Like many dark paths, Malial’s started with light and hope. Of course, in his case, the light was coming from glowing undersea plants but, nevertheless, my previous statement still stands.
Malial (in the form of a hideous undersea beast) and the mermaid Cantrelle (not actually her name), swam along a seabed that could, if you did not examine it too carefully, be mistaken for an underwater highway. This was, of course, just a coincidence that certain animated filmmakers might be tempted to make just a little too much out of. Now you know better, let us continue the story.
There was a long, and frankly rather interesting, conversation between Malial and Cantrelle that would demonstrate that there was a blossoming love between them. However, if you want to read those parts of the story, you will have to wait until it comes out in paperback.
Cantrelle led Malial to an undersea city, part of a wide and sprawling undersea kingdom. Again, however you might imagine this looks, you are almost certainly wrong. When they make a movie of this story, it will be wrong too. If you are good with art you might like to create a painting or drawing of the undersea city – that too will be wrong but it will almost certainly not be definitively wrong. Why should a future cover artist have all the fun of being wrong?
Malial was led to an undersea throne room. It looked like the sort of thing you might get if all the famous animation studios got together to blow their entire budget on one scene. It was, just to understate the whole thing, the most complex and ornamental throne room Malial had ever seen. As a farmer’s son, that’s not setting the bar very high, I know. The throne room was, however, stunning. Trust me, I’m the author – I know these things.
Among the hubbub of undersea creatures, mostly merpersons, were the king and queen. Who, as luck would have it, were the mother and father of Cantrelle. I bet you saw that coming.Malial’s entrance was not without reaction. Small underwater children fled in terror, a guard fainted – which went unnoticed because he floated much as he had been before – and the queen gave the undersea equivalent of a gasp. Even in the ocean, Queens remain dignified at all times.
Malial’s entrance was not without reaction. Small underwater children fled in terror, a guard fainted – which went unnoticed because he floated much as he had been before – and the queen gave the undersea equivalent of a gasp. Even in the ocean, Queens remain dignified at all times.
“Cantrelle,” said the king, doing his utmost to remain calm, “what is the meaning of this?”
“Father,” said Cantrelle. “This is a dry-lander. He needs our help.”
“Foolish girl,” muttered one of the guards. “Humans look nothing like that.”
“It’s true,” said Malial. His voice wavered between a throaty growl and a wet whimper. Unless you were there it would be impossible to convey exactly what that sounded like. “I have been trapped by magic and must es-”
“Enough!” bellowed the king. “Guards -”
“Daddy!” snapped Cantrelle. If she had feet she might have stamped them. “You always tell me to look beyond the surface of things. Can’t you look beyond the surface of this?”
The king hesitated. “As I was saying,” said the king. “Guards, open the royal vaults.”
“Thank you, father,” said Cantrelle. She smiled sweetly at the king in that way daughters do.
Three guards (the fourth having fainted as I mentioned) snapped to attention and swam away.
People were beginning to notice the guard floating there. After noticing the guard, the people started to notice Malial in much the same way that people notice a dangerous dog. Malial did not feel comfortable – which was understandable.
“Someone get that man a medic,” said the queen. She waved in the guard’s direction.
“And a spine,” added a highly colourful fish-person who, as you might have guessed, was the court jester. He was trying to come up with a joke about goldfish and failing.
His jibe seemed to elicit some much-needed laughter from the court which conveniently covered the period between when then and the time that the guards returned with a large barnacle covered chest.
“How can we help this human in beast form?” the King asked. He had expected a little longer to think about things. “Ask what you will, monster, and begone from my kingdom.”
“Your majesty,” said Malial. He was not sure what to say and opted to say everything. “Lord Brandon has stolen away my parents, my brother, and my sister. I set out on a quest to save them. Then I become trapped in the sea. If you can, please help me return to dry land and continue my quest. I have only faith and hope to guide me and am unable to pay you anything but, if you will grant me this favour, I promise to never give up my search for justice.”
It is a little-known fact that the people below the waves place great stock in ideals such as justice and faith. Malial did not know but his speech had touched the king. It was a speech that might have even stirred Lord Randolph The Third into action, although it was a little late to try that now.
Despite the king’s change of heart, the guards and indeed many of his people were not so forgiving. Fear does that to people. “Kill the monster,” called one.
“Slay the beast,” yelled a merman while safely hidden behind his friends.
“Silence,” said the king. Glaring at his rambunctious subjects.
There was silence.
“Take this bracelet,” said the king. He handed a silver bracelet to a guard.
Now, this was not your normal flimsy chain which sits around your wrist and catches on your clothes. This was a plate of pure silver that would cover most of Malial’s lower arm. It was thick, heavy, and quite valuable in its own right. It showed mermaids, fish, and men in an intricate pattern with detailing so fine that you would need a very strong magnifying glass to fully appreciate it.
The guard carried the bracelet to Malial because, although he was deathly afraid of Malial, he was a good guard and did what he was told.
“Thank you,” said Malial. He looked at the bracelet and wondered what on earth it was for.
“That bracelet will allow you to walk on dry land,” said the king. “Yet, tarry awhile with us and we may yet find a way to free you from this magic entirely.”
This judgement did not go over very well with the court. The mutterings and fear were clear to both the king and Malial. If you have ever been in such a situation then you know what it is like.
“Take him somewhere safe,” ordered the king because you don’t stay king by being stupid.
Malial was led to the undersea equivalent of the dungeons.