-Great Moon Rising
-Gorge, gulch, graveyard
-Gate, Giant Squid, General, gills, gossamer, gauntlets, garnets, garland
The sunbeams cast rippled patterns over the seabed, broken by dark shadows darting to and fro. The kingdom of Undersea was awash with activity: the King's Army would be setting forth on a mission to conquer the monsters that had been plaguing the merfolk.
"General Gondu!" A messenger swam through the long, narrow maze of passages that served as the army garrison. "Has anyone seen the General?"
A bulky guard eyed the lithe swimmer only just over half his own size. "The General is in his quarters," he drew the name out slowly, his gills flapping in barely-concealed irritation. The soldier drew two thick bone-knives from their sheaths on his back to check their blades. "He's kind of hard to miss, if you know what I'm saying."
The scrawny young messenger popped his throat gills in terror, but scurried on his way.
"Get outta the way!"
The messenger had to dart and twist to avoid being pushed back by an entire unit swimming toward the exit behind him. Twisting and curling his tail fluke out from among the savage blades, the messenger sighed with relief as he hovered in the empty tunnel.
"General Gondu, sir?" The messenger inched forward.
"... No, no; that's not it. Why, I'd be delighted, your majesty. For me? Ah, that's quite lovely!"
The messenger followed the droning, aimless voice till he came to the opening in the coral wall, draped across with a curtain of sea grass.
"And now," the voice continued, "shall we discuss that betrothal you mentioned? Your daughter is quite—"
The messenger darted back against the far wall as the tall, grey-skinned merman lunged toward him. Bulging green eyes glared from amid a tangle of red hair as Gondu sneered at the messenger.
"How dare you sneak up on me like that?" He thundered. "Do you want to be taken for a spy? Don't you know that I could have you exiled? My mother's a gossamer, she could rot the scales right off your—"
"General Gondu, sir!"
"Do not interrupt me! I am a General in the King's Army and I will not be disrespected by meaningless little—"
"The King is ready to depart, sir!"
The messenger delivered his notice and made for the nearest exit.
Gondu ruffled his neck-gills in disgust. "Guppy," he snarled, withdrawing into his room.
He emerged a few moments later, wearing a pair of golden gauntlets set with glittering garnets, his hair interwoven with a green seaweed garland. He paused to observe his reflection in a shiny slab of obsidian, flexing his long limbs and straightening his tail.
A chorus of voices outside the garrison distracted him from his musings. Gondu slipped out an opening and joined the school of soldiers swimming overhead.
The merman beside him snorted. "Took you long enough!"
"Shut your gob," Gondu jabbed him in the side, sending the merman into the current of several other soldiers.
The merman just ahead, a long, swift soldier with white hair chopped short, turned back to glance over Gondu's accessories.
"You're ridiculous, Gondu, you know that?"
"Hey!" Gondu stiffened but did not slack his pace. "Remember, Gryff, you're a captain and I'm a General. You should show me more respect!"
Gryff shrugged. "You really think a couple of trinkets and seaweed in your hair is going to protect you from these monsters?"
Gondu rolled his eyes and held up his hands. "They're not just trinkets, Gryff. Remember the event that just happened?"
"The Giant Squid attack?"
"No, you gutless grouper! The Great Moon Rising!"
"So? Rumor has it that this is he last one we will be celebrating in a long while."
Gondu frowned. "Who says that? Never mind, that's beside the point. My point is—you know how my mother is a gossamer, right?"
Gryff gave a careless pop of his gills. "So?"
"So I got these from her." Gondu held up his hands to admire the gauntlets.
"Your mother gave you useless pieces of treasure that offer you no protection and make you look like a cucumber."
"They are ENCHANTED!" Gondu practically screamed.
Far ahead, the commander swimming next to King Davor turned back to survey the army. "DISORDER IN THE RANKS!" He boomed, his fiery orange tail of hair whipping out from under a helm of scallop shells. His yellow eyes traveled down the long, snaking school till he saw the mass of green and flash of gold.
Gondu caught the furious stare of the commander and stared right back.
Gryff twisted forward. "Great, now you got us in trouble," he muttered.
Gondu folded his arms. "I'm a general. He can't make trouble for me."
The army swam onward until they reached a long, wide crevasse lined with quartz crystals and hard coral branches: the Glittering Gorge, the very edge of Undersea's boundary.
