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The Shell Princess, страница 1

 

The Shell Princess
 

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The Shell Princess


  In memory of my father and grandfather

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter One

  Rani’s long red hair streamed out behind her as she swam through the clear, warm water of Tingle Reef. She was going to visit her friend, Morva, who lived in a floating cave on the edge of the reef. To get there you had to swim past a sea-cactus with blue flowers and then carry on until you came to a needle-shaped bush which pointed up towards the magic rock where Morva lived.

  Morva was a magic mermaid, just like Rani. Both of them had orange tails and long red hair, unlike the other mermaids who had blonde hair and green tails. Morva had been teaching Rani how to use her special powers ever since Rani had discovered that she could do magic too.

  As she entered Morva’s cave, Rani stopped to stare at the painting on the wall. It showed a red-haired mermaid swimming down through what looked like a giant burst of golden light.

  “You look thoughtful,” said Morva, swimming up behind her.

  “I was just wondering,” Rani said, “if you ever miss your old home.”

  Although Morva had lived in Tingle Reef for a very long time, she had not been born there. She had grown up in a secret place, far away in the Deep Blue, where magic mermaids lived. The giant golden light in the picture was the entrance to the magic mermaids’ home.

  “Sometimes I do,” Morva said. “Sometimes I dream about it.”

  “I wish I could remember it,” sighed Rani.

  Rani had been found in Tingle Reef as a baby – inside a Giant Clam-Shell – and she had lived there ever since. She had been adopted by a family who she loved very much, but she had always felt curious about the place she had really come from.

  “That mermaid looks so beautiful,” Rani said, still gazing at the picture. “I hope I look like her when I grow up.”

  “Perhaps you’ll look like me,” Morva teased.

  “Oh, no!” said Rani at once. “I could never look as beautiful as you!”

  Morva’s red hair stretched to the tip of her tail and shone so brightly that Morva could always be spotted in dark water from a long way away. Not that the water in Tingle Reef was ever dark – it was a lovely clear blue colour which made the reef such a wonderful place to live. But Rani had made a few trips with Morva into the Deep Blue, and she had noticed that the darker the water became, the more Morva’s hair seemed to glow.

  “Just like my pendant,” Rani thought, looking down at it. Rani’s amber pendant was a gift from her grandmother, and it seemed to glow against Rani’s skin. It wasn’t just any necklace – it was a message-stone. Her message-stone. Magic mermaids use message-stones to see their families when they became separated from them. Rani had learned by looking into her message-stone that her true parents had died when she was a baby, but that she had a twin brother. When she looked in her message-stone and saw his red hair and twinkly eyes looking back at her, she could hardly wait to meet him.

  “Morva, when will you take me there?” Rani asked, gazing longingly at the painting.

  “I told you, Rani,” Morva replied. “When your magic is stronger.”

  “But my magic is strong now,” Rani protested. “I’ve been practising really hard. Look!” And she closed her eyes and concentrated on turning the water in Morva’s cave from crystal clear to bright pink. When she opened her eyes the water was orange.

  “Oh dear,” Morva laughed, quickly turning it back again.

  Rani felt silly and feeling silly made her cross. “It’s not fair!” she said, banging the end of her tail impatiently against the floor of the cave. “Why do I have to keep waiting?”

  Morva stopped laughing. Rani was usually very good-tempered. “I didn’t realize it was upsetting you so much, Rani,” she said gently. “I know how hard you’ve been practising your magic and it’s getting stronger all the time. But I didn’t think there was any need to rush. I thought you were happy here in Tingle Reef.”

  “I am happy here,” replied Rani. “But I really want to meet him!” She held the pendant in her hands and looked inside at the face of her brother. “He misses me just as much, I know he does. I have to find him!”

  “Listen carefully, Rani,” Morva said, looking at her gravely. “The first thing you have to realize is that your brother may not be where we think he is. If your parents put you inside a Giant Clam-Shell in order to keep you safe, they probably did the same with your brother. He might not have been found by his own people. Like you, he may have been adopted by a different group of mermaids, and if so he could be anywhere.”

  Rani shook her head. “Morva, I just know he got back safely,” she said. “I can feel it.”

  Morva paused, as if she was thinking really hard about something. “There’s something else you should know,” she said. “Another reason you might not be ready to make the journey back yet.” She swam over to the painting and placed her hand over the place where the golden light seemed to be rising out of the sea-bed. “Watch carefully,” she commanded.

  As Rani watched, a gold line started to appear all by itself, on top of the picture. “What is it?” she gasped.

  “Look more carefully,” Morva told her, as the line spread.

  Rani swam back to look at the gold lines from a greater distance, and then she knew. “It’s a map!” she said. “A golden map.”

  “That’s right,” Morva nodded. “This map shows us the way home.”

  She lifted her hand from the wall and the lines instantly disappeared.

  “Bring it back!” gasped Rani. “We need it to find our way there.”

  “I remember the way quite clearly. I don’t need a map,” Morva replied. “But the map has another purpose.”

  Rani frowned. “What do you mean?”

  “Any mermaid can follow a map and swim across the Deep Blue,” Morva said. “But only a magic mermaid can swim through the golden light to get to our home. And if a mermaid can make the map appear, then it means her magic power is strong enough to let her in.”

  “Please, can I try?” asked Rani excitedly.

  “The magic in the hand that touches the picture must be very strong in order for the map to show itself,” Morva warned her. “If you try too soon, you may be disappointed.”

  “I still want to see if I can do it,” Rani said.

  “Very well,” Morva said, moving back from the wall. “If you really want to put your magic to the test . . .”

  Chapter Two

  Slowly, Rani placed her hand flat against the picture on Morva’s wall. Nothing happened at first, then she felt her hand starting to tingle.

  “Look,” she whispered, holding in her breath as gold lines began to appear on the cave wall. “I’ve done it!”

  Morva nodded slowly.

  “So my magic is strong enough!” Rani said, turning her head to look at Morva. “Does that mean I’m ready to visit my brother?”

  “In a way, yes,” Morva replied carefully. “But there are different ways of being ready, Rani. Are you sure you’re ready to leave your family? And are they ready for you to go?”

  Rani frowned. The truth was that she hadn’t told her family anything about this yet.

  “I’m sure they’ll let me,” she said. “I’ll go and ask them now!”

  But as she swam back towards her own cave, she started to worry. What if her family were against the idea? Her parents could be so protective of her sometimes, especially her mother. She couldn’t just leave Tingle Reef without telling them. She loved them too much to do that. She sighed. She would just have to ma
ke them see how important it was for her to make this trip, that was all!

  When Rani got back home to their cave, her mother, Miriam, was cooking dinner while her father, Murdoch, bounced her baby sister, Pearl, on the end of his tail. Rani’s other sister, Kai, was peering into the cooking pot and complaining that they were having seaweed again. “Mother, Father, Kai . . . I’ve got something to tell you,” Rani began.

  But before she could continue, there was a knock on the wall outside and four long wriggly arms pushed back their seaweed-flap.

  “Good day, everyone,” said Octavius the octopus, as he peered in through one of the gaps he had made in the seaweed curtain. “May I come in?”

  “Of course,” said Murdoch. “Though we’re just about to have dinner.”

  Rani noticed that her mother was frowning. Octavius had a habit of visiting at inconvenient times and staying for ages.

  “I’ve already had my dinner,” Octavius said, settling himself on the most comfortable rock. “Some of my delicious stew. Do you know, I don’t believe I’ve ever tasted anything as fine as my very own cooking? I don’t know why I should be such a talented cook – unless it’s another consequence of having such a large brain. I suppose I am able to put a lot of thought into my recipes.”

  Rani felt impatient. Once Octavius got started on the subject of his brain, he was impossible to stop. She would never get to speak to her family at this rate. Then she had an idea. As Octavius continued to boast, Rani decided to try out some magic. As she focused on him she could feel her magic struggling against a very strong force indeed. She concentrated extra-hard, and was beginning to feel a bit dizzy, when something weird started to happen. Golden sparks appeared around Octavius’s mouth as he said, “Of course, my brain is really just of average size for an octopus.”

  Miriam and Murdoch stared at him in disbelief and Kai nearly dropped the shell-cutlery she was putting on the table.

  “And in any case,” continued Octavius, “quantity does not always mean quality.” And he gave them a humble smile as he exited their cave.

  “I don’t believe it!” gasped Miriam.

  They all started to laugh.

  Rani decided that now was as good a time as any to break her news. “Mother, Father, Kai . . .” she began again firmly, and this time they all turned to listen.

  “A magic stone?” frowned Miriam, when Rani had finished. “I don’t understand.”

  “It’s a message-stone, Mother,” Rani said. “Morva showed me how to open the pendant and we found out that my real parents must have died when I was a baby. They were in some sort of danger and that was why they put me inside the Clam-Shell. But I had a twin brother and they put him inside another shell or something because he’s still alive.”

  Rani’s mother sat on the seaweed mat, looking dazed. “And now you want to leave us in order to find him?”

  “I don’t want to leave you,” Rani said, “but I have to find my brother. You can’t come with me because only magic mermaids can go to the place Morva comes from.”

  “It sounds far too dangerous,” Miriam said. “And you are too young to make such a big journey. Perhaps when you’re older—”

  “It’s not dangerous!” Rani protested. “Morva will be with me. Please, Mother, I’m ready to go now!”

  But her mother was shaking her head firmly.

  Rani looked at her father. Surely Murdoch would understand. “Father?” she pleaded. “Please say I can go!”

  “We think of you as belonging here with us, Rani,” Murdoch said gently, “that’s the problem.” He sighed. “I’m afraid I agree with your mother. I don’t want you to go either. You don’t know what you will find there, Rani. It may not make you happy. And we don’t want to lose you.”

  “You won’t lose me,” Rani said, fighting back tears. Why couldn’t they understand? They had to let her go! Otherwise she was going to lose her brother!

  Chapter Three

  Rani’s pet sea-horse, Roscoe, was swinging himself on one of the seaweed swings in the shell-garden. He looked a bit huffy when Rani approached and flipped himself round on the swing so that he had his back to her.

  Rani realized that she hadn’t spent much time with Roscoe recently – she’d been too busy practising her magic.

  “I’m sorry, Roscoe,” Rani said, stroking his bony head. “I haven’t been a very good friend lately – have I?”

  “No, you haven’t,” Roscoe said crossly. But he couldn’t help smiling when Rani tickled his neck. He turned around and listened as Rani explained what had just happened.

  “So . . .” said Roscoe, when she had finished. “You don’t want to lose this family but you can’t bear not to find your other family as well. That seems fair enough to me!”

  “Try telling that to Mother and Father,” Rani sighed.

  Roscoe looked thoughtful. “We need to think of a way of making them see this from your point of view,” he said.

  “Yes, but how?” Rani asked him.

  Roscoe thought about it. “I know! Who has more clever thoughts in one day than you mermaids have in a whole year?”

  “Octavius,” Rani replied. “At least, that’s what he’s always saying, but—”

  “Exactly. This is his chance to prove his point,” Roscoe interrupted her. “We’ll tell him the problem and he’ll have to come up with an idea just to prove to us how clever he is!”

  “But what if it isn’t a good idea?” Rani asked nervously.

  “So?” Roscoe said, flicking her with his tail as he jumped off the swing. “Do you have any ideas at all?”

  Rani shook her head.

  “Well, come on, then!” And the little sea-horse bobbed ahead of her towards Octavius’s cave.

  As soon as Roscoe tapped his bony tail against the cave wall to be let in, the octopus yelled at them to go away. “You know I always rest my brain at this time of the day!” he shouted.

  Rani sighed. Still, at least that meant that Octavius had returned to his usual self.

  “Octavius, this is an emergency!” shouted the sea-horse. “Rani needs your help.”

  “Rani?” Octavius grumbled as he swam over to his seaweed-flap and lifted it up. “Can’t she use her magic to sort it out, whatever it is? I’m really very tired.”

  “This isn’t a problem for magic,” Roscoe continued perkily. “This is a problem that can only be solved by some clever thinking.”

  “Well, really,” grunted the octopus.

  “Very clever thinking, Octavius,” Roscoe repeated, and paused dramatically. “That’s why we’ve come to you.”

  “I see. Hmm,” Octavius looked flustered. “Well, I suppose you’d better come in and tell me what the problem is. I’ll certainly have some clever thoughts about it – but my clever thoughts can sometimes be too clever to actually put into action, you understand.” He coughed.

  “Octavius, I don’t know what to do . . .” Rani began to explain her problems.

  As Octavius listened, his big forehead formed a very crinkly brow.

  “I’ve got to persuade Mother and Father to let me go, or I’ll never get to meet my brother,” Rani finished, starting to cry.

  “Oh dear, oh dear,” muttered Octavius, who was really very softhearted when it came to mermaids crying. He placed all his arms round Rani in a very complicated hug.

  “You look like you’re trapped inside a cage of octopus-arms,” Roscoe joked, trying to cheer her up.

  And it was then that it happened. Octavius grunted out loud as the idea hit him. It was a very clever idea – the cleverest he’d ever had!

  “Leave it to me,” he told Rani, extracting his arms one by one. “You go back home and wait for me. I won’t be long. I just have to make something first.”

  And he dashed outside his cave, churning up the water in his hurry.

  Later on that day, Rani’s family were sitting quietly in their cave. Things had felt very tense when Rani returned although no one had said any more about her request to
leave Tingle Reef. It seemed that as far as her parents were concerned, the matter was closed. Kai was hardly speaking to her, though, and even Pearl seemed to sense that something was wrong, refusing to settle down to sleep even with Rani’s mother singing to her.

  Pearl had just about dropped off when Octavius arrived. He was carrying a strange contraption which he set down proudly on the floor of the cave.

  “I have to show you this,” he said. “It’s a special cage. I made it out of razor shells and spider-glue – and the mesh is made out of bind-weed. A very clever invention, don’t you think?”

  “What’s it for?” Miriam asked.

  “I’m going to use it to catch a magic fish!” Octavius said. “They live way out in the Deep Blue and are said to be very beautiful indeed. A whole shoal of them is coming to visit Morva tomorrow.”

  “But, Octavius, you can’t trap a magic fish here,” Miriam protested. “It wouldn’t be fair.”

  “Why not? I really want one for a pet. You have Roscoe, don’t you?”

  “That’s different,” said Murdoch. “Roscoe chooses to live with us. You can’t keep a magic fish here against its will.”

  “Hmm,” said Octavius, pretending to think about it. “What do you think, Rani?”

  Before she could reply, Miriam turned on Octavius, her eyes flashing angrily. “Is this your clumsy way of telling us that you think we should let Rani go with Morva?”

  Octavius turned a bit pink. “Well, she did come to me in great distress and I do think—”

  Miriam turned away from him to face Rani. “You went to Octavius to ask for help?”

  Rani nodded. “But, Mother—”

  “Well, all I can say, Rani,” Miriam interrupted her crisply, “is that in that case you must have felt pretty desperate!”

  “I beg your pardon—” began Octavius huffily.

  “She didn’t mean it like that, Octavius,” Murdoch hastily intervened. “We’re just shocked that Rani feels so strongly about this that she chose to go to someone outside the family about it, that’s all.” He paused.

 
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