The White Queen

She could feel the many eyes, of her Inyarl Shawl, on her back, piercing and burning, willing her on.

‘Move forwards,’ one of her onlookers urged, ‘you have to get closer.’

She didn’t want to. She wanted none of this. Tamur was back there and, Orn, and Haspur. To think they wanted her to do this filled her with a sense of unease; her haspur more than the others. Her body had been ready for mating a whole revolution of the soltaire, and Leader Lyon had wanted her put to an nghoza male sooner but her haspur had refused.

Was she supposed to be grateful? She thought of her haspur back there. Here she was his little mur and all he wanted to do was watch. Watch as she gave herself over to the nghoza and let him poison her with his life-giving formula. The thought made her stomach constrict.

She couldn’t do this, wouldn’t.

Moving her arms Morg backed away. Her tail was a hindrance in these shallow waters. It brushed loose stone, making manoeuvring difficult. When she was back far enough, she whipped her tail, turned and swam to the others. They’d be upset with her but they’d have to get over it.

Kerene, with her bright glowing green eyes and deep red flowing hair met her half way. She held a look of pure disgust and knocked into Morg as they past, ramming her with her tail, which caught her ribs.

Morg flicked her tail to return the favour but Kerene was out of reach.

She stopped. By keeping her tail moving she could hover, still as stone. Many faces watched her. She ignored them, unwilling to face them and turned.

Kerene moved up into the shallows. None of them knew the nghoza tongue but that didn’t matter. Kerene had him entranced. Nghozas were dumb, always curious. When she was done with him, he’d be killed. Stupid nghoza, you don’t realise the danger you’re in.

His legs appeared in the water and he moved towards Kerene. It looked as though she’d cast some magic but he wasn’t under any spell, and she didn’t possess the skill even if she wanted to. Only the ancient Muird had known magic and they’d been gone for like for ever. Some said their magic had consumed them and taken them away. Other tales told how they’d left the oceans for the land and without their magic this was the only way everyone else could do the same.

Her tamur and haspur had told her of the big changes of Vast Ocean, where soon all her kin would be gone, none would survive. Leader Lyon didn’t want them to die out along with other species or other asperini. He wanted them to live on and if that meant living on land, so be it.

She shook the thought from her mind. Kerene was lying with her face looking up at the yellow dots in the darkness. Her dugs, just forming, looked flat, almost invisible the way she laid. The tip of her tail fanned out behind the nghoza’s legs. She’d never noticed before but the patterning on the side of Kerene’s tail formed into a flattened circle, like the shape of an nghoza eye. It seemed to be watching Morg, leering. The nghoza lifted her tail at its centre, moved closer and entered her.

She couldn’t watch; didn’t want to. The grunts from the nghoza and Kerene’s moans were gruelling enough.

It was wrong, all wrong. Two porene appeared at Morg’s flanks, they hovered in silence, waiting. Both were armoured with sword fish bill in hand. Each as long as their torso, were pointed upwards and outwards. Neither poren looked at Morg. Their gaze was kept ahead.

She looked up at the eyes of the one on her left, his face was passive. He was neither disgusted nor excited by what was taking place. He was ready though ready to take the nghoza away.

Kerene let out a screech. It was done. As one the two porene moved away from her. The rush of their tails sent water into an effervescing wall, which forced her backwards. She steadied herself as Kerene swam through the oxygen balls, headed straight for her.

‘See, nothing to it,’ she said, changing course at the last minute. This time no tail jibed at her sides.

It was time to face whatever fate they had planned for her. She turned and swam after Kerene.

Will they give her a second chance? Did she want it if they did? No.

Leader Lyan was ahead of the fifty asperini, hovering before her. The lomza’s rays shone on all faces and torsos, giving them a monaika-like tinge. Their stares said it all. Some held questioning looks, whilst others showed disappointment. The rest, the younger ones, were caught somewhere between shock and awe. All of these were murs, for no spurs had been allowed to come. Most of their ribcages showed, which was a sign they were ready for another growth spout. Their dugs, just beginning to form, were at different stages of development, whilst others dwarfed her own even though those murs were younger.

