No good news
Edgar had gone scampering ahead while Cara walked with Laura, happy to have a chance to chat to the lady from above once again. Laura smiled when the girl admired her clothes as even by her own standards they were plain and dull – whatever would she think if she saw Rani? They reached the lit part of the Riverways, and before long they were approaching the Margrave’s chamber. He was waiting for her with Edgar beside him, and though he greeted her politely he was obviously concerned.
“It is lovely to see you again Laura, but you should not be here. Joseph told me you were somewhere safe.”
“Have you spoken to him?”
“Not since he left here with you, but I have been kept informed as you know.”
“Of course you have, it was you who gave permission for me to go out for lunch.”
“And now you are out once again.”
“So it would appear.” Laura tried not to sound too annoyed. “And I have come here to get some answers please.”
“Then I think we should sit together,” the Margrave gestured for her to follow him into his room.
Laura nodded gratefully when he asked Edgar and Cara to fetch something to drink, but remembering what there had been to eat at the Gathering, she declined the offer of food. Edgar soon returned with two glasses of something red and sweet smelling. She didn’t know what it was but drank the cool, refreshing liquid anyway.
The Margrave asked Edgar to leave, and shut the door behind him. He didn’t take the seat behind his desk, instead settling himself into one of the two armchairs. Laura sat in the other and got straight to the point.
“I need to know what’s going on. Joseph has disappeared off who knows where and no one seems to have heard from him,” she paused, “you haven’t, have you?”
The Margrave shook his head and Laura continued.
“I’m not stupid, I can see something is happening to the water, it’s starting to smell like the Sussex seaside out there. I get that you thought I was in danger and that those, those others would come for me again, but they haven’t. I made it here safely enough, and I want to know what’s going on. I know about their deadline, is it something to do with the full moon? When is that exactly, and what did it all mean, what’s going to happen?”
The Margrave sighed heavily. Laura had never seen him look this way, a downcast figure dwarfed by the big old chair, and it chilled her to the bone, but she looked him in the eye with her steady gaze. After thinking for a moment he decided to talk to her. Why not? There was no one else, and no time left for it to matter.
“You are right Laura, the water is changing. This is all part of their intention, their plan to take the inland waters and make them their home. They will come at full moon, which is not tomorrow night but the one after.”
“What will happen when they come?”
“They tried to call it a Rising, when our people will have their time again, but it is not just they who will rise.”
“What do you mean?”
“In order for this to happen, the waters must rise too.”
“I remember, they told me. Will it be like a flood?”
The Margrave nodded, “more than a flood.”
“They will cause a tidal surge to push up the Thames, like the Severn Bore only many times higher. It will be sudden and unexpected, the city will be inundated.”
“And its population decimated.” Laura’s heart was beating wildly and her mouth was dry. “What will happen to you, when your friendly cousins do this?”
“They are not our friends, not any more. One or two of us may survive, adapt, rediscover how to live the way we used to under the water, but only a few.”
“And the rest?”
“We will drown with you.”
The Margrave looked small, and old and utterly defeated. It would be the end of him and his community for ever as the city above them, her city, faced annihilation.
“Is there nothing you can do? Talk to them, persuade them?”
“I’m afraid it has gone beyond that now. I sent a legation, Jorn and Arne, to try one last time to reason them but they have not returned, perhaps it was a mistake to think they could travel such a distance.”
“Or perhaps they got there and it didn’t turn out well. I take it you haven’t told the rest of your people?”
“No. What could I say to Edgar and Cara and the rest. I have failed them and I am bringing the end.”
“But it isn’t your fault.”
“Isn’t it? If I had done more when they first approached us, helped them to find a safe haven, then it would never have come to this. As they see it they are simply trying to save themselves.”
“But at what cost?”
Laura pushed herself up out of the chair. The Margrave did not get up, he just stared bleakly ahead, his hands clasping and unclasping in his lap. She had got the information she’d come for, but it was not what she’d wanted to hear. Now what?
“I’m so sorry,” he said finally. “Edgar will show you out, just call for him when you leave.”
“Good bye then,” she took the Margrave’s cool hand in her own and clasped it tight for a moment. What else was there to say?
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