Waterfire Saga, Book One: Deep Blue (A Waterfire Saga Novel)

BOOK: Waterfire Saga, Book One: Deep Blue (A Waterfire Saga Novel)
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Copyright © 2014 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Cover design by SJI Associates, Inc.

Cover photo by Rachel Elkind and Roberto Falck

Cover illustrations by Shane Rebenscheid

Endpaper maps and chapter opener illustration by Laszlo Kubinyi

All rights reserved. Published by Disne
y

Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disne
y

Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023-6387.

ISBN 978-1-4847-0185-0

Visit
www.DisneyBooks.com

For Daisy,
with all my love

For more than once dimly down to the beach gliding,

Silent, avoiding the moonbeams, blending myself with the shadows,

Recalling now the obscure shapes, the echoes, the sounds and sights after their sorts,

The white arms out in the breakers tirelessly tossing,

I, with bare feet, a child, the wind wafting my hair,

Listen’d long and long.

—From “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” by Walt Whitman

 

D
EEP IN THE
black mountains, deep in the Romanian night, deep beneath the cold, dark waters of the ancient Olt, the river witches sang.

Daughter of Merrow, leave your sleep,

The ways of childhood no more to keep.

The dream will die, a nightmare rise,

Sleep no more, child, open your eyes.

From her place in the shadows, the elder, Baba Vrăja, watched the blue waterfire, her bright eyes restive and alert.

“Vino, un
rău. Arată-te,”
she muttered in her age-old tongue.
Come, evil one. Show yourself.

Around the waterfire, eight river witches continued their song. Hands clasped, they swam counterclockwise in a circle, their powerful tails pushing them through the water.

Daughter of Merrow, chosen one,

The end begins, your time has come.

The sands run out, our spell unwinds,

Inch by inch, our chant unbinds.

“Vin, diavolul, vin,”
Vrăja growled, drawing closer to the circle.
“Tu esti lân

…te simt.


Come, devil, come…you’re near…I feel you
….

Without warning, the waterfire rose, its flames licking out like serpents’ tongues. The witches bowed their heads and tightened their grip on one another’s hands. Suddenly one of them, the youngest, cried out. She doubled over as if in great pain.

Vrăja knew that pain. It tore inside like a sharp silver hook. She swam to the young witch. “Fight it, dragă,” she told her. “Be strong!”

“I…I can’t. It’s too much! Gods help me!” the witch cried. Her skin—the mottled gray of river stones—paled. Her tail thrashed wildly.


Fight it!
The circle must not break! The Iele must not falter!” Vrăja shouted.

With a wrenching cry, the young witch raised her head and wove her voice once more into the chant. As she did, colors appeared inside the waterfire. They swirled together, coalescing into an image—a bronze gate, sunk deep underwater and crusted with ice. A sound was heard—the sound of a thousand voices, all whispering.

Shokoreth…A
măgitor…Apateón
….

Behind the gate, something stirred, as if waking from a long sleep. It turned its eyeless face to the north and laughed.

Shokoreth…A
măgitor…Apateón
….

Vrăja swam close to the waterfire. She shut her eyes against the image. Against the evil and the fear. Against the coming bloodred tide. She dug deep inside herself and gave all she had, and all she was, to the magic. Her voice strengthened and rose above the others, drowning out the whispering, the cracking of the ice, the low, gurgling laughter.

Daughter of Merrow, find the five

Brave enough to keep hope alive.

One whose heart will hold the light,

One possessed of a prophet’s sight.

One who does not yet believe,

Thus has no choice but to deceive.

One with spirit sure and strong,

One who sings all creatures’ songs.

Together find the talismans

Belonging to the six who ruled,

Hidden under treacherous waters

After light and darkness dueled.

These pieces must not be united,

Not in anger, greed, or rage.

They were scattered by brave Merrow,

Lest they unlock destruction’s cage.

Come to us from seas and rivers,

Become one mind, one heart, one bond.

Before the waters, and all creatures in them,

Are laid to waste by Abbadon!

The thing behind the bars screamed with rage. It hurled itself against the gate. The impact sent shockwaves through the waterfire into the witches. The force tore at them viciously, threatening to break their circle, but they held fast. The thing thrust a hand through the bars, as if it wanted to reach inside Vrăja and tear out her heart. The waterfire blazed higher, and then all at once it went out. The thing was gone, the river was silent.