Leader Lyon looked at her. Face full of scorn, disappointment and resentment, softened.

‘You did well, Morg,’ he said, ‘I miss judged you thinking you were ready. You will try again.’

She sighed. ‘There won’t be another try, not for me.’

‘Yes there will and next time you will succeed.’

‘No,’ is all she said. She wanted to say more and ask what would happen when they did get on land to find they couldn’t communicate with the nghozas. Had he thought about that? No, it was obvious he hadn’t. She knew better though, she was in enough trouble as it was, any more from her loose tongue and who knew what he might do.

Leader Lyon grumbled and he looked off to one side. For a few moments he said nothing more, then his head snapped back and he looked over her right shoulder. He gestured into the air with his un-armoured hand. Signals she’d seen him use before to his guards whenever he wanted them to do something and silence was of the utmost importance. She twisted her tail and spun her body round. Had something gone wrong?

The two who’d gone off were on their way back, sword bill weapons at the ready. The blood of the nghoza’s body would attract many unwanted guests, and they’d all better be scarce before they showed.

A hand gripped her left arm and then another, two strong hands, which held her tight. Two more gripped at her right. Before she could ask what they thought they were doing she was pulled backwards. She’d angered their leader and now he was going to punish her.

Not here, not now, no, when the soltaire rose next and after he’d had a good sleep. Not that she’d be getting any. No this was her part punishment and she was destined for confinement.

Why did she have to open her mouth? Why not just keep quiet. Then plead, Haspur, to get her away from here with, Tamur and Orn. If only she’d thought of this sooner. Too late now, she’d have to forsake her sleep and make her plea after the rising of the soltaire.

Where were they anyway? They should be here telling her how stupid she’d been or at least trying to get her out of this mess. Was this their way to punish her too, to remind her of her duty?

Being pulled along at the back of the group, she craned her neck, hoping to get a glimpse of her tamur or haspur. Amongst the myriad of tails, theirs were nowhere to be seen. She could see Leader Lyon, with his unmistakeable scar, running almost the length of his green-blue tail, swimming just inside the head of the shawl. Two of his best warriors were just ahead and to each flank, watching, scouring for any hazards.

Neither her tamur nor her haspur was with him. Perhaps they were waiting till they got her to Finyarn before they intervened. Yes, this was their little game, make her feel scared and then next time maybe she’d do what was expected. They’d get her out of the confinement bit, wouldn’t they? There was no way she deserved that.

The darkness of the cave made it hard to see anything. The only way she knew all were asleep was when the current around her changed. The many tails affecting its flow had ceased. Added with the lack of motion sounds she knew they were resting on the caves’ floor, sleeping. No other fish came to Finyarn, none were allowed passage. Even the ghanzi were kept out.

Tired though she was, she tested the metal bars for the umpteenth time, looking for just the slightest hint of weakness. Nothing. The cage was big enough to hold thirty and it was tiresome work swimming its perimeter. Her eyelids were heavy. She let herself sink. The bottom of the cage was laden with sharp shells, they dug into her body as she relaxed, springing her senses to life.

She flipped her tail, lifted off the shells and swam upwards. Her hands reached for the cage’s top bars. Soon she had one firmly in her grasp, and relaxed. It’d let her tail muscles rest if nothing else.

Sleep wouldn’t come easy, if it came at all.

Half sleeping half-awake something sharp jabbed her stomach. Her eyes sprang open to darkness. She’d relaxed too much and drifted to the bottom of the cage. She swam around, keeping herself as mobile as she could.

‘Morg,’ she heard a whisper. ‘Morg,’ it was Orn. He was somewhere above her, she swam up. When she felt the bars she called his name.

‘I’m over here.’

Using her hands, she worked her way towards his voice. Soon her fingertips touched the skin of his chest as he lay above the cage. ‘What are you doing here? You’ll get into trouble,’ she said full of concern in her big vamur tone.

