A clan of house elves escape on a sailing ship but they are pursued by an evil kraken.
|Above them at the brow of the next wave Krysila rose up. Her tentacles clawed towards them as ghastly as the blackened arms of burned trees suddenly brought to life. She gathered her power to crash down on Aira and Klaufi. Something stayed her. The waves tumbled a struggling figure by her, delicate and ragged as seaweed. Krysila lacked warm motherly feeling but Leanan was useful to her. Already she planned to use her as a bargaining tool with Midhir.
The kraken’s pause to scoop up her daughter brought a brief respite from her attack, but Klaufi and Aira were not safe. The wave struck less awesome in its power, but it caught a weak point of the battered door to which Aira and Klaufi clung. The door came apart, plummeting the brownies into the water.
Aira gasped in a mouthful of foam, spluttering. As she fought to keep afloat, something rushed up close to her. She kicked and struggled to escape but it was too fast. In an instant it had her on its back.
Aira gave a cry of relief upon recognising Glaistig’s familiar many-plaited mane. He brought her and Klaufi together, clinging to the remains of the door. Then he was gone, dipping beneath the waves.
The water welled up, battering their numb bodies. Spray blinded them.
There was a surging upthrust. Glaistig leapt from the water, his body forming into wood. A ship rose upon the smoking mountains of waves. Glaistig winked brightly at them before hardening into a carved figurehead.
Boroden was upon the deck, bedraggled and shaking with cold. He drew himself up by clutching at the mast. He skated across the deck, calling Aira and Klaufi towards him and reaching for a rope.
By now their limbs felt as chill and hard as stone. The water surged them away from the ship. Krysila loomed behind them. It was a struggle to swim even a little. Frustrated, Aira put all her strength into powerful kicks, propelling herself towards the gleaming belly of the ship. As Aira closed in on the ship, she realised that far from offering a safe haven it was a danger to her and Klaufi. As they swan towards it, the bow of the ship lurched and slapped down in the waves, threatening to drag them under and crush them.
Boroden was above them, throwing down a length of rope and yelling something. Aira’s fingers were so cold that they could not curl about the rope.
Her leg was nudged. She found herself gazing entranced into the wide, black eyes of a seal. The next instant a seal skin was thrown over her. Cocooned in darkness she was trussed up and winched aloft, bumping against the side of the ship.
Boroden unfastened the seal skins and gratefully threw them back to the selkies. By some happy magic the touch of the seal skins had made the brownies warm and dry again, although they were still bruised and ragged.
‘Welcome aboard the good ship Glaistig,’ Boroden laughed, graciously saluting them. Despite their peril, shipboard and the sea were beloved old friends and lifted Boroden’s spirits.
‘Aye, Captain Wolf,’ Aira laughed.
Klaufi was locked in terror of the gusting sails which tore themselves like heartbroken wraiths, every timber snarling and screaming.
The ship pitched as Krysila threw one of her tentacles out before them. Boroden dived for the ship’s wheel.
Krysila lashed a cloud of spray high through the air, pounding the sails and making the ship lurch. It was in full sail and it would not take much to have it over on its side.
A sail tore with a prolonged crack. Another burst loose and flapped treacherously.
Krysila rose out of the water, her hideous head streaming. Her tentacles launched like a spider. She bellowed. The sound was full of evil magic and shivered through Aira. The ship rocked and bounded. Clouds fled to Krysila, turning the already tempestuous sky to a dark, knotting mass of violet. Wind yowled, rushing into the sails and sending the vessel at a reckless pace.
‘Rocks!’ Aira screamed, spotting the cliffs ahead.
Boroden fought to keep himself upright and lurched towards the ship’s wheel. ‘We have to get the sails in, quickly!’
‘But Majesty it’s too dangerous. If we do it then we’ll stop. Then the kraken will catch us,’ Klaufi moaned.
‘You don’t know much about sailing ships, do you?’ Boroden retorted, grabbing the wheel and casting Klaufi a withering look.
Klaufi turned, open-mouthed in horror. Whilst he hesitated, Aira had immediately shinnied up a mast. She was now battling to untie and roll the sail, which at any moment threatened to slap her away. Not to mention that the lurching movement of the ship might easily toss her to her death in the waves.
‘Help her!’ Boroden urged Klaufi, hauling the ship away from a collision course with the rock, though it took all his might to do so.
