Excerpt from the Epilogue
by Vonda N. McIntyre
The moon hovered at the horizon, full and bright. The great current of stars flowed across the surface of the sky.
Sherzad swam free in the wild wide ocean. Her baby clung to her, listening to the songs of its young cousins, learning the music of their passage through the sea. She stroked her long webbed fingers over her baby's back, over the little one's warmth. Her baby had learned so quickly how to swim, how to breathe, how to fall into languor. She welcomed her introduction to the sea.
Sherzad's brothers and sisters had survived the assault on the mating haze in which she was captured, but their mother and their uncle and their aunt, the elders of their family, all had died. Sherzad grieved, singing phrases of her mother's death-song, singing an image of her mother to look upon her granddaughter, Sherzad's child.
Her brothers and sisters swam past her, arced around, dove beneath her, all anxious to make their way to the depthless ocean trench where the sea people gathered for the mating haze.
Sherzad, too, anticipated the approaching Midsummer Day. At the gathering, the other families would rejoice at Sherzad's return; they would admire and welcome her child. All the children would play with the tame giant octopuses, and tease the dolphins. The adults would join the whirlpool of the mating haze. For a time, the haze would ease their grief. But never again would they mate beneath the sun. They could no longer risk the enormous danger. They were too vulnerable to the men of land. Too few sea people remained, to withstand another assault.
This year they would gather at sunset, as Midsummer night coincided with the dark of the moon. On the shortest night of the year, in moonless dark, they would dare to rise together to the surface of the sea. Amidst the waves, whispering songs, they would bathe in luminescence. Their bodies glowing in the darkness, they would come together and experience the brief bliss of their mating haze.
They would not gather again for fourteen years, when the dark of the moon next accompanied Midsummer night.
Before Sherzad could turn her desires and her course toward the meeting place, she must discharge another obligation.
Far ahead, two ships plunged across the waves, digging their keels into the domain of the sea people. The first ship fled, the second pursued, gaining rapidly. Sherzad's younger sister sang of an encounter she had witnessed between two ships. They battered the air and the ocean with their noise for half a day; their iron balls plunged into the water, sending the sea people in a dive to safety.
In the end the two ships sank each other, and all the men of land drowned. Sherzad's sister laughed, and hoped these two new ships would ride the same wave. She hoped all the ships of land would destroy each other, if the sea people did not destroy them first.
The sea people stalked the ships. Soon they swam beneath the barnacled bottom of the pursuer. Sherzad sang at it, feeling it out with her voice, searching and questioning, finding nothing of interest and nothing worth saving. In the past, she would have swum away.
She gave her baby to her young brother to guard, and swam closer to the pursuer.
Sherzad and her companions plunged their spears of narwhal tusk into the bottom of the galleon. The ivory bit into the wood. Holding the tusks, they rode along with the ship.
Sherzad shouted at the planks. Her focused voice crashed into the wood. She shouted again. Her spear quivered in the quaking wood. Sherzad and her brothers and sisters shouted together. The wood cracked and split.
The bottom of the ship disintegrated. Men shrieked and dove into the water. Sherzad and the others made sure they never surfaced.
Waves washed over the deck. Singing their triumph, the sea people called their allies. A shadow rose, flickering all over with tiny sparks. The octopus stretched its tentacles into the moonlight and entwined them around the mainmast, and inexorably pulled the ship into the depths.
Excerpt Copyright © 1997 by Vonda N. McIntyre
Hardcover first edition, mint condition,
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