The brownies find refuge from the kraken on a secluded island
|By midday the next day they had explored the island and made camp in what seemed to be the most secluded bay. Carnelian rigged together a shelter of driftwood tied with kelp over which they hung their cloaks to fend off the bright sun. What with the cloudless day and fire that they lit to toast eels and samphire, a salty plant which Aira found to her liking, their sodden garments soon dried. It helped that there seemed always to be a brisk breeze filled with the refreshing scent of salt and gorse. The sun scattered diamonds across the surface of the sea. The sweeping sands and buckled veins of the cliffs mesmerised Aira. She sat hugging her knees beside the treasured shells that she and Carnelian had gathered from the strandline. Boroden and Harfan had slipped away for a swim and they returned for lunch glistening wet and laughing.
‘You’re mad. It looks freezing,’ Klaufi remarked.
Boroden shrugged. ‘No, it’s warm.’
‘Says the lad who waded out in icy January,’ Torden reminded them.
‘That was cold but it’s lovely now I assure you. You’re mad not to go in, Spadefoot. I say after lunch we dunk him,’ Boroden said, winking at Glaistig.
Glaistig gave a wicker of amusement. Aira noticed that he had been helping himself to her shell collection. ‘Oy!’
‘A wedding present for Tarka.’ He dangled the thread on which he had been stringing a necklace of holed limpets, gull feathers and a mermaid’s purse or two. Aira was astounded how easily he had accomplished this task, for he had only his horse-like muzzle to use to hold the thread and sea treasures.
‘I miss him. I’m glad he got to see the sea that once,’ Harfan said.
‘Yes. And he’ll see it again, see it always from the turrets of Velmoran,’ Boroden said.
‘You mean to forgive him?’
‘Of course. I already have. It’s just a bit of a shock to come back and find your cousin married to a fire-breathing thirty-foot dragon.’
Aira giggled. ‘I suppose so.’
‘She’s very nice once you get to know her,’ Harfan reassured him.
‘She makes dragon roasted marshmallows,’ Aira added light-heartedly.
‘Ah well, in that case she’s most definitely welcome. That reminds me,’ Boroden said, tapping Carnelian’s arm, ‘have you got any lemon balm cake left?’
‘One of my mermaid friends ate it when the cake tin was washed out of Carnelian’s pack. She said she preferred sea cucumber sandwiches,’ Glaistig told Carnelian, rolling on his back on the warm sand.
‘Strapping lasses those mermaids. Any chance your mermaid friend might be paying a call here later?’ Torden asked with a glint in his eye.
‘No. She said the smell of your boots was enough to knock out every seal for ten miles.’
‘I’m off for another swim,’ Boroden announced.
Carnelian shook his head. ‘Make the most of it, laddie. We won’t be able to stay here more than another day for it’s not safe.’
‘Where are we going then?’ Klaufi fretted.
‘Don’t worry. I know a place where we’ll be safe to await the others and make our plans,’ Carnelian said.
‘You’re coming with me for a dip, Carnelian?’ Boroden asked.
‘Me? No, my leg’s feeling its age.’
‘Can I come?’ Aira asked.
Boroden grinned at her. ‘Yes.’
Aira joyfully pounded across the hard sand at the sea edge, her petticoat fluttering about her. She splashed into the water with determined strides. As the water rose she went more slowly, letting her body adjust to the chill waves slapping at the hem of her petticoat, then at her knees.
‘Don’t go deeper than you can stand up,’ Quentillian warned Klaufi. He was dragged reluctantly into the waves by Boroden who was amused by the wizard’s lilac striped long johns and floppy sunhat.
Harfan shook his head. ‘He’s going to sink like a brick in all that knitwear.’
‘I can’t swim,’ Klaufi protested.
‘Well, we’ll teach you.’ Boroden prodded Klaufi before him. ‘Can you still swim?’ he asked Aira.
‘I think I’ll remember.’
‘Well, why aren’t you getting in?’
‘It’s cold. I’m going in slowly to get used to it,’ Aira replied, inching forward with chattering teeth as the water came another painful bound up her belly.
‘Nonsense, scaredy. You need to just go for it. Does this help?’ Boroden asked blithely, splashing water over her front.
‘Och! It’s cold,’ Aira gasped, deciding to give him as good a drenching as he gave.
Boroden flinched as she propelled a handful of water at him. ‘Rotter!’
Soon they were showering each other with water, Aira making much of the elvers going down her ears and exclaiming how cold it was to make Boroden laugh. With a leap of bravery, she kicked her heels from the sea bottom, her arms moving in a frantic spasm at the shock of the cold water.
‘Come on. Swim to me.’ Boroden kindly kept but a few feet away. Seeing her still flounder, he put his arms under her and pulled her through the waves whilst she kicked. Inadvertently her heel broke the surface, showering him.
‘Ugh. I swallowed that,’ he moaned.
Without knowing it she found herself swimming. He let her go. ‘You do remember.’
‘Yes. It’s good.’
They both laughed.
Whilst Harfan attempted to give the spluttering Klaufi swimming lessons, Boroden let Aira pull him along by his ankles until they reached the edge of the beach. At the far end tatters of red seaweed brushed against her feet. Little jellyfish, like ghostly mushrooms, shoaled. She bent to admire the tiny pink rows of beads running down their translucent bodies. The pink flashed gold when the sun hit it.
‘I’ll give you a ride back,’ Boroden said. She clung around his neck, feeling the water gush by effortlessly.
Klaufi stood with his arms pressed around him and his fingers white as salt whilst Harfan tried for the umpteenth time to show him simple swimming strokes.
‘I can’t. The waves keep slapping me in the nose,’ Klaufi fretted.
