Authors: Janis Mackay
“We are close now,” said Miranda, slowing down. They had come into a huge kelp forest where fronds of seaweed in shades of purple, green, brown and yellow swayed slowly. Everything was silent. No longer could they hear the echoes of crashing stone, or smell the monster’s blood.
Miranda sat for a moment on a mossy rock. Magnus Fin glanced into her eyes and saw the weariness crumple her face again. “Beyond this forest is Neptune’s cavern,” Miranda said, her voice hushed. “You came here before. Do you remember, Fin?” But Magnus could only vaguely remember; it all seemed such a long time ago, and he had felt tired then, so tired.
“It is dangerous for me to swim beyond our Emerald Valley; see how I have aged, Fin? And if the waves don’t return soon I shall die.”
Magnus Fin’s face darkened with worry. He knew too well about the affliction of sudden age. But Miranda smiled at her grandson and stroked his head. “But have faith, Magnus Fin. You bring strength from the land. See how badly the false king wanted this human power? Remember, Fin – you are living between the worlds – you are born of sea and
land. You can open the door.”
Magnus Fin felt strong. The bone key no longer felt heavy. His grandmother’s words soothed him. “It is the life of the sea I care for – the future sea life, the future fish life, the home of the selkies, Sule Skerrie, and the children that will paddle and swim in this water in the future. I had to allow you to meet the darkness of the sea alone. I left you and you passed the test. Thanks to you, Fin, the monster has been defeated. Had he ruled for much longer the sea would surely have died.”
The seaweed forest danced, or so it seemed. Magnus Fin looked into Miranda’s eyes. Her words filled him with an urge to do the right thing. As Magnus’s strength and resolve grew, Miranda seemed likewise to strengthen.
“Now I can help you,” she said, her voice light and filled with excitement. “Quick. Let us go.”
Miranda floated upwards, pushing aside the heavy fronds. Revived and her beauty returned, she took Magnus Fin by the hand. “We need to be strong now, Fin, to resist the great sleep.” Looking deeply into his eyes she said, “Whatever you do now, Fin, stay awake and keep hold of my hand, and that will keep me strong. This is King Neptune’s cavern.”
As they glided towards the great rock door beyond the forest, Magnus Fin saw again every glittering shell and waving coral. On either side of the rock, adorned on the great cavernous walls, he could see carvings: fine sculptures of mermaids, fish, seahorses, whales, crabs, seals.
He hadn’t seen these before.
“Look, Miranda,” he called out, “they’re beautiful.” But his grandmother had no time to look. She was swimming to the tiny keyhole in the great rock.
“Perhaps another time we will be in peace to look,” Miranda said, a strain of anxiety in her voice. “There is so little time, son of Ragnor. If we don’t waken Neptune soon the monster’s blood will poison the whole sea.”
Magnus Fin joined his grandmother at the rock and lifted his bone key to the tiny keyhole.
“Quickly, Fin – open the door.”
Magnus Fin was determined to succeed, even though this was the very place where he had fallen asleep and where the great white shark had found him. Recalling the sharp pain as the shark’s tail grabbed his legs, the boy shuddered. But the shark was gone. The monster was gone. The monster’s palace was gone. Magnus Fin wondered that he wasn’t grown into a man by now, so much time seemed to have passed. Had he been under the sea for years? Miranda woke him from his reveries. Her soft trembling voice floated into Magnus Fin’s thoughts.
“You have the key now, son of Ragnor. You have the key in your hand. Open the door.” Magnus Fin looked up and saw that this wise woman, with snow-white hair tumbling down her back, was pointing to his right hand. Her eyes were filled with such love. Sometimes she was seal, sometimes she was human, or was it his eyes that saw her that way? He followed her gaze and looked down to where his hand was clenched
around the bone.
“Open it, Fin,” she said again. “Open the door.”
Magnus Fin stared down at the glistening white bone. His head nodded. His eyes felt so heavy, his limbs like lead. Now, more than anything, he wanted to sleep, sleep for a very long time.
“Open the door, son of Ragnor. Stay awake! Open it. If you fall asleep now, Fin, it’s all over.”
Her voice jolted him back. He opened his eyes. It was Miranda. She was shaking him. Yes, the bone, the key. Magnus Fin clutched the stone around his neck and instantly woke up. The drowsy sleep fled from him and in a flash he knew what he had to do. He placed the bone into the keyhole and easily, silently, the mighty rock opened. It reminded Magnus Fin of another door, where the handle had been a half-moon of shells. Now the boy stared as the door gave in to a vast circular hallway – like the inside of a whelk – only a million times bigger.
