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The moon is distant from the sea

Chapter Text

The Moon is distant from the Sea –
And yet, with Amber Hands –
She leads Him – docile as a Boy –
Along appointed Sands –

He never misses a Degree –
Obedient to Her eye –
He comes just so far – toward the Town –
Just so far – goes away –

Oh, Signor, Thine, the Amber Hand –
And mine – the distant Sea –
Obedient to the least command
Thine eye impose on me –

(Emily Dickinson, The moon is distant from the sea)

Tim Stoker, Lord Seneschal of the Kingdom of Tahoma, sits on a wide wooden patio overlooking the sea. He’s watching over a group of four children playing nearby, running and laughing, kept safe from the fall to the rocks below by sturdy railings. He keeps an eye on them, but his gaze keeps drifting to the sea.

Tahoma is an island kingdom, but then all land is islands now. The city itself sits on the largest of the islands that make up the kingdom, the tall cone of a volcano rising behind the palace and the buildings further inland. The volcano, too, is named Tahoma, the Grandfather Mountain, huge and gruff, dangerous in his way but with fertile slopes on which the people of Tahoma prosper.

Tim is still thinking about Tahoma and the mountain and the sea, when he realizes the running and laughing has stopped. One of the children, a girl with her dark hair in twin braids, comes over and says, “Lord Stoker, Lord Stoker, Will doesn’t believe the Selkie Prince and the Silent Siren is a real story.”

The boy in question, darker of hair and skin and eye than most children in Tahoma, glowers at the girl. “It can’t be, that’s silly. How can a siren be silent, Lyra?”

Tim smiles. Lyra and her brother Michael have grown up in Tahoma, intimately familiar with the events of over a decade before. Will and Ella, however, are from the neighboring kingdom of Ashmalan and might have never heard the story.

So Tim says, “Well… I could tell you the story, if you like. About how the Selkie Prince and the Silent Siren met and fell in love, and saved the whole world in the process.”

Will’s frown deepens. “...Is this a kissing story?”

Tim laughs. “There’s plenty of adventure and excitement if you prefer that sort of thing. There is some kissing, but… well… it’s very important to the story. You’ll see.” He gestures. “Go on. Sit, and I’ll tell you.”

The children sit, Will last and most reluctantly. But they are all polite enough to sit quietly, at least at first.

“Long, long ago,” Tim starts, “there was much more dry land than there is now. Not the whole world--the sea still stretched far and wide, and there were still fine boats to sail the waves. But there were also miles and miles of land beyond both the sight and smell of the sea, huge stretches where the ground was as flat as the surface of the water and there was nothing but land and sky as far as the eye could see.”

“You’re making that up,” Will interjects. “There’s no way there could be that much land anywhere, the sea would swallow it up!”

“No it wouldn’t,” Lyra says. “It was, umm… it was… there was a continental shelf.” She smiles, clearly proud of her knowledge.

Tim grins. “Indeed there was! And anyway, there was magic. Almost anything was possible back then, with magic.”

Will frowns for a moment, but the other children are clearly keen for Tim to continue, so he does.

“There were no humans back then, you see--only the elves, and the elves had very powerful magic. They could do all sorts of things--shape the land, shape the waters, control the winds. The most powerful magic was performed by the sirens, special elves whose songs could draw power from the elven gods.”

“Like the siren in the story!” Ella says eagerly. She’s happy about the idea of a story, at least.

Tim nods. “Just so. Anyway, one day there was a terrible cataclysm, and the land sunk beneath the sea. The shining capital, Atuan, was swallowed by the water all in one day.”

“Tsunami,” Lyra says with confidence.

“Do you want to tell the story, Lyra?” Tim teases her. She sticks her tongue out at him but falls silent.

Tim goes on, “Some of the elves that survived left through magic portals, and we don’t know where they went. But some who could change their shape--or who pleaded with their gods to do so--became part-elf and part-fish so they could live under the water.” He looks at Lyra, before she can interrupt. “And yes, I know... some became part-seal and some became part-orca… there were a lot of different types!”

“He just doesn’t like that I know more about this than he does,” Lyra confides to the other children, sotto voce.

Tim chuckles, but otherwise pretends he didn’t hear that. “The survivors gathered in the ruins of Atuan and tried to rebuild their lives. And they did! Over time, they built several beautiful kingdoms of what we now call merpeople.

“Millenia passed, and humans came to the land, and discovered their own magic. And under the sea, an evil man plotted. His name was Jonah Magnus, and he had a plan to bring Atuan back to the surface.”

