Authors: Janis Mackay
The sharks bared their teeth, and with them they finally tore the cages and opened the rusty doors of the alcoves. The girls in the cages stared in fear and wonder. They dropped their harps, dropped their flutes and slowly, when they saw the sharks were not about to eat them, stretched their arms out into the water.
“And don’t forget their seal skins,” shouted young Magnus Fin, trying to make his tiny voice sound powerful and commanding.
The monster swung his head round and fixed his one eye on his prisoner. “I’ve changed my mind. I’ll keep the skins for my fur coat. I’ll need one to wear in the big city in the winter when it snows. I might catch a cold.” Then the creature laughed his terrible laugh.
Magnus Fin saw the girls huddle together now in a corner of the great room. A part of him didn’t want them to go. Then he would feel more alone than ever. But he could almost hear their voices begging for their skins. He repeated his command.
“You’ll be able to get another coat,” Magnus said. “Give them back their seal skins.”
“Oh, all right then,” said the monster. “If you insist, spoilsport. Lobsters, unlock the fur cage and throw the skins out. I’ll get a better coat. Go on, get on with it. What are you gawking at?”
The lobsters were gawking because never in their petrified lives had they seen anyone dare give orders to their king. Frantically they scurried to the great chamber where a mountain of seal skins was piled up.
As soon as the skins were flung into the water the girls, free of their cages, scrambled after them, desperate to find their own skins. The waters frothed and the human sounds changed into the sounds of yelping. The white skin of the girls changed into dark fur. Within moments the maidens had found their seal skins and the young selkies swam to freedom. They swam out of the hall, out of the palace, home to Sule Skerrie, to bear word to Miranda that they were now free but that Magnus Fin, son of Ragnor, was held captive and would soon be forced to give his eyes to the awful false king.
Every seal maiden swam for freedom – everyone that was, except one. Aquella could not find her seal skin. Hers was the skin the monster had damaged in one of his failed attempts to become human. It now lay in tatters on the palace floor, only useful as a warm blanket for a baby shark.
“Oh dearie me! Aquella,” said the monster, pouting, seeing the young maiden frantically searching for her seal skin but not finding it. “Still here? Can’t find your seal skin then? Oh, the silly sharks must have damaged it at that last fancy-dress party. Never mind. You know I have a soft spot for you and your singing. When I become human I’ll take you with me. Yes, that’s what I’ll do. It’ll be lonely up there on the land all alone. I’ll take you with me.” The monster flicked out one of its tentacles, whipped the edge around the weeping girl and drew Aquella fiercely up beside him. “Pretty one.”
Magnus Fin’s stomach fell into his feet.
That was the name he had heard Miranda mention. And this was the girl who had been staring at him while she sang her mournful songs. Magnus wanted to tell the monster to let her go immediately, but it seemed his power had left him. He opened his mouth but no sound came out, and any words that were spoken were immediately swallowed into silence by the heavy water.
The monster king glared at the boy. “Shut up, little human. I’ve had enough of you. Do you honestly think you can command me? Me? The great king? Heh-heh-heh, what a joke. I thought it was funny having a tiny squirt like you giving orders to a great royal like me. It amused me, but enough’s enough. Aquella, get back into your cage. Sharks, lock her up.”
And with one quick flick of his razor-sharp tentacles, he threw her back into the cage, where a shark swam menacingly towards her and bit the cage closed.
Without the sweet ringing music and the presence of the singing girls, a cold eerie feeling fell over the false king’s palace. The stagnant water smelled of fear. If there had been anything good, gentle and beautiful in this massive place it had gone, or most of it had. Aquella grasped the bars of her cage and wept. The killer whales hovered at the doorway of the banqueting hall, hoping for leftovers. The hammerhead sharks lurked in the alcoves where the maidens had been and where now only one remained, crying as though her heart would break.
Hundreds of crabs were now busy scuttling over the enormous table, clearing the food into smaller upturned boat hulls for the sharks to polish off. At a sign, the ravenous sharks came in, biting at leftovers wildly in a feasting frenzy. In seconds the food was gone. Then the crabs swept away the shattered remains of their comrades and, Magnus Fin noticed, they had tears in their eyes as they did so.