One by one, the witches sank to the riverbed. They lay on the soft mud, gasping, eyes closed, fins crumpled beneath them.

Only Vrăja remained, floating where the circle had been. Her wrinkled face was weary, her old body bent. Strands of gray hair loosed from a long braid twined like eels around her head. She continued the chant alone, her voice rising through the dark water, ragged but defiant.

Daughter of Merrow, leave your sleep,

The ways of childhood no more to keep.

Wake now, child, find the five

While there’s time, keep hope alive.

Wake now, child, find the five

While there’s time, keep hope alive.

Wake now, child…

 

“W
AKE
UP
, CHILD!
Suffering Circe, I’ve called you five times! Have you sand in your ears this morning?”

Serafina woke with a gasp. Her long, copper-brown hair floated wildly around her face. Her eyes, darkly green, were fearful. That thing in the cage—she could still hear its gurgling laughter, its horrible screams. She could feel its cunning and its rage. She looked around, her heart pounding, certain it was here with her, but she soon saw that there was no monster in her room.

Only her mother. Who was every bit as terrifying.

“Lolling in bed today of all days. The Dokimí is tonight and you’ve so much to do!”

La Serenissima Regina Isabella, ruler of Miromara, was swimming from window to window, throwing open the draperies.

Sunlight filtered through the glass panes from the waters above, waking the feathery tube worms clustered around the room. They burst into bloom, daubing the walls yellow, cobalt blue, and magenta. The golden rays warmed fronds of seaweed anchored to the floor. They shimmered in the glass of a tall gilt mirror and glinted off the polished coral walls. A small green octopus that had been curled up at the foot of the bed—Serafina’s pet, Sylvestre—darted away, disturbed by the light.

“Can’t you cast a songspell for that, Mom?” Serafina asked, her voice raspy with sleep. “Or ask Tavia to do it?”

“I sent Tavia to fetch your breakfast,” Isabella said. “And
no
, I can’t cast a songspell to open draperies. As I’ve told you a million times—”

“Never waste magic on the mundane,” Serafina said.


Exactly
. Do get up, Serafina. The emperor and empress have arrived. Your ladies are waiting for you in your antechamber, the canta magus is coming to rehearse your songspell, and here you lie, as idle as a sponge,” Isabella said. She batted a school of purple wrasses away from a window and looked out of it. “The sea is so calm today, I can see the sky. Let’s hope no storm blows in to churn up the waters.”

“Mom, what are you doing here? Don’t you have a realm to rule?” Serafina asked, certain her mother had not come here to comment on the weather.

“Yes, I
do
, thank you,” Isabella said tartly, “but I’ve left Miromara in your uncle Vallerio’s capable hands for an hour.”

She crossed the room to Serafina’s bedside, her gray sea-silk gown swirling behind her, her silver scales gleaming, her thick black hair piled high on her head.

“Just
look
at all these conchs!” she exclaimed, frowning at the pile of white shells on the floor by Serafina’s bed. “You stayed up late last night listening, didn’t you?”

“I had to!” Serafina said defensively. “My term conch on Merrow’s Progress is due next week.”

“No wonder I can’t get you out of bed,” Isabella said. She picked up one of the shells and held it to her ear. “
The Merrovingian Conquest of the Barrens of Thira
by Professore Giovanni Bolla,” she said, then tossed it aside. “I hope you didn’t waste too much time on
that
one. Bolla’s a fool. An armchair commander. He claims the Opafago were contained by the threat of sanctions. Total bilge. The Opafago are cannibals, and cannibals care nothing for decrees. Merrow once sent a messenger to tell them they were being sanctioned, and they ate him.”

Serafina groaned. “Is
that
why you’re here? It’s a little early in the day for a lecture on politics.”

“It’s
never
too early for politics,” Isabella said. “It was encirclement by Miromaran soldiers, the acqua guerrieri, that bested the Opafago. Force, not diplomacy. Remember that, Sera. Never sit down at the negotiating table with cannibals, lest you find
yourself
on the menu.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, Mom,” Serafina said, rolling her eyes.

