The sun was fierce, reflecting off the water around them; stronger even than it had been on the high plains of Ettinsmoor last winter, during the first of what Susan suspected would be many campaigns against the Giants. They had been reduced to smearing soot under their eyes and binding their faces last winter, but Susan had no such options here.
"Nothing, queen?" asked the Badger huddled beside her, claws wedged into the wood of their nearly-swamped raft.
"No, nothing," she said, and patted him once on the back. It would have been an impertinence just a day earlier, but since then, they had gone through storm and shipwreck together. Inter-species etiquette had fallen by the wayside.
"Bastards," grumbled Broadclaw, and Susan would have smiled but that her lips were chapped and sunburned and it would have hurt. The Galman sloop's crew had had no room in their lifeboat for their passengers, especially a "simple merchant's daughter" newly-come to Narnia, and in the middle of a storm they were unwilling to believe the truth of her identity. So Susan and Broadclaw had watched the crew paddle away from the sinking Solstice Dancer, and ended up clinging to a hatch-cover in the chill water as the storm passed away to the northwest.
She could have blamed Peter: it was his idea, originally. Well, not to send Susan to Terebinthia in storm season, but two years into their rule he was still working on the promises he'd made in that first great progress around Narnia. Although in reality it was less a rule and more a juggling performance on a stage a mile high, the props were razor-sharp blades, and the jugglers themselves were forced to stand on one foot while members of the audience threw fruit at them from all directions. That none of the four of them had died or fallen off the stage was, Susan thought, more due to accident than actual talent. To be fair, they were improving: King Lune had unbent so far as to send an official embassy to Cair Paravel (their first! Edmund was so excited), and a Calormene caravel had put in last month, and gone away with a hold loaded with Narnian furs, timber, and fine silver.
Things were going, if not well, better than they had been; and Peter had not forgotten that the Fauns needed starts for their vines, if Narnia was to begin producing wine in quantity again. Terebinthia was the nearest source, and according to Edmund's research, had once been one of Narnia's possessions, although no Narnian had been there since long before the Witch came to power.
So the arrival of the Galman sloop had seemed a sign from Aslan himself. More fool them.
They were, at least, wise enough to send Susan undercover, as they had neither the manpower nor the political resources to send her to Terebinthia in state. She was merely a merchant's daughter who had recently come to Narnia (from somewhere undistinguished in the West), and was exploring trading opportunities. At this point such a deception was still possible, for while word of the end of the Witch's Winter had spread far, very few outside Narnia and Archenland were aware that Narnia was now ruled (how she hated that word) by four Human children.
Given the uncertainties of war and politics, Edmund had advised they keep it that way, for a while. (And oh the battles over that; Peter claimed it left the borders undefended, while Edmund argued that a mysterious unknown quantity capable of defeating the Witch was a greater threat than four schoolchildren, no matter how puissant. And yes, he actually said puissant, and then had the grace to look ashamed when Lucy burst out laughing. In those first months, they had had to make their own fun.)
And yet, like so many of their plans, it had backfired on them. Susan sighed and, shading her eyes with one hand, scanned the horizon again. Sharpwing had disappeared in the early hours of the storm, the wind too much for even a Talking Osprey to defy. Susan had to hope that the sharp-tempered bird had circled back to find her companions once the storm had passed, but it was a forlorn hope. They must be leagues and leagues away from where the Solstice Dancer had gone down, now.
So far from Narnia, it was unlikely any of their mer-people allies would be able to help, but Susan could not bear to sit and die of thirst without at least trying (nor watch Broadclaw suffer). So periodically she would lean over the side of the raft and slap her hands on the water in the pattern Lucy had taught her. It was supposed to carry a long way, and the mer-clans might recognize the signal and reply to it.
It was time again to signal, so Susan lay down on the raft (so as not to tilt too far and slide in) and brought her right hand down hard on the water, keeping her palm as stiff as she could. "Ouch," she muttered, and then repeated it twice before adding the counterpoint with her left hand. Her hands were already quite sore.
"Stop!" shouted Broadclaw suddenly, and Susan looked up, both hands in the water.
About a dozen yards away, a tall black triangle sliced through the water toward them.
