A plot uncovered?
Joseph let the door swing open and took in the scene in front of him.
“This looks cosy. Where is the Margrave?”
“He is resting. He will be joining us shortly.” Jorn was furious. “What are you doing back here again? Did I not make myself clear yesterday?”
“I need to know what is going on. If there is going to be trouble it affects me too.” Now Joseph was really concerned and he was determined to hold his ground.
It was one of the visitors who spoke next, the one they had called Leon.
“Who is this man? What is he to your Margrave?”
Joseph answered him directly, “I am the intermediary, the link to the outside. They need one living so close in the city, and I need to be kept informed of any problems otherwise I cannot do my job.”
The Sea Mer whispered together and then Leon, who was clearly the leader of their group, acquiesced.
“Very well. These discussions cannot wait and as you appear to have the ear of the Margrave you may sit with us until he comes.”
There was nowhere for him to sit however, so Joseph stood behind Jorn and Arne and leaned against the wall. Arne glanced up at him and summarised the situation for his benefit when he spoke across the table to Leon.
“We are aware of the rumours of troubles stirring at sea, and now you come to us unannounced. What is it that your people want, Leon?”
Joseph cut in, “It has been in the newspapers, tales of unexplained disappearances in the Mediterranean. The papers are calling it rip-tides for the moment, but the Margrave talks of Sirens. Is this your doing?”
“We cannot control everyone. Some are getting restless, and who can blame them? We are all starting to struggle.”
“But I still don’t understand what’s caused all this? Explain it to me please – why all this has blown up now?”
Jorn, Arne and Joseph listened as Leon and another of the Sea Mer took it in turns to speak, slowly at first, with their heavy accents emphasising their intent. They told how life was becoming impossible for them at sea, and their numbers were fewer than they had ever been. There had been troubled times before during wars, or when earthquakes and volcanoes had done their worst, but nothing like this. A combination of rising levels of pollution, increasing amounts of shipping and overfishing meant they were finding life more and more difficult. Now it seemed that hardship was leading to unrest.
“They are starting to say ‘why should we suffer, why should we stay hidden?’ And some are starting to act on these thoughts.”
“Like the Sirens?” said Joseph, and a chill came over him that he struggled to shake off.
“Yes. We have dealt with them for now, but we cannot say how long that will last.”
Leon then spoke directly to Jorn, “We know that you feel the same, that perhaps this is now our time.”
Jorn and Arne stayed silent so Joseph challenged them. “Do you feel like that? Is that what you’ve been whispering in corners about?”
Arne looked hesitant, but Jorn could contain himself no longer.
“Yes Joseph, that’s how I feel, that’s how many of us feel. We are sick of skulking about down here in the shadows. We have lost our identity, our pride, everything – all we are doing is scraping an existence, and that’s not a life worth living?” Joseph was taken aback by his vehemence. “And the Margrave cannot see it. He thinks that so long as there is scavenging to be done and a few books to read that’s enough, but maybe it isn’t for me, not any more.”
Leon was listening intently and he spoke straight to Jorn. “So let us join forces.”
“Go on,” said Jorn, keeping his back turned to Joseph.
“In many ways you have a good set up here inland, but it could be so much better. There are rich pickings to be had from this city. We can help you, and save ourselves at the same time.”
Joseph listened in growing alarm as the Sea Mer outlined their proposal. They wanted to leave their polluted home and make a new life in Britain, but heading inland not staying out to sea. Most of their number still lived fully underwater so they planned to inundate the eastern rivers, salinating the water and raising levels by many metres. The Thames was their first target, which would lead to catastrophe for London, at least for the city that lay above ground that is. Below, all the Margrave’s community would return to what Leon called the “old ways,” learning to live and breathe under the water again.
“That’s ridiculous!” Joseph exclaimed. “The people won’t accept that the sea level has simply risen like that, and what will happen to those who live in the city, in all the cities that you plan to drown?”
“They talk about it all the time,” said Jorn, apparently in agreement. “They are always going on about climate change and rising sea levels. It will just come a bit more quickly than they’d expected.”
“I cannot believe that you will have support for this.”
“I think you will be surprised Joseph. There are many in the Riverways who are, shall we say ‘dissatisfied’, with how things are at present. We just need to persuade the Margrave.”
“He will never agree.”
“Never agree to what?”
It was the Margrave. Joseph didn’t know how long he had been standing in the doorway, and silhouetted against the light from the corridor his face was in shadow.
“If I didn’t know better I’d say this looked like a plot. Why did no one wake me?”
Everyone seated around the table stood hastily, and Arne spoke first:
“I’m sorry Sire, he – we – felt this could not wait.”
“Well I am here now. May I sit down, and perhaps you can explain it all to me?”
Arne gave up his chair for the Margrave and stood beside Joseph while the Sea Mer repeated their proposal.
Joseph whispered to Arne, “You can’t be going along with this madness?”
Arne shrugged his shoulders and whispered back, “Jorn is right about one thing, times are getting tougher and there are plenty who agree that we need to stand up for ourselves, that we have hidden for too long. But he’s not stupid, I don’t think he means it about siding with them, he just wants to see what will happen, how far they are prepared to go.”
Jorn was indeed being careful not to show any more signs of open support for the Sea Mer, contenting himself with watching the Margrave and casting dagger looks at Joseph.
The old leader listened carefully, then shook his head.
“I cannot believe this is the right thing to do. Not now, not all that destruction, not ever. Joseph, what do you think?”
All eyes were on Joseph now and he had never felt so uncomfortable, but he spoke up.
“I think it is lunacy.”
“Then I am decided.” The Margrave stood up, but this time the others did not. “Joseph, please come with me, I would like to discuss this further,” he looked around the table, “but I suggest that perhaps there has been enough discussion in this room for today.”
The Margrave took Joseph’s arm and they walked slowly down the passage towards his chamber. The old man said nothing, but Joseph felt sick with dread.
“Be careful. I don’t trust them.”
“Jorn has always been headstrong, but I don’t believe he would ever put us in danger.”
“Perhaps he already has. There was water in one of the dry walkways today.”
“That is more likely to be because of them,” the Margrave nodded upwards as the rumble of a distant Tube train could be heard overhead, but Joseph was not reassured.