In Great Waters

In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield Read Free Book Online

Book: In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kit Whitfield
colourful nuisance, but once he had accustomed himself to it, he found its variety pleasant and spent hours of solitude rocking quietly with his eyes on its soothing curves.
    Allard waited until he caught Henry staring at it before he tried to interest the boy in its contents. When he finally managed to come upon Henry with his eyes on the picture—by dint of opening the door faster than usual and putting his head in before the boy could retreat to his usual rocking and blank expression—he smiled and patted his charge. Henry retreated from the smile, bared teeth being a threatening sight, but Allard sat down on the floor beside him, dust and threads from Henry’s rags covering his fine clothing, and offered the boy some fish.
    Henry took it. He was becoming accustomed to the bland, saltless taste of the food, and as the season grew chillier, he knew he should eat as much as possible, laying down fat to keep out the cold—although the supply of fish was not increasing as the days grew darker and the temperature dropped, and the lack of food was worrying him. Allard passed him another piece, and said, “Good boy, Henry. See that?” He pointed. “That is Angelica.”
    “Angelica,” Henry said, and reached out his hand; Allard generally gave him a small bit of fish when he repeated words.
    “Good.” The fish was produced, and Henry stuffed it into his mouth. “Queen Angelica.”
    “Queen Angelica.” Henry held out an expectant hand, but no fish came.
    “Queen, Henry?” Allard gave him a stern look. “What is a queen?”
    Henry said nothing; there was no reason to expect him to know what a queen was.
    “Do you want to know what a queen is?”
    “Fish,” Henry said; the sentence was a complicated one.
    “Later. A queen has a crown.”
    “Crown.” Henry patted his lap; the crown was his only other plaything, a cheering bright circle in this bleak room.
    “A queen is married to a king.”
    “Talk to me and I will give you fish,” Allard said.
    “Not know ‘married,’” Henry said, frowning with concentration. He needed more food if he was to avoid freezing.
    “King and queen are together. Man and woman,” Allard said. This made little sense to Henry, but he said nothing. “King is the son of a king and queen.”
    Henry nodded; he had seen children born in the sea, and the spawning that preceded it; sometimes a deepsman and woman grew attached to each other and stayed together, breeding season after season, if the man wasn’t too weak to defend himself. King and queen must mean a breeding couple.
    “You have queen?” Henry said.
    “No.” Allard tapped the ground impatiently. “Only one king and queen in one country.”
    Henry lowered his head; “country” was another difficult concept. “Fish?”
    “Very well.” Allard passed him another piece. “King and queen are leaders. King and queen rule. They tell all the subjects—the people who are not king and queen—what they must do. Subjects obey king and queen. Loyal to …” He stopped. The glance he gave out of the window made Henry start up in alarm; sudden looks usually meant an approaching predator.
    Allard showed no sign of flight, though, so Henry repeated, “Subjet-ss obey king an queen.” The consonants were difficult, but the idea was not. He had been used to having a single leader in the tribe.
    Then he frowned. “King have crown. Henry have crown.” He looked at Allard in consternation. Henry knew only too well how the leader changed: another leader challenged them. The battle would be bloody and frantic. He had only ever seen two such, but he had never forgotten them, the rocks clenched in hard fists, the rising plumes of white bubbles and the cloudy trails of dark blood as the loser sank out of sight, arms limp and adrift on the current.
    “Angelica was not born a queen, Henry. Listen.”

    The story of Angelica began in Venice. Henry struggled with the ideas for weeks, but Allard was patient. He repeated the

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