Read Nightpool Online

Authors: Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Tags: #adventure, #animals, #fantasy, #young adult, #dragons

Nightpool

 

 

 

From the reviews of
Nightpool

 


Scenes that fairly
soar infuse the tale with mythical qualities, which are buttressed
by vitalized characterizations (the otters, foxes and dragons as
well as Teb are developed in loving detail while the evil ones are
truly evil). An enthralling fantasy that begs a sequel, better yet
a series of sequels.” —
ALA Booklist

 


A sense that
communication with animals once existed but has been lost permeates
all of human lore. Georgia writer Shirley Rousseau Murphy's forte
is her ability to vicariously compensate for this loss through her
stories. In
Nightpool
she is in top form.” —
Atlanta Journal
and Constitution

 

 

 

Nightpool

 

(Dragonbards Trilogy, Book One)

 

by

 

Shirley Rousseau Murphy

 

 

Smashwords Edition

 

 

Copyright © 1985 by Shirley Rousseau
Murphy

 

All rights reserved. For information contact
[email protected]. This ebook is licensed for your personal
enjoyment only, and may not be resold, given away, or altered.

 

 

This is the first book of a trilogy. It is
followed by
The Ivory Lyre
and
The Dragonbards
.

 

 

Harper & Row edition (hardcover)
published in 1985

HarperPrism edition (paperback) published in
1987

 

Ad Stellae Books edition, 2010

 

Author website:
www.joegrey.com

 

 

Cover art © by
Fernando Cortés De Pablo
/ 123RF

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

It was early dawn when a swimmer appeared
far out in the dark, rolling sea. His face was just visible, a pale
smear, and his hair blended with the black waves. He dove suddenly
and disappeared, then was hidden by scarves of blowing fog stained
pale in the moonlight. Moonlight brightened the crashing spray,
too, where waves shattered against the tall, rocky island.

The swimmer popped up again, close to the
island’s cliff. He breasted the waves and foam with strong strokes
and leaped to grab at the sheer stone wall. A foothold here, a
handhold, until his wet naked body was free of the sea, clinging
like a barnacle to the cliff. A thin boy, perhaps sixteen. He
climbed fast, more from habit than from need, knowing just where
the best holds were. Above him, the cliff was honeycombed with
caves, this whole side of the island a warren of dwellings, but no
creature stirred above him. Not one dark, furred face looked out at
him, and no otter hunted behind him in the sea; they all slept,
after last night’s ceremonies.

He climbed to his own cave and stood in the
entrance dripping, his head ducked to clear the rough arch of the
doorway. Then he turned back to look out at the sea once more.
Behind him, his cave echoed the sea’s pounding song.

He was bony and strong, with long, lean
muscles laid close beneath the flesh, a thin face with high
cheekbones, and his dark hair streaked and bleached by sun and sea.
The skin across his loins, where the breechcloth had grown small
for him, was pale, and the white scars on his back would never tan.
His eyes were as dark as the stone of the island. There was a
white, jagged scar across his chin, where a wave had heaved him
against the cliff when he was twelve. He stood trying to master the
flood of emotions that still gripped him, though he had thought to
swim away from them out in the cold, dark sea. Homesickness was on
him even before he departed, and he wanted to go quickly now while
dawn lay on the sea and the otters slept, wanted no more good-byes,
because already his stomach felt hollow and knotted. A part of
himself would never go away, would stay on Nightpool forever, a
ghost of himself still swimming the sea with Charkky and Mikk,
diving deep into undersea gardens, playing keep-away in the
waves.

He longed to be with Mitta suddenly, gentle,
mothering Mitta, who had cared for him all the long months he had
lain sick and hurt and not knowing who he was, cared for him as
tenderly as she cared for her own cubs. Maybe he could just slip up
over the rim of the island and into her cave, and lay his face
against her warm fur as she slept. But no, the good-byes would
begin all over, and they had said good-bye. Maybe the worst part of
leaving was the good-byes, even in the warmth and closeness they
had all felt last night at the ceremony.

He thought of the monster he meant to seek,
and fear touched him. But he felt power, too, and a stubbornness
that would not let him imagine losing against the dark sea
creature. And once he defeated it, his real journey would begin,
for he went to seek not one, but two creatures, as unlike one
another as hatred is unlike love.

His head filled again with last night’s
scene in the great cave. Before the ceremonies began, while he and
Thakkur were alone there, the white otter had stood tall before the
sacred clamshell pronouncing in a soft voice the visions that gave
shape to Teb’s searching. The gleaming, pale walls of the great
cave had been lighted by fire for the first time the otters could
remember, five small torches of flaming seaweed that Charkky and
Mikk had devised in Teb’s honor. Teb thought of Thakkur’s blessings
and his strange, luminous predictions, the old otter’s white sleek
body stretched tall, his attention rooted to the shell.

“You will ride the winds of Tirror, Tebriel.
And you will touch humankind and change it. You will see more than
any creature or human sees, save those of your own special
kind.

“I see mountains far to the north, and you
will go there among wonderful creatures and speak to them and know
them.”

As Teb stared out now at the dawn sky, he
was filled with the dream. But with the knowledge, too, that no
prediction is cast in stone, that any fate could change by the
flick of a knife, or the turn of a mount down an unknown road.