“Now then, little two-legged thing, will I cut out your eyes or pluck them out, hmmm? What will it be?” The monster came closer, his one eye pulsating like a geyser about to spout.
Magnus Fin, still seated at the banqueting table, kept a tight grip on his moon-stone, holding
it as though he was simply touching his neck. Not blinded by fear, Magnus found ideas jumped into his mind. It was easy to see that the great ugly monster, for all his riches and power, had no wisdom.
“My tiny eyes will be pin-pricks in your mighty head,” said Magnus Fin. “People on the land will laugh at you – to be such a great king with such tiny little eyes. Take them if you wish. I can easily make another pair. But it would be wiser to make your own – big powerful eyes that will suit you.”
The king was eager to try anything that might make him human. If this was his chance, then he had to take it. He had never met a human before, but despite his size, this little creature seemed very wise. No one had ever stood up to him like this before. And if this human teacher said
eyes would suit him better, then self-made eyes it would be. Yes, he – the great king of the sea, and soon, the land – would make the most beautiful and powerful eyes ever known.
“Great idea, little human,” the monster said, nodding his slimy head and shaking his crown. “You are right, of course. Your tiny little eyes would not look right on such a magnificent large head as my own. And I don’t want people to laugh at me!”
Magnus Fin went on, encouraged that the monster had considered his suggestion and seemed to have discarded the idea of plucking out his own eyes. He wracked his brains, trying desperately to think of a way to outwit the false king. At last he came up with a plan that might
“Yes, it’s easy to make them,” he said, “and with all the servants you have, they’ll be made in no time.”
The monster nodded. He, the great king, did not want to look stupid. He didn’t want humans to laugh at him. Yes, he would have two magnificent eyes made: one green and one brown, just like this wise boy’s. Green for dominance over the sea and brown for dominance over the land.
“Now listen carefully,” said Magnus Fin. “You’ll need to brew up dark sand from the bottom of the ocean then mix in some rust from the hull of a sunken tanker. Find petrol and a few batteries. Mix everything into a fine paste and shape it into a circle – as big as you want. That’s for your brown eye. For the green eye you’ll need to boil up ripe seaweed shoots then find an old green bottle and smash that up. Find a few drops of diesel, mix everything together and you’ll have one beautiful green eye. Now for the blue pupils – find traces of mercury. On my way here I saw some dumped first-aid kits. Find a thermometer, break one and capture the mercury, then add it to the crushed shell of a blue periwinkle. Take one tear from a selkie, and shape this mixture into small circles.”
No sooner had Magnus Fin uttered his recipe than the monster bellowed out orders for two eyes to be made – immediately: one from brewed dark sand and rust, petrol and batteries; one from seaweed, diesel and smashed green glass; the pupils from shell, one selkie tear and mercury. Instantly the army, the police force, the doctors,
the surgeons, the bodyguards, all heeded his order. Every creature for miles around worked for the king. No matter how ludicrous the command, they were under pain of death to carry it out.
And so thousands of servants set off in search of sand to brew, rust to scrape, mercury to find, green glass to smash, fresh seaweed to pick, winkles to smash, and a tear to stir it all together with.
“I must be the one to gather the tear,” shouted Magnus Fin. Desperately he tried to think of ways he could help Aquella. Like his father, she had no seal skin and was trapped in her human form. “The sharks must open her cage; I must mix the eye paste with her tears.”
“Open, shut, open, shut, you’re making me dizzy! Sharks, open the cage!”
“But your most gracious—”
“Shut up – don’t start. And don’t contradict me, OK? I know I said shut it two seconds ago but now I’m saying open it, OK?” The monster bellowed, but not as angrily as before. Magnus Fin could tell there was some kind of trembling monster excitement under that thundering bossy voice.
The cage swung open and Magnus Fin swam into the alcove. He cupped his hands together, held them under Aquella’s face and gathered her tear.