She sat up in her bed—an enormous ivory scallop shell—and stretched. One half of the shell, thickly lined with plump pink anemones, was where she slept. The other half, a canopy, was suspended on the points of four tall turritella shells. The canopy’s edges were intricately carved and inlaid with sea glass and amber. Lush curtains of japweed hung down from it. Tiny orange gobies and blue-striped dragonets darted in and out of them.

The anemones’ fleshy fingers clutched at Serafina as she rose. She pulled on a white sea-silk robe embroidered with gold thread, capiz shells, and seed pearls. Her scales, which were the bright, winking color of new copper, gleamed in the underwater light. They covered her tail and her torso, and complemented the darker copper shade of her hair. Her coloring was from her father, Principe Consorte Bastiaan, a son of the noble House of Kaden in the Sea of Marmara. Her fins, a soft coral pink with green glints, were supple and strong. She had the lithe body, and graceful movements, of a fast deep-sea swimmer. Her complexion was olive-hued, and usually flawless, but this morning her face was wan and there were dark smudges under her eyes.

“What’s the matter?” Isabella asked, noticing her pallor. “You’re as white as a shark’s belly. Are you ill?”

“I didn’t sleep well. I had a bad dream,” Serafina said as she belted her robe. “There was something horrible in a cage. A monster. It wanted to get out and I had to stop it, but I didn’t know how.” The images came back to her as she spoke, vivid and frightening.

“Night terrors, that’s all. Bad dreams come from bad nerves,” Isabella said dismissively.

“The Iele were in it. The river witches. They wanted me to come to them,” Serafina said. “You used to tell me stories about the Iele. You said they were the most powerful of our kind, and if they ever summon us, we have to go. Do you remember?”

Isabella smiled—a rare occurrence. “Yes, but I can’t believe
you
do,” she said. “I told you those stories when you were a tiny merl. To make you behave. I said the Iele would call you to them and box your ears if you didn’t sit still, as a well-mannered principessa of the House of Merrow should. It was all froth and seafoam.”

Serafina knew the river witches were only make-believe, yet they’d seemed so real in her dream. “They were
there
. Right in front of me. So close, I could have reached out and touched them,” she said. Then she shook her head at her foolishness. “But they
weren’t
there, of course. And I have more important things to think about today.”

“Indeed you do. Is your songspell ready?” Isabella asked.

“So
that’s
why you’re here,” Serafina said archly. “Not to wish me well, or to talk about hairstyles, or the crown prince, or anything
normal
mothers would talk about with their daughters. You came to make sure I don’t mess up my songspell.”

Isabella fixed Serafina with her fierce blue eyes. “Good wishes are irrelevant. So are hairstyles. What
is
relevant, is your songspell. It has to be perfect, Sera.”

It has to be perfect.
Sera worked so hard at everything she did—her studies, her songcasting, her equestrian competitions—but no matter how high she aimed, her mother’s expectations were always higher.

“I don’t need to tell you that the courts of both Miromara and Matali will be watching,” Isabella said. “You can’t afford to put a fin wrong. And you won’t as long as you don’t give in to your nerves. Nerves are the foe. Conquer them or they’ll conquer you. Remember, it’s not a battle, or a deadlock in Parliament; it’s only a Dokimí.”

“Right, Mom.
Only
a Dokimí,” said Serafina, her fins flaring. “
Only
the ceremony in which Alítheia declares me of the blood—or kills me. Only the one where I have to songcast as well as a canta magus does. Only the one where I take my betrothal vows and swear to give the realm a daughter someday. It’s nothing to get worked up about. Nothing at all.”

An uncomfortable silence descended. Isabella was the first one to break it. “One time,” she said, “I had a terrible case of nerves myself. It was when my senior ministers were aligned against me on an important trade initiative, and—”

Serafina cut her off angrily. “Mom, can you just be a
mom
for once? And forget you’re the regina?” she asked.

Isabella smiled sadly. “No, Sera,” she said. “I can’t.”

Her voice, usually brisk, had taken on a sorrowful note.

“Is something wrong?” Serafina asked, suddenly worried. “What is it? Did the Matalis arrive safely?”

She knew that outlaw bands often preyed upon travelers in lonely stretches of water. The worst of them, the Praedatori, was known to steal everything of value: currensea, jewelry, weapons, even the hippokamps the travelers rode.

