Of Poseidon 02: Of Triton (9 page)

BOOK: Of Poseidon 02: Of Triton
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“Emma,” he murmurs. “The water isn’t safe for you right now. Please don’t get in it. Please.”

“I won’t.” I really won’t. He said please, after all.

He lifts my chin with the crook of his finger. His eyes hold all the gentleness and love in the world, with a pinch of mischief. “And take good notes in calculus, or I’ll be forced to cheat off you and for some weird reason that makes me feel guilty.”

I wonder what Grom the Triton king would think of that. That Galen basically just stated his intention to keep doing human things.

Galen pushes his lips against my forehead, then disentangles himself from me and leads me back toward the water. My body feels ten degrees cooler when his arms fall, and it’s got nothing to do with the temperature outside.

We reach the others just in time to see Rayna all but throw herself at Toraf. I can’t help but smile as they kiss. It’s like watching Beauty and the Beast. And Toraf’s not the Beast.

Then Rayna and I watch as the four fins—our entire world—swim away from us. When their silhouettes melt into the darker water, my nerves almost riot.

“Do you still sense them?” I ask Rayna. Being half human, my sensing abilities are only half as strong as a full-blooded Syrena.

She rolls her eyes at me.

I decide to do the right thing by not pinching the pure snot out of her. Rayna’s under a lot of pressure right now. My mom’s arrival to Triton territory will probably cause a frenzy in her kingdom—since Mom’s recently resurrected from the dead and all—and Toraf, her mate, will be in that frenzy when it happens. Not to mention she seems to be perpetually saddled with the title of Emma’s Babysitter. I know it’s killing her to stay behind.

“You think your crazy mother will have another go at it?” she says, turning to me. “Is that why you’re asking?” Ahh, so she’s still a bit peeved with Mom for all the trouble she’s caused. They really do not like each other. “Because fins don’t have pockets. It’s not like she has all these convenient places to hide another knife.”

“My mom wasn’t hiding a knife, Rayna. She was
washing
it. Galen took her off guard. He took us both off guard. It was reflex, that’s all.” I dare her with my eyes to say something else. Besides the withering look she gives me, she keeps her hypocrisy to herself. We both know it’s just the sort of crap excuse Toraf makes up for her on a daily basis.

Besides, it really was a reflex. Mom obviously thought I was in danger. And she thought Galen was going to arrest her for being a Syrena deserter. She probably thought all sorts of things in the two seconds it took for her to react to Galen’s heavy words: “You’ve got a lot of explaining to do, Nalia.”

I was as surprised as anyone when she pulled the knife from the dishwater and lunged toward Galen with it. So surprised, in fact, that I didn’t move a solitary inch from where I stood. Not to help Galen. Not to help my mom. And not to turn the tip of Rayna’s harpoon in the right direction so she could at least shoot into the kitchen, instead of impaling an innocent couch.

Maybe Rayna is raw about that. Maybe she thinks I should have helped.

Maybe I should pinch the pure snot out of her after all.

Instead, I ask, “So what happens now?”

She frowns. “Now we wait.” Rayna turns toward shore then, moving so slow at first that I think she’s waiting for me to catch up. Even against the strong current, I swim my way to her with my puny human legs within a few seconds. But Rayna is not paying attention to me at all. In fact, she’s not even swimming. As I pass her, she sags in the water, listless and pliable in the current. Her velvety silver fin, which usually resembles the powerful, ambitious tail of a shark, now looks like a wavering piece of seaweed.

Rayna, who is always so full of grit and spirit and fight. Rayna, who would slap the taste out of my mouth if I said her tail looked like seaweed.

When I reach shore, I can still see her shadow floating just below the surface. And I decide that if Rayna is worried, then so am I.

10

GALEN DOESN’T
get truly nervous until he senses the size of the Syrena mass coming toward them. Up until this point, he’d been worried about Emma. What she thought about all this. Her mother’s reunion with Grom. What she planned to do while they were gone. Whether or not she was going to keep her promise and stay out of the water.

And … his thoughts keep wandering back to their kiss between the sand dunes. It was an exquisite torture, the way she tasted like a mixture of salt water and herself. A combination of two things he’s come to cherish. Water
and
land. Syrena world
and
human world. Love for his kind
and
love for Emma.