“I am with you,” she said, before Magnus Fin swam back to the table. Magnus felt strength and courage fill him, just knowing there was one other creature in this terrible place on his side. His heart sank hearing the crunching sound of the shark’s jaw locking Aquella’s cage behind him.
Magnus Fin returned to the grand table with Aquella’s tear. The servant fish were already back, laden down with broken glass, batteries, seaweed and rust. The banqueting table that once upon a time had been a cruise ship was now a laboratory. Strong great white sharks pulped the ingredients with their teeth then jellyfish stirred the mixture in metal pots. Magnus Fin dropped Aquella’s tear into the mercury. Soon the laboratory would be an operating table. Whilst all the hustle and eye-making bustle was going on, the monster drew his tentacles under him and sat on them, leaning his head on the table and staring petulantly at Magnus Fin.
“It’s no fun being king any more,” he said, pouting. “The sea is dying. I locked Neptune up. I mean, we can’t have two great kings, can we? I tried to kill him. Yes, I did. But it didn’t work. So I put him to sleep, didn’t I. How? Are you asking me how, little human boy?”
Magnus Fin wasn’t aware of asking the monster anything, but it was true, the thought clamoured in his head,
? How did this stupid, cruel monster manage to overcome the great King Neptune?
“It’s great what comes down your human waste pipes.” The monster leant closer, as though sharing
a secret. “Heh-heh. Little pills, little potions. All sorts of magical things. Easy peasy to put these wonderful little things into Neptune’s cavern and kill his water. But there’s a little problem, you see: Neptune knows the secret of the waves and he wouldn’t tell me, would he. So the sea is dying and I’m bored. It’s no fun down here any more. There’s no one to talk to around here. I like you, boy; you understand me.”
Magnus Fin shrank back, out of flicking range of the vile green tongue. The wide mouth gaped open like a cave. For a second Magnus Fin thought of his father and his cave on the beach, and of his own Neptune’s cave, and he longed to be back home.
“When my new eyes are ready you can take me to the land. I had decided to leave you down here and let you be king, but now I’m thinking it will be good, at first, to have a friend, someone who can introduce me to important people up there. I mean, Aquella doesn’t know anybody, does she? What good will she be? You are real. I need someone who can take me to the king and president and prime minister and celebrities. I’ll make you my second in command. And I’ll need a car. I have seen pictures of how you people get around up there. I won’t need legs, just a very big car. A stretch limo.”
Magnus Fin was about to tell the monster he didn’t own a car, and where he lived they didn’t have a king but a queen, when suddenly there was a great commotion at the other end of the table. A fanfare sounded. A conch shell blasted. The eyes, it seemed, were ready. Swimming the
length of the great table came two skates and balanced on their tray-like bodies – the king’s new eyes! One round disk was a dark brown, the other a deep green. At the centre of each iris lay a circle of deep blue. Magnus Fin, who had made up the eye recipes on the spot, was impressed with the servants’ creations. So was the monster.
“Place my beautiful new eyes over my one eye, side by side, just like the boy’s,” he bellowed, lifting his head and lowering it on to the banqueting table as though it was an operating table. At a sign from the sharks, the surgeonfish entered. They had been summoned from warmer waters to undertake this operation. Carefully they lifted the brown eye off the skate’s back then, with their sharp scalpels, they placed it down over half of the red eye. Their scalpels worked quickly, flashing through the water as they cut into the monster’s eye, sewing the plate of brewed sand, rust, petrol and mercury upon it.
Magnus Fin recoiled at the gory sight. He wanted to escape. This would have been an opportunity but Aquella was still locked behind bars. He couldn’t leave her, so he squirmed out of his seat and waded quickly into the shadows.
The monster groaned and screamed but was determined to bear it. The surgeonfish now worked on the second eye, cutting and stitching and gouging bits out to make space for the new green eye.
The sight of this operation made Magnus feel sick. No one saw him wade over to Aquella’s cage. Everyone was focused on the macabre business that was taking place on the banqueting table.
The monster groaned on.