“The Matalis are perfectly fine,” Isabella said. “They arrived last night. Tavia saw them. She says they’re well, but weary. Who wouldn’t be? It’s a long trip from the Indian Ocean to the Adriatic Sea.”

Serafina was relieved. It wasn’t only the crown prince and his parents, the emperor and empress, who were in the Matalin traveling party, but also Neela, the crown prince’s cousin. Neela was Serafina’s very best friend, and she was longing to see her. Sera spent her day surrounded by people, yet she was always lonely. She could never let her guard down around her court or her servants. Neela was the only one with whom she could really be herself.

“Did Desiderio ride out to welcome them?” she asked.

Isabella hesitated. “Actually, your father went to meet them,” she finally said.

“Why? I thought Des was supposed to go,” said Serafina, confused. She knew her brother had been looking forward to greeting the Matalis. He and Mahdi, the crown prince, were old friends.

“Desiderio has been deployed to the western borders. With four regiments of acqua guerrieri,” Isabella said bluntly.

Serafina was stunned. And frightened for her brother. “What?” she said. “When?”

“Late last night. At your uncle’s command.”

Vallerio, Isabella’s brother, was Miromara’s high commander. His authority was second only to her own.

“Why?”
Sera asked, alarmed. A regiment contained three thousand guerrieri. The threat at the western borders must be serious for her uncle to have sent so many soldiers.

“We received word of another raid. On Acqua Bella, a village off the coast of Sardinia,” Isabella said.

“How many were taken?” Serafina asked, afraid of the answer.

“More than two thousand.” Isabella turned away, but not before Serafina saw the unshed tears shimmering in her eyes.

The raids had started a year ago. Six Miromaran villages had been hit so far. No one knew why the villagers were being taken, or where, or who was behind the raids. It was as if they’d simply vanished.

“Were there any witnesses this time?” Serafina asked. “Do you know who did it?”

Isabella, composed now, turned back to her. “We don’t. I wish to the gods we did. Your brother thinks it’s the terragoggs.”

“The
humans
? It can’t be. We have protective songspells against them. We’ve had them since the mer were created, four thousand years ago. They can’t touch us. They’ve never been able to touch us,” Serafina said.

She shuddered to think of the consequences if humans ever learned how to break songspells. The mer would be hauled out of the oceans by the thousands in brutal nets. They’d be bought and sold. Confined in small tanks for the goggs’ amusement. Their numbers would be decimated like the tunas’ and the cods’. No creature, from land or sea, was greedier than the treacherous terragoggs. Even the vicious Opafago only took what they could eat. The goggs took everything.

“I don’t think it’s the humans,” Isabella said. “I told your brother so. But a large trawler was spotted in waters close to Acqua Bella, and he’s convinced it’s involved. Your uncle believes Ondalina’s behind the raids, and that they’re planning to attack Cerulea as well. So he sent the regiments as a show of strength on our western border.”

This was sobering news. Ondalina, the realm of the arctic mer, was an old enemy. It had waged war against Miromara—and lost—a century ago, and had simmered under the terms of the peace ever since.

“As you know, the Ondalinians broke the permutavi three months ago,” Isabella said. “Your uncle thinks Admiral Kolfinn did it because he wished to derail your betrothal to the Matalin crown prince and offer his daughter, Astrid, to the Matalis instead. An alliance with Matali is every bit as valuable to them as it is to us.”

Serafina was worried to hear of Ondalina’s scheming, and she was surprised—and flattered—that her mother was discussing it with her.

“Maybe we should postpone the Dokimí,” she said. “You could call a Council of the Six Waters instead, to caution Ondalina. Emperor Bilaal is already here. You’d only have to summon the president of Atlantica, the elder of Qin, and the queen of the Freshwaters.”

Isabella’s troubled expression changed to one of impatience, and Serafina knew she’d said the wrong thing.

“The Dokimí can’t be postponed. The stability of our realm depends upon it. The moon is full and the tides are high. All preparations have been made. A delay could play right into Kolfinn’s hands,” Isabella said.

BOOK: Waterfire Saga, Book One: Deep Blue (A Waterfire Saga Novel)
10.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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