Ella’s eyes widen. “But… that would kill so many people! All the humans, and…!”

Tim nods. “Yeah,” he says somberly. “It would be bad. But… that’s where the Silent Siren and the Selkie Prince come in. They were children when the story starts, just around your age in fact…”

---

Martin seemed like a nice name.

The name the child’s parents had given him at birth had been Katherine, but Katherine was a girl’s name, and the child was most definitely not a girl. People sometimes came to realize this at various ages, and magic could change their bodies, so the child had no concern that his parents would have problems with this. He was the Princess--well, technically the Prince--of the Kingdom of Tahoma, and his parents would easily be able to access the magic they would need. He planned to tell them what he’d realized about himself just as soon as they returned from this trip to the southern island.

He just needed to figure out a new name.

“Martin,” he said aloud. “Maaaartin.” He considered the sound for a moment, listening to the way the breeze off the ocean snatched the syllables from his mouth and carried them aloft. He nodded to himself happily. Martin would be a good choice. Now he’d just need to have someone else try it out for him. Tim, maybe?

Where was Tim, anyway?

Martin--he could think of himself as that for now, to see how he liked it--looked up and down the rock-strewn beach. It was a grey and blustery day, but that was nothing the two children hadn’t faced before. No child in Tahoma would let a little wind or rain stop them from playing; they’d never go outside for most of the year if they did.

As Martin scanned the beach, he noticed a flickering light some ways along to the south. Curious, he struck out in that direction, carefully picking his way among the tidal pools to follow the light. He wondered, as he went, what it might be. A firefly come out early? An old lantern attached to a rotting boat?

What he found was far more astounding than anything he could have imagined.

The light was attached to the head of a child.

This child seemed to be sitting in the water, their skin darker than Martin’s own brown color, their hair long and curly and deep brown. But as Martin drew closer, strange things became apparent. Even besides the light that seemed attached to some kind of growth coming out of their forehead, there were the large golden eyes and the large teeth and the tail…

Martin had heard tales of the merpeople, but he’d never quite believed they were real. But here was a merchild, sitting on a rock with their tail still partly in the water, peering at Martin as he came along the beach.

Then the merchild spoke, and the voice was clear and sweet, the most beautiful voice Martin had ever heard: “Are you a human?”

Martin stopped his approach and frowned at the merchild. “I’m a human,” he called back. “Are you a merperson?”

“I am an elf,” the other replied in that piping voice. “Although I suppose you could call me a ‘merperson’ if you had to. The King doesn’t like the term.”

“The King?” Martin started to come closer. “Which King?”

“King Jonah, of Atuan.” The other looked at him curiously. “Do you really not know what’s under the water? We know many things about you humans.”

Martin shrugged. “Not really, no. Just stories.” He stopped close enough to the “elf” that he could have reached out and touched them. “I’m Martin,” he said, and liked the way the name rolled off his tongue again. “Prince Martin of Tahoma.”

The elf smiled. “My name is Jon,” he said. “It’s nice to meet you, Martin.”

Something strange happened in Martin’s chest and stomach when Jon said the name he’d been trying out. A warm feeling spread within him, and he found himself smiling. Hearing that name, in that sweet voice… it felt right.

“It’s nice to meet you, too, Jon.” Martin looked the elf over. “What are you doing up here? I thought mer--elves couldn’t breathe on land?”

“Oh, we can breathe on land,” Jon said. His tone was crisp; he seemed to like to be precise about things. “But as you can see, we don’t have legs, and we’ll dry out if we’re away from water for too long.”

“Oh,” Martin said. “That’s sad… you can’t see the forest.”

“Forest?” Jon tilted his head a little, expression curious. “What’s a forest?”

“It’s… well… it’s a whole bunch of trees all together.”

Jon nodded. “What’s a tree?” he asked, still with that curious expression.

For a while, they talked about trees and plants--Jon knew of many plants under the water, that wasn’t a new concept--then the conversation drifted on, to the weather and the fog under the trees that Martin thought was kind of nice and pretty, and the way storms stirred up the water beneath the surface of the ocean, and then suddenly Martin looked around and realized that the sun was going down.

“Oh no!” he said. “I need to get back to the manor.” He eyed Jon shyly. “Will… umm… will you be here again tomorrow?”

Jon smiled brightly. “Of course! I’ve really had fun talking to you.” He hesitated, then added, “Could you… could you not tell anyone about me? I, umm… I was lonely, so I turned on my esca, and that magic’s safe enough, but if you tell people about me… well… my grandmother says it’s not safe.” He frowned. “She’d be angry if she knew I was up here,” he admitted.

Martin considered that a moment, then nodded. “I can keep the secret, Jon, don’t worry.” He smiled brightly. “Tomorrow, will you tell me about magic? It sounds… amazing.”

Jon nodded. “Of course!” Then, in a single easy-looking move, he flipped himself into the water. “See you tomorrow, Martin!” After a final wave, he disappeared below the water.

Martin stood there for a moment, feeling the warmth spread in his chest again at the sound of the name he’d chosen that very day in Jon’s voice. Then he turned to head back to the manor where the royal family was staying on their visit to the southern islands.

The whole purpose of the visit was for Martin’s birthday. Martin, his mother, and his father regularly visited this particular island at his birthday. There’d never been merpeople before, but Martin was very glad there had been.

Martin’s mother was the queen of Tahoma, born and raised there. His father was the prince of a faraway land, and Martin wasn’t certain his parents loved each other. They were polite, but Martin knew enough about adults to know the difference between people who loved each other and people who simply tolerated one another. His father was kind and loving, and his mother…

Well, his mother was busy all the time, running the kingdom. She loved him, she was kind to him, but she could be distant sometimes.

Martin announced his new name at dinner that night, and his father smiled and congratulated him for figuring things out. His mother fretted a bit--mostly at the work involved in getting him a whole new wardrobe--but these things were simple enough in Tahoma. There was magic that could change his body when he was older, if he wished, and in the meantime clothing and names were a simple enough thing.

Martin was grateful that his mother didn’t really care where he went so long as he was back in time for dinner. He was able to spend the whole trip going out to the beach to meet Jon. Martin told him of Tahoma--of the grand city in the shadow of the Grandfather Mountain, about the dances and the songs and the people. Jon described Atuan, a fantastic undersea city, and the customs of the merpeople. He sang sometimes, in a sweet, clear voice.

Martin never wanted it to end.

---

“I have to go back tomorrow.”

Martin sat on the rock Jon had been sitting on when they’d first met, his bare feet dangling in the cool water of the ocean. He’d placed his shoes carefully on the beach well above the high tide mark to keep them safe, confident enough on this stretch of beach now to not be worried about cutting his feet on a hidden rock. He was certain his mother would have scolded him if she saw him, but she wasn’t here, now was she?

Jon was lying on his back on the sand next to the large rock Martin sat on, his tail in the water, his upper body and head high enough on the beach that only the highest waves lapped around his ears. He turned to Martin at the declaration, however, and lifted himself to prop himself on his elbows, a frown creasing his features. “Oh. That’s…” He hesitated for a moment, then sat all the way up. “Will you ever come back?”

“We’re usually out here at least once a year,” Martin replied.

Jon’s expression brightened. “Oh! A year is a long time, I suppose, but at least that’s not… never.

Martin peered over at him. “Would it upset you that much if you never saw me again?”

Jon’s cheeks darkened with a flush, and he nodded. “I… I like you, Martin,” he said, an odd little hitch in his voice. “It would very much upset me to never see you again.”

Martin smiled. “Well, then… we’ll have to make sure we meet here each year.”

Jon nodded fervently. “It’s a shame I can’t come as far north as your home. I’d love to see it.”

Martin kicked his feet a little in the water. “Maybe when you’re older? Your grandmother can’t keep you under her eye forever.”

“You’d be surprised,” Jon grumbled, glowering out at the ocean for a moment. His brow furrowed, and then he suddenly said, “I can’t see Tahoma… but maybe you could see Atuan.”

Martin blinked over at him. “What? How?”

Jon scooted over a little closer to the rock. “Can you keep a secret?” His golden eyes sparkled with suppressed mirth.

Martin rolled his eyes. “Of course I can, Jon, I’ve been keeping you a secret all week.”

Jon grinned. “Brilliant! Okay, so… I can make it so you can breathe underwater for a while. At least a few hours.”

Martin blinked at him again. “...How? Magic?”

Jon nodded. “Yeah! I’ve known others who’ve used this magic to save the lives of drowning sailors.”

Suddenly Martin remembered the tales he’d heard of the merpeople--specifically, the tales of sailors who’d been saved from drowning by the kiss of a merman or mermaid. Which would mean, if the tales were true, that Jon was suggesting kissing Martin.

