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"Wet Dream Fish Story" is a short story of Glen Cook's Black Company series. It was published in the 2023 anthology Bonds of Valor edited by Rob Howell. It is the third short story of the On The Long Run story arc, all of which take place during the first 4 years of the 6-year gap between the novels Shadows Linger and The White Rose. Specifically, the narrative takes place between the short stories "Leta of the Thousand Sorrows" and "Those Who Went Before".

The Annalist for the events is Croaker, who records the details of the Black Company's encounter with mysterious mermaids and a trio of centuries-old mermaid hunters.

Plot summary[]

The Black Company is fleeing from the new Taken across “the densest forest north of the Sea of Torments”. Though the Taken have not been seen for 9 days, the Company struggles with miserable heat, frequent rain, biting bugs, and lack of food.

Spirits rise when their scouts hunt a wild pig. The excitement continues when Showboy returns from Elmo’s vanguard group to inform Croaker, the Lieutenant, Darling, and the wizards One-Eye, Goblin, and Silent that a road has been found. The road is very old and overgrown, but was well-built and remains intact. That night, as the group settles down, they witness a colorful moonrise. Croaker is relieved not to see any lightning bugs - creatures which he believes are harbingers of the Lady.

Two damaged bridges and an island[]

The road leads them to a stunning sight: a steep cliff and a massive, mile-wide river. Within it is an island, which Croaker states must have been artificially constructed. It is overgrown, a mile long, a half-mile wide, and is connected to both riverbanks by a pair of old bridges. The Lieutenant calls for the engineer siblings Cletus, Loftus, and Longinus to evaluate the bridges. Candy, the second-in-command, observes that the bridge on the other side seems to be in better shape. Goblin notices smoke coming from the island: it is inhabited.

Everybody wants the miraculous easy. But we’re the Black Company. It’s never miraculous easy for us. The best it can be is half-ass miraculous.

The engineer brothers check the bridges. Meanwhile, the Lieutenant and Candy grow anxious since much of the Company has left the tree cover, and will be visible if any Taken arrive overheard on their flying carpets. Longinus finally reports back: the nearer bridge requires major repair of its decking if the animals and wagons are to cross. Most of the Company immediately begins the work, with Loftus and Longinus acting as “overlords” of the endeavor. Meanwhile, the elderly One-Eye and Goblin and some others are spread out in various directions, armed with ballistae, and tasked by the Lieutenant to be early-warning scouts for the Taken.

Mysterious river women[]

Less than a day after the bridge renovation begins, a sensational rumor spreads: there are naked, buxom women inexplicably surfacing from the river. Showboy is the first witness, but since he is foolish and not a credible person, Croaker dismisses the rumors. As more men report the same, Croaker wonders if it could be some new illusion One-Eye or Goblin is fabricating. Finally, on the afternoon of the third day in this location, Croaker spots some of the mysterious women himself. They are exceptionally beautiful, and all the work comes to a complete step as the men stare. Candy, frustrated with these work-stoppages, has to shout at the men to continue working. The silent women sink beneath the water and do not resurface.

Croaker tends to one of Candy’s men, a thin and particularly unlucky Juniperean sailor called Shadow. The physician then accompanies Candy to meet the three strange fishermen who live on the island. Although the trio speaks a language that is related to the tongue of Chimney, no one has been able to communicate with them yet. The men present no threat, but live in a heavily-barricaded shack and are apparently unable to leave the island for some reason.

Two losses[]

The work on the bridges continues even though two men are lost. First, Hammerhead disappears without a trace, and there are no witnesses. Later, Otto witnesses both Showboy and his dog Ralf leaping into the arms of a young woman and being pulled under.

For at least 4 more days, the men continue their work, and a dozen different river women of various ages surface from the water to watch them. The Company and their animals and supplies are mostly distributed throughout the island now, and Croaker has more free time to write his Annals. He is approached by One-Eye, who leads him to a remote spot in the center of the island, where a small lake with its own tiny island is found. An artificial channel links this lake to the outside river. The old wizard excitedly states that the “water nymphs” bask in the sunlight here. Croaker later returns to this spot alone, and observes 14 of them. He is stunned by their beauty. But he also surmises they might be shapeshifters, at least on their lower halves.

An offer of immortality[]

Meanwhile, Candy has been diligently searching for someone who speaks the language of the three island fishermen. Finally, he finds one: a recent recruit named Tedd, who joined the Company as they departed Chimney. Tedd hails from Choudan, a modest trading town on the edge of this forest. With the Lieutenant, Candy, Darling, Silent, and Croaker overseeing, Tedd talks with the three islanders.