And not all Thakkur’s predictions had been
of wonder. “I see a street in Sharden’s city narrow and mean. There
is danger there and it reeks of pain. Take care, Tebriel, when you
journey into Sharden.

“And,” the white otter said softly, “I see
your sister Camery, tall and golden as wheat, and I see a small owl
on her shoulder.” This was a happier prediction, and Teb vowed
again that besides fulfilling his own search, he could find Camery,
too, and those who traveled with her.

When Thakkur finished his predictions, Teb
took his paw and walked with him down from the dais to a stone
bench, where they sat together until, a little later, the crowds of
otters began to troop in. “Camery is alive,” Teb said softly to
Thakkur, and studied the white otter’s whiskered face.

The white otter nodded briefly. And then,
partly from old age and partly from the strain of the predictions,
he lapsed into a sudden light, dozing sleep. Soon Teb was
surrounded by otters and drawn away into a happy ceremony of gift
giving.

Each otter had brought a gift, a shell
carefully cleaned and polished, or a pawful of pearls, or a gold
coin from the sunken city of Mernmeth, that had lain drowned for so
many lifetimes with its treasures scattered across the ocean
floor.

Now, as he stood looking out at the sea, the
ceremony of gift giving began to form a song in his mind. His
verses came quickly, pummeling into his head, and each made a
picture of the giver, holding forth a treasure. The song would
remain in his memory without effort, creating sharp, clear scenes
that he could bring forth whenever he wished. Just so did hundreds
of songs remain, captured somehow by that strange, effortless
talent that set him apart from other humans. Always he carried in
his mind this hoard of color and scenes and voices from the
past.

He would carry with him on his journey, as
well, a stolen leather pack, a stolen knife and sword, and the
oaken bow that Charkky and Mikk had helped him make. He would carry
the gold coins and pearls for trading, but the rest of the gifts
would be left in his cave as intended, as good-luck omens to bring
him back again, each carefully placed on the stone shelves carved
into his cave walls, where Camery’s diary lay wrapped in waterproof
sharkskin. He had read it until he had worn out the pages.

He would need to steal a new flint for fire
making, for he had given his to Charkky and Mikk. And he would have
to steal some clothes, for he had only his breechcloth and his old
leather tunic with the seams let out. He had no boots, and the
cliffs and rocky, stubbled pastures would be harsh going. He would
steal, not trade, until he was well away from the lands where he
might be known.

He lay down on his sleeping shelf to measure
his length and pressed his feet and head against the stone, then
drew himself up small, the length he had been when he first came to
live in this cave. He sat up and touched the woven gull-feather
blanket at the foot of the shelf. The blanket had been Mitta’s
first large weaving; many otters had gathered its feathers, and she
had labored a long time over it. The otters had done so many things
for him that they had never done before; many that were against
their customs. It didn’t seem right to have brought such change to
the otter folk, then to leave as if he cared nothing for them, or
for the way they had sheltered him and taught him.

He had brought change to Nightpool unwanted
by many: the planting of crops, the way small things were done, the
tools and weapons of humans. He had brought fire, brought the
cooking of food, so that even last night the ceremonial feast had
been of both the traditional raw seafood laid out on seaweed—clams
and oysters and mussels and raw fish—and then a pot set over the
fire to steam the shellfish, too.

The stealing had been the biggest change,
and many otters had been angry about that first theft, though
Charkky and Mikk had thought it a rare adventure. And even Thakkur,
later on, had been very keen about stealing weapons, covering his
white fur with mud so he could not be seen in the night.

It pleased Teb to know that no one else, no
human, would take his place in the otter nation; no other human
would sleep in his cave or dive deep into the sea among a crowd of
laughing otters. Thakkur’s faith that he would return pleased him.
“You will know your cave is here, Tebriel, waiting for you, filled
with your possessions.” Yet Teb knew well enough he might never
return, in a future as malleable as the changing directions of the
sea.

But once he swam the channel, once he stood
on the shore, then climbed the cliff to Auric’s fields, his
commitment would be made. Once he defeated the sea hydrus—if,
indeed, he could defeat it—he would not return soon to the black
rock island, to Nightpool’s sea winds and the green, luminous world
of undersea, to the weightless freedom of the sea. If he could
defeat the hydrus, he knew he would then be drawn out across the
wild, warring lands of Tirror. Deep within his being the call grew
even stronger, and his need to give of himself to Tirror grew
bold.

He stood listening to the voice of his cave
echo the roaring beat of the sea. There would be no cave song on
dry land, only the voices of land animals. And the voices of men,
very likely challenging him.

When he turned from the sea back into his
cave, the white otter was coming silently along the narrow ledge,
erect on his hind legs, his whiteness startling against the black
stone, his forepaws folded together and very still, not fussing as
other otters’ paws fussed. Thakkur paused, quietly watching him,
and Teb knelt at once, in a passion of reverence quite unlike
himself. But Thakkur frowned and reached out a paw to touch Teb’s
shoulder; their eyes were on a level now, Thakkur’s dark eyes half
laughing, half annoyed. “Get up, Teb. Do not kneel before me.” Then
his look went bright and loving.

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