Authors: Helen Dunmore
TO JODI AND GABRIEL
see that the guardian sharks have returned,” says Ervys. Both he and Saldowr glance upwards. Far above them, shadowy shapes patrol, gliding across their territory and then turning with a whip of the tail.
“Yes, they are back,” says Saldowr. His face is watchful. “They gave you no trouble on your journey to the Groves of Aleph?”
“No trouble at all,” says Ervys with cold satisfaction. “The sharks and I know each other well.”
“Perhaps a little too well,” murmurs Saldowr. Ervys doesn’t reply. His powerful tail stirs as if he’d like to lash out at Saldowr, but he does nothing.
“The sharks also know it is their duty to guard the Groves of Aleph,” continues Saldowr, still watching Ervys closely. Ervys’s face remains expressionless, but his broad, muscle-packed shoulders give a small shrug. Saldowr lets it pass.
Ingo needs every drop of strength that Saldowr possesses now. Ervys grows bolder day by day. The wound that almost killed Saldowr when the Tide Knot broke has been slow to heal, but he cannot allow himself to relax for a second. Ervys has lost
one battle, but this is war and there are many more battles to be fought. He has more followers now than ever. Already too many of the Mer are forgetting what they owe to the human children who ventured to the Deep, fought the Kraken in all his shape-shifting terror and defeated him. They listen to Ervys rewriting the past and telling them what their future should be. Saldowr has his own spies hidden among Ervys’s supporters. Ervys sways the crowd with his speeches just as the sea sways great ropes of oarweed.
“Human beings have always longed to rule over Ingo! We know from the gulls that humans are growing ever more ambitious and greedy for Ingo’s wealth. They are no longer content with polluting our world and killing its inhabitants. Now they scheme to trap the tides and give themselves the tides’ power. They plot to build metal monsters and plunge them down through the waters of Ingo, so that their arms can beat the sky and destroy the birds that travel over Ingo. Who knows what humans will plot against us next? They must be driven out of Ingo! If we are forced to shed their blood, then so be it!”
Saldowr knows how Ervys’s voice thunders out over the crowds, and how they roar back their agreement.
“Fight for what is ours by birth and by blood! Defend Ingo! I offer myself to you as a leader who will sacrifice the last drop of blood in his body for the Mer and for Ingo that is ours by birth!”
The crowd roars again. Saldowr’s spies make sure to join in the applause. They gaze at Ervys with a look of blind faith, so
they won’t stand out from the crowd as Ervys’s gaze sweeps over it.
“Follow me, and I will make you free,” declares Ervys. “You will rule your own lives. You will not need Saldowr or those half-and-halfs who dare to meddle in the affairs of the Mer.” There’s a murmur of protest, but Ervys is on to it immediately.
“You say that they saved your own little ones from the Kraken? You think that’s a reason to be grateful to them? I tell you, the Kraken only woke in the first place because it felt the polluting presence of humans in Ingo. I tell you again, the Kraken is sleeping now. His lair lies deeper than the trenches of the Deep. You have no cause to fear him any more. The Kraken will not wake. Saldowr tells you stories to keep you afraid, so that you will cling to him like children. But you are Mer!”
“Yes, Ervys, we are Mer!” bellows back a hand-picked group of Ervys’s closest supporters.
“Then will you join with me to cleanse Ingo of humans?”
Again the group yells its answer: “Cleanse Ingo of humans! Cleanse Ingo of humans!”
More and more of the crowd join in. But not everyone, Saldowr’s spies tell him. Not yet.
“The time has come to fight!” Ervys’s voice thunders above the tumult. “If we are weak, the humans will take over Ingo as they have already taken over the whole of the dry world. We must fight for what we love! Fight for what is ours by birth and by blood!”
“Ours by birth and by blood!” roar his supporters.
As the clamour swells Ervys holds up his hand for silence. Instantly there is a hush.
“Will you take me as your leader?”
A second of silence, and then a crash of voices:
“Ervys! Ervys! Ervys!”
And now Ervys is here in the Groves of Aleph, in Saldowr’s own domain. He is growing bold – or more likely, he wants something. Saldowr will not challenge Ervys yet. The tide is running too strongly in Ervys’s direction, sweeping too many of the Mer with it. This thing must run its course if Ingo is not to be torn apart.
“So tell me, Ervys, exactly why you have come,” says Saldowr aloud. He speaks calmly, and a flicker of scorn crosses Ervys’s face. He wants a fight, but Saldowr refuses to give him one.
Ervys tosses back his thick mane of dark hair. Light ripples over his body, emphasising the blue tinge of his skin. His eyes glitter.