For some reason, the idea of kissing Jon made Martin’s cheeks flush and his heart race. It was strange--he kissed his mother and father all the time, he and his friends sometimes exchanged kisses on the cheek, and all of that was quite normal, blase even. But to be so close to his new friend, to press their lips together… it was exciting.

“Martin?” Jon was watching him, head tilted again. “Are you, umm… I’m sorry, did I upset you?”

Martin realized he’d just been… sitting there contemplating kissing Jon. He shook himself a little, cleared his throat. “No!” His voice came out as a squeak. “No, it’s fine. Umm. That sounds… brilliant! I’d love to come down to Atuan with you.”

“Scoot over then,” Jon said peremptorily.

Martin did so, and Jon hauled himself up onto the rock. He took a moment, adjusting his tail a bit to make sure the long fins at the end still trailed in the water, then shifting himself around to face Martin.

“Alright,” Jon said, and his eyes were very wide. “Umm. Alright. So. I just… kiss you. And then we jump into the water.” A pause. “...You trust me, right?”

Martin hesitated, then reached out to take Jon’s hands in his. “I trust you,” he said. “I know you won’t let me drown.”

Jon smiled widely, then closed his eyes. The esca on his head began to glow a soft green as he sang a soft, lilting tune. “Isilhenwa, Eye of the Moon, grant me sight.” He opened his eyes and they were green now, instead of gold, matching the esca. “Aranhithu, King of the Fog, breathe air into my lungs.” He drew in a deep breath. “Nairaon the Vast Open Sea, turn the fog in my lungs to water. And Mettanye, The End of all Things, grant this one reprieve from your embrace for this day.”

Then he leaned forward and pressed his lips to Martin’s. It was a gentle thing, a brief press of lips together, but the kiss itself sent a thrill through Martin’s body, warmth and joy chasing along every nerve. Then the magic followed the emotion, and suddenly Martin was breathing in water instead of air.

His eyes widened, and he opened his mouth to try to call Jon’s name, but the air around him burned his lungs and he couldn’t breathe and he was going to die

“Oh, leeches, I forgot that’s usually done underwater…” Jon wrapped his arms around Martin and hauled him off the rock, toppling them both into the ocean water with a resounding splash and swimming for deeper water.

As soon as his head was under the water Martin found that the terrified breath he was trying so desperately to draw in flowed into his lungs with ease. It was… strange, to let the water in, but after only a couple of breaths he found that he could breathe without too much panic.

He blinked slowly, letting his eyes adjust to the water, and found that somehow he could see perfectly. There was Jon, pulling Martin along as he swam, his hair flowing out behind them and bobbing in time with the flexing of his powerful tail. And there was the bottom, crystal clear in Martin’s vision, rocks embedded in the sand, shellfish scattered among them, crabs scuttling between the rocks.

“How can I see so well?” he asked Jon. “Did you do that too?”

Jon stopped swimming and turned to Martin, looking him over. “Oh. Oh, thank the gods. I thought I’d killed you.” He unwrapped his arms and released Martin, swimming away a little to give the human some space.

“Y-you thought…!” Martin stared at Jon. “You said to trust you!”

“And you did! Thank you for that.” Jon smiled at him. “It worked! You’re alive, you’re fine, it worked. And, yes, I asked Isilhenwa to grant you the same sight that I have underwater.” He peered at Martin for a moment. “It’s nice to be able to see you properly.”

Martin blinked at him. “...You can’t normally see me properly?”

Jon shook his head. “Everything’s a little blurry up there,” he admitted. “I’m sure I’ll figure out the right spell to ask Isilhenwa to let me see clearly up there. But now…” He turned, and gestured toward the deeper water. “Come on! How fast can you swim?!”

Martin, it turned out, could swim quite fast now that he wasn’t worried about breathing or seeing clearly under the ocean’s surface. He’d always known how to swim--or at least he’d learned so young he didn’t remember not being able to--but this was different. Something about slipping through the cool water felt right in a way running about on land never had. His body adjusted easily, and he found himself naturally pressing his legs together to move them together as though he had a tail like Jon; the movement propelled him forward so much faster he kept overshooting his friend.

“Slow down!” Jon called, laughing. “You won’t see anything if you swim so fast!”

And there was so very much to see. Rocks and shells and kelp, scuttling crabs and swirling schools of fish that banked away from the pair as they swam. Jon had to yank him away from a jellyfish (“My magic can heal you but the sting hurts!!”) and told him not to worry about a nearby shark (“They know better than to bother elves, they’re dangerous but only if you provoke them.”)