At last the new eyes were fitted. The eels mopped up the buckets of blood oozing from the old cut and half-gouged-out red eye.
“Finished your maje—” said the chief amongst the surgeonfish. But his words were cut short as the terrible tentacles of the monster lashed round and killed him. The eels left off the cleaning and dabbing, and swam hurriedly away.
“I – can’t – see!” roared the monster in agony. “You’ve blinded me – you – fools! Idiots! Come back and be executed!” But the surgeons that were still alive were now swimming for freedom, beyond the prison-palace gates and back to the warmer waters of the south. Some of the sharks, seeing the king’s rising fury and thrashing tentacles, also fled. The monster roared and writhed on the table, throwing his head from side to side, making even more blood spurt from his two new eyes. His crown fell off. Poison from the mercury flooded his brain, the glass and rust cut into him, the battery fluid seeped into his skull.
Aquella’s tear seeped down into his monster heart and every creature he had ever killed came back to haunt him. All the pain he had ever caused seared through him now. He screamed. Pain and agony like a thousand burning knives slashed through him. With Aquella’s cleansing tear washing him, his evil heart broke.
“It – hasn’t – worked … boy,” he whimpered. “Help – me!” The few remaining whales, lobsters, sharks and crabs still in the palace took their chance to escape. Only his personal bodyguard
the great white shark stayed, but only because he hoped to be king and inherit the palace and all its stolen riches. The great golden gates of the palace were pushed open by a pod of Minke whales, and the monster’s tens of thousands of servants fled to freedom. The great white shark took his opportunity and swam fast to the chamber of the locked treasure chest.
In the great hall, the dying monster, a few faithful crabs, Aquella and Magnus Fin remained. The monster screamed and writhed on the table, lashing out with his tentacles. The walls of the palace shook. He thrust his massive tentacles out with such force that the walls began to crumble. Stone by stone, jewel by jewel, plastic bottle by plastic bottle, the whole edifice came loose and tumbled to the palace floor. And the more the monster lashed out in agony, the more jewels and rubbish worked loose. The great palace under the sea fell.
The water turned dark red. Rocks tumbled in slow motion, thundering on to the ocean floor, dislodging sand and skeletons. Magnus Fin was now crouched by the alcove in the shadows, watching the horrific scene. Aquella dived over to her cousin, stretched her arms through the bars and pulled him aside, just before a great cube of gold hurtled down that would surely have crushed him to death.
Rubies the size of rocks crashed down through the dark water, along with old cookers, plastic bags and tin cans. The monster’s great treasure chest had been smashed and with it, it seemed, the great white shark. His body slumped down to
the seabed and burst apart. Magnus Fin looked down and saw a tiny crab scuttle across the shaking floor. It took hold of something small that had burst out of the body of the shark. Holding this thing between its pincers, the crab scuttled back to where Magnus Fin crouched.
“Go,” said the crab, “waken Neptune. This is the key.” The brave creature threw the bone up so it floated through the water and landed in Magnus Fin’s outstretched palm. At that same moment an almighty groan erupted. Writhing tentacles cut through the water, dislodging a huge bar of gold, which hurtled against the cage and set Aquella free.
With that, into the depths of the crumbling palace, the tiny crab scuttled off. Aquella swam through the red and black water towards her cousin. Magnus Fin, with the bone key in his hand, and now with Aquella by his side, swam hurriedly across the quaking floor. As they swam the high-pitched screams of the monster and the roaring sounds of crashing walls almost deafened them. Frantically, they waded through the thick murky water as gold, rubies and rubbish floated down around them. Deftly Aquella steered Magnus Fin through the falling treasures. If the water was dim before, it was utterly dark now, filled with dust and decay, falling stone and blood.
Magnus Fin and Aquella made it to the gates just as the whole glittering palace crashed in on itself, in a watery, slow and awful motion. The tumbling palace, with all its vast rooms, landed on the monster. One sickening scream reached their ears. The dying monster yelled, gasped,
whimpered and was silenced for ever.
