sisters swam through the coral reef we called home, playing tag or chasing fish. There floated my only brother, Nerites, a babe, and barely able to fan his tail but a handful of times before tiring and sinking to the ocean floor, crying. Giggling at him, my sisters would dive and hide after being scolded by a dolphin nanny. As the eldest, I rolled my eyes and scampered off to play with friends, free from tail pulling and gill jabbing.
My mother, Doris, the beautiful daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, spawned the lot of us from precious pearl eggs and was a calming influence on our large family. My father, Nereus, the eldest son of Pontus and Gaia, bore the nickname “The Old Man of the Sea” and wore his famous patience proudly, even as we tested it daily. He was often absent, journeying in service to the ocean, settling disputes, and tempering the seas.
As we grew to adolescence and womanhood, the observance of time crawling as it does with long-lived beings, Father searched the sea and land for suitable mates to claim us as wives. Fifty children to care for, a couple hundred years later, and his long hair was speckled with gray. My age was a blur the summer we traveled to Naxos, an island of communing in the warm grass with farmers and other seafolk and villagers, drinking the island’s fine wine, dancing, sleeping, and eating, hoping for a glimpse of Dionysius in the forest. Instead, an Olympian visited our people.
We practiced the ecstatic dances hours a day. Villagers, and even deities, traveled to observe our mystic spinning and swaying – and left smitten and entranced – a Nereid priestess specialty. When he arrived, the brother of Zeus, he frightened all of us. I shivered when Father called us to perform one of our courtly frolics.
The musicians launched the reverie and we danced, while the one named Poseidon observed. He conversed with Father and the others, laughing and drinking deep from a goblet, but his attention kept returning to me. I lost myself in the movements, falling into the dissociative daze of forgetting my body and time and place. When the music ended, and I returned to the present, my gaze found Poseidon’s. His mouth hung slightly agape. I widened my eyes in surprise, for I had completely forgotten he was there! I didn’t want his attention. Let him pick Thetis.
His head bowed deep in conversation with Father. I turned to my sisters and we wandered off to search for flowers to braid into our hair. As we passed a herd of goats, I picked up a kid and stroked its fur before placing the precious beast gently on the grass to rejoin its mother.
Later, the worst news of my life was delivered. Poseidon wanted to marry me. Me! There was nothing special about me. I was one of fifty. We all danced and sang and were pleasing to the eye. This was common knowledge and did nothing to set me apart. I was horrified. Marriage! I would be expected to bear children, and worse than that, create them! There was nothing I could imagine more unappetizing. Sure, physically Poseidon was handsome. I reached maturity hundreds of years ago. I wasn’t blind. But I also didn’t want a big sea God to put his trident in me, for heaven’s sake! Surely I would split in two, right up the middle, beginning with my…no. This would never do.
Angry at Father for sealing my fate, I fled. I swam for months, ending up in Atlas, where I hid, hoping and praying no male – especially Poseidon – would locate and force me into that diabolical union. As the months passed, on land, I enjoyed browsing for fruit, nuts, and berries, cavorting with birds, rabbits, deer – and swimming with my beloved dolphins and hippocamps and eating seaweed and fish while in the ocean. I was content to live a version of the simple life I treasured, although I missed my family.
One morning, a dazzling dolphin approached, calling out, “Lo, Priestess! A royal dolphin humbly requests an audience with the inimitable Amphitrite. I beg of you to hear my master’s missive.”
“Master? Who would dare claim dominion over such a majestic creature as yourself?”
“I think you know the answer to that, dear Nereid.”
“No. Not him.” I rolled my eyes, crossed my arms, and kicked sand up with my feet in frustration.
“I am afraid so. But please, hear me out. I am known for my honesty, and I never agree to quests my heart and soul are not fully committed to.”
“Very well. Speak of this grand quest so important he would summon you to complete instead of deigning to journey here and do it himself?” I simpered in an attempt to appear unaffected. I was quaking inside.
“He made peace with the fact that he could not woo or seduce you by any mortal means, and not many of the gods are well-versed in the language of love and desire. So he sent me. He said, ‘Delphine, you are one of my dearest friends. Go to her, I beseech thee, and perform a miracle. She must grant me just one chance. I will show her I am worthy of her devotion.’”
I laughed. “The God of the ocean did not speak those mushy words. I fear I must beg off to wash the sap from my ears after hearing those ridiculous words.”
“No, my lady. I swear on my honor, he spoke sincere. I have never witnessed the God so smitten.” The dolphin gave me the side-eye, as though she was having trouble believing it as well.
“Why do you look upon me as though I am not worthy of him?”
“Forgive me. Poseidon was lover to many in the past, but when he chooses a Consort, he is picky to the point of infuriation. I saw you dance at Naxos, and you were truly mesmerizing. But, I will not lie. I was surprised by his reaction.”
“What is your name, royal dolphin?”
“Delphine, my lady.”
“Do you think me daft? I realize what you do. You seek to provoke me into jealousy, or even worse, an appeal to my vanity. I do not care if there are multitudes of magnificent females lapping at the waters pooling at his feet. Let them have him.” I stormed away from the shore, leaving Delphine to pace in the ocean, planning our next debate.
The next morning, Delphine yelled from the water. I approached because I am not rude, and I liked Delphine. It was not her fault she was dispatched on a futile mission. I looked out and saw her crying in dolphin tongue. Distressed, I dove into the water and transformed into my Mer form.
“Dear Delphine, why do you cry?” I caressed and implored her to tell me what was wrong.
“My lady. I have failed. You will not return with me, and I am doomed. Poseidon will smite me if I do not bring you back.”
“He wouldn’t dare!”
“He is normally a peaceful liege, but he is quite mad with infatuation. I admit, yesterday my appeal was poorly executed. I am not a royal dolphin. I lied because I wanted to appear important. This mission was a test for promotion. If I fail, I am cast out and exiled.”
“These were his terms?”
“Yes, my lady. Please, do not think too terribly of me. If he ever finds out I revealed the truth, I am shark food. I’m so sorry.” She whistled and trilled in despair.
“You? You have done nothing wrong. It’s that bastard Poseidon who needs a big kick in the trident. We’re leaving. That Olympian pig needs a good dose of his own medicine. I won’t let him touch you.”
We departed Atlas an hour later. I couldn’t wait to get my fins on that arrogant jerk. I didn’t see Delphine smirk behind me as she followed, thinking, “Appeal to a sense of justice. Works every time with a sea priestess.”
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