“Come,” said Miranda, pulling Magnus Fin by the hand and dodging the sleeping sentry whales at the door, “we must find Neptune.” Swiftly they swam through the great cavern. Magnus gazed in wonder as they passed shoals of fish, motionless in the water, not dead but sleeping. They passed mother seals and baby seals lying on rocks, all sleeping. They passed lobsters, crabs, jellyfish, octopus, even mermaids, all fast asleep. Magnus Fin couldn’t believe his eyes! There in front of him was a mermaid, with a blue and green shining tail and a garland of shells around her neck, lying on the ocean floor – asleep! Suddenly he thought of Tarkin.
The image of his friend made him feel happy.
A deep silence pervaded every cavern, every chamber. Not one creature was aware of the seal woman and the boy who now swam past them. Through many cavernous chambers they swam, walls bright with mother-of-pearl, Venus shells and sea anemones.
Finally they came to a cavern lined with emerald and jade. Half hidden amongst fronds of seaweed and tangles of dulse lay a huge bed made from golden cowrie shells. The mattress was made from sea sponges and the blankets from soft braided sea grass.
Miranda and Magnus Fin had come finally to Neptune’s chamber, deep under the sea.
On the mighty bed lay the great King Neptune himself, half hidden in masses of seaweed. With every gentle sway of the sea, the fronds of seaweed covered then uncovered his face, itself almost covered with a thick green beard. His long hair swished from side to side. For a moment Miranda’s snow-white hair twined into the long green hair of Neptune, like tartan. Apart from the smallest rise and fall in his great chest, the mighty king of the sea looked dead.
Miranda and Magnus Fin gazed down at the sleeping king. Tears coursed down Miranda’s face. “Touch his hand,” she murmured, “here.”
Magnus Fin floated over the great bed and swam to where Miranda gestured. The huge green hands of Neptune lay slumped across his chest. Gently Miranda lifted Neptune’s left hand and Magnus Fin held it. The boy’s hand was lost in the great palm of Neptune. Barnacles clung to the king’s fingernails. Gently Magnus Fin shook Neptune’s hand, and as he did Miranda swam up to the true king’s sleeping face, whispered, “
,” and kissed him.
At first there was a stirring, then a shivering, a shuddering then a stretching. Slowly, so slowly, Neptune’s lips formed into a smile and, as though
waking from a night’s deep slumber, the king breathed deeply and yawned.
His eyelashes stirred. Slowly one eye opened, then the other. He yawned again, louder this time, until the great bed shook.
King Neptune had woken up.
And as he did so, every other creature in his palace woke up too. The still silence of moments earlier was gone. Now the great palace rang with movement, yelping, calling, flapping, tumbling, swimming. The creatures awoke, imagining they had been asleep for a few hours, little guessing they had been slumbering eight long years.
For all this time, King Neptune kept hold of Magnus Fin’s hand. So huge was the king’s hand, Magnus Fin could have sat in it.
“How long has it been, Miranda?” King Neptune spoke. “I believe I have been asleep for a very long time.” His voice sounded deep and good. Magnus Fin wanted to rest in the soothing tones of that voice for ever. The boy felt great warmth seep into him.
“Eight years and six days, my good king,” Miranda answered. She stroked his mighty cheek and Magnus Fin, as he looked across at his grandmother, saw all traces of her earlier weariness and sorrow drop away. She looked radiant and young.
“The false king?” Neptune asked, his voice veiled now with sorrow at the mention of the evil monster.
“Gone, my lord.”
“And the boy? This must be the son of Ragnor? He broke through the threshold then? He found
the gap between the worlds?”
“Yes, my lord, this is Magnus Fin, son of Ragnor. He has the gift of both worlds and the time was right. It was he, my great king, who defeated the monster.”
King Neptune turned his great head to look now at Magnus Fin. For a moment their eyes met. Gazing into the king’s emerald shining eyes, Magnus Fin imagined he saw his father there, then his mother, then Miranda, then Tarkin, then Aquella, then himself. For a split second the green flash of light, the same that had burst out when Magnus Fin had opened the door at the black rock, filled the space between them. A feeling of joy erupted inside him.
“Very few make it over the threshold, young Fin,” said King Neptune, “because so many have forgotten the four secrets. Remember them, Magnus Fin: beauty, truth, love and freedom. Take these cowries – to remember.”
And into Fin’s palm the mighty King Neptune placed four tiny rainbow-coloured shells. Though Neptune was a giant compared with Fin, the tapered ends of his long green fingers were slender. Fin clasped the shells in his hand as Neptune carried on talking.
“Once in a while a child is born who knows the world above and the world below. You are that child, Magnus Fin, and may it not be a great burden to you.”
Then he released the boy’s hand and rose up from his eight-year bed. “It is time,” said the king of the sea, shaking back his hair then turning and
swimming out of his chamber. His hair tumbled down his back like seaweed. As he swam he churned the waters to a froth.
Miranda gathered Magnus Fin into her arms and they followed in Neptune’s wake. As King Neptune stormed through his palace, every waking creature he passed fell in behind him. By the time he had reached the great cavern rock, a grand procession of sea creatures was awake and ready to bring back the waves.