A pod of dolphins proved more troublesome--they seemed to be chasing the shark, and broke off on seeing the children. Jon called on magic, sending boiling water at the pod. He said he’d called on Nancruin, the Flame of Destruction, which manifested undersea as heat.

Then there was a place where the bottom suddenly dropped away sharply, a huge cliff beneath the water, and Martin knew they’d gotten to the truly deep water. Jon angled their path down into the deeper, darker water, and his esca began to glow--not the green it had before when performing magic, but a soft, warm, golden glow that matched the usual color of his eyes.

As they went deeper, it got darker and darker, until that golden glow was the only light they had. Martin reached out through the dark to grasp Jon’s hand, no longer trusting himself to swim ahead or behind his friend. What if he got lost down here in the dark?

Jon glanced over at him and smiled gently. “Don’t worry,” he said, and his tone was soft, “I know the way.” He squeezed Martin’s hand. “I won’t let you get lost.”

Martin smiled in return. “Thank you,” he said.

“There’ll be bioluminescent algae and plankton in Atuan,” Jon commented as they pressed on into the darkness with only that glow as a guide. “But King Jonah prefers to protect the city with a barrier of darkness.”

Martin nodded, and swallowed, and swam on through the dark with Jon leading the way.

It seemed like forever, but it was probably only fifteen or twenty minutes before there was a new light. It was blue, soft at first but then growing to be bluer than even the sky far above. And then as if coming through some kind of curtain and into the light, Martin could see, and what stretched out before him was a city, fantastic and beautiful, even though much of it seemed to be in ruins.

The oldest ruins looked to be domes made from interlocking triangles, some still with intact glass but some full of holes through which the water could flow, through which fish and merpeople could swim. The closer they got to the center of the city, the more of the old domes had been restored with growths of coral. In some places it had been grown in place of glass, covering the domes or supporting them.

The center of the city, the main core, was made of whole spires of coral and rock and glimmering metal. They enhanced and expanded on natural grottos, and the very center of the city was a huge natural cave complex that had been expanded into a building larger than any Martin had ever seen outside the Kingdom of Ashmalan.

ID: a digital drawing of Jon and Martin from the Magnus Archives as kids, and Jon as a mermaid, both underwater. Jon is holding Martin’s shoulders and grinning with excitement, wrapping their tail around him, and Martin is looking up at them fondly. In the background is a roughly painted fantastical underwater city.  Jon is a thin Persian kid with medium brown skin and long curly dark hair. They have bright green fishlike eyes, gills, and an anglerfish light hanging from their forehead. Their tail is a bright shimmering green with light teal accents, and the green scales dot their skin. Martin is a chubby Salish boy with light brown skin and long flowing brown hair. He has freckles and is wearing a simple tunic and pants. End ID

As they approached the entrance to that huge complex, Jon stopped and slowed. “Oh, leeches,” he whispered.

“What is it?” Martin asked.

“It’s the King.

Martin looked where Jon indicated and saw a merman--an elf, he corrected himself--with pale skin and a gray tail. There was a crown of coral about his head, and beneath it his eyes were as gray as his tail. He gave Martin an odd feeling, the feeling that this was an adult who kept secrets.

For some reason, he brought to mind Peter Lukas, the Admiral of the Tahoma fleets.

The King had noticed them, and he swam over, smiling broadly. “There you are, Jonathan. Is this what’s had you popping off to the surface, then? A human?” He sounded amused.

Jon blinked. “O-oh, King Jonah! I didn’t know you, erm… knew. Or… cared.”

“Of course I care! I pay attention to all the bright young elves.” King Jonah looked Martin over. “And who is this then?”

Martin remembered his manners. He gave a little bow, clumsy in the water, then said, “I’m Prince Martin of Tahoma. Jon and I met up on the beach.”

Jonah’s smile widened. “Tahoma? Why, I’ve heard of your land. Very lovely. Isn’t it a long way away from Atuan?”

Martin nodded. “Yes, but we come to the southern islands for my birthday every year.”

“Only once a year?” King Jonah considered something. “I… suppose I shouldn’t tell you this, but I know something about your family. Something that would let you visit Jonathan more often.”

Martin blinked. “How do you know anything about my family?”

“Isilhenwa, the Eye of the Moon, knows many things. Would you like to hear?”

Martin hesitated, then nodded. He did want to visit Jon more often.

The King leaned in slightly. “Your father has a special coat that he’s lost. It ties him to the ocean, and it’s a terrible thing that it’s lost. If you can find it and return it to him, I would imagine you’ll all be able to come to the southern islands far more often.”

