They had given her a plinth.
They collected the most interesting members of every family, and for them, she was very interesting indeed.
There were three of her distance cousins who also had plinths, but hers was the highest and the most decorated. And if there was a chain, and she could not swim that far from her plinth, well, many others had chains as well, in this land. It seemed to her, watching the land from her water-bound pedestal, that there were more people with chains than without.
And they had brought her treats – she could still catch her own food; the chain was long enough for that, but who was she to argue with tribute? The treats were fine food, fishes from parts of the sea she could no longer reach, tidbits of land-based foods she’d never eaten, small cordials of amazing drinks.
They brought her cousins treats too, but she, she with the tentacles and the mien of an octopus, she was more interesting than even the man with the shark fin, the one that made them all afraid.
She was not afraid of him, either, but she knew both his secret and his joy.
They had given her a plinth, but they had not in any way chained her to obedience, any of them. So when the waves came, and later when the raiders came, and then the empire, there was nothing to require any of them to help their captors.
The people with collars, some of them ran into the sea. If they asked her for help, she granted it. Some of her cousins were not so kind.
That had been hundreds of years ago. The chain had broken – one desperate chained person had broken the shark-man’s chain, and he had kindly not eaten that one. He had broken her chain in turn, and they had swum away.
But they came back. His plinth had been eaten by the sea. Most of them had.
But hers, taller and prettier than the most, still stood.
She sat on it, sometimes, looking at the ruins, and remembered what it had been like to be on a pedestal.
To Clare Dragonfly’s prompt of this image.