‘Well, try lying on your back then. The water will support you,’ Boroden told him, pulling Klaufi down before he knew what was happening. To Boroden’s amusement Klaufi’s sun hat bobbed away. Klaufi half sank it as he splashed away to rescue it.
‘Them birds is laughing at me,’ Klaufi grumbled, nodding to a bright array of puffins on top of a nearby rock.
Boroden grinned. ‘They probably think you’re some strange jellyfish. You look like one.’
‘Only jellyfish can swim. I just sink,’ Klaufi pointed out.
Boroden waded to the beach and returned with a sun-bleached log. ‘Why don’t you sit on this?’
The log proved an ideal solution as Klaufi paddled up and down whilst Boroden made repeated attempts to capsize him.
Boroden set out for deeper waters towards the broad, glittering path made by the sun. Unthinking, Klaufi followed him, his gaze moving between the peppering of islands on the horizon and the sea creatures at home on the rocks to his left.
‘What’s Father shouting?’ Aira asked Harfan, seeing Carnelian standing anxiously at the sea edge.
It did not take Boroden long to understand. Oblivious, Klaufi was being swept out to sea by the current. Boroden shot through the water towards him, annoyance visible as he grabbed the log.
‘What’s all the fuss? I was having a good time,’ Klaufi protested.
‘Drifting off into the ocean. Although I suppose there would have been a lot less trouble if I’d let you. You weren’t even looking how far the shore is behind you. You can’t swim your way back.’
‘But I can walk it easy,’ Klaufi remonstrated, slipping off the log and expecting his feet to touch the sand. He ended up gurgling on a mouthful of seawater and grabbing at the log in panic as his feet sank into emptiness.
Boroden marched him ashore and returned to the camp. After taking a couple of turns swimming alongside the beach in friendly contest with Harfan, Aira too left the water.
She gulped down a cup of rosemary tea. ‘Actually, it feels colder out. I want to go back into the sea now to escape the wind.’
‘I’m going back in,’ Boroden said, having unsuccessfully attempted to warm himself by burying himself under the sun warmed stones.
She raced him to swim along the bay, then he again headed further out. Aira cast a quick glance back at the camp, guiltily hoping that Carnelian would not notice that she was getting out of her depth, then followed Boroden. Soon she could not touch the seafloor. The waves became at once lower and more powerful, wanting to roll her as they struck. It was colder too and Aira’s breathing became laboured. She did not take her gaze from Boroden cutting the way ahead leaving a rippled ‘v’ in his wake.
They had reached the end of the headland now and Boroden turned to follow the coast along. As he did so he noticed Aira for the first time. Her nerves prickled in trepidation for an instant, but he smiled as if he knew that she would be there. ‘You look like a little floundering seal pup.’
She came up alongside him, following his gaze to a cave where the sea slapped loudly. They breasted the waves ruffled up by the wind.
‘I want to see Aberfeldy Bay, the beach I loved so as a bairn. It’s by far the best in Velmoran.’
‘You mean to go to the mainland? What about Krysila?’ Aira asked with trepidation.
‘She won’t expect it as she must think we’re dead. I should say that at this time she’s probably engrossed in plotting with King Mazgrim.’
‘He escaped to her then, you think?’ Aira asked.
Boroden was silent for a while and Aira feared that she had offended him by this reminder of his father.
They left the island for open water. A lofty sea arch reared before them, gannets screaming on every nook.
‘We’re not far now. Carnelian and I would often go and look at the arch from the end of Aberfeldy. One day we swam out to it and climbed to the top. When we got there, we saw a cove beyond it, tucked away and secret. Carnelian promised that the next afternoon we should swim to it but that was the day that Krysila came.’
‘Let’s go there now.’
Boroden led the way, Aira following faithfully. Boroden was right. The cove was secluded, hidden behind sheer, mottled walls of rock.
They waded amongst the rocks. Aira judged the waves to move when the water was stillest, so she could see where to put her feet without waves boiling up the water and concealing the seaweed that she might easily slip upon. She was glad of the warm sun upon the shingle. She took up a sun-baked pebble gratefully in each hand to warm herself and began to explore the rock pools teeming with sea anemones and delicate, darting fish. Where the water lapped the boulders it brought out their brightness in streaks of coloured stone; reds, greens and blues. There was a shallow cave in the cliff. A little stream laughed down in front of it from the headland above, which was pillowed with sea pinks.
‘I like it here. It feels a happy place.’ Aira rolled onto her belly on a boulder and closed her eyes.
Boroden was about to settle beside her but suddenly he tensed. ‘Listen.’
The sound came so faint that Aira could not be sure of it. The sound of voices. The accent was familiar, although amongst them there was no tone that Aira recognised as of their travelling companions.
Boroden paced the beach uneasily whilst Aira went back to the cave. Neither of them was armed. Their escapade now seemed less exciting than reckless.
‘It sounds louder in here,’ Aira beckoned him in a whisper.
Boroden’s face sparked in understanding. ‘At the far end of Aberfeldy Bay is a vast cavern. I daresay they’re in there and it burrows close to where we are now.’
Boroden set off for Aberfeldy Bay, scrambling over the high, jagged rocks. Aira followed. Both were hot and bruised by the time that they came in sight of their destination. It was a grand bay, sweeping in a golden arc along some miles of cliff. They made their way down, Boroden putting out his hand to help her. Aira was glad of his reassuring touch, though she was not sure where they headed or why Boroden seemed so eager to meet strangers who might be unfriendly; perhaps humans or merpeople?
The entrance to the cave was narrow and at one point they had to shuffle through sideways. There, scraped on the rock, were scents that gladdened Aira’s heart. No longer did she fear what they should find but went forward eagerly.
The cave opened out low, wide and reeking of seaweed. Before it the beach was full of brownies.