Jorn knew had to leave the shore and get back into the water. When those fishermen were fully recovered they would surely come back to see if they could find out what had happened to them. But he knew that, unconscious, Arne would not be able to breathe as they travelled, and Jorn didn’t think he had the strength to carry him all the way home. He dragged him across the beach into the shadows of a rocky outcrop and laid him in the water with only his head exposed.
Jorn sat in the shallows close by with this head in his hands, trying to think of what to do next, and he could only think of one, desperate answer. He would have to leave him behind, he could drag him up the coast for a few miles but he had to get back to the Margrave to tell him what had happened.
But how can I? If I go back alone they’ll probably assume I killed him myself, Jorn thought bitterly, but just as he was steeling himself to do it anyway, Arne slipped under the surface of the water, before emerging again a few seconds later and looking round in a daze, rubbing the side of his head.
“What happened?” he mumbled as Jorn helped him to sit up, “did the men drown?”
“No, they called off the Sirens just in time. I think it was their King who stopped it, or maybe they just thought they’d made their point. They certainly scared those fishermen enough to nearly kill you, and quite what that achieves I don’t know.”
Arne rubbed his face with his hands, “it shows us what they’re capable of. Did you speak to the King?”
“Mostly Leon, who is his son, but it did no good. There’s nothing more we can do here except get back and warn the Margrave.”
Jorn watched Arne for a moment – he was slumped on the shingle at the water’s edge with his eyes closed. He looked exhausted and in no fit state to make the journey, but they had to leave before either the Sea Mer or the fishermen returned.
Then Jorn looked across the rocks towards the fishing village but there was no sign of movement, yet he sensed eyes upon them, and sure enough when he scanned the bay he saw four shapes in the water, still, watching. He prodded Arne with his foot, wanting to avoid any sudden movements that would let them know he’d spotted them.
“Come on,” he hissed under his breath, “I think Leon and his henchmen are back, we really need to get moving.”
Arne touched his hand to his temple, the bleeding had stopped but his head was pounding, he could barely think straight. He scrambled to his feet, staggered a couple of steps along the waterline and then slumped down heavily again. Jorn was instantly by his side, and spoke urgently under his breath.
“How bad is it? Could you swim if I towed you?”
Over Arne’s shoulder he saw that the shapes in the water were now much closer, three heads broke the surface just a few metres away, still silently watching. Then Leon emerged from the shallows beside them and it was too late.
“So here are the Margrave’s brave messengers, paddling at the seaside.” He beckoned for the others to come out of the water and soon all four surrounded Jorn and Arne.
“You spoke so bravely of revolution when we came to your Gathering and now look at you,” Leon sneered.
Jorn did not respond, he sat with Arne leaning against him and kept his eyes cast down, waiting for Leon’s next move. But while one hand supported Arne the other was feeling among the shingle for something to use as a weapon. The Margrave’s plea for a peaceful outcome echoed in his mind, but when his fingers closed around a rock its sharp edges and solid weight gave him comfort. He turned the rock over and over in his hand until he held it snugly, the small movements imperceptible to the others.
Leon took a step closer to Arne and gave him a small but vicious kick, clearly enjoying showing off in front of his companions. Arne slumped more heavily against Jorn, their heads were almost touching and Jorn wondered if he had consciously moved towards him.
“Arne?” he breathed, not moving a muscle, hoping that Leon would not hear over the sound of the waves on the shingle. Arne responded with a very slight shift in pressure against his arm.
“Perhaps we should give the messengers a message to take back with them? A little reminder of their visit,” Leon was crowing with anticipation.
“Ready?” Jorn whispered, and he sensed Arne breathing heavily for a few seconds as if trying to gather his strength before he felt another tiny nudge. Jorn knew that he could not, would not, give Leon the satisfaction of inking them as he had Laura, however much the Margrave urged peace. His grip tightened around the stone and grabbing Arne with his other hand he leapt to his feet.
“Go!” he shouted at Arne, “Now!” and he pushed him towards deeper water then spun round the other way. Only Leon still faced him down, taken aback by his sudden move the others had retreated a few steps.
“You wouldn’t dare,” taunted Leon, “you lost your nerve at the Gathering.”
The rock was burning in Jorn’s hand, and his anger burned even hotter, but through the white hot fog of fury he still knew that to attack the son of their king would be suicidal. With a cry of rage he hurled the rock past Leon, instantly felling one of the others, and plunged into the water after Arne.
His actions had bought them precious seconds and he quickly caught up with Arne, and almost dragging him along they made their escape. As they waded out into the estuary and then began to swim they felt the swell building. Jorn looked back and in the darkness he could just make out the silhouettes of two of the Sea Mer, standing chest deep in the water. They were at the centre of an angry whirlpool which was shooting waves out towards Jorn and Arne. The water was fizzing with energy and huge breakers were beginning to crash against the shore.
Desperately Jorn pulled Arne along behind him, hoping that they could outswim the force of the waves. At last they reached the open sea and the waters were calm again. They had got away, and for a minute or two they floated on their backs gazing up at the sky as they gathered their strength. This was just as Laura had described it to the Margrave and Arne had confirmed it was a skill that had been used many years ago – generating a pressure to agitate the waters stir up the fish. Arne had said at the time that he thought it was more of a party trick than anything else, but now he was not so sure.
“We should move on,” Jorn said, “can you do it?”
“I think so,” Arne replied, and they started the journey home to face the Margrave and tell him that they had failed.
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