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"Tarina, fetch some salt water so I can cook dinner."
At five, she was considered old enough for chores. Tarina nodded, grabbing two lugits, large hollow pods whose shape and hard shell rendered some into excellent water carriers, once the edible beans were removed through a carefully cut opening. She looped the natural curves of the two pods over her shoulders and bounded to the water's edge. Her family normally lived farther inland, but made extended trips to the seashore to harvest salt for food preservation. During such visits, meals cooked in salt water were an anticipated delicacy.
Tarina reached the rocks and sought out one of the deeper, isolated tidal pools where she wouldn't have to watch for incoming waves. She waded in, bending down so that the lugits filled while still suspended from her shoulders.
In the water, a stone's throw away, two small, gray shapes surged, flippers a blur, in a terrified effort to outdistance a larger, yellow, third shape flashing rows of blade-sharp teeth. Sharp claws protruded from webbed feet that gave the long, sleek body additional speed, supporting that provided by its lashing tail. Despite its swiftness, the predator knew it had to corner its victim in order to eat -- its latest prey was faster. The currently landlocked tidal pool offered it an opportunity for two quick meals. Sensing small openings ahead that appeared to offer the refuge of the maze-like underwater caves that dotted this particular shoreline, the small, gray shapes darted into the openings.
Tarina jerked her head back, startled as the water churned before her. "Hey, I don't want you two in there!" The third shape wasnearly upon her. Almost too late, she recognized it as a dangerous limid, despite its immaturity and small size. Amphibious predators, limids terrorized sea and shore. As she reached down to block it, teeth sliced her abdomen. Pain seared her belly, causing her to react wildly in her own defense. She managed to grab the limid just behind the head and wrench it from the water. Two small heads on elongated necks peeked out of the lugits watching as she hurled the limid at the side of a boulder. The limid smacked against it and slid back into the water, lifeless, the rock stained red.
The burning pain increased as Tarina backed out of the water, shaking. Inside the lugits, the two small shapes made no effort to escape even though it was now safe. Both were transfixed upon Tarina as she clutched her wound and edged onto the shore, leaving a faint trail of blood in the water. Only when Tarina was satisfied that there wasn't another limid around to harm her did she turn and hurry back to her family's camp.
"By her will, Tarina! What on Fantera happened?"
"A limid bit me!"
"Set those lugits down so I can get you bandaged."
Tarina stooped, slipping the lugits from her shoulders. Without support, the lugits flopped over and emptied their contents. Immediately, the two creatures squeaked their protest-their four-flippered bodies were not designed for movement on land. Though they breathed air, they were still sea creatures.
Tarina's mother halted suddenly at the sound of their tiny voices. "By her will, you've got two seaswams! How did you catch them?"
"They swam to me on their own," Tarina answered as the seaswams flopped laboriously toward her.
"Gather them back into the lugits very carefully. Then hurry back to where you found them. They need to be placed back in the water. I'll follow as soon as I grab the bandages. Mican! Come quickly!"
Tarina didn't ask why her mother was calling for her father. Doubtless he'd be upset that she was hurt. Still, Tarina didn't see what he could do that her mother wasn't already doing. Obediently, Tarina gently picked up the two seaswams and placed one in each lugit. Neither resisted. One even rubbed its neck against her wrist.
With the lugits back on her shoulders, Tarina hurried back to the tidal pool, her mother and father close at her heels.
"Are you certain she's got a pair of seaswams, Zipello?" Mican asked.
"I saw them. She's got one in each lugit. I'm sure they're seaswams even though they're not tan," Zipello replied.
Tarina reached the water and stooped down. The lugits first floated at an awkward angle until her hands forced each down so that it filled through its opening. Immersed in sufficient water once more, both seaswams ceased squeaking and craned their necks through the openings to gaze at Tarina.
"By her will, you're right. This poses a problem," Mican said.
Zipello hesitated at hearing Mican's words. "Yes, I believe I understand." She began to wipe and bandage Tarina's wound. "It's a shallow slash about as long as a scurry's tail, but you could end up with worse if you take on their responsibility."
Copyright © 2005 David L. Kuzminski