art by Melissa Mead
by Mari Ness
She wakes to find seaweed in her bed.
Never the same, this tangled weave of salt and slime and leaves: sometimes glistening red, sometimes dark green, sometimes dank brown. But always, always, there, entangling her feet, her hands, sometimes even sliding across her mouth, so that she wakes to the taste of salt and the sea.
Always on her side of the bed. Never on his.
They have tried many things, of course: wise women, wizards, musicians. Guards outside the room, guards inside the room. The fully practical method of merely changing rooms. Sleeping together; sleeping alone. Another maiden in their bed; a fish beneath her silken pillow. And always, always, the seaweed sliding over her skin, leaving tiny red marks and lines from the shells concealed in its thick leaves.
She knows, of course, of the little foundling he had kept with him before their wedding, had even seen her, once, when the little foundling danced for them both, her movements graceful, delicate, sensuous. Knowing. Knows of the tales told of the little foundling, of how her every footstep left a trail of blood and salt, of how the little foundling had always smelled, ever so faintly, of the salty sea. Of how, since the wedding night, no one had seen the little foundling. But many had seen, or told of, a trail of blood and pearls that had led to the sea.
She hears him moan at night, calling out to the sea.