Susan yanked both hands up and scrambled backwards on the raft, ending huddled next to Broadclaw in the middle. It was a very small raft, barely four feet on a side, and it had swamped repeatedly when the water was rougher. Susan and Broadclaw were wet through, and had been since the Dancer went down, nearly twenty-four hours ago.
The fin was taller than Susan. It came within twenty feet, and then veered away. Susan twisted her head around and watched it, keeping one hand on her bow (which she had miraculously hung onto through the shipwreck and the swimming afterwards). The bow was nearly useless until it dried, as her bowstrings were as wet as her clothes.
The shark did not keep going, but circled around the raft twice, spiralling closer and closer in each time.
Sweat ran down Susan's forehead and into her eyes, burning with salt-spray.
"What do we do, queen?" asked Broadclaw. He was an excellent traveling companion: sturdy, adaptable, sensible (if occasionally cranky). It wasn't until they had put to sea that any of them learned that Badgers got motion-sick. He hadn't eaten for days even before the storm, and his fur was hanging loose on his heavy frame.
"What can we do?" Susan answered. She had a dagger in her belt with a six-inch blade, and a quiver of arrows, and a mostly-empty waterskin at her belt. Her tunic and breeches were torn and salt-stained, her boots long-lost, and her joints ached after the desperate escape from the sinking Dancer. She was in no condition to fight a shark, even if she were the Pevensie whose job it was to do such things.
The fin swung close, closer, and as Susan gasped and grabbed for her knife, a blunt snout nudged the raft. It felt like an elephant leaning against a farmer's cart: the both of them toppled over sideways, Susan landing on top of Broadclaw. If it were not for the Badger's deathgrip on the boards of the raft, they both would have gone into the water.
Clearly hiding would not save them. Susan swallowed hard. She could fight: she had killed men (and Beasts) in battle, and twice in less honorable ways. The water did not frighten her, after swimming so often in the bay below Cair Paravel, and sporting with the mermaids out beyond the point. But all she could think, as she drew her knife and shifted her weight, climbing carefully to her feet, was that this was the sort of thing Peter would have loved to do. And oh, she wished he were here to do it for her.
I did not think to die at sea, she thought. Oh, Aslan. If this is your will, at least see Broadclaw home to his family again.
And with that, she dove off the raft and into the water.
Deep and green, and there were bubbles, and the shark was gone--Susan came up out of the water gasping, and shook the hair from her eyes, but she couldn't see it. "Which way did it go?" she shouted at Broadclaw, but the Badger shook his head--hadn't seen, couldn't tell--and she took a great breath and sunk back beneath the water, turning as she did so, paddling awkwardly with the hand that didn't hold the knife.
Nothing, nothing, just some silver fish in the distance, and she began to hope that it was, in fact, truly gone.
And as she spun just a little further to the right, she found herself looking straight at a huge black snout, which this time was half-open, revealing dozens of glistening white teeth. She squeaked, just a bit.
The shark didn't move. Susan didn't move. She stared at it, and she thought it stared back, floating quietly with its head to one side and looking at her out of an enormous dark eye. It was black and white, spotted like one of those American ponies, and that seemed odd and unlikely: she had never heard of a painted shark.
Edmund had been crazy about sharks and whales when he was little, and had had a book with pictures, and although it was hard remembering things from before Narnia, Susan suspected this was something important. Something ... something black and white, yes, like this, with the blunt nose, but not a shark. A whale! A killer whale, it was called, but really it was more like a dolphin, and the dolphins were friends of Narnia.
She hardly dared hope. She was beginning to run out of air, but she had a little time yet, and she thrust her dagger back into her belt. One hand moving in the water to keep her position, she extended the other hand to the whale's snout.
The eye watched her, and kept watching as she moved closer.
Finally her hand came to rest gently on the skin above the immense (terrifying) teeth. Slick skin, but not slimy like a fish, or scaled like a lizard: it was smooth and oh, it was warm. When she took her hand away, the whale moved toward her a few inches and nudged her arm. In a friendly way, like a horse asking for a carrot.
Susan smiled, brilliantly, and then shot up, kicking hard for the surface.
They were going to be all right.