Vast and Brutal SeaZoraida Cordova
Copyright © 2014 by Zoraida Córdova
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Cover illustration © Tony Sahara
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Trianos Family Tree
Kleos Family Tree
Ellanos Family Tree
About the author
For Adrienne Rosado, my best friend and soul sister. All of this is possible because you believed.
“Now put me into the barge,” said the king…
“for I will into the Vale of Avilion to heal me of my grievous wound;
and if thou hear never more of me, pray for my soul.”
—from Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory
The Daughter of the Sea would never be loved.
She was the first child of the Golden Queen and King Elanos of the Erabos Kingdom. King Elanos, descendant of the first Kings of the sea, watched his daughter tear free from the birthing sac without the help of the midwife. She slithered between her mother’s split tails, silver and pale as the face of the moon, haloed in blood and flesh.
They called her Nieve.
Her sisters needed help. For long, painful hours, six more daughters followed, wailing and ripping their way into the sea. Nieve grabbed one of her sisters’ hands, curious at the strange face that shared her crib, and sunk pearly teeth into her golden flesh.
The midwife reeled Nieve into a crib of coral, separating her from her sisters who bloomed like violet and turquoise jewels in the quiet darkness of Glass Castle.
It was the Golden Queen’s first pod with the king. Her voice echoed in the new, shining halls, not in pain like the queens before her, but in happiness. She was his prize after the war with the rebel tribes, and together they would birth a new reign in the deep, ignoring the whispers of distant enemy shadows.
Merfolk came from all the oceans, bringing precious gifts for the princesses. They stayed, wonder struck at how the little ones shone with the queen’s golden skin and the king’s eyes, one turquoise, one violet.
Then there was Nieve, with a paleness that radiated like starlight. She brought awe, nestled in her mother’s warm arms like a pearl.
And as she grew, fast and strong, she reached and reached for the brilliant fissures inside the quartz scepter of her father’s trident. The court smiled tightly at the brazenness of the tiny mermaid. Gasped in awe at the silver princess swimming with wild white-bellied sharks, taming them with the tender pads of her fingertips.
A thousand eyes trailed Nieve around the walls of Glass Castle. A thousand whispers always present, yet always at a careful distance, not knowing the extent of the curious sparks of her hands. It was magic—so rare that it had never presented itself in the royal family. Not since the legends of Eternity, when the children of Triton fought the winged fey. With each battle, the Sea Court moved deeper into the coldest breaches of the seas.
King Elanos recognized it. Magic, like the core of his trident, the spark that could summon storms and tear into the rocky beds of the ocean floors. But in a mermaid, the magic was uncontained and unpredictable. The king watched as the spark grew in his silver daughter’s eyes until, in a fit of anger, she killed.
It was an accident.
The palace guard would not let her swim to the surface. She thought she was old enough to see the world alone. The guard grabbed her and pulled her back down to court. She pressed her hands on his chest for a moment, just a moment, and stopped his heart. His body froze, eyes gaping at the princess, until a current carried him away.
The court watched her, unsmiling, unnerving, unloving.
He watched her, the king, sleeping with eyes open, ears open, to the murmurs of his daughter’s sleep talk, and he knew what he must do.
His enemies came in the night.
But in the dark of the deep, it was always night—rebel tribes against his door—the sea people of warmer oceans with copper scales and onyx weapons. They sought retribution for the Golden Queen stolen from them by King Elanos so long ago. But the queen had grown to love her captor, her husband, her king, and she wouldn’t go—wouldn’t leave. She was pregnant once more, and this time, she was certain it was a son.
King Elanos had waited for this day. He knew their kind was dwindling in numbers. The blood of war was no longer as appetizing as in his youth. It was a queen they wanted and a queen the rebel tribes would get.
And so King Elanos took his first daughter from her single chamber and led her to the rebel Southern King.
Nieve screamed, as her mother had screamed whe
n she was taken so long ago, the sound echoing through the ocean, the current yielding to her palms, and at once, King Elanos took Nieve’s face. He had never held her, not as a child, not as a daughter. But she wasn’t a child any longer, and he held her then, looking into her pale moon eyes, and said, “Daughter, do this and you will save your kin.”