The men are named Adelin, Honra, and Eisen, and they all share the occupational surname Fisher. The Company learns some startling information: these three men have been trapped on the island for 349 years, despite looking merely 40 years of age. They are mermaid fishers, and they were originally sent here by the Dominator to collect mermaid flesh because whoever eats it becomes healthy and ageless, as these men are now. But, the mermaids block their escape, and have been waiting for the opportunity to kill and consume them this whole time. The Fishers are desperate for the Black Company’s protection in crossing the bridge. In return, they will pay them in hundreds of pounds of mermaid jerky, enough to make several people immortal.

Whatever you’re thinking, none of that is going to happen. We’re on the run, and have been for months, because we’ve chosen not to be that kind of people anymore.

The Lieutenant rejects the offer on ethical grounds, which impresses Croaker. He believes the Lieutenant is “morally channeling” the late Captain. While the temptation is discussed immediately afterward, Darling (who is not yet even 20 years of age) also passionately exhorts them to reject the proposal.

Showboy returns[]

Suddenly, Candy notices some commotion nearby and spots Showboy and Ralf, soaked and exhausted, but still alive beyond all expectations after 3 days missing. Croaker realizes they will finally get some answers. Five silent, nude mermaids surface nearby, immune to the desperate catcalls of the rank-and-file Company soldiers. Croaker advises the Lieutenant to evacuate the lower-ranking men before they endanger themselves. Meanwhile Darling approaches the mermaids defiantly, and the magical creatures move away from her anti-sorcery null. Using her finger speech, she tells the others to get the young man’s story. Nearby, the mermaid fishermen observe, prompting the mermaids to communicate in their “clicks, snorts and whistles” language.

Tale of the River Queen[]

Showboy is confused and disoriented; he repeats himself and seems to be under the spell of a kind of love me sorcery. But he identifies the mermaid that pulled him under by name: Dai-Li (pronounced Dye Lee). The mermaid hears her name and smiles, and the Company for the first time sees that the women have mouths “full of teeth like a cross between a lamprey and a sand shark”. Showboy simply repeats that Dai-Li took him and Ralf the dog to the “Palace of the River Queen”. With Candy playing the role of the angry interrogator and the Lieutenant playing a more sympathetic role, they get Showboy to recall only certain details. His memory becomes hazy when he starts talking about the “River Queen”, who is supposed to be the original matriarch of the mermaids, now residing elsewhere as a water dragon. Croaker is not impressed with this mythical story and suggests the wizards One-Eye or Goblin to check the young man’s mind.

Memories clarified[]

They are interrupted when alarm horns blare. Everyone flees into the woods, and they spot the square flying carpet of a new Taken far up in the sky. Though Croaker thinks the enemy sorcerer is simply traveling, Candy is decidedly more pessimistic and thinks they have been spotted. Both One-Eye and Goblin arrive a few minutes later – Croaker surmises they have been hiding and drinking moonshine from One-Eye’s still – and take Showboy. The two elderly wizards use a silver bowl filled with water from the mermaids’ interior lake to display images of the young man’s memories. But the visuals are double-imaged. There are 2 sets of memories: what mermaids want him to remember (a grand palace), and what he truly saw (a muddy den).

[The mermaid fishermen] had made it possible for the old-time Dominator to reward favored followers with near-immortality, including today’s Lady and some of her Taken.

They learn that the mermaids mated with Showboy, and gave him messages that he failed to retain. They also confirm that the fishermen’s claim about their connection to the Dominator, those 4 centuries ago, is actually true. Formerly there were more fishermen, but the number has been steadily reduced throughout the centuries as the mermaids captured, mated with them, and consumed them.

Bloodshed on the bridge[]

Once the engineers declare that the bridge is safe, the Black Company begins the slow process of crossing. The trio of centuries-old Fishers tag along, bringing huge packs which presumably contain hundreds of pounds of mermaid jerky, although no one asks. Suddenly, three mermaids in turn leap from the water onto the bridge, revealing eight feet of fish tail below the waist. Shape-shifting into human form in midair, each river woman seizes one of the Fishers in their clawed hands, and leaps back into the water with their horrified prey. Men from the Company severely wound the third mermaid, though, and the violence stops there.

Magic cargo disappears[]

Two nights later, the large packs that the Fishers had loaded onto a wagon disappear. Croaker believes they were moved and abandoned or buried in the woods by Showboy, who is still loyal to the mermaids. Due to his action, it seems no one had the opportunity to succumb to the temptation of consuming the jerky to gain immortality.

Continuity and trivia[]

  • The siblings Cletus, Loftus, and Longinus are mentioned several times... however these men actually joined the Black Company during Shadow Games, which transpired at least 6 years after the events of "Wet Dream Fish Story". This seems to constitute a sizable continuity error.
  • The copyright page of Bonds of Valor misidentifies this short story with the title "Those Who Went".
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