Joseph isn’t reassured
Joseph did not get much chance to think about what he’d discovered from the research with Laura. He spent the morning at his yard counting scaffolding poles and catching up with paperwork. There were two more builds scheduled to start within days but another job had overrun meaning he almost certainly didn’t have enough kit available. He barely tasted the bacon roll Cosmo had dropped in as he wrestled with the various permutations, but once he’d finally come up with a workable solution he leaned back in his chair, put his feet up on the rim of the overflowing bin and let his mind return underground.
These changes in the waters had no obvious explanation, but apart from a couple of mentions on specialist web forums there seemed to be little coverage of them. He needed to speak to the Margrave and find out what he knew, before the news spread beyond academic discussions.
His old friend was sitting at the desk in his chamber studying one of his beloved books when Joseph appeared in the doorway.
“Joseph, how good to see you. Come and sit down”
Joseph stepped into the room and took a seat on a weathered wooden chair, one of Edgar’s latest acquisitions. He pulled the sheet of paper covered in Laura’s notes from his pocket and smoothed it out in on the desk.
“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” he asked.
For a brief second the Margrave looked almost afraid, but then he was all smiles again and the moment was gone. He tried to reassure Joseph, explaining that while there had been some ‘activity’ as he put it, there was nothing to worry about.
“Rip tides in the Med, holiday makers drowned, isn’t that more than just activity?” Joseph was sceptical.
Once again the Margrave’s expression clouded, “I didn’t want to have to mention it to you, but that incident was down to Sirens. I’m sorry but you know how they can be, sometimes they just can’t help themselves. I’ve been assured that it won’t happen again.”
Joseph had a sudden sick feeling in the pit of his stomach at the mention of Sirens, but he knew they wouldn’t usually risk drawing attention to themselves without good reason. Making his anxiety clear, he pressed the Margrave further, showing him the evidence he and Laura had uncovered about water quality both at sea and now in the Thames. This wasn’t simply Sirens playing up and he wondered what the Margrave was hiding.
“You may think it’s nothing, but what about everyone else? I’m sure Jorn has plenty to say on the subject. In fact where is he? He doesn’t usually wait this long before coming to check up on me.”
“He has gone out with Arne.”
“Oh yes, Edgar said something him sneaking off the other day. What is he up to?”
“I don’t think they are up to anything Joseph, they are spending more time in the water that’s all. Arne has always done it, and now Jorn is taking an interest too – you are too suspicious.”
Joseph was unconvinced by his lack of concern, and the Margrave sensed this.
“My dear boy, I know this might not reassure you completely, but there really is nothing for you to worry about.” He stood up, came out from behind his desk and rested his hand on Joseph’s shoulder,
“Let’s not talk about this any more. Walk with me to the Great Hall, I want to see how the preparations are going.”
“Had you forgotten Joseph? It is our summer Gathering on Saturday. I hope you will join us, and perhaps you would like to bring Laura too, I liked her very much.”
The Margrave led Joseph out of his room and then took his arm to steady himself as they walked down the passageway. He was on old man now, there was no denying it, and he feared that his authority might be questioned if he started to look frail.
He had spent many hours over the last few weeks sitting behind his desk, reading books, remembering the history of his people, and wondering what the future would bring. Joseph was right that he was hiding something, and he was worried about more than just his own mortality. There was trouble coming, he could feel it, and so he had taken a big risk by holding this Gathering. He hadn’t consulting Jorn or the other Elders, telling them of his plan only after he had sent out invitations. Now the day was approaching he felt a growing apprehension and holding Joseph’s arm as he walked, he knew he wanted him by his side.
“You will come to the Gathering?” he pressed as much as he dared.
“Of course,” Joseph replied.
They reached the Great Hall, a vast disused storage facility that had been abandoned in the late forties. It was a hive of activity with the floor being swept and furniture brought in. A motley assortment of chairs, benches and even a couple of ragged old sofas were being positioned around the edge of the vault, with an open space left in the middle.
It looked to Joseph like they were preparing for a large number of guests, more than lived in the Riverways. He asked the Margrave if he was expecting visitors from elsewhere but the old man avoided the question and began inspecting the seating arrangements.
It was Edgar, staggering under the weight of a shabby armchair. He deposited it at Joseph’s feet and flopped down into its faded cushions.
“Are you coming on Saturday? Can you bring some food?”
“Food? Don’t you mean crisps?”
“Of course,” Edgar grinned up at him.
The Mer loved anything salty and Edgar and Cara adored crisps. He promised to bring some with him on Saturday and then said his goodbyes.
As he made his way out through the tunnels of the Riverways, all appeared to be just as it should be. The lamps glowed blue and smelled odd as usual, and it was quiet and still apart from the rumble of passing Tube trains. But how long would it last? He emerged blinking into the afternoon sunlight from an entrance close to Regents Park and thought of the endangered species in the zoo, struggling with the destruction of their habitats. The animals were not in a position to fight for their own survival, but perhaps the Mer were starting to think about it?
Pushing that disturbing thought out of his mind he wondered about Saturday night and whether he should he ask Laura. Why not? He was just passing on the Margrave’s invitation after all.