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Hieracium and the Great Wave (youngsters:fairy tales, 3388 words)
Author: Ian HobsonAdded: Jul 25 2006Views/Reads: 4138/1630Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
…his thoughts were of sailing off to foreign lands where battles were waiting to be fought, and where princesses waited to be rescued... Another bedtime story from Astrantia.
 



Click here to read the first 75 lines of the story

turned to wave to Luzula.  Ranunculus was an old but strong man and 
would often do work for local farmers, like helping with haymaking or 
delivering crops to other villages. 

'But where?' said Hieracium.  He was dressed like his father, in rough
homespun shirt and breeches and a leather jerkin. 'It must be a long 
way if we need to take so much to eat.'  He gave his mother a last wave 
as the horse and cart rounded the bend in the road.   But then 
something in the back of the cart moved.  'Tritoma!' exclaimed 
Hieracium.  ‘what are you doing here?' 

Tritoma had just appeared from behind one of many sacks of new potatoes.
 'I like journeys too,' replied the cat as he climbed up onto the seat 
between father and son. 

'But you're a stowaway!' exclaimed Hieracium.  'Isn't he, father?' 

'I suppose so,' said Ranunculus, chuckling at the thought.  'But if you
want to come along for the ride, Tritoma, I don't mind. 

'That's easy for you to say,' said Crocus, swishing flies away with her
tail.  She was Farmer Fescue's carthorse, and quite used to pulling 
heavy loads, though she liked to grumble about it.  'And I'd like to 
know how far we are going, as well,' she said. 

'Just to the ocean and back,' said Ranunculus. 

'The ocean!' exclaimed Hieracium.  He had been to the ocean only once
before and had been fascinated by the huge and restless stretch of 
water.  'I love the ocean!  Will we have time for a swim?' 

'Time for more than that, I hope,' said Ranunculus, giving the reigns a
gentle shake.   'We're going to Passiflora.  Get along there, Crocus.  
We haven't got all day.' 

*** 

Tritoma was asleep at the foot of the huge bed, but Hieracium lay awake
listening to the muffled sounds of conversation and laughter that came 
from below.  After a full day's journey, they had arrived in the 
coastal village of Passiflora where Ranunculus had made his delivery to 
a tavern called The Periwinkle and then arranged for a night's lodgings 
there. 

Passiflora was built high on a cliff-top, from where a steep track wound
down to a sandy beach at the head of a bay that made an ideal safe 
harbour for fishing boats.  To Hieracium, it seemed a wonderful place: 
a place just like the ones in the storybooks, with smugglers and 
pirates around every corner.  Also, he had never stayed at an inn 
before, and even climbing a staircase was a new experience; so, unlike 
Tritoma, Hieracium just could not get to sleep. 

But eventually he did sleep, and as he slept his dreams were filled with
treasure and pirate ships and sea dragons; one of which was just about 
to eat him alive when he woke to find his father snoring loudly beside 
him and the innkeeper's daughter standing beside his bed. 

'I'm seven.  How old are you?' she said.  Hieracium could just make out
the shape of the little girl silhouetted against the early morning 
light from the window; though he could easily have taken her for a boy 
as she had short hair and seemed to be dressed in boys' clothing. 

'Ten,' replied Hieracium, blinking the sleep out of his eyes as he
looked at the girl. 

'We're going fishing,' she said.  'You can come if you want.'  Hieracium
looked towards his sleeping father.  'Unless you're too scared.' 

'I'm not scared,' said Hieracium. 

'I'll meet you outside then,' said the girl, leaving Hieracium to get
dressed. 

As the girl left, Tritoma came in, licking his lips after an agreeable
visit to the kitchen.  'It seems you have a new friend,' he said.  
'Father was very late to bed last night and he smelt of that drink he 
likes: the one that makes him walk funny.  Rum, I think it's called.  
It usually makes him sleep late, as well, so we should have plenty of 
time for fishing.' 

*** 

'You don't get seasick, do you?' said the girl as her uncle's small
fishing boat was carried out of the bay by a light breeze and the 
outgoing tide.  The boat was painted bright blue and had a single mast 
and two triangular sails. 

'I don't think so,' Hieracium answered, as he watched the cliff-top
village of Passiflora grow smaller.  'I've never been on a sailing ship 
before.' 

The girl laughed at Hieracium's ignorance.  'The Marguerite isn't a
ship, she's a fishing boat!'  The girl's name was Caltha.  Her face was 
tanned, and her hair was bleached by the sun and the salt air to the 
colour of seashells.  She had already explained that The Marguerite 
belonged to her Uncle Vinca who was sitting at the tiller guiding his 
boat out to sea. 

Vinca was a typical fisherman, with a weather-beaten face and thick
curly hair and a beard.  And he had taken an immediate liking to 
Tritoma, who was sitting comfortable on his lap.  'Stand by, Caltha!' 
Vinca shouted, as he made ready to change course. 