Only now, as the party of Syrena approaches, its presence seems to encroach on Galen’s options. For some reason, it feels like a choice between water
or
land, Syrena world
or
human world, love for his kind
or
love for Emma. According to the law, there never was a choice. But that was before Emma.

And Galen has the feeling that the time for truly deciding between the two is closing in on him.
But haven’t I already made that decision
?

He steals a glance at Toraf, who’s been wearing the same grim expression since they left Emma’s house. Toraf is never grim. Since they were fingerlings, he’s always had a special talent for finding the positive in a situation, and if not the positive, then he can certainly find mischief in a situation.

But not now. Now he’s keeping to himself. Toraf never keeps to himself. Even Grom, the usual sealed-up clam, has become boisterous and enlivened while he and Nalia chatter to each other, laughing and whispering and holding hands, all the while speculating over the events that separated them so long ago.

But Toraf seems oblivious to the chatter and to Galen’s internal war of emotions and to the swarm of jellyfish he just narrowly avoided. Galen had thought Toraf might have been anxious about leaving Rayna behind. Usually, though, he comforts himself by talking about her until Galen wishes he’d had a twin brother instead of a twin sister.

No, what’s troubling Toraf has nothing to do with leaving Rayna behind. He even persuaded her to stay. Which means he thinks it’s safer for her on land right now. Toraf’s motives are always simple: do what’s best for Rayna, in spite of Rayna.

From what Galen can sense, there are at least fifty Syrena approaching them; some Galen recognizes, some he doesn’t. He knows that Toraf, as a Tracker, has sensed and recognized each one since they stepped foot in the water behind Emma’s house. He knew the exact moment they formed a group and began to move in the general direction of the Jersey Shore. And from that exact moment, Toraf has been un-Toraf.

Which makes Galen feel caught in a fisherman’s net. Unprotected, powerless, defensive.

All at once, the Syrena party comes into view. And Galen sees the reason behind Toraf’s distress. Yudor, the Tracker trainer, leads the group, while Romul and Jagen swim slightly behind him. Together. Shoulder to shoulder.

Galen had suspected that Romul had been helping Jagen secure his place—Paca’s place—within the Royal lines. Now he’s sure of it. Romul hardly ever leaves the confines of the Cave of Memories. In fact, Galen can’t remember the last time he did.

Of course, this
would
be a monumental occasion, what with the return of the Poseidon princess. But there is nothing welcoming or celebratory about Romul’s expression. Just indifference, carefully arranged humility, and a bit of scrutiny.

Jagen takes no care to hide his displeasure with the approaching party of Royals. This is, of course, a great inconvenience to him. But for however condescending Jagen appears, his daughter Paca seems to own the appropriate instincts for the situation. She peeks out from behind Jagen, her face full of the kind of apprehension a fraud should be feeling right now.

What bothers Galen the most is not the obvious conspiracy passing between his old Archive mentor, Romul, and Jagen. What is more concerning are the Trackers. And the fact that they’ve come
armed
. They carry the traditional Syrena hunting weapons—whale bones carved into spears and tipped with angry-looking stingray barbs. These spears have always been used for protection against sharks and ill-tempered squid.

But there are no sharks or ill-tempered squid close by.

So it startles Galen when Grom swims forward to meet with Romul, hauling Nalia with him by the hand. Does he not sense a danger here?
Of course not. Look at him
. Grom appears half crazed with happiness as he pushes Nalia ahead of him and, all at once, presents her to Jagen and Romul.

But before anyone can say anything, before the tension even has time to thaw, a distant cry ripples thought the water. “Nalia!”

Galen doesn’t recognize the voice and he’s certainly never sensed this older one approaching them. Still, there is a familiarity to him that Galen can’t quite place. Something in his facial features, something in his graceful glide. Galen glances at Toraf—if anyone recognizes this stranger it would be Toraf—and is surprised to find that his friend is bowing low as the striking gray-headed Syrena approaches. The others follow suit, dividing into a row of respectful bows as he passes without acknowledging them.

That’s when Galen realizes who he is. And he bows as well.

“Father!” Nalia throws herself into his arms and he embraces her fiercely.