Klaufi grabbed the mast and awkwardly hauled himself up. Aira gave him a grateful glance. Despite her numb fingers she had managed to untie her end of the sail and waited for him to unfasten his.
‘The rope won’t come undone!’ he cried, continuing to tug. It gave way so suddenly that the two brownies catapulted into the air clinging to the sail. Aira managed to grab a rope and make herself and Klaufi steady again. They rolled the sail and tied it, all the while buffeted so hard that they could scarcely catch their breath.
‘Done it.’ Klaufi high-fived Aira.
She nodded. ‘Only another three to go.’
Klaufi gaped in dismay at the other sails. ‘You don’t mean?’ But a strong squall decided them.
The last sail was in the foremast.
‘Leave it,’ Boroden said as Aira and Klaufi braced to take it in. ‘It’ll help us flee the kraken and the storm is dying a little.’
‘I thought you mean to fight her?’ Klaufi asked.
Boroden turned his back with a frown.
‘Talking of krakens, where is she?’ Klaufi hurried to the back of the ship.
Aira smiled as Boroden deftly worked the wheel through his hands to avoid a swell that denoted a hidden rock. ‘I’m glad we have someone with such excellent nautical sense. I’d dread to think what would happen without you.’
Her praise was cut short as Boroden suddenly dropped his hands from the wheel and stared with desperate joy before him. ‘It cannot be.’ He leapt to the prow with a gleeful shout, beckoning her to him. ‘Velmoran!’
Between the towering masses of dark waves, saturated with the kraken’s fury, sunrays broke. The rainbow they produced glimmered above high cliffs of lush green. Upon a headland like welcome flames in the dark appeared the battered towers of the palace of Velmoran.
Boroden shook his arm in the air and whooped and Aira laughed. Boroden dived to hug her. They both had tears in their eyes.
‘I never thought I’d see it again,’ Aira grinned.
‘And I did not want to die without seeing it.’ Boroden lurched for the wheel as the ship span inland.
Aira clung to the prow, unable to take her gaze from the waves hiding Velmoran in case they offered another longed-for glimpse of the brownies’ ancestral home. She looked back at Boroden who was turning the wheel with strong, sure strokes. Sailing a ship after long years apart from his childhood training seemed wonderful, but this joy was nothing compared to seeing Velmoran. The smile that he and Aira exchanged was so sunny that it was hard to believe that only moments ago they had been struggling for their lives and remained in deadly peril.
‘I thought I saw it again!’ Aira cried, excitedly jumping up on tiptoes. She was met with a slap of spray. ‘Ugh.’
Boroden laughed. ‘So, Snowdrop, how do you like to be at sea?’
‘I love it.’
‘Even though it’s vast and frightening now?’
‘Only because we feel Krysila’s anger in it. Really it’s wild and boiling with exuberance.’
‘Just like you then.’
‘That sounds jolly. You always cheer me up.’
Another wave crashed over and Boroden braced himself against the squall. Apologising to Glaistig, Aira jumped on top of the ship’s figurehead and along the narrow bowsprit that tossed dangerously between water level and seemingly cliff height. By a miracle, despite her lightness Aira managed to keep her balance against the wind.
Boroden tossed back his hair and noticed that the storminess boded ill. Krysila was gaining on them as the ship slowed with its sail torn. Returning to the wheel, horror filled him as he saw Aira teetering on the bowsprit, reaching up for a rope. The instant her hands touched the rope she shrank and scurried up it as nimbly as a mouse.
‘Hehe. I think it’s useful sometimes to have a girl who likes sewing in the clan,’ Aira called down, having plied her needle to mend the ripped sail. She clung to the mast as the ship took momentum again and Krysila disappeared beneath the waves.
‘Look out!’ Klaufi yelled.
The ship gave a hard jolt. Krysila had come up underneath it. She pressed upwards, making to topple the ship.
Boroden ran to the edge of the deck, Silvelenon drawn.
Glaistig whinnied as shrilly as a horn. At once a constellation of glinting silver flickered through the waves as mermaids leapt. Routed, Krysila jetted ink and twisted away from the ship, meaning to chase the mermaids off. Before she could, however, something caught her eye and she dipped beneath the waves.
Thrown down with a hideous jolt, the brownies crashed onto the deck. Boroden lost no time in clawing his way to the side of the ship and peering over. What he saw there filled him with dread. The rest of the clan, who had been ahead of them and he hoped had safely escaped, had not. Their tree had taken a battering and was snapped in half. Though they clung onto it for dear life, it was not enough to support them. The tree was constantly rolling and writhing, ducking the brownies under the water.
Something black spurted rhythmically in the depths. In inky surety, Krysila propelled herself towards them. Gefi spotted her first and screamed. Carnelian stared grave and intent, gripping Gefi’s arm to keep him quiet, though he himself was full of panic. In an instant it became clear that Krysila had seen them. As she surged upwards, Torden scrambled over Gefi’s head and balanced on top of the twisting log brandishing his axe.
‘No. Get over to us,’ Boroden yelled, beckoning. His face was tense, for he had remembered what Torden had not. Not only was Krysila not to be slain by anything but a blade of Talibereth ore but each wound from a normal weapon made her more deadly.
Krysila burst from the waves behind the brownies, where Torden had not anticipated. Beside himself with terror, Quentillian let go of the tree and splashed desperately towards the ship.
The tree spun past Krysila as if it was eager to escape. In one nightmarish gulp Krysila made to swallow the brownies.
Torden found the strength to ram his axe against her jaw and use it to push the brownies away. Furious at having been foiled, Krysila drew up a tentacle with a spray of ink, lashing it down at Torden. He was almost caught off balance but the next time he took a mighty swing with his axe. Krysila roared in agony. The whiteness of the severed flesh against her oily black skin was a hideous contrast.
‘That was stupid!’ Boroden groaned in response to Torden’s smug grin.
In an instant Torden’s triumphant look changed. Something knocked heavily against his shoulder. From the severed stump two new tentacles burst forth, both grappling with him. He struggled to keep them off with his axe.
Aira ran to Klaufi’s aid and hauled Quentillian aboard. The poor brownie had almost lost his wits with fear and cold.
Stronger and fiercer than ever, Krysila made to snatch at the remaining brownies. Torden’s foot slipped and he splashed beneath the surface. Krysila bundled one of her tentacles up to strike Gefi. Carnelian threw himself at her, meaning to beat her away. She caught hold of him, wrapping him round in a constricting clasp. Carnelian kicked and struggled but was torn into the air. Krysila taunted the other brownies, holding him aloft. Then she opened her jaws.
With a cry of anguish, Boroden turned the ship so it caught the full brunt of the storm, propelling it in a powerful bound against Krysila. Boroden knew full well the danger in injuring the kraken but he was too focused on the need to save Carnelian to care.
Krysila gurgled hideously as the prow of the ship bored into her tentacle. Carnelian was tossed heavily onto the deck, along with a shower of ink from the severed tentacle. Krysila drew back and fixed the brownies with a malicious glare. Aira hauled Carnelian up, watching in horror as Krysila’s severed tentacle drew beneath the water. Then it burst up. Hit, the brownies on the log got tossed like pebbles into the waves.
In place of one Krysila had grown two tentacles, towering black and inescapably hideous above the ship. Boroden made the most of the backwash as she surged at them to elude her. Her tentacles coiled but swung useless where the ship had been. Boroden pulled the ship around.
‘What are you doing?’ Klaufi groaned as Krysila lurched towards them unable to believe her luck.
‘Never will I desert my friends,’ Boroden said.
‘But they’ve got little chance. We’ll all be killed if we go back.’ Quentillian averted his gaze from the three brownies being swept away struggling.
Boroden braced himself defiantly. Then he leapt onto the bowsprit and ran at the kraken, swinging the light blade of Talibereth ore. It blazed like a meteor but did not meet its mark. Yet, it had come close. Krysila knew she must not let that happen again.
‘Follow her!’ Boroden yelled to Carnelian who had taken the wheel.
Krysila surged aside. As the bowsprit struck her, Boroden stabbed out. The blade shivered upon an impenetrable scale and Krysila lashed him with a tentacle.
Boroden tumbled, face down, onto the slippery bowsprit. He gathered all his fury at the kraken and pushed himself to his feet. With a howl of rage, he swung at Krysila. She whipped back, as a malicious parting shot twisting a tentacle about a mast and tearing it down as easily as a ripe apple. Kraken and mast disappeared beneath the waves as the ship plunged.
‘That was a waste of Aira’s handiwork mending that sail,’ Klaufi commented.
Boroden bounded back onto the deck. ‘The others. We need to get to them.’
Quentillian gave a sigh of defeatism. ‘We’ll never do it. They’re swept out of sight.’
‘Who says never?’ Glaistig said, making Quentillian jump.
