Dragon’s Ring — Snippet 15
It had taken Hrodenynbrys a long time to swim back to the halls of his people. The merrow had time to think. He was, according to most of his kind, too inclined to do that anyway. A merrow’s place was to revel in the wild water and the storm, to hunt great fish, whales or giant Kraken, and, naturally, to keep up the traditional pastime of caging the souls of drowned sailors. Hrodenynbrys was not entirely sure that that was worthwhile, or that successful. One couldn’t ever get them all. He was fond enough of wild water and the hunt. But . . . it might be that they hunted bigger game, and in a wilder ocean this time.
Perhaps he shouldn’t have let her go. But he had her hair. He smiled at that. Humans really didn’t understand the value of hair.
He swam on, to a place where the gap between the cliffs funneled the currents into a tumbling churn of angry, ship-eating surf. That wasn’t how merrows saw it, of course. They saw a huge whirlpool sucking vast amounts of bubbles down as an entertainment and opportunity.
Firstly, it made a good wild ride. And secondly the bubbles could be trapped in the fine meshwork that channeled them upward along into the sea-home. It was dvergar work and amazingly fine and cunning. The water rushed out and the bubbles remained. Hrodenynbrys swam steadily along the snaking seaweed-hung pipes into the vast sunken caldera that was Merrow-home.
Here far beneath the waves the light was muted, blue. The impossibly tall fragile-seeming towers swayed slowly. Shoals of fish drifted between them. No merrow would hunt here, nor did they allow other predators to do so. ‘Brys allowed himself a moment of joy and pride. Merrow-home made alvar castles look like clumsy, earthy things. Once, long ago, there’d been better relations between alv and Merrow, and some had even come here. But ‘Brys had other things on his mind now. Hair for a start. Magic for seconds. Both hope and fear.
He swam past the soul cages and into the halls of Margetha. Merrow-kind had always resisted formal hierarchy. It would take a very odd merrow to admit that he was inferior to another. Still: there were times when they needed disputes settled, and the like. What little leadership they had, she provided. The chieftainess Margetha dispensed justice, decision and abuse with a skill that gave her respect from merrow-kind.
“Look at the bit of flotsam that just drifted in,” she said from where she lounged on her judging chair of delicate corals — with sponges for comfort. “Hrodenynbrys. I thought a dogfish had eaten you. Pity I was wrong, to be sure.”
She really did like him.
“Ah, I’d like to say that I couldn’t stay away, but that’d be stretching the truth,” he said easily. Merrows were fairly solitary, but it was good to have words with his own kind now and again.
“And you’d have given the dogfish indigestion. So: to what do I owe this momentous privilege?” she said, lazily. Hrodenynbrys was not fooled. She was intensely curious.
“Well, I thought you might have a passing interest in knowing that great things were on the swim. Strange tides are moving,” he said in a passable imitation of a sententious courtier.
“And there I was thinking that you’d come to tell me that the dogfish didn’t like the taste. So: what news is this? More important than a dogfish’s sudden discrimination?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” said Hrodenynbrys. “I was summonsed.”
She scowled. “It’s something that happens.”
“Ah, but not recently by a human mage.”
With a sinuous flick Margetha was out of her chair, all pretense of lethargy gone, green eyes narrow, intent. “You’re sure, Hrodenynbrys?”
“Sure as death. That’s why I bothered to come and tell you.”
“Where?” she asked.
“Ah, that’s more interesting still. On the coast of Yenfar.”
“What?” They both knew the significance of that place.
Hrodenynbrys nodded. “And it was no little ‘if you happen to be passing come closer’ spell either. A working of great power. I must have been fifty miles away. I left my second best trident in a skip-jack,” he said regretfully.
“Whisht! It’s come to this at last,” said Margetha, biting a webbed finger.
“I was thinking the same,” said Hrodenynbrys. “Maybe those sprite-folk knew more than we thought they did, when they came seeking a bargain.”
“They’re not to be trusted,” said Margetha, grimly. “It’s to be wished that you could have got a bit of cloth or something of hers.”
“Oh I have that, and better than that. I’ve got the hair off her head, given in free exchange, yet,” said the merrow, hauling it out of his pouch.
She laughed incredulously. “Hrodenynbrys, how is it for someone so ugly you’re so beautiful?
“Ah, ’tis my natural charm,” he said grinning like a shark. “And I am clever too.”