Magnus Fin beamed his torch-light eyes through the rubble and blood that filled the sea around him. “I can’t see the crab,” he cried desperately. “I didn’t even thank him.” He didn’t know if the crab that had given him the precious key had made it out alive or not.
“Come quickly,” came an urgent voice.
Magnus Fin turned, and through the dark, murky and churning waters he made out the form of his grandmother, Miranda.
“No! No, I can’t leave. The crab that gave me the key, he’s still in there.” Magnus looked back in horror at the slow crashing rolling gold. Where was the brave crab?
“But, Fin, we must go. You have the key again. Quick! There’s no time to lose,” said the seal woman, taking him by the hand.
“You have to go,” urged Aquella. “You must use the key to waken Neptune. There is no time to lose. I’ll find the crab. Go now. Quick.” And while Magnus Fin turned towards his grandmother for an instant, Aquella slipped away and swam back towards the fallen palace. She could swim much faster than Magnus and was able to squirm through the smallest of spaces. With her strong hands she pulled aside chunks of gold and rubies, just enough to make a tiny slit in the wreckage, then in a second she was through it. As she entered the devastated place that had been her prison, a huge mound of rubble crashed down.
Magnus Fin glanced back and screamed,
Miranda scooped the boy into her arms and swam swiftly away through the dark, troubled waters. A thousand sharks, whales, lobsters, crabs, eels and skates swam and scuttled away with them.
“Don’t worry, Fin,” said Miranda, in her human form and holding Fin now by the hand. “The crab who retrieved the key will find his freedom and Aquella will find hers. We must trust her. Dear Fin, you’ve been so brave, but it’s not over yet. You freed the selkies; you faced the monster and overcame him. Neptune still sleeps and if we don’t wake him up soon, the blood of the monster will pollute our beautiful seas for ever. Quick. Don’t look back, Fin. In human form, with your help, I hope to withstand the great sleep. There is no time to waste. Son of Ragnor, you must waken King Neptune.”
On and on they travelled. Bull sharks guided them. Minke whales, free at last, sang their deep song for them. Magnus Fin’s eleven-year-old heart churned inside his chest. The monster was dead, the selkies were free, all except one – and wasn’t she the very one who had risked her life for his sake before? Speeding through the water, images flitted through his brain, like a fast-forward film. He saw his father in the cave, his mother in bed, Tarkin in class telling them all about his mermaid, the hideous thrashing tentacles of the monster, draped with plastic and fridges. And then he thought of a green glass bottle he had thrown into the water. Throwing that bottle, he had longed for a new life,
friends, adventure. Was he now speeding through water on his way to wake King Neptune because of that bottle?
Still they swam on, and for a long while the thunderous crashing of the monster’s falling palace reverberated through the water. Miranda held fast to her grandson while he held fast, with one hand, to his moon-stone, and with the other, to the bone the brave crab had given him. Magnus Fin peered at the strange object with his blue
. It was, he saw with some disappointment, nothing more than a thin white bone – the same he had held once before. He had failed to open the rock door then. Would he fail again? But the brave crab had risked his life for this bone and Aquella had risked her life for the crab. Magnus Fin tightened his grip around it.
“Hurry, Fin,” he heard Miranda say, guiding him through the waters. “Use your webbed feet, my grandson. I am tiring; we must be approaching Neptune’s cavern. Help me. Don’t daydream, Fin. Swim with me. I can’t pull you any more, and we’re nearly there.”
Though the waters they journeyed through were still stagnant and dull, and the waves had long since ceased to flow, there was now a mood of excitement and anticipation in the sea. “We are coming,” called Miranda as they glided on over the ribbed ocean floor.
Magnus Fin kicked back the water with his feet and was soon swimming quicker than Miranda. Bending close to her grandson she murmured, “The time has come, son of Ragnor, for the waves
to flow again!”
But Magnus Fin could only think of the beautiful and brave Aquella, who had sacrificed herself for him, not once, but twice. And where on earth, or in the sea, was she now? With a heavy heart he swam to King Neptune’s palace.