'Get down!' Caltha warned Hieracium.  'We're going to tack.'  As Vinca
pushed the tiller, turning the ship's rudder, the boom – that's the 
wooden beam attached to the ship's mast and mainsail - came swinging 
across from one side of the boat to the other, and would have knocked 
Hieracium overboard if Caltha had not tugged at his sleeve and pulled 
him down. 

'Thanks,' said Hieracium, cautiously watching the boom in case it came
swinging back across the boat. But as a strong gust of wind filled the 
sail and the boat leapt forward through the waves and splashed him with 
spray, he grinned broadly at Caltha.  'What does tack mean?' he asked. 

'If the wind isn't blowing the way we want to go,' Caltha explained, 'we
have to sail across the wind for a while and then turn and sail across 
it the other way.' 

'Stand by!'  Vinca shouted again, and this time Hieracium ducked his
head down in plenty of time before The Marguerite turned and the boom 
swung across, except that this time the boat lost most of its speed.  
Vinca nudged Tritoma off his lap and then left the tiller to lower the 
mainsail. 

'Time to fish,' announced Caltha, opening a wooden chest in the center
of the boat and taking out two fishing lines complete with hooks and 
silvery lures.  Vinca reached into the chest and took out a net, which 
he unfolded and cast over the stern where it trailed behind the boat as 
the southerly breeze pushed it gently along parallel to the shoreline. 

Hieracium had been river fishing with rod and line but was unsure what
to do with just a line.  'It's just like catching crabs from the 
rocks,' Caltha explained, 'except here the sea is much much deeper.'  
She quickly uncoiled her line and lowered it into the water on the 
starboard side of the boat, and Hieracium did the same while Tritoma 
watched with interest, noticing that the fishing line was much thicker 
than the one that Hieracium used on the river. 

'Hungry?'  Vinca asked, unwrapping a parcel of bread and cheese and
handing some to the two children.  'There's nothing for you though, 
Tritoma.  But maybe a sardine or two later, eh?'  He gave the cat a 
scratch behind the ear and then went back to the tiller where he could 
keep one eye on his net and the other on the coastline to be sure they 
were not drifting too far out to sea. 

The bread and cheese tasted delicious and they washed it down with cups
of fresh milk which they shared with Tritoma.  And as Caltha threw a 
handful of breadcrumbs over the side, several tiny but brightly 
coloured fish appeared from nowhere and darted about with open mouths 
until a seagull swooped down and frightened them away. 

It was then that Hieracium felt a sharp tug on his line.  'I think I've
caught a fish!' he exclaimed as he began to haul in his line. 

'Careful,' warned Caltha, 'if you pull too hard you might loose it.' 

Tritoma had to move out of the way as Hieracium, puling hand over hand,
was covering him with wet fishing line.  But as he jumped up and 
balanced on the side of the boat he soon saw Hieracium's fish come 
struggling to the surface.  'Quite big,' he observed.  But before the 
fish was hauled into the boat, a bigger fish leapt out of the water and 
swallowed the first fish whole and then dived back down, taking 
Hieracium's line with it. 

'Keep hold!'  Caltha shouted excitedly, as the line sped through
Hieracium's fingers. 'I've never seen that happen before!  You've got a 
really big fish on your line now!'  Hieracium managed to grasp the 
line, and Tritoma and Caltha watched as he struggled to haul it in.  
But the fish was strong and made Hieracium fight for every handful of 
line. 

Vinca had left the tiller and come to watch.  It was like a tug of war,
and he was impressed by Hieracium's determination as, bit-by-bit, he 
fought the fish and hauled in the line.  'It must be a very big fish,' 
he said, as he felt the deck begin to tilt under his feet.  But as the 
sea became noisier and he looked over his shoulder, he saw that it was 
not Hieracium's fish that was tilting the deck of his boat but an 
approaching wave: the biggest wave he had ever seen in his life. 

He ran to the tiller to try and steer the boat into the wave, as that
was the best way to avoid being capsized.  'Hold tight!' he shouted 
over the roar of the surging water as The Marguerite began to turn. 

At first Caltha and Hieracium, engrossed in the fishing, didn't
understand Vinca's warning, but as they turned and saw the huge wave, 
they abandoned their fishing lines and looked for something to cling 
to.  Caltha made a grab for the mast and clung there shouting at 
Hieracium to do the same, but Hieracium had turned to take hold of 
Tritoma and just at that moment the top of the wave curled and crashed 
down onto the boat and washed them both into the sea. 

The Marguerite shuddered but then shook off the water and rose to the
top of the wave.  Then Vinca and Caltha ran to the side of the boat and 
looked over, but Hieracium and Tritoma were gone. 

*** 

'Where am I?' Hieracium asked as he woke.  His clothes were damp and he
seemed to be in some sort of cave; except that the cave was made of a 
kind of rock he had never seen before, and through it, shone a watery 
daylight. 

