I stared at him, confused. I don’t know what to believe.
Then don’t you owe it to yourself to find out?
His words calmed me as nothing else could have. Maybe it was because he didn’t try to convince me that he was telling the truth. Maybe it was because he wasn’t trying to convince me of my mother’s innocence, or of his own. For the first time since this whole mess started, I felt like I might actually have some kind of control over how it ended.
All right, I said.
You win. I’ll stay for a while, meet my mother. Try to figure this whole thing out before I make any decisions.
His grin was wide enough to rival the sun and he grabbed me, hugging me tightly, before I could even think to protest.
Then he was letting me go, pushing me behind him, and before I could ask what was going on I realized that I had completely lost his attention. Instead, he was staring, hard, into the distance.
I couldn’t see anything—mermaids’ eyesight, though good, must not be as acute as selkies’. But within a couple of minutes I realized what he was staring at—five selkies were swimming through the water, straight at us. At least, I thought they were selkies. They were in human form and breathing under the water, exactly like Kona was doing.
Who are they? I whispered, trying to figure out if I should be scared or intrigued.
Kona didn’t answer, squinting hard into the darkness. But as they got closer, he smiled. My two youngest brothers, Ari and Oliwa, and a few of their friends.
Your brothers? I looked at him, startled. What are they doing way out here? Though we’d done a lot of doubling back today, my best guess was that we were probably a couple of hundred miles from Kona’s castle.
We’re not like humans, Tempest. While the ocean is divided into territories, those territories are vast and we like to roam them. Staying within the same ten or twenty miles every day would drive us nuts.
Are we still in your territory? I asked.
We are, for another five hundred miles at least. Then we’ll hit your mother’s area.
When the five selkies finally got close to us, they stopped a few feet away and regarded me curiously. I was pretty sure I was looking at them the same way.
Like Kona, they all had dark hair, but their eyes were different. Two of the guys had bright blue eyes—the same color as Kona’s mother—and I wondered if they were his brothers, while the others all had dark eyes.
Tempest, these are my brothers, Kona said, pointing at the two with the blue eyes, as I’d suspected. Ari and Oliwa. And their friends Malu, Jake, and Aaron.
I watched as they nodded as Kona said their names and it occurred to me—for the first time—that the communication between Kona and me wasn’t unusual down here. It was the norm.
Of course. That’s how everyone speaks when we’re underwater.
Are they saying anything? I asked. Because if they were, I couldn’t hear them. I thought of the woman in the red robe, who had stared at me like she’d expected me to answer her when I first arrived in this place. I realized, now, that that was exactly what she’d been expecting.
I can’t hear them, I said again, starting to panic. Was this another failure on my part, like the tail thing? I couldn’t speak the way everyone else did.
Kona laughed. No, Tempest, calm down. There are general paths of communication, ones that everyone knows and speaks on, and then there are individualized ones, like the one you and I use. They’re using the general one right now and you don’t know how to tap into it yet.
You have different frequencies to talk to each other? Seriously?
I wouldn’t exactly call them frequencies, but yeah. It is kind of like that. When I introduced you, I was using the general frequency, but also the one that connects only you and me.
But how could I talk to you so easily, even in the beginning, if I didn’t understand how these things work? I asked the question quickly, rushing the words together. The five guys were still staring at me, waiting for me to say something, and I was growing more self-conscious by the minute.
I told you before. We’re connected. His hand ran in soothing circles on my back. I knew it the second I first saw you.
That’s great and all, I said, doing my best to ignore the warmth his words sparked in me. But how do I talk to these guys now?
Say something to them. It may take a minute, but once they pick up on it they’ll be able to project a path for you to follow back to them.
The whole thing sounded a little wonky to me, but if it meant that they would stop staring at me, I’d be willing to try anything. Smiling at them, I said, Hi. Nice ocean you’ve got down here.
Kona’s brother Ari was the first to hear me and he laughed. A minute later, his voice—rich and a little deeper than Kona’s—answered back. Nice beach you have up there.
Once he spoke, it was easy to find what path to answer him on. It was just a little different from the one I normally spoke to Kona on.
Oh, right. I forgot you were up there the other night. I studied him closely. Were you the one I saw in the water?
No, that was me, Oliwa said. I’m sorry about that. We wanted to help you, but we were all in seal form and weren’t sure how you would take to the three of us coming out of the water and shifting right in front of you.
Yeah, none of us wanted to get hit by one of your rogue lightning bolts. Ari nodded at Kona’s chest. Good aim, though.
Kona punched him in the arm, but I could tell it was a gesture of affection. Don’t embarrass her.
It’s a little late for me to be embarrassed, isn’t it? They pretty much saw me at my worst.
If that’s your worst, I can’t wait to see your best. You were awesome, Oliwa said. The way you used that storm to keep Tiamat at bay. Seriously awesome.
I started to tell him that it hadn’t been deliberate, but Kona said Don’t! sharply, his voice coming across the path only the two of us used.
I gave him a weird look, tried to catch his eye, but he wouldn’t look at me. And he didn’t say anything else to me privately—he was too busy keeping up his end of the conversation with his brothers’ friends.
So, where are you guys headed? Aaron asked.
Oh, right. Oliwa’s eyes grew wide as he looked at me. Your mom’s a real cool lady.
I didn’t know how to respond to that, particularly since at the moment she seemed anything but. In the end, though, I just nodded. It was easier than the alternative.
Mind if we tag along? Malu asked. Things have been boring as hell around here lately.
We’re not heading to a party, Kona said.
Sure, of course. We won’t go all the way to Cecily’s with you. Ari’s grin was charming and just a little bit wicked. We just figure the maids should be out and about.
Right. I should have known this was all about the mermaids.
Not all about it, objected Jake as we set off again. We want to get to know Tempest too.
Who is also a mermaid. Kona smirked.
Oh, right. Then I guess it is all about the maids. Jake’s grin was so open and relaxed it was impossible to be offended.
So, mermaids are a hot commodity down here too, huh? I asked Kona as we swam.
Oh yeah. They have a tendency to stick to their own territories, so we like to take any chance we can get to head over and explore a little.