"Gather!" Boomed the commander, and all the mermen pulled in close to hear him. Gondu jostled and floated higher till he was near the top. He hated having someone else's tail in his face, as much as he didn't mind obstructing the view of those behind and below him.
"Generals!" Commander Dyllum instructed, "Our scouts have sighted the predators frequenting a few areas along our borders. Each of you will be posted to those areas, with the task of corralling the creatures and directing them toward the King's division, which will be posted at the geyser under the rise at the down-current edge of Undersea. General Tynnan, you will lead the squadron toward the Great White Shark’s hunting grounds, in the ship graveyard,” He waved his spear, and the General split off with his men.
“General Urgyn,” Dyllum indicated another merman, “Your group will track the Giant Squid currently feeding on the schools in the Tunnel Caves.”
Gondu watched with envy as a second portion of the mermen departed. He had always envisioned himself as the hero who would vanquish either the fearsome shark or the terrifying squid. The fact that those two predators had been assigned to other units meant that he was left with—
“General Gondu!” Again, Dyllum’s eyes bored right through Gondu’s face. “Post your guards here at the Gorge, to await the Giant Oarfish. When it comes, you are to direct it there,” he gestured with his spear up the rise behind them, “toward the geyser.”
Gondu felt his gills tense; he wanted so badly to protest the unfairness of his position. After all, shouldn’t the merman with enchantment to protect him be the one to lead the largest group against the fiercest predator, rather than waiting for some eel’s cousin to come wedge itself among the crystals and coral? But just before the words came out of his mouth, Gondu saw King Davor pass by, leading his men up the very rise. He would show the king just how respectful and dutiful he could be!
“Yes, sir!” Gondu barked, gratified when he saw the king pause, his dark hair swirling in the current.
Dyllum only joined the pod and traveled to the rise without a backward glance.
Gondu turned and stared at the mermen aimlessly hovering behind him.
“You heard the commander!” he barked. “I want all you worthless bottom-feeders to take up positions along this gorge! The Oarfish is coming! Move your tails!”
The shadows deepened as the sun moved along its course. Still, the oarfish did not make an appearance. Gondu watched with growing fury as plenty of other fish coasted by his post—but not the great, impressive predator he wanted. He drifted off in the direction of the Tunnel Caves. How he longed to be there! He could almost hear the shouts of those soldiers as they gave the Giant Squid chase through the arches—
“Hey!” Gondu flinched as a merman called out to him. “Where are you going?”
Gondu turned and gave the insolent perch his most ferocious stare. Bringing himself up straight to his full height, he growled, “Never you mind! Attend to your duties!”
A moving shadow distracted him from his anger. The Squid! He could see flashes of its tentacles as the mermen herded it up toward the rise. Every soldier felt the explosion of the geyser and heard the lusty cheers as the Giant Squid met its hot, sulphuric end. Gondu even heard some of his own men calling out to their barrack-mates—or so he thought.
“Fish ho! I see it! General Gondu, I see it!”
Gondu whirled around just in time to see a dark streak slice through the water. His gills began fluttering faster than they ever had before.
“Oh! Um, okay,” he stammered, thinking hard about how they were ever going to get that creature contained in the gorge; it was headed the wrong way! How was he ever going to gain the recognition he sought?
“Change of plans!” he announced to his squadron. “Follow the oarfish toward the Tunnel Caves!”
“Follow it?” queried one of the soldiers. “But Commander Dyllum instructed us to—“
“I know what are instructions were!” Gondu snapped. “I say we’re changing the plan. We’ll corner the oarfish in…” he swam out a ways, seeking a location just ahead of where the oarfish aimed, “That gulch!” he pointed to a shadowy gap. “We’ll get him in that gulch and finish him off ourselves!”
“But what about—“
“DO NOT QUESTION ME!” Gondu raised both fists, letting the dying sunlight glint off the gold gauntlets. “I AM YOUR GENERAL AND YOU DO AS I SAY!”
He turned and swam toward the gulch.
The closer he got, the more he began to recognize that it perhaps wasn’t the most strategic location, as far as being able to control the charging oarfish—but at the same time, the troop on the rise would have an excellent vantage point to see what should promise to be a stupendous battle—even if it was just an oarfish.
“INCOMING!” a solder at the back screamed, and Gondu whirled around just in time to see the oarfish charging directly for him! Easily twice as long as Gondu himself, the predator’s eyes seemed to follow the glint of the golden gauntlets, and Gondu rushed away with an unbecoming shriek. Too late he noticed the length of garland stretching beyond his hair, right into the oarfish’s path.