‘That doesn’t matter. I didn’t like to think of you on your own.’

In the darkness she could only picture his soft face and slim, toned torso and long deep-blue tail, which he got from their tamur. Her own was a mix from both merlots, and had a soft-purple tinge.

‘I’m glad you came, just don’t get caught. If anyone finds you here…’ she yawned, her eyes blinked.

‘I know, I know, I’ll get hidden if anyone comes. Now you need to sleep,’ she felt his hands slide down her forearms. ‘I’ll hold you up. I know what lay at the bottom of the cage, I helped put them there. Haspur’s idea not mine.’

‘So now you feel guilty, ’cause it’s your big vamur in here.’

‘Hey, it’s not like I wanted to do it. Besides, we haven’t used this cage in at least a revolve of the soltaire and the last poren in here deserved it as I remember.’

He’d killed his own remur, just so she wouldn’t be put to an nghoza. A shiver ran through her at the memory. He’d been found with his throat open the next soltaire up, having dug the sharps from the cage’s floor. He was a weak poren, one who, according to many, didn’t deserve a place among the Inyarl Shawl.

‘Thanks for reminding me.’

‘Sorry, I just can’t forget him, you know. And I worry about our haspur, he doesn’t like that they want you to mate with an nghoza and I’m afraid for him.’

She blinked again and with a yawn said, ‘Our haspur is clever, he won’t suffer the same fate. You’ll see.’

‘I’m sure you are right. Now go to sleep, you need it.’

At his words she closed her eyes and drifted, dreaming of a world free of nghoza matings, a carefree world where all asperini lived safe within Vast Ocean. She’d drifted off many times and dreamt of this world, the world she knew would come, somehow, yet something inside said there was much to do, much to change, much more hurt to be had, before such a world could ever exist.

The soltaire was lowering and the lomza was making its presence felt when they came for her. The light change at the mouth of Finyarn told her this. Orn had woken and left her whilst the mouth was still blued with lomza light. Her haspur and others had brought her shinklers to feed on since soltaire up, and Orn even found her a few Wergums, a very rare treat outside Finyarn.

Many voices spoke at once as the locking mechanism, scavenged from a fallen nghoza ship which had kept her captive, clonked open. This was it, they’d left her to stew and now they were to show her, her punishment. Her reprimand for not mating with the nghoza. Let them. What was the worst they could do? Shout at her and make her feel inferior to the rest? Keep her locked away for eternity? Banish her from the shawl? Yes this was the worst, but she’d rather it than let an nghoza infect her with his reproductive poison.

The cage opening’s rusted hinges creaked and groaned as it swung outwards. The noise was a harrowing sound, as was intended. She ignored it, truth was she knew Leader Lyon would shout at her and it’d be the end of the matter. She’d go back to living with Haspur, Tamur and Orn. She dived and made her way towards the opening, she’d passed it often enough to know its exact location in the dark.

As she slid out the half opened cage door, two hands grabbed either arm and pulled her upwards. They held her tight and constricting as if tentacles had caught her and were pulling her in towards an opened mouth. Their grip hurt. She let out a yell. The restriction relaxed and they held her like her haspur would in play. After a few strokes the two porene stopped and hovered.

Leader Lyons voice spoke, he was right there, in front of her, so close she tasted Wergum within the water before her face. ‘Now you will learn why you do not ever disobey me.’ He sounded angry, annoyed and even terrifying. She ignored him, this was only an enactment, his way of making an example of her, whilst showing the Inyarl Shawl why he was leader, re-affirming their belief in him and showing them he still had what it took to be in his position. The water shifted and with a dulled voice he said, ‘Come, she won’t do it of her own accord so we’ll have to make her.’

What? No he wouldn’t, couldn’t do this. ‘Haspur!’ No reply came. In fact no sound came from anyone; no cries of outrage, or pleas in her defence. She struggled for freedom, the hands only held her tighter, not hurting but enough to stop her getting loose. ‘Haspur.’ She tried again to shake the hands that bound her. Again they tightened, again with no pain.

This went on all the way to the mouth of Finyarn and beyond. Every now and then, the hands would grip a little more and she’d yell and they’d ease.

Close to the shore they stopped and hovered. They’d brought her to the same place she’d witnessed Kerene with the nghoza male. Out of the water a lone nghoza male walked the land, his form danced as she watched him through the water. All of the Inyarl Shawl had come, even the spurs and ligphurs who’d been denied before.

‘Take her to him and hold her but stay out of sight.’ Leader Lyon spoke sounding merciless in his order.

The two porene said nothing, neither had made eye contact with her and now their eyes were downcast, ahead of them.

‘What are you waiting for?’ boomed Leader Lyon. ‘An invitation to feast with the nghoza? Get on with it.’

‘They won’t — ,’ her haspur spoke for the first time but was cut off.

‘I’ll do it,’ another said. She recognised the voice of Ooyun, her haspur’s closest friend. She felt movement in the water and imagined him coming forwards, his round face with deep set eyes and hair, full length, flowing behind, brushing at his deep-purple tail, with patterning of coalescing circles, which grew smaller the nearer they got to his tail’s tip and broke off into fin shapes.

The hands on her arms dropped and Ooyun grabbed her from behind and pulled her to him, flattening her back to his chest. She felt the bodanza tooth he always wore around his neck, rub between her shoulder blades, his tough thick chest muscles felt hard against the back of both shoulders and knew she couldn’t resist him, even though she wanted to.

How could you? She let him take her forwards. You’re Haspur’s friend and I trusted you.

When they were close to the edge of the ocean, yet not close enough for swimming to become awkward, Ooyun spoke in her ear, so gentle and caring, she didn’t think it was him at first. ‘Morg, what he is doing is wrong. OK if the ligphurs do so because they believe we must, but this… this is not right. You don’t deserve this treatment and none of us close to your haspur wanted this, or could allow this to happen to you. We’d fight him for you, but you know we are bound by oath to our leader.’

A stupid law, the oaths they took. She wanted to tell him but thought better of it. It was his, as every other porene’s, choice to be ruled.

‘Struggle a little and flip your tail as if you’re trying to escape.’

She thrashed about but Ooyun’s hold was secure. ‘Good, this far away we won’t draw attention to the nghoza. Now, I’m going to put my arm in front of you so it looks like I’m trying to control you, when I do, bite it, bite it hard. Don’t worry about hurting me, use the anger you must feel for Leader Lyon if you have to, but bite. And when I let you go, swim as fast as you can, none of us will follow, not right away, we will act stunned first which shall give you the advantage. For now swim with no concern for where. Your haspur said you should go to Trin, you should remember how to get there if you think back. It is the place where grey badonzas feast and is oot of Finyarn by two soltaire ups.’

His arm came close to her mouth and pressed her lips giving her no choice but to open her jaw and clasp with her teeth. She found a new fondness for him he was doing the unthinkable in going against Leader Lyon’s instructions. He was truly her haspur’s friend and she could trust him. She bit him, but only enough to cut. Something slapped the back of her head, forcing her to clamp her jaw harder. Ooyun yelled, losing his grip on her, she twisted and swam out of his grasp.

And she didn’t stop swimming till the hunger took her and she was forced to take refuge. She found the wreckage of an old nghoza ship, not long fallen from the surface. She gave it a wide birth. Not far from it was a rocky incline, at the base of which lay a cluster of fallen rock. She headed there. It offered no protection from above and if a predator came by she would undoubtedly be seen. She didn’t care. She’d rather risk being eaten than take sanctuary within an unwanted gift from the nghozas.

As she settled to rest she felt a sense of sorrow, never again would she be a part of the Inyarl Shawl, not while they practised the stomach retching nghoza mating thing.

Her body shivered at the thought.

Soon I’ll be fully grown and once I’ve found a suitable poren like Haspur. I’ll go back and there’ll be no more of this stupid nghoza ritual.

She closed her eyes and drifted to a dreamless sleep.

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