'We're safe now,' said a familiar voice.  It was Tritoma, and he was
sitting on the floor of the cave beside Hieracium.  'We were brought 
here by dolphins.' 

'Dolphins?' said Hieracium.  He had heard of dolphins but never seen
one.  He got to his feet and looked around the cave.  The rocky floor 
was a sandy colour, while the curving walls and roof were almost 
translucent, like the glass in a window, and beyond them was water.  
'We're under the ocean!' he said with surprise. 

'You are quite correct,' said a female voice.  'Under the coral, in
fact.'  Startled, Hieracium turned towards the voice and saw a 
beautiful woman with waist-length golden hair, sitting at the edge of a 
pool of clear water.  And then, as the woman smiled at him he saw that 
she was no ordinary woman, for instead of legs she had a fish's tail. 

'Are you a mermaid?' Hieracium asked. 

'I am indeed,' said the mermaid, and my name is Inula, and I am the
daughter of King Lathyrus, the ruler of the seabed.  I will take you to 
see him now.'  Then, amazingly, as the woman moved, she changed: her 
fish's tail was replaced by the skirt of a long flowing gown that 
shimmered in the sea-light.  On her head was a sliver crown and, as she 
stood upright, Hieracium saw that on her feet were silver slippers. 

'This way,' said Inula, as she led Hieracium and Tritoma around the pool
and towards a long dark tunnel.  The tunnel led to another cave, larger 
than the first, but made of the same type of translucent rock.  At its 
center, beside another pool, sat a King Lathyrus.  He too wore a crown 
and a long flowing silvery gown, and gathered around his throne were 
people – if people was the right word for them, as most, though dressed 
like the king and his daughter, had silvery scale-like skin.  Though 
all of them seemed troubled by something, as they were in such deep 
discussion that they did not even notice the arrival of Inula and her 
two guests. 

But King Lathyrus noticed.  'Ah, here is our fisherman,' he said in a
loud, grim voice that immediately silenced his courtiers, making them 
turn and look disapprovingly at Hieracium.  'And here is his friend, 
Tritoma.' 

Hieracium, noticing the disapproving looks and at the same time
remembering his fight with the fish, thought it best to say nothing, 
while Tritoma calmly walked up the king and leapt into his lap, causing 
the courtiers to gasp. 

But King Lathyrus smiled and stroked Tritoma affectionately, as though
it was his habit to do so. 'You are lucky to have such a friend,' he 
said, looking now at Hieracium.  'Did you know that you owe Tritoma 
your life?' 

Hieracium looked puzzled.  'But I thought we were saved by dolphins,' he
answered. 

'No, not saved,' said the king.  'Just brought to us... drowned.' 

'Drowned?' Hieracium did not understand. 

'Yes, drowned,' said King Lathyrus.  'But a cat, I have learned, has
nine lives, and your friend, Tritoma chose to continue with this one.' 

Hieracium still did not understand.  'But I am not a cat,' he said.  'If
I had drowned then surely I would be dead.' 

'Quite so,' agreed the king.  'Except that here in the realm of the
seabed, I have the power of life or death over those who trespass; and 
your friend Tritoma persuaded my daughter that your life was worth 
saving.' 

Hieracium looked at Tritoma, remembering how the two of them had been
washed overboard by the great wave and sucked into the depths of the 
sea.  'Is it true that we drowned?' he asked. 

'It is true,' Tritoma replied as he jumped down from the king's lap. 
'And now this life counts as my third instead of my second.  But it is 
not to me that you owe your life, but to Princess Inula and King 
Lathyrus - and the dolphins, of course.' 

At that moment two dolphins surfaced in the center of the pool and swam
over to Inula, speaking to her in a language that Hieracium did not 
understand and causing a ripple of alarm amongst the assembled 
courtiers, some of whom dived into the pool and disappeared. Then Inula 
spoke to Hieracium and Tritoma.  'The great wave that washed you into 
the sea was caused by tremors in the seabed,' she said, 'and the 
tremors have weakened the magic that keeps the seawater from entering 
these chambers, so now, for your own safety, you must leave.'  
Hieracium looked at the pool, and sure enough the water level was 
slowly rising. 

'Quickly,' said Inula, pointing to another dark tunnel.  'Follow that
tunnel and it will lead you to safety.  Goodbye Hieracium and Tritoma, 
and good luck.'  And with that, she too dived into the pool and 
Hieracium saw that as she did so, she once more took on the form of a 
mermaid. 

Now the king was on his feet and giving orders to the few remaining
courtiers, and Hieracium and Tritoma were forgotten.  'I think we have 
outstayed our welcome,' said Tritoma.  'It is time we left.' 

And so, reluctantly, and with many a glance back towards the pool,
Hieracium followed Tritoma into the tunnel. 

*** 

'But what happened next,' Callistephus asked.  'Did the tunnel lead them
to safety?' 

'Oh, yes,' replied Thymus, 'eventually...  But we'll save that story for
another time, shall we?' 


   


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