A decision for the Margrave
The days had been dragging for Laura, but for the Margrave they were passing all too quickly, as he counted down the days of the lunar cycle. He had heard nothing more from Joseph, and so he called his Elders together once again, gambling that even those who sympathised with the Sea Mer would not actually want to destroy the Riverways and lose the only home they’d ever known.
He spoke directly to Jorn, if there was a threat from within it would come from him.
“We cannot wait any longer Jorn, and there can be no more secrets. Please start by telling us why you have been going to the river so often. Do I have cause to question your loyalty?”
But it was Arne who spoke up: “I can answer that sire. Jorn wanted to know more about how we used to live, about life in the water, and when the visitors came from the Sea I began to join him.”
“Join him in what?”
“We have been teaching ourselves to breathe again.”
The Margrave’s old eyes opened wide and he leaned forward, gripping the arms of his chair.
“Go on,” he said.
“That’s all,” Jorn replied quickly. He had told no one, not even Arne, of the other things he’d been teaching himself about the old ways. Arne thought perhaps Jorn did not want to admit that they had yet to fully succeed with the breathing, but he could see that this was not a moment to be coy and spoke up.
“What Jorn is trying to say is that it has been a slow process. Our bodies are finding it hard to remember, but I think the muscle memory is there, somewhere deep inside us. We just need more time.”
“Time is the one thing we don’t have,” said the Margrave. “What you have learned so far, would this help you to travel, to go out into the seas and find them before they return? We must try one last time to negotiate.”
Jorn and Arne looked at each other and nodded in agreement, then Jorn spoke again:
“We could go, we are able to move faster at least, and to stay down for longer. We know they used the old trade route to come to the Gathering so if we follow that we should intercept them before they reach our waters.”
The Margrave looked around the table at the expectant faces of his Elders, all eyes were on him, waiting for his decision. There was no alternative, despite his unease he had to trust Jorn, it was their last hope.
“Then go, now. You have my authority to do whatever it takes to save our people.”
He saw Jorn’s eyes glitter and gave them one last piece of guidance:
“You carry my authority, but you also carry my wishes. You know that we are a peaceful people, and I would always, always wish for a peaceful outcome.”
“Yes sire,” said Arne as he rose from the table, and Jorn echoed him. Then they were gone, and the Margrave was left to wait once more.
The trade routes linked all the ancient water peoples and hugged the coastlines from inlet to estuary, crossing open sea where the distances were shortest. They were rarely used now, as those few communities that remained dare not venture far from where they were hidden. Arne knew the way though, and they travelled swiftly, still needing to surface periodically to breathe in the air. As they had hoped, it wasn’t long before they were on the trail of the Sea Mer, and then moving cautiously they caught up with them undetected. They found them gathered at a resting place in a bay in northern France where the Somme met the sea.
Jorn and Arne took shelter among the huge boulders that formed a breakwater along the shoreline, hiding in the shallow waters until night came and they felt safer. At sunset a group of fishermen came and sat on the rocks, casting their lines out into the darkness.
For the first time Jorn felt unsure. He had sympathised with the Sea Mer initially, then angered them by not following through. But finding them holed up here, waiting silently to come and attack his home, made him see things more clearly. He had been foolish and vain, damaging his relationship with the Margrave and others, and now it was his chance to make amends. Doing so would bring his dream of leadership closer than any act of rebellion. He turned to Arne.
Arne nodded. “They call their Margrave ‘King’ and he will be with them I’m sure,” he said.
“Then we must go to the King,” Jorn replied.
“No need,” came a voice from out of the darkness, and four figures emerged from the inky water.
Jorn recognised Leon with others from the Gathering and suddenly felt vulnerable, the rocks and the shore behind him, and the Sea Mer between him and the open sea.
“Have you changed your mind, would you join us now – now the man and the woman are gone and there is no other choice but to rise?” Leon spoke with contempt. Arne and Jorn began to doubt they had any chance of getting him to listen, but they had to try.
“There must be no rising,” somehow Arne found his voice, “we cannot allow our waters to be destroyed. We will help you to find a new home, but not like this. Please, the Margrave asks you to be patient, to give us more time.”
“We have waited long enough,” Leon replied, “you know how much time there is left before we send the tide.”
Jorn and Arne both lifted their gaze to where a sliver of new moon was just starting to appear above the horizon. They knew.