Lithe had been meeting with clusters of people all morning. Trouble was brewing, and Lithe was more than ready to meet it head on. He had changed. He was still the same person, but his battle with the spinefish infection had given him new resolve. The plight of his people had hardened him. He wasn’t content to lurk any longer. He was gathering his forces, building his base, and working towards the restoration of his people.
Pincoy was also hard at work, off to the side of our Hiding Cave, speaking in hushed tones to a man almost wholly enclosed in the shadows.
“You guys know it’s rude to speak fish at the table?” I called out from across the room, eager to know what was happening. I didn’t want to be left out. I was tired of being useless, a burden.
“No David,” said Iara. “Hush.”
“What are they saying?”
“Hush. This is not good.”
I struggled to see who Pincoy was talking to. I thought I recognized the voice, but I still couldn’t see the person’s face. Craning my neck around, I was able to look past the corner and finally get a glimpse of the speaker. Muscular, adorned in armor, standing proud and erect. Dagan.
“What’s he doing here?” I asked, still feeling the old sting of jealousy. Dagan didn’t look too happy to see me, either.
“I invited him,” said Pincoy. “Of all Zebulon, Dagan is most loyal to his Prince.”
I knew he was right, and I knew that the old tension between Lithe and me had fallen away. He had not chosen to marry Liz any more than she had chosen to take a new husband. They were thrown together by Heqet’s machinations. They had been functionally pulled apart in the same way. Now Lithe and I were on the same side. He was my friend. He was the rightful ruler of Zebulon. I shouldn’t have any problems with Dagan. But I did. I remembered him shuffling me out the door after I first discovered Liz was alive. I remembered him sizing me up when we first met. I remembered his hostility, and his power, as he tore me away from Lithe at the games and when he shoved me out of Liz’s house only a few days earlier.
I didn’t like him.
Lithe emerged from the back of the cavern. “ehcb,” he greeted Dagan, bowing to him in the Atlantean way. People always look at him strangely when he does that now; not just because he’s the Prince and everyone should bow to him, but because of his missing fingers. I cut off two of Lithe’s fingers after he was pricked by the spinefish needles in the battle with Goliath. Those absent fingers are most noticeable when he salutes. At first it looks like he’s saluting with three fingers on purpose, until you catch that they’re missing, not withheld.
But Dagan did something I’ve not seen anyone else do before. He imitated the three-fingered bow. He did it without mockery or cleverness. It was purely an imitation, as if to say whatever it takes to identify with you, consider it done.
“h?h” Lithe inclined his head, obviously asking about the new bow.
“dfb,” said Dagan.
Pincoy translated. “I am for you in every way.”
“Think it will catch on?” I asked, but before he could answer, I noticed that Iara and Pincoy had already adopted the three-fingered bow and were dipping their heads in submission.
Lithe chuckled. There was more resignation in it than humor. “See?” he asked.
“You are going to be king,” I replied.
Dagan concluded his bow and began to speak once more to Lithe. There was a tone of subservience in his voice, of deference, but he spoke quickly. Pincoy translated.
More bad news today.
Pincoy translated. “There’s a food shortage due to the spinefish epidemic. The outer colonies handle the algae production, as well the beverages. Since the accident, our food stocks have dwindled. The capital has been placed on rations, and tensions continue to escalate.”
“What are they saying?” I asked.
“Somehow they believe that if Scyla and Schylla can synthesize an antidote to the spinefish toxin, everything will be okay.”
“I thought they already had an antidote. I thought that’s why they needed Jonah.”
“There is a problem. They’ve got a cure, but can’t distribute it. If you get stung and can get into a pool with Jonah, they can harmonize your frequencies with his. But you have to be with Jonah.”
“In the same room?”
“In the same pool. There’s no other way to get well.”
“There is one means of salvation.”
“Heqet is worried, and the people are scared.”
Stuck here in the hiding-cave, I can still hear the noise from the capital comb. The intensity is escalating.
We’re headed for trouble.