The kin who turned away, relieved that the silver princess would no longer grace the court. The kin who peered between glass pillars as she was taken away. Some crying. Some smiling.
And without looking at her weeping sisters or her mother, Nieve took the hand of the Southern King.
She could hear the sigh of relief, like the last breath of a tempest. She looked at her father, dark hatred slithering into her heart and she promised, I will save my people, Father. But who will save you?
Layla is gone.
Layla is gone and there’s a chance I may never get her back. That she’s dead. That I’m two days away from losing her, the throne, and my life because for a moment, I wasn’t strong enough and the silver mermaid knew it.
She knows me in ways that I don’t even know myself, knows the paralyzing fear that swelled in me when I thought I could lose the girl I love.
The ship hits a wave and heaves. I grab on to the table in front of me and drop the knife in my hand. I can hear Brendan and Kai on deck moving weapons around. They’ll come checking on me any minute and I know I have to hurry.
The pressure on my temples builds like tiny land mines going off in my head. I press my palms and squeeze, but the image doesn’t go away. I see Gwen. Gwen putting a pale hand over Layla’s mouth and diving off the pier into the water.
Layla can’t breathe underwater.
I hold on to the basin in front of me, face myself in the scuffed mirror, and examine the damage. My skin is peeling over my nose. Salt water stings the thin cuts on my face, trickling down my neck and down my chest. I can feel the ghost of an injury where Nieve’s fingernails cut me the first time she found me. Was it only eighteen days ago? Eighteen days ago that I washed up on Coney Island after the freak storm created by the arrival of the Sea Court’s Toliss Island.
Now, despite everything I’ve been through, my journey is far from over. Just a little bit more, just a little bit, I tell myself to keep going. I have to wake the Sleeping Giants, powerful creatures that once belonged to the first kings of the sea. They’re my best chance at defeating my enemies. Their strength is legend and we’re heading to a place that will help us find them.
I pick up the knife again and get to work. My body shakes like a house during a hurricane every time I exhale.
I can do this.
I’m psyching myself out.
I jog in place like I’m warming up before a meet. But the combination of jogging and the waves lapping around the ship knocks over the jars of healing gunk the urchin brothers applied to all my wounds, as well as the last of my fresh water.
I hear my buddy Angelo’s voice in the back of my head saying, “Get your head out of your ass, T.”
Do it, Tristan, I tell myself.
I grind my teeth, and staring at myself in the mirror, I let the blade slice through the hair bunched in my fist.
I haven’t gotten a haircut in more than three years. I love my hair. I grab another bunch at the nape and hack. The wet, brown waves fall to the ground and coil at my feet. When we were in junior high school, I tried to spike my hair because that was the scene. Layla took one look at me and said I looked like a Dragon Ball reject. I went right to the bathroom and washed off the glue gel. I let my hair grow longer and longer until the girls started coming up to me and running their hands through it. All of them except for her.
It seems stupid. It’s just hair. It’ll grow back. It’s not like I lost my fighting arm or my head, though in the five hours since we left Coney Island, I did come pretty close. I refuse to let anyone else take something from me. I have to take matters into my own hands. Brendan promised me that the Sleeping Giants and their primitive strength would help me with this war. But to do that, I have to change. I am a different guy than I was three weeks ago. I’m a merman. I don’t know if I’m a better person, but I want to be. I have to be.
When I’m done, I run a hand across the surface. The stubble is foreign against my calloused palms. I turn my face from side to side. My cheekbones are more pronounced from the weight I’ve lost and muscle I’ve gained from miles of swimming and sweating under the sun. The only things that haven’t changed are my eyes, turquoise like my grandfather’s—the Sea King. I touch the soft, purple bruise ringing my eye and wince.
I drop the knife on the floor and use a brush I nabbed from the urchin brothers to get rid of the loose strands sticking to my skin.
The door swings open and Brendan runs in.
“Are you all right? I heard a noise.”
His shoulder-length red hair is tied back. His turquoise eyes flick from me to the knife on the ground, then back to my head.
“Who are you,” Brendan says, “and what have you done with my cousin?”
“He’s still here,” I say. “And he’s ready.”
