There is an amphibious species in the World of Isles, related to humans, called ‘merfolk’ or ‘merpeople’. Merfolk are not like the mermaids of earth’s legends, and have no fishes’ tails. Except for their eyes they look just like humans, but they are able to breathe both water and air, whichever happens to be around, so long as their lungs are full of the same fluid (they must cough up the water in their lungs to switch over to breathing air). The eyes of merfolk have vertical-slit pupils, like cats’ eyes. This gives them the ability to see in dim light as a cat can, but is something of a hindrance in bright light. Merfolk tend to retreat underwater in the brightest part of the day.
Merfolk are amphibious, generally eating and sleeping on small islands, where they are safe from sharks, and going into the sea to hunt fish and gather other food. They are much poorer swimmers than other aquatic predators, like sharks and dolphins, and depend on tools such as knives, spears, and nets for their success.

Merfolk have less variability in appearance than humans. All are brown-skinned and black-haired. Where the waters are cold they tend to a large, thickset type, like Samoans or Maoris. Merfolk can interbreed with humans, though such unions are not very fertile, and the offspring cannot breathe water (the ability is a Mendelian recessive trait).

Because speech is impossible underwater, the merfolk rely heavily on sign language, and have names consisting of intelligible phrases.

The merfolk in the waters around Gehennum are politically independent of the humans, and have political arrangements based on anarchy moderated by consultation. Although they consider that no person has the right to tell another what to do, if anyone uses his perfect liberty obnoxiously the community is likely to decide to use its perfect liberty to kill him. In practice the merfolk arkhons lead their communities, though being careful not to give the appearance of giving orders. See Khryseis.

Merfolk often join human society (initially as metics) in search of wealth and power, contributing a dash of anarchy to Gehennese political affairs, but they find it difficult to satisfy their large appetites, and tend to run away to the freedom of the sea rather than overcome adversity.

Copyright © 1991 by Brett Evill. All rights reserved.