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We Will Persuade Him, Be It Possible
It is a nipping and an eager air.
Except, for once, Beatrice Shakespeare Smith was thinking of the weather and not Ariel. With a frigid coastal wind tugging at her hair, she sprinted up the stairs set into the White Cliffs. Questions flitted about her mind on the wings of tiny white moths, all drawn to a central, gleaming hope: the chance to have family—her family—reunited. She rehearsed her query for the Scrimshander as she raced ever higher:
Will you come with us to the theater? I promised my mother I’d bring you back with me.
Bertie would have made her plea that morning on the beach, fresh from the triumph of rescuing Nate and escaping the Sea Goddess’s clutches, except her father had not lingered one moment longer than necessary. Perhaps it was in his avian nature to seek solitude; more likely, Bertie’s news that Sedna—his former ladylove—had dissolved into a plethora of tiny sea creatures had come as something of a shock. A few hours had passed since the vengeful deity had tried to kill Bertie, first by drowning, then by strangling, and finally by collapsing her underwater lair, but the Sea Goddess’s promise to gather her strength and revisit her vengeance upon them all still reverberated through Bertie’s very bones. Trying to escape it, she ducked her head and entered the Scrimshander’s Aerie.
The single word echoed off the walls; it only took a few heartbeats for Bertie to understand something was amiss. Softened by a gray blanket of fog, the meager, midday sunlight did little to illuminate the cavern’s depths. Lanterns hung askew, while the embers in the hearth lay dying, the coals abandoned like broken eggshells in a nest. A haphazard assortment of the Scrimshander’s carving tools was spread scattershot across the stone floor. The room was a tomb—gloomy, stale, silent—and it was Bertie’s hopes that had died.
He’s not here.
Bertie circled the cavern, peering into the innermost recesses, praying he’d retired to sleep or retreated to an unknown nook. She moved as a wraith would, gliding from one bit of furniture to another, haunted by the ghosts of a thousand fears but none so terrible as the one confirmed by the tattered scrap of paper she found pierced to the wall above his desk.
I have gone to find her.
The handwriting was nearly illegible, the scrawl trailing off as though the weight of the pronouncement had caused him to drop his pen. On the desk lay a single ink-tipped quill. Bertie picked it up, the fog in her brain clearing enough for her to notice something.
That’s not tipped with ink.… It’s blood. He ripped the feather from his wing to write the note.
Which meant that her father was once more a bird. Once more the creature in love with Sedna. And that he’d abandoned his daughter and his humanity in favor of the Sea Goddess.
I have to call him back.
Perhaps it was for the best that the notebook was tucked into Waschbär’s bag for safekeeping; its magic was flawed and subject to creative interpretation at the best of times. Instinctively, Bertie knew something more powerful was needed here: blood-magic, bone-magic, word-magic. Combined, they had helped her escape Sedna’s underworld after the cavern walls collapsed atop her, allowed her to return to the surface and to the company of her friends. But could they summon the Scrimshander back on the winds?
The attempt and not the deed confounds us.
She must try.
Taking up one of her father’s carving tools, Bertie scored the tip of her finger until a droplet of blood oozed from it, darker than a ruby. “For the blood.” Reaching out, she touched the nearest of a hundred carvings etched into the massive whale ribs that formed the Aerie’s rafters, then the scrimshaw medallion hanging about her neck. “For the bones.”
As for the words, those she held in her mouth, some faceted and glowing like the blood ruby, others delicate and rounded like ivory spellicans: Let him be summoned.
The earth thrummed in response, and the floor underfoot shuddered, as though the stone tried to lift her into the very skies. Seconds later came the water, a gift from her mother, Ophelia. It sloshed from abandoned pots and pans, from inky cups and tiny indentations in the floor, mimicking waves swirling about her ankles, inciting the seagulls to gather outside. The winds answered Bertie’s command last of all, nudging the birds into a circular pattern, carrying with them the faintest of cries:
And a second, stronger voice:
“What are you playing at?” Ariel posed his distant query with an interesting mixture of irritation and anxiety. A subsequent puff of wind signaled a hasty approach.
Except it was Bertie’s summoned winds that arrived first, roaring into the Aerie and prompting the near-dead coals in the hearth to blaze back to life. Blue and green sparks exploded outward to alight upon furniture, wadded scraps of paper, tattered bits of sailcloth, and oily cotton rags left in forgotten corners. All that had been earth-grown provided sustenance for the fire and, within seconds, the Aerie filled with thick, choking smoke. Trembling like an inferno-trapped sapling, Bertie crouched down in the narrow space where the air was the cleanest and coolest, then tried to bend the fire to her will.
Controlling the earth was simply a matter of filling up the back of her head and the hollow of her throat and the place just behind her eyes with green tendrils and dark soil and crumpled pieces of leaves, and then thinking please down to her toes. Soon she realized fire was an altogether different beast, with claws of red and yellow and orange. Bertie tried to catch hold of them, but they twisted out of her reach, as capricious as one of Ariel’s spring gales and infinitely more dangerous.
Unable to bear the smoke and the heat any longer, Bertie crawled forward on her belly, trying to locate the Aerie’s exit. Tears streamed from her eyes now; when they spattered on the hot stone floor, she half expected them to skitter in all directions like water tossed into a frying pan. A sudden gust of wind shoved the smoky cloak from Bertie’s shoulders only seconds before Ariel’s slim hand clamped down over her wrist and he towed her out of the Aerie and into his arms.
“I leave you alone for five minutes, and you go up like a Roman candle.” With a lazy smile, he decanted clean air into her lungs. “If you wanted to play with fire, milady, you could have simply asked me for a kiss or three.”
Bertie tried to tell him she wasn’t playing and to let her go, thank you, but all she could manage was a series of coughs into the front of his linen shirt and the words, “My father—”
“Stay put.” Ariel pressed her against the cliff face. “I’ll get him.”
“He’s not—” Ye gods, it hurt to breathe, much less speak. “He’s not in there.”
One raised eyebrow was all the answer she got before there was an ominous crackle of glass. One of the oil lanterns, perhaps, or an unseen cache of sparking powder exploded, and the force of the blast shoved Bertie off the tiny ledge.
Copyright © 2011 by Lisa Mantchev