In Great Waters

In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kit Whitfield
but it was still puzzling. Allard had moved it to and fro, but when Henry turned it over in his hands, something tugged at his memory. He lay down on the floor and held the model above his head. There it was, a sight only seen from fathoms below: a dark fin-shape that meant a strong hand on his wrist, the sight of the tribe swimming up to greet it while he remained below, chastened and guarded by his mother.
    “Ship,” Henry said. “What do ship?”
    “Ships are how people travel the seas, Henry. How landsmen go across the water.”
    Henry frowned; it was difficult to see why they didn’t swim, butalready he was learning that landsmen had a passion for
things
, for fabrics and chairs and doors and windows, that they stayed to guard these things and tied your hands if you damaged them. Now it seemed that they wanted a thing if they were to go through the water as well. It was no clearer than before why these ships had been forbidden him. He frowned again, and asked Allard for some fish to cover his disappointment.
    The people of the sea came to Venice, Allard said. The Venetians were bewitched by these strange newcomers, by the sound of the voices that rang out across the canals. Pale faces flashed through the brown water, dark tails churned foam from the depths, and the deepsmen’s song echoed off the clean, damp walls. For a while, all the music of Venice was composed around it, flutes trying to imitate the sonorous groans that the deepsmen called across the waters. Then the Venetians sent people out, ambassadors, in flat-bottomed boats, flutes playing this new sound.
    Hearing the weighty notes called across the canals, the deepsmen united in groups of three and five, strongest at the head, in the phalanx formation that was to become familiar over the years. They swam out to greet the ambassadors, and as the flautists strove to imitate the sounds they made, powerful hands reached out and overturned the boats.
    Allard explained this with sign language, with words, with sounds and grimaces and gestures. Explaining music took a while, and Henry responded poorly to Allard’s awkward attempts to play a flute; singing he understood, but the flute was just sounds without meaning. Just occasionally Allard managed to pipe out a note that sounded a little like a word—the echo of one, blurred and imprecise—which attracted Henry’s attention a little more, but either Allard’s musicianship or the boy’s willingness was too faulty to make much headway. This was all difficult for him to explain, but Allard took a great interest in Henry’s wavering enthusiasm for the flute, scratching note after note before carrying on with his explanation. Henry learned how the deepsmen had challenged the flautists, toppling them into the water to fight. Landsmen fare ill in underwater battles, and the deepsmenfought by their own traditions. Water cushions the blow of a striking tail a little, but the great muscles and flexing joints of a sea man’s tail are always better able to clash and wrestle than the fragile limbs of an unseated musician. Several of Venice’s most promising composers suffered broken legs before the boating attempts were abandoned.
    Unfortunately for the city, once the musicians had been subdued, the deepsmen took to refusing entry to the canals where such ambushes had taken place. They swam up and down, rolling over in the water, wide-eyed and thoughtful, tolling out a sweet-voiced chant very similar to the tunes the well-meaning ambassadors had relayed to them. The translation was becoming increasingly obvious to the philosophers of the city:
Ours
.
    Venice, independent and strong, found itself with enemies on its banks. The sea people attacked boats, pulled down bridges, until it was all but impossible to travel. Attempts were made to block the canals: the deepsmen broke the dams. Arrows were fired into the water and some casualties followed, but it was hard to take aim on a quarry that could disappear into the

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