The tide dumped its unwanted spoils over the crags and gullies of the coast. Wave-smoothed rocks and rough cliff slopes accumulated a spread of broken ships and broken men as the tide withdrew. He could see bobbing bits of flotsam still waiting in the water. The wreck was fresh with the smell of storm still fading in the air.
He picked his way across the rocks inspecting the debris, ship and human alike. A few sailors lay in the tide pools, eyes staring up at the sky which had so recently opened up and betrayed them. He leaned over one, inspecting the fresh corpse. Unshaven and very dead, the man wasn’t much to look at. But he didn’t need to be pretty, just drowned.
Graceful as a bow, he bent and dipped his fingers into the corpse’s coat pocket. A moment later he winced and snatched his finger back as his skin blackened and burned. The iron knife slipped from the waterlogged cloth and into the tide pool, sinking out of his sight.
“Fool, what are you doing in dead men’s pockets?”
He smoothed the rictus of pain from his mouth and turned. The siren’s chin was set in her folded arms as she rested half on the rock, half in the tide. A glint of fine scales highlighted her vicious cheekbones. “I wondered if you had something to do with this. Eaten your fill?” He asked, hiding his injured fingers within his sleeve.
Carnivorous teeth flashed a smile at the pithy words. The gesture was friendly directed at him, her smile held a different end for most. “Not yet. Why are you are so far from court sapling? There are no mortals to lure into the moors here.”
“No mortals, you made short work of that.” He agreed and nudged the soaked corpse with his boot. “Sapling?”
“It’s what I imagine you’d taste like.” She teased with another flash of teeth and pushed from the rock, disappearing under the churning water. He took her place sitting on the rocks edge, leaning over to watch the deceptive pools and eddies. She emerged, thick ropes of green black hair swirling around her shoulders. “That and you’re skinny.” She added.
His mouth twitched. “Slender.” He corrected. A crab scuttled close, curious to see if he was made of dead flesh. He shooed the scavenger away. “I have a problem.” He admitted.
“Oh?” She prompted.
“Sailors are over fond of iron.” He held up his fingers, still black and smarting from their contact with the iron knife. The beach reeked of the damned metal, he could smell it under the death and brine.
“And you need a sailor?” She prompted, finding a new perch to lean against, webbed fingers playing with a small sea anemone.
He was boring himself, telling the truth and being honest about it. But she was right, he was far from court. The prince would notice his absence eventually, best not to have to tell the truth twice. “No, I need a drowned man and the contents of his pockets.”
“A knife dear to a drowned man, to keep you from his fate.” She said the well-known words rote. “Doesn’t always work. Some people invite misfortune, charms and gifts can’t change that.”
”Noted and forgotten.” He said with a mean little smile.
She rolled her eyes and disappeared under the water again. Time passed and the sun dipped below the water. He was beginning to think he should have asked a bit nicer, perhaps promised the siren something upfront, when she finally returned. She held up an elegantly curved knife above the water. Its hilt was common leather, now ruined in the saltwater, but the hilt gleamed silver in the dying light. “Clutched to the man’s chest as he died, obviously held very dear. What has that mortal done to you?”
He plucked the knife from her fingers, not pausing to examine it before tucking it into his coat. “Placed me in your debt, how many times is it now?”
She held up long fingers, mouthing the word twice. A moment later she was gone again into the swirling eddies with a splash. He paused, watching the stars appear in the sky over the ocean. Then he stood and went about finding a way off the iron soaked beach.