Brendan, Champion of the North and my cousin, is the reason I’m here now. After the fight against the merrows on Coney Island, after Nieve took Layla, after Kurt—after all of that, I was a mess. Brendan showed up and, along with Princess Kai, hauled me onto Arion’s ship. We started sailing north right away.
I’m like, “Say something, man.”
“I’m not entirely certain what I’m looking at.” He leans against the door frame. Behind him I can see a lunch spread and my stomach roars. He points a finger at the brush in my hand and says, “Vi’s been looking for that to scrub the deck, you know.”
“That bad?” I rub my hand on my head.
“I didn’t say that.”
“A bunch of it kind of burned off on one side during the fight.” I brush stray hairs from my chest and re-strap my sternum harness. I keep Triton’s dagger sheathed on my chest and the Scepter of Earth between my shoulder blades.
“It’s—it’s nice.” When he says that, it reminds me of every time my mom asks for my dad’s opinion on her hair, her clothes, her garage sale trinkets. I shake my head—like that’ll stop me from thinking of my family.
“You don’t have to like it.”
“You look like a different person.”
Good, that’s what I’m going for. “Are we at the Cry Me A River Island yet?”
He jumps around me, still staring at my head. “It’s the Vale of Tears. We’re not far.”
Brendan whistles and holds his arm out north. His shoulders are tanned dark from days of sailing before meeting up with me. He’s still got a black and blue shiner around his eye. Before now, he was down south in search of some magical city in the sky. Whatever was guarding that city really did a number on his face. So we’ve got that in common.
I check my waterproof watch, a gift from my coach for being captain of the swim team last year. “You said it wasn’t a long trip.”
“It’s still morning, Cousin Tristan. The end of the fortnight isn’t ’til Saturday night. Tomorrow.”
We let a moment of silence pass for the things that don’t have to be said. When the moon is full, it will mark the end of the championship. Not that the quest is going by the same rules. We started out with five champions—Adaro of the South and Elias of the East are dead. Brendan is on my side. Dylan of the West hasn’t been heard of since the day my grandfather broke his trident into three pieces and set them loose for us to find.
The pieces have been found all right. I have the Scepter of Earth. Nieve took the Staff of Eternity. Kurt has the Trident of the Skies. The rules have gone to shit, and if no one else is going to follow them, then I won’t either. We’re going to visit the river merpeople to get some power. I’ll fix the throne and I’ll save Layla.
br /> Piece of cake, right?
“Worry not, dear cousin.” Brendan pats my shoulder. “Once we reach the mist, we know we have arrived. Then we sail right into it. It’s a bit of a fright at first. The mist will try to push us back, to make sure we have the will to pass. Then,” he claps his hands hard, “we’re in.”
“Yeah, fog and mist have done wonders for me in the past.”
“That’s the spirit!” He smacks my back.
Kai smiles at us from the quarterdeck. Her long, blond curls are wild, and she wears the metallic armor of the Sea Guard. For a scroll nerd, she’s taken to weapons really well. She and Arion stop speaking.
“Don’t stop just because I’m here,” I say. But I know I’ve given them reason to think I’m not okay. For a moment back there, I thought I was legit insane. Like, put a crazyjacket on me and lock me in a white padded room. I was tired and delirious. I was going to jump into the sea and follow the silver mermaid. It took Kai and Brendan to sedate me with some bitter liquid that let me sleep. When I came to, Brendan told me of the Sleeping Giants.
“Where we at?” I take the heavy metal telescope from Arion and peer through the glass. Blue and gray, endlessness like there is nothing wrong with the world.
Arion, the captain of the ship, is mystically bound to the vessel with black ropes that stretch as high as the masts but never into water. He moves his arms in the wind, carefully steering across rough waves. “Just passing Greenland.”
I turn my face into the salty breeze and breathe deeply.
“The change suits you,” Arion tells me.
I smirk at Brendan. “Arion, have you heard of the Sleeping Giants?”
He nods, keeping his dark eyes on the horizon. The urchins load us up with food. I take a seaweed chip and crumble it in my hands. Brendan shoves more food down his throat than my entire swim team during Thanksgiving.
“Aye, Master Tristan,” Arion says. “Only tales from when I was a guppy.”
“I can’t picture you as a guppy,” Kai says.
Arion laughs. “I believe this is a compliment, Lady Kai, yes?”