Every tendon in his body seemed to snap as the oarfish took the garland in its mouth and twisted in the opposite direction of Gondu’s flight. The soldiers in his command all swam like scared angelfish, well out of reach of the oarfish’s sinuous tail.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Gondu screamed, as the oarfish dragged him like a length of rope from a shipwreck. “SOMEBODY STOP THIS MONSTER!”
Finally, a few of the spear-bearers drew close enough to distract the oarfish, who released its grip on Gondu’s garland—but the garland itself remained tangled in its jagged teeth. Gondu wrenched himself away, and one of the spears scored a hit, drawing a red cloud of blood from the fish’s side, but the oarfish lashed out immediately, chomping at the merman’s tail fluke.
Gondu fought to put as much distance between himself and the oarfish as possible. He was just supposed to direct his portion of the troops, wasn’t he? He didn’t necessarily need to be part of the fighting.
“Dear mother, protect me now,” he whispered to the gauntlets.
“LOOK OUT!” a merman screamed, and Gondu found himself once again the target of a very angry oarfish.
Gondu held up his gauntlets. “NOOO!” he wailed.
The snout of the oarfish caught him square in the chest and sent him reeling and tumbling backward as the fish merely glided right over him. When Gondu finally regained his balance, the gauntlets were gone. He had no more protection—and no weapon.
“SHARK!” one of his men screamed, and Gondu saw the clear trail of blood left by the oarfish—and the Great White Shark, just in the act of coming up the rise, surrounded by General Tynnan and his soldiers… coasted right across the dark current.
The General had to bark out quick orders as the shark immediately descended into a blood frenzy. Now every available mer-soldier fought to take the Great White Shark down, while it swam after the wounded Giant Oarfish. Gondu, meanwhile, cowered in a cave; there wasn’t much else he could think of to do. He trembled in the shadows like a little guppy, while King Davor himself came off the rise to finish off the shark, once it had slain the oarfish that should have been Gondu’s responsibility.
Gondu watched the whole scene and drifted his own path back to the garrison of Undersea. He knew what his fate would be.
“General Gondu,” King Davor announced in the royal court on the following day, “in light of your disobedience, your disregard of direct orders, your foolishness that placed so many valiant soldiers in needless peril, and your willful disregard of your post—you are hereby dismissed from my army!”
“NOOOO!!” a creaking voice wailed from just in front of the coral walls. An ancient merwoman—more of a withered sea-hag than merely an elder—glided forward, her pale-grey hands reaching like the feeders of a sponge. “Your Majesty, I beg you! Forgive my son, he is but a boy!”
Gondu cringed at his mother’s simpering response. If Davor wasn’t going to pay him any attention, why did he need to keep working so hard and getting into dangerous situations, anyway?
His mother continued, “Please, take my son back—his military stipend is the only thing sustaining me in my old age!”
King Davor folded his arms, and the Royal Medallion glinted on his chest. “I have passed judgment,” he said firmly. “Present yourself to the Council if you seek assistance, but your son will no longer have a place in my army. He is a coward and a buffoon—“
“You take that back!” The hag rasped, shaking a gnarled finger at the king. “Do you not know how dangerous it is to gainsay a gossamer as powerful as I am? I know you think you’re so special because your little daughter got the last fairy’s Gift—well, faugh I say to that! I have a Gift, myself! And with that Gift I curse your daughter! May her Gift bring you nothing but grief! May your Grace tumble into an early grave! May you never know a moment’s goodwill—“
“REMOVE THIS WITCH AND HER UNGRATEFUL SPAWN FROM MY COURT IMMEDIATELY!” King Davor thundered, and a host of guards dragged the keening gossamer out of sight, with Gondu following limply behind.
Davor relaxed and glanced to the throne next to him. His wife, Queen Yssandra, stretched out a hand toward him, and he took it. In the other arm, she cradled their infant daughter, a tiny thing who was all black tail and purple hair.
“Do not worry, my love,” Davor murmured to Yssandra. “I vow that I will let nothing ever happen to you or to our child. Dayina will never be allowed in the kingdom again. All will be well.”
Did you enjoy this story? "Gondu's Gamble" is a tie-in tale to my fantasy novella, "Princess of Undersea", available on Amazon!
Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: