Chapter Nineteen: The laying of the wyrms
Copyright © 2017 by Brian Bixby
Guinevere had been lying on the bottom of the motorboat. So when the wyrm’s tail smacked into it from below, Gwen was struck sharply in the back as the bottom of the boat broke up. She found herself gulping down water and unable to move her legs.
Geoff was a bit luckier. The motor had struck him in the head, so he didn’t realize what had just happened to him. Not at first. It was getting whacked in the abdomen by the tail that brought him back to full consciousness, just in time to see himself flying twenty feet into the air.
There are times when ignorance is a blessing. Calpurnia had been briefed not to look at the other occupant in the boat with Geoff. She didn’t know it was her eldest daughter, nor that the motorboat had been shattered by the wyrm’s tail.
Bathsheba, as a normal human, wasn’t affected by Gwen’s appearance. So she had been paddling, saw the motorboat destroyed, and knew who was in it. She stepped up her paddling. Not wanting to alarm her mother unnecessarily, she kept any emotion out of her voice as she said, “The wyrms are separated and the motorboat has been overturned. I suggest you start singing now, mum.”
Steadying herself, Calpurnia stood up and turned around. She had an excellent view of the front of the male wyrm, indeed a much closer view than she actually wanted. She opened her mouth to start singing.
Nothing came out.
“Mum, any time now.”
Calpurnia’s nerve cracked and she burst out laughing. But with a hideous sound, she took a deep breath and switched from laughter to the lullaby she had rehearsed these last several hours, over and over again.
Gwen surfaced, coughing up water. She still couldn’t move her legs; in fact, she wasn’t even sure she could feel anything in them. The crash of the wyrm’s tail within two feet of her sent up a wave that forced water back into her mouth. As she struggled to breathe, she heard a familiar lullaby start up around her.
Am I dying? was all she could think as she gasped for air.
Jackie stood on the shore, in awe at the sight of Calpurnia standing up in the kayak and singing to the male wyrm, who had taken to swaying with the rhythm of the song. It was almost hypnotic, and Jackie just stared for what seemed a long time. And then she realized what she was seeing, put down the rifle, pulled her camera out of its case, fitted on a telescopic lens, and began shooting as quickly as she could.
Marcus glanced over at Jackie. Seeing what she was up to, he was tempted to chide her; the danger wasn’t over. And then he looked again at his ex-wife, singing to the wyrm, and decided, well, maybe it was.
Bathsheba was by no means so certain. Her mother’s singing was affecting the wyrm, that was true. But there was still the matter of putting the fleeces on its head and securing them there. Not to mention the kayak was being buffeted by the waves the wyrm was making with its rhythmic water dance.
And then the boat took a bit of a hit to the rear. Calpurnia was almost thrown off her feet, but kept singing. Bathsheba whirled about, paddle held high, though she knew the folly of striking the wyrm with such a feeble instrument.
Instead, bobbing up and down just off their stern, was Gwen, her head barely above water. She looked up, saw Bathsheba, and in as low a voice as she could manage asked, “Can you toss me a life jacket?”
Jacintha lowered the camera. She’d gotten some nice shots. But she was worried. The wyrm was still just dancing to Cal’s singing. She looked over to Marcus. He returned the look, shrugged, and said, “I don’t know what else we can do. Maybe it needed a special song, and Calpurnia’s isn’t quite right.”
“I should have been out there instead of her. I trained as a singer once.” True, it had been in her teens, but Jackie was proud of her voice. “If I only knew the words and the tune.” And then she had a thought. “Do you?”
Marcus took several seconds to reply. “No . . . but maybe you’re onto something there. I could pluck the song out of Calpurnia’s head and put it in yours.”
Jackie didn’t waste a moment deciding. “Do it. Do it for all of us. Maybe if we do it all together, it’ll be more powerful.”
Marcus frankly doubted it. But he didn’t see any reason not to try, especially since he had no other idea that wouldn’t lead to a fire fight, not something one wants to do with a wyrm. So he set up the links between Calpurnia and Jacintha, threw in Guinevere (whom he could sense floating off the end of the kayak), and even decided, somewhat against his better judgment, to join in himself.
The wyrm didn’t actually know the song Calpurnia was singing. In that respect, Calpurnia was simply wrong. But the wyrm did like to dance. And when Calpurnia’s voice was joined into a three part-harmony (Marcus was off key), the wyrm was positively enchanted. It had never heard a group of human voices singing before, except for a sexually suggestive ballad a quartet of drunk Druids had sung about 2200 years earlier. So it stooped closer to hear this marvelous sound.
Calpurnia would trust Marcus with her life. Not any body parts, no, she’d been abused too much for that, but her life, that was another matter. So when the wyrm’s head bent down, Calpurnia gratefully accepted the fleeces Bathsheba passed to her, and then stepped out of the kayak. Thanks to the spell that Marcus had cast once he saw Calpurnia take the fleeces, she found herself walking on water . . . right up to the head of the wyrm.
Calpurnia marveled at the wyrm: its size, the brilliant colors of its comb, the shiny scales, and the great eyes, oh, the great green eyes. She almost didn’t want to put the fleeces over them, they looked so magnificent. And then she remembered that if the wyrm opened its mouth, she could end up like her foot did a few nights ago. And so she reached up and placed a fleece on the wyrm’s head, covering the eyes, and then looped the tie cord around the head.
To her surprise, the wyrm began . . . well . . . purring, keeping time with the lullaby, as Calpurnia put on one fleece after another. It was as if the feel of the fine wool against its scales was just what the wyrm wanted.
Just after she placed the sixth fleece on, the wyrm’s purr stopped. Its jaws opened. Calpurnia, standing on the water, could look right down its throat and see and the fire burning down there, feel its heat.
And then, with a sigh, the great mouth closed, and the wyrm’s head and body sank into the water and were gone.
Three people cried tears of joy and relief as the wyrm vanished beneath the waves: Calpurnia, Bathsheba, and Jacintha. Gwen was crying, too, but that was because her legs and back hurt as she thrashed her way toward shore. Marcus didn’t cry. (He just didn’t.)
Fifteen minutes later all of them were gathered by the point where Jacintha and Marcus had stood. Marcus was rubbing Calpurnia’s back and Jacintha was trying to talk her down out of the belated panic attack Calpurnia had suffered after the wyrm had disappeared and she’d walked back into the kayak. Bathsheba was plying Gwen with hot herbal tea and had tossed some blankets over her, partly to help warm her up, and partly to keep her from being seen by the others.
It was Gwen, naturally, who finally realized something was wrong. After feeling all the bruised spots on her back and hips for the umpteenth time, she turned to Bathsheba, who was sitting right beside her, and in an anxious voice asked, “Where’s Geoff?”
Bathsheba sipped some tea to buy herself time. She was puzzled herself. In the nature of things, Geoff should be here. It was as if something highly unnatural had happened that had plucked him out of the scene. Bathsheba had seen Geoff knocked into the air; she’d reasoned out that he’d use magic to come down safely somewhere. So why wasn’t he here now?
Bathsheba’s phone went off. She picked it up and saw the call was from Ursula. With a sigh of relief, she took the call. “Where are you?”
“Look down the coast a bit, silly,” was Ursula laughing reply.
Bathsheba turned and looked along the shore. There was a large boat down there. A familiar boat, at that. And then Bathsheba placed it. It was the Royal yacht. “Urse, what are you doing on the Royal yacht?”
“The wyrm was heading north and I could tell it wouldn’t stop until it reached colder waters, so I came back here to get my clothes. Oh, and Geoff’s clothes were soaked, so he’s borrowing some of Will’s.”
It’s in the nature of things, Bathsheba thought. Ursula guides a wyrm to its route home, and then just casually goes back to the Royal yacht to get her clothes. Must be a designer outfit. And because she needs dry clothes, and so does Geoff, she takes him with her. And how she ran into him along the way, she’ll never explain. “Can I tell Gwen Geoff is all right?”
“Oh, sure,” came back the self-assured tones. “he was even giving Kate the glad eye while he was changing his clothes.”
And that, my dear sister, is something I am not going to tell my other dear sister. “Thanks, Urse. Have a good time.” A thoroughly redundant suggestion.
“You, too, Sheba. Bye!”
And that would be the end of our story, if it weren’t for Geoff. He dislikes loose ends. Which loose ends? Check out the epilogue!