“Really?!” Jon exclaimed. “Oh, that’d be brilliant!”

Martin smiled widely. “Oh, thank you, your Majesty! My father’s been worried about something, but he never said…”

“Ah, well, I suppose it’s fate that you came here, then,” the King said with a smile. “But… it takes a long time to get down here from the surface, Jonathan, and while I know you’re quite the magical prodigy, I think that spell you cast to let the Prince come down here might be wearing off, yes…?

Jon sighed. “You’re right, your Majesty.” He turned to Martin. “time to go, I suppose.”

Martin grinned at him. “It’s alright! I’ll find my father’s coat and I’ll be able to come back whenever I want!”

The entire way back to the surface, they spoke excitedly about the adventures they could have when Martin came back, the things they would see and do. As they came closer, however, they both sobered until they were entirely quiet. Even knowing they would see each other again soon, it was a sad thing to be leaving.

When they finally reached the surface, Martin sadly turned to Jon. “Well… I guess this is it,” he said. He’d loved Atuan, and swimming through the water so easily, and was sad to come back to the land.

Jon smiled sadly. “I suppose it is.” A pause, and then, “But you’ll be here next year, right? I mean, even if you can’t return your father’s coat.”

Martin nodded firmly. “Oh, yes,” he said. “I’ll make sure we come out here. So a year at most.

Something doubtful passed through Jon’s eyes. “What if… what if you can’t…? What if your parents won’t let you…?”

On an impulse, Martin grabbed at the beaded necklace he wore and pulled it over his neck. “Here,” he said, holding it out. “Take this.”

“What?” Jon asked. “I don’t understand.”

“It’s a necklace,” Martin explained. “A… decoration humans wear.” He smiled brightly. “It’s a promise. A promise that we’ll see each other again. Even if not next year… we will see each other again.”

Jon took the necklace slowly, gingerly. “You promise?”

Martin nodded firmly. “I promise.”

“Alright,” Jon said with a smile. Then he suddenly leaned forward and kissed Martin on the cheek, lightly. Pulled back, the tips of his ears darkening. “Goodbye, Martin!”

And then, in a flash of green tail and a splash, he was gone.

---

It took Martin two weeks to find the coat.

He searched the palace high and low, looking in every nook and cranny he knew of. To his surprise, he found it in the last place he expected: his parents’ room.

He’d slipped into the room while his parents were in a meeting. He was supposed to be with his dancing instructor, but he begged off, claiming he’d twisted his ankle. He didn’t quite know why he’d hidden this from his parents, except for a gut feeling that his mother might not be happy to hear about any of his adventures or where he’d heard about the coat.

Once in the room, Martin could feel a tug, a pull, and without knowing why he went straight to his mother’s wardrobe. There in the back, behind a hidden compartment he wouldn’t have known was there if not for that insistent pull, was a sleek coat, a mottled grey with dark spots. He pulled the coat out of the wardrobe, staggering a bit under the weight, and decided to go find his father right away.

When he burst into the conference room, three heads turned toward him. His mother and father were there, as was Admiral Lukas.

His mother raised a brow. “Martin, what are you--”

Then she saw what was in his hands, and her expression grew shocked. “Where did you get that?!” she yelled at him.

“King Jonah of Atuan told me you’d lost it!” Martin said brightly as he went to offer the coat to his father.

His mother stood, shouting, “Admiral Lukas!”

As Lukas shot out of his chair and went to grab the boy, Martin threw the coat at his father. He didn’t know why it was important that his father touch the coat--he just knew that it was, desperately so.

His father’s hand touched the coat and Martin felt a strange, shuddering thump go through the room. A light came into his father’s eyes and he grasped at the coat. “Thank you, Martin,” he said softly, and stood from his seat. Fixed his mother with an icy glare. “I’ll be leaving now,” he said, “and I’ll be taking my son with me.”

Martin’s mother was staring at them both. “No! Leave if you will, but you won’t take my child with you!”

They stared at each other for a long moment, and Martin held his breath, trying not to squirm in Admiral Lukas’ firm grip.

Finally, Martin’s father said, “Very well. You can keep him. But mark my words--you will regret not letting me take my son to his rightful home.”

And then he swept on out of the room.

---

The children are paying rapt attention to the story, even Will. “I don’t understand,” he says. “Was Martin’s father a prisoner?”

Tim smiles sadly. “After a fashion. Don’t worry--it’ll all make sense in time. Shall I go on?”

There is a chorus of four voices shouting yes! And so Tim continues the story.