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Stillwater Feast

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Lucy leaned over the railing of the Dawn Treader, watching a school of fish. They had broad stripes of orange and white, and tumbled over each other as if they were playing.

“They’re clown fish,” Edmund said, stepping up beside her. “At least, that’s what they’re called in our world.”

Lucy laughed. “They do seem like they’re putting on a show. Look at that one slapping the other with his fins, and that one diving through a ring of coral, and—”

In her excitement, Lucy rested all her weight on the railing. She would never have done it if she’d known that it had been cracked inside by a slap from the sea serpent’s tail. But then, if anyone had known that, they would have replaced it when they’d mended the rest of the damage from the sea serpent.

The railing split with a bang like a gunshot, and Lucy went tumbling into the sea.

Without a second’s hesitation, Edmund dove after her. He knew that she was quite a good swimmer, but he also remembered the sea serpent. And he knew that the Dawn Treader was at that moment speeding along in a fast current, and it might take some time before Caspian and the sailors would be able to turn it around to rescue them.

As soon as Edmund hit the surface of the ocean, he was pulled beneath it by a strong undertow. He saw immediately that Lucy too had been caught in it. She was already far deeper than he was, her hair a bright swirl of gold in the clear water.

He dove down toward her, swimming deeper and deeper. Soon his ears began to ring unpleasantly. He feared that by the time he reached her, they would both have run out of air. When he finally managed to grasp her small hand, his vision was beginning to dim. He gave her wrist a desperate yank, hoping against hope that they still had time.

But Lucy’s upturned face was neither frightened nor dizzy. Instead, she gave him a radiant smile.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” she exclaimed. Then, seeing Edmund desperately holding his breath, she said, “You can breathe the water. Go on.”

Of all the strange things that happened in the time they were underwater, what Edmund always said felt strangest was the clarity of voices. Lucy didn’t sound like she was talking underwater; she sounded like she always did.

Edmund cautiously inhaled. The water felt cool and heavy in his lungs, but he could breathe it.

“I’m surprised Reepicheep didn’t notice when he fell in,” he said.

“I expect he didn’t breathe any, just swallowed some,” Lucy replied. “I can’t wait to tell him. He’ll be so excited to explore—oh, look, Edmund!”

What had caught Lucy’s eye was one of the Sea People, swimming below them and a little to the side. He was a Sea Child, really, a plump little boy with bright blue hair and ivory skin with the faintest tint of blue. He was close enough to hear Lucy’s exclamation, but didn’t; he was too busy laughing at the antics of the school of clown fish, who had swum near him and were putting on a show much like that one that had first caught Lucy’s eye. They swam around a solitary tree as white and polished as a marble pillar, diving and tumbling and bouncing off its slim branches like a troop of monkeys.

While the Sea Child watched the fish and Lucy watched the Sea Child, Edmund saw something else: a stirring in the darkened depths of a crevasse in the sea floor. Something about it alarmed him, though he could see nothing specific, and he again reached for Lucy’s wrist to tug her away.

Before he could, a tentacle emerged from the crevasse. It was black as ink and fast as a whip, and it snapped around the little boy’s ankle. He let out a shrill scream, flung his arms around the nearest branch, and clung tight. But the tentacle kept pulling. It was obvious that the boy was no match for it. Either his grip or the branch would break, and then he would be instantly drawn into the crevasse... and very likely the maw of whatever creature the tentacle belonged to.

“Hold on!” Lucy called out. “We’ll help you!”

She swam toward the tentacle, drawing from her belt the dagger that Caspian had lent her.

“Back, Lu!” Edmund shouted, drawing his sword. “I’ve got a longer reach. You grab the boy, I’ll take the beast!”

Lucy hesitated, treading water, then darted toward the Sea Child. As she wrapped her arms around him, holding him fast, Edmund severed the tentacle with a quick slash of his blade.

“Thank you,” the little boy gasped, then released the tree to tug at the suckers still wrapped around his ankle. “Ugh, it’s still on me.”

“Don’t let go,” Lucy advised him.

Before she could tell him her thought—that in her experience, things with tentacles have more than one, and generally have eight—three more tentacles lashed out of the crevasse. One wrapped around the Sea Child’s waist, the second snatched Edmund’s sword from his hand, and the third caught Lucy’s dagger hand.

Edmund grabbed for his sword, and found himself struggling with what felt like a length of slimy and very strong rope. Lucy quickly transferred her dagger to her other hand, then hesitated. Should she slice at her tentacle or the Sea Child’s tentacle, or swim out to help Edmund retrieve his sword?

Instead, she did something very risky but also very clever: as hard as she could, she threw her dagger into the crevasse.

An eerie moan rose up, and all three tentacles released their grip.

Edmund caught his sword by the hilt.

“Swim!” shouted the boy. “Swim for your lives!”