Then, in front of everyone, King Antonis of the Poseidon Royals sobs into his daughter’s hair. It’s a sound full of agony and pain and wonder. “Poseidon’s beard, you’ve come back to me! My beautiful pearl.” He squeezes her even tighter. “You’ve come back.”

Galen studies his brother as his brother studies father and daughter. Grom’s smile is full of the kind of peace that results from having everything you’ve ever wanted. From wrongs being righted, from an overbearing weight being lifted.

From love.

Galen has the feeling that Grom’s newborn peace is a bit premature.

Romul proves him right. “Your Majesty, King Antonis, what a great honor to see you after so many seasons! What brings you out of the Royal caverns this day?”

Antonis laughs his surprise. “Romul, I had no idea of your sense of humor, old friend.”

“Forgive me, Highness.” Romul nods, a counterfeit smile curving his lips. “While I do wish to please you, I’m not entirely sure what I have said that so amuses you, Majesty.”

Galen feels his throat constricting. He glances at Toraf, whose jaw has become taut with clenched teeth. Something is wrong.

“Romul, surely you jest. Or has your sight left you in your old age? Even so, surely your sensing abilities haven’t failed you.” Antonis chuckles and turns Nalia to face the Archive. Nalia smiles widely at him. Galen’s gut churns. None of them see what is happening here. “My daughter, Nalia, has returned to us!” Antonis says, squeezing her shoulder.

Romul arranges his demeanor into a sickening graciousness. “Esteemed One, I’m not entirely sure of your meaning. Are you suggesting that this”—he gestures to Nalia—“is the long-dead Poseidon princess?”

Antonis laughs again.
He still doesn’t understand
. “Oh, Romul, you clownfish. Of course I’m not
suggesting
it. This
is
my daughter, and clearly, old friend, she is not dead.” He sweeps his hand over her in emphasis.

Grom swims up next to Antonis and Nalia. “I’m rather curious to know what
you
are suggesting, Romul.” It occurs to Galen then that the Syrena “welcoming” party had not bowed in reverence when they’d first arrived. They’d shown a complete lack of regard for Grom as Triton king.

This time Romul inclines his head, but it’s still not the full bow that is customary when first greeting a Royal. “My apologies, my king. I’m not sure where the confusion has arisen, but we will get this matter straightened out, I assure you.”

“What matter?” Grom nearly growls.

Jagen swims forward. “The matter of the identity of your guest, of course, Highness.”

Yudor fills up the space between Jagen and Romul. “With much respect, I’ve already confirmed her identity. This
is
Nalia, the Poseidon princess.”

Jagen nods. “We do appreciate your involvement, Yudor. You are a much-respected Tracker. And of course, if this were Nalia, you could not imagine our great elation at having the princess returned to us. But you see, other Trackers—Trackers whom you yourself have trained—are convinced that our new guest could not possibly be Nalia. In fact, they have never sensed this newcomer before.”

It takes all of Galen’s self-control not to wrap his hands around Jagen’s throat. He knew something was amiss, but he never saw
this
coming. Grom’s unsealing from Paca could have been a simple matter. Until this. Now with Nalia’s identity conveniently in question, the Archives have no reason to unseal the union.

We have all underestimated the extent of Jagen’s power. And now we’ll pay for it.

“I’m not sure which Trackers have told you this,” Antonis cuts in, “but they are mistaken.”

“Mistaken” is a generous word, in Galen’s opinion. “Bribed” would be more appropriate. Or at the very least, “manipulated.” Whatever the case, Jagen has been very thorough in his endeavor for power. While Galen was chasing Emma and her mother across the big land, Jagen was apparently adjusting his strategy for the change in circumstances.

Jagen’s sigh is full of false sympathy and a hint of cheerfulness. “I’m afraid, Your Highness, we’ll have to hold a tribunal to get this all cleared up. But not to worry. I’m sure we can come to a satisfying explanation very soon.”

The word “tribunal” seems to contaminate the water between them. Antonis snarls. “I hardly think there is a need for a tribunal. If anyone would recognize her pulse, it would be me. Unless you are questioning my word?”

Romul’s eyes grow wide. “Oh no, Esteemed One, not your word. Our intention is merely to discern the truth, to make sure you are not … mistaken. After all, you are not actually a Tracker, trained with the memory of pulses, and much time has passed since your daughter—”

BOOK: Of Poseidon 02: Of Triton
5.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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