Looking in Glaistig’s direction, Aira saw flickers of silver. A score of mermaids cut the water with effortless grace. They dipped up again by the ship. One of them leapt so high that she landed on board, suddenly ungainly and struggling to push herself up.
Gefi disentangled himself from the mermaid who had rescued him. ‘Never thought I’d see you again,’ he puffed at Boroden, wringing out his hat and slamming it on again.
Then came another mermaid, to whom Torden was clinging and complimenting loudly. She seemed less impressed and was about to toss him off, but a stern look from Glaistig made her think better. She leapt onto the deck and attempted to wrench Torden off, resorting to giving him a slap with her tail. Unperturbed, Torden watched as she disappeared into the waves. He continued enthusing about her beauty. Boroden rolled his eyes.
At the prow of the ship a kerfuffle had broken out. Glaistig had noticed three mermaids cradling Harfan and encouraged them to jump aboard with him. ‘He’s half drowned. He’ll die for sure if you don’t move away,’ Glaistig told the mermaids. Hardly listening, one of the mermaids stroked Harfan’s handsome head whilst another attempted to twist seaweed in his hair.
‘Oy! What do you think you’re doing?’ The mermaids looked round at Quentillian’s shout. Seeing that Boroden was joining Glaistig in defence of Harfan, they reluctantly dropped him and fled back into the waves.
Dazed, Harfan feebly gripped Boroden’s hand, coughing up seaweed and water. Then realisation sparked in his eyes. ‘Tarka!’ he cried, full of anguish.
‘The vouivres and Hëki are safe. I saw them flee,’ Aira reassured him.
‘But Hëki will think I’m dead.’ Harfan turned aside and shut his eyes, a look of concentration gripping him as he sought to make a thought contact with his brother. He opened his eyes a moment later, the look of relief on his face fierce. Quickly he bottled away his joy. ‘Over there. She’s gaining on us.’
Boroden looked in the direction that Harfan had nodded. Krysila surfaced, then dipped again as fluidly as a snake. The mermaids mobbed her, but it was futile. Nothing could hold back the angry kraken.
Boroden thought quickly, scanning their way ahead and biting his lip as he noticed the sheer cliffs rising to their left. The sea was strewn with rocks waiting to wreck the ship. Boroden half tumbled up the steps to the helm in his haste and dived for the wheel. The ship groaned stiffly as he hauled it to the right.
‘What are you doing? We’re cutting straight into Krysila’s path,’ Torden called.
‘Exactly. We need a bit of unpredictability. Now, haul out the sail. Speed us up,’ Boroden ordered.
Torden, Quentillian and Harfan heaved on the ropes whilst Carnelian and Gefi scampered into the rigging. Aira and Klaufi were already there.
Klaufi was doubled over being seasick. ‘No wonder I feel queasy. I swallowed half a gallon of water and a pine cone.’
Boroden pulled a face, almost skidding on Klaufi’s vomit as he made to help Torden.
A wave crashed upon the deck, knocking the brownies over with a feeling like they had been hit by a cave bear. Aira clung to the quivering mast, looking behind the wave with eyes wide with terror.
‘The kraken!’ Gefi yelled.
Krysila reared at the back of the ship where she was least expected, bent upon destroying the vessel. For an instant her tentacles rose in a deadly cradle. Then she surged at the stern, her jaws clamping onto the screaming wood.
Boroden’s chest heaved as he looked across the deck at the kraken. Like Krysila, he was beyond fear and intent upon revenge, even if it meant fighting to the death. He whirled the light Talibereth blade above his head, his battle howl cutting through even the fierce squall of the wind. His charge at Krysila was aided by the pitch of the ship, which sent him skating across the deck so that he met her quicker that she expected. Unfortunately, his speed was too great to hone his aim. The blade pierced a plank and shivered there. Krysila slid up, arching a tentacle above Boroden. The sword was stuck fast, despite Boroden’s yanking. Krysila would not let this opportunity go. Boroden lashed her away but her tentacle caught around his ankle, dragging him up by his leg. He still clung desperately to the trapped sword.
Carnelian was ordering Aira back to the prow, but she would not listen. Running along the rigging with the wind shrieking in her ears, she made for the stern. She could not watch Boroden’s struggle and be helpless. Her knife gripped in her teeth, she began to haul herself down to the deck on a treacherously swaying ladder.
‘Get back lass!’ Carnelian shouted.