“I am here because it is time to gather the cohort of young Mer who are of age to make the Crossing of Ingo,” says Ervys. “The Assembly must choose which of them will make the Crossing.”
“Indeed,” agrees Saldowr. “I am not forgetful of my duty, Ervys. I shall make the Call as I have always made it, and the Mer will hear it as they have always heard it.”
“As you have always made it,” Ervys repeats. His eyes flash mutinously. “Saldowr, I have come to the Groves of Aleph alone, without protection. I have shown trust in you.”
“I am honoured,” says Saldowr politely.
“I have done this so that you and I can speak frankly. There is no one to hear us. We two can drop the pretence that things now are
as they have always been.
The world is changing, Saldowr! The Mer must change with it. They must learn to find the old in the new.”
“You are right,” says Saldowr. His eyes gleam with mischief as he notes the surprise that Ervys cannot quite hide.
Then Ervys’s expression darkens.
are no friend of change, Saldowr.”
“I tell you, Ervys,
are the one who wants to shut the door against the future, not I.”
“It’s time for the Mer to have a leader who has their true interests at heart,” replies Ervys.
Saldowr laughs softly. “Is that the sum of the change you are talking about, Ervys? A leader? And who might that be, I wonder? We Mer have never needed
We have had our guides and Guardians, and they have served us well. The Mer were glad enough to accept my guidance when the Kraken woke and their hearts were cold with fear.”
“But the Kraken is sleeping now. There is nothing more to fear from him.”
“Tell me, Ervys, what makes you so sure of that? Everything that sleeps knows how to wake again, except the dead. The Kraken, I think, is alive.”
The Groves appear to have grown darker. Perhaps heavy black clouds have swept over the sun, high above in the Air. A restless current ripples the folds of Saldowr’s cloak. Faro, hidden behind a heap of rough boulders, presses himself flat against the sand. He must not move. If Ervys even suspects that he’s here, listening …
And Saldowr must never know. He sent Faro away to the borders of Limina, to give company to an ancient Mer woman who was about to leave Ingo and enter the other world, from which no one ever returns. Fithara had always liked Faro. She used to pop sea grapes into his mouth when he was little. Saldowr said, “Stay there with Fithara until I send for you.”
Faro sat with her for a while, until Fithara grew tired and closed her eyes. He had never disobeyed Saldowr before. He knew he ought to stay, but fear had been gnawing in him all day. Saldowr had tried to get him well away from the Groves of Aleph. Faro was sure there was a reason for it. Saldowr would never have sent him so far away just because he wanted to be alone. If Saldowr ever seemed to need solitude, Faro would vanish in the flash of a tail.
There must be some danger that Saldowr didn’t want him to share. But if there really
danger, Faro’s place was at Saldowr’s side. Even if it went against Saldowr’s command, he must go back.
As he swam down towards the Groves he came face to face with the guardian sharks who patrolled against intruders. Faro was used to them. He’d known them since he was too young
to talk, and they knew him. They understood that Faro had his duty with Saldowr. The sharks knew about duty because theirs was inherited from their ancestors. They must challenge any stranger who might threaten the Tide Knot or its Guardian.
But today the sharks seemed to have forgotten that Faro wasn’t a stranger. Instead of giving way immediately as normal, the lead shark blocked Faro’s way and stared at him with a cold, malevolent eye. However well you think you know a shark, there is a place inside it that you can never reach. Faro knew that. Sharks are not swayed by sympathy or pity. They carry out their duty without emotion. For a few seconds, as he gazed into the eye of the lead shark, even Faro was afraid. The shark’s jaws moved, as if he were thinking. Faro hung still in the water, his heart racing. Slowly, very slowly, the cold eyes seemed to remember who he was. Grudgingly the shark moved aside to let him pass.
Everything in the Groves appeared silent and deserted. For a moment Faro wished he had not come back. Saldowr would be very angry at his disobedience.
I am Saldowr’s
I have to be with him if he needs me.
Cautiously Faro swam forward, keeping in cover behind weed, boulders and the uprooted trunks of huge branching weeds. For once he was grateful for the devastation left behind when the Tide Knot broke. It hadn’t all healed itself yet and the debris gave him plenty of hiding places. He glided from thick, tangled weed to the shelter of a pile of rocks, and settled himself to wait, his tail curled under him.
Faro did not hear them coming, but suddenly they were there, close together, in front of Saldowr’s cave. Ervys and Saldowr. Faro’s fists clenched in shock and anger. How had Ervys dared to return to the Groves of Aleph? And why was Saldowr talking to him so calmly? Ervys had no right to be there after the way he’d plotted against Saldowr.