Neptune ceased his mighty thrashing. He looked at the bone in the lock. “Who found the bone of the Salmon of Knowledge?” he asked. In an instant Miranda was at his side, with Magnus Fin beside her.
“I kept it safe these eight years, my lord,” she answered. “Then Magnus Fin, with the help of a brave crab, became the key holder. Magnus Fin opened the door, great king. The same who helped wake you. The same whose father, my son Ragnor, went ashore and married a human. This is the son of the woman who burnt the seal skin and stopped the three-year celebrations.”
King Neptune turned for a second time to look at this small boy, dressed in a strange rubber suit, with a moon-stone around his neck. “I thank you,” he said.
But before he could say more, Magnus had swum up to the great king’s ear and called into it, “My mother says sorry. She wants to be forgiven. Please, King Neptune.”
Neptune looked into the boy’s eyes. “The eye of the earth is also kind,” he said gently, then touched
Magnus Fin’s moon-stone. “She is forgiven.”
In that moment Magnus wanted to go home. He wanted to see his parents. He wanted to see his treasures. He wanted to tell Tarkin all about his adventures under the sea.
“Now return him, Miranda,” said Neptune, “before I bring back the mighty waves. We must clean the bad blood. We must wash the waves. See that every ship reaches harbour – that every swimmer reaches land. The dying sea is coming alive.”
Miranda pulled Magnus Fin close to her. For a few moments more the boy looked upon the mighty King Neptune, king of the sea. Though he was ready to return home, part of him wanted to stay by King Neptune’s side. Part of him wanted never to leave this place, this deep watery world. Salty tears coursed down his cheeks.
As Miranda pulled Magnus away from the door – the very door he had opened – he thought of the crab. Had he been crushed, or had he scuttled to safety? And what of the beautiful Aquella? Where was she? Thinking these thoughts and a hundred others, Magnus Fin was nudged away from the great cavern by the soft nose of his grandmother. Miranda, now in the body of a seal, swam fast, propelling her grandson up and up. Magnus Fin could see rays of sunlight streaming down through the water. He felt the sea turn warmer. They were heading back to the land.
“But what about my hansels?” asked Magnus Fin. He couldn’t help wondering about the blessings and gifts he’d been promised, especially
the sign from the
Miranda kept swimming. There was a great urgency now to return her grandson to the land. “You have earned them all, Fin. Some things are given, like talents. Some that are not given have to be earned. You have earned courage, dear Fin. You have learnt to be brave and yes, I have even more hansels for you. But there is no time to lose, Fin. I must return you to the land.”
As they swam on, Magnus Fin knew this was true. He had changed in so many ways and gained great riches. He could feel courage pumping through his blood. He felt compassion for Aquella and for the crab, even for the evil monster. At the mention of the word “home” he thought of his father, who he had last seen standing sadly in the kitchen, and he thought of his father’s cave, with the wood smoke drifting out and over the sea. He thought of his mother, who he had laughingly called his G-G-P. How was she? And Tarkin – had he chanted? Sometimes under the water he had felt Tarkin with him.
Perhaps friends give you courage
, he thought. Had Tarkin moved back to America? He hoped not.
Magnus Fin imagined he had been under the water for a very long time – perhaps he too would be old when he reached the land. He thought of the treasures in his own Neptune’s cave. Would they still be there?
“The next time you visit us these murky waters will be sparkling clean.” Miranda was talking to him. So he could return one day? His dear grandmother was inviting her grandson to return
to the sea. Now shafts of sunlight stroked them as they swam upwards. Magnus Fin turned his face to the surface, which shimmered like a ruby glass above him.
“We are nearly there,” said Miranda, slowing down. “Tell my son I love him, and tell my daughter-in-law I love her also – and tell them I am so proud of my grandson.”
Magnus Fin’s face broke into a smile. “I have your bottle, Fin. The bottle you flung into the sea, your wish bottle. None of this would have happened without you wanting it to. I promise you I’ll take good care of your wishes. Keep wishing, Fin, never stop wishing.”
“But what about my sign from the
?” said Magnus because that was the hansel he wanted most of all.
“Ah, patience, Fin.”
By now red sunrays streamed down through the water. Miranda rested by a rock – the black rock by the beach. Parting strands of seaweed, she nuzzled her face against it. Magnus Fin’s eyes fell upon a cluster of shells in the shape of a crescent moon. It was the handle.
“We have come to the door that will lead you up to the world of earth and air,” said Miranda. Magnus Fin felt his head spin, his eyes grow heavy. The seal was letting him go. “I have ships to guide to safety,” she said, bending to kiss the boy on the cheek. “Let your father wear the
for three days and three nights, then let your mother wear it for the same, then you take it back, Fin. Neptune has touched it. And remember
– we selkies will always be a part of you. Goodbye, Magnus Fin, son of Ragnor and Barbara.”
And pushing open the door, Miranda disappeared. Or was it Magnus Fin who disappeared?