Boroden cast her a stricken glance. She swung herself round the rope ladder, almost losing her footing as one of Krysila’s tentacles lurched towards the mast. With a shuddering crack it snapped in two. The ladder shook its torn head, snagging on a slither of jagged wood.
Aira took a step down. The rope rungs groaned, fraying. It would not hold long. Suddenly it felt right to do as Carnelian bid and make away from the heart of the fight. Boroden would not want her to come to harm. She was too afraid to be of much use.
Boroden yelled in anguish, giving a last desperate tug at the sword and holding fast to it with white knuckles. Krysila slid a tentacle insidiously around his face.
Snatching up a broken chunk of mast, Carnelian swung it at Krysila. Her recoil yanked Boroden sideways. Already loosened, the sword burst from the wood with such force that Boroden lost his grip as it twisted through the air.
Aira grabbed at the sword, gripping it to her.
Boroden lay tumbled on the deck, Krysila about to pin him with her fangs.
For a moment Aira felt as though she had been torn from her body. She would slay Krysila as her father prophesied. Vaulting down the last rungs of the ladder, she launched herself at the kraken. Even as she raised the sword, Boroden snatched it from her hands.
‘That’s the first time you’ve managed to catch anything. Now get back to Glaistig,’ Boroden said, assuming she was returning the sword to him.
Ripped apart by conflicting emotion Aira did as he bid, almost colliding with Harfan on the way.
‘Coward!’ Boroden cried after the kraken. There was a thud on the deck behind him. He spun round but in a swift move Krysila crushed him down with one of her tentacles. Ink bit through his clothes. He wriggled hopelessly to free the sword that was trapped by Krysila’s oppressive bulk. The end of the tentacle coiled back, reaching for his throat. Krysila’s jaws loomed, so close that the morbid stench of her breath stifled him.
She recoiled so suddenly that he was knocked to the ground. Harfan had choked his war hammer; holding it near the head to make it quicker and easier to strike but less powerful, so he had bruised, not broken the kraken’s skin. This did not bring on the growth and strengthening that the other wounds wrought upon the kraken. Harfan hauled Boroden up, nearly slipping in the ink that bit like acid. Luckily a wave crashed over, diluting the ink and leaving hideous kraken parasites beached and flapping in its wake.
‘I thought I left you to steer the vessel,’ Boroden told Harfan.
‘I couldn’t see you die. Velmoran is my hope, Krysila my enemy too. I saw Carnelian on my way and asked him to take charge in my stead. He has more experience at sea than I.’
The ship jolted and lurched like a broken puppet. Boroden glanced in horror to the upper deck. The wheel span aimlessly. Before he had chance to reach it, Carnelian had been waylaid by Krysila. Her tentacle wrapped around one of his arms, he clutched the mast with his other arm and kicked out. His grip on the mast slipped. Gefi and Quentillian grabbed him, tugging him to safety.
These were treacherous waters. Boroden snatched every glance he could at the deserted helm, his mind in turmoil. He knew that if it was not guided then the ship would surely meet its end.
Then he saw something that made him freeze an instant, forgetful of his fight against the kraken. Ahead of them loomed a claw of rock, hungering to tear the ship apart and devour it in boiling foam. Klaufi and Aira were the only ones close enough to the wheel who were not fighting for their lives.
‘Shall I take us left, Majesty?’ Klaufi yelled, riveted by the idea of reaching a band of still water on the left and not noticing how perilously close it lay to the cliffs.
‘Right!’ Boroden shouted back, seeing the danger and waving his right hand for good measure, though he was hard pressed beating off Krysila.
Mistaking his response for acceptance of his plan, Klaufi hauled the wheel left as far as it would go. He grinned gleefully, looking back at Krysila who, surprised, was being left behind. Boroden and Harfan attacked the ends of her tentacles, throwing her off as she reached for the ship. Cliffs reared jaggedly as the ship leapt towards them.
‘No!’ Aira threw herself at the wheel, attempting to yank it in the opposite direction.
Klaufi resisted, intent on escaping the kraken and unwilling to relinquish his triumph in freeing them from her clutches. ‘Oy, wait. What do you think you’re doing?’
‘We’re heading for the cliffs,’ Aira yelled.
Klaufi shot a panicked look at the wall of rock. Though he tugged the wheel to turn the ship away, his hands were slippery, and they were too close. The cliffs had rocky fangs fiercer and more inescapable than any kraken.
A powerful wave as Krysila surged after them sealed their fate.