NZ Forest Native Birds
Great Surfspouter from The Unicorns of Lazaronia by Laraine Anne Barker

Chapter 8

“Shark!” Esmé’s mind went into overdrive as she tried to work out how she could get away from the creature that had slammed into her. Having lost Iggie, she knew at once she would be lucky to escape with her own life without  trying to save his as well.  And  she  remembered

the last time she had faced a shark. Only then it hadn’t been a real one but the sorceress Mirabell in shapeshifting mode ...

      Was this shark also not real, perhaps? It was certainly much larger.

      By this time she was wondering why it hadn’t already grabbed her. Had it perhaps managed to get Iggie instead? And she knew she couldn’t flee without finding out. Regardless of her own safetyeven her indispensability to the landshe had to know it was impossible to rescue the child before so much as considering leaving him to his fate.

      Ignoring the imprudence of the action, she quickly twisted herself round and gave the shark as violent a kick as she could. It wasn’t until the kick propelled her from the creature’s side that she realised she had probably made it easier for the shark to grab herand given it good reason to do so. She turned back to face it, balling her fists in readiness to punch it on the nose.

      But what she saw filled her with astonishment. For the shark had somehow manoeuvred Iggie onto its back where his limp form was now lodged against the front of its huge dorsal fin. And even as she puzzled about the shark’s bizarre behaviour in grabbing its next meal while it had the chance, she became aware of noises around her. It was a full half-second before she grasped that some of these came from the shark itself, while the rest were made by another two just zooming in on the scene as the first one made for the surface.

      It was yet another half-second before Esmé became aware that the noisesa mixture of squeaks, squeals and whistlesappeared to be the creatures’ way of communicating with each other. It was only then that she saw them properly for the first time. They were not sharks but whales.All the same, her heart did another somersault. For the sharply defined black-and-white colouring of the creatures marked them as killer whales. She received yet another shock when it struck her that she could understand the squeaks, squeals and whistles the same way that Mark had understood the noises made by the snowsnakes sent out to kill him so long ago.

      Even more surprising was the fact that one of the whales seemed to be talking to her rather than its own kind. “It’s all right. She lost her baby and doesn’t want yours to drown so she’s taking it up to the air. If you’re in trouble as well why don’t you grab my dorsal fin and I’ll take you up too?”

      That was when Esmé saw that between the two massive forms was a smaller onea calf looking more like a black-and-white dolphin than a fearsome killer.

      The whale that had spoken to her swam right up to her side.

      “Come on: grab my dorsal fin,” it whistled. Esmé touched the whale’s smooth skin in wonder. The whale took her hesitation for fear. “Don’t be afraid,” it squeaked encouragingly.

      Esmé knew she was quite capable of getting herself safely to the surface. But, she thought,why not? It wasn’t often anyone got the chance to ride on the back of a whale. So she did as the whale urged. And to her ineffable delight the calf swam right up to her side and looked at her out of one curious eye.

      “You’re very young to have your own baby. You’re not much more than a pup yourself,” it squeaked at her.

      “Oh, Iggie’s not mine!” Esmé used mind-speech, unsure whether talking underwater would have her swallowing more of the ocean than she could deal with.

      “Where’s his mother then?”

      “On the Far Isles of Raldyss, I suspect.”

      “From what we’ve heard of Raldyss, it’s hardly a fit place for humans. Why does she live there?”

      “She’s a criminal on the run from justice.”

      If the whale youngster had been human it would have looked very puzzled indeed. “What’s that?”

      “Among other things, she’s killed another human.”

      The aura of puzzlement emitted by the calf deepened. “Why would one human want to kill another? Humans don’t eat each other.” The eye that Esmé could see widened. The little creature’s squeaks and whistles rose a few semitones in shock. “Or do they?”

      “They don’t. They’re not allowed to. They kill for other reasons: hatred, jealousy, greed. Even fear.”

      “Is that why they kill whales?” the youngster squeaked sadly.

      “Not for hatred or jealousy. Mostly pure greed. Sometimes fear.” Esmé took one hand from the mother whale’s fin to give the youngster a reassuring pat above its troubled and still puzzled eye. “But don’t worry. Killer whales aren’t regarded as good to eat.”

      Fortunately she didn’t have to explain any more of the incomprehensible behaviour of humans towards their own or other species; for they had now reached the surface. Astonishingly, the whales had managed to find a relatively calm pocket of sea. But even as she adjusted her lungs back to taking in oxygen from the air Esmé was sprayed by exhalations from three blowholes.

      It wasn’t until she had coughed up what she accidentally took in that she was able to look around for the whale that had brought Iggie up. It was going to be extremely difficult to revive him on the back of a moving whale, she reflected in dismay. Almost instantly, however, she saw the whaleand realised that Iggie had managed to revive himself. For he wasn’t even coughing and retching. Instead, like herself, he sat astride the whale’s back clinging to its fin and now started shrieking with excitement. The whale moved to join its mates.

      “I thought you were drowning,” Esmé reproved when Iggie had got over his first burst of exuberance.

      “Iggie nearly did: can’t swim. And it took a while to learn to breathe in water.” Iggie’s eyes swivelled from Esmé to the other whales. They lit up at sight of the calf. “Oooh! Can Iggie play with the baby?”

      But Esmé hardly heard. She was already anxiously scanning the sky. “We have to find the unicorns.”

      “The unicorns will find us. We’ve already been in touch with them,” the whale beneath her squeaked and whistled reassuringly. “Until then the child can play with Flukesinger. He seems to have a natural empathy towards other species than his own. And Flukesinger can teach him to swim.”

      Iggie apparently understood the whales’ form of communication as easily as Esmé: he was back in the water before the mother whale had finished, happily reassuring her at the same time, “Iggie loves animals.”

      Esmé watched as, clumsily dog-paddling and sinking with almost every stroke, he approached the baby orca. At least he’d forgotten his mother’s command to bring the unicorns to her, she told herself as Iggie caressed the calf’s hide. And his genuine fondness for creatures of the wild could be his saving grace as well as working to her advantage.

      Within moments boy and orca were circling each other, with Iggie’s movements quickly becoming nearly as graceful as his playmate’s. Air and water were soon filled with a volume of squeaks and whistles that was amazing coming from one mammal. It was only the absence of Iggie’s human squeals that gradually made Esmé aware that much of the noise was coming from Iggie himself.

      “He’s quick to learna very clever boy,” squeaked the bereaved mother whale who had brought Iggie to the surface.

      “Yesand I’ve a strong feeling it’s my responsibility to see his learning and intelligence are used for good rather than evil.”

      “Evil?” The whistle of horror and surprise came from Flukesinger’s mother. “How can such a young child be evil?”

      “His parents were the vilest and most powerful sorcerers Lazaronia has ever knownmurderers and traitors. His mother escaped execution by forcing her maid to take her place, and is determined to bring Iggie up to follow his father’s example.”

      Esmé missed the orcas’ reactions to this speech because she had returned to scanning the horizon in increasing anxiety. Whatever had happened to the unicorns?

      And but for her anxiety all of her new friends might have lost their lives a few seconds later. For even as she squinted at some specks on the horizon that could have been a small flock of large birds, the specks quickly expanded. Within a fraction of a second it was clear they were too big for birds. They were dragons. Six of them. And they were all blackand flying with sorcery-driven speed.

      Esmé barely had time to scream “Wyverns!” before the sky darkened, the air turned caustic with the creatures’ stench. And even as she plunged from her whale’s back the wyverns were upon them. She heard them eject their corrosive spit. The acrid stench worsened. Even above the noise of the sea she heard the hiss as the saliva hit the water.

      Instantly the ocean filled with the hair-raising cries of a wounded whale. The next thing she was aware of was that the wyverns had plunged into the sea.

      And one of them was barely a metre behind her.

© L A Barker Enterprises
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Further extract from The Unicorns of Lazaronia

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