He darted away at top speed, followed by Edmund and Lucy. Edmund glanced behind him. To his dismay, he saw more tentacles reaching out from the crevasse.

At that moment, a horn sounded through the water, loud and strong and lovely. A party of Sea People came swimming up, riding sea-horses and bearing weapons.

A lordly Sea King crowned with pearls and gold shouted, “Sound the horn again!”

A Sea Knight blew on a great horn of cloudy green driftglass. At its sound, the tentacles withdrew back into the depths.

“Mama!” cried the Sea Child. He flung his arms around a Sea Lady who wielded a bow. She hugged and scolded him, all at once, in the way of mothers everywhere whose beloved children have given them a terrible fright.

The Sea King beckoned to Lucy and Edmund, who came forward. Sternly, he said, “Why come you Land Folk to my kingdom? Was it you who enticed the kraken from its lair?”

Before either could reply, the Sea Child said, in a rather snuffly voice, “No! It came after me… and they rescued me!”

“I see.” At that, the Sea King looked far less stern. “Then welcome, Land Boy and Land Girl. Come attend our feast.”

“Feast?” Lucy said. She caught the eye of a Sea Girl her own age, who from her brilliant blue hair looked to be the Sea Child’s older sister, and the two girls shared a grin.

Edmund was less excited by the prospect of a feast. It occurred to him that there was no way to cook anything under water. “We thank you, but we must return to our ship.”

“When your ship returns,” said the Sea Child’s mother with a smile. She pointed upward. “When you see its shadow upon the waters. Until then, please let us thank you for saving my careless boy’s life.”

“We were all preparing for the Stillwater Feast when that naughty child slipped away,” said the Sea King. “We hold it every year in a place where there are no currents, and all the world is still and quiet. You would honor us with your presence.”

Edmund bowed as best he could while treading water, and introduced himself. Lucy did the same, as a curtsey would have looked odd in trousers.

A pair of Sea People brought sea-horses for them to ride, richly caparisoned with brightly colored cloth trimmed with coral. They swam smoothly through the water and were easy to ride, responding instantly to the slightest tug on their bridles of woven seaweed.

As they rode through the water, Lucy fell to chatting with the Sea Girl. Her name was Firi, and the girls liked each other immediately. For his part, Edmund found himself taken under the wing of the Sea King, who knew little of land but much of kingship, and gave Edmund advice which would have served him very well indeed had he ever returned to the throne of Narnia.

The Stillwater Feast was held atop a high peak in warm and shallow water. As the Sea King had promised, there the currents all were still. The place was quiet and peaceful, with a covering of soft seaweed much like moss. Schools of rainbow fish swam about, trailing long and delicate fins and prompting Lucy to describe butterflies to a delighted Firi.

As Edmund had feared, the feast did indeed feature raw fish and shellfish, not to mention raw seaweed. He tried to explain the concept of cooking to the Sea People, but was certain that they never did understand it, as he had to begin by trying to explain fire. (That is more difficult to do than you might imagine—try it and see.)

But luckily for him and Lucy, there was plenty to eat and drink other than raw clams, however pleasantly seasoned. The Sea People were masters at the art of cookery without cooking, of slicing and spicing and mixing. Edmund and Lucy ate a salad of sea vegetables, savory cakes made of more sea vegetables, silvery fruits shaped like plums and tasting like slightly salty caramel, and a pudding that looked and tasted almost like an apple dumpling, if the apples were sky-blue and the dumpling grass-green.

You may be wondering how one drinks anything underwater. The answer is that liquids heavier than water can be poured underwater, and will stay in the cups they are poured into. And while one cannot cook underwater, one can squeeze juice underwater, and ferment it too. The Sea People had many excellent wines, though oddly colored in brilliant blues and greens and purples. Lucy and Firi shared a bottle of blue-green wine that tasted of peaches, while Edmund preferred a richer wine of deepest royal purple.

Edmund and Lucy and the Sea People feasted and talked and danced and sang for what must have been hours, but felt much shorter. The time passed like a beautiful dream.

At the height of the festivities, a shadow fell over the feast. Lucy glanced upward, and saw the hull of the Dawn Treader floating overhead.

“It is time for your return,” said the Sea King.

“Oh, I don’t want to go back,” Lucy protested.

“Buck up, Lu,” said Edmund. “You want to see Caspian, don’t you? And Reepicheep?”

Lucy nodded, but her eyes were turned toward the Sea People, not upward to the world above.

Firi set a circlet of scarlet coral upon her golden head. “We shall meet again, never fear. In the Sea of Song and Stars, if nowhere else.”

“We call that Aslan’s Country, I think,” said Edmund.

Lucy flung her arms around her friend, but was consoled with the knowledge that they would not part forever. And then she and her brother swam upward until they passed the shadow of the ship, and